Define: Identity Alignment Assumptions

December 2, 2008  |  essays

An identity alignment assumption is the assumption that one’s identity categories align with what is either a stereotype or a dominant compulsory cultural norm.

In modern western cultures, for example, it is assumed that men are aggressors and women are passive, that men are in charge and women give in. This is of course not true in every instance, but it has become a prevalent cultural norm, and – in some circles more than others – socially policed to assure that those alignments will be adhered to.

This particular cultural norm translates into a common identity alignment assumption in queer communities to presume that a femme is a bottom and a butch is a top.

It’s also a common identity alignment assumption that lesbians are feminists, that queers are democrats or liberals, that sex bloggers are slutty … ah, the list goes on & on.

Any particular identity alignment assumptions that have been especially challenging for you in your life? Any that you commonly assume, which still surprise you when they end up not being true? Share in the comments.

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17 Comments


  1. Well, I can identify with the assumption of sex roles based on butch/femme appearance. In my primary relationship, though I'm much more masculine looking than my wife, she is more aggressive sexually and acts like a guy in a lot of ways in our relationship… and when I say 'acts like' I mean, based on the assumptions society tends to make.

    Another really funny assumption people make is with regard to our daughter. They look at my wife and I, and even with the spawn in the same room, will assume that my wife gave birth. And, you don't know this, but the spawn is very obviously my child if the person would only look. So they we blow their minds by revealing that the big ole butch here is the one who got preggers and gave birth.

    As for assumptions I make, with very feminine women, unless I have a clear sign otherwise, I assume they are straight. That is an assumption and a defensive strategy, I suppose, but it does make it hard to know who to come on to in mixed bar situations.

  2. This isn't, and wasn't, very significant at all, but when I was in high school I babysat for a lesbian couple, and I was shocked to find a fur coat in the closet. Everyone knows lesbians are like Unitarians (liberal, peaceable, fur-eschewing)…

  3. What I find funny is that I'm straight (sometimes not sure about that) and that based on my appearance, it is assumed that I am butch and am treated as such. With guys, I'm "one of the guys". With women, I get "the look" and a wink. I get called "sir" in stores by both sexes just by dressing in a manner that is comfortable for me (doc martens, jeans, and a biker jacket). Only when people start talking to me do they realize just how much I don't fit any of their little molds. I look butch, but wear some makeup. I don't drive a vehicle that most women drive (I have a large truck). I have very short hair. I pursue guy type interests and have the stereotypical guy mannerisms but I'm still female. None of this offends me, and in fact I find it intensely interesting. My mother, bless her, doesn't know how to react when strangers call me "sir" and I just respond out of habit because I already know who they are talking to. My TG friend swears that all this is why I have had such trouble in relationships with men other than being friends and that I should go and find a girlfriend (and I've been with women) but….I dunno. Still working all that out. Maybe my gender confusion is the reason for my failure in relationships with men. Hmm, that's something altogether different to analyze I guess. Thanks Sinclair for always providing such a thought provoking blog! I helps me put order to the confusion inside….

  4. I've always loved that because I knit and wear aprons and enjoy being domestic that dates feel the need to disclose that they are not looking for a boyfriend/husband right now.

    I'm a big boy, I can buy all my own aprons, thank you so very much. You won't find me chained to a stove. Unless we're being kinky, of course.

  5. There are many identity alignment assumptions that I struggle with, including the assumption that I’m straight because I’m with a cis-man, the assumption that I’m straight because my primary gender identity is femme, the assumption that my gender expression is traditionally feminine instead of femme, and the assumption that I’m unhealthy or somehow immoral because I’m fat. I’m sure there are more, of course, if I started really thinking about them, but these are the biggest that have been impacting my life lately, especially the first.

    I’ve always embraced my difference, and not being visibly different (even moreso recently since I dyed my hair a normal color) is difficult for me in general. I find myself having a difficult time embracing the queer community in general because even though I’ve never been straight and never will be straight I am perceived as straight by many, including many within the queer community. Most people want others to be monosexual, it seems, it’s easier to quantify people that way.

    I know that I have some assumptions I make as well, though I’ve noticed that my assumptions are different depending on my location. In Utah I tend to assume most people are mormons and straight, but elsewhere I don’t actually think about what religion or spiritual affiliation people might have, and I tend to assume more people I come across are queer. I do often link gender and sexuality assumptions together, such as assuming masculine females and feminine males are queer, but I also tend to assume general queerness rather than gay/straight binary assumptions.

    Occasionally I will try to spend a day purposefully assuming the world is the inverse of what society tells us, that queers are the majority (or total) population, that assumed gender expression doesn’t actually denote the sex of the person, that everyone is polyamorous, and that people won’t automatically judge me by my size. It’s a refreshing and sometimes humbling exercise, though it’s often shattered quite quickly.

  6. Queer + religious.

    For me, at least, this pretty much only goes one way — queer people tend to assume atheism or at least non-religious behavior (no church, no absolute belief in God, etc.). My Quaker meeting is actually at least half gay/queer, so there's no surprise that I'm queer, but I'm sure other queer people get coded as straight in their religious communities.

  7. I've had a few conversations this week with my favorite switch friends. They appear to be butch tops in a club setting, but are of the mind that 'they don't want to miss out on both sides' of top and bottom. So watching a young femme assume that they are a butch top and then there are hours, days, months of figuring out what a switch is.

