I took an HIV test yesterday. Not that I was seriously concerned I might have contracted the virus, mind: rather that I work for an HIV/AIDS organization, and a sister organization, as part of national HIV Testing Week, was utilizing our premises to offer instant antigen/antibody tests to clients and staff. Kinda weird in the former instance, since being HIV+ is a prerequisite for referral for treatment; but staff-wise it seemed like good form to – and be seen to – attend to one’s sexual health.
My ‘tester’ explained that which might once have been semi-taboo to voice, that as a ‘straight’, white man, the risk of my contracting HIV thru sex was somewhat lower than it might be for a man indulging in regular homosexual relations.
One aspect of the testing procedure surprised me: I filled out a form with personal details prior to the blood test which included my sexual orientation; from which I could choose ‘straight’, ‘gay’. ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘Transgender (Male to Female), ‘Transgender (Female to Male), ‘other’. Perhaps you can guess from whence my surprise sprang? As something of a ‘gender sceptic’, I’m familiar with the line that ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ are discrete ‘boxes’ as it were. So goes popular, contemporary ‘queerthink’. Could it be that the UK’s preeminent (and admittedly gay-male-centric) HIV charity missed the memo or is their use of language deliberate and candid?
As it happens, I agree, to a point: both ‘cis’ and ‘trans*’ people can be attracted to either/both (biological) sexes and/or to folk presenting as one, other or both. But underlying that fact is the reason that sexual orientation is such a deal, even now, in terms of personal identity. Andrea Dworkin delineated this so well in the ‘Law’ chapter of her magnum opus, Intercourse (p. 185-211):
‘The laws regulating intercourse – prescribing how we must use each other (be used) as well as proscribing how we must not use each other – are supposed to protect the authentic nature of men and women. Men being fucked like women moves in an opposite direction … [t]he regulation of men by men in sex for the sake of upholding men as a class is the least recognized, least scrutinized aspect … of social control…’
During this chapter, the author also states ‘…[e]very detail of gender specificity was attended to in the Old Testament, including cross-dressing ‘A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garments; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord thy God…’
Dworkin remains on record as the least ‘transphobic’ of radical feminist thinkers; yet she clearly and succinctly apprehends the symbolic and real dichotomy between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ modes of attire/behaviour inherent in historical conceptions of gender: deeply-rooted (radical) correlations which are not easily dismissed or over-written by superficially-neutral jargon. The inference I take from the previous quote is not that the consumerist-patriarchal monetization of gender-nonconformity is to be embraced (which can be discerned even in the presumably-positive notion of the ‘pink pound’, as well as the ‘Transsexual Empire‘ to borrow Janice Raymond‘s epithet) but, rather that in her radical vision, we might reach a point where ‘gender’ ceases to hold sway over our estimation of interpersonal – and specifically sexual – relations.
Until that day arrives, ‘gender’ and sexuality truly cannot be conceived as being entirely separate aspects of our malleable, shifting sense of human identity…
“When the environment makes gender salient, there is a ripple effect on the mind. We start to think of ourselves in terms of our gender, and stereotypes and social expectations become more prominent in the mind. This can change self-perception, alter interests, debilitate or enhance ability, and trigger unintentional discrimination. In other words, the social context influences who you are, how you think and what you do.”
– Cordelia Fine (Delusions of Gender…, )…
…even as living in the relatively-liberal West – and especially here in the city of Brighton, UK – the aggressive hetero-normativity and entrenched (Judeo-Chistian-Islamic) conservatism of most human cultures is easily-forgotten, or at least ignored. As Stephen Fry reminded us in his recent TV documentary, this is something of a luxury: in a gender-free, more sane world it ought not to be.
And to return in the end to the matter of HIV testing, if you or any of your loved ones are concerned about the risk of HIV infection, it’s HIV Testing Week until November 29: you can find information here and here.