On Gender … For the majority of people one’s gender is simple, clear, and defined: one is either a man or a woman. There is nothing complicated about it. With gender, there is a small degree of room to play even as our society has certain “womanly” or “manly” behaviours, traits, and expectations around what a man or woman is and/or looks like. The term gender can be used to refer to one’s sense of self, regardless of genitalia. This implies that gender is socially constructed, that we have choice, and that gender is mutable.
On Sexuality… Similarly, one’s sexuality is generally quite defined by the categories of straight, gay, bi, and/or queer. For many straight folks, their sexual preference may remain relatively consistent: straight folks prefer and are attracted to the opposite gender; gay and/or lesbian folks prefer and are attracted to the same gender; bi or pan-sexual; queer folks may be attracted to the entire spectrum of gender, with or without particular gender preferences.
Let’s now look at the fun stuff: gender and sexual variancy.
Gender variancy… By gender variancy I mean any person who chooses to live outside of the mainstream, socially proscribed, sanctioned gender roles, duties, performances, presentations, and identities of what it means to be the gender “woman” or “man” in North America. For a woman, she may choose to stay in her born female body, or choose to morph, alter, or transition her gender in some way. Some gender variant women may consistently or mercurially appear to exhibit and play with androgynous, masculine, and/or butch traits, behaviors, presentations, preferences, identities etc. When you see a woman or man exhibiting these styles or identities, or dressed in drag for example, that’s gender variancy. Think the Madonna and Marlene Dietrich look of tuxedo and top hat, Barry Humphries persona of Dame Edna, and Dustin Hoffman’s character of Michael Dorsey turned Dorothy Michaels in the film Tootsie. Variant gender implies locating one’s gender identification, playfulness, choices, and/or performance outside of the mainstream, male/female, masculine/feminine fixed gender norm binary.
Sexual Variancy… By sexually variant I am referring to people who choose to dwell outside of the socially proscribed and sanctioned “normal” (hetero) sexual roles, desires, identities, duties, performances, presentations, and practices acceptable in North American culture and society. Variant, non-normative sex and sexualities imply locating one’s sexual preferences, desires, and/or practices outside of the mainstream, heterosexual, reproductively based, acceptable societal norm. To give a general context, think of the desires involved in engaging in non-reproductively based sex. Non-monogamy, same sex attraction, or tying your lovers writ’s to the bedposts could all be considered “variant.” In our culture, sexual practices and sexual variancy has the most room to play.
Variant Practices & Lifestyle…
Simply put, the gender and/or sexually variant person’s preferences, practices, and choices are outside the centre’s norm of societal structures. They take place in mutable locations, instances, preferences, and choices that are different from or outside the mainstream. Another way to look at it is they exist outside of the standardized ideologies and points of view that govern socially conventional sex and gender norms.
Think of what your parents or grandparents, a priest, head of state, and the media consider “normal.” Think of the Clinton sex scandal: outside of marriage, in public/at the workplace, and involving dominance and submission. It’s interesting to consider that if he chose to freely discuss his “variant” preferences with his wife, well, perhaps a lot of drama, chaos, public shaming, and political embarrassment might have been avoided, and, perhaps, two people might be in a trusting, intimate, healthy, honest, and sexually satisfying marriage.
To support his/her/their healthy sexual choices, people with variant sexual and gender expressions may choose to be part of one or more of the vast networks of feminist, gender bending, and/or pro-sex subcultural streams that allow for greater gender and/or sexual fluidity. More than a few straight folks have asked me: “why all the pride parades?” This is why pride is important: it allows for community and visibility, honesty and integrity, to be felt and experienced by people whose sexual and gender preferences are not seen or celebrated, in fact, they are often made fun of and used against people, sometimes violently so.
The term “that’s so gay” is just one example of how our society puts down non-mainstream sexual choices. Alternative communities and groups actively seek to honor and support the authentic self rather than the socially constructed, mandated self; these important, safe, inclusive spaces may be found in organizations, groups, and neighbourhoods, at events, and online.
To support people’s gender and sexual freedom, a great question all of us, as forward-thinking progressives, can ask ourselves is: what is one action I can take that would contribute to people in my family, community, or environment experiencing more equality and safety? A simple alteration in language choices is a very powerful place to start! Supporting people in your life and community, who share and express their variances, is another. And finally, consider allowing your own variant desires and/or preferences some room to come out to play: allow yourself to be curious about them, share them with a friend, lover, or partner, or explore them on your own.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi