Thursday, July 19, 2007

Transorientation

Modern gender theory distinguishes between sex and gender, defining the former as "the physiological, functional, and psychological differences that distinguish the female and the male," and the latter as "sexual identity, especially in relation to society or culture." Sex, in other words, is something you're born with, while gender is a lot more mutable. We refer to people whose gender identity (man or woman) is not the one traditionally associated with their sex (male or female) as transgendered.

I would propose, and I'm not the first to do so, that there is a similar relationship between sexual orientation and sexual identity. Like sex, orientation--what sex or gender you are attracted to--is something you're born with; you're heterosexual, homosexual, or whatever, and that's unlikely to change, short of some kind of as-yet-unknown orientation reassignment surgery. Sexual identity, on the other hand, is more like gender in that there are many ways to express one's sexuality and these do not necessarily correspond to one's orientation. We might call an individual who is born homosexual but for whatever reasons identifies as straight (or, for that matter, one who is born heterosexual but identifies as gay or lesbian) transoriented or transorientational (I'm undecided on which term I like better).

I have never had any question about my gender identity. I was born male and I identify as a man. I have spent much of my life, though, figuring out my sexual identity. For many years I did not call myself gay because of the LDS Church's counsel that people who experience same-sex attraction should not identify themselves by those feelings. Then a few years ago, even though I was still actively LDS and married to a woman, I began to call myself--both in private and in public--gay. The words "I am gay," this self-identifying speech act, relieved me of years of built-up pressure from refusing to acknowledge this important aspect of my identity. Some people questioned the prudence of putting so much energy into building a gay identity while trying to maintain a straight marriage, while others questioned my right to call myself gay when in fact my actions and lifestyle were completely straight, but I insisted that the word could mean whatever I wanted it to, and when I called myself gay I meant that I was attracted to men, nothing more, nothing less.

I still maintain that language means whatever the speaker intends it to mean (or, conversely, whatever the listener understands it to mean), but in the past month as I've rededicated myself to a marriage to a partner who happens to be a woman, I've begun to question the value of identifying myself as gay. There is no doubt that my inborn orientation is homosexual--I am sexually aroused by men. But the life I live, for all intents and purposes, is straight--the only romantic or sexual partner I've ever had or intend to have is a woman. Still, I'm not comfortable calling myself straight. Beyond the fact that I'm attracted to people who have a certain kind of reproductive organs, I feel that much of my inner life, my thoughts, and the way I experience the world are more like those of a gay man than those of a straight man. I have found, for example, that I tend to relate better to gay men than to straight men (with some notable exceptions).

One of the strongest arguments against homosexual people being in straight marriages is that we aren't being authentic to our true selves. Many, indeed, find the sacrifice of authenticity too much to make the marriage worth it. To be clear, I'm not staying married because I'm stronger or nobler than anyone else, or for that matter, because I'm less authentic; I'm staying married because I realized that for me, the sacrifice of giving up the marriage was greater than the sacrifice of giving up what I might have had otherwise. I believe FoxyJ feels similarly about the sacrifices she's required to make to stay in the marriage versus the sacrifices she'd have to make to end the marriage. Other people consider the same options and come to different conclusions. Every individual has his or her own values, priorities, and life situation; I can only act according to my own. La Agrado, a transvestite character in Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother speaks beautifully of the more literal cost she's paid to become a woman: "Well, as I was saying, it costs a lot to be authentic, ma'am. And one can't be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you've dreamed of being."

My motivations for choosing a straight life have been called into question before because by birth I am a member of an underprivileged class and I am trying to pass, as it were, for a member of the privileged class. Perhaps it is for this same reason that while society tends to view male-born women as amusing, female-born men tend to be seen as threatening. Rest assured, my class-conscious friends, I have no interest in being part of a privileged class; I'm much too enamored of the idea of Mr. Fob the Oppressed. This is, to be honest, one of the less-than-noble reasons I cling to the label gay. What it comes down to, though, is that the person I'm in love with, am married to, and want to be married to is a woman.

