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The Gay Blade

12th May 2008

Question for you

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Here’s a question for you: Do all immigrants to New Zealand, or any country, share the same issues? I mean, do a multi-millionaire French immigrant and his American wife settling in Marlborough and running a vineyard have that much in common with an IT peon from Shanghai in Wellington? How much does either one share with a Samoan wife joining her husband and his family here in South Auckland? They all have to adjust, they all come from somewhere else, they’ll all feel a bit different here, for a while at least, but their social and material conditions are vastly different, and this will affect how they adjust to life here.

I ask because from among the mailing lists I’m on, I received one the other day that had this acronym -  GLITTFAB = gay, lesbian, intersex, transgender, takataapui, fafa’afine, asexual, and bisexual. What an assortment! And why on earth are we all grouped together? That’s what I don’t get. As a gay man, I think I do share a few interests with lesbians.  We get to wear a few of the same labels and get some of the same shit thrown at us by wider society. But otherwise, my dyke friends and I often see things differently, where they mainly come at political issues from a feminist perspective, and I don’t nearly as much.

Thinking of my ACT supporting gay male friends who base their politics in libertarianism, they just want all and any regulations regarding adult sexual behaviour removed. But they sure as hell don’t share my lefty feminist influenced ideas on sexuality. And they take more drugs than I do. Which they also want deregulated.In fact they want pretty much everything deregulated.

Transgender? It’s not the same thing as gay – nothing like it in fact. It’s an entirely different issue. Whether FTM or MTF, they’re not gay men or lesbians. They aren’t same-sex attracted and I honestly don’t see what interests we share. And some of the MTFs I’ve met just seem like  heterosexual men in a dress.  They cling to old pre-Feminist ways of being “a lady”, some stay on with their wives, and some I can think of even beat their wives up still, but  then claim they’re oppressed.  It’s not the same sort of oppression though, is it

Intersex – well, I accept that the issues facing those born intersex are real and serious, but don’t really speak to or impinge on my life as a bumboy I’d have to say. They occupy a difficult place in society, and I’m supportive of them, but do we really belong in the same group? I don’t think so

Asexuals? Please! Fucking and who and how we fuck is one of the key characteristics that sets us fags apart – asexuality doesn’t really speak to this side of life at all. Just don’t have sex – is that really that hard? Does it need a civil rights based political liberation movement behind it as gay rights did? Really? When was the last time someone leant out a car window and screamed “Asexual pervert!” or they got denied a job or a flat because they aren’t into sex? On a subjective level, I’m sure it matters to them, but I have to say not so much to me.

I know some Maori gay men who entirely reject the label takataapui, and find Maoritanga completely irrelevant to their lives, they relate to the world and themselves as gay men first, and I know others who rate being Maori first, and put their sexuality down as a minor issue.

For some reason we’re all expected to be adequately addressed by being in this grouping. Doesn’t work for me. (apologies to Mr Herkt)

It’s not that I’m blind to the difficulties or oppression that others who are outside the sexual norms of society  have, far from it. But to lump us all together as one, as this seems to do, is starting from a false premise: to me it’s saying that just because we fall outside the bounds of heteronormativity we all have a shared set of political, material, social or cultural issues. I don’t think so. And to some extent it is defining ourselves by heteronormative terms.

I blame the academic rubbish heap known as Queer Theory for this. Theresa de Lauretis is usually credited with coming up with the term “Queer Theory” in a 1989 (I think) paper. I don’t think that where it has gone now is necessarily where she envisioned it going, but that’s by the by – academic theories often get picked up and run away with by all sorts.

Yes, there are many ways of being sexual (or even asexual) humans outside the restrictive norms of mainstream society. But just because we’re not sitting in the majority doesn’t mean that we all share common interests either. This grouping moves from biological categories (intersex) to arguably more socially constructed ones (gay & lesbian, though the nature/nurture debate on that still isn’t closed by any means)  and one only made possible via modern medical technology (transgender). We can all be labelled “queer” but I think that masks more than it reveals. And by doing that it silences some.

In New Zealand today, the oppression that used to rule over so many of us has lessened considerably, especially if you’re a gay man or a lesbian. And we got those rights through concerted political effort made over decades.

Am I unsympathetic or politically unsupportive of the rights of intersex or transgender people? No,  not at all – but do we all fit into the same category? I think not.We’re just as varied, just as diverse in where we sit in society as the group of immigrants I listed above. As they are, we’re from minorities within a larger society, but some of us are going to be able to settle in with far greater ease than others.

Tags: General

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Craig Young // May 12, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I know what you mean, and we certainly aren’t an homogenous community, whether in terms of gender, gender identity, class, indigenous or migrant ethnicity, physical/psychiatric disability/ies or so on.

    Personally, I err on the side of inclusiveness. I have little patience with libertarian gay men, I’m afraid- particularly if they end up cohabiting with conservative authoritarian fundamentalist Christian statists on certain issues. Added to which, they seem to have a curiously truncated view of LGBT politics.

    For example, do libertarians have anything meaningful to say about HIV/AIDS, beyond the single issue of medicinal cannabis derivative decriminalisation? As far as I can see, no. They oppose central government provision of public health and welfare services, which are neccessities when someone becomes incapable of further waged work. Apart from the single example above, they also seem to have some quite alarming views about the need for anti-discrimination laws.

    But you’re right in terms of the diversity of our communities. Which as far as I’m concerned means lots of coalition politics- like assisting the Green Cross Society if there’s an opportunity for medicinal cannabis reform, like working alongside the Access to Medicines Coalition over MedSafe and Pharmac’s regulatory policies if need bem and alongside lesbians when it comes to inclusive adoption reform and same sex marriage proper, in the intermediate future.

    Such is the mosaic of LGBTIetc existence…

    Craig Y

  • 2 Hamish // May 16, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    ..yeah but GLITTFAB *is* a great acronym- you have to admit..

  • 3 Chris Sibley // May 17, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Well written and well said. A topic I feel to be slightly more relevant than power bottoming, but I guess humour has its place too. GLITTFAB as a ‘great acronym’ conjures images of sparkling jewelry and pierced, diamond studded labias in the summer sun…it must bring out my inner lesbian. Oh wait, I am a gay man, I don’t have one! Oh for the radical faeries of the dank and moist forests of the 80’s and early 90’s. I hope this piece inspires all of us to retreat into our caves of self identification and really contemplate what our labels mean to us, and what we mean to them.

  • 4 Antony Reed // May 17, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    It seems to me that what those under the heading “GLITTFAB” have in common, is a continuing prejudice and discrimination, based on what one can loosely term “sexual orientation”. So we have much in common - remember Georgina Beyer taking on the Destiny march to Parliament, whilst they loudly called her George? - as well of course as some differences. But I have at least as many differences with other gay men as I would with people I know from the other minorities. Especially I fear those who have somehow conned themselves that right-wing libertarianism is good for us. Possibly it is the effect of having Stephen Franks as the ACT candidate here for many years (and now I gather an equally loose cannon as a National candidate!) but it all sounds like classic right-wing Thatcherite prejudice to me. All this stuff about the “right to disapprove” somehow always outranking proven levels of chronic homophobia and discrimination. And, as Craig implies, they don’t like the Human Rights Act at all. Even dear Rodney, so beloved I know amongst Auckland libertarians, voted in favour of Gordon Copeland’s “Defence of Marriage” Bill. And just read what Muriel Newman (still high on the ACT list I think) continues to write about our issues, in between bouts of climate change denial. I am not saying that Labour and the Greens have a monopoly of wisdom on those issues which effect our communities - in other countries such as the UK there seems to be general agreement amongst major poitical parties - but my experience of ACT and similar groups here is not all one that is remotely GLITTFAB friendly!

  • 5 Kay // May 17, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Hi
    Most people on the GLITTFAB spectrum transgress the “mainstream” expectations of binary gendered roles with straight men’s interests and tastes dominating expectations of “normality”. Can anyone watching TV, going to the movies, or reading the newspapers really feel that people who fit into one of the GLITTFAB categories are really included in our society?

    I’m one of the people who send e-mails to people on what I think of as the GLITTFAB spectrum. Its an easier way to reach people who may have an interest in the message topic, or who are likely to know people who have an interest. If Michael doesn’t want to be on whichever list sent him the message, I’m sure the list moderator would be happy to remove his name.

    Cheers

  • 6 katedrinks // May 17, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    you say that transgender discrimination “isnt the same sort of oppression though…” that is true but we do get a fair amount of homophobia ourselves (many times people have called me a fag or wanted to beat me up because they thought that i was a gay guy) and there is definately workplace discrimination against us.

    while you may have a point about how the whole GLITTFAB community may have some strained links but i find your attitude to the amount of predjudice that other minorites face is rather condesending.

  • 7 Eddy // May 18, 2008 at 12:02 am

    I quite agree. There is a relationship between those different constituents but it is not an over-arching or all-defining one. Your analogy of the Frenchman, Somoan housewife, etc., as having immigrations in common is good. Here’s another. Some people have only one arm. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and classes and age-groups. But they do have this link: they each have only one arm. As non-normative persons out there among the fully-limbed, some of them find positive experiences in linking up with other people who are one-armed. But that isn’t the be all and end all of their lives.

