My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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my queer identity

A few days ago, an anonymous reader reached out to me to kindly inform me that i could be saved, offering me prayers in my path to finding Jesus.

I decided to take this opportunity to be upfront about my sexuality and my views for those who don’t know me so well and for those of you who are struggling with attacks or pressure or guilt because of your sexuality. I believe that no one has the right to make you feel badly for your sexuality and i believe that the struggle we all face is how to find peace and comfort in who we are and how we interact with others. It is with a grounded sense of self that is very rooted in my own religious values that i offer you my views on sexuality. They don’t have to be your views, but you can only respect me if you respect that this is who i am and what i believe.

When i meet people who spark something in me – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, i often fall in love. That feeling of love is not framed in a sexual sense. I fell in love with my closest friends in this world – that’s how they became my dear friends. Their psychological position in my life is very deep. Love, for me, is a very strong and passionate emotion that extends from utmost respect and appreciation, awe. With love, there is a sense of warmth and joy, vulnerability, compassion, trust. Through mutual honor, love is an emotion that binds people together.

Not all relationships of love have a sexual component. Yet, sexual interaction takes that love deeper, allowing an even greater connection, passion and vulnerability. Sex is an act that stems from love and allows it to grow deeper. I believe that sex is a very meaningful act and a valuable component to different relationships of love. I do not believe that sex is an act that is only reserved for one person in this lifetime.

Sex has another axis to it – that of desire. Only particular connections for me have a sexual resonance, a “chemistry.” I wish i knew the formula for that chemistry, but i don’t. There are people that i have loved deeply with whom i have no sexual chemistry and that’s simply the way it is. For me, that chemistry does not have gendered limitations.

Let me step back a moment. We have a cultural assumption that there is a binary in sex (culturally called gender) – male, female. Anyone who has worked with intersexed or transgendered people know that this cultural binary obfuscates reality and causes harm. There are people whose genitalia does not match society’s dichotomous expectations, hormonal and chromosomal structures that aren’t written about in textbooks and identities that make bodies seem very foreign. Of course, God created these people too.

I understood this foolish dichotomy in my gut at a young age, always upset that the world was divided into female and male. It is via working in gender clinics that i was able to see what happens when it breaks down.

My sexuality is rooted in my dismissal of that dichotomy and a recognition of a gender range that reflects both sex and performance. I identify as queer, not gay, not lesbian and certainly not bisexual (which reinforces the binary in its term). I have fallen in love with people with all different sorts of sexual and gender identities.

I do believe that i have a choice about who i have sex with, but i don’t believe that i have a choice over who i have chemistry with. Some people’s chemistry fits neatly into privileged heternormativity (i.e. they’re ‘straight’). Some people’s chemistry is between people of similarly sexed bodies. For me, my chemistry doesn’t fit neatly into a binary of sexuality either, but it certainly doesn’t mean i have chemistry with everyone nor does it mean that i have chemistry with a larger percentage of the population. It simply means that it does not fall along neat lines of either gender or sexuality. Thus, the term ‘queer’.

Given this, i could, as society has pressured me to do, make a choice to only engage in sexual relations with those whom society has deemed socially appropriate. In other words, if i like boys and girls, why not make it easier on myself and just date boys? First, i think that is rubbish and indicative of a moral system to which i do not subscribe. Second, why should i let cultural pressures obscure my actual feelings?

I have strong religious values and beliefs, but they do not believe that guilt, sin, self or projected torture, hate, intolerance, self, or enemies are in any way productive or valuable. My beliefs are rooted strongly in love, respect, honor and kindness. I do not believe that there is ever anything wrong about rooting love in consensual sex. I believe that social efforts to construct something as ‘wrong’ are simply mechanisms to assert power and control, an attempt to play God, not to honor God. In my view, honoring God means honoring yourself and others, working to release yourself of hatred and judgment, finding ways of respecting all forms of life. God’s work means finding peace beyond suffering in order to release ourselves from the cycle of birth/death. No part of God’s work means increasing suffering for anyone in any form.

My sexuality is rooted in a combination of love and desire that has no gendered boundaries. Sex is a consensual act that emerges from and glorifies both love and desire. There is nothing and i do mean -nothing- wrong with loving someone else and expressing it sexually. This is not a sick addiction or a sin – it is a pure emotion rooted in everything good.

[Please note that my definition of God may not reflect yours. And my definition of religion does not include a literal reading of any scripture.]

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32 comments to my queer identity

  • Liz

    Brava!

    Beautifully said.

    with love,
    Liz

  • Well said, Danah.

    Does the term “queer” carry any negativity for you? I understand how “gay” and “lesbian” and “bisexual” are problematic because of their agency as labels. But doesn’t “queer” imply “not normal” or “not right” or “other.” Maybe that’s ok, or at least more comfortable…but it’s always bothered me a little.

