Friday, March 14, 2008

Over-sensitive & In-sensitive about Race

I wanted to continue a thread of discussion begun in my March 12 (Wed) post "When a cigar is just a cigar." The comments that followed my post raised some excellent points about reading into race--why we do it, what the consequences are, the intentions behind mis-hearing and mis-interpreting actions, our subconscious biases and unintentional actions that become interpreted and racially inflected depending on the actors involved, and larger issues of the difficulty of trying to name all of this accurately and respectfully--to insist that we have a right to talk about race and racism without charges that we are being "oversensitive" about race or that others are "insensitive" to racial issues.

Let me flesh out the restaurant example I used in my March 12 post even fuller for you. It was 12:15pm when I was seated, and I seemed to be the only person eating alone (there were about 30 customers and a dozen staff, all white), and this restaurant had a bar/pub area and then a table area where a majority of the patrons were seated. I elected to sit in the less crowded area--in fact, I was the first person to sit in the bar section (there are about half a dozen elevated tables/chairs and then your usual barstools around the bar). Two white men next followed, and their order was taken before mine (at this point I had been waiting about 8-10 minutes). There was another white couple seated behind me, and the hostess noticed me looking around. I then saw her say something to two of the wait staff--a male waiter who had taken the table's order ahead of mine (and who took the order of the couple who just entered) and a female waiter. It was the female waiter who came and took my order--and, really, she was busy covering the tables at the non-bar end of the restaurant. She was very pleasant--apologized immediately--and I had very good service from her. The male waiter was also fine--he didn't "vibe" me for lack of a better word. Perhaps he thought I was waiting for someone to come, although that shouldn't have excused him not coming to my table and asking if I needed anything or was waiting for someone.

It is impossible to know why he didn't "see" me--why I was overlooked. And let me also underscore something important: THIS IS MINOR. I am not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, not when there are real racist incidents, like the example of the reporter being attacked (see March 13 post)--but I am trying to make a larger point about the ways I, and others, try to figure out our racial difference from others--and to figure out whether our discomfort is racially inflected or coming from a different source (like the minor irritation of waiting an extra 5 minutes for someone to take your order, which, again, in the bigger picture of important things to worry about, is very low on that list--and yet, putting this incident into the context of others is important in trying to figure out how to read circumstances, racially, not just for yourself but for others. And if this restaurant HAD been discriminating people on the basis of race, well, that's something important to figure out because from a social-justice point-of-view you would want them to be held accountable for this behavior, which I think almost all of us would agree is discriminatory, wrong, and actually criminal).

Again, I'll let the comments from the previous post (which you should read--they are very thoughtful) stand for any of my own analysis of this incident. The fact is, I want to be able to talk about this. Not to cry out "RACISM! RACISM!" or to shrug this off as me being "oversensitive" or "over-determining" issues of race. But to say that while I shouldn't rush to judgment about the motives behind the male waiter (for example, I could speculate that he hates Asian women--that his former girlfriend was Japanese American and he now harbors animosity towards Asian American women), the fact that it enters my head that this *might* be racially inflected is in part my own current way of "seeing" and interpreting the world, and because "it" HAS happened to me in the past--I have received poor service and was made to feel uncomfortable at a restaurant because I (and my dining mate) were the only people of color in an all white eatery.

[Aside: Of course, any idiot could tell you that showing up on a Sunday afternoon at a small diner in Columbia, South Carolina where most of the white patrons look like they came straight from church--and to enter with your Asian American male friend and sit down in the back of the diner--when both of you are dressed in shorts and tee-shirts--is to almost invite the steely stares of white octogenarians--seriously, there were two in particular who COULD NOT STOP LOOKING AT US. Most people tried to be discreet about it--glancing at us sideways or looking and then looking down. But these two just kept staring straight at us, like paramecium under a microscope. Not a comfortable feeling]

