"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, September 26, 2015

free agent

Now Playing: Take Me to Church by Hozier (I was born sick but I love it, command me to be well)

When I was in high school I wasn't so much a wallflower as actual wallpaper. I got absolutely zero attention that wasn't the embarrassment of consistently coming almost-last in chemistry (I went to one of those infernal schools that really liked ranking systems) or the mild notoriety of topping English.

That was it. I was a Walking Brain.

I don't hold grudges against my classmates for the lack of attention; I know now that attraction is a messy, complicated thing that is not as easy to beg or barter for as I had imagined in my sillier days. The part that really rankled was the assumption that because I was incapable of attracting anybody, I didn't experience any form of valid attraction.

It's a pretty standard stereotype that people react with shock and horror when a nerd ever dares to express attachment to anything other than a textbook, and the things that were said about me in the few times that I couldn't keep my feelings and my humanity in check really hurt. People assumed that because I was valued for academic merit I didn't experience the dehumanization that the 'pretty girls' went through, but it was incredibly dehumanizing to be treated like I didn't have and didn't deserve to experience attraction the way that other people did; for a long time I genuinely believed that I didn't deserve anything more than begrudging friendship. It was truly one of the most horrible things I've ever experienced and if I want my bullies to apologise for anything, it's that.

I've often said that I am about as opposite to asexual as they come, but I have a great deal of empathy for the asexual community because, for the longest time, I was treated as one. But the crux of the matter didn't seem to be that I had given any impression that I didn't experience attraction; it was the assumption that because I didn't inspire any desire, I didn't have any of my own. 'Single' and 'asexual' became interchangeable and equally undesirable states of being.

After the torment of high school I admitted to myself, and then to everyone else, that I experience two very distinct types of attraction - which was probably too much for everyone to handle after spending years assuming I didn't experience any kind of attraction at all. And people always, always, always ask me really personal and intrusive questions about my sexual history with women and frankly, I'm really sick of it.

I'll be the first to admit that the furthest I've gone with girls are a few very drunk pashes with a few very straight girls. I know. Very unextraordinary. But why is that even relevant? Why does anyone care? People assume I am straight, most of the time, and nobody feels the need to demand a full, graphic account of my experiences with men. I've always found it bizarre that an identity that I haven't associated myself with for a long time is legit, but the one that I have chosen for myself is under so much scrutiny.

I'm not really fussed if people are confused about my sexual orientation; it doesn't really matter, on the grand scheme of things. For a long time, as a Valentine's Day joke, my friend and I were in a Facebook relationship and everyone thought I was gay, and I didn't find the misunderstanding offensive because there's nothing wrong with being gay and I suppose it's a valid assumption to make. There's nothing wrong with being any kind of orientation. But I find it really frustrating that other people feel entitled to define my identity for me; the thing that I can't stand is that those labels are not my own, and the ones that I do choose are endlessly questioned and constantly need to be defended and justified.

A gay man isn't gay because he attracts other men; he's gay because he's attracted to other men, and his sexual history cannot ever contradict his identity. There are gay men who have only had sex with women, who have had more sex with women than with men, and gay men who haven't had sex at all. Sexual behaviour does not define us and does not define our identities; and, get this, queer folk have just as much a right to privacy as everyone else. You would not ask a straight person to provide proof of their heterosexuality; and I equally have nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

I am very open about my sexuality and discussions about sex; hell, I study sex at university. But there is great agency in choosing the conversations you have, as a woman, and being open doesn't mean I feel comfortable suddenly being interrogated about how much I've gotten my lesbian freak on, and I shouldn't have to defend the labels I feel most comfortable with.

Why do people insist on considering my lack of female partners as a failing on my part? I don't have a pressing need to randomly sleep with women in the same way that straight folk don't waste away longing to sleep with every single person of the opposite sex that has ever existed. We live in a deeply homophobic, heteronormative society and it is very difficult for queer folk to exist as their whole, genuine selves. Has it ever occurred to anyone that I have struggled with self acceptance and coming out and finding a crowd and homophobia just like every other queer person? It's safer for me to stay in the straight lane, and whilst I wouldn't say I have straight privilege I do have the privilege of existing in this mainstream space whilst staying true to myself, which is more than what a lot of the queer community can say. I should not have my identity mocked and erased and dismissed because our society can't deal with its own homophobia.

People often comment how strange/obscene/uncomfortable it is that I am comfortable talking about sex and really curious and interested in sexuality as an academic pursuit, but honestly, I have a bigger problem with society's fixation on sex than my own. Admitting that my sexuality is not passive and not defined by how many people ogle me was a strange taboo that I didn't expect to encounter; I always thought I would have the human agency to define my own identity, but apparently not.

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