Friday, April 07, 2006

61. What's Sex Got To Do With It?

Coming out to someone is always an interesting process. If it wasn’t for the anxiety it causes, I’d do it all the time because the different responses people have are fascinating. I’ve had more than one person feel the need to confess something “equally intimate”, and am therefore the bearer of some rather awkward secrets.

As an aside (I am fond of asides, eh?) I just had the most blasé coming out ever. Well, it happened a few weeks ago, but still. I mentioned a little while back that one of my co-workers (who I shall creatively call S) was moving in next door. Based on some stuff she had said at work I was fairly certain that she would be ‘cool with it’… you know, my being gay. I no longer feel comfortable living in a world where no one knows so, a couple of days after she moved in, when we were going over our collective music collections and she noticed my Ani Difranco CD’s, I told her. The conversation went something like this.

S: “Ani Difranco! I love Ani Difranco. She is awesome! Ooooh, I don’t have this one…”

Me: “Mmmhmmm… I’m gay…”

S. “Cool. Can I borrow this one?”

Me: “Sure.”

So, that was pretty easy. She has since followed true to form for all of the non-Christian women I’ve come out to and mentioned some same-sex attractions she has felt. I don’t know if she mentioned those things because she knows I’m gay or not, but it’s an interesting pattern.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because my last post got me thinking about some things… about sexuality and what it actually means. You probably don’t see a connection because you don’t live in my brain. Let me explain. One of the first people I came out to had a very intriguing response. After affirming that she continued to love me, she actually went on to wonder why my sexuality was such a big deal… after all, she was “only a sexual person for about an hour a day.”

My first thought was “Every day? For an hour? That’s pretty impressive.” My next thought was, “Wait a minute. I know that sexuality is more than sex, because I am not having sex and my sexuality is still a huge part of me.”

I explained things to myself by saying that my sexuality then obviously was wrapped up in lust… but time has changed things. As I have become more open about being gay with myself and my close friends, my lust issues have diminished drastically… as I mentioned before, it’s been a bit of a shock. I’m not saying that I’m perfect, I’m just saying that self-control is a lot easier now. When you add that up with the fact that I haven’t been seriously attracted to anyone in a long time, a question comes to the fore. I am not having sex, I am not experiencing lustful, or even romantic feelings… so what is my sexuality doing? Is it gone? Is it dormant?

I was debating recently whether or not to come out to my church family as a whole (not sure how that would work, exactly… an announcement in the bulletin? Not bloody likely) because I was feeling very frustrated by being in the closet. I was trying to explain to a good friend why this would be important and it was really hard to explain. Why do people need to know who I’m drawn to romantically when, in fact, right now I’m not drawn to anyone at all? My sexuality really has no relevance to most of my relationships at church, so why do I care? I just do because I know that my sexuality is more than just sex. This, of course, is something that straight people don’t really think about because their experience is the norm… and no one ever really asks them to deny or suppress their sexuality – even demanding abstinence is not suppressing sexuality, because an abstinent heterosexual is still permitted to feel, and even to enjoy and explore their attractions, something that most Christians would rather we gays don’t do.

Incidentally, the way that I solved this debate (about whether or not to come out) was to think about it really hard, and then move to the other side of the planet. I’m a real problem solver!

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this for the last week or so, ever since my post about Marvin Bloom, and why he seems smothered to me. Well, it turns out that Peterson got wind of my post and put a section of it on his blog and lo and behold, there were comments… and one of them addressed this very issue. It was written more eloquently than I could ever hope to, so I’m just going to copy and paste it here. Kurt T wrote:

“Here is an analogy that might work, or it might make me sound like a nut. Once I had a semi-severe back injury. Well, not like I had to go into the hospital or something, but it took a while to recover.

And the funniest thing about having a back injury is you never realize until your back doesn't work anymore all the things that you were using your back muscles for, and now you can't do those things. Like you can't get out of a chair. You can't pull weeds. You can't reach the stuff on the top of the refrigerator. You drop your keys on the floor, forget it. They're gonna stay on the floor.

And then you say to yourself "That's funny. It never occurred to me I needed my back to do any of that stuff."

To me, that's kind of what happens when you suppress your sexuality. You think that your sexuality is just something you use when you're on a date, or having sex or looking around for a hook up, but really you need your sexuality for lots of other stuff. Your creativity, your passion, your appreciation of a beautiful spring day or the sound of a clarinet playing "Begin the Beguine." Your sexuality is part of what makes all of that happen.

You don't think about it. You're not really aware of it, but your sexuality is part of the complex formula that brings all that joy into your life. As Edith Piaf would say "Oui, la vie, c'est l'amour, et l'amour, c'est la vie."