Am I oversensitive about issues of race? Perhaps--although the way I'd phrase it is that I have an interest in issues of race/racism so my radar is tuned to a high frequency where these issues are concerned. I'm much less righteous about it than in my younger, wilder days. But I am aware of the biases that we carry around--and the privileges too. And it's the privileges that makes us forget what its like for others who don't share the same benefits--that those of us who either look like the majority of the people around us, whose class background or educational background makes us comfortable walking into any store in a large mall or dining in any restaurant, and, in my own quasi-examined hetero-privilege (I don't presume to say that I always scrutinize my straight privilege--I try to--but I know I slip up and, most importantly, I don't know what it's like to be queer because I'm not queer identified and have not had the same experiences as my queer friends--so while I can be friendly to those issues, it seems arrogant and inaccurate for me to say that I know what it's like, because I don't), where I don't have to think twice about holding hands with my partner in public or kissing him.

Let me turn the question on its head: Can we be oversensitive to issues of race? What does that, exactly, mean? That people are tired of being reminded that racism exists? That they don't want to hear about my musings about whether my treatment in a restaurant was racially inflected? That I worry too much about race, and rather than do this kind of worrying I should just go about and live my life? And what are the consequences for not being sensitive to issues of race?

It's a false binary, but I'd rather be over-sensitive rather than in-sensitive about race. It hasn't stopped me from living my life or moving about in all-white spaces or talking about race when I want to or not talking about race (because I also don't want to be overdetermined, by others, to always talk about race--sometimes I just want to talk about a great song I heard or being moved to tears by a passage in a novel). But I think the point I'm driving at is that we should try to be more comfortable muddling through with this issue and shouldn't shut down dialogue on topics of race--getting out of one's comfort zone isn't a good feeling, but it is where change can occur.


Genepool said...

Can we be oversensitive about race? I'm pretty sure we can. That blog you pointed out is a good example, "Things white people like". Here you have a generally well written blog that I mostly consider a humor column that a lot of people are really getting bent out of shape over. Do they have reason to be annoyed? I'd have to say yes. It deliberately targets white people in a way that white people are constantly being told they should not target minorites. Of course the fact that is written by a white guy has done little to appease the righteous white segment out there.

Do I think those people are being oversensitive? Yeah, a little. Will I allow thier reaction to color my opinion or change MY way of percieving that particular blog? Nope.

If I did find that sort of thing offensive, am I obligated to point out to other white people how it is offensive and insist they should be offended as well?

Obviously my view is from a white guys perspective, but its the only one I've got. If I get ignored or overlooked at a reteraunt/diner I just assume they are busy, dizzy or incompetent. Lucky me I don't have to be distracted wondering about the racial-based possibilites in those instances. Unless I am in an ethnic themed resteraunt staffed exclusively by people of that ethnicity. But even then, its not something that hovers at the front of my awareness.

So who's to say what level of sensitivity is appropriate? I would hope individuals would be able to decide for themselves.

Upstatemamma said...

I usually really enjoy your site. i read it often. You tend to get me thinking about all kinds of things. I hope you will take what I am about to say as me asking you to think.

I find it offensive that you would refer to a gay person as a queer.It is just as nasty as a racial slur. I am not homosexual but my brother in law is and I know from him as well as some friends who are that that term invokes a lot of emotion. Your point was not lost on me but I was quite disappointed to see you use that term.

Jennifer said...

Genepool--again, thanks for leaving a comment. I always find them thought provoking (in more than one sense!)

Seansmommy--I'm not offended by what you write; in fact, I'm glad you have asked for clarification and have expressed your discomfort with my using the term "queer"--and I think this may be a matter of mis-communication related to the spheres I travel in (namely academic).

So first of all, the circles I travel in: academic. I won't say exclusively, but largely. And in academic (and I'd add activist) circles, "queer" is the preferred catch-all term referring to people who identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual/transvestite/or other alternative non-hetero normative sexual identites (and we can throw in polyamorous as well).

Now, I'm sure that there are some gay and lesbian (and transgendered) people who would find offense at being called "queer" or having a non-queer person use that term.

But again, by and large, I've been told and read and seen queer activists reclaim this term as an expression of pride and most, whom I know, are comfortable with queer-friendly folk (especially academic) using "Queer" as a term (as long as it's done in respectful rather than hurtful/homophobic ways).

