Liberation through Lesbianism

Image Description: two interlinked female gender symbols, which each consist of a circle with a plus sign attached to the bottom, on a rainbow pride flag background.

First of all, a disclaimer: I’m not lesbian. I’m bisexual, meaning I am attracted to genders similar to, and different from, my own. For me personally this translates into attraction toward feminine and masculine presenting folx. Yet for the vast majority of my sexually active years, I mostly had relationships with men – mostly straight, cis men. (No, this does not mean I “used to be straight,” because sexual behavior does not determin sexual orientation.) The reason for this is because it was honestly eaiser. We live in a hetero-normative society, so hetero-normative relationships are easier to enter and sustain. They’re not better or healthier; there are just more opportunities to be in one. My current, and most serious, relationship to date, however, is with a woman. Sure, I hooked up with women in the past, but those never turned into anything serious. So, having a female significant other is a new experience for me. 

It hasn’t exactly been a Hollywood movie where I date a girl for the first time when I go off to college, she reveals the wonders of the glorious vagina (note: not all women have vaginas), and I find sexual liberation. Nor did I ever expect anything like that. In fact, it’s always felt remarkably normal. But over time I have slowly noticed some differences between being in a committed relationship with a man and being in a committed relationship with a woman.

For one, I’ve felt less pressure to make myself look “hot.” Yes, we find each other attractive, but I don’t worry about her making rude little comments about my body. Instead of, “eww! Why do you have a random long-ass hair on your back? Lol,” it’s, “hey babe, you have a random long-ass hair on your back. Do you want me to pluck it for you?” And while our behavior toward each other’s bodies might not work for everyone, there’s no denying she is less critical of my body then men typically have been. She understands women’s bodies aren’t perfect – probably because she has one – but that doesn’t disqualify our bodies from being beautiful. 

However, the two most significant differences I’ve noticed between being with a woman and being with a man are (1) a lack of gross entitlement in my partner, and (2) a far lighter demand on my emotional labor.

My girlfriend does not act entitled to my body. She doesn’t assume I will have sex with her whenever she wants. She doesn’t assume I will do all the cleaning and house work even though we both work full time, and she certainly doesn’t expect me to clean up after her. She doesn’t pressure me to be friends with her friends, or demand I take her side in a debate. She doesn’t act entitled to every minute of my time, and think my entire universe revolves around her needs. She knows I’m always there for her for the important stuff, but she’s also aware I have obligations to other people and myself.

This substantially lessened demand on my emotional labor now that I’m with my girlfriend actually just hit me today. I was reading an article about how men expect the women in their lives to manage their emotions for them, and I was like, “that’s spot on! I used to have to do that all the fucking time! But now I don’t… Why is that?” The reason is twofold: One, I actually don’t have a ton of men in my life these days. I was never one of those people who only had female friends; I just kind of hung out with whomever I clicked. But lately, I just don’t have a lot of guy friends. Maybe it’s because I’m not in college anymore, my office is all women, and there aren’t that many dudes in my circle. Or maybe it’s because my tolerance for sexism and men’s bullshit has shrunk to miniscule ammounts, so all my male friends decided to bail rather than confront their sexist behaviors. I don’t know.

Reason number two should be pretty obvious: I’m no longer romantically or sexually involved with men. Therefore, the interactions I do still have with men are far less intimate. For the first time I am able to hold all the men I know at a distance if I so choose. And you know what? It’s been pretty great. Yes, I still experience harassment and abuse from male clients, male relatives, male acquaintances, and even male stangers. But when I go home at night I get a break.

I no longer come home to someone I have to mother, coddle, or play therapist to. I am no longer my significant other’s emotional landfill where they dump all their negative emotions and unprocessed feelings, expecting me to magically take care of them. I am no longer an emotional punching bag on which the man who claims to love me can take out his anger. I don’t have to worry about brusing my girlfriend’s fragile male ego. I can be direct with her, and that’s so refreshing. 

All this is not to say my girlfriend is faultless, but when she’s being an asshole I can tell her, “hey, you’re being an asshole,” without fear of having to deal with an angry display of male dominance. And can I be completely honest? I feel incredibly free without men. I didn’t realize how heavy the burden of performing emotional labor for the men in my life was until I wasn’t carrying it around anymore. I can’t say I particularly miss having men in my personal life. I deal with enough abuse from male clients at my job. Just today, I had a client throw a bitch fit because I was talking to my boss for a minute while I was on the phone with him. Never mind I had already given him 20 minutes of my time listening to him ramble incoherently, like always. Never mind that he wasn’t saying anything at that time. Never mind I was talking to my boss. Never mind he regularly talks over me, ignores me, and hangs up on me. He got shitty because someone didn’t prioritize his delicate man feelings and dared to refocus their attention off of him for a moment. Then he took that anger out on me and my boss. This is what men do, and I certainly don’t miss coming home to that.

