Category Archives: Personal reflection
This was (belatedly) written for the February 2021 Carnival of Aces: “Comparing Ace Spaces” by Ace Film Reviews.
Asexuality meant liberation for me. First, from compulsory sexuality in the shape of an ever-felt male gaze. My body felt so much more my own after that. Second, from needing to be heterosexual. I could go find out how my sexuality actually worked, and all that we associate with that in the broadest terms, how we touch each other, how we love each other, how we are intimate with each other.
Asexuality has also meant loneliness for me. No library held any books or articles about me. The internet held a handful of interviews in Dutch and Belgian women’s magazines. The women’s history centre in Amsterdam, Atria, was the only one I ever found some physical copies of articles. In its absence from Dutch, I was quietly taught to experience my asexuality in English. In its sole, marginal presence being in queer and feminist spaces, it taught me I needed to seek like-minded people there, only to be dismissed as a lesbian still half in denial. I find limited welcome in queer spaces.
Asexuality has also meant silence for me. When I discovered we were empowering ourselves by making up words for our experiences as we go along, I glommed onto that. If English words exist and are accepted, they are easily enough borrowed by Dutch. Queer, gender and nonbinair are now Dutch words, after all. There is not yet a good space for me in my language.
Asexuality has meant erasure for me. Several times have I come out to people who then forgot that I did, even after good, deep and long conversations. It’s like a word needs to be powered by belief, needs to be accepted enough, before it – and what it means – sticks in people’s mind. This is how I have known erasure, such effective wiping of queerness from mainstream society that people reflexively forget such an alien thing. Not maliciously. Not ignorantly. Just… I am too alien to comprehend. Too queer to contain, to retain, in the regular mind. I have a hard time making space for myself in my social circle, sometimes.
Asexuality has been almost solely online for me. Forums at first, but mostly I have ventured in and out of the English-language asexual blogosphere. Here, I’ve had most of my education. Here I’ve found some representation. My asexual space is online, in my second language, when I need it there.
I’m grateful what it has given me, but I would wish for more. I have recently started looking into expressing my ace self more, again, now I’ve also figured out more about my gender and romantic orientation, and am more at peace. I’m ready to try again to create space, where I find welcome. It’s just sometimes I’m sad that it needs to be created as I go along. It’s tiring and lonely work, sometimes, to be one of the first, in any space.
TW: Homophobia, transphobia, conversion therapy, purity culture.
J.K. Rowling’s 2008 proclamation that Albus Dumbledore was gay is usually contrasted with her trans-exclusionism, in the video essays and articles I have consumed on the topic, though her resistance to showing him as such in the Fantastic Beasts is seen as part of her journey to the dark side. In hindsight, I think rather the tragic celibate gay man should have been foreshadowing of her queerphobia, given the parallels with homophobic propaganda in conservative christian spheres.
Let us use this character as a magical introduction to the key role queer people are made to play in their own oppression, within purity culture. And why asexuality may serve as a long-awaited Finite.
I have read Harry Potter more often than I’ve read the bible. As a teen, I could quote the books the way serious bible-thumpers could pull out a verse for every occasion. It is our choices that make us who we are was the millenial confession of self-determination in the face of our elders’ overwhelming expectations. I bought paper and printer cartridges with pocket money so I could print out my favourite epic slash fiction to read on vacation, back when wireless internet was rare and smartphones were for adults. So my heart soared, along with millions of others, when Word of Rowling came down that, yes, canon contained a gay character, our beloved quirky mentor.
But on the threshold between 2020 and 2021, Albus Dumbledore reads like a conservative gay young man who fell for charismatic fascist Gellert Grindelwald. His ‘weakness’, same-sex attraction, led directly to the tragic death of an innocent maiden, his sister Ariana Dumbledore. After failing his family, he repented, too late, and forever after led the life of an eccentric celibate bachelor who guides bright young minds to lead a better life than he did. He denounced all sexual activity in order to focus on working for the greater good.
At the end of his life, he personally mentors a promising, powerful young man, Harry Potter, who was mistreated because he was different, because a similar young man, Tom Marvolo Riddle, that he ignored, became an evil terrorist like his one-and-only love. So he guides Harry Potter into a life of heroic sacrifice that will kill the evil inside of him. Harry survives to live in middle-class bliss with a wife and children. Harry himself mentors his son Albus Severus Potter who is also, y’know, different, away from his best friend in the whole world, Scorpius Malfoy, in the sequel. Albus’ legacy lives on.
