So, a couple days ago, sitting backstage of a convention where I was working as part of the tech crew, I started scribbling down some thoughts on my phone about FetLife relationships because it was something that was fresh on my mind and, between tech sets, I had time to kill. By the end of the night, I had written something fairly coherent, and decided, meh. What the hell? and posted it.
And whoops, the writing got more attention than I expected. And I realized there are a lot of things I didn’t say (or didn’t say well) that I wanted to go back over now that I’ve had some sleep and am not writing in the middle of a Death Wish coffee binge and the high-stress environment that comes with working cons.
Relationships are strange things. For me, sometimes it’s about more than just being in a relationship with the person I am; sometimes, it’s about being in relationship with the person people perceive me to be. The “holding hands” analogy is something that I find really useful because I want to find a way to talk about actions that are more than just the actions in and of themselves, and I feel like both public relationships and holding hands do that in similar ways, for me.
I am a visibly (perhaps, sometimes, obnoxiously) queer person who faces harassment daily for the way that I choose to present myself. For people who have the ability and/or choice to pass as straight, or as their assigned gender at birth, holding my hand is a conscious rejection of those things. It’s a show of support and solidarity- not just in their affection for me, but in a “fuck you” to every person that gives us sideeye. It’s a willingness to be seen as queer, and be seen displaying affection for someone that people look at and don’t understand, where people are sometimes aggressive in their attempts to understand. It’s more powerful to me, now, to hold someone’s hand because it’s more than just me and that person- it’s the statement that we make in being unashamed in a world that tells us to duck our heads and hide. It’s refusal to let fear win.
(Relevant: if you haven’t seen the #HoldTight video, go take a minute and a half and watch it. There’s a solid chance you might cry.)
It should just be about me and that person, and most of the time, it is. But part of being in relationship with other people is seeing the whole person- which includes both who they are and who they are perceived to be. And when you’re with someone whose public perception causes ripples for whatever reason- perhaps they are well-known, or have an unusual aesthetic, or whatever- actions become more complicated because your actions also carry a public perception.
For me, I want people to be aware of that when they make those choices, and make them anyway. I want people to know me and see me fully- as the awkward, clunky, graceless human-ish person that hates doing dishes, and the “on,” work-mode, constant movement convention person, and the aggressively queer person walking down the street with a constant “fuck you” on their face, and the person inside that’s terrified of getting jumped again, and the artist and the writer and the mathematician and…and. I want someone to see the different things, and understand what engaging with them means, and make the conscious decision that they want to. That they want to hold my hand walking down the street, or walk into a play party with me, or sit on the couch and drink coffee with me and all the spaces in between that. I want to know that they know how they are going to handle these situations. I want to know that we can handle them together.
So yes, FetLife relationships mean something to me because they feel like a mark that I am able to be a whole person with that person. That we both know what it means to be associated with one another and choose to do it anyway. That we are willing and able to figure out how to interface with the different parts and facets of who that person is. In my last piece, I said something which seems to have resonated with a lot of different folks:
I want to be with people who are willing to claim me- not “claim” in a D/s sense, but claim as in “be willing to acknowledge that I am someone they care about.” That I am not a between-the-sheets secret. Hold my hand- literally and/or figuratively.
Please believe, I have lovers and sweethearts and people I go on dates with and people that make me swoon that aren’t listed on FetLife, and may never be. It’s not important or necessary for how we interact… and they also tend to be people who have similar things as me in terms of visible queerness or being a public face in the scene. They aren’t people I think run the risk of being ashamed that people might see them as “more queer” because they are into me.
The same action from different people carries different weight for any number of reasons. Claiming a relationship with me isn’t just about the identity politics and public perceptions and all that jazz- it’s mostly about the relationship between me and someone else, a joint decision to note that we are important to each other in some way. It’s not that it’s other people’s business, and it’s not about an empty gesture, and it’s not about proving anything. It’s not that something is more valid or real because it’s public. But I can’t pretend that there isn’t an element of my private life that is constantly made public, whether or not I necessarily want that, and if it’s going to exist anyway, then I’m going to fill it with what I want.
So this is just an addendum to my earlier post. There are other parts of that- about my own issues around wanting and inconvenience and expectations that are valid and hold, for the most part, even if they are awkward or clunkily phrased. But this was a whole layer of the relationships discussion that I realized I hadn’t touched on the way I wanted to, and figured it deserved a post in and of itself, rather than an extended comment buried in the thread.