Introducing PoMoSexuals

Last month was a really busy one even aside from the way the holidays increasingly seem to begin a couple of months before common sense (and the calendar) says they ought to. (Are you noticing this too? I just read commentary somewhere that said nowadays Christmas starts right after Labor Day, which is too frightening.) In October I handed in my first novel, The Leather Daddy and the Femme, which will be out next spring. My colleague Jack Davis and I also finished editing our anthology of writings from the Good Vibrations Erotic Reading Circle, Sex Spoken Here. Look for that book in a few months, too.

But neither of these is the book to which I’d like to introduce you now. I also had a new book published (by Cleis Press) last month, which I co-edited with Lawrence Schimel. It’s called PoMoSexuals.

I won’t blame you if you say, as did so many authors we asked to write for us, “What the hell does that mean?” It’s a newly-coined word (Lawrence is the master of the bon mot, and also gave Jack and me the title for Sex Spoken Here), a contraction of “postmodern” and “homosexual.” In case that still doesn’t enlighten you, let me explain a little further what we’re up to.

Lawrence is a gay man. I’m bisexual, or, as I often say, “bisexual and then some.” (The word “bisexual” ignores a person’s relationship to vibrators completely, for one thing, and we can’t have that.) But I used to identify as a lesbian, and I had a difficult time making the transition to thinking of myself and identifying as bisexual when the time came for me to do that. And Lawrence, while living a fairly unproblematic life as a gay man, is also Jewish. Hence he has another very potent identity, one which means a lot to him, to shape his life, his understanding of himself, and even many of his relationships.

Identity has been problematic, or at least complicated, for both of us. I know dozens and dozens of people for whom that’s also true: transgendered people who have had to grapple with the most basic identity dichotomy embedded in our culture; people who came to a gay or bisexual identity so late in life that it’s difficult for anyone to argue they were “born that way;” lesbians who get more support and inspiration from gay men than they do from other women; people who don’t really want to buy into the idea of sexual “identity” at all. In all these cases and many others, the notion of sexual or gender identity failed to accurately or thoroughly describe the person and her/his potential. Sometimes the identity became an actual problem — as when I feared (and experienced) judgement and rejection from some of my lesbian friends when I started to call myself bisexual.

“Postmodern” is a notion we borrowed from the art and social science worlds. It refers to a way of seeing that acknowledges many different influences on a person, an idea, an art object, or whatever. (This is a vast oversimplification, but for now, let’s leave it there.) As we say in our introduction to PoMoSexuals, “Postmodernism looks for art and meaning sourced in the mundane, in wacky or arcane juxtapositions, in low as well as high culture… this mode of thought encourages overlapping and sometimes contradictory realities.”

My favorite phrase from this school of thought is “multiple subjectivities.” It implies that many different sources affect us, and it helps clarify why some people won’t or can’t reside neatly in boxes labeled with one specific identity. It’s complicated enough for Lawrence, who has a sexual identity and a religious/cultural identity, both important to him. It’s even more complicated for someone like me, who, it could be argued, has more than one sexual identity. And the fact is, I think that’s true for uncounted numbers of people, though it doesn’t always get much attention.

Lawrence and I compiled PoMosexuals from the queer (or, in its more unwieldy form, the “Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered”) community — these issues are especially current there, since these identities have in fact received more scrutiny than the identity we call “heterosexual.” Is a male-to-female transsexual who loves women a lesbian? Is a lesbian who is erotically drawn to gay men really a heterosexual? Is it possible for a gay man to visit a gay community in another culture, where very different social rules apply, and fall in love with a woman — who is also a dyke? What would you call a relationship like that? All these situations (and more) are explored in the book, through personal essays that read like intimate stories.

“PoMoSexuality” is a challenge to the notion that we are “born that way,” that sexuality is somehow fixed and not fluid. We’re hardly the first people to make this point — the mid-century Kinsey Report makes it too, but then, Dr. Kinsey refused to use words like “homosexual” and “heterosexual” as anything but adjectives. His research led him to believe that, for many people if not for everyone, sexual behavior could be situational and mutable. So the modern notion that there is such a thing as a gay person would probably have irritated him.

So whether or not you’re gay (/lesbian/bi/trans), and whether or not your sexual profile is clear-cut or complicated, these ideas might have relevance to you. At the very least, the essays in PoMoSexuals illustrate how wonderfully complicated our sex- and gender-lives can be. As famed lesbian transsexual author and performance artist Kate Bornstein says in her preface, “…no matter what particular twist I’ve gotten my genitals into, there’s one thing I’ve always been a sucker for: ideas, concepts, and situations that fry my brain until all I can do is laugh. Like the concept of gender: All my life, I’ve been taught that gender is something essential, something we’re born with. Well, for the last decade or so, I’ve become increasingly convinced that gender is some sort of social construct. That fries my brain, because it flies into the teeth of nearly everything the dominant culture has to say on the subject. Maybe when I die, someone’s going to dissect my brain… and they’ll find out it really was organic. I dunno. I don’t care. I’m still looking for a good scarf…”

So whether you’re going for “brain-frying laughter” or reassurance that things can be much more complex than we often acknowledge, I hope you’ll welcome PoMoSexuals (both book and idea) into the world. Here’s to the wonderful possibilities in letting ourselves be complicated!

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

You may also like...