more on consciousness

September 7th, 2007 | Uncategorized

I just saw a movie that could be titled, “What is it like to be a lesbian?” And it’s much more entertaining than the handmade bat documentary I just posted.

It’s called “Car Accidents and Other Coming Out Stories” by Anne Crémieux, who I met when I was hanging out with French academics last winter. (Here you can find the text of her searching disquisition, “New Covers, Same Messages? Comparing the First and Second Editions of the DTWOF Series.”) She made the movie while staying in Austin Texas, and it features the extremely hilarious and studly Gretchen Phillips. I got to hang out with Gretchen once at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, god, probably 15 years ago, when she was playing with Two Nice Girls.

But back to consciousness. The film explores the searching question, would you still be a lesbian if you had amnesia?

115 Responses to “more on consciousness”

  1. judybusy says:

    Yeah, I think I would still be a lesbian if I had amnesia! After all, we wouldn’t ask a straight person if THEY would still be straight, would we? (Disclaimer: I didn’t watch the clip. I’m at work and showing good cubefarm ettiquette by not playing the clip. Will watch it later, at home!)

  2. born-again rhetor says:

    Well, I have no work ettiquette at all, and now I’m much less scared of getting hit by a car.

  3. DSW says:

    this is a really cool video! and it’s very interesting to think about these things.

  4. Aunt Soozie says:

    Hey Judy…I think that’s what I was just posting about next door…last entry…you know, is it nature or nurture? Is it your life experience that makes you adore women or your chemistry? I think it’s all of the above and in varying degrees in different people. But, I think, it’s not just would you be a lesbian?? it’s would you fall in love with the same person? would you be attracted to the same person? Same type of person? What is the whole attraction thing about? How much of it is Freudian and how much is olfactory…hmmmm…yeah…but what if she smells like your mom? or like vanilla and fresh baked cookies that your grandmom made or…then…ooo…I’d better go now…

  5. Duncan says:

    I’m not a lesbian, and I have no idea whether I’d still be gay if I suddenly got amnesia. (And I would ask straight people if they’d still be straight if they got amnesia — why not? Though given the heterosexual-supremacist assumptions of most cultures, I’d expect that amnesiacs would mostly be assumed to have been straight. Not that there’s anything right about that!) From what I’ve heard, amnesia affects different people differently depending on its severity.

    I think it’s an interesting empirical question, though. Surely there have been people of all sexual orientations who’ve suffered amnesia, and it would be interesting to know if it had any effect on their sexual orientation. That wouldn’t have any real importance for the bogus “nurture/nature” issue, though. Amnesiacs usually don’t forget their native language, I believe — and no one would claim that it is therefore inborn/genetic/ etc.

    A question once occurred to me that I think is more interesting, though: what if I woke up tomorrow and discovered that I was no longer gay, had catastrophically become straight in the night? Especially as a middle-aged gay man who’s never lived a heterosexual life, it would be extremely disorienting. I have no idea how to play the dating / courtship games heterosexuals play. I suppose if I’d magically acquired heterosexual desires, I’d adjust, but it wouldn’t be a trivial change — on the order of being widowed from one’s only spouse at least.

  6. lurknolonger says:

    I’ve discussed that very thing with my friends before, the whole ‘nature vs nurture’ question… The general consensus was (and I feel that this applies to me personally) that you are very much shaped by your outside environment, experiences, etc, but there seems to be a pre-existing predisposition. Like the feeling you got in your belly, kissing a girl for the first time after the boys that were missing something you couldn’t put your finger on. It’s hard to dispute that raw hardwiring, which is why I think that, if I had amnesia, the first girl I laid eyes on would confirm that I was indeed a lesbian!

  7. Mojave66 says:

    You know, all I’d have to do is check the mirror and I’d be all “hmmm, I look like a dyke. I must like girls.”

  8. April says:

    Anyone remember Willow? “…and I think I’m kinda gay…”

  9. sunicarus says:

    April~classic “Buffy” episode. Yes, I remember.

    If I had amnesia and ended up in a hospital, I think my gaydar (not unlike “sonar”, perhaps?) would lead me on and I would respond just like Willow. After that, I would eat my jello, request a copy of “Hot Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For” and hope that my physician was a woman…

  10. sunicarus says:

    Make that a single woman physician!

  11. sunicarus says:

    April and all….

    Ok Return to your deeper level of consciousness and academic discussions…



  12. sunicarus says:


    Hope this works…if not, check out YouTube.

    As you were…

  13. f.c.o.l. says:

    My ex-girlfriend lost her memory after a car accident and she was definately still a lesbian…a much more vocal, demanding, and complimentary lesbian than usual…in the ICU with me and her evangelical christian parents and a number of scandalized neurologists.

  14. Josiah says:

    Sunicarus, the YouTube link from the Buffy episode “Doppelgängland” is great, but I think that April was referring to the later episode “Tabula Rasa”, in which the Scooby gang get amnesia and even without remembering each other, Willow and Tara end up together. In that episode, the amnesiac Willow says the same line (“I think I’m kinda gay”) to Dawn, as she’s trying to figure out who she is.

  15. Ginjoint says:

    I like the way lurknolonger phrases it – the “feeling in the belly” and the “raw hardwiring.” That strikes true for me too. Somehow, my body feels different when I look at a woman versus a man, regardless of whether I think of her sexually or not. Something in me opens up more; and I’m too sleepy with wine to put it any more poetically than that. So yeah, I do think my sexuality would survive a conk on the head.

  16. Anne says:

    Wow Alison, thanks for putting it up, it’s so great to get responses! I did make this because when I came out I thought that if I had amnesia, my parents and other like-minded people of my entourage might actually not tell me, and I’d be back to sporting the “straight” jacket I’d been wearing for years. So I made lots of queer friends to make sure that didn’t happen (and parents do come around, given enough time).

    Even though I share all the feelings about being “hardwired” (and realize not everyone does), I do know that I lived the straight life for years, so for me it’s not about knowing or not (I knew as a teenager), it’s about the pressure not to be. But I thought that would make a depressing movie.

    I have to mention here that the other inspiration for this piece was the excellent movie The Red Squirrel (La Ardilla Roja), in which the main character has amnesia and is (seemingly) taken advantage of by a perfect stranger who witnessed the accident, and invents a past life for her with him as the boyfriend. Great film.

  17. meg says:

    not exactly in the same vein but somewhere in the circulatory system…Phineas Gage!

    also, in a much less drastic example, my mother’s partner, who is bipolar, is constantly on pysch meds – how much of his behavior is *him* and how much is the meds?

    My mom is currently on all sorts of meds (stage three breast cancer) and is recovering from the effects of chemo… there have been definite (though not drastic) changes in her presented personality and emotional affect throughout the process.

    Also, Lesh-Nyhan syndrome (see article in Aug 13th New Yorker) – fascinating and horrible.

    All the questions about what defines self, what is hardwired, and what is an effect of our environment, our past, or injuries/drugs…. curiouser and curiouser, sez Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

  18. Liza from pine street art works says:

    Hey, I knew Mocha Jean, one of the hospital buddies in the film. We were in grad school together but mostly we were cyber pals on the virtual salon, What fun to see her in the movie.

  19. kate says:

    meg–my mom’s gone through the same thing with chemo–it’s chemo brain–it’s weird because i know it’s her but the things she does/says sometimes aren’t her

    i’d like to think that my sense of who i am would kick in but weird things can happen with head injuries–personalities change, likes/dislikes change, etc.

    it would be nice to think i could find my true self but that’s a difficult thing even when you haven’t sustained a concussion

    but alison, what about you?

  20. Maggie Jochild says:

    I don’t think we’re born tabula rasa — we do emerge with personalities aside from the basic human traits of eagerness to learn, trust, love, enthusiasm, and joy. But I don’t believe these include gender, race, class, or sexual orientation, all of which are learned behaviors. I think it’s more generic than that.

    In 2001 as a result of anoxia during a long surgery, I had a cognitive insult, as they call it, affecting memory but also my “personality”. For four years after that I was in Actual Lives, Terry Galloway’s theater troupe for disabled adults (where my main disabilities did not include the cognitive insult — I recovered from that, mostly, in six months).

    Three of the other Actual Lives troupe members had TBI, traumatic brain injury, all of them as a result of someone driving drunk. It was a truism in that group, as well as the larger crip community, that after a severe head injury you revert to your “baseline” personality, less encumbered by social pressures and training.

