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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Identity » Jumping off the cliff of heterosexuality

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Author Topic: Jumping off the cliff of heterosexuality
The Definitive PoMo Username
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I was at a queer Halloween party last week and I didn't plan for it to happen because I am a survivor, depressed, have a lot of self-care work ahead of me and probably shouldn't be dating, but I ended up kissing another woman who was there. It felt nice and it really disrupted my narrative of being unlovable and undesirable as a static, immutable fact, but at the same time I feel a little confused about it. I also feel resentment at myself for feeling confused because physicality with men doesn't seem like a safe option for me for the rest of my life. During this interaction with the woman, I thought about how much safer it was because this person was actually attempting to read my body language instead of just imposing their will on me like most men do.

I don't want to make a big deal about my interaction with the woman because that seems like a typical "straight" person reaction and I definitely don't want to impose the Katy Perry meme on the interaction (you know, the one about kissing girls and liking it) in any way. But being attracted to men feels too much like being attracted to my oppression and the ways men walk all over women (and feel a mandate to do so). But because I've never dated women before, this feels very much out of my element and if I ever see this person again (we exchanged numbers), I would feel like I was lying because this was my first experience; I would feel like I wasn't really queer.

I don't know, I feel like my politics are leading me here but I worry my reasons would be questioned and it would be even more problematic because it would bring up conversations about if you can "choose" an orientation if one isn't working out for you anymore or if sexuality is more fluid. I don't want to feel trapped and unlovable anymore.

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Redskies
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Well, we can't really choose an orientation because we're either attracted to people or we're not. But we absolutely can choose who we date, who we kiss, or anything else. If we're not harming anyone or lying to anyone, we don't have to explain or justify those choices, either. If it feels like healthy and positive choices for us, we don't even need to be able to explain it to ourself. Orientation can absolutely be fluid, too.

Feeling the need to justify and explain any attraction or choices that aren't heterosexual or heteronormative is the action and influence of heteronormativity. You're not harming or appropriating non-het people and identities with what you did and what you're thinking around this; heteronormativity is trying to take a bite out of you and deny you the opportunity to find what's right for you.

Part of the problem with the whole "Katy Perry meme" (love that! - not the meme, obviously, but the concept) is that it adds yet another level of difficulty to people who Know they're bi, or lesbian, or whatever, and keep being asked to prove that they Really are; and to people who are questioning, unsure, feeling their orientation shift, or just plain "my orientation = curious green dreams sleep furiously". There are worlds of difference between someone using a not-real queer orientation as a short-cut signal of "I Am So Cool and Edgy, Look At Me Proving It" and someone simply doing something they want to do. Sometimes it's not possible to know what's going on with a person from the outside, which is partly why the Katy Perry Meme is frustrating - it's not like we need more doubt in the mix! But you know your own motivation - it was something you wanted to do in the moment. You don't need to worry about the politics here, because you're not in league with the harmful stuff here - the harmful stuff is working against you, too. It's ok to experiment, it's ok to try new things, it's ok to question things we previously thought or assumed about ourselves.

I don't know if you've seen these articles already? They might help you out some.

The Rainbow Connection: Orientation for Everyone
Q is for Questioning
Living without Labels

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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Redskies
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Just addressing the gendered issues here, too: if you don't feel safe with men, or can't trust men, it's absolutely your right not to date men. End of [that] story. There's another, different, story though too. You've obviously had some bad experiences around men, and while it's your right - without question - to feel about that however you do, it's important to also know that not all men are intrinsically unsafe. It's also important for your safety to know that someone will not be automatically safe just because they are not a man.

From what you wrote about your experience above, what I would suggest as the big take-away is that what feels good and important to you is someone noticing, caring about and responding to your reaction and wants. That's a good thing! It's a fundamental of healthy relationships, including passing ones. I'm sorry to hear that you've had experiences that didn't meet that minimum standard in the past and that you seem to have known an unrepresentative number of rubbish or abusive men. We all deserve that minimum standard, regardless of the gender of the person.

