What’s between your legs? And why does it matter?!

A conversation happened today in which the subject of the events going on in the US was being discussed. I was present but not part of the discussion but when a remark was made that we didn’t need to worry , up here in Canada, and especially here in this city because, after all… there weren’t really that many gays. As a matter of fact, this person said, she didn’t even know anyone who was gay. Well, hold on there…now I was part of the discussion, thank you very much.

After outing myself and being open that I have many friends and chosen family who live in the states and that they have very real and very founded fears for themselves and their lives, not to mention the potential ramifications on their employment and basic human rights, I explained that it wasn’t something that was just an issue in the states. That as a gay woman, in an openly lesbian relationship with another woman, safety IS something that is a consideration, even in Canada.

I was told bluntly that, as a “straight looking feminine woman” I don’t look like a “real gay person” and therefore, I don’t have any reason to be afraid for what is happening in the US since the election. Sadly, this is not the first time – or the last probably – that this sentiment is voiced.

As a Femme dyke, I know that I am very often misread as being straight. I also know that I am always quick to openly correct someone when that assumption is made known. One reason for that is for that exact point – because I don’t look like what some uninformed or unexposed people would expect a gay person to look like. So, in my little way, in my predominantly safe area of the world that we live in, I try to do what I can to expose people.  It’s often frustrating and feels like one step forward two steps back as I see a stranger being dismissive or worse yet, seeing someone who has been working to understand and accept suddenly come out with a remark that is born of long standing beliefs that are, clearly, not as changed as I had hoped.

Later in the day, a small remark from a co-worker about someone who may or may not “be a man” sparked a remark back from me that asked the question “what makes a person a man or a woman. If they say they’re a man, then they’re a man”.

I was frustrated and upset from the earlier conversation and would normally have let this go but not today. So here’s my little roller coaster of “nope, not dropping this one today”, it’s time for a bit of a rant…

*disclaimer, this is in no way comprehensive, it covers just what I ranted about today in person with my co-worker, notably, masculine/feminine and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation*

What defines a person’s gender? Or their sexual orientation? Or their self identity? Or, or, or….? Spoiler alert, aka the short answer: Not you.

The terms masculine and feminine are not gender specific. They are simply terms that are used to categorize certain traits, mannerisms and characteristics of behaviour and appearance or presentation. Yet they are so often used in such a limited, and limiting way that it’s harmful.

We are taught from as far back as we can recall that a person is labelled as a boy or a girl because of what they are born with between their legs. Along with whatever parts are visible is the expectation of how they will dress, behave and what what roles in society they will fit into. All based on genitals. That’s a lot to live up to based on physical presentation. So what if what a person is, who they are, is not what society says they should be, based on what is between their legs and on their chest?

What do you do with the little girl who wants to ride dirt bikes and play ice hockey instead of ringette? Or the little boy who loves to match his socks to his shirts and draws intricate doodles of flowers. Both of these examples by the way are of children that I knew when my kids were in school, and in both cases, it was the parents who were far more judgemental than the other kids.

Ok you say, some people are gay and that’s ok. Ah, but what if these little kids aren’t gay? What if they are what they are in their expression of themselves and it has nothing to do with who they will be sexually and/or romantically attracted to when they grow up? A person’s gender identity and their sexual orientation are not the same thing.

How do you classify a masculine woman; one who identifies as a woman, has the commonly accepted physical aspects of female (pssst, I mean a vagina) but who is more masculine than feminine in her dress and mannerisms.

How do you classify a feminine man; one that has a penis – so he must be a man (because that is, of course, how you determine these things after all) but his mannerisms and way of dressing or acting would be more commonly called feminine?

Then add in the aspect of sexuality and sexuality orientation.

What if that masculine woman isn’t a lesbian like you thought she would be when you slotted her into that category in your mind? Because all women who dress and act more “like a man” must be lesbians. Just like that woman that you see in feminine dress and make up must be straight. Maybe, maybe not – on both accounts. Oh but what if that pretty, feminine woman has a penis? She might, or she might not. How would you know, and why would it make a difference to what you see her as. What matters is how she sees herself and how she lives her life.

