Someday, I will write out the full story of the past six months because, while it has been told in bits and pieces, there is still so much I held so close to my chest. It’s an old defense mechanism, a tactic to keep from getting hurt when everything inevitably falls apart (because everything does; I can’t start anything without wondering how and when it’s going to end).
Last week at Assembly, I walked away feeling like myself again. It was a culmination of all that has happened over the past six months, all the spaces I’ve occupied, all the parts of myself I couldn’t access, all the ways in which I have held the tension of different…for lack of a better word, the tension of different relationships, and how that tension has forced me to grow and face things that might have taken years, otherwise.
The whole story should be written someday, but I don’t have the eloquence to do it justice right now. What I have are memories, fresh memories from this past weekend: the scent of musk and leather, the feel of fingertips grasping at pressure points, a light chuckle, honest conversations. And also, in a different space, forced care, weary smiles, disarming looks, sunburst eyes.
It’s the tension I hold, the tension I have held for months now, the tension of different people who bring out very different sides of me, but this was something else entirely. There is a part of myself I haven’t been able to access that came back. I’ve been trying to write it back, will it back, force it back; I’ve begged and bartered and pleaded but that part of me needed to heal. That part of me needed to feel all the things that my logical, rational, analytical brain simply couldn’t make space for. But last week, I knew something in me had shifted when I could walk from one space to the other, when I could coexist between the two people who pull at me in such vastly different ways that I was certain I would never be able to share space between them. And yet, there I stood, with no cascading anxiety or awkwardness or fear.
This weekend was a test of that self, of sorts, and I walked away knowing that this will hold. I am back. I faced something that terrified me, and did it well. I can see, for the first time in months. I don’t feel like I’m stumbling around completely blind.
And in that, I’ve picked up lessons along the way that my analytical brain is still parsing out. Most notably, I’ve realized the ways in which I use my queerness as an excuse to minimize my vulnerabilities around sex.
I’m someone who is very familiar with having expectations placed upon my body. One of the ways I work against that is making sure that I don’t perpetrate behavior that makes others feel coerced or obligated into doing anything they don’t want to do. I think a lot about power stratas, about how I present myself in the world, about ways in which I have power and privilege in certain spaces and less so in other spaces. I think this is good and healthy and part of being a human being interacting with other human beings. It’s part of how I work to create safer space, help people feel heard, and try to exist in as non-threatening ways as possible.
But I also use it as a shield, as a guard, as armor. I don’t initiate sex, ever. Or do so very, very rarely. I am worried that initiation = pressure, and I justify my lack of initiation with, “Well, I don’t want someone else to feel pressured in the ways that I have felt pressured at other points.” And also, there is still a bit of, “well, I haven’t had a lot of this kind of sex, so I’m probably not great at it anyway.”
But I’m not bad at sex. And the reality is, I never expect sex. Sometimes, though, I want it. And assuming that, “Well, if they want it, then they will initiate,” not only puts a lot of pressure on someone else to make the first move- literally, every time- but also assumes that they don’t think about the world in terms of power, control, and coercion. (I’d really like to hope that most of the people I sleep with at least have some analysis of these things, even if not everyone is quite as hyperfocused on it.)
But maybe that’s the thing: I’m so hyperfocused on these things, so concerned about making sure that someone else can say “no” that I never say “yes.” I assume that people I have slept with more than once don’t inherently want to have sex with me, thus my initiation of sex would be seen as coercive or overstepping bounds.
It’s a nuanced thing. Just because someone has had sex with you once or twice (or many, many times) doesn’t mean that they want to have sex with you every time. This is true.
Also, at some point, I have to accept that I am allowed to initiate and ask for the things that I want, that doing so is not inherently coercive or unwelcomed (in fact, most people that I sleep with on a regular basis would probably rejoice if I directly vocalized things that I wanted). I can’t use queer politics as a crutch, because it means I am ignoring that part of queerness in which we boldly claim our own desires and practice a level of radical honesty in expressing those desires.
I remember telling someone (with about a thousand caveats) that I was interested in fucking them, and then refusing to look at the response for several hours, certain that it was an outright rejection (it wasn’t, and the teasing “I told you so” from a friend was well-warranted). People aren’t mindreaders (no matter how hard I think something at them, it’s been proven to me over and over that thinking, “I want this thing,” really hard at people rarely culminates in The Thing happening), and it is utterly unfair for me to expect people to know that I’m interested in sex and initiate that without me ever having to say anything, and then hide behind queer politics around entitlement and expectation as my reason for never initiating things.
Perhaps there is an implied permission- I’m looking for someone to tell me, in no uncertain terms that can’t possibly be misunderstood or misconstrued- that I have permission from them to instigate sex. Short of that, I start worrying about coercion or apathy- the, “not super interested in this but, meh, sure, whatever, why not,” kind of response.
Long story short: I can’t hide behind queer politics as a means of circumnavigating my own insecurities about my desirability. Every single person I have been dating/sleeping with/whatever words we use for things these days has made it abundantly clear that (a) they are interested and (b) enjoy engaging physically with me. People have gone above and beyond to show me this; my lack of ability to accept it or see it is on me, not on them.
And I can see these things again because the part of me that is able to understand and interpret these messages is finally coming back. The part of me that intuitively knows and understands and sees is waking up again. Is it perfect? No. But I can read over a conversation and laughingly shake my head at what I wasn’t able to see before.
It is- and I am, as ever- a work in progress. There is still a tension pulling me up and down a highway, bringing different parts of me to the surface. But I can hold them in tandem, now. The difference is, there is something there to pull. There is more than blank space and the uncertainty of how I fit into it. I take up the space I take. So hey, maybe I will get a little mouthier, and trust people to tell me if that’s not welcome.