Well, ok, technically it is, but what I mean is: it’s not that simple.
Yesterday, I listened to a wonderful young man step out of a wardrobe, complete with creaking door sound effects. A few years ago, I met a bunch of people on twitter, round about the same time, from all sorts of backgrounds, of all ages, and two of those people were in their young teens. Joseph was one of them, Stephanie the other, and I am desperately proud of both of them and the fine young people they have become so far and will continue to be.
On top of that, Joseph did something yesterday that made me even prouder, if that’s even possible. He’s passionate about radio, and has been doing his own unpretentious and delightful show on the interwebs for a while, but yesterday he did a special one to talk about his sexuality. Not only is it a beautiful and eloquent way of coming out, but he also touches on some deeper points about relationships, and how they are perceived accordingly to sexuality.
And that got me thinking. Again. It’s something I have pondered so many times over the years but have never really tried to construct those thoughts. So please bear with me. This may be rather rambling. But then most of my posts are so, hey, you’re used to it, right? Also, please bear in mind that this is me thinking. I’m not trying to lay down any kind of fundamental truths here, it’s just my brain working, and that means it’s flawed by definition, so please feel free to disagree, but do so politely.
Acceptance of non-heterosexual sexuality has improved over the last half century or so, at least in most western countries. It’s a long way from perfect, and because it requires a fair bit of mindset changing, it will probably be a few more generations before it’s anywhere near where it should be. But it is at least moving forward.
It is, however, at least, as I see it, rather compartmentalised. The good old “LGBT” gives you 4 nice tidy little boxes to put people in. Let’s extend that to LGBTQIA to include those who identify as “questioning”, intersex and A-sexual. Oh, wait, what about pansexuals? Is that a thing? And, correct me if I’m wrong, but Transgender isn’t a sexual preference, it’s a personal gender identity. It’s to do with who you are, not who you love. A transman or transwoman could be attracted to men or to women or to both. So does that mean they actually fit in one box or two. Or maybe three if you count pre and post transition?
Boxes don’t work, for me. They do provide terms that can sometime help other people to understand that part of who you are – and as Joseph says so well, it’s only part of you, it doesn’t define you on its own. But I feel there is a level lacking in the definition of a person’s “sexuality”, and that’s the notion of relationship identity. There are boxes for who you are, boxes for who you love, but none for how you love.
I was once told, by someone I then considered a friend, that my relationship with my husband was “nothing but a bullshit lie between two hypocrites who are too weak or too scared to disobey the social norm and admit they want to see other people”. I knew he was in an open relationship, and that he understandably felt very strongly about the pressures society puts on people who are in “non conventional” relationships. So although it hurt, and it wasn’t true, I let it go.
I also didn’t respond because there isn’t a simple answer to explain how wrong that statement is in our specific case. But here goes an attempt at a less simple one.
I feel that the way each person feels about relationships, sex, even friendship, is as important and defining as their sexuality. Some people need to be able to move from partner to partner, sometimes in succession, sometimes simultaneously. Others will latch on to a single person and want to stay stuck to them forever. And there is a whole range of nuances in between those extremes. Some people will not even want romantic relationships, or even sex, at all. It may be part nature, part nurture, or all one or the other, who knows, but I think this “relationship identity” is a deeply rooted part of each person.
Saying that all humans should be monogamous, or on the contrary that we are all hard-wired to copulate with every sexual partner in sight is as nonsensical and discriminatory as it is to say we should all be heterosexual.
Personally – and this is so personal I don’t think I have ever said it “out loud” to anyone – I am a love addict. I have only really had a crush on 3 or 4 people in my whole life and each of those was a lasting one, over months or even years, even when unrequited. Number 4 was the only one that really turned into a relationship, and here I am, 17 years later, still as addicted to him as I was from day 1. So I look around and I see other people, people I find attractive, even sometimes people I find attractive and have a strong compatibility with. But they don’t move me. I don’t get that jittery butterfly feeling. I don’t want to be with them.
