Queering heterosexuality

Annabelle River's picture

Part of straight privilege is a general lack of expectation to question if or how we're really straight: People are usually assumed straight until they come out otherwise, and that gets the stamp of "normal."

But "normal" is such a vague and unhelpful way to write oneself off. Recently, I was reading the excellent essay anthology Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, ed. Merri Lisa Johnson, and I came across Merri Lisa Johnson's plea for what she calls "queering heterosexuality": straight people adopting tenets of the queer rights movement, such as, "less restrictive gender roles," "nonreproductive sexuality, justified by pleasure alone," and "the nuclear family as one relationship configuration among many, not the norm."  Because challenging rigid definitions of love and sexuality benefits everyone. Then, as I ponder my own "queered heterosexuality," I find myself daydreaming again about my friend J.

J and I met when we started high school, and we quickly became best friends and partners in our adolescent angst.  One night when we were sixteen, I was comforting J over having recently been dumped by her boyfriend, and J declared in grand adolescent fashion that she hated all men, and from now on she would just be a lesbian.  Single myself at the time, I told her that I agreed.  And we repeated that we were totally serious - so we kissed each other on the lips.  My heart somersaulted.  And she started laughing with what I understood to be the glee of rebellion, and not really the glee of attraction to me.

After that, our "lesbian relationship" became one of our many inside jokes.  We never got as far as kissing with tongues, and we continued to agonize over various cute boys (and agonize that our crushes undermined our status as autonomous, empowered women).  But we would rage together against the boring narrow-mindedness of the suburb where we lived, and we'd walk through the mall holding hands and occasionally kissing on the lips, and then we'd claim disappointment when the strangers around us failed to react with any shock.  I moved to another state a few months after the first kiss, and we wrote many long letters to each other.  Her envelopes were always addressed to "Annabelle L.L. River," and only I knew that "L.L." stood for "Lesbian Lover."

The longer the "joke" went on, the worse it started to sting me when she would laugh about it.  Because, I realized gradually, I really did want to do more with J than hold her hand at the mall. I wanted her.  Her casual touch electrified me. But I didn't have any idea what to do about it, because I feared that revealing my genuine lust would ruin the "joke."  Anyway, we were straight.  We had to be straight, because we couldn't get rid of our lust for boys.  J was the only girl I'd ever felt the same way about, and we were both pretty femme.  Her exception to my heterosexuality bewildered me.

In the years since J and I lost contact, I've come to accept that sexual orientation doesn't work as a binary of either (a) straight or (b) gay - not even as a "tri-nary" including (c) bi.  I prefer the Kinsey Scale by sexologist Alfred Kinsey, which sets up orientation as a continuous spectrum from 0 - 6, with 0 being exclusively straight and 6 being exclusively gay.  Which still isn't a complete model, since he didn't leave clear space for transsexuals or intersex people.  Anyway, I still usually call myself "straight," because it's briefer and simpler than calling myself a, "1 on the Kinsey scale," and because I'm madly in love with two cis men.  But I've had a handful of very sexy encounters with women since I gave up the idea that I "couldn't" because "straight."

Later in the same essay anthology, Merri Lisa Johnson words it this way:

I recognize this reluctant identification now as common among bisexuals, never feeling quite bi enough, thinking only equal attraction and equal sex with men and women qualifies as "real" bisexuality.  Those feminist porn stars on the west coast who make sex-ed videos with their cohabitational male and female partners are the "real" bisexuals; I'll just sit in the back and sneak out early.
...I lean toward being a heterosexual-identified bisexual woman... but bisexuality infuses my identity in small ways... and in large ways as well, like recognizing how fine the line is between friendship, desire, and fucking, challenging neat divisions like het/homo, mind/body, intellect/erotic, friend/lover.  It's just not that simple.

So maybe by someone's definition I'm actually bi, but then, who's deciding exactly how much same-sex experience and/or desire tips the scale?  And more importantly, who cares?   There are no one-size-fits-all labels, and heterosexuality could use a good queering.

(Cross-posted at http://annabelleriver.blogspot.com/2009/11/queering-heterosexuality.html)

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