A PanAfricanist Queer Womanist Collective
It must have been early spring because the mid afternoon breeze was neither warm nor cold and the gainsboro sky wasn’t looking to be noticed. I was taking a stroll with Cassava Boy (a male companion) when he reached over to me, squeezed my hand and excitedly giggled, “I’m so glad you’re not gay anymore”.
His words created a weird moment in which my, usually, rambunctious self felt more astounded than insulted but for some reason I simply couldn’t find the energy to do anything more than scowl, pull away and proceed to jog forward. My reaction might have been because we had been together earlier and, in my mind; my taste was probably sitting on his tongue and validating his point. Or it could have been because I myself was not quite sure how to process his half-truths, as they had been so neatly arranged to suit his ends, or maybe I simply felt guilty. Either way I choked.
This debacle happened during a period in my life when I had realized that I preferred women to men, while also acknowledging that men had their uses. Having foreseen the potential my truth had for complications and unnecessary attachments, I had started making a habit of informing my male companions that while we were likely to have a good time I wasn’t looking to have anything serious because they were not quite what I was I was in the market for. For some reason I had convinced myself that these boys would take my statements at face value and avoid getting hurt. Jeepers was I wrong.
People, as I have learned, have an uncanny ability to locate themselves at the center of another’s sexuality. Regardless of how that person understands it for himself or herself. In its most benign form this defect manifests itself in the delusion that all a person really needs is some ‘good D’ or “convincing”, of the non-violent kind, to make them forget what they know they want and have them settle for the convincing party instead.
I call this a belief in the notion of ‘corrective dating’ and I blame rape culture for it.
While I could go ahead a give a definition right off the bat I believe that these things are better explained with stories so here are mine:
The story of Mr. Ankhoncious a.k.a. Mr. ‘But we had a special connection’
I met A when I attended a series of seminars exploring Africanist philosophies and we connected over our mutual appreciation for Amìlcar Cabral, hip-hop music and Blaxploitation movies. In my mind I had found a great thinking buddy but in his I was his “African Queen”. He made that clear when he proposed that we try to ‘get to know each other better’. At first I shut him down because I was besotted with a beautiful boi but after that affair fizzled out I found myself dejected and bored – so I capitulated.
We arranged to meet for brunch, the most platonic of all mealtimes, and proceeded to discuss a variety of issues. At some point he mentioned that I was the type of woman he was looking for to which I responded that he wasn’t a woman at all so he wasn’t quite my type. To this he exclaimed:
“ Um wait are you a lesbian or something because you really don’t look or act like one…”
I should have figured out that he was an ass then but I had hit a dry spell and winter was coming so I rolled my eyes and told him that things weren’t that simple and that right now all I could say for sure was that I wasn’t “into men in that way…”
Needless to say this didn’t deter him and after several hang out sessions and lots of discussions about the importance of boundaries and consent I decided to let him ‘scratch my itch’. Long story short he got tied up in some strings that were never there and when I got over it things hit the fan. At first he played it cool and tried to convince me that I couldn’t prefer women because I had been with him and we had clicked so much. When that didn’t work his calm demeanor descended into emotionally charged calls accusing me of using him; where he shifted seamlessly from blaming me for his troubles at work to begging me to reconsider. I had to cut ties.
I mean sure we clicked but I also just liked the fact that I had been saving money on vibrator batteries. Plus I hadn’t quite figured out how to avoid getting attached to women and couldn’t afford any complicated emotions on my part. So yeah maybe I had used him but in my mind (being that it was a negotiated casual relationship) we were using each other. Still he did confess that he saw himself as the man that would change everything, but his delusions are his problem and not mine. Anyways, people should learn to listen.
The story of Cassava Boy a.k.a. Mr. ‘But I wanted you to meet my mother’
On the surface CB appeared to be different, open-minded even. We had been friends for some years before anything happened and the whole affair started rather innocently. We would ‘kick it’ and spend time talking about our families, personal aspirations and reminisce about a girl we had both fallen for – maybe she is what connected us. She had committed suicide a few years earlier and neither of us had quite recovered from the shock of it all. Looking back at it I think we got close because in some ways we were both trying to recapture pieces of her.
How we got ‘complicated’ is fuzzy but I insisted that it remain chilled and stressed the point by telling him about the whole dilemma with A. He said he understood and things appeared to go off without a hitch.
I should have noticed that him and me were becoming a ‘we’, in his mind, when he would bring overnight bags to my place and tell me about his future with a scarily affectionate look in his eyes. Maybe he thought that he could woo me but all he did was make me stop the physical part of our interaction because I couldn’t shake the fear that he would one day try to trap me.
Still I ignored my claustrophobia for a while longer by somehow convincing myself that he and I could go back to being friends. Inevitably I got tired of feeling suffocated so I told him that he was draining me of my feminine energy and that we needed to reconfigure our relationship. He cried, which was hard for me, but when the waterworks failed he bitterly stated that the reason I couldn’t be with a man seriously was because I was “a slut” and that one-day women would bore me too. That final statement (coupled with the vivid memory of his stupidity on that overcast afternoon) absolved me of any guilt I may have felt and I walked away from the situation without looking back. My only regret being my failure to do so a lot earlier.
There have been plenty of lessons for me in all this but this story is not about me per se. What I don’t understand is why these men ignored my warnings and how they could genuinely believe that they would be able to make me fall out of myself and into love with them? It was not as though I asked them to guide me through a process of self-realization nor did I lie to them about what was happening. Nope. There was nothing but honesty on my part, so I concluded that what they lacked was basic respect.
You see the corrective dater holds a false belief that they can seduce or romance a person into rejecting their preferences and choosing them instead. What lies at the heart of this is an assumption that people are unable to truly know themselves and are therefore amenable to persuasion provided that the right person does it. So when a person consensually gets involved with the dater – while establishing clear boundaries- they feel perfectly entitled to reconfigure the terms of the relationship unilaterally. This process usually entails the dater ignoring anything that the other party has said about their preferences and/or circumstances.
If you think about it, there is something incredibly narcissistic about a person who feels as though they have the right to shape something as intrinsic as another person’s sexual and romantic orientation. It speaks to a sense of third party bodily entitlement; where one person feels as though they can mold another’s identity through their presence in that person’s life. That kind of delusion simply can’t be framed as hopeless romanticism, so let’s not even try.
Now Queers are not immune from displaying corrective dater tendencies. Sure the most visible dynamic is straight man/ queer woman but I am pretty certain that we can all name at least one friend (if not ourselves) who has tried to ‘turn somebody out’. You know that whole game when you’re “pretty sure” that a person isn’t queer (because they have explicitly said so) but pursue them anyway because you have convinced yourself that you love ‘the chase’, or whatever, and maybe you two mess around for a while, but very soon you find yourself rejected and crying in a corner somewhere, then swearing off straight girls/ boys and then bashing bisexuals because of your own folly.
If you had stopped for a second and reflected you would have seen that what you were trying to do was change somebody to suit your needs. Which is a total fail because everybody can have sex with anybody but not everybody can connect with everybody- and whom you can connect with is what fundamentally determines your sexual orientation.
At this point I can already hear the haters rambling on about how people who genuinely know what they want do not ‘dabble’.
But let’s get real for a moment.
It’s a myth that queer identified women do not choose to sleep with men – some do. Just like it is a myth that all heterosexual identified men do not sleep with other men occasionally- some do. Sometimes straight girls sleep with other girls, lesbians sleep with transmen and gay men shag their fag hags, and no it’s not always a matter of experimentation. Sexual identities, desires and behaviors do not always move in the same direction and that is totally ok. People are complicated. You only have to look around to see that.
So in a world with all this grey might I, humbly, suggest that people check their egos at the door and start paying attention to what people tell them about themselves? The fact is: we are all fantastic and sexy and unique and amazing and we can never ever ever ever change another person’s sexual identity and preferred way of being just by getting involved with them. It’s simply not possible.
But do you know what is possible?
Challenging and deconstructing rape culture. So let’s all drop the corrective dater tendencies and start prioritizing mutuality, consent, respect and boundary negotiation in all of our relations. That, to me, sounds like a much better plan.