Monthly Archives: November 2014

Sapiosexuality and Heterosexism

Sapiosexual is a new, up-and-coming word describing attraction to intelligence, or to intelligent people. Although, by itself, it is somewhat problematic, it is a great tool against heterosexism.

(Unless otherwise noted, for the purpose of this article, words describing sexual attraction will assume a concording romantic and sensual attraction.)

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First, I do have some reservations with the word “sapiosexual”. Skip at will, but don’t despair: they may even make its strength.

The focus on “intelligence” in “sapiosexual” is problematic. Intelligence is hard to pinpoint. As an upper-middle-class White girl pursuing higher education, I’m fairly prone to qualifying “intelligence” as something that attracts me, because it’s a very valourized attribute in my universe of experiences. However, what I might call “intelligence” is not necessarily a fair assessment of anything, much less cognitive abilities. We attribute intelligence to people based on many discriminatory criteria that don’t actually mean anything. Someone’s accent, their clothes, their overall behaviour, their complexion, the degrees they have all an effect on whether or not we think someone is intelligent. So basically, what the word may imply is “I’m attracted to White people with conventional clothing and prestigious accents, and some other ill-defined traits”, or something of the sort.

And what happens if intelligence is multidimensional? Different aspects of what psychologists outline as “intelligence” are appreciated as such in the popular view (being great at math is more “intelligent” than being a creative painter, for instance), and some, such as emotional or social intelligence, are probably not what is implied in the word “sapiosexual”.

To go even deeper, what sorts of knowledges or abilities qualify as “intelligence” depends on classism, imperialism and ableism. The first two, because Western knowledges and abilities that are deemed useful to the capitalist system are highly valourized — and really, both form a system here. Ableism, because no matter how intelligent they are, people with disabilities tend to be viewed as unintelligent, and not only people with mental disabilities. And no, the positive judgement of Stephen Hawking is not an exception: the enormous public attention he gets as an important and brilliant astrophysicist (which, on all accounts, he totally is) seems at least partly informed by the “inspiration porn” model, judging from how important his disability is to depict him, which is wrong.

So now that I’ve offered my critiques of the word “sapiosexual”, now is why I think it’s a great move forward to say how great it actually is.

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Almost all the other words we have to describe sexual attraction focus on gender — homo-/heterosexual as the relationship between one’s gender and the object of attraction, andro-/gynephilic as the object of attraction in a male/female binary, bi-/pansexual to describe possible attraction to anyone, no matter their gender, and so on. The only one that doesn’t, asexual, expresses lack of any attraction whatsoever, so yeah.

Sapiosexual goes beyond that. Its great originality is that it moves attraction from someone’s gender to someone’s qualities, to who they are. Yes, pan-/bisexual states that gender is a non-issue, but sapiosexual displaces the issue on the person’s qualities. And that’s major.

That’s why I say it’s a beautiful word. Because why should attraction be about gender only? Indeed, we are attracted to people for a host of reasons not really related to gender, such as attractiveness, common beliefs, or indeed intelligence. Even more, some our criteria are things someone must have for attraction to be possible, or at least sustained enough to create a bond. To take an obvious example, if someone is transphobic, it’s an instant deal breaker for me, and I will be completely incompatible with someone who requires any kind sexual intimacy as part of a relationship.

This idea that “sapiosexual” brings to the table may be used to complexify the other words we have. The kind of femininity desired for a gynephilic person can vary. Some people might want female genitals, because sex is important to them and that’s the part they like. Some people are rather attracted to a kind of gender expression or presentation. Some women might be attracted in women because of a common womanhood, whatever the body or expression. Some will want a combination of all these. And so on. All these possibilities are okay as individual experiences, though they might be problematic if any of them were to define gynephilia as a whole. By separating the attributes that constitute our attraction categories, we might better identify what they imply for us. At the same time, it shows that what “heterosexual” means is highly contingent not only on the person’s own gender, but on their understanding of what gender means in someone else.

Basically, the “man” in “I like men” is as problematic as the “intelligent” in “I like intelligent people”.

What if we created more words for attribute-led attraction, beyond intelligence? I don’t care if they are contingent and subjective categories — “being attracted to men” is as contingent as the others. Being sweet is important for you? What about suavosexual? You like taller or shorter people? You might want to identify as altosexual, or parvosexual. Yes, all these words (sweet, tall, short) are not absolutes, they’re depend on one’s conception of “sweetness” or height, and even one’s own height, and yes, some people will not regard “sweetness” or height as a criterion at all. But the trick here is: The same can be said of gender attraction.

