Dating Tips for Men* from a Sex Positive, Queer Woman.

Nice to see you here. Please make yourself comfortable. This is going to be a bit rambling, but also sharp; probably a little pointy and niggling in the parts of you that feel self-important or sure. It is probably going to be helpful, but also a bit cringe-worthy during the moments we both know are complete truth-bombs. I hope there is something in here for everyone, even though I am addressing it mostly to men*. I used the word “dating” in the title of this piece and throughout because that is what is universally understood as engaging with another person with a romantic and/or sexual slant or aspiration injected into the interaction. I typically don’t really like the word because I find it to be loaded full of expectations of some sort of escalation of seriousness after a certain amount of time. I am a huge advocate for casual love, and feel that not all romance or sexual relationship need exhibit continuity to be fulfilling, or meaningful, or downright soul-quaking. But, since I have now explained that, I will use the word “dating” to describe that engagement or interaction of a romantic and/or sexual nature.

I have an actual laundry list of things that have happened in my life that I have learned from when it comes to dating. I am going to offer up some of these understandings, as a gift, so the world can be full of happier, healthier, sexually and emotionally sated people. I have a lot of theories about emotional and sexual depravity and the impact it has on our capitalistic, very comfortable North American existence. Suffice it to say that I think if a lot more people were sexually and emotionally fulfilled and free, they might not be such assholes to one another.

I will start by telling you a little about myself as your “consultant”.

I am in my mid-thirties. I identify as queer, bisexual/pansexual, cis female/femme, sex positive and non-monogamous. I am coming at this as a person who is literally down to hang out with, and maybe consensually try to sex at, any human anywhere on the gender spectrum, just because it might be fun, provided they meet some (of what I consider to be) light requirements. I am in several relationships of varying length and seriousness, all over the romantic/sexual/neither spectrum. My friendships and my romantic partnerships have equal significance potential for me. I think and talk about this a lot, to the chagrin (I suspect) of some people; I identify as something of a love nerd. I think about my politics and how I inject them into my interpersonal relationships. I am not a dating/relationship expert; this is an opinion piece. Expert status is for people who have done their homework; I have done some homework, but not all of it.

Homework is lifelong.

I’m white; I have a lot of privilege because of this despite being female and queer. I try to think about that and be inclusive, and am actively attempting to learn how to be better every single day.

Now, a little bit of information about you (or what I assume about anyone reading this).

You are most likely here and reading because you saw the title of the essay and thought to yourself, “you know, I would totally like to date a sex positive queer woman. That seems like a pretty good idea”. Or maybe you were like, “actually, I think a sex positive queer woman would have a thing or two to tell me about what dating people is about, and how to do it without being a jerk”. Further, you might also be reading this out of spite: “what the fuck could a sex positive queer woman possibly have to say that speaks to my already extensive knowledge of people and how to date them. I am, after all, a totally hot commodity so like, I bet I could teach her a thing or two”.

If the latter is you, I’m so sorry to hear of your complete lack of self awareness, or alternatively your closed mind. There are a metric ton of great therapists in this city and probably also in yours.

Go see one.

Seriously, go to a therapist. Get your shit together.

To the rest of you: If you’d be so kind as to actually listen to me. I’m speaking from a place of ample experience attempting to date people just like you, or just not like you and like someone completely different, and everything in between. I have come to some conclusions about what might help you be more “successful”. That being said, I am going to define “successful” in this instance as “not having treated someone like shit, or been a shithead to someone”. This can also be defined as leaving people better off than when you found them.

I don’t support anyone being a shithead, or taking away from people for personal gain. To quote a dear friend in a particularly thorough outline of how to love more than one person at a time, “Don’t treat people like things”.

I am going to write this in reference to the phases a typical dating scenario goes, and what I think about it.

To start, we meet.

Oh hey; we’ve now met and you’ve established that you think I’m attractive. Thank you, I appreciate that, but not in the ways that you might think.

This first contact is not the be all, end all to your interaction with me. Stop with the “first impressions mean everything” trope. It’s old, and I am not an idiot. I know you’re a dynamic, multifaceted person that cannot be summed up in the first 5 minutes. In fact, I suspect that whatever I am first impressed with about you is more about me and my interpretations of people than about you. So, let this go and do not worry. I hope you’ll be able to do the same. Any assumptions you’ve made about me based on what you have seen in the first five minutes are probably more about you than they are about me.

Once mutual attraction has been realized, usually through clearly confirming with your words (use your words; they’re magical tools when used clearly), we can talk about what sort of interaction is mutually desired, or what we want to do together.

This is actually where things can crossroad to positive or negative. This is the turning point.

Right here.

Telling me that you think I’m hot/cute/pretty/whatever way you want to compliment my physicality isn’t going to help you out of the gate. In fact, any kind of basic flattery is going to provoke me to think that that is what you think is important about me, which is not what I think at all. I am also a dynamic, multifaceted person that cannot be summed up based on my physical presentation. Further, I have medium self-esteem issues, which I think is pretty common but not talked about enough as a systemic problem with the ways that femme-presenting women are viewed. Your compliments are going to fall a bit flat and I will, in some weird way, think you’re lying in the back of my mind.

This will put me on guard.

It gives me the impression that you want something from me, and don’t know how to ask for it, so you’re going to try to get me to like you by flattering me. Stop trying to manipulate the outcome of our interactions and just interact with me. Be yourself.

