Taking up space in cishet* places
I was 18 in the dead of another sticky summer – the air so thick and hot that every breath felt heavy and every bit of fabric clung to my skin. Mint ice-cream rolled in beads down my forearm as I scooped up a cone for the last customer in the parlor. As we closed down the store for the night, the feeling of excitement I had suppressed all day began to bubble in my chest and form words in my throat. “So…” – I trailed off as I turned to my cohort of very queer teenage coworkers – “…I’ve been talking to someone online, and I really think I like her.” One of the girls squealed with excitement, realizing that I had just taken a step out of the closet. I let out a big breath. In my liberal minded town, it was no rarity to find queer people who lived out and openly, even from a young age. Those who were out were often readily accepted for themselves by their peers and families. Even my parents were outspoken queer allies – my mother had campaigned for equal marriage in my home state of Minnesota. Still, because I moved around a lot as a kid – switching states and schools – I never really found any queer people I could trust with my questions. And, when I looked online, all I found was sex. As these things often go, I buried my feelings, unable to sift through the confusing bundle of information I had found for myself. I was disgusted by my reflection, embarrassed by the movies and videos I had glued my eyes to. I was no idiot, I heard the sexual and ignorant comments by my conservative school peers. Though I really had no external fear of coming out, I harbored a deep internal hatred for my sexuality. Then eventually, after a long series of extremely intense female friendships, I finally confronted my reflection. “You’re gay” I said to the mirror. The next day I met that girl online.
I only stuck a toe out of the closet that summer – it wasn’t until the next swampy year that I came tumbling out at full speed. That was the year I fell in love with a woman. The year when I realized how important it was to be who I am. Not just for myself but for others as well.
I am a huge believer that sex education doesn’t always have to be done in schools. Queer and cishet people alike rarely have access to inclusive sex education, so it becomes critical to be able to identify those in your friend group or community who can answer questions for you. I found that when I began to talk about my sexual experiences with women in cishet spaces, people would often seem uncomfortable, not because they were homophobic but because they, like my younger self, had no idea of how to begin sifting through their misconceptions of queer sex and gender. To my cishet male friends, lesbian sex was two women in porn with long acrylics who wanted to please a male audience. Even when one of them was elbow deep in the others vagina, it didn’t count as sex. I remember the night I told my friends joke about strap-ons and only one of them understood what I was talking about. When I explained what strap-ons are and what they are used for, I watched their faces change. Seeing that I was so comfortable with being open, and I mean really open, allowed them to enter my space. They began to ask questions and become more comfortable with talking about sexuality. I understood that not only did I not have to miss out on my friends’ “sex talk”, but that my participation in those conversations was educational.
It is also important to mention that while in a space that you believe is cishet, there may be people who are questioning their sexuality. People much like my younger self, a hopeless queer person just aching for someone to guide the way out of the closet. Taking sex education into our own hands, especially for queer people, allows us to educate those who missed out on an opportunity to recieve a comprehensive lesson on sex and sexuality in school. Entering a room as a blazing, gay ray of light already forces people to make space for you. Claiming that space and putting your own queer identity and experiences out into that room helps you, fellow queer folx, and even the cishet people who have no idea of what it means to be you.
We need to transform friendships, relationships and spaces so that we have honest conversations about sex, gender, and bodies. The world is ready for a sexual revolution unlike any that we have seen before. Our little conversations, educational exchanges, jokes and laughable “slutty” moments are a key ingredient in the fight for liberation – for queer people, trans people, sex workers, women – anyone with a marginalized body or identity.
Being a queer slut, a blazing gay, an unapologetic sex educator is no easy feat. I cannot begin to tell you how to do so. I became one both incidentally and accidentally. I thrust myself out onto a stage in McEwan hall and gave a very gay TEDx talk to 700 strangers. I found continuous support and strength therefter through liberation groups and Sexpression, a UK based organization that focuses on comprehensive sex education. What I can say to you is that nothing great was ever achieved without getting a little uncomfortable – and a little wild – first. I am not saying that everyone must let it all hang out, protect yourself first and foremost. But, the more people that talk too loud, show too much skin or share too much, the better. Your strength as a queer or trans person is not determined by your ability to be an iron fist in a room of cishet people, but by your willingness to be honest with yourself and with everyone else. We can minimize violence, stereotypes, and confusion if the narrative is put on the right path, but that can only be done by us. Only we can tell our stories, share our knowledge about pleasure, or accurately describe what a binder is. We all think about sex, parts, and bodies, but its time that LGBT+ people start talking about it. We need visibility and audibility. We need to give others the ability to support us, to talk about our issues and to understand their own identities. Oversharing is your greatest tool. So, take a breath, a shot, or a moment to yourself, and get super fucking weird.
*Cishet is a term used to describe people who are both straight and cis-gender.