Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Being" vs. "Doing"

Lately I've been thinking about the difference between being x, and doing x. Take being gay. The way it's usually modeled now, homosexual is a thing that you are, an inborn quality that cannot be changed. But it wasn't always that way. It used to be modeled as something that you did. Anyone could do a 'homosexual act', but it didn't mean that they were anything.*

Both of these models have upsides and downsides. One set that I see is when homosexuality is seen as a bad thing. If it's modeled as something people do, then anti-homosexuality says that people shouldn't do the bad thing and people who do it should be punished. If it's modeled as something people are, then anti-homosexuality says that those people are bad people and bad things should happen to them. That may not seem like much of a difference in practice, but I think it's a very fundamental one with subtle effects only some of which I can unpack on my own. This is something I can only see from a distance, so to speak, so I'd be very interested to hear other perspectives.

Another place where I see both models of being x and of doing x is polyamory. People argue over whether poly is an orientation - something innate that you're born with, or a relationship philosophy,lifestyle etc, and it just strikes me as really silly. To me at least, it's obvious that they're each true for different people. Some people are innately driven to have multiple intimate relationships at once. Flowers is like that. They're very happy with Hats, but they actively want to have additional partners. I'd say they they are poly. Hats and I, on the other hand, just sort of ended up in a relationship set that was poly through happenstance. I'd say we do poly. In the abstract I'd be fine having just one partner, it's just that that's totally not how my life is shaping up right now.

I find instances of this being x vs. doing x distinction all around gender and sexuality, but the concept is even further generalizable. I do art. I'm not an artist. Artists express themselves through their medium; I just make stuff that looks nice. Sometimes my work is meaningful, but usually not. I still see myself as a crafter, or, better and more generally, a maker than an artist.

* I'm playing fast and loose with history here. I'm making it sound simple and linear which it wasn't (isn't), but for the sake of my point the loose version will do.


  1. GreyWanders, you're killing me! I've got exactly this post sitting on my desktop waiting for me to finish it off, down to every last in-a-poly-relationship-but-not-actually-poly-myself details. Have I actually asexually reproduced an exact clone of myself? (Haha, get it? It's an ace joke!)

    1. Hah! That's great. (That we wrote the same post, not your ace joke. The ace joke is saved only by the fact that after making it you took the time to point it out and laughed at it, just in case.) Now you've got to post yours so we can play spot-the-difference.

      This post originally talked about gender things a little bit. At the time I started it, Hats wasn't identifying as trans, but was, as she put it, "following the trans path". In the updates post I actually said she was "doing the trans thing", which I was thinking of in a doing-vs-being kind of way, but I ended up not talking about that in this post, both because I'm not sure it's actually useful, and because it could easily incite the Wrath of the Internet, which I'd rather save for something I'm sure is true and important.

  2. Ooh - I have never before seen this connected to the artist thing, and that is really interesting. Also I really like that definition of artist.