What if that man who is so feminine, and who you assume must be a gay man, isn’t? What if he’s a straight man who is, just simply, more feminine that what you think a straight man should be like? Oh but wait, what if he has a vagina? But then again how would you know, and what would it matter.

So many what if’s! So many varieties and options and possibilities! What if you just accepted a person as just that: a person. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with how I interact with someone in day to day life. Neither does my self identity of gender. Unless we are looking to hookup or date, it just doesn’t matter. It’s really that simple.

You may now unbuckle and get off the roller coaster. The tilt-a-whirl is just around the corner, I’ll meet you there for the next ride 😉

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We don’t all look gay

My local gym that I attend is undergoing some renovations in the change rooms this week. The “Women’s Plus” change room is off limits, so those of us who use that are now moved to the standard Women’s change room. Not a huge difference and really not that big of an issue except for a couple of things that we have in the “Plus” that there isn’t in the standard. Most notably, the small room in that area that is for stretching and light resistance exercise etc. A room only accessible in the “Plus” change room and one of the draws for women who like to have a separate space for abs and stretching essentially. Having worked for many years in the fitness industry, I have heard many times from women who want to work out in a female only space for a myriad of reasons.

So the conversation I wander into today goes something like what I’ve heard for a lot of years… “I hate having to workout and stretch in front of guys. I’m really missing a safe space to do that in…It’s uncomfortable to have to get into certain positions and to feel objectified and ogled by someone who’s looking at you that way… that’s why I love the women’s only area – there’s no one who is interested in me sexually or thinking thoughts like that!”

I’m smiling to myself and thinking how often I’ve heard some variation of this conversation. I completely see the validity in their statements by the way. Absolutely. I have felt uncomfortable in gyms myself – and I’m someone who is very comfortable in gyms usually. I’ve had encounters of feeling creeped on by someone looking a little too long or a little too closely. I’ve actually confronted someone who was staring. I get it. But to insinuate and believe that a women’s only area means that no one is going to look or have “those thoughts”, wrong.

Here’s a shocking fact… gay and bisexual women use women’s change rooms too. Yup. And you know what? When the woman you are naked next to, in your “safe space”, is gay, you probably have no idea. Why is that? Quite simply, we don’t all “look” gay  – whatever that means. Which is where we come back to that conversation this afternoon that I wandered into.

I usually don’t invite myself into other people’s conversations but when the one woman said to the other that she was a little uncomfortable changing when she saw a lesbian in the room, I couldn’t take it anymore. I excused myself for interrupting and asked her how she could tell when a lesbian was around. She told me, easy, they have “a look”… you know, not like “us” and she made a sweeping gesture with her hand over her friend and herself and to include me. For the first time ever, I told a complete stranger, who had no business knowing, what my sexual orientation is. Why? To make a point that she had – very wrongly – made an assumption of me based solely on my appearance. I don’t look gay according to her narrowly defined guidelines of what that looks like, so I must not be. She was knocked for a loop and apologized if she offended me and I could hear the beeping as she tried to back out of what she had said. I asked her if she was sexually attracted to, and interested in sleeping with every man that she saw, because after all, that’s the same logic she’s applying here to men and gay women. Of course not, she said. Her friend laughed and pointed out that she never thought of it that way. A few smiles exchanged and I was ready to not have this conversation anymore so on my merry way I went, shaking my head and thinking to myself that it feels like nothing ever changes sometimes.

Broken Straight Girl

My sexuality and how it’s expressed has been on my mind a fair bit recently. Discussions with people close to me have brought up a lot of reflection and musing over how I find myself where I am at this point in my life. Along with this has been the hard part of trying to explain to those close to me how I can be something other than what they thought they knew me as. Fair enough. As my partner pointed out to me, I’ve had years to come out to myself, it takes some adjusting for others who didn’t live inside my head all those years.

