Saturday, October 12, 2013

LGB Books

I've been reading a bit on LGBT lately (admittedly mostly about the LGB and less about the T), and wanted to share my thoughts on two of the books I've looked at recently. There's another one I'm almost through with that I'll probably write about on here soon.

Journey Out book cover

The Journey Out: A Guide for and about Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens
by Rachel Pollack and Cheryl Schwartz

This is actually what made me decide to write about these books. It's the book that was the nudge into getting me to accept that I'm bi in early 2012. But I couldn't remember its contents, let alone what about it finally made me come out to myself. So I finally decided to check it out from the library again. And now I'm writing about it for future reference!

First, and obviously, the book is written for teens and young adults. It's meant as an introduction to the topic, and I think it does a pretty good job.

They cover such issues as how it can be difficult to come out to yourself as LGB, how to come out to others, what makes a good relationship, what the signs are of a bad/abusive relationship, safer sex, health, how your orientation doesn't mean that you have to give up your spirituality, and a bit of LGB history...among other things.

I think my favorite thing about the book is that they got input from teens and young adults, and we see what these young people have to say throughout the book. Another good thing is that the authors are optimistic without being unrealistic. They encourage teens to seek help if they need it, but acknowledge that it can be difficult for some to find an adult who won't judge.

My two complaints would both be on how the book handles bisexuality. For one thing, the authors define it as "feeling attraction and affection towards both men and women" (3). On one hand, this is a common definition. But it's problematic in that it overlooks the fact that some people don't identify as either male or female, and/or who are physically in between. (Yes, I've been reading Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner. More on that in another post.) I'd be less bothered by this if the authors acknowledged that gender isn't as binary as is usually believed, and mentioned pansexuality as another possibility as a sexual orientation. Unfortunately, they didn't do this. My other complaint is that they don't address issues specific to bis, although they do mention us throughout the book. Which is not unappreciated, I will say.

Overall though, a good book. And one I would recommend to someone who's trying to figure things out.

I still don't know what it was about this book that nudged me out of the closet. I guess I was ready to step out of it anyways.

Bisexual Option book cover

The Bisexual Option
Second edition
by Fritz Klein, MD

Disclaimer: I only got partway through the second chapter before putting the book down. I'll explain that in a minute. First though, what I took away that's positive.

I already knew that the Kinsey Scale is flawed. (For what it is, click here. As for how it's flawed, that's a topic for another post, probably on my main blog. Or you can just ask Google.) I've heard this quite a few times before, but I've never known anyone to recommend a better system.

And now, I find the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid.

This grid takes into account differences between the past and present, as well as what you consider the ideal. (Why should there be an ideal?) It also differentiates between things such as sexual attraction and emotional attraction. I'd known that if you're putting numbers on these things they can come out a bit different, but I'd never seen anyone else acknowledge it before. Maybe I wasn't looking in the right places, or maybe I wasn't paying attention. Either way, it was nice to find this grid.

The grid isn't without its flaws, but it is more flexible than the Kinsey Scale.

Now, on to what sunk the book for me.

First, the name is problematic, though I was determined to overlook that. I mean, hey. Bisexuality isn't an option. There are people who wouldn't be bi if they had an option about it. I don't know if Klein actually meant to suggest that we have a choice, but the title is certainly misleading.

Second, Klein started discussing gender identity in the second chapter. Which is awesome, except for his ideas on it: "If an infant is brought up as one gender, he or she will develop that gender identity, even if it is opposite of the infant's true chromosomal, gonadal, or hormonal sex" (24). He goes on to say that our gender is programmed in the first 18 months of our lives, and that "Before that 18-month point of no return, any child can be programmed toward male or female self-identity, despite the child's true biological nature" (25). Um...I really don't think so. Just ask anyone who's transgender.

The book is dated. First release was in 1993, second edition being in 2012. I would have expected that bit of transphobia to be edited out by the 2012 edition.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gender and arches in LHoD...

...and LHoD means Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. le Guin.

This is a scifi with too many layers for me to adequately describe briefly. But let's start by saying that it takes place on an alien world full of individuals who are completely genderless, except for when they have sex. Then they adopt either the male or female gender temporarily...before reverting back to their regular genderless state.

Their lack of gender is a source of confusion to the man Genly (an alien to that world), who tries to force his own binary understanding of gender on these people when he speaks with or thinks about them. And he does this despite his best efforts not to. It's a pretty good example of how people can be so set in their ways of thinking about gender/sex/sexual orientation as black and white (that you're male or female, straight or gay) that it's so easy to pigeon hole others, even when making an effort not to do so. A really good example of this can be found in the following excerpt:

"Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own" (12).

You can even see Genly pigeon holing people right here, when he says "forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature"...emphasis mine. He does this even while he is stating that he is denying what they are when he tries to give them gender.

Stepping back from this amazing book for a moment...

On a personal note, I wonder if Genly's problem confronting a planet that doesn't fit into his binary understanding of gender/sex/sexual orientation is part of why I love this book so much. I'm bisexual, and what le Guin is doing in this novel is throwing the binary everything out the window. I also see the last bit in the above excerpt as something some monosexuals do to bisexuals which adds to bi-erasure: "forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own." I'm reasonably certain (though some might say overly hopeful) that most people can adapt more easily fitting their heads around bisexuality than Genly does to living in a world full of genderless individuals. Yet many monosexuals still try to force us into being monosexuals. Not even necessarily by telling us outright that we have to be gay or straight. Often it's as simple as assuming I'm straight because I'm a woman who's in a serious relationship with a man.

Now complete change of direction, and SPOILER ALERT.

I'm up past my bedtime, but I want to note this down (the writing bug has finally bitten me again, it seems), so I'll attempt to be quick and hope this makes sense to someone who's read the book. If you haven't, you might want to skip the next bit.

The novel starts with a completion of an arch that the king mortars (mortars? right word?) the keystone in place. The mortar used is not made with human blood and bones, but it's explained to Genly that at one time this was the norm because otherwise it was believed that the arch would not stand. Oh, and the arch was going to be the great thing of this particular king's rule.

At the end of the book Therem dies, and Genly thinks something about his (sorry, now I'm forcing Therem into the gender binary...AGH) death being the blood and bones in the mortar to the arch...I'll have to look up the exact quote later, I don't want to do that right now.

But basically, maybe the whole story is really the arch that will distinguish the king's reign in the history books, even though it isn't a physical arch. After all, it starts with an arch, and there's mention of the hero's (again with gender binary) blood being what made things happen.

Just an interesting thought that I don't feel like I'm explaining properly, but which isn't leaving me alone. Maybe I'll figure it out better as I go along. I'm only part way through rereading the book.


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