Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wayne Dynes declares 'queer' word obsolete plus Dan Savage on 'straight' truth

OSU Queer Resource Center headline 'QRC passes unanimously,' OSU Barometer, Mar. 15, 2001, p. 1

PHOTO: At Oregon State University, queer activism peaked with the creation of the "OSU Queer Resource Center" or QRC as reported in a front page student newspaper story "QRC passes unanimously," OSU Barometer, Mar. 15, 2001, p. 1. The QRC would later become the present-day OSU Pride Center for LGBTQQII+ students. During the 1990's self-described "queer activists" took back the word "queer" from its former use as a pejorative term for homosexuals by proudly identifying themselves as being "queer," instead of using the word "gay," as had become the popular fashion after the Stonewall riot in 1969. The identity of "queer" was promoted as being inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities, similar to how the "gay" identity was embraced by both gay men and gay women after Stonewall, until misogynistic behavior by gay male activists caused many women to adopt their historical lesbian identity. A prior generation of homosexual activists, including the former OSU Professor W. Dorr Legg, had a similar goal of inclusivity when they had adopted the identity of "homophile" during the 1950's and 1960's. Prof. Legg saw "homophile" also as a more correct English construction because it did not mix Greek and Latin, plus it communicated that "sex" was not as central to their identity, as mainstream society thought it was. The student newspaper story, shown above, said Christian Matheis voted as part of the ASOSU student fee committee to fund the OSU Queer Resource Center. Matheis was an early leader of the QRC. (See previous posts OSU Queer Resource Center documentary video review (10/20/10) and OSU QRC advocate Christian Matheis says farewell in 5,000 words (6/3/11))

I recalled the noble goals of queer activists in the 1990's and how it touched Oregon State University after reading the blog post essay by Professor Emeritus Wayne Dynes, "Vagaries of the word queer," posted Jul. 16, 2017, who essentially declares the "queer" word to be obsolete and says, ". . . Queer Theory is collapsing, together with its postmodern cousins in the academy. No one that I know of speaks of queer rights or queer marriage. So the q word has not, despite the aspirations of some observers, become the overall label of choice. That function has been assumed by LGBT - not in my view the ideal solution, but it has in fact become the answer." However, after some analysis he notes, ". . . there is still a use for the queer label. In the current assimilationist climate there is a danger that our heritage (if I may use the term) of outlaw/outsider affirmation will be swept away. . . the word queer should still be employed for this, dare I say, heroic affirmation of the outsider tradition. But the q word is contraindicated as a generic term, and those of us who object to its hegemonic deployment are justified: it does not apply to us." Prof. Dynes was a participant of the homophile movement as well as a witness to the Stonewall era. (See his biography "Wayne R. Dynes" From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia accessed Ju. 17, 2017)

In my personal opinion, I see nothing wrong with the evolving fashions for how those with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity choose to identify themselves. In fact this is why I specified it in this generic way for my research endowment with the OSU Foundation Magnus Hirschfeld Fund for research concerning humans or animals with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity. I fully expect it will change again in the future as new generations learn and adapt to new information and fashions.

For example, after decades of studying sex and gender roles, it was only recently that I noticed how the space of sexual orientation and gender identity can be theorectically modeled with either discrete and or continuous variables in a three-dimensional space.

What made me think of this concept was the answer written by a popular Seattle sex advice columnist and gay man, Dan Savage, "Savage Love: Savage Love Letter of the Day: 100% Straight Guys Who Also Love Sucking Dick," posted Jul. 11, 2017. In an answer to a reader's question, Savage notes, "self-identification isn't always congruent with behavior and behavior isn't always congruent with desire and blah blah blah. Think prisons, pirate ships, and boardings schools --think situational homosexuality. . . A few more wrenches to throw in the werks: There are straight guys who don't have dicks, DICKS. A straight guy with a dick could find himself in a relationship with a guy with a vagina. (Guy with dick marries woman with vagina, woman transitions to male, couple remains married. Voila: a 100 percent straight guy is having sex on the regular with another dude.)"

I had also thought of the double standards Savage mentioned in his previous post, but the new thing that I specifically thought of while reading Savage's current answer is that there is an axis of gender or biological sex, which can described with the discrete categories, such as male, female, intersex, or described with continuous variables (e.g. 25 percent male, 75% female.) Also, there is another axis of sexual identity or sexual orientation, which can be described with the discrete categories of heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or with a continuous variable. Finally, there is a third axis of sexual behavior, which Savage points out can be incongruent with your identity without requiring the excuse of being in a situation where you feel it is your only option. For example, sexual behavior can be described with the discrete categories of heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, which may or may not be the same as your sexual orientation or identity.

Any college freshman student taking a combinatorial mathematics class can easily calculate the number of possibilties for any given model. The simplest case is the one most people think of, which is you are either straight or gay, and either male or female, while your sexual behavior matches your sexual orientation. In this simple model, all humans could be categorized as one of four possibilities -- a person could be straight and either male or female. Or a person could be gay and either male or female.

If you expand this simple model to include the axis of either homosexual behavior or heterosexual behavior, then the number of catgegories increases by a factor of 2 to be equal to 8 total possibilities. One example would be a heterosexual male who identifies as being a heterosexual, but has sex with his male friends like the person mentioned in Savage's column. As you add in all of the other possibilities, the number of combinations literally expands exponentially, and if you include continuous variables, such as being a percentage part male and part female, then there are an infinite number of possibilities.

Like I said, I have no problem with each person choosing their own identity, and I fully expect the fashions will change over time for how people identify themselves. However, I hope to live long enough to see if and how these changes in identity fashion will take place over the next few decades. I am curious too, what will be the impetus for these changes?

Finally, a side note to Prof. Wayne Dynes of a still current current usage of the word "queer" by by the "OSU Queer Archives (OSQA) that document LGBTQ+ histories at Oregon State, Corvallis, and Benton County", including the OSU Queer Archives Oral History Collection (OH 34). (See previous post OSU Queer Archives collaborates with German Professor Bradley Boovy (7/7/17)). In my opinion, even though I would not have used the word "queer for this archive, it does cover the breadth of Archive well and I can't imagine it causing confusion in the future, even though it could become quaint as the term "homophile" in the future.