Rebuilding the closet

Rebuilding the closet


Gender and sexuality are a spectrum. In common discourse, we lose sight of what that means. Very Online approaches to gender and sexuality seem to say that gender and sexuality are a spectrum, but everyone is at a very specific and static spot on that spectrum. That fits with the more everyday discourse that was able to absorb the normalization of homosexuality on the condition that every individual clearly fits into one specific box. But that’s not how it is, and everyone probably understands that. Even among people who are exclusively heterosexual, there is a spectrum of howattracted they are to the opposite sex — how many partners they seek, how much monogamy is a struggle for them, how sexually motivated they are at all, etc. Enough people seem to be able to rest more or less content with monogamy that the whole thing basically “works,” but if we’re being honest, there are some people for whom it was never going to happen and who therefore never should have been expected to get married or have exclusive relationships.

Everything relating to sex and gender is like that.  On the spectrum of same-sex desire, for instance, there are those for whom it’s a non-negotiable exclusive preference and others who could make a basically heterosexual lifestyle work, and a whole range in between. We see this from history — there are a lot of men, for instance, who were known to be primarily same-sex attracted but were able to hold together a marriage and have children. By the standards of the time, those marriages may have even been relatively happy! And on gender identity, there are people who absolutely need to transition or else their life will be constant suffering and others who can tolerate living in public as their assigned identity as long as they have some private release, and a whole range in between.

The political strategy of the “closet” was to require those people who exist in the more liminal spaces to hide, then relentlessly stigmatize and persecute the people for whom conformity was simply never going to be an option. The latter incentivizes the former — you’d only choose to live as homosexual or trans if the cost of denying it was worse that the social costs of acknowledging it. All but the youngest generations are familiar with this dynamic at first-hand. Every 80s kid, including myself, looks back and is horrified at the casual homophobia that was flung around the schoolyard in those tense days just before public acceptance of homosexuality gained critical mass. We were being groomed, from a very young age, to be homophobes. And the goal of that project was emphatically notto convert homosexuals or trans people, at least not among intelligent conservatives. The goal was to use the non-negotiable homosexuals and trans people to make sure that everyone who could stand to conform, would conform. Those who couldn’t conform and were never going to be able to conform were made into living sacrifices to normative heterosexuality…


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