When I studied feminist philosophy, I learned about something called “Political Lesbianism,” which essentially argues the solution to our patriarchal society is for women to simply abandon it and cut themselves off from men (or perhaps cut men off from women). Aside from the obviouse feasibility issue, Political Lesbianism is a branch of Radical Feminism that I have found to be particularly welcoming to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. Often, cis women holding this ideology don’t view transwomen or transfeminine folx as “real” women. Political Lesbianism also de-emphasizes the importance of intersectionality and solidarity with other social justice movements. It’s more of a, “fuck you, I’m leaving” mentality, than my preferred, “fuck this, let’s join forces and dismantle this unequal society” mentality. 

While I don’t believe Political Lesbianism is the solution to our patriarchy problem, I am starting to think part of the idea might be applicable to my personal life and the personal lives of many queer feminine of center folx. When I’m asked if I would consider ever dating men again (for now, let’s ignore the biphobia in that question), I say no. Obviously, I don’t plan or want to end things with my girlfriend. But beyond that, I am really enjoying not dealing with men, their entitlement, and their demand for my emotional labor.

An Open Letter to my Father: What I Never Bother Saying 

dear-dad

Image Description: the words, “Dear Dad” written in the bisexual colors of pink, purple, and blue on a dirty piece of white lined paper.

[TW: references to emotional abuse and queerphobia]

A few months ago I finally told my father and mother I am bisexual. Not surprisingly, their responses have less than decent. I’ve known for years there is no hope for my mother. I could explain how I know this but that would take far too long, so I’ll save that for another post. Just believe that I know my mother better than you, and I know she’ll never accept any of her children, least of all her queer, bisexual child. However, I allowed myself to hope my father might one day come around. I didn’t think he would go with me to bi pride events or buy himself a bi flag t-shirt that reads, “proud parent,” but I hoped he would get used to who I am and develop a “live and let live” approach at some point. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly obvious that will never happen.

Upon first breaking the news to my father, he was clearly displeased and asked several inappropriate questions. His actions proceeded to go downhill from there. Most recently, he sent me some unsolicited opinions on what he does and does not find disappointing about me. He wanted to let me know that while he is not disappointed in me per se, he is disappointed in my “lifestyle choices.” However, he reassured me that he does love me in spite of the whole bi thing, and that I could see how much he loves me if only I stopped focusing on the negatives in our relationship and focused instead on the positives. After his other recent stunts that I don’t particularly want to get into right now, I’m done. I’m over him. He’s just not worth my time anymore. He doesn’t get it and never will, so I won’t bother explaining to him how offensive and problematic his comments were.

But if I thought he would listen to me for once, I would say: Telling your child you love them despite not liking, accepting, or even tolerating a significant part of who they are is not love. That’s called emotional abuse. And if that’s the only form of “love” you’re capable of giving, I’m really not interested. There are much better people in my life who actually love me and who are worth my time. So, excuse me, but I’m not exactly heartbroken over not having a close relationship with you. You, the father who abused my mother and sister in front of me when I was little. The father who has regularly made sexist and queerphobic comments within earshot my entire life. The father who yelled at me, blamed my mother, and refused to get me professional help when you found me trying to down a Costco-sized bottle of benadryl at 13. The father who slammed me into walls. The father who literally laughed in my face when I confronted you about your abusive behavior. The father who still continues to gaslight me. In fact, I am a much healthier person for not really having you in my life.

And please believe me when I say I’m not going to suddenly run home one day and tell you I forgive you and know that you always loved me. There’s nothing to forgive because you won’t change or apologize. Forgiveness requires some sort of reconciliation. To be honest, you seem to lack the ability to perform any sort of meaningful self-reflection that is required for mutual acts of reconciliation. Instead, I am moving on with my life and surrounding myself with decent people who love me for me; people who love all of me. (That’s how real love works, FYI.) And based on your behavior toward me, how exactly am I supposed to know that you love me? I’m sure you think you love me, but that doesn’t mean anything. Love has to be given in a way that can be received. Metaphorically throwing your self-centered version of love at people and assuming it will stick is not an effective or equitable method of conveying love. I would even believe you “love” me as much as you are capable,  but again, that doesn’t mean much to me when that “love” is twisted, selfish, abusive, and manipulative.

