Sexual intercourse began in 1963, wrote Larkin. If only he had been around in the days of Tinder he would have found casual sex began in 2012. Not just casual sex but ALL sorts of sex. Not just exchanging bodily fluids but exchanging gender fluidity itself in ways no one before has ever dared.
Except, the thing is they have. Everyone now is bisexual, pansexual, agender (without a gender). It’s all so wild. Miley, Cara, various models. Young people are coming out of the closet into a hall of mirrors. For this “coming out” often says my insides feel different to my outsides. Hear me roar. Welcome to the world, friends, for who does not feel like that?
Well, clearly many people don’t have the body they desire. And they do whatever they do to make it feel right. Fine. Let’s not start the Unpleasantness again. Thankfully, there is more acceptance, though I am less interested as I always said, in people’s bodies than their minds and their politics.
Now that there is a new set of identities for people to pick’n’mix, it would be gracious not to erase those who lived and died with more fixed identities. This is not melodrama, this is history as power. Laurie Penny recently came out as a genderqueer feminist but she differs from many of her genderqueer friends: “I still identify politically as a woman. My identity is more complex than female or male.” This I take for granted. So why does it need to be said? Penny is extremely smart and if she wants to present as a sexual outlaw that’s fine. Try being a “butch dyke” or is that not quite radical enough?
What woman feels at one with the movable feast that having a woman’s body entails? Try birthing, mastectomies, having your ovaries removed, transitioning into the menopause, living an entire life on artificial hormones. This is the reality for many.
But it’s all happening. We can all fuck and fancy anyone now – but if we are going to do away with the binaries, then please don’t forget who helped us do that.
Queer theory, from which so many of these concepts arrived, did not arise in a vacuum. In the early 1990s, queer theory arising from post-structuralism was part of a radical politics. People were dying of Aids, and groups such as Act Up and Outrage mattered. Queer-bashing was rife. Judith Butler may have told us that there was no such thing as a primary gender, everything was an imitation. But on the streets it was different.
I was walking home from a club with my friend Paul Burston, a great gay activist, when two blokes set upon us. Paul fought back. He always did. He still does. This violence that seemed to come out of nowhere is still around. People paid the price for being queer, so for me it is not a lapel pin. Indeed, if you understand anything at all about queer theory, it is that queer is not an identity, it is at best a critique of identity.
To claim oneself as “other” has a touch of the Rachel Dolezal about it. Who you choose to have sex with and how you do it is radical only if you believe sex is your essential self, your deep-buried truth.
The current preoccupation with being on the sexual edge and yes, call me a Terf or a Swerf or my own term Smurf (Some Made-Up Radical Feminist) if you like, but I don’t just check my privilege, I check our history. Because if sex is just something you do rather than something you are, then it is way easier to play with gender. Yet it has become so muddled that every identity must be proclaimed in a hierarchy of grievance. This fragmentation, which is notintersectionality, but rather an increasingly insular discussion about cis-ness,microaggressions and trigger warnings, runs in horrific parallel to images of women being raped and killed all over the world.
Once, queer meant that one could get outside of one’s own identity. My male gay friends came on abortion marches with me. I went to Aids vigils with them. Even now I see that the fight about reproductive rights for women continues and while places such as Ireland can accept gay marriage and the decriminalisation of drugs, they still won’t decriminalise women’s bodies.
Every generation has its sexy new sex and its special words, but when RuPaul was told off for saying “tranny”, I despaired.
Another heroine of mine, Jayne County, was thrown off Facebook for announcing: “I am having a party tonight and all my breeder, fag, dyke, tranny and shemale friends are invited.” Jayne, formerly Wayne, is a punk goddess who worked with Warhol and fought in the Stonewall riots. Is that not genderqueer enough?
Those who walked the walk and not just talked the talk have been abused all their lives. What bravery.
This new sexual tourism though, which is questioning one’s relationship to femininity, is simply part of being a woman, a woman born or made.
We can do without the one-upmanship. Because it is absolutely normal.