It’s not you, it’s the patriarchy
NOTE: This is a transgender-related entry. If you are confused by any of the terms used here, check out Ronen’s Trans Glossary.
ALSO NOTE: This entry addresses points of biphobia and transphobia which some may find unsettling or triggering.
WARNING: YOU DON’T WANT TO CLICK THIS LINK. You especially don’t want to read the comments section. This is not reverse psychology. You really, really don’t want to. It is a train wreck. It is a pit of sharks. No matter who you are, you will walk away from it feeling ill.
In summary, for the strong of willpower who managed not to click: the link would have taken you to a post in the Oh No They Didn’t! Political community entitled “Where’s the politics in sex?” The original post was penned by a Huffington Post writer who is apparently (I had never heard of her before yesterday) notorious for transphobia and being generally Fail. The piece is about bisexuality in women, and here is one of the defining quotes:
I believe now, that if bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men.
To be honest, I didn’t read the complete article. I still haven’t. The above quote made me say “Oh, for fuck’s sake” (out loud) and move on. Then, when I came home later in the evening, the post’s comment count was over 400. It is now, as I type this, over 500 and still climbing. It is full of people discussing (often with great vitriol on both sides) the idea of ‘political lesbianism,’ i.e., the decision by women to exclusively date and sleep with women Because The Patriarchy.
And I did read most of those comments.
Now, here is my situation: I am an AFAB, bisexual (pansexual if you really want to get technical) trans individual who has been with the same (cis) man for more than six years. We are going to get married. Even though my identity is queer, this grants me a lot of straight privilege, especially since I haven’t yet begun any sort of legal or hormonal transition. We go out together, people (usually) see a straight couple, and thus we avoid harassment. We have the right to get married and receive both the social and legal benefits of that choice, and thus we avoid the legal persecution that acts upon most gay couples in America. I came into my queer identity while I was already dating him, and made the choice to keep on dating him, and thus continued to benefit from a system that persecutes others like me who happen to make a different choice. I know that the social pressure for AFAB people to date men, and only men, is the reason that up until the point I started dating him, I had never been with a woman. I am in no way unaware of these facts. I think about them, not every day or even every week, but often.
I have been tempted by, at times – I have experienced angst over – the idea that I should leave my cis male partner and go find a nice woman or queer person to settle down with. Because The Patriarchy.
Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: it’s fucked up.
If I were currently in the full swing of the dating scene and actively seeking new partners, with what I have learned and who I have become, my pool would include just about everybody but straight cis men. If. There are a couple of reasons for this: One, it’s a simple factor of the social groups I’m currently involved in. Two, it is True Facts that navigating a relationship with a straight cis person, when you are a queer trans person, can be really fucking difficult. I’d have to think long and hard before starting that process all over again. It would have to be with someone I saw as worth the effort.
But as I said, I came into my queer identity while we were already dating. We talked about it. The exact conclusions we came to are not something I’m going into here; for me that crosses the line into Definitely Not Anyone’s Business But Our Own. Suffice it to say that we continued dating, and although it was half my choice, the decision was not a one-way street: he could have walked away at any time. His partner saying “Hey, so I also like women but I don’t think I actually am one” could have been a dealbreaker. He could have concluded that my queerness overshadowed all the things he loved about me as an individual, that what his upbringing as a straight cis man had tried to teach him took precedence over our relationship.
Likewise, the idea that I should have left him for political reasons forces me to view him not as an individual with his own feelings and opinions, but as a stand-in for and/or tool of an oppressive system which, hey, is way bigger than us, so why even bother trying?
Here’s what it simply comes down to in the end: he loves me, I love him, and we both see each other as worth the effort. Yes, it’s difficult. Know what else is difficult? Long-term relationships in general. It is a rare (I would even venture to say non-existent) couple, of any configuration, who have no bumps in the road to navigate, no compromises to make, nothing they need to talk through and work out. And no, I’m not saying that the patriarchy itself is nothing more than a bump in the road: I’m saying that the misogynistic ideas and programming that we live with, as individuals, are things that can be talked through and worked out on a personal level, if we as individuals make the choice that we want to stay together and try to make it work.
I keep italicizing the phrase ‘as individuals’ because I feel it can’t be stressed enough. I have written before about the concept that people are neither totally free spirits nor mindless sheep. Nobody lives their life inside a vacuum, but we also have these funny little things called free will and critical thinking abilities. People in political discussions on the Intertubes so often act as if it’s one or the other, when it’s both. People in political discussions in general so often forget about the individual and treat their subject as nothing more than an abstract, intellectual concept. If I had left John for political reasons, and only for political reasons, I would have been doing the same thing: I wouldn’t really have been leaving him, I would have been leaving some abstract idea of What It Means to be in a relationship with a straight cis man for some abstract idea of What It Means to be in a relationship with anyone else. Whoever I ended up with next, it’s likely we wouldn’t have to wrestle so much with misogynistic programming and power dynamics, but it is foolish to imagine that the relationship would have been some twenty-four-seven Happy Shiny Queerfest, because people are people and there are always going to be issues.
It is not my aim to judge anyone out there, whatever their choices. I know plenty of people who refuse to date straight cis men because of the issues involved. What I take exception to is a mindset that pressures anyone into making the same choice because not doing so means they don’t have ‘an ounce of sexual politics.’ This line of thinking is fucked up because it presumes that the people in ‘straight’ relationships aren’t working as individuals to improve the sexual politics within their relationship. And seriously? AFAB people already get judged enough in the straight community on who we sleep with and when and how we sleep with them. To hear it from queer folk may not be oppression or persecution, but it is still hurtful and shaming, and it erases what agency we have to act like human adults and make our own decisions.