1. Monogamy is just one way of doing things, it’s not inherently better or healthier. Make sure you make a choice about how to structure your relationships instead of defaulting to heteronormativity or compulsory monogamy.
Why was I sacrificing for motherhood before I even decided I wanted children?
After working his ass off to land a job in “big law,” my husband left his firm after less than two years. He explained to a dumbfounded male partner that he felt he could not avail himself of the options open to female employees to improve work/family balance. The partner merely agreed that as a male, doing so would make it impossible to have a future at the firm.
Our infant twins were around six months old when Seth concluded that in order to be the involved, egalitarian dad we both wanted him to be, he was going to have to “lean out” of his career, and “lean in” at home. This Times piece suggests men must “lean in” at home in order for women to be able to take Sheryl Sandberg’s now famous advice to “lean in” at work. Indeed, Seth needed to make changes to his career so that mine could continue.
Seth and I were both angered and shocked at the workplace barriers that existed for him. Taking a 70% schedule, as many of the successful women in his office had, would have meant career suicide. Instead, he made the choice to leave “big law” all together, in favor of a job where he would still work extremely hard, but have more control over his hours. Along with this came a massive pay cut of almost 1/2 his salary.
As Rampell point out in the Times piece, parental leave options are dreadful in the US. But if those options that are available are, either systemically, or culturally, not options for men, that essentially forces women to “lean out” of the work world, while preventing men from “leaning in” at home.
–In 1980, Adrienne Rich wrote possibly the most important queer feminist text in human history, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Today, I bring you my own thoughts on compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory monogamy, gendered and vanilla existence, all through the lens of… ice cream.
—For anyone who might be wondering (especially those who remember this), no I was not high when I wrote this post, just hungry.
Every time I think I’ve stepped completely outside the box, I find there is another box. My life is like one of those Russian nesting dolls—open me up and there’s another one inside. But in my case, instead of getting smaller and smaller, I get queerer and queerer.
When it comes to sex and gender, our world is like an ice cream shop that only sells two flavors—with maybe a third special flavor available on certain days of the week. As a lover of frozen treats, I have to say, that’s pretty lame!
Imagine if ice cream only came in chocolate and vanilla. Strawberry would seem pretty damn novel—even radical! Strawberry might seem so radical, it could never occur to anyone to do something crazy like mix flavors together, add nuts, chocolate bits or (god help me) cookie dough! How empty our lives would be without cookie dough! And the saddest part—we would have no idea what we were missing!
I’ve always been outside the box. It’s not like I only knew about chocolate and vanilla. At 20 years old I was hanging out at something called a “Queer Kiss-In.” I just wasn’t kissing anyone. Why not? Because there were other boxes I was still inside.
Strawberry. I got it. I got the strawberry, but I didn’t get the cookie dough. I was outside the straight box, but I was still inside the monosexual box. I hadn’t reached pansexual yet, and wouldn’t for years. There was no way for me to imagine cookie dough back then.
Why do I meet so many other women who didn’t realize they liked women until later in life? You see, many of us were never offered that flavor. When we looked down into the display case of life we didn’t see queer as an option. Even me, who thought I was pretty damn radical, marrying a feminist man in a partnership ceremony, wearing a brown dress, keeping my name… I thought I was at the wheel, but I was still caught up in compulsory monogamy and heterosexuality. I questioned the gender expectations traditionally ascribed to “marriage,” but there were so many other things I didn’t question.
Seriously though, it’s really hard to see something in yourself that you’ve never seen anywhere else, and that no one recognizes in you. In the last couple of months I’ve had several friends I perceived as straight or lesbian tell me they are much closer to bi, as well as friends I perceived as cis-gender tell me they aren’t. The more I talk to people about my identity, the more I’m able to truly see them, and perhaps, the more they are able to truly see them. I’m left wondering if the LGBTQIAPK, etc. folks that we see out there are only tip of the iceberg.
What’s different about queer people who somehow manage to recognize queer in themselves and live it? Are their skins thicker, are they smarter, luckier, were they simply in the right place at the right time, or are they gayer, kinkier, or more gender flexible than the rest of us? I can’t say.
All I know is how incredibly fine the line is between me and your garden variety heterosexual, vanilla, monogamous suburban mom. If so many of us ladies are, or were, just a couple neuron-firings away from recognizing our queer, than how many more are out there like us whose queer neurons just haven’t fired yet?
Why does one mom stay closeted her whole life, even to herself, while another is tormented by her same-sex desire which she never reveals to anyone? Why does one woman have a secret affair with a woman, ultimately coming to view herself as a lesbian, while another has a full -blown, long-term relationship with a female, but still identifies as straight. What separates the woman who comes out to her husband and friends and has discreet relationships with women, from the one who leaves her marriage and never looks at a man again?
In my humble opinion, very little.
I say that because I could be any of them. I could have landed anywhere on that spectrum. I still could. Had I never had pregnancy and birth hormones coursing through my veins and experienced the head-trash of becoming a mother in our society (see here for my manifesto on motherhood and coming out), would I have gotten so in touch with my queerness? Easily not.
I once heard a talk by a woman who is an expert in the field of transgender identity. She stated, with regret, “We’re losing a whole generation of butch lesbians.” Her implication was that many of the women who would have identified as butch lesbians in the past are now transitioning to male. Why would this be? Current technology and visibility of transpeople means—you guessed it—more flavors. It seems the butch lesbians of the past were all about strawberry, but they hadn’t yet sampled the cookie dough.
It all comes back to the ice cream. If we look down into that case and all we see is straight, all we see is monogamous, vanilla, traditionally gendered, and paired off in dyads, then there’s nothing else to sample. There are so many flavors we all have yet to discover! Everyone has another box to get out of. We all have unexplored aspects of our identity, and for most of us, more unexplored than explored.
I never saw a woman love a woman in a way that wasn’t platonic until I was 18. When I acted flagrantly queer in high school, nobody ever noticed. I’m not saying they ignored or rejected it—see that would be a form of recognition, albeit painful. I’m saying they simply didn’t see it—like a color-blind person looking at a pattern and only seeing certain parts—they were queer-blind. Their brains were not wired to see queerness. They had neurons firing to straight girls acting very, very friendly with their best friends. Groan.
When I was a senior in high school, I won an award for writing. It wasn’t a surprise. I’d been getting praised for my writing my whole life. But what if I hadn’t? What if no one ever noticed my writing? What if no one around me even knew what writing was? What if my teachers paid way more attention to other talents I had and ignored my writing skills? Would I be writing this right now?
Amazing how parts of us can get hidden so far inside us that we don’t even know they are there, while the things that get validated, groomed, praised, and noticed tend to be the ones we cultivate. That my friends, is why I have a husband and a blog where I write about being queer, but not a girlfriend. And that too is why I wasn’t kissing anyone at the “Queer Kiss-In.”
It wasn’t that I wanted to kiss someone but didn’t. I don’t think I even had access to those feelings. I don’t believe it’s because they weren’t there—I think I just didn’t know where to look for them. I didn’t even know to look for them. By then, I’d had my straight parts reinforced up the wazoo, and my gay parts not at all. Remember Eve, my “sixteen year-old lesbian alter ego?” She’d already been sent into hiding by that point.
This is what compulsory heterosexuality is. It’s not big brother knocking on our doors and telling us “You are going to be straight, vanilla, marry, and be monogamous, and that’s just the way is it, young lady!”
It’s much more subtle, and much more pervasive than that. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything we see, but most of all, it’s in the many, many things we don’t see. It’s in everything we are told about ourselves, and it’s in the silence of the things that are clearly in us that not one ever sees.
So what is fluidity then?
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that queer feelings suddenly appear where there weren’t any. I wonder if it’s more like we are, for a variety of reasons, able to see more. It’s like we get treatment for our queer-blindness, and suddenly we can see twice as much. It’s like walking into an ice cream store, and instead of three flavors, there are six, and then sixteen, and then sixty. What if those ice cream shops were everywhere? What if we could all see all the possibilities?
I wonder if we would conclude that fluidity is simply seeing more and more of what already is, and queer is just another word for human?
Copyright 2013, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.
I recently read this post on the wonderful Raising My Rainbow blog. In it, “C.J.’s mom” talks about how she assumed her husband would be the one to talk to their boys about sex, until it became clear her gender variant son might be gay. (Let me pause here to say that C.J.’s mom is one of my mommy and blogger heroes, and despite using her post as a jumping off point into the far reaches of my radical brain, I have nothing but utmost respect for her).
I think many of us approach the idea of talking to our kids about sex by following cultural scripts we don’t give much thought to. If we stop and ask ourselves why, however, we may realize these scripts are not at all the best way to raise empowered, feminist children. Why does a same-sex parent give the sex talk? What message does that send? Why a “sex talk” at all? And what should be said in the talk?
I know some of you think you have many years before you answer these questions, but the truth is, we have to start when our children are learning to talk by teaching them the proper names for body parts in a casual, natural non-shaming way. I tell my two year-old daughter during diaper changes “I need to wipe your vulva.” This is the very beginnings of her sex education, and my son’s as well.
So why “sex talks?”
Recently, a group of friends at a dinner party went around a talked about whether we had had a “sex talk.” Turns out not a single person at the table had had one. We were all basically “self-taught.” So the fact that many folks who are parents now are thinking about and planning “sex talks” is admirable and important.
But is the “sex talk” enough?
In my opinion, if I’m planning a “sex talk” with a kid, I’ve already missed an opportunity.