Oh my goodness, just please be yourself.

It’s 2017. Women are woke, and we see you. We see your attempts to cloud our perception. We see right through any sort of mask you are wearing. We hear our inner voices, and they’re telling us you’re putting it on. If I think you’re being at all disingenuous, we’re not going to get anywhere. Guardedness does not foster trust the way that vulnerability and authenticity does. We have learned through years of our own experiences, and those of our mothers, those of our grandmothers. Their experiences are imbedded in our genes, much like our own will be imbedded in those of our daughters. The voice in our gut telling us something isn’t safe is bang on every time.

Every. Fucking. Time.

We’re not talking ourselves out of our intuition anymore. That time has past.

I feel, sometimes, the impulse to apologize for that passing, but I will not. I am grateful for it. I’m glad that I get to be a part of a revolution in which women are using the tools we’ve been socialized to have for our own greater good, our own personal wellbeing. The benefit to us is hugely redeeming in light of what has been historically true: we needed these skills to mitigate the harm done to us. We needed to do this in covert, in shadows, subtly. We used to be emotional ninjas; now we are loud. We respond quickly to our own alarm systems.

We are battle-crying warriors.

I will not be sorry for my strength and learning how to wield it.

Now, since this is likely to happen, I’ll outline what is to be expected if I decide that this thing we’re doing together isn’t working for me.

The inevitability factor isn’t because I don’t think you’re a perfectly lovely person, or something, but more because the end of a relationship is certain unless we stay connected until one or both of us dies, and that just simply isn’t that likely. The other thing that is relatively unlikely is your coming to the conclusion that you’re not interested in seeing me anymore and doing something about it directly before I do.

I mean, if I had data to support this as more likely, I’d reflect that here.

But I don’t. You’ll probably ghost if anything, and I don’t judge you for that. It’s fine.

Because I might even ghost too, if I’m too tired to do anything else.

If you think the reason i am not continuing to be interested in seeing you is because of the thing I told you about, you’re right. I probably said something a while ago, maybe even twice, and didn’t get a response or attention paid to the thing that gave me reassurance that you care about my wellbeing within your treatment of me. So the thing that changed my mind and caused me to withdraw could have been tiny, but only because that was the straw. The rest of the things were subtle, ongoing, and didn’t seem worth mentioning until there were too many and i was done. Sometimes straws are a lack of gratitude, or not asking me a thing that shows interest in my lived experience, or some offhand comment like “i wish those women had come forward sooner” that shows me something about you, and your lack of thought process about people’s experiences besides your own lived one, and especially your perspective on those with less privilege than yours.

That is a sticking point for me.

The privilege one.

Because herein lies the final thing for this particular document.

You probably don’t see me.

You probably see someone who is nice (they say), conventionally attractive (I’m told), and have no actual idea who I am because you haven’t asked.

Ask. Be willing to learn about me. Look at me, witness, integrate what you see and understand, ask more questions, be willing to rewrite your narratives.

See me. I am dynamic. I change.

Keep up.

This, alongside some basic self-maintenance: having seen the inside of a counsellor’s office because you care about your mental health.

I need you to be thinking about what you say, why you’re about to say it, before you say it. Self-awareness is hot.

Being curious and open to learn, is all I actually need. I will probably never want to stop knowing you, or talking to you, if you can meet me with these few requirements.

The sexiest thing is a sense of responsibility for yourself in an encounter with me.

That is total panty-remover, as it were, if a sexual situation is mutually sought. Love potion, if the romantic is our reciprocal cup of tea.

Flowers are boring and probably unethically sourced, anyway.

*When I use the term “men” in this context, I am referring to people socialized as men, and are still wading through the weight and complications of what that means.

Love-Bombed.

The restaurant was so dark I could barely see him, backlit by some dim lanterns that kept the place moody, warmly toned, but technically visible. There were dark corners where booths held people, in pairs, speaking to each other intimately over the soft piano music. Cutlery clinked against glass or porcelain, subtle. I appreciated that the music wasn’t too loud, since this was the sort of place where people talk about intimate things over their meals; it surprises me to no end how many eating or drinking establishments miss that point. I was taking in everything: the small sounds, the slight taste of wine in my mouth from my last sip. The tablecloth was silky smooth under my fingers as i traced the edge of it for something to hold on to and tried to look him directly in the eye as he spoke, holding his gaze. I wanted to look anywhere else. The walls had beautiful art on them I wanted to study. It was a strange geometrical modernist sort of imagery within which you can see virtually whatever you want. The texture of the carpets was suddenly something I wanted to inspect and find the pattern in. I imagined looking at the ceiling. I wondered if it was interesting, speckled or peaked, if it had an inset to it. My lap, shrouded in black as usual and containing my other hand, the one not tugging on the edge of the tablecloth, but I did not look down. I am sure my nails are fine and do not need my attention, but I want to check. Ignoring these impulses became my secondary focus while my primary was to listen to him. It was considered attentive to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking from the heart, wasn’t it? He seemed to mean what he was saying. I wanted to believe his intentions were good. I think he did. I took note of my own skittish brain. Why can’t you just listen, why are you so easily distracted? What are you doing, mind?

I had been going into any romantic or sexual connection for the last few months with a pretty clear caveat that I was not well-equipped to be relied upon for emotional care or labour until further notice. I was recovering from some relationship implosion trauma and the well I had of emotional energy with which to deal with the feelings of others was very slowly refilling. There was about an inch in the bottom. That is nothing when the image in my head of this well sizes it comparable to a wheat silo.

