Roots: Orientation

An exploration of the interplay between identity & orientation.

Sexuality is a complex, personal thing.

We have many concepts to describe it and varying aspects of orientation.

People tend to have incredibly deep, personal feelings tied to their understanding of their own sexuality/orientation and thus project those feelings on to others when semantic interplay takes place between those terms as we intermingle in society.

This is an especially complex, personal matter when it comes to interplay with transgender people.

For us, traditional ways of thinking about our concepts of orientation just don’t fit. No matter how hard you try to shove us into whatever box you might like to shove us into, we just don’t fit.

I’m personally fed up with extremist views on anything to do with the whole semantic argument that springs forth from this complex interplay.

Everyone has it wrong.

Let me explain the conflict as I see it. One group believes that sexuality is tied irrevocably to chromosomal sex. Another believes that sexuality is tied irrevocably to gender identity. A third believes that sexuality is tied irrevocably to phenotype/secondary-sex characteristics. A fourth believes it’s tied irrevocably to genitalia. And there are many varying degrees of belief in between, with huge amounts of conflict between each and every one.

Simply in reading that description, I hope you begin to get a picture of the myriad of ways people perceive constitutes orientation.

Extremists in every grouping assign absolute truth values to their way of understanding these words and it’s causing a cacophony of conflict which, in my view, is almost completely unnecessary as one will realize if they step back and detach their beliefs and emotions from the conflict.

Once, I believed that orientation was tied to identity. That sexuality was like a light switch turning on/off on the basis of identity. If a man were dating a man and one of them transitioned, each would become straight or the relationship could never work.

I was wrong to think that way, and I see many people in the world today making the same mistakes, or even worse mistakes. It’s deeply frustrating for me.

This exact conflict manifests in other areas too, such as family/community life and it’s such a great and unnecessary burden for all people to be carrying as I see it.

To explain, let me talk about one of my favorite films. “Normal” (which is also a play by the same name, but I’ve only seen the film) it is about a trans woman who transitions late in life after marrying a woman and having two children. As you might imagine, it’s an incredibly complex and emotional affair.

There’s a great deal of conflict over identity represented in the film as each family/community member struggles with coming to terms with what her transition means for them. And of course the audience is part of the experience too. We are also challenged to consider what these conflicts mean to us as well.

Sexuality is never explicitly discussed in the film, but what would you make of that if you were these characters? Put yourself into the shoes of the trans woman’s wife. Consider all the emotion; the attachment to decades of knowing someone, and knowing yourself through them suddenly in flux. What does that do to you? Does it change you too?

One has to wonder how a woman who’s mothered two children and carries this mountain of emotion could ever manage to find balance again. And sadly, many real people in situations like this don’t. It can truly cause families and relationships to fall apart. Transitioning truly can wreak havoc on your circumstances as you change and adapt to reality and reality adapts to you.

But balance is possible to find. I’ll be spoiling the film here, so skip this section if you’d like to see it for yourself.

Things work out for the family in spite of *many* awkward challenges. They hold themselves together by respecting one another and giving each other space to adapt and grow together. We see them all, slowly but surely come to terms with one another and themselves. Several years of transition are shown as the main character transitions. Her wife struggles deeply, but in the end maintains love for a woman who she still sees as her husband in spite of her new identity. Her kids struggle too, but in the end find a similar happy balance in their dad becoming a woman. Nothing else changes or has to change, it may be confusing to other people but it works for them and that’s all that matters.

At the end of the film they are depicted happily sharing in mundane conflicts, two women, a husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter. It’s a very happy ending for them. Perhaps it wouldn’t be for you, but it is for them.

What that balance looks like is again, a deeply complex, personal, emotional affair. What would you be if your partner transitioned? What would your parent be to you if they transitioned? What if how you saw them hurt them? Would you change for them? I could go on and on with the questions, but the point is to paint a picture of how utterly challenging and personal it all is.

It’s far too much so for any one ideology to ever wrap itself around. People have been forming cults/religions centered around their beliefs of the absolute “Truth” about their understandings of the answers to these questions and again I maintain, everyone is wrong.

But also I’d say, everyone is right.

Every ideology has a little piece of the truth and all would assign absolute truth values to it, but they’re all wrong to do so even though their truth is indeed truth. My deepest wish is that everyone might stop trying to shove theirs down the throats of others.

Because, let me tell you.. I’ve known straight women, lesbians, and straight/gay men alike who have all dated trans women. Every one of these configurations has made perfect sense to me, because I see the full complexity of the trans experience and I know that none of it is black and white. I know how complex and personal it is. I do not judge any of them for how they understand themselves, and I believe that doing so is a truly horrible thing for anyone to do for any reason.

Orientation, be it sexual orientation or familial orientation, is a deeply complex and personal interplay between external and internal realities. I’m sure I sound like a broken record at this point, so I’ll reveal now that’s the truth I’ve been trying to sell you on all along; a broader way to look at the realities of the transgender experience.

When we see it this way, we begin to wonder, what exactly has everyone on social media been so angrily arguing about for decades now? Trans people are just people living out their lives, seeking balance for themselves and their families. Happiness and self-content are about all that most any of us want. We want to feel right with ourselves and find balance between ourselves and the world.

It’s difficult enough to do that without all these wild ideas interceding as ideologues attempt to shove their views down your throat every day. Why everyone is so obsessed with this is beyond me. Your obsession really shows us more about you than it does anyone else. Why are you so obsessed with controlling language? Who made you the arbiter of others realities?

For me, orientation and the descriptors thereof constitute inviolable personal boundaries for me. These boundaries, like all boundaries, are no one else’s to control. This should be a non-issue but it seems to constitute about 90% of the arguments over orientation on social media. It’s all very pointless if only we respect each other’s boundaries.

What does have a point, the 10% of conversation around this, comes from anxiety over what all of this complexity means when it comes to sharing spaces with one another. Those are concerns I do understand. To those I’d ask everyone to give some thought.

Would a trans only space be okay to create? I think most of my trans siblings would agree yes. But would a cis only space? I think most might react very differently. If separate spaces are okay to create, then also we should ask why are they necessary? What is their utility? There’s a lot of complex, productive conversation we can have have around this, but it’s counterproductive and often dehumanizing to focus in on challenging one’s personal boundaries and understanding of themselves.

Personally, neither of the segregated space possibilities bothers me as long as the point of the space is just for people with similar preferences to come together and isn’t for gathering into separate tribes and commiserate in hatred of the group that’s not welcome. All I’d say in either case that matters is that the preference is well-advertised so that no one steps on anyone else’s toes.

Most spaces, I’d hope would be advertising themselves as all-inclusive. I see the need for separate spaces in many instances but I don’t at all believe this separation should be all-encompassing as some people seem to believe.

At any rate, moving forward I hope we’ll see a lot more discussion around respect for one another in these areas. Productive conversation; that sees all the nuance of the broader reality we all occupy together. We need to get out of these black and white conflicts over orientation and break free into colorful conversation on how to best find mutual respect for each other’s boundaries and strike a balance together in society that leaves no one in the margins.

We’re all integral characters to this story we call society together, let’s start acting like it and build our way to happy endings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s