Q: What is Queer?

Hi Suggestive! Here’s my question: what does it mean to be queer and how does someone know if they are queer?

Queer is an umbrella term for a kind of identity! That means it can be used by itself, or as a reference to one of the many identities under the umbrella itself. Though I listed only a few under the umbrella, there are actually hundreds of ways a person can identify that go far beyond ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. These identities describe our gender and our sexuality and the way we see ourselves.imageSomeone may choose to use different language depending on who they are talking to, their comfort level, how out they are, or what message they are trying to convey.

For instance, someone could say “I’m super queer.” but they could also say “I identify as bisexual.” Someone may also only identify as queer. This may indicate more fluidity. The language someone uses to identify is personal and can change over time. There is also no right or wrong way to identify. For instance: some people feel discomfort with the term queer because it is a reclaimed word, and was once derogatory. In some parts of the states it still is used in such a way.

Figuring out what label suits you best can be a tricky process, since most people enter into the world with constant reaffirmation that they are cis (the sex they were assigned at birth matches to their gender identity) and heterosexual. Many people aren’t provided with information about identity to help them figure out where they fit in. There are also an endless supply of labels that are always being added to and changed – as mentioned earlier. I have a post on this coming tomorrow.

When it comes to finding yourself and choosing a label that makes you feel most comfortable, time might be the best option. A lot of people move from heterosexual to bicurious because they know they don’t fit into the rigid guidelines of what people say heterosexual is. (Ex: If you are heterosexual you will never ever ever enjoy physically touching or seeing someone else of the same sex, puhleeze.) Gay and lesbian are also easy identities to shift into because they are clearly defined and may allow someone to explore same-sex interests.

I both understand and detest the desire to find the perfect box to fit into. In some ways, queer offers a solution to that by being sort of ambiguous. Of course, as more people identify as queer, it develops its own little box that may make people feel uncomfortable. It’s a process. I think the best way to figure out “What am I?” is to just put the labeling aside for a minute and go about your life living in the way that you want to live. Instead of focusing on what behaviors or emotions you can or can’t have under a certain label, just do and feel the things you want to do and feel. Sometimes easier said than done and of course politically loaded advice. Not everyone has the freedom or safety to do this.

As you wade about the identi-sea, as it were, you’ll start finding communities of people, or at least collections of language, that helps you understand.

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog. 

 

Stream of Consciousness: Eternally Fucked

Jason and I were musing on the fact that most of my spring break was spent sick. Long gone were the days of the rage – the party – the mini dress. As I parade around old town in my skinny jeans and soggy flats I scold myself for thinking twenty six were twenty one. They are distant cousins, barely speak the same language, they are strangers. I crawled into bed and passed out and developed a fever. It was the universe telling me that it was time to check out.

As the fever slips away and the sunshine breaks through the traditional Portlandian cloudset, there is a ding. There are a lot of dings lately. Internship dings. Blog dings. Friend dings. I sleep with my phone in another room these days.

ATTN: Serious business. Very important school stuff. Click if you want to graduate.

I paraphrase, alas. I enter the black orb of doom. One six page syllabus detailing one thirty page paper. Fourteen sources. Please think critically about what you’ve learned over the past x number of years and tell us what you’d like to expand on. I imagine a girl somewhere with every paper she’s ever written, nicely tucked in a stack in a file folder in her desk. Named, dated, gently sticky-noted with her thoughts. I draw a blank glaze and spit runs down my face.

I have written a paper before, I know I have. Certainly I can remember one thing I’ve written about in the last 8 years. Eight. Years. Can I have my degree, now? Could you call this a draw?

I’ve written about abstinence education. I’ve written about sexual fluidity. I’ve written about masculinity, surely… but what else? What was the thesis? Did I ever really write those papers or did my fingers do all the work, click-clacking with whatever strings of letters they thought made sense?

So the sickness fades away and next week the last term of college appears over the horizon like the final battle. That’s the question that remains. What did I learn, and what did I like learning about so much that I want to write thirty pages about it? What am I so interested in that I could bare to spend ten weeks researching it and fine-tuning it? What will I breathe life into? What will breathe life back into me?

Moving With Your Partner

A few weeks ago a friend messaged me asking me this: is it naive to move for your significant other? I had written and re-written this post at least three times. The final conclusion I came to was this: No. I don’t think it’s naive.

