#hotgoss redux: Intersectionality & relationships
On this week’s episode, Catherine and Oronde were joined by LaLa Drew, an activist and poet based in Portland. We talked about intersectionality and dating, and how we can have authentic relationships across difference.
You may have heard the term “Intersectionality” before, but what does it really mean?
Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term in the late ‘80s specifically to describe the systemic shortcomings of the law in addressing crimes based in racism and sexism. The term has grown in the last few decades, and many apply it universally to how we talk about identity, privilege, power, and oppression. There’s lots of great resources online to describe intersectionality. We really loved this blogpost from Las Morenas de Espana, which describes the term empathetically and accessibly. It’s a must read.
Says Crenshawe, reflecting on the term: “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”
Here’s how we think about it here at Speak About It: Intersectionality addresses how different parts of someone’s identity, like race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability, intersect or overlap, and thereby affect how they’re treated in the world. And this of course will affect dating, relationships, and consent.
Intersectionality & Dating
As LaLa said in the episode, when we talk about intersectionality and relationships, especially when we look at how race intersects with gender and sexuality, we have to think about where we are and where we’ve been. “The history of how black folks and black bodies have been exploited sexually runs deep in history, in how our culture talk about and views black folks,” they said. This affects how black folks are portrayed, stereotyped and sexualized in pop culture, the media, literature, and in everyday life. It affects whose stories get attention, and what kind of attention they get.
Understanding intersectionality, especially when it comes to dating has a lot to do with acknowledging where privilege and power enter in to our relationships and dating lives. Catherine remarked, “I have to remember that I occupy a huge amount of power as a white cis-woman. That privilege plays out in so many ways.” She continued, “Like when I’m on Tinder, I don’t have to worry about someone swiping left on me because they’re not attracted to all white women. Likewise, if someone matches with me, I am not worried that they’re just into me because of my race. That isn’t the case for people who don’t look like me.” It’s important to think about where you occupy privilege and how your experience may be shaped by assumptions based on gender, race, class and other identities.
A related and fruitful conversation we discussed on the episode was the difference between attraction and bias. Oronde mentioned that he hears acquaintances characterize sexual preference by using racist sentiments, saying things like, “I’m just not attracted to Asian guys.” This kind of sentiment disregards and diminishes an entire population, and leans on the idea that rich diversity does not exist within a racial population. It’s something people of color hear a lot, and is corroborated by real evidence of how people behave on apps and in real life towards racial minorities. The long and short of it is, if you hear someone say something along these lines, it’s not about attraction or preference. It’s racism.
Says Oronde, “I want people to investigate why they’re attracted to someone. Where does your idea of beauty and attraction come from, and what influences it? Look a little deeper and be critical of how you think about attraction, and embrace the whole of person--whether that’s when you’re swiping on Tinder or building a relationship.”
Off camera we also talked about something we’ve been hearing more of recently: this question of whether it’s okay to “not want to date a trans person.” This is a complicated sentiment, and requires a critical look into where the sentiment comes from in the first place. We’re going to turn to the experts to answer this question. Says Sarah of the Queer Sex Ed podcast,
“Here’s the deal: it is not transphobic to decide that you don’t want to date a specific trans person based on your preferences in personality, hobbies, social beliefs, body type, etc. Consent is really cool, and believe me, no one wants to date you or fuck you, if you don’t want to date or fuck them. Trans people are not trying to force you to date us.
It is, however, deeply transphobic to decide that you never want to date any transgender person ever, and the choice to draw such a line is rooted in ignorance, fear, and disgust of trans people.” Give the whole article a read here, it is awesome!
Shane also weighed in with his own personal experience, saying
As trans person, if you don’t want to date me simply because I’m trans, okay. If it’s that cut and dry for you, I probably don’t want to date you, either. I know for some folks, dating a trans person may conflict with their identity. For example, if you’re a lesbian, yes, dating a trans guy (whether they are open and public about their trans identity, as I am, or prefer to fly under the radar) may challenge your identity, and that’s valid, too. Of course, for others it’s about individual attraction. You might be attracted to folks on a person-by-person basis and not have a “type”, so it’s less about a partner’s identity, and that’s ok, too, because attraction can be totally fluid.
For me, it’s all about how our own personal attraction works, and the intersection between masculinity and femininity and otherwise. Attraction is certainly about preference, but we need to be critical about it. By that I mean, being critical of our own attractions, how they work, and sussing out the root of it. As we’ve discussed, we’re all complex beings with complex backstories. Are you attracted to me because I’m a man? Because I have brown hair? Because I have an athletic build? Because of my sense of humor? Are you attracted to someone because you can have an intellectual debate with them? Because they look good in a dress? I don’t think we can discount physical attraction, but let’s also think about how much of our identity, and the identity of those around us, is beyond what we look like.”
Intersectionality & Consent
We’re all consent educators here at Speak About It, so what does intersectionality have to do with consent?
Consent is only possible between people when there is a safe, equitable, and open environment to discuss boundaries and desires. This means we have to take into account each other’s identities and be respectful of each other’s experiences as we relate to one another sexually. For example, respecting a person’s gender identity and using their preferred pronouns can be a big part of building a healthy relationship, as we talked about in a blog post last year.
Because of the harmful ways that our culture has historically characterized and talked about the bodies of different people, especially women, trans-folks, and people of color, it is equally important to apply what we know about consent to our romantic interactions. Ask--don’t assume--how a partner wants to be touched and how they want to refer to their body. Let them guide you! Questions like, “What’s in your pants?” “Why is your hair like that?” or “Why are you in a wheelchair?” can be reductive and harmful. Instead your conversation should be about your relationship together: “What makes you feel good?” and “What can we do together to enjoy this?”
So now what?
We want to leave you with some good advice to more forward with intersectionality in mind. Here’s a few things to keep on your radar.
- Listen and Learn. A Yale University seminar about intersectionality and sex recommends the following: “You can only have a healthy relationship with someone when you know where they are coming from. Getting a better grasp of your partner’s background and the way it influences their thoughts and feelings towards sex and sexuality is crucial to maintaining a mutually healthy relationship.” Listen to your partner has to say, and learn from them and the world around you about how to be a better partner.
- Treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s the golden rule for a reason! Says Lala, “ I often get frustrated because it feels like people don’t take the time to understand my different intersections when they try to talk to me. But I realized that it is important for me to do the same. In order to understand where the person you are trying to talk to is coming from, we have to do some work ourselves. We are in relationships for nourishment and revitalization, to build and stretch and grow, so try not to let the weight of all that fall on one person’s shoulders. Do the work too!”
- Take a break. If someone isn’t listening to your needs or bothering to learn about the differences between your identity and theirs, it’s okay to not want to teach them. If you need a break, take it! Like Oronde said, “If you feel like you’re not being respected, you don’t have to put up with that. You deserve better: someone who understands and cares and respects the different identities that make you, you.”
- Grow. We’ll close with one of our favorite things LaLa said to us as we were planning this episode of #hotgoss: “That is what intersectionality requires of me—and it is what it requires of you. To grow continuously, empathize limitlessly, to acknowledge bitter truths, call out ugly patterns, and work to do something about it.”
Keep doing the work, and join us next month for our #hotgoss episode, all about bodies!
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