Yo world, bisexuality exists!

November 27, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-11-27 18:47:00

I’m getting annoyed by how often the reality of bisexuality is ignored in our culture.

We were watching an episode of Queer as Folk recently and there were two situations in which the possibility that the characters might’ve been bisexual never crossed anyone’s mind. In one situation, Melanie is lashing out at Lindsey for having slept with a man in a manner that suggests that Melanie finds this a complete betrayal of lesbianism (as though it means Lindsey is really straight). That whole plot line annoys me for other reasons too, like how ridiculous it is for Melanie to want to end her relationship with Lindsey over the fact that she slept with a man, only once and during a moment of lapsed judgement, but that’s for another rant.

In the other situation, Ben and Michael are having to deal with the realization that their foster son, Hunter, has a girlfriend, when they had been assuming that he was gay. The scene where they speculate on how they went wrong, to raise a son who’s straight, is somewhat amusing as a reversal of how that conversation normally goes in conventional households, but what about the possibility that Hunter is bi? Or better yet: why can’t he be exploring his sexuality instead of already locked into a label?

Then there’s Yahoo Personals. I thought I’d place an ad seeking friendship, given that the site is used by such a large number (and presumably wide range) of people, but the options don’t even allow you to say that you’re searching for a man or a woman. You have to pick one or the other and are not allowed to enter two profiles with the same ID. How annoying!

But it’s not much better on the sites that focus on bisexuals, as they seem to be designed to appeal to those who think bisexuality is about wanting to have sex with “anything that moves,” when that just isn’t what it’s all about, at least not for me. The personals on bisexual.org are so graphic as to describe the precise nature of the sexual activities the seekers want to participate in. So how does the thinking bisexual, who would rather talk about ideas and share book recommendations than insert ___ into ___ while being ___ed, find like-minded people?

I’m particularly interested in meeting people who study bisexuality in an academic context, as I might like to do more of that one day, just to add to the body of knowledge that demonstrates that we do indeed exist!

On the relative merits of the primary/secondary model of polyamorous relationships

November 11, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-11-11 11:11:00

At a recent poly gathering the topic of primaries vs. secondaries came up, and while people were talking about their various configurations and what they like and don’t like about them, I pondered the extent to which these labels work for me.

I don’t think they work for me in the ways that they are typically used by poly people, perhaps mainly because I don’t really think of anyone as a “primary” partner in the sense that is usually meant by that term. Nor do I aspire to have that kind of relationship. Not that I’d go out of my way to avoid it, but it’s not something I’m actively seeking.

I refer to the woman with whom I share a home as my primary partner as a kind of shorthand, although our relationship does not fit the criteria that most apply to that label. We are primary to each other in the sense that we own a farm together and our primary commitment is to responsible management of the farm, but we are not particularly intimate on an emotional, physical or intellectual level. We chat regularly about farm things, or about the news of the day, and we hug each other before going to bed at night (in separate bedrooms), but what we have is companionship more than anything else.

I’ve also been involved for the past couple of months with a man I met online who lives about an hour away, but I hesitate to call him a secondary. For one thing, using that term implies that I have a primary partner in the traditional sense of the term. And for another, it just doesn’t seem accurate, although he’s not a primary either. He and I primarily have emotional and physical intimacy, with occasional conversations that branch into the intellectual, but I think of him more as a “friend with benefits” than anything else. He’s not primary or secondary; rather, he fills a different role in my life than the woman I live with.

And then I also have a potential LDR in the works, with a man with whom I primarily have intellectual intimacy, although also some degree of emotional intimacy inasmuch as can be developed through communication that is thus far entirely in writing. If, when we meet in person, we decide to move in the direction of physical relationship rather than platonic friendship, I still wouldn’t necessarily think of him as a secondary, although I may be that to him (which is fine). Instead I would probably think of him as, perhaps, a long distance romantic friend.

I don’t mind if I end up filling the role of primary or secondary to someone else for whom these terms have meaning, in their traditional usage, but they just don’t seem to describe the kind of relationships I have or am seeking. “Primary” in particular, in the way that many people use it, seems to describe a relationship that meets or aspires to meet most of one’s needs (emotional, intellectual and physical) and that serves as an “anchor” or “home base.” But I’ve come to doubt whether it’s realistic to expect all those aspects to be present in the same relationship, at least for me personally (I’m not saying others don’t experience this). If anything, I am too much of my own primary partner to form that kind of alliance with another person. I am my own “home base.”

That’s not to say I’m not willing to depend on others. I certainly depend on my live-in partner for some things, like shared financial responsibility for our farm, but not for other things, like emotional or physical intimacy. For those kinds of things I’m enjoying seeking out outside relationships and seeing where they take me, without becoming dependent on them. If I were to become dependent on other people to fill those needs, I can see how I might actually end up overlooking relationship incompatibilities that will come back to haunt me later on, but by being open to whatever kinds of connections seem to be evolving naturally at any given time, I hope to be more honest and realistic about each relationship. I don’t ever want my expectations of what a relationship should be to damage my ability to appreciate what it already is.

I suppose the relationship dynamic that might work better for me than the primary/secondary model is something along the lines of the network, with a small group of friends with whom I interact in a variety of different ways, including “friends only” (with no romantic or sexual chemistry), “friends with benefits,” “romantic friends,” “lovers,” and whatever else might be develop. And I would expect the nature of those relationships to change and evolve over time, with some becoming more or less romantic or physical over time, depending on how we’re feeling. I wouldn’t necessarily expect for everyone in my network to know and like each other, although I suppose that would be true in my little fantasy world. My fantasy world would also probably include a mix of about 65% women, but that may be wishful thinking given that thus far I’ve had much more luck finding interesting men to talk to.

I’m curious to hear from others about whether the primary/secondary model works for you and why.

The joys of intellectual intimacy

October 30, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-10-30 09:43:00

Very few times in my life have I gotten involved with someone with whom I have the potential for both emotional/physical and intellectual intimacy, but I find myself in that situation now and I love it. I love that we can go from talking about emotions and personal experience to discussing politics, science, history or technology. And then back again.

I love that I am having the opportunity to talk about some ideas I’ve never talked about with anyone other than perhaps a professor in graduate school. Parts of my brain that have been asleep for a long time are starting to stir, and other parts that are well used in my work situation are now adjusting to also being used in the context of building a relationship, which is so much richer. It’s one thing to have intellectually stimulating conversations with people at work, with whom I have no real emotional connection, but to have this be part of my personal relationship is almost too good to be true.

I suppose I had a few opportunities for interesting conversation while growing up, but nowhere near as much as would’ve allowed my mind to develop to its potential. My friends (all girls) were willing to talk about “deep” issues, like the meaning of life, but mostly we talked about emotional topics, not intellectual ones, although we often shared our love for literature with each other.

The guys I dated, on the other hand, seemed incapable even of talking about emotional issues. I’m not sure what we talked about, other than stupid superficial stuff that aspiring young yuppies think they’re supposed to talk about. If I tried to steer a conversation in a more interesting direction, I always met resistance both from the perspective that I was a girl and thus not expected to have such thoughts (“don’t go getting so serious on me!” or “why do you worry your pretty little head with ideas like that?”), and from the perspective that intellectual pursuits are for nerds and geeks and clearly these guys did not want to be associated with such things. I must’ve had bad taste in men! 😉

If only I hadn’t had let the social pressure to choose a certain kind of guy influence me so strongly, there’s no telling what kinds of interesting guys I might’ve become involved with when I was younger. I actually had access to some pretty interesting guys at my school, but never chose them for some reason. It took me coming out as a lesbian and experiencing a wide range of relationships with other women to finally work my way back towards giving men a second chance, once I had finally let go of those annoying social pressures.

I look back over my youth and have some regret that I got so caught up in superficial concerns, like appearance, and that I allowed myself to be defined by the way I looked, as that has so little to do with who I am and what I might bring to a relationship. And I regret how much I let appearances affect my choices in relationships, as that has so little to do with the kind of intimacy I might’ve found with other people. But I suppose I take some comfort in the thought that if even someone as smart as I am could be so powerfully swayed by social pressures based on rather stupid premises, it’s really not a surprise that the masses are as well. Which is all the more reason to encourage children today to start questioning social conventions at an early age!

Thoughts on the origins of gender roles (in response to evolutionary psychology position)

October 14, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-10-14 13:17:00

I tried to post this as a response to Jeremy’s reply to my message under “reflections on getting involved with a man,” but apparently it was too long! So I’m posting it here for the benefit of anyone who’s still with us.

> I think my learned and diabolical colleague and I were side-tracked by
> the suggestion that there are no inherent gender differences

I still stand by that, in that gender itself is a social construct. But I’ll grant that there are inherent differences in the biological sexes, due to hormone exposure more so than anatomy. Biological sex is not the same thing as gender.

