It’s interesting to me that the words queer and questioning share the same prefix. To many of us, the term questioning—when related to our sexual orientation—has baggage. If you identify as bisexual or something similar, you’ve probably run across people who think that you’re not really bi, you’re just confused. And then, there’s the idea of being “gender confused” or “sexually confused,” ideas used by the church to dismiss the legitimacy of being LGBTQ.
Well, I was completely confused by my feelings for women growing up, and not because it was immoral, but because I had no model for same-sex desire. When I had a crush on a guy, I knew what to do with those feelings. I had models (friends who were dating or movies and books) to develop my fantasies on. When I had a crush on a girl, I just felt uncomfortable. I couldn’t see my own attraction in order to understand it.
I still get uncomfortable.
Last spring a person messaged me on OKCupid and we went on a couple of dates. When I was around L, I instinctively wanted to touch her. She looked soft. I wanted to kiss her. And yet, acting on these desires was extremely difficult for me. She intimidated me. Why? Because I didn’t know what I wanted from her. I didn’t know how to process what I wanted from her. Because I didn’t have time or energy for a serious relationship, but I didn’t know how to be casual with her.
Because I still have so much baggage around my feelings for women and gender-nonbinary folks.
While we were getting to know each other, when I wanted to be touched and needed to be held, I’d think about texting her, and instead, I’d reach out to a man. I’d message someone new on Tinder, or I’d text a cis male fuck buddy that I felt no romantic feelings for.
One night after a date, L walked me home and admitted that she felt like the fire hadn’t really ignited between us. We were both busy, and she’d developed strong feelings for someone else, so we agreed to put dating on hold for a while, maybe permanently.
I stayed up for hours that night working on a jigsaw puzzle, a simple, mind-numbing task. At two and then three in the morning, exhausted and sad, I looked for the places that fit each small, unique piece, and I questioned whether I was queer enough. I had the attraction, but I felt broken—unable to act on my desire (at least in this instance) in a healthy way.
Admitting and owning my queerness has included difficult self-questioning. Questioning why I feel uncomfortable around certain people and owning my desires. Questioning what it means to my faith and what healthy relationships look like. Questioning how I relate to my gender and how my gender impacts my interactions with others. My queerness stretches me and it hasn’t really gotten easier. But I’ve also realized that it not being easy doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
For a while, I felt uncomfortable with the term “play” as it’s often used in the BDSM community. When a friend who had similar ambivalence about the word asked about my thoughts on it, I said this:
I don’t like the term because it can seem demeaning. It doesn’t seem to capture the intimacy of what is happening. I accept that sometimes I use it because I want to distance myself from a formal relationship with someone, and the term seems to fit.
The words our society uses to describe sexual actions usually has negative connotations: licentious, lascivious, lecherous, lewd, lustful, debauchery, porking, fucking, screwing, fornicating.
We’re not used to describing the practice of exploring sexuality—other people’s bodies or minds —in a positive sexual way. And when we do, we make light of it by using terms that are light-hearted or crude. Perhaps beginning to use words that are serious in tone is a way of acknowledging the weight of what we’re doing. Explore is the best word I have at the moment. I want to explore—sexually, sensually, physically, carnally, lustfully—our bodies, our desires.
And then, a partner gave me a copy of James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games, and my feelings about the word changed. Carse explains:
To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.
Playful does not have to be insincere. It feels similar to what I said in my last post—that hooking up and casual sex do not have to be unloving or selfish. For me, sexual play has become a way of questioning, processing, and healing my wounds around my queerness.
The most healing sexual interactions I’ve had with women and gender minority folks have often occurred in group settings: in threeways and at play parties. (While these interactions might not be “hooking up” in the traditional sense, but they are also outside of committed relationships in the traditional sense.)
Group sex and play parties create a natural environment of exploration. At one party, I played seven minutes in heaven with someone. We made out in a closet and it was seriously one of the hottest things. Months later, S told me that it had been amazing to feel like they could enjoy their own body and someone else’s and feel physical affection without the need to involve genitals. At another party, I used a feeldo for the first time with a woman. (Also one of the hottest things ever). At another, a woman beat my back with gloved fists and kneed me in the thighs because rough body play is something I crave, and we both felt cared for and honored afterward.
Through all these experiences, I was allowed to explore my own queerness without getting stuck in my neurotic thoughts about what it means to be queer or be in a queer relationship or whatever else gets in the way when I’m trying to “date” someone.
I don’t believe that casual sex, hooking up, group sex, play parties, etc are the right way for all people to explore. What I do believe is that—for those who so desire it—there are unique and personal ways for each person to learn to be physically playful and prioritize delight and spontaneity. And these can teach each of us something about intimacy and love.
Group sex and play parties are only pieces of my journey, but they are pieces that I’m owning as positive and affirming.
[I’m wary of talking about any of this without mentioning abuse and physical disabilities— things that might hinder someone’s ability to be spontaneous, for example. No one answer works for all people. If you can speak toward this, I’d love for you to comment or guest blog.]
Recently, on a second date with a beautiful woman, I told her I’m not as comfortable with women and I need to go slow. And she told me that was fine, and that comfort shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. All of a sudden I felt like who I was—my discomforts, my baggage— weren’t hangups as much as they were just parts of who I was.
And I felt like things were going to be okay. I think she’s willing to grow with me.
Maybe it won’t work out between us, but you know … dating is a form of play. Serious play. Lighthearted play. Really, life is play: full of possibilities and few sure things. And I’m going to try and enjoy it, with the aid of a feeldo and people who think I’m okay as I am.