Men, too, are totally capable of meeting that standard; but it's ok if it doesn't feel good to you to date them.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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The Definitive PoMo Username
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Dear Redskies,

I think it's a good reminder, about safety. Perhaps with women it's easier to tell if it's a person I can trust because I've been interacting interpersonally with them longer and there are ways to tell (attitude, communication style, etc.) if you can trust a woman. I also know that just because women are women, it doesn't mean they're going to have feminist politics or even support other women (internalized misogyny, hey!). Because I've had to navigate all that I guess I understand intuitively I have to have tighter boundaries around who I can let in and who I can't.

With men I find it more difficult to tell if someone is trustworthy because our society encourages us to overidentify with men's experiences at the cost of our own (or to assume men are innocent and right about everything). I find myself hating the way I've been socialized as a woman to act around men (becoming smaller/more acquiescent and deferential, finding there is no space for me to be myself or articulate my own opinions, even on trivial matters) to the point where I don't want to even be around them because it's too easy to just fall into that. And men generally don't self-police how much space they take up in interactions, and can't be bothered to give even the most basic respect to women, so...ugh. It just makes me angry all the time and I don't even want men in my life anymore (even as friends, because the same shit happens) because of it.

I don't know, maybe one day I won't feel that way about men but today is not that day. #misandry

Anyway, I think it makes sense that I'm finding ways to self-police because of heteronormativity. I hang out in a lot of queer communities, and as a feminist, I feel really drawn to queer politics. I've also found great spaces of acceptance there to deal with my recovery process after my assault, so the communities I've found are one of the few spaces I feel safe to be my authentic self. In the straight world I feel left out, but perhaps there's also a class component to this; all my hetero friends are either married or in healthy relationships and have jobs and iPhones/Instagram, etc. and I don't have any of that so it's hard for me to even feel nominally "normative" in those spaces. I've never felt comfortable talking about my sexuality anyway (there were several reasons for this, respectability politics being most of them), so it feels strange to be in my twenties and suddenly having that be socially acceptable when my teens were about keeping everything subterranean and having people think I'm not sexual.

Plus, I know my family would never accept me being "questioning," but that's something I don't even want to think about now, I just want to cross that bridge when I get to it.

I guess I am okay with being in an in-between space. So much for me feels transitional at the moment. Maybe it's just important to have that feeling of mutual respect and attraction and know it is possible for that to happen. I will read the articles you've recommended.

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Redskies
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One thing that might help you to carve out a mental space for yourself that you feel comfortable in is a particular, broader way of thinking about "queer". Obviously, one clear meaning of queer is about orientation. Queer-oriented desires and relationships, pretty much by definition, don't fit heteronormative pictures. Using that as a springing-off point, we can think about rejecting and challenging heteronormative norms in multiple ways, very much including outside of orientation. There are different personal opinions about this, but I personally like the concept of people of any orientation "queering" norms. Personally, I don't feel ok about a straight person calling themself queer - it feels too appropriative and claiming experiences that they don't have - but I'm totally into all people queering norms, whether that's in their clothing, their world-view, their relationships, or other things. I wonder if looking at things like that would suit you, as you express being comfortable in queer spaces and a feeling of not fitting in with apparently heteronormative pictures. It might help take the focus and pressure off any questions of "queer or not?" about your orientation.

There's nothing wrong with living the "standard" picture of life - settled relationship, job, social tools that the majority of people have. If that's what someone wants, and they're happy, more power to them. But it's ok too to Not fit that picture, or not to want to. I appreciate too how hard it can be and how isolating to not have access to some or many of the usual "social fitting" tools - like a regular job, or popular technology. In those circumstances, it can totally feel more connect-y, warmer and easier to connect with people who are more familiar with some of the many ways that people might not fit the norms.

