Jealous, Wanting and Waiting: Privilege and (Not) Having Sex
This post is the first in a column series entitled “Bad Ass: Real Talk about (Queer) Sex and Dating”.
“We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings […] The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance […] In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness.”
—Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic”
It is probably best that I come clean now, in the opening lines of this column on sex and sexuality: I am not a sexpert. It is possible that I have not even had that much sex, to judge my sexploits in comparison to the raunchy over-brunch tales told by many of my white, gay male friends in Montréal. I have never spent steamy bathhouse nights in the red-light stretch of Rue St Catherine fucking and being fucked by dozens of men in the space of an hour; could not authoritatively tell you how to navigate the ethics and emotionality of a polyamorous quadrangle (if you figure it out, let me know); I have yet to successfully experience fisting. Girl, I am not even on Grindr.
Yet paradoxically, I still find myself drawn to write on the subject of sex – perhaps for the very fact that I don’t believe that I have had enough of it, perhaps because I am not the only one: because there exists a misconception in the public and private consciousness that there is such a thing as an expert on sexuality, a guru like the Dan Savages of the world (whose sage advice has been, among other things, that bisexuality is problematic and near-nonexistent and that sexual assault survivors should ‘get over it’) whose example might catapult all of our disappointed lives into carnal ecstasy if only we tried hard enough to follow it. We are taught to think of sex as a mysterious, high-stakes game in which winning means simultaneously having enough of it to prove ourselves lovable while not having so much as to make us sluts.
The truth is, though, sex doesn’t work that way. Sexuality is a uniquely individual experience, and I mean that more than in the superficial, everyone-is-a-special-snowflake sense. The experience of sex is profoundly affected by our bodies and identities – by race, gender, ability, age and class. The reason I don’t go to bathhouses in Montréal is that I am aware that as an Asian, transgender body in that white, male-dominated space, the best experience I can hope for is to be ignored instead of raped. I am not on Grindr because I experience enough racist harassment in the flesh that I need not invite more online.
The exclusion of marginalized communities from the act of and dialogue about sex is a phenomenon that is slowly, painfully coming to light. In a recent, powerful article on Autostraddle, queer writer Erin discusses the desexualization of visibly disabled persons* through the lens of her own life story: “The unfortunate thing is that usually the only group that recognizes the sexual capacities of disabled people is the disabled community itself”. Bay Area activist and blogger Mia Mingus impels us to remember, “The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human [and to move] beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly. Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled.” Indeed, there is much to remember when we speak and write about sex: the sex that we are not having and the sex we wish we hadn’t had, the desire and frustration, the rage and abuse, the survival, the triumph, the experiences that the Dan Savages and Candace Bushnells of the world would never dream of writing about at all.
The other night, a friend and I sat in a trendy queer bar in Montreal and quietly marveled at the good fortune of our lives: to be sitting in a queer bar, trading flirtatious glances with other queers, to think of ourselves as sexual, as free. “If someone had told my seventeen-year-old self about the life I’d be living,” my friend said wonderingly, “He wouldn’t have believed it. That teenager was always jealous, wanting, and waiting – like most queer teenagers, I guess.”
Yes. I remember jealous, wanting, and waiting. I remember a closeted, trans, racialized teenager who felt desperate and isolated and lonely. I remember the ferocity with which that teenager longed for physical contact, and the strange, hollow triumph they felt when, at fourteen, they lost their virginity to a man ten years older. I remember the pain, the loneliness. Every time I am at brunch with a group of white gay men and hear about the ease with which their liaisons occur, I remember it. And I wonder about my own sexual privileges, the pleasures I take for granted that are denied to others.
It is time to talk about sex – not just the ins and outs and how-to’s, but also the good and bad and ugly. To talk about our differences and how it is possible that for some, sexuality is a playground or an exciting new frontier, and for others it has been a prison. How it is possible to feel as though one has at once had too much sex and not enough. It is time to talk about the jealousy, the wanting, the waiting, the scared children that still haunt so many of us. About the sex we were denied, the sex that we survived, the sex that blew open the locked doors of our haunted hearts and made us scream and moan and cry with rage and ecstasy. The sex we haven’t had yet – the sex we have only begun to imagine. The sex that sets us free.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We have not found a consensus as to whether person-first or disability-first language is more empowering for those who face ableism. The idea of disability-first language is that people with disabilities locates the disability within the person, rather than placing emphasis on the construction of society that disables people. For readers who are interested in learning more about this debate, see this: argument for disability-first language and this argument for person-first language.
Kai Cheng Thom aka Lady Sin Trayda is an artist, activist, and writer based in Montreal. They like red lipstick, weird performance art, and consent. Find more of their work at www.ladysintrayda.wordpress.com or on Facebook as Lady Sin Trayda.