The other night, I attended a volunteer orientation for the Frameline queer film festival. (You get a voucher to see a film for every volunteer shift you take.) There were probably a hundred fellow volunteers, and most of them were men. But when the volunteer coordinator stepped up to address us, I was surprised – because the volunteer coordinator was a woman. A queer woman. As in, asymmetrical haircut, half a shaved head, totally tatted, hip young San Francisco queer woman. And after a few moments of being surprised, I became perplexed, because after all, it is a queer film festival. So why the surprise at the volunteer coordinator being a queer dyke?
It reminded me of the feeling I got when I first visited my women’s college campus as a junior in high school. Until I visited, I had been pretty vehemently opposed to attending a women’s college. I had thought it would lack diversity (which in retrospect seems laughable). But when I visited, I was suddenly struck – wow, this all exists for the education of women. The male professors and campus police and facilities staff etc., despite being men, were working at an institution that educated women. Women matter! Holy shit! And it dawned on me that it had been so internalized in me that women don’t matter that I was actually surprised and delighted to be confronted with evidence to the contrary.
And I got the same feeling at the very first Dyke March I ever attended in San Francisco, in 2006. I was with my ex-girlfriend at the time, and I remember holding her hand, processing down Valencia, feeling giddy from all the solidarity and empowerment I felt, due in no small part to the fact that there were gay men hanging out of windows, waving rainbow flags and hoisting banners that read “FAGS <3 DYKES” and the like. And I was all, “omg! Gay men love us! They care! Whoaaaaa!”
And somehow I got the same feeling while at this orientation – because here was a group consisting largely of middle-aged-ish white gay men and they were all paying attention to this queer-as-fuck dyke, who, by the way, was absolutely hilarious and cute and rocked her job. I felt somehow vicariously visible. And it struck me again, as it did at my first Dyke March and when I first visited my women’s college, that I’m so accustomed to women being invisible to men in any way that’s not sexual. And it’s so consistently ingrained in women that we’re only useful to men as sexual objects that it surprises me every time I find myself in a situation in which I’m being genuinely appreciated, as a woman (or in which women in general are being genuinely appreciated), by a man for a non-sexual reason. And it makes me wish that it would happen more often. Not just to me, on an individual level, but publicly, and in media, and in culture-at-large.
You see, gay men and gay women are natural “bedmates” (har har).* We are among the few combinations of adult human beings that (in general) have a non-romantic/non-sexual connection. And there’s something really special about this bond, I think, that goes largely ignored. And it’s different from the relationship between gay men and straight women, which, if judging by the connotation lent by the term “fag hag” alone, is largely a mutually objectifying relationship (and, yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, but fag hags are not the topic of this post, and the relationship between gay men/straight women has been addressed again and again elsewhere). Maybe I’ll write about my thoughts on that some other time.
No, the point is, I wish the common bond between gay men and gay women were more acknowledged and respected. When I went to Berlin’s pride celebration in 2007, I was struck by how different it felt from San Francisco’s pride. In San Francisco, there’s Dyke March of course, and then Dykes on Bikes lead the main parade the following day. In Berlin, there’s neither – and without the women-centric portions of the celebration, I realized how gay-male-centric the whole celebration felt and was. Specifically, how middle-to-upper-middle-class-white-gay-male-centric. At the time, I remember having conversations with the folks I went with (a mix of genders and sexual orientations) about how these men were taking up all the “space,” probably without even realizing it. Gay pride parade means gay (male) parade. Gay bar means gay (male) bar. Gay issues are gay (male) issues. Gay white men are the default Gay, just like straight white men are the default Human in our society. And obviously, yes, gay men’s issues are super important. Of course they are. It’s just a matter of gay women’s issues also being important. And being similar, yes, but also largely different. The problem is, though, that there have been so few studies on lesbian/queer women’s issues specifically that we don’t even know what our issues are and what distinguishes them from gay men’s issues. And this, of course, isn’t the fault of gay men individually or even as an entity. It’s the fault of a society that naturalizes maleness as the default human, and that renders women a sub-category of human. (Same goes for queer people of color – their issues are woefully under-studied too, and POC are always just sub-categories of a humanity in which White is default and “normal.”)