I do wonder to what extent, even in primitive cultures, there may have been women who would’ve been better suited for hunting and men better suited for child rearing, given that we see even today examples of women who are stronger and faster and examples of men who are better nurturers. Yes, I know the strongest and fastest has always been a man, but exceptions say nothing of the norm.

It’s easy to look back at primitive cultures and romanticize them, by assuming that everyone was happy with his or her lot in life, when that may not have been the case at all. Perhaps the rituals that evolved to mark the passage into manhood or womanhood were earlier manifestations of the same kind of cultural oppression we still see going on today — a way to channel biological boys into maleness even if they didn’t particularly feel inclined to go there, and the same for girls.

> What counts as the dawn of our evil civilisation, in the sense of the
> root of mistreatment by gender?

I can’t speak to the root, but the cultures I’m most familiar with in terms of their attitudes towards women (and subsequent influence on us) are the ancient Greeks and Romans, who thought all kind of crazy things, like that women were merely the “oven” that cooked the “dough” deposited by the man.

They also thought that women were controlled by their uteruses and that a woman having emotional problems could potentially be cured by having various attractant or repellent scents applied either at her mouth or vagina, depending on which direction the “doctor” thought the uterus needed to move towards. We get our word “hysteria” from “hyster,” or womb, as this was thought to be a specifically female malady.

They also thought that what caused babies to be born female and not male was that they weren’t done “cooking,” or had been conceived under the wrong conditions. In their minds, a “normal” human baby would be male, with all the parts descended to the outside, where they should be, so a female baby was one that never finished developing, such that the parts remained inside and useless except as an incubator.

Aristotle even reasoned, by his mighty powers of deduction, that since women were inferior they must therefore have fewer teeth. Never mind that he never thought to actually count them.

I suppose it’s no wonder that someone had to come along and invent the mythology of the “sacred feminine,” as it must’ve been hard for these men to deal with their feelings of desire towards these beings they objectively viewed as weak and unworthy vessels. In their mythology women become associated with the mysteries of the universe, with what is dark, hidden, secret and unknowable, perhaps in part because of this internal conflict. Because they couldn’t make sense of feelings of desire towards beings they assumed weren’t even fully human. Women were the “mysterious other.” Alluring but frightening. And above all, in need of subduing.

But we only know one side of the story: the men’s. We don’t know, except for a few brief glimpses, how women felt about all this. Maybe they viewed men as being as equally mysterious? Maybe, on their own or with each other, they thought of themselves as being the rational ones, the ones more “fully human.”

> I don’t think the enormously widespread and long-term success of sexism
> is based on physical strength.

Perhaps not in actual practice, but this is how it is justified to the masses. And it’s what young people today still claim as the basis for male dominance.

> The things that make men oppress and women be oppressed are their mental
> traits. It happens because men really like being in charge a lot more
> than women do. Wanting to win is more significant than being strong.

Here’s my complaint: you speak as though all men like being in charge and no women do. But it seems more likely to me, for a variety of reasons, that what happened is that a few men were in a situation where circumstances convened to give them the edge and they took it. But the circumstances may have included other factors besides their being male.

I also take issue with the notion of who likes to be “in charge,” given the number of wives who basically run their husbands lives (and the number of women throughout history who have been “in charge” from behind the scenes). I think the desire to be in charge exists about equally in both sexes, but that how each goes about establishing and maintaining control differ, with men having the advantage of greater physical strength and a more war-like nature. (Although war-like-ness is arguably not an advantage in the greater scheme of things, as it does not lead to the advancement of society in any meaningful sense. Only to the greater accumulation of land and material goods, which is a fragile basis on which to claim power.)

> I don’t know about most men (one of the drawbacks of elitism), but anyone
> bright should be able to get this because it’s not specific to gender.

I agree that anyone bright should be able to get this on an intellectual level, but I know a fair number of bright people who nevertheless don’t get it on a personal level, in terms of what all of this might mean to a woman’s sense of self worth and value in the world. You are discussing ideas that are interesting to you intellectually but that have not impacted you deeply and personally the way they have me, and that makes the conversation sometimes a little difficult to bear.

In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters if my theories and conjectures can be disproven through appeals to a much wider range of knowledge than I have, given that the fact remains that something about the history of Western attitudes towards gender and sexuality has wounded me deeply, and I’m not likely to snap out of it on the basis of being exposed to even more facts presented from the perspective of the winner.

Gender socialization is more subtle than you may realize

October 13, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-10-13 21:35:00

This started off as a response to Agwdevil’s comments on my previous post, but got so long I decided to make it a new post.

Agwdevil wrote:

Society does indeed confer gender roles, but how many stories do we
hear of women who try to raise their boys differently, only to see
them pick up big sticks and go “bang bang bang!!” — yes, they’ve
been exposed to guns on TV, but the point is that they saw it and
something within them said “Yes!!! What fun!!!!”

But that doesn’t really surprise me. Of course some boys might do that. Some girls might do it too. Only girls get punished for doing it and boys get encouraged. And boys who are not naturally inclined to do it are made to feel something is therefore wrong with them unless they play along and do it too.

I’m aware that the higher the level of testosterone in the body, the more likely the person is to exhibit certain behaviors, and that the same goes for the level of estrogen. But hormone levels don’t always correspond neatly to genitalia (and therefore culturally imposed gender), which means that not every boy will have urges to pick up sticks and go “bang,” and some girls will have that urge, and that’s where the culture intervenes to draw an imaginary line where none actually exists.

What bugs me is that the culture has taken the impulses that result from testosterone and valorized them, while taking the impulses that result from estrogen and diminished them, so that only someone with very low self esteem would actually *want* to exhibit the traits associated with estrogen. Or someone willing to be enslaved to the needs of others out of some false sense of biological duty.

I have no doubt that young boys tend to be drawn to boyish things, and young girls tend to be drawn to girlish things, but I’m not convinced that this isn’t in large part the result of cultural conditioning that starts from the moment of birth, often without anyone involved being conscious of what they’re doing (for example, boy cribs often have sheets with train sets on them while girls have sheets with teddy bears, so is it really any wonder that the boy will grow up to be more drawn to trains?)

Babies also pick up instantly on adult reactions to their behaviors, so it doesn’t take long for them to recognize which impulses are considered OK to indulge in and which are not, although obviously some are more stubborn about it than others and seem to rebel against those unspoken attempts to nudge them in one direction or the other. And I don’t think parents are consciously doing the nudging.

It doesn’t surprise me that feminist parents might have tried to raise a boy to be more sensitive and caring or whatever, only to be disappointed to discover that their son seems to have a healthy dose of testosterone coursing through his veins, on which he acts accordingly. I can see how that might happen, although it doesn’t “prove” that feminist parenting methods have no impact on the child’s development as there’s no way of knowing if that same child might’ve had a much worse case of testosterone poisoning in a more traditional environment. The problem with all of this is that there is no way to prove anything without resorting to anecdotal evidence, but for every one of someone else’s stories that proves his or her point I could find one that proves mine — so that is not reliable.

What troubles me more are the boys who grow up feeling very much that they do NOT want to pick up the stick and go “bang,” and yet who feel pressured to do so because that’s what it means to “be a boy.” And I’m also troubled by the girls who want to engage in this behavior but are told they must not because it’s “not the way girls behave.”

That’s the message I heard in so many forms, spoken and unspoken, while growing up. Every time I tentatively explored a new idea or behavior it wasn’t long before I got feedback about whether this was acceptable or not for a girl. And more often than not, the answer was no. So I learned how to behave by trial and error, by discovering which ideas and actions were acceptable to the public, because they conformed to my biological sex, and which I would simply have to keep to myself.

Obviously some women are more successful at rebelling against convention when they are young, but I was too much of a pleaser to go entirely against the grain. I was a tomboy, but there’s something kind of endearing about that in a young girl, at least until she reaches puberty. I got the message loud and clear that once I hit puberty I was expected to forego boyish things and start “becoming a woman,” and I did my best. But it always meant hiding a part of myself in order to stay squarely over in the “girl” camp, given that my true nature would’ve put me in the middle somewhere, which is apparently too confusing for the culture to bear.

Consider the case of girls who openly exist in the middle. If they are not striving for femininity, the culture assumes that perhaps they actually want to be men, as though no one could comfortably exist in the middle. I wonder how many girls who don’t display the typical markers of femininity end up thinking they must be lesbians (because, so the culture tells us, if you’re not female you must be male and if you’re male you must be into girls). But what if they’re not necessarily attracted to women, or could be attracted to either gender, but are so strongly encouraged down the lesbian path because the culture can’t stand the thought of a straight woman who willingly gives up her “birthright” of being a pleaser of men by being feminine?