I came out late in life. It took years for me to figure it out on a personal scale so that’s no surprise. I came into puberty in the mid 1980’s in middle class Canada. An environment that wasn’t exactly open-minded and diverse by any stretch of the imagination. The only gay exposure that I had was through media and culture and that was very linear and bordered by clearly defined “rules”. Gay men were flamboyant and effeminate. Lesbians were androgynous or butch ( a term that I now know but back then just thought them “manly”) and very vocal about hating men for the most part. There were very few examples of gay persons that didn’t fit those stereotypes that I saw. Bisexual wasn’t even a blip in my realm of possibilities. It existed but it was never an option that I was aware of. You were either straight or gay or lesbian.

I knew that there was something “wrong” with me early. My first consensual sexual experience was with another little girl and that interest never wavered for me as I grew. By the time I was in my mid-teens I was confused by my sexual arousal for the same-sex. I began to think of myself as a broken straight girl. I was indifferent to boys as far as sexual attraction was concerned. I was drawn to and sought out images in pornography of women. I chalked it up to the fact that a woman’s body is beautiful and I was just simply able to appreciate that. Nothing gay about that, right? Nope, not at all. After all, I wasn’t like the lesbians that I saw and was exposed to. I didn’t hate men, I just was ambivalent about them. I liked being “pretty” and looking feminine from time to time. I tended to be more tomboy and one of the guys but was never androgynous or butch. I wore makeup and loved dressing up to go out. Not very lesbian as far as I could tell. I wanted children and a family and you did that by marrying a man and having that life. There wasn’t any other option to achieve that on my radar.  

So why was it that it was playboy and the like that I turned to for sexual stimulation? Why did I discreetly look at other girls and wonder how it would feel to touch them or have sex with them? I knew I wasn’t gay because I didn’t look or act like the lesbians I saw. So, broken straight girl it was. Keep my deviant thoughts to myself and find a man and get married and just accept that I was somehow wired wrong. Something inside of me was off kilter when it came to what turned me on. Simple.

So, I got married, had babies and life was busy and full and not quite right in a lot of ways. The wife of a friend of my husband’s was always where my eyes would wander when we were together as couples. Nude beaches and camping and I found myself drawn to catching glimpses of her rather than her husband or mine. It came clear to me that the odd feelings I had tried to ignore were not gone. Still though, I was even more confused by this point in my life. By now, I had even more reasons why I couldn’t be gay. I was married to a man. Lesbians didn’t marry men. They certainly didn’t have sex with a man and have children with that man. So, I must just be a straight woman who maybe has some sort of weird yearning for a fling with a woman.

A divorce brought to me the opportunity to explore options in my sexuality that I hadn’t had before. For the first time I started dating and being sexually active with women. I discovered that bisexual term that was elusive to me and figured that that had to be what I was. I had been married to a man so I couldn’t be an actual lesbian – even though at that point I couldn’t have cared less if I was ever with a man again. When a man did seriously pursue me though I went on a date, then another, and another and soon it was a relationship. Living in a suburban, conservative area I thought long and hard about how I wanted my life to be. I had three small kids and had just watched a fellow parent at school be swiftly ostracized after leaving his spouse for a male partner. Who was I kidding, I had had my fun and it was time to settle down and raise my kids in a strong and solid home. With a husband. Because that’s what you do when you’re a woman.

I had, in my brief foray into being socially involved with the gay community, been made brutally aware that I didn’t fit there either. I wasn’t gay enough. I had been married to a man. I identified as bisexual and the “real lesbians” didn’t want to date or have sex with me (with the exception of one). Other bisexual or “curious” women were who I had had experience with and they mostly had male primary partners as the “real” partners. So, back to a man I went.

Fast forward a few years and another divorce and some maturity that came with those years and we come to now. Better late than never. Happily now able to say that I know who I am and that that is a woman who is gay. The freedom and relief that comes with that is indescribable really. No, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not the broken straight girl I thought I was. I was just unable to see that “lesbian” doesn’t have to look a certain way. Femme, butch, neither, both, something in the middle… we all look how we look. It’s corny, but it’s what’s inside that makes you what you are, not what the packaging is.

 

Primary Privilege, not right or wrong, just is.

There is a lot of talk surrounding “couple privilege” and “primary privilege” in poly relationships. As a single secondary by choice, it’s a  topic very close to home for me and one that I have lived and lost with in my relationships.