Now, I'm also more than happy to have any gay/lesbian/transgendered folk (and queer activists/academics) chime in to correct me or add any missing (or mis-informed) information to what I've just written.

But I will say, just for the record, that I was using the term as I have used it previously in academic/teaching contexts, and as I've seen others use it in academic/teaching contexts (both those who identify as gay/lesbian and those who don't). And, it probably goes without saying, but I wasn't using it as a slur--in fact, I don't see it as a slur but a word that is used in a very celebratory and positive fashion--at least in the circles I run in.

Hope this helps!

Although I think you raise some issues that are worth exploring about nomenclature/terminology:

1) As someone who is not gay/lesbian, do I have the right to use the term "queer" even I am using it in respectful terms?

2) If only a few people in selective circles (like academia) use the term "queer" in a positive way while others see it as a slur, should we think more carefully about our use of this term? Or, conversely, if it turns out that a majority of gay/lesbian people prefer the term "queer" but a minority don't, how should we be respectful of a minority voice?

3) Should we try to allow people the flexibility of using it as they see fit--sort've like a "black" vs. "African American" debate? In that case, I have heard points from both sides about a preference for "black" over "African American" (and vice versa) and ultimately what it seems to come down to is asking people what they are comfortable with--but that's hard, many times, because how do you try to raise this topic without it being unduly awkward and thus subverting your original intent of trying to be respectful?

Yet another reason why I started this blog--to talk about all these thorny issues--perhaps I'll just blog about this tomorrow.

Upstatemamma said...

I want to make sure you know I did not think you were using it as a slur. I assumed that you did not know that it was considered a slur. I had no idea that your circles considered it the appropriate term. I know that terms of this nature can be seen as very different in one circle to the next.

I know I am sensitive. A very good friend of mine was beaten very badly a few years back and the people called him 'queer" over and over. Were they academic? Of course not. They were ignorant morons full of hate. I know that is not you. I am NOT trying to aquate you to them. I am just sensitive to that term. I assumed I was informing you of something you did not know. I have no idea what would the universally acceptable term. Sorry if you felt I was accusing you of anything sinister. I really did not mean it that way.

Thank you for your response. I enjoy the conversations that your blog invokes.

Jennifer said...

Please! I was not at all offended and did not think you were equating me to people who use the term "queer" in a hate-mongering fashion.

I really appreciate that you wanted clarification from--and more importantly--that you shared your own discomfort with my use of the term, because it was not my intent to offend.

And I think because this term has been used in the circles I travel in to a degree that it seems to have lost (or at least had its negative origins obscured) then I forget that OF COURSE people use the term "queer" as a slur--as a way to malign and to invoke hate and anxiety.


For that reason, language is so powerful. And I think it's the reason Gay rights activists have worked hard to take back the term "queer" and to use it as a label of pride rather than a term associated with hate.

But your anecdote reminds me that others don't share this view.

Which brings back the question: if people are using "queer" in two diametrically opposed senses, what do we do with the term or should we just keep being open to the debate and (in my opinion) work towards educating those in the "hate" camp of why their use of the term "queer" is just simply wrong?

Tami said...

We can most definitely be overly sensitive about race. But, I think the situation you described is an example of how difficult real racism is to try to explain to someone who is not "of color." For the most part, even the most racist among us know better than to shout racial slurs and show obvious disdain in a public place. Most times, the way that people show discomfort with race these days is far more subtle. And often, we have to rely on "vibes" as you put it. Sometimes crap service is just crap service. Sometimes it isn't.

It is part of being among the marginalized in America, including being an ethnic minority, GLBT or female, that you sort of have to hone your radar to determine what you're up against. You also have to make sure your radar doesn't get so sharp that every slight is a racial offense.

baby221 said...

Just to chime in real quick: I identify as queer. I understand that the term is contested, but that's part of the reason I use it - because most of my identity falls into contested territory, that's neither here nor there, truth beauty top bottom quarky. If you were looking for a queer seal of approval, though, you've got your token :) (And yes, I mean that tongue-in-cheek.)