So, right, individual gay men are busy taking up their own issues and fighting their own battles and taking care of their own survival, which completely totally makes sense. And yet I think it’s really sad that the bond between gay men and gay women is so often overlooked, or dismissed, or undervalued. I think it has tremendous value, as we are perhaps each other’s best natural allies. Sex and romance doesn’t get in between us, not personally and not in terms of prescribed roles. When I see a gay man, I see someone who both understands what it feels like to be queer in this straight world, and who will relate to me inherently free of any sort of sexual tension or sexual judgment. We understand what it feels like to be otherized. The homophobia we each experience often looks and feels different, sure, but when all is said and done, it’s the same animal. We can learn a lot from each other. I have learned a lot from my gay guy friends, and I count one of them as among the best friendships I have. I hate this phrase, but it just is what it is. There’s nothing underneath, no undercurrents, no invisible social glue that’s trying to glue us together in awkward ways. We just get each other. And I wish this were more typical, not just on an individual level but on a socially recognized level. Because then, maybe I wouldn’t be so surprised by gay men holding “fags <3 dykes” signs, or laughing at a queer gal’s jokes.
Has anyone else felt this way? Or is this peculiar to me? Maybe in other communities, gay guy/gal crossover is much more common. But even if that’s the case, where are our friendships ever portrayed in the media (TV, books, news outlets…)? Right, exactly. Never. And why do I not know a single gay male blogger? Where are they all? I just want to be friends, guys!
What’s your experience?
*In this post, I’m addressing specifically gay cismen and gay ciswomen — and yeah, I know that leaves out a lot of people, including queer but not-gay-identified folks, as well as genderqueer and trans people… Sorry about that, this is just what’s most familiar to me.
We started talking a few days ago and continued talking last night about how to make sure sex is a central part of our relationship, and not just an incidental part.
What I mean by that is this:
When you first start seeing someone, it’s all about sex. Or mostly, anyway. Obviously you’re attracted to her as a whole person; she makes you laugh, you have conversations about God and past relationships and what your favorite drink is, you share an interest in music and books, you can rib on the northeast, since you’re both from there originally. But if you get right down to it, it’s about the sex. Every gesture of her hands, every toss of her hair, every sideways glance makes your heart thud and your pussy pulse. And when she touches you, even casually, accidentally, you swoon. You’re liquid in the lap of Eros.
Luckily for you and everything else in your life, this isn’t indefinite. The time returns when you can be in her presence without feeling completely dysfunctional, you can exchange emails at work without the rest of the day becoming a fluster of distraction and desire. It’s lucky for your relationship, too, because you can finally get to know and trust and love each other deeply, talk about difficult things and fun things, share stress and anxiety and joy and excitement, unwind together, and (perhaps most importantly) get some sleep. With your bodies warm against each other, of course.
But a side effect of this natural progression of a healthy relationship can be, if you don’t pay attention, that you forget about sex. Or rather, you don’t forget, but sex becomes The Thing You Do In The Bedroom When You Want To Be Intimate Or Just Want An Orgasm. It’s The Thing You Do At The End Of The Day When Everything Else Is Taken Care Of. It’s like “recess” for elementary school kids. A regular occurence, but distinctly separate from everything else you do. For kids at school, it’s workworkworkworkworkPLAYworkworkwork. For you two sexy partnered people, it’s workworkworkworkworkSEXworkworkwork.
And, YAY!, we have great sex. It’s not boring, it’s not mediocre, it’s not slowing down, it’s not tired or old or mechanical or artificial or put on or anything like that. There are days, sure, when it’s kinda like “ok we’re both super tired, let’s just make out a little and get each other off” but even those days are intimate and binding. We desire each other.
