For the last few days I’ve been grappling with the fact that I spend a lot of time thinking about dating and sex. In fact, I write and post a lot about it on my tumblr. I’ve been trying to come to terms with being so focused on dating and sex on the one hand, and feminist on the other.
To further explain: I fully believe that part of the patriarchal cis-tem is to socialize girls to be obsessed with dating. Mainstream women’s magazines are built and sustained on this socialization. As a consumer of this socialization, I immersed myself into women’s magazines from a young age.
I started at 10 with the magazine that American Girl (yes, the same company as the dolls) published aimed at preteens. Mostly, I was intrigued by the cartoon drawings and I liked having something new to read every month. As I entered puberty though, I appreciated the magazine (and the books the company also published) for its honest and unashamed look at puberty and the beginning of all those messy sexy feelings. It was great to read it in a magazine that other girls were reading. It made me feel not so alone in all of my weird body issues that were going on. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying American Girl is a wonderful organization because it most certainly has its own galaxy of fucked up-ness). Reading this magazine was more appealing to me than asking my mom for information about sex or puberty because, well…
Now, my mom was a very open and communicative parent when it came to telling me about sex, getting my period, and puberty. When I was three, she was pregnant with my little brother so she decided it was time to teach me about sex… using a medical textbook. I knew about the mechanics of heterosex before I could pronounce “vagina” (I called it a “magenta” which I am still partial toward). In kindergarten, when we were learning about body parts, I demanded to know about the genitals of the genital-less diagram body we were using “Is is a boy? If it’s a boy it needs a penis” (Hooray for learning cissexism). At 13, my mother taught me how to use condoms with the help of some bananas. I knew I had the support system to ask my mother questions about sex.
I could ask her questions about heterosex. Because by the time I was 14 I was fully aware of my mother’s homophobia.
At the age of 5, I asked my mom why my friend, Jordan, had two mommies, but I didn’t. I was envious. I wanted two moms and was very disappointed in my mother for giving me a father but not a second mother. My mother’s explanation was that Jordan’s moms were different, that they were lesbians, and that’s why Jordan didn’t have a dad. Since my mom wasn’t (and still isn’t) a lesbian, I couldn’t have two mommies; instead my mom liked boys the way she loved my dad whereas as Jordan’s moms liked girls the way they love each other. I then declared that I must be a lesbian because I don’t like boys, I like girls. (I was on the right track at least…) My mother’s face paled at that declaration and she said that I was too young to know, and that as I got older I would like boys the way my mom loved my dad. At the age of 14, I really got to hear my mother’s homophobia. While we were discussing same-sex marriage, she professed that being gay is a choice and is absolutely unnatural. As a sexually confused 14 year old, I shut up at the realization that if I was gay my mother would probably send me to a religiously backed camp to turn my straight (did I mention this conversation was in a church parking lot?).
Since it was apparent I couldn’t go to my mother for advice or guidance regarding my confused feelings, I turned to magazines. After all, magazines had guided me through puberty, why would they fail me now? I read ElleGirl, CosmoGirl, Seventeen, and Cosmo. As I searched for answers (primarily to the question if every girl felt the way I felt about my best friend), I absorbed the latest fashion trends, how to put on eyeshadow, and how to flirt with boys. There was nothing useful (no, I take that back, I did learn about fingering and cunnilingus and for that I am grateful).
These magazines were marketed as possessing all the sexual knowledge a modern woman could ever need. But there was nothing about being…what exactly? I knew I wasn’t a lesbian because guys turned me on, but I knew I wasn’t straight because I was certain not everyone felt the way I felt in the girls locker room (apart from the body embarrassment, that seemed almost universal). Occasionally there would be a shout out to lesbians or bisexuals, but nothing about coming out or how to deal with homophobia. If these magazines that existed solely for doling out fashion, dating, and sex advice didn’t regularly talk about my burgeoning sexuality then, teenage me deduced, my sexuality must not exist.
The media taught me that lesbians were dangerous, manly women. My family added to this by never uttering the word “lesbian” and if it was it was either said with disgust or at a whisper. I didn’t want to be feared or unliked in that way. Whenever I encountered bisexuality it was Britney kissing Madonna for attention, my junior high friends making out with each other to the cheers of boys, it was a passing moment done for the male gaze. If a tree falls in a forest with no one around, does it make a sound? If a “straight” girl makes out with another girl without a man around, does bisexuality really exist? In high school, my answer was “no.” So I pretended to be straight. I rationalized any and all crushes I would get on people not male-identified.
This is a very drawn out way of understanding why I write and think so much about dating and sex as a queer woman. Because I lie awake at night and think about what could have been if I had had resources in high school about being LGBTQUIA+. What if I my family wasn’t a bunch of pseudo-religious homophobes? What if my high school wasn’t so fucking heterosexist, sexist, and homophobic? What if I had actually lived in a community that supported queer people? What if when I had tried doing internet research about my confused feelings I didn’t just get a bunch of porn (thus making me terrified of ever trying to research that again)? What would my life had been like if I had learned about pansexuality before I was twenty years old (because even though I accepted I was most likely bisexual for lack of a better term, that identification never resonated enough with me to encourage me to come out)?
I’m writing for that fourteen year old girl who is scared to think about her sexuality because her mom thinks being gay is a choice. I spend so much time thinking about dating and sex in my own life because for so many years, I was never allowed or capable of even imagining a pansexual, polyamorous life. My focus on dating and sex isn’t part of my patriarchal socialization, it’s part of my un-socialization. I write about it and post about it because it disrupts all the heterosexist bullshit that gets shoved down the throats of teenage girls.
Written by Lindsey Dennis
Originally published on her blog