About race. Genepool makes a good point about SWPL and I'd actually broaden that to white people in general have a tough time talking about race because they are overly sensitive to being accused of racism/racist thought and behaviour, because they've been taught to take that kind of thing personally instead of understanding it as a systemic issue that's less about them than about the power structure in our social order.

Other than that, though, it's tough for me to think of a way in which poc can be "oversensitive" to race. Especially not when we live in a country that is highly suspect and sensitive to race and racial issues - we don't even have to look further than the presidential race to see all of it played out on a rather grandiose scale. That radar is a defensive mechanism we've needed to develop just to deal with the difficulty of being black/brown/other in a white society - I don't think you can ever call it "oversensitive" unless, I dunno, you really do develop clinical paranoia along race lines. I mean, speaking from my own life, the general level of awareness I carry with me sometimes makes it difficult for me to enjoy the things I like - movies, video games, etc. because they're fraught with stereotypes and other racialised bullshit that I pick up on and will criticize. But that doesn't mean that I'm "oversensitive" - it just means that I recognize that I deserve entertainment that doesn't insult me. So I'd be really hesitant to lay that charge on any poc, because for all I know their life experience have given them cause to have a red-level radar at all times.

Unknown said...

The last part of the post by baby221 touches on how I feel about this. Being sensitive or aware isn't a bad thing. It's how you respond to your radar. If someone is accused of being oversensitive, the criticism is likely pointed at the person's behaviour and not their sensitivity.

To take this into another sphere: We don't design our world for people with little or no vision.

When someone asks me why I don't get better glasses or get surgery to fix my vision, I can get upset and assume that they think I'm too dumb to know what's best for my own situation (growing up I have encountered the "visually impaired= helpless or less intelligent" assumption). Or I can take it as an opportunity to educate. Or I can brush it off because I don't have the time or energy to explain it at that moment. And any of those reactions can affect perception of my sensitivity.

And at the opposite end, people who have known me a long time forget that I can't see as well as they do in situations where I really could use some help (like reading menus posted up behind the counter at a fast food restaurant). But I don't perceive this as "they aren't sensitive to my lack of access to information". In most situations, I can manage on my own, so they don't usually need to think about accessibility for me. And if I want them to read that menu for me, I'll ask.

That said, I also think that discussions of race can get more complicated. Although maybe it seems that way to me because more people talk about race or because race is more visible in day-to-day life. Or because I've been lucky enough to grow up in a diverse city where I feel less need to have the race "radar" up. Lack of accessibility is something I need to deal with much more in everyday life.

Jennifer said...

So this is why I started a blog in the first place--to be able to have such a rich conversation with folk out in cyberspace!

Tami, as always, I appreciate the comments you leave--esp. your point about the difficulty of poc trying to make non-poc (or even other poc of different ethnicities/racial backgrounds) understand what it's like to be "sensitive" to their concerns. Of course, I do think that if my radar is tuned so high that I am going to take offense at everything, well, it makes it difficult for me to move about the world--a former supervisor of mine (who actually made himself watch Rush Limbaugh because he claimed you have to know what your enemies are up to) said that you had to pick your battles. And I think about that line--or my non-martial way of putting it: is this an educational moment?

Baby221, I was *hoping* you would leave a comment, so thanks for stopping by--and I was also hoping that someone who did identify as "queer" (and I mean someone who identified with that specific term) would chime in, because I do want to be sensitive to the nature of this contested term, and I think I get myopic about my use of certain terminology because of the circles I run in. So I'm glad Seansmommy reminded me of not taking things for granted in terms of using language.

And Genepool, in my rush to answer Seansmommy, I feel like I glossed over your comments, so I wanted to come back to one of your points about people being oversensitive (and link it to Tami's point as well) that I think when people make the charge of "oversensitivity" it is, because, we don't understand why they are reacting/over-reacting to something we find benign/funny/no-big-deal/true.

Genepool, you raise great rhetorical questions about what our individual responsibility is when we find ourselves offended and find that others aren't. There is part of me that agrees with you--that we should allow individuals to figure this out for themselves, but then I also feel like, exposure to different points-of-view are important--because without them, we wouldn't be able to "see" things that may, in fact, be hurtful--or that allow us to understand another person's point-of-view that we may have overlooked or ignored.

