Reclaiming Queerness

There is so much that I want to write about right now, and I don’t know where to focus. I want to write about the excitement I feel after a day of teaching about Consent Culture, and engaging in rich conversations about how we might be able to build a compassionate world. I want to monologue about how boys are socialized with one slice of a full-spectrum emotional pie (anger) and girls are socialized with the rest of the pie (every emotion but anger). I want to rage about how violent binary gender divisions are and how they enforce Dominance Culture. I want to weep about the hurt and harm happening in the world today. And I want to pause to celebrate the little things and big things that are bringing me joy.

Two days ago I walked down the high street of the rural town I live in, carrying a bouquet of roses for my girlfriend. This town is a community in transition. I walked passed the mayor’s house— the mayor who voted against a rainbow cross-walk as a demonstration of the municipal commitment to queer inclusion— and then by the abandoned railway depot, once upon a time the end of the line. I glanced in at the cafe run by a conservative Christian community, who tell me they live according to the Book of Acts, and walked by three churches before arriving at the chocolate shop where I was meeting my girlfriend. It’s a 12 minute walk.

I thought about the sheer radicalness of this act: I had bought roses at a store filled with cis men of all ages clambering to buy a bouquet for their (presumably female) partners. The only women in the shop were buying lilies, carnations, and other flowers. I had taken my time to consider what color of roses I wanted to purchase, and how creative I wanted to get with arranging them at home. Flower arrangement is something that gives me a lot of joy, and I chose a combination of large red roses, smaller white ones, and one magnificent hybrid red and white rose. I know I’m not the only woman to have ever gotten her girlfriend flowers, but in this town, it kind of felt like maybe I was.

Stepping into my intimacy with women has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I used to blame the relationship with my mother, my disorganized attachment with women a symptom of the complex form of trauma from my upbringing.

I spent most of my life hating myself and feeling ashamed because of what my mother told me about gayness and sexuality. How confusing it was to hear, “You can be anything you want to be, I will support you and love you” and then to hear her condemn women who were lesbian, men who were gay, to belittle bisexuals as confused. It was confusing for me. I learned that I could be anything I wanted to be as long as it pleased my mother, but that I had to shut down my sexuality, my orientation, my gender, my very core expression.

No wonder I had such tantrums as a toddler. I had needs I didn’t understand or know how to express. I wanted freedom. Instead I was caretaker to a parent who was struggling under the weight of their own complex trauma that was being managed ineffectively,  and living within parameters dedicated to making her happy, or at the very least, not cause her to get upset.

I was a teenager when I realised my sexual attraction to women. I found myself aroused by a music video, and felt so ashamed. I knew I had to hide this, but also knew I couldn’t deny it. When I was 16 I developed a crush on one of my friends. I had no idea how to communicate it, but we would make out at parties, hold hands walking around school, and I even spent a week one summer sleeping next to her in her bed. But I never expressed how I felt. I suppressed it. Outwardly, I would shame people who were gay. When, after high school, I learned she had been sexually intimate with another woman, I shamed her for it, and we grew increasingly distant.

It’s been a huge journey to identify my own internalized homophobia and challenge it. As much as polyamory has been a journey in self growth, I think the most profound transformations in my life have come as a consequence of my explorations with my queerness.

photo by Jennifer Brazil

I lucked out in my first handful of intimate experiences with women. They were within threesomes, there was a sense of novelty, exploration, curiosity, and everything went great. But when I went into actually dating women, I felt clunky, awkward, angry, frustrated, ashamed.

There’s something about the psychological theory that we are drawn to relationships with people who remind us of our parents. Those familiar patterns and behaviours, even when they are toxic, are enticing because we’ve grown up learning how to navigate them. And I kept finding myself drawn to relationships with women who needed caretaking, who weren’t addressing their trauma in healthy ways, who I wanted to please and save. My own unresolved trauma was running the show. It was disaster after disaster, including PTSD, and for the sake of my mental health, I stepped away from sexual relationships with women completely.

For a few years I felt a sense of imposter syndrome when I would describe myself as queer. I was mostly dating cis, hetero men. I was paralyzed by the thought of engaging intimately with women again. And yet, I was still engaging in close platonic relationships with women who resembled my mother, in their energy and ways of relating to me. Burnt out, overwhelmed, struggling to redefine my boundaries in relationships, I decided I had to figure out how to heal the trauma around my relationship to my mother before I tried dating or engaging deeply with women.

Turns out, I had it all backwards. Turns out, the key to healing from the deep trauma around my relationship with my mother was to figure out how to have healthy intimate relationships with women.

Trauma isn’t something that gets erased overnight. It sits with us, becomes part of us, incorporates itself into the grander tapestry of our beings. But, I’ve learned we can reduce it’s impact, we can transform it’s hard experiences into beautiful insights, and out of the darkness we might grow resiliency.