    I think this is how we ought to view life. Life consists of dozens of different “clubs”. There is a lot to be got by visiting all those “clubs” for which you naturally hold membership. (There is also a lot to be gained from visiting “clubs” for which you have no natural membership, just to open oneself to the experience of people who are different from oneself.) Hence, as a gay man I visit a Rationalist “club” every so often - and I often know I’m the only gay person there - but we all bond over the Rationalist cause. At other times I visit a gardening group - here I find generally older mature heterosexual married couples, but we all bond over the plants and flowers. And so forth.

    I also have to say every so often I meet a group of other local gay men for a meal in a restaurant and I often think how tenuous and unrewarding the bond between us is in comparison to the bond I find with the gardeners, the walking group, and so forth, where 99% of the members are not gay like me.

  • 8 easy-b-jesus // May 18, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Well you have opened up a surprise box haven’t you?

    The point for me is that while there is some value in recnognising our commonality as excepted and marginalised identities, the fact of our only commonality is exception from norm. We only are grouped from the point of view of the holders of ‘norm’. Using grouped terms like this is playing the game by their rules.

    There is no way for me to speak for or represent any of those other identities and there is little mutual understanding so lets drop it. And thats without taking on board (as you have done) the specific issues surrounding pacific social attitudes.

  • 9 Ivy // May 19, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    According to you Mr Stevens, I’m not a lesbian. In fact, apparently no trans people are same sex attracted.

    My girlfriend of 6 months would beg to differ.

    It appears you have mostly knowledge of a few trans women who have 1950s ideas of what it means to be a women. It thus bears explaining that trans people are far more diverse than is readily apparent. A good number of trans women just get on with being women, and think that pre-feminist ideas about being a lady are profoundly stupid.

    So get out there and meet a few more trans people before making assumptions.

  • 10 Stacey // May 19, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I have a few transgender women friends who are lesbian, I think you are painfully ignorant of transgender issues… I get what you are trying to say, but if that point alone indicates that you might be talking about issues on behalf of people you don’t understand, I guess that reinforces your original point. It’s incredibly unfortunate that you are spreading misinformation though.

    If I may suggest a book related to the topic, ‘Whipping Girl’ by Julia Serano is excellent.

  • 11 Chris Coles // May 20, 2008 at 9:51 am

    This article reminds me of a letter that was published in the Gay Express at the end of 2006. The letter I wrote in reply follows:

    “Olivia Hand asks what asexuals have in common with lesbians and gay men (Letters, 25th October). To help her and others identity our common ground I’d like to list a few facts about asexuality.

    Asexuality is a recently described phenomenon and so currently has a low visibility. This means that the vast majority of people, including those to whom the asexual label would apply, have never heard of asexuality. Consequently many asexuals perceive their feelings as being unique to themselves, a situation that results in profound feelings of isolation.

    In a highly sex-orientated society asexuals are made to feel deficient and ashamed because of their lack of sexual desire. They face criticism and suspicion if they choose not to enter into sexual relationships and, as illustrated by Olivia Hand’s “queer in the original sense of the word” comment, they are often ridiculed when they try to express how they feel about sex.

    The majority of asexuals experience romantic attraction towards other people and many would like to form romantic non-sexual relationships. However, relationships without sex are not seen as valid or “real” as sexual ones.

    When interacting with the medical profession asexuals run the risk of being diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, most notably a sexual desire disorder.

    Given these facts we can conclude that asexuals are a group of people who often feel isolated, marginalised, inadequate and ashamed because of their sexual orientation. They face criticism, ridicule or diagnosis with a mental health disorder when they express their sexuality and the kind of relationships they would choose for themselves are considered invalid or substandard.

    Do any these experiences sound familiar to lesbians and gay men?”

  • 12 Eddy // May 21, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Next time Duncan Fallowell, author of “Going As Far As I Can”, 2008, googles his name, hopefully this page will come up and he’ll see just one example of active intellectual life in New Zealand.

    His rather awful travelogue, in which he presents a generally damning view of New Zealanders, refers on a number of pages to there being no intellectualism amongst us. In fact, he gives the impression that New Zealanders just don’t think deeply at all, about anything. Well, as a gay person himself he should at least have sought out we gay New Zealanders! (He writes in his book that the only gay people he did seek out while here in New Zealand were an escort boy in Christchurch and some pick-ups in seedy places.)

  • 13 AJ // Aug 4, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Gah! You’re gay and you haven’t figured out yet that your gender does not determine which gender(s) you’re into?

    Um. I’m a FTM and I’m into men. And no, that wouldn’t make me a heterosexual woman in pants, either. (I tried dating women, but really, I like taking cock…. and I’m sure I’d still enjoy it even if I was male at birth.)

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