Queer relationships come in many different forms. From married, middle-aged gay dudes with two charming adopted children and a Pekingese, to polyamorous families who are just nebulous enough to make your Daily Mail-reading grandma nervous – in the LGBT+ community there are whole lots of people doing their thing in a whole lot of different ways. That is beautiful and it’s the thing that makes us diverse and sparkly.
However if you take a step back and look at some of these relationships you can see some eerily familiar power dynamics at play. In the society we live in, we are raised to see romantic relationships that involve two people as falling in line with a series of binary power dynamics: passive/active, emotional/rational, caring/defending. These are heterosexual binaries that, to whatever extent, nudge us in the direction of proscribed partner roles. But what does this mean when two people don’t fall into the most dominant of the binaries: man/woman?
How many dudes have you blocked on Grindr this week who said they were “straight acting”? Far from being a rogue douchebag, this guy’s way of thinking reproduces heteronormative ideals that stigmatise perceived “feminine” traits and prop up the discourse that make “camp” men into the wrong kind of gay.
The kink world provides us with a view that subverts these binaries. If you’re doing it right, the submissive in the adult diaper who’s licking your shoe is actually in perfect control of the situation. The dom/sub relationship in BDSM is, in its proper form, a perfectly equal partnership of two people with different roles but mutually agreed boundaries and total personal agency. This isn’t to say that that “women and men are separate but equal” shtick you read in your weird old aunt’s water stained copy of Good Housekeeping is to be believed: this is about more than making it okay to be submissive.
Domination and submission don’t have to correspond to masculinity and femininity, they can have a multiplicity of meanings for different people in different situations. A bottom isn’t necessarily submissive and a top isn’t necessarily masculine. Some queer partners may be incredibly happy in their dichotomised roles and that is beautiful, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – as long as that choice has not been made for them. Queer and kink relationships can provide a genuinely revolutionary space for fucking with the power dynamics through which we’ve been taught to see the world. I’ve seen enough Japanese salarymen in tutus to know this to be true.
The superimposing of straight identity onto queer identity can have even more urgent implications; LGBT+ people experience domestic violence in roughly equal rates to straight couples, but their status as a sexual minority can really complicate things for survivors seeking support. Police and shelters may not be able to determine which partner is the victim, or may not even grasp that female partners can inflict violence too. These attitudes towards domestic abuse can add an extra layer of pain to queer men’s experiences by restricting their access to urgent social care and by stigmatizing them twice over – not only for being gay but for being “feminised” as victims of domestic abuse.
Heterosexism does more than just push us to the margins of society. If we internalise it we can start to impose those normative gender roles on ourselves, regardless of who our partners might be. If we want to change the world, we have to be as loving and as queer as we can be; we have to go out and make our grandmas nervous.
For the cause!
Rosie Dent-Brown (Comment Contributor)