Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In the last few years, I’ve found myself in a liminal space between being in a normative type relationship – which I was for a large part of my late teens and twenties – and being single but of course looking out for ‘the one’ or just someone (!) to get into one with (Sex In The City style, cause those girls are ‘liberated’!). Neither am I in a relationship or looking to be in a (normative) one.

I think I probably used to think I was ‘subversive’ because I was in relationships with people of the same gender as me but ultimately I was often living in some version of the heteronormative trap. Sure, there are some nice things about that kind of partnership – all the on tap stuff - but I often felt my most lonely then.

Reading queer stuff both stirred up feelings I was already having and stood into help me articulate them (the questions I was having about relationships, intimacy, friendships and why the dominant discourse made me uncomfortable).

On the way out to a celebratory meal at a restaurant, my friend reassured me that I wouldn’t be the ‘only one’ since there were two other people who would be coming on their own. My heart sank a little bit because it reminded me how much single people are assumed to be lonely, sad, and in a desperate search for their ‘other half’. But I know plenty of people who are in relationships simply because they can’t countenance being single. I use ‘single’ here for want of a better way of saying it but ‘single people’ – what an insult to the myriad of important intimate relationships that keep us connected to the world around us. Interesting that ‘single’ people seem to really put some peoples backs up, maybe because they remind people that you really, really don’t have to kill yourself trying to ‘do’ heteronormativity... there are other ways!

Emotional intimacy, love, sex, and companionship are so conflated in the heteronormative discourse but for me, realising that over the past couple of years that these things can very easily exist as very separate entities (as well as together in different configurations sometimes) has been quite liberating. It helps me to imagine a future (don’t tell Edelman!) I actually can see myself as part of, rather than dreading the prospect of awkwardly trying to squeeze into heteronormative shaped cookie cutters.

Whatever my relationship status, it’s been important to me for a while to retain my ‘single’ identity as well as my general connectedness (friends, family, the ways I feel connected to the world, sources of life energy etc...) since I don’t want to lose a sense of my whole self, which is something that seems to easily happen in coupledom. I don’t think coupledom has to be like that, but things are set up that way and I’ve found it a challenge to practice coupledom any other way! I’m not suggesting I’m outside the heteronormative. I think that’d be impossible given the way language organises things - it’s very hard to talk in any other terms. The most self-consciously subversive people seem to attract the most attention which means that moments of resistance and subversions of normative intimacy that are quieter go unnoticed. But it seems like there are actually lots of those moments going on all the time, in amongst all the supposed ‘normality’ that we are constantly saturated with.

What does the future look like for me? I can’t say but I do hope that I carry on questioning all these things, living in such a way that I might be able to carry on teasing out and being okay with what it is I want, rather than what it is I’m supposed to want (perhaps the idea of separating these two things is a fantasy, but it’s one I’d quite like to hang on to!)'

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Green Anarchist Project on Freedom and Love

by Mae Bee , 2004, in Sexyouality: Challening the Culture of Monogamy. Godhaven Ink.

This piece is not advocating another option, another 'choice' of relating for couples. It is rather a recognition that our 'common project' - the abolition of all power relations - includes the abolition of coercive/closed relationships. these are those relationships with fixed stature, those relationships with rules or permanent contracts. these relationships cannot really be part of a free society. and just as with other coercive relations at odds with our freedom they must be confronted by all who seek such freedom and communities...

to accept coercive relations as well as free ones is as full of folly as hoping industrial societies, or societies with governments, can exist alongside nature based ones. if my love is free, but yours is not then scarcity is created. to say i am at liberty to not possess land but you are at liberty to possess land is ludicrous. fortunately, your possession relies on my compliance with it, and as anarchists we do not accept your ownership and possession.if we believe love should be freely given from desire than we cannot respect the culture of love-as-commodity-lover-as-possession...

this means that for me to not act on my desiring in loving who i will when i will, is to be complicit in a system of coercion, of control and of ownership that i am opposed to. no, i do not and cannot, accept the rules of 'your' relationship. in a free society we will not be asking for the consent of one person to sleep with another anymore than we would ask a father for the 'right' to marry his daughter. and here and now, we can also live that out. to 'respect' restrictive relationships is to uphold them.

would it be so controversial to call a war on monogamy? to seduce the lovers of the possessive? could we help those trapped by their timid jealousies to grow into freedom by 'stealing' kisses from those forbidden lips in front of their terrified eyes? if this shocks or offends you perhaps you should ask yourself why.

rule relationships, and the acceptance of them, betrays an internalised hierarchy. the relationship of a couple is of greater value and worth than others in the community. it would be equally unrealistic and undesirable to hope for everyone to feel as much love and connection with every single one of their community - down that path lies formalised and institutionalised groups or other coercive ways of relating which are just as damaging as rule relationships and coupledom.

community is more than one and it is more than two also. to create self-governing, self-sufficient small communities there cannot be the tyranny of individualism or of coupledom. to create wild and anarchistic communities we must also forsake the idea of sacrificing individual desires for the sake of the community. we have been so programmed by the megamachine that it is hard to imagine such a world where cooperation rather than competition does not elicit us as without. even harder to imagine is a world where we are free to take our pleasures and our desires openly. but if these are the communities we are in the process of creating then we must be honest and open and challenging. these communities will not prosper by shying from conflict but rather by not fearing it.

an argument often given by those who do not necessarily preach coercive relationships but are restricted by the ideology is this:it is reasonable for A to not kiss B in front of C.it is reasonable because A cares for C as much as she does for B.A does not want to upset C.

nobody wants to upset those we care for. but if we restrict or inhibit our own desires for the false peace of not upsetting others, then we are left in a passionately deficit world. what then if C was upset because A and B were both female and C’s masculinity was threatened by queer sex? or if C was upset because A was black and B was white and C’s security as a black man was upset by mixed race love?

as radicals we would inevitably say the lovers should challenge homophobia and racism, that the onus is on C to deal with his feelings. and rightly so. homophobia and racism are internalised and damaging dynamics of control and power that must be challenged. so are rule relationships.would you kiss B in front of C if C would be upset?!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Will you be my queer agony aunt in return for me being your non-normative research monkey? Do enlightened academics die happier?

It's me again. Regarding the issue of one's friends coupling off…

I was recently dumped by a friend due to the fact that he feels his emotional attachment to me is distracting him from making a proper go of things with his girlfriend. This is annoying, yes? A “proper go of things”?! So normative! Why does he (and most other normal people) want to have an emotional attachment to only one person at a time?

As I look to Buddhist philosophy to elucidate this situation, the following dilemma arises:

The idea that we should love without attachment vs. the idea that humans all want the same thing: to be free of pain.

It seems to me that my friend is attempting to reduce his suffering by trying to create something (a normative couple relationship) that he hopes will bring him happiness. I may have a different idea about what will make me happy, but in situations like this, no one is right or wrong, we are all just going through life doing the best we can to avoid suffering, right? There seems little point in believing that I have some great insight into his “inferior” (attachment-based) way of loving. In a way, I see Buddhism as inspiring an anti-theoretical position. But I am also wondering whether the idea that all humans want essentially the same thing (to be free of pain) can be reconciled with theoretical perspectives on love, which leads me to the following (sociological?) question:

What common ground is there between striving to love in normative and non-normative ways?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've decided to answer Gavin's question as a new post as I think it raises some really interesting points and I’d like to hear what other people have to think about it...

Do you think that just because more of you queer 'non-normative' friends are currently in couples they have completely (and forever) rejected their opposition to normative forms of relationship? Are they really trapped in normative coupledom now and forever? And, if they've made an informed choice to go there, rather than slipping into a taken-for-granted relationship norm, is that really such a problem for them (or for you)

I didn't really expand upon this point very well, but it's difficult on a public blog to write too much about couples I know personally! I think you're right to point out that there are many many different ways of doing coupledom, and not all of them have to be tied to mononormativity. By mononormativity I suppose i'm meaning the things we're all supposed to say / do / feel- how coupledom can become a form of ownership, based on rules, restrictions, and contracts rather than upon choice, freedom and mutual respect. This is why I expanded my criteria for who I want to speak to in this research- as i really want to highlight how coupledom can be done differently.

So I suppose the problem I was talking about was partly down to my own doubts that perhaps the decisions I’m making in life are not the right ones. Sometimes it feels like a hard and isolated position to take. But also I suppose my problem was with some people's decisions to turn to coupledom even though it's not a situation they're completely happy with- but they turn to it because it's what's expected, and they can see very few other options. Just to clarify- it’s not their decisions I have a problem with, but the institution of mononormativity itself and how it shapes us. This leads me into a whole other series of points about infidelity and the insights it has given me about the expectations, fears and terrors that mononormativity relies upon. Also there's something to be said about the links between privilege and a rejection of mononormativity. I'll save this for another day!

Why do fools stay in love?

Things you cant do if you're a couple: "You can't leave the house without saying where you're going. You can't not say what time you'll return... You can't be a slob. You can't do less than 50 percent around the house, even if the other person wants to do 100 to 200 percent more housecleaning than you find necessary or even reasonable...You can't sleep apart...You can't not 'communicate your feelings.' Except when those feelings are critical" (Kipnis, 2002)
If not being a couple gives you all sorts of freedoms (and Laura Kipnis suggests these include the pleasures of wearing badly matched clothes, of which I approve), the key question is not so much why do fools not only fall in love, but why on earth do they stay together?

Going through the process of uncoupling has provided me with some answers. It's because somewhere along the line you stop being a person and become a couple, and people don't relate to you as a person any more, rather as a unit of social reproduction. Initially, this feels kind of weird (like when you start getting xmas cards that aren't for you any more, but are for a couple that includes you), and then you get used to the idea and then you cant remember what it was like to not be a couple. And then when you start to realise that you're not living the life you want, but the life you think your partner wants (but probably doesn't), you start thinking about life alone and you get scared. Because everyone and everything tells you that not being a couple is sad, lonely. Almost every shit pop song ever is about finding the boy/girl of your dreams, doing coupley stuff and being in love: more worryingly, even the good indie stuff that dares to suggest that being in love may not always be so great also suggests that not being in love is a great deal worse. And that becoming an un-couple is the most gut-wrenching, painful, and, saddest thing you will ever do.

And so while becoming-couple is a process that is celebrated, mythologised and heartily encouraged, uncoupling is discouraged socially, politically and economically. So I think we need more people to talk about the pleasures of non-monogamy, the joys of uncoupling and the tyranny of coupledom. And while the fact I'll get 50% fewer Xmas cards in the future will continue to piss me off, I'll take some consolation from fact that when a couple becomes two singles, a predictable life can become two unpredictable lives. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with being 'normal', I've come to the conclusion that two fully-lived unpredictable lives are probably better than two half-lived half-arsed lives based on the petty fear of being alone.

Friday, August 7, 2009

queer heart (and head) aches

I think that the questions you pose are really interesting. In fact I was thinking about this a few months ago when I was on my way back from a 'queer' conference. I remember thinking about these exact questions. I identify as queer, but it was not the same queer that everyone else at the conference was performing. Indeed, all together they presented as a very normative group -identified by their 'difference' from 'normal' other people by their 'uniform', opinions and behaviour, but also different from me, and not identifiable to me, as queer like me. I remember thinking, 'where do I belong?', and this made me think that whilst queer must have a home for me, it is one I may have to carve out for myself. And in this blog I will try to articulate those thoughts and struggles that I was having that day. I would say that I have not done normative intimacy either. but in a different way to that which you describe -for me, my rejection of 'romantic' and idealised notions of relationships is as much through practice of non normative sexualities and desires as it is about the outright rejection of monogamous intimacy. I would go into what this actually looks like on another post, once this gets going so as not to hog the sexual limelight! What I want to say, is that for me, my sexual identity and ways of being in a relationship, is deeply entwined with my politics. My politics are obviously (!) feminist and libertarian. It is not just in my relationships with friends, lovers and enemies that I live through these ideas, but everything I do in my work and non-work, and every decision I make. In the same way, as a queer, and not just and lgbt+ queer, but one who is thrilled by the perverting and upturning of normativity inside, outside, within, without, above, below, through, throughout and around the bedroom, I use these 'principles' (such the wrong word -maybe someone can help with a better one?) to guide and propel what I do and where my thoughts might take me. I will expand on this more another time, but I just want to finish by saying that for me, getting married was a radical thing to do and, in the context of my background, non normative thing to do. that may offend some people or seem absurd. which is not my intention. but isnt that what queeries are for?