There have been numerous posts about the issue of consent on DDP. This is not surprising given how horrifyingly common sexual assault is and how pervasive rape culture can be. Hopefully by now many people have been exposed to the idea of positive consent: it’s not enough to just stop if you hear a “no,” it’s also necessary to check in and receive a clear, preferably verbal “yes.” However, being committed to a culture of consent requires another responsibility: recognizing the implicit power dynamics that are present in all relationships.
Content note: discussion of abusive relationships
What do you do with a friend who’s dealing with abuse? In my case, my loving and wonderful friends all tell me, “You have to walk away,” “He’s an asshole,” “You’re not doing anything wrong until you ignore what he’s doing to you,” etc.
In other words, they all want me to do what *they* think is right. They all – out of nothing but love – are trying to guilt me into leaving. Telling me I’m stupid for staying. Basically perpetuating the same emotionally abusive actions they want me to get away from in him.
Last year, I decided that I would stop jumping from one serious relationship to another. I should, I figured, give myself some space and breathing room to explore. While that’s proven to be the right decision, I’ve discovered that dating is, nonetheless, an exceptionally awful pastime. There’s a lot of anxiety around meeting someone in the first place – attempting to catch the eye of the cutie on the train; hoping that guy 50 times older than you with the leering smile would stop trying to catch your eye on the train. Then, there’s the texting, or e-mailing, or sending messages on Facebook and the gut-gurgling misery that arises from not being able to tell if someone is kind of into you or totally into you.
Next, there’s talking on the phone, which is a nightmare of nerves, and, finally, meeting in person. Whether you’ve already met your person in a cute movie-esque sort of way at the bookstore or cafe or your weekly radical sex workshop, or you met them online, the first date is always The Worst. Because of feelings and fears and the inability to hold down your food.
If the date goes well, great. Anxieties ease, feelings develop. You’re on a good path.
But if the date doesn’t go so well?
Well. Back to the looking, and the texting and messaging and phone calls, and the first dates. Again, and again, and again.
This is a guest post by Marie Richards.
When we met, Alex was 20, and I was 19. We had known each other as acquaintances in High School, but reconnected through mutual friends while I was finishing my first year of University. We’ve been together for two years now, and I couldn’t be happier. I am a firm believer that there are things that Alex and I have been through together that bond a couple like nothing else.
One of the biggest, hardest changes for both of us happened about six months ago when Alex told me that they were genderfluid. Although it was a huge challenge to accept at first, it has really strengthened our relationship. They (I’m using they for the sake of clarity; Alex isn’t fussy about pronouns) told me this after what felt like an eternity of fighting, and we had had strap-on sex for the first time. I should have known when I felt so connected to Alex in a way that I had never felt before that our strap-on was more than just a strap-on. They told me that thanks to a couple of Women’s Studies classes that I had taken and shared the contents of, they had come to think of themselves over the past few months in a way that finally fit, in a way that being a girl never had. They had come to the realization that they were not, in fact, a cisgender woman, like we had all thought, but a genderfluid person.
This post contains text below the jump that may not be safe for work.
For the most part, dating a transgender person is no different from dating a cisgender person (someone who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth). But if you are a cis person dating a trans person, there are some things you should keep in mind that may not have come up in your previous relationships with other cis people.
I am a polyamorous queer cisgender woman, and nearly half of all the lovers I’ve had have been transgender. I take this as a compliment: like everyone I make mistakes, but I figure I’m doing something right if so many trans* people have chosen to welcome me into their hearts. Keeping in mind that I’ve by no means covered every topic, here’s what I’ve learned about being a good cis partner to trans people I date.
1. Recognize that your partner’s identity may change over time
This is important to keep in mind even if you’re dating a cis person, because anyone can discover something new about their gender identity. I’m dating a cis woman whose partner of nearly a year identified as a cis man for most of their relationship. Recently, though, they have started to identify as transgender. My girlfriend has struggled to adapt – in fact, I have been more consistent about her partner’s preferred gender-neutral pronouns than she has, because I met them after they came out as trans, while my girlfriend has known them as male for the majority of their relationship. But respecting your partner’s changing identity is key to maintaining a healthy relationship, and my girlfriend has been learning to embrace her partner’s feminine identity as it develops alongside their masculine identity.
2. Correct people who misgender your partner
I run into this issue a lot, because my partner uses they/their/them pronouns, and many people are not familiar with using the singular they as a gender-neutral pronoun for people they know. It can be awkward sometimes. I talk about my partner with the correct pronouns, but most everyone knows I’m queer and automatically uses “she” to refer to them because they think I only date female-identified people. Sometimes this happens with people I’ve only just met. Even so, no matter how awkward I feel, I always step up and tell people to use the correct pronouns to talk about them. If it’s awkward for me, I imagine how much worse it is for my partner to have to correct people about themself. As someone with the protection of cisgender privilege, it is my responsibility to help my partner be respected as the gender they are.