I appreciate, too, that it can feel unsettling to only be coming into some of this stuff, like feminism/gender dynamics and queer society, in one's 20s. There's a lot of big thinky stuff here, so it's quite natural for it to take quite a while to swish around in your head while you figure out what it even Is, what it means to you and what you want to do with it.

I'm hearing that you experience some considerable difficulties in interacting with men, and I'm thinking that some practical steps towards addressing that might really help you. I'm very sympathetic to the whole feeling-conditioned-to-act-a-certain-way thing, and yes, in my personal world-view I'm also of the opinion that generally women are conditioned into smaller and less important spaces than men. If you're aware of the conditioning you have and you don't like how you act, you're already one big step along the way.

So, I have some suggestions. To change how we act, we need to start making some deliberate changes and practise them. I'm hearing that with men, you find it difficult to find space for your own opinions; so, I suggest that we find a space where you can learn and practise having those opinions and making space for yourself. I suggest that when you're reading or watching media - online, on TV, in the news - you deliberately notice whether you agree or not, particularly with men. Do you think he's right? Do you think he's making his argument well? Do you think he's being rude? At this point, I want you to consciously remember that you have the choice whether or not to engage, whether or not to give this man or this issue your time. If it's not worth your time, or if it's unacceptably offensive to you, or you just don't feel like it right then, stop reading/listening. Turn off the TV, turn the page, close the web page. What if you want to engage - maybe you want to know what he says so you can successfully argue against it, or maybe it's smart and interesting? Deliberately make space in your own head for your own opinions, and formulate some points as a response, whether that's agreeing or disagreeing.

The reason I'm suggesting that is I'm hearing from you that some of your interactions with men have felt, or indeed have been, unsafe, and I want you to have a space to practise that is safe and where you can just focus on you and your own skills without having to negotiate someone's response. (Navigating someone's response is a different skill-set, which can be acquired later.) Do you think this suggestion is helpful to you?

In real-life interactions, if you're finding you make yourself physically smaller, just trying to be aware of that and not do it can help. We all have the right to take up just as much space as we comfortably need.

If there's anything from the articles you'd like to talk about, we can of course do that too.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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The Definitive PoMo Username
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Redskies,

What I appreciate about this advice is that it requires me to do something active, which I never thought was possible regarding these feelings. I felt very stuck in them, like, I can't do anything about cis male privilege, so the only thing I can do is cut them out of my life. It started as a way to protect myself after I was raped a year ago and started becoming hyperaware of these behaviors, but now I don't even really know how to have men in my life without being wary of them, or avoiding them on principle. This exercise, at the very least, will give me at least a bit of my agency back, or allow me to start moving there.

I am seeing the woman I kissed again next weekend. We have a few mutual friends and today they teased me a little bit about it, and it felt nice to have that type of interaction in a safe context, because I never really had that at any point in my life. I am nervous because I don't have experience, but I think as long as I am honest about it it will be okay. I really like her and I think she likes me.

I think the questioning articles have really helped me be okay with the fact that I'm in a transitional period and it's okay to figure things out.

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Hey PoMo,

Given what you said about feeling threatened by men etc... I'm wondering about how you'd feel about me giving some of my thoughts here as I tend to present as a guy?

I'm happy to step out for now if you like. It sounds like Redskies advice has already been useful.

I'm thinking that I've actually had a load of similar thoughts to yours in the past, and shifting to thinking about desire has been pretty helpful, as has not being too prescriptive about how socialisation manifests or repeats.

I can elaborate on that... but first I just wanted to ask if it's ok with you that I do?

[ 11-16-2013, 09:03 AM: Message edited by: Jacob at Scarleteen ]

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The Definitive PoMo Username
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Dear Jacob,

I would be okay with you speaking more to what you mean in this space. Thank you for asking in advance.

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Hey, no worries, I just thought it'd be good to ask.