    I’d love to hear your (or others) thoughts on this.

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • This is a very sensitive and humane account, Danah. Out of sheer curiosity: could you tell us more about your spiritual path, or do you wish to keep it private? I can read strands of Buddhism, Paganism, and Christianity here, but also echoes of more personal experiences. I am not American, but it seems to me that progressive America needs its spirituality-oriented members to speak up against the presumptuous “οΏ½moral majority”.οΏ½

  • A beautifully articulated post πŸ™‚

    I’m Muslim and I’ve really struggled with the view that homosexuality and faith are mutually exclusive.

    As a Muslim with some gay friends and colleagues, I’ve often felt conflicted about what faiths teach about homosexuality and the experience of most gay people I know, in that they are simply attracted to other people and sexuality is only one component of it…and not one we can neccearily choose.

  • Thank you danah – you describe so well excatly how I feel about my sexuality. clear and to the point.

  • Acceptence and Identity

    I support the interesting.

  • Meidosemme – My religious beliefs do not fit neatly into any particular organized religion and so that’s a much longer post. But yes, i do believe that the “moral majority” does not represent me, and is neither moral nor the majority.

  • Lori – i recognize that ‘queer’ is problematic for some people (and i totally understand why), but i’m so used to being ‘weird’ or otherwise on the outskirts of society that those connotations just make me smile. Part of identifying subculturally is taking joy in that position. For me, thought, queer has been reclaimed and no longer even represents a position in relation to another position. It simply represents a sexuality that is not neatly defined.

  • joe

    pretty damn sexy! πŸ˜‰

  • Beautifully written, and so true!

    There’s a sci-fi story by Greg Egan in which the binary world of sexual roles accepted by society (male/female, gay/straight/bi, butch/femme, etc.) has grown into a combinatorial explosion of types, complete with new neutral pronouns for people who refuse to accept designation as male or female.

    I always thought Egan was prescient for writing about sexuality in that way, but I think you’ve cut much closer to the truth with this. It’s not about defining even more categories of sexuality. It’s about realizing how harmful and inappropriate the categories can really be. Excellent work!

  • tony

    sure that sounds right but in the madness of the real world,are we the freaks? never have so many hated so few for so little…

  • Bloggy Stuff

    I’ve come across several things lately that I think are of special note:

  • You have articulated these issues in a way so that I was really able to understand/grok them for the first time. And that is a big deal to me. Thank you!

  • Mano

    Danah, Very well articulated. Glad to see there’s someone else around South Hall with similar experiences and beliefs to mine, who can articulate them much better than I can.

  • Emily

    hi, i’ve been reading for a while, i linked here from your ani lyrics site but i never felt compelled to comment before…thank you. that was so articulate and was something that i really needed to read today. thank you.

  • gina

    danah- mind if I ask whether your “definition/values” regarding sex leaves space for casual sexual encounters (between strangers even)? I find that the hierarchy of sexual politics in this country tends to stigmatize anonymous sex and non-monogamous couples as well as sex which does not fall within the strict confines of heteronormativity. I only ask (and with complete respect for what you’ve written) because your description of all this “chemistry” and “love” and “sex taking love deeper” seems more idealistic to me than realistic. But I enjoyed reading what you had to say very much. – Peace
    p.s. _The Trouble with Normal_ by Michael Warner has a brilliant discussion of this issue (& others). It’s a must-read…

  • Gina – i totally respect folks for whom casual sex and sex with strangers works, but it’s never been my thing. For me, it’s simply not arousing. That said, i do adamantly oppose the stigma society gives to those for whom this works. As you can probably discern, monogamy has never been my cup of tea either, although i don’t find comfort in any of the terms often employed. As far as realistic, i’ve been lucky to have led my life this way so far. This definition for me comes out of my practices and beliefs, not just ideals. Thanks for the ref!

  • You said: “…bisexual (which reinforces the binary in its term)…”

    What would you use instead? Intersex is already used for physically mixed sex (e.g., hermaphroditism). How about omnisexual? That sounds grand! You have it all, all of it. Sounds almost like omnipotent πŸ˜‰

    As a simple hetero guy, I did not really pay much attention to the variety of sexual experience. That is, until two things happened: first, I married a bi. I thought it was great. I also encourage her to NOT limit herself to just me, as I can provide for just half of her experience, thus her old girlfirend sometimes shows up… Second, the recent politics of gay marriage made me try to understand more. I have read, in rapid succession, E.J.Graff’s “What is Marriage for?”, “Against Love” by Laura Kipnis, “Evolution’s Explosion” by Joan Roughgarden, “The Bitch in the House” and “The Bastard on the Couch”. I wrote a review of Graff’s book (together with “Moral Politics” here:
    http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/moral-politics-in-context-of-history.html

    My first thoughts about the whole issue of marriage are here:

    http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/definition-semantics-and-future-of.html

    …and here:
    http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/gay-marriage-and-marriage-tax.html

    I have changed my mind somewhat since then, particularly after reading Lakoff’s article in defense of gay marriage, and am for using the term now.

