Apr 29

Maria Bello: Her New “Whatever” Label and Book

One of the biggest questions she was asking herself at the time was how to tell her son, then 12 years old, that she had fallen in love with a woman. Jack’s response—simple and wise beyond his years—was “Whatever, Mom . . . love is love.” Realizing that Jack didn’t see traditional labels of partnership, Maria began to contemplate the labels she herself had worn during her life. Publisher, Whatever…Love Is Love by Maria Bello

Maybe you’ve already read the highly popular 2013 essay by actress and activist Maria Bello called “Coming Out As a Modern Family,” in which the nature of her relationship as same-sex and the above response from her 12-year-old son was made public.

Below Bello, in a brief clip, talks about the acceptance of her son and other young folks today:

Maybe you also already know that Bello’s partner, Clare Munn, initiated a “Whatever Campaign” that, according to Annie L. Scholl, Huffington Post, “has been embraced by thousands who don’t fit so easily into labels like ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ or ‘bisexual,’ and for those who exist outside the heterosexual, nuclear-family structure.”

Some of us are comfortable with labels that seem to define and validate us, others are not. If you’re one who chooses certain labels, Bello hopes they’re a help to you, not a hindrance. As for her sexual orientation, she’s definitely a “whatever”—it works for her.

It’s not that she’s afraid to claim a more specific identity, though. She tells R. Kurt OsenlundOut: “…I’m a whatever, but I’m proud to say that I’m gay, bi, lesbian, whatever you want. I’ll take it all.”

Bello’s new Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, out this week, recognizes the frequent struggle people have around self-labeling of all kinds. The essays within, reflecting the contents of a large collection of personal journals she’s kept for many years, ask different questions related to her own identity, including, for example, “Am I Resilient”?, “Am I a Good Mom”?, “Am I Enough”?

More from the publisher:

Written as a series of provocative questions and thoughtful answers, this book is filled with deeply personal, often funny, and even passionate stories, stories in which Maria bares her soul and shares what she’s learned—not only about romantic love, but also about her relationship with her parents, her feelings about spirituality, her sexual identity, the highs and lows of her career, her humanitarian work, and her worth as a mother. Using her experiences as a gateway to a larger conversation, Maria encourages you to think about the life you lead, who you love, what you do, what you believe in, and what you call yourself…and helps you to realize that the only labels that matter are the ones we place on and accept for ourselves, even if they don’t fit the mold of ‘typical.’

By the way, other topics covered by Bello, says Scholl, include having an alcoholic father, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20’s, and having a history of battling suicidal feelings.

Annie L. Scholl, Huffington Post: “Love is Love is not a memoir about an actress. It is a frank, raw, and honest book about the way every woman questions the roles she plays in love, work, and life, filled with wisdom, questions, and insights relevant to us all.”

Nov 06

It’s “Queer Day”: So What’s That Supposed to Mean?

When I was in high school in the late 1960’s Thursday was always “Queer Day.” If you unwittingly—because purposely would make no sense—wore purple that day, you were ridiculed as “queer,” a bad thing to be sure. Why? This was unclear. Maybe—well, most certainly—it meant “homosexual,” but that wasn’t a term people used freely back in my little hometown.

Meanwhile, my mom and others of her generation used the word to mean “odd,” which of course was and is a correct definition. Fine. But when I came out in the late 70’s the word “queer,” used even in that kind of non-homophobic context, unfortunately retained its slap-worthy power.

In the 90’s things started to change, however. Some in the LGBTQ community began to reclaim the term “queer,” now using it in a self-affirming way. Gradually this trend caught on with more and more people— though not with the majority of those from my generation.

Today, although “queer” is now used regularly and proudly by many, it continues to depend on who you’re talking to as to what it means. PFLAG National, for example, sees it as an “umbrella term”:

It includes anyone who a) wants to identify as queer and b) who feels somehow outside of the societal norms in regards to gender or sexuality. This, therefore, could include the person who highly values queer theory concepts and would rather not identify with any particular label, the gender fluid bisexual, the gender fluid heterosexual, the questioning LGBT person, and the person who just doesn’t feel like they quite fit in to societal norms and wants to bond with a community over that.

