not one of us

I went out for dinner and drinks with colleagues last week, and found myself on the receiving end of an interview about non-monogamy from one of them. And it was not fun.

Let me preface this by saying that the chap in question is a perfectly nice person and that none of this was aggressive or confrontational in the least, it’s just that we are people who seem to be approaching the world from opposite directions.

The interview – and it was an interview rather than a conversation – was littered with so many misconceptions and assumptions that I honestly didn’t know how far back in the association chain to go with my responses. What, he wanted to know, would I do if my ‘permanent partner’ wanted to become monogamous? The fuck is a permanent partner?! Well, the one that you live with. I don’t live with a partner (Although I have in the past, which does rather illustrate that a shared mortgage is not an indicator of eternity. And hang on, do you think that anyone you don’t live with is, what, some sort of temporary passing fancy? A little harsh, these people are in my life because I *want* them to be and they seem to want to stick around – there’s no built-in expiry date that I’m aware of!). Oh, so you don’t want to live with anyone? When did I say that?!

Look, let’s go back to basics. That is not how I approach relationships, and it wasn’t when my relationships were monogamous. I have never seen marriage and/or shared space as a goal. They are, rather, something to which I am open if a connection with someone develops in that direction. I do not *aim* for them, but I don’t *not* want them either. They are a possible aspect of the important thing, which is the development of fulfilling connections.

In the absence of being able to escape, I had a stab at explaining further, which probably didn’t work because he wasn’t really receptive and I was weirded out and wondering how the hell long we were going to be in the restaurant (and then hit the cocktails rather too hard in over-compensation once we did escape – oops), but broadly speaking I tried to get across that…

For me, every relationship – whether between friends or between lovers – flourishes to whatever extent the connection between those involved, in conjunction with the space, time and attention given to it, allows (and yes, of course, sometimes there’s enough going on in your life already that you simply don’t have as much time or emotional resource as you would like). There has to be something there initially, of course, but my heart is generally in it for the long haul and it takes time and trust for connections to deepen and strengthen. My closest friends are those from school, and we’ve weathered all sorts of storms and had all sorts of wonderful times, will have been doing that for 27 years this September, and I would trust them with my life, heart, and yarn collection (as long as Cate and Laura promise to learn how to do something with the latter before our 40ths).

I have never met anyone and immediately imagined them as a nesting partner, and yet I was happily in just such a partnership for a decade. Most folks don’t make the moving-in call within a couple of months of the first date, after all, do they? When I meet people who make my heart flutter or in whom I can see a potential buddy, that is exactly what I sense: the excitement of a new connection, the potential, the opening up of a field of possibilities. Why constrain future growth by espaliering the sapling before it’s even started to grow? Let’s explore!

He didn’t get it, of course.

And I got quieter and quieter and more and more unresponsive, until the conversation thankfully turned to meat and barbecues and I could allow my brain to quietly ooze out onto my shoulders during the benign dullness of a conversation in which I couldn’t take part (brief diversion on the glories of halloumi aside), hot on the heels of one in which I actively didn’t *want* to take part.

I do, genuinely, understand that people who say they are Just Interested frequently are indeed just stumbling across something new to them and want to know a little more about it. But it’s a question of tone and of degree. The odd question, from someone who genuinely listens to the answer, is normal enough as part of an actual *conversation*. But an impromptu interview, wherein you pelt your dinner companion with a series of questions and fail to either properly take in their responses or note their attempts to end the conversation? Not fine. I am happy to chat a little, assuming it is a genuinely back-and-forth chat, but it is *your* job to educate you, not mine.

And I have had variations on the theme of this interview – whether prompted by ordering the vegetarian option, the fact that I do not have children, the information that I have never been married, that I am bisexual, by my relationship structures, or various other things – for twenty plus years. It is difficult at this point to experience it as anything other than yet another incredibly tediously executed reminder that I am not One Of Us in whatever company I happen to be in at the time, because let’s face it, they wouldn’t be poking the different if there was no different to poke.

Thing is, all of those things might be of passing interest to you, but they are intrinsic and deeply personal parts of me. Finding myself delivering a catechism in response to your Just Interested at best and defending myself against misconception and insult at worst is tiresome, boring and fundamentally alienating.

JFGI.

Something Changed…

Facebook tells me that five years ago, there was a thin layer of snow on the ground and a hardy robin was bathing in the fresh water I’d just put out in the thawed ground under trees.

