analysis of my sexual identity a year ago   Naz

 

This essay I wrote more than a year ago, so today, I am slightly next to it, not exactly there, have moved from some things in it, but I kept it to describe me then.
Using yourself as a subject of study, analyze the factors that have shaped your sexual identity, and analyze your perceptions of it.

Due to the personal nature, and subject matter of the essay, in addition to what P. Caplan concludes, I feel I need to introduce myself before delving into the essay. Sexual identity is not isolated from the cultural environment. "While we in the West may have a concept of sexuality as something separate from reproduction, from marriage and so forth, it is really not possible to analyze sexuality without reference to the economic, political and cultural matrix within which it is embedded..." ( P.Caplan). Or as Foucault puts it: "... the idea of sex conflates disparate areas, and then this unity becomes a causal principle- in this way, sex itself comes to constitute a form of explanation."

I am a biological female born in Beirut, 25 years of age. My grandparents were Iranian, however my parents were brought up in Lebanon, but with a very distinctive strict conservative Muslim Iranian influence. My mother is half Lebanese, half Iranian. I lived throughout the entire Lebanese war, except the one final year. During 1989 circumstances lead to the family and I moving and attending school in Europe for one year. During 1990, I was back in Beirut, until 1997 when I came to Europe to study.

Firstly I will briefly attempt to review the theoretical definitions of sexual identity, then give my own opinion of sexual identity, or lack of.

Following that, I will present and analyze the cultural, familial and religious factors that have shaped it and me. Lastly I will analyze my perceptions of my sexual identity.

To have a sexual identity one should be a sexual being in the first place. It seems to be taken for granted by scientists and others that all creatures are sexual beings, even at an early age (Freud). In the human case it is a bit different. A person can choose to be non sexual. Even then he/she is classified as a sexual being choosing not be sexually active. Upon this premises I would be considered a sexual being. As for my identity, any kind of identity, that is never fixed, at least in my case. It is constantly changeable, adaptable, and influenced by me internally and what is surrounding me. My sexual desires seem to change, or evolve, or grow. Thus to give them one specific classification would be limiting, and not telling the whole story. Classification, and thus limitation, is exactly what sexologists have attempted to do.

At the start of the century, the development of psychiatry and sexology led to the subdivision and labelling of various sexual practices, and identities. Such as homosexual, heterosexual, sodomy, S/M, Trans-sexual, among others. The issue of identity has been defined by Barry Adams as "identity is differentiation". The definition set forth at the start of the century by sexologists led to, as Katz (1982) explained it, "the medical colonisation" of a people. However, this neat demarcation is challenged in the article "Questions of Identity."

Identity for Freud was clearly not an inevitable product of inbuilt instincts; it was a struggle through which a tentative accommodation of conflicting drives and desires with the structures of language and reality was precariously achieved. If ab initio everyone was 'polymorphously perverse', if a sense of masculine or feminine was only attained through complex psychic struggles, never preordained, and if the line between normal and perverse development was so fine that the distinction constantly breaks down in adult life, how could the neat demarcations of sexologists be true." Identities are relational, they exist in relation to other potential identities.

My own definition of sexual identity and opinion on labels/categories.

If it is based on who one is sleeping with at the moment, well no one really. Does this make me asexual? Though I do experience sexual desire, reasons of how or why I practice it or not will be discussed later. If sexual identity is based on who one is attracted to, this definition, I believe does not tell the whole story. When or if I feel attraction to an other woman, that does not automatically mean that I am physically willing to be sexually active with her. But I would, very possibly, and more likely with a woman than a man.

Actually the concept of rigid sexual identity confirms the lines that separate the sexes/ genders. The rule seems to be that a woman sleeps with a man. If you are a woman, you can (should/are not able) to penetrate/be penetrated by another woman. Similarly, a man can (should) not penetrate another man, and can (should) not be penetrated by anyone. Physical, sexual attraction is confined to be projected to the opposite sex. Any transgression of these rules is condemned.

I believe that transgendered sexual desire is not represented enough in available mediums, and not discussed enough. It is currently in need of more development to be more understood by non transgendered people. I could be classified (among other things, though I hate classification) as a transgendered people's fan. Or a "tranfan." I think that the love for transgendered people might not be well recognized.

Gender identity

I seem to refuse to stick to rigid gender identities. I do not refuse being a woman, and do not want to adopt being a man. I am not a very masculine woman, and do not want to be a feminine man, well maybe I would not mind the last one for a short while! I might not be able to express it literally at this stage in my life, but the closest I could express is the following. Not only individuals who believe they are born in the wrong body are transgendered, not only individuals who have physical characteristics of the opposite gender (feminine men, masculine women) may be transgendered, people can be transgendered in their minds. I could be one, I accept my feminine, masculine, and androgynous genderhood, womanhood and transgenderhood. When I want to play and be a man, or someone other than a woman, in my mind I feel a certain transcendance, I feel a bit more free. So I do that from time to time, to get away from the suffocation that was imposed on me by pinning me down to a certain diameter on the basis of my physical sex.

