Content Warning: Weird stuff. You've been warned.

Category Archives: Sex and Sexuality

http://www.upworthy.com/video-how-did-these-parents-raise-with-their-son-they-loved-him-thats-all-3?c=ufb1

I watched this on my lunch break at work. Sitting there at my desk, with my headphones on,  it was all I could do to keep a neutral face and not break down into tears.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about acceptance. This. This talk so perfectly deconstructs a concept I’ve been struggling with since I first came out to my parents. After all, my parents love me. They’ve been very clear on this point. But knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better about their views on homosexuality. It doesn’t make me feel like they accept me as I am, that they love the whole of me.

A lot of the time people who have those conditions are very angry, because they feel that they parents don’t love them, when what has actually happened is that their parents don’t accept them… Acceptance is something that takes time. It always takes time.

Sure, my parents love me. But that love seems like lip service to the idea of love, rather than a love of me for the person I am and the identity I express. They love me because I am their child; because it is impossible for them not to love me. But that is a love by default; that’s love at its factory settings.

My parents, I think, didn’t really know how to nurture a child’s identity. It’s possible they didn’t realize I’d have one. I get the impression my parents decided who I would be before I was even born: she’ll be a good Catholic girl, she’ll marry a nice boy, they’ll give us grandchildren, we’ll all live happily ever after. I don’t think they ever considered questions like “What if she wants to be an astronaut?” or “What if she’s just not the marrying kind?”

What if she’s a lesbian?

What if she’s an atheist?

What if she wants to be a movie star?

What if she never wants kids?

What if the person she is doesn’t match up with the picture we’ve painted in our head?

At its heart, that’s what Andrew Solomon’s beautiful talk is about. It’s about all the unexpected things that happen as parents raise their children that shape identities and destinies. It’s about how parents handle those pivotal moments; what traits do they nurture and encourage? Which traits do they try to cure?

My parents tried to cure me of my individualism and self-reliance. Growing up, the most important thing I could do to gain their approval was to Follow The Rules. This was throughout childhood, middle school, and past high school. I had to set an example for my younger sisters. I had to be a good girl, a good daughter. I was not trusted to make my own decisions. I was not trusted to choose my own path. It is difficult to put into words, this enormous pressure to fit in to my own family. This massive weight of expectation to follow the path laid before me. My parents are not the sort of parents who spotted an inherent talent in their child at an early age and did what they could to encourage it; my parents were the ones who placed their desires for my life above my own. Because they just loved me so much, you see; they knew best and they didn’t want me to get hurt.

It makes sense. Parents want to protect their children. But I think at times parents forget that in protecting their children too much, in restricting and limiting their children ‘for their own good,’ they are sending their children a message: You can’t be trusted to do this yourself. We don’t trust you. You shouldn’t trust you.

That’s part of the reason it took me so long to embrace my sexual identity. I’d identified as bisexual since I was 18. To put that into perspective, I became sexually active at 17 – and it wasn’t until then that I thought of myself as a sexual being. So almost immediately after discovering that sexuality existed – and that it existed within me – I already knew I was attracted to women. I’ve known all along.

It took me ten years to admit to it.

That’s ten years of fear and uncertainty. Ten years of trying to squeeze myself into a mold that didn’t fit. Ten years of convincing myself it wasn’t true. Ten years of not trusting my instincts, not listening to myself, not believing in my heart and its desires. Of trying to please my parents… which, to be honest, is what I’ve been after the whole time. I just want them to be proud of me. But in doing the things that made them most proud of me, I am most ashamed of myself. I’ve let myself be hurt and abused in terrible ways, by ignorant and unworthy men, because I thought that was the price you paid to gain love. I thought of love as sacrifice – the more it hurt, the more true and real it was. I’ve made mistakes, and now I’ve broken my best friend’s heart, because I was trying so hard to be what someone else wanted me to be. They didn’t trust me to decide who I was. So neither did I. I’d learned not to.

People engage with the life they have. They don’t want to be cured, or changed, or eliminated. They want to be who it is they’ve come to be.

That’s all I want. To be who it is I’ve come to be. Isn’t that all any of us want?

Solomon talks about three forms of acceptance that need to be in place for an individual to flourish: self acceptance, family acceptance, and social acceptance. I have come to accept myself – indeed, it was the most liberating moment of my life. Society is slowly coming to accept me and people like me – the president has stepped forward in support of gay rights, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been overturned, and slowly the hearts and minds of the nation are shifting toward a wider acceptance of people like me.

And maybe, someday, my family will accept me too. It always takes time.

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Alrighty. We’ve had a day to digest the news about DOMA. By now, it seems, the breathless celebrating is mostly over – although I am willing to guess the Pride parade this weekend is going to be super extra glittery and rainbowy and celebratory.

