Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
So I can’t be the sort of sex columnist I’ve been so far and not talk about Coming Out Week, right? Right.
First off, I’d like to say that when people ask me how lesbians have sex, I link them to this superb comic, which is hot and informative and available for purchase if, you know, you get that question all the time.
(Seriously, if you’re sad about there not being a vagina in front of Sharples this year, that link will cheer you up. Erika Moen has a lot of neat comics about being queer and other things—you should check her out if you, too, are procrastinating on a thesis.)
So what about Coming Out Week? While I respect its goals and applaud its organizers, I’ll be blunt: although I’m bisexual, the week has always made me uncomfortable in my own skin.
I know it’s not anybody’s intention, but the way I felt freshman and sophomore year was that “queerness” on Swarthmore’s campus had already been defined as being hypersexual, confrontational, and highly political, and that since I didn’t want to be any of these things, I also couldn’t be queer.
Maybe I could have discovered a new side of “queerness” had I looked beyond the chalkings and actually attended some events—but face it, Chalkings 2006 (scroll to the very bottom) made me and people like me want to run as fast as we could away from places that we identified as potential battlegrounds.
There are a lot of people still smarting from Chalkings 2006, and I’m not the only one smarting on the “chalkings are scary” side. I have a good friend who didn’t come out for two years because he was a freshman during Chalkings 2006, which made him feel like once you came out at Swarthmore, you were also committing yourself to being part of a monolithic queer culture which he simply didn’t have the emotional energy to navigate. Being closeted and assumed to be straight was easier than being out and assumed to be hypersexually crazy. He just wanted to be himself without being political about it, and he felt like Swarthmore made that impossible.
Of course, when I started the “Coming Out Week is confusing” conversation with somebody over October Break, they rolled their eyes and told me I was kidding myself. “I’ve read your column, sweetheart, and now it’s a political statement every time you have sex.”
I flinched, hard. My entire point is that you should try to have sex while ignoring what society says about it—listening to your own goddamn body which doesn’t care about politics, goddammit—and I took his statement to mean that I was trying to make sex uphold principles it couldn’t support, a bad lover, even though there’s no way he could know that, and essentially taking sex too seriously.
I began to see his point later in the day, when somebody forwarded me this story. Anybody else see it?
The upshot is that during a rape trial in England, the defense lawyer thought it was acceptable to defend his client by looking at the victim’s Facebook photos and suggesting that since there were pictures of her smiling at a fancy dress party, she couldn’t really have post traumatic stress disorder.
… it sounds so absurd I want to just laugh it off and pin it on one crazy lawyer in England, and that’s, you know, what I’m doing, but at the same time it’s too close to home for that strategy to work completely, because rape victims get this idiocy about not being the “right kind of victim” directed at them all the time.
Example: The cops who interrogated me after my rape in February told me that they suspected I was giving false testimony because I wasn’t really acting like a rape victim, and why not, I asked?
Because I had laughed nervously at the jokes they made (they asked me if I wanted to call somebody I knew who might know the rapist, and say I needed to go back to the place it happened because I had lost something, and then laughed uproariously, get it?) when I gave my first deposition.
(I didn’t say this then, but honestly? Maybe by making uncomfortable double entendres when a girl gives her deposition, you’re not acting like cops.)
It’s not hard to imagine a parallel line of attack on the column. What am I doing? Enjoying sex. So clearly the rape couldn’t have been that traumatizing, right? Right. So clearly it wasn’t actually that bad, right? Right. So clearly it wasn’t, uh, rape, right?
… you see where I’m going. Suddenly the fact that I enjoy sex (but still want to claim that I was raped and that it hurt) becomes a political statement. Suddenly I’ve made myself and my body subjects of a political discourse, just by, well, stating the facts, and I’m angry, because I sure as hell didn’t ask for it.
The legal system was a place where what happened to me in, well, OK, not a bedroom, but what happened to me in sex, had to interface with society, and therefore had to become political. And the sex I have now?
I used to think that all of this sexual liberation stuff ought to be all about the right to privacy in your own bedroom, which is why Coming Out Week confused me freshman year. Why shout about your sex life when you want people to budge out of it?
But I now recognize the flip side to that coin: whatever you want to say about our culture today, it’s unavoidably a place where larger cultural assumptions about power and sex and gender and kink and sexuality are intruding on that private legal space that you share with your partner(s). A lot of times even when you don’t want politics, they will impinge themselves upon you.
So it’s frustrating that you’ve got to be political and proclaim your difference in order to fight for a culture where you won’t have to feel so constantly political and different, you know?
Some people are like “hey, not going to let the sense of politicized difference impinge” and it works for them. Some people, it impinges and impinges, and they feel the need to get a little political back, to stand up and say “Hey, this is what I do in bed, and yes, it’s different from what you thought, and yes, I’m proud of it!”
And with this column I’ve become one of those people. But I’m very uncomfortable with being that person, because I haven’t been her for very long, and because I recognize that she too is part of creating an orthodoxy, one that says “You should be telling everyone about your sex life all the time,” when whoa, that’s not actually what I want to say.
My problem with myself is my problem with Coming Out Week, in a nutshell: it can tend towards producing one form of queerness as the correct form of queerness, when some of us just want to duck into the linen closet and make out with our girlfriends there. Nothing wrong with a well-ordered and spreader-decked linen closet, you know?
So how do we create a Coming Out Week where everyone of every sexuality and desire to be extroverted about said sexuality feels safe? And how do I toe the line between being proud of being myself and letting you all know that you should be yourselves, no matter how different from me you may be?
The more I think about it the more my head hurts. So next week, when I may have finally recovered from the emotional exhaustion that the last column engendered (nothing harder than admitting that you suck at orgasms) we’re heading back into normal sex column territory: really weird and kinky stuff.
So attend a Coming Out Week event before it’s over—the organizers this year really did a great job—and then get ready for some totally frivolous fun. You’d best get cracking on your homework now.