I certainly do not want to play the "average" heterosexual man! So I might be a gay man who wants to be a lesbian and is into queer lesbians, etc... anything at all!! The options are so huge, just the willingness and the space to explore are needed. Sometimes i think, this is such a big part of me, maybe I should explore it more. Gender ambiguity is so limitless it makes my head spin. It is not only about the sexual act, but more about the person, and their imagination, that makes them positively charged.

If I want to trace it back to my childhood, why I am like that, I would say I realised at an early age that the typical man or woman prototypes they told us about, were unreal, were themselves caricatures of someone's failed sexual life! I feel they are actually some unreal stretch of something. So I tried to seek the real. I saw my mother longing for them, the ideals, but actually achieving something else. My mother had a certain tragic macho about her, or I like to think she had it, and still has some of it. Gender identity most probably plays a great role in my sexual identity.

Factors that shaped, influenced, or hindered the development of my sexual identity:

The environment in which I was born and grew up in is middle eastern. In Lebanon, class is very important. However, it is not as important as in Mombasa where homosexuality is tolerated as long as it stays within the confines of the class castes. In Gill Sheperd's very good chapter on homosexuality in Mombasa it is revealed how homosexuality is tolerated. A marriage of a rich woman with a man of a lower class, is less tolerated than a richer lesbian living, with a younger, less rich divorced woman. This is totally not the case in Lebanon. The general Islamic and Christian atmospheres in the country override class, and are surely strongly opposing to homosexuality. The social and political powers that seek approval of the strong religious ideas, line up with them against homosexuality as well.

There is written civil law that condemns homosexual sexual activity. On top of that, I know of one gay man who was beaten by the police for suspicion that he is gay. Having said that, there exists gay and lesbians underground groups. However, these are very secretive and closed. It is very difficult to know about them ( though maybe more opening up slowly). As for the young generation of Lebanese youth, homosexuality is mostly unheard of for them, though some seem to be accepting of diverse sexualities. On the other hand, no one openly admits they are gay. It is more complex, because no one wants anyone to know they are lesbian or gay. News travels fast in this kind of small community, and if they expressed their true identity, they would face several social, psychological, and in some cases physical dangers and threats.

This is my surrounding, mentally in Lebanon, closer to me is my family's attitude, then comes me. Where do I stand in regards to myself, in their space. How can I appropriate the space in Lebanon so that i can bring views closer, and feel safe expressing , and being myself. Lebanon could not be a space where I would be free, and I can sense I need a space where I am tolerated and accepted. All these issues make it not so easy for me to be comfortable with expressing myself freely, not only in Lebanon, but anywhere, and to myself as well. Though far from my family and background at the moment, I will be with them soon, and strangely enough, I love them dearly, and they are always in me, probably controlling me. Until I am able to express myself with no imaginary shame about me, maybe then I will grow and know myself, sexuality and all else. Thus from this background comes my struggle.

Culture, family, society, and religion:

With regards to my family, my parents in particular, and the sex education (or lack of) I received it was all very vague and unclear. Since I can remember, we have been told, in my family, that any kind of sexual encounter with the opposite sex is prohibited until marriage. Virginity was and still is highly regarded. However I have never heard or seen anyone checking for a bride's hymen in my family. On the other hand it does happen in Lebanon, and the stories of seemingly distant villages, where this occurs with disastrous outcomes come up in the newspapers. I remember after two of my sisters got married they were telling my mother about blood and pain on the first night. Followed by relief that the membrane was successfully broken.

I feel that all the elements of how all sexual matters were with no words given to me, resulted in me putting this issue "on the side." Probably to the extent that until this day I seem to have subverted reasons why I choose to be or not to be sexually active. As a result, my sexual identity and behaviour has always been, and might always be, in the dark, or silence. Having said that, I do have an extended imagination, and am open myself to various "practices" whatever that means.(This paragraph was written more than a year ago, now I have more found what I am/want).

Natural experiences, and imposed shame:

I had two sexual, or sensual experiences which resulted in my parents finding out and punishing me. The first I was about 10 years old playing around with a cousin and other neighbours. One of them told on us, and I was humiliated by my parents. They used shame. They tried to fill me with shame for being dirty to play around with other girls. The second was years later when I met the person with whom I had the longest and most emotionally charged relationship until this day. I was 16 y.o. It was during my school year in Europe, so my parents were most of the time not present, and though the atmosphere was not encouraging, it was not in Beirut, and it felt better somehow.

It just came so naturally that I still can not understand how my family could persecute me so much after they found out. This person shaped and influenced me a lot. As we got more into the relationship she revealed to me that she believes she is really a man, but was born in the wrong body. She said that when she is more capable, she will seek a special doctor's help to become a physical man, as well as a mental one. The fact that she looked masculine did not seem striking, or as a reason to become a physical man. But in her mind it was different, she felt really cheated by the body she had, and I could sense that. However, that is another story, and it is heir story.

