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.

I’ve got an award!

wordpress-family-award2

Despite my erratic blogging and difficulty finding the time and self-belief to write, of late. a lovely reader has given me the honour of nominating me for a WordPress Family Award. As I understand it, this award celebrates the WordPress community and is a way of showing appreciation for each other’s work and words. Thank you so much Jenness Johnston for nominating me! I am so lucky.

Although I have always been a bit of a blogger-in-denial (that is, I love blogging but tend to throw my words out there while trying not to think where they will fall – something to do with writer’s block) and therefore have so much more blog reading to do, as part of my acceptance of this award I will nominate 10 inspirational bloggers who deserve to have their work read and appreciated:

1) Lipstick and Teeth. My close friend and political ally. The person who used lipstick in the title of her blog before I did and I was, like, ‘damn’! A person whose posts, although not frequent, are of such great quality that they always impress and inspire me. I highly recommend subscribing to her feed. Katherine, it’s you.

2) Another Visual Diary. A truly inspirational, never-relenting artist who keeps blogging and producing zines and charging around Leipzig and London on her long board. A fierce feminist and a beautiful person who has made me feel supported in my writing and inspired me to continue. Do check her photo diary out.

3) The Flannel Files is my favourite blog title yet. This butch lesbian approaches writing and life in a way that I really identify with.

4) Pankhearst is an independent writer’s collective with a dark sense of humour. I find it hard to summarise what it’s about and – you know what? – I don’t care. Each post speaks to interests I didn’t even know I had.

5) This one-woman SexEd blog is inspiring both because I admire its creator and because it has some truly fascinating and helpful information about sex on it. I love geeking out about these things!

6) A blog that addresses questions of being trans and/or queer, I like CN Lester most when they posts controversial material that sparks discussion between the gays. Like all these blogs, CN deserves this award for consistent, high quality, content.

7) OMG those feminists are funny! Your Monthly Periodical is a collective magazine-style blog that writes witty commentary on pretty much everything.

8) One of the first blogs I started following, I held Discipline and Anarchy up as a model of flawless writing and thought-provoking content. It doesn’t shy away from the controversial and I try to emulate that in Diary.

9) Sheesh! So much talent, such a big internet. Stop! Talking is another angry feminist blog that I just L.U.R.V.E.

10) Never afraid to shine a critical eye on the queer community, A Radical TransFeminist has some great info. I dare you to read it.

Zinefest Berlin is this weekend! Plus, a little update

Hey kids, hows it hanging? Everyone in NYC all right? Hope so. So, as many of you Berliners know, this weekend is Zinefest Berlin 2012! Following the festival’s amazing debut last November, Zinefest continues, bringing self-published radical content to the world of Berlin’s underground. I was very lucky to be in attendance last year, along with my very popular vagina (or, more correctly, vulva) cupcakes and feminist zine. My awesome friend riotmade with love is selling my zine and all proceeds will go to a local queer project, because we are that nice. So go along and read!

The deets:

03-04 November 2012

SFE Gneisenaustrasse 2a

10961 Berlin

the prettiest printing of Dressed Like That, like, EVER

Before I go ahead and publish my post of the week tomorrow, I wanted to let you guys know that I will now be publishing new content every Thursday. This is a (potentially self-defeating) to be more organised and provide you, the reader, with a more consistent service (blah blah blah). I could make a graph to prove this theory to you, but I can’t quite be bothered. So yeah, Rock on. Thursdays are now your favourite day of the week!

Bye Bye Berlin, Hello World

Sitting here on my last morning in Berlin, I am trying to remember all the things that have made these past 2 years monumental for me. This blog is one of them. I have, finally, started to write on a regular basis and I am so much happier for it. I also organised The Femme Show 2012 and conceived and edited a collective zine about sexism. Berlin, you have meant so much to me. Berlin, you have driven me crazy and helped me get sane. Thank you.

A few people asked me if I intend to keep blogging here, and I am happy to say yes of course! I will be travelling into new patriarchal territory in Canada and I am sure there will be stuff there to blog (bitch) about in witty detail. Do keep checking in for updates on what I’m doing and thoughts about sexism. Who knows, this might even turn into a book.

The Berlin Femme Show 2012 @ Lido; copyright Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

As I sort my clothes and do all the tiny annoying things you have to do when you move country, I am surprisingly sad. I thought I would be so happy to leave; so happy. I have been waiting for this for years. To return to Canada. To leave the place of my depression and grey Winters, foreign languages and foreign customs.

Talking with a few friends who thank me for the femme activism I have done here, they remind me that I have made more connections than I expected. More connections than I wanted, even. I never wanted to be here. I never wanted to stay here. I always hated here.

That is one of my biggest problems; I never want to be now. I always want to be in the future. Then, when I live in Canada. Then, when I have a girlfriend. Then, when I am happy. I am getting better at learning the only time to be happy is now.

I am so sad to leave. I have more friends than I expected. I have loved more than I expected, despite stubbornly trying not to. ‘I’m not going be let them in, I don’t want them to know me.’ Sticks head under cover. This stubbornness competes with my real desire, hidden behind the defensiveness, to be loved and understood and to love back. I have always understood. Have you understood me?

Getting ready for The Femme Show, copyright Sara Svärtan Persson

Hence the writing, the performance, the activism. I have literally taken my clothes off on stage. My therapist explains my clumsy metaphors; you’re playing with your sexual boundaries, you have control [burlesque link]. I take centre stage. My unrealised performance of boxing my way through cardboard boxes, fighting to get free. Metaphor of being boxed in. Using my boxing training to break free.

I’ve aired my most secret thoughts, published them in a zine and here, and dared you to attack me. Femmephobic, transphobic? I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, and I know I am none of them. I push back. I cause deliberate controversy. I test the ground.

Berlin is a great place to experiment and learn new skills. The comparatively low cost of living here means that lots of bright young things from all over the ‘Western’ world have come to work. Studios are cheap, skills workshops are often free. People are willing to share their skills. New collaborations are continuously forming and dissolving. Writers become burlesque dancers become event promoters become bloggers. So many possibilities. Thank you Berlin.

I always knew this wouldn’t be the place for me to settle down, and I guess predictions are self-fulfilling. I never wanted 100% to be here; I’ve always had my heart somewhere else. Although I am glad these years are past, I am surprised by how much they have contained. There has been The Berlin Femme Show 2012, Dressed Like That zine, this blog, workshops on femmephobia in Copenhagen, Leipzig, Goettenberg and Hamburg. Friends that have passed through the city, leaving a little bit of love behind. A tiny bit of sugar left on the candy apple.

It’s been a really hard two years, and I’ve learnt a lot. And despite trying to live in the future too much, I am excited about my thirties. I turn 30 on the day the Mayan’s predicted the world would end. This will be two months after moving to Canada. I am hoping this new era will mean a change in consciousness for me, and for the planet. Maybe we’ll realise we’re living unsustainably and take care of the Earth? I am such a cheese bag.

Performing at the Femme Show; copyright Simson Petrol

I’d like to pretend this is an Oscars acceptance speech for one minute and thank all my lovely friends, old and new, for believing in me. I am blessed. I often forget that, but I am. I’d like to thank everyone who supported with kind words and actions and helped out with The Berlin Femme Show and Dressed Like That zine. I am sorry we never got those goodie bags to you. That’s what happens when two over-achieving femmes try to take over the world. Our desires can exceed our time-management skills. Don’t forget we still love you, despite this forgetfulness.

I also want to thank my good friend Rosebutt for believing in me as a performer. I still don’t really believe in myself, but I have tried to accept the praise from an artist I admire so fucking much. Trash Deluxe and its other organisers Kay P. Rinha and Nicopatra have created a great space for aspiring performers to test their ideas. My close friends for believing in me, and for scraping me off the floor when I needed it. Other Nature for selling my zine and Maedchenmannschaft for linking my posts.

It’s been a momentous two years, and I hope you accompany me into new blogging and geographical territory. Bye bye Berlin, hello Canada!

Still from Femme Show, copyright Simson Petrol

Why fetishizing trans men is offensive

See? I love provocative titles! God, I am going to get into so much trouble now. This one’s about when fetishes are harmful and why the queer community’s fetishization of trans men is problematic.

Warning! Controversial material.

In one of my posts earlier this Summer, I suggested that to unthinkingly fetishize transmasculinity can be sexist, and I wanted to flesh out (that one’s for all you vegans) that thought more. For me, there is a slight difference between having a fetish (a kink, for feathers or toes or suchlike) and fetishizing a group of people, such as a gender or an ethnicity.

According to the dictionary definition of a fetish as a sexual obsession, our whole culture fetishizes symbols of maleness (cue image of skyscraper) and we can see the eroticising of many women of colour as suspect exoticism. Fucked-up assumptions about ethnicity + misogyny = extra gross sexism.

I Googled phallus and skyscrapers. It was fun.

Although both the noun fetish and the verb to fetishize have similar dictionary meanings, as someone who likes to think about sexuality and sexual behaviours like, a lot, I find it useful to draw a kinda PC line between the two. For me, I am unlikely to judge someone who says they have, say, a leather or bicycle fetish. Regardless of whether black and bikes turn me on, I can respect someone who says they have a fetish. Have a thing for buttons or custard? Go for it, tiger. I don’t even need to understand these fetishes. They are not harmful, and are therefore none of my business.

Things become more complicated when people’s fetishes start to cross into ideologically laden territory, specifically when we start to fetishize groups of people. Fetishizing a button doesn’t hurt the button. There are (probably) not any button-ists out there fighting for equal rights for buttons or a Students Against Button Objectification group. But when we fetishize a gender, or an ethnicity, we start to deal with the squiffy area of identities that are assigned to people. We start to be attracted to people based on unfounded assumptions we make about them. These assumptions are informed by stereotypes about the social groups to which the person belongs.

For example, if I am a white girl who has a thing for black dudes, then my fetish is a bit more problematic. If I say that I prefer black dudes, then I have to ask myself what assumptions I am making about black men that makes them seem more attractive to me. Everyone knows that we, as a culture, believe a lot of clichés about black men. That they have larger penises and are in general more virile or aggressive. These myths probably originate in the racist assumption that people of colour are closer to nature and more in touch with their ‘animal’, and therefore ‘sexual’ selves (we also think the same about women; the man=intellectual / woman=irrational dichotomy). This racist, evolutionist ideology influences my apparently innocent sexual preferences. My fetish for black dudes is shown to be informed by some really dodgy cultural values.

Demure, submissive, avoiding eye-contact? Yup, that’s the Asian Doll stereotype

A similar thing happens in the queer community around transmasculinity. Most of us queers profess to only be attracted to queers on the masculine side of the spectrum and say we ‘just don’t find femmes, or feminine folks, that attractive’. I find this unthinking celebration of transmasculinity and its corresponding rejection of femininity extremely problematic. That to even write ‘transfemininity’ feels like an oxymoron – how can something be ‘trans’ and ‘feminine’? –  reveals that we use ‘trans’ as an adjective that means someone or something is inherently radical and inherently masculine.

So often, I find in queer communities that we assume a man we know to be trans will be feminist or queer. (Cis men at a dyke sex party? No thanks! Trans guys? Oh, that’s OK.) So often, we use the word ‘trans’ to mean only transmasculine folk, which leaves trans women and transfeminine peeps totally out of the picture. This kind of trans-misogyny from within the queer community mirrors the way patriarchal society values men and women.

Awesome blogger Natalie Reed sums up the way trans men are fetishized in the queer community:

“I am getting sick of trans men being treated as these totally awesome hot sex-pots in the queer community while trans women are treated with open contempt and revulsion. … I’m getting annoyed by trans men being perceived as radical super-duper gender rebels, smashing apart outdated norms, while trans women continue to be painted as tedious, conservative throwbacks to patriarchy- no matter how we express our gender. … I’m sick of femme straight trans women being pushed out of the queer community entirely while trans men are appreciated as the vanguard no matter how they present or who they fuck.”

– When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong

I agree with Natalie that we in the queer community put trans men on a pedestal. We see them as the embodiment of sexiness and as the embodiment of queerness.At the same time, we explicitly (in, like, rules) and subtly (y’know, by staring and making them feel unwelcome) exclude transfemininities and trans women from queer spaces.

I, too, am not immune to this collective adoration. I have a ‘thing’ for trans men just like all the other queers out there. But I find it problematic that I fetishize trans men. What makes me so much more likely to jump into bed with a guy, just because he’s trans? Then, I realised, oh that’s because I’m making all these assumptions about a guy who’s trans. I assume he’ll be better at non-normative heterosexual sex, I assume he’s more likely to be feminist, to be open-minded, to want to have penetrative sex and to be a considerate lover. Wow, all that and before I’ve even talked to the guy! Crazy.

Although it would be nice to think that a trans man will have a better understanding of sexism and be more feminist because he has been treated by others as if he were a woman, this assumption just doesn’t hold up. I am beginning to realise that there are also some lovely cis guys out there who are just as aware of and into the above things, and that being trans does not give a guy a magical pass to queer- and awesomeness.

To have the possibility to live as a transgender or transsexual person, that is radical. To fight for the right to change your name and decide your own sex, that is radical.  To be a pregnant man, that is radical. But to be trans, is, in itself, not radical. That is (or should be) normal. It’s your gender identity and it shouldn’t have any values imposed upon it (of course it does, but that’s what I’m discussing, innit?).

I am not trying to suggest that living as a trans person isn’t harder than living as a cis person. It is. I am not trying to say that to fight, every day and in myriad ways I will never, as a cis person, understand, for your right to exist as a trans person is not radical. It is. I am, however, saying that just because someone is trans, it doesn’t mean that they are inherently left-wing, feminist, queer, clever or considerate. You can be trans, and you can be a jerk at the same time. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. That is all.

I am stating this, not to interrupt the momentum of trans activism that is building up all over the world, but to ask us, as self-proclaimed feminists and queers to think about what values we assign to the different gender identities in our community, and why.

Of course there are truly radical trans dudes and transmasculine folks out there. There are trans men, and masculine genderqueers whose embodiment of masculinity is beautiful and does a wonderful service to feminism and great relationships everywhere. It’s just that we tend to assume trans men will be awesome for no other reason than they are trans. And that’s just silly.

So, back to fetishizing. I think we, in the queer community, fetishize transmasculine folks. We make a whole lot of positive assumptions about a guy, just because he’s trans, which may or may not have anything to do with him as a person. This is not only unfair to the individual personalities of all the transmasculine folks out there, it is also part of the demonization of trans women.

Further reading:

My thoughts in this article have been informed and developed by the brilliant writing of other folks around the web. I heartily invite you to check out the articles below.

A Beginner’s Guide to Trans Misogyny

When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong

‘No cis guys’ – No thank you

Self-Examination and Shifting Desires

Enough with ‘I date women and trans men’ and follow-up post

‘Socialised as a woman’

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Hey dudettes, I know I’ve been absent recently, but that’s what working for the man does to you. I need to find a woman! To tide you over in times of need, I have helpfully linked a review I published this week on The F Word. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is the second autobiography by Jeanette Winterson, one of my fave authors, and it has taught me a lot about the connection between mental health and creativity. You can check out my review at this brilliant UK feminist website. Enjoy and CLICK ME!