Five years ago, the view from my bedroom window – which wasn’t only *my* bedroom window – was very different in more ways than just the colour.

A year ago, I was preparing to welcome old friends to a house that was neither that one nor the one I’m in now.

It’s an odd little feature, the memories one. Flagrant cynical encouragement of further platform engagement, of course – this *is* Facebook – and I can quite see that there are times of which folk may not wish to be reminded, and some they’d rather not think about just yet or at this particular moment.

But I like it. So much has changed in the last two years, and all of it has been so very necessary and so very much for the better. That the upheaval of the end of a long term relationship and the financial, living situation, and life disentanglement that involved was stressful doesn’t negate that there are some nice memories from those years and that there were good times doesn’t negate the fact that drawing things to a close was an essential and healthy process. It’s a nice thing to get a reminder of the way the happinesses in my life have evolved, of the agency I have taken – and continue to take – in shaping my life to include the people, things and ideas that most inspire me.

Of course, three years ago, I also agreed that the Conservative Party should adopt a slogan of ‘putting the n into cuts’. Some things do not change!

Anniversary

The earth was damp; tiny clumps of soil nested under her nails as she worked it.

A day for worms.

Arms slick with dew, decorated with dirt and grass and fallen leaves, she finished as the candleglow of dawn started to waver across the sky. As the sun grew stronger, she shook the debris from her clothes, ran her fingers through her hair, and began to walk back towards the town.

By the time she’d reached it, the sky was clear October grey and folk were scurrying to work. She walked on until at last she was outside the house she remembered so clearly. This time when she pushed the door, it opened easily at her touch.

She found him in the kitchen, startled him halfway through a lunch of leftover pizza.

“I said I’d come back.”

He froze, absurdly, mid-bite, eyes fixed on her face.

“Come with me.”

She held out her hand. He groped for words.

She reached out, took his arm.

“Come with me.”

She hooked his arm through hers and led him through town. She was irresistible.

All the way through and out of town they walked, arm in arm, until they were back at the patch of earth she’d left that morning.

She held him close then, and whispered, “You see? I came back. Happy Anniversary.”

And arms cold as a crypt, smile fierce and strength implacable, she drew him deep into the damp soil in which he’d left her a year ago. After a time, his screams became choked with soil and the churning earth stilled around him.

Above, rain plashed away signs of the struggle and the flurrying wind scattered autumn red and gold over the makeshift grave.

A day for worms.

Out

It’s a strange, brittle and highly personal thing, the Out.

It’s been a week of discussion of outs and privilege and
intersectionality. I’ve talked with polyamorous folk who aren’t out to their entire circles, non-heterosexual folk who are out with nearly everybody except their parents, friends who have fought a thousand fights in other ways.

All of us have our own ways of managing our outedness, our own worlds we protect when we make the choices we make on how out to be about what and with which people, and we may therefore blink and worry if someone unthinkingly circumvents that little raft of calculations we make each time and outs us instead of allowing us to out ourselves. These moments may be no more than a passing comment or a surprising but unproblematic revelation to you, but depending on the potential cost to us if you are less than cool with this part of us, we may be holding our breath and wondering if we will suddenly have to start hefting a defensive conversational axe or, more likely, Dealing With The Inevitable Questions.

Because the thing is, there *are* myriad calculations involved in each revelation to each person of each way in which we colour outside the lines. When we don’t get to make those calculations ourselves we can feel unsettled. Because there is shit at stake for us. We’re risking – every time – the disapproval or withdrawal of a person who makes up a part of our life to a greater or lesser degree. Some of these things may be relatively minor, but some of them, for some people, in some places… well, the flicker of a shutter of disapproval coming down in an acquaintance or colleague’s eyes is hard enough to deal with, but at the more extreme end we can end up losing jobs (oh come on, even where it’s hard to kick people out directly people’s prejudice operates on their interactions and career decisions), losing friends, with splintering families. Losing life and liberty, even, because this global village has some houses that ain’t so fond of certain things.

So even where there’s an assumption that Most People Will Be Cool With It, we may get twitchy when the control is taken from us and we don’t get to assess the threat level ourselves. You might have, all innocent and unknowing, just pitched us unprepared into a battle.

Outing other folk – not cool.

And then there’s the other side of things. The side which says if you *can* be out…

A group, a few drinks into the evening, as the conversational depth increases.