The Gender Equity Resource Center at Berkeley agrees with the umbrella-ism and adds (similar to the above) that the usage of “queer” can be:

  • a political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary.
  • [about] recognizing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid.
  • a simple label to explain a complex set of sexual behaviors and desires. For example, a person who is attracted to multiple genders may identify as queer.

All of this is so well worded but also seems so…I don’t know…word-y. Label-ly, head-y, politically correct-y. All of the above-y. So, perhaps putting an actual face to queerness could help. Buzzfeed recently listed 15 Responses to the Question “What Does the Word ‘Queer’ Mean to You?” Below are some of the answers given by different individuals:

4. “It lets me comfortably move with my sexuality as it changes during different periods of my life.”

7. “Queer is what you make it.”

I know many people use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term, and I understand why they do, but I think it’s really reductive to forget that while it may be an umbrella term for some, it’s very specific for others. Queer is what you make of it — and, for me, being queer means that my sexuality is not fixed, that it can evolve over years and that I can be sexually and romantically attracted to various degrees to the spectrum of gender identities that exist…

8. “I see both gender and sexuality as fluid concepts that I think we should be able to freely move between.”

9. “I don’t feel like the other labels appropriately describe me.”

14. “I’ve always seen [the world] through queer eyes.”

For me, queer goes beyond sexuality and encompasses the way I see the world…

Well, I hope that clears things up for everyone. But somehow I doubt it. Because, in fact, “queer” is such a broad term with such varied meanings and because it still carries such an emotional kick for some of us, the concept remains challenging. As Slate recently wrote, “Despite its widespread use in classrooms, pride parades, and LGBTQ blogs…the term ‘queer’ remains contentious for some—and confusing for many more.”

Bottom line: When someone uses the term “queer,” take a cue from Buzzfeed and consider finding out that particular someone’s (possibly unique) take on the word.

Mar 25

“Sexual Fluidity” By Lisa Diamond: New Thoughts About Identity

It would be an amazing thing if a thirteen year old went into health class was told, “you are at the beginning of an incredible journey. I’m going to give you some tools and strategies for figuring out what you want and how to get it. But you are in the beginning of an adventure and it’s going to be great!” That would be a really profound transformation. Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity

Is sexual fluidity pertinent to your life?  Might be, particularly if you’re female.

Psychology professor Lisa M. Diamond, PhD, has researched and written the book on this topic. It’s called Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire (2008). “Probably the most surprising finding of the study was how often women changed the way that they thought about their sexual identity over time,” she told Big Think. Rather than stability of identity, the norm was changeability of identity, often back and forth.

Sexuality counselor Ian Kerner lists the three main characteristics Diamond says are part of sexual fluidity:

– Non-exclusivity in attractions: can find either gender sexually attractive
– Changes in attractions: can suddenly find a man or woman sexually attractive after having been in a long-term relationship with the other
– Attraction to the person, not the gender

Although women aren’t alone in this, men are thought to have less of this capacity. More research is needed on this, though.

A basic breakdown of her argument, as described by the book publisher:

…(F)or some women, love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual but fluid, changing as women move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait. But that view is based on research conducted almost entirely on men. Diamond is the first to study a large group of women over time. She has tracked one hundred women for more than ten years as they have emerged from adolescence into adulthood. She summarizes their experiences and reviews research ranging from the psychology of love to the biology of sex differences. 

Publishers Weekly notes that Diamond admits her sample wasn’t fully representative. This doesn’t mean, though, that her findings lack substance.

Sexual fluidity does not equal bisexuality, though there can be overlap. Diamond doesn’t even use the word “bisexual” because of the difficulty defining it in a way that is widely accepted and understood. She uses instead the term “non-exclusive attractions.”

