|warning: navel-gazing ahead!|
For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we, as a culture, conceptualize identity — particularly sexuality as part of identity — and how it relates to our real-life experiences in relationships: how our understandings of self shape the possibilities we see for relationships, how relationship experience shapes our notions of identity, and what stories we tell each other about how sexual identity and relationship inform one another.
These aren’t new thoughts for me, but being engaged to Hanna — planning our marriage, talking to other people about the cultural and personal meanings of marriage — brings me back once again to the twin topics of identity and relationship. Being engaged — actively defining our relationship to the outside world — also prompts me to notice more keenly the stories we tell, as a culture, about sexual identity and relationships. In this instance, the way in which sexual identity and relationships are theorized in erotic fan fiction (which, many of you know, I read regularly and passionately).
On the one hand, I completely understand that sometimes, falling in love “against type” so to speak precipitates re-evaluation of who you thought you were or what it is you understand yourself to desire. I won’t lie: falling in love with Hanna required (or at least prompted) me to think more seriously than I had before about how my sexuality worked. I’ve written about this in the past (see here, here, and here). Sexuality is one thing in the singular, another thing in the relational.
So, yeah, there was adjustment.
But here’s the thing that I’ve been thinking about lately: my sexual identity in the abstract was most urgently important before Hanna and I were actually in a relationship. I worried about how to convince her with evidence that no, really, I thought she was hot. I worried about what might count as evidence of same-sex desires in the past (which, in turn, could be brought forth in support of a pattern into which Hanna-desires fit neatly, rather than being the exception to the rule). I worried about whether I was worrying too much about marshaling the evidence and therefore reading back into my personal history sexualized feelings that hadn’t been there at the time (“did I like her, or like- like her?”).
There was massive angst.
I wrote my own life into an angsty, identity-crisis fic to which, appropriately enough, there was ultimately a solution in the form of sexytimes.*
Worry totally gone.
In that moment, I had absolutely all the evidence I needed that whatever-and-whoever-the-hell-else I might be interested? I was interested in Hanna.
End of story.
(Have I mentioned intellectual stimulation is a turn-on for me?)
But the question of identity became kinda … irrelevant. Actually, super-irrelevant. Because no matter what I chose to identify as, whatever I called myself, in whatever contexts I named myself, in practice I was Hanna-sexual. As in, sexually attracted to Hanna. All the other attractions I may or may not have moved into the realm of “theoretically interesting but not that practically relevant.”
Because I could have said I was doorsexual and still when I put my hands on Hanna I would have wanted her.
And in my book, experiential evidence trumps theory every time.
That we can, that we should, understand what we want prior to actually having it, prior to coming across it in the wild, this beautiful, breath-taking being in our path. Prior to knowing and being known, in that moment of intimacy, of home-coming (or, conversely, that moment of escape-from-the-body, of clarifying distance; sex is, after all, what we make and want of it).
What I’m saying is: Aren’t we simply what we are?
And if we stumble into love, into desire, into oh god you feel amazing under my hands and please never stop touching me there does it really matter so frickin’ much to our notion of the self whether or not the body, the person, in question is the same shape as the last body, the last person, who felt this way under, within, around us?
At what point in our history did the body of others become so central to the constitution of ourselves? Because that’s how the think of sexual identity these days — it’s about the self, yes, but it’s about the self in relation to the bodies that one finds desirable. It constitutes the self in some pretty fundamental ways but pre-emptively narrowing who we imagine ourselves capable of getting down and dirty with.
As I type this, my internal antagonists are arguing with the words on the page, pointing out how much all of this is colored by my subjective experience of fluid, person-centered sexual attractions, and my claustrophobic reaction to closing doors of possibility when there’s no imminent need to do so. So obviously this is only my own particular reaction and all, but really … why do we make it so difficult for ourselves?
Wouldn’t it just be easier if instead of an existential crisis, falling in love with an unexpected person was more like, “Oh, you mean I like this too? That’s cool.”
*Someday, maybe I’ll write it into an actual smutty fic. Hanna and I keep threatening to do this in turns, but so far neither of us has made the time to follow through and do it.