This is a guest post by Rivka Cohen.
In a recent article titled “One way to end violence against women? Married dads,” some well-meaning (?) writers covered the story of a recent study that found that women’s safety from physical violence correlates with being married. These writers came to what they felt were the obvious conclusions: to keep safe, women should stop having so many boyfriends (#heteronormativemuch) and settle down with a nice hunk of marriage material. The way they presented it, these writers were simply stating the hard facts of life. However, “politically incorrect” is not the worst thing that can be said about the way they interpreted these studies. Try just “incorrect.”
Why? That’s easy. People, repeat after me: “correlation is not causation.”
An alternate explanation of these findings is that men who are not assholes are more likely to get married. Therefore, it’s possible that women who are married are more likely to be in a relationship with a man who is not an asshole, and are (perhaps due to that reason, perhaps due to others, because these studies are CORRELATIONAL so anyone’s theory goes) at decreased threat of physical violence.
For another possibility, women who have experienced physical or sexual violence from a man might be less likely to desire to legally and financially tie themselves to one through marriage. This might cause them to be less likely to choose to marry. Women who have not been married might then have a higher likelihood of having been the victims of violence — but *not* because being not-married puts them at risk.
The point is, when the numbers are correlational, as they are in these studies, our conclusions about them are a story. We can tell whatever story we want. The authors of this op-ed have decided to tell a story in which the best way for “a female” to live in this world violence-free is for her to tie herself to a man for protection. In my story, women are capable of keeping ourselves safe, such as by learning self-defense, taking assertiveness courses, and learning how to set and maintain healthy emotional and physical boundaries. In my story, men are sufficiently capable of self control to choose to not hurt the women and girls in their lives, even in the absence of a biological or marital relationship to them.
The numbers support either story. However, in my story, women are powerful and men are good people who do not need to be a woman’s father or husband to choose to treat her with respect. I like my story better.
“There’s no positive feminist alternative to the Disney model of romance,” an old friend told me late one night.
As is not unusual in conversations with me, the topic of feminism had come up, and I’d asked him whether he thought gender roles were a good thing. He responded by sharing a story of his own heartbreak: a relationship that ended after moving in together and falling into a pattern of contentious discussions about who should be responsible for which chore.
My friend seemed to be implying that gender roles make things easier, that the feminist model of each couple negotiating for themselves was more work. “We spent all our time in negotiations about living together, instead of just enjoying living together.”
I pointed out that it was more work for him to talk about it, but probably less work for her because the continuing inequality in household chore breakdowns means that, statistically speaking, women who don’t specifically negotiate otherwise tend to end up with an unfairly large chore burden. And of course, relying on gender roles for divvying up household chores only works for couples with one man and one woman.
Nevertheless, I think there was value in my friend’s observation about a feminist alternative to the typical romance narrative. It was a revelation to me, perhaps because I live in a bit of a feminist bubble: I think there is a feminist story of love, and perhaps we just have to do a better job of spreading it.
A few weeks ago I saw the new BBC film The Invisible Woman, which tells the story of Ellen Ternan, the long-term mistress of Charles Dickens. The Invisible Woman contributes to a trend in film, literature, and scholarship of exploring the lives of previously ignored or neglected women who happen to be attached to famous or noteworthy men. Insofar as I believe this project is a very valuable one, I was predisposed to think highly of The Invisible Woman, and I was expecting a story of the life of a complex, strong willed woman in the context of a still decidedly pre-feminist society. (I am into these types of films, as you might have noticed.) However, on most fronts the movie fell short of my expectations – the two main women in the film, Ellen Ternan and Dickens’ wife, Catherine Hogarth, are underdeveloped, and instead of a complex examination of how heteronormativity limits and damages lives, we get a portrait of relationships without much content or redeeming richness.
Perhaps true to its name, the most mysterious character in the film is the invisible woman herself, Ellen Ternan, a young actress from a family of actors. Elsewhere on the interwebs, Ellen is described as “clever and charming, forceful of character, undomesticated, and interested in literature, the theatre, and politics.” Unfortunately, in the film almost none of these traits are evident. Ellen is portrayed as interested in literature, but only in Dickens’ literature, which she reads obsessively and sighs over wistfully as she listens to his public readings. Nowhere is Ternan shown to be engaging in a conversation with Dickens about literature that does not include swooning, and other than her love for his writing she appears to be totally devoid of intellectual interests or opinions. She is not, it turns out, even a particularly talented actress. As for being clever or charming, we never hear her make a single joke or witty aside – and contrary to being forceful in character, her primary talents seem to lie in being very pretty, melodramatically vulnerable, and appealing to Charles Dickens.