It’s important to note here that sexual identity is a self-defined construct. Just as there are those who would identify as heterosexual or homosexual non-fluidly, there are those who would identify as bisexual non-fluidly. Alternatively, as was found by Diamond, many people with any of these three orientations might find themselves on the fluid spectrum.

There are so many possibilities. So, why label at all? Why not just be open to the journey? This is a question younger people in general are more likely to ask than older ones. At least figuratively speaking, give them boxes to check and they’ll often ignore them, make up their own, or show disdain.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager: “Diamond challenges both traditionalists and radicals—if you want to understand female sexuality, listen to what women say.”

Or watch a current film about sexual fluidity, Kissing Jessica Stein.

Jun 26

What Causes Heterosexuality? Hanne Blank Takes It On

What causes heterosexuality? If you’re going to ask what causes homosexuality, isn’t this a fair question too?

“We don’t know much about heterosexuality. No one knows whether heterosexuality is the result of nature or nurture, caused by inaccessible subconscious developments, or just what happens when impressionable young people come under the influence of older heterosexuals.”

The author of the above tongue-in-cheek quote and the new book Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, is Hanne Blank. About the book, the publisher has this to say:

In this surprising chronicle, historian Hanne Blank digs deep into the past of sexual orientation, while simultaneously exploring its contemporary psyche. Illuminating the hidden patterns in centuries of events and trends, Blank shows how culture creates and manipulates the ways we think about and experience desire, love, and relationships between men and women. Ranging from Henry VIII to testicle transplants, from Disneyland to sodomy laws, and from Moby Dick to artificial insemination, the history of heterosexuality turns out to be anything but straight or narrow.

First, a little something about Blank’s credentials. Besides being a historian as well as an activist regarding fat acceptance and sexuality issues, there’s her more personal life. Thomas Rogers, Salon:

If you met Hanne Blank and her partner on the street, you might have a lot of trouble classifying them. While Blank looks like a feminine woman, her partner is extremely androgynous, with little to no facial hair and a fine smooth complexion. Hanne’s partner is neither fully male, nor fully female; he was born with an unconventional set of chromosomes, XXY, that provide him with both male genitalia and feminine characteristics. As a result, Blank’s partner has been mistaken for a gay woman, a straight man, a transman — and their relationship has been classified as gay, straight and everything in between.

Central to Blank’s history of heterosexuality is how the terms for both homo- and hetero- sexuality were originally coined. As Troy Patterson points out in Slate, Blank “puts a spin on the hip-hop catchphrase ‘no homo,’ explaining that there was no hetero until social science and pseudo-science invented a need in the middle of the 19th century.”

Blank’s recent article on The Huffington Post regarding 10 “surprising facts about heterosexuality” contained the following examples:

  • Never mind the question of whether there’s such a thing as distinctively “gay genes” or “gay brains”; we don’t even know if there’s such a thing as straight ones. Physical and biomedical science have yet to define or even confirm the empirical existence of heterosexuality…no one’s ever even tried.
  • The ideal that men and women should have mutually orgasmic sex developed during the same time period as the idea of “heterosexuality” did, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This novel notion helped establish the new notion of distinctively “heterosexual” desire and pleasure as scientific and medically proper.
  • Though men and women have engaged in various forms of non-intercourse sexual activity since time immemorial, the idea that there was a necessary opening act to sexual intercourse called “foreplay” is something we owe to Sigmund Freud and a handful of other psychologists and medical types around the turn of the 20th century.

If you’re interested in more such info, such as what causes heterosexuality, getting through Blank’s “short history” should be a breeze. As stated by Dr. Abigail Zuger, on comparing this book to the almost 1000-page DSM (psychiatry’s reference book) : “Hanne Blank gets a pat on the back for dispatching the equally murky entity of heterosexuality in fewer than 200, plus back matter.”