This is not Dragon Ball Z. Or is it?

I keep tabs on the Dragon Ball Z facebook page and frequently find their material strikes a chord with me. The page reminds me of all the reasons Goku is a loveable idiot, but such an amazing individual. The page reminds me why I believe in Goku and that there is so much more to DBZ than strong men beating each other to a pulp. Dragon Ball Z has provided me with heroes who are the epitome of fall seven times, get up eight times. 

But, as I’ve mentioned previously, DBZ is not perfect. It’s sexist toward men and it’s sexist toward women. What I haven’t had much time to explore however, is that as an extension of its sexism, DBZ is also homophobic. I’ll use this image posted on the DBZ facebook page to begin my point then I’ll explain further.

To begin, this image is homophobic. Even if it weren’t connected to DBZ, it would be homophobic. In this set of images, to be gay is something you want to get rid of in yourself. It is something that can be cured where you can walk away and be “better.” Especially in the context of this image set, it is the father telling his son not to be gay, to overcome his gayness, and–even worse–that gay here is used as a generic insult. The Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, that’s so gay! Yes, the Great Saiyaman looks stupid and poses funny, but all that means is that he looks stupid and poses funny. It has nothing to do with his sexuality.

When I first saw this image I commented and said how offensive it is. I also said it’s not DBZ. However, I was quite wrong in that second statement. This image set brings to the forefront homophobia that is present in DBZ, but never discussed.

What some people may not be aware of is that homophobia (and any other form of oppressive thought and action) does not need to be as direct as someone proclaiming “I hate gays” or “homosexuality is a sin.” Most bigotry is more subtle than that, but no less harmful. Because it is silent, it is allowed to persist.

So, how is DBZ homophobic? Let’s look at the images presented of men and women. The men are all the absolute epitome of “traditional masculinity.” They are muscular, they are courageous, they take punishment in battle without complaining and they are unfaltering in their straightness. The special cases are Goku and Piccolo. Goku exists in a state of partial asexuality–though more to comment on his purity than to ever suggest he is queer. Piccolo, as an alien, is also for all purposes asexual–but more to express his alien difference than to highlight a queer identity.

Of the main male characters, Tien is the only one without a love interest and fans speculate he is in a relationship with Chiaotzu. If this is the case and Tien and Chiaotzu are the only queer characters in the show, their relationship is entirely speculative and because Chiaotzu looks and acts so different from every other character, even the hint of being gay becomes something to look askance at. If Tien and Chiaotzu were to be openly together, their queerness would be immediately visible because Chiaotzu does not look or act human. If Chiaotzu is written as a gay character he is an offensive stereotype.

As for the female characters, the few there are are unfaltering in their straightness as well. They may not always be perfect paragons of female virtue–Chi-Chi fights in DB and Bulma is a computer tech and scientist–but Chi-Chi is also introduced from the start as a love interest for Goku and Bulma’s original quest is to find the perfect boyfriend. Android 18 winds up marrying Krillin. Even Launch from DB is last seen chasing after Tien. Lesbianism is a foreign concept in the DBZ universe.

So, when the DBZ facebook page posts an image such as this:

it is actually being very honest about DBZ’s homophobia. In DBZ, being queer is speculative (at best) for the men and impossible for the women. It makes perfect sense that this image set would blatantly highlight the resistance to queers. Being queer can be the butt of jokes because there are no openly queer characters to offset the stereotypes. There is no one to defend the queer community and so to be anything but straight puts you in direct conflict with the rigid gender binary of masculine men and feminine women who only desire heterosexual relationships.

My response is that you cannot “get a little gay” and there is no way to “better” from your gayness because there was never anything to be fixed in the first place. I know I would feel better if Gohan if DBZ was not so heteronormative.

“No, I’m not gay”…I’m just not straight

My mother is a wonderful person who cares deeply about the rights of every human being. Although she initially told me being asexual was a phase I would grow out of, she is now my staunchest supporter. She wants to ensure that I feel comfortable with my sexuality and am treated with respect. She works that this same respect is given to everyone as a matter of course. I am grateful beyond words.