Which brings me to Nicola's very insightful observation about visual impairment and her own way of negotiating the world and the issue of sensitivity. Because if you notice the language I've used above, it's heavily laden with "sight" language. Which was part of my point in the post--and I think part of Nicola's point--that there are people who are insensitive because they are unaware/ignorant (like people asking you if you should have surgery or better glasses) and there are people who are insensitive because they have forgotten (like your close friends/family who believe you negotiate the world pretty well and therefore don't need help--and I think, perhaps, from their point-of-view, they may think that they are being too solicitous/condescending to ask if you need help reading menus? Just throwing that out there).

But I think it's what we do with the sensitivity--either the over- or in- type that helps us to work through issues of difference, racial/sexual/visual or any other type. Thanks for writing everyone!

CVT said...

Such a juicy topic. Here's some more:

So, I find myself in a very interesting position as somebody that's mixed (and very ethnically ambiguous on that scale). Sure, I am pretty "sensitive" to issues of race in all sorts of situations (I echo baby221's reference to movies - it's hard to watch many Hollywood films without getting at least mildly offended at some point - but I like movies, so I've learned to push on).

But here's one I don't hear a lot that I face on a regular basis: the sensitivity to not being taken seriously as a representative "person of color."

My example: I am often in situations (usually with white co-workers, but not necessarily) when I have to bring up a POC point-of-view; pointing out biases in how we work with kids, or how certain things the staff may do that can negatively affect our students of color. And everyone nods and goes "hmmmm" and then moves on and quickly ignores it.

Why? Because I don't always "count" as a person of color to people. Because of my mixed background (not to mention part of the "model minority" stereotype, as well), people (usually white, but again - not necessarily) have a hard time believing that I experience race the same way somebody with darker skin, or a "fuller" background does. So when it's more convenient to them to think of me as "half-white" as opposed to "mixed-race" or a "person of color" - like when I'm asking them tough questions, or pointing out a need for corrective action - they fall back on me not really "counting" and brushing it away.

Am I making this up? I honestly had a meeting where we were talking about kids, and I responded on behalf of our kids of color, talking about my own experience and how I would respond in a certain situation. Everybody just nodded and moved on. A while later, our one African-American staff member said THE EXACT SAME THING, and then everybody got serious and started a dialogue about what they could do (my boss even made a point to thank her for her opinion and for making "us all" aware of that viewpoint). I kid you not - it was like I had never said anything at all.

And I guess I'm glad that they took her seriously. And I don't claim to represent any understanding of what it is to be African-American, but it really blew my mind how EVERYBODY (including her) completely checked out when I was talking about my viewpoint as a person of color.

Later, I asked my boss for a diversity training for our staff, and she agreed and let me know it would be happening SOON. That was four months ago, and it still hasn't happened. I can't help but wonder if a darker staff member had asked for the same thing, just how quickly we would have had the training.

And I DO NOT believe that my co-workers are racist. They are as open-minded and adaptable as is possible, in most situations. My boss takes issues of race VERY seriously, and works hard to be aware and to act on issues. And yet this still happens regularly. It's to a point where I have to make sure I have my African-American co-worker's (I only have one, of course) backing before I speak up on these kinds of issues because I know it will be glossed-over, otherwise.

So why don't I voice this? I have - to some of my more understanding co-workers. But I haven't brought it up in a large context because I fear the response - a sort of condescending hyper-attention to my comments (while they STILL think I'm full of it) that will only frustrate me more. I know I should give it a shot, but that's not something I want to deal with. To be honest - I pretty much asked for the diversity training, so that I could have a safe space to talk about this . . . So maybe if that ever happens.

So there's an example of a new category for all you out there: sensitivity to issues of "ambiguous race." It's a great spot to be in: experiencing all the negative aspects of race without being able to enjoy the empowerment aspect, because only then do people want to "let" me be white.

Jennifer said...

