Be a Part of Greyscale!

A few months ago, I started a Tumblr blog that asked readers to contribute photos of themselves, disclosing the label(s) that they use to define their sexual orientations. The responses were diverse and fascinating, but the nature of the site did not allow for in-depth discussions about the labels in question. Greyscale will pick up where What Is Your Label? left off — it will invite people to share their labels of choice and expand upon them in great detail, allowing for the individual nuances to shine through.

You may have already read the Call for Participants, but I wanted to take this opportunity to give you some more details about what participation involves:

  • All interviews will be on camera, and I will be identifying subjects with first-names only. (The first name doesn’t need to be your legal name — I will identify participants however they wish to be identified. I just can’t promise complete anonymity.)
  • All participants will be asked the same questions, for the sake of narrative cohesion, though specific follow-up questions will differ as circumstances dictate.
  • While all participants should be somewhat comfortable discussing sexuality and language on camera, no one is required to answer any question that makes them uncomfortable. We can tailor the interview to your individual comfort level.
  • Not every interview will necessarily make it into the final cut of Greyscale, but I will profile all of the participants on this blog.
  • I live in NYC, so I will primarily be looking to interview people in New York and New Jersey. However, I am very interested in traveling, if possible — shoots in both LA and Boston are currently in the works. So if you’re not near NYC but are still interested in participating, please be in touch, and hopefully we can work something out.

Greyscale will not succeed without the generous participation of individuals who are willing to share their stories. If you identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, asexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, kinky, polyamorous, or anything else under the sun, please be in touch. I want to hear your story, and I want to share it as part of Greyscale. No story is too conventional or too complex — every story is critical for understanding the nuances within narrow identity labels. So, if you’re interested in being involved, please fill out this short survey, and let’s talk.

Useful Background: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Benjamin Lee Whorf, credited with the development of linguistic relativity (image via Wikipedia)

Benjamin Lee Whorf, credited with the development of linguistic relativity (image via Wikipedia)

When I decided I wanted to make “an interactive documentary about sexuality and language,” I felt confident in my expertise. I study documentary production at The New School, and I have produced short documentaries in the past. I have also studied queer theory, and I learned a great deal about sexual identity politics during the four years I worked as a grant writer in the LGBT nonprofit world. But…then there’s that last part. “Language.” I talk about language, I’m fascinated by language, but I am no linguistics expert. Mastering a new field of knowledge in a matter of months was not in the cards for me, but I wanted to at least understand the basics of sociolinguistics, so that my art would have appropriate theoretical grounding.

My friend Joshua Levy, a Graduate Student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, saved the day by introducing me to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as “linguistic relativity.” In short, the theory argues that language directly influences one’s understanding of the world and identity. The existing language available to individuals has an impact on the ways in which they understand themselves and the world around them. Therefore, when applying the hypothesis to discussions about sexuality and language, one might say that if an individual lacks coherent language to express personal attractions and experiences, that person will be unable to conceive of those attractions and experiences as products of sexual identity.

I believe that every person has the right to self-expression. Yet, it is difficult for many of us to authentically express the complexities of our sexualities with the current vocabulary that exists. Limiting the conversation to “straight,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “queer,” and a handful of other words lumps a wide array of people, all with diverse experiences and attractions and desires, into oversimplified categories. Perhaps the reason why many of us have difficulty articulating the nuances in their sexual orientations is precisely because of linguistic relativity — we can’t express ourselves if we don’t have the right words.

Have you ever found the available sexual orientation labels too confining? Do you agree with the theory of linguistic relativity? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Greyscale: The Journey Begins

CN_WIYLSignI’ve heard that there are people in this world who, from an early age, are confident in their sexual orientations. Some people know whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, or something else entirely by puberty, sometimes even earlier. If you are one of these people, know that I envy you. My experience hasn’t been like that. To paraphrase Alyssa Jones in Chasing Amy, I was not given a map at birth.

Rather than tell you about my full journey (as I doubt it’s finished), I’ll tell you where I am now. I am a cisgender bisexual woman, married to a cisgender straight man, involved in queer and sex-positive communities. “Bisexual” is the term I most often use to describe my orientation, but it’s not the only word I use. I might say “queer,” depending on the context, or “lesbiAnders,” a term that I affectionately coined when my husband and I started dating. But none of those words have simple, clear-cut meanings. I often feel the need to over-share personal details about my life just so that the words I am using make sense to the people listening.

This isn’t just a problem that I have. It’s a problem that we all have. Is there a universally-accepted definition of “straight”? Perhaps, but does that definition include straight-identified men who have sex with men? Is there a universally-accepted definition of “gay”? Perhaps, but does it include women like Sheryl Swoopes, who became engaged to a man six years after coming out as a lesbian? If your sexual orientation evolves over time, does it invalidate past experiences and identities you have embraced? Do “monogamy” and “polyamory” qualify as sexual orientations? If your gender identity falls outside of the man/woman binary, how do you communicate your existence as a sexual being in a culture obsessed with binaries?

These are just a few of the questions I want to address in Greyscale, the interactive documentary about sexuality and language that I will be producing this year. Greyscale is my Master’s thesis in the Media Studies program at The New School, and I am using this blog to document my process of developing, producing, editing, and distributing the documentary. I am expecting to graduate in December 2014, which gives me about a year to complete this project. And I couldn’t be more excited, because this isn’t just a Master’s thesis or a fun project for me. This is the culmination of much of the work I’ve done as a filmmaker, writer, academic, and inquisitive queer person over the course of my life.

That’s a bit dramatic, but I want to make it clear how passionate I am about Greyscale. I am disheartened by the lack of comprehensive language that we have to discuss sexual identity in the year 2014. We’re all a lot more complicated than words like “straight,” “gay,” or “bisexual” suggest. Please join me in finding a new way to communicate our stories to the world.