I want to open this piece by acknowledging that I’m speaking from a position of privilege. Within the queer community, white, cisgender men who identify as predominantly or completely homosexual and who are able to pass as straight navigate a different and privileged realm of experience compared to much of the queer community. With this in mind, I want to write about something that is in my specific realm of experience. This article isn’t intended to generalize queer experience in any way, although some may find that they share some experience with me, which is great.
As someone who identifies as a cisgender man predominantly interested in emotional and physical relationships with men, I often find myself answering questions from straight people who have a genuine curiosity about how my relationships work. I absolutely welcome these questions. I’m also generally okay with these questions being unintentionally offensive or intrusive, as long as they are coming from a good place and the person is willing to have a discussion about why their questions may be problematic. I don’t expect everyone that I meet to be super in-tune with queer issues.
However, my positive interactions with people are contingent on their, and my, ability to have respectful, reflective discourse. There is one question that I am asked fairly often. It’s a problematic question and I want to address it here.
The question is: “So Anthony, who’s the man and who’s the woman in your relationship?”
I’ve never felt as if this question was meant in a hurtful way. However, it is a question that bothers me more the more I hear it, which has inspired me to write this piece. Here’s my public response to a straight cisgender person who asks me this question:
I don’t feel comfortable answering your question directly. I find that the “traditional” male/female binary and the gender expectations that come along with it are problematic.
This binary disregards the experience of a large group of genderqueer and gender non-conforming people who don’t identify within the binary. These people experience oppression on levels that neither of us understand, simply for being who they are.
The gendered expectations (masculinity and femininity) that come along with this binary are problematic because they present an expectation of a patriarchal power relationships: a male/female relationship where men are dominant and women submissive. This relationship has many consequences for both men and women.
Masculinity idealizes a state of being in which experiencing emotions (with the exception of anger) is bad. Femininity idealizes submissiveness to men. The combination of these two ideals leads to objectification of women by men and violence against women.
When somebody breaks these gendered expectations, they are usually berated with misogynistic, heterosexist and transphobic language.
I’ve never met someone who fits completely into one or the other of the gender binary categories. Therefore, I believe that these categories don’t even come close to being relevant to actual experience.
I’m not going to classify my relationships based on this heteronormative gender binary. I think that everybody is a unique person. I think that as a society, we focus too much on categorizing people based on dominant assumptions of gender.
I think that we should instead celebrate each other’s differences and be open to the idea that the only “normal” thing in society is that there is no “normal.”
So I guess the best answer to your question of “who’s the man and who’s the woman?” is “yes.” Does that make sense? What do you think?