As a target of attraction, the gender categories that words like “homosexual” or “heterosexual” assume are hard to pinpoint — and that’s just what we had said about the “intelligence” category of “sapiosexual”. So why do we all use words such as “homosexual” or “heterosexual” as if they were stone-hard and necessary, so much that people who aren’t gay or straight must justify themselves with words, like bi- or pansexual, that really mean they don’t care? After all, we don’t need to say that we’re not sapiosexual. It’s just assumed until proven otherwise.

By displacing the focus from gender to attributes, we not only deproblematize same-sex attraction, but we challenge gender from being the sole signifier of sexual attraction. We fight both homophobia and biphobia.

And that’s why sapiosexual is a great, subversive word.

Safe, Accessible and Gender-Affirming Bathrooms Checklist

This is inspired by the trans activism I’m doing at the University of Montreal, a lot of which is centered around access to bathrooms for trans people. I am not, however, an expert on accessibility for people with mobility issues.

  1. Unless otherwise noted, bathrooms are not segregated. If you have no particular reason to assigned a space to men/women, then it’s open to all. This means that gender-neutral bathrooms are, in reality, just bathrooms, so you just have to say “Bathroom” or put a toilet sign on the door. Unless you are temporarily redesignating a segregated space into a gender-neutral one, there is not reason to call anything an “all-gender bathroom”. However, if not all your bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible, it’s probably useful to indicate which are and which are not.Gender-Neutral-Toilet-Sign-White-1000
  2. Everyone can access whatever space they prefer. Simple as that. No matter someone’s identity, where they choose to go is their choice. For instance, some trans women go to the men’s bathroom, because they’re not out yet; some will go to the women’s bathroom, because “that’s where I belong”; some will prefer a gender neutral. bathroom, as a result of past harassment in either space. But there are many other possibilities, especially in places that fail elsewhere in this list. For instance, men might want to access the women’s room if the men’s room doesn’t have a diaper changing table.
  3. All single-occupant bathrooms are gender-neutral. And wheelchair-accessible, incidentally. There is no reason to segregate single bathrooms.
  4. Offer a variety of multiple-stall spaces. Because everyone should have a space they feel right in. At the moment, gender-neutral spaces are the most needed, as there are generally few of them. However, some people do feel uncomfortable at the idea of multiple-stall gender-neutral bathrooms — and even though many issues are based in oppressive myths, I still think that even bigots should have the right to pee, so long as they let others do the same. Also, for some trans people such as I, using the segregated bathroom of their choice can be a gesture of affirmation. At least for now, I don’t advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms everywhere, but rather for some kind of parity in multiple-stall spaces — this way, people can choose, and gender-neutral spaces will not be overused and remain accessible to the people who need them (which might become an issue if only single-occupant bathrooms are gender-neutral). But I certainly won’t condemn those who want to go farther.
  5. In every space, at least one stall is wheelchair-accessible. Ditto for the space in general. And if there’s only one, I think shaming able-bodied people into using any of the 30 other stalls is totally legit.
  6. No third bathroom. Seriously. Creating a third bathroom marks the people who use it as “neither a man nor a woman”, and can create dangerous situations.
  7. Segregated spaces are next to each other. Because otherwise, it becomes a nightmare. Ideally, both segregated bathrooms should be wall to wall and separated by a partition wall, so they’ll be easier to adapt into gender-neutral ones, if the desire should arise to change them.
  8. Gender-neutral bathrooms are isolated from gendered spaces. Because a gender-neutral bathroom next to segregated bathrooms is not a gender-neutral bathroom, it’s a third bathroom. Unless you have reaaaally good reason — say, because an architect back in the days was a jerk to people with disabilities, and you’re adapting an old closet into a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. But really, see point 5, and the problem vanishes.
  9. All spaces are well advertised. Everyone should have no problem finding the space they want to use. This can include putting signs showing where the nearest segregated AND gender-neutral spaces are, having a clear policy that anyone can access or that is simple enough that people just get it, and having a webpage showing which bathrooms are gender-neutral/wheelchair-accessible and how to find them.
  10. Facilities are the same in all spaces. Men’s, women’s and non-segregated spaces should offer diaper-changing stations. The same applies to tampon disposal cans — some men have periods too. And so on.

If you disagree with my opinions or would like to add something, please comment! This is always a work in progress.