A writing friend, A.M. Leibowitz, discussed her experiences with intersectionality and gatekeeping in their latest blog post. This is something of a (really long) response from me.
Intersectionalism, or the simultaneous belonging of a single thing/person to more than one group is at the heart of this post. Like A.M. I too am bisexual, married to a man. When I came out, several years into my marriage, most of my extended family didn’t comprehend that I could be faithful to the “demands” of both. My father-in-law actually asked my husband if I was cheating on him. (My husband said no, and in fact he had been the one supporting my coming out. He’d known for about three years by then.) But the family behaved awkwardly around me for years after that. I just didn’t fit their expectations of my multiple identities.
It’s this impression of obligation or requirements for belonging, that you must be/do all the things in order to be considered a “valid” member of the group that leads to the other concept A.M. was discussing. Gatekeepers decide the list of behaviors that qualify for membership. My very married in-laws had decided they knew what defined marriage and I definitely wasn’t fitting it, so I couldn’t be married.
I’d faced intersectional issues before. I am a Jew married to a Catholic, also a Democrat married to a Republican. “How does your marriage survive?” I get asked everywhere. (We’ve been married 26 year this coming May.)
I most often reply: We are adults. Adults understand that people don’t neatly fit into a single box. It’s really not that hard to hold two thoughts simultaneously. Our brains are flexible like that.
When I get tired of being polite, I add this: Exclusion based on criteria is the same crap that forms teenagers’ cliques. It’s immature and petty and people are supposed to outgrow this as their brains mature. Unfortunately, for many, immaturity has become a permanent condition instead of a phase and lasts well into adulthood. Frankly it’s disgusting.
Children have, as one of my fanfic commentators said in a fanfic review, “bento-box sorting brains.” That’s what they do to make sense of a world they need to learn about, compartmentalizing, being literal, these are necessary neurological developmental points. A child is being exactly on-point when they insist things have to be all one or all another, and “can’t be bowf” as my toddler character in that story said. But his mom showed him that the block had more than one side, and that it was just fine the way it was. (If you want to read this story, it’s a fanfic I wrote for the OUAT fandom called “What Color Are Castles in the Air?”)
Maturation of one’s thoughts and behaviors is imperative for human development. The higher orders of thinking are analysis and synthesis. These require recognizing that things “can be both.” That one thing could fit in more than one category. That more than one type of problem can be solved by similar methods, or by combining things that seem disparate into a new solution.
Now to conclude with why I decided this was appropriate for my author blog. I think this arena discussion discussion of intersectionality and people being comfortable and accepted in multiple groups is a perfect opportunity for an author.
Authors can write stories that show multifaceted persons finding their “place” and claiming their right to “be both” and fit comfortably in many categories. So keep writing intersectional characters whether they be bi, married, ace, promiscuous, principled, multiracial, neuro atypical, social (and many, many more).
So keep writing and if there’s a gatekeeper who says your work doesn’t belong within their box, find another way to put it out there. Know you are doing the right thing, the mature thing, the “grow humanity” thing.