My family's reaction must have influenced me in such a way, that it must control my behaviour unconsciously. Towards the middle of the relation, my brother found out. My mother, sisters, and finally my father found out later, towards the end of it. It was graver than the first time. I was older now. It was a big burden on me, and it went on for years, how my parents shamed me about it. It was, and still is, very disturbing to me, and I feel it has affected me in subtle ways that are part of my own person, and behaviour today. In a way, I tried to put it all away and not think of it when it was happening then, on both occasions, when I was 10, and then at 16. Now, having to go back to Beirut, I find myself again faced with the same alternative, to live a life of deceit, me denying my true self, almost even to myself, but never to that full extent because it disturbs my family to the point that it disturbs me, so I swallow it up, and it eats me up. It may seem to a Westerner that it is very easy, just leave your family, but they do not know the half of what it all is about.

Images

Actually, from a very early age, I used to be interested in sensual/sexual images of the female body. A woman's body was intriguing, a man's body, neutral, but from the waist down, just repulsive. After examining images of the female body, I would have shameful feelings. This would make me aware I was the only one with this peculiar feeling of desire. Other girls did not feel that way, or at least did not show it.

When I try to think of what might have shaped my sexual identity, I did not know any lesbians as I was growing up. My mother might have shaped it. I made boys a big no-no for myself. I actually made all sex a big no no.

Analysing my perception of my sexual identity:

There seems to be several conflicting forces in me. One that accepts, respects and loves my sexuality, and one that does not disrespect it totally, but thinks it not an essential part of me, and prefers that it did not exist in any way at all. These two forces interact with surrounding factors that influence my perceptions and acceptances of my own self, and sexuality.

I know that my sexual identity is very complicated, and might not totally be covered in this essay. It is also not isolated from its cultural and familial environments. However, for myself, isolated from anything else, I accept it, at least I think I do accept it. I accept and expect changes and evolvement within it. Since my mother's influence was very strong, maybe this led to the fact that on another level, the unconscious one, I still feel that any sexuality I would have is somehow wrong, and that I should have no sexuality whatsoever. These beliefs would come from my childhood, when we were told that anything sexual, did not and should not exist really until marriage.

However, with time, as a child, gradually I realized that my sexuality was different. This came initially from my feelings for the sexual images of women. I would look at them in a sneaky way, later noticing I was the only one who actually did that sort of thing. I kept it all to and within myself, the playing with my cousin, and then getting reprimanded, only made me hide it more. I did not know what a lesbian was, I thought it was just something I felt. So slowly, I almost even stopped myself from feeling it. But it stayed there, ignoring it did not make it go away. So I assumed I was not different from anyone else and this was just something I experienced on the side because of the way I am!

Then I discovered the American singer kd lang. I remember reading an article by her, and she said something like she'd always been a lesbian as a child and never knew it, she lived in a small village etc. I knew I had something in common with that smooth voiced singer. Then came my experience in Europe, my first "adult" love, which was fine until they found out. I tried to convince my parents that the letters they found that she had sent me were just fragments of her imagination, none of it really occurred. They also read she wanted to become a man, I had to hide myself and cry, or smile and laugh hysterically. This was a hard time for me, how it influenced me, I am not very certain of the details, one thing is for sure, it did not help me at all.

Many years later my youngest sister asked me if what was in the letters had really happened, I said yes. I felt relieved, though she was not particularly accepting of it. However, there was no way I could express and be myself in Beirut. I hid my true self to others and to myself very well. I lived in Beirut from 1990 until 1997 when I finally convinced my father to agree to send me to the Europe to study. Once there I decided I want to experience living an 'out' life. I went to the lesbian, gay and bisexual groups, where I met mostly gay men, and we discussed our sexualities. This was a first for me. However there were very few lesbian women who would come to the group. If they did, they would stick to their groups. Me not having the courage or confidence to impose myself, or try to know them, I kept away as well. Though later through straight accepting of my sexuality friends, I met a small lesbian group. In Europe, I did not feel I 'belonged' really to any group of lesbians. I found this very disappointing that the one year I spent in there had to be limited in that sense. Surprisingly, although I decided to be 'out' I did not dare be it! I was out to my gay friends, but not to my hall or class mates. I still felt my family hovering over me. This acknowledging of my sexuality did not feel as liberating as I thought it might. Mainly because it was not to people that were particularly close to me, not my family. This feeling of liberation that comes of telling the truth I am sure will never occur with me, because the minute I would be out to my family, I would be out of the family!

Moving from my university city to the capital was another step. I met more Arabic lesbians, and through a friend of mine, I got slightly involved in the "International Transgender film and video festival." This proved to be very enlightening. However, pressure from my family is mounting to go back to Beirut. Thus with everything in me, I will most probably surrender to their wishes and go back there, and keep myself to myself. My gender, and sexual identity kept in me.


References:

Caplan, P. ( Editor ) (1987). The cultural construction of sexuality. Routledge.
Kitzinger C. (1987). The social construction of lesbianism Sage publications.
Nataf Zachary. (1996). Lesbians talk trangender. Scarlet press, 5 Montague Rd, London, E8 2HN.



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