But I spent time visiting my grandfather who believes gay people shouldn’t get married and says he believes so because that’s how he was brought up. I don’t think he understands that being queer is not a choice. And, even more unfortunate, he doesn’t think to question why he holds the beliefs he does. Like my brother, he believes that because he has a right to his own opinions, this right extends to saying whatever he wants. He has no understanding of his privilege as a straight, white cisgender man. And I knew my grandfather was conservative (he watches Fox News religiously), but when I told him his comments were hurtful he did not understand.

“How am I being hurtful?” he asked.

“I have a lot of gay friends and they do not have the same rights that you do–”

He interrupted and turned to me. “Where did you meet these people?”

“At my college. I have a lot of gay friends and they deserve to be married and have lives for themselves. They’re great people.”

We went on for a bit, back and forth and getting nowhere. He assured me that if he were to meet any of my gay friends (as if being gay is always as visible as a birthmark or a scar) he would still treat them with courtesy. I wonder if this is worse: closeted homophobia. It certainly feels worse to be on the receiving end.

For years now, I was certain my grandfather has been waiting for me to come out as a lesbian. I have never dated and never showed any interest in boys so therefore the only option for me was lesbianism, in his view. And after all these years he finally asked me the big question:

“Tell me, then are you gay?”

And I stared at him and kept my face blank. “No. No, I am not.” I came so close to following my statement and revealing the truth that No, I’m not gay, but I’m not straight either. 

I’m queer. I’m asexual. I won’t bring home a woman on my arm anymore than I will bring home a man. But I didn’t say any of this and, though I know how lucky I am to have my mother on my side, I felt shoved into the closet. My grandfather and my aunt are my only immediate family I have not yet come out to. I am fortunate that I can easily pass as being straight.

Still, I don’t think my grandfather believed me when I told him I’m not gay. He asked me later that day about when I would want to get married and I told him that I don’t want to get married. He didn’t press the issue then and told me it is my decision–though he would have been able to hold a lovely wedding reception. I was not surprised when he brought up the issue of my refusal to marry to my mother. Again, I see how damaging closeted homophobia is. I fear my grandfather will never see me the same way and, even worse, he will never tell me so and our anger and misunderstanding will simmer away under the surface.

I know I am not the only one to feel closeted and to be concerned about coming out. I know I am incredibly lucky to have my mother as my support network. I know I care about queer issues beyond my own sphere and this conversation with my grandfather really brought homophobia home for me. I am even more dedicated to advocating for queer rights because no one deserves to suffer under homophobia or any other type of bigotry.

A few months ago I spoke on a “Queer + [Blank]” panel  where everyone who spoke came from a place of intersectionality. I have a shirt from the event that proudly displays “Queer + [Blank]” and I have yet to fill in my intersectionality because I am afraid to wear this short outside of my campus environment. When the panel was first being publicized I did not yet know that I was speaking and I talked with a queer friend of mine about the design for the shirts. She is very open about being a lesbian, but she said she had to ask herself whether or not she would want to walk down the street and have everyone know that she is queer. I agreed, but I felt I needed to do buy this shirt because I needed to embrace being queer as an essential part of my identity.

I do not know if I will come out to my grandfather anytime soon, but I will not get married–even if it means I stop entirely passing as straight.

 

Wild About Wilde Magazine: Issue #3 Available Now

Yes, this is indeed a publication named after Oscar Wilde! Appropriately enough it is a queer arts and literary magazine who describe themselves as

Art and Literature with a Queer Edge.

I was so lucky to have found this journal and even luckier to have my non-fiction published in the Summer 2013 issue.  My non-fiction piece The Worst Thing” is about coming out to my brother as asexual and finding my voice in the queer community.

Wilde Magazine is a recent publication, starting in 2012 and seeking a community for LGBTQ and allies to discuss the queer perspective and open up the realm of art for communal enjoyment.

Wilde Magazine publishes bi-annually in both print and digital copies. Hopefully I will be able to schedule an interview with a member of their staff to tell us more about their publication, what they look for in submissions and the future of the magazine.

