Feb. 12th, 2015 11:52 pm
liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
[personal profile] liv
I think this is going to one of these swirly posts where I ramble about a bunch of stuff that's been on my mind for a few weeks, and I'm not sure if it'll all come together. I'm thinking about the ethics and choices around expressing affection, including sexual affection, in public or at least in front of onlookers.

Partly it's that it's Valentine's Day coming up, and I've seen any number of opinion pieces pro and contra posting about soppy coupley stuff on social media. So I suppose this is mine, but I can really see both sides of the issue. And I happened to see a Tweet from a friend complaining that it's annoying when people go on all the time about how they've found love and acceptance, and I knew perfectly well it wasn't subtweeted at me, but it tied in to stuff I've been thinking about whether I'm getting the balance right when it comes to talking about feeling loved. And then I have a friend with whom I tend to be very snuggly and physical, and although we're not a couple in any sense, I imagine we don't look much different from a couple to a random passer-by, so I feel like we ought to keep to the same etiquette standards I'd expect of a couple out in public; my friend feels my understanding of such standards is conservative, which is probably true.

On the one hand I do think it's pretty important to be able to express joy in connections and talk about people important to you. A big theme of this journal is that I love my friends, and I'm not embarrassed by that. At the same time I don't want to be smug, I don't want to in any way add to the pain of people who are lonely and wish they had more friends.

That goes even more for romantic connections, of course. There's a really big social pressure on people to be in a certain shape of romantic relationship, and people who are unwillingly single or dealing with relationships going wrong can be really unhappy to be reminded of other people having good luck that they don't. That's especially bad on Valentine's Day; quite a few friends who are generally well-balanced and not unhealthily fixated on the idea of finding a partner have mentioned that being single on VD makes them feel as if they've failed at life. And I think a lot of that is the relentless advertising most of the way through January and February, not people mentioning on FB that they had a nice date with their sweetie. But still, it does seem worth thinking about being sensitive.

I do think there's real positive value in talking in public about relationships, making love visible in all its forms, way beyond what you see represented in the media. I don't mean only relationships that are overtly Queer or otherwise hugely outside social norms, and anyway I don't want to set up a hierarchy of transgressivness. I mean, people who aren't especially pretty (especially in the narrow definition where pretty means young, white and thin) being visibly lovable and loved. I mean, relationships with age differences, gender-egalitarian as well as same-sex and gender-nonconforming relationships, relationships explicitly within religious frameworks, non-monogamous relationships, living apart, committed couples who aren't married, blended families and childless or childfree relationships, all of those are hugely underrepresented, so just seeing other options for what love can look like is important. But still, too much of this can make an already unequal situation worse for people whose key relationships aren't romantic.

And all this is even more acute when it comes to being not just romantic, but sexual, in public. I'm really torn about this issue. I mean, I remember being a teenager and finding it agonizingly embarrassing and lonely if I happened to catch sight of a couple snogging, and I remember promising myself I'd never do that, and I have thoroughly broken that promise. Partly because I discovered that it's lots of fun to be gently cuddly and smoochy with someone I feel that way about; a friend once literally threw water over me and my then partner for being too coupley in public... And partly because I got political about being more overtly sex-positive than much of my culture was growing up. I don't wish to treat sexuality as this naughty / dirty taboo thing, it's a normal part of life. Not public sex, that is a taboo, and I believe it is in quite a wide range of different cultural contexts, but just small affectionate gestures that fall towards the mild end of the spectrum of things to do with sex. If I think of lonely miserable teenaged me hating the sight of people being sexual because it evoked feelings I didn't really understand and because I thought I'd be forever left out of exploring them, I also think of teenaged me literally never setting eyes on two women kissing until I was twenty, and just how much that meant to me.

And again, I don't want to say that straight and normative couples are just being gratuitous whereas Queer couples are being political in public kissing. It's more like, the idea that sex-related things can be fun, not just a way of making babies or inherently sinful, can itself be subversive, in many circumstances. And maybe none of this matters, cos there's the internet now and no kid is going to grow up like I did literally not knowing whether being attracted to their own gender is possible. Let alone any more obscure sexual preferences or orientations than that.

Another thing I wanted to bring into this is this really quite odd Captain Awkard post about sex positivity. I mean, sure, we all understand that plenty of boundary-pushing jerks pretend to be "sex positive" in order to try to manipulate people into doing what the jerks want sexually and not in any way respecting the other person's preferences. But it feels like some of the people in the discussion are assuming that sex positive really does mean being relentlessly positive about sex all the time, even in the presence of other people who don't want to talk about sex, let alone witness it, at all! That's not at all what I understand by the term when I call myself sex positive, and yes, I have seen reasonable critiques of something that looks more like what I do think sex positivity is supposed to be. I like Emily Nagoski's definition: the radical, all-inclusive belief that each person’s body belongs to that person. But certainly being sex positive is supposed to include consent. (Yes, this does risk the Scotsman fallacy, it's not fair to define anyone whose politics I disagree with as not properly sex positive! Still, I'm pretty sure that the situation described in the CA letter isn't in fact anything to do with sex positivity.)

Anyway, one thing I wanted to pull out of that discussion is some of the ideas about different ways that people can experience asexuality or anything on that sort of spectrum, demi-sexuality, low sex drive etc. The thread includes mentions of the terms sex-repulsed and sex-averse. So I do want to take into account that people may object to seeing reminders of sexuality for reasons beyond feeling lonely, or thinking of sex as a bad thing. And it's not just sex-repulsed aces, either, for far too many people references to sex are also potentially references to trauma. There are lots of reasons why I can't just blithely say, PDA and discussions of sex should be more socially accepted.

So although I have made a political decision that I want to talk openly about sex in this journal, I do make a point of labelling such posts clearly and cutting them. I don't want to be like the jerk in the CA letter, forcing my sexuality on other people! And it's for that reason that I'm somewhat conservative, if you like, about snogging and other physical affection in public, because even where I know that it's entirely non-sexual, I don't think that's very visible to bystanders. Let alone when it actually is a way of doing something in a small way sexual which is at least somewhat acceptable in some public contexts. But I don't completely rule it out, because apart from anything else I don't want to hide my affection for people I love as if it were something shameful.

Right, I have a bit more to say specifically about discussing kink, but it's midnight so I think I'll leave that for another time.

What do you think, people? How do you balance these things? (Possibly by erring on the side of not talking about them on the internet, in which case you probably won't be in a position to comment!) But I'm working this stuff through in my mind and would appreciate some input. Feel free to contact me offline if you prefer.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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