    Still, I think that in the long term, the institution of marriage is dead. Its main raison d’etre is assymetry between a man on top and the woman below. We have been going away from it for a couple of centuries now, and I don’t think any fiery rhetoric by fundies is going to slow the process down:

    http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/enslaving-women-not-just-fundies.html

  • Great post. Thanks for sharing that.

  • werd up d-nah.

    for those people who posted replies about their frustrations with the mutual exclusivity of religion and homosexuality there is an amazing documentary film:

    “TREMBLING BEFORE G-O-D”

    you should all see it. it might be hard to find but it is an amazing and very real account of lesbian and gay Hasidic Jews as they negotiate their intensely homophobic religion and their the queer world that does not accept their religion. often people deal with the frustrations of double and triple minority status, this documentary explores this with really personal and intimate accounts.

    also, on the “queer” discussion:

    the term queer has been reclaimed, as danah mentioned, as an affirmative and empowering term. this is comparable to the politics around “nigger” and “Chicano”. part of this is the understanding of the minority status of lgbtq people and an admittance to the problems of forcing people into static, confining labels and categories (like gay or bisexual) that do not allow for the plethora of sexual and gender expressions. other words have been introduced like “pansexual” and “omnisexual” though these terms lack the ability to convey their non-gendered meaning a lot of the time because people are generally unfamiliar with them. older lgbtq generations often still resist the term queer because of the oppression they faced in being considered obscure, deviant sinners. queer youth of today, free from a lot of the battles of past generations, have moved on to accept their unique realities using the term in a positive way.

    um, also i’m a gender studies student with a focus in lgbtq so i geak-out every now and then. excuse me. πŸ˜‰

  • I just want to add a concise “Word, Ms. Boyd’, and note that Trembling Before G_D is available on Netflix (thanks franziska for the pointer). Also, good suggestions from coturnix, but I wish I was as sure as he that the “fundies” weren’t going to be able to stop what we see as progress. They’re doing exactly that in some parts of the country already.

  • It took me a full 24 hours to realize that I in fact can identify with what you say in relation to sexuality. Especially about falling in love without having any sexual chemistry.

    Iv’e read the Greg Egan book mentioned by cassidy, and I think it is called Distress. Another prescient is Warren Ellis in his Transmetropolitan graphic novels.

    http://www.aven.org might be of interest. Hetero-, homo-, bi-, and now, a-sexual.

  • Sarah

    Again I’m surprised that I live in a country far away from yours and reading this feels like you were reading my mind.

    “Queer” is also the term I identify most with but as there is no such word in my native language (Swiss German), people here who are not interested in gender identities would only know the term “bisexuell”. I think it focuses too much on sexuality and doesn’t really include “falling in love” (as you describe it) with a person of any gender and reinforces the binary thinking. It’s not always easy explaining my feelings and behavoir when there are no words to describe them… The Sapir-Whorf-hypothesis suggests that there is a systematic relationship between the categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it.
    Do you think that if there was a word in every language for the English word “queer” would more people identify with it as I’m sure that most people’s ‘chemistry does not fall along neat lines of either gender or sexuality’? Does your definition of “queer” include so-called heterosexuals or do you see it in opposition to heterosexual?
    As far as I know “queer” used to have a negative connotation and has been “reclaimed” in a positive way. Does the former use of it still have any meaning for you?

    Thanks for writing about this!

  • I believe that no one has the right to make you feel badly for your sexuality and i believe that the struggle we all face is how to find peace and comfort in who we are and how we interact with others. Maybe this doesn’t need saying, but if someone’s sexuality prompts them to violate other people’s consent or get involved with folks too young to consent, I believe I have a right to make them feel badly about it. That’s not cool.

    Other than that, go nuts!

    Nice post.

  • SevenCubed

    Beautiful. Would that we all could so concisely sum up our views, and would that we could all have views so thorougly thought-out.

    If I may… Although I, too, espouse the word “Queer” as a sort of catch-all, I also have no problem with “Bisexual”, and have used the term to self-identify for years. I understand what you’re saying about defying gender roles and conformity, but I think of it in terms of Society definitions. If I’m talking to someone, and the only words they know for sexuality are Straight, Bi, or Gay, I feel as though “Bi” is the most comfortable fit. It has an implication of “All of the above”, and that implication suits me. I don’t consider it an unreasonable compromise to society, and would PREFER another term. I’d prefer another Gender, since “Male” doesn’t quite fit, but It’s a closer fit than “Female”. But yeah. For now, I’ll use the words we have.