As it happens, it was my husband who first told me. He’d spent the night rather than driving home tired (at my insistence), and had left to go to work earlier that morning. I was doing my best to sleep in when I got a text from him:

Wooo! Supreme court ruled against DOMA! Ruled same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional!

I think I just stared blankly at the screen for a minute. Then I started to cry. Which is a little weird, to be honest.

After all, I am already married. And, yes, planning to get divorced somewhere down the road. At this point I have my doubts about getting married again in the future. I’ve learned a lot about what a marriage is, how it works, what really makes it function. I’ve learned how far love can take you in a marriage… and I’ve learned the places love alone can’t carry you. If love was all it took to make a marriage work, I wouldn’t be separated from my husband. So I wasn’t crying because I could finally get married.

I’m sure there are many couples out there who have been waiting for this decision. Who have wanted legal recognition and protection of the relationship they already share. As a fledgling baby lez, a neurotic proto-queer, I don’t have that. There was not some woman for me to turn to and say, “Finally. Marry me.” If there is a wife in the cards for me, she is little more than a concept right now, a nebulous and far-off future. So I wasn’t crying because the love I felt for someone else was finally recognized by the government.

I have lived my entire life with a sense of otherness. Always on the edge, the fringe, different without really knowing why. Never really fitting neatly into any given category. Not terribly easy to define, or even to sum up. Set aside, set apart, something different, a mismatched piece of the puzzle.

But yesterday… yesterday I stepped into the bigger picture. Yesterday I was included. Along with millions of other Americans, I was recognized as fully equal and deserving of the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. It’s not really about getting married, not for me. It’s about the fact that the government has recognized that they have no right to dictate who I should want to marry. It’s about the fact that this decision is a step towards ending discrimination, a step toward erasing the attitude that anything other than straight is wrong and shameful and must be kept hidden. It’s a step toward recognizing and celebrating love in its many and myriad forms. It’s a step toward understanding, a step toward acceptance.

I cried because, yesterday, I was recognized by the United States government as a human being.


So I’m not sure how far this has spread, but apparently yesterday this little gem of a book got funded on Kickstarter. It’s called Above The Game: A Guide To Getting Awesome With Women. (You can find it on Seddit, the Seduction section of Reddit. Or with the simplest of Googlefu. The thought of linking to it here makes me feel icky.)

It’s exactly as problematic as it sounds. There’s already been several voices raised around the blogosphere, pointing out that the chapter “Physical Escalation & Sex” endorses assault and rape. So much so, in fact, that the author has already posted a response, which I feel a little better about linking to.

While others have covered the problems with the original project in great detail, and better than I probably could here, there’s something disturbing to me about the author’s “apology.” He says:

People took advice from a section on “Physical Escalation & Sex” and posted them online. Devoid of context, they appeared to be promoting sexually assaulting women when that wasn’t the case at all.

The gist of the controversial advice is “Don’t wait for signs before you make your move. Let her be the one who rejects your advances. If she says no, stop immediately and tell her you don’t want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable. Try again at a later time if appropriate or cease entirely if she is absolutely not interested.”

The thing that the commenters on social media are leaving out is that the advice was taken from a section in the guide offering advice on what to do AFTER a man has met a cute girl, gotten her phone number, gone on dates, spent time getting to know her, and now are alone behind closed doors fooling around. If “Don’t wait for signs, make the first move” promotes sexual assault, then “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid was a song about rape.

Um, well. I guess I never liked Prince Eric anyway. (Wait – was Ariel really not giving him any indication that she wanted to be kissed? Oh jeez, is kissing sex, you guys? I’m going to have to re-watch me some Disney movies.)

Look, here’s the thing: there’s one glaringly obvious piece of advice missing from this chapter that would, honestly, make the rest of this advice tolerable….

ASK HER WHAT SHE WANTS. WITH WORDS. OR MAYBE PICTURES IF YOU’RE MUTE.

Holy shit, you guys, I should write a book and shill it on Kickstarter. Problem is, it’d be really fucking short. You just read the whole thing.

It’s not rocket surgery, is it? But this guy – and the 732 people who were willing to pay him for his advice – seem to forget that women are individual people, with individual likes and dislikes, who can and will tell you what those likes and dislikes are if they’re given the opportunity. I’m not sure what mysterious signals these folks have been waiting on – like, are you waiting for the Bat signal, only with a vagina or something instead? – but in my experience, it’s not super hard to tell if a person wants to do things with you. There’s no need for forcefully coming on strong until she has to stop you. You’ve spent time getting to know her, right? So spend some time getting to know what she likes and dislikes in the bedroom. Spend some time getting to know what turns her on. Spend some time getting to know whether or not she’d like to jump your bones. My turn-ons include talking about what my turn-ons are.