I think about who I am today, and what I do in the world. The things I teach, the work I do with people, so much of this comes out of the profound self-healing work I have had to engage in on this journey. It is strange to realise that, whilst I still feel hella activated at the idea of interacting with my mother— or any of the female former lovers I had traumatising experiences with— I am also incredibly grateful to have gone through those experiences, because of what I learned. I am a wiser, more compassionate, more resilient person as a consequence of those experiences. Circumstances pushed me to examine deeply the judgements I held, and also the pain and sorrow I felt around my sexuality.

The first time my girlfriend and I had sex is the first time I can recall having sex with another woman where I didn’t afterwards feel twisted up with anxiety and fear. Instead, I felt relief, ease, joy, deep affection, and gratitude. Over several months we had explored and unpacked the walls each of us have held around our sexuality, and leaned in to the clunkiness and awkwardness, getting curious about what might lie beyond that. We threw ideas and suggestions at eachother for weeks, and learned about how we might support one another if everything ended up going sideways. And when the awkwardness became about not doing the thing, rather than doing the thing, we dove in.

Something in my soul is cracking open, and I am lost for words to describe it.

I wanted to buy her flowers because there is a way that heteronormativity in polyamorous culture de-legitimises the relationships of queer femmes. A relationship between two women is often dismissed as not as weighted or as serious as the ones between a man and a woman, and I needed to remind myself that this is every bit as real and as valuable and precious as any hetero relationship I’ve been in. It’s interesting: when I reflect on my relationships with men, they have often been engaged in with so much more abandon, a sense of care-free-ness, a lightness (at least at first) and with ease. Maybe I’ve been more fearful of how to engage with women because the stakes on some level feel higher, the possible emotional depth so much more potent. And as for gender-creative humans in my life, that’s going to have to be a whole blog post on its own.

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So, thank you. Thank you to the humans who have challenged my queerness, who have chastised and rejected my queerness, and who have embraced my queerness. Thank you to the others out there who live boldly in their queerness and give those of us struggling hope that we might also one day live so boldly. Thank you to those who have gone before me, who could not live in their queerness, but fought hard so that in these small fortunate pockets of the world, some of us might.

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Facing Fears and Finding Flow

“The essence of bravery is being without self deception. However, it is not easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny- judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins, but temporary and workable habits of the mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.”
~ Pema Chodron, “The Places That Scare Us.”

I’ve been examining my fears.

I have a fear of being alone, and of being abandoned by the people I love. I fear being lonely when I am old, and I’m afraid of being rejected whilst I am still young. The terror that I might be misunderstood- and judged for misunderstandings- has held me back from voicing many things about myself and what I think and feel. My anxiety is triggered when I think I’m being treated as disposable, when I don’t feel full valued by the people around me.

I’m afraid of becoming so promiscuous that I’ll endanger my own safety: I fall in to sub-space so readily, can get swept up in NRE so completely, that hearing my own body saying “no” to something becomes very challenging- let alone communicating that “no” to the person I am with.

I fear that I am easily replaceable, and that if I make a fool of myself in a relationship, I’ll be left hanging just when my heart is expanding to reach another being.

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I worry that I will never find myself in a balance of relationships that are able to satisfy my needs mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically all at the same time.

I’m afraid that I’m somehow broken. Orion has said that going in to intimacy with me can sometimes feel like walking in to a storm, or trying to paddle upstream against fast moving rapids. And that makes me wonder- have all my partners felt this way? Does my self-looping internal dialogue on sexual shame, physical trauma, and emotional pain act as a barrier to what I desire to help me move through it? I don’t know.

As Pema Chodron says, “Fears are unnecessary baggage.”

The first step is acknowledging the fears, and being patient with them. Fight them, and they grow stronger- like pulling at a woven finger trap. Send them love and compassion, and the grip will loosen- and that’s something that is key to having a primary relationship with one’s self, I feel.

There was a fantastic article on a blog called Om Times recently, about moving beyond the victim role. I highly recommend this article- I have re-read it several times now and continue to find it incredibly helpful for me. In this piece, the author states:

“Responsible adults are empowered in their relationships. They are able to express their needs and share their feelings freely. They can confront their partner about problems which arise between them and are able to resolve conflicts with minimal difficulty. Because they hold themselves accountable, they don’t engage in blaming or shaming and they don’t make excessive or unreasonable demands. They respect their partner, which results in mutual trust and greater closeness.”

When it comes to fears, we always have a choice. We can allow them to control us, or we can choose to work with them gently, lovingly, tenderly. Intimacy brings me face to face with my fears and all my insecurities. When my fears are controlling me, I find myself making excessive demands, becoming confrontational. I notice myself acting like a scared animal who has been backed in to a corner, and is biting and thrashing at everyone around me.