A queer person who grows up in purity culture today will be told they aren’t evil. No! Instead, God gave them a great challenge to overcome, same-sex attraction or maybe the feeling of being born in the wrong body. They might hear Jackie Hill Perry, (a queer woman of colour, sarcastic exclamation mark!) from Gay Girl, Good God give the testimony of how she chooses to live a heterosexual life. An older queer christian might point them towards therapy or offer informal counseling that, yes, is indeed a form of conversion therapy.
As Albus Dumbledore guided Harry Potter to nobly sacrifice his life to kill the horcrux inside of himself, that evil embodied by Tom Riddle, queer Christians only need to sacrifice their queer selves so they can live happily-ever-after. Every church will tell a queer person they are welcome. Most say so in the belief that welcoming the queer person is the first step in changing them ‘for the better’. This approach is codified in the doctrine Love the sinner, hate the sin. The repentant queer person has the starring role, as both road map and trojan horse. Save the person, kill the gay (or trans), and be granted the blessed living death of never coming out and never transitioning.
Looking back, Albus Dumbledore reads a lot like J.K. Rowling’s trying to give an ex-gay man a redemption arc like he needs it. He even kills the innocent white woman in his care, the capital crime in western literature. He – as the sole queer character from Harry Potter – sure looks like a precursor to Rowling’s transgender serial killer in that light. The difference being that Dumbledore was portrayed as (debatably) redeemed, and saving other ‘different’ young men from a life of evil. Finally victorious, posthumously, in Harry.
In all this, note that celibacy, or the not having (queer) sex, has become the crowning mark of salvation for the queer person, to modern purity culture. Note, too, that virginity, the not having of sex, is the more traditional mark of the virtuous young white woman. Abstinence, the not having of extra-marital sex, is the gold standard for the heterosexual person. The central conceit of purity culture is that lust is the most powerful force of evil and thus controlling it, by strict rules, lifestyle and yes, choice, leads to the eponymous purity. The intra-marital sex is the (heterosexual) reward this side of heaven.
Asexuality undermines that central conceit. It queers sexual attraction – lust – by making a spectrum of orientations for it. It centers consent and attraction in the choice to have sex. One’s attitude towards sex becomes a matter of feeling favour, indifference or aversion. Sexual ethic is framed as being positive or negative towards sex happening in general. Sexual activity is based on whether you choose to engage in that intimacy, on what feels good, on whether you’re trying to have children, on what you’d like to try, to see how it feels. Y’know, while safe, sane and consensual. Sexual violence is just violence, no excuses or titillation. It even questions the necessity and quality of that holiest-of-holies, intra-marital sex. People cannot be pure or fallen, only agents of good and evil. Our choices make us who we are.
Us asexual transgender people sure make a lie out of J.K. Rowling’s idea that we’re predators chasing after them innocent white ladies. I only wish for queer-platonic cuddles with consenting ladies. And other persons. Of all skin tones.
Finite incantatem. The illusion is broken.
Ariana was never the virginal victim of Albus’ sin, but a young woman whose life was cut short before she could become sexually active. Albus’ implied celibacy, after his one crush on Gellert, is only the mark of a deeply closeted conservative gay man who had a deeply traumatic experience, but who ought not get to dictate how we live our lives.
Honestly… I’m glad Dumbledore’s homosexuality is never portrayed in the Fantastic Beasts movies. Considering our luck, his making moon-eyes at Grindelwald would immediately be followed up by Ariana’s dying, with a clear causal relation. Representation as good as Castiel’s instant trip to Superhell after coming out, with none of the meme potential.
I come across a mental barrier in my exploration of gender. Namely, that when I ask myself “how about exploring masculinity?” my brain comes back with “what masculinity?” and throws up a handful of examples of toxic instances of masculinity I do not even wish to touch. Yet, this is the road I see before me, to pick up elements of masculinity to see if they suit.
Riley J. Dennis mentions in her “Everyday Feminism” series* that the word ‘gender’ comes from the same root as ‘genre’. This was a productive thought for me, one that I brought me a little further in this dilemma. Genres, after all, have some characteristics that would be well-suited to helping me understand genders as non-binary:
- They are distinct, but not mutually exclusive
- They are based on, but not limited to, a set of tropes
- They are suited to telling, and classifying, particular stories or experiences
- New ones may be introduced
- Existing ones often evolve
- These categories are constructed for the market, the classroom and to talk about sets of stories
- They can be subverted or critiqued
- They have gatekeepers
If masculinity, or rather masculinities, is a genre with a set of subgenres, then one may be found that I am comfortable exploring and it would add to, rather than contradict, the rest of my sense of gender. However, I think about gender as genre and complications immediately come to mind:
- Stories often present a rigid binary
- Essentialism prevails
- Classifications are prescriptive, not descriptive of lived experiences
- Modern masculinities seem not to exist, in stories
- Existing masculinities do not seem allowed to evolve
- Gender is presented as ‘natural’ and conflated with biological sex
- Any subversion or critique is met with hostility and violence
- Online, the alt-right is setting itself up as the one true gatekeeper
Note that the above describe my personal experience through the lens of this particular conceit, not fact. But I do believe it is sufficient to illustrate a trend. One that I find singularly counterproductive, dammit.