This whole argument also neatly and completely erases the possibility of rape, abuse, and assault within a relationship. It assumes that once a woman is in a relationship with a man, she will of course submit to his every sexual desire, every time. So really what Mr. Hoisky is saying here is that once you’re dating a girl, it’s totally okay to be physically aggressive with her until she either gives in or is forced to say no. (Note: That’s exactly what the two worst boyfriends I ever had did. Both of them sexually assaulted me.) There’s absolutely no mention of communication or negotiation. There’s no mention at all of giving the woman in this relationship agency and a voice. In fact, it specifically instructs men not to:

Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.

Right. Ick. This isn’t a matter of taking things out of context; even in the context of an established relationship, this shit is Officially Not Okay unless you’ve already confirmed with the particular girl whose hand you’re placing on your dick has TOLD YOU it’s ok. Within the context of a pre-negotiated scene, sure, this would be perfectly okay. Probably pretty hot for everyone involved. If she’s already told you that she likes it when guys do that, then game on. Get freaky. If she thinks this is just a make-out session and suddenly you force her to touch your junk, you’ve officially just become a creep. Communication makes all the difference.

Oh, shit, I apologize. He does actually advocate communication. Here it is:

Ask her what her favorite positions are.

That’s, uh, that’s it. That’s all of it. That’s in the second-to-last paragraph of the second-to-last section of the chapter on sex… which is chapter 7.

Your problem, Mr. Hoisky, is not that you’re being taken out of context. Your problem is that you’re giving advice on how to manipulate and assault women. And we are calling you on your bullshit.

Quick update: As of this morning, Kickstarter has issued an apology and updated their guidelines to prevent seduction guides like this from being funded on their site. They will also be donating $25,000 to RAINN, a non-profit dedicated to preventing rape and abuse. 


Hullo.

I am Sullivan. Penny’s husband, for the time being. I asked her if I could write a guest post because well… it felt right.

I have loved Penny for a very long time, in the beginning it was a story book romance. I won’t say it was love at first sight, but from the moment I first saw her I knew she was going to be someone very important and I was right. She has been the single most influential force in my life.

I have watched her slowly process and heal from deep wounds, I have held her through long nights of terrors and through crippling sexual anxiety. I have done my best to encourage her growth and self discovery, even though I am often slow in these areas myself. We have had a strong relationship for the last six years.

We have definitely had our rough spots and there have been recurring issues. Through it all our love for one another has always won out.

Six months ago she approached me about looking into the local kink scene and exploring her sexuality. I happily encouraged her to do so, I was tentative as well. I was aware that this could highlight problems in our relationship or possibly create new ones. But what she was looking for was not something that I was capable of giving her. I, after all, do not have a vagina or the ‘feminine experience’ for that matter. It was a part of herself that she needed to learn about. Had I denied her then, it would at best only have postponed what we are going through now. It would certainly have lead to harder times in the future.

For my part, as her partner, all I have wanted was to see her happy. That isn’t entirely true, I wanted to make her happy. That however, isn’t always possible. The best I could do in this was to give her the space to figure herself out, for herself.

Was I afraid of what might come? Of course. I was aroused by the fact that she was bisexual. I was happy that she was exploring her sexuality and finding a sex drive again. I was afraid that she might find someone to replace me, or discover she was in fact not interested in men at all.
But what could I do about it? If she did meet someone to replace me then our relationship wasn’t what I thought it was in the first place. If she discovered she was only interested in women sexually then why try and trap her in a straight marriage?

Little did I know… or did I?

I told her months before she came out to me that “I would always love you, even if you realize that you are gay.”

Of course I didn’t ‘know’ but it wasn’t really out of the blue. I mean I hoped that wouldn’t be the case, I didn’t want to ‘lose her’.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, things have been difficult but my feelings for her haven’t changed much. I still love her, I always will. Ironically we talk more about the things we should have talked about earlier in our relationship. We have cried a lot more lately, this shit ain’t easy. Neither is maintaining the living situation we have but we can’t afford to up and leave.

It has been easier to look back at the relationship without the rosy shades. It is easier to see the little things we overlooked or told ourselves didn’t matter, for the sake of one another’s happiness. It is also easier to see the trend in her sexuality now.

Now that we are on this end of the relationship we are learning what it is like to be friends who used to be lovers. She is still one of the most important people in my life and I love her deeply.
She will always be a close friend, a compatriot, a loved one. She will continue to have my support and encouragement. I believe she will find her place, now, here. I believe she will find a truer and deeper happiness now and that makes it all worthwhile.


I was chatting with a friend the other day about the situation my husband and I suddenly find ourselves in and how we’re dealing with it. I mentioned that I’m stressed about finding a place to live on my own, and that I’m even more stressed about moving day and splitting up all our stuff. He said, “Oh, so you’re getting divorced?” and I said, “Well, not right away. In fact, it’s possible we’ll just stay legally married until one of us finds someone we’d like to settle down with.” This surprised him. Why wouldn’t we get divorced and just get it over with?