He was explaining to me, on our second date, that he was in love with me.

He said that he felt empowered by the fact that I was so open and accepting, that he felt safe expressing the feelings he had because he knew I wouldn’t judge him. He also said that he didn’t expect me to respond in kind, that he was just happy to be in my life in a meaningful way.

He said this to me the second time we spent time together in person.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I inhaled, and knew, logically, that oxygen should get to my brain, but felt a bit like it would not survive the journey for some reason. Something was constricting in my chest. The air passing through my lungs just wasn’t enough.

I ignored that feeling.

I smiled and thanked him for his sentiment and his kind words. I might have reached out and taken his hand as some gesture of affection, or something to indicate that it was okay. My brain flooded with emotions. I was flattered, but I immediately felt guilty for not telling him I loved him back. I felt some shame. It was happening again. I did not know that the guilt would eat at me until I said it to him a short time later, maybe a couple of weeks. I don’t think I meant it in the way he thought I did, I also do not think I was influenced by him alone. That influence did not just come from the fact that he had said it first, or anything.

It came from everywhere.

Everything I understood about wanting to make people happy by giving them what they want, about the supposed fragility of the male ego not being able to cope with rejection and therefore to reject even a little was an act that could lead to my abuse, or about there being value in loving with an open heart and that the meaning of the word didn’t have to be what is traditionally assigned to it. About gratitude, bravery, honesty, and that love conquers all, or that it is enough. About this being a warning sign.

About ignoring warning signs.

The list went on.

There is a flavour to the “I love you” that follows the one that was too soon to be real. It doesn’t quite taste the same in your mouth as you form the words with lips round over the o’s and teeth coming together with lips over the vee. there’s a sense of the words being pulled from your lips without you quite being okay with it. The feelings accompanying it are trepidation, uncertainty, nerves. As opposed to having freely given them, or that the momentum of them leaving your throat was coming from something deeper inside of you. Something probably like your own agency. Empowerment. Safety.

Sometimes people do things, say things, to garner some sort of response. We don’t even know we’re doing it. I have done this. I have acted particularly in order to get through to an understanding by the other person, based on what I thought they would understand. I am not happy or proud that I have acted in this way. In fact, I’m committed now to speaking as clearly and as from the heart as I can so that people can have the sort of reactions they want to have, and making space for them to do that. But prior to my better understanding of myself and how I communicate, I would do and say things based on a set of information I had that suggested “people” (generally) act a way in response to the act. If i was being critical, I would call my own behaviour manipulative. If I am being kind, I call it influential.

The words are practically synonymous, but I bet a different feeling manifested when you read them each. I had a different feeling typing them. I searched through thesaurus to find words that more accurately portrayed what I meant. I glided over calculation, persuasion, conviction… none of them seemed to quite be so close and yet quite so juxtaposed.

A set of dominos begin to fall with love-bombing. The person who is professing their love might feel a set of emotions based on the fact that they have just revealed themselves in a vulnerable way. Maybe they feel a sense of relief, something akin to an exhale after holding one’s breath for a little while because they are going through a tunnel: a superstitious thing people do. Maybe there is an increasing sort of tension as they wait for the other person to respond to their disclosure. It may have taken every ounce of courage within them to admit it. Perhaps this was the first time they had ever thrown caution to the wind and just, you know, spoke their truth.

Maybe this was their equivalent of standing on the edge of the giant precipice of the unknown, uncharted waters, terrified.

Maybe this is just how they fall in love. Quick, hard, abrupt.

Maybe this is what they do to get the other person to act similarly. Maybe this has “worked” for them a million times.

Maybe they have actually never felt like this before.

Maybe they want me to react.

The person on the receiving end has to wrangle through their own feelings about “love” as a concept: what it means, what the word represents for them, but also how this has happened. Maybe they start to replay through the short exchange of interactions with the other person to scan them for some sense of how this came to pass, and are juggling that along with trying to figure out how they feel, if they feel similarly, whether that’s reasonable, whether it is safe to say out loud in response, but mostly how to react.

Maybe they’ve never had anyone say that to them before.

Maybe they don’t know how they feel about the person, but they don’t want to outright reject them.

Maybe they are used to people falling in love with them as it happens every day, so this is normal.

Maybe they’re terrified of their own feelings, have now been asked to deal with those of someone else, and it’s too much.

My cued reaction, now, is to respond with “what do you mean?”

Fail? On Changing Relationships.

Relationships changing, or ending, is often perceived as a failure. Typically, an intrinsically higher value is placed on the romantic or sexual relationships we have with other people, and when those things change to be not sexual or romantic, it is usually considered a downgrade in significance. That “demotion” is often perceived as bad, or as something broken. I am skeptical of this because whenever I have felt inclined to extract myself from a connection, or change it, things have gotten better. Sometimes this happens immediately, and sometimes it takes a little while for the improvement to set in, but there is always something that makes the whole process a net-positive. So, what failed?

When the end of the agreed-upon terms of a relationship comes, I am quick to apply a light switch metaphor: we are on, right up until we are off. Or, we are off until we’re on. The more I have experienced this switch, the weaker that comparison is for me. It feels more like hitting empty on a gas tank: an emotional vat that fuels the ability to keep going in the reality around you as it is. My brain has traditionally recorded the moments things change, I suppose, I can call to mind these transitional points very clearly. They are seared in my mind’s eye, easily accessed. The impact of them is probably something to do with their clarity in my remembrance. Strong feelings, good or bad, seem to be what we hold on to. Moments of change also seem to stick. So, when a relationship is at a point of major shift, there are ripples in the mind and the memory.