Perhaps more than anything, I feel that to call myself straight without any qualifiers would be to pretend I'm something I'm not, to ignore the fact that, like a male-born transsexual in the process of becoming a woman, I'm a work in progress. So I won't call myself straight, but I'm not sure gay accurately describes me either. I'll try transoriented on for size and see how it fits.

14 comments:

Chris said...

Ben, I find this recent turn fascinating and, to be honest, very unexpected.

Thank you for this post. I'd love to catch up with you at some point since you seem to now be moving in a very different direction than when I last saw you.

In any event, all the best to you and the whole family!

Elbow said...

It sounds like you are in a good place, and it's good to hear that you are doing what you feel like you need to do.

By the way, I love that quote from "All About My Mother" that movie is kick-ass and everyone should see it. But the reference you made to the quote is very powerful as it pertains to your current situation.

Thanks for sharing, and thanks for being honest.

Th. said...

.

That was an excellent post in a series of...how do we count? four? five? Anyway, it is a worthy member of an important portion of your, mm, portfolio.

Man am I short of proper vocab tonight.

Anyway, all the best.

I'll be interested to see how the new words fits. I think it's an excellent choice.

mamamormon said...

I enjoyed this post and the glimpse into your thought process.

Janci said...

The more I think about this, the more sense it makes. Thanks for sharing. It's certainly been food for thought for me.

Ron Schow said...

Mr Fob

I wholeheartedly agree that you should be free to call yourself whatever you wish. At the same time you are quite clear that your sexual orientation is primarily but not exclusively gay (homosexual) and has not changed. Most often I believe bisexual is used to describe the orientation in a situation like this.

When researchers like Laumann, et al, (1994), were identifying sexual orientation they used several ways to do it. They included those who had been sexual with persons of the same sex as well as those who had not been sexual in that way but who were attracted to those of the same sex or who self identified as being gay or bisexual(based on however the individuals personally wished to define it). You are suggesting you have switched orientation because you have not been sexual with men, but they would not consider that you have switched, I think.

You might consider as you try this new label on for fit, that most everyone will not know what you are talking about when you say transoriented. And, in fact, the most important study for establishing sexual orientation numbers in the USA would classify you as having some attraction for men and some for women. I think they would consider you bisexual in orientation, which in your self identity as a 5 is how you also have described yourself.

June Reinsch of the Kinsey Institute, when she came to our Family Fellowship/UofU conference in SLC several years ago, told us that who you naturally fall in love with also helps establish sexual orientation. Limerance, or falling in love, was just demonstrated for us in the LDS Queerosphere by Max and John. You might consider if you have ever had falling in love experiences of the type Max and John describe.

As to the issue of authenticity, if we try to divide the whole world into two groups (gay and straight) then maybe one can argue that you can't be authentic unless you follow the natural pattern of your group. But the reality is that there are those in the middle who are bisexual, and they have a choice as to which side of their orientation they wish to follow. Kinsey used to say, in talking about sexual orientation, "the world cannot all be divided into sheep and goats" or words to that effect.

In the meantime, I am thinking of D. H. Lawrence, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein who were all happily married to women, but nevertheless had continuing sexual attractions for men after they were married. Typically, I think, we call them bisexual. As I understand Lawrence's story he was not involved and did not believe in full physical expression with men because of his love for his wife. He was, however, physically affectionate with male friends but not in a genital way.

Mr. Fob said...

Just one small point, Ron:

I haven't said anything about changing orientation. I've said, in fact, that orientation is not likely to change. Sexual identity is the fluid quality here.

Ron Schow said...

If there is no change in orientation expected or desired the linkage with transgender seems puzzling.

I wonder if this would help. Try this glossary---

http://feminism.eserver.org/sexual-gender-identity.txt

There it says the following...