Well, for one thing, divorce seems to be a costly and difficult thing. It’s something I know almost nothing about – for instance, do we file for divorce in the state where we got married, or where we’re currently living? Do we have to hire a lawyer or is it possible to do without, assuming the split is amicable enough? How does one get started? How much does it cost? Are there laws that require us to, say, separate for a certain amount of time before filing or jump through other legal hoops? These are all big scary questions that I know I’ll have to answer someday… but I don’t want to answer them right now.

There’s also the issue of lost benefits once we split. We enjoy a better tax rate because we’re married. We share car and health insurance. We are currently able to care for each other and act on each other’s behalf if catastrophe strikes. I hope it doesn’t – but it is reassuring to know that, in this new city where I have no family and only a few close friends, there is someone who is willing and legally able to handle my affairs if something terrible should happen. It’s a safety net that, frankly, makes this transition less terrifying. I don’t want to give up that safety net – and I don’t want him to have to give it up, either.

In my case, there’s also the very real possibility that once I give up these benefits I won’t get them back – whether or not I ever meet someone else I’d like to marry. We are making great strides toward equal marriage opportunities, but we are not nearly there yet. Even if I live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage, it’s still unrecognized at the federal level and is likely to stay that way for some time. So as soon as the divorce goes through, I am at the mercy of institutionalized discrimination. I find myself wanting to delay that inevitability as long as possible. Is that a selfish line of thinking? Not really. It would be selfish if my husband wanted a divorce, and I was refusing him one based on those reasons. As long as he’s ok with staying married on paper, so am I; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. 

I still love my husband. I always will. In fact, it’s because I love him that I think it’s best for us to separate. We have discussed the option of staying in an open marriage, where we still treat each other like spouses and keep our legal benefits but are free to date and find certain kinds of fulfillment in other people. But I know he wants children. I know he dreams of having a wife who loves him and wants him, who wants to build a family and a future with him. He deserves that dream. He deserves to be married to a woman who desires him. He deserves the children he’s always wanted. I can’t give him that, and it would be cruel to trap him in a relationship where those things were either impossible or complicated to achieve. Eventually, I will be in the way. I don’t want that for him or for me.

But there’s no reason to send ourselves through that difficult and costly journey just yet. There’s no reason to take this leap alone, without the safety net a marriage implies. For now, we care about each other and have the means to take care of each other. Our marriage is – and always has been – what we make it.


So I’ve decided to try and eliminate “I’m afraid” from my vocabulary. As in, “I’m afraid my date will find me unattractive,” “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me,” “I’m afraid of the dark.”

Instead, I’m replacing it with the phrase, “I’m aware.” As in, “I’m aware of the possibility my date may find me unattractive,” “I’m aware my girlfriend may someday leave me,” “I’m… aware of the dark.”

This serves two purposes. The first, and most relevant, is that it re-phrases certain fears. “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me” is a phrase laden with insecurity and anxiety. It’s ever-present; there is no time frame around her leaving. It could happen at any moment. It connotes a desire to hold on, to prevent the leaving from happening. It connotes a clinginess, a neediness, an ever-tightening grasp.

“I’m aware that my girlfriend may someday leave me” is not only a more accurate phrase, but also a calmer and less insecure one. We’re aware. It could happen. That’s kind of okay. Sure, it would suck if she left – but we were prepared. We knew. She’s free to leave, here. We can let her go. And we’ll survive being left.

Or let’s go with an even more literal version. “I’m aware my girlfriend will leave me.” Here we’ve directly swapped afraid for aware and left everything else the same. While the sentence itself is a bummer – she’s definitely leaving, we already know about it – it’s a much more confident voice that speaks than the one that says, “I’m afraid.” In fact, this sentence almost sounds like the speaker is making a choice. The leaving is a done deal, a foregone conclusion – so no use worrying about it or fearing it.

This highlights another purpose: the groundless fears. “I’m afraid of the dark” vs. “I’m aware of the dark.” The second sounds almost nonsensical – almost everyone is aware of the dark. Or what about “I’m aware that darkness may happen.” Also silly. Using “aware” helps pinpoint fears that are not exactly grounded in reason – fears that needlessly hold us back.

That said, here are some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with lately:

I’m afraid of living on my own and failing to pay the rent.

I’m afraid I’ll end up alone.

I’m afraid of being judged and left out of my community.

I’m afraid no one will believe me.

I’m afraid I don’t deserve to be happy.

I’m afraid I’ve wasted my life.

I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mistake.

I’m afraid of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay.

I’m afraid the divorce will be hard.