It starts in my fingertips, kind of tingling. It works its way up my arms and forms a tightness around my chest, in my lungs, around my heart. In an attempt to relieve the constriction, I will probably take a deep intake of breath. As I exhale, there’s a sort of release that occurs. It feels like the blood coursing through me is cold, suddenly, and draining away. It is as if I have suddenly realized that the well from which I draw resilience is empty save for a drop of energy reserved for whatever exit strategy is deployed. If I close my eyes for a moment, the blackness is comfortable and familiar because there’s nothing inside me anyway. I can see the edges of my shell, bare, exposed and a bit scarred from the strain of trying to keep the connection from breaking. I feel hollow and devoid of care. This is usually past the point at which it would have been a comfortable thing to leave, because if I had done this sooner I would have the energy to deal with the fallout of the separation. I am usually kicking myself later as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other, or complete simple tasks such as making myself something to eat, or being punctual.

I’m always early except when I am surviving on fumes, if anything. The level of strain is indicative in how late I am.

I could have ended it when there was something left in me, and this would all be easier. Since I kept on until I was completely done, there’s nothing to help me cope with self-preservation after. I’ve probably lost weight, and I’ve probably been sleeping a lot more, or a lot less, for a while. My skin probably has less colour than usual, which is laughable. I am pretty pale already.

I know this feeling well enough that I can recognize the onset, now. I used to be surprised by it as words escape my lips and I hear my own voice echo out of me, foreign. I would hear myself speak and think, did I just say that?

Oh.

The words are in language that represents termination, and usually served very deadpan, or cold. When I reach this point, I haven’t got any time for warming them up anymore.

“I can’t keep doing this.”

“I need you to get your things out of my house.”

“I haven’t been happy in ages. I have to go.”

“Wow. You should probably go.”

“Um, I’m leaving.”

“Get off me.”

“I’m not happy and this relationship needs to end.”

“Get out.”

“I don’t want to be with you anymore in this capacity.”

“I am not going to marry you.”

“I need you to stop.”

“I need to stop.”

“This isn’t working.”

“Really? Okay. I don’t want to keep doing this.”

“We’re done.”

Sometimes I say nothing. I just turn on my heel and walk away, or I hang up the phone. In particularly avoidant moments, I’m walking down the street on a (preferably) overcast day with a coffee in my hand, and I just stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk, and think. Hm. I then will pull out my phone and delete some contact information from it, check social media, and continue on my way.

Sometimes I just cry. There aren’t any words, just sobbing and tears streaming and mascara running lines downward over my face to the corners of my mouth, until I try to wipe away the stains and leave streaks across my cheeks. I’ll find them later when I next meet a mirror. The sudden crying is typically alarming if I’m in the presence of the other party, which is indicative that they have not noticed as the relationship they have with me has become untenable for me to continue as it is. They don’t see me. I’m invisible. Salty tears and smeared makeup under my red eyes, and suddenly I appear to them and we sometimes don’t know how we got here, and where all this salt water is coming from.

I thought we were happy together. Did they think we were happy together? Do we remember?

I thought this eyeliner was waterproof. It says it is on the packaging.

Sometimes that feeling isn’t represented outward by anything at all. Things are just different between me and the other person now. That is strange, when there’s nothing to say or do but just keep on in this alternate way, unexplained differences in speech, contact, familiarity. A slow, silent withdrawal that is barely noticeable until i’m just not around anymore and the other person is wondering when that began. I have been on the other end of that, too. The text message sits unanswered, and they’re just not there anymore.

Maybe they don’t even notice we’re gone; I for them, or them for me.

There is sometimes something left. Pieces of why we were connected don’t get sloughed off with the tears and I have to figure out what can be salvaged. I usually want to remember why I love someone and hold onto that, somehow nurse it back to something positive and functional, even if the connection doesn’t look the same. Usually. I don’t believe that people are inherently good or bad, it is just that sometimes the things they want and do and the things I want or am doing myself no longer align. That’s okay. I want them to be happy.

But, sometimes the withdrawal and need to remove the self is so absolute that everything goes.

He was yelling through the phone at me.

I pace my living room, the carpet soft under my bare feet. I hadn’t put on the stockings he liked yet, and I was supposed to be leaving to catch the train in about 5 minutes if I was going to be punctual. I can feel the garter clips brush against my legs as I move, hanging unattached. My hair is up off my neck temporarily in pins so when I take it down, the curls will be softer. He prefers it down. My makeup is half done: I had been lining my eyes with charcoal in the mirror of my bathroom when my phone lit up. I had seen it out of the corner of my eye on the kitchen counter, only because the rest of the lights in the house were out. I keep my phone on silent, most of the time, and he hates that. He doesn’t understand why I don’t want to be able to answer whenever he calls.

I am late.

I was nervous about this as I answered the phone because he will know I have not left for the train yet. He always wants me to be where we meet first, because I should wait for him for a little while, to show I am committed, and because he should never have to wait for me. Unacceptable. It was really warm out, even in the evening, which he liked because there wasn’t any reason for me to cover up. He would probably prefer I walk around naked, actually, with nothing between me and the world, or him. Exposed and vulnerable.

