I’ve been struggling with context lately, although I haven’t had those words, exactly. I keep having these moments of panic, and trying to explain why, and people around me being very perplexed because the thing that I’m panicking about is, apparently, a normal thing.
I realize that, in the context of my life, certain experiences and ways of moving through the world, normal as they may be for everyone else, are foreign to me. Silly, easy example: I grew up in a household of all women. I didn’t understand the whole “falling into the toilet in the middle of the night” thing until I was in my mid-twenties. It was just never a part of my life or experiences until then, and the first time I fell into a toilet in the middle of the night, I finally got it. Damn, yeah, that sucks. Put the damn seat down (kinda like, if you use the last of the toilet paper, replace it please).
Expressing desire was something that was fairly well conditioned out of me as a child. Not intentionally, perhaps, but it was the byproduct of growing up in the specific family that I grew up in. Desire is the act of wanting something, and expressing that you want something from someone means that they then have the power to give (or take away, or hold over you, or…or…) Expressing desire meant showing vulnerability, and vulnerability was a weakness to exploit. The things you wanted were held over you, were used to bribe you, were used as weapons against your character, against your worthiness. Every conversation was a competition, and the goal was always to win. And winners don’t willingly give up their weaknesses.
So when I say, “I want you,” or “I want to do this thing with you,” and then panic, it’s not that I don’t understand that people express desire all the time. It’s that I’m waiting for you to use that desire as a means of manipulating or controlling me. It means that I’m afraid you will see my desire as weakness. It means that I think, in some part of me, that you see me as less than for having desire. It means it’s easier to reach “enough,” and then stop than it is to do the work to reach the big orgasms. It means that when I cum, there is a part of me that is waiting for you to shame me for it.
I didn’t start sleeping with cisguys until SummerFest 2014, and even then, not much. It wasn’t out of a lack of desire; it was more that I didn’t really know how to approach men and express sexual interest, and even if I did, I felt insecure and uncertain about what they saw when they looked back at me. I didn’t know how to trust queerness in men (and didn’t want to assume that attraction to me = comfort with being seen as queer). It’s been in the past year that I’ve really been able to explore sexual attraction to penis-having people, which has been great! Also, I’m terrified I’m doing it wrong, somehow. I’m learning to read a whole lot of body cues that I haven’t interacted with throughout most of my sexual development. I’m completely uncertain and unsure, probably totally overthinking it, and really hesitant.
So when I’m not reaching over and doing the Obvious Thing, it’s not because I don’t want to, but because I’m not sure if I’m reading you correctly. I’m second-guessing and uncertain. I’m nervous, and would much rather you just grab my head/hand/whatever and put it places, but you’re not going to do that because I haven’t told you that’s ok, and you don’t want to be pushy. Which, you know, I appreciate ultimately, but makes it tough in the moment. Maybe it comes off as a halfway decent tease. Maybe it comes off like I don’t want to. God, trust me, I probably do. I’m just not sure how to trust myself that you do too, and I’m also scared that I’m going to be terrible at whatever the thing is anyway, so should I even bother trying?
I get very strong emotions, and have spent most of my life trying to contain them. Part of it came from winning the conversation: winning was objective; you had to be able to tell someone else about it and have them agree that yes, you maintained your cool and didn’t lose your temper or resort to emotional outburst. If I can explain it, then I can figure out how to work with it. Or fix it. If I can explain it, I can control it. And if I control it, it doesn’t control me.
I’m afraid of acknowledging emotions. I’m afraid that the act of expressing emotion makes me undesirable because I can’t explain it, or fix it if it’s wrong. And emotions, my own, are usually wrong. Irrational. Too much. Too strong. Too soon. Too…something.
So when I say I’m having some feels and then subsequently freak out, it’s because I acknowledge that what I said is, “I can’t contain or control my reaction to you.” These things give away power, show weakness. Don’t be too easy. Make people work for it. Everyone just wants the chase. I still haven’t learned that every conversation isn’t a power play, and I’m waiting for you to lose interest the moment I show it.
But clearly, my process is still flawed. I can explain all these things. Understand them and where they come from, why they are what they are. But I still panic when I say the words “I want.” I still wonder if I’m doing everything wrong-even with consistent sexual partners- and have to find a way to muster up asking. I still freak out when my emotions come roaring through and I realize that they are the primary place I’m operating from.
Because this is my context. My context is one in which I learned to view conversations as competition, emotions as a weakness, desire as a method of control. So I panic about things that are seemingly normal things to express because they are so divergent from my experiences, and I don’t know how to explain what I mean when I say things like, “I don’t do this,” and it’s the thing, yes, but it’s also what’s behind the thing.
Or maybe why doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ve never done these things, but maybe now I am. Maybe it’s just a matter of doing them, and not sharing the whole backstory. The explanation. But if I can explain it, then I’m not crazy. This is what my brain says. If I can explain it, then you can understand it. And if you can understand it, then maybe it’s not gonna make you want to go running in the opposite direction at the first sign that I might just be a person.
It doesn’t occur to me that me as a real person is the thing you might actually want to see. Everyone says they want to see that. All I hear is that you want power over me.
Maybe these things don’t need explaining. Maybe they do. Or maybe I just overthink everything as a safeguard to experiencing anything. Maybe I’m just feeling a little out of my element. A little off my footing. A little out of context.
Who the hell knows, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world