Marla R. Stevens

Tripping Over The Labels -- Again

Filed By Marla R. Stevens | August 21, 2007 10:20 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Alfred Kinsey, labels, language, queer, queer identity

What to call myself and the people not squarely on that first het point of the Kinsey diagraph -- everything but that last little point -- comes up again and again. It's an infinity of points, so it shouldn't surprise that the possible labels are many -- although not nearly enough to describe that infinity. Think about what that says about how well we've thought about human sexual orientation in general when, as a verbal bunch, we're supposed to have a word for every concept...but I digress!

I use queer because it's easier -- sorta like Ms. when you don't know for sure a Miss or a Mrs., because it's powerful to take back a word from the forces of evil, and because sometimes I just like its shock value.

I use lesbian because it's such a luscious word -- completely singable (no aspirants in the mix), and steeped in the history of the language of love.

I use gay also when it's convenient -- sometimes the last thing I want is for the shock value of a word to get in the way of me getting my point across. I don't like its generic use, though -- as a lesbian, it tends to make me disappear and we're invisible enough as it is -- and avoid it when I can.

I use acronyms a lot -- LGBTQQA is a fav. I use it when I'm into educating about how varied we are and when I want to poke holes in the notion of us as anything but a bunch of unherdable cats.

But I say each word in the acronyms when I testify at legislative hearings and such -- again, the power of the words being said in places of power, again and again and again, until they are just ordinary, is inestimable.

I use numbers, too -- mapping sexuality into parallel universes of desire and experience, each with multiple dimensions extending beyond the tangible three. It brings us full circle back to the Kinsey diagraph -- and beyond and I suppose I should write about it in detail in a post sometime. The folks at UC-Santa Barbara who are big on that sort of thing caught on to it some decades later than I began looking at it but haven't taken it dimensionally very far but you can get the elements of my drift by looking at their stuff. It's hard to think in dimensions beyond those you can see and touch, much less communicate it all, so I don't blame them for not going there. I just get peeved when some short-sighted orthodox academic tries to tell me, just because some guru professor there didn't include more dimensions in his treatise, that they don't exist. But, again, I digress. It's more important that you contemplate that, along with the beyond third dimensions describing parts of human sexual orientation, you can also involve the dimension of time in snapshotting these figures versus accumulating them. For some of us, the two produce quite different results.

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Scott Waters | August 21, 2007 11:44 PM

Almost any part of the LGBTQQRSVP label will be misunderstood by someone without personal experience in the situation, but those who know what the letters mean need no translation.

We're trapped within the constraints of a binary, either or, bad or good, right or wrong culture. This is still a world where the continuum, no matter how true, has few places to call home.

I have a wife so I must be straight. Like my friends who love others we are judged not according to who we are but according to who they are with or how they dress. The person is too often hidden behind the label.

Don Sherfick | August 22, 2007 7:07 AM

Good to see you blogging again here, too, Marla. Our mutual friends Tim and Tracy say hi. Your comments on civil unions come at a time when I've commenced a small series on the issues, more of a factual/educational discussion than opinion as such. As you know from some prior correspondence, I have been one of those tending toward the "I don't care what you call it, just give it to me and my partner" with respect to marriage equality. But I'm increasingly becoming aware that non-portability, differences in terms, etc., of civil unions, are larger impediments than I previously appreciated. Worse yet, when politicians of any stripe mouth simplistic "I support civil unions fully", even though their heart may be in the right place they may well be doing a disservice by not saying a few more things.

Michael Bedwell | August 22, 2007 11:31 AM

I'm as fascinated by labeling as you seem to be. However, perhaps it wasn't your intent, but taking only what you wrote at "face value," I fear you might be contributing to the further misunderstanding of readers who are only familiar with the "pop" version of the ORIGINAL Kinsey studies published in 1948 and 1953 respectively.

As you know, they were called, "Sexual BEHAVIOR in the Human Male" and "Sexual BEHAVIOR in the Human Female." While I imagine exceptions exist, when Kinsey used the word "homosexual" it was virtually always in its adjective form, "labeling" behavior, not its noun form "labeling" individuals. Certainly, entire mountain ranges of writing have developed around his work as the basis for discussing homosexual PEOPLE, both when the studies first appeared and even by his co-researchers who survived him into the post-Stonewall age. Dr. Paul Gebhard, for instance, concluded a 1977 letter reiterating their statistical findings to the then National Gay Task Force that "I believe that however this data is interpreted, one can only conclude that a significant percentage of the American population is predominately homosexual in its sexual and affectional orientation."

While that is still short of a pure noun, it is much closer than the inclusion of "T" for transgender in any discussion that begins with the original Kinsey studies because, please correct me if I'm wrong, transgender refers to "identity" not behavior. I would also submit that that premise eliminates both "Qs" and, sheltered life that I lead, I haven't the foggiest what the "A" in your alphabet soup represents.

You're clearly more learned than little I, e.g., what is this "infinity of points Kinsey diagraph" that apparently exists separate from the 0-6 scale? But some things, however much many would wish or have us believe, remain but "opinion," and, thus, my opinion quite definitively differs with your opinion about how "queer" has been powerful[ly] taken "back a word from the forces of evil." This quaint magical thinking, much like the conviction of some American Indians who died long ago of bullet wounds despite being convinced that the magic shirts they wore would protect them from white soldiers' guns, persists despite any evidence that the forces of evil got the memo. And despite evidence that, contrary to its prevalence in the gay press and among certain flag wavers of Linguistic Chic in academia, the Q-word is used by very few people to describe themselves or others. I don't have the issue at my fingertips, but, as I recall, only 4% of respondents to an "Advocate" poll labeled themselves such. Further, if, as you say, your use of the Q-word can still "shock," while you may claim to "own" it, if it still stings then where is your victory?