    I don’t know if this is accurate. In my own case, while in the grips of my brain malfunction I was extremely docile, cooperative, sweet and patient. Some of that has endured since recovery, mostly as a choice on my part — you go through that I went through, you’re likely to start making different choices. Hope and kindness are good choices, I think.

    But in the case of one of my troupe members, what she was after her TBI was filled with rage, violent, and completely self-absorbed. Since she was a menace to be around, I never knew what realistic expectations to have of her. And she had become a born-again, which didn’t help reinforce decent behavior.

  21. stumptown SK says:

    aren’t we overlooking a sense of process here…?

    i mean, if ‘we’ loose our memories, our sense of identity, isn’t that the potential for the unfolding of the next piece of the process….?

    as folks write and i dream into what we each contribute here i notice i get really foggy, cloudy, start to imagine the teleological imaginings of meaning and becoming…

    these are deep questions – who or what are ‘we’?

    what makes me ‘me’ and why not be something else over the few years we get to be in this form?

    deep sharings

    great readings

    wonderful to be part of the discussion…
    thanks everyone

  22. Aunt Soozie says:

    I firmly believe that sexual orientation is a combination of what’s wired in and what one experiences and that the degree to which biology/experience is primary varies in each individual. I’m not aware of any evidence that sexual orientation is wholly learned behavior. (by sexual orientation I’m not meaning how one labels their self but what one is attracted to in another) Maggie, I’d like to hear/know more about what makes you draw that conclusion.

    It’d be hard to say sexual orientation is completely learned behavior when homosexuality is so reviled and discouraged… how could you explain someone being gay when the environment so clearly promotes being straight? What imperative would there be to be gay? How could so many people all have experiences that would “create” being gay versus being bi or hetero?? I worry about folks who ascribe to the “if you’re a lesbian you must have had a traumatic experience with a man” school of psychology. It can’t possibly be that simple or at least eighty percent of all adult women would be lesbians. No offense to my brothers intended…just the way it is guys. (and by “guys” I’m referring to my brothers)

    Also, I’m really fascinated by what is happening in…not the psychological or emotional realm but in our biochemical selves when we are attracted to another or when we “feel” love. I know it’s hard to tease it all out but aren’t we, after all, animals? Yeah, we self reflect and all that but are we so evolved that our noses are no longer involved?

    My paramour once said that you could think that you’re attracted to someone, to her mind, on the internet or even from a photo or on the telephone…but that until you give her a good sniff and share at least one kiss…you won’t know if you really want to spend the night. Uhm, the paramour might be a bit peeved if she knew that I just quoted her in such base terminology so let’s pretend that she said it much more eloquently…’kay? Okay. I’m finished now. Smell me.

  23. Duncan says:

    To say that I wasn’t born gay (and I know of no reason to suppose that I was) is not to say that I was born a “tabula rasa.” (A lot of people seem to go for this false dichotomy; maybe that tendency is inborn? 9-) Whatever, it’s invalid.) I wasn’t born a native English speaker, for example, but the capacity to learn a language was probably inborn. Yet English, for me, has a deep power that no other language I’ve studied since childhood does. Given the abundance of evidence that “sexual orientation” is not biologically determined, and that sexuality in all its wonderful complexity is learned, I see no reason to suppose that being gay is any different in that respect.

    Similarly, I’ve always been deeply stirred by males, but that doesn’t mean I was “hardwired” to do so. (“Hardwired” is another problem word. Despite its popularity in this computer age, human beings don’t have wires, we aren’t hardware, etc., etc.) By the time we reach puberty, we’re already heavily socialized, and I think the insistence that being gay is ‘not something we chose’, that we must have been ‘born this way,’ is of a piece with children’s blaming misbehavior on their imaginary playmates, except that for some of us, the imaginary playmate is our genes. To me that’s strong evidence that many of us continue to feel bad, on a very deep level, about loving our own sex, despite our protestations. (I’m still haunted by another gay man who spoke with me on a panel to a Social Work class. He kept saying how important it was to feel good about being gay, like he did; but when the nurture/nature question came up, I asked him how he’d respond if it were definitively proven that being gay is a choice. He said in that case, some therapist would make a lot of money helping him to unchoose it. The depths of pain in that answer still give me chills.)

    Those who think I’m being gratuitously negative about the whole “born gay” thing should take a look at the lesbian scientist Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book “Myths of Gender” (look for the 1992 paperback edition), which nicely shreds the pseudoscience around this issue.

    stumptown, “what makes me ‘me’ and why not be something else over the few years we get to be in this form?” I am not sure what you’re asking here. I’ve been strongly influenced by Buddhism and Taoism (though I’m neither a Buddhist nor a Taoist), mainly through the writings of Alan Watts. I don’t see “what makes me ‘me’?” as a meaningful question. I think that “I” is an illusion, that there is no self apart from the body, so that “the few years we get to be in this form” embodies a fundamental mistake. Apart from “this form,” I don’t exist. Or as Norman O. Brown put it, we are unique individuals not because we have immortal souls, but because we have mortal bodies. There is no “teleology” of the self: we weren’t put here, there is no reason why we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere because there’s nowhere to go. The world is round.

    Old Zen exchange: a disciple asks her teacher, “Mistress, what is my self?” The teacher replies, “What would you do with a self?”

  24. sunicarus says:

    Thanks, Josiah for the correction. Oy.

  25. Duncan says:

    Oh, dear. I’ll have to risk a “slow down, cowboy” message…

    Aunt Soozie, you’re relying on the same false dichotomy between “inborn” and “tabula rasa.” But I do think that “sexual orientation is completely learned behavior”, in the same way that native language (also a troublesome concept) is completely learned behavior, though it rests on a biological substrate of language capability. The more I’ve studied about the cultural meanings of language, including the neurotic obsessiveness that many people (including me) have about language “correctness”, the more I’m sure that language and “sexual orientation” are analogous in this respect. That doesn’t mean I think that anyone “teaches” us, or that our desires can be reduced to one event like “a bad experience with the opposite sex.”

    You write, “I’m not aware of any evidence that sexual orientation is wholly learned behavior.” Neither am I, but I am aware of evidence that it is primarily learned. The notorious twin studies of Michael Bailey, for example, indicate that “the environment” is overwhelmingly more influential than “the genes.” His most recent work for instance, shows that “the environment” trumps “genes” by three to one. (He used an Australian twin registry, and found that where one identical twin was gay, the other was gay only 20-25% of the time. There are all kind of methodological problems with his work, which make it even more doubtful.) No one knows how “the environment” affects sexual orientation, though, because no one has attempted to find out. The obsession with biological determinism in our culture and our science means that scientists keep looking for genetic factors and ignoring how “the environment” affects it.

    Then too, the “science” of sexual orientation is built on the most embarrassingly primitive notions of sex and gender. Bailey, again, assumes that the homosexual is the gender-nonconformist — the gay man as the woman’s soul trapped in a man’s body, and the lesbian vice versa — confusing sex/gender with what Freudians call “sexual object choice.” Apparently the male who mounts receptive males isn’t “homosexual,” even if he has no desire to mount females; the femme woman who loves butch women isn’t really “lesbian” either. And all the research purporting to prove a biological cause for sexual orientation makes the assumption that gay men are womanish, and lesbians mannish.

    The big trouble with your argument — the old “Would anyone choose a ‘lifestyle’ that causes them to be reviled, hated, persecuted, etc.?” thing — is that it can be applied to anything that’s socially disapproved. For instance, to pedophilia: obviously it must be inborn, probably genetically determined, because no one would choose to interact sexually with children when it’s “so reviled and discouraged.” But one could also use the same ‘logic’ to explain things like shoplifting, “interracial” marriage in a racist society, religious nonconformity, choosing not to marry, or to get divorced in societies where divorce is stigmatized, and so on and so on. Which is exactly why doctors have over the years explained all these things as biological, and not “choice.”

    The error you’re making, like so many other people, is confusing choice of a thing with the choice of the consequences that follow. For example, a woman doesn’t always “choose” to get pregnant — she may “choose” to have intercourse without contraception, for all kinds of reasons. (And of course, bigots love this confusion and resort to it in many ways: because I choose to punish you for your sin, you obviously chose the punishment I’m inflicting on you. It’s not my fault, it’s yours, because you chose it.)