He had called to give me shit about the date I had been on the night before. He wants to know why I hadn’t answered when he had called before, because didn’t I want to make sure he was doing alright, and why wasn’t I checking in during the date more? Did I have fun with this new guy (what was his fucking name again? right. fuck, what a dumb name)? Was I going to see him again? He didn’t say that was okay. He should make me ask permission to go on dates, and then maybe I would behave better. I was lucky he even let me go. Why did I even want to go on dates with other men when all I needed was available to me from him? Wasn’t I happy with him, wasn’t I grateful? He thought I was going to get over this whole non-monogamy idea once I had a taste of submitting to him, he said. I listened to him go on for a few minutes, and then listened to him talk himself into the reasons why what he wants from me, and for me, was more important than what I want for myself, and how he knew better what I needed.

He thought he knew best what it was that I needed.

That was the moment.

I heard the alarms in my brain. I heard them, finally. They had been going off for months, and I finally heard the frequency that had before been untraceable. It was like tuning a radio. I had been mentally turning dials and then the sirens were sounding and they were just at a wavelength I could not hear before, until suddenly there they were. I wondered how long I had been ignoring them. I stopped pacing and went out onto my balcony, shutting the door. There was a pack of cigarettes out there, and I took one out of its cardboard enclosure, lighting it with a book of matches that was sitting with it. I had left them out here earlier, and would have forgotten them when I left the house. I wasn’t going out, now, so that was fine. I could sit out here and smoke all night, now, if I wanted. I took a drag and allowed the smoke to fall out of my mouth as I spoke, my eyes trailing the horizon and the outline of trees. I heard trains in the distance.

“I’m not coming.”

“What?!”

“I said I’m not coming. I don’t want to see you tonight.”

“Yes you are. We’re meeting in an hour. Why haven’t you left yet?”

“I said, I’m not coming. I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“Wait, what? Hold on, honey, this has gotten out of hand.”

“That is correct. It has. I have to go.”

“But, wait a minute, I didn’t say..”

After I hung up the phone, he called me twenty-six times and left six voicemails. He also texted incessantly almost all night. He begged and pleaded with me to respond, giving reasons related to the dynamic we were in as well as how I owed him that response. He deserved my engagement and attention. It was ridiculously unfair that I was not calling him. What the fuck did I think this was, anyway? I am lucky he cares so much because this is not how these things work.

I responded to nothing.

We talked a few days later after he texted asking if I had gotten my period, and I informed him I was terminating the pregnancy. I found out the day after I hung up the phone on him.

I saw him one other time after that. I ran into him at a bar and he told me he had orchestrated our entire relationship with the intent to push me into telling him no. I felt like a toy that had been batted around by a very malicious animal.

It took me several years to figure out that a lot of what he had told me simply wasn’t true.

I had a friend over for dinner a little while ago, well after this all had occurred. They said they had run into him and asked about me, and he had said I was doing very well and taking good care of myself. They told me this, and I stared at them blankly for a minute before smiling and replying, “yeah, that’s true, but he doesn’t know that. We haven’t spoken in years.” My friend was quite puzzled.

I was not.

The further away from him I am, the better I am doing, and I think that is what constitutes progress and growth.

Success, even.

On Bi Clarity.

“Cradling the softest, warmest part of you in my hands.”

Invoked in me are teenage feelings, almost a manic kind of emotional state where everything is just raw, unabashed, and new. Ani Difranco, particularly the older albums, has that effect on me. I listened exclusively to her for years in high school before i moved on to darker, harder things. She spoke to me with her poetry, her gender identity, her sexuality. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings at that time, they were so all-encompassing. I knew I liked women. I knew it in my heart of hearts and I didn’t know if it was okay. It was much easier to like boys. It was expected to like boys. But when I stopped trying to ignore that I also liked girls, I was stunned and pacified. And then I would turn around and notice that yes, I still liked boys. It made sitting in a room full of people I could be attracted to very overwhelming; once that perception settles in, it’s hard to turn away. That was before the binary of gender dissolved in my brain.

The opening to “hat shaped hat” is drums starting faint, and gradually increasing until your mind is swimming in them and they are all that can be heard: deafening drums. This represents for me the feeling of discovering attraction. It is faint, and builds until it is all that can be felt.

I am a walking, talking, gesturing nerve-ending.

“The problem of heaven is solved.”

I told my mother once.

When I said I was bisexual out loud and it mattered, I was almost done with teenaged years. I am sure I had said it before then. I had thought about it enough to have surely spoken the words, had I not? Could I have made it that far, in the circles I spent time in, without the words passing my lips out into the world? I suppose it is possible.

When I was eighteen, I was working for a massage place: the kind that gives happy endings that no one really talks about but everyone jokes about. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and an easy way to make money. My politics around sex work were as they are now: reduce the harm.