In the mean time, both the print and digital copies of the Summer 2013 issue are available and you can buy your own copy here:  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/589325

 

“That Escalated Quickly”

I was at a barbecue the other night and the woman who hosted it is married to a man who a big comic books fan. We talked about Man of Steel, our favorite superheroes and if he had comic book recommendations. When everyone was sitting around eating, he asked me if I would like to see his comic book collection. I was so excited about this, but everyone around us started laughing and making jokes of “that escalated quickly”. I want to show you my comic book collection is obviously code for I want to have sex with you.

I felt like I was back in elementary school where I was terrified to have guy friends because the entire playground would bully you mercilessly about you getting married.

Now I’m an adult, surrounded by other adults and its the same mentality: men and women can’t be friends by this logic. There is an unbreachable divide that says men and women can only be in a relationship if it’s a sexual one and any conversation is just hidden sexual tension.

I think this especially applies to how people view me because I am the innocent one. I am the one who never talks about sex, boys, girls or romance and that means that there has to be something about me that is corrupt and that people can pick at. This is wrong on multiple levels. One, sex is not corrupt. Two: there is no reason to ever put anyone on a pedestal; it’s not admiring them, it’s waiting for them to fail so you have a right to rage against them. This instance was both sexist and heteronormative, as everyone assumed I was straight and was interested in him sexually.

The whole situation was so uncomfortable and just a moment ago I felt very at home and at peace with people I felt I could talk to.

No one at the BBQ knows I’m asexual, but it’s so heteronormative to assume that if I’m having a conversation with a man that it means I’m attracted to him. And the worst thing was that he played into their jokes. He never did show me his comics and said something about how maybe we should wait for the second time we meet. We could seriously be friends and he was more comfortable playing along with the jokes and stereotypes at our expense than looking into the friendship we could have.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my summer room mate about sexuality and how it’s so awkward to bring up your sexuality without the risk of either making yourself or someone else uncomfortable. It’s not a normal topic of conversation. But not talking about being asexual, especially in situations where people assume that I’m straight, leads to me feeling isolated and childish. I’m sure other members of the queer community can relate.

Sexuality is strangely treated as a marker of adulthood. Yet when you first get sexual feelings you’re not an adult but a hormone crazy kid. Sometime in college, or beyond, you somehow transition to adulthood and having sex is a part of that transition.

So where do asexuals fit in? I know I’m still at an age where people can look at the absence of a partner and tell me that I’m making the right decision to focus on my school work instead of dating. But when I leave college? Will I always be less of an adult because I’ve never wanted someone’s penis or vagina?

I don’t swear. I don’t drink. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t smoke. These factors coupled with being asexual mean that I’m the innocent one and therefore the perpetual child. Again there is the element that I need to be corrupted. There is something about this “innocence” which unnerves people. Why else make jokes about things “escalating quickly”?

Asexuality isn’t innocence any more than having a sexuality is maturity. There is no correlation or causation. I’m just as much an adult as most anyone else my age.

It’s time people stopped associated maturity and adulthood with sexual experience. It’s sexist and quite literally incorrect. I’m adult because I take responsibility for myself; what I do or don’t do with my body holds no bearing.

Asexual Visibility

I was looking up literary magazines to send my creative writing to and came across Glitterwolf. This UK based lit mag opens up submissions from LGBT writers and artists from around the world. This is a fantastic idea: celebrating the creativity of the queer community, but my issue arose with the use of the category LGBT.

Not everyone is comfortable, or agrees with, the umbrella term queer and I understand that, but LGBT is limiting. As an asexual, I didn’t know if I was allowed to submit because I’m not technically on the LGBT spectrum. As a Gender or Sexual Minority (GSM) however, I thought to ask.

I emailed the magazine and later that same day someone responded! Mr. Matt Cresswell told me:

I’ve never even considered this question before–I think I’d like to err on the side of welcoming though, so go ahead and send us a submission and we’d be happy to read it!

Even just these simple words of encouragement are enough to remind me that every part of the queer community can be visible. We don’t need to specifically identify as LGBT in order to be queer and I’m so excited that there are people who are open to this premise.

This little victory gives me assurance that the queer community can be inclusive. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Identity is Fluid

Before I knew asexuality was a possible sexuality, I used to think I was straight because I didn’t like women. For the longest time I only knew the gay-straight binary.