The irony is that I have started to see surprisingly parallels between what’s prescribed for ‘woman’ and ‘man’, among self-proclaimed defenders of binary gender roles, especially that of ‘man’. It’s perhaps most easily illustrated by their attitude towards sexuality. The campaign for control over women’s bodies is matched by a campaign for control over men’s bodies by other men. Centred on forbidding masturbation and forcing sexual conquest, rather than forcing reproduction and forbidding sexual activity. Hatred of the other, whether that’s women, queer persons, persons of other countries or religions, is matched by self-hatred.
Can you see the inversion of the great commandment (love others as you love yourself), or the golden rule, if you will?
This leaves me hesitant to even enter that politicised poisoned mental minefield.
Feminist thought isn’t much help, since it seems more concerned with circumscribing traditional masculinity than proposing a new masculinity.
Neither does circumspectly asking men what being a good man is like, since the answer often boils down to “I grew up and became less of an impulsive idiot.” A surprising problem with straight, white men (which all of the ones I can ask are) being the default is that they regard their lived experience as just that of people, not men. Which means it doesn’t tell me much about where their stories may be distinct.
So here I am, the trailing end of the spectrum of my gender in hand, unexplored territory ahead of me, with no good map for guidance. I cannot leave these thoughts alone because I have first-hand stake in this now, even if it’s only with a part of myself, even if it’s new, even if it’s small and secret and private.
So I keep asking, what masculinity?
*I do not remember the particular video, but it’s an educational series: https://everydayfeminism.com/author/rileyd/
You sit on your bed, stalling
Here, here is the line
You have swung, before
Across the full spectrum of womanhood
Found it wide and wild and good but
An end, trailing
Of the spectrum that is you
Do I cross to follow?
Butler and you were wrong
You were bound up in performance
Clothes according to the feeling of the day
Manners and fantasies and thoughts
Did you disregard the start
From inside, calling
Do I cross to follow?
I am woman, have been
Forever settled, yet unsettlingly
The moon she is not full
She is gibbous
After first quarter, growing
Do I cross to follow?
You sit on your bed, stalling
It’s so small in your hands
Will it even fit over your head
Wrestling hook by hook by hook
A minute later, familiar
A sports bra without foam triangles
Instead, one panel across the front
You sit on your bed, breathing
Let your belly blow up, balloon
And hold and let it smooth out
Deep. Your feet on the floor, rooted
Deep. To the bottom of your lungs
Down. The exhale streaming
You stand beside your bed, breathing
Today seemed like a good day
Home sick, the rain unceasing
If you were going to be miserable
You were already miserable today
It’s not a vest, not a corset
Familiar elastic cradles your ribs
I cross my arms
No soft round flesh presses down, oh
So odd, this space above your forearms
You mimic drawing a bow and arrow
Amazonians bubbling to the surface
Mind collecting new connections
For new sense memory, new
Excuses and disguises, the enabler
If you dare go outside at all
I cross the hallway to the bathroom
Far enough today, the sight
Amusing all of the sudden, pecs
When you have never worked out
The gym the slim woman’s domain
Clothes, chosen with ritual care
As you do for formal occasions
Jeans, a unisex T-shirt you hate
Normally, no good on a woman
This is as far as I cross
You do not look at your face today
But your shoulders are fascinating
Broader, bracketing a flat surface
Below the fat distribution’s a bit…
That’s work for another day
No constriction. Deep breath
I back down
In the bedroom you undress
Pyjamas and blankets pressing down
You burrow. It was fine. Surprisingly
Familiar. Surprisingly fine.
TW, cussing and internalised transphobia (yes, really, seriously so).
I haven’t been posting here because I haven’t been in a great place. Then I found my way back to my blog, looked around for some way, any way to start this post and decided to go see what this month’s Carnival of Aces was about… ‘reaching out, reaching in’ is the theme. What can we do to reach you? What do you do to reach out?
