Freedom to express one’s identity is an important goal for society, and often one thinks of this freedom in terms of freedom of action- to do what one pleases. However, freedom in action requires freedom in language: creating a language with vocabulary that allows for change, so that new ideas and nuances in identities can enter discourse and can thus be accepted. In Tristan Taormino’s case, it is the vocabulary of “sex-positive” thinking coined to contrast with and highlight the “sex negative” thinking in today’s society that allows us to grasp both her position and society’s in relation to sex and lifestyle. In Ellen Samuels’ work, when she discusses the search for acceptance for those with nonvisible disabilities, she must give examples of people with these disabilities (237-239). These descriptions insert this term into the vocabulary of her reader, who can only then understand a person with a “nonvisible disability” and their struggles. Samuels writes that, “In the dominant cultural discourse,… certain assumptions about the correlation between appearance and identity have resulted in an often exclusive focus on visibility as both the basis of community and the means of enacting social change” (244). If things are continually labeled by how we see them, without a coining of new terms or vocabularies to highlight those differences that may be unseen, people may continue to hide, and thus feel ashamed of, portions of their identity. Samuels describes how sexologists who categorized lesbianism struggled with “femmes,” as they stood outside the “butch” lesbian classification (245). The rigidity in labeling lesbians as “butch” created a conflict for the identity of “femme” lesbians. Thus, leaving room in language to grow and allowing definitions to be flexible, could allow for real freedom in how people can express their own and accept others’ identities.
Samuels, Ellen Jean. “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse.”
Taormino, Tristan. Class Lecture.