I was laying, sprawled out and staring at the ceiling, on the floor in the living room of the apartment we were working out of. The carpets were soft and beige, like the walls. My boss hadn’t bothered with wall hangings, or much furniture, hence why I was lounging on the carpet; there were a lot of plants around, vines and ferns in larger pots, and a few orchids on counters where the kitchen met the living room. I said to her, over the phone, “I don’t think I’m straight, Mom. I don’t think I’m gay, either,” and she spit words back at me like bullets. “That is ridiculous; I didn’t raise you that way.” I told her I had to go, and hung up. I laid there on the floor a few feet from the glass door to the balcony, looking out into the sky. I was numb. The balcony was small but I had a clear view through the bars of the railing, like a cage I had not escaped from with that phone call. I felt beige like the soft carpet under my shoulder blades and the walls around me. There were the green leaves and blue skies to break the monotony of that moment and that room. My thoughts dwelled on whether I had done the right thing in saying something to her for a moment, and passed quickly. She had never been a source of solace for me, or a protector, and to think I was going to get any positive response from her about anything that I felt was important had been a grave oversight. Silly, I thought to myself, to hope.

I didn’t speak to my mother again for months, but I did go back underground. I hadn’t even kissed a girl at that point.

I stayed in the proverbial closet, buried, for over a decade.

“There’s no escape, there’s no excuse. Just suck up and be nice.”

When I was going to hairdressing school, and maybe nineteen, one of the girls I went to school with took me home to her husband, and fed me wine until I willingly put my mouth on her clit while he took it upon himself to fuck me. I don’t consider that to be my first time. I think of it as something someone else did, some other person who was so drunk she didn’t even know what it meant.

“but for the purposes of this song, let’s just say I’m doing fine.”

The first time was when I was twenty nine and yet another woman brought me home to a man, but this time I was falling in love with her.

“You are zesty! Faboo,” she said to me in that first message through an online dating platform. She wrote me long letters over email before we even met; our dialogue just got longer and more elaborate. We met for breakfast at a small cafe that is notoriously without queues on the weekends, and I still think of her every time I go there. I didn’t know what to expect from him at all. I had asked nothing. I just assumed he was attractive because I thought she was breathtaking. Sevens go with sevens, nines go with nines, don’t they say? I walked in and she lit up with a smile, leaping out of her seat and pulling out a chair for me. They had brought me flowers. He sat with one ankle over the opposite knee, leaning back casually. His glasses made him look so intelligent. He was a stockier build with dark hair and eyes, just the right kind of goatee. She beamed at me as I looked at him and smiled. She thought I was so brave to just trust that he was safe, because I trusted she was safe, and to not even ask to see a photo of him. I trusted her with everything after that first message, if I’m being honest.

Sometimes you just know.

“I’ve got the memory, your warm skin in my hands.”

We had a really lovely meal, and talked about everything from books to politics to non-monogamy, to what it was they wanted and what I wanted. He had an event to go to, so she and I went for a walk and settled into big comfortable seats at a coffee shop. We talked incessantly for another two hours. I couldn’t get enough of watching her mouth form words, her lips shaping vowels and the corners turning up and a slight dimple when she cringed, smiled or laughed. She had tucked herself cozily into the larger-than-necessary cafe chair with her feet underneath her, thumbs were skirting the edge of her cup. I memorized it all.

When we parted ways, she drove me to the train station, and we agreed I would go to their home at the outskirts of the city for an overnight in a couple of weeks. I was dying. Fourteen days were not ever going to pass.

“This is only a possibility in a world of possibilities.”

I borrowed my dad’s car and drove the couple of hours journey. The space they occupied was beautifully decorated with art he had done himself: paintings and sculptures peppered the living quarters and gave it a very grown up feeling. I felt like a teenager who had yet to get her shit together enough for this; I was in completely over my head, but I was giving it a shot anyway.

We ate snack things for dinner, which was to become a bit of a tradition. Those big green olives I love, fancy and strong cheeses, hummus, rice crackers, paté, red pepper marmalade, that sort of thing, all arranged beautifully on a platter. We drank gin and tonics (she had asked me what my favourite drink was and purchased the ingredients specially) and talked about relationships and love, their past exploits and mine. I did not share a bed with them that first night. I stayed in their guest room, a kiss stolen from me lightly (i had wanted her to, to be clear) before we went to our separate sleeping quarters. Her hand lightly traced my jaw and eyebrows as she softly put her lips to mine. My fingers instinctually went to the edges of her hairline at the back of her neck. I barely slept that night for the charge of excitement I felt.

“are you ready now. are you gonna glow in the dark.”

Communication continued as a few more weeks passed before we met again. They came into the city having rented a hotel room for the occasion; we went to a beautiful restaurant with middle eastern tapas, our eyes lit up with the excitement of what would come. She sat close to me and would touch me in subtle ways while I chatted away with him about growing up in this city and punk culture in the late 90’s. I felt her watch me as I spoke, quaking slightly under her gaze. It wasn’t unwelcome, of course: I was completely craving her attention. I could feel her eyes and it made me want to reach over and put an arm around her, or let my fingers rest on her knee, or some other slight gesture of “I know you’re right there”.

We retired to the room early. I was so nervous. I remember not knowing what to do or say, what to do with my hands besides fidget, whether to take off my clothes, when. I diverted for a few minutes by taking a shower when we got back to the room. I spent that time in the steamy heat trying to gather some gumption. All the initiative I needed to take was walking out of the bathroom in a towel.

It was enough.

I have hazy recollection now of how the sheets felt. How skin and touching, feeling weight on me, inside of me, felt. I remember dizzying orgasms and heart-stopping moments of intimacy. I remember the colours flecked in her irises.

“there was always the possibility of something becoming what it is.”

I remember the day after as a strange exercise in trying not to run into furniture, snapping out of preoccupation and pinching myself to check if I was awake. She said to me, in a slightly maternal way, that threesomes were particularly draining, and to be sure to be nice to myself for a couple of days. I was fuzzy-headed and blissed out for a week at least. My retention of conversation slowed to a crawl. I daydreamed more. I got very little in the way of work done.