Once, I thought I was attracted to a male friend of mine, and I felt so normal to be able to tell my mom at age 14 that I had a crush. It felt like I was finally being a teenage girl. I told my two best friends about my crush and we giggled because this reminded us of television shows where glossy teenagers spill their secrets to their friends.

I didn’t have the courage to ask my male friend out on a date in person, so I called him up on the phone and eventually said “I really like you and I was wondering if you like me in the same way?” He said no plain and simple. Our conversation was only slightly more awkward than before.

I wasn’t hurt or devastated by the rejection. I was embarrassed that I had asked.

A few years later I was at a friend’s sleepover party and once again we were sharing secrets. I was asked if I had ever had a crush on anyone before and I pretended to think it over. My friend called me out on bull shitting because she had been one of the friends I had told about my crush. Somehow, lying to her was even more mortifying than telling my male friend I liked him.

That sleepover party was four years ago, when I had just begun to identify myself as asexual. I didn’t know how to explain my crush and wasn’t comfortable trying to explain my sexuality.

I’m still friends with this girl-still great friends, really-but I haven’t come out to her. I’m concerned that she will draw on our past experiences and say “You can’t be asexual; you had a crush.” Maybe this is me being paranoid, but people remember how you used to identify yourself and are unwilling to accept changes. There is a strange belief that we are not meant to change.

I had a conversation with a person who used to identify as a lesbian and now identifies as transgender. He explained how difficult it is to tell his friends from high school and his home community because their experience with him is  that he has always been a she.

It’s difficult to come out to friends and family who believe identity is a rigid marker. I just want to let people know that it’s okay to change how you define yourself. It’s your body. It’s your gender. It’s your identity.

I still don’t know how to define the crush I had, but I now know that asexuality, like all sexualities, is a scale. It does not make me any less asexual for having a crush. Just as it wouldn’t make someone less straight or less gay for going through a period of questioning. We are meant to change and re-evaluate ourselves.

“Do you think kissing is gross?”

Until my junior year of high school I assumed I was straight. Because of a fabulous sex-ed class that taught nothing of sexuality, I was under the impression that sexuality was firmly placed in the gay-straight binary and that because I was not interested in women, I must be straight.

When all the girls of my middle school class were growing into their new found woman’s bodies and discovering that  perhaps boys weren’t the disgusting cootie-ridden creatures of elementary school, I didn’t know where I belonged.

Sex frightened me. Maybe I was poorly educated. Maybe I was too far gone into the girls-should-be-pure bullshit children are fed. Either way, sex was a concept that was so disgusting it was frightening. It was a concept, not an act and I couldn’t even process it as something physical that happened between individuals. I couldn’t giggle nervously like everyone else during health class when we watched poorly made videos on the reproductive systems and read from poorly copied handouts. In my twelve-year-old mind, I was the mature one.  I was the one who was waiting to date and have a boyfriend. I was just a late-bloomer, that’s all. Sooner or later I would develop a crush, fall in love, and become a part of the sexual world.

One day in 7th grade, we were running laps around the gymnasium for gym class and one girl ran up beside me and asked me, “Do you think kissing is gross?”

“Yes.” I told her and she fell back a few paces to titter into her hand with her friend. Though I felt humiliated, I also felt like a grown up: I was above their petty talk about kissing and boyfriends.

I still think kissing is gross. What has changed is that I understand now that not only is there a word for my sexuality, but that being asexual says nothing about a person’s maturity. Girls who dated in middle school and high school were not less mature than I was. This is the same way that I am not more immature for not dating now that I’m in college.

I find that too often asexuality can be an excuse to claim a moral superiority and that in the opposite camp, sexuality has become a right of passage. I cannot tell you how often someone has told me “Don’t worry, you’ll find the right person some day” because they assume that a healthy adult life involves romance and sex.

As we get older we cross a line where it’s no longer acceptable to be a virgin because you’re expected to be a grown and mature adult. The irony is that in childhood, we’re taught to take the moral high ground and abstain from sexuality in order to be more mature.

My hope is that as more people learn about the diversity of sexuality, more people will break away from linking sex and morality, and sex and maturity. My wish is that sexuality becomes mandatory in health/sex-ed classes. With more education on the subject, people won’t feel the need to draw lines between us and them, mature and immature based on sex.