I have longwrittenabout the hierarchies of relationship status within Western society and how fucked up they are. When single, I fought against the idea that I needed a partner (preferably a man, if not then a woman would do) to ‘complete’ me. As a fiercely intelligent, grumpy and ambitious woman I didn’t think I needed anyone by my side to prove to others how awesome I am. At the same time that I actually did want to be in a relationship, I also didn’t think I needed a partner to validate my awesomeness. I knew I was enough by myself, and I wanted to be in a relationship for other reasons.
Now that I am in a relationship, I am still frustrated by this dynamic. I benefit A LOT from having a partner. I now have someone to bring to the work dinner, someone to go on vacation with and someone to ward off unwanted male attention. I have someone to talk about when new acquaintance is trying to get to know me better by asking the socially prescribed questions, and I no longer have to deal with awkward silences or pitying expressions when I say I am single. Even better, my partner goes by male pronouns, hiding my queerness and making me sound like I fit right in with straight society. (And, yes, in case you didn’t realize, most of this preceding paragraph should be read in a sarcastic tone.
So, given the above, it really pisses me off that I am treated differently now I have a partner. Even by my feminist friends. People have stopped inviting me out as much, assuming I want to spend every second of my spare time staring into my beau’s eyes. They’ve even stopped inviting me out directly, and starting asking my partner to do things, assuming that I will just accompany him like a passive dog at his heels. And this behaviour, from self-professed queer feminists, I find unacceptable.
I have tried to avoid making these assumptions in my own life. I try not to ask one half of a couple, assuming the other half will trot along beside them, but ask each person separately as if they are, shock horror, individual people with distinct social lives. Given that, I know I’m not perfect and, despite my righteous indignation, I know I’ve committed the old ask-one-expect-two invitation style.
However, enough is enough and I think we should all, as self-respecting feminist men, women and queers, get over our linguistic laziness and send an invitation to each person we want to come to our events. After all, isn’t this just an extension of the formal Mr. & Mrs. L. Brightwell. Who needs a name, right, when you’ve got a husband?
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.
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.
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.
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.
How Disney fucked up my love life and how it literally pays to get married. Plus, surprisingly readable musings on the nature of happiness.
Hi guys! Me again. Yup this one is pretty long – I was going to post it as two pieces but I think it makes more sense in one go. I have inserted cunning subtitles and pretty pictures to keep you entertained. Plus, wittiness! Knock yourselves out. I would especially enjoy responses to my questions about how cis, trans and gay guys feel about romance. Do you, too, feel conditioned to love in a particular way?
“Hollywood is the devil and if you’re not careful it can ruin even the best of relationships.” – Feminism for Anarchist Men zine
In my post on careers last month, I suggested that, in a world which only allows women as value as girlfriends, wives, attached to another, maybe we don’t feel there is any point in nurturing women’s abilities. You may have a brilliant daughter who is hugely talented, but the most important thing to you is that she finds a partner, settles down (whatever that means) and has babies. And, of course, this isn’t only an external pressure. We have all internalised this pressure to mate. The idea that a monogamous long-term relationship is our only possible happy ending. I mean, I used to lie about my past relationships because I thought I was a failure if I hadn’t had one. Never mind my own talents, I only have value if I am, and have, a lover. It seems that being single is even worse than being gay.
Happiness. That old bind. I remember my friend reporting to me how, at a dinner party, one of the guests said that women would have been happier without feminism. Apart from some possible responses to this – what, we would be happier without the vote, the criminalisation of rape within marriage, the right to own property? – it is actually quite a hard statement to argue against. Happiness is hard to quantify, and who feels happy when they haven’t got a man?
As a woman, it is virtually impossible to be happily single. With everything in our lives pushing us towards the ‘happy ending’ of a relationship, we can never feel completely happy in the moment of now. Now, I am single. Now, I am writing. Now, I am doing something I have always wanted to do, the thing that I am best at, but am I happy? Fantasies about meeting the ‘right person’ who I can ‘settle down’ with take up a lot of my headspace. Where is my home, if not with this imaginary other who is going to make everything all right?
“Will you marry me?” – pretty much ever movie, romantic novel, ever.
I have spent a lot of my life waiting for someone to rescue me. A prince to ride up on a white horse and take me away from my tower. I won’t try to free myself, because that’s not how the story is meant to go.
Most little girls don’t know they have the power to make themselves happy. Because they have been told they don’t. As Betty tells her daughter in Mad Men, the first kiss is of huge importance in a girl’s life. The kiss is the moment that wakes Snow White / Sleeping Beauty, and the prince will then whisk her off into a world of affluence, orgasmic sex and, happiness. Of course, in a world in which men still earn a lot more than women, this myth does have some truth to it. Marrying is, for heterosexual women, still a choice of economics. If you earn less than men for the same work, then to have kids, be rich, to have everything you want, you need to marry a guy who will financially support you.
Despite the fact that both my parents are equally qualified, as a physician my mother earns far less than my surgeon father. It’s true that she could have chosen another specialty and thereby earned a higher wage, but she decided to give up her dreams of being an anaesthetist to be a mother. Even as a GP, she still was hardly at home and both my brother and I had nannies. As a woman who wanted to marry and live a respectable middle-class life, how much choice did she ever have to become an anaesthetist? Especially when the dream includes a nice house, money for holidays and to give your children everything you want for them. Even today, my female doctor friends are not choosing surgery because the male culture and long hours are inimical to family life. The main reason for my best friend getting married is to get better mortgage options, although of course the public commitment to her husband is meaningful. Plus, everyone know that when you get married you get a tonne of presents! (The financial rewards of marriage are obvious.)
“being single is even worse than being gay”
Of course, my argument here is very middle-class and I realise that marriage does not give most people these luxuries. But we would be kidding ourselves if we pretended that the Disney dream were only about love. How do we quantify happiness in this capitalist world if not in terms of money and possessions? Even if you are a girl born into a working-class family, you are still taught to dream of being rescued by a rich prince. Ariel and Belle married above their class and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty both masqueraded as members of a different class into order to catch their man. (Prince Charming falls in love with Sleeping Beauty when he sees her, apparently a peasant, dancing in the woods with animals. Luckily, it turns out she is the daughter of the King and Queen so he is allowed to love her after all.) Romantic comedies of the past two decades like Pretty Woman and Cinderella remake Maid in Manhattan still sell this dream. It’s OK if you are a prostitute or a maid working in a hotel because a rich business man/politician will ‘discover’ and rescue you from your shitty job. We are all taught to wait for that special someone who will always find and save us. (Btw, check out this feminist run down of Disney princesses. It’s awesome.)
For heterosexual women, marriage is a compelling sell. It makes economic sense. It also (weirdly) offers the promise of autonomy. When are your parents ever going to recognise you as an independent woman if not when you marry? Marriage is the moment fretful mothers breathe a sigh of relief; their daughter has finally flown the nest and responsibility for her wellbeing has been passed onto someone else. Girls marry to be seen as a woman, a grown-up, even if the transaction of marriage still means that they have just been passed onto another owner.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn…” – Moulin Rouge
Heterosexual or not, we only take people seriously when they are partnered up. There is nothing weirder to us than a single person. It doesn’t matter if you are queer, straight or whatever, the most important thing is that you are in a relationship. As women, we are taught that it is our job and our destiny to seek out a guy and even in the case of a lesbian, a committed female partner is still better than none. When I was a teenager, all the talk with my friends was about when we going to get a boyfriend, kisses and who we were dating. Now, living mostly among queers, I still feel the same pressure to hook up. People expect me to be an actively sexual person and to have a (probably non-monogamous) partner. This pressure to be sexual feels similar to the pressure I experience from my family’s side to be in a long-term monogamous relationship. It seems that, no matter which community you live in, you are valued more when you are in a relationship. If you are a single woman, then you must be ‘unhappy’.
It is undoubtedly better, in our eyes, to be in a bad relationship than no relationship at all. I may recognise that other people’s relationships have some pretty major problems, but I will still be jealous of them for being together. It doesn’t matter if the majority of marriages end in divorce, getting married is still the best thing that can ever happen to you. I know women who will endure years of bad relationships just because they are terrified of being single. I recognise this clinging tendency in myself when I am desperate to keep dating a person even if I am not particularly into them; I generally find it extremely difficult to end the relationship for myself. Upon being dumped, I often feel relieved that that (right) decision has been made for me and simultaneously ashamed that I couldn’t make it for myself.
“who feels happy when they haven’t got a man?”
I remember being particularly upset when, a year ago, an old friend said she was ‘disappointed’ that I hadn’t been in a relationship since I had last seen her 2 years before. What could this disappointment possibly mean? It had nothing to do with concern about my happiness. She knew I had been depressed, at times suicidal and I told her I needed and wanted to be single so I could look after myself. So, we expect people to be in relationships even to their own detriment? Apparently, being in a couple is more important than my health, or even my life. If this is true, then what, for women, does happiness mean?
The social desire for women to be in a relationship is cloaked in false concern about our happiness. The conservative social dream, that keeps us neurotic, spending all our energies trying to make ourselves attractive in order to catch a man (whether he actually be a man or not) is sold to us as a dream of happiness. We are promised that our prince will rescue us from our insecurities by providing us with the financial security of (heterosexual) partnership. Of course, this isn’t so explicit and financial security is worked into a fairy tale of orgasmic kisses where I ‘just knew he was the one for me’ and ‘I had finally found my one true love’. Even some of my straight feminist friends still describe their boyfriends in terms of ‘the one.’ Just see Sex and the City’s Mr Big for an example of true love being sold to highly intelligent and otherwise sane, successful women.
I imagine that men don’t experience this urge to merge in quite the same way. Growing up with a different set of stimuli, they are allowed to be happily single. The rich older bachelor is for many men a figure of envy. He hasn’t been presented with a ticking biological clock and a deadline by which he must settle down and reproduce. He can play the field for pretty much as long as he likes.
Of course, if you’re a guy you are also (financially) better off being gay. You have double the top salaries and it’s less likely you’ll have children to support. Visit mainstream gay villages in the Western world’s big cities and the orgasm of commerce there will tell you just how much more money these guys have to burn than us lesbians. I also wonder where men who were raised as women generally fall on this scale of pressure. Do trans men dream of settling down and feel the pressure to desperately seek a partner, or does their gender allow them to ignore the conditioning directed at women? What do you guys think?
This dream of love seems to be blind to sexuality. I, still, wonder if my date will be ‘the one to rescue me’ at the same time I consciously recognise this idea is bollocks. No matter if the person I am with is male, female or neither, I have a constant internal dialogue about our relationship. Where is this going, are we going to settle down together, is this the person ‘I am going to spend the rest of my life with’? This internal dialogue has nothing to do with the person in front of me. Even if, on a date, I am thinking how much this person is irritating me, I will stil desperately cling to them because I want them to save me. Even though I know, beyond a doubt, that this is a false dream I have learnt by some very successful (and ongoing) social conditioning, I can’t seem to get rid of it.
Not My Happy Ending
The dream of ‘the one’ has had some pretty disastrous effects on my love life. It causes me to cling onto my lover as if I were drowning, neurotic behaviour that is not very sexy. It also, as Germaine Greer argued in The Female Eunuchway back in the 70s, provides a very convenient distraction from myself. Linked to the self-abuse of fat hate, the desire to catch, keep (beauty myth) and be rescued by (Disney) a lover keeps me away from the realisation that only I can rescue myself.
I am unhappy. Am I unhappy because I am single? No. I am unhappy because I want to have more adventures (including love affairs), to be more creative. But I am too busy obsessing after someone I barely know to work on being happy for myself. I am never happier than when shut off from media, travelling, spending my days writing and exploring. But every time I fancy someone I obsess in a way that takes me away from the real world and more into myself. The dream of love leads me away from adventure into self-defeating masochism. This behaviour is also circular: the more miserable I get, the more desperately I look to the other person to save me.
“If you are a single woman, you must be unhappy”
Having had depression over the past two years has forced me to do some hard evaluation of the way I engage with life and relationships. In her autobiography Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal Jeanette Winterson says that “creativity is on the side of health” (I will be reviewing this book on feminist mag The F Wordso keep a look out for the link). I too have learnt that writing and other types of art provide me with an outlet for that nervous energy that I used to invest so destructively into my affairs. I believe this misuse of our energy is exactly what Disney and the myth of romantic love works to achieve. Keep our attention away from ourselves, and we, the oppressed majority will never rebel against our oppression. We will never rebel against our potential.
All this isn’t to say that I don’t believe in love. I do, wholeheartedly, believe in love. Love which is sane and healthy and forms a deep connection between individuals. I also believe that the myths surrounding romantic love are deliberately harmful to women and the heterosexual men who love them. The imbalance of power in such obsessive relationships can only lead to destruction of some kind, whether of the relationship itself, or the independence and creativity of the lovers. I would love to learn to form relationships that aren’t needy and obsessive but strong and calm. The kind of feeling I get when I am by the sea; the feeling I am home. When each wave is a new moment and it is constantly and calmly changing.
Disney princesses dubbed with clips from Mean Girls:
Hey lovely readers, just wanted to give you a heads up that I have a brand spanking new article up on awesome feminist website Feminists India. It is a summary of my arguments that question group norms in the queer community. What do you guys think? Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the realities of lived queer lives? Go check it out.
I have been so happy with readers’ responses to posts on this blog. When I don’t want to have sex went off the wall, with, like, a million hits in one day (ok, that’s an exaggeration) it became clear to me that lots of other people feel pressured to be sexual or be sexual in a certain way, in order to try and fit into the queer community. Thank you so much for all your comments. You have given me much food for feminist thought. Now I would like to broaden the topic and think about pressures around sexuality which exist in every aspect of society, even if they play out in slightly different ways. And one thing that has really been getting my goat recently (great expression), is other people’s expectations of me in the context of dating.
My slight feminist obsession with gender, sex and sexuality has led me to do a lot of outreach work on these subjects with young people. In Montreal I worked with both a sexual assault centre and an LGBT organisation along the lines of Berlin’s ABqueer to talk to first-year university students about sexual consent and intimacy. I used the same workshops to adapt the government’s qualification on sexual health in the UK. Discussing sex and dating with young people in London and Canada has given me a lot of insight into the expectations we are taught to have when we go on a date or bring someone back to our place. I believe that both men and women feel an excessive pressure to have sex, to follow a dating ‘script,’ which leads them to act out of peer pressure rather than to listen to and follow their own desires.
“Kisses in the movies will lead to beautifully choreographed missionary position sex without so much as an ‘is this OK for you?'”
In the workshops I lead with teenagers, we discuss an imaginary encounter between two people in order to think about what sexual expectations we have of others. The scenario goes something like this: two people meet at a party. They are either opposite or same-sex depending on the group, and of course the gender of the two people often leads the group to interpret their behaviour accordingly. These two imaginary teenagers like each other and they go back to one of their, say the guy’s, apartment. After a little while, the other person, say the woman, says that she doesn’t want to stay the night and wants to go home. She gives the guy a goodnight kiss, which he interprets as a sign that she has changed her mind and starts to remove her clothing. One thing leads to another and they end up having sex. The next day she feels really uncomfortable. What went wrong?
The groups’ response to this scenario can vary surprisingly, but generally the following ideas come up. The group will often jump to the defense of the man, saying it’s not his fault that this happened, that she should have said ‘no.’ Or that she is ‘leading him on’ by kissing him. This immediate defensive reaction is interesting, because it implies that we, the facilitators, are trying to blame someone for what happened. In fact, the purpose of this exercise is to find out how this scenario could have been avoided. How could these two people have negotiated the situation in order to make sure this misunderstanding didn’t happen?
“What if the guy thought he should have sex because his friends would call him gay?”
I have run similar workshops with LGBT youth groups, Muslim boy groups and Jewish girl groups, from private schools to council estates in East London. With a pretty varied bunch of people, really. And the same ideas always come up. This idea that a woman should be the defender of her sexuality falls in with the stereotype of the man as the sexual actor and the woman as the sexual receiver. A man’s role is to try and get as much sex as possible, and a woman’s role is to try and defend her virginity, ‘purity,’ not be a slut, whatever. There is the assumption that the man will, naturally, want to have as much sex as possible. Even in LGBT groups, there is the assumption that we all, men, women or queers, want to have as much sex as possible and if you don’t, then it is your responsibility to say no. It’s not very often that someone in the group will bring up the possibility that maybe neither of these people wanted to have sex at all. That maybe the guy, or girl, proceeded to remove the other person’s clothing because s/he thought s/he should. Because that’s just what you do in these situations. Flirting leads to kissing and kissing leads to sex. Naturally.
I love it when some wonderful person says, but what if the guy didn’t want to have sex? What if he thought he should have sex because otherwise his friends would call him a loser, a pussy, gay? A classic example ofhow sexism hurts men too. Depending on the level of the group, we try to discuss why people feel a pressure to have sex, where this pressure comes from, and what we can do to make communication between lovers more clear. Because our sexual interactions rely on a lot of assumptions. There’s a script. Literally. Look at lovers on the silver screen and their kisses will lead to beautifully choreographed missionary position sex without so much as an ‘is this OK for you?’. And when we get our ideas about romance from movies is it such a surprise that our sexual communication is so fucked up? Looking at Hollywood couples you would assume that they can communicate telepathically, their kisses and moves are so in tune. And do you know why this is? It’s because they are choreographed by a team of film makers whose job is to maintain this illusion of romantic perfection.
No matter how feminist, or ‘liberated’ we think we are, we still try to follow this ideal. This Hollywood dream. No wonder our sex lives are so hard, so full of miscommunications, because we, actually, don’t really communicate. If only we did have psychic insight into our lovers’ desires. I’ll stare into your eyes and I will magically know that now you want me to kiss your neck, suck your toes, whatever… It would make this whole sex thing a lot easier!
It’s not only teenagers who feel the pressure to follow a sexual script. This idea that ‘one thing leads to another’ came up in my life quite recently, much to my surprise. It turns out even super awesome feminist youth workers like myself aren’t immune to breakdowns in sexual communication! A few months ago, I was flirting at a party with a cute person and I kissed her, in a spirit of spontaneity. I didn’t want to go home with her, I didn’t want to see her again, I just wanted to kiss her. So I did (And I asked first). I was criticised the next day by someone else for leading the other person on. Sending mixed signals. Being a bitch, because I had told this cute person that I didn’t want to see her again. And this really hurt me. It turned out that, apparently, I wasn’t allowed to be in control of my sexuality. I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted. I had to follow someone else’s idea of what a kiss means, and ignore my own desires. I had deviated from the sexual script, and boy was I punished for it.
“Would you like to step into my boudoir…?”
Worried whether my behaviour really had been all that bad, I asked the girl I kissed if that had been OK for her. And she said, yeah, it was totally fine. No problem. So, neither of the two people involved in ‘the kiss’ had any problem with it all just stopping there. It was actually an observer who had nothing to do with it at all who found the whole sexual interaction offensive.
So, it’s not just the teenagers in the scenario who feel peer pressure to have sex, it’s queers like myself too. It’s pretty much everyone, actually.
These days I am exploring how I can communicate with my lovers to reduce the number of miscommunications that happen. The workshops I run always finish with a discussion about consent. How you have to talk with a lover in order to express what you want, ask what the other person wants, and to negotiate something that you are both happy with. That relying on telepathic Hollywood brainwaves really doesn’t work. Now this might all be a bit Sexual Consent 101 to some of you readers out there, but as my own experiences have shown me, consent is necessary in every actively sexual person’s lives (unless you’re having sex with yourself, in which case you can communicate telepathically what you want!).
And now, in the interest of improving all our sex lives, I have a question. Who can think of some sexy consent questions? I am always trying to think of cute new ways to ask for a kiss, a fuck etc. and sometimes my attempts are called sweet or endearing, but rarely hot. It would be awesome if you could leave your ideas in the comments below. Maybe together we’ll be able to think of some awesome new phrases… Can I jiggle your schizzle (I have no idea what this means)? Would you like to step into my boudoir and check out my awesome new selection of ticklers? See, I’m not very good at this… Help me!
A couple of years ago I had a polyamorous relationship with someone who is just about as geeky as me. We would have long conversations about cocks and sex and polyamory. This was my first poly experience and I had a bit of trouble with it. I continually struggled with the question of whether or not I was jealous of their existing relationship and how I felt about having sex with someone who had just been with their other lover. It was an experiment. After we broke up, I thought that it hadn’t worked because I was a monogamous person.
When I said to a friend that I wanted to talk to her about my relationship because she is a polyamorous person, she said, well, I’m not polyamorous, I prefer to be in polyamorous relationships. Which made me realise that I had been using polyamorous and monogamous as nouns. As though to be polyamorous or monogamous are faits accomplis; something inherent to who you are.
“I find the assumption that someone else knows more about my sexuality than I do offensive”
This idea of polyamorous as something definite and fixed scared me away from exploring poly relationships after our break-up. I assumed that polyamory was just something that some people were, a fixed identity. And how can I challenge that? This concept of poly as something inherent made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to explore relationships on an individual basis. It made it sound like people have a singular sexuality, relationships have fixed dynamics and this is just how it is. Another opposition for me to deal with. Male/female, straight/queer, polyamorous/monogamous.
I have a bit of a problem with binaries.
As I said in the comments on last week’s post, I have got the very strong impression from fellow queers that my desire to be monogamous means there there is something wrong with me. That I haven’t worked out my issues. Some of the zines and books I have read on poly suggest the same thing; jealousy comes from insecurities and our natural sexual state as humans is to be polyamorous. If you just worked your shit out then you would be happy being poly. And while I acknowledge that some people are happiest being poly, I find the assumption that someone else knows more about my sexuality than I do a little bit offensive. A friend of mine recently said to me, ‘I really want to be in a monogamous relationship but I know that’s because I’ve been brainwashed. I know it’s my problem.’ Actually, no, wanting to be monogamous is not a problem. It doesn’t make you, her or me any less feminist, sane or intelligent. It is a legitimate desire.
“Why would I want to change myself in order to live up to someone else’s sexual standard?”
I have begun to notice that when I meet people they assume things about me. A lot of people think that I will be into BDSM, even though I’ve never had a conversation with them about this. ‘Did I see you at the Easter Conference? Were you at that sex party? Want to come to my bondage class?’ Even as a kinky person who is into BDSM, this assumption jars with me. Because it seems to come from this idea that kinky is the cool thing to be. It equates being queer with being kinky in the same way as some people call poly ‘natural.’ Queers are kinky, queers are poly. In fact, I wonder if my recent exploration of my attraction to hetero cis men comes from an assumption that as straight dudes they will not want to be poly!
I have this problem where I try to please other people, even at the cost of putting my own needs second. I want to fit in with the crowd and I want people to like me. People assume I will want to go to sex parties, that I will be into BDSM and polyamorous. I think that I am most comfortable in monogamous relationships. These are the kinds of relationships that I have always wanted. Why would I want to change myself in order to live up to someone else’s sexual standard? Surely the right to own our sexuality has to include the right to not have sex, the right to be vanilla and the right to be in monogamous relationships. As a group that consciously explores questions around gender, sex and relationships, we queers think a lot about the implications of our sexual behaviour and the relationships we form. And as a feminist and someone who is a little bit obsessed with gender, I find this exciting and important. However, we can’t dictate what is right for other people. My understanding of queer has always been that it is an ‘umbrella’ term that includes various genders and sexualities. Maybe it’s human nature to form group norms, to decide what is and isn’t cool and judge people accordingly. But I would like us to go back to this old school meaning: queer is whatever you want it to be. I don’t want to be cool anymore.
James had long curly brown hair and a beard – he looked like a musketeer. His curls were carefully brushed out and fluffy, longer than most people’s hair; well onto his chest. Once he flicked it in an affected way back over his shoulder. I had consciously avoided doing this with my hair when it was long. The girls at school and on American teen shows, with their long dyed blonde hair, used to flick it to prove how light-hearted and playful they were. I hated it. To me it was a sign of conformity, of being forced to be something that I wasn’t. A sign for boys to watch them.
James had 2 piercings, one in his ear and one in his nose, which made him look more beautiful. I assume that a man who is comfortable enough to wear a nose ring is comfortable enough in his masculinity to play with femininity a little. I like that.
Meeting James tied in with a lot of questions I have been having recently, about whether or not I am attracted to straight, cis-gendered (non-trans) men. He was certainly beautiful, and his beard made him masculine in an old-fashioned dandy way that made me expect to find an Épée in his belt. I appreciated his caustic sense of humour, which was a match for my own. He responded to my intellectual challenges with word games until we were fencing, flirting around the ideas of gender and sexuality. James had been strongly criticised, my friend Claire told me, by some of her lesbian feminist friends, for producing a dance which was orientated, as far as I understood, around BDSM and straight sexuality. James and I talked about whether a ‘mostly straight, mostly cis-gendered’ man could understand the feminism that comes from living, or having presented, as a woman. That maybe he was also overcriticised because he was a straight man – that these women wanted to attack him for making any kind of sexual performance that involved both a man and a woman.
Such conversations as these remind me of the complicated nature of things. Of everything. I am standing here, talking to a man I have just met, flirting as a lesbian with a man who has a girlfriend. Flirting as a feminist with a man who has been called misogynist and who I think is really lovely. The world turns on such delicate axes.
An older man walks into our conversation, pushing past James to the bar, suddenly coming into my field of view. He is dressed in normal, scruffy clothes and looks completely out of place, like he has wandered off the street into this party which is trying to convey an atmosphere of sexual decadence. James makes a face. Both of us are annoyed by this typical intrusion by a seemingly-straight, white guy into our personal space. The intervention of the sexist, again, in our safe haven. The man takes up so much space at the bar, it’s as though he is asking us to challenge him. He stares at us. I step backwards to let James come forwards and move out of the other man’s aura. James flicks his hair back in a diva move that says, eurgh, thank God we got rid of him! And I think, does he really get it, this straight German guy? Does he really feel what I am feeling? Acknowledging the different dynamic, the intrusion of the sexist into this party. And do I, a lesbian, really want to fence, flirt, fuck this man or is it only a game to me? A game of intellect and power? It’s so hard to tell. It’s complicated.