Category Archives: sexuality
Time for another rant about sexual and romantic scripts! Today’s pet peeve is how we talk about love, both finding and having it. Scripts on love are just chock full of mixed messages, and a lot of them are obnoxiously gendered.
We act like love, specifically romantic love, is the be-all and end-all for happiness. Being in love makes you complete and whole. Though these days we do caution folks to find their own happiness before seeking it in others, we still tend to consider romantic relationships part of a healthy life course. But at the same time, we often deem looking for love as almost pathological. People, particularly women, who are struggling to find romance are looked down upon, studied to within an inch of their life (what’s the Tinder trend of this week?) and hounded with advice. So you need love to be whole, but if you engage in a reasonable search for it, you’re suddenly just desperate?
It’s another example of how no one can win when following these scripts. Presumably, we’re supposed to just magically come upon our perfect mate, without emotional work or time spent in the dating pool. Spend too long looking and your social capital drops, and god forbid you’re aromantic or asexual and not interested in a partner. And this pressure falls disproportionately on women, with all the marketing and media focusing on how a woman has to be loved to feel happy and valued but very little focused on actively knowing how to love. Instead of hyperfocusing on the tactics of search, what if we turned this energy towards skills inside of a relationship, or how to figure out what it is you want, or how to identify when you’re loved by someone who isn’t healthy for you? Food for thought.
I was just listening to the most recent episode of the Sexplanations podcast with Dr. Lindsey Doe, where she was joined by another favorite Youtuber of mine, Ash Hardell, to talk about asexuality. Though asexuality is ostensibly the theme of the show, they talk a lot about attraction in general, and different types of attraction–sexual, romantic, platonic, sensual, aesthetic, and alterous. It’s in the discussion of alterous attraction (something between platonic and romantic, such as a queerplatonic relationship), that something comes up that struck me as a bit more monoganormative and heteronormative than Dr. Doe’s usual default, so I thought I’d address it here.
I may be biased, but I think polyamory and demisexuality go really well together. To review, a demisexual person is someone who only experiences sexual attraction after getting to know someone very well first. Within these close relationships, a demisexual person might experience strong or frequent sexual attraction, or might experience weak or occasional attraction. Personally, I don’t experience sexual attraction with everyone I become close with, or every romantic partner, but do experience it with some people (there is no clear pattern).
Given this, I find polyamory to be super, super handy. For there to be any chance at sexual attraction, I kind of have to spend some time pursuing someone, get to know them in a deep intimate way, and even then I might end up in a great relationship where I don’t experience sexual attraction. This might frustrate the hell out of a monogamous partner, if being found sexually attractive is an important part of a relationship for that person. But being poly, my partners can easily seek that attraction elsewhere if it doesn’t happen for me. It also means that the variable and occasional nature of my desire isn’t a roadblock. I have and have had partners who really like frequent sex and that’s not a problem when they can simply get it elsewhere.
This isn’t to say that two people can’t be in a monogamous relationship when only one is sexually attracted to the other. Of course there are creative ways to work around this, and some allosexual folks wouldn’t be bothered by one-sided attraction, especially if it doesn’t affect sexual activity. But in my experience, polyamory takes a lot of these questions out of the picture.
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.