He and I had an easy friendship. We seemed to emote the same, which meant we were able to talk with little inhibition. Quickly, he seemed to misunderstand how exactly to fit into my life. I thought that was strange. We were intimate friends, no? Wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t that actually really perfect, considering the potential for complication in the dynamic? Two is hard. Three is nearly never going to be equitable. I thought this was the best anyone could do.

“so wipe that smile off your face, baby, and try to be cool.”

I had other lovers at the time, one with which there was psychological damage to be repaired when I came out the other side, or escaped, even. She steadily watched me persevere through that, and the fallout. When I think of her custodial watching over the train wreck I found myself in, I think of her sitting next to me on her couch, legs crossed, back against the soft microfibre and very straight, shoulders back. One hand is below and the other is above mine, enclosing it. I think of her calm, steady eyes on me, and the love that they are filled with as she watches me in a state of anguish, tearfully not understanding what I was doing or being at the time. She didn’t speak much in those moments, she just sat with me and held my hand, sometimes my heart, as I wept or questioned, raged at the injustice or laid still with my head on her knee and her fingers on the slope of my neck. Periodically she would reach up with light fingers and brush my hair away from my eyes, or wipe a tear away with a tissue. She sat with me as I clutched my abdomen where the baby used to be that was put inside me, that I had surgically removed as if it were some kind of parasite.

“i’m cradling the hardest, heaviest part of me in my hand.”

Things between the three of us continued in a few different contexts for a few months before they started to become unsteady.

She and I were in a constant dialogue. The beauty of technology these days is that one can be in one ongoing conversation with someone that continues on for days unless their phone dies or some other impossible thing. The strings of text messages went on for ages. We talked about everything, and a lot of that time it settled on her relationship struggles.

The web was spinning.

“i guess that push has come to this, so i guess this must be shove.”

Before too long, she sent me a flurry of texts expressing sadness and frustration, and asking for my patience while they closed down their relationship to outside parties, so they could get their house in order. I, of course, supported their decision; they could not pursue outside relationships while their foundation was crumbling. Do what you need, love.

After a couple of months, she and I resumed spending time together as friends. We went out for New Year’s together, stayed in a hotel, had a lovely night. That time it was short lived.

Off again we went as her primary relationship imploded, leaving the wreckage of dishonesty, distrust and mismatched ideals.

“life is just a boring chore, and I’m living proof.”

I have space in my heart for a lot of people. She took up residence in there, and remains to this day. She will always be the first woman I really fell in love with, and I will always love her because of that, as well as because of who she is. There have been a few iterations of our relationship over the years: friends, lovers, barely speaking, back to friends. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have as my first.

There was a cementing for me that occurred around my sexuality with that relationship. I proved a lot of things to myself with her. It all became real. In the face of bi-erasure within my family, myself, as well as on the greater scale of society, I self-actualized as queer and as bisexual, or pansexual. I didn’t use the term “queer” for a long time because I thought that since I could hide, I didn’t get to use the word. I present as quite femme, which means that I’m not seen for that most of the time. I have privilege in that I can blend in, if I like. I don’t want to blend in, usually, and think it is actually pretty important that I try to not, because blending in is an easy out. I am grateful for the people I have particularly close to me who do see me and know that part of me.

“outside the glass the whole world is magnified, and it’s half an inch from here to the other side.”

My mother didn’t live past my 20th year, so she never knew, really.

Ani Difranco songs mentioned: Swan Dive, Hat-Shaped Hat, Pixie, Deep Dish, Angel Food, Glass House.

Love: a Examination.

I say, “I love…” in abundance.

This has been discussed a few times with others. It has been suggested that when I use the phrase “I love…” to describe the feelings I have for many varying things, the emphatic value of the word is diminishing, as if it once was of larger meaning and is slowly haemorrhaging. I will say that I love an expression, or a food, or maybe a particular weather pattern. Does that mean when I say I love a person, that it’s the same as when I say I love fog?

Nope.

Definitions of love are broad, and multiply by as many different people feel it. Merriam Webster defines it as multitudes:

~ a feeling of strong and constant affection for a person
~ attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship
~ warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
~ unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
~ an amorous episode
~ the score of zero (as in tennis)

The irony of the last one is not lost on this writer, mind.

So, what do I mean when I say, “I love…”? It helps to quantify things in the english language, since words are so easy to assign personal meaning to. English is a very logical language, which can leave it weak in the realm of emotional communication. Since I strive to be as emotionally articulate as possible, I have thought a fair bit about what I mean when I use “love” to describe how I am feeling about something. It seems there is no other recourse than to elaborate my meanings.

I love the people I have chosen to keep close. I hesitate to use the term “friend” to describe them all because the word is loaded, and while everyone I love I consider to be friends, I also have other words I would use to describe them. The umbrella term I’ve settled on is “close people” because to say someone is close is not prioritizing them based on whether I am romantically or sexually involved with them, or whether they’re related to me biologically or whether i’ve known them for longer than anyone else. How I love them is subject to what they mean to me, though.

“I saw that you were perfect, and so I loved you. Then I saw that you were not perfect and I loved you even more.” ~ Angelita Lim

I love them so much that when they expresses some feeling or thought that so wholly represents what I understand them to be as a person, I can’t help but tell them right in that moment before I crumple in my seat and hide the huge smile that has spread across my face because of it, completely uncontrollable.