I can see the same happening to young boys who are effeminate and sensitive, that they get the message early on they must be gay even when they might genuinely prefer women, because the culture can’t stand the thought of a straight man who would voluntarily give up his birthright to be manly. Something must be a little “queer” about him if he’s not all the way over on the 100% masculine end of the spectrum.

And yet there is no necessary correlation between one’s own gender identity and one’s sexual preference, despite what the culture insists. Having masculine traits does not necessarily make one a lover of women, any more than having feminine traits makes one a lover of men. I suppose that’s why manly men who are into other men and feminine women who are into other women have always been treated as particularly queer, as they truly buck the norm. Society can accept gays to some extent provided they can tell “which one is the girl,” but heaven forbid they both are!

Hmmm, how did I end up here? I think I need to stop now, but obviously this a subject on which I have rather a lot to say, and am still sorting some things out.

Reflections on getting involved with a man

October 12, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-10-12 18:12:00

One of the more interesting things about getting involved with a man is that I am having to become conscious once again of what it means to me to be a woman, as I am never more aware of my femaleness than when I am around non female people. When I interacted almost entirely with other women, I felt I could forget my gender and just interact as a fellow human being, and I really needed that to develop a stronger sense of who I am, what I want and what I think about a variety of things.

Only now do I feel ready to interact with men, and then only with the kind of men who are not so bound up in traditional gender roles that I’d immediately feel thrown into a stereotypical “weak woman” role. Which is not to say that I don’t sometimes find myself acutely aware of being female, particularly in the realm of intellectual conversation where I can easily become annoyed that my brain doesn’t work to the same degree of mathematical and scientific precision as certain males (particularly those engineers and computer programmers I tend to attract). Yes, I have other intellectual strengths, but it annoys me that they are typically related to women.

I don’t actually believe that there are that many gender differences that are innate, so there shouldn’t even be such a thing as intellectual attributes that are typically male or female. But given that we are shaped so strongly from the moment we’re born to be one gender or the other, it seems impossible to measure what traits are inherently male vs. what traits have become associated with males due to the way cultural conditioning influences brain development. Is it not possible that, without the intervention of a binary gender system, we would all develop somewhat androgynously, each developing sets of traits that suit us as individuals instead of feeling pressured to develop only those traits that conform to the gender role assigned to our biological sex?

I’m kind of straying from my point. What I worried about when I decided to pursue the idea of getting involved with a man was that I would find myself caving in to years of social conditioning that told me to be deferential and demur, and to play the role of helper but never equal. I worried that I would let myself disappear into the role of “woman,” letting the man make the decisions, do the driving, do the ordering, pay for the meals, and so on, which is how I had experienced relationships with men when I was much younger. I feared that I would lose all sense of “me” as a unique, independent person with strengths and weaknesses that are not bound to my gender.

But thankfully that has not been the case with my first in-person relationship with a man in over 15 years, perhaps in large part due to my own maturity, which led me to choose a different sort of man this time. And due in part to his not being a stereotypical man in the sense of wanting to play all the conventional male roles. We both have strengths and weaknesses that don’t fall neatly along the gender line, and that seem to balance each other out. Had I known that was even possible with a man, I might’ve considered seeking out such a relationship several years ago, although I would always want to have relationships with women also, I think, because of the way they allow me to simply be myself, with no thoughts of gender.

I do feel a danger creeping up, however, in being involved with a man who has a lot of household needs, in that I am drawn towards helping (as I would be anyone I’m involved with) but am acutely aware of the extent to which my help in this situation would put me into a more “wifely” role than I have ever aspired to before. And yet help is not expected of me, so it’s not as though I feel obligated to play this role in order to continue in the relationship. But I want to help, although I can’t quite sort out how to be useful without overextending myself. I’m still working on figure out how to balance my impulses with what I know is the reality of the way I function best.

And yet, could it be possible that I have finally come to a place in my life where I could actually manage a little self sacrifice? I’ve certainly lived primarily for myself for most of my life, and yet I’m still on the quest for meaning and purpose, so maybe this is part of it: to be of more use to others.

There is some irony in the idea that it might’ve taken me until I’m pushing 40 to come to the realization that being involved in a family would give my life more meaning than any other pursuit has thus far, given that my mother was trying to convince me of this when I was as young as 18. But I suppose some lessons must be learned at their own pace.

Still sorting this all out…

My one concession to society’s conventions for women

October 11, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-10-11 12:43:00

As much as I enjoy bucking convention in almost every conceivable way, my one concession to convention seems to be my appearance, and particularly the way I dress. I’ve been struggling for a while now to find a way to dress that feels comfortable and seems appropriate for the environments I find myself in, and I keep coming back to the same sort of thing: sort of the androgynous outdoorsy LL Bean/Eddie Bauer look, mostly derived from clothes marketed for men with a few women’s jeans thrown into the mix for the better fit.

This is definitely a very comfortable look for me, but sometimes I am conscious that it may not be entirely appropriate in my workplace, where most of the women dress fairly casually but in women’s clothes, like knit separates or trendy cotton or wool slacks with a silk blouse. Sometimes I see another woman wearing something I like, but I have no idea where to get such clothes, or when I do find a shop that sells something similar, they never carry sizes large enough for me. Or, conversely, if I wander into a shop that caters to larger women, then I can’t find sizes small enough for me. I seem to have the bad luck of being somewhere between size 14 and 16, which American clothing manufacturers have apparently decided applies to so few women that it isn’t worth making anything for them (and yet they never seem to notice that all of those “smalls” just don’t sell).

So I suppose it’s no wonder that I gravitate over to men’s clothing for the most part, as I fit in the middle range there, although men’s jeans are not particularly flattering on my figure. Thankfully I know of one jean company that makes jeans my size that also fit my shape.

I’ve gone through phases where I really wanted to express my disdain for convention and tradition through my appearance, and I’ve enjoyed those phases, but ultimately I found myself unable to sustain them for a variety of reasons. And I keep gravitating back towards this almost preppy, conventional look that seems to suggest all the wrong things about me. I don’t want to “fit in” in any other way when it comes to doing what society expects of me, but when it comes to clothes and overall appearance I guess I am doomed to look like one of the pod people, even if that’s not how I feel on the inside!

I’m also a little conscious of the fact that I tend to lean towards such an androgynous almost boyish look, and yet I want to be perceived as female (not andro). I just can’t work out how to get more femininity in there given that most of what’s for sale that caters to women is so downright tacky and poorly made. The “fall fashions” on sale right now for women I find to be positively ugly, both in terms of colors and styles. It’s almost as though the fashion industry can’t decide what decade we’re in, as I see a rather horrific blend of the worst from the 70s with the worst from the 80s in some of the styles. Maybe this is yet another sign of the extreme social dysfunction our country finds itself in right now?

I suppose that’s all the more reason I would want to mark myself as being “different” from the norm, but I think I’m going to have to rely on my words to create that effect, and not my clothes. However, I suppose there’s always something a tiny bit subversive about a woman who wears mostly men’s clothes, and who cares so little about appearing fashionable that she’ll even go out to dinner wearing sweats.

Why men? Why now?

September 25, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-09-25 22:40:00

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why it seems that so many lesbians start opening themselves up to the possibility of exploring a relationship with a man when they hit their late thirties or early forties, and I wonder to what extent there could be biology involved (as much as I hate to admit it, wanting to believe myself free of its impulses).

Perhaps it’s that at this age our bodies become aware, if we have not already had children, that the window of opportunity for doing so is about to fade and the dreaded “biological clock” starts ticking more loudly and insistently. And yet, I am 110% certain that I don’t want to get pregnant or give birth to a child, but that certainty exists in my head, which has perhaps not communicated it quite clearly to my body. I wonder to what extent the body begins to crave sexual interaction with a man as a way to satisfy these primal urges, while the brain is left to make sense of the urges in more enlightened terms.

Unless we genuinely do feel the urge to procreate and can therefore respond to those desires as appropriate (by coupling with a man for that purpose or going the turkey baster route), women in this situation are left wondering if we are lesbians who are simply exploring relationships with men, or if we are becoming bisexual, or if perhaps we were bisexual all along. At least these are the questions I’m asking. And if I was bisexual all along, is that why I had such a hard time finding acceptance among lesbians, feeling that I always had to prove myself to truly be one of them? How did they know this about me before I did?

I do have another theory, which I hinted at in a previous post, that perhaps many women choose lesbianism as a way to escape the pressures of marriage and family that are particularly strong when we’re in our twenties and everyone keeps pestering us to find out when we’ll “settle down.” Obviously two lesbians can settle down and create a family with almost the same ease as a straight couple, but it’s not as much of an expectation and, even ten years ago, it wasn’t as common as it is now. Whether this plays a factor in the lives of other women who’ve gone down a similar path to mine I don’t know, but I do think it’s relevant to my own story.

Had I been a little bolder, a little edgier and a little more self confident, I might simply have come out as “queer” and “pansexual” and said to hell with conventional roles and relationships. And then I might’ve enjoyed having sexual and emotional connections with both men and women while staying firmly outside the bounds of traditional marriage and family. But I don’t honestly think I could’ve had healthy relationships with men during that period in my life, and I needed to spend time identified as a lesbian to work my way back to a healthy appreciation of sexuality and take charge of my own desires. There are so many things about myself I would not have learned any other way that I don’t regret a minute of it.

There is also the possibility that the kind of men I have access to now would not have been available to me when I was younger, in which case I would’ve effectively remained a lesbian even if I had acknowledged an attraction to men, given that there wouldn’t have been opportunities to meet the kind of men I would want to connect with. But I seem to have ample opportunity now and am enjoying every minute of it.

Response to film “Women in Love”

September 24, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-09-24 14:06:00

Last week I went to see “Women in Love,” which is a documentary made by a woman who chronicles several years of her life and her relationships through taping herself and the people she’s involved with. The film sets out to explore questions like why her relationships don’t last, why she decides to pursue non monogamy and why she ends up wanting to be involved with men as well as women. Given that I have been asking the latter two questions of my own life in recent months (well, it started several years ago, but the questioning in earnest began this past summer), I had expected the film to have more resonance with me, but there was something about the execution that I found lacking.

The film felt surprisingly self indulgent, as though she was using the camera (and thereby, the viewer) in lieu of a therapist, instead of making an honest effort to explore her own behavior and the possible cultural implications of it. I never got a sense for what exactly non monogamy meant to her, beyond the fact that it seemed to be the only way she could make a relationship last, and yet the viewer uninitiated into the benefits of polyamory would not find this a particularly compelling argument. And she likewise didn’t explore why she might be interested in getting involved with men, after identifying as a lesbian for so long, other than that she wanted to enjoy her feminine side (which didn’t entirely make sense to me — can’t one be feminine with another woman?) Serious speculation on the topic conveyed by the title of the film seemed conspicuously absent.

I was particularly struck while watching the film by the audience’s reactions, which were not positive, especially when the film featured some of the men the film maker had become involved with. The lesbians in the crowd made their displeasure known both audibly, through whispers that bordered on “boos,” and through a negative energy that was palpable. And the whispers didn’t die down until the film was over, at which point I overheard people saying things to the effect that not only did the film maker need therapy, the speaker herself would need therapy to recover from the film. Several people commented on the film maker’s lack of boundaries and obsessive processing without a hint of irony (given that these behaviors are common enough among lesbians to be part of the stereotype).

It was at that moment that I realized just how alienated I feel from lesbian culture, given that my recent experience and shift in identity pushes me beyond its outer edge. I’ve always been on the margins looking in, never quite fitting in, and have been OK with that, as I nevertheless felt that these were “my people,” the people among whom I felt free to relax and be myself. And yet now I feel adrift in that uncharted territory known as “queer.” At least that’s a label that still fits. But the documentary that comes close to telling my version of the story has yet to be made. (And don’t look at me; I think in words, not images!)

Why I chose to come out as a lesbian

September 12, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-09-12 22:15:00

I’ve been thinking through the process that resulted in my coming out as a lesbian, and the various forces that shaped what felt to me more like a decision than a recognition of something biological or innate. While I do believe that for some women, the drive to have romantic and sexual relationships with other women is more or less hard wired (whether through biology or early social conditioning), and therefore the idea of having such relationships with men is entirely off-putting, in my case I felt that I could really go either way, but that I was consciously choosing to identify with a group of people who, frankly, needed a little more support and more visibility to the culture at large.

In brief, here are some of the most pressing reasons I chose to come out as a lesbian.

1. I kept falling in love with women.
2. I didn’t want to go down the conventional path of marriage and family.
3. I had some physical problems that made sex with women more appealing than with men.

I have a fair amount to say about each of these reasons, but am going to try to be brief at this time so that I don’t risk losing any of my readers! (If you find this interesting enough that you’d like to hear more, let me know and I’ll be happy to oblige; a little encouragement goes a long way 😉

Here is some more detail on each reason:

Reason #1
I kept falling in love with women. It took me a bit longer to work up to feeling sexual desire for them, but this stemmed almost entirely from having been socially programmed to think that sex with another woman was Immoral, Unclean and Just Plain Wrong. Once I got past that barrier, I discovered that my fantasies about women (and particularly about women I was in love with) were just as potent as anything I’d ever imagined before the idea of same sex attraction entered my mind.

It took me a few years after coming out to finally have a sexual relationship with another woman, and that just confirmed what I suspected: that I would find the female body very satisfying.

Reason #2
I really, really, REALLY didn’t want to go down the path of marriage and family, for so many reasons. The very idea of following such a conventional path felt suffocating to me, as though I would only ever be living a role scripted by someone else instead of a life of my own choosing and design. I never dreamed of getting married or getting pregnant; I dreamed of getting graduate degrees and making a life in academia.

Although at times while growing up I felt as though I might one day like to adopt a child, I never imagined doing this in the context of a typical marriage type relationship. I don’t know if I just envisioned that I’d be alone, or that I’d have a network of support, but conventional pair bonding did not seem to be an option.

Clearly lesbian couples can have the pair bonding urge, and can go down the path of marriage and family just as easily as any straight couple, but at the time that I came out that was not as common as it is now, and there were still plenty of visible “role models” for living out relationships following new and different conventions, not the ones adopted from the dominant culture. I was strongly influenced by lesbian feminism and the idea that we should be free to create the lives, relationships and living arrangements that suit us best, and to resist those that merely serve the interests of patriarchy. And that is still how I want to live my life.

Reason #3
I’ve only recently come to the realization that my attraction to women might be due in part to some degree of sexual dysfunction, in the sense that I might’ve been attracted to women in the hopes of experiencing normal female sexuality in a way that I was not capable of myself, for reasons that are perhaps a tad too personal to go into here. Rightly or wrongly, I perceived that my particular problems posed a barrier to intimacy with a man, but not with a woman, particularly if I acted in the more dominant role in bed. Not only was I actively attracted to the female body, I also drew energy from a desire to bring to that body a degree of pleasure not possible in my own.

This was a rather startling insight, as I had always thought of my preferred role in bed as coming from an unusually generous nature, but there is a sense in which it could also be said to come from a rather selfish impulse (not that the women in question ever complained!) And this also explains why I felt so frustrated by the few women whose bodies I never could quite master to my satisfaction, given that a good part of the goal wasn’t just their own pleasure but my own, achieved through vicarious means. And if I couldn’t bring them all the way to the top and over, they might not have minded so much, since so many other sensations were pleasant in their own right, but leaving it at that didn’t feed me in quite the same way.

My first two reasons don’t really account for why I chose to come out as a lesbian, instead of bisexual, as I could’ve fallen in love with women and avoided the family trap just as easily as a bi woman (particularly if I had discovered polyamory early enough). So my guess is that, at least in part, it was the third reason that helped to push me over into the lesbian camp, although this was not at all conscious at the time. These are things I’m only just now working out, some 14 years after having come out (and in response to the idea of becoming involved with a man).

There are a few other reasons I preferred to follow the path of lesbian instead of bi, one of which is that I was drawn very much to the sense of community and shared identity that comes from lesbian culture, and which is not widely available to bi women, given that there are so many different ways to be bi. There are different ways to be a lesbian as well, but there is nevertheless a sense of lesbian culture, with music, literature, art, festivals, journals and magazines, and so on, and while I didn’t actually relate to much of it on a personal level, I nevertheless strongly identified with it, through empathy. I felt as though I had “found my people,” and was satisfied for a long time, although now I would say that my focus has shifted to the poly community for that feeling (or maybe, more accurately, I’ve grown to appreciate that there is no such thing as “my people,” as I am rather unique).

Best to end there, although I have rather a lot more to say, not surprisingly 😉

How I became “guy curious”

September 4, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-09-04 09:36:00

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what exactly I’m looking for, now that I’ve discovered all these wonderful ways of connecting with new people. It’s hard to believe that they’ve been out there all along but I was just too caught up in my narrow little obsessive hobby, as unfulfilling as it was, to find them.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say the hobby was unfulfilling, because on some level it was or it wouldn’t have held my attention for seven years. And I still love some aspects of it. But it doesn’t feed me on a deeper level and I only recently realized how much I was starving.

