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Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Right to Cultural Sexual Consideration

By: Liberate Zealot

Content Warning: discussions of transphobia, racism, ableism, fat hating, and rape culture

Recently the Candanian and US feminist blogosphere has been buzzing over a semiar/workshop put on by a PP and health services in Canada that focused on cultural acceptance of transwomen in the queer community, specifically about sex and desirability.  It made use of the phrase "cotton ceiling" and a feminist group in the US created a petition and leveled charges of predatory and "rapey" behavior. 

This lead to a discussion on the appropriateness of the phrase (by drawing comparisons to the glass ceiling) and the ideas behind the conference. If you're interested in the specifics of the relationship between the glass ceiling and the cotton ceiling read Ceiling Metaphors by Tobi, a queer transwoman.  

One thing that came up for debate was a persons right to have their sexual beingness recognized and respected at a cultural level.  People seemed to conflate this with them having a right to sex at the individual level, or else just didn't get why desexualization was problematic, or why freedom from cultural desexualization is a right.

And honestly, I'm somewhat worried about writing this.  A lot of this post and cultural desexualization has to do with race, or being trans, fat, or a person with differing abilities (societal disabilities) and is an aspect of racism, transphobia, fat phobia, and ableism.  And I'm white, cis, able bodied, and thin.  I'm also blond and rather "feminine" and desexualization is not something I experience.  However, I ended up being the champion for the right to cultural sexual consideration in the thread, and I want to spend some time going over it for future use and to further organize and process my own thoughts.  So here's the warning, as the result of my privilege I might get some of this wrong.  If so, I hope people will let me know.

Neither the glass or cotton ceiling was intentionally constructed and often isn't intentionally maintained (except by patriarchal/heterosexist/transphobic societal indoctrination). When we discuss either ceiling it's the cultural indoctrination of discrimination that's being discussed, and only after that how it manifests in the actions of individuals. It's never about "I have a right to this specific job" or "I have a right to sex with this specific person".  So the cotton ceiling is about institutionalized kyriarchy, not individuals. It's about your sexual beingness not being treated as wrong/gross/impossible, not about individuals agreeing to have sex with you.  Queer transwomen (all transpeople of every sexual orientation have this issue, but I'm sticking with the focus of the term cotton ceiling) not only face violence and death, but even in areas that should be accepting they're treated as Other.   Many transwomen know lesbians who will march and petition alongside them, but when it comes to dating or sex, well that just "isn't right".  It's "disgusting", transwomen aren't "real" women, and a lesbian could never be with someone who was socialized as a man and/or has a penis. 
 "The call to discuss the cotton ceiling is a plea for an end to the shame and coercion trans women - and our cis partners - face...It’s about internalized messages that no one will ever love a freak like you so you shouldn’t even try. It’s about trans women in queer women sexual spaces who are treated disrespectfully and told we’re disgusting...It’s about how cis women who are involved with trans women are told they aren’t real lesbians."
And people do have a right to be considered as a sexual partner, not necessarily by individuals. But on a culturally acceptable level where society doesn't see your body as gross or de-sexed (in the desire, not gender way), and that doesn't mock or reject the sexual partners you do have. An individual person not being into you isn't discrimination. But being told, by the culture, that you're un-loveable, or de-sexed is.

This has been seen not only in queer communities about transpeople, but also the idea that people who are fat or disabled not only aren't desireable, but not capable of sex. It's also comparative to the de-sexing (again in regards to desire not gender) of Asian men and middle aged (and older) black women (the mammy role). These are all cultural problems, that can often best be viewed on the individual level. Basically it has to do with the rights of anyone who falls outside of the kyriarchy and it's ideas of normal and/or beauty.   

Now some of the disagreement with the idea of a right to cultural sexual consideration is that feminists spend so much time fighting against the sexualization of women, that to suddenly speak out against desexualization means an abrupt about face in language and (seeminly) of thought.  But, this isn't a zero sum game.  One can fight against sexual objectification of women and fight for trans/black/disabled women to not be desexualized.  There are more options than being viewed as sexual object or as without/undeserving of sex.  In fact, the fight for one of these can help aid the other, as the reasons for objectification and cultural de-sexing are the same.  The Kyriarchy has specific standards in regards to what fits in the acceptable/normal box if one is outside this standard than one isn't worthy of consideration, therefore de-sexed.  Women inside the acceptable box are seen as objects since part of the Kyriarchy is Patriarchy.   Women are not sexual beings in their own rights, but only in relation to men, since men have no interest in the people outside the box of kyriarchal norms these people serve no sex purpose and thus are not worthy of any sexual consideration.  After all, no one but men (white, able-bodied, cis) are capable of owning their own sexuality.  Which is an aspect of rape culture, and as we fight against kyriarchal ideas about sex and desire we also fight against this rape culture. 

And this leads into the other main objection of the term cotton ceiling.  Many feminists (even those who approve of the ideas behind the term) see it as contributing to rape culture.  The idea of the glass ceiling is that it must be shattered, but ceiling metaphors in regards to sex are seen as problematic.  However, ceiling metaphors are used to discuss systematic oppression and change, and are used in regards to sex in the disabled community as well.   

Part of feminism is about dismantling the ideas behind patriarchal beauty and sexual acceptability. We fight against the boxes and gilded cages created by patriarchy.  We fight for women to have access to a variety of roles.  We fight against the idea that our worth is judged in relation to men.  We fight for the right to own and control our own sexuality.  Similarily, part of transactivism is breaking down the idea of transpeople as undesirable, and anyone who does desire a transwomen is either a fetishist or not a "real" lesbian.  These battles can not only coexhist and be fought at the same time, but success in one can help aid the other.  In fact, these battles are fought against the same oppressor.  

I am not an object.  My life and sex are my own and not based on their worth to the oppressive and institutionalized manifestations of the Kyriarchy.  This would be true if I were a women/person of color.  This would be true if I were fat.  This would be true if I was physically disabled.  This would be true if I were trans.  Everyone has the right to recognition of their full self, everyone has the right to own their sexuality.  I have the right to share my sex and sexuality with those who consent to share it with me.  And we have the right to do so without being judged.  Without being called wrong, disgusting, or being seen as fetishists.  

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