The common slant is that it’s wrong and hurtful and should be abolished in order for healthy and fulfilling relationships to be. That’s a simplified synopsis of a long and drawn out topic but it pretty well sums up the general consensus for the most part.

Taking a look at it though it’s not that simple.

In relationships, boundaries and parameters are set by the people  who are IN the relationships. There aren’t , and can’t be, “rules” that everyone should abide by. That would insinuate that we are all the same or that we all have the same goals or aspirations in our relationships. And we don’t.

Some climb on the relationship escalator and thrive in the progression of integrating lives and finances and social circles and all aspects of their lives. They tangle themselves happily and beautifully into each other lives and enmesh and forge a bond that fits them. That fits THEM.

Other float like satellites…tethering briefly from one person to the next for a time; maybe hours or days or weeks or even years… but essentially solo. Their own sphere being what fulfills them and they choose to connect in a different way. Not necessarily less emotionally bonded or less enmeshed. Just differently as seen from other points of view.

Others create vast and strongly intertwined polycules of loves and partners. Families and shared lives-  together but separate. Or multiple couples and singles circling the same expanse of a community, creating and forging different bonds with different people in a fluid and ever-changing dance of love and respect.

Poly takes on so many forms and versions and it all is a flow of communication and finding – and expressing – your needs and wants so that you can find what it is that you DO need and want. Something we each have to do.

Which brings me, finally, to where I started. Couples who are in primary style relationships. Poly in nature but living a bonded and committed long-term relationship that fits the understood term of primary. Two people who have decided that the relationships they have with each other are Primary and the most important to them emotionally. With that, for each partnership like that, comes sets of boundaries and parameters that are in place in order to protect and preserve the stability and security of that primary relationship. Why? Because they have agreed , together, that it is the one relationship in their lives that must come first, before all others,and they have built their lives together on that. They have based their boundaries for secondary interactions on the basis that their primary relationship is to be protected – above all else.

That isn’t a bad thing. It is what works for many many couples. It’s no different from a person who identifies as a solo poly or single poly stating their boundaries and need to remain and be “solo” even within establishing relationships. A solo poly person is not selfish any more than a couple in primary relationships are exclusion based. They’re just different.

Where it comes up that it’s “bad” is when people have experiences that hurt when they either don’t have that basis communicated or when it isn’t adequately conveyed that that is what is in place. Secondaries who come away from “couple privilege” hurt and angry and ranting about how bad it is have usually been subjected to either lies or omissions. They have been told that the primary coupling does not exist within the relationship they are joining or they have been told that it will change – when in fact there was no intention from the couple that it would. People have more reasons that able to be listed as to why lies are told or deceptions are perpetrated and they are usually set in fear of not getting, or keeping, something they want.

A partner who is one half of a primary coupling who plays the “primary card” and ends a secondary relationship is not bad or wrong or unfair. Not if it has been established that , at any time, they can choose to end a secondary involvement if they feel that their primary relationship is threatened or if they decide that it’s not working anymore. If someone is told and actively empowered that they have that right, then it’s not wrong for them to enact it.  The secondary may get hurt but if it has been initially laid out, then regardless of hurt, acceptance is how it ends…because those are the rules that everyone agreed to play by. Knowingly and with mature awareness.

Not right or wrong. Just how it is – for them.

It may strike some as wrong but if something is right for those involved, then its’ right for them and that;s all that matters. If a secondary is handed those rules at the outset and doesn’t think it’s fair or right, they have the option of walking away. oOt because it’s “wrong”, but because it’s not right, for them. There may be another secondary who sees those parameters and thrives and fits in perfectly.

It all comes down to ensuring that our needs and wants and parameters are clearly – and honestly – laid bare. From day one.. and knowing that we are responsible for seeing what is laid before us. With open eyes, seeing with our heads and our ears and our eyes… not just with our hearts.

We live and we learn and if we’re lucky, we don’t make the same mistake twice.

Value and worth?

Listening to an ad on the radio this afternoon that has me somewhat stunned and wondering what decade we’re in.

Here’s the gist of it… “the perfect diamond engagement ring will be with her forever – even when you can’t be there…the next time she doubts herself, the ring on her finger will tell the world that this woman is loved, that she matters and has value…” You get the idea.

