I went to an extremely pleasant discussion group last night, which in addition to being in a pub that served Thai food and had a draught beer on tap named "Unicorn" was the first time in a long while that I have been able to sit down in a group and talk over sex and sexuality without feeling as if I was justifying myself, explaining or teaching, selling something (including myself) or creating a pre-amble to something else entirely - usually kinky sex. We just talked. About things that were interesting to us.
It was a particularly well mixed group of various genders and backgrounds - sexual and non-sexual - which made the topic all the more pertinent: labels, their uses and mis-uses. Although sadly, no-one felt in the mood to don serious spectacles and a pencil skirt to pose provocatively and take secretarial minutes (next time, perhaps?) I've been doing a little musing of my own which will meander you through the conversation.
I'm going to go through some of the labels and some of the phrases as they came up.
Queer This was pretty much the first label that hit the table. And it caused a mixed reaction. Some folk hated using it because they felt it had a negative connotation, partly the historic connotations, but also the sense that it was a bit of a "non-word" the catch all term for someone who was not straight. There was a feeling that the word was political in nature, and that it included the sense of rebelling or challenging or criticising the "normal" culture.
Vanilla We talked about how this is sometimes used as a pejorative word amongst the BDSM community, and as a word for "white, middle class and straight" in certain circles. We touched upon vanilla sex and the varieties of vanilla sex - just as there are varieties of kinky sex - but didn't really explore the idea of vanilla identity (as opposed to kink identities), which might make a nice topic for another time.
Bisexual there was a neat little statistic raised that only 0.5% (or 0.05%, something minuscule) of the population considered themselves "bisexual" which meant that the people around the table were a vast over-representation, or that something is going wrong with the ONS. We talked about sexual orientation as a scale, rather than fixed options, and how people change over time, or depending on the people they are with. The idea of hetero lexibility, or just flexibility came up,
Cisgender and transgender We talked about this curious use of chemistry terms and how the labels came about in order to avoid words like "non-transgender" or (shudder) "normal gender". A quick jump to wikipedia led us onto the fascinating, and new to me, concept of cissexual.
Pervert another word with "bad" connotations, but it's also a word that many kink people at the table chose to describe themselves, perhaps because of those connotations - there is a tendency amongst the BDSM community to enjoy shock value and to "play the villain"
In general we thought that
labels did have their uses, to a point. I use them as a "starter for
ten" to help kick off conversations about myself and my kink - often
during dates. Other people thought they were handy in advertising events
and clubs, to show what may happen and the sort of crowd that might be
along. We diverted into an interest sideline about equality and
diversity monitoring, training and LGBTQ (with discussion on the addition or subtraction of the T and the Q and why this might have been done) groups in large corporations
and organisations, which is probably a conversation for another time. Similarly, we got onto a discussion of privilege and the difficulties of managing the phrase "you can't possibly understand X, Y or Z because you are A, B or C" both in terms of accepting that in many cases it is true, regardless of how much you want to understand or empathise, and how upsetting it can be when people make decisions for you and about you based on their perceptions of who they think you are.
talked about labels that had been put upon us, and the upset that the
prejudices of others - intentional and otherwise - had caused. Many of
us referred to our childhoods and teenage years, labels seemed to keep
cropping up when we were "growing up" and perhaps we have adjusted
ourselves around them, left them behind or used them as stepping stones
to get where we are today. We found the positives in labels - the way
they can help you find out about things, especially with the magic of
the Internet, that you might not have known about before, the sense of
inclusion in being able to put a name to that thing you like, and the
feeling of comfort that other people might like it to.
Grab me on Twitter if you'd like to come along to the next one, and I shall see you there!