It’s not as though I haven’t tried to make connections with other people over the past seven years, but I was laboring under the belief that I am still a lesbian and should therefore seek out the company of other lesbians (who, admittedly, I do usually feel fairly comfortable around, even if I don’t quite fit in). I did end up meeting some straight women through my hobby, one of which became a dear friend, but most of the people I’ve met who share this interest are so obsessed with it that it’s all they talk about, with no room for discussing politics, philosophy, gender, sexuality, relationship theory or any of the topics that would bring my brain back to life again. So time spent in their company left me feeling like I was trying to exist on rice cakes instead of real food.

Trying to meet other lesbians never seemed to work out for me. I’d get the date of the event wrong and show up the next day, or I’d show up only to discover it had been cancelled, or I’d get together with them once or twice only to have the mutual interest seem to die away. I felt frustrated by what seemed to be my inability to make deeper connections with people, and began to wonder if that was just the inevitable result of aging, as people retreat deeper and deeper into themselves and lose the intensity of youth.

It took me a while to consider that maybe I was trying to find connections among the wrong people. The universe ended up intervening by sending Cupid to shoot an arrow through my heart that bore the name of a young man at work, and even then it took me a while to get it. I got the crush right away, and was immediately consumed by all the amazingly intense and confusing feelings it brought about, but it took longer to understand that maybe what I was seeking was an actual relationship with a man, a man my own age.

That it was difficult to grasp is not all that hard to understand, given how much of my adult life has been invested in my identity as a lesbian, to the point that I have gone way above and beyond the call of duty to prove it to the world.

But why the need to prove myself? A large part of it is that I never “read” as a lesbian, so people were always questioning me, which prompted me to go to great lengths to demonstrate my commitment to the lesbian community. I tried changing my physical appearance to more readily be recognized as “one of them,” but I still felt like a bit of an imposter on the inside, given how little this outwards appearance reflected how I saw myself in the inside. (And I discovered that while I really do love men’s clothing, especially fine quality clothing, I like it better on men.)

I also tried getting very involved in every cause that sparked an interest, and yet even then I always felt as though I stood on the margins, peering in, never quite accepted. And yet on some level I didn’t need acceptance in order to be part of the group, as I was happy to participate anyway and I enjoyed being in the presence of these women, even if there were many ways in which we didn’t relate. I’ve never been inclined to be in the “center” of any social group, so I am accustomed to the view from the outside.

But I thought that in this case it had to do with the fact that as a culture, we are still suffering from some rather essentialist notions about gender and sexuality, and that even other lesbians had bought into the notion that those who experience same sex attraction must also adhere to a particular gender expression — that, in a word, they must “read” as one of the available categories of lesbian: butch, femme or andro dyke

Although I did try to fit into those categories for a while (tried a kind of baby butch look for a year, and an urban andro dyke look for several years), I resented the implication that a lesbian must “be” any particular type of woman, when, theoretically, couldn’t any woman be a lesbian? I eventually came to see that as my most valuable contribution to lesbian culture, to live as an example of a woman who stands outside the stereotypes and just is who she is, while being no less a lesbian.

And then a funny thing happened. Although the feelings I had for the young man at work were intense and confusing and very nearly overwhelming, it still took me another year or so to begin to grasp what it might mean. The idea that I might actually choose to seek out a relationship with a man threw me for such a loop that I was paralyzed between recognizing it and actually doing anything about it. Surely this was just a phase and the result of simply not meeting enough lesbians in this area, in order to make new connections with other women?

But renewed efforts in that direction yielded more of the same disastrous results, and then it happened. I was wandering around the festivities at the Denver Pride celebration, feeling a bit out of place, when I came across the booth for Loving More, a magazine devoted to polyamory. I had been involved in polyamory years earlier, and still identified as non-monogamous though not actively practicing, but what the magazine gave me access to was an actual community of other like minded people, through support groups, social groups, email lists and a poly matchmaker web site.

Logging onto that site changed my life, as I discovered a world of interesting people, many of them very much like me, that I had never imagined would exist. And more importantly, I started to discover that there were men who were completely unlike the men I had known when I was younger, from whom I had happily turned away to pursue my lesbian life.

So suddenly that meant that not only were there men out there I might enjoy making connections with, opportunities to meet them were about to present themselves to me and I had to decide how to handle that. At first I created the impression, through my profile, that I was mainly interested in connecting with women but also open to the idea of friendship with a man, but that didn’t really reflect what I wanted. However, I had no clear idea of what it was possible to want, or of what kind of man I would attract.

As I gave more thought to it and paid attention to the kind of initial responses I got to my profile, I realized that more than anything what I wanted was for a man to be attracted to my mind. I wanted intellectual attention, from someone who would treat me as an equal and not an oddity for having this mind come in a seemingly incongruous package. And I wanted intellectual stimulation, for men to talk ideas with me, so that I could sharpen the parts of my brain that had become dull with under use, and so that I could begin to better understand some of the many ideas about which I am intensely curious.

And perhaps equally important, I wanted a man who would appreciate my facility with language, and who shared the same skill, and who would indulge me by coming into my sandbox and playing with words and ideas, sharing himself with me through the medium of written language.

Luckily, I have started to meet just these sorts of men, which almost seems too much to hope for in and of itself. But as for what I might want beyond this, I’m still trying to figure that out!

Falling out of love

August 29, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-08-29 21:36:00

Edited on 9/4 to clarify: What I wrote below was an attempt to capture a moment in time, but as with any such attempt it does not tell the whole truth.

Much attention is paid to capturing and examining the moment when we fall in love with another person, to savoring all the subtle ways that our feelings nudge us towards the edge, and then over it. But little attention is paid to the moment when we fall out of love, when we realize that the we are no longer in that wonderful free floating, dreamy state. That in fact, we have hit the ground, hard.

I had such a moment today, with someone I’ve known for quite a while but perhaps never really knew, or at least never really understood, although I was originally drawn to her by some mysterious force. Perhaps because she gave me what I needed at the time: a break from the emotional chaos of my previous life, and a chance to retreat into my shell to heal. Perhaps I needed, at least for a while, to share time and space with someone who would ask nothing of me, and give me very little in return.

Here’s the moment, in brief: we were discussing the details of a fatal accident that happened the day before, which she had driven by and just read about in the papers, and I remarked that some of the details of the injuries were almost too much to bear. That led me to comment on another story I had recently read, about a father who brutally murdered his daughter and her playmate simply because he felt they were being disrespectful. The details reported in that story were way more than I could bear, but when I mentioned that to her and described how the story affected me, she could only sort of half jokingly say “sounds like someone with a few anger issues.”

Here I was feeling a little guilty for unloading my burden on her, a burden that feels as real to me as if I had known the two girls myself, and yet the story had no impact on her. It was merely a passing bit of news, with no emotional relevance, no pathway to her heart.

I am not given to being overly sentimental or weepy, but I cried when I read about what happened to those girls, about the young, innocent lives brought to such a brutal ending, by a man who is more monster than human. A few anger issues, indeed. The kind of demons that drive a man to that kind of savagery come from somewhere much darker than mere anger. Insofar as I believe that there is some element of evil in the world, I believe it is coursing through his veins.

When I read the story, I could feel it, the evil of his actions, the terror of the girls’ last moments, and the utter devastation and grief of the parents. And I felt it over and over again, until I finally needed to tell someone about it and chose that moment to tell her, to share my burden of grief for two girls I never even met. But it didn’t touch her at all.

And that’s when it struck me: no such story has ever touched her. Suddenly I could recall countless moments when we’ve heard the news of devastating loss, pain and suffering, in the newspaper or on the TV, and she inevitably makes some flippant remark, betraying an utter lack of compassion or even understanding. It’s not as though she reacts with sarcasm or silence, or any other alternative means of coping with painful feelings. She genuinely doesn’t care.

Who is this person and what could she possibly see in someone like me, inclined as I am to bear the weight of the world, both its hope and joy as well as its tragedy and despair? And then another thought crossed my mind: she doesn’t even know this about me, and she doesn’t care.

If we fail to connect on this most basic of levels, what is it that keeps us together, now that I seem to be emerging from my shell and am ready to feel again?

To be continued…

A few observations on polyamory

August 9, 2005

Originally posted on 8/9/05 on LJ

Here are a few observations written recently for various forums:

“Why do you identify as poly?”

I am poly because I have no interest in seeking out one exclusive relationship based on sexual and romantic fidelity. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

The model that makes more sense is to find a partner I am compatible with as a life mate, whether or not that includes sexual compatibility, and then to be free to let other relationships achieve as little or as much intimacy as they do naturally, without having to impose artificial limits on behavior. That’s the model I currently live, but I would also be happy without a partner (although it would be harder to maintain my current lifestyle).

