I was Queer in the Past, Am I Queer in the Future?
At this point, most millennials know of someone or another who is in an “open” relationship. Non-monogamous compacts sound utopic but they are not without their sandstorms. These relationships consist of two or more people in agreement that their dynamic has the capacity to accommodate additional interest (mostly romantic and/or sexual). Open arrangements differ case by case and should be understood as variable. Maybe its two folks who are dating and separately see other people romantically. Maybe it looks like two people who have safer casual sex with individuals outside of their pairing. Three folks who all date each other, and also have an extensive network of partners, lovers, paramours, romantic friends, sex buddies. A couple wherein one person is asexual, and the other person enjoys anonymous sex. A married couple that lives with a third, two of the three co-parent a child.
October 2016 – We are all in the same room, watching Barbarella projected on the farthest wall of my girlfriend’s Yonkers apartment. Celeste is sitting on the other end of the couch. She is getting up to bring our friends food, to pass around beer, to show off her legs. They are strong and brown—dancer’s legs. Shauna is in my lap. She is folded up like an old paperback copy of Dune at the bottom of a bargain bin. Her head rests in the ditch between my neck and my shoulder. I can feel her watching Celeste.
Non-monogamy is not inherently queer. It alone does not queer your romantic relationships. Non-monogamy is not inherently radical. It alone does not make revolutionary your romantic world. Non-monogamy is more often than not a luxury and a privilege. It demands several crucial elements to intersect for a person before they can participate, and there are countless barriers. The politics of attraction flare and flux wildly in non-monogamous dynamics. All of this warrants vigilance and observation.
January 2017 – The underground has stopped running, and the only place to go, that is open, and is walking distance, is a local cantina or the Dunkin Donuts. I am snowed in with Shauna in her apartment. We are in the process of processing our breakup. I would rather be able to leave, but the Polar Vortex will not allow, and I observe myself as I to take the opportunity to force it. We are stuck together in this apartment; we should be stuck together in this relationship. It is clearly not working, but neither is anything else in New York this weekend.
Breakups are a collective experience. At least two people are involved. Friends and community participate tangentially, catching the slack where they can. At least two try to disentangle themselves from each other. Little pieces stick around. You feel them later like invisible aluminum splinters dusted into the ridges of your fingers. Most everyone has weathered a breakup. There is almost a collective memory bank: The Breakup. A modern universal. That unweaving is made more complex when two relationships are built alongside each other, the beginnings and endings staggered, overlapping in the middle.
October 2017 – Celeste is calling me from her Yonkers apartment. There is a cut rose in my backpack, and I am standing in front of a movie theatre in California missing the previews of Blade Runner 2049. My date is inside the theatre eating all of the Sourpatch Kids. The romantic part of my relationship with Celeste is collapsing. I am still immersed in the little world we built together—femmeship and latinidad and promiscuity—but she has mentally moved to Maine, bought a dog, started a farm. I am crushed under the apocalypse our shared universe has to endure. I am still recovering.
October 2018 – After two serious breakups, it has been that long since I have been romantically interested in any women. I have had some sexual encounters, and those have been precious. I am grateful. I have tried to date girls, meet new ones, rekindle interest in already familiar ones, envisage relationships with replicants and holograms. Imagining homosexual desire after the end of the world is easier than embodying it. But women are treacherous right now, and I am too burned for another close encounter.
“Let them see that you trust them and let them solve their own problems, make their own decisions. Do that and they will willingly commit their lives to you. Bully them, control them out of fear or malice or just for your own convenience, and after a while, you’ll have to spend all your time thinking for them, controlling them, and stifling their resentment. Do you understand?”– Fledgling, Octavia Butler
This particular double rupture, two break-ups back to back, has left me more straight than I have ever been. And I wonder if this is my new orientation. Inside of the politics of non-monogamy, with its intentional horizontalism and its designer fluidity, excess of communication, and field of potential dramas, there is always the consideration of orientation. We bring our preferences into relationships with other people. Having two serious, simultaneous relationships with two women is not a singular experience so much as a rare one. Some deep lez shit. And I have arrived on the other side of this collision feeling remarkably and horribly hetero. I leapt through the wormhole and am standing on the other side a straight girl, brain scrambled.
It does not make sense in our present cultural context to regard homosexuality as a choice. Political lesbianism has had its heyday, come and gone. The horizon where we stand now, the popular conception seems to be that our sexual orientations are simultaneously socialized and innate. We make some decisions about orientation, but those personal decisions are embedded in part in upbringing, climate, and culture as well as supposedly some bio-impulse. Ultimately we arrive at the understanding that orientation is a construction, an unfortunate one that we cannot help but live inside of.
In much the same way that I imagine most metropolitan 20 something’s know of someone in a non-monogamous set-up, I suspect the same crowd might recognize the sensation of watching their sexual orientation shift. It feels unnamed, this sensation; like trying to articulate how it feels to watch to someone else touch something cold and smooth. I have been watching for the last year. I have been trying to describe. I suspect that a new portal will open after a sufficient amount of time has elapsed and I will find myself weightless and ready. But I am not certain. Maybe women have proved too slippery and polyamory has compounded the pain to the point of extracting the lesbianism from my queerness. Desire is characteristically unsatisfied. Hope can be disappointed, but if I take the late critical thinker and academic Jose Esteban Muñoz at his word “such disappointment needs to be risked if certain impasses are to be resisted.” In the predicted timeline of my double splitting, I would already be gay again. My gay future self exists too, and she is having the best time. My non-monogamous self continues on. I indulge in imagining a future orbit where the two selves are fused together, reconciled.
Words by Julia Sinead Reichard
Illustration by Clayton Peterson