Sexual Identity and Gender Identity are similar in some ways and very different in others. Both refer to how one thinks of a person.... Gender roles refer to the clothing, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, relationships, etc., that are considered appropriate or
inappropriate for members of each sex.

However, sex, gender identity, and sexual identity refer to different aspects of oneself. Therefore, one may be any combination of sex (male/female), gender (masculine/feminine), and sexual identity (straight, bisexual, lesbian/gay.)

Transgendered (TG)
One who switches gender roles, whether just once, or many times at will. Inclusive term for transsexuals and transvestites.

Transsexual (TS)
One who switches physical sexes (usually just once, but there are exceptions.) Primary sex change is accomplished by surgery.

Mr. Fob said...

Thanks, Ron, I'm familiar with the definitions of gender, sex, transgender, and transsexual. To make a comparison between transorientation and transsexualism would imply a change in orientation, but as I pointed out in the post, there is no successful orientation reassignment surgery that I know of. The comparison I've made, rather, is with transgenderism, which does not necessarily mean a change in sex--the immutable aspect, like orientation--but in gender role, which I've compared here to sexual identity. The terminology doesn't mask onto my theory perfectly, I know, but if you think of trans- as meaning "crossing over from a role associated with one's own orientation to a role associated with another orientation" rather than "changing one's orientation," it makes sense, at least to me. If it still doesn't make sense to you, I suppose I can live with that. :)

SenecaSis said...

Ron,

I write in defense of Mr. Fob--not because he needs it, but because I am his big sister and that's what I do.

You write: "I wholeheartedly agree that you should be free to call yourself whatever you wish." Then you go on to write another 10+ paragraphs with the apparent attempt to convince Mr. Fob that his self-identification and self-labelling are incorrect. That, in fact, you think the label "bisexual" is more correct and that that is the label he should identify with.

I suppose that your argument might hold more weight if your statement "Sexual Identity and Gender Identity are similar in some ways and very different in others. Both refer to how one thinks of a person...." were absolutely correct. However, you neglect to address that Sexual Identity and Gender Identity are also how one thinks of (or views) their own Self. See next point.

You also write: "You might consider as you try this new label on for fit, that most everyone will not know what you are talking about when you say transoriented..." With this comment it is obvious that you do not know Mr. Fob; because if you did you would know that he doesn't really care if "most everyone" knew what he was talking about. Thus his comment, "I still maintain that language means whatever the speaker intends it to mean (or, conversely, whatever the listener understands it to mean)..."

Mr. Fob means that he views himself as "transoriented"--at least for now that is the term that he is using to identify a major aspect of his Self. If that works for him, then who else really matters?

Alexander said...

I say you're "neosexual." ;-)

And if anyone has a problem with you staying married, screw 'em. If you're happy, FoxyJ is happy, then I'm happy--and others should be as well.

Th. said...

.

I'm happy.

Ron Schow said...

Mr Fob

Whatever makes sense to you, is fine with me. I meant no disrespect and simply felt inclined to chat about your new thinking because your posting of it here suggests you are interested in feedback. I believe you know I wish you and Foxy J and your family the best regardless of your terminology or your decisions about your life, and I most warmly do.

TK said...

Wow! I just read the comments before commenting - some very good comments!

But the main things I want to say is to not only congratulate you on what I think is an excellent choice (staying married to Foxy), but also on your ability to rise above MAN-MADE LABELS!

Who makes all the labels! Yes, if you're a professional in a given profession (medicine, psychiatry, other sciences) then I guess you have some obligation to stick to the 'approved' labels and their definitions. But in life, WHO GIVES ONE PERSON OVER ANOTHER the sole right to determine the labels AND what they mean?

Unfortunately, too many of us get locked into 'labels' (including, but not limited to, medical and psychiatric diagnoeses)simply because of the labels SOMEONE else has thought appropriate! Other than God, only we can as individuals really define ourselves! Congratulations on enabling yourself to do so!