It’s definitely not about the sex, for me, but about the freedom to let each relationship take a more natural course, rather than trying to find one person to live up to the “marriage potential” checklist while reducing all others to the “friends only” category.

I’ve also never understood jealousy over sex, or why my being in a relationship with someone would give me exclusive rights over her body (or her heart). I actually love the idea that people I’m involved with are also involved with others, as it means that they’re getting different needs met in different ways and that takes the pressure off of me to be all things to one person. And I think that makes for healthier relationships all around, at least for me and the type of people I’m drawn to.

You know the one thing that I think makes me most suited for a poly life is that I am not afraid of being alone, so I don’t have to jealously guard a relationship out of fear of being left alone.

“When do you reveal that you’re poly?”

I get to the point that I have a partner, and that she’s female, pretty early on in any conversation, but it takes me a while to get around to the “open relationship” part, because that doesn’t always feel like relevant information. And I worry that it can sometimes turn people off who might otherwise enjoy getting to know me. People have a lot of negative stereotypes about poly people and I’d rather they get to know me first, and then find that their stereotypes are wrong, than to put me into the stereotype box too early on in the process.

Sometimes it truly isn’t relevant and so I don’t bring it up, even though my inner activist tells me that the world needs to be aware that we exist, and how will the world know that if I don’t speak up. I mention the fact that I have a female partner sometimes when it isn’t entirely relevant for that very reason, b/c I pass as straight and want the world to know that not every lesbian looks like a diesel dyke (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

When I’m with a group of people, like a lesbian social group, I don’t bring it up unless it becomes relevant as part of the conversation, for the same reason I don’t bring up a whole bunch of other private issues. But if I was starting to get to know one person who might become a good friend, I would explain my relationship situation early on, both as part of the process of describing who I am and also to let the other person know that if it turns out there is “something” between us, that possibility remains open even though I’m already involved with someone. In some cases that has not affected the budding friendship at all (usually when there’s no attraction there beyond platonic friendship), but in other cases it has, I think b/c the other person did feel some attraction and yet was afraid to get involved with someone already in a relationship out of fear of drama or whatever (despite the fact that I’m very low drama).

I don’t worry so much about the social consequences of mentioning it, as I’ve never really cared if I was accepted into any kind of mainstream (even the lesbian mainstream), but I do care that sometimes it prevents people from actually getting to know me, how I think and feel and why I might have this perspective towards relationships. And I want them to know the full story before they go making judgements.

“It’s not about the sex”

It’s not the sex for me, although that’s a nice bonus. It’s about love.

I totally relate to this. It’s not about the sex for me either. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’d rather not have sex at all (except with myself) and have multiple love relationships than to have lots of sex with no emotional connection. I can enjoy sex with certain people without there being a deep connection there, and I like that in poly I’m free to explore those types of relationships, but they don’t feed me on the level that emotional connections do.

I also cannot live a life where I am someone else’s entire world. I absolutely need to have those I love have other loves in their life too.

I really relate to this as well. I find it a relief when people I’m involved with have other loves, of whatever type, so that the pressure is off of me to be everything to the person. I can’t be everything for anyone, nor do I want anyone else to be everything for me. How boring!

I enjoy having multiple connections, of varying degrees of intensity and duration, because they encourage me to grow and learn from others and become more of the person I want to be, whereas if I had to seek everything from just one other person… well, I would never have found that person to begin with, so I’d be frustrated and single.

Another reason why poly is important to me is that it allows me to get to know and appreciate each person as he or she is, without trying to match the person against my check list of what I would want in an ideal mate. If the person has some traits that wouldn’t suit me for a long term primary partnership, that’s OK, we can still let our relationship evolve into whatever seems natural because I’m not limited to only one love.

In that way it allows me to love more freely and authentically, because I can see the person for who he or she is, not who I wish he or she was. I can be more accepting of flaws and small incompatibilities, because we don’t need to be all things to each other (whereas when I was trying to be monogamous, I was incredibly critical of every little way in which my partner didn’t measure up to my ideal, which was destructive and completely unfair of me). I’m also less hard on myself for not being perfect, because I too don’t have to be everything for him or her.

Expressing my gender

August 3, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-08-03 14:08:00

(yet another message composed for another forum, but probably of interest to those of you reading here)

I’m aware of my gender in mixed gender spaces because of the way most people interact with me, like a woman and not like just another human being. I think that has a lot to do with appearance. I went through a phase years ago where I cut my hair short, gained weight and wore men’s clothes, and it was like I walked into another world. Suddenly men stopped holding doors open for me, standing up to give me a seat, calling me “miss” and flirting with me, and they just treated me like a regular guy. I remember stopping into a convenience store to get directions and being shocked when the guy behind the counter just gave them to me in a straight forward manner, without any flirting or asking me “so where’s a pretty girl like you going on a night like this?”

I had gone through the process of changing my appearance in order to try on the “dyke look,” so that I might actually trip someone’s gaydar for a change, but I had no idea how much it would impact the way the rest of the world related to me. Now that I’m back to my more typical look, I’m even more aware of much gender influences the way people interact with me. Not all people, to be sure, but enough that it’s hard for me to go long without being aware of it.

Now I kind of enjoy playing around with it, in certain contexts. For example, for about a year I lived in a travel trailer and drove around the southwest US, and I enjoyed the reactions of both men and women as I set up the trailer and took care of the trailer chores (like waste disposal) by myself. Many men apparently think these tasks are not suited to the fairer sex so they were shocked when I politely declined their offers for help.

When I built my farm I also acted as my own general contractor, despite having zero experience at it, but that required quite a few men to take orders from me and to come to me with questions, so that was kind of fun. I doubt most of those men had ever worked with a woman building her own place, and not the woman’s husband. I also doubt most of those men had ever been around a woman who is feminine and conventionally pretty but unconcerned about her appearance, as I’d come out to meet them wearing baggy sweatpants and a wrinkled t-shirt with no bra. For that matter, maybe they appreciated being around a woman who treated them like just a regular person and not like a “man” to be dressed up for or flirted with.

My job also requires me to be in a bit of a power relationship over young men, which can push a lot of gender buttons on both sides.

So what does all this have to do with poly? Hmmm, good question. I’m still torn over whether I am drawn to the person first, or the gender first, because truthfully, I really do prefer women. And yet I’d like to think that if I met the right man, who was also poly and was fine with my having a primary relationship with another woman, I might be open to some kind of connection there. I just don’t know if I could ever get past the idea of gender roles, however. With another woman, any role I choose to play in the relationship is a product of my personality, not my gender (for example, I’m responsible for cleaning the house and taking out the trash, b/c those things matter to me). But with a man, I would be super conscious of taking any role that is typically gendered female, and it would really bug me if roles fell out along gender lines. But I suppose those are my own demons to wrestle with 😉

Marriage is not for everyone

August 1, 2005

Originally published on LJ on 2005-08-01 21:43:00

(written for another forum, in response to a question about views on marriage)

Long before I knew anything about the history of the institution of marriage, I had an inkling that it was probably not for me. I don’t really know why. I tried to want it, but as my friends sat around talking about the kind of men they wanted to spend their lives with I just couldn’t see myself going down that path. Even when I came out as a lesbian, I still didn’t see marriage as something to aim for, although I do support the idea of granting marriage rights to same sex couples.

There’s probably too much to go into here and now, but some of my resistance probably comes from knowing how much I grow and evolve every few years, to the point that it would be extremely unlikely for me to meet someone who would still be on the same path as me a few years down the road. I want the freedom to pursue my own life, rather than being limited by my obligations to another person. That probably comes from having grown up during a time when women were just discovering that they didn’t have to depend so much on men and could actually live their own lives.

I never wanted children, so I’m sure that makes a difference. I also don’t care about the social status that comes from being married, nor am I particularly worried about growing old alone, because I know how to make friends. I also know how to entertain myself 😉

I did go through a phase of thinking that I should be wanting a long term relationship of some kind, but what I discovered is that I ended up being incredibly critical of each new person I dated, measuring her against an idealized notion of who I might spend the rest of my life with, and no one ever measured up. But when I decided to let go of that way of thinking and live in the present, I became open to connecting with a wider range of people. And I began to appreciate each relationship for what it brought to my life at that moment, rather than worrying about its long term potential. For me that’s a healthier way to relate with others.

Why I identify as poly

July 24, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-07-24 15:07:00

I just wrote this for another site but thought it captured something I’ve been wanting to express for a while (why monogamy doesn’t work for me), so I figured I’d post it over here as well, at least until I have more time to really flesh out the ideas.

I identify as poly, not because I want to have a lot of sex partners (or a lot of drama), but because I can’t deal with what feels to me like the oppressive structure of monogamy, particularly the type that says you’re supposed to be looking for your soulmate, so you can live happily ever after.

