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Bisexuality

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Partly because I have some bisexual friends, I have been seeing posts on Facebook and elsewhere, both from them and with links to others, about “bisexual erasure.” (If you don’t know what it is, please use Google.) This erasure comes, it seems, from both heterosexual and homosexual people.

I just can’t wrap my head around the idea–which seems to be the basis here–that EVERYONE is either gay or straight and that there is no way for a person to be honestly attracted, romantically, sexually, or both, to people of both genders, all genders, no gender, or all of the above. In other words, no way for a person to be attracted to, y’know, other individual humans and not to a specific configuration of genitals.

I have never been romantically or sexually attracted to another woman, even though when I was not monogamously partnered I was open to the possibility. There have been a few women about whom I have thought/felt, yes, she has the characteristics of someone I could have a relationship with–IF I felt a romantic/sexual attraction, but I didn’t. I suspect pheromones, but who knows.

The attraction that I have felt to these women is very much like what I have felt for the men I have had romantic/sexual relationships with, but minus the romantic/sexual attraction. So it’s obvious to me bisexuality is possible.

But–as I think we all know well–a lot of people believe that if they don’t experience something, it doesn’t exist. Others feel that if anyone thinks or feels differently than they do, it’s an implicit criticism of their thoughts or feelings. Add those two groups, and it’s a powerful lot of folks who won’t accept thoughts or feelings outside their personal experience.

Their world is so small.

Believing and Me

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Everyone who goes online, I think, has heard the line “someone is wrong on the Internet.” I find myself less bothered by those who are wrong (in my opinion) than by those who are absolutely unshakably convinced they are right–even if I agree with them on the point at hand.

I have said many times that I do not BELIEVE anything (or “believe IN anything”). The farthest I will go is “This is what I think, based on information, experience, and observation up to this moment. It is subject to change at any time based on new information, experience, and observation.” This is not just something I say, not some facile description. It is the way I approach the universe at the deepest level I can (“can” literally, “am able to”). It is not always easy not to cling to a viewpoint in the face of new contradictory evidence, but I try my very best not to cling, and I could cite specific cases where I have not. I find it hard to grasp how anyone can claim to be rational and not stand there, yet it seems an uncommon viewpoint on life.

(My favorite biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has written of having a similar viewpoint, and I was intellectually thrilled.)

I one wrote on Facebook that I am seldom _______ enough to satisfy people, except when I am too ________ to satisfy them. I am not a movement-joiner, and those “issue” groups I do join are generally those that offer me opportunities to take action but make no demands that I prove my bona fides: Another Mother for Peace (back in the day), ACLU, Amnesty International.

I am dismayed by the tendency of so many to take a sincere “why?”–trying to discover the basis, the reasons, the reasonING–as opposition or doubt or challenge. And when I generally agree with an opinion or viewpoint, I am particularly dismayed by hostility to my pointing out flaws in its development or expression; I see those flaws as weaknesses that others may exploit to cast doubt on the entirety, and I think they should be fixed. Yes, I am a pain in the ass at times.

What I am not, and doubt that I ever will be, is a True Believer … in anything.

“Agitated with pain”

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In conversation with my spouse this weekend, I came up with the word for what I have been feeling.

Distraught: “agitated with doubt or mental conflict or pain” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary).

Mainly the pain part.

Nearly fifty years ago, when I was wearing my Another Mother for Peace medallion to work every day, writing my antiwar letters to periodicals, and sending cheerful chatty letters and care packages to the guys I knew who were in Vietnam, I thought that Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon were the worst mainstream presidential candidates I would ever see. Now I can only wish that the Republicans would once again give us someone as decent and intelligent.

In my worst nightmares or my wildest imaginings, I did not foresee, could not have foreseen, that nearly half a century later a mainstream presidential candidate–the frontrunner!–would feel free to publicly make racist remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, that he would speak favorably of identity badges for members of a religious group and of torture as a tool. That a physician candidate, a highly educated surgeon, would spout anti-scientific nonsense. That a candidate who is the son of an immigrant who fled a repressive regime would oppose allowing in refugees fleeing oppression and war.

How have we come to this? My younger self, who thought my generation (at least parts of it) would lead us to a better world for everyone, who thought that by the time I was almost 70 the U.S. would be living up to the best ideals of every generation from the founders forward, simply could not have believed that we would come to this. I could not have accepted that we would have learned nothing, nothing, from history.

I remember that somewhere in the intervening years, a friend, in speaking of Nazi Germany, challenged me: “You think it can’t happen here.”

“No,” I said. “Not it can’t, but it won’t. We have seen, we have learned.”

