Is Mags Monogamous?
Yesterday, a friend challenged me on my use of the term "monogamous" to describe myself right now. "Mags," she said, "you're browsing OKCupid and planning on future fuckbuddies. You're not monogamous." I argued that I am, because right now I am experimenting with an exclusivity agreement with my romantic interest. She contested, "that's like saying I'm vegetarian because I didn't eat meat at lunch." This reminded me of some recent internet debate about girlfriends-with-benefits.
Are Girlfriends with Benefits Actually Lesbians?
I've seen memes circulating on facebook lately featuring this Cosmopolitan headline, captioned with, "you're gay, the word you're looking for is gay." I fear we've lost sight of nuance that can exist in sexuality: labels can be empowering for people using them to self-define, but limiting when applied by outside forces. My conversation with my roommate got me thinking about the need for precision in *how* and *when* we use labels.
Identity vs Behavior
Many bisexual people experience what's referred to as bi-erasure: in primary or monogamous relationships, people label them according to their current behaviors, and this whole other part of their identity is left out of the conversation. As a queer person who often dates cis-men I feel this: I worry about this whole core part of my attraction is swept under the carpet as "just a phase" in the eyes of my family and society.
In my swinging days, I met many women who had had more lady sex partners than I had, but didn't embrace the term bi because their sexuality was primarily focused on men, with occasionally going down on a chick being a fun diversion. Meanwhile, we've got mostly queers like myself running around with literally triple digits in man sex partners, and a handful of women.
If the label is just to describe what we're doing in the moment, or most of the time, I'm pretty fucking straight. But I don't *feel* straight. There's a growing population of women who primarily romantically partner with men, but enjoy varying degrees of sexual intimacy with their friends, or women who are attracted to both genders and may be dating monogamously. When these two groups (the behaviorally-bi and the identity-bi) intersect and hook up, without adequate communication it can easily lead to heartache for one or both parties (example: me and The Hulk, as explained in DPP:S1E3). I wonder if allowing for more flexibility in identity may encourage better communication as more individuals explore themselves and how their attraction works.
The Fried Chicken Analogy
When I was younger, I had a friend who was a devout vegetarian, 360 days a year. However, every few months she just couldn't resist the allure of fried chicken, and would enjoy a piece of it. I would give her no end of grief about it, because I was young and foolish and had poor insight regarding the big picture.
The big picture is this: she was a vegetarian, typically followed a strictly vegetarian life for her own personal reasons, didn't make it other people's problem (she often brought her own food, didn't request special accommodations, and didn't judge meat eaters), and a couple of times a year she liked a little indulgence. Whatever her reasons for being a vegetarian were, they weren't negated by the every-few-months chicken breast: if she, over the course of a year, ate an entire chicken, that's still making an environmental, ethical, and health impact compared to most Americans who power down meat like it's water.
So, if a lesbian every once and a while likes a specific D, does that make her any less of a lesbian? If a straight girl likes to eat her friend out sometimes because it's fun and a nice way to show a friend you care about their pleasure, but is mostly romantically interested in men, does her sexual behavior define her identity? Can women explore their sexuality and identity without fearing external application of labels they don't personally identify with?
Empowered Self Definition?
If we are using labels as a form of empowered self-definition, how do we designate between something that is a core, fundamental part of our identity, and a behavior we are trying on for fit, determining how it relates to our lives right now? I suggest that more linguistic precision on this topic ultimately benefit everybody: creating a culture of acceptance for people for whom identity and behavior don't always line up (actively working against bi-erasure), while also allowing people to explore their sexual and romantic identities without feeling there needs to be some grand declaration around their baseline preferences.
How much confusion about identity labels could be clarified by people having some way of indicating what are core traits, and what are behavioral identifiers?
So, I think I'm always going to be kinda slutty, and I may need to assess if "I am monogamous" is an appropriate way to self-describe right now. When I first started my monogamous adventure, an appropriate descriptor may have been, "I'm experimenting with monogamy," because in truth that was my intention: having been poly for 8 years, I wanted to try out monogamy and see how it felt.
Now, about 2 weeks in (lol that was fast), I'm feeling uncomfortable with having created an environment of control around my partner (he hasn't said anything about it, just my internal preferences have me feeling uncomfortable), and I'm remembering that I really like occasional sexual variety when I feel deeply secure in a relationship. Indeed, "I am monogamous," does not feel accurate right now, any more than saying "I am straight," because I'm dating a man would feel. I'm going to try out saying, "my relationship is currently exclusive," or, "we are not open yet," since the long-term intention has always been to open up.
Perhaps more nuanced statements of behavioral exploration could benefit all of us. Imagine a world where a straight-identified woman can freely say, "I'm currently sexually interested in my best friend," and not immediately be labelled lesbian. Or a lesbian could introduce a male partner to her friends and not be bombarded with, "are you straight now?" Let people explore their sexualities and identities on their own terms, fam.
In conclusion, go forth Cosmopolitan Girlfriends-With-Benefits. Enjoy yourselves. As long as the relationship is very clearly negotiated, and everybody understands what kind of dynamic you're building (communicate! avoid heartache!), it sounds fun!*
PS Tho, Don't Be A Dick About It
Everything in this post is predicated on two fundamental assumptions:
1. people identifying one way and behaving another also recognize the inherent privilege in the assorted identities and behaviors
I don't endorse straight women running around, having all the sex with ladies, then undermining the seriousness or romantic intensity of lesbian relationships because it does not match their experience of sexual relationships with other women, or bisexual women asking what bisexual men are complaining about when they talk about it being hard to find people who will accept their sexuality (homophobia directed towards male-on-male sex is real, friends). Recognize your privilege!! FFS people it's not that hard to realize other humans have a vastly different experience than your own.
2. people aren't actively lobbying against a behavior they participate against, but don't identify as
If you're currently actively supporting political candidates or causes that want to strip LGBTQ people of their basic civil rights, you're probably not reading my blog. But in case you are for some reason, for the love of fuck, please don't come home from a night of hot gay loving "that doesn't count because you're straight" and make a donation to the GOP or start a grassroots petition banning gay marriage or something. That's just a dick move and I hate you.