Moving can be scary – especially if the move is significant, and you have never lived anywhere else before. It is easy to see the negatives when you think about moving because the negatives are what is known. Who you will miss, the places you will miss, the struggle to meet and make new friends, finding a new job, moving into a new house. Moving alone would hold most people up. Moving is a big pain.

But what you don’t get are the positives. What you’ll learn from being in a new and unfamiliar place. All of the people who are right this second wandering around in your future city, just waiting for you to meet them. People you would never meet if you didn’t say “yes.” You have opportunities to work together, to strengthen your relationship, to continue your relationship, and to explore something new.

The cynic must step in and say, of course, can’t it all go awry? You break up, you’re stranded in a city you don’t know, you spent tons of money, you left everything behind, and you were rewarded with a mat on the front stoop of your brand new not-home that says fuck you.

So here’s what I suggest:

Think about your job and your schooling and your family and your friends. It’s a mouthful, and it should be. For most people the job point is the most critical. There is a big difference between finally scoring your dream job and settling into a daily routine and feeling eh about your job and knowing you could just as easily score the same thing somewhere else. Picking up your dreams and moving them wherever you go can’t work for everyone. That doesn’t mean it would be easy either way – but think about what it would look like for you.

More importantly, perhaps, follow your intuition. What does your gut say? Is your partner a reliable, supportive, appreciative kind of person who has always been there for you? What is good for your partner is good for you – but only in relationships where that truly goes both ways. Did they ask you what you thought about moving, or did they tell you they were moving and then ask you? Feed out all the details. Take a step back and look at it. Is this good for your relationship, yeah, but is it good for you too?

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog. 

Changing the language: “Once a cheater, always a cheater”

The other day I heard someone say once a cheater, always a cheater! Then I promptly sat down and watched seven episodes of The Office. Unrelated events, but they have compacted on top of my ongoing ideas about infidelity. The language of infidelity does not help those who cheat or those who have been cheated on. It doesn’t provide useful critiques at why infidelity happens or how it can be prevented in the future.

Once a cheater / always a cheater implies that if someone has cheated they are likely to do it again because they are untrustworthy human beings. This follows the same narrative as only bad/evil/hurtful people cheat, which hardly aligns with the statistics on infidelity.

Instead I propose a new way of thinking about this phrase.

If the original issues that caused the infidelity are not solved, it is likely that the cheater will cheat again, providing truth to the original statement. They cheated once, and they did it again. You cannot determine why the infidelity happened if you just assume that someone was a bad person and did something to be hurtful. You have to look at the issues that led to the infidelity and completely irradiate those issues. That can be a painful process – since infidelity is painful – particularly if the couple does not want to remain together.

Everyone is capable of infidelity. Some people are more capable of handling the stressors that lead to infidelity. And, in truth, some people are better people. Better at self-analyzing their behaviors. Better at acting quickly. Better at knowing what they want and need and how to safely get there. Better at communicating.

Instead of making the assumption that someone who cheated is physically incapable of being monogamous, it’s better to assume that there is something clicking out of sorts that needs to be fixed.

Ultimately I think the most important thing to be done with infidelity is to determine why people cheat to begin with, and focus on preventative measures. This could be things like frequently appreciating your partner, making sure that sexual needs are always being met, and finding ways to balance stress so you can always have time to be present together. I also think that it’s important to readjust the narrative about “finding the one” because I believe couples force relationships to work when they are no longer truly happy anymore.

Since there are so many reasons people cheat, it remains important to talk about what happens afterwards. And my vote is that we look at it more critically than once a cheater, always a cheater.

Have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog.

Q: Effectiveness of Condoms?

Hi, I see non 100% success rates when looking up the use of condoms and preventing pregnancy. Does that margin account for improperly used or defective condoms, or is there some way that you can use a non-defective condom appropriately and still get pregnant? Looking forward to your answer :)

Great question! I think the most important thing to know about birth control statistics is that no method of birth control is 100% effective. This doesn’t mean that every time you use a condom you have a 10% chance of getting pregnant. It just means that out of x number of people who use condoms every year x number of people are going to get pregnant using that method.

Even if you exercise perfect condom use, there are still things that cannot be accounted for. Defective condoms or condoms that have ripped during intercourse may raise your own likelihood of pregnancy. Even the greatest condom aficionado cannot bring their condom effectiveness up to 100%. There are simply unknown variables – things that happen – mistakes – imperfect behaviors. We are but human and our condoms, thankfully, are not made of steel.

There are many ways to make sex safer. Doubling up with a barrier method and a hormonal method is your safest bet for preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Learning how to track your cycle and know when/if you are ovulating can also be critical in preventing pregnancy.

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog. 

WOTD: Narrative & Canon

Oh, sometimes I feel so bad about how much my language has changed in the past year. I worry that I am limiting who is going to read what I have to say because of how I say it. The benefit of all this new language is that it more accurately describes the things I’m talking about. If I mean vulva, I’m going to say vulva. If I mean intersectional, I’m going to say intersectional. But all of that is no good unless I explain what it means, too, because language isn’t doing the work of language if it’s not being understood.

Today I wanted to talk about two specific words that had a pretty big emphasis in my life over the past few months.

Narrative and Canon. 

I’ve spent a lot of time reading memoirs. A lot of time. A lot of time. A lot of time. I’ve read so many memoirs, in fact, that the lives of all of these people have criss-cross apple sauced in my brain meats and formed one giant monster lifeline of a person who never existed. Oof.

In reading memoirs and talking about memoirs, you’re going to use these two words a lot.

Narrative 

A narrative is a story. A puzzle piece. A small piece of meaning that connects to a bigger picture. You could say “Her narrative is that of a small girl growing up in the woods. She experiences great struggle being tormented by a beast, and the heartbreak of losing her grandmother to a gruesome murder. Through these experiences she talks about strength and growth and the color red.”

Narrative brings out this important point that everyone has a different story to tell. That even if two people have exactly the same circumstances, their narrative – their story – is going to be different. Two people who are gay are not the same kind of gay. Two people who are trans are not the same kind of trans. Their narratives are influenced by so many different factors that no two people are ever going to be exactly the same. Understanding that can help us feed more unique factors into our minds about what different things mean.

Narratives can also have specific categorizations. For instance, you might read a story about a small girl defeating a wolf and think “that was a feminist narrative.” Certain narratives overtake others. A narrative can be political. And others can try to exploit narratives that are deemed unworthy or unusual. I have found it easiest to think of narratives as stories that are complex and personal.

Canon

The canon is the collection of stories that create a knowledge base about what something is. We’re not talking Star Wars here, we’re talking real life stories. We’re talking personal lived experience. Through collections of literature we can write and re-write our truths.

We might say that the canon of feminist literature is formed by writers who contribute the most meaningful literature – the real heavy hitters – but I find that problematic. In short, because being published in itself is a kind of privilege that many women aren’t afforded. For this, blogs and the internet make up an interesting space to add to that canon of literature.

I believe to add to the canon it is important to be truthful in your narrative and to share with others what it means to be you, uniquely, and to help others see that they can do that too.

Third Gender: Bangladesh

We spent a lot of time this term talking about third gender. In that time, we also talked about why calling it third gender is problematic. For instance, some feel that it’s a ‘dumpster gender’ – the gender category where everything that doesn’t fit into the gender binary goes. Still, its useful to think outside of the gender binary and look at groups of people around the world who are stretching the definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman.

Today the NYT ran an article called Bangladesh’s Third Gender on their Lens site. Here are some interesting quotes, and terms, pulled from the article.

Hijras: The local term for the culture of men who identify sexually as women.

Bangladesh is the world’s fourth most populous Muslim country.

Typically, hijras, whom the government of Bangladesh officially recognized as a third gender in 2014, live under the protection of gurus, and perform various activities in the streets, dressed as women, to earn money.

While many hijras emigrate to India, where they are accepted in Hindu culture, those who remain in Bangladesh are rarely harmed, Ms. Sharmin said, because they hold a unique role in society. Hijras who live in the traditional way earn a living by officiating at celebrations, and causing disturbances in the streets, yelling and screaming, until shopkeepers pay them to leave.

The hijras work under a guru who takes 50 percent of their earnings, Ms. Sharmin said, in return for providing health care, retirement wages and protection from the police when they are harassed or arrested on prostitution charges.

Bangladesh’s hijras held their first Pride Parade last year.

As is typical for many identities, the hijras experienced distancing, strained relationships, and abuse from their families. They hope that at one point, their families would accept them, and they would no longer need a guru for this kind of care.