Saturday, April 11, 2009

Trending Sex and Gender

Check out the recent article in O Magazine titled Why Women are Leaving Men for Other Women and guess why it makes me nervous.

Some could infer from the title that there is a popular trend in sexual orientation—the sex or sexes you are romantically, physically, emotionally, and sexually attracted to. For example I recently overheard on UT campus: “but it was cool to be a lesbian in the seventies.” Listen closely and you will hear the collective groans of frustration of those everywhere whose sexual orientations are regularly marginalized as being a choice. Born v. Bred conversations deny the many, that don’t align with the binary, male/masculine and female/feminine, their own personal experience.

The misconception is due to an intertwining in dominant culture of sexual orientation with gender identity—a person's own sense of identification as male, female, another gender, or identifying with no gender—and gender expression—the physical manifestation of one's gender identity, usually expressed through clothing, mannerisms, and chosen names. “Certainly nothing is new about women having sex with women, but we've arrived at a moment in the popular culture when it all suddenly seems almost fashionable—or at least, acceptable.”

What Mary Fischer’s article in the mama O mag. follows is increasing representation and variation of sex/gender categories in the public sphere. So when you see someone trade in their Jimmy Choo’s for Chuck Taylor’s or vice versa, know that sometimes a shoe is just a shoe.

In an effort to explain trends Fischer quotes feminist philosopher Susan Bordo, PhD: "when a taboo is lifted or diminished, it's going to leave people freer to pursue things." And even though representations of varied sex/gender identities are still narrow and stereotyped as the boundaries of mainstream culture have expanded we see varying trends.

When we see experimentation or trends in gender within popular culture does it signify some shift in collective consciousness? Is it a safe and acceptable way of testing boundaries? Are transgendered trends significant? Is it mainstream cultures way of making counter-culture benign, stripping it of power?

Fischer’s article returns to vignettes of couples whose relationships defy conservative ideas about sex and gender. She outlines sexual orientation’s complexities citing a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association that “speculate[s] that sexual orientation probably has multiple causes, including environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.” “Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn't appear to be something [one] can control." With attraction’s psychic and emotional dimensions is it fair to say that sexual orientation is fixed?


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