So when Marvin represses his sexuality, he's really repressing a lot more than he bargained for.”

I want to pose this question to anyone who stumbles upon this blog. What do you think sexuality is? Do you think it is something that merely comes into play during ‘sexual activity’? If so, can you explain why you think that? And if you think it is more, can you elaborate as to how and why? Kurt’s response was awesome, but I would love to hear more.

Oh, and another aside. It seems that Marvin got wind of my last post about him and was kind of upset. I never meant to upset him, as a matter of fact, I never posted a comment to one of his posts for that reason. I’ve asked Peterson to convey my apologies for hurting his feelings. Oh… and if you listen to this particular post, I just want to let you know that I am not a gambler (never even bought a lottery ticket), nor am I a man. Just wanted to clear that up.


Suzanne said...

O.k. I read, and I will re-read, because your post got me to laugh, think, and possibly shed a tear.

Very amazing process of thought and experience!

Oh.. the back thing.. been there, bought the t-shirt, and yes, so true of an analogy!

Sexuality? Well... we are sexual beings. It affects how we interpret, how we relate, how we act, etc. Sex is such a small part of the equation.

P.S. You are an excellently gifted, entertaining writer!!

O-S said...

So this is my first comment ever on this site. I feel like such a well written blog deserved some kind of feedback.

I agree that your sexuality is more than just a tool used during intimate moments.

My sexuality affects everything around me, from my choice of clothing to my viewpoints on politics. You can't shake it.

Soul_Seeker said...

I came across your blog while blog-hopping. Nice site!

I agree. Your sexuality can be expressed even in a non-sexual/physical way, if that makes sense.

Take care! Is it okay if I add you to my links?

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog, and you asked a question... so here is my answer...

I like Kurts response, and my immediate thoughts off the top of my head are, i think, related.

my sexuality is not about sex. It's about being a woman, about appreciating the emotional and relational ways I was created to be different from man. Have you heard of the book 'Captivating?' I think she takes a good point on what being a woman is all about.

This is where I get confused about some things though... (I don't have any close gay friends, so I'm relatively ignorant on some things - pls forgive me for that)...

There is a part of me that can understand why a woman would attracted to a woman, or a man to a man, but I have a hard time understanding the idea of women who act like men and take on a "man's" role in a relationship and men who act like women and take on a "woman's" role. To me, THAT seems to be repressing one's own sexuality more than what you're talking about here? Because sexuality to me, is more about appreciating the way you are made, as man or woman, and less about who you are attracted to...

maybe I'm way off-base?

Boo said...

Anonymous- could you be more clear about what you consider to be the "man's role" or the "woman's role" in a relationship? Is a woman who works taking on a "man's role" or a man who stays home taking on a "woman's role"? Or are you thinking more of butch lesbians and effeminate gay guys?

Butchness or effeminacy often starts to show up in early childhood, and it doesn't make a lot of sense that three year olds would somehow be repressing their sexuality, since three year olds have no clue what sexuality is. To the extent that children repress themselves, it's in trying not to act butch or effeminate, since that behavior is usually stigmatized.

It seems like you're making the same mistake most people make about sexuality (actually, it's probably a mistake everyone makes to at least some degree). You have a certain way of expressing and seeing yourself that feels natural. Therefore, the way you see and express yourself is natural for a woman. Therefore, every woman should naturally be what you are. Therefore, any woman who expresses herself in a manner too different from you is not being natural. But what's natural for you might be unnatural for someone else.

JJ said...


Always exciting to see you around the blogosphere!


Just want to point out that I agree with Boo on this one... I think that while sexuality and gender are more alike than people think - ie: gender is not merely what equipment you have 'down there', it is a lot more than that... and sexuality is not merely what you do with your 'equipment down there', it is a lot more than that - I do not think sexuality and gender are the same thing. Not that this is in any way who I am, but if you look at most transgendered people here in the West, they will often wish to change their gender, but their sexuality will stay the same. (ie: they go from physically being straight men to being lesbian women)

I have not read "Captivating", nor "Wild at Heart", but I blogged about it here. I do think that there is a bit of a cookie cutter mentality in those books (which is not something I have a problem with, actually, I think if you are going to write a book, it would be very difficult to deal with all aspects of femaleness). No two people express their femininity the same way, and no two people express their sexuality the same way. Thank goodness. I would hate to live in a world of June Cleavers.

I am also intrigued by what your definition of "men and women's roles" are. I happen to think that these are largely culturally defined. I mean, most places I have lived have traditionally held the man up to be the head of the household, but how this is played out is different whereever you go. For example, here in Korea the situation is a bit strange to me in that the man is officially in charge, but really has no power because he (in the traditional homes) never sees his money. The money gets put into the bank account which his wife controls.

