NEW EPISODE: Jimmy obsesses over a 10 second interaction with his crush. Um, but none of u have ever done that right?
I’m lounging in my PJs watching Gossip Girl as my partner’s heels click down the corridor towards me. She bursts in – a vision of femme cougar hotness – and kisses me goodnight on her way out for a date with her new lover. As she prances down the hallway I yell after her “do everything I wouldn’t do!” Her laughter echoes up the stairwell, “oh I will, don’t wait up!”
To be in the dreamy non-monogamous partnership I have today took years in the making – I wasn’t always able to send my lovers off to their other dates with such good cheer. I wish lessons in how to navigate relationships came with the queer “welcome pack”. There’s this myth that you’re either the jealous type or not, when in reality – most of us experience jealousy or insecurity to some degree. Since dealing with jealousy isn’t automatically embedded in the queer gene, it’s something we have to learn. If you’d never played the piano you wouldn’t expect to immediately be able to bust out your favorite Adele number. You’d have to find a piano or keyboard you could practice on, seek out a teacher or watch youtube tutorials and obviously make a sparkly outfit that matches the piano perfectly. Similarly, non-monogamous relationships take practice and skills, particularly after the years of monogamy training most of us grow up with. There’s so much more to being in non-monogamous relationships than dealing with jealousy, but since this is the first thing many folks tend to ask, here’s some reflections on my long dalliance with the green-eyed monster.
Rewind back to over a decade ago when I was in my first non-monogamous relationships. My sentences used to start like this “I wouldn’t be jealous if only you had ______” (insert any combination of “told me at a better time”, “shared less/more details”, “been dressed in yellow polka-dots while doing a handstand with a six-legged frog in your pocket”). SIDE NOTE TO ALL OF MY EXES FROM THIS ERA– YEAH, SORRY ABOUT THAT. I felt so ashamed and unradical about being jealous or insecure that I used to try to hide it by blaming my feelings on others. Or by trying to exert control through increasingly elaborate rules and veto powers – “well he is my cousin’s ex-partner’s friend’s therapist’s mother in law’s neighbor’s mechanic – don’t you think that’s too close a connection?” And then I’d feel guilty and ricochet in the other direction “how about you start dating my best friend? You’d be perfect together!” Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with dating a partner’s best friend – but I didn’t have the skills to deal with these type of closer poly situations at the time.
Something had to shift – my relationships became so process intensive that it would take five years to negotiate a peck on the cheek with another date, after which we’d all have lost our boners anyway. So, instead of doing battle the green-eyed monster or trying to push it underground, I decided to try a different approach and I invited the monster to a cup of tea.
And a very strange thing happened. When I started to just sit and really listen to the jealousy monster, the things that came out of those gaping jaws were not more rules nor more blaming. They were bellows of much deeper things which I’d left unaddressed in my life. And being present with these groans has enabled me to heal some deep shit and grow my relationships. Depending on what the monster has to say to each us, we can figure out what is actually going on and how to address it. Here are some examples:
1) Monster: “I bet their other lover is better than you in bed”
- Do some work on sexual confidence e.g. ask your lover to give you extra compliments or tell you what makes your sexy time together unique & special.
- Make a playlist in your head about any positive sexy times you’ve gotten to have and celebrate yourself as a fabulous lover.
- If you find you are actually lacking in some skills – do some reading or take some classes – remember sexual skills take time and practice too.
- Learn to feel valuable and worthy beyond sex. Sit with the fact that, well yes, maybe they are a more experienced/ skillful fuck than you. And here’s the liberating thing: WHO CARES? That doesn’t make you less valuable or worthy as a person. It can be very freeing to not have to be the best in bed.
- Flip it on it’s head – appreciate the increased range of sexy skills your lover could bring back to your sex life from their new lovers.
2) Monster: “your lover is spending all their time with their new shiny date, and they don’t have any time for you”
- Bring it up with your lover and negotiate. Try to focus on what you want with your lover, rather than what you don’t want them to do with others. For instance, do you want more quality time? Them being more attentive when you’re together? Making a special effort to take you on dates? It may not necessarily mean your lover has to cut back on their time with others.
- Plan out other things you’re excited about so that you’re being responsible for creating your own happiness rather than relying solely on a partner. Like creating that gayest outfit to go with you new piano hobby. Dedicating time to your creative life. Or hanging out with your friends.
3) Monster: “you’re unlovable, you’re worthless and they’ll leave you for their new lover because you’re nothing”
- Recognize the ways a shitty system may have trained you to feel worthless through devaluing people of colour, Indigenous folks, femmes, women, trans folks, people with disabilities and other many other identities. So remember it’s not a personal failing if you struggle with feeling worthless.
- Ask for extra validation or support from friends, family, partners or lovers.
- Make lists of your strengths, visualize feeling good about yourself.
- Do spiritual practices from your own cultural heritage to keep you grounded and which help you feel connected to the universe so it doesn’t have to be about separate little you. For me, going for walks or gazing at stars works well (or even imaging a sky full of stars).
4) Monster: “Something’s wrong here. You’re being fucked over.”
- Is someone being dishonest with you or crossing agreed on boundaries or behaving in a way that doesn’t feel emotionally or physically safe?
- Seek out support from friends and/or counselor – make sure they have non-monogamy experience
- Communicate/ remind your partner of your boundaries and what you need to feel to safe. Ask them directly what’s going on.
- If you find your partner is being dishonest, it’s up to you how much you want to work with them to transform the situation versus getting yourself out of the relationship. It can be a difficult juggle between allowing room for mistakes and growth, yet also not accepting shitty behaviour. Remember to also think about the role you may have had in the situation e.g. if someone is feeling slut shamed or unfairly blamed, they may start to be dishonest – not that this makes that dishonesty ok, but I always find it more empowering to be able to change my own behaviour in the situation as well.
5) Monster: “they get all the dates & attention, it’s not fair”
- Bring power imbalances up with your partner, calling in support from allies and friends as needed.
- Do the work to analyze and acknowledge if/where you have dating privilege (see below) rather than leaving it up to folks who are being fucked over by power imbalances.
This last monster can get complex which makes it even more important to unpack. We live in a racist, femme-phobic, capitalist, fat-phobic, disablist hetero-patriarchy which teaches us to find certain types of people sexy and others unsexy or less desirable. These power dynamics can play out in who gets asked to dance at the queer slow dance and who has the most opportunities to go on dates. As a queer white mostly-able-bodied trans man, I have a lot of desirability privilege which manifests to different extents depending on the context. For example, I get a lot of attention in queer women’s circles, although a little less so since I started busting out my femme side. Even though I don’t tend to date women anymore (except for my partner), the attention helps me feel confident. With gay men – to whom I am predominantly attracted – my effeminacy and my trans-junk mostly thrusts me a little lower in the pecking order, although certainly I still experience a huge amount of privilege from my whiteness.
Even though it’s been a lot of unpleasant work sitting with the green eyed monster, the things I’ve gotten to learn and change filter through to way more than dealing with jealousy. I’ve gotten to grow my confidence, develop agency in creating my own happiness and have more harmonious relationships. And now my visits with said monster are much fewer and further between. With practice, I more rapidly identify what’s going on and I have a broader set of tools to quickly deal with the underlying things. What might have previously spiraled me into days of gut-wrenching anguish is now a two minute “Hello my old friend, what’s up this time? Sexual ego? Oh, isn’t that cute – my sexual ego is back. Hi sexual ego. Wait, where are you going? Oh, you’re gone already? Well, nice to see you again. Bye-bye.”
Oh, and PS the green eyed monster doesn’t just haunt poly folks – people in monogamous relationships experience jealousy too! Open relationships are often unfairly scrutinised – when they break down many people say “see non-monogamy doesn’t work!” When the shit hits the fan in monogamous relationships, we might say “they were not compatible” or “so-and-so was an asshole”, but rarely do we blame the actual relationship model itself. Conversely, there can be a real pressure in some queer communities to be non-monogamous with an underlying idea that monogamy equals oppression, while non-monogamy equals radical. I don’t see anything inherently more radical about non-monogamous relationships. I’ve seen people do monogamous relationships in deeply radical transformative ways and I’ve also seen people do non-monogamous relationships in very unradical ways.
It’s not about pitting monogamy and non-monogamy against each other. I think monogamy really suits some people and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d like to see support for a myriad of relationship models from monogamy to sluttiness to asexuality to non-monogamy to polyamory. And in fact, there are many similar relationship skills that we can build with each other, regardless of our relationship styles. Like how to be responsible when we cause harm (and we ALL hurt other people to varying degrees), sharing emotional labour, unpacking how bigger systems of power and oppression shape our relationships and learning how to make matching outfits for our piano duets and trios.
These are but a few of the topics touched up on in my theatre show, No Strings (Attached), which Gein Wong, Eventual Ashes, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and and I are delighted to present for it’s Toronto premier March 16-26, 2016. Even though some of these topics are very serious, the show is also funny and irreverent. If you came to one of the work in progress showings in 2013, it’s now grown significantly into almost twice the length and has toured across the globe to 40 cities! So, start getting your most fabulous outfits together and come and join us for the ride. Your green-eyed monsters are also invited.
You might also wanna check out this short web video series about queer dating!
NEW EPISODE: Jimmy’s adventures in casual dating – today’s episode: when clothing comes off the trans man, cis panic ensues.
CONTENT WARNING: sexually explicit.
Please share widely.
Think you’re awkward on Valentine’s Day? Well Jimmy botched it way worse than you, while trying to be a “good radical queer” – check out episode 1 of 3 of Jimmy does dating, in the lead up to a theatre show “No Strings (Attached)” by Sunny Drake. Please share widely.
I will never forget the year I spent being unable to use my hands for the most basic tasks. The challenges in my day were going to the toilet, turning the pages of a book and opening a door. I remember the shock when overnight I went from able-bodied ignorance to struggling to work, cook, clean and participate in social and other activities I’d taken for granted. I remember the painful moments of being left behind and left out. Yet I also remember the profoundly inspiring ways that my community rallied around me, fed me and supported me to return to creating theatre. My experience also shifted who I’m in community with and laid the groundwork for the immense gift of having deeper connections with people with a wide array of disabilities. This has made my world much richer – by getting to have the smarts, perspectives, love, friendship and community of many fabulous people. Whilst I have had ongoing challenges with my arms in the eight years since the original injury, I don’t claim to know what it’d be like to have a longer term or wider-reaching disability – my experiences give me only a small window into the world of disableism.
In the lead-up to a run of my theatre show No Strings (Attached) at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I’m thinking a bunch about what it means to make my work “accessible” (oh and raising money too – click here!). There are so many layers to access. In reality, every single one of us has access needs – it’s just some of our access needs are prioritized over others. I’ve been deeply inspired by reading and conversations with disability justice activists – particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, persons of colour, queer and/or trans.
A central part of access is about being connected with community and listening deeply to what it means for people to be able to engage with a performance work. How do we promote a culture of what Mia Mingus calls “access intimacy“: where the access needs of our friends, loves, and communities are met, felt, and deeply understood?
Given that this is a big shift in where many of us put our time and resources, I’ve also been reflecting on why it is important to make my work more accessible. For me, it’s not just about simplistic notions of equality and wanting to offer my work to others. It’s about creating vibrant dialogue and action alongside others to propel us towards living in the world I want to live. It’s about the ways that having a wide array of people in my audiences creates juicy connections and conversation. I see my work as one thread in a larger conversation – it’s meant to spark reflection and discussion, healing, questioning and change. It’s both a response to other threads of the conversation and meant to be responded to. So if I’m not engaging the right people, that conversation becomes less vital, and the work loses its potential and potency. This is why I feel strongly about spending time and generating money and other resources to make sure Deaf community, sober folks, low income peoples, parents, people with disabilities and others are a part of the conversation that bounces inside and outside the theatre walls.
So, I’ve started to list some access considerations in relation to performances and events to guide my own performance planning and act as a resource for others. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Some access considerations for performances and events
Show content & artists:
- A show is more accessible to many folks when under-represented stories get told. Seeing one’s own reflection in the work can be a powerful experience. Important questions therefore include: who makes the creative works? Have there been people of colour, queers, women (trans and non-trans), other trans folks, sex workers, poor and working class folks, people with disabilities, and survivors in the centre of producing and creating the work?
- Having artistically compelling work is an important part of people being able to engage with performance, so having the time and resources to cultivate one’s skills and incubate a piece of work is also an access issue.
- Have the performances’ content been carefully screened for transphobic, racist, sexist, sex-work-phobic and other hurtful content? If you’re curating a performance night, do you know what others will be performing? Have you discussed your stance on content? There is a big difference between making work that is challenging versus work that perpetuates oppressive ideas and behaviour. For instance, if you are depicting a transphobic incident, does the performance actually unpack or transform the transphobia? Or does it simply replicate it without challenging audience members to be critical? Another way to consider content – are you asking people in the audience to sit through things more painful for them than for you? As a white person, if I’m exploring racism in the piece in a graphic way, I’m asking folks of colour to risk being triggered in a way that I don’t have to be – just like outside the theatre walls. Contrast this to a person of colour making a piece of work that is uncomfortable for white folks – this is challenging the usual power dynamic rather than replicating it. We need to take into account the context in which we’re creating work including systems of power.
- Are triggering topics dealt with in a sensitive and nuanced way? For example: physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual assault or violence, live gun shot sounds, police violence, suicide and childhood abuse.
- I know as a survivor, seeing graphic sexual violence can be triggering – even more so when it’s a live performance compared to TV. Personally, I find I can go deeper with the content if it is suggestive rather than graphic. I realize there are also rationales for presenting more graphic content, in which case – are there trigger warnings? Are there debrief options or active listeners available?
First Nations/ Indigenous groups:
- Is there an acknowledgement of the local First Nations/ Indigenous groups given verbally and/or in the program? Although remember this can risk become tokenistic if not coupled with many other layers of change.
- Will alcohol be served? Particularly in the first year of getting sober, I found it very difficult to be in spaces with alcohol.
- Are there good non-alcoholic drinks – not just soda/soft drinks – e.g. quality affordable juices or fancy mocktails?
- Are there sober buddies available to accompany folks upon request?
- Are there options to have some alcohol free shows?
- I’ve written an article with more about juggling the needs of sober folks and those who use alcohol or drugs – click here.
Visually Impaired & Blind access:
- Are you providing audio description for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired?
- Is seating close to the stage prioritized for visually impaired folks?
- Are the images on your website described with alt tags?
- Some mentioned in the comments a group called Vocal Eye who arrange touch tours of props.
- Is there ASL or BSL or AUSLAN interpretation for Deaf folks? Have you allowed enough rehearsal time with the interpreters and given them the scripts well in advance?
- Are your promo videos captioned?
- Have you done promo videos in ASL? Remember it’s an entirely different language – don’t assume all Deaf folks read English.
- If it’s a scripted show, have you considered engaging a Deaf person to do the interpretation? For No Strings (Attached) we’re having a Deaf artist team up with a hearing ASL interpreter. Having a Deaf theatre artist on board means the quality of interpretation will be excellent. It’s also a way to prioritize an employment opportunity for someone who faces huge systemic barriers to employment.
- Is the work in accessible English that you don’t need a PHD to understand?
- Are there other language translations for which you could consider projecting subtitles? I’ve worked with folks to translate No Strings (Attached) into three languages for projecting subtitles while touring: Puerto Rican Spanish, Italian and German – it’s made a huge different to engagement with the work.
Trans and gender non-conforming folks:
- Are there gender-neutral washroom options as well as gendered washrooms? Can you temporarily transform a washroom into a gender-neutral option?
- Have the box office and ushering staff been briefed and trained to not assume someone’s pronoun?
- Are there affordable ticket options e.g. sliding scale options? Are there pay what you can shows? Or other subsidized or free ticket options?
- Are there options where free or subsidized tickets can be put aside under people’s name in advance? I know some folks who feel too ashamed to turn up and say they don’t have any money, so having their name on the door as a complimentary ticket makes a difference.
- Are transport tickets provided e.g. bus or train tickets? Some folks can’t afford to get to the show either.
- Is there childcare provided? Or if you run into public liability challenges, are there informal groups who could organize with each other to do collective childcare?
- Are there subsidized tickets or pay what you can options to offset the cost of babysitting?
- Are there matinees or early shows programmed which might better suit the schedules of parents?
- Are there “baby in arms” options or other “relaxed theatre” shows where a little more noise in the audience would be ok?
Fat folks & larger folks:
- Is the seating wide enough to be comfortable for fat or larger folks? Also, narrow seating with armrests can be very difficult for larger folks to fit in.
- Have you encouraged a fragrance free space in your promotional materials? Scented deodorants, perfume and colognes can be toxic for some folks.
- Is there fragrance free soap in the washrooms, and are fragrance free cleaning products used?
- For more info on how to be fragrance free, click here.
- Have you considered eliminating any strobe lighting? It can cause seizures.
- If you are determined to use strobe lighting, have you posted a warning?
- Is it wheelchair accessible? Scooter accessible? That means both entry into the building and within the building.
- Are the seating aisles wide enough? (at least 36 inches)
- Are there good audience spots for people who use wheelchairs and scooters – rather than spots tucked up the back or with terrible sight lines? Can wheelchair users also sit with their non-chair using friends? And make sure these seats (i.e., empty spaces) are organized ahead of time so you don’t have to shuffle chairs out of the way – particularly if you’re accepting latecomers to the show. Remember, in a disableist world, it can be very difficult for some people with disabilities to get there on time due to unexpected broken elevators, wheelchair transport delays etc.
- If the main concept of your performance involves standing rather than sitting in a space, are there chairs for folks who can’t stand for long? If it’s a show that’s likely to be sold out and have “standing room only” – are chairs prioritized for people who need them, regardless of whether they can pay a premium price? Audiences can also support in this by making sure we are mindful about keeping good seats for others. Additionally, pillows and carpeting for folks to sit or lie down?
- Is the space so crowded that access pathways become blocked?
- Is the stage wheelchair accessible so you can have people who use wheelchairs as performers as well as audience?
- Are there railings in the washrooms?
- If it’s not wheelchair accessible, how many stairs are there? Is there a railing?
- If the elevator breaks down, have you considered cancelled/ rescheduling the show?
Listing access details in promo:
- Living in a profoundly disableist world, many of us will not be able to meet all of these access needs, all of the time. At a very minimum, are access details clearly posted along with event information so that people don’t have to spend their valuable time doing the research? Make sure to include layers of detail like the nearest wheelchair accessible public transport stations and if it’s not wheelchair accessible – how many steps there are.
These actions are not something I can or should be able to do on my own. One of the many things I’ve learned from disabled activists is the power and importance of inter-dependence, as reflected in one of the 10 principles of Disability Justice framework by the groundbreaking performance project, Sins Invalid.
So, I’m asking for your support to donate money towards the access costs of No Strings (Attached). Here’s the link to the Fund What You Can campaign – please donate and help spread the word!
Big thanks to Arti Mehta and Chanelle Gallant for their valuable feedback and input into this article!
Photo by Hillary Green
We wanna get some cash together to make my theatre show with queer and trans content accessible to Deaf community, low income people, sober folks, and parents.
No Strings (Attached) has toured to audience and critical acclaim in 40 cities around the world and been translated into 3 languages – we’re soooo delighted to premier it in Toronto! We wanna make sure we remove as many access barriers as we can – which costs money.
We want our friends, loves and communities to be able to come. Our access goals are inspired by conversations, connections, relationships, and collaborations with queer and trans activists organizing around ableism and access critically and broadly. While this campaign focuses on funding for a specific production, we also hope to contribute to larger dialogue about how we come together, build connections, and promote a culture of what Mia Mingus calls “access intimacy”: where the access needs of our friends, loves, and communities are met, felt, and deeply understood.
There’s great perks too…
Please donate what you can and share widely!
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Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website