Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I thought it was about equality...

CAVEAT/DISCLAIMER: The following are simple examples from my interpretation of some of my experiences and I don't mean to infer that these are universal. This is simply meant to be an illustrative post and there are great many of all sexualities with differing viewpoints on the issues I discuss.

Even still, I think I might be wading into something messy with this post, but here goes...

A few years ago I was sitting around in a neutral space having drinks with about half a dozen women, median age maybe near 32. I was the only male. The women were a mix of lesbian, bisexual and straight. Somewhere over the course of a few hours they all decided they were going to to go the lesbian bar. I was informed in no uncertain terms that even though I was really nice for a male, I was not welcome to join them, and that they would hope I would understand. 'Heh,' I thought, 'now isn't this an awkward bit of interesting.'

A bit of a focus group followed because, being curious and relatively unfamiliar with the nuances of the politics of orientation sexuality, I wanted to know how my exclusion was rationalised. It transpired that some of the women felt there were degrees of welcome at the bar based on sexual orientation and anatomy. I, as a straight male, was most unwelcome and it would not go over well were I to tag along. Gay males were permitted, but not wholly welcome and shouldn't make a habit of it. Straight women were more welcome, although some of the gay women felt uncomfortable with the idea that straight women should go to lesbian bars and that they shouldn't make a habit of it either. Bisexual women were more welcome, but also not entirely as welcome as lesbians.

The rationale for these degrees of discrimination seemed to revolve around two related themes. First, in broader terms the women and especially the lesbians felt their bar was a safe space and men were something of a violation of that space. Second, the discrimination based on sexual preference seemed to come from a desire by the lesbians to feel it was safe to approach other women in the bar. I recall the word 'safe' emerging quite a bit in the discussion. Ah.

I more recently had a conversation with a friend who considers herself queer and doesn't like sexual identity labels, but usually ends up dating women and her closer circle of friends are lesbian. She informed me that she finds it troublesome to openly have male friends or partners because of the gossip and judgement that she feels from her peer group. "Ouch" me thinks.

Now while I'm sympathetic to the rationales around safe spaces for oppressed and marginalised groups, I ultimately don't really have a lot of time for anyone who uses discrimination to fight discrimination. Although aspects of power might shift favourably for the oppressed group now asserting itself, ultimately it emphasises and perpetuates lines of difference. This appears counter to the broader goal of equality.  I understand why typologies like LGBTQQI matter now as society progresses and starts to set aside its rigid constructions of sexuality. will we reach a point where those labels no longer matter, or the typology expands to the point where it becomes unwieldy?

All things being equal (yes, with climate change and the like, this is a huge caveat), I like to think the world of 2050 might look back on sexual and gender politics of 2010 as uh, just a little complicated compared to the future where variation is simply accepted...without the politics of today's boundaries.

So a few questions for readers - some of you are perhaps much more versed in the nuances of this than I am - arise:

- Is it OK to discriminate based on gender and sexual orientation in some circumstances? Was I right to be excluded?

- If so, why? How is this different from discrimination based on say ethnicity or religion?

- Have I got it all wrong? Did I miss something key in the politics here?

- In broader terms, how useful are labels for non-straight sexuality in the long term? Do they help perpetuate lines of division and/or discrimination between the straight and the non-straight cohorts?

- Should there be/is there a need for division between LGBTQQI and straight communities?



Anonymous said...

While in college I had a few friends who were gay. They would come and drink with me and another friend in pubs all the time. One night I said where shall we go tomorrow, why not go where you guys are more comfortable, after all you seem to always come to the places I like.
So the next night we went to a club that was gay friendly and the reaction to myself was mixed. The gay guys appreciated the reciprocal nature of my being there but the women in the club were quite hostile, even after my mates explained the rationale.
Still we had a grand old time and at the time that was all that mattered.

Boris said...

You allude to two layers to my scenarios that I didn't clearly state:
1. I've not experienced issue of exclusion with gay male friends.

2. Women have to deal with the gender norms of a changing but still patriarchal society. By virtue of being male, men gay or straight access that male privilege by default. So non-straight women face a double layer of discrimination, first as women, and then as queer or lesbian. But I still don't think that justifies the hostility because it simply reverses the discrimination, not remove it.

Informed Despite Education said...

My limited experience with the sexual divide in our society mean my comments are comming from an outsiders perspective, but I hope these musings still prove to be of value.

