This is the first part of 2 posts on hypersexualisation within the queer scene. This part outlines a general feeling that in order to be queer, you have to be sexual and the second explores specifically attitudes around polyamory. Look out for part 2 next week!
At the moment I am reading this wonderful zine I picked up at the Zinefest Berlin this weekend. It’s called ‘Wer ‘A’ sagt, muss nicht ‘B’ sagen‘ (‘B doesn’t automatically follow from A’) and it’s about asexuality. Asexuality. A word that I have been aware of for a while – it was always included in the breakdown of queer I used to do at high school workshops on homophobia (LGBTTSIQQA, phew!) – but, to be honest, we never really addressed it. Reading about asexuality, and asexual folks touched me because it reminded me of similar thoughts I have been having about socialising in the queer community.
I don’t want to have sex. I don’t want to have a lover. I am not an asexual person, but at the moment this is how it is.
“Deciding to be single for a while has been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this year”
A few weeks ago a friend asked me whether I have had a lover since moving to Berlin. When I said no, she said ‘oh, that’s tragic.’ And I thought, why would you assume that it’s tragic? It’s not. Deciding to be single for a while has actually been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this past year. She assumed that as a ‘normal healthy queer’ I will want to have a lover and I will want to have sex.
I have spent years trying to fit in. When I was at school I spent a lot of energy trying to become part of the crowd. To have the normal style and normal opinions. Then, when I was 14, fully a teenager, I realised I didn’t want to fit in anymore. I wanted to be one of the freaks. Where I belonged. And I worried, is it too late? Have I lost my own individuality? I think I am coming to the same place in the queer community.
At a queer festival I attended this summer I was excluded from ‘the most exciting party of the week’ because it was a sex party and I don’t want to go to sex parties. I had fun decorating the sex spaces with UV reflective string, but I ended up spending the evening by myself in my bedroom. There should have been another option.
“I would like us to examine the difference between sexpositivity and feeling obliged to have sex because it’s cool”
In a community which defines itself by alternative gender and sex expressions, not wanting to have sex makes me feel like an outcast.
There is a huge pressure to have, and to want, sex all the time. This pressure is not exclusive to the queer community. I have felt it ever since I was a kid; when am I going to get my first boyfriend, when am I going to lose my virginity, when am I going to fall in love? It is a truism that we live in a hyper-sexualised society and I would like us to examine the difference between sexpositivity and feeling obliged to want/have sex because it’s cool. The question of where sex belongs in the queer community is a really interesting one. The queer community as I see it has emerged from lesbian and gay communities which historically defined themselves by the sexual desires of their members. Although our queer community is now based on alternative gender as well as sexual expressions, I imagine, non-history-major that I am, that this sexual root is where our scene today comes from.
Living in a queer community whose members are mostly girls and guys who were assigned female at birth (cis guys are in the minority at the spaces I frequent), I totally get the feminism of asserting our right to own our sexuality. We have been told that as ‘women’ we are naturally frigid, naturally monogamous. All we want to do is settle down and have babies. Erm, actually, not everyone, no.
So we have asserted our right to fuck who we want, when we want, however we want. I get where the sex positive movement has come from and I love the fact that BDSM is out of the closet, as it were. However, poly and kink and sex have become undeniably cool. And that’s where the problems start. Because it creates a hierarchy. Many queers assume that poly and kink are inherent to being queer. If you’re not into them, then you’re not queer. Not cool.
Working against such stark cultural assumptions – women are naturally frigid and monogamous – leads us to take the opposite position – we are slutty and naturally polyamorous. However, I don’t think the answer to sexist assumptions is to just flip the coin. Things are always more grey, more nuanced than that.
Now, as someone who is working some shit out, I need to not have sex or a relationship for a while. This doesn’t mean that I have lost my sexuality, rather that I am prioritising finding out other stuff about myself. I am sure that my experience is not unique. People go through less sexual times in their lives and I think it’s important that we recognise this too. Sometimes sex is not okay.
An old colleague of mine from Canada has recently been involved in an art exhibition in London called ‘The Flipside: When Sex Is Not Okay.’ They define not okay experiences as
“times when someone has felt unsafe, unable to say no, threatened, misled, or pressured into something, as well as experiences of sexual abuse or assault. It also includes times when people have had distressing emotions or states of mind during sex – which might mean feeling dirty, guilty or ashamed; having flashbacks; or disassociating.”
Although this group is more focused on survivors of sexual assault, it does highlight that sometimes people cannot or do not want to have sex. That sex isn’t always a positive experience. I, still, feel pressured to have sex in the same way that I felt pressured to lose my virginity when I was a teenager. I still have a hard time saying no.
The friends and acquaintances I know in the queer community seem to be fairly aware of the fact that sexual assault exists and of the need for safer spaces. Although I do not want to appropriate other people’s experiences, maybe we can extend this understanding to an awareness that some people don’t want to have sex at times for whatever reason. I am not sure how to do this but let’s put our thinking caps on. Maybe just keeping this in mind next time you ask me which sex party I am going to on Friday (where you assume that I will of course want to go to a sex party) would help.
I would really like to live in a community which recognises that my decision to be single for the next while is actually a really positive thing. That celebrates the fact that I am able to do this for myself. It takes a lot of guts to sit down here and write my personal story. But I hope that in outing myself, other people will also feel able to say, actually, I don’t want to have sex today, this year, whatever. Not everything revolves around sex.