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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Depth and Desire

Two years ago, on the morning after my birthday, I woke up in a downtown Vancouver apartment, with a life changing epiphany.

I lay naked in bed, gazing at the man slumbering beside me, his fluffy feline companion curled up in between us. The previous night I had celebrated my birthday with friends, and had gone home with him. I felt a huge outpouring of love for this man. We had dated, broken up, reconnected- it was an intense relationship, one of those ones where the chemistry is so crazy strong it’s hard to stay away. I felt conflicted, and didn’t know what to do with these feelings. I reached into my bag and pulled out my journal and my Avalon oracle cards, and started shuffling. Yes- total new age hippie at heart.

The card that I drew that morning was, appropriately, “The Cat”.

cat“The Cat reminds you of independence and to set healthy boundaries. Love with freedom- do not look to own what you desire, for too much attachment can lead to loss. The Cat lends you its power to live freely and to remember that the adventure is just beginning… Live freely, love without unhealthy attachment, and remember that with the Cat as your companion, you may fully immerse yourself in life, for there will be many lives to come.”

 

I read these words, and something began to stir inside me. It was early, far too early to get up, but I felt a sudden impetus to leave. I rolled out of bed, packed up my things, and left the apartment without waking anyone or saying goodbye.

That morning was the beginning of my journey in being Singleish.

I had figured out that I wanted to be polyamarous long before that. I had explored things with a few different couples, had a few marathon days where brunch, lunch and dinner were all date zeros, and was having a casual sexual relationship with one of my male friends. I had been separated from my husband for over six months and had been enjoying my new single life, while all too easily and quickly falling into a default pattern of expectations every time something resembling a Relationship appeared in my life.

I reffered to that default pattern as the Disney Fantasy, and later heard others refer to it as the Relationship Escalator. And that default pattern just wasn’t fulfilling me. Every time it happened, I felt like I had only escaped the box of marriage just to jump into another box.

I started with the idea that being Singleish meant I didn’t have to be answerable to anyone at all. No primary. No one to veto my actions. No one to report back to. No one whose feelings I needed to tiptoe around or negotiate with. After a summer of pursuing several relationships with less integrity and honesty than I probably should have, I decided I need to be accountable to myself, and to avoid getting lost and distracted by the romance and intoxication of NRE, I had to establish a primary relationship with me.

All the time while I was married, and during all the explorations of dating I had done since separating from my husband- I had been seeking love externally. I have battled with depression for years, and in that battle I found that struggles financial, emotional and health-wise make it all too easy to feel down and to seek external validation. I realised that in the midst of all that I had gone through, I had forgotten how to love myself.

Furthermore, in an attempt to emotionally bypass the deeper things going on within my psyche, I was becoming enamored with multiple external distractions, seeking human crutches on to which to lean my wounded heart and spirit. I resolved that I didn’t want to do that any more. I decided that rather than seek a primary partner externally, that I needed to be my own primary partner.

I was also clear that being Singleish, for me, had to mean more than multiple friends-with-benefits.

As a person, I’m a die-hard romantic, and I know that I need relationships with substance. Just because I don’t want to jump on the Relationship Escalator with someone, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to connect heart to heart, or that I will tolerate being treated as a purely sexual object or objective. All too often has that assumption been made, and I’m tired of people thinking that being Singleish equals treating the relationship with me as disposable.

To some, this has seemed like a total contradiction- a woman who desires relationships with substance, yet doesn’t want to commit to the standard “lets get married now” ideal. An individual who values her autonomy and independence so fiercely, yet who desires to share sexual, romantic, and emotional intimacy.

lifebeginsAt the same time, I’m realising that buried behind the joyous “I am Singleish; hear me roar!” battle cry is a huge amount of fear. I have grown to value my independence and free spirit so much, that I am absolutely terrified of sacrificing that or loosing it. I lost it in my marriage, and do not want to loose it again. Yet, I desire intimacy. I desire partnership. I desire to share more of my journey- but without jumping onto the Relationship Escalator, without finding myself entangled in an emotional co-dependency or, even more terrifying, an emotionally manipulative and abusive situation.

It has hurt to open my heart to others, because with heart opening comes trusting and an element of surrendering. It means I can’t be in complete control anymore. But I feel I’m moving past those fears, and into a place in my relationship with myself where perhaps I could take on more.

I desire depth of connection. And I know that deep connections don’t happen over night- they grow over time.
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Recently, with the end of a beautiful emotionally connected and sexually charged six month relationship, I’ve been reminded of the energy of that Cat card again, about the importance of asserting healthy boundaries, and of diving in to the adventures life holds.

A huge part of my journey in the past two years- and increasingly in the past few months- has been learning about how to communicate in such a way as to nurture intimacy and closeness. I can’t nurture that when there isn’t deeply honest, vulnerable sharing.

As I ask myself whether it would be possible to have primary like relationships without being on the Relationship Escalator, I realise that a lot of what constitutes my definition of primary has to do with the ability to listen with ferocious honesty, to share with vulnerability, and for everyone involved to be willing to dive into the depths of their own love.

I desire love. Love with depth.

I desire to feel love, to share love, to be drunk with love.

This year for my birthday, I once more celebrated in the company of dear friends, including some people whose company I have come to value immensely. I woke up- in my own bed this time- curled up next to a beautiful man I’ve been seeing for a couple of months now. We had slumbered peacefully in one another’s arms, our naked bodies entwined, and as I stirred in bed he moved his face towards me and kissed me softly.

I used to be afraid of those deeply intimate morning kisses and would run away placing meaning on them that would drive me insane with expectations. But- no longer. I allowed myself to be present to his kisses, and in so doing allowed myself to be present to my own lips kissing him back. And I felt so incredibly content, and happy. Not just with that moment, but with where I find myself at today.

sunbathing

Two years ago, I didn’t know how to love myself.

I had gone so long without love for myself, I was looking to others to love me.

More than that- I wanted them to love the Me who I was afraid of letting out in to the open! Choosing to find a primary relationship with myself has been one of the most significant things I have ever done because it has guided me to a place where I am no longer afraid of being myself.

I’ve embraced that “Cat” energy, and loved without attachment, lived freely, and immersed myself fully in life- and what a journey it has been. I’ve discovered more about myself, and dared to step in to the fullness of being who I have always dreamed- and believed- that I could be. And now that there’s greater depth between me, myself, and I, it only seems natural to desire greater depth, authenticity, and presence, in all the relationships that I form.

“Without feeling the loving holding of the universe, we can have no basic trust. How can you really let go and let yourself be if there isn’t trust that things are fundamentally okay, that whatever happens is appropriate? If we don’t have this trust, we are constantly scared, tense and fighting reality – inner and outer. If we have this trust, we can interact with everything exactly as it is – Let it in, Let it out, Let it go, Let go of letting it go and Let it be.”
~ Gabrielle Roth