Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

Safety February 2, 2011

Filed under: Bisexuality,Fear,Sexuality — Araliya @ 12:28 am
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A thought has been bugging me lately. It first came to me when I was walking down a dark, deserted street with a female lover. I live in a fairly safe area and have walked down many dark streets in the company of women (and by myself) without a second thought. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was that the date in question is a butch lesbian, not a generally feminine-spectrum bisexual like me, my partner, or any of the other women I’ve been in that situation with.

For the first time ever, I was apprehensive. I looked up and down the street for movement and listened for footfalls or any signs that someone was approaching us. I saw and heard nothing and we eventually got to a better-lit section of town and onto the bus we were looking for without incident. I deliberately didn’t raise the issue with her because I recognized the source of my discomfort and I felt bad – almost guilty – about it.

Almost as soon as I felt that initial tendril of apprehension, I realized why I felt that way. It wasn’t just that she was a woman – I’m often out with women. It was the fact that she was a lesbian and in a primary relationship with another woman, and looked it. I understood in that moment both my own privilege as a feminine bisexual woman married to a man, and the formerly unconscious assumption that underpinned that privilege.

Because I have a male partner and because my female partner, S, has two male partners, all of whom are able-bodied and large, I (and S) move around in the world under a cloak of protection I had not realized I had. Obviously, their physical presence means that it is highly unlikely that I will be catcalled, harassed, or otherwise attacked except in extremely unusual circumstances. But the weird thing is that they don’t actually have to be there for that feeling of safety to persist. The fact that they exist and that my extended family includes even more men of their general type somehow confers a kind of protection on me that I only noticed when it was removed – if only in theory – that night.

The other reason I can assume that protection is that I present as heterosexual. Or rather, I don’t ‘look’ like a lesbian. My hair, my clothes, the small amount of jewelry I wear all signal ‘female’ and ‘straight’ to most heterosexuals. (Lesbians, I’m told, can spot me, but then they’re not the demographic that tends to do most of the gay bashing.) That doesn’t mean I’m immune to attack, obviously, but that combined with the way I carry myself certainly suggests that I have backup. People tend to leave me alone.

It’s not like I’ve never felt uneasy when walking home at night. It happens sometimes. But the way I deal with it is call either H or a partner or a friend and keep them on the phone with me till I get home. Even if something were to happen, I know I have people – male-type people – who will help me out one way or another, even if it is after the fact, and that gives me a sense of safety beyond the idea of police or the law or female friends.

Which is why, when walking down that street that night, I felt scared. Because had we been attacked, the fact that my date has a female partner and presents as butch means that we weren’t ‘protected’. That I present as generally feminine means something when I am alone or with a man, or even with S who presents the same way. But put me next to someone who looks like my date did and I don’t look so straight any more. And that frightened me because that meant that I had stepped outside the socially constructed roles that I had not even realized I’d swallowed whole. Men look like men and do the protecting. Women look like women and are protected by men as a result. But if a woman looks like a man and is caught in the company of another woman who looks like she too could be gay, all bets are off. I would not be surprised if, had we been attacked, someone would have pointed out that we shouldn’t have been walking around while visibly gay, and many people would have agreed that yes, that’s what ‘flaunting your sexuality’ gets you.

While I’ve considered talking to my date about it, I never have. I don’t know what good it would do to point out that I feel like I am less safe when she and I are out together. Because even though it is true that members of marginalized groups are more likely to be attacked or mistreated by the majority, I have realized that I would rather risk it than lie about who I am. I have also understood that while I cannot erase my privilege entirely, now that I know it exists, I can at least acknowledge it and, when possible, step outside my safe little box.


Fear of communication October 6, 2008

Filed under: Communication,Fear,Polyamory — Araliya @ 12:20 pm
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I’ve been listening to the Polyamory Weekly podcast pretty regularly for a while now and I found the latest show on communicating ‘fearlessly’ with one’s partners quite timely and relevant. Mainly because I don’t do it.

Oh I do communicate some. I’ve learnt to tell my partners when I’m not comfortable with something or how I feel about things and all that. Sometimes I’ll even bore them with why I feel the way I do and they, bless their hearts, will listen. I love listening to them and discussing how they feel and what they want too and I love that they feel safe enough to open up like that. But me? The way I hide what I want, you’d think it was the secret code to bringing about Armageddon.

I have my reasons. And yes, they’re all about mommy and daddy and their unique brand of Let’s-fuck-up-the-kids. (Issues springing from childhood, you say? My, what a novel concept.) But the trick is realizing not everyone is my parents (thank you, unspecified, non-denominational and utterly fictitious deity) and that not everyone is a lying sack of shit that manages to consistently disguise itself as a lovely human being.

Basically, I hate being told ‘no’. And not because I’m a spoiled brat. I hate putting myself in a position that allows another person the power to decide whether or not I get what I want. (Control issues? Ya think?) So when it comes time to fess up to a partner that I feel like crap right now and would like some attention, I turn into an all-singing, all-dancing treasure trove of information on the weather, politics, movies I want to see, movies I hate, that funny website I’ve been meaning to tell people about, something stupid a colleague said, that sudden itch on my left foot – anything at all, basically, to avoid the issue.

Yes, I know. Not the healthiest of approaches. As Minx points out in the podcast, by not bringing it up at all, you remove all possibility of getting what you want. When you speak up, there’s at least a 50% chance – and probably more – that you’ll get it. And it’s not like staying quiet feels all that great. If it did, there would at least be some justification for it. But not speaking up doesn’t actually stop you feeling scared or worried or insecure. In fact, it can compound it because on top of feeling like crap, you feel alone and unsupported, and isn’t that just what you need? Well done, you, for retaining control and keeping things…er…controlled.

Even if your partner(s) can’t give you what you want or be there for you in the way you want them to right that minute, telling them how you feel gives them the opportunity to at least express support and remind you that you are loved. And that may actually end up being pretty much all you really needed anyway.

So to hell with the I-must-always-be-invulnerable schtick (which wasn’t really convincing anyone anyway). Part of being a grownup in any kind of relationship is getting up the guts to express your needs and understanding that a ‘no’ does not mean that you are a worthless human being undeserving of love, specially when all it might actually mean is that your partner’s stuck in really lousy traffic.