Under that model I was always incredibly critical of each new woman I got involved with, measuring her against my ideas of what kind of person I’d want to spend my life with, and I probably ruined a few relationships that way — and others never even got off the ground.

But when I realized that there were other models available for the kinds of relationships I could have, I was so relieved! That meant that I could take each new relationship for what it was, and not what I thought it was supposed to become, and I could appreciate each new woman for who she was, instead of thinking about who she wasn’t. I could get involved with this woman because she liked hiking and taking the dogs out to the dog park and going to movies, and I could get involved with that woman because she liked to stay up late debating politics, and that other woman because we just had really good sexual chemistry. And so on.

I didn’t have to find everything in one person, AND I could let sexual and emotional intimacy take a more natural course. What usually happened for me was that the relationships that lasted the longest had very little sexual chemistry but a lot of compatibility in other ways, and yet if I had identified as monogamous that would’ve meant going without sex or romance indefinitely. I suppose I could’ve made do without sex (“if you want something done right, do it yourself!”), but I don’t want to live a life without romance.

I’ve never understood why commitment to another person has anything to do with having exclusive rights over her body, or why my partner having sex with another woman would threaten what she and I have, given that what we have isn’t based on sex.

From lesbian to bi?

July 22, 2005

Originally published on LJ on 2005-07-22 23:07:00

I wrote this for the poly-bi-girls tribe on Tribe.net, but thought I’d go ahead and post it here in case anyone on LJ has any input.

I am curious to hear from women who have identified as a lesbian for a significant portion of their adult lives, and then came out as bisexual. What was the process like for you and what would you do differently, if anything, if you could do it again? What were the biggest obstacles for you?

This is a process I think I’m on, but I can only be on it because I also identify as poly, by which I mean that I have never had and do not currently have any interest in having a conventional relationship with a man. I’ve never wanted to be married and I’ve never wanted to be perceived by society as “normal” in that regard.

If I were mono, I think the idea of being open to new connections with a man would never cross my mind, because I just don’t want to live that kind of life (even though I recognize that there are plenty of male/female marriages that are unconventional). I just don’t want a long term, settle down kind of life with a guy; I prefer my primary relationship to be with another woman, even if it’s non sexual.

But I’m increasingly interested in pursuing friendships and “who knows what else” with the right kind of men, and yet I’m having some anxiety about the whole “so am I still a lesbian?” thing. I never really felt embraced by the lesbian community to begin with, even though I strongly identify with it, but now I worry that this is just one more reason that they’ll say “see, you were never one of us!” I guess “worry” is not the right word, b/c I don’t really care what they think, but I dislike the idea that I would just be confirming stereotypes.

So… I’m interested in hearing if anyone else has had a similar experience in terms of going from lesbian to poly. (And, for that matter, if you know of other bi-oriented communities I should check out, let me know! I would be esp. interested in communities that promote thoughtful, intelligent conversation with mature adults, instead of catering to a bunch of teenagers looking for sex, which, unfortunately, seems all too easy to find on the net…)

Queer on the inside

July 22, 2005

Originally published on LJ on 2005-07-22 15:23:00

It bothers me more than it should that if I am walking down the street, I look for all the world like the most ordinary, conventional person you ever met. OK, so I have a few discreet piercings and tattoos, but who doesn’t these days? The rest of me suggests someone who is trying to “fit in with the norm,” when that is so not true, at least on the inside. And yet if I try to dress or change my appearance in a manner that better expresses my internal self, then it feels artificial, like I’m play acting at being something I’m not. It’s such an odd dilemma!

On the one hand, I don’t really care what other people think and I look the way I do because it’s the easiest and most comfortable. I don’t have to give much thought to it. But on the other hand, I hate the thought that just by walking around looking normal I contribute to the belief that most people are normal, when that’s probably not true. I don’t like that someone would actually have to take the time to get to know me to realize that I represent some pretty unconventional ideas about life.

I think this is where the whole “dyke look” thing comes from, from the desire to make one’s difference visible to the world in order to create the impression that there are many of us out there. And I really appreciate and value that, but I just can’t pull it off personally. I tried for a while — and was AMAZED at how differently I was treated in the world by everyone (but especially by other lesbians) — but it just didn’t feel like “me.” Now I feel like “me” when I look in the mirror, but as soon as I open my mouth around new people they seem completely shocked at the disconnect between appearance and beliefs (unless, of course, they have the same thing going on).

I guess I just hate it that we all make assumptions about people based on what they look like, because that probably prevents us from making what might otherwise be some meaningful connections.

Enlightened monogamy

July 17, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-07-17 09:44:00

I don’t think monogamy is a problem in and of itself. As one of many available models for relationships, it serves its purpose and there are people who are particularly well suited to it, for a variety of reasons. What becomes a problem is when the culture pressures us, from the time we’ve very small, to believe that monogamy is the only acceptable form of being in a relationship and that all other alternatives are merely preludes to the “real thing.” And it’s not just monogamy they pressure us to pursue, but this notion of a lifetime commitment with “the one,” as though restricting your love to only one person for the rest of your life is a noble cause, even if you end up suffering in the process. And it’s no secret that the myth of the perfect marriage is peddled primarily to women, in order to control their reproduction.

Some who choose monogamy without having given the matter much thought may end up discovering that it is the right model for them, but I suspect that many who end up monogamous by default are not totally satisfied with that model, although they tend to see that as a problem in themselves and not a problem with the model. And then there are those who are aware enough of themselves, their needs and what form of relationship would work best for them, and they consciously choose monogamy from a range of alternatives that they are also aware of. I would call that “enlightened monogamy,” in the sense that it is a deliberate choice and not something people fall into because they’ve never given the matter any thought.

That’s not to say that those who choose an alternative model for relationships necessarily have an easy time of it, of course. The cultural indoctrination towards monogamy (and towards heterosexuality and strict gender roles, for that matter), is very powerful and not everyone is able to overcome it, even those who give it a good effort. When a model like a quad marriage or a “V” triad ends up not working for those involved, people are too quick to blame the model instead of recognizing that it was the individual personalities and the dynamics between them that made it not work, not the model itself. (If we judged a model by the success rate of its participants, monogamy wouldn’t score particularly high either!)

If I want to push for anything, it’s for people to be more conscious of what they want in their relationships, and to come to them with reasonable expectations of what the model they choose can provide and what it can’t provide. In a society that was truly free, I would imagine that the majority would still choose monogamy, but at least then it would be a choice arising from free will and not social pressure. And perhaps that would help to increase its success rate.

The trouble with monogamy

July 14, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-07-14 22:44:00

(the following was written for another forum, but I thought I’d share it here as well)

What bugs me most about monogamy is the way that it causes people to jealously guard their relationships from all outside threats, real or perceived, to the extent that it can make it hard for the couple to make new friends, except with other couples. Now obviously this applies primarily to people who are insecure in their monogamy (or in themselves), not to those who have chosen what might be called “enlightened monogamy” (meaning they’ve consciously chosen this form of relating and are secure in it, rather than going down the road society told them to take).

I haven’t had much opportunity to interact with straight married couples, but I definitely find see the damaging effects of monogamy among lesbians. Instead of feeling free to build community with other women, many couples turn inward and focus only on each other, presumably out of fear that one partner might stray if they were to open themselves up to meeting a wide range of new people (and not just other couples).

At least that’s been my experience. For example, a while back I met a couple who shared a hobby with me and we got to talking, and I really hit it off with one of the women, not so much the other. We were able to talk about all kinds of things that interested us and things we had in common and I was having a great time talking, until I realized that the woman’s partner was getting jealous. But why should that be so threatening? I can be a little intense, esp. when I get to talking about an unusual shared interest with someone, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to come on to the person, so why jealousy? Why should making a connection on an intellectual level, or even an emotional level, threaten the primary pair bond?

It’s because of sexual jealousy, I think, and the inability to distinguish between levels of connection — and to realize that new connections do not diminish existing ones. I wasn’t sexually interested in this woman, although had they been poly and had we continued getting to know each other, who knows. But I would never even “go there” with someone in a committed monogamous relationship. It’s not like being poly makes me a sexual predator, and yet that’s how I feel sometimes, even without identifying as poly! There’s just something “suspicious” about a woman who tries to connect with another women as an individual, instead of only doing so as couples.

Some people seem to think that being poly is about wanting more sex, but that’s not it at all, not for me and not, I think, for most poly people (which is why “amory” is in the name not “sexual”). To me it’s about wanting to be around people who don’t believe they can “possess” another person, and who also don’t believe that sexual fidelity is the key ingredient to a successful relationship. What makes a person special to me has nothing to do with whether or not I have exclusive rights over her body — that’s not even a factor at all. Indeed, some of my most emotionally intense relationships have been nonsexual, but no less valid in terms of their importance to me, while I’ve had a few sexual relationships that will never register that degree of importance. What I like about polyamory is the freedom to define relationships according to the factors that matter to me, not to society.

