Monday, June 13, 2011

Born This Gray: Dianna Agron, Social Construct, and Proactive Social Revolution

My little corner of the internet has developed into a place where people repeatedly ask me the question, “What are your thoughts?”  It’s lovely and flattering, and has conditioned me to ask myself the very question with most input I receive - from the media in particular, and where creative choice intersects with intention, and breeds meaning and message.

And then there’s Glee.  The article that originally defined this blog was the reaction to the GQ spread in October of 2010, examining the sexist message that resulted from the choices involved in the shoot.  So when Glee and the representations of social identity cross paths, I usually have to ask myself:

“What are my thoughts?”

And then I take to the internet where I presume that people will actually give a crap.  So here we are!

But let’s back up.  Saturday night, Dianna Agron donned a “likes girls” shirt for her performance in “Born This Way,” instead of her usual “Lucy Caboosey” fare. 

Now.  This is a choice.  It means something.  (Personally, I thought she might have grown tired of wearing “Lucy Caboosey” because it was such an ass-backwards plot device for her character… but, alas.  Can’t be proved.)

No, most of the internet spent the night speculating Dianna’s sexuality, which, on the internet, has long been under a microscope in search for clues in either direction on the Kinsey Scale.  Then, this morning, Ms. Agron explained her choice.  In sum: wearing the shirt was an expression of the freedom to make a statement, in a show of support to the GLBT community.  She highlighted the importance of universal acceptance and love, and also negated the original assumption from wearing the shirt: she herself is not gay. 

It’s a long essay; there’s a lot to interpret, and a lot of good points, all of which kind leads to being easily distracted from the main idea.  Because there are people out there who are missing the main idea.

And the point is that it doesn’t matter.  Dianna Agron’s sexuality doesn’t matter.  Your sexuality doesn’t matter.  My sexuality doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we are still living in a world where it does. 

Recently, I wrote about feminism under the notion that social revolution first begins with reaction, and must eventually shift to proaction.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, Dianna Agron is being proactive.  And the reason people are getting tangled up in and tripping over her words is because our world is not there yet.  We are still a long ways from equality - and we’re the furthest when it comes to sexuality.  It’s generally ill-advised to compare the disadvantages across gender, race, and sexuality lines, but I feel it’s important to say that in some places there are still laws standing in the way of the marriage of equality and sexual identity.  It’s not just prejudice and stigma.  It is law.  And beyond that, gay people who come out into, or can’t escape from unsupportive and hateful environments are being bullied to the point of suicide.  This is an issue, and one that needs addressing.

As far as I’m concerned, the hubbub that has arisen from Dianna’s actions and commentary is what happens when a transcendent thought is brought into a constructed world.  At the very least, she sparked a discourse.  There are arguments left and right - and many are valid.  And I won’t deny that the consequences of her actions aren’t problem-free.  But what put the problems there are the smudgy fingerprints that color our world, and the constructions that society has built in both origin and reaction.

Many people posit that Dianna’s shirt implied that she herself was gay, and that by clarifying that she is not actually gay makes it seem as though she is presuming to know what it’s like to be gay.  I understand this.  I don’t see how Dianna wearing a shirt that says “likes girls” could send any other message, unexplained, than “likes girls.”  That is the point of “Born This Way” in the show, and in the concert - right down to the wardrobe itself.  Stylistically speaking, you don’t smack big block letters on a blank t-shirt without sending a Big Message.  That is the point.

But Dianna explained.  And words like “disappointed” and “betrayal” get thrown around, because for 12 hours, Dianna Agron seemed to have told the world she was gay.  And then, in a single sentence - amidst one hundred others, it should be said - she told us she doesn’t actually identify as such.  The fact that there is an emotional reaction to this proves to us we are still living in a world where being gay or straight matters.  To those who felt relief at her clarification: please examine why exactly you felt that emotion and ask yourself why you would personally want someone - a stranger, basically - to be straight as opposed to gay. 

To those who felt disappointment at her clarification: I understand that, and I respect that.  I understand that it would be of huge importance to have a young woman in the spotlight announce that she is gay and proud of it in front of the entire world, and that the prospect of that being trounced in an instant is somewhat dismaying.  I understand that gay people being out in a public setting can only benefit the movement, and the gay community.

But, at some point, there should be no “movement,” or “community” - of any kind.  The truth is, we live in a heavily constructed world where certain people experience disadvantages because of the negative implications of minority and privilege.  Because of this, “movement” and “community” had to happen, and I 100% respect that.  But if we ever expect to achieve equality, at some point all constructions have to fall away - or at least fade to the background.  And in this world, hoping Dianna Agron is a lesbian is not terribly different from hoping Dianna Agron is straight.  Because it’s still a world where a person’s sexuality matters.

