Sexual fluidity, Skins US, and labels! labels! labels!

This is a subject that has been bouncing around in my brain pan for several months… I’ve tried to figure out a number of ways to write about it, but nothing was really gelling well for me, and it’s a tricky subject, so I’ve left it alone. But I realized I had a way to discuss it yesterday when I ran across this particular paragraph in a piece of fan fiction that I was reading (YES, I’m reading Glee fan fiction. Do. Not. Judge. Me.):

“It’s quite alright. Although… I am curious, and you by all means don’t have to answer if it makes you uncomfortable, but I’m dying to know…” Quinn just looked at her. “Does this mean you’re… bisexual?”

Quinn made a noise which sounded half way between a snort and a laugh. “Um, I don’t think so. I hate to be so cliché, but I’m not a big fan of labels. I don’t like it when anyone wears their sexuality as a badge, you know? And, again, cliché alert, but I believe that you don’t really fall in love with someone’s gender. Like… you don’t fall for someone because of their genitalia, do you?” Rachel blushed. “I’m doing my very best to avoid using the word fluid but I suppose it does best describe… it. I guess… I guess the short answer to your question is maybe… probably… I don’t know? But it doesn’t really bother me.”

Okay. Problems. This whole concept would be fine if the character (or by extension, the author) were talking only about themselves. I know there are many folks for whom their sexuality is fluid, and they fall for the person, not their genitalia, and that’s awesome. Call it bisexuality, omni-sexuality, sexual fluidity – I think ‘Team Self-Awareness’ is a go for takeoff, in my book.

But in this case, the author is making some broad statements about everyone‘s sexual orientation, including mine. And that’s where I must vigorously object. To me, defining other people’s sexuality for them is obnoxious no matter who is doing it – whether it’s coming from sexually fluid people or the Westboro Baptist Church. And the tendency of sexual fluidity advocates to paint the world in their own image has come up quite a bit lately in my online reading, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first a few statements of fact for the record, your honor:

My sexuality is not fluid. I am not attracted to guys. I am attracted to women. And for me, genitalia does matter. I like cis lady parts. A LOT. Sorry; don’t mean to be crude or anything, but I do. I’m on Team Vagina. I’ll even wear the shirt. I think about cis lady parts a lot. I daydream about them when I’m bored and zoned out in meetings. Although I promise I’ve never done this in a meeting with you. No sirree. (I totally have; sorry.) Sometimes I’m thinking about cis lady parts belonging to a specific lady, and sometimes to no lady in particular. Although I promise I’ve never thought about yours. I swear. (Okay, if you’re not related to me, I may possibly have. Again, I’m sorry; I’m not really doing on purpose or anything. Consciously. If it helps, I imagined they are awesome and a place of sparkly rainbows where unicorns frolic. Does that help? No? Please don’t hate me.)

Anyways – this isn’t to say that I fall in love with or am attracted to women solely because of their cis lady parts. But they really are a factor. And I don’t have such feelings for cis or trans men or cis gentleman parts. At all. I think guys are awesome. Some of them are aesthetically pleasing, in the way that a painting or a summer meadow is aesthetically pleasing. But I don’t want to jump them and ride like a pony, any more than I want to do that to a painting. (Ignore that time I got kicked out of the art museum. I fell on that picture, I swear!). Many guys are quite handsome. In the same way that my brothers are handsome fellows, all of them. In my head, I picture them looking like Ken dolls under their pants.

So in summary: blanket statements about sexual fluidity != my sexuality. Vagina parts = awesome to me! Penis parts = not my cup of tea, but yay for you!

The reason this subject been rattling around in my brain lately is because the subject came up in a large fashion in the comments on the website afterellen.com, surrounding their coverage of the US version of Skins, the television show imported from Britain and aired on MTV recently.

I wrote a bit about my misgivings about that show (Skins: British vs. American) several weeks back. It was a big deal on several of the of the gay pop culture websites I read regularly, so I tuned in, and wasn’t terribly impressed, if you recall. I liked the British version, (which was also heavily blogged about on afterellen.com) better, and thought some of the changes to the show had been made on the basis of the perception of American audiences being more receptive to female homosexuality than male homosexuality. I was also pretty critical of yet another storyline of a lesbian sleeping with a man – because is there a lesbian on television who hasn’t really? This is pretty standard fare for lesbian storylines. It’s usually one of three stories, none of which bears much resemblance to actual live lesbians: 1) sleeps with man, 2) birthin’ the babies! 3) psycho-stalker-killer!

