Shamelessly Single

Howdy folks! Long time no everything! I’m back, and this time with a guest post I wrote for the Shameless blog. This mag for women and queer youth does awesome work here in Toronto and I’m proud to be on their site.

Part one of two on living single lives. Shameless reader Laura Brightwell examines what happens when you choose to be celibate in a community that defines itself by its sexuality

Sometimes people cannot or do not want to have sex. When I started to tell people, 3 years ago, that I didn’t want to date anyone, I was always afraid. I anticipated people’s judgment, much like I had anticipated their homophobia when I came out as a lesbian as a teenager. And yet, I still said it, because in my gut I thought it was important. I’ve always been stubborn.

Choosing to be single for the past three years has been one of the most empowering, self-loving choices I have ever made.

Three years ago in the Summer of 2010, I decided to go on anti-depressants. I also decided, at the same time, to be single for as long as it took to get my head back on straight. I arrived at this decision at a difficult time in my life. I needed to break out of negative relationship patterns and I couldn’t see any alternative route. This was my way out.

Growing up, my development steered by teen mags, TV and movies, I focused a lot of my energy on getting a boyfriend. My teenage years presented themselves as a list of milestones to accomplish 1) Kiss a boy (girls don’t count). 2) Have sex. My own enjoyment had nothing to do with accomplishing any of these sexual acts. Any bo(d)y would do. When I finally did kiss a boy, aged 16, I only did it for the social kudos. So that I could be one of the gang. When I had sex for the first time, it wasn’t special, or particularly enjoyable. But I felt a huge sense of relief. Finally, I’d done it. Now I could be an adult. Now I could fit in.

It’s sad to realize that nothing ever changes. Just as I felt the pressure to lose my virginity aged 16, in my twenties I still feel the pressure to be in a relationship. Never mind that the gender of the targeted sexual group has changed, or that my peers are mostly queers. Never mind being surrounded by a politics that is supposed to empower our individual sexualities and orientations. I am still told when to have sex (all the time), how to have it (in a kinky fashion) and with whom (masculine queers). My own desires still don’t count.

There is an enormous amount of social pressure around sex. I remember one conversation I had with a friend about this pressure. I told her I felt like an outsider because I wasn’t in a relationship. After chewing this over for a moment, she observed, “it’s as though being single is the worse thing you can be.”

It has been my experience that being single or celibate makes you an outcast in the queer community in a way that being in a relationship doesn’t. We live in a society structured around the couple and the nuclear family. So being in a relationship, even a same-sex relationship, heck, even a polyamorous relationship, is more tolerated than being single. If you are single, there must be something wrong with you. If you are single, you must be “looking.”

There is a huge stigma around celibacy. From a very young age we are told that being sexual is our raison d’etre; from the princess who needs a prince to rescue her to the action man who has a new girl in every city. No matter how successful you are, no matter your level of happiness, you will always be considered a failure if you don’t have a partner. I am sure that those of us who are socialized as women feel this pressure the most. Yes, you have a degree, yes, you’re a rocket scientist, but do you have a man?

The perverse effect of this pressure to date is that being single can make you unhappy even if it’s what you want.

My choice to be celibate in 2010 threw me into a state of confusion. As a person who hangs out in mostly DIY queer community-type spaces, I suddenly felt excluded from the main language of communication. If my connection with fellow queers wasn’t about sex, then what was it about?

When I published my personal essay “I Don’t Want to Have Sex” on my almost totally unknown blog in 2011, I didn’t really expect much to come of it. I thought that, like my other angry feminist rants, it would past the world by, smaller than a drowned gnat in the big pond that is the internet. I didn’t expect it to get 1000 hits in one day and spark a discussion about sex, sexuality and hypersexualization in the community around me.

My decision to not have sex or a relationship for a while struck a nerve in my queer community. In a community that has historically defined itself by its alternative sexual and gender expressions, what is the place of the person who chooses not to engage in sexual relationships with others? Is the queer community only a place for sexually active queers, or can a space be carved for others too?

I am disappointed at the lack of sexual choice we are presented with as adults. Sex seems to be the way in which we orient ourselves in the queer community. Our desires and our differing genders define us against the “mainstream” world. They offer us legitimacy, but, increasingly, I am finding they offer me a very small box indeed.

Sex positivity is a buzz word in the queer community. Its intention is to remove the stigma from sex and queer sex in a homophobic, sexist and transphobic world. It wants to empower us to live full sexual lives. Yet, sex positivity also has to include being able to say no to sex. It has to include being able to express that, actually, I don’t want to have sex now, for whatever reason. I don’t want to be in a relationship, and that’s OK. As one of the commenters on my blog wrote, “Just no sex is OK too.”

I’ve learned a lot during these past years about judgment and happiness and self-care. There is one thing about human sexuality I now truly believe. We can never find our way to sexual empowerment until we accept our single selves. As long as being single is seen as something undesirable or abnormal, we’ll never be truly sexually empowered, feminist or queer.