And so I am distraught.

Humans and groups of humans

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Those who know me, or who have read much of what I write, know that I don’t “believe.” I distrust the word, because so often once someone says, “I believe,” there is no room for new, and especially contradictory, information. My viewpoint is “This is what I think, based on information, observation, and experience up to now, and subject to change at any time with new information, observation, or experience.” Unwieldy, I know, but there you have it.

But there are things I am pretty close to “believing,” and this is one: humans are humans, subject to their human nature, in every time and every place and under all conditions. Further, humans are each unique. Therefore, in any situation with a sufficient number of humans, there will be those who do good and those who do evil, those who love and those who hate, those who judge by reason and those who judge by emotion, those who lead and those who follow and those who stay out if it, and so on. Take a small enough group, and one can generalize about certain things–particularly regarding the factors that bind them as a group. But as soon as the group is just a little larger, even those things are no longer true of all the members.

To generalize about men or women, about blacks or whites, about Asians or Latinos, about Christians or Muslims, about conservatives or liberals, is meaningless, yet very dangerous. When we do so, we deceive ourselves into believing that we know what we do not know, and from there we judge what we cannot fairly judge. We deceive ourselves into believing that those categories of humans are somehow fundamentally different from each other.

We can and should judge what humans do, but we cannot judge what they are. We can say that members of a group with this characteristic in common have done this thing, individually or in concert, but we cannot say that every human who has that characteristic has done, or would do, this thing.

I would be surprised to learn that there has ever been any human group of any significant size that has not regularly done, individually or in concert, horrible things–to their neighbors, to women, to children, to elders, to those among them who are “different” in some way–being gay, or suspected of witchcraft, or having a disability of some kind, or so many more “differences.” And further, those horrible things have been supported, approved, or at the very least not opposed, by the group as a whole. Perhaps–probably–not by every single member, but by enough members that one might reasonably say “the group.”

Yes, we should condemn the horrible things that groups do, just as we should condemn the horrible things that individuals do. But it is the worst kind of hubris to think that those horrible things make “them” somehow fundamentally different from “us.” Because the next step from there is to believe that what “we” do is automatically right, that we cannot possibly do evil–even when we are doing, or have done, the exact same action as “they” are doing.

Music and Me

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I started listening to popular music when my mother played the radio or we watched “Your Hit Parade” on my grandmother’s TV in the early 1950s. I remember “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window,” “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” “I Went to Your Wedding,” “Mona Lisa,” “Mule Train,” and one of my mother’s favorites, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by Nat King Cole.

But in 1956, when I was 9, along came a popular song that spoke to me. It was “The Wayward Wind.” I always loved the wind–I still do today. By then we lived next to the railroad tracks: “I guess the sound of the outward bound / Made me a slave to my wandering ways.” I never took up those wandering ways, but the idea, the draw, the urge has never left me.

Then when I was 12 I discovered American Bandstand on TV and KFWB Channel 98 on the radio, and I found my generation’s music. Here’s a list from that year, 1959; I remember almost every one of these, and can still recite at least a line or two from most of them: http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1959.htm

For my 13th birthday, in 1960, I got a transistor radio! And all kinds of music started to speak to me: fast songs, slow songs, instrumentals, pop music, folk music (and later protest songs), country, western … I liked some of just about everything.

A year later I started high school and joined the band. I had a terrible sense of rhythm, so of course I became a percussionist. (I learned much later that I have a pretty good ear and probably could have done fairly well on an instrument that actually produced notes.) For four years of high school and a year and a half of college, the band was my social group, both in and out of school. Every boy I dated was in the band, at my school or another, till I met my first husband when I was 19.

I wonder how my life would have gone differently had I joined the glee club instead of the band. A couple of my friends who were in the glee club urged me to do so. But when I was in grade school, someone told me that I couldn’t sing well–and I believed it. However, it wasn’t true. And in my junior and senior high school years, I sang alto in the church choir.

I have realized in the course of my advanced years that there are at least two areas that had I really gotten into them, would have taken over my life: music and sailing. Either one of those probably would have been my life, given a chance.

When Does Life Begin?

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When does life begin? It sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Certainly it is a question to which one could give at least one’s personal opinion.

Not so fast. At least when asked in regard to abortion issues, “When does life begin?” is a smokescreen, a red herring, a trick question. It’s a “gotcha” waiting to happen.

Even scientists do not fully agree on what constitutes “life.” But by most definitions I can find, a single sperm cell or a single ovum, qualifies, as do most other single cells in the human body. Is that what the questioner means? Probably not.

