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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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
So, the other night I went out on my first-ever official date with a woman.
And it was different. In a very nice and refreshing way. It was much more relaxed and groovy than many of the dates I’d been on with men – no nervous back-of-the-mind commentary on a constant loop of “Oh my god what if he kisses me? What if he doesn’t? Am I pretty enough? Am I being too loud? Am I eating too much? Am I not eating enough? What does he expect tonight? Is he going to ask for sex right away? Will he stop seeing me if I say no?”
Get this: we talked. Like friends do. We got to know each other. Shared stories. Laughed, a lot.
It was awesome.
And because there were no scripts to follow, there was no fear of overstepping one’s imaginary bounds – of somehow ruining the evening by not living up to expectations. I didn’t have to worry about fitting myself into a role within the date: it was all about What Do We Want To Do Next? Where Do We Want To Go? OMG Did I Tell you About That One Time When I XYZ? It was like a night out on the town with a new best friend. Only difference being, I got to hold her hand now and then; and occasionally my brain would interrupt the conversation with a quiet Hey, Wouldn’t It Be Fun To Kiss That Girl? (Shut up, brain, I’m trying to listen. Take your fantasies and go play in the other room.)
How is it that I’m only learning what a good date is supposed to look like three years after getting married? Who is supposed to be teaching this stuff? Because seriously – someone is dropping the ball here. How much heartache would I have saved if I’d really figured out how to get to know a dude as a friend before jumping into boyfriend-girlfriend mode? Or even after that? Hell, I’ve moved in with at least one guy before figuring out whether or not we were actually friends. (He was manipulative and controlling, so short answer: no, we weren’t.) I’d had the “first comes love, then comes marriage” narrative drilled into my head so hard, I never really stopped to think rationally about how to approach relationships. I was just looking for someone, anyone, to love me. And with the cultural ruts worn so deeply into our gender identities, it’s really easy to trip and fall into a relationship almost by accident.
She and I get to create our very own, special kind of relationship from scratch. It’s sort of terrifying. After all, that means I am actually responsible for thinking through my actions and reactions; no knee-jerk gender roles to fall back on. For the first time, when I’m out with her, I am realizing what it means to be at least partly responsible for someone’s safety and well-being. Since there’s no social script for us, it means I have to do things like say, “Hey, I’d really like to kiss you goodnight, but I think it would be better if we waited. Is that cool with you?” and hope she doesn’t think I’m a total dork for asking. It means being conscious of my emotional baggage, and remembering that it’s mine to manage, not hers. It means asking ourselves questions like: Who takes the lead? Who makes the first move? What responsibilities do we have to each other? To the others in our lives? To ourselves?
But it’s freeing, too – for the first time ever, I don’t have this weight of expectation pressing down on me. I can trust she’s not just there to get laid. I can trust that she actually likes me for who I am. That I’m not just a pretty face, or another notch on the bedpost, or a trophy or an arm decoration. The fear is gone, in a way it never has been in the early stages of any of my other relationships. I’m allowed to just be myself – she likes me that way. And I get to delight in this kindred spirit I’ve found, to discover her and learn about her. We’ll get around to the physical stuff, I’m sure. There’s undeniably an attraction there – my heart gets all fizzy when I think of her and my brain has been sent on time-out for inappropriate interruptions on more than one occasion. But the impetus for sex-right-now-to-seal-the-deal just isn’t there. There’s no “This is what we’re supposed to do next, this is what we have to do next.” There’s no pressure.
We’re enjoying the experimentation, the newness of it. We’re reveling in the Choose Your Own Adventure style of romance. (If you kiss the girl, turn to page 4. If you announce your intention to kiss her at a later date, then run away in a whirl of giddy anticipation, turn to page 13.)
Taking it slow is awesome. Why have I never done it this way before?
I am a bisexual woman. And that’s okay.
I look like a straight woman. I wear my hair long and conventional, in a natural color. I wear feminine clothes, high heels, makeup, lingerie. I’m femme. I have a husband (who fully supports this journey I’m on). And that’s okay.
I want to meet a girl. I want to look up and see her across the room, and feel like maybe I’ve been struck by lightning because suddenly my limbs don’t work properly and I’m all shaky and oh jeez am I making a weird face? I want that nervous crush, the excitement of awkwardly flirting, of testing the waters and navigating slowly from the safe bay of mutual acquaintance out into the open waters of friendship and the possibility of more. And that’s okay.
I want to have a girlfriend. I want to go on dates, go see movies together, go out to cafes and restaurants and bars and karaoke maybe. I want to snuggle and watch tv on the couch. I want to play games together, and take her on creative dates, and surprise her on anniversaries and birthdays. I want to introduce her to my husband and hope they get along. I want to introduce her to my friends and integrate her into my social circle. I want to be the shy new girlfriend at the parties she brings me to; I want to meet the people that are important in her life and gain their approval. I want to walk down the streets holding hands and not care if people are staring or not. I want to open my heart to her, and invite her in to snuggle up and get comfortable. I want to be steady and dependable for her, and know that she can be there for me, too. And that’s okay.
I want to explore a sexual relationship with a girl. I want that first kiss, the first time we get frisky, the nervousness and excitement of new lovemaking. I want to break all the rules and make our own. I want to create a relationship from scratch, one that fits the two of us perfectly because it’s custom-made. I want to try new things, new toys, new positions. I want to take my time discovering what she likes. I want to watch her lovely face as she responds to my touch, my body, my words, my kiss. I want to surrender myself to her, too, and know she’s watching. And that’s okay.
I want the fights, too. I want the disagreements, the days when we seem to be at odds, the nights when we’re just not feeling it and we end up talking for hours about what’s not working instead of sleeping. I want to work through problems, to step carefully through the landmines and pitfalls, to draw back the veil and see the parts of our hearts that are ugly, bruised, hurt, and tender. I want to put my trust in her, tell her about the pain in my past, hear about the pain in hers and hold each other through the darkness that comes with it. I want the deepening connection that can only come when we’re fully honest with each other – even if it risks hurting or disappointing our partner. And that’s okay.
I know that it doesn’t come that easy. I know that attraction is unfair, and finding someone is hard, and takes time, and that this perfect girl I have in my head may not actually exist at all. I know that I will have to date, and be heartbroken, and love and lose, and take risks that don’t pan out. I know that the more pressure I put on myself to find someone, the harder it is and the less likely it’ll happen. I know that I need to make friends and let it develop naturally, the way any other relationship does. And that’s okay.
I want to tell the world, to put my intentions out in the universe: I may not be fully prepared, but I’m ready to make a start. I’m open and looking. I’ve been longing for this for some time, and I’m doing my best to put myself in a position where it’s possible and simultaneously stay out of my own way. There is a guilt, a voice inside me that says it’s selfish, it won’t work, it’s not right, no one will want you anyway, what you’re looking for can’t be found.
But I want it anyway. And that’s okay.
It is the heart of winter.
The snow is falling but the grass is green.
My heart has been ailing.
I have come down with a bad case of the aches.
I am afraid to show her this congestion.
Afraid to be seen in this state,
coughing up my insecurities, sniffling,
afraid I’ll sneeze and spray her with something disgusting.
My hair is a bird’s nest, untameable.
My voice is hesitant and rusty.
I am weak. I am recovering.
I sip her poetry, her letters, like a tonic.
They are Alka-Seltzer fizzing in my chest.
I can see sunshine when I close my eyes.
My breath comes easier now.
Climb out of bed, heart. It’s a new day.
You can hear the birds in the backyard singing.
The sun’s peering in the window
and she’s smiling at you.
Throw back the covers, heart.
You are not too sick to go outside
and a little fresh air would do you good.
The snow is falling, but the grass is green.
The world is cold, but the birds still sing.