That’s right. I’m not reformed. I’m not recovering. I’m not a refugee. All those words imply a correction, a fleeing, a relief. And that just doesn’t fit. Besides, I am squeamish about labels and identity.
I am definitely on board with re-languaging around identity. Like Betty says in her video clip with Carlin about different and evolving sex styles, the question is How Do You Have Your Orgasms? How do you like to have your orgasms best? How do you have your orgasms now? Be prepared, it’s okay, that answer may well change. How fantastic is that? You can learn new, fun ways to have orgasms. That sounds pretty damn sweet to me.
My mama always told me that labels belong on cans, not on people. Then I went to college and studied gender and feminism and it was the 1990s and identity politics were all the rage. Self-identification, and all the layers of meaning, become our discourse. I was immediately wary. Did I really want to slap a label on myself? I don’t think so. In fact, no. No I didn’t and no I don’t.
But I was all about the feminism, and sought out the sex-positive ones like Susie Bright and Ellen Willis and Dorothy Allison and, of course, Betty Dodson. Later I went to law school and was one of two women with ten men taking the Feminist Legal Theory seminar. I signed up to lead discussions on Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin’s anti-pornography crusades so that I could show the counterpoint, the porn-positive, sex-affirming sides of feminism. Narrow conceptions of what is feminism infuriate me like nothing else. Because to me, perpetuating narrow assumptions about feminism is on par with perpetuating narrow assumptions about what it means to be a woman, or a man, or peach, or brown, or queer, or poor, or creative, or any of the many “things” a person might be, at any given moment.
So I lived my life. I “came out” when I was 19. But as a female, to “come out” as bisexual or queer, and then continue to date men, as I did, well, let’s just say that I wasn’t taken seriously. My dad told me, “You have always been very sympathetic toward minorities. You can’t pretend to be a racial minority, so apparently you are pretending to be a sexual minority.”
All this fuss over labels. As far as I was concerned, the point was that I got wet between my legs when I thought about girls. This didn’t stop me from continuing to date and fuck men, and worry that I was defective because I was perpetually dry, but that’s a whole other topic – the sex I had with men when it wasn’t what I desired. (I promise – it will be another post.)
But I didn’t want to take on the lesbian or dyke label. I didn’t know lesbians or dykes who weren’t angry or suspicious or really Not My People. I know it’s reductive to say that lesbians are man-haters, because I know damn well that man-hating is not a universal trait among women who fuck other women, but it’s accurate for me to say that when I was nineteen, my experience with lesbians and dykes was fairly narrow. So I stayed bi/queer, I stayed on the margins, I continued to fuck men.
After several more years, when I was finally ready to say enough, it’s time for me to pursue the sex I want to be having with another female body, I met this guy. Billy. Without recounting it all for you here, I’ll tell you that Billy was the best thing that could have happened to me in my twenties. We became best friends. We became lovers. From the first moment, I was upfront with him.
“I’m queer,” I said. “I really like having sex with women, and I need to have more sex with women. It’s something that I haven’t explored nearly enough. So there is no way I will be monogamous with you.”
And so began my decade of being in a heterosexual-seeming legal marriage that was polyamorous and included various other people, including Sue, who became part of our immediate poly family for over four years until I left the relationship. When I left the home where I lived with Billy and Sue, I moved into a friend’s rambling Victorian. Also living there were two other friends who had reluctantly been in polyamorous relationships. We all showed up somewhere together and one of them announced, “The Polyamory Refugees are here!”
I balked. I was no refugee. Leaving the sexual and domestic relationships I left didn’t mean I was leaving polyamory. “Let’s not get carried away,” I murmured. I mean, really. Refugees?
Even now, people don’t believe me. Some of my poly friends who knew me during my twenties worry that my current monogamy is a sign that I am being coerced or that I’m depressed or maybe that I’m deranged or deluded.
“Hey, I’m okay,” I tell them.”Let’s get over the labels, okay? I don’t see polyamory as my identity anymore. It’s not right-or-wrong. I see it as a practice. I’m not practicing it right now, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong or bad or a mistake, and I don’t regret my years practicing responsible nonmonogamy.”
The same goes for terms like “reformed straight girl,” for these women I know who start having sex with women later in life, after a life of heteronormativity. I suppose only they know if that term is fitting, and perhaps it is. For them. But for me, I choose to embrace my past, my present, my future. My choices are my own, and I have no regrets. All my lovers and all my experiences have made me the sexual person I am, the lover I am, and have given me an empathy and perspective that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
So whatever you do, please don’t call me Recovering.