Your queerphobia, hatred, and inability to convey healthy love to your children are your own problems, not mine. It isn’t my job to justify your bigotry, ease your conscience, or make you feel like you’re loving me appropriately. I don’t owe you my love or understanding when you believe I, your own child, shouldn’t exist because of who I happen to be attracted to. I don’t owe you my time or affection simply because you gave me half my DNA. I don’t even owe you an explanation for why I don’t want to be around you. I don’t owe you shit. And I’m not going to sacrifice my emotional well-being to make you feel better about yourself.

If you ever decide to work through these issues, great. Professional therapy is a wonderful tool that I utilize myself. But I’m not interested in having a relationship with you. I’m not bitter; I’m simply done. If we need to conduct any sort of business together, I will be superficial, yet civil. But I will not listen to your excuses, nor your sad little pity parties about how I don’t acknowledge your shitty version of love.

Thanksgiving Dinner with my Abusers 

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "Freedom From Want," 1943

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom From Want,” 1943. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4″ x 35 1/2″. Story illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,” March 6, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.

As I sit in the corner of my parents living room this Thanksgiving my hands are shaking and I’m fighting back tears.  For some people the holidays are a wonderful, family-oriented season, but for others, like me, the holidays are an especially difficult time of year. It’s the time of year when some of us are forced into confined spaces with our abusers, and we have to pretend to be happy.

Of course, the holidays aren’t the time to discuss the fact my parents are abusive. They’re the time for forgiveness, “letting go of the past,” and loving your family no matter what they’ve done… At least that’s what my sister tells me. After all, let’s not ruin our Thanksgiving family dinner with the truth. Maybe she doesn’t want to be reminded of the abuse she suffered. And that’s totally fine, no one should force her to relive their abuse. But it’s really invalidating to be told that I need to “move on,” to stop “dwelling in the past,” or that I’m just being bitter and resentful whenever I mention my parent’s abuse.

The anxiety I experience whenever I’m around the individuals who abused me (and still abuse me to a lesser extent) is a valid response to past emotional and physical trauma. Needing to express my feelings is not the same as being “bitter” or “dwelling in the past.” It’s not like I sit around in a dark room every day thinking up ways to hurt my abusers. Nor do I talk about the abuse I experienced to every person I know. In fact, I tend to suppress my emotions more than most people.

Invalidating my response to abuse is itself a form of abuse. But honestly, I’m used to my entire family doing this. From my siblings, who were also abused growing up, telling me to “get over it,” to my parents telling me I’m crazy and imagining their abuse, invalidation is par for the course around here.

Invalidating comments from family aside, holidays can still be incredibly traumatic for those of us who were abused by relatives (or anyone else who regularly shows up to familial holiday functions). Having to smile at your abuser(s), fake affection for them, refrain from making any negative comments, and bottling up my emotions are also forms of abuse. I am forced to quietly relive past harms, and I must pretend everything is fine and dandy – including the fact these people are abusers.

The neighborhood pedophile is even having dinner with us because my mother is having an affair with him (everyone knows this, including my father, but we don’t say anything). It doesn’t matter he used to come into our yard and look in the windows at me any time I was home alone as a young teenager. And it doesn’t matter he used to tell me to “come give daddy a hug” and force himself on me. No, it would be rude to bring that up. Instead, I hold his hand while someone says a prayer.

Some people might wonder why I go along with family Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t it me easier to say “fuck all of you?” Why don’t I just go somewhere else for Thanksgiving? Well aside from the fact I don’t really celebrate U.S. colonization and theft of Native lands, no, it wouldn’t be easier to just remove myself from family functions. My family would hold that against me for years. They would try to guilt-trip me, or berate me for being a bad daughter and a bad sister. They would say I’m stuck in the past, I’m an angry person, and that all my hate toward them will make me ugly. They would punish me for years by any means available, including putting down the family pets (I’m not kidding, my mother did it once before), withholding financial help if I need it, and being emotionally abusive every time we interact. People who are abused repeatedly often go into survival mode because it’s the only thing we can do. We comply with the abuse because we know fighting it won’t make it stop, it will just make things more painful.

So, what’s the point of this? Where’s the happy ending? Unfortunately, there isn’t one.  I have done things with my life and grown as a person. I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten a college degree, I have friends, etc. I even went to therapy. But holidays will never be easy.