From a psychological perspective the hostility is rather understanding since these women, especially bysexual and lesbians, are seen as seen and sold as male sexual fantasies. This would make it hard for some of them to trust the intentions of males, especially straight and may polute an environment they have worked very hard to create and maintain.

The problem I see is more systemic. To me this desire for a safe space and the justification of using discrimination to obtain and maintain it is a socially learned behaviour. Look at our neighbours to the south who have allowed their government increasing rights to infringe on what they considered inaliable rights of man. I would say the same force drives the discrimination and hatred of these women who are so adament to maintain a clean environment as drove the american people to give up fundamental rights, FEAR.

This does not justify the use of discrimination in retaliation of discrimination, but to expect them to use a different tactic, would mean society would have to learn to use a different tool. We would need to start working with inclusion instead of seperation, but more importantly we would need to accept that bad stuff happens, people won't always like us, they will do things to hurt us, and finally that we can rely on society as a whole to provide us with the aid to move past this. An eye for an eye is an old idea, but still powerfully present in the world today and if only a small subsect of society is willing to offer you aid you will go to them, increasing segregation. To often we break down old walls to build new ones that fit better.

West End Bob said...

"Back in the day" - when I was still frequenting gay clubs - there was a noticeable difference in attitudes between the gay male establishments and lesbian establishments. On the occasions when I attended lesbian bars, I had to be accompanied and "vouched for" by a "bona fide" lesbian in order to gain access - this was in the '80's, mind you. Possibly this has changed, but having not attended of late, I've no idea.

I think you have revealed one of the reasons why this was - or is - the case, Boris: They feel "safe" that way. Many of my lesbian friends have been sexually abused by men during their youth or as adults. Fear can be a powerful motivator of one's actions, and this may very well be the determining factor here.

As a side note: Having met you on several occasions, if you should ever decide to come and play on our team, I'm sure you'll be welcome with open arms. As you said, you're "really nice for a male" and a hottie, too! (Sorry, Lady Alison, had to say it! Don't beat me, please . . . . )

Dana said...

Suppose you showed up to play a hockey game wearing football pants and pads and turf cleats.

Would the hockey players be discriminating against you when they said you couldn't play?

When talking about gender or sexual orientation we are not only talking about very fundamental issues of identity.

We are also talking about issues of recreation. Fucking, making love is recreational. Sometimes it's procreational too but I'm willing to bet that among people whose main preoccupation with what club they go to is whether there are any straight people there that recreational sex is the rule.

The two issues - around fundamental identity and around recreational sex - become conflated and mistaken for each other very, very easily. Among straight people just as easily as among non-straight.

Mostly I want the day to come where it just doesn't matter - to anyone - who you want to fuck or love or be married to or not be married to or whatever.

An old, old friend died just a few days ago and another old friend wrote a beautiful eulogy and included this 13th century Sufi poem by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.


It happens all the time in heaven,

And some day

It will begin to happen

Again on earth

That men and women who are married,

And men and men who are


And women and women

Who give each other


Often will get down on their knees

And while so tenderly

Holding their lover's hand,

With tears in their eyes,

Will sincerely speak, saying,

"My dear,

How can I be more loving to you;

How can I be more


Anonymous said...

Ta Boris
Back to one of your original questions now:
"How is this different from discrimination based on say ethnicity or religion?"

Sexual orientation appears to be an innate quality like race/colour of skin and even sex. So allowing a special exemption or protections for issues that involve discrimination based on these qualities can make sense to me.
Religious belief, like political beliefs are arrived at voluntarily. No body is inherently conservative or catholic. Indeed the way that folk change faiths and political parties only confirms this. There should be far fewer legal protections for those who hold abhorrent political or religious views apart from the protection of your right to hold them and freely express them.
It always stuck me as absurd that folk insist on enacting anti-blasphemy laws, while at the same time seeking to legislate against folk who cannot change who they are.
To me sexual orientation and discrimination based upon it are in a much different category than calling out the religions for their excesses.

Kim said...

Thought provoking. I've never been to a lesbian bar personally, so my opinion is not necessarily informed. Having said that, I am good friends with several lesbians and I think maybe west end bob has it right. Many of those friends have been abused in thier formative years by men. Add to that how exploitive the pornography industry has been to lesbians and the increased predatory behaviour in bars with date rape drugs, I can see where some might be distrustful of men. However, lesbians are not immune to the foibles of human nature. Could be some henhouse politics within the group too.

Boris said...

Bob, you're shameless! But how could I fault a compliment like that? Cheers!