    Also I was just talking about my femmeness, and although I sometimes perceive myself as andro, I am really very femmey. So no matter how I try to put andro on, I am seen as a straight girl, or a femme lesbian. All in the eye of the beholder.

  8. That my comparatively genderqueer/butshish presentation (relative to my very very girly girlfriend) means I'm the one who wears the strap-on. Of course, I'm guilty of assuming this about other folks, too. It's a pernicious one, and related to the butch = top/femme = bottom stereotype you mention.

  9. I'd say the fact that I'm more feminine, at times, comes the assumption I'm straight. Currently I'm finding my own way in expressing myself that is not predefined by the lesbian community. In other words, because of the assumption I faced and my seemingly invisibility, I revved up my male energy and dressed a hell of a lot more butch. Even got asked one day if I was a stud! It's been frustrating but I'm beginning to overcome the pressure of that assumption and have others take me as I am. I'm finding my balance because to be honest I love accessing both sides of butch and fem. If anything, I am now amused if and when the assumption comes my way about me based on my appearance.

    I'd add because I'm am more feminine, I'm a good girl. I surprise a lot of people.

  10. I can relate to a lot of what Scarlet says about being bi/poly/pansexual and in a relationship with a cis man. In fact, she says it so well, I'm not sure I have much more to add!

    I tend to assume everyone's a feminist, until they disappoint me by proving otherwise ;-)

  11. It’s inconceivable to many of my colleagues that a small blonde with large breasts might have more than 2 neurons to rub together – the fact that i can carry on intelligent conversations eludes many, and has made for more than a few uphill battles in my professional, and personal, life. Married yet bisexual, geekette yet aggressively sexual, intellectual yet pagan – i’ve been repeatedly surprised that people can be so confused by a life i consider normal. Thanks for giving me a phrase for it with such delicious mouth feel. :)

    i remember, as a child, that i had two dear uncles who lived together in a mansion in Oakland. Years later, when my mom mentioned that they were lovers i was struck dumb – all those years i had just assumed they were celibate best friends like Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, and that moment was a revelation about how we only see what we expect to.

  12. I think these assumptions are what's behind gaydar, which we all joke about, but also rely on. I moved about a year ago from Washington, D.C., to rural New England, and have been very surprised to find that my formerly excellent gaydar (which is based in so many, and such subtle, assumptions I couldn't possibly identify them all) is useless up here– particularly with men. About a third of the men I meet in what should be very rugged country seem gay by my old standards, and really, very few of them are. I have gotten better about not making assumptions, but am still frequently surprised to hear about men's wives.

    Some of other people's assumptions about me that I have to challenge (or deal with what it means to not challenge) frequently:

    Queer=not religious (or antireligious)

    Queer=gay

    Bi=nonmonogamous

    Feminine=straight

    Nurturing=maternal

    Christian=judgmental asshole

  13. I’m thinking a lot about this topic lately. Maybe the main identity alignment assumption is that I’m straight because I’m with a cis-man.

  14. I've run into a fair number of gender identity assumption clashes in my life. In most cases, I haven't internalized the assumptions, so I just laugh when I run into them, but some I realize I have internalized, so they are a problem for me.

    My main personal identity issue comes from the fact that I'm male, consider myself male, but like "feminine" clothes, like skirts and dresses and, when I don't feel too ridiculous doing so, the frilly feminine kind. On the other hand, I have no interest in a sex change or the usual "orthodox crossdressing" thing of trying to pass as a woman — I'm rather attached to my beard, I'm balding and have a bit of a pot-belly, so I wouldn't be able to do so, anyway. I've taken to wearing skirts a lot in my free time (at work and with family I still dress to "pass"), but am still coming to terms with it.

    Some areas where I don't see any gender identity incongruity but others do (or did): my doing "housewifely" things like cooking and sewing and, if necessary, cleaning, but also being a "techie" (computer programmer, carpenter, electrician, etc.) Or the fact that I hate the sort of dominance games most men seem to have to do ("feminine") and am a pacifist, yet can be pretty aggressive about my work and used to do martial arts ("masculine".)

    I'm also not aggressive (or even particularly assertive) in my relations with women,

    but am definitely straight. I've run into a number of women who think I'm gay because I don't make passes at them.

  15. Well there's so many, where to start? I think the main thing I'd like to take issue with is the constant assumption that you must be one thing or another. I'm bi, switch and can be butch or femme as the mood takes me. People tend to see me how I seemed when they first got to know me and feel betrayed, as if I was hiding something, when they see me in a different light.

    So is my dominant, butch everyday side hiding my sexual submissiveness? Well, no, they're both me, and the idea of a 'sub' being just one thing whoever identifies with that term is also ridiculous. There are seductive, femme fatale subs; feisty "I'll fight you tooth and claw," subs; and robotic, blank, "Treat me like an object" subs – and those are just a selection of ways I"VE played, let alone other people's infinitely variable interpretations.

    Long live fluidity.

  16. the assumption that because I identify as butch I am only interested in sweet femme bottoms.

  17. Assumptions are based on stereotypes, which isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a basic communal instinct to want to create a portrait of the humans around us to see where we fit. The key is to keep an open mind that the assumption may not be true and to be willing to accept variations. It’s really not possible to uncondition oneself so you have no expectations about other humans.

Trackbacks

  1. Define: “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” - Sugarbutch Chronicles
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  4. Femme Invisibility & Beyond : Sugarbutch Chronicles

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