Friday, 18 March 2016

Cakes and icing.

I'm currently rereading the 2002 anthology ‘Genderqueer’ (editors: Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, Riki Wilchins; subtitle: ‘Voices from beyond the sexual binary’). Early on, in one of her own essays, Wilchins highlights the absence of sexuality from a lot of (trans)gender discourse:

Most remarkable in gender's evolution as an issue has been the widely accepted separation of gender and sexual orientation, even among transgender activists. But is desire really distinct from gender? (...) [W]atch any butch with big biceps, tight jeans, and a lit Camel walk into the local gay bar. Or a butch queen at a gym spending hour upon hour pumping and primping so he's buff enough to catch the eye of that cute new number with the tight butt, long eyelashes, and rippled abs.

Riki's point is that sexuality itself is gendered and that it's a mistake to exclude it from discussions about gender. We tend to do this, I suppose, because we fear what other people will then assume: that our gender issues are really just about sex. Which they're not. My own gender issues may be very much intertwined with my sexuality, but that doesn't mean they're driven by it. I first wrote about this in one of my earliest posts; I might put things differently now (not being quite the same person I was five years ago), but the basic premise still holds for me.

That's the main reason I was drawn towards butch/femme as a (personal) theoretical paradigm: because of its inherent incorporation of sexuality – naturally so, because of its historical roots in (an aspect of) lesbian sexuality. Explaining how this works, on the other hand, can be quite difficult. Are there any femme lesbians (with butch partners) who have not been asked: “If masculinity is what you want, why don't you just date a man?”

[definition: side eye – a facial expression expressing one's criticism, disapproval, animosity, or scorn of varying levels of intensity towards another person.]

Then I remember the cake analogy:

Imagine a plate full of cakes: coffee cakes and chocolate cakes; some with coffee icing, some with chocolate icing. Most people like icing, but like the icing to match the cake: coffee cakes with coffee icing, chocolate cakes with chocolate icing. Whereas others of us prefer things a bit more mixed up, such as: chocolate cakes with coffee icing.

“Urrgh! How can you? Why would you want a chocolate cake with coffee icing? If you want coffee icing, why don't you just get a coffee cake?”

“I don't want a coffee cake. I want a chocolate cake with coffee icing. I don't want a coffee cake with coffee icing because there's no chocolate; and I don't want a chocolate cake with chocolate icing because there's no coffee. I want a chocolate cake with coffee icing. I want to bite through the bitter coffee and reach the rich chocolate underneath. And I want it that way round. Sometimes I want the icing with extra coffee, so much coffee that the flavour sinks deep into the chocolate. Mmmm, cake.”

“Yuk! Chocolate cake with coffee icing is just wrong!”

“Well, I like it, so there.”

“I guess there's no accounting for taste.”

“No need to get worked up about it either.”

“Not really, no – it's only cake.”

It's only sex.

As it happens some people prefer their cakes with no icing. (There's no accounting for taste.) But please note that a cake with no icing is different from an iced cake with the icing scraped off.

If you don't like the icing, don't buy the fucking cake.