And the goal cannot be to stay in a world where someone’s sexuality matters.  Where someone’s race matters.  Where someone’s gender matters.  Race, gender, and sexuality can be important parts of someone’s identity, but at the end of the day, they cannot be definitions.  The value of a human being is in his or her humanity. 

The goal is equality.  And if we continue to tirelessly emphasize that we are all different, then we can never truly be the same.  We need to be living in a world where Dianna Agron can love whomever, and so can you.  And to me, that is the point - and Dianna’s point.  Just, love.  Love whomever, as long as you love.  Because anything beyond that doesn’t matter, and shouldn’t.

We are clearly not living in this world yet.  I daresay that notion prompted Dianna’s actions, and it’s ironic that her actions are again reinforcing it.  I don’t presume to believe that we can move into this world overnight.  There are schools of thought that simply have to perish, and hopefully in their stead we can proffer acceptance and tolerance.

But until we are able to live in said world, we are faced with instances such as this one, where we are forced to interact with a heavily-constructed society and examine the implications of the choices made by the people standing in a spotlight.  I don’t think you can disparage Dianna personally for the consequences of her decisions (they are clearly disconnected from her intentions, regardless of any opinion one could construe), but I do think the discourse arising from it ties very strongly into the steady but eventual shift from reaction to proaction with regards to how our society should be handling minority and equality. 

We’re just not there yet.  And I’d like to think that it’s people like Dianna Agron who are trying to push us into this world, where we can all love whomever, and be treated with respect, and the full benefits of equality.  I know I often come across as a cynic, but I have to believe that we can get there.  Minds have to be changed, and it will take awhile.  There will be problematic circumstances surrounding privilege and oppression that will need to be examined and evaluated.  Context will probably always trip us up every once in awhile, and coming to terms with that is frustrating.  And it may take awhile.  But we can get there, if we try.  We have to try.

I think, at the end of the day, human nature has historically been defined by an effort, or lack of effort, to understand.  Understanding was constructed in black and white.  Us, and them.  You are this one thing, and if you are not, it means you are this one other thing entirely.  Social construction operates in binary - those with power, those without.  Those with privilege, those without.  Those understood, those misunderstood.  Those in the majority, those in the minority.

It is human nature to want the world to make sense, to boil it down so it’s as black and white as the words on a “likes girls” t-shirt.  But in reality, we live in a world of gray.  Embrace the gray.  It’s problematic.  It’s challenging.  But living in a world of gray means that we can live in a world of tolerance and acceptance.  Living in a world of gray means  acknowledging that black and white is a problem, and that we must try to live free from construct.  And that’s the goal.

So at some point, we have to throw away the black and white on a t-shirt, the with-us-or-against-us attitude, and move forward.  Dianna’s apparently already there.

Author's Note: There is a follow-up to this post here.


  1. Sexuality does matter, it matters if people feel it matters. It isn't up to you to decide what other people should think or feel. If indeed you think sexuality shouldn't matter and that is the "goal" then I would suggest you are the one living a black-and-white existence. It isn't your place to force your ideals on other people.

  2. I absolutely agree with everything you said, Dr. She Bloggo. This was pretty much all my thoughts after reading Dianna's post and reading some people's reactions to it summed up so eloquently and intelligently. It confused me greatly to see some people have such narrow tunnel vision of sorts on labels about her sexuality when that was SO not the point of her post? The message of her post is about LOVE, pure and simple. That's what I also took away from it after I first read it.

    It was something she is obviously very passionate about and hopes to communicate to everyone with the best intentions, but for some, her stating "I am not a lesbian" is all that they got hung up on. WHY ARE PEOPLE SO OBESSED WITH/HUNG UP ON LABELS?? Again though, as you explained in your post, I see how some people would feel disappointed, angry, betrayed, or upset initially, but hopefully these people come to understand the main idea of her message, as you stated.

    You said it exactly right, it is about the humanity of a person that should be valued the most, not their sexual orientation or gender per se. The grey world mentality definitely allows for such equality.

    I know I'm not being half as eloquent as you on the matter (seeing as it's nearly 3AM..), but I just wanted to applaud everything you've said and also have my utmost respect for Dianna for bringing this message to the forefront and hope everyone comes to view the world and humanity in such a manner.

  3. Her actions and then her blog response just came off as the inane rambling of an overly privileged kid who doesn't really know what it means to be LGBT or an "other" in any real way. She didn't need to put on a shirt falsely identifying herself as part of a group she doesn't really belong to in order to bring awareness to LGBT rights. Doing so made the entire endeavor appear to be a publicity stunt and attention-whoring to the max more so than anything else, whatever her original intentions might have been, and I found it annoying and frankly, quite patronizing. It was a nice sentiment but poorly executed.