YOU SHOULD BE WRITING

The greatest challenge of moving to Toronto has been keeping true to myself. Part one of two on underemployment, self-care and learning to create.

I have had the hardest time recently keeping on top of things. As you’ve probably noticed, this blog has been seriously affected. It’s been such a struggle to move to a new city and try to build a new life, find employment. As always, getting a job has been the hardest challenge. I have such low self-esteem when it comes to employment. I’ve never had a job that I both enjoyed and that paid me a fair, living wage. Some of my most fulfilling ‘jobs’ have been volunteer positions and I have only ever been paid a fair wage for the drudge of administration. In every other situation, I feel that I have been taken advantage of. And, of course, I co-operate in that.

Neeeiill! Stop looking at me like that! Source: mobiuskleinstein.tumblr.com
NEIIIIL! DON’T KILL ME! Source: mobiuskleinstein.tumblr.com

Recently, dating someone new has given me the perfect excuse to ignore myself. I thought that 2013 would be so easy. Now I’m 30 I will be so mature and sorted. I will approach every situation with diligence and a balanced mind. Turns out, keeping perspective has been the hardest challenge of the past 2 months.

I have a tendency to prioritise others over myself; the classic habit of a blocked artist. These days, I try to put myself first. The balance of doing this while acting responsibly towards others in my life is something I am constantly thinking about. Refusing to put myself second place, recently, hurt someone else who was vulnerable at the time.

In other ways I, every day, put myself second. I distract myself by messaging my lover instead of writing. I spend time with them outside of our allotted dates instead of job hunting. This leaves me feeling frustrated and angry with myself. I know I am using them as an excuse and that is neither fair to them nor me.  This is something I struggle with every time I date someone. I would really like to develop healthy relationships that support rather than undermine my creativity.

Writers Block
Inspired by http://revaxmedia.co.uk/20-ways-to-help-writer-s-block

My lover asked me recently if we could stop freaking out now and just spend time enjoying each other. And I was, like, I don’t know! Maybe I like the drama too much. I know I am using the drama as a distraction from myself; where would I be without it? Oh yeah, a responsible, calm adult; living (working and playing) in the present.

I am afraid of silence. I am afraid that if I sit, in silence, even for 15 minutes, all my pain will come bubbling up and I will have to act on it. What will this mean for me? Does it mean I will realise I need to be by myself more? Does it mean I’ll need to change a relationship, end a friendship? Responsibility to myself entails change.

Source: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com
Source: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron notes that some blocked artists are afraid to create because they are afraid they’ll be forced to undergo radical change. If gay, they’re afraid they’ll be struck straight; if straight, they’re afraid they’ll realise they’re gay. I also have this overwhelming fear. What will I be forced to realise when I sit, just for 15 minutes, by myself every day and listen to the sound of my heart?

Oh yeah, and my lover’s idea for a new Tumblr: ‘Now That I’m 30’ and all the ridiculous things I feel that I should do now I’m in a new decade.

Resources to help you feel safe being creative:

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron (this book changed my life, no joke)

Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd (also a book-based course)

This:

Independent Woman, 2013 Edition

Hello 2013! Hello dear readers! It’s so lovely to see you again this side of 30. As you have probably noticed, I just took an unintentionally long break from posting. I guess this is a symptom that things are not 100% alright with me and I have, once again, been putting my creativity on the back burner. This is definitely an unhealthy behaviour, so I am making myself get back on the creative hobby horse, as it were.

A lot has happened in the past month. Not only have I walked into a new year with my head held high and a bunch of work to do, I have also started dating again. This is a major event for me and I have found it distracting, sexy and painful. Oh, the excitement of dyke drama. The seduction of losing myself in another. Forgetting myself has always been dangerously seductive for me. I call it the Disney complex. The dream that another person can rescue me from myself, without me having to do any of the work.

I have to constantly remind myself that this dream is a mirage. We all know, these days, that princesses have to rescue ourselves. We have to get down and dirty with our pick axes and our shovels. We have to hike up our skirts and create our own adventures. This is something that I know, but also that I have to teach myself again and again. No matter how wonderful another person is, they can’t fully entertain me. They can’t exercise my brain in the same way that I can. They can’t write for me. They can’t live my life for me.

So, this is my trying to be healthy. I am, in fact, insisting to myself that I must be healthy and put my nose back to the grindstone. I’ve thrown my petticoat over my shoulder and I’ve started hacking into the dirt. Who knows what I’ll find down there? Some rusty reminders of a former time. Fossilised tins of food. An undetonated grenade. And perhaps, underneath the rubbish, some clean, fertile soil.

If you don't know why this is funny, then you need to go to http://downtonabbeyonce.tumblr.com/ Original picture ©Sara Svärtan Persson
If you don’t know why this is funny, then you need to go to http://downtonabbeyonce.tumblr.com/ Original picture ©Sara Svärtan Persson