May 06, 2015

Sexual Equality

What the heck is sexual equality, anyway?

So, I was going through my Twitter responses the other day and found a very interesting answer to my post, "I believe in sexual equality". 

"What is sexual equality?" this lovely responder wrote. 

Well, great question!

With all this talk about gender equality, the conversation is usually circling around three major areas. People who advocate for gender equality attempt to tackle it socially, politically and economically. 

Sexual equality is a bit of a different thing, though it does involved gender to an extent. Sexual equality is the idea that all individuals' sexualities be acknowledged equally, regardless of gender or orientation.  

This is not the kind of thing that typically escalates to a Supreme Court decision. I'm not talking about discrimination or hatred right now. I'm not talking about something that can always be legislated. This is about the way that we are socialized as humans; what we are taught to think of as valid and legitimate - in other words, what is real - and what is not. 

Here are some examples of sexual inequality and how they affect real people and real relationships.

When I first started dating the man who would later become my first adult serious boyfriend, sex was a highly anticipated event. Until it wasn’t, because it was happening, and for the first three months it was happening all the time. Pretty much whenever we were alone, whenever we could get our hands on each other we would get our hands on each other, and all was right in the world. 

Until that first three months came to a close and things began to settle down a bit. We got comfortable with one another. Routines were established. And suddenly, every day twice a day wasn't coming as naturally to both of us anymore. Only one of us was interested in romping round the clock, and guess what? It wasn't him.

It was me. I was hungry. I was always hungry. And because of sexual inequality, this almost ended our relationship before it even got off the ground. 

It wasn't that he didn't enjoy sex with me or that he particularly minded having it as often as I desired. The problem was that we are socialized to believe that men want sex all the time, and more specifically, that men want sex more than women. American culture goes so far as to make sex out to be some kind of laborious chore that women endure for no personal reasons of their own, but rather to please their man. Thus the idea of a woman's libido being more active than a man's is just not a possibility we're brought up with in our culture. 

To him, me wanting sex so much more than him meant that something was wrong. It meant his sex drive wasn't as high as it should be. It meant that something was wrong with me as a woman and mine was too high. It meant that he was bad in bed so the sex we were having wasn't leaving me satisfied. 

The sex was amazing as it turned out. So amazing in fact that I wanted more and more of it. I explained this, and with time we were able to get past it. But sex drive, an inherent and constant desire for sex is something that, though we know it to be an animal instinct and understand that we humans too are animals, we tend to attribute more to men than to women. This is so ingrained in our culture and our way of thinking that when real life doesn't fit the mold that we've been told to expect as normal, it threatens our identities. In this case, since having a constant desire for sex that’s much stronger than a woman’s was thought of as a cornerstone of manhood, what was being called into question was my boyfriend's masculinity. His very ability to identify himself as a man was being threatened.

When our reality is threatened, we either deal with the new information and adjust our views, or reject the new information, refusing to change our views and thus refusing to accept it as the truth. People are often reluctant to change their views when their current views are essential pieces that have been used to build their identities. Had he chosen not to adapt the view that men wanted sex more than women he would have either had to leave the relationship and find a woman who wanted sex less than him, or tried to change me into that type of woman to allow his views to stay intact. 

Let's zoom out of this one relationship for a second and think about all women, and all men. What happens in our society when women and men behave in ways that do not fit the sexual expectations outlined for their genders? Society has two choices: Accept that the social norms are not in fact the reality and adjust its views, or make it reality by trying to change reality to fit the ideals. This is what we are seeing when women are convinced that sexual desire is sinful for them to explore or even experience. This is what we are seeing when young people, children, are tortured in an attempt to "fix" them by people who insist that homosexuality is not real. This is what we see when children who refuse to "change" (as if they could) are excommunicated - essentially cut off from friends and family. Because society just cannot accept the information that contradicts its ideals. It cannot; will not adapt. 

I was personally confused about my sexual orientation until I was 22! Until 22, I identified as heterosexual. I was taught that girls liked boys, and I did in fact like boys, so I didn't give it much more thought. Except...some girls made me feel weird. Not bad per se, and awkward wasn't the word either. Just...weird. Sort of...nervous and...tingly. Am I gay?, I wondered, oh so many times in high school when I caught myself staring or trying not to stare at the young women I was undoubtedly crushing on. When I felt myself clam up when and if they spoke to me the same way I did when my male crushes approached. When I felt hurt if they didn't seem to like me very much or want to be my friend. 

But I liked boys. I did like boys. And people were either gay or straight. And okay, some people claimed they were bisexual but that wasn’t really a thing - they were just confused, or on their way to admitting they were gay. It would be one thing if I felt these things and wasn't interested in boys, but if I did like boys then I must be straight. Right? But then...what the fuck was going on with this girl thing?!

And then one day I was watching Gossip Girl (don't judge me), except I wasn't really following the plot so much as just watching Leighton Meester. Her lips were a matte red in this particular episode, but I wasn't hyper aware of this because I wanted to go to Sephora and buy red lipstick. I wasn't imagining what it might be like to be her (as the oh so clever ad agencies hope we will). I was imagining what it might be like to kiss her. And rather than shaming myself away from this kind of thought as I had so many times before, on this particular day I let myself have the thought. I told myself it was okay to have it. And in having it I realized that having it was turning me on. And I told myself that was okay, too. I texted my boyfriend immediately, "I think I'm bisexual". Suddenly I felt so much better. Calmer. Everything made sense in a way that it never had before. The truth does that. Even before he replied and I learned that he'd be completely supportive in helping me figure it out, even before I knew that I would go on to experience a relationship with a woman, I was overcome with an overall sense of relief. Because I knew, in this regard at least, that I would never be "confused" again. 

When I was in high school no one was taking bisexuality seriously. I still hear people talk about it as though it's trivial. "Well, he's just confused," or, "she's just experimenting, she'll grow out of it.", that's not how it works.

I wish, I wish that sexual orientation had been explained to me the way I understand it now. That it exists on a spectrum, that there is no right or wrong, no this or that. No completely gay nor completely straight. And that everything on the spectrum is natural and normal, not just the majority or the norms that we push people toward. I wish people understood that teaching people that there is something inherently wrong with them, or that they are not normal, or that something that helps them define their identity isn't real is damaging, and unnecessary. 

Even the act of "coming out", which I've had to do many a time, is an experience that heterosexuals know not of. And they shouldn't. None of us should. Everyone's sexual orientation should be accepted as normal without question, without judgement, without fear of being kicked out of the house or offending one's grandmother, without having to ask the people at the table to Google it or having to piece together a flow chart. And if we lived in a world that believed in sexual equality and educated, truly educated and socialized us to be accepting rather than discriminating, this would be the case. 

We're not there yet. But I hope one day we will be. 

So, you asked me what sexual equality is.

Does that answer the question?


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