I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends and end up lonely.

So, to rephrase:

I’m aware that I may fail to pay rent once I’m living on my own. (I will have to budget carefully, work hard, and remember that I have options if I can’t afford to live on my own.)

I’m aware that I may end up alone. (Part of me is almost comfortable with this notion. The other part of me thinks it’s only a very very remote possibility anyway.)

I’m aware that some people in my community may be judgmental and want to exclude me. (That’s life. They’re assholes anyway.)

I’m aware that many people may not believe me. (This is a lot of big heavy news to swallow. It may take some folks time to process. And if strangers don’t believe me, well… they don’t have to.)

I’m aware that I may not deserve to be happy. (Okay, that’s just patently untrue.)

I’m aware that I may have wasted my life. (Also patently untrue. I’m not done living it yet.)

I’m aware I may have made a huge mistake. (Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first.)

I’m aware of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay. (Well, no. If I knew what they’d think, I wouldn’t be afraid of it now would I? But I can’t control it anyway, and I don’t know what they’ll think, so why spend the energy?)

I’m aware the divorce will be hard. (Truth. But I can prepare.)

I’m aware I’ll lose all my friends and end up lonely. (Wild hyperbole and also untrue.)

So there it is. I have a lot of big changes ahead of me, but they’re not quite as scary anymore.

And, yes, all of the above is true. About a month ago, I finally came out to my husband as a lesbian. The story behind why and how I know I am is one for a different time, and telling it will probably involve the consent of a few involved parties. Suffice it to say this is a period of massive upheaval for both myself and my husband, and I am currently re-evaluating nearly everything about my life as he and I navigate what will eventually be a separation and divorce. I am posting this publicly not to gather support or sympathy, but merely to give anyone who regularly reads this thing a heads-up. I do my best to post every Friday; there will probably be a period coming up here where I can neither vouch for the regularity or quality of these posts. I am aware that I could burn myself out on this, and I like this blog too much to blow it off and just let it die. I’d rather take it slow for a while.

If any of you writerly types would be interested in doing a guest post and giving me a week off, I am certainly open to the thought. Send me an email at pennypennybobenny [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s bounce some ideas around.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll keep you posted.


My sister posted this on the faceyspaces today. Yeah, the one who’s becoming a nun. I was all excited for a second, and then I was just sad.

Sure, dude, you don’t want to teach your children to eat sand. But if you’re a grown adult who likes to eat sand and doesn’t cause anyone harm by doing it… why not eat sand? There shouldn’t be a rule against eating sand just because not everybody wants to eat it and it doesn’t provide nutrition in any way. Do you really want the church to treat you like you’re perpetually a child who doesn’t know any better and can’t care for himself or make his own decisions?
You know what else isn’t nutritious? A lot of the foods we eat. You know what else isn’t healthy? A lot of the “traditional” marriages I’ve seen in the world. Why does the church prioritize the marriage between an abusive alcoholic and the wife who’s too afraid to leave him? In fact, the church stigmatizes the battered woman who divorces her husband in order to survive… but refuses to recognize the long standing, deep, abiding commitment and love between two wives. Or two husbands. Or two anybody-the-church-thinks-is-icky.
 
You don’t want to eat sand? Don’t. You don’t want to have sex? Don’t. But you can’t make laws telling me not to eat sand or have sex just because you don’t want to. That’s not how this works. I get to make my own choices, and my choice to eat sand is just as valid as your choice not to.
Apologies for the short post this week. Life happened. More on that later. :p

Okay. I know I’ve been over and over this, but I still feel like I haven’t said it right yet. So I’m going to give it one more try.

It was while reading The Fatal Feminist the other day that I think I truly understood what was at the heart of the letter I wrote to my parents. I have gotten several comments on that post claiming that I was being just as intolerant as my parents by asking them to reconsider their religious beliefs. I’ve been called immature and selfish. I’ve read dozens of comments playing the Devil’s Advocate, asking why it’s fair for me to ask them to reconsider their views on homosexuality but not fair for them to ask me to reconsider my lifestyle. Thanks to this post, I think I can finally articulate an answer.

In her post, Nahida points out that the basis of morality in Islam comes from the concept of inalienable rights vs. civil rights. As she explains it:

The way the two spheres are distinguished is that the first does not require consent, and the second does. In other words, if you need consent to carry out an action, then that action is not an inalienable right. Whether or not you require the consent of another person is determined by whether you must involve them at all. If you wish to believe or not believe in a particular religion, that is an inalienable right, because it involves no one else. If you wish to practice a particular religion, that is not (always) an inalienable right. It often requires the consent of others whom you may affect with your practices.

Those who insist that they are practicing an inalienable right to religion when they refuse a woman contraceptives, for example, are by definition incorrect. They have the inalienable right to belief, not to practice, which is a civil right.

To me, this is at the heart of my conflict with my parents. And I think this is the part of the concept that is getting missed by commenters on my letter.

My parents have commanded me not to act upon my attraction to women. They do so because it is against their religion. Using the model quoted above, they (and several of my commenters) believe they are practicing their inalienable right to religion by policing my sexuality and the resulting expression of that sexuality. They cannot police my sexuality without my consent – meaning that, while they retain their inalienable right to religious belief (which, for the most part, does not affect me), they merely have a civil right to religious practice – one which they cannot enforce upon me without my consent.

Similarly, I have an inalienable right to be queer. My queerness does not affect anyone else. I have a civil right to date in a queer manner – provided those I date consent to being in a queer relationship. I do not require my parents’ consent to date in this way – therefore I am not infringing on their inalienable right to religious belief. Who I date does not directly affect what they believe. Again, they have a civil right to religious practice; that right does not override my inalienable right to be in a consensual queer relationship. In essence, they do not have the right to tell me who I can and cannot date.

By writing my letter, I am exercising a civil right: I am asking for my parents to consent to reconsidering their beliefs. I am asking my parents to consent to opening a dialogue on queerness and homosexuality. They are free to give or not give that consent as they see fit. I have a right to ask; they have a right to refuse. I cannot and will not control what they think about my lifestyle. I can only ask in the hopes that we might come to an understanding.

If my parents do not consent to reconsidering their beliefs – as is their right to do – then I have a right to exclude them from my life in order to protect myself. I am under no obligation to associate with anyone. My parents are a part of my life by my consent, and I have a right to withdraw that consent at any time and for any reason. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries around my interactions with anyone, including my parents; if a person cannot be accepting toward my sexuality, then that person does not need to be included in my life.

This is not coercion, as some have suggested. This is merely cause and effect. If my parents decide that their religious beliefs are more important to them than sharing in the life of their daughter, then I will accept that decision. They are under no obligation to accept me, much as I may wish they would; I am under no obligation to remain closeted around them, much as they may wish I would. Cutting ties with my family is not a threat to get them to do what I want; it is a boundary they must accept as a response to their continued homophobia.

Ultimately, my reasons for asking my parents to open a dialogue about their beliefs on homosexuality are my own. If it is something I feel a need to do, then I am going to do it – regardless of what strangers on the internet may say. My parents’ opinion of me matters, whether it should or not. I have a rosy dream, in my head, of a world where my parents and I talk, and I get to have a voice and be heard and explain to them the life I live. In this dream they realize that the hateful and judgemental things they’ve said about LGBTQIA people over the years were not only hurtful to me personally, but also not actually in keeping with their religion’s teachings of love and acceptance for all walks of life. We come to an understanding, we start to build a trust between us… and when we talk, I no longer have to hide everything I think they won’t approve of. Our conversations will be about more than the weather, my pets, and my husband. We’ll have the kind of friendship I have yearned for ever since I was a child. We’ll have honesty, trust, understanding, and mutual love between us.

I know that dream is, in all probability, just a dream. I know that, in reality, it is likely that I will ask my parents to open a dialogue on this matter and they will either outright refuse, or I will say my piece and they will reject me, or we’ll get into a fight and leave each other worse for wear. I know it’s likely that I will come away from that conversation feeling like I haven’t explained myself well enough – feeling powerless, helpless, unloved by my family and unwanted. But if that were the case… I would be empowered to make sure it was the last time I felt that way at the hands of my family, a group that society tells me is supposed to love me no matter what. At the end of that conversation, painful and heart-rending as it may be, I could at least tell myself that I’d done all I could do. I could give myself permission to let go of that dream. I could create some much-needed distance between my broken heart and the people who don’t even understand how they’ve broken it.

None of this is up for anyone’s review. I deeply appreciate the support my original post has garnered, and I thank each and every one of you for your positive comments. And looking at it objectively, I have received far more support for my letter than criticism. However, the handful of negative comments I have received – some of which were hateful enough that I chose not to allow them to be published – have hit me hard and left me feeling powerless and inadequate. This is a difficult crossroads to face, and the last thing I need right now is to doubt and second-guess myself. As of today, I am closing comments on my letter and moving on in my writing. I ask that you, as my community, move on with me.


First of all, if you’re wandering in from Freshly Pressed, welcome and thanks for stopping by! Come in, have a cup of tea, and try not to pee on the carpet. No, really.

This is post is in response to a few commenters on last week’s post, who seemed to think that my disagreement with my parents’ beliefs  – and subsequent plea for acceptance – was equally as intolerant as their rejection of my sexuality. Some of those comments were mean and hurtful, and got deleted. It’s my blog. I don’t have to read angry stuff on my blog. (Plus, I looked, and youreanidiot@atleastyourdadisalive.com is not a real email address. You get a cookie for using the correct form of “you’re,” though.)