I love the rain. It feeds the planet and makes things green. It is comfortable and soothing. It gives me a reason to stay indoors that is acceptable to broader circles who don’t fear the sun as I do. My reverence for the sun stems from what it does to me individually (i’m very fair-skinned) as well as what is happening as the layers of atmosphere can’t keep it out the way they used to, as if they have grown tired of trying to protect us when we keep throwing carbon emissions and poison at it. As if the world isn’t increasing in temperature as a result. It is. I know it’s not the sun’s fault, which is why I fear and respect it rather than am angry at it. The rain is a respite, an illusion cast over what is coming.

I love her because she listens to me contend with my own humanity and validates me, as I hope I am able to do for her. She tells me what I’m doing or saying is okay and reasonable. She tells me it is even healthy to say or do things I fear, sometimes. She tells me about her own struggles; we compare notes and support each other. I love her because she will call me on my shit, and check it. She will ask me a question that makes me think about where my feelings are coming from, and that helps me grow. I learn from her whenever we interact.

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” ~ Elbert Hubbard

I love them because they have been such a profound influence on me and my life’s trajectory. I wouldn’t be where I am without the exposure to ideas they have afforded me, or the lessons they inadvertently taught me when we were young. They broke my heart worse than I thought I would be able to bear at the time, but this taught me to question the supposedly solid ground beneath my feet, and if I thought it was real and sound enough to stand on. They showed me that could change at any time. They also outlined that if it disappeared, I would be okay eventually. They taught me to trust my own resilience, a lesson that came later while I curled up on their couch deliberating over what to do next about another broken subsection of my heart. None of this was intentional, and I have no idea how we managed to get here, but here we are.

I love biscuits. They’re soft, buttery, and taste delicious with preserves or just with butter. Turns out I love butter, too.

I love him such that it brings me to cry when he is telling me about some concept or feeling that he is struggling with. I sit across from him at a table in a coffee shop, or a restaurant, while he shows me with his words what is happening for him on the inside. Tears start streaming down my face because I just want him to be more comfortable in his own mind. I know he is doing a lot of hard introspection, and that is beautiful; I want to be able to relieve him of how hard his feelings are being on him, or how hard the state of the world is on him, or both. I deliberate over what I can do to support him, only to conclude that if he wants my support, he will ask. I don’t hold my breath for that because I see him do a thing that I do: explain away his needs with intellect. I explain away my own need to try to help with intellect. Around we go in a circle. I also want to reassure him that I can see how hard he is working on himself, and what an awe-inspiring thing that is to be able to witness.

“The giving of love is an education in itself.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I love words. I love the way I am able to download my thoughts into them, onto a screen so they don’t whirl around in my brain anymore, and I can read them back to myself. I love how writing is like taking a picture of the thought I have and freezing it right where it is. I appreciate how this allows me to think about it in the moment the keystrokes occur, as well as how it develops into something else later. Looking at writing is like looking at a series of thoughts and feelings, frozen or captured before they either escape or morph into something completely different and unrecognizable from what they were when written. Show, don’t tell, an instructor once said. Writing is also like being able to look at a situation or setting through the eyes of someone else, unlike any photograph.

I love him because he has been unwaveringly supportive of everything I have ever decided to do, even when he doesn’t think he would have made that choice himself. He never had a handbook on how to deal with me, or the set of circumstances that were to befall me when I was younger and he was my guardian. However, he somehow managed to instil in me the tools I’ve needed to navigate many challenges and in some cases, extract myself from complicated or dangerous possibilities. I take risks, but I always know when to get out. I believe my other guardian figures to be more skeptical of this, despite time and time again my proving that I have it “handled”. Whatever that means. I know what I need, despite my own skepticism of myself, sometimes, and he instilled that value in me: I always know when to get out.

I love her because of the way she cross one arm over her chest to cup her other elbow, fingers of her other hand dance along her lips idly while she inhales before saying something she has been thinking about for a minute, a mere second, or maybe for ages. The brilliance that is then spoken can’t be measured by how long she has contemplated the thought, because it’s all perfect. She is pure steadiness when I get emotionally cyclonic, acting the lightning rod to bring me back to level when i’m having a hard time. Her support in the way she mirrors me is completely unwavering, and I’m so lucky to have her to look to.

“I realized I was thinking of you, and I began to wonder how long you’d been on my mind. Then it occurred to me: Since I met you, you’ve never left.” ~ Unknown

I love my community because it is weird and wonderful. I enjoy being outside “normal”. Whatever that means. I want to also recognize that we are making our way in a strange, unpredictable world that has graced us with being born into really fortuitous locality so we get to sit around thinking about politics, privilege, feminism and relationships instead of whether a bomb is going to blow up our house or if it’s going to be too hot to live in our country at some point.

I love the people I have lost over the years, through death, or some great point of difference we could not overcome, or both at once. I love them despite these differences, because I know, maybe, a tiny bit more now than I did then. I’m sorry, and grateful.

Sometimes, I love someone for a second, a minute, a day, a week, a month, a year, seventeen years, or since the moment I laid eyes on them, and until now. Sometimes I tell them, and we share that. Sometimes I never do; I hold onto it until there are little half moons in my palms from where my fingernails meet skin in my clenched hand.

In those white knuckle moments, it is just mine.

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh