Category Archives: sexuality
I have a confession to make on this Bisexual Visibility Day–I’ve definitely got some internalized biphobia going on. Whenever the topic of biphobia or bisexual invisibility comes up, I totally “rah rah” along in solidarity with bisexual folks, but I also have some kneejerk reactions to bisexuality as an identity that I need to keep interrogating. When I identified as gay, I had the bad grace to think of my own bisexual history as a phase I didn’t want to think too much about, and I definitely made the error of thinking of bisexual people as “less queer.” Now that I identify as queer, I’ve made some progress in understanding bisexuality as a valid identity for other people, but I realize that I’m uncomfortable identifying with bisexuality or seeing the commonalities between bisexuality and my own identity.
I’m thinking a bit about how queers experience space differently, and I notice that so many of my experiences of being queer are intricately linked with the dichotomy of public vs. private, even now as an out queer adult.
When queer folks talk about growing up and early sexual experiences, it’s often about hiding or trying to find safe space. Few of us had a safe, private place for sexual exploration, though sometimes keeping our identity quiet can grant us such a place. I remember kicking myself for coming out to my mom as a teen when my peers told me about being able to hook up behind closed doors, free from suspicion, because a parent would never suspect a same-sex friend. Similar dynamics can also come up for queer adults, looking for privacy as an alternative to potential violence and/or sexual abuse.
I guess it’s no surprise that my expectations for friendships in my thirties are different from what they were in my teens. But in thinking about how my friendship norms have changed over time, I notice some patterns that might have been alleviated by better education around friendship at a young age — a kind of relationship that’s prioritized much less than romantic relationships in the collective imagination, but is actually more important for many people.
When I was a kid, my primary models for friendship were my mom’s two best friends–one woman she’d known since high school, and another she met while pregnant with me. This idea of close, lifelong friends stuck with me and was definitely an aspiration. As a kid, I was always looking for a “best friend,” and fantasized about growing up and attending college together. I was desperate enough for a BFF that my closest friendships tended to have a cost, either of manipulation and borderline abusiveness in the friends who took advantage of that need, or of a neediness that I found overwhelming in friends who were just as desperate.
In case you haven’t received the memo, in the United States at least, we’re living in a capitalist heteropatriarchal society. And when those two elements combine, one of the results is that it’s a citizen’s capitalist duty to literally produce people — to reproduce within a heteropatriarchal family structure. But what about the queers? Does being queer and anti-capitalist mean being opposed to production as a concept? Well, not necessarily.
I think queer creative production provides an interesting theoretical alternative to the capitalist heteropatriarchal ideal of production through reproduction. Sure, some queers make babies, but more interesting I think is another way we produce, through our creativity. Most of us don’t prioritize popping out kids to make the nationalist economy function, but a lot of do prioritize another kind of production.
Queerness has long been about producing love, producing connections, producing art and health and survival. I believe that to be queer is inherently to be making, creating, re-forming, and yes, producing. I love the way queers often form pastiches and remixes by creating on top of one another’s work, by rethinking ideas, by questioning and challenging. We get creative because we have to in order to survive, sometimes making our own alternative economies and family structures. We figure out how to survive through wit and connections and creativity. This is especially true for QTPOC and indigenous queers, for those whom society has left behind. Queerness is in this way, opposed to capitalism but also inherently generative.
I’ve said before that I don’t really have a sexual orientation based on gender, that I’m attracted to queer people of all genders. But what about people who aren’t queer? Well, sometimes I’m attracted to them too, but much more hesitant to hook up or start a relationship. Why? Because I’m sick of people, typically cis men, making the assumption that I’m a “safe” choice because I’m not too “obviously trans.”
I used to say, essentially, “don’t worry, being with me doesn’t turn you queer. You get to pick your own identity, as long as you don’t try to misrepresent mine.” But you know what? No. I’m tired of protecting cishet identities. I’m tired of fragile masculinities. I’d rather say I will turn you queer. That queerness, like a glorious disease, will spread from my body to yours and that you cannot share intimacy with me and stay “safe.” You don’t get to have those two things simultaneously. I’d rather be a threat than silent. I’d rather be scary than fearful.
For the most part, that means that I don’t want to be intimate with those who aren’t queer anymore–or at least not with those who are terrified of queerness, who are uncomfortable with queerness. I can’t sacrifice my survival for someone else’s comfort. If you’re in my life, the queer will rub off on you, at least a little, and that’s a deal breaker.
One of my favorite reasons for identifying as queer is all about fucking with how we center our understanding of relationships and attraction. In the last post, I covered how other terms don’t work well for me because they’re clunky to use as a non-binary person. But also, I don’t find terms that relate to gender to be particularly useful for describing those to whom I’m attracted. Gender just isn’t my main focal point for classifying my relationships and attractions, and I find it strange that a single trait would be so central to how almost everyone talks about these subjects. Even terms like “pansexual” are implicitly about gender–they just mean “all of them.”
Personally, I use other sorts of categories to vaguely describe the pool of folks I’m interested in. I’m attracted to queerness, dominance, and (with some notable exceptions!) femmes. I suppose I could come up with specific terms for these attractions, but I like “queer” as a way of saying “hey, you might want to ask me some more questions to understand my sexuality.” I can then describe my attraction in sentences and paragraphs, and that’s more likely to lead to a connection anyway.
In the last post, I talked about queer as a term that is inherently intersectional. Today I’ll cover one of the reasons that queer specifically makes more sense to me than any other sexuality term out there. This one is pretty simple–it’s because other terms, in my view, all have at least some reference to the speaker’s own gender, and those terms only awkwardly account for non-binary people like me.
Although I do occasionally joke with one partner that we’re in a heterosexual relationship because she’s a woman and I’m not, that’s not usually how terms like straight and gay work. What does gay mean for a non-binary person? What does straight? Certainly there are non-binary people who claim those terms, and they have every right to do so, but they don’t work for me. Similarly, while I’ve heard bisexual used to mean “both my gender and different genders,” it doesn’t have resonance for me, and I don’t know that any of these terms would be legible for cis folks–in fact, they might lead some cis folks to incorrectly assume my gender.
I like that “queer” doesn’t actually tell you much of anything about my preferences. Instead, it invites you to ask.
People in meatspace keep looking at me funny when I use the term “monoganormativity,” so I guess it’s time to talk about it.
For a long time, I’ve noticed similarities between queerness and polyamory when it comes to the trajectory of each movement and the focus on more normative versions of a given identity. In queer-land, this is the tendency of large LG(B)((T)) organizations to focus on same-sex marriage, adoption, and other priorities and messaging that support a “just like you” framework. We call these tactics, as well as relationships that default to assumptions about how relationships work that come from the straight world, “heteronormative.” Monoganormativity is the same idea, just a corollary that springs up in poly-land.
monoganormativity: culture, practices, and behaviors that mimic those considered “normal” among monogamous people within the context of a polyamorous culture or relationship.
For example, when the default focus in conversations around polyamory is jealousy or relationship hierarchy, I consider that focus monoganormative because it’s aligned with the monogamous culture norm that partners should be jealous of and need to be more important than others, despite the fact that the context is polyamory. I’d also call the tendency of a lot of (but certainly not all) newly poly folks to focus on one couple as a foundation and write relationship rules springing from this baseline, rather than rethinking possible relationship styles, monoganormative–and the same goes for media coverage that focuses only on triads and couple-plus structures when discussing polyamory.
This isn’t intended to be an indictment. Most of us grow up in a context where monogamy is the norm. Even typing “monogamous culture” felt funny to me, probably because like white culture, it’s unnamed and pervasive. No one ever asks “when did you decide to practice monogamy?” just like no one ever asks “when did you realize you were straight?” It takes time to defeat internalized monoganormativity, no matter how proudly poly you are. I’ve heard so many folks who practice radical, non-hierarchical poly express guilt when they realize they “just want to be the most important!” in a situation, despite their fundamental commitment to egalitarianism.
So I don’t want to condem anyone who feels these feelings (myself included), but I do want to suggest an awareness of monoganormativity both in culture and in how we conduct intimate relationships. It’s okay to be jealous, it’s okay to practice consensual relationship hierarchy, it’s okay to have moments when you want to be the only one. It’s also okay to be monogamous. Let’s just stop pretending that monoganormativity doesn’t exist.
Since the vast majority of folks who find this blog through a Google search land here on some variation of the question “what does queer mean?” or “what’s the difference between queer and gay?” I thought it might be fun to do a short series on why I use the term “queer” as an identity and what it means to me relative to other possible labels.
One of the biggest reasons I use queer is because it’s inherently intersectional. Queer has a political meaning to a lot of people, and wrapped up in that is the importance of considering policies and human rights issues that go beyond those narrowly focused on sexuality like same-sex marriage or the rights of gay and lesbian folks to serve in the military. Not all queer issues have an obvious connection to gender or sexuality, but they do all impact queer people’s lives, because no queer person is just queer.
In my experience, queer communities are particularly likely to recognize the importance of prioritizing issues that affect our most marginalized members–issues around poverty, immigration, prisons and policing, sex work, and racial justice to name a few. These things don’t just affect queer people, but they do affect queer people (and especially trans queer people) in unique and compounded ways.