CVT--thanks SO MUCH for this perspective--especially because I am very interested in "racial ambiguity" in all forms--and your experiences as a mixed-race person in the situations you describe certainly speak to the frustration of that ambiguity--of wanting to be taken seriously and to be heard (and seen) by others--especially your fellow teachers.

And I understand, from a different perspective, not being taken seriously on issues of race because of my "model minority" status--a colleague (African American) actually once told me (in front of a graduate student in my department) that for all intents and purposes Asian Americans are white! Imagine my surprise! This was a senior colleague and it was not a "teachable moment" so I told the person I disagreed but we had to move on to the meeting with the grad student. Needless to say, that's bothered me--especially being in the South. But at the same time, I "sort've" get where she is coming from--because by and large the racism that has existed in the South has been so intense/egregious/violent against African Americans here. But at the same time, I'm not excusing the comment--it was painful and made me angry--and it made me sad.

So I can empathize, somewhat, with your experiences with your colleagues--and I do understand why you would want to be in a safe space to address these issues with them--I do hope the diversity training happens. The truth is, people who identify as mixed or who are "racially ambiguous" will continue to grow in the U.S. (and heck, there are a lot of people out there, already, who feel a fair amount of racial ambiguity--I know I do at times). So some training on this issue--especially in the realm of education--seems an important step. I do hope your voice (and perspective) gets heard more!

baby221 said...

CVT and Jennifer, I totally feel both of you on the "other white meat" phenomenon. I've heard it before from all kinds of places and it's like, "Really? My friend who was chased out of a gas station by some dude who kept calling her a slant-eyed chink didn't experience racism? My coworker who was at a bar one night with a white woman friend who was accosted by some overentitled white asshole who told him to go back to his country didn't experience racism? I didn't experience racism when I couldn't get the help I needed for high school calculus because my peers and teachers thought I was automatically good at math and just not trying hard enough? Cause what else would you call it?"

I think it's mostly just a reaction based in a very juvenile understanding of racism, one in which being racist = KKK and everything else is somehow not "really" racist - and of course, a way for those people to pretend that they themselves aren't racist. Sigh.

Poor Charlotte said...

It's weird. A lot of my students, the more traditional aged college students, seem to think we're post-race. They don't see racism (or sexism, for that matter) as an issue, ever--and some of these students are people of color.

It's kind of a weird school--only about 500 students, and it's around $30,000 a year...and it's "career" oriented. Most of the students aren't very strong academically.

On another note, I also teach at a college for working adults, many of whom are women of color. A lot of them still use the phrase "Afro-American" rather than "African-American." Do I talk about the distinction? There is a lot of distinction between the different kind of Latino communities--Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians...there's a total hierarchy under the Latino umbrella.

A friend of mine is in a PhD program, and she has a good relationship with most of her profs. Some profs, however, seem really really eager to work with her, and she thinks it's because she's ethnically ambiguous. Her first and last names sound Latino, and she has very dark coloring. But, she's of French and Italian descent, many generations removed.So she's considering dropping hints about her "whiteness" and seeing how the profs react.

Anyway, these have been my experiences with "race" as of late. Don't know if it really adds anything to this quite articulate conversation!

dance said...

A couple of incidents that really opened my eyes, about how white people react to discussions of race.

I was in a diversity orientation run by human resources. The leader did an exercise where she had us all close our eyes and yell out answers to questions like "how many people this room wear glasses?" "how many people in this room are not white?" and it came out that at least some of the people in the room thought that simply to notice someone was not white was in itself enough to earn a charge of racism.

I was arguing with some people on a message board (triggered by James Watson's comments re African intelligence) and pointed out that a white girl born on my street the same year was not the same as me, and that race was part of that. I thought I was making a statement of my personal identity. Two separate people came back, independently, with "cry me a river" or "you are claiming oppression" when I had meant no such thing. But they seemed incapable of separating a claim to identity from a claim to victimhood.

My contribution here would be that white people are equally as sensitive to race as poc--but that based on these anecdotes, perhaps sensitive in ways that shut down discussion? I found both these incidents incredibly enlightening, but extremely saddening.

Jennifer said...

Baby 221--thanks for chiming in again. I really hear you--and appreciate your echoing of the frustration of what it's like to be Asian American and not have concerns of discrimination or racism heard by others--or to have them ranked as either inconsequential or not "as bad" as what other racialized minorities have gone through. Playing the "ranking oppression" game seems like a losing proposition on all fronts.

Charlotte, your comments most definitely add to our discussion about race. Because I think part of the problem with talking about race is figuring out how relevant certain things are--whether something is an act of racism/discrimination or whether something is just weird or just being able to put your finger on a "feeling"--like your friend's example of her own ethnic/racial ambiguity and her gut-level feeling that this may be attractive for professors who want to work with her--I suppose something I wonder about is why this would be the case--why would her racial ambiguity make her a more attractive candidate to work with--and is she more or less attractive than a white student or a person-of-color with unambiguous racial identity?

Finally, Dance thanks for stopping by again! I always appreciate your comments--especially your observation about white people being equally sensitive over racial issues--but in a way that shuts down conversation rather than allows for a richer dialogue and exploration of why and how race impacted a situation. Why is it that so often (and I'm about to make a generatlization here, so watch out) white people don't want to talk about race because they think that the invocation of race, itself, is racist? This is going to be my next blog entry--so be on the lookout!

Cipher said...

dear seansmommmy,

i just wanted to back the lovely jennifer up...

queer is indeed the term that many use to reclaim what was once an insult into a politically charged way to organize and build coalitions!

Janine deManda said...


i just followed a link from to your blog, and i'm glad i did - definitely thought-provoking reading! i just wanted to chime in briefly as a mixed blood queer-identified bisexual escaped working class gimp dyke on a few things.

first, i have pondered the issues tangled in language reclamation, and i have concluded that for myself, i feel stronger for being able to name and embrace those parts of myself most vulnerable to various systems of oppression. when me and my partner tease each other about being dyke process queens, it's an affectionate endearment. when some angry man screams "fuckin' dyke" at me as i'm walking down the street, it's a hateful slur. language is just complicated like that.

still, i wonder sometimes about folks, especially heterosexual folks who may not "see" us as queer hearing our language and thinking either a} that we're homophibic neanderthals or b} that the language we're using has become widely acceptable. i am comfortable with queerfolk, queer theory academics, and queer allies using language reclaimed by some in the lgbtq community, but i think i, like seansmommy, might not be comfortable with someone's use of it if i didn't know that about them first.

all of that said, i also want to gently urge you not to forget us bisexuals. per several official counts, we constitute roughly HALF of the lgbq* community. we have been here since the beginning, and we are still here.

*i didn't include the t in the acronym that time because the trans spectrum is not about sexual orientation, but gender. there are lesbian, gay, AND bisexual trans people and genderqueers.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your comments--esp. in terms of your own pov as, in your words, a "mixed blood queer-identified bisexual escaped working class gimp dyke."

I definitely will try not to forget about bisexually identified people--although not identifying as bisexual (or queer) I try to be as careful as I can when raising such issues (and I do believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, that issues of bisexuality become contested terrain--not that this should make me shy away from this topic--only that I try to pick my battles carefully when I am not as confident, research wise, on these subjects).

Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

Janine deManda said...


you're welcome. thanks for making this space for conversation. bisexuality, like all aspects of queerness, imho, is contested terrain. i just always flinch a little when i see discussions of sexuality that use language that reads to me as exclusive without acknowledging that.

Jennifer said...

Hi Janine,
I'm wondering if you could clarify what parts of my language (or others) were exclusive. I do understand that I may not have expressly discussed bisexuality within the post or in the larger discussion about the term "queer"--but I have believed that the term "queer" encompassed bisexuality along with gay, lesbian, transgender, asexuality, polyamory--essentially other types of sexuality than that which is heteronormative.

So I guess I am confused at what felt exclusive to you, since that was certainly not my intention nor the intention, I believe, of others who commented here (although I'm not trying to speak on behalf of this comment thread, but in re-reading people's comments they don't seem exclusive to me either).