QUEERING LOVE PART II: Love in the time of patriarchy
By Bel South
Fight the patriarchy!
(In your own home)
Fighting the patriarchy, the straight-thinking upward mobility-obsessed power-hungry patriarchy, is a mission.
There are so many ripe examples at hand:
The Big-bullied Penis-swinging Trump-Zuma’s of the world,
violently and deafeningly taking up valuable resources, mind-space and heart-space;
The Patronising Boss, who, on a daily basis grinds on your confidence, your passion and will to work;
The Random Homophobe on the street, who feels at liberty to share with you their opinion on your status in their hell.
Ripe examples to criticise, to intellectualise, to demonise.
But what happens when I reflect a little…
When I sit in my own house,
my own body,
my own mind,
and I turn that critical eye on myself
on how I embody the patriarchy.
My partner and I are celebrating 5 years of queering love this month. Certainly my inner thrill-seeking commitment-phobe self didn’t see this in my future. Building on Queering Love Part I, which explored our annual monitoring and evaluation dinner, it felt necessary to go deeper into our queer approach for unpacking power and privilege inside our relationship. Here are some of our practices for unwrapping the day-to-day aches and pains, joys and woes, kinks and groans of love.
That time I raised my voice
stormed against you.
That time I dismissed your life experience because it wasn’t my privileged existence,
or made decisions about our shared life, about money, about friends, about family,
absent of you.
Entrenching my power,
No one should be the receptor of my rage, my frustration, my ignorance.
I don’t want to cause you harm, hurt, pain.
I’m still learning Love.
is not enough.
One of the challenges of queering love is overcoming and challenging the assumptions that come with the term “relationship” in a hetero-patriarchal capitalist society. Assumptive definitions of monogamy and longevity, of possession and faithfulness, of loyalty and pride. As a partnership, and as a community, we have had to deliberately unpack what these words mean in the world, in contrast to what they mean to us.
When in the world
commitment is a golden wedding shackled on your ring finger
(we can commit without a leaden contract)
attention is a jealous embrace trapped in a suffocating hand-hold
(we can attend each other without clipping wings)
loyalty sounds like silence locking away unspoken forever-present desires
(we can whisper our darkest dreams without betrayal)
missing is tear treads down your cheeks of constant pain and loneliness
(we can be alone but not lonely without each other )
asphyxiated by the word “love”
In these conversations I can raise my fears of entrapment and commitment without guilt, without fear that it would cause my partner to doubt my love for this partnership we are building. I can talk about my attractions to other people – whether it was their beautiful minds or bodies or souls – without breaking my partner’s trust. But feelings do get hurt and insecurities rise to the surface, the process is tense (sometimes more sometimes less). It’s part of relationship growing pains because we know what kind of relationship we are trying to build.
So queering love is a little more complicated than hard, open, honest, loving conversations. In queering love the personal is the political and the political is personal. Every word, every moan, every action, every free range egg, is a negotiation of these personal-political spaces. Because an intersectional approach means acknowledging that we are born with particular privileges; histories that shape and bind us, that benefit or block us, that weigh on everything between us.
From the way we were brought up,
I grew up in a working class home, exiled, east London.
You, Clare Estate Durban.
We both eat baked beans on toast on Sunday mornings.
I went to private school; tennis-playing choir-singing and ponytailed.
You, a government school karate kid.
We both had working mothers forging feminist paths; fathers long dead but loving.
To how the world reads our bodies,
You tell me I am Amazonian and you want to climb my length,
The world tells you you look like a boy and can’t go into the women’s bathroom.
I tell you I desire your soft butch with a hint of feminine masculinity,
The world tells me and my long hair that I should marry a nice young man.
Love is not free of the systems of power and structures of dis-empower that bind us. Power and privilege are etched into our skin on a daily basis. And we have to practice how to recognise and raise these within our intimate relationships and communities.
it seeps into our pleasure, infiltrates our bed.
They tell us that sex equals penetration,
And you, the boldest of gold stars, haven’t even kissed a boy,
are found wanting.
No matter how head over heals in love we are, the world still bleeds it’s way
onto our tongues
So when my partner said to me “everything is on the table, everything is negotiable” my world was opened and I feel the safest I have ever been. Not because I have a free pass to do whatever I want, but now I am able to raise all the things, my partner is able to raise all the things, and this openness gives us space to gently challenge the patriarchy in our own home.
Note: High-five to my partner for the title of this piece and for entertaining my attempts to share bits of our crazy love in writing.
About the author: Bel South dabbles in queer feminist blogging; reading, writing and engaging in and around love, power and pleasure. With a background ranging from human rights law, to business, from academia to the arts, the varied experience and interests allow for connecting seemingly disparate worlds, always using social justice as a linchpin. Bel South enjoys dream-weaving with people and organisations, working to build reflexive and more vibrant worlds.
For part I of this piece click here. Also check out this post on navigating polyamory for another look into a different type of relationship. Also check out this piece about the penis, patriarchy and the ‘threat’ of lesbianism.
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