As Skins US progressed through the season, the ‘lesbian’ character does indeed sleep with a man on more than one occasion, saying she has a connection with him and is attracted to him on some intellectual level. As the season went on, the regular commenters on after Ellen.com became pretty critical of the storyline in the comments.

Relating to the “lesbian sleeps with man” discussions on afterellen.com, during a couple of interviews with creators of the show, Bryan Elsley and his son Jamie Brittain, both of these fellows stated that they felt that everyone was really sexual fluid.

Bryan Elsley (“Skins” boss Bryan Elsley talks Tea, Tony and Naomily):

No one I’ve spoken to, in all the years I’ve been writing, even when I was writing Naomily — I’ve never met a lesbian who said, “You know, I’ve never, ever considered sleeping with a man. I’ve never slept with a man. I’d never consider doing that.”

That’s a pretty blanket statement – granted, he’s talking only about lesbians he’s met, not lesbians as a whole, but still, I am not the only woman in the world for whom this statement is completely untrue, as evidenced by the howls of protest from the comments and choruses of “well, he hasn’t met me, apparently!”

And then there’s this statement from co-creator Jamie Brittian (Exclusive: “Skins” boss Jamie Brittain talks series 5):

AE: Cool! I can’t wait to read it. I’m not asking you to label any of your characters, but is it fair to say that Liv and Franky and Mini are all three pretty sexually fluid?

JB: I think that would be a fair assessment. But then again, and this is where me and Bryan keep getting into trouble. I think everyone is at least a little bit sexually fluid. I know a lot of people don’t agree with that, though. Weirdly, I think Liv is the least sexually fluid out of all of them. But I think she’s a really brave girl who’s willing to go a long way to find love.

So a bit of generalizing about sexualities that are not owned by them from both of these men occurred, followed by much back and forth in the comments on both interviews as well as in the recaps of every one of the shows.

And speaking of the recaps – there is also afterellen.com Senior Editor Heather Hogan. She interviewed both of these fellows and she also wrote the recaps for each episode of the show. And she is also fairly invested in the idea that all humans are really sexually fluid, bedamned what some humans have to say on their own behalf about it. She brings up her point of view and tries to solidify her case in nearly every piece of writing she writes for the site, and on her own journal as well. She’s like a dog who just can’t stop worrying that bone, long after the discussion has died down. And she has a tendency to demonize the folks that disagree with her, accusing them of all manner of unsavory behaviors.

If it were me, I’d have tried to separate narrating the storyline from my opinions about the larger gay community to some extent, given that there was some pretty obvious disagreement about whether the storyline was a valid one that resonated with lesbians or whether it was a reflection of our disjointed cultural thought about gay characters.

But big deal; it’s a television show, right? I guess so. But it’s still putting out there this notion that gay girls should be ‘confused’ about their feelings, and that sleeping with a boy is how they should clarify that confusion. I really beg to differ with that message – it wasn’t true for me 20-some years ago, and it certainly shouldn’t be for today’s teens, who have lots better lesbian characters on whom to model healthy relationships from than I did. I never needed to sleep with a guy to know that I was a Kinsey 6, and the only role models I had were Colette novels I stumbled across in the library completely by accident. And flip that narrative around – we don’t say that straight teens should sleep with the same sex to sort out their sexual orientations.

Nor do we say that gay boys should get it on with girls to determine their orientation, either. Gay boys just have to say “I’m gay” and they’re totally believed, because why would they say that and subject themselves to society’s wrath if it weren’t true? So aside from the issues of sexual orientation, there’s a weird double standard that appears sexist to this whole thread as well. There’s lots and lots of talk about women being sexually fluid, but not really much about men. Nor are there lots of “male sexual fluidity” storylines going around, either.

And lets cap this whole discussion off with the notion of “labeling” people, because it’s a common refrain from the “we’re all sexually fluid” advocates: “I don’t believe in labels!” The words gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual – they aren’t “labels” or “pigeon holes” or boxes. They are merely words. Words don’t define you, they describe you. And if these words don’t describe you accurately, you can always use more words. Write sentences. Write paragraphs. (Witness: the fifth paragraph of this article, wherein I do that about myself!) If you don’t, people may have difficulty relating to you, because they won’t understand where you’re coming from. Honesty and openness is a key component of happy and successful relationships. Yes life is messy, and we don’t always think about or describe ourselves the same way, but we have to communicate, and the key to that is not obfuscation. It’s clarity.

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