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Josh Naftel

March 1999

Think Again

Okay, I take it back. The last column I wrote for "Oasis" was entitled, "Say It!". In it, I lambasted people who can't identify themselves in spoken language as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This is an essential starting point for our movement, I argued. I talked about the "hopelessness of the queer movement if we can't even name ourselves."

I was a bit upset.

And I've actually changed my mind since. Not without deep rumination and multiple epiphanies (well, two), mind you. But I no longer ardently believe there is intrinsic power in being able to say, "I am gay."

Why? Because you can say it and be lying. Or you can not say it, and still sleep with people of the same sex. Or both sexes. Or neither. Whatever. The point is, there is no guarantee that the things we say about ourselves have a direct link to the things we do. That's not to say that we human beings have an enormous potential for lying, only that we cannot be quite so certain about our futures.

Like, for instance, whose bed(s) we'll end up in.

Regardless of your insistence that you will *always* be attracted to only men or only women, you simply have no assurance that this will hold true twenty years from now. There is also a problem with linking desire to actual sex. If I'm a man who's attracted to effeminate men, does that mean that deep down I like women, too? How do we factor in qualities of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny into sexual orientation?; better yet, how do we define those qualities? It becomes increasingly less straightforward when you consider the following scenario:

John is going to go out clubbing one Friday night. As a self-identified straight man, John wants to look good for the ladies. He showers, shaves, gels his hair, and dresses to the nines. He's looking in the mirror as he preens himself, scanning for unchecked blemishes and admiring his handiwork. He's styling himself based on how other people are going to perceive him, specifically, women. He's judging his appearance against a standard of male beauty. Thus, John knows what's it's like to be attracted to his own sex. Without having had any sexual interaction with another man, John has exhibited homo-desire.

It's something we *all* do everyday. Even if you go out as an unkempt slob, you *know* you're seen as less attractive than some fine fellow like John (though you probably wouldn't call attention to the fact in any benevolent manner). We all style ourselves to some extent, and thus we all show signs of homo-desire. This makes it difficult to attach strict definitions to terms like "gay" and "straight."

So you ask me, Should we all be going around calling ourselves bisexual? And I answer, Call yourself whatever you want. That's the point. With no guarantee of the word being the reality, language is exposed for the tenuous grasp on reality it's always had. Still, it's a convenient enough little tool, and I think we *should* use it to broaden our paradigms of the world and ourselves. Rather than restricting ourselves to false categories and implicitly assuming full knowledge of our futures, we should strive to be open to and admiring of the mutability of life and of ourselves.

If you've managed to stay awake this long and you have any comments, questions, or criticisms of this column, please e-mail me at unaftj00@umail.ucsb.edu

--Josh Naftel is a 21-year-old student at UC Santa Barbara.


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