I’m in that unproductive frame of mind where that type of question only serves to make me feel harassed and guilty. I have done nothing, nothing, nothing all ace week. I also don’t feel I’m in a place where I need reaching. The ace community is easy enough to reach when I want it. I was just all clammed up and angsting my little heart out.
The irony is that it all started from something good. I got away from the church community that had started to feel oppressive, just because of the soft, insistent peer pressure that comes with unquestioned heteronormativity. I took some space, some rest.
I finally had the time to notice I’d gotten rather messed up.
Turns out, it wasn’t just the heteronormativity, it was the cisnormativity, too. See, I’m turning out to be one of those nice little white middle-class feminists who was so proud to try and be trans-inclusive, but the moment the question ‘am I really cis…?’ seriously crossed my mind?
I hate myself a lot more right now than when I was in the middle of ‘gosh I’m pan and probably that means queer, too.’ Fuck have I built up a lot of hate inside myself. I am somewhat twistedly happy that both times the subconscious prejudice exploded in my face when it was about myself, not about other people. I’ve probably made enough of the-ignorant-person-says-insensitive-shit mistakes without doing anything on purpose.
It was so easy to accept I was demisexual, by comparison. An orientation that was unknown, no stigma attached. I felt conflicted about adding the pan- to the -romantic, both relieved to fully accept gender plays no role when it comes to attraction for me, but so scared of the many what-ifs that came with it.
Now, oh fuck, fuck, fuck do I get why people are so scared to go through the questioning and acceptance. I get why people make a one-eighty straight back into denial. I sure want to put this shit in reverse and stomp on the gas paddle.
I. Hate. Myself. SO. MUCH.
It wasn’t long after I discovered asexuality that I felt I could be more feminine some days, less so on others. These last few years that gender shit had gotten rather tied up in the traditional gender roles being preached in church. So while I’d been able to explore how far along one end of the gender spectrum I wanted to go (dress, yes, make-up, nah), the other end had gotten rather neglected. I just tossed on jeans and a shirt on the days I felt less of a woman.
Overall, I just thought asexuality meant I’d gotten more comfortable, more happy with my body. Not so much, or maybe not just that. I’d gotten more comfortable with expressing my gender.
So I figured, I’d go wander down the other end of the spectrum to see how far I was interested in going. I’d been so happy being able to be more feminine on the days I felt like it, after all. Finding the other end of the line should have been therapeutic.
Yeah, that was a rabbit hole I fell down.
One that was dark and where I’d stuffed all the shit I’d never wish on another person.
I don’t know what label I’d have, if I even want one. I don’t even know about pronouns or how to express what I’ve found, when it comes to myself. Will I ever want to express it? I don’t know.
I only know that I found, which, well. Where “woman” ends, in my head, I continue. I don’t know what the hell to call that part of myself. Person? Man? Neither of those quite feel right. Masculine comes the closest, perhaps.
The problem with exploring it is I flip out every time I touch those thoughts for too long. And I have no one to talk to so I can distance myself enough by putting nebulous thoughts into more concrete words. So here we go, anonymous, on the internet, as is the traditional way with figuring out forbidden shit for my generation.
Transgression, there, that’s what this feels like. I transgress because the whole of me doesn’t fit in the one gender.
Wow, God, that’s already much better than hate.
And now I can poke that thought until I figure what shit I’ve internalised to make me feel like I’m going to go to hell.
When I entered the asexual community back in 2015, a specific polyamorous scenario was touted as THE way some of us asexuals could be in relationships. Namely, that we ought to let our partner have sex with someone else while they remained otherwise true to us. At the time, this just squicked me, even though some beautiful webcomics existed exploring this scenario. Now, I can see the harmful assumptions packed into it that turned me off:
1) If you aren’t asexual, you need to have sex. Never mind that many heterosexual and queer partners don’t have sex with each other for extended periods of time.
2) Sexual attraction is mandatory for having sex. I think we’ve since come to realise there are many more motivations and rewards in this act.
3) Asexuals are always interested in relationships. Some are, some aren’t.
4) As asexual, you aren’t allowed to negotiate boundaries for sexual exclusivity or be monogamous. I believe partners must be equals in a relationship.
5) Polyamory is asexuals indulging their partners’ needs for sex, rather than people loving and having relationships with mutiple partners. Something asexuals must undergo, rather than something we potentially are.
I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I see jangling around in this scenario.
I don’t see that scenario floating around anymore now and I’m glad of it. I wanted to take one look back at it, before considering what actual, healthy relationships for asexuals might look like in the future. It stuck with me through the years as an example of how we might hobble ourselves right out of the gate.