The only exception to this depiction comes when Ternan realizes that her relationship with Dickens – which enters a weird sort of formalism after her family collectively decides she will be better off as a permanent mistress than a mediocre actress – is expected to involve socializing with unmarried, co-habitating couples (which she finds immoral and offensive) and having sex on a regular basis with Dickens. “I did not understand I was to be your whore,” she protests. However, this defiance is short lived; once Dickens makes clear that divorcing his wife is not an option, she settles down into the life of the widely-known-about-but-never-acknowledged mistress, living off of Dickens’ support for the rest of his life and marrying under an alternative identity after his death.
Because of the emptiness of Ternan’s character, we are left totally puzzled as to why Dickens is so infatuated with her. To make matters worse, Dickens’ wife, Catherine Hogarth, is presented in a way that manages to make her more likable and interesting than both Dickens or Ternan while nonetheless attempting, apparently, to push our sympathies toward Ternan’s and Dickens’ romance. It is not that the film demonizes Hogarth or dismisses her suffering – on the contrary, the most emotionally powerful scene of the film came, for me, when her son reads to her the humiliating public notice of their separation Dickens has published in the newspapers. However, to the extent that she gets screen time, it seems like the filmmakers followed the narrative apparently left behind by Dickens – that Hogarth was a boring, unlovable woman who didn’t really deserve the loyalty of someone as vivacious and brilliant as Charles Dickens.
This is a guest post by Page Gramsci.
During a family vacation a few weeks ago, my brother-in-law was having a conversation with my father about a Bill Bryson book. He was extolling the virtues of Bryson’s ability to explain a complex subject when my father, apparently bored with discussion, changed topics suddenly.
“You know what someone should explain in a book which would make them tons of money?” he asked, pausing for dramatic effect while my sister and I, seated a few feet away at the kitchen counter and furtively trying to derail this interruption by remaining silent and refusing to provide the expected “What?” waited warily for his reply – “Someone should write a book explaining women to men.”
Silence and irritated blinking followed. In one of those split second decisions we make every day – those gambles about whether to intervene and speak up about something problematic we’ve heard, and thus risk exploding the space and soiling everyone’s mood or, instead, to just grumble deeply in one’s throat and let it slide for the sake of not having to deal with said explosion – I decided to try to register dissent in a frame that my father would find difficult to immediately dismiss; by pointing out that not all men think like he does.
“You should just ask Tim [my boyfriend,]” I replied. “He understands women perfectly.”
“I highly doubt that,” was my father’s initial response.
“Well it is not that difficult, you know.” I continued. “You just start with understanding people and then you’re pretty much done.”
Perhaps irritated by the snark that had creeped into my tone – “it’s only a matter of time before she starts talking like that,” I imagine most of my conservative family members think to themselves – Dad quickened his retort and heightened his own tone of derision.
“Just because he agrees with you does not mean that he understandings you” – a comment which is only made explicable by the back history of Tim and I spending endless hours in political conversation with my father, each of us alternatively trying different strategies to push him along to perspectives we share. Still, the assertion was still baffling, and my brain rapidly tried to untangle the logic that could have produced such a reply. Was he suggesting that my political positions are merely products of the logic of Tim, and although I concur with him on most major points of politics, the process by which I do so is still somehow mysterious? And why was he focusing on my political views as what I was referring to when I claimed Tim understands me? Was the concept of Tim also understanding my emotional needs and states so preposterous to father that he assumed, somewhere in his head, that I simply meant Tim understands my intellectual positions? Or was he simply feeling backed into a corner, an experience that reminded him of many two-against-one conversations with the pair of us that was his most immediate reference for our mutual understanding?
Unable to solve the riddle in a matter of mere seconds, I simply said, “I have no idea what that even means,” and went on to clarify, “there has never been a time when Tim was not understanding about my feelings or experiences and did not listen to me closely to make sure he was understanding me correctly.”
At this point, my father’s defensiveness somehow melted – perhaps because, aware as he is of the very happy state of my relationship, his pleasure at seeing his daughter well-treated overcame his desire to win an argument about gender normativity – and as he nodded sincerely he said, “That must be really nice, it really must be.”
“Indeed, it is,” I grinned, and, mercifully, the conversation came to an end. But although it was brief, the exchange was so packed with absurdity and mutual bewilderment that it highlighted, like perhaps few short exchanges ever do, the vast ocean that separates the way someone like my father – a conservative white male baby boomer – and someone like me – a thirty year old white feminist leftist – think about relationships between men and women.
Happy Thursday everyone!
As many of you know, tomorrow is Single’s Awareness Day… oh wait, I mean Valentine’s Day. Now, maybe it’s because I’ve been relationshipless for the past three Valentine’s Days, but I really am not a fan of this holiday. I’ve never grasped the concept of why we need a single day to tell someone(s) how much we love them or how much they mean to us. Shouldn’t everyday be the day to tell people these things?
Anyway, I digress.