I actually have a load of thoughts because you've said so much interesting stuff so bear with me. Also, a lot of stuff that comes from my own experience, so let me know if any of it resonates,

So with desire, I was just thinking that it could be cool helpful to think of desire as the 'gut-feeling' which you have after all this thinking and feeling, rather than a thing that comes before everything else which you have to discover. I think that can be helpful because trying to work out which of your desires are part of your socialisation and which ones are your 'real' sexuality can mean missing the point. Which is giving yourself acceptance to have those desires. There isn't a thing, including feminism and theory, that didn't come from some place in society... but that doesn't mean it isn't for real.

Those intellectual doubts you have however matter, but they matter without needing to be justified. This is after all your body and your desires and sexualities. For me, I think I learnt to deal with the doubts I was having just by viewing them as a turn-off. A thing that was part of my desire, and which drove me away from situations that I just didn't feel cool with, even if I couldn't quite logically define it.

I've noticed lots of people, myself included, saying that their feelings and their thoughts are working against each other. But actually we all tend to have thoughts about our feelings, feelings about our thoughts, and it all is jumbled up together. For me that jumble is something we can contribute too by thinking about gender politics about where our sexualities come from. And from it out sparks some unexpected desire, or what have you, and while it's a product of everything that came before, it's also it's own thing to explore.

Finally, with the socialisation thing, you spoke about how you feel you shouldn't be quiet because that's complicity with socialisation. I think one of my best experiences ever was when I was once I was called out by someone for speaking a lot in comparison to other people (which I do try to avoid). I was devastated, thinking about how stereotypically oppressive I was, and yet immediately after a very shy friend of mine told me they disagreed and said my attitude and the way I am loud, the things I say, the questions I ask made her feel part of the group.

So to get post-modern with you, PoMo. I don't think sexism, homophobia, or gendered oppression are propelled by such overt parts of an individuals gender expression. Rather I think it's the pervasive subtle stuff that we're sure to miss; Glances, coughs, hesitations. I also don't think it's a paradox to be radically shy, or inclusively loud.

So I think the amazing thinking that you've put into all of this. The awareness and care which you're putting into understanding yourself and the politics you're a part of are all things that are going to seep through.

So stepping back to the self-care you mentioned in your first sentence of this thread, my main thought is that such self care is the exact thing to be bringing into these interactions. Not just a thing that feels delayed but a question to ask yourself "Am I being kind to myself?". I don't think doing that will come at the expense of any political struggle because I'm confident that an awareness of that struggle is already part of how you would do that self-care.

I hope that helps a bit, it seems to me there is something here that could help move forward?

[ 11-17-2013, 02:49 PM: Message edited by: Jacob at Scarleteen ]

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The Definitive PoMo Username
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Dear Jacob,

I'm a little confused. I'm interpreting what you are saying as similar to what Redskies said about how my thoughts/feelings function as a way to police my desires, and just because I feel ambivalent feelings doesn't mean those feelings have to mean anything? And the important thing is just to accept what you're feeling and let that guide your actions? I know they said a lot of the reasons I was questioning myself was probably attributed to internalized heterosexism.

When I spoke with our mutual friend about it, I said I'd never done it before but I didn't want to make a big deal about it and I was okay with it happening. I also find myself really nervous leading up to this date, because I am/did feel attracted to her, but I also worry that she won't like me anymore or will be turned off by the fact that I haven't had any other experiences with women.

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Yep! I'm pretty much agreeing with Redskies: finding spaces and media where you get to become who you want to be especially is really excellent advice.

But I guess in my post I was saying that in the meantime it is also ok to feel cool, or at least ok, about things that could be attributed to, as you say, heterosexism. After all, that is a major contributor to who we are... and just because the parts of the problems are part of us doesn't mean we're doing anything wrong or harmful, in the same way that physical scars can be a thing we make peace with, without feeling responsible for the violence that could have caused them. There's also nothing wrong with hating a scar and wanting treatment for it, but either way it is not itself a cause or promoter of violence.

