A lot of people hate binaries, dualisms, that sort of thing. And I love them. And I often agree with the people who hate them, at that, because a lot of people misuse the concepts of duality in messy ways.
And I got a thought about this when I was responding to this post about transmisogyny and BDSM at Questioning Transphobia. Which relates to this post I made last month at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces, somewhat.
I wrote over at QT:
The other thing about the whole “there’s this binary (and implicitly gendered) thing going on here” is … okay, when I was a babykinkster and trying to find resources to understand whether there were people like me out there, people who might be the complement to the stuff in my head, I kept running into things that … made no sense to me. There isn’t one dualism there — there’s a myriad of complexly nuanced different dualisms, some of which line up pretty closely to each other some of the time. And most of the publically available material doesn’t speak to the stuff in my head.
Top and bottom; dominant and submissive; sadist and masochist; all different things, which spread out like a fan or a peacock tail and not everyone has all the feathers. And some people conflate these with male and female; active and passive; abuser and abused; perp and victim; subject and object; this vast tangle of presumed other meanings.
And "male and female" has its own fanning morass of dualisms -- active and passive shows up again; violent and nurturing, we get there; public and private; bunches of moral dualisms depending on political and social beliefs; friend and foe (or foe and friend, depending); sometimes 'abuser and victim' turn up again; butch and femme; active and passive, sometimes, at that. Great whirling varieties of dualisms.
And lots of people don't fan them out. They presume that the bunch of dualities that they're dealing with all line up tidily, so one can say "dominant and submissive" and mean "maledominantsadistabuserperpbutchviolentactive and femalesubmissivemasochistabusedvictimfemmenurturingpassive". There isn't space to pull out and say, look, submissive doesn't mean masochist, say -- as I want to do occasionally -- or have some sort of sensical discourse that doesn't involve discussing victimisation -- where the thread on SM-Feminists degenerated to -- or have space for a female top, or for that matter people for whom gender identity isn't particularly connected to their kink preferences at all, a completely disjoint axis from the mishegasmishmashmess.
There's this whole sense that having one thing in there means buying into the entire unfanned mess, sometimes even without knowing what's folded in there and hidden away under the top feather. It's found safe to presume that because some of these things tend to go together, they're all words for the same thing.
And this is the gorgeous thing about dualities to me, the huge range of nuance one can get spreading out the feathers one has, combining all the different nuances that come of living on the spectrum between a thousand different this-or-thats -- and sometimes that's being all of one or another, sometimes living in the blended zone between them, sometimes not having any feather from that bird in the fan at all -- into this fractal of differentiated meaning. What does it mean to have 'submissive' fit but to have cognitive issues with 'bottom'? Here, there's someone with 'dominant' and 'masochist' both in the fan; there, there's someone with 'spanko' who doesn't fancy anything from the sadomasochistic duality at all; allí, someone who had a couple of feathers from the whole dominant-submissive bird, but a couple of them are kind of chewed up from past experience and so they tend to hold it carefully so they don't show.
It's this amazing dance of possibility, not just left or right but the full range of rotating possibilities, spun around and around like an orrery. Today, these bits of gender possibility, these bits of sexual possibility, these bits of religious possibility, all these variety of the possibles that exist, some of them line up here, but time moves on, they spin, the planets will be in a different position tomorrow. The satellite doesn't exist in my whirling brass soular system, but maybe it does in yours, and don't they sparkle when they spin? How dull it would be if they all swept around in straight lines, all the time, identical in everyone, never forming conjunctions or transits or aspects with each other, never dancing.
I was once trying to talk about gender and writing and got a response something like "kids are given pink or blue blankets when they're still in the crib, you can't not do gender in this particular way."
The blankets I had in my crib were yellow and green.