Biology is not identity: response to NYT article “Straight, Gay, or Lying”

July 11, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-07-11 11:17:00

The research described in “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited” seems to be based on the faulty assumption that genital arousal has anything to do with sexual orientation or relationship preference. I’m sure a gay man might experience some genital arousal if you showed him a video of two straight people having sex, if it was particularly erotic. That doesn’t mean he secretly desires to BE straight.

For that matter, any number of people might experience some genital arousal if you showed them a video of animals mating in the wild, but that does not by any means suggest that these people want to have sex with animals! What they’re responding to is the idea of sex and whatever associations that brings to mind, NOT an explicit attraction to the participants they’re viewing on the screen.

You can’t possibly hope to learn anything useful by hooking up people’s private parts and monitoring their physical responses. Identity and attraction are about so much more than blood flow to the nether regions.

“Coming out” as poly

July 8, 2005

Originally posted on LJ on 2005-07-08 00:19:00

I recently posted this on another poly forum, in response to the question “why is polyamory important to you,” and thought it might be interesting to share here. The conversation I was responding to included many observations about the process of “coming out poly,” which is what prompted me to make the comparison to coming out as a lesbian.

My response: It’s particularly interesting to me how similar the issues raised here are to the question of sexual orientation. Some believe they are “born that way,” others believe they choose it; for some it is the most important aspect of who they are, for others its just one small part.

When I first came out as a lesbian, I went through a phase of a few years where being a lesbian was a huge part of my identity. I came out in response to falling in love with a woman (who was only ever a friend) but I had not had any practical experience being a lesbian. It was more about who I wanted to be and what life path I wanted to follow, not so much about feeling that I had been “born that way” and was only then discovering my inner dyke. I didn’t get involved with another woman for about a year after I came out, so that wasn’t something I found necessary to my identity.

I came out as poly in response to feeling frustrated at the social customs of monogamy. I was never the type to seek out “the one” or to long for happily ever after, but rather I wanted to remain open to connecting with new people on whatever level seemed appropriate at the time. I wanted the freedom to grow and evolve with each person as long as we walked the same path, and to go our separate ways if our paths began to diverge (hopefully without bitter feelings, although it doesn’t always work out that way).

I knew I didn’t want serial monogamy, which measures each relationship on the “soulmate” meter. I didn’t want to subject every relationship to the “is this person The One?” test, as that demeans the quality of relationship that is possible even if it lasts only a short while. Every relationship is an opportunity to love and be loved, and to grow.

So I chose polyamory before I actively lived it as well, because it fit in with the way I wanted to live my life. The last thing I ever wanted to be was conventional, to fit in with society’s norms and customs, but whether that comes from my politics, my personality, my genetics or what, I can’t say.

And yet, it has been surprisingly easy to lead a fairly conventional life these past six or seven years. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how I ended up in something that looks, to the outside world at least, like a lesbian marriage (which is not exactly conventional, although certainly gaining more social acceptability than polyamory).

Being poly is important to me not so much because of the practice of it, although I welcome the opportunity to make new connections, but because of the available relationship models it most closely expresses the way I want to live my life and interact with others. And I feel strongly that this model is one that should be made more widely available, with less cultural stigma, so that more people are able to live truly fulfilling, self-determined lives. Not everyone will choose to pursue a poly path, of course, but I would at least like to see more people given the option.

Brief thoughts on the gay marriage debate

July 7, 2005

Originally posted on LJ: 2005-07-07 08:21:00

The original entry for this spot was kind of boring, so I’ve replaced it with the “random musing” on gay marriage from my web site, for your reading pleasure. The opinions expressed here are subject to revision.

While marriage rights are not something I personally have ever felt the need to have access to I do believe that they should be granted to anyone who wants to enter into a committed relationship of the type traditionally described by marriage. These would, of course, be civil arrangements, not religious, so I really don’t understand the church’s concern. No one is ever going to pressure clergy to perform marriage ceremonies on couples they deem unfit for whatever reason; they’re already free to turn away straight couples, so why not same sex couples? Where mainstream churches fail to meet the demand, alternative ones will step in to fill it.

I am annoyed by the hypocrisy of those who claim that gays should not be tolerated in society because they lead promiscuous and immoral lifestyles, but then who turn right around and deny gays the opportunity to form legitimate, loving couples (not that I think marriage is necessary for legitimacy, but certainly that element of society does). I agree with Andrew Sullivan that if marriage is a civilizing force, then that’s all the more reason why gays should be allowed to partake in it rather than being barred from it. If what the religious right doesn’t like is the promiscuous gay lifestyle, why aren’t they willing to allow for an alternative to it?

I also support the extension of benefits through a contractual relationship to groups of more than two, although not in the sense of traditional polygamy (which is not practiced in the woman’s best interest). But if three people want to join together to commit to building a life and perhaps raising a family, I don’t see why they should be denied the option to establish legal protections for the relationship, although I can understand why this might never be called “marriage.” I do not, however, see this possibility as an example that opening up marriage rights to same sex couples will put us down a dangerous “slippery slope” towards chaos. Indeed, quite the contrary, as it will open up the possibility for more families, more love and more honesty, and that’s always a good thing.

What polyamory means to me

July 3, 2005

Originally posted on LJ: 2005-07-03 10:34:00

Below are thoughts in progress, as they currently appear on my Wordcharmer web site (under the “Relationships” topic). I want to keep working on what I want to say, but thought I’d toss this out here now for your reading pleasure. So many people misunderstand polyamory that I’m on a mission to explain what it means to me, just to provide a different perspective.

Relationships:

I identify as a poly lesbian but the word “polyamory” means different things to different people. For me, it’s not about the sex. It’s about the opportunity to form intimate relationships with other people, whether they be emotional, physical or sexual, that do not threaten the other relationships in my life. My primary relationship is and always will be with myself. I don’t look to others to “complete” me, as though a part of me is missing, so I don’t understand what is so threatening about the idea that someone I love might also love a third person. Or a fourth person. Or more. The capacity for multiple loves seems to me to represent evolutionary progress, not a deviation.

I’ve never understood jealousy, at least in terms of sex. I can understand being jealous of the amount of time a loved one might spend with someone else, when I might rather she spend that time with me. I don’t experience that kind of jealousy often, but I can at least understand it. What I don’t understand is how the act of having sex with another person can cause such chaos in a relationship, particularly when the relationship poses no threat to the original twosome (as in the case of a partner having a fling while away on a trip).

Imagine how many Hollywood movies couldn’t be made if jealousy wasn’t such a prominent and powerful emotion in people’s lives. How many plots basically boil down to the conflict created by jealousy, specifically sexual jealousy? It makes me wonder whether most people really are under the spell of the green eyed monster, or whether we just think we’re supposed to be because that’s the message we hear over and over again from the culture. I wonder how many wives or husbands may not really care if their partners find love or sexual pleasure in secondary relationships, but feel that they are expected to be jealous due the pressure of cultural standards.

I can understand how cheating hurts, but it hurts primarily because it is dishonest, not because the person had a relationship with a different person (particularly if that relationship was a fleeting encounter). What seems to threaten people in committed couples is the idea that a lover outside the pair bond will somehow damage the original relationship, instead of possibly expanding it. Part of the problem seems to be the assumption that if you fall in love with someone and/or have sex with him or her, that you must therefore set yourself on a path towards pair bonding with this person, which of course might threaten any existing relationships. But why should it? The only reason it would is if you assume you can only love/have sex with one person at a time.

Now I agree that in most cases you can only set up house with one person at a time, although there are certainly some poly households with three or four members (not to mention some attempts at communal living). And if setting up house with someone, and possibly having a family, is your goal, then that will probably become your primary relationship, but not so much due to the sexual relationship as to the mutual commitment to a shared life. Why should that mutual commitment be based primarily on sexual fidelity? Isn’t it enough, indeed isn’t it better, to base the commitment on other factors, like compatibility as life partners, with shared goals and ideas about how to manage the household and raise the children? You don’t even need to have sexual compatibility, given that you can satisfy those needs in many other ways, but it is rare to find someone with whom you are truly suited to walk down life’s path with. To me, that’s what any impulse towards pair bonding should be about, not romantic or sexual fidelity.

Think about how much emotional and psychological harm has been done to individuals and families over the natural human tendency to seek connections with other people even while in a committed relationship. If it was unnatural and unusual to want to connect with others outside a mated couple, … more coming soon