However, maybe I was also projecting my own issues. I think my homophobic upbringing and some abusive experiences at the hands of men really got in the way of intimacy with men. And there was a time where I felt deprived of my 'true bisexuality' and at the same time had a not-so-helpful friend telling me that I had to explore same-sex relationships more, because the straight stuff was just conditioning. My conclusion in the end was just to forget about where the feelings came from and accept that some homophobia might have led to my current sexuality, and that some of my feelings might have come from heteronormativity, and so landed me with a some lemons. So after a lot of pain and problems I just opted to make lemonade anyway.

I can see some parallels, with what you're speaking about, but my judgement might be cloudy there, it's also not the same and it comes from a different angle. Do you think those feelings are comparable, or am I just misinterpreting you?

[ 11-19-2013, 10:17 AM: Message edited by: Jacob at Scarleteen ]

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The Definitive PoMo Username
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Jacob,

I think this makes sense to me. I think it is a lot harder to live that, feeling comfortable with the parts of yourself you are ambivalent about, or have been affected by socialization you're still trying to unlearn. It's definitely easier said than done, but I'm glad you've urged that I start to do this work. For me it's so automatic to let my politics guide things that I ignore or discount my feelings. Perhaps, and especially because of the impending date, maybe I should urge myself to just pay attention to how I'm feeling instead of worrying about how I should be acting in any given moment.

I've been reading Julia Serano's book, Excluded and one line that stuck out to me said, "Everyone starts outside of the queer community" because most of us presumably grow up in straight, homophobic families/schools, and I think that realization has helped me quell at least a bit of my anxiety about this.

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The Definitive PoMo Username
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I'm back, specifically to update around something Redskies mentioned about practicing interacting with men and dealing with their privilege. I've been thinking a little bit about how I can be embodied around holding my own when I do have to interact with cis men, and I am noticing the only time I can really feel bold, and like challenging men is when I'm drunk enough to lose my regular filters around holding myself back.

I think a lot of this has to do with learned deference to older authority figures, and being respectful and "waiting my turn" to speak as an introvert, a woman and as a young person. Meanwhile, I've of course learned that while being respectful and deferential aren't personality traits I inherently dislike because they are so female-identified, this respect doesn't cut both ways and I think it's both a function of the entitlement that men feel to speak over women (because they feel that whatever they have to say, their presence, etc. is literally more important) and a function of Western society itself (we don't engage in conversations to listen to one another, we just do so to prove Someone is Right and Someone Is Wrong). I think a part of me doesn't have to necessarily unlearn my introspection and thoughtful listening, but just get better at distinguishing when the time and place for it is, and nine times out of ten, that time and place is probably not going to be when I talk to cis men.

Last night, I started arguing with a cis man because I was talking about how I feel so conflicted about liking classic rock. I like its willingness to be experimental, at least compositionally, but I hate that it's so dudebro-centered and that comes with misogyny, etc. I splintered off into an argument with this man about whether or not there's still misogyny in rock today, and while I think it was a classic case of not being able to see a phenomenon because of your privilege, therefore it doesn't exist, I noticed because I was a little buzzed I was more willing to interject, to not be deferential (because I wasn't afforded the same courtesy). At some point, I realized that maybe it's okay to ignore my normal cues when I talk to men, because there's literally nothing to lose in these encounters. I'm not looking to have men in my life as friends. I don't care about being nice; I don't care if men like me or not (as a person, as a romantic interest, etc.) I have nothing invested in any interaction I could ever have with a man. Therefore, I don't care about their safety, their comfort. It's kind of liberating to realize this, actually. I just want to be able to bring this realization and this praxis to my non-drunk consciousness.

Specifically about the woman from the party, we have been on a few dates since I originally posted. I had all these anxieties about her thinking my desire wasn't legitimate because I'd never dated women before, but she isn't judgmental or suspicious of me, and she's really accepting of me and where I'm at now, and I really appreciate it. It feels nice to be dating someone who I can be honest about things with, especially my desire and my boundaries.

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