I actually spoke out loud in my car, what?! So stunned was I that a radio ad was being broadcast that carried the message that I had just heard. A message that, by its nature, implies that a woman cannot believe in her own abilities and live a confident, independent life without a man to support and encourage her. That insinuates that she has less, or no, worth or value if she doesn’t have that ring on her hand that shouts to the world that she is “good enough” for someone to marry… The message that she will need to have a ridiculously over-priced bauble on her finger to remind her that she has worth and value and strength because someone loves her…

Is this the message that we are still feeding ourselves? I had hoped that the fairy tale that every little girl just needs a prince to make her life perfect had been swept off the books. That fairy tale that told our girls that they were incomplete without a man was finally put to rest. A fairytale that instilled the pressure in our boys that they were responsible for a woman’s happiness.

Apparently that fable is alive and well though and has been prettied up and skewed just enough to be more about feeding materialism than measuring a woman’s worth based on her ability to find a mate.

Sad to think that as far as our society has come, there’s still so far to go.

simple really

I was asked last night what it is that I want in my life… Now to narrow that down, because that is a huge question…. I was at a gathering of friends when that question was posed to me. During a discussion about relationships and sexuality to give some context.

After a bit of stumbled thought and sentences (some wine had been consumed) it clarified for me very simply. Simple. That’s what I want. Not necessarily easy, because that’s different from simple … But simple. I know what I want and I know what is right for me when it comes to intimacy and closeness and relationships.
I have run into struggles when I have turned away from what I feel and know is right for me in attempts at “should”. Marriages and monogamy that just aren’t for me. Neither are random encounters with strangers to just satisfy base needs of the moment – although that’s not to say that doesn’t or hasn’t happened or won’t again… I’ve learned enough about myself to be honest enough with myself to know not to say never to that.

What I want is simple. I want connection and intimacy. Without the expectations that an evening of wonderful shared time will be anything other than what it is..that maybe that evening is just an evening; or maybe it’s an ongoing, “when we connect and the mood strikes” type of thing; or maybe it’s once a week, established and “us”. I want for what is, to just be allowed to be what it is. I

I want relationships that are open and loving with people who I care for that care for me. I want, and need , communication that is honest and expansive … I am purposely transparent in my needs and wants and in how I “do” relationships; I have spent too much time and effort in years of discovering that and owning my feelings to settle for people in my intimate life that can’t be that way with me. That means me listening and hearing their needs and wants and boundaries just as much as them hearing and listening to mine. I want to see my partners in love and loving others who fill their needs and wants just as they see me expressing mine with others as well.
I want, and need, and am, primary and committed to myself first and before anyone else. Solo poly and not only comfortable that way but happy and right that way.

I want the people who I chose to share my life and my Love with to know that me identifying as single and solo doesn’t mean that they mean less to me but that they are THAT important to me that I DO chose to welcome them to my heart and my life.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that this doesn’t always translate to easy, but it is simple.

The key to making it work, I have found, is not only honest and open communication but being self-aware and honest enough with yourself to be able to communicate with others what it is that’s in Your heart and mind. Without having that connection and understanding with yourself first, there’s just no way you can relay it to someone else in order to convey what it is you want. YOU have to know what you want and need before you can tell anyone else 😊.

That question last night was a great reminder to me that I DO know and it really is simple.

Day 3, chosen family

Smiles and happiness today because I am blessed enough to have people in my life that I care deeply enough to call my chosen family… and doubly blessed that they have chosen me as well to be part of theirs!

The saying “blood is thicker than water” doesn’t do justice to the truth that the people we chose to bring close to our hearts have special meaning. Whether right or wrong, there is a certain sense of obligation to love and care for the people that we are born into as family…if we’re lucky, then we like them too… but that’s not a certainty – the odds of actually liking and wanting to spend time with the family you are born to aren’t great. You have genetics or nurturing in common but that’s about it. All too often, families are groups of people who tolerate each other because they “have to”.

Yet with chosen family…we’re able to connect with a person or people that we share so much with… and build that connection and nurture a bond… and chose to invite them into our lives and our hearts and call them “ours”.

As I close today I smile because of that blessing.