Rephrase it perhaps, to “When does human life begin?” Not very helpful, as too general. OK, then, how about “When does a discrete human life begin?” Better.

Let’s posit that a discrete human life begins when sperm and ovum join. But wait! What if that entity later splits into two, producing identical twins? Did two discrete human lives begin when a single sperm and ovum joined? Did that single entity possess two lives? Or is one the original life, and the other just a copy? If so, which is which?

But that doesn’t really matter for abortion discussions, because it still isn’t the question that is actually being asked. That question is “When does a human life begin that is entitled not to be ended by another’s deliberate action?”* And that is the question on which people differ. Some say when the sperm and ovum unite, some say when the embryo is implanted, some say when life outside the womb is technically possible, some say at birth. Some say only when the life is wanted by the woman incubating it. Some at the radical ends argue either for the life-sacredness of the individual sperm and ovum or for the “right to life” not beginning until some period of time after birth.

It is a question that has occupied years of thought on the part of philosophers, theologians, and legal scholars. It is a question on which not all of them have decided on an answer, and of those who have, their answers do not agree. Small wonder, then, if the occasional person not able to devote their life to the question has not decided on an answer.

And then: it is a question regarding which some people are willing to impose their answer on everyone, and others are not.

*The obvious corollary is “When does a human life cease being entitled not to be ended by another’s deliberate action?” but this essay is not about war, self-defense, removing life support, capital punishment, etc.

Identity

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I admit that I often find it hard to understand the Identity thing. Intellectually, I understand why Identity is empowering when one is in an oppressed group, but beyond that, I don’t quite “get” it. I am a gestalt of all my aspects. Just to name a few aspects, I am a biological woman with some stereotypical male psychological characteristics, I am a white person in a multiracial family, I am Irish and German by birth but have a strong cultural component of Mexican American, I am a Roman Catholic in the sense of having been raised in that religion and culture but am a nontheist, I am a mother who has never been pregnant. I am spouse, sister, aunt, niece, cousin, American, person of high IQ, collector of __ (many things), Iowan (born), Californian (raised), Minnesotan (now), unfaithful Democrat, liberal…  I was born and grew up in the working class, but am now solidly middle class, maybe even upper middle class. I am a professional editor of scholarly books who has no college degree. I am who I am, in my entirety.

Identity is a slippery concept. Everyone has more than one identity. Though most people have their identities more or less integrated, there are usually primary identities and secondary identities, and maybe far more levels than that. Asked, “What are you?” a person usually picks one or two; asked “How do you describe yourself?” a person makes a list, and some items are mentioned immediately.

Think of this situation: A sharply dressed busy white woman executive is on her way to a meeting and pauses at a street corner for directions. She sees these people: a black man dressed in expensive business clothes, a young tattooed Asian woman in punk dress, and a white man in a ball cap and jersey. Imagine that all make similar eye contact with her and have similarly receptive body language. Whom does she ask for directions? If her primary identity is class, she may ask the black executive; if it’s gender, she may ask the Asian punker; if it’s race, she may ask the white sports fan. If you put three different white female executives in that situation, you may well get three different identity-responses.

Members of an organization, attendees at a conference, and people in other life activities, including activists for causes, are not random groups. They are self-selected groups. They have CHOSEN an organization, a conference, an activity based on their own particular identities. Since a person has time/energy/money/”spoons” for only so many organizations and activities, a person generally chooses those that most closely match or support his/her identities. A white person of German heritage who sees herself as a supporter of racial justice may join the NAACP, while another may choose to join the German Club. A Latino counterculture artist may join an artists’ co-op, while another may work for La Raz. An accountant whose career is a perfect fit for her isn’t likely to go to seminars on opening your own franchise restaurant, but another who doesn’t see himself staying in an office forever may pay to go to the seminar. And those for whom one aspect of their identity is completely self-defining or who feel that it has completely defined them for others are likely to see the whole world through that lens.

For some women, being a woman is the central fact of their lives. They identify solely with women, they pick only women as mentors and role models, they join support groups with other women, they read books about “women’s issues,” they major in women’s studies in college, they become psychologists who see exclusively women or directors of shelters for battered women or authors of books on women’s issues or teachers of women’s studies. But that isn’t the way it is for all women–certainly not for me. Some are spending so much time and energy being doctors, wives, teachers, parents, partners, school volunteers, whatever, that they don’t get around to their identities as women, because that’s not a primary identity.

If someone doesn’t immerse him/herself in one particular identity, it doesn’t have to mean that he/she is denying that identity or rejecting that identity. It can mean simply that he/she has other identities that are primary. And I think that no one else has the right to decide for another what her/his hierarchy of identity should be.

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