A Personal Disclaimer
I’m using the term dating indiscriminately. Everyone is invited on Giselle Dates via this website. The dating apps I use reflect the sexual orientation of their target market, though not exclusively. In prosumer platforms, there will always be transgressive users.
Many apps have both explicit and implicit community guidelines that narrow down the field of appropriate answers to the ubiquitous question 'what are you looking for'? It is curious though, that the question 'what gender are you looking for?' tends to be inherent in the content and branding of each app as the fundamental criteria for participation. Or if not then the question pops up really early in the process of making a profile. This not only reflects a sociocultural preoccupation with sexual taxonomies, but serves the computational algorithms on which such dating apps rely, whereby each bit of user data must be allotted a discrete value.
The problems of gender and sex binaries have made their way into mainstream debate and it is fairly commonplace for people to use some version of The Kinsey Scale or other such models of sexuality that resemble a grid with one end marked as 'heterosexual' and the other end marked as 'homosexual'. The idea is that you can take a seat somewhere between these two.
To visualise sexuality as lineal is to arbitrarily create two artificially stable points that stifle the meaning of those signifiers as oppositional markers. Imagine a flatland of gender with two dots on a line signifying male and female. These dots are bound not only by sex and sexuality but also by class and race. One line is not a sufficiently nuanced mode to express our lived experiences, so we start growing a vertical axis and then branching out into three-dimensional space, providing more possibilities for more people to self-identify and self-actualise in open ended ways.
The problem with visualisations like lines and scales and grids is that they are a technology that we late capitalist Westerners like to assume is stable and neutral, when in fact the grid is moving around all the time. The idea of the grid is such a central metaphor in our culture that it is helpful to remember that 'the grid' is still just a metaphor, and not an actuality. I don't experience my sexuality in the context of allocating a numeric value within a framework of externally imposed signifying axes. Sometimes we can find ourselves having very problematic conversations about being sexually orientated by percentiles. A percentage measurement is a very useful mathematical tool for say, calculating superannuation, but tends to obscure the daily lived experience of our sexualities.
It might not serve to get rid of metaphors of grids and scales altogether, I understand that for some people who are of a gender, sexual or romantic minority these categories of identity help to create important communities of support and advocacy.
My issue is that people want to know my sexual orientation in relation to Giselle Dates, and while the question seems fair enough, I can never give an adequate answer. But here goes: I'm a cis woman and if I'm given only the finite options of 'heterosexual', 'homosexual' and 'bisexual', I guess I'll tick the first box. To be honest, I'm actually not very sexual at all. While I think about sex and gender politics a lot, I think about actually having sex with someone so rarely it feels like almost never. Heterosexuality and homosexuality haven't always been categories of identity as they are today. I don't think of heterosexual as something that I am, or even something I experience, but as a cultural invention.
Living as I do in a time and place where women are constantly sexualised and are expected to be receptive to a particular kind of sexual attention, this attitude is suspect. I am asked if I think sex is morally wrong, if I find it gross, if I am having socially transgressive sex and not telling anyone. Is my sex Sapphic? Fetishist? Miscegenative? Poly? Extramarital? I'm a white, educated, able bodied, middle class, single cis female and the biased assumption in regards to sex is not why but 'why not?'
We assume sexuality to be the fundamentally 'natural' lens through which all human experience is filtered, when in fact it is so highly constructed that it is more socially acceptable for me to describe my sexuality in terms of mechanics than agency. I can blame my blood sugar medication for lowering my 'sex drive', as if my body were a car. I can't just say 'because I don't want to' without provoking the question 'but why don't you want to?' After all, sex has become so easy.
The way in which our Western late capitalist culture composes hetero/homosexuality as an identity rather than as a means of describing a specific sex act reflects a particular relationship between public and private. As we erode the walls of our bedrooms, the activities it used to conceal don't disappear, they become integrated into the public sphere and while this can be emancipating for some groups of people, it can be constricting for others and can limit the ways in which our language represents our lived experience of our desires and our bodies.
However, my concern is not so much with sex or even heterosexuality as much as it is with 'being straight'. Like queerness, straightness has its own set of a sociopolitical connotations. Giselle Dates are influenced by the idea that 'queer theory needs to draw out the bland, white bread, vanilla, missionary position, monogamous, married, patriarchal form of heterosexuality and point it out as much a social construct as any minoritized sexuality'. But I'm not a queer theorist. Giselle Dates provides a platform for me to explore the ritualised performances of 'straightness' from within the confines of its own labels and symbols.
Straight implies but is not limited to cis heterosexuality, it includes a set of self-confirming social signifiers. Gay people sometimes self-identify or speak of seeking partners who are 'straight-acting' which indicates there is a (Eurocentric and classist) way of being in the world that is described as 'straight' and is extricable from heterosexuality. Straight can also refer to different kinds of sex acts and is closely related to the idea of 'vanilla sex', where the sex act is perceived to be banally conventional. Which sex acts are vanilla and which ones are kinky, or indeed what we consider to be a sex act at all is set by cultural consensus, and these things change. We see this in contemporary discussions about anilingus, which used to be seen as an exclusively gay sex act. These days, whether anal play is gay or straight is up to the person who owns the particular arsehole in question.
In a heteronormative and patriarchal society, 'straightness' forms an invisible norm so fundamental to our everyday expectations that it is not the fashion to interrogate and disassemble it in too much detail. Our media speaks of the search for 'gay genes' in the field of biology and sexuality (though it's not fair to say that geneticists themselves describe their work as such) but I haven't come across any studies that attempt to pinpoint straight genes. There could be, but studies like that don't generally make it into the newspapers because the assumption is that all our genes are straight until proven otherwise. Straightness is marked by the privilege of being unmarked. This is why it is so much easier to exemplify than to actually articulate. Straightness is monogamy. Straightness is pink and blue. Straightness is owning a family home. Straightness is penis in vagina. Straightness is women who shave their underarms and men who don't. Straightness is ladies and gentlemen. Straightness is integral to the late capitalist model of romantic love. Straightness is "The Bachelor". Or it would be if the show didn't inherently rely on polyamorous courtship, and if the blossoming love between fellow Season 3 contestants Tiffany and Megan didn't completely undermine the program's compulsively heterosexual premise... Is homonormativity a new kind of straightness?
Straightness is all and none of the above. Straightness may be a meaningful category of identity for you, whether or not you engage in sex acts that are conventionally considered straight and it is not my intention to take that away. People should be free to choose and express their sexual identity however they like. I want to use Giselle Dates to highlight the ways in which our expressions of sexual identity go beyond our sex acts themselves and are always constructed within a sociopolitical context. As Hanne Blank concludes, 'eventually as a culture we will imagine our way into some different grand explanation, some other scheme for explaining our emotions and our desires and our passionate entanglements. For now, we believe in heterosexual. And this, too, shall pass.'