  4. To the hating anon. She didn't say sexuality doesn't matter, she said it shouldn't matter when it comes to other people. You shouldn't care whether people are gay or straight in order to make up your opinion about them. And dude, she's writing in her own blog, how in the world is she trying to force anything on you? You read it cause you wanted to.

  5. Monica, it is disingenuous to conflate disagreement with hate but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and just assume that its hard for those who live in a world of grey or bland or whatever it is to discern the difference.

    Agron's choices reflect poorly on her. I don't think it okay to just throw words around like they don't mean anything in order to advance ones ideas, and later even go so far as to say she was doing it for us? can you say no thanks? I guess not. Her behaviour strikes me as incredibly presumptuous and verging on patronizing like the poster June 13, 2011 3:03 AM says.

    It does matter that she's not gay, not because she's just not gay, but because she is expressing an opinion on lgbt issues (in a questionable way) and her views should not be prioritized over those of gay people. It is not her fault though that there are few voices expressing the needs of young lesbians by young lesbians.

    If we divorce someones ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status etc from the value of their contribution with regards to their own community, then we end up with more inequality than otherwise. Should a straight person's opinion of gay issues be equally considered to that of a gay persons? Should stakeholders in community decision-making have more, less or equal sway in bargaining compared to an unaffected party? What you are advocating is just a recipe for marginalization. You will find that so-called "equality" does not mean "equal" and can bring more problems than not, the word you should be seeking is in fact "equity"

    If we lived in a world where differences did not already exist your argument may make some sense, but we don't and it doesn't. Honestly, you're writing yourself a nice little sci-fi/fantasy in this blogpost, good to see you get creative and all but y'know...

    I have to say though I have never in my life heard someone say there should not be community (whatever that community may be), they are the building blocks of society. I take freaking classes on how to develop and foster community for goodness sake.

    Final words are...someone send the poor girl a box of rainbow bracelets or something and be done with this whole mess.

    1. This is an interesting point to consider, although I think Dr. Shebloggo is more cognizant than you're willing to credit her.

      I stumbled upon this article already having written a Communications term paper on the same incident. She seems to be reiterating an idea similar to the one I proposed in my conclusion. There's an inherent tension embedded within this conversation between a focus on queer identity per se, in which case visibility matters as a political strategy, and queer theory, which challenges the entire notion of a knowable "identity" in the first place. Currently, I don't think there's a resolution between the two. It's simply a matter of opinion and semantics and you two obviously disagree.

      But I also think it's quite finalist to say that identity can never be deconstructed. It came to be somehow and it can come to an end somehow.

  6. To Anon 1: Dr. Shebloggo is 1,000,000% right. True equality is not having race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc matter in determining a person's true worth. If you judge someone based on those things, guess what? You're being close-minded and prejudiced.

  7. June 13, 2011 3:30 PM

    In that case, no-one need complain about white, wealthy, sausage party government, because since everyone is indistinguishable from the other their opinion/views etc are as valid as anyone elses, nothing need change, minorities need not speak for themselves because well, anyone can speak for us just as well as we can!


    I say boo to you, trying to cover up your prejudice with nice words.

  8. As long as an individual's sexuality matters to him or herself, other people's sexuality will remain an important part of how that individual views those people. This is different from race and a few other checkboxes because sexuality inherently involves others.

    Prejudice on this basis is obviously stupid, but in the end, a world without sexual labels is impossible unless everyone miraculously turns pansexual, which isn't very likely to happen, from a biological point of view. Whether Dianna is straight or gay matters because it determines her 'availability', even if it's merely for a pointless fandom crush.

    To the knee-jerk defender of the good Doctor who hastens to point out that it's merely her thoughts on her blog: of course, true. However, when you set out a goal to remake the world, you throw down a pretty hefty ideological gauntlet. It sounds a little totalitarian, and I must add my voice to that of the anonymous who believes it might not be your place.

  9. I'd just like to point out that Dianna never said she was straight, so I don't get where people are getting that from. Most enlightened people understand that sexuality isn't a binary, it's a spectrum. If she'd wanted people to label her straight, she'd have done so. Instead, she simply said she wasn't gay. Given that and given her emphasis on how much she likes boys and girls, I'm thinking she's probably a lot queerer than ya'll are giving her credit for here.

    There are certain people who are just genuinely open. For whom it really is as simple as loving boys and loving girls. And I think Dianna is one of them. And if that's her take on it, more power to her.

    I'm not saying it's not entirely possible her publicist had something to do with there being a "not gay" message in her post without a "not straight" message as well. But the surrounded text did not sound like someone who was attempting to proclaim her 100% hetero-ness. She made no distinctions, really, between the way she loves girls and the way she loves boys. So I don't see why the rest of the media is.


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