I was recently reading a counterstorytelling post about “sex-positivity” as only being positive for white, middle class, heterosexual women.
It makes the familiar argument that sex positivity is only liberating for a small group of women for whom the idea of virginal purity was oppressive and limiting. For women and queer people from minority communities who have a history of sexual fetishism and exotic sexual exploitation sex positivity reinforces extremely harmful and limiting stereotypes. While I had heard this argument before, the author mentioned an idea that I had not remembered ever hearing before: justice as an imaginative activity.
This seems to mean that justice in regards to issues of identity and oppression is essentially about reimagining our identities and rethinking the social templates for interaction. I think this is an interesting lens to look at justice in identity politics. The implicit idea seems to be that seeking justice through changing laws and systems of oppression is not sufficient if we still operate on racist, sexist, homophobic, classist etc frameworks. It is the idea that in order for a man to no longer be sexist we would have to do more than treat women as equals he would have to start thinking of women as equals.
This resonates with me on a very personal level as I have been rethinking my essay on the American Male. While I still agree with much of what I said, I still wonder how much of it was simply me projecting my own hang ups onto a larger social problem. I was never really able to find many men to talk about the essay with so some amount of projection was unavoidable in a sense. Yet most of the women I talked to said that they didn’t think the men in their lives had all the emotional stunting and sexual hang-ups that I was talking about. Though, to be fair, they were also women who actively avoided stereotypical men and bro culture.
Since publishing that article on my website I’ve done a lot of what in retrospect I can call the imaginative work of justice. I have explored my inability to talk to women outside of a sexual or romantic context and I have become more focused on learning about other people and that has inadvertently made me less self-centered. I am slightly embarrassed by how some of my issues seem to have been a result of being self-centered but mostly happy that I have at least grown as person in the last couple of months.
I realized the extent of that growth as I was sitting with a female friend of mine the other day and was able to talk to her without the barriers that our multiple identities sometimes create. I was aware that she was an attractive, middle class, college educated, young, white, woman yet that was very much in the background. I was able to talk to her as just another person in a way that I am rarely able to talk to anyone, male or female. It was a way that was just in the imaginative sense. She was not a character in my Socratic dialogue, a model on a pedestal to impress or a supporting manic pixie dream girl character in my romantic comedy.
I’m not sure how or why I developed the habit of making people supporting characters in my life story instead of fully realized beautiful individuals. I could probably blame my obsession with characters on writing or movies but in ultimately it is an odd form of self-centeredness. I am now going to commit myself to increasing my engagement with the imaginative aspect of justice. I am going to seek to rethink how I conceptualize my fellow human beings and recreate my template for interacting everyone: male, female or zir.