  26. saramarie says:

    hmmmm – weird

  27. Maggie Jochild says:

    For me it’s a simple as knowing people who have switched sexual orientation and been happy with both choices — happy before they came out, happy going back in, whatever. They get overlooked, because we want it to be that a preference is driven by overwhelming factors (either biiology or oppression). But in many cultures before ours, and in quiet corners of ours, people simply change their minds about who they want to be most intimate with and, yes, who attracts them. And it’s not an “I’ve evolved into my true identity” proposition for them.

    Sexual attraction is learned: Not the fact that we will be sexually attracted at some point (that, like language, does seem to be a human predisposition) but what we find attractive. It changes from generation to generation, depends on class, race, gender conditioning, and a kajillion other factors. It simply couldn’t be that fluid if it encoded on genes somewhere.For example, I’ve never once thought a woman in the Miss American pageant was attractive, and I still Don’t Get It. Despite all the conditioning otherwise. I also never liked the look of GI Joe-types (still don’t). I have no interest in trying to change those values. But as a young adult, when I realized being around physically different/disabled people caused me discomfort, I set about changing it, altering my conditioning, until I reached the point where I find them as attractive as anyone else. Sometimes more (if you’re reading this Laura Hershey, you hottie, you).

    I personally believe the quantum leap in human consciousness occurred when, for reasons being argued about out there, we left behind “instinct” and inalterable genetic predisposition for the evolutionary advantage of making choices based on changing circumstances. Which includes, yes, reaching the point where we realize (at least on a spiritual level) that “free will” is also an illusion. I think it’s possible to embrace the chaos and at the same time embrace tikkum olam, g*d’s desire that we (not her) repair the world.

    But then, I have six planets in Leo. (grin)

  28. Maggie Jochild says:

    Oh, forgive me, I forgot to undue the italics HTML.

  29. Maggie Jochild says:

    Oh, CRAP, it’s still happening. Here , I’ll have one more try.

  30. Andrew B says:

    How’s this?

  31. Jana C.H. says:

    I generally say I’m bisexual because that’s the least complicated term, but the fact is I haven’t decided yet. I’m only fifty-three, don’t rush me!

    Jana C.H.
    Curiosity was framed. Ignorance killed the cat.

  32. Suzanonymous says:

    Um, I didn’t watch the movie, but here’s my two cents. I think if I got amnesia, as I regained memories, remembering people, and remembering how I felt about them, I’d remember my sexual attractions, too.

  33. Dr. Empirical says:

    I’m just home from the Harvey Awards and I’m sad to report that Alison didn’t win.

    Marvel’s Tom Brevoort butchered the pronounciation of her name when reading the nominations. In contrast, DC publisher Paul Levitz pronounced it perfectly when praising Fun Home as an example to the rest of us back in January.

    Just sayin’ is all…

    I’ll post a link to my writeup of the convention and awards dinner once I’ve written it. But first, to bed!

  34. Rinky says:

    I read and also heard on the radio about a guy who was described as the most amnesic person in the world. He could never remember what had happened more than about a minute before.
    One of the only things he remembered was his wife and how much he adored her. If she left the room then returned he would fall on his knees and say, “my darling, I’ve missed you so much, I’ve been in a coma or something but I’ve just woken up” He would do this again and again. He kept a diary in which he kept scribbling out previous entries and writing, “I have just woken up” He could also still play the piano

  35. Thanks for the Harvey report, Dr. E. Y’know, the Harvey Awards weren’t on my radar at all for some reason. I don’t think I even knew I was nominated for one. But now I’m all bummed out I didn’t win.

    Isn’t it odd how that works?

  36. Josiah says:

    Hey, folks — starting at midnight UTC (that’s 8:00 pm tonight Eastern time, 4:00 this afternoon Pacific time) Fun Home will be on the front page of the English Wikipedia as “Today’s featured article”. Happy birthday, Alison!

    (Sadly, the photo of Alison that the article used to have has been deleted, because it wasn’t freely licensed in the way that Wikipedia requires. If anyone has one they’d like to donate, contact me on my Wikipedia user talk page and I’ll explain all the legal gobbledygook.)

  37. Duncan says:

    Maggie Jochild, I agree with most of what you said. I don’t think of people changing their “sexual orientation,” though, because I don’t believe there is such a thing. And I’m not clear about the examples you give: for instance, “going back in” (to the closet?) would not be a change of “sexual orientation” by any criterion I know of. Bisexual people wouldn’t experience dating a woman today, a man next week, as a change of “orientation” either.

    Still, I do agree that sexual attractions are not genetically determined. I count myself lucky to have come of age in the late 60s and early 70s when Kinsey was a big influence on the gay movement, and no one I knew was much concerned about why we were gay. It made it easy for me to grasp early on that sexual attractions aren’t rational, and therefore not really questionable (though acting on them can be): if I’m attracted to men, or to blonds, or to skinny people or plump people, that’s not because such people are somehow morally superior to the ones I’m not attracted to. And a lot of people — gay, straight and bi — do try to rationalize their sexuality in such a way.

    What’s this, though, about “I think it’s possible to embrace the chaos and at the same time embrace tikkum olam, g*d’s desire that we (not her) repair the world.” The world is too big for us to repair. Miss God needs to stop dodging her responsibilities and get to work.

  38. Maggie Jochild says:

    You cracked me up with that last line, Duncan. I could almost hear the snap.

    I tend to think of what is “broken” about the world as the portions which we’ve mucked up. Yes, death and loss in all its forms breaks our hearts (as well I know) but that’s a given, part of nature or g*d’s will or however you want to define it. However, I don’t see the destructive aspects of human behavior as “natural” or “inevitable”. Damage can be undone. And that, I think, is up to us alone.

    I became a dyke (as we reclaimed and defined the word) in the same era, but a lot of us were under the illusion of moral superiority. So many of us “came out” (made a new kind of rational decision about our sexuality) at the same time, it seemed like we were a cresting wave of truth and reality. I can see that other generations suffer from this delusion as well, yet ours was particularly well-populated. So I’ve had to un-do that conviction of “Feminism is the theory, Lesbianism is the practice” — at least in terms of judging others.

    I use the phrase sexual preference instead of sexual orientation, when given the option. I claim my sexual and emotional proclivity as a choice (as much as my gender, my class, my race — even my physical ability, at least in terms of self-image). I think my/our preference should be soundly defended as such. To me, all other positions (I was born this way, I can’t help it) feels like powerlessness in the face of oppressive conformity. That’s my narrative, anyhow.

    On another note — Josiah, Pam Isherwood on this list has a great portrait of Alison (at her website, check the link at Maoist Orange Cake) that she might be willing to lend to the Wikipedia page. Pam, are you here, honey? Josiah, you can track her down via her e-mail at her website.

  39. Dr. Empirical says:

    Sorry to be the one to bum you out, Alison. If it helps, the Eisners are MUCH more prestigious than the Harveys. So you won the Oscar, but missed the Golden Globes.

    My con report is up at

    DTWOF Blog readers should be warned, though, that it contains no Bechdel content and no cosplay pictures. It’s really only of interest to comic book geeks like myself.

    Still, go ahead and click on it. The more hits I get, the more things I can get into for free just by promising to write about them afterward.

  40. April says:

    “So I’ve had to un-do that conviction of “Feminism is the theory, Lesbianism is the practice” — at least in terms of judging others.” Sadly Maggie I have to agree.

    I have always, rightly or wrongly, felt a large degree of moral superiority over choosing my lesbianism – big feminist choice standing right over here! Tangentially, how would my sexual object choice be affected by amnesia? I’ve spent so long deconstructing and reconstructing my conditioned attractions, what if I forgot all that? Would I still love my lover? Woo scary…

    Back on track, yes the moral/political choice thing. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a big ol’ dyke when I grew up. True. But I didn’t think I was worthy, you had to be someone pretty special, and earn it… When the wind is in the west, I still believe lesbians are just *better*, based almost solely on this momentous and amazing characteristic they share with me (ego tips her hat and smirks).

    But when the wind changes I remember that some dykes betray other women, some dykes are capitalist running dogs, some dykes (gasp) aren’t even feminist! I have yet to understand how to live in that world. Blinkers back on…

    So, while I am still staunch, little irritating voices keep reminding me that the Lavender Menace might just consist of …me. 🙁

  41. Vanlibris says:

    Duly clicked, Dr. Empirical!

