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Advice Column: Imagining New Strategies in Dating, Crushes and Gossip

June 12th, 2013     by Sarah Mangle     Comments

I once had a partner who had multiple disabilities while I was able-bodied. He came from a more working-class background than me. While being his partner, I worried that I didn’t really understand enough about his physical conditions, or how not to be ableist. I worried I would say ableist things in conversation with him or other people, not realizing I was being ableist in that moment. I worried that I would assume he needed care or consideration in particular ways he didn’t need, or assume he didn’t need care or consideration in ways that he did in fact need. At first this meant I became privately aware of all the internalized problematic thoughts I had in my own brain and sorted through them on my own. At the same time he had to figure out other things with me - with my being a survivor, and being queerer than any partner he’d ever had before. We looked for resources to read and gave them to each other. Often the writings about surviving were triggering and ineffective to me, so I didn’t read those, and the writings about ableism were tiring and redundant to him, so we had our own reading lists. We both said offensive things by accident, and we had to figure out how to generously question each other and change ourselves. We showed our true values in those moments, and our true values were not always good.

Often we have to be intimate - we have to get close enough to each other to uncover to our real selves and we have to figure out how to get close enough to do that.

It is hard to have needs. It is hard to feel weird and stressed out in dating spaces, and not be able to “play it cool.” For many people it is quite difficult to “act casual” or “normal” at a party, or in a flirty situation where acting calm and coy is what commonly attracts the most desire and interest. The social rules of these spaces can be confusing and isolating. The social rules can feel impossible to figure out or perform properly.

It is a daily challenge for most of us to trust ourselves and really believe we are worthy of affection and attention.

I have been working to eliminate my personal feelings of self-disgust. Every day I spend a little bit of time simply looking in the mirror. I stand with myself and stop the repeating thought pattern of my brain, which says (without me even being fully aware of it): “You look weird and gross.” I find small body parts, my ears, my neck, for example, and appreciate them in the mirror. I tell myself I am handsome, even when I don’t feel it is true. I tell myself these things so I will eventually believe them. It is slowly working, and I actually imagined it would be much more difficult than it is proving to be.

I want us to cultivate communities where it would be possible for us to support each other in crafting our own weird, unique, and dynamic sexiness. I want us each to deeply feel that we do not need to fit in to get dates, or that dating is something mysterious or intangible. I want us to be generous, understanding, and creative with ourselves and other people who don’t do “normal” social codes, conversational conventions, parties, and dating norms.

We are responsible for the dating cultures we create. These dating cultures impact who we accept or reject; who we find desirable; who we celebrate as sexy and attractive; and who we imagine we could go on dates with or be in romantic relationships with.

Our personal dating adventures are housed in our communities. They are tangled up together even when we date people outside of our friendship circles. Our personal feelings of who we consider desirable and datable interacts with our friends’ judgements and assumptions. We lose friends (or fear losing friends) or get weirdness from friends when we date people who are “unacceptable”. “Unacceptable” can look like a variety of things, for example: being fat, too emotional, not smart enough, bad at wearing cool clothes, being disabled, practising a certain religion, being socially awkward, or of a different race, culture or class. We also have our own internal censors that limit our imaginations when we consider what dating could look like in our lives.

People talk. Gossip happens, and Gossip is fun. I’m a gossip. I come from a gossip culture of white working class and middle class Nova Scotians. We love to talk. I learned to gossip from my mother. Queers also love to talk. We love to evaluate whose relationships we think are going to last, and who is stuck in something that should have ended years ago. We talk and talk and talk. We pine over people who are unavailable and shit-talk their partners for getting in the way of our dating desires. We meet for coffee or beer and discuss who is attractive and dateable. We talk a lot about a small select group of sexy people. We do that by announcement, “That person is so hot”. It repeats and repeats. Lets pay attention to those conversations. What are we repeating over and over? What qualities of are we reinforcing? Who or what are we announcing is attractive? Who is being left out?

In our queer communities, skinny, white, able-bodied, middle class masculine presenting people get most of the dates. It’s not a random phenomenon in any way. It fits quite neatly into systemic oppressions such as colonialism, capitalism, mainstream media, ableism, sexism, fat-phobia, racism, classism, misogyny, mentalism, patriarchy and the list goes on.

Queers have cultivated a rhetoric where we say: EVERYONE should be considered desirable, dateable and sexy, but we don’t actually embody that. Too often our talk stops there. The people who do not pass as easy or acceptable to date hear from their communities that they are sexy and deserve awesome supportive hot partners, while in actuality they are frequently rejected, ignored or de-sexualized. It can be traumatizing and frustrating to be told you are attractive by people close to you (who you are supposedly in community with) who don’t ever consider dating you. For many people this repeats over and over. (This concept came to me through reading the awesome blog, gud buy t’jane, specifically:

Ask yourself: Who do I permit myself to find attractive? What do those people talk like? Move like? Who is not cool enough to date? Why? Who is too complicated, too “crazy” or too different than me to date? Try to be honest with yourself and sit with your answers instead of letting shame sweep them away.

When I ask myself these types of questions, I ask: Can I only date nerds? Only people between the ages of 28 and 38? Only people who are working class? Only people who talk in academic and ironic ways? Only people who have university degrees? People who understand queerness in ways similar to me? People who wear t-shirts, jeans, and ball caps? We have internal censors limiting access to the roads of desire in our brains. When we look at our regular self-censorships we learn about our own values that may need to shift, and also the values of our friends. We may discover in this process that we have rules about who we will or will not date that we feel okay about, and other internal rules we want to work to change.

Parts of our discomforts and hesitations limiting our actions to consider some people dateable has to do with being afraid of making mistakes and hurting people based on unexamined internalized structural oppressions, not knowing what to do about certain thoughts, and getting stuck in internalized bullshit (for example, the fears I described in the first paragraph of this piece).

We need to do our own personal brain and heart homework, reading, reflecting, self-criticising, and conversing to investigate how structural oppressions have affected our brains and actions. This work is never completed. We never know enough. While doing this work we also need to work on being vulnerable with each other, loving and forgiving of each other. We need to cultivate ways to unlearn the repeating patterns in our brains that limit what we imagine is possible in desire, dating and acceptance of ourselves and everyone around us.

Tags: advice

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