In reflecting over the past semester, I think that our discourses surrounding different sexualities and sexual identities have been very important and informative. Something that I have really taken away from our class discussion is the variety of sexual identities out there that deserve recognition, and the ways in which those identities can be divorced from behaviors, in order for us to take a more critical look at peoples’ embodied experiences with their sexualities and gender performances.
For me, the most important learning points from class came from the LGBTQI Speak Out! panel that graciously came and spoke to us. I took so much away from the panelists, and it gave me such a more clear insight on the actual lived experiences of people who identify with non-normative sexual identities. I am going to use the insight that I gained from the experiences of the panelists, along with some course readings, to reiterate the importance of the recognition of the wide ranging spectrum of sexual identities.
One of the panelists that we heard from identified as a homosexual man. In “Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Politics in the United States,” Sediman talks about how homosexuality first emerged as a sexual identity in America. When it was originally brought to the forefront, it was deemed diagnosable as a mental illness and abnormality. Sediman suggests that as long as this was the case, the individual was the one left to deal with this homosexual state, not politicians or institutions. Obviously we have seen changes today, but I thought it was interesting that the panelist who spoke about homosexuality was very indicative of the individual implications that his identity had on him. He was the one who had to bear the brunt of the reactions of other people, he was the one that had to come out in a geographic setting in which it was considered unacceptable, and he was the one who had to shift his life practices in order to organize others around his sexual identity. So we see that while institutions are affected by sexual identities, individuals are just as well.
One of the panelists identified as a bisexual woman. She suggested that her own behaviors and wishes for her identity portrayal combated many myths that are associated with bisexuals, as Esterberg points out in “The Bisexual Menace Revisited.” Here we see the individual interpretations of one’s identity clashing with institutional expectations of that identity, particularly when it comes to the often ambiguous identity of bisexuals.
Another one of the panelists identified as a transgender female-to-male queer. One thing that stuck out to me was his account of having to “come out twice.” Not only did he have to come out to is family and friends about identifying as a lesbian woman, he then had to come out and say that he was desiring a gender transformation, in which he would become a queer man. We see this same thing being portrayed in Ethan Zimmerman’s piece “Transie,” which highlights the day to day difficulties of living in a transgendered body.
I think that this panel was so largely important to our class because it provided us with first hand accounts of what it is like to live in bodies that identify with non-normative sexual identities. It made it even more real to observe the need for the continual fight for equal rights and access for all. How can we learn from the experiences of these individuals and promote rights without perpetuating the discourses surrounding sexual identities that highlight differences rather than celebrate unity?