Some others I responded to, but not as in-depth as I would have liked. So here is the whole enchilada, as it were.

Lacey wrote:

I appreciate your honesty. I guess I’m wondering what tolerance looks like to you in the broader sense? Does it mean that people can no longer disagree without being ‘hateful?’ You say, “I will not accept mere tolerance” and I realize you are writing to a family member…but what about the bigger picture. Where is the line? By this logic, you are being intolerant of your Dad’s opinions. I do not mean to be offensive- its an issue I’ve been giving a lot of thought.

This is something that hits a personal spot for me. And I can totally see your point. If I had to boil my moral code down to a single sentence, it would probably be something along the lines of “No one should ever be forced to live according to beliefs they don’t agree with.”

Obviously, speaking in absolutes can get you into trouble – there’s always the devil’s advocate out there with the “Well, what if someone disagrees with the belief that bombing an orphanage full of handicapped children is wrong? According to your logic, that means they should be allowed to do it.” (No. Wrong. According to my logic, they are allowed to believe whatever they want to believe, but their right to bomb the orphanage does not overrule the children’s right live out the rest of their lives as in-one-piece and bombing-free as possible. Your rights end where another person’s begins.)

So I want to clarify something that seemed to cause confusion for a handful of folks, not all of whom were as polite and respectful as Lacey was: Never did I say I wanted my parents to stop being religious. Never did I say I would not love and accept my parents if they continued to live a religious lifestyle. In fact, I know full well that my parents will continue to live their lives they way they have for the past half a century or so. That is not the issue here.

It’s not the disagreement that is hateful. If my parents were to say, “We don’t understand what it’s like to be queer, we’re straight and that’s what makes us happy,” then that is a conflicting worldview with my own, which is roughly: “Living as a queer person makes me happy and brings me more fulfillment than living as a straight person does.” Those two ideas are in disagreement; however, neither one is hateful toward the other.

If my parents were to say, “We don’t understand what it’s like to be queer, because being queer is wrong and those feelings are sent from Satan, and everyone who is queer is disgusting and a bad person,” then not only is that a worldview that conflicts with my own, but is also actively hateful and discriminatory toward me.

Conversely, if I say, “I don’t get any enjoyment or fulfillment out of being religious, I’m atheist and that’s what makes me happy,” that may be in disagreement with my parents’ religious lifestyle, but it isn’t hateful. If I say, “I don’t get any enjoyment or fulfillment out of being religious, and people who do are crazy zealots and bad people,” then that is hateful and discriminatory toward them.

My parents’ faith brings them happiness. It brings them joy and fulfillment. It gives them a steady rock, a foundation on which to build their marriage. Why would I want to take that away from them? To say that, by asking them to reconsider their views on homosexuality, I am somehow forcing them to give up their entire faith life and religious identity… well, the term “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” comes to mind. If it makes them happy, then I am happy that they have it. I would never tell my parents – or anyone, for that matter – that it’s wrong to have religious views and they have to stop being religious.

But their rights end where mine begin, too. I have a right to live my life in the open. I have a right to make the decisions that are best for me, that make me happiest and bring me fulfillment. I have a right to protect myself from those that do me harm.

Even if it’s my parents.

At the heart of the matter is this: my parents and I, we don’t talk. I mean, we chat, but we don’t have meaningful conversations about the important stuff. And this journey I’m on, this path of self-discovery I’m walking down, is incredibly important to me. The fact that they don’t even want to talk about it – that they’d rather just pretend it didn’t exist so they can say they love me anyway – is fucking painful. I honestly think it’d be easier to deal with it if they hated me. Then, at least, I could convince myself that it wasn’t worth the effort. But I wrote last week’s letter because a part of me yearns to open up that dialogue, to state my case and make them see that it isn’t what they thought it was. To ask if they could ever love a daughter that was openly queer. To see if they’d come around.

And, if not, to walk away. Not because I immediately shut out everyone who disagrees with me, but because there comes a point where a relationship causes more pain than you can bear. Because loving myself means being strong enough to sever ties in order to stop hurting.

So there’s the heart of the matter. I can’t accept tolerance, because tolerance means We Don’t Talk About It. Tolerance means “Penny has a dirty little secret the family doesn’t talk about.” Tolerance means “Poor Penny is so misguided and such a sinner, too bad she’s going to hell, it makes me so sad because I love her so much.” Tolerance is “Penny posted on Facebook today about how much she loves her lady friend, and I felt it was my duty to tell her how wrong she is to be living like that and how I disapprove of it.*”

Meanwhile… acceptance means We’ve Talked About It, And We Don’t Agree, But We Respect Each Other. Acceptance means “I don’t understand why Penny lives the way she does, but we’re talking about it so I can try to see her side of it.” Acceptance means “This life makes Penny happy, and I trust that she is smart enough to make the choices that are right for her, and I will love her and be there for her in whatever way she needs me to be.” Acceptance would be “Penny posted on Facebook today about how much she loves her lady friend, and it’s kind of weird for me to read that but she’s an adult and I respect her.”