    I got a lot of nature vs. nurture questions when I married a man after being a self-avowed lesbian for 20 years. Many people assumed I’d “overcome” some traumatic experience, “changed my mind” or some other nonsense. Soon I gave up trying to explain sexual orientation, especially when my husband pointed out that no one was trying to get him to explain how he knew he was hetero. Now when people ask me what I think about nature vs. nurture, I shamelessly steal Alison’s answer about the nature of this blog: “I have no freakin’ idea.”

    There is cognitive research that indicates that many learned skills have both physical and psychological components – feelings of love/attraction/lust are also electro-chemical brain firings, after all. So I think the amnesiac would probably still play the piano, be able to ride a bike, and still be able to fall off the bike as they were overwhelmed by the sight/sound/smell of a gorgeous woman.

  42. liza from pine street art works says:

    Josia, I couldn’t figure out how to contact you on your wikapedia link, but feel free to use a picture of AB from my website Just please give me photo credit.

  43. John from Austin. says:

    Really great flick. Yea! Wheatsville!

    Have fun with the subjectivity. Ultimately physical science is unable to study it. It can only study physical correlates and external behaviors, not the actual underlying experience. Even if, someday, technology enables someone to decode all of my thoughts and sensations as they are happening – would they really know what my experience of them was like? Even if we could hardwire our brains together so you “experience” them, you would experience what it was like for *you* to experience them, not what it was like for *me*.

    Even in the example someone left about the “induction” of feelings of love, the experiment still relied on a subjective interpreter – the subject of the experiment – to report whether they felt in love or not. If they don’t do that then they aren’t studying love – they’re studying chemistry and behavior. If you behave like you’re in love and you smell like you’re in love are you automatically in love?

    So, we have to have “soft” science for this kind of thing. Introspection. Psychology, Sociology, Cultural Anthropology – and the not so scientific – spirituality & art.

    My favorite writer on the subject is Ken Wilber – of course he’s one of my favorite writers on just about every subject so go figure.

    I’m neighbors with a certain Cowgirl in Austin. I wonder if she knows Gretchen?

    Love your work and someday I *am* going to buy one of those originals.


  44. Montrealais says:

    Hey Alison! The article on Fun Home is the featured article on the front page of Wikipedia today: ; .

  45. dna says:

    Hey guess what! “Fun Home,” is today’s featured article on Wikipedia!

  46. Josiah says:

    Yep, DNA — I did that as a birthday present for Alison. 🙂

  47. dna says:

    Oh, well in that case, HAPPY BIRTHDAY Alison! 🙂

  48. Deena in OR says:

    Dr. Emprical-thanks for the link! Having just spent last weekend chaperoning my teen daughter at an anime/manga convention, I’m *relieved* that there are no cosplay shots. I’ve seen enough Lolitas to last me a good long while. Although it is a major stitch to see straight teenage boys in Lolita drag…

  49. kate says:

    i just saw that on wiki too! happy birthday ab!

  50. Brunswick says:

    “I got you chocolates.”
    “I got you a card.”
    “I exposed your work to millions of casual Wiki browsers.”
    (brief silence)
    “It’s a very nice card.”

  51. Duncan says:

    Maggie, I agree that people should take responsibility for what we’ve “mucked up.” But so should gods, assuming they existed in the first place. I’m an atheist, so 1) I don’t really expect gods to do anything, since they don’t exist; and 2) I also believe there are things we can’t repair, parts of the world beyond our control. And c) I don’t believe that appeals to gods help make things better.

    I use the term “sexual preference” often, just because it enrages so many middle-of-the-road queers. It does not imply “choice,” as you seem to think. Think of the 1981 Kinsey Institute study Sexual Preference by Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith, which argued that ‘sexual preference’ is heavily biologically influenced. If, as so many people believe, “sexual orientation” really implied something inborn, then we should not use the term because we don’t know whether it’s inborn or not, but as I’ve pointed out before, the evidence we have now indicates that it isn’t.

    Vanlibris, “There is cognitive research that indicates that many learned skills have both physical and psychological components – feelings of love/attraction/lust are also electro-chemical brain firings, after all.” I love that word “indicates,” which qualifies the claim but which most people will ignore. But even dividing “physical and psychological components” is misleading. To return to my earlier example, language has both “physical and psychological components” — we could not learn language if we didn’t have the physiology to do it. But which language we learn isn’t even “psychological”: it’s cultural / historical. “Feelings of love/attraction/lust are also electro-chemical brain firings” — of course, but the causation works both ways: feelings of lust produce changes in the rest of the body. The one-way determinist model just doesn’t work.

    I must say, I’m looking forward to reading Alison’s next memoir; it sounds like it’ll be as intellectually stimulating (in addition to entertaining and emotionally moving) as her earlier works, and I’ll be very interested in seeing what she has to say.

  52. shadocat says:

    I’ve been reading the comments with interest; I wasn’t going to comment myself because I’m really not up for a debate, an arguement or anything else. But I feel compelled to put my own two cents in—I don’t have any statistics, or articles, or important writers to quote. I just have my own story.

    From puberty on, I tried VERY hard to make myself “straight”. I wanted a family, and in the world I grew up in (I was born in 1955) one needed a husband to do that. I dated males, and yes, I was quite fond of a couple of them. I got married to a man, and despite our many troubles, I can honestly say I loved him. I had two wonderful daughters. But something was missing, something had always been missing. I went to therapy, marraige encounters, you name it. The “something missing” was a relationship with a woman. If I add all the years I dated men with the years I was married, I have some 30+ years of trying with all my heart and soul to be straight. But it just didn’t take.

    When I finally admitted to myself that I was lesbian, it was if the weight of the ages just fell off my shoulders. It really WAS like going from black and white to technicolor. This is who I am, who I was born to be. I don’t feel any weakness or submission in saying that yes, I think I was born this way. I didn’t “choose” to be gay; but I do believe that gay chose me.

  53. shadocat says:

    Katie–are the italics something new? Or is there a problem?

  54. Aunt Soozie says:

    Oy Duncan…send me a bibliography.
    The evidence you have states definitively that sexual preference is wholly learned behavior? There’s no biology going on in there at all? No chance that some people have a predisposition to land in a certain spot on the Kinsey scale?

    Sexual orientation is far from black and white…it’s fluid…and what is expressed can shift over an individual’s lifetime. If you look at the population as a whole people do fall at different places on the scale…and why do they land there? Well… I’m not making an argument based on a dichotomy between nature and nurture…I’m firmly a biopsychosocial constructionist.

    The development of language and the development of sexuality are not one in the same. I like the construction of your argument because it seems so clear and basic. But it doesn’t hold up.

    Yes, we learn the language we are taught. Most of us are born with similar abilities to acquire language and if we are lucky we have a mouth, a tongue, lungs, vocal chords. No matter where you’re born you get the same instrument. But what language you learn is based wholly on what you are exposed to, taught. Human sexual development is far more complex than that example. For starters, there are far more variations in what we start out with even on a physiological basis. So much interaction is involved in terms of biology, culture and psychology.

    There is no hard clear evidence that there is no genetic predisposition that places some people more towards one side of the Kinsey scale than the other. There just isn’t any hard evidence that states that some people aren’t born more inclined to be transgendered…or homosexual…or heterosexual. In the case of development of a sexual self; biology, culture and psychology are all active, determining components. In some people one factor may have more impact or influence than in others.

    Are you saying we are all born bisexual and it is solely experience that determines our sexual preference? Again, show me the studies…gimme references. You yourself stated that the twin study is problematic. Well, actually, I must confess…I would read them but I’m certain enough about taking a holistic approach here that I’d probably find ways to take issue with a study that would purport to “prove” that there is no component of biology in the development or what or who sets one’s pulse racing.

    Yes, we choose how we behave and what we label ourselves.
    But who we are attracted to is about more than choice.
    Are you aware of the research that shows that infants are more attracted to faces that are symmetrical? This is an inborn phenomenon. The Monell Institute did some research showing that newborns took a bottle more vigorously when it was given by their biological mothers or by someone holding a pad that the mother had worn in her armpit…so, it smelled like Mama. Is this learned or biology? Isn’t how we respond while eating…and smelling…more akin to sexual development than is language acquisition?

    On one hand you seem to be making an argument for a holistic approach but then you lean to a limited social constructionist view of human sexual development. I’m not saying homosexuality is NOT a “choice” for some people or that our sexual development isn’t greatly influenced by our early experience. I am saying that biology is active in the mix and cannot be ignored.

    Unlike you who is disheartened with what you see as an overly scientific approach to explaining humanity I come out of a discipline that was skewed in the opposite direction…where mothers were “blamed” for “creating” schizophrenics. Though I also cringe when I hear people saying things like, how could he have become a murderer? He had such a wonderful family life. Or “he was born a bad seed” that’s why he became a criminal. I don’t think anyone is “born” a murderer or a bad seed and I don’t believe anyone who is in prison for murder had a wonderful nurturing healthy comfortable upbringing where their needs were adequately met.

    You may be born predisposed to depression or with deficits that lead you to have a lower frustration tolerance. You may be born more likely to take a risk than the next person or more shy…these things we know. I believe we will find, in the future, more genetic “wiring” that is related to personality. Though what becomes of that package we are born with is shaped by environment/experience.

    Are you taking a stance based on your politics? Because you want to piss off those young queers? I’m not about the politics of whether gayness is inborn or chosen. I don’t care either way from a political point of view. The folks who hate us could find a way to use either against us.

    I used “sexual preference” and “lover” when I came out and now i say “sexual orientation” and “partner” (or of course, paramour) but I’m not attached to those particular labels. (I’m also one of the girls who used “guys” when speaking to groups of females…so, maybe I was born with a “fucked up politically correct language gene”)

    Can someone, like Maggie, condition themselves to be attracted to certain people to the exclusion of others? That is possible for some people but not all people. Likewise, can one be “healed” of their homosexuality? Can they actively choose to be straight?

    If you are in the middle of the Kinsey scale you may choose to act on your hetero leanings because, hey, it’s just easier that way. If you are on the far end of the scale, can you choose to become attracted to the opposite sex? If you really, really, wanna be straight?? Maybe, some people can do that but most can’t. That isn’t a “choice” in the traditional sense. Whatever combination of biology, sociology and psychology makes us what we are is a bit more fused than that by the time we’re adults.

    Can people change? Yeah, but only incrementally…we can become more aware of what drives us and therefore learn to respond differently…but, it’s challenging work for the best of us. We’re not built for extreme evolution in one lifetime…sorry…though we can always aspire to more.

  55. Butch Fatale says:

    Back to the Buffy — You’re both right!

    In Doppelgängerland, Willow says it referring to her doppelgänger vampire from an alternate dimension. In Tabula Rasa, she says it to Dawn about herself when they’re trying to figure out who they all are.

  56. Dr. Empirical says:

    Trying to turn off the italics.

  57. Dr. Empirical says:

    How strange. Trying again.

    I haven’t studies issues of sexual orientation directly, but as a neuroscientist I’ve read widely on neurobehavioral development, and the most impressive thing I’ve learned is how little we know.

    Human beings differ wildly as individuals, and an influence that one person would shrug off could be the defining moment of another’s life. The same influence can shape an individual’s behavior in different directions. The extent to which nature and nurture influence a person’s sexuality probably also varies wildly among individuals.

    Even if we could find out how an individual gene, or experience affected A Person, it stil wouldn’t help us learn how it affects People.

  58. Josiah says:

    Yeah, Butch — I didn’t mean to suggest that Sunicarus was wrong, just that the “Tabula Rasa” use of the line was more apposite to the amnesia discussion.

    That said, the whole “vampire doppelgänger” thing is tangentially related to the “nature vs. nurture” discussion that’s currently going on. If you became a soulless bloodsucker with no moral restraint, would it alter your sexual tendencies? In the “Buffyverse”, it’s clear that vampires (with or without souls) have sexual orientation or preference, which is based on the sexual orientation or preference of the original human; but how realistic is this? (Yeah, I know that I’m talking about “realism” with regard to vampires. So sue me.) If the process of becoming a vampire removes the cultural constraints against murder and cannibalism, what about the cultural constraints which push us towards specific sexual preferences? It’s worth noting that Vampire Willow was “out” a few years before actual Willow was…

  59. shadocat says:

    Does it really matter HOW we got to be who we are sexually? In my opinion, it does not. I’m willing to accept the possibility that some were influence. that some may have been this way since they were wee little eggs in the ovary, and yes, that some even may choose…the important thing is, that we have the same legal rights as the majority has; to marry (or not) if we want;to not be fired or evicted for our sexuality or for who we choose to love.

    I want to work for a world where I can put a rainbow sticker on my windshield, and not be run off the road. I want to be able to say “my girlfriend and I went to the Westport Art Fest last week-end” and not be fired for it; I want to be able to legally marry the woman I love; I want my daughter and her partner to be able to adopt a child; I want to be able to kiss my sweetheart goodbye at the airport without having to go in the bathroom to do it. because I’m afraid of what the luddites will do to us. I want to work for a world like that. That’s what important.

    Heterosexuals don’t have to prove why they have that “orientation” or “preference” to get the legal respect and the privleges they have in this society; why do we feel
    we need to find the reason for why we are the way we are to have the same?

  60. shadocat says:

    sorry for the typos (talk about you luddites!) “some were influenced,” there are probably others, but I think I’m due for some tri-focals, and I can’t see ’em…

  61. Dr. Empirical says:

    Well said, shadowcat, typos and all. So many of us spend so much time dividing themselves into Shoe-ites and Gourd-ites that we lose sight of the real issues.

  62. Narculter says:

    Fascinating discussion.

    I’m a straight guy. Just wanted to say that when Duncan (above) says that he would “have no idea how to play the dating / courtship games heterosexuals play”, it probably wouldn’t be the major handicap that he suggests. Surely it’s clear that the vast majority of heterosexual men, myself included, don’t understand them either?

  63. Katie says:

    Hi Shadocat,

    I think someone didn’t quite close their italics html tag. I’ll see what I can do.

  64. Chewy says:

    Um, I forget.

  65. little gator says:

    ONce upon a time I pointed out to Mr. Gator that the car in front of us indicated by its bumper stickers that the car’s owners were female, bi, Wiccan and pagan, or at least very friendly to all such beings.

    We gto giggly singing “LesBiGay witches” to the tune of “Waltzing Matilda.”

    I have no point here. I just liked the song.

  66. Josiah says:

    It could be witches;
    Some evil witches;
    Which is ridiculous ’cause witches they were persecuted Wicca good and love the earth and woman power and I’ll be over here.

  67. That Fuzzy Bastard says:


    Okay, now this is a subject I know something about: Was lesbian Willow really out? She seemed to have some erotic charge with human Willow, but that might have just been general Evil Sexual Menace. As I recall, she was all over vampire Xander. Human Willow did find her “kinda gay”, but I don’t think that makes her out.

    Glad to get this discussion back to things that *really* matter!

  68. Maggie Jochild says:

    Hiya, Shado — yr right, in one big scheme of things, with regard to the reasons why we have a sexual preference/orientation/ickiness factor — to quote Bill Murray in “Meatballs”, “It just doesn’t matter.”

    It doesn’t matter to our own personal narratives, and everybody’s personal narrative is expert and perfect for her.

    But in terms of political activism, it takes on a different meaning. I’m all for you having all those options you mentioned. I’m also all for folks who don’t want any of it for themselves. But heterosexuality as a template is still assumed to be “biologically normal” and predetermined when it occurs, and that’s the real problem.

    Just to respond to two of your points, Aunt Soozie: I don’t see or understand transgender as a third alternative to homosexual or heterosexual, and I hate seeing orientation/preference/I.F. conflated with definitions of gender. When I was coming out to someone else at 14, my first lover, we read an article in some trashy rag (I seem to remember it as Coronet Magazine) which stated in order to be Lesbian, one of us would have to get a sex change. It was the era of Christine Jorgenson. We argued all summer long about which one of us would have to give up orgasms and life as a woman in order for us to be together. It was seriously traumatic for me. A year later, we got our first piece of feminist reading material which reassured us our attraction to one another had NOTHING to do with our gender expression. Given the current hype of masculine vs. feminine and increasingly rigid definitions of gender, I fear for girls now who may be receiving the same incorrect information we did as young Lesbians.

    Second, I have known a few people who have “gone straight” despite having been very, very gay or Lesbian before. I have chosen to believe this works for them, and in their happiness, despite how much it contradicts my own world view. (The one I DON’T believe is an ex, but there’s other factors at play there…) The one variable I can identify in all their successful “conversions” is that they did it freely, not under coercion and not with any more shame than we all feel being queer in this culture. They did it seeking joy, not normalcy. It’s definitely not something I’ll ever do, but maybe that’s because I’m stubborn, not because I’m a Kinsey 6.

  69. Ally says:

    I think there is a spectrum of the way people arrive at their practice of sexuality. On one end beng sexual preference (stressing choice) the other end being sexual proclivity (stressing innateness). I think all people fall on this band anywhere from the “I knew I was queer in preschool” to those that weigh all their options before and have as many experiences before they choose to live as a lesbian (or bi/gay/trans what have you).

    I am definately in the middle somewhere closer to the choice end of the spectrum. While I love lesbians and queer culture and have always been drawn to the “badness,” the subversiveness of the movement, and also the intellegence and passion of feminism and queer theory, I also think that this does not a lesbian make. I have always loved the CULTURE of queer people. when it came to my own love life, out of respect to those who were adamantly living as who they are, I really needed to question myself and to search the world to find out who was right for me. I have had several people come into my life that I have seriously considered. The love of my life happened to be a woman. Part of this was the descision that being with her was a level playing field in terms of gender and that as a woman, there were some (certainly not many) shortcuts to understanding each other fundamentally. Part of this was also wanting to be part of the gay community. Part of it was also knowing on a deep level she was the right one for me. She will tell you that she falls in love with a person not a body.

    I also know that this attitude is probably a product of my generation (I am 25). I had the freedom to choose who I wanted to be with. My family accepts me. Those that came out under much more severe cercumstances had to claim their identity with force against those they knew and loved.

    I think there is room for those that choose to be lgbtq and those that are because they don’t have a choice.

  70. Aunt Soozie says:

    Ally…I agree with you.

    Sorry…I didn’t mean to imply that there are three categories, gay, straight, trans. Certainly, one’s gender identity doesn’t determine their sexual orientation and I’m aware that trans is not a sexual orientation.

    I think I was being deliberately provocative throwing that in there. I was thinking, well, gee, if being gay is a choice…what about folks who identify as transgendered? Do you and/or Duncan believe that is a choice as well? Is that a product of their environment or is that about biology?

    So, yeah, I was opening up a can of worms there…which is, I think… an even worse indictment than being goofy enough to think there are three categories, gay, straight and tranny. I’m more off than you thought.

    I wonder about the whole “gone straight” thing. I mean, perhaps those were people who were more or less bi to begin with? And as Ally said above, you could be drawn to the queer community even if you are bi. You could live as a lesbian and be bi.

    I have always said that even if I was sleeping with a man I’d still be a lesbian. I think you know what I mean by that…so, it’s about more than who you are having sex with…doncha think? that identification ? Our ways of defining ourselves and labeling ourselves?

    That’s a different thing than who, on a very primitive level, we are drawn to…I think that stuff is deeper and more around our animal biology and our early psychological life. (oh, but I made that point already) I would think that very few human beings make their choice of sexual partner in the logic centers of their brains or due to political leanings. I’m not saying no one does…just that it’s a minority.

  71. Lydia says:

    Anybody ever see that DYKE TV faux commercial:
    “Lesbianism: what a beautiful choice”

    It was made right around the time there was a big pro-life ad campaign about ‘motherhood: what a beautiful choice’.

    Good stuff.

  72. Josiah says:

    Aunt Soozie, you say “even if I was sleeping with a man I’d still be a lesbian.” I do know what you mean by that, because of my experience with an ex-girlfriend who said “I may be bi, but I’m still a dyke.” She’s now married to a man, and still calls herself a dyke. (She had several relationships with women before her time with me, and between me and her husband.)

    And Fuzzy Bastard: you make a good point. I probably would have to watch “The Wish” and “Doppelgängland” again before making a definitive statement on how “out” vamp Willow was.

    Personally, I thought that Willow’s relationship with Oz was real enough that she could have defined herself as bi instead of “hello, gay now”, but I understand why the writers decided not to go there — having a lesbian character was risky enough at that time. Making her identify as bisexual could have been seen as backing out of their commitment, even though it made more sense with the character’s history. (For the record: loved Willow with Oz, loved Willow with Tara. Hated Willow with Kennedy.)

  73. Dr. Empirical says:

    I found the “Hello, gay now!” line rather jarring. Wasn’t she gay before, even if she didn’t realize it?

    But yes, the Willow/Kennedy thing was just gratuitous titilation. As a member of the target demographic for gratuitous titilation, I felt insulted.

  74. Aunt Soozie says:

    Loved your wiki entries on AB and Fun Home…nice work.
    I’ve never indulged in Buffy but y’all make it sound fun and cultish. I’ve been watching the Logo Channel, their big gay sketch comedy show. I’ve watched those little lego people on Logo a couple of times…pretty amusing…no vampires there though…yet. Still awaiting the new season of L Word… wonder if that’ll be worth watching? I heard that Logo was negotiating with Alison to do a live action version of dtwof next year to compete head to head with L Word…okay, no I didn’t hear that…I just made it up.

  75. Samia from Bangladesh says:

    The past few postings on this blog and the comments they’ve generated have been very engrossing. Just wanted to say that I learn a lot from all the thoughts, opinions, musings and discussions.

    Alison, thanks for creating a space which I can visit for food for thought and much sustenance. Sorry about wishing you weeks earlier for your birthday and I hope you’ve had a good one!

  76. April says:

    So amazed to hear your story, eerily parallel to my own. Yes I often wonder in a Buffy alternate universe (staying on topic) where I was not so socially & politically free/well supported in my community, would I be strong and defiant enough to still be queer? And more importantly, would I get to have a vampire GF in scarlet leather? 😉

    Yes Dr Empirical I too was insulted by the gratuitous tongue-piercing references. Still, Iyari Limon is a pretty grouse sheila (translation: swell gal)

    But I get the “Gay now!” thing. To me it’s cultural. I think there’s a huge trend in autobiographic revisionism in the light of our gayness, eg. “oh yeah, my close friendships were really crushes.” Retrospection like that can be false. While I’d like to think I was always gay, I don’t know if that’s genuine or meaningful. Anyway, what good would it do me age 7 or whatever?

  77. Aunt Soozie says:

    Maybe we should do a version of queer eye for the straight guy where lesbians assist straight guys in…oh, gee, nevermind…
    Dr. E,
    Maybe you and I should apply for a grant to do some research together? Or we could just get together and jam sometime…or build some musical instruments or invite Riotllama and build bat hotels…
    There was something I wanted to propose to you, too…I can’t remember what?
    Alison’s bloggers,
    No matter how hard I try to not be an overly frequent flyer here and blather on…y’all just inspire me. and did all y’all folks notice how I integrated something new recently?

  78. That Fuzzy Bastard says:

    Yeah, Kennedy was horrid. I don’t think Dr. Empirical is right that is was gratuitous titillation—I think the writers just wanted to give Willow a new girlfriend (they, too, can’t bear to see her sad) and didn’t have the time to write her in an interesting way. The ep where Willow turns into Warren almost made me like Kennedy, though. Almost.

    And yes, I agree that “gay now” seems to elide what was seemingly a real, loving relationship with Oz (we’ll put Xander in the category of childhood-friendship, just for the sake of argument). I think you’re right that the writers were just reluctant to wade into the political minefield of bisexuality, especially as the series was wrapping up; an understandable decision, but one that did some violence to the character’s history and identity.

    We now return you to discussing, like, actual life…

  79. ksbel6 says:

    It seems to me the best comparison of nature vs. nuture would be with the left handed population, not with language development. And people are definitely born left handed. Of course, they can be forced to be right handed if their culture demands it. Only, they suffer major depression and possibly language problems because of the forced change. Seems pretty straight forward to me, people are born gay. Some of them are able to overcome their situation and fit in with the straight poplulation (althought they never quite feel right) and some are not.

  80. shadocat says:

    Ksbel6, I think you’ve nailed it with the left-handed comparison! Forcing myself/being forced to live a straight life not only made me miserable, it made me clinically depressed, and I’m convinced caused a major anxiety disorder that has since subsided (but never totally went away). Strangely enough, when I told therapists about my “thoughts” regarding women, the thoughts were just blown off with a “everyone has fantasies” comment each and every time. Of course, once I started life as my one true self, these problems didn’t magically go away. But they got a helluva lot better.

  81. Josiah says:

    Aunt Soozie: well done on incorporating “y’all” into your active vocabulary. See, the South does have positive things to contribute to the culture at large! 🙂

  82. stumptown SK says:

    thanks so much Aunt Soozie, Josiah, Shadocat, ksbel6, ally, Duncah, Samia, Lydia, Maggie, Fuzzy Bastard and Alison for the blog/space,

    Feeling also into the ‘ones who are not present’ and the ones who are not on screen. All of us finding our way/s and all of us who cannot yet find our way/s.

    Also thinking of the therapists who have done and continue to do such terrible work, the educators, politicians, media who have done and continue to do such terrible work…… and appreciating this site, and other forums where issues are aired, marginal momentarily becomes mainstream and generations change paradigms and cultures.

    These are huge topics that get deepened on this site, I am touched beyond words that we go so far together. our participant-facilitation skills are awesome. brilliant.

    thanks everyone and especially Alison for opening things up and hosting us all.

  83. April says:

    To me the obvious metaphor has always been religion (it’s ok to be Catholic as long as you don’t practise it… tee hee).

    No, but really, we are born with an inate spiritual/sexual capacity, whatever’s available culturally can shape that into a particular, let’s say, *lifestyle* (getting on tricky ground here), but some people are happy with their parents’ religion and some aren’t. Some convert, some seek, some are utterly atheistic, some make up their own. What’s the issue is that, whather you characterise is as nature/nurture or choice, whether rational or emotional, it’s a huge part of your existence which gives you a lot of meaning and pleasure and you wouldn’t want somebody to take it away.

    What makes some people bold revolutionaries and others snivelling collaborationists? (Gee, did AB touch on that sometime?) I guess we’ll never know…

  84. asrai says:

    A question i’m hoping one of you extremely knowledgeable dtwof readers would be kind enough to answer for me – i am trying to find the image of the dtwof gang around a pinball machine, does anyone know where this appeared? I have a distinct recollection of it and thought it was in ‘The Indelible,’ but cannot seem to find it and am starting to wonder if I halluncinated the whole thing…

  85. David in Cambridge says:

    asrai: The one where Mo’s playing “Slick Chick” while Stuart bites his nails, Sparrow vamps in spaghetti straps with a cigarette holder, and Carlos, Lois and Ginger hang around looking like hardened cruise-bar types?

    I’m pretty sure I got my JPG of that image from AB’s old web site. Perhaps you can wheedle her into reposting it.

  86. Lydia says:


    that’s an interesting notion you’ve posted, that we are born with innate spirituality. I’ve always thought of religion/spirituality as exclusively culturally induced whereas I’ve thought of sexual orientation as having both biological and culteral motivators. I think my notion of sexual orientation is pretty mainstream, but what of spirituality? Am I unusual in thinking that there is no biological component to spirituality? Or is April the one thinking outside the box?

    Appreciating input on this matter, the unexamined life being not worth living, etc…

  87. JesterJen says:

    I haven’t time to read the entire thread so sorry if it’s already been stated: cute film. Amnesiac=aphrodesiac who knew? I don’t think I’d be as forgiving if the person who I believed to have been my partner turned around and said essentially, “btw, I lied and took advantage of your medical condition to get into your pants and horn in on your life despite your having second thoughts about just like before my head injury”. Of course, it was done much less run-on-sentency in the film…

  88. Jana C.H. says:

    Re: Biological spirituality. I’ve read some interesting studies on this, though I have nothing to quote right at hand. It appears that people whose brains are more likely to have a type of temporal lobe epilepsy are more likely to have strong spiritual feelings than people whose temporal lobes are quieter. Forgive my non-technical langauge; I’m a geographer, not a neurologist.

    Considering the vast numbers of people with some kind of spiritual or religious feeling, It looks like it’s us quiet-lobes who are the oddballs. In twenty-five years as a Neo-pagan I never so much as felt a vibe, and it wasn’t for lack of hoping. I finally allowed my innate skepticism free rein and turned full atheist eight or nine years back. I think that’s why I empathize so much with the new tough-minded Sparrow.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Siddartha Gautama: Believe nothing on the faith of traditions, even though they have been held in honor for many generations. Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it. Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past. Do not believe what you yourself have imagined, persuading yourself that a God inspires you. Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters or priests. After examination, believe what you yourself have tested and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

  89. April says:

    That’s my favourite religious quote of all time, Jana.

    I didn’t necessarily mean to imply that spirituality is biological, rather that the capacity to religiously appreciate the world is a function of our innate intelligence, which can manifest in myriad ways. Calling our feelings/experiences of oneness “God/dess” is a cultural construct certainly. I just find it a useful metaphor for sexuality in many different ways, chief amongst them being the moral choice/biological imprint/childhood experiences assumption which passively runs through all our discourse.

    Plus the compulsory nature of it. It’s assumed that you have a sex life/religion or at least want one. Atheists and celibates alike are viewed with incomprehension and hostility.

    Hey, lapsed Neo-Pagan here too! Magic is fun but very very unproductive…

  90. Jana C.H. says:

    April– It appears to me that our capacity for religion is more a function of our emotions than of our intelligence. At least that seems to be the case these days, when the power of religion to explain how nature works (as in, “Why does the sun shine?”) has been usurped by science. I always think of the Buddha quotation as a scientific quote, not a religious one.

    Atheists and celebates! Nobody understands us! But at least ceilbacy is not taken as a sure sign of moral turpitude, merely of social inadequacy.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Dalai Lama: I have often said that if science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understanding, Buddhism must change accordingly. We should always adopt a view that accords with the facts.

  91. April says:

    Ah, this is the time for me to drag out the old chestnuts about magic being science you can’t explain and science being the magic you can, or how about there are no pure facts, just unexplored value systems. (Well at least science is *trying* to find the Truth, not claiming it’s already there…)

    But instead I’ll focus on the practical. With religion, my view is that “the invisible and the non-existent look exactly the same”. My view on sexuality’s “causes” is pretty much the same. W-A-A-A-Y too much effort is expended arguing over how someone *gets* queer, and not nearly enough effort goes into working out what to *do* about it.

    I’m reasonably certain someone else could put that more eloquently than me. 🙂

  92. Maggie Jochild says:

    After 30 years as a happy atheist, I am, for the last 8 or 9, an intermittent and reluctant deist. Skeptical doesn’t begin to express it, some days. Maybe it’s just one lobe of my brain talking to another lobe. But I’m no more “spiritual” than I was before beginning to have some kind of faith, and certainly no more religious — I study religion for ideas and meaning, not membership possibility.

    Seems like every human culture that’s ever existed has invented g*d(s). And not just to explain what science explains now. I see the hunger/tendency to seek g*d as a yearning for comfort, to meet an emotional need, not an intellectual one. To assure us death is not a complete end of spirit, to create meaning from suffering, or just to lean on something besides our own internal resources. I think the methods used by atheists to meet those emotional needs are no less “spiritual”, necessarily. And certainly just as effective.

    So, yes, I agree with those above who state we seem to have a human biological imperative toward language, toward sexuality, toward spirituality. Recent science seems to also prove we are genetically programmed to create and appreciate music and mathematics (other forms of language), and toward community altruism and cooperation.

    But in what form all these genes may express themselves seems to be up for grabs. You name it, we’ve done it.

  93. van says:

    Wow, what a thread! Loved reading it. You folks are great, I’m sure if AB tosses in a picture of a roll of TP, blog folks can squeeze a riveting discussion out of it!

    Lydia, just wanted to comment on what you said, linking sprituality to sexuality. A few months ago, I read this article, how this psychiatrist hypnotized a patient and the latter was able to recall details (either verifiable ones or too detailed to just be ramblings) from her past life. So they were connecting her depression to a traumatic happening in her former life. Let’s say this is plausible, it was interesting– how the essence of a past life affects the present– it could shed some “light” on homosexuality, when a spirit incarnates into the body of the opposite sex. “Mismatched” aura or something. Okay, I’m done. I’ve to take some crazy pills now.

  94. asrai says:

    Precisely that one, thanks so much David! Glad to know I wasn’t imagining having seen it 🙂

  95. Josiah says:

    Well, I’m a theist who’s perfectly happy to concede that the form of my theism, and even the fact that I conceive of my religious/spiritual experiences through a theistic lens, is culturally shaped, and perhaps even biologically influenced. But I think it’s important to be very careful about the tendency to think that if something can be scientifically explained it can be explained away. Science is an amazing and important tool for explaining how things work. But it has nothing to say about why, and human experience requires that the question of why be considered. The materialist view that only that which can be measured is real excludes so much of the richness and flavor of our lives. That isn’t an argument for rejecting its conclusions, of course — but it is an argument for suggesting that it’s not the only legitimate tool for understanding the universe and ourselves.

  96. Jana C.H. says:

    I don’t think of science as “explaining away” nature in the sense of making it trivial. I think having an explanation for something–understanding what’s actually going on, to the extent we can–enlarges our appreciation of a phenomenon rather than diminishes it. I find scientific explanations and the fact that we really have evidence for them far more awe-inspiring than any spiritual or mythological explanation. We really do know why the sun shines! Wow!

    I once read an anecdote about this, I think in Isaac Asimov’s autobiography. Forgive me if I don’t remember the details. A scientist (I don’t remember who, arg!)had been working on nuclear fusion. One day he finally got the equations right and actually understood how nuclear fusion works. That evening, before he had a chance to tell anyone else, he went out with his girlfriend. As they strolled along looking at the stars, the woman, noticing her date’s exalted mood, commented on their beauty. The man said, “Yes, and you’re walking arm-in-arm with the only man on earth who knows why they shine.”Some have made a distinction between “why” and “how”, but I don’t feel any need for an answer beyond “nuclear fusion” for why the stars shine. The universe is vast and glorious, and we are capable of understanding it to an amazing degree. Isn’t that enough? There probably are things that are beyond human understanding, but I’m not trying to guess in advance what they are. The incomprehensible is something we don’t understand yet. Maybe we’ll never understand, but that’s no reason to stop trying.

    This is a truly cool discussion. We have atheists, theists, deists, all sharing ideas without getting mad at each other. So where are the pantheists?

    Jana C.H.
    Saith: Arnold Edinborough: Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.

  97. Jana C.H. says:

    Arggg! I messed up the italics! Only the word “why” in the last sentence of paragraph 2 and the word “yet” in the penultimate sentence of paragraph 3 were meant to be in italics.

    Sorry! I have no way to fix it.


  98. Josiah says:

    An afterthought and clarification: Temporal lobe epilepsy explains my experience of God to the same extent that the rods and cones in my eye and the messages they send to my visual cortex explain my experience of a Van Gogh painting. There may be lots of interesting things to say about the mechanisms of spirituality, or the mechanisms of sexuality, but it’s a mistake to think that just because those mechanisms can be explained, those mechanisms account for the only meaningful thing that can be said about the subjects.

  99. Aunt Soozie says:

    Wow Josiah,
    I think somehow we spun all the way back around to talking about consciousness and whether or not a bat can experience a Van Gogh painting. And…the next person who uses italics is going to have to sit in Katie’s time out chair and have their html license revoked.

  100. Dr. Empirical says:

    Jana, The physicist in question was Hans Bethe. I have a 2-page comic haning in my office, written by Jim Ottavianni and drawn by Donna Barr. Hans and his fiance are walking across a field on a cold, starry night when she exclaims “Look how pretty the stars shine!”

    He replies “Yes, and right now, I’m the only man in the world who knows why!” She laughs, “Oh Hans, the things that you say!” and goes back to enjoying the stars.

    In the last panel, a caption reads: “In 1938, Hans Bethe discovered how stars shine.

    We still don’t know why they’re pretty.”

  101. Dr. Empirical says:

    Here’s a “WHY?” for you: Why can’t I ever turn off errant HTML code on the first try?

    Anyway, I think the comic captures the difference the difference between Jana’s “why” and Josiah’s.

  102. Dr. Empirical says:

    I’m just going to keep posting until I can get through a whole post without a glaring typo.

    So anyway, kids, the way to turn off italics is to type Less Than “”. Type those four symbols, one after the other without spaces or quote marks, and everything typed after that will not be in italics.

  103. Dr. Empirical says:

    Whoa! I’ve got a lot to learn about HTML! Apparently nothing you type between a greater than sign and a less than sign will appear in a post!

    The symbols to turn off italics are Less Than, Slash, Lowercase i, Greater Than.

  104. Jana C.H. says:

    Thanks, Dr Empirical! I knew somebody here would know the scientist’s name.

    Jana C.H.
    Curiosity was framed. Ignorance killed the cat.

  105. Maggie Jochild says:

    Jana, I like panthies. Especially the square-legged cotton ones you see in Vermont Country Store catalogues. Does that make me a panthieist?

  106. Jana C.H. says:

    Maggie– Sounds good enough to me!

    Actually, I was a pantheist when I was a Neo-pagan. A lot of Pagans are.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith JcH: Neo-pagans are not the same as New Agers. They have their faults, but they’re not the New Agers.

  107. April says:

    Hmmm yes… It’s those 95% of weird New Agers that give the rest a bad name…

    I don’t separate emotions and other mental processes. After all, most intellectual consideration is simply a blind for self-justification.

    Pantheism, however skeptical, is my emotional response to the world. Lesbianism is my emotional response to patriarchy.

    I’m intelligent enough to realise there might be some confirmation bias at work here. 🙂

  108. April says:

    Oh and I foresee a whole new thread on pantie-ism. A theory of panties anyone?

  109. PentacleGoddess says:

    As to the amnesia question, I think that your sexual orientation would remain essentially the same.

    I was listening to WNYC’s summer documentary program, Radiolab (which is just about the most awesome thing ever, you should check it out), and they were doing an episode on Memory & Forgetting.

    One of the subjects covered during the hour was a musician who, after having contracted a nasty infection that wasn’t caught quickly enough, had the worst case of amnesia on record. When he woke up in the morning, it was as though he’d woken up for the first time, every time. When he wrote something down, he immediately forgot that he’d written it and was completely disassociated from it. When he would sit down, he would forget having sat down or even how he’d gotten in the chair. And so on.

    And yet… he never forgot his wife. Couldn’t remember his children’s names, but every time his wife would visit him in the hospital, it was as though he hadn’t seen her in some time, but he did remember her. And he remembered their love. She could enter the room and be greeted with a particularly passionate kiss, leave, come back a minute later, and be greeted in pretty much the same way.

    Also, as an aside, whenever he had the opportunity to sing, he would seem to come back to his old self.

    So yeah. Love remains.

  110. Jana C.H. says:


    “I don’t separate emotions and other mental processes.”

    I do. I can mentally stand fifty feet away from my emotions (or other’s emotions) and take notes, thinking, “My, isn’t this interesting,” in the midst of an emotional frenzy. And afterwards I’ll dispassionately analyze the entire situation. My Vulcan brain.

    I broke up with a girlfriend that way once. We had a big fight, and she “punished” me by not contacting me for two weeks. Bad mistake. It gave me time to think things over, and I concluded that (a) we didn’t love each other, (b)we didn’t have enough in common to be friends, and (c) the sex was lousy. Therefore there was no reason to continue the relationship. I didn’t give her the full analysis, of course. That would have been cruel, particularly since I think the sex was okay for her. Needless to say, it wasn’t much of a relationship in the first place, and lasted less than six months.

    This is just the way my mind works– different from yours, but neither better nor worse. The two of us, however, had better never try to pair up. Disaster in the making!

    “After all, most intellectual consideration is simply a blind for self-justification.”

    Funny, I’d say exactly the same thing about emotional consideration. Bias on both our parts, I suspect.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith WSG: To everybody’s prejudice I know a thing or two.

  111. That Fuzzy Bastard says:

    So now that I’ve finally actually watched the film… I weirdly baffled by how to react. This may be my terrible straight-person’s inability to grok camp, but I was kind of thrust out of the general cuteness of the premise by the spectacularly-creepy mind control reveal at the end.

    On the other hand, I thought in the middle section that we were eventually going to find out that the main character had faked her amnesia so she could fool around without her girlfriend complaining. Perhaps I’ll believe that she did, so the whole thing seems even.

  112. Aunt Soozie says:

    Anyone else having a problem watching the movie? I’ve tried on three different computers and still can’t download it to watch it??? suggestions?

  113. Maggie Jochild says:

    I couldn’t get it to work either, Sooz. Somebody call the Geek Squad.

  114. Str8 but Not Narrow says:

    What a great thread…I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m a straight woman with four gay cousins, and we’ve discussed the biology angle a lot…Carry on. Please? 🙂

  115. Anonymous says:

    I had trouble getting it to work, too. What finally worked was clicking on the little round thingie that moves across the bottom of the screen as the film runs – don’t know what it’s called. I found that if I dragged it part-way to the right, it brought up still images from the film, and if I kept dragging it in fits & starts, the film started. Then I dragged it back to the left and got to watch the whole film. YMMV!