Anyway, on to a new thought I had that I would like to bounce off of everyone now. I'm not sure what reminded me of this, but it occured to me that most anti-depressants have the side effect of 'supressing sexual desire'. I was thinking how what those medications tend to do is regulate you, you know, keep you from experiencing those crushing lows, but they also in turn keep you from experiencing any extreme highs. Basically, from what I understand, they dull your ability to experience life... but in doing so, they dull your sexuality too, which makes me wonder if these two things are linked at a more biological level (the abilility to experience life and your sexuality). I should make two things clear. 1)I know nothing about biology, and 2)I know very little about anti-depressants, I was on them for about 2 months about 10 years ago and didn't like how I felt on them so I stopped.

Anyway, just another thought. I'm writing this at 3:17 in the morning so I apologize for any incoherence.

Oh, and yet another aside, I just checked out the Amazon page for "Captivating", and saw that the book references "Fried Green Tomatoes" as an example of the intimate friendships that women should cultivate with one another. It's obvious that the authors of Captivating never read the book "Fried Green Tomatoes" or they would realize that that movie is a lesbian love story (although with the 'gay stuff' muted just enough so that straight people can pretend it doesn't exist). Just thought that was funny.

Liadan said...

Re: antidepressants --

The "dulling" effect is the impact they tend to have on me. It's the intention when they're used to treat bipolar folk, in which case they (and other meds) are referred to as "mood stabilizers."

To a large degree it depends on the dosage and the person's specific biochemistry. Standard doses for most medications are calculated for an average-sized adult male, and that may be (in my case, was) too much for a small-bodied young-adult female.

SSRIs, especially older ones, are notorious for sexual side effects. Not just lowered libido, but quirky twists on the theme like anorgasmia (inability to orgasm). Wellbutrin, which is a different sort of med (I think it's an SNRI) has a much lower incidence of sexual side effects.

I'm not sure if it's directly connected (in a medical sense) to the mood stabilizing effect, but then again we know disgustingly little about neurochemistry and sexuality, especially women's, so it does make a certain amount of sense.

Maybe I should write a post about it...

mandy said...

hi JJ (and all) -

Although this is my only post other than my little rant at Christine about hermeneutics awhile back, I have continued to read your blog faithfully, and my respect for your bravery and honesty (though never wanting) grows every time I visit here.

my own situation is a little different: I grew up in an observant (but not Orthodox) Jewish family, which has surprised me by being very accepting of the fact that I am a lesbian (which is somewhat against the grain.) It was, in many respects, much easier for me than it is for you. Not only is my family conservative rather than Orthodox (which means that, although we take the Bible seriously, we make more room for historical context and the vagaries of textual transmission and whatnot) but also Judaism makes a lot of room for friendly disagreement. The old saying that goes "two Jews, three opinions" is about right... everybody sort of understands that even though there are fifteen different opinions about whether and why a kidney bean is kosher for Passover, your opinion doesn't make you a better Jew. All of which means that, although there are plenty of people of my own faith willing to excoriate me for my sexual identity, there's a much larger group that hesitates to write me off on account of just one thing. Not that coming out to my family was easy, but it was a cakewalk compared to your situation.

anonymous: I think JJ and Boo's points are straight on the mark, but there's another dimension to the gender roles discussion. Although some gay couples *do* map themselves into mre traditional gender dichotomies, there are lots who don't... more and more, I think, as western society becomes more accepting of homosexuality, and women who "feel like girls" (or men who "feel like guys") don't find that they have to choose between their own gender identity (which more or less matches society's expectations and confers insider status) and their attraction to people of their own sex.

A lesbian friend of mine (who until recently was dating a very butch woman and is now dating somebody more femenine) remarked to me recently that she feels much more at home, gender-role-wise, in the new relationship, even though she's very feminine herself; she always felt that her ex-girlfriend was working really hard to "be the man" and to cultivate a sort of answering masculinity to her own femininity, whereas her new girlfriend is simply herself, which lets my friend be simply herself, in turn (besides which, the new girl is the type of woman my friend has always been attracted to in the first place.) I don't say any of this to slam butch dykes or women who find them attractive, but just to point out that the gender dichotomization your question implies isn't always the template for same-sex relationships.

okay. sorry I talked so much just now. have a blessed holy week-


rewfio said...

our sexuality is def expressed though much more than hookups or 'romantic' feelings for a person. it's a very important part of what makes a person, a part of the lens they look though as they experience life. it is def worth expressing and sharing even if you are not currently interested in anyone or having any physically sexual encounters. it's a beautiful part of who you are, there is no reason to suppress it. ;)