But, I guess that rather than the workworkworkworkworkSEXworkworkwork model, I’d rather cultivate a model that looks more like sEwoRXkeskoRseoSEXworsekWORKkerweX.
Um, does that make sense? I definitely still want there to be uninterrupted, undistracted, maybe even scheduled SEX time. Time when there’s nothing on our minds but fucking. And, to that end, I want there to be time for just “work” (and that doesn’t just mean “job” work, but anything else, too, like writing, or doing music, or cooking dinner, or fixing the heater, or whatever it is that we do). But I also really want sex to be integral and fully integrated in my day. So that it’s not just cordoned off into its own little section of the day. In other words: I want to practice eroticizing the daily grind.
For example: cook in a corset, garters, thigh-high seamed stockings, and four-inch heels. Why not? Rather than the more typical “I’m feeling horny, let’s do some role-playing, how about I’m your submissive wife and I cook whatever you want while you boss me around,” let’s make it “I’m feeling hungry, so I’m going to go put on some lingerie and head to the kitchen.”
Another example: get a piece of jewelry that designates a particular role, so that if I, say, wear a particular ring on a certain finger, it means that I’m sexually available the whole time I’m wearing it, and so I’ve got a constant physical reminder of “SEX!” on my body during the day. Or even a gesture, a particular innocuous gesture (biting my lower lip?) could be re-identified as meaning “I want to fuck you hard” or “I want your giant cock inside me.”
I think Sinclair‘s idea of homework is a perfect example of this, too, because it sends the erotic outside of the we’re-fucking-here-and-now, extends it beyond the moments in the bedroom, and builds it into the regular structure of the day.
The reason we’re talking about this is not, I repeat, because our sex is getting boring or tired; it’s not because I want to “spice things up.” It’s because I think our mainstream culture has a way of stifling sexual energy – we’re not supposed to talk about sex in public, with anyone other than our closest friends (if even them), and sex is supposed to take place privately and discreetly. (And, hypocritically, it’s simultaneously obsessed with sex.) But that’s not what I want. I want to cultivate an active sexual energy that isn’t constrained by the bedroom door or the time of the day, and that can be nurtured and activated throughout the day by various things. That way, when I finally do get to have sex, I’m not starting at 0 (or 5 or 10) and going to 60; rather, I’ll already be going at 30 or 45. That’s a whole lot easier to manage, frankly, when I’m tired and stressed and anxious and the thought of needing to find the momentum to get from 0 to 60 is daunting.
And on that note, I’m going to go write mi’lady a dirty email ;)
There are so many layers of femme (in)visibility to me. There’s how we’re seen (or not) by straight people, by society at large. There’s how we’re seen (or not) by fellow queers. There’s how we’re seen by fellow dykes. And how we’re seen by each other. And of course, there’s how we see ourselves. And in all of this, there’s the personal, and there’s the political.
But I don’t really know how to write about it except in terms of my own experience. And of course, my experience isn’t representative of anything except itself. But I think there are probably parallels and similarities to and “mmhmm”s and head nods from other femme-identified folks out there.
It starts with not being able to see myself. That must be at the very root of it. As a little girl, I loved to play house, and I always wanted to be the mom. I loved to play school and wanted to be the teacher. I loved tea parties and dollhouses and dresses and patent leather shoes, I loved American Girl dolls and dress-up and imagining my future wedding. I was obsessed with Queen Elizabeth II as a little girl (I had a book about her written by her nanny) and with figure skaters and ballerinas. I fit snugly into my gender box. No questions asked.
Come junior high, I decided to start having crushes on the boys in my classes. Each year on the first day of school, I would scan homeroom for that year’s candidates. I carefully weighed my options, and within 20 minutes or so had selected the object of my external focus for the year. Seventh grade: Dillon. Eighth grade: Ryan. Ninth grade: Jason. In tenth grade I started dating, but never really cared much for the guys. In fact I think I was somewhat scared of them. Touching them, kissing them, doing stuff with them made me feel weird and nervous.
I’m not going to go over my whole coming out story here, but suffice it to say it took me quite a long time to come out to myself. I started questioning that year, tenth grade. I had a friend who I was in love with, but I couldn’t quite believe it. There was no way I was gay. It just didn’t make sense. I was a girl. I was supposed to like boys. That was that.
Understanding of sexuality is so, so so tied up with gender. That’s really what makes femmes so invisible. To ourselves as well as to others. There often aren’t any outward signs that we digress from the norm. They’re all inward. And society tells us (all of us, not just femmes) all the time that the inward things? Are figments of our imagination. Depression, addiction, anxiety, sexual orientation — it’s fabricated, it’s (no pun intended) just in our minds. You can’t get an MRI that says “whoops, there’s some depression in there, we’ll have to medicate you” or a pap smear that tells you “yep, yer gay alright, no two ways about it.” So unless you look different, unless there’s some physical proof of it (whatever it is), there’s plenty of room for people to doubt you. And judge you. And feel justified in doubting and judging. Because all that stuff? It’s in your mind. So I can tell you you’re wrong.
That’s what I, as a femme, was up against. Convincing myself that, actually, no, I’m right. That gut feeling that made me ask my mom, as an 11-year-old, whether it was normal to like other girls? That was right. Even though I liked ruffles and paper dolls and the Sound of Music. It took me so. long. to learn how to trust that feeling. I guess I’m still learning, really. In my first years after coming out for good, I went through all kinds of identity shifts, trying to settle on the self-expression that felt right for me. I just didn’t think it could be that I was both totally feminine and gay. I thought I was just fooling myself that I was gay. To be honest, I sometimes still do have those moments of doubt. “How is it possible that I’m gay?”
And, dude, I’m gay. I fuckin’ love pussy. The best compliment from mi’lady is when she looks at me in wonder, after a good fuck, and says, “you’re so gay.”
In fact, I think that’s probably the best compliment from anyone. Even people who mean it as an insult. To be recognized as gay makes me puff out my chest and stand up straighter. Really. I just want to belong here. I want people to know that I’m a member of the club. Sometimes, I do get some sort of signal, a wink maybe, and I just about die, every time. Especially when it’s the older, butch lesbians, in their late 30s and 40s. A wink from them is so gratifying. Not transgressive, not presumptuous, not inappropriate. Affirming.
I’ve spent up enough time and energy proving myself to myself, you know? I don’t have much leftover to try to prove anything to anyone else. So I don’t try, not much anyway. And for the most part, I don’t let the invisibility get to me. But those moments of visibility are all the more precious because of it.
Mi’lady isn’t butch. (If she were, there’s no way in hell I would call her mi’lady.)
She’s not femme, either. Not particularly. Not the way I am. She doesn’t really fit into any sort of butch<–>femme spectrum at all. Maybe she’s androgynous, though somehow I’m uncomfortable with that word too to describe her. We talked about it a bit on Sunday, and didn’t really come up with a label that fit her precisely. But what she definitely is is a dyke.
I guess her gender energy is somewhat akin to Shane from The L Word. (Though I know Shane was commonly referred to as butch, I really don’t think she was, or at least not in the way that I understand butch.) Mi’lady isn’t quite the same sort of aloof player that Shane was portrayed as, and she’s much more outgoing and free with her emotions. Allows herself to be more vulnerable than Shane’s character. But she has a similar posture, a similar sort of slightly disheveled look, a similar style. Another stylistic reference would be Tegan & Sara — she’s got a sort of punkish female androgyny–tattoo, skinny jeans, chucks, indie t-shirts, black eyeliner.
And I wouldn’t say our relationship feels particularly butch-femme, either. It’s not that clearly defined. In some ways it does feel very butch-femme. I’m very much a nurturer, in that I’m constantly doing little domestic things. Cooking, tidying, grooming, both for me and for her. I’m a multi-tasker and I’m very attentive to detail. I like things just so. In that regard I can be a care-taker of her. Because she’s disorganized and rumpled and a bit chaotic and kind of messy. Not at all detail-oriented. She’s fantastically creative, and I help keep her grounded. In a femme way.
She is a nurturer too, in a different sense, maybe in more of a (dare I say?) butch sense. She’s always “big spoon,” and we almost always fall asleep that way, with her enfolding me in her arms. She’s very affirmative with words, telling me often how sexy or beautiful I am or how much she likes what I cook or how hot those heels look, in a way that affirms and strengthens my femininity. She was the one who pursued me from the get-go, bold and a risk-taker to my subtle flirting.
But in otherways, we’re not very butch-femme. Sexually, for example, we have great sex in which she’s more dominant and I’m submissive, and great sex in which I’m more dominant and she’s submissive, and great sex that doesn’t have bottom/top roles at all. I love strapping on and fucking her with a cock (she loves it too), and don’t particularly care for the reverse (she’s open to it if I want it but isn’t insistent on it). And aside from the ways I articulated above, there isn’t really any other way that our relationship feels gendered. We’re both women.
I wonder, in a way, whether I’m most suited to a butch, considering the extent to which I think I’m really femme. For example, mi’lady doesn’t really have (or at least hasn’t at any point articulated, to me or to herself) a matching and inverted fantasy of being a “protector” and having a “wife,” the way I’ve got this fantasy of having a protector and being a wife. But… I love her. She makes me laugh, she helps me move beyond details and be flexible, she motivates me to break out of my comfort zone a little bit and then gives me room to go back in, she challenges me. And really, I don’t think it’s necessary for our fantasies to match up. I think as long as we’re willing and able to work out the kinks and figure out our dynamics and make sure we’re both giving what we’re able to getting what we need, then we should be ok.
And, you know, she really does love it when I cook for her :)
It was the best welcome home she’s ever had, she said.
After all my thinking and processing last week about my femmeyness, I allowed myself to just revel in it. I spent all day Sunday preparing for her to come home. I booked a Zipcar to pick her up at the airport when her flight came in at 6. (Typically we would just take BART, and I had told her I would meet her to help her carry her stuff home… the car was a surprise!) I got my nails done in the morning (fingers and toes!)–short, a little bit squared, bright red polish. Paraffin wax, so my skin was silky smooth. I’d gotten a fresh legs and bikini wax on Saturday, so that I’d be ready and smooth for her. I planned out Sunday evening’s meal, bought the necessary ingredients on Saturday, and brought them over to her place on Sunday afternoon to begin prep before her flight came in. AND, on Sunday morning after the manicure and pedicure, I went to my favorite lingerie boutique in San Francisco, Dollhouse Bettie (they specialize in vintage and pinup lingerie), to make sure her welcome home would be *extra* special. (Dollhouse Bettie’s website doesn’t have a link to the piece I bought, so I found a link to it elsewhere instead. It’s got gorgeous detailing, and I got nude seamed nylons instead of black ones because I really wanted the basque to speak for itself. With these shoes and my full-sleeve black leather gloves from Doncaster, this is a stunning get-up.)
And it was such a wonderful day, from start to finish. Waking up and knowing that I was going to be getting my nails done, going lingerie shopping, cooking, and seeing/fucking mi’lady for the first time in a week was such an amazing feeling. I don’t think there’s anything I’d have rather done on a gorgeous Sunday. Seriously. And it all went off without a hitch.
The only thing I think could have gone smoother was cutting the pumpkin. Pumpkin soup was one of my menu items (and as SOON as she saw it she was really, really excited… she loves pureed vegetable soups), but I’d forgotten how ridiculously hard it is to cube and peel a raw pumpkin. SO HARD. I wrestled with it for a good hour. But it was so ridiculously worth it. It was really, really good, if I do say so myself. And the recipe is really simple — really all that’s in it is pumpkin, onion, a tiny bit of garlic, bay leaves, a bit of orange rind, butter, vegetable stock, and a tiny bit of milk. I garnished it with fresh chives. And that’s it. The best part though? Was mi’lady telling me that the pumpkin soup she’d had earlier that week at an upscale restaurant in Boston with a client “wasn’t even half as good as yours. Well okay, maybe half. But seriously, only half!”
The other menu item was risotto with leeks, spinach, white wine, and a little bit of plain yoghurt. I love cooking.
The best part of everything was that she just felt adored. I love that. Love it. It turns me on and makes me stand up straight. I’m doing what I do best, what I love to do. Fuck yeah. From getting picked up by me at the airport in a car, to having dinner planned and prepared to the AMAZING fucking hot sex we had, it was the best welcome home she’d ever had. And I’m responsible for it :)
Whoopee! I’m going to Mexico!
Wednesday is my birthday. Wednesday is also the day that mi’lady and I hop on a (direct) flight from San Francisco to … Puerto Vallarta! Yesterday, in preparation, I got a pedicure, and my toes are now painted a suitably tropical color. Late August is not, I must say, the best time to be going to the tropics. We’ll be there until Sunday (short and sweet) and the current weather forecast predicts thunderstorms every day. Ha. Coming from the bay area, though, thunderstorms are a rare commodity, so even if we do get them every day, it’ll be out of the ordinary and worth flying south for.
Plus, if it rains, it’ll just mean we’ll have to have more sex!
Speaking of sex, we’ve now each read one of The Topping Book (me) and The Bottoming Book (her). We do plan to swap and each read the other as well, but it’s a good start. We’ve talked about it some, and plan on talking about it (and doing other than just talking, ahem) some more while on vacation. We’ve both agreed that there are things we really like about the books and things we really dislike.
We like that they have made us think about how vital communication is to having satisfying, gratifying, and truly consensual sex. If I’m going to top her in a way that works, I have to first know what she wants from me, what turns her on most, what she thinks it means for me to top her, what it means to her to be submissive, what her limits are, et cetera. And conversely, she has to know what I want from topping, what it means to me to be a dominant, what expectations and needs I have from topping, and what turns ME on. I mean, right? It sounds obvious, talking about what you want. But really, it’s a lot to talk about. Certainly we’ve talked about our sex before–we talk about it all the time in fact. We generally talk afterwards about what worked and didn’t work, whether it was good, how it felt… We communicate during sex as well (and I find it to be absolutely a necessary part of good sex). But neither of us has really thought to really sit down, maybe even with pre-thought-out notes (!!), or even a pen and paper to jot things down, and truly discuss and understand each other’s desires, fantasies, and needs. I’m really, really excited about doing that.
One of the things that both of us disliked about the books, on the other hand, was that they seem very geared to people in some defined BDSM “Scene” whose goal it is to “Play” with other individuals who are also in this defined “Scene.” Mi’lady and I are monogamous and are not particularly interested in having “Playdates” with others, certainly not at this point and I’m not sure about ever. If our relationship ever evolves in that direction, then sure, I’ll consider it at that point. But I don’t think that that direction of development has to be a given, and that exploring BDSM with a partner has to involve this sort whole sort of BDSM culture. I don’t want to really go to dungeons, or have sex in front of an audience, or switch partners all the time. To me, sex and romantic love are very connected, and I don’t know that I want to try to unconnect them. (And additionally, I tend to only feel developed romantic love for one person at a time.) But the books, to me, seemed to implicitly enforce this idea that in order to do BDSM the Right Way, you have to be willing to open yourself up to this whole new way of contextualizing sex. And it’s not that I’m not open to it. I’m certainly very open to it on an intellectual level. But it’s a culture that just doesn’t feel like a good fit for me. And I just don’t agree with the notion that if you’re interested in BDSM, or if you identify as Kinky, then you must also somehow belong to this Culture-Capital-C.
Anyway… hmmm. I’d like to develop those thoughts some more later. When I’m not at work, haha. In any case, though, I’m sure you’ll hear more on this, if nothing else in the form of a full vacation report!
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