    Thank you again for YOUR words, however, and I look forward to reading more.

    -343

  • I have never been able to understand what is so alluring about roles – why people are obsessed with fitting into them, as well as beating over the head those who try to fit in and fail or, god forbid, refuse to play the game altogether. What is it about – this human tendency to box ourselves in, to create artificial limits and rules? Ultimately, I think there is individual and collective fear about discovering who we truly are, because the immensely unclassifiable and unruly nature of humanity is so difficult to grok.

    As we grow up, we are handed an official picture of reality that falsely presents a static collection of neat hierarchies. When faced with ‘exceptions’ to the categories we’ve invented, society has historically stuck its proverbial head into the sand and demonized, ostracized, and brutalized those who don’t fit, instead of questioning the underlying assumption that there ought to be something to fit into in the first place. It’s a mental heuristic, a shortcut people use to avoid having to process the actual complexity of the truth. Mental laziness.

    All of which creates absolutely bizarre assumptions that get accepted as cultural truisms, such as ‘homosexuality and spirituality are mutually exclusive.’ Why accept that statement at face value, without questioning it? Because it’s easier. We’re living life at hyperspeed now, and emotional work is not profitable activity. Collective consciousness suffers. But there is hope, always – messages like these from folks committed to living openly are encouraging others to think and re-think assumptions and self-deceptions. Look at the trail of affected minds emblazoned right here on this page. Remarkable. Hopeful.

    Thanks for the post, and for being a highly visible queer individual on the web, gleefully leaping out of those boxes left and right. πŸ™‚

  • LeAnn

    I love your blog, and I have a problen with you calling yourself gueer, you are by no means gueer as I or anyone else who is gendered. I as meany of us who live in the world as fem. are no more gay or queer than we would call ourself male. Please do not call yourself names, you have not done anything wrong nor are you a bad person, you are transgendered, I an many of us are as much female as any gg in our minds, only our bodys befor we can be post op are different. This is a subject of many words and feelings, and here is a limited space to tell all. I would say to you be the girl you are, never look back and live your life with a smill, be happy, be yourself, and love yourself first. God loves you for who you are and so should you. Take care, I belive in you.
    LeAnn

  • I’m so glad that my psyche is expanding to a more inclusive place. I really like this post. I get so tired of the militant stuff which comes from both sides and which only reinforces the struggle. This quote:

    “I believe that social efforts to construct something as ‘wrong’ are simply mechanisms to assert power and control, an attempt to play God, not to honor God.”

    is true, but when there’s a backlash, then the equal and opposite reaction easily ends up becoming just like the original offender in the struggle for power. As a Christian, I am working to get “our side” (which I don’t really identify with, but can still speak for in a marginal way… heh-heh) to just put down the weapons and back off. Totally. De-escalation will help everyone.

    I really get to hear you speak of love here, which is so freakin’ beautiful and I really love it. I can totally relate to all that … except I’m a hetero. I’m just so relieved.

  • Dana – liked your post and felt I should comment, even though I’m years late. Speaking of, do u have an update to these thoughts/feelings? Zephoria ’09??

    As an extreme serial monogamist I take umbrage at ur comments. While they are clearly just thoughts, feelings and deep ones, it bothers me. Cultural oppression is tough and hard, I know this. But it is possible to rise above that, to get past it. Reach a stage, where u seem to be at, where sex-love-friendship is something free and beautiful. It can be ephemeral but it can also be long and yes forever.

    So I take umbrage that you clearly are avoiding the topic of commitment. Instead describing how U’ve learned to be free and are shocked that others judge you so for being free. Yet to me ur thoughts scream fear of commitment.

    I see beneath the talk of queer and sex a violent eruption against bring locked down. Now I only bring this up b/c I have found the woman of my dreams. She is absolutely amazing but reflecting ur thoughts and expressions in this post. It is taking all my love, patience, and caring to fight through the eruptions.

    Understanding ur own sexuality and place in the world is but the first step. The next step is having the faith and confidence to achieve happiness through love. I hope my girl can do this. I hope u have done it too.

  • Mei Wood

    Incredible! Nearly six years later, and the reply is STILL “well said.” Have you thought of publishing this elsewhere?

  • A

    As someone who loves both men and women, I have to say: Out of all the articles and forum threads I’ve read thus far, this post of yours is the one that articulates my same view the MOST. Your last sentence rounds it off well: “This is not a sick addiction or a sin – it is a pure emotion rooted in everything good.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts.