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.
It took me a long time to understand myself as femme because I’m a man, and to understand myself as a man, because of my femininity. Misogyny, being the fear or hatred of women or femininity, can manifest in many different ways. I can perpetuate sexism myself, and also I am the recipient of misogyny because I’m effeminate. I’m so grateful for fabulous femmes and women and their powerful resistance to misogyny and sexism. I hope to keep learning how to unpack sexism in my own behaviour and learning how to be ally to women and other femme folks, as well as increasingly unleash my effeminate fabulousness. Here are some great reads as well as some useful ally stuff.
I’ll add new things as I come across them – my website (Sunny Drake www.sunnydrake.com ) will the most up-to-date place.
ONLINE ARTICLES & VIDEOS
It’s so important to unlearn misogyny/ sexism in queer communities.
Good article on how to be an ally and challenge misogyny/ sexism, or at least how not to be an asshole.
I love these images showing how wide ranging queer identities are.
BLOGS & BOOKS
– Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity, edited by Chloe (with 2 dots above the e) Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri
– Piece of my Heart, anthologized by Makeda Silvera
– Dirty River by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
– Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities by Ulrika Dahl
– Femme: feminist lesbians & bad girls by Laura Harris & Elizabeth Crocker
– The Persistence of Desire by Joan Nestle
– Persistence edited by Zena Sharman & Ivan E. Coyote
– Heels on Wheels Roadshow http://www.heelsonwheelsroadshow.com/
MY BLOG ARTICLES:
I’ve also authored some relevant blog articles:
This is a conversation starter (continuer?) on how to be ally and challenge misogyny/ sexism, aimed primarily at trans-masculine, trans-male and masculine of centre peoples. It is equally application to other cis men unpacking misogyny/ sexism and working on ally skills.
About my experiences a queer effeminate man who is partnered to a woman and how people are constantly confused about my sexuality because of my effeminacy
A series of photos celebrating my beautiful chest before I had top surgery through adorning it with fabulous outfits.
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Photo by Tania Anderson
Sexual assault is a very real issue in our communities. Dominant narratives are that strangers are mostly responsible, but many of us also experience sexual assault, violence and other abusive acts from lovers, partners and family. The times I’ve been sexually assaulted, I felt like I was responsible for what happened to me and felt so much shame that I found it difficult to talk with people. It’s had a huge effect on my health, sex and life. I wished I’d at least had some things to read. So, here are links to resources I’ve found useful particularly for femme, queer and trans survivors (and ally articles too). Please take care of yourself when reading.
I’ve also included some ally resources for working with those who have abused others. I believe our communities need to work together to deal with each other in responsible ways to unlearn abusive patterns, rather than isolating and shaming people, whilst centering both survivors and the overall well-being of our communities.
I’ll add new things as I come across them –my website (Sunny Drake www.sunnydrake.com ) will the most up-to-date place for resources, as well as other resources such as trans, femme, sexuality, queer stuff, anti-racism etc.
Yup this is real. Many of us know on an intellectual level that we are not responsible for the acts of violence we receive, but how do we actually get ourselves to really shift that toxic self-blame and insidious internal dialogue? Some useful suggestions in this article. Authored by Sian Ferguson.
This link covers a lot of myths about violence and acts of abuse and how equally valid different survivor responses can be. This is essential in learning how to be a responsible ally too. Authored by Kai Cheng Thom, who’s writing I love.
Good ally article, authored by the fabulous Kai Cheng Thom.
Remembering that we all are collectively responsible for creating change and have the power to transform cultures of violence. Also authored by Kai Cheng Thom.
A useful resource on gaslighting –when someone acts to manipulate another into questioning their own sanity. It can be used to make people who are experiencing abuse doubt their own experiences and often end up feeling responsible and blaming themselves or even thinking they are the ones being abusive. Good ally article as well in terms of skilling up on gaslighting. Authored by Shea Emma Fett.
The article also acknowledges the different ways that we can reclaim our sexuality. Particularly helpful for was the section on how we might act when we are triggered during sex – it doesn’t always look like disassociation or curling up in a ball. Sometimes I’ve struggled to understand when I’m triggered during sex because a big part of my coping with sexual assault has been to minimise my own experiences and try to pretend to myself (and others) that nothing was wrong. Knowing when I am triggered can help me take power back to be able to be responsible for creating my own healthy sexuality. There are so many ways we can reclaim sexuality and have awesome sex lives.
This was just what I needed to hear. Authored by many different survivors
– Campaign resources
* Article about campus sexual assault – mainly I like the “40 powerful images of survivors” at the bottom of link.
BOOKS & BLOGS
– The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence In Activist Communities, Both a book and a blog, authored by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
– Everyday Feminism has lots of great articles on a wide range or relevant topics authored by fabulous people.
MY BLOG ARTICLES:
Here’s some relevant blog articles authored by me:
Whilst this is not primarily about sexual assault, I include this link because of the disproportionate amount of abuse and other shitty behaviour and acts of abuse that femme folks receive.
– 2 articles about drinking/sobriety – which are relevant given that alcohol (and other substances) can often be involved in acts of unconsensual sex, and abusive behaviour
Looks at teenage sex and sexuality and how we don’t prepare young people for either staying safe or actually having fun. Many educational programs have finally started acknowledging that teenagers have sex, but an exclusive focus on STIs and birth control doesn’t prepare young people to enjoy their sexy times, have consensual sex and prevent sexual assault.
If you have any other resource suggestions, particularly ones that are femme, queer, sexuality and trans positive, please email me (Sunny Drake) at firstname.lastname@example.org
sunny drake, trans, transgender, trans, transgender artist, trans artist, queer artist, trans performer, queer performer, transgender performer, trans writer, transgender writer, queer writer, transgender theatre, trans theatre, queer theater, theater, LGBT education, trans education, queer politics, trans politics, transgender politics, LGBT politics, toronto, canada, australia, tumblr, anti-racism, femme ally conversation, femme ally conversation starter, dude, sobriety, hand puppet, acts, contact, articles, authored, committed, responsible, feedback, reputation, sunny drake, sexual, sexuality, sexual assault, sexual violence, femme, sex, assault, healing, violence, survivor, trauma, ally, femme ally, sexism, misogyny, misog
A sales assistant was trying to usher me out because the store had closed 10 minutes ago. I told her I was waiting for my partner who was using the washroom. So the sales assistant dashed over to the men’s washroom entrance and started calling out “Hello? Hello? The store is closed!” I blushed and shuffled over to the women’s washroom and softly called out to my lady partner. The sales assistant looked me up and down with that “Who are you kidding? Does your girlfriend know you’re gay?” look that I’ve become so accustomed to.
The sales assistant hadn’t even seen my partner, so it wasn’t that my partner was being misgendered as male, it’s that I was being read as gay. Sometimes I wonder how people know I’m queer. Then I look down at my outfit on any given day. It usually involves something like: pink leopard print necker-chief and matching pocket square, dangly fake pearl earring, tight shorts, bright pink socks and studded boots. Oh… that’s right, most straight people can’t differentiate between effeminate men and queer men. And mostly it’s only queer men who have the guts to express femininity in a culture like mine where femininity is punished and devalued. Patriarchy devalues both women AND femininity. I feel very sad for all those straight (and queer) pansy men who are in the closet about their love of lace, ruffles, pink and dangly earrings. For that matter, I also know a lot of women who choose not to present their feminine sides because of the harrassment they get from dudes. Ugh, more reasons why the patriarchy is not only horrible and violent, but incredibly boring as well. The world will be so much more sparkly, frilly and joyous when we throw down the racist, able-ist, colonial heteropatriarchy!
I love that people read me as gay/queer. I am queer, and that’s very important to me. I feel so grateful that I’m queer! Yet I find it incredibly awkward when they assume I have a boyfriend. They are often being really sweet by trying to affirm to me “hey, I can see you’re gay, and that’s fine by me!”. And I want to celebrate their open-mindedness without embarrassing them, so how do I respond? My “closet” looks quite different than some other queers I know. For me, coming out of the closet involves declaring to the world, “my boyfriend is a lady!”. Sometimes I say this directly and then they assume I’m straight, or more likely closeted, and look apologetic like they’ve just insulted or outed me, when in fact, I see being read as gay or queer as a compliment. Just as commonly, they get a betrayed look on their face and say something like “but you said you were gay?” to which I’m a little baffled because generally this is people I may have known for 2 minutes or less and probably only talked about the weather. Many people are so compelled by their stereotypes that it’s as if before I even open my mouth, a loud speaker announces “this is Sunny. He’s Gay. Gay…. Gay gay gAy GAY gaaaaaaaay”. Other times I just avoid using pronouns about my partner for as long as possible and let them continue with their assumptions that I have a boyfriend. But then I feel like fraud who’ll be discovered at any moment and also I want to honour and celebrate my wonderful lady partner.
My partner and I get stared at a lot in public. We sometimes make a game of trying to figure out why. Maybe we make each other look trans? My partner is not trans, but she is quite tall and has a somewhat deep voice for a cisgendered woman. And I’m a short dude with some of the tell-tale signs of a trans-man (at least to the trained eye). Maybe we’re just a sight because she’s so much taller than me. Maybe it’s because we’re often both wearing dazzling, sparkly outfits. Or possibly they’re worried about my partner- “that poor woman, is she the last one to know that her boyfriend is so clearly gay?”. I feel like yelling “she knows I’m gay and she’s hella gay too!” Well, we’re both queer with an affection for the word “gay”. We’re both attracted to queers of all genders: women, men, genderqueers, including both trans and non-trans people.
Whereas my queerness is hyper-visiblised, my partner’s queerness is often invisiblized because she’s a femme cisgendered woman and therefore doesn’t fit people’s stereotype of queer women as butch. She’s only read as queer when she’s being sweet with someone who’s being read as female. Or when she’s with me–because they’re reading me as gay, they’re reading her as something-other-than-straight.
I’m considering making a t-shirt or a pamphlet entitled: “My boyfriend is a lady and we’re both hella queer!”
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Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website