Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sexual Labels

With the recent media-storm surrounding former Democratic Congressman Massa's sexual misbehavior with his male subordinates, I thought it would be interesting to continue my discussion of labels today. What does creeper-Massa have to do with the unfair labeling of people/sexual preference/personality? A lot actually.

First, I'd like to make my position clear. Aside from wondering how differently sexual misconduct with female subordinates might have been spun in the media - I do not believe that his resignation (and resulting downward spiral)  is some unfair Democratic crusade against an innocent (as per my arch-nemisis, Glenn Beck). I think that, not unlike many people who abuse positions of power, Massa is a creep. Though his behavior was obviously homoerotic, the question on everyone's mind is now: "Is Massa Gay?"

Having discussed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' with many people, I am fully aware of the stereotypical label applied to homosexuals in the military. Many conservatives believe homosexuals are sexual deviants. You know, the kind of people who (once let out of the massive army-closet) will suddenly indulge themselves in inappropriate sexual behavior with everyone. The same idea has now been applied to Massa. 

He must be gay - because that would explain his behavior much more easily to the greater population. He can't just be a man who likes to emasculate those around him, especially other men (aka. his equals), because he has deep-seeded issues with power positions. You're right. No normal (and that's using the term broadly), military, manly-man would ever struggle with homoerotic issues (you mean there's not widespread homophobia in the military?) or an underlying problem with authority. 

I'm not quite sure, though asking a perfectly legitmate question, Larry King understood how he may have just helped propogate one of the many myths surrounding homosexuals. I'm also not sure if Glenn Beck understood just how far down the rabbit hole he'd gone, by allowing a man like Massa to stand on a soap box. For an entire hour.

Allow me pause to switch gears, slightly ...
Most of you know that I've applied for the Peace Corps and hope to work with AIDS education in Africa. Why? Because AIDS is a very close cause to my heart, having lost an uncle to it. When I tell people this very personal and important piece of information about myself, the common reaction goes something like this:
"Oh. Was he gay?"

Usually my answer is a very straight forward, 'yes,' but not because that explains his death. My answer is 'yes' because he was gay. What I'd really like to say is, "Yeah. Are you gonna ask me if he was black, too?"

It's as if, defining his sexual orientation makes his death more acceptable. Because it doesn't matter that, as well as being gay, he was an amazingly talented, beautiful person. It doesn't matter that AIDS is a horrible epidemic that needs to be addressed (in much broader terms than gay, black, or any other generalized stereotype). What matters is that you know why he died. And according to most people, it wasn't pneumonia. It was because he was a fag.

By labeling a deeply disturbed creeper like Massa as stereotypically homosexual, the seriousness of his behavior is lessened. By labeling AIDS as the 'Fag Killer' or 'Africa's problem,' the seriousness of the disease is lessened. Yes. Sometimes labels are necessary. Yes. Labels aren't always negative.

And yet, in defining the world in such limited terms, we relieve ourselves of the responsibility to fix the problems we see. We make it someone else's problem. We propogate the myths that, while making our world so easy to swallow, hurt our progress in the long run. Today, the big debate (if we're to continue the line of conversation), lies in defining and labeling marriage. While we once defined it by class-status and color, we now define love by gender. Interestingly enough, we define friendships in the same limited capacity, thus limiting our own potential.  

In just the past week I have been reminded dozens of times of how archaic (and stereotypical) labeling is. It's sad to me that, in the twenty-first century, we still don't find it necessary to conduct ourselves differently; to perhaps admit that our ancestors were wrong and judgemental. Because admitting to ourselves that we can do better, and that our children deserve better, is the first step to change. I say it's about time - don't you?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don't Label Me

I will be the first to tell you that I hate definitions.
I hate that our society demands them, and seems to need them, in order to accept those who populate it. From sexual orientation to musical identity: definitions keep us organized and neatly dropped into little catagories for others to analyze. And I, for one, am not a fan.

It's not that certain situations don't require definitions, or that we shouldn't be proud of the things that make us unique. What I have a problem with is the rare occasion (who am I kidding?) that those definitions are used as ammunition; when the people who give the label do so only to rally against it.