Boris said...

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments.

The mention from some of you of the frequency childhood abuse in your friends is interesting, so I went looking and was utterly shocked to find a number of studies (e.g. google DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2007.0450,DOI 10.1007/s10508-010-9636-x, DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2009.1763) that show a staggering correlation of childhood and adolescent among women identifying as lesbian and bisexual. For example Austin et al (2008:601)* found:

Over 63,000 women provided information about their sexual orientation: 98.9% were het-
erosexual (n=62,311), 0.4% (n=223) were bisexual, and 0.8% (n=494) were lesbian. Participants ranged in age from 36 to 56 years at the time of data collection, and 93.3% were of white race/ethnicity...
Combining reports from childhood and adolescence, 56.9% of heterosexual, 73.3% of bisexual, and 69.2% of lesbian women reported one or both types of abuse at some
point up to age 17 years...

More on this later.

* Austin SB, et al. (2008) Disparities in childe abuse victimization in lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women in the Nurses Health Study II. J. of Women's Health. 17(4):597-607 DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2007.0450

Smartpatrol said...

Boris, Dude:

Dykes go to dyke bars. They go there to hang out, drink, dance, cruse & flirt w/ other dykes in a safe environment free from harassment. If a dyke sees another woman in a dyke bar, its safe for her to imagine that the lady's a dyke or at least bi & its safe to flirt w/ her. She's in a dyke bar, right?

You're on the right track in noting how the word safe came up in the explanation re: why your presence was unwelcome. Yes, the people present at your party knew you were a-ok, but the other women at the bar would have no such foreknowledge & would be well w/in their rights in perceiving your presence as an invasion of their safe space. Nothing to do w/ you, but they go there to get away from the patriarchy & take a bath in all that women-centered dyke-energy, an with few exceptions, any guy there will be perceived as The Fly In The Buttermilk.

It brings to mind the last few panels of one of the tangent stories from “The Sandman” graphic novels: a young man has been initiated into his tribe, the last part of which is listening to a story /foundation myth / fairy tale to him by a male elder that lasts throughout the night. In the last few panels after the story has been told & the sun comes up & they head back home, the caption boxes are saying the following:

“There is another version of the story,
one that is told to the young women of the tribe.
It is not told to the young men.
In that version, perhaps things ended differently.
It is a version that the young men are too young to understand,
and the older men are wise enough not to worry about.”

West End Bob said...

Very interesting stats you pulled up there, Boris.

As for me being "shameless," I'm counting on you protect me from Lady Alison when she beats me - and you know she will! ;-) It appears she's lying low waiting for her perfect opportunity, which has me quite worried . . . .

Boris said...

Bob, oh no you don't! I am not getting mixed up between you and Alison. I will, however, pour a scotch and make some popcorn to watch the show!

Boris said...

Smartpatrol, mate,

Nice Gaiman quote. Several things, however...

IHMO (I'm really wading into the deep end now and won't continue this much further ;) the rationale about safe only goes so far. Ive heard it argued much the same as you state and my rebuttal here: Obviously the odd male hanging out with a group of women at a lesbian bar is not going to bring the house down and lead a charge of horny fratboys. Moreover, in every other bar in the universe one does not need to give a rationale for why one rejects someone hitting on them. And, anyone going to a gay or lesbian joint should reasonably expect to be hit on by their own gender and be comfortable with that whether they intend to partake or not. Perhaps most importantly people, gay, straight and everything else do go to bars, clubs and pubs for reasons that do not involve picking-up. Like having fun and socialising.

HOWEVER, I do get the fly in the buttermilk argument which I suspect is closer to the mark. It's analogous the the boys/girls-night-out thing for hetero couples (oh I recall a particularly nasty argument over that one once!).

But back to my larger question, over the long term, does maintaining separate spaces help or hinder the issue, vis a vis Dana's poetic conclusion (which I more or less agree with)?

Unknown said...

Y'know maybe its because I'm married now or maybe its because I've just run out of patience for the endless debate about who is entitled to drink where, but for me, the way I judge whether I want to frequent a bar is based on the dryness of their martinis and the breadth of their draft beer menu. One of the best night's I ever had in a bar was in a lesbian bar -- mainly because we spent the night talking about what we all found attractive in a woman. (a sense of humour vastly outstripped slim hips and cleavage, being a good cook also ranked high --as it does with all my male gay friends too. Obviously the route to the heart goes through the stomach and the funnybone.