Monday, April 7, 2014

Stereotypes and opposites

(I have come to acknowledge that the first halves of my blogs are only tenuously related to the second half)

In high school, the most annoying question that people asked me when they found out that I was bisexual was: "Does that mean you date a guy and a girl at the same time?" "Ugh, no," I'd respond. "Don't be so ignorant, jeesh."

So there was definitely a bit of tail-between-my-legs attitude when I came out as polyamorous a few years later. "Does that mean you're bisexual?" I'd get asked. "NO," I'd say vehemently, "but well yes technically I happen to be, but I'm not the best example."

I think all my life I've really struggled with escaping social boundaries for what I'm supposed to be. The second I learned about the "polite, soft-spoken Asian girl" stereotype in middle school, I felt proud that I was a brash, socially blundering person instead. I sought out the rifle team and read about cars because I thought that those weren't things typical girls did. So it was confusing when, for once, I seemed to fit into the biggest stereotype at all for one of my identities. What did it mean - was I simply falling prey to what others insisted that I was?

The truth is even trying to subvert stereotypes of identities still contains some element of adhering to them. When I was going to rifle team, I'm sure there was some element of subversion, but that subversion took the specific mold of doing the opposite of what I was supposed to do - academic team. This is why I'm not so sure if there is true liberation in pursuing opposites. I'm reminded of what Wilchins said about the problems of defining femininity as an opposite of masculinity, or vice versa.

At the same time, subversion has its place. We still undeniably live in a world controlled by categories, so it makes a strong impact when we choose to defy them by doing what is totally black from its white. Furthermore, I imagine this sort of statement is especially powerful when seen by those who still live within predetermined categories. However, when I look back at how I tried to escape my stereotypes and build my own identity, I was only constructing something opposite to what was forced on me, rather than attempting to create something new for myself. I admit that having the space to perform opposites had a liberating effect in that it told me I did not have to necessarily conform, but in terms of liberating the parts of me stifled by systems of power, it was not particularly helpful.

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