Cardboard Castles and Other Amenities...

I am really interested in using different forms of cultural action to help build better communities. Communities are a vital social model, allowing us to tackle problems beyond the ability of individuals with the focus of a defined (usually relatively small) group of people. How do the arts and cultural work in general help communities grow more sustainable futures? If you have a cool website or project or your own ideas on these subjects please let me know.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Keeping Things Casual

Recently I started seeing this boy, we’ll call him Jerry.  He’s cute, smart, and an artist, most everything I’m looking for in a lover right now.  Usually, I’m the “let’s be boyfriends after two dates” kind of person.  I once wrote a story about my perfect first date in which the characters pretended it was their three-year anniversary.  Needless to say, I’m not a hug fan of the early stages of dating.  This time around, however, I’ve dedicated myself to keeping in casual.  “Fun, sex, and no drama,” has become my mantra.    In my case drama pretty much is either I’m not attracted but pretending (definitely not the case), saying something way to personal way to soon (a distinct possibility, but I’m working on it), or them disappearing (he says he won’t.)
            Last night, I found myself lying in his arms naked having just accomplished the grand slam of sex, simultaneous orgasm.  Into my head came an idea I don’t really trust my sexuality.  I have no faith that however it works in a given night, it will be fun and safe and rewarding in some way.  There is this vague notion in my head that there is a way sex is supposed to work and mine’s not that. My sex is not well lit, passionate encounters all the time (thank you Queer as Folk.)  Instead it is awkward groping while constantly wondering if I’m “doing it right” and having little idea of what that means.  The sex I had just felt like luck, and leading up to the climax I had been quite worried about coming too early, knowing I’m not a good giver after I’ve taken (apparently that’s part of “doing it right”.) 
            These concerns replayed in my mind as we lay there in each other’s arms afterwards.  All things considered it was actually some pretty decent sex, especially considering it had been the first time with someone new.  However, I was reminded of the year I turned seven, when my two girl friends and me invented a game called “doctor.”  It was a simple game, getting caught was not. I have no memory of hanging out with my friends after we were found in one of their basement, pants down, door locked. Suddenly there could be real consequences to the interaction of bodies.  Suddenly you could be doing something “wrong” and could loose friends or become a whole different person,  a “pervert.”
            Suddenly desire was called into question and I struggled with the duel feelings of desire and perversion.  I had enjoyed our game and wanted it back.  However, there was also the fear that this might signal some perversion within me.  Taking it further, as my young mind was want to do, I questioned whether I was a rapist for my involvement.  To this day, similar concerns compel me to include that to the best of my memory, these games were totally consensual and enjoyed by all. 
Admittedly these are odd thoughts to have after sex, lying in a man’s arms, but they reflect the difficulty I’ve always felt believing in my physical desires.  Sexuality has never been my golden compass, easily pointing me towards romantic relationships I’d enjoy.  More, it has been a dark, murky pool, with the promise of certainty somewhere deep below.
In college, I dated almost exclusively women, even though I would later accept I’m mostly gay.  I found myself often being asked,  “but are you attracted to her?”  My answers were undoubtedly some form of, “I don’t know,” and this was the truth.  I had no clue how to interpret the interplay between physical sensation, identity, history, and socialization.  Sufficed to say it was a rough time sexually, in which I made a lot of mistakes and hurt a lot of people.
I couldn’t figure out the difference between who society had made me want to be and who my history and biology had actually created.  I’ve known I was queer for a long time.  Around 5th grade, I realized I was not straight.  In 8th grade, I came out to my parents, and by the middle of high school I was out to everyone.  I didn’t have a problem admitting I was some kind of queer, but I hadn’t given up on my white picket fence, and back then that eventually meant a wife.  It wasn’t just that I wasn’t ready to give up on the great hetero-dream, more so I couldn’t believe the sexual thoughts I had about men could be beautiful and loving, could be all the best parts of the white picket fence fantasy. 
To me, Men were gross and violent, corrupted by our unspeakable acts.  I certainly was.  The best we could hope for was to struggle against the evil that lurked within.  Women, and fences, and kids with dogs were supposed to be the tools in this super-man struggle.  They were both what made it possible and what made it worth it. 
Learning to unpack this has been a long, slow, hard process.  Disengaging my personal history and what that taught me about desire with cultural narratives of men (and their desire) as evil and hetero-relationships as salvation, is not easy.  One of the many gifts queer culture offers is challenging the idea that sex can or should be deliverance.  If sex is going to save your soul, it’s understandable why getting it “right” is so important. 
I’ve had to teach myself to trust that what I feel can be beautiful, sweet, and nails-down-my-back hot and that that is plenty.  Often still, the best I can do is some degree of understanding as to why sex isn’t at any given moment.  Sex is still very scary, still fraught with emotions I barely comprehend and can certainly not control, still full of trauma and triggers. 
Last night, as I settled down to sleep, having just had a wonderful time while setting good boundaries of having the bed to myself, it came on me like the sneakiest ton of bricks you ever seen.  The closest word English affords me to describe this physical, guttural sensation of pain is “triggered.”  I felt like something dark and poisonous was trying to fit my entire chest into a tic-tak box.  It fucking hurt. 
As a survivor of sexual violence, this was not the first time my body had post-coitally rejected sex so totally.  I have, on other occasions, found myself clutching my stomach, wondering how in the godess’ name sex could possibly be worth this feeling.  “It’s waking up alone, in the dead of the night” goes one of my poems,  “and knowing the difference between me and the night by the ach in my sternum.”
Although I have fostered a deep faith in the value of sex, refusing to give-up on an entire part of life due to past trauma, I wonder what a casual relationship means in this context.  Does it mean simply that I process these feelings outside of my sexual relationship, turning instead to community, for fear that sharing would disrupt the easy nature of our interactions?  Does intense cancel casual or can we share deeply while not expecting too much from our sexual partners?  And what is too much to expect of a late winter fling? 
The fact that the trigger response only lasted about a minute or 2 (rather than a few hours) and that I was instantly able to identify what was happening to me, is testament to the work I’ve done.  Yet it’s also a reminder that sometimes you have great, no hassle sex with a wonderful guy and shit still gets complicated. Maybe casual is continuing to explore where enjoyment lies in the interplay between history, biology, socialization, and desire. Maybe, Intense essays about sex and violence are part of what it means for a person like me to “just have fun,” as my mother has often suggested.  I’d certainly like to find out.


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