This is my own entry for the Carnival of Aces.
After I discovered I was demisexual, I gradually stopped worrying that I somehow presented myself as sexual. Being “feminine” and being “sexy” diverged in my mind for the first time. Femininity became accessible for experimentation.
As cisgender woman I hadn’t expected to ever pay much attention to my gender, aside from chafing at gender roles and benefiting from equal rights. “Female” (een vrouw) was simply what I was, “girly” (meisjesachtig) I avoided like plague and “feminine” (vrouwelijk or feminine) was for Other Women who were, y’know, accomplished and sexy and in relationships.
Becoming demisexual opened up a whole new world. While my homebase was still “female geek” in jeans and T-shirts, earrings but no make-up… I could make day-trips to more feminine ways of presenting myself and explore the full length and breadth of my gender. My comfort zone widened. My wardrobe became more varied and more colourful.
That private pleasure was complicated by my internalised homophobia exploding in my face when I adopted the labels “queer” and “panromantic”. I only dressed feminine on days I was confident, until the two became intertwined. The very act of putting on a dress now boosted my confidence.
I also got a lot of compliments for dressing ‘like a woman’. I got into conversations about beauty routines for the first time as a participant, rather than the fashion heathen I was always presumed to be. The outside world took my feminine clothes as my adhering to tradition when for me it was deeply related to my asexuality. It became a symbol for another aspect of my queer experience, passing.
The final integration of queerness and femininity came when I looked up vintage hairstyles. I favoured a more old-fashioned look because it meant I didn’t have to desexualise an outfit with a short skirt or deep decolletage. I found Jessica Kellgren-Frozard, happily married lesbian youtuber who talked about being high-femme with fellow queer youtuber Rowan Ellis.
It gave me words that were explicitly coded queer for the way I wished to look on any given day. “Female geek” also became “mildly butch” and “feminine” was replaced by “femme”. Old-fashioned surfing brought up two more words that tickled the imagination. “Lipstick” for “femme” and “chapstick” for “butch” which… yeah. I don’t always put them on but I’ve got chapstick stowed in all accessible places and lipstick only in my small make-up pouch I bring out for weddings and Christmas dinner.
Comfort with attraction to multiple genders complicated the experience again. Whenever I imagined myself opposite someone masculine, I was more femme. Whenever I imagined myself opposite someone feminine, I was more butch. Moving in queer spaces more regularly has helped untangle that. Deliberately painting myself as femme in a fantasy with someone also feminine felt as the queerest, best fantasy I could have. Having thought such thoughts helped normalise the last crush I had, when I fell into it.
However, moving into queer spaces also made me aware of a level of privilege I hadn’t really registered. Being femme was an optional expression of a gender in which I felt secure. The closest analogy I had to even start assimilating this privilege was ableism. Whereas for me a cleanly developed website improves readability, for another person it might mean the difference in assistive software being able to access the website at all. Necessity and comfort are not at all the same thing. I realised there was a whole dimension to this I wouldn’t ever access.
…I don’t really know where to end this account of a journey still in progress. Perhaps in that I’ve ended the stage where it was more about myself, and that I’ve made a tentative beginning in actually gaining an awareness of a wider community to whom it is relevant.
This post is part two of my belated contribution to Carnival of Aces hosted by luvtheheaven. After diving into how I view love, I wanted to share how the 5 love languages may be relevant to queer people specifically. These come out of personal experience, from being demisexual, panromantic and queer as well as a protestant Christian. I wanted to balance communal love, ‘agapè’ (charity) and ‘storge’ (familial/belonging), with more individual love, ‘philia’ (friendship/love-of-choice) and ‘eros’ (sexual/romantic love).
The 5 Love Languages
I’ve known of the 5 love languages for over a decade. In short, I believe the 5 love languages literature cover expressions suitable for all forms of affection, but focus on storge (familial love) and eros (sexual/romantic love). I believe it’s a useful tool for a queer person looking for pointers on ways to express themselves towards your partner. Something that can be especially hard to an a-spec person. However, Chapman’s conception of love only overlaps in part with love as found in the queer and a-spec communities, it’s sometimes very amato-, cis- and heteronormative. Still, I believe that within each language there are some expressions of love unique or important to queer people and I wanted to explore ones I’ve seen.
Words of Affirmation
Communal: respecting pronouns and general expressions of acceptance of LGBTQ+ people can make a family or a church a safe haven. I’ve come to understand that most environments are unsafe or hostile if you’re queer… until they show they’re not. While that does not eliminate the work a person puts in to come out or to pass, a community can make the lead-up, the choice, the effort less of a risk. This also helps clear the way to open up within a community.
I’ve experienced the reverse… regular, general dismissal of queer people in my current church has made me feel unsafe and hesitant about any connection with other Christians. I believe similar experiences of casual queerphobia to be an common reason people leave church when they discover and accept they’re queer.
Individual: I read an interesting article, which I’ve failed to recover, that discussed the importance of choosing the right terms of affection and labels for one’s partner when one is queer. I think such affirmation is even more important in asexual and aromantic relationships than others because outsiders tend to discredited or erase them. The language used also serves as a defense, whether you choose camouflage or flaming colour as your relationship’s survival strategy.
Recognition and validation between people can be both balm and empowerment. Words of affection used with deliberation can have a lot of power, when you’re queer.
Communal: I am learning how very important respecting others’ bodies is, in the social queer space I’ve started attending. Some conversations made me aware how much effort non-binary people put in curating a ‘white list’ of people, in a social environment.
I can be helpful by making sure I ask for consent any time I approach or touch someone, even just on the shoulder . But also by taking initiative in approaching or touching, to not be another cisgender person who implicitly rejects people by avoiding them.
Individual: Adjusting my behaviour has made me aware of how much both affectionate touch and respecting people’s boundaries can be appreciated. Some friends complimented me for becoming a bit more sensitive. I’ve also personally benefited. Since touch is my “native” love language, it’s made it easier to express it, easier to know when I should and should not. Easier, also, to say no to others when they cross my boundaries and I am uncomfortable. It’s been a boon in my desire to show friends and family affection.
Communal: I have found quality time to be a powerful weapon when it comes to showing acceptance and rejection. Being asexual around my family has meant an increased acceptance over time, even when it was scary in the beginning. Also, I’ve come to see people suddenly not wishing to spend time as the surest sign something’s up.
In media and society, I’ve also found that seeing how much time and space there is for queer people is the best measure to gage acceptance. For example, some churches say queer people may attend but that they cannot be themselves while in church and won’t have a space in heaven. Disney claims to be an ally but only shows half a second of men dancing with each other in Beauty and the Beast. Marvel didn’t think Valkyrie’s bisexuality deserved screentime. On the flipside, Doctor Who makes Bill, a queer character, a companion for a whole season, has bit parts as well as recurring supporting roles for gay and lesbian people, single as well as married.
Individual: I’ve learned to make time to love my demisexual self. At the start of 2019, I resolved to have at least one ‘queer’ day every month, in which I read an LGBTQ+ book or go to a queer space or engage in an activity that speaks to my demisexual or panromantic identity. Each one feels like a spa day and leaves me refreshed for another month’s worth of heteronormativity. When I come up against queerphobia, my self-care is planning an extra date with myself.
Acts of Service and Tokens of Affection
Communal: if it’s hard to speak, acts of service and tokens can be very powerful as an ally. One of my favourite aspects of pride, when I went in 2015, was that parents brought their children to show them look, look it’s okay. Fantasising a little, I can imagine what that’d mean to a child that’s queer, that parents drove across the country to show them a day where many other people like them are gathered.
My favourite scene in Bohemian Rhapsody was Mary dressing Freddie Mercury, showing him by assisting in his makeover that she accepted him for who he was.
Individual: these love language to me are closely linked to my panromantic identity. I am finding that I wish to perform acts of service and give tokens to my partner whatever their gender. And so, in my head I perform acts linked to whatever role complements my current crush. This, in turn, has made me aware how gendered acts of service and tokens are, especially when they’re considered romantic, and that I don’t want to be limited to my gender role. So, as practice, as defiance, I’ve started to perform romantically-coded acts of service and give tokens whether they fit my gender or not, towards the people I love.
Further reading (i.e. google “5 love languages for queer people”)
- 5 Love Languages on HuffPost (gender-neutral!)
- 5 Love Languages for Gay Men
- 5 Love Languages Expanded on The Span of My Hips (very constructively critical, and good suggestions for additional ways to show affection)
- Queer Eye’s Fab Five Low-key Represent the Five Love Languages
- Holigay Gift Guide on Autostraddle (gift ideas for each ‘language’)
- Love, Languages and Logic on A Queer Calling (uses it as a jumping-off point to discuss deeper realities of a relationship)
TW: discussion of rationalisations behind queerphobia.
This post is a late submission to April’s Carnival of Aces hosted by luvtheheaven. Its theme is the 5 Love Languages, a concept authored by a Big Name Evangelical that’s crossed over into mainstream pop psychology. As a queer Christian I have much to say on it. Before diving into how I express love, I wanted to introduce how faith has influenced my idea of love, how this translates to a queer perspective. And in the next post, how I my being queer has influenced my view of what may be expressed through the 5 love languages.
Agapè and Eros and Storge and Philia
What love is meant to be expressed in the 5 love languages? The American-evangelical discourse on Christian life and love influences christian communities worldwide. Its conception of love is based on the Gospels, Acts and the Apostle Paul’s letters, which are themselves heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. The most common form of love often called platonic love in English, for God, for friends, for family but even when you have deep rapport with a stranger, acquaintance or enemy. According to C.S. Lewis these may be split into ‘storge’, the love you share based on belonging and familiarity and ‘philia’, the love you choose and cultivate such as for friends. The other two forms are ‘eros’, an amalgam of sexual and romantic love, and ‘agapè’ or charity, compassion or care you may cultivate by doing good or thinking well of others, but also the general love you may have for humanity or the planet as an activist or environmentalist. This is also the love God has for humans. The 5 love languages focuses on expressing affection for specific people: storge, philia and eros.
Christian Love Queered
How do these types of love translate to a queer perspective? Most Christians (that I’ve met) would say the core of their religion isn’t any organisation, or a holy text, a law or a doctrine. It’s a relationship. An exclusive relationship between a consenting human follower and an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God. All human-to-human relationships are meant to be reflections of this central relationship.
Some key features are:
Communal and individual: in human-to-God relationships the person-to-God relationship is almost interchangable with the community-to-God relationship. This is alien to and overlooked in Western culture. It means one’s love for and investment in community (friend group, family, team) is equally as important as one’s love for specific people. And that as community you can love a person (co-parenting! safe spaces!).
Consensual: an all-powerful God lets humans decide whether to enter into a relationship with Him, in which salvation is freely offered, not earned by good deeds. As such, relationships and acts of affection between humans should also be offered and accepted freely. It should also mean no one is barred from following God, regardless of their life. Logically meaning that whether being queer is a sin or not isn’t just a distasteful question, but an irrelevant one.
Equal: each human is loved by God. Each Christian’s first allegiance is to God, not spouse, family or leader. These two combined mean all humans should be treated as valuable and all humans have an authority higher than any human to which they may appeal. So, for example, a woman is not her husband’s property, but both are followers of God, should they invite his blessing over their relationship. Meaning Christians can often be found in equal rights movements, even when they have a reputation for being conservative in the Western world.
Amatonormative: since the highest form of love is human-to-God, all love between humans is potentially a good reflection of that. This does not hold true in communities that hold up marriage – and thus eros – as closest to the love between God and humans. This is why conservative media will style itself family- or marriage-focused, to express their (hetero-)amatonormativity. Such individualistic churches often skip agape, obsess over eros (in dos and don’ts) and rank philia and storge as less important.
Monogamous: the demand that one worship God and only God translates to a strong preference for monogamy within Christian communities. How strictly this is enforced within and without the community depends on whether loving people as they are is considered more important than how people love one another. This is reflected in the emphasis on exclusive long-term relationships between same-sex partners whenever acceptance of queer people in religious communities comes up.
Cis/heteronormative: whether queer people are accepted depends on whether they are thought to be loved and accepted by God. If one considers God’s love to be unconditional and people’s deeds less important, then the Christian (community) is likely to be very inclusive. If God is considered harsh; if certain behaviour or identities are considered to constitute a rejection of God, then the Christian (community) will reject those people.
Personally, the love I consider good based on my faith is equal, consensual and with a more communal focus than commonly found in the Western world.
I would be monogamous towards my partner, but mostly because that fits how I love, I’d hesitate to say others should be as well. I have found my love towards friends and family, philia and storge, to be truer reflections of God’s love for humans than what I felt when I dated, a chaste incarnation of eros.
I hate the near-obsession with marriage and ‘family focus’ I find in my current church. I consider churches that exclude queer people wrong because I very much believe God’s love to be unconditional.
Once again, please consider this a personal account. I do not pretend to speak for over a billion Christians, and I cannot cover the variety of encounters queer people have had with Christian communities. If you wish to share your experiences, I’d love to hear about it. I hope I’ve given you some insight into how my world view may differ from yours. Coming up, the 5 love languages!
Featured image from unsplash.
This post is a submission for March’s Carnival of Aces by Controlled Abandon.
The day after I went to the Canal Parade in Amsterdam in August of 2015 (a colourful procession of boats that pass a neighbourhood, with many parties and concerts during and afterwards, it’s great), I went to a jeweler’s. The elation from being in a crowd where anyone could be any gender, any orientation (and I was free to be myself, newly demisexual, newly not-heterosexual) hadn’t worn off yet. After browsing I splurged on a stainless steel ring with a black design and put it on my right middle finger. “There, I’m out,” I told myself out loud, in an empty cobblestone street between bent-over centuries-old brick facades. I went back to my room skipping (yes, a few steps literally, Pride, both the event and the coming-out phase, are heady).
I’ve worn a black ring ever since. I buy a new one every year to add to the collection. Some are partially black for when I’m feeling more demisexual than asexual. Some are delicate to go with more femme outfits. As a symbol, it’s been the main carrier for being demi, ace, panro, queer and living accordingly. Since I’ve worn it for nearly four years, that symbolism has become layered. Here’s a few of the layers…
… I go to a meet-up of asexuals. I walk around the cafe lost, nervous, ready to sit down at a table alone, when someone’s eyes fall on my ring. They ask if I am there to meet them. Gratefully I sink into a chair and stammer that yes, yes I am. My heart drums against my rib cage while I sit there, mostly listening, grateful my ring has spoken for me.
… I am on the point of coming out to a good friend. I can’t find the words until my eyes fall on my hands. On the visual prompt I wear. “So, I have this black ring on my right middle finger, because…” I feel deeply at ease around her until the next time we discuss dating. I realise she’s just… forgotten. In her memory I confessed to being a perpetual single, not asexual. It marks the point where I redefine erasure not just as invisibility in the media, but a real-world SEP-field or Sunnydale Effect.* People will forget I came out to them unless we regularly discuss the subject. That first time, I wonder if I’m in a waking nightmare and I clench my fists. The ring – the big, bold original – pinches my pointer and ring fingers. It becomes a symbol that yes, I’m awake. Evidence that yes, I did come out, even if I’m the only one who remembers.
… When I move, I start attending a more conservative church. I have to start dealing with the community’s lack of acceptance of queer people; the revelation I lived in a safe little bubble until then. It unleashes all my internalised homophobia – more than I could have predicted given the environment I grew up in. I have to read the Bible again, especially the clobber passages.** Go in search of queer Christian stories, buried underneath the dominant narrative of queers vs. Christians. I read up on celibacy and abstinence and realise exactly how much asexuality upstages traditional ideas of sexuality that are preached. Even when I’m conflicted I continue to wear the ring to church on Sunday. This is who I am. It’s on my hand when I raise it to worship God.
… It becomes a symbol of passing. Nobody recognises it for the declaration it is, even when their eyes fall on it. When they hold my hand in theirs and they stare at it, comment falling from their lips. It also becomes a symbol of defiance. I am queer in church. I am ace at work. I wear it because it’s an irrevocable part of me.
… I notice others wearing black on their right hands. I realise it’s the latest fashion in wedding rings. So, if you squint, it’s like I wear a masculine wedding ring and well… it’s related. It’s a sign of commitment, of being true, to the way I love rather than who I love. Should I ever wear a wedding ring, it will clink against my black ring like two champagne glasses meeting in a toast.
I don’t know how prominent black rings are as symbols of asexuality in the community these days. Less so than in 2015, perhaps. I see myself wearing it the rest of my life. It’s the symbol I picked for being out. It’s the symbol for staying true to myself in the face of all my anxieties of the past few years. It’s the symbol of my nature***, which’s had a massive impact on how I wish to love others, partner, friends, family and beyond.
*) SEP-field (somebody-else’s-problem field) is from Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sunnydale Effect refers to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where inhabitants supposedly disregarded the supernatural in their town because there was a sort of spontaneous, selective magical amnesia. It’s a common trope in magical realism, used to explain why the secret magical stuff is secret.
**) The six places the English and Dutch translations of the Bible supposedly mentions homosexuality, used to condemn every shade of queer. Interestingly, it sounds harsher in English than Dutch, which I think may be due to translation choices. Please note that studying the original text in its original context almost immediately undermines the condemnation, not least because our current understanding of the framework of sexual and other orientations developed in the 19th century. Yes, this is me being a calvinist and saying every Christian ought to study the bible for themselves and not letting clergy (or groupthink) do their thinking for them. I’ve had a very, very thorough lesson in how much nonsense we absorb over a lifetime.
***) Fun fact, orientation translates into ‘geaardheid’ in Dutch, which you can back-translate into nature.