I accept people for who they are, no questions asked. Unless it involves harming someone or something, I generally don't ask people to defend themselves. I allow people the freedom to be and enjoy who they are. Call me crazy, but being judged isn't something I enjoy, so I try my hardest not to engage in the act of judgement either.

Recently, a friend of mine, who happens to prefer her sexuality remain undefined, broke up with her girlfriend. Immediately our friendship was under fire - not only by those outside of the situation (who desperately need to define her), but by the girl who dumped her. Over the course of the last few days, my friend has repeatedly thrown her hands into the air and exlaimed, "Why is it that I can't just be friends with someone without wanting to get into their pants?!"

Why can't I do anything without everyone wanting me to define exactly what it is?

I wondered exactly the same thing. And, while enjoying a fun, but relatively awkward night out with her, her ex-girlfriend, and my ex-boyfriend (who was hit on by said ex-girlfriend in what I suspect was retaliatory for what she thought were my less-than-innocent intentions), I wondered why - if our need to define things often cause such tension - do we feel the need to define anything at all?

Most definitions seem only to be used when one party wants a reason to be angry - a reason to act negatively toward the person they're attempting to define. And, if labels insight riots, cause acts of hatred, and create tension within a society, what's the use in employing them? I know, I know. Definitions aren't always negative. On the off-chance that I do apply a label to myself, I am proud to wear it and draw strength from it. But, in many cases, they are the very same labels used negatively against me (and, therefor, the reason I am compelled to carry them proudly).

I suppose I'm lucky ... lucky to be confident. I don't need to define myself and I certainly don't need to define everyone around me. I enjoy challenging misconceptions and, sometimes, making people uncomfortable. I just the hate the idea of boxing myself in so that the rest of the world can feel at ease).

Yes, I'm a 'lover'
No, I don't define my sexuality - but I also don't define anyone else's
Yes, we are just friends
No, I can't tell you what my favorite color/movie/music genre is ... and I don't want to

Because I like to be surprised and, most importantly, I'd like to surprise you every once and a while. I mean, life is full of surprises. Why be unprepared for them by attempting to define all of the unique details? And, in case anyone's forgotten ... one of the best things about life is it's unpredictability. In trying to define something as complicated as life, you might risk ruining what's so beautiful about it.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Breaking Up

Let's talk break ups. In the famous words of William Shakespeare, "They suck." 

Unlike ripping off a band-aid, it's almost never easy. Unlike ripping off a band-aid, the pain usually lingers. Sometimes you know it's coming; sometimes you might even know it's necessary, but you're never really fully prepared. Even when two people respect each other, there's always the distinct possibility that things will get messy - the reality of getting hurt.   

When relationships go bad, it's like the first time you rode the tea cups at Disney World. You thought, 'There's nothing less terrifying than brightly colored tea cups!' You looked around and realized that 90% of the people waiting in line were children. You shrugged your shoulders and decided to give it a whirl. Ten woozy seconds later, your head was in-between your knees, your eyes were squeezed shut - palms sweating puddles at your feet - and you were frantically trying to remember the names of all seven dwarves. If you just managed to keep it together until the tea cup slowed down, you might make it out alive. Who's idea was this, anyway?  

I'm always amazed that, even after the messiest of break-ups, we always try, try again. The human condition allows us to deal with painful experiences beautifully. Just like a physical accident: you'll see the scar, you'll remember being hurt, but you won't remember what it felt like to scrape your knee on asphalt. Your body gives you a small reprieve. That way, you won't be afraid of asphalt for the rest of your life, you'll just remember to be more careful. You learn a lesson and you move on, stitching yourself up as you go.

And yet, if you believe your connection to be deep, losing it is kind of like losing a limb. Especially when it doesn't turn out to be what you thought it was. I have, unfortunately, lost one of my limbs.

I am the big, bad Break Up Monster's most recent victim and, as much as I want to cry and yell and throw fragile things against solid surfaces, this is the first time I've ever wanted to respect and accept my ex's decision for what it is. It takes a lot of guts to admit that a relationship needs to end. Despite having missteps and making bad decisions before arriving here, perhaps that's what love is: braving a wounded ego when the truth needs to be told; being able to walk away without having to ruin what you had first. If we can say anything, it's that we definitely love each other.

I just wish that, sometimes, Bill hadn't been so right ... because everything about this sucks.