Now Number 4 and I had a conversation about fidelity early on in our relationship, maybe a few months in. I told him that I was aware that people sometimes need to go elsewhere, get attracted to others without necessarily wanting to end their main relationship. And I told him in no uncertain terms that if he needed to do that, I would be ok with it as long as he was honest with me. I swear he wouldn’t have looked more hurt if I had slapped him. He asked me if I wanted to do that myself, and I said no. His brain is just wired the same way mine is: it’s nice to look at the rest of the menu, but all I ever order is my special.
He and I are lucky to have found another person with a similar relationship identity, and I am grateful for that every single day. Problems happen when that relationship identity, much like the sexual identity, is repressed and/or in conflict. People who try to be monogamous when they are clearly and knowingly not wired for that will end up “cheating”. What a horrible word, and how misused it is. It is usually meant from the point of view of the other partner, and that’s understandable when they’ve been lied to. But in truth, trying to cheat your own instincts and remain monogamous in appearance when you aren’t at heart must be just as soul-crushing as trying to maintain a straight façade when you know you’re gay. Likewise, trying to force yourself to accept an open relationship when your brain doesn’t work like that must be equally torturous. This is where we, as a society, are indeed hypocrites.
Social convention is a complex thing, built over generations and centuries. Sooner or later, it probably has a basis in a statistical “mainstream”, people who share the same preferences and who want to impose them on those who are different. Because different is bad. So I’m guessing that things like social or religious dictates often stem from one or several influential people seeing a difference and wanting to stamp it out. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, people who know they are different want to conform so much that they completely over-compensate and start hurting people like them to show the mainstream that they belong.
In his show, Joseph mentioned that it is often considered that gay men aren’t in it for a stable, long term, “two men growing old together” relationship. That’s true, and it’s not fair. Likewise, bisexual people, when they come out, are considered to have “not made up their mind” and therefore be open to multiple relationships or nothing but three-ways… It is likewise assumed that all heterosexuals (I hate the word straight so let’s be clinical for lack of a better term) are going to settle down into a monogamous relationship, have kids, and go to Butlins every summer. None of that makes any sense to me.
The same person I mentioned earlier ended our friendship by telling me I was a “privileged straight white monogamous homophobe”. Now I’ll plead guilty on the white, I can’t do anything about that. Privilege is a difficult one, and it’s thrown around so much I sometimes wonder if the people using it even know what it truly means, but I do my best to be aware and empathetic and continue to learn about others, so I hope I’m not, but if I am guilty (and we probably all are on some degree), at least I’m trying. When it comes to “straight” (ugh), well I’d probably end up in the “questioning” box if I had to pick one, but my poor addicted brain is so hooked on one person that, as attractive as I find other women, they are no more attractive to me than men right now, as in not nearly enough to distract me from my Heisenberg Blue of a love addiction, so I’m not sure if I can really tell. Yes, monogamous, but not because society tells me to, but because that’s the way my brain works. As for homophobic, I’m not even going to answer that.
We have a long way to go, people. A lot of closed minds to open up and a lot of love and understanding to spread. Let’s not waste too much time on the haters. They are everywhere, even inside those communities who so desperately need to grow, blossom and connect with others. Hating those who are part of the “mainstream”, even hating each other for not being “different enough” to be part of the group. How ironic. As I said above somewhere, I think this is all to do with pain. People feeling hurt, inadequate, not fitting in, being rejected, being different… Haters are hurting. It doesn’t make them right, it’s not an excuse, but it can help us understand that hating them back is not the way to go, even when they hurt us.
I loved my old friend, in fact I still do. There, I’ve said it. I miss him sometimes, when I come across something he would have enjoyed and I can’t share it with him. I even loved him when he was angry and hurt and ranty about things. Because that was his way of dealing with them, even when it was hurtful to others around him, including me. Anger, hate and pain can cloud our vision, make us quick to judge and jump to conclusions without stopping to truly see other people, see who they are and understand why they do what they do. Let’s work on that, eh?