I don’t think that’s asking too much from a parent. I don’t think that’s asking too much from anyone who claims to love me. I am the only one who can decide what I need from the people in my life in order to feel loved – and I have the right to ask for that.

Whether or not I get it is an entirely different question.

 

*Expected results; mileage may vary


Dad:

I’ve had some time to think about the things you said to me, the day I told you I was bisexual. I’ve thought about what it means, and what you believe, and where I fit into that picture. I’ve come to a decision.

I assume by now you’ve shared the news with Mom, if not my sisters. (One already knows, I talked to her privately.) I don’t mind if you have, or if you choose to in the future. It’s not something I particularly need kept secret. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

I’m not writing this to disprove your religious beliefs, nor to tell you you’re wrong for believing them. My intent is not to break your faith in any way. However, in order to state my message clearly, there is something I need you to understand: I do not believe in your God. I do not share your faith.

Because of this, I cannot agree with statements made on the basis of faith alone. Telling me “It’s wrong because God says so” is not a valid argument to me, any more than “It’s wrong because I say so” – which, to be honest, is all I’m hearing in those statements. I am a grown adult, and I have the freedom and the right to make my own life choices.

I am choosing to live my life out of the closet. I am not ashamed of my sexuality.

I am choosing to explore my sexuality. I am not ashamed of my desires.

I do this with the full consent and blessing of my current partner, who understands there are certain things in life he simply cannot provide for me. He and I are communicating better than we ever have before, we are more respectful of each other than we ever have been, and embarking on this journey has done wonderful things to strengthen our marital bond. I do this not to escape my marriage, but to enrich it. I do this not to tear down our bond, but to build it up.

Ultimately, who I build relationships with and how my husband and I manage our marriage is none of your business. I am not interested in hearing how you think I am Doing Marriage Wrong.

But there is something I need you to understand: I will not accept mere tolerance. I am tired of hearing the message “Well, it’s not what we would choose for you, but it’s your life to live.” That statement tells me that you’re not going to stop me if you think I’m making a mistake, and you won’t try to have an open and honest conversation about it, but in your heart of hearts you will always carry condemnation and judgment toward me. You will always be waiting to say “I told you so.”

I have yearned my whole life for approval from you. I have yearned my whole life for acceptance. I have made myself miserable to the point of desperation, trying to squeeze myself into the rigid role of model child, trying to be this mysterious perfect daughter that you could love without reservation. But I have always failed – maybe not in your eyes, but certainly in mine. I feel I have not gained your acceptance or your understanding. I do not have your support in being myself and following my heart: merely your tolerance.

The time has come for me to ask for your acceptance. I realize, given your faith, what a monumental thing it is I ask of you. I am asking you to consider that the Church may have it wrong on this one. I am asking you to re-examine your beliefs.

I would not ask this of you if it did not matter. If I was comfortable believing that my feelings were wrong, I would not ask it. If I was comfortable lying to you about this part of my life, I would not ask it. If I was comfortable with discrimination dressed up as loving tolerance, I would not ask it.

But I am not comfortable with those things.

You were right when you said it was not wrong to be attracted to members of the same sex. I believe that. But I cannot accept that it is wrong to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex. To accept that would be to turn my back on a wide community of wonderful, loving people; a community of which I am a part. I cannot accept that falling in love can ever be a sin – and I cannot accept that expressing that love, exploring that love, could ever be sinful, either. There may be times when it can hurt, yes – people are imperfect and as such can hurt each other – but that does not make it morally wrong. The full experience of love, in its myriad of forms, is an inalienable human right.

So here it is: the crucial decision.

I respect your right to religious freedom. I respect your faith and your beliefs, though I do not agree with all of them. Because of this respect, I will not demand your acceptance – even if I could demand such a thing.

However, I also respect myself. I respect my right to choose how I live my life, and with whom. Because of this respect, I will not subject myself to the pain of discrimination and intolerance, even from those who love me. Because of this respect, I will choose to lead a life that brings me joy and fulfillment, and choose the friends and lovers and partners that support me on this path.

I would like to share my life of joy with you. In order to share it fully, I need to know that you accept the life I live, without judgment. Tolerance (“It’s ok to feel that way, but not to act on it”) is not acceptance. If you cannot offer acceptance, then I cannot continue to share my life with you. I will not edit and hide parts of my life to show you a face you approve of.

You must either love all of me, or none.



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