So, in practicing having a relationship with myself, I’m embracing greater trust with my sef. I’m practicing seeing these, without identifying with them. I don’t have to hold on to them- and I can define myself without them. This also requires taking personal responsibility for things in my life, and stepping up to the plate. A lot of my fears are simply unknowns that I am tolerating, and I can lessen their burden by taking action in my life to do something about some of those unknown factors at least. Then the fears can quell into rational concerns, or evaporate with the injection of loving truths.

I’ve become aware that in my relationship with Orion, I’ve held back a lot out of fear. I’ve been afraid of feeling all the deep feelings, afraid that I will want to jump on a relationship escalator because of the depth of connection we share. And, whilst I really do not want to do that with him- or anyone else at this point- there’s a shared sense that we have become more than friends, and more than lovers. We feel like ‘family’ to one another- life-long partners in crime, perhaps- and even though we don’t have a consistently intimate relationship, it makes the stakes feel so much higher for me. I don’t have much in the way of family, and whenever I have grown close enough to someone to consider them family, circumstances have intervened and the connections have been broken. I am so utterly terrified of that happening to me again- and yet I know that holding on to that fear will do nothing.

And so, I remind myself to let go, to trust, to trust in my self, and keep going with my own flow.

Authenticity and Affectations

Authenticity

  • The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.
  • Of undisputed origin or authorship.
  • Bringing an accurate representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable.

Affectation 

  • A show, pretence, or display.
  • Behaviour that is assumed rather than natural; artificiality.
  • A particular habit, as of speech or dress, adopted to give a false impression.

Authenticity.

Honest expression.

Clear vision.

I don’t think that authenticity is some end point goal to be achieved. Increasingly, I am of the opinion that the achievement of perfection is a futile quest, since the definition of perfection is so innately subjective. Rather, I strive to have integrity with myself, and with all people.

I’ve become aware lately of how this integrity and authenticity relates to my quest to remain singleish. Being singleish really is a whole different mindset to get into. To quote Yoda, you must unlearn what you have learned.

There’s all kinds of ways of showing affection. Orion was describing these to me last night: gift-giving, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch. I know that my preferences are to be physical, to spend quality time, and to share words of affirmation. Gift-giving and acts of service are things I do without thinking about them too much.

Sometimes though, we feel obligated to give in ways that aren’t our style, or just don’t feel authentic for us.

For example, the first time you say to an intimate, “I love you,” there’s that scary moment of, Will they say it back to me?

Of course, people can say anything, really. What matters is what they actually feel.

Years ago I was in training for a retail management job. My supervisor coached me about giving feedback to my peers and team, and explained to me that its always good to start with “I feel”, rather than “I believe”, because what you feel is personal to you, and no one can ever invalidate that.

Similarly, in relationships, what we feel is non-negotioable. I’ve heard of a lot of poly agreements including a clause on ‘no emotional involvement with other partners’. Who the heck are they kidding, I ask myself, emotions are what make us human! If you’re having sex without any emotions, without any feelings of love spontaneously errupt inside of you, you might as well be mastrubating, really.

So in that moment of the first I Love You, should there be any obligation to speak it back?

No, there really shouldn’t, not unless it feels 100% authentic in that moment to say it. And it would be a good idea (for myself, at least) to let go of the fear surrounding the ‘what if they dont say it back’ thought.

Being Singleish, you also have to stay detatched from what such an utterance could mean. Just as a kiss is not a contract, “I love you” doesn’t mean “marry me”, nor does “come spend the night” mean, “lets have sex”.

I’m learning more and more about the need for this authenticity with my sex life.

I’ve realized that for me, sex is like dessert. I don’t need to have it every day. And I can enjoy it with or without whip-cream orgasms. I can go without for a fairly long time if needs be, so long as my craving for sweetness is satiated by some tasty intimate cuddle time with kisses. And then, there’s days where all I want to do is eat cherry pie.

Most of all, I am realising that the biggest turn on for me is authenticity. Being authentic and honest-in-action according to what you are feeling in the shared moment with one another. No expectation or attatchment to pleasing, or being pleased- either through physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, or quality time- because its that attachment and expectation that causes us to put on the affectations, and the moment I sense someone’s acting out of a feeling of obligation rather than love, I shut off entirely.

When we reach that moment of authenticity in how we are in relationship to others, thats when we can really begin to discover ourselves without selfish motivations, and start the journey to unravelling who we are at our most loving core.

 

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Post-publication addendum:
A trillion thankyous to ElkFeather who has taken it upon himself to proofread some of my posts. He pointed out to me that the types of expressing love Orion was talking about was in fact something known as The 5 Love Languages. He gently reminded me that as a good writer, I should be including these references in here for your perusal. So here it is. Thankyou both, Orion and ElkFeather!