Michelle used to put a fake wedding ring on when she took her child to events with other parents, a decade older than her, because when they clocked it they relaxed around her in a way they didn’t when they thought she was a young *single* mum. Clara is black, and while mostly people aren’t so unaware of the conversational norms in this corner of this world as to be super-blatant in their racism, micro-aggressions are everywhere and she’s developed a thick skin and a tendency to make notes of dates, times and comments and judge when the time is right for more. I was a bisexual kid who was confused only in that there didn’t seem to be a word for me, and that the prevailing rhetoric wanted me to ‘pick a side’ or called me greedy, or worse, and so I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t challenge the homophobic and biphobic comments I heard and so carried on feeling… unsafe, along with everyone else who must have been doing the same thing I was doing. I’m not even sure I told the diaries I wrote as a teenager – the conversation never really snuck outside of my head. At that age so much is an AmINormalShouldIBe dance, and that was one of a few ways in which I felt I must be wrong or broken. Never ashamed, as I know some people were made to feel. Just… like I couldn’t be totally honest about various aspects of myself, and never understood or supported accordingly because how can you be when you’re so hidden? All of that? If you didn’t know what the word ‘othered’ meant, there’s your heap of shifting definitions.

Our experiences are not directly analogous – some of us have privilege(s) that others don’t and have had an easier ride of it accordingly. But we found a degree of common ground in having each had to defend key aspects of our selves from stupid questions, vapid assumptions and hurtful behaviour at one time or another.

The conversation meanders around these things for a while as we each poke at and share the places in which we’ve developed extra layers, and then at some point, Clara asks why I bother labelling my sexuality, since it doesn’t matter. And to anyone in that room, in terms of how we relate with people, it doesn’t.

But. It does matter.

It matters to me, because it matters to other people. The label is needed for (or is it by?) other people, because other people are the ones who make the unthinking assumptions that result in people feeling othered.

I am a white, middle class, well-educated, cis woman in a reasonable position in my career and with the constructive support of my family and the only aspect of that which doesn’t have inbuilt privilege is that I’m a woman. And yes, parenthetically speaking I’ve turned a blind – well, wincing – eye to some of the sexist crap at every workplace I’ve ever worked because when it comes down to it, no-one has the energy to be a warrior all day every day and it’s even harder to find that when you’re young, powerless in one sense and not fully aware of your power in others and at the start of your career with credibility battles to fight as well.

For the rest, though. I have power in ways that some don’t. I work somewhere where although there’s a flicker of surprise and not knowing quite what to do with the information when senior management ask what the pink, purple and blue flag pinned to my handbag is or find out which organisation I’m planning on volunteering for, there is also no negative consequence. Diversity support is coded into my contract and protected by the laws of my country, and I work with decent people and have enough power – both professionally and in terms of personal articulacy, confidence and education – to smash back any lazy assumptions lobbed my way.

And yet. If it comes up in situations where I’m a little unsure about reception, it’s not uncommon for me to begin by saying that I’m not straight – which is problematic because my identity shouldn’t be defined by what I’m not, but it’s a gentler sell to the unaware from ‘presumed straight’ to ‘not straight’ to ‘bi’ and it sidesteps a whole raft of issues around identifying as bisexual vs pansexual vs queer.

But. If I – with all my privilege – can own a label which attracts prejudice, then just maybe it will help just a tiny bit to change the climate for those for whom it’s less safe to be out, and maybe other kids won’t be quite so likely to reach the conclusion that they must be broken in some way and bury vast aspects of their make-up until they’re well into adulthood.

It’s a small and relatively easy thing for me in most of the settings in which I find myself. But it isn’t, for some, and while I’d love for positive social change to be seismic, in reality it’s usually incremental and because of that every tiny way in which I – and people like me, if they feel able – can influence prevailing culture and rhetoric is a tiny way in which I stand against the things that made me, Michelle, Clara and a million other people have to go into battle against the weight of culture in ways people with other sets of privilege never even considered.

So if you didn’t know – and it’s no secret, but the thing with coming out, as anyone who thinks about it knows, is that it’s not a one-time only announcement so much as a succession of conversations – then this is me making it crystal clear, because I am the only person who should ever out me, that I am bisexual.

We’ll save the rest for another day, shall we?

Oh dear, Grantham

Grantham feels like it’s all papered over, boarded up and to let.

There *is* life on the high street, but it’s much reduced. Shops everywhere are closed down, old fitments fading in the sunlight, paint peeling, decorators’ equipment lying around on the floor, collections of post piling up on mats and wedged into letterboxes. It’s not *all* like that, of course, but there are several high street names from my teens which have either been replaced by budget shops or simply left derelict. Even good old Marks & Spencer defected a year or so ago. Though I’m told the new development at the back of Westgate has at least a bit of life.

It’s the scene of my secondary school, and it becomes an increasing cause for sighs each time I visit it as an adult – which is about once per year, since I’ve never bothered changing my optician. It’s always been a tricky space – a linear high street and similar market street, no obvious square like there is in nearby Newark and vehicular traffic versus pedestrian issues because of it. No markets except on Saturdays because they have to close a road to hold it.

These days, it seems to this infrequent visitor to be spiralling further downward. It’s a small town, and the wealth is on the outskirts and in the villages, as it always was, and as they always do the people who have it seem likely to travel increasingly to Newark, whose centre and range of shops and facilities is expanding, or Lincoln which was always larger, and the more they take their wealth away the worse things get for poor old Grantham and the less reason they have to go there and the more likely they are to go elsewhere. Even in my day, we teens in the villages between the two tended to go to Newark for preference – more in it, more flexible bus service to reach it, just a plain nicer place to spend time.

All Grantham had, really, was its schools – themselves a relic of the days when selective education was the norm – and a tiny two-screen cinema (the one thing Newark didn’t really have until the last few years).

And the homes of schoolfriends, which is why when it came down to it, the Grantham pubs got the underage trade.

That for their friendship I may make amends

I’ve tilted a few times, on a few different blogs, over the years at the idea of finding your tribe. But it’s never yet been more descriptive of my life than it is now.

I’ve been delighted to meet folk I can talk geeky with without encountering the corresponding butyou’reagirl raised eyebrows or apparent inaudibleness that often came from the surroundings in which I worked at the time.

I’ve explained the bittersweet relief of finding a world of other women whose attractions and sexual preferences operated similarly to my own, in whom I took emotional refuge when a throwaway comment at my then workplace triggered twenty-year-old tears.

I’ve loved finding folk with specific hobbies in common that weren’t necessarily shared by friends IRL.

And all of that is still true. But since then, life has changed again.

I’ve come to know some of the online folks a little more in person (There will be more of that, right? You lot are fab.).

I’ve had the delight – most recently today, in fact – of having an animated and intelligent conversation about politics at work without feeling my opinion being actually shouted down or quipped away by those who prefer to seize a stage rather than participate in a discussion.

I’ve met some wonderful new friends around whom I can feel my brain happily unfurling.

It’s possible that Mr Blake was feeling rather more cynical than I ever do when he wrote the poem from which I stole this post title. Because actually, I am not. I use humour as weapon, armour, shield and healing potion, and I’m squishy-hearted and I don’t entrust that to many people (but it’s worth it when I do).

And that’s the wonder of finding Your People. The ones around whom you can comfortably unfold yourself, around whom you can stretch and who stretch you. The ones you can start to trust with your squishy bits.

You guys are awesome, and I am indescribably delighted to have found you and still just a little bit confused that you seem to like being found.

Here. Have a bit of squishy stuff.

Birthdays

I’ve always had a bit of an odd relationship with my birthday. It’s on 14th February, which isn’t the worst possible birthday date but does have some drawbacks.

For starters, it’s the cause of a remarkable number of people thinking that ‘I bet you get lots of cards on Valentine’s Day’ is an original quip, the evidence of which truism resulted in some confusion in my first year at University, when everyone else collecting their post from my halls of residence Reception that morning gave me some very odd looks indeed as I wandered back upstairs with an armful of cards and a presents (“Blimey, that woman from E floor’s gone a bit overboard on the pretending-she-has-a-Valentine thing!”).

It’s also a bugger of a day for celebrations when most of your friends are in couples and are therefore quite understandably wanting to be in Couple Mode for the occasion. I might be forgetting one or two, but birthday celebrations of even a modest variety after young childhood aren’t really A Thing.

I can’t actually remember what we did on the evening of that birthday in the first year of Uni – all I can really remember is curling up and reading the whole of The Hogfather while my friends wandered round Meadowhall all day in what I later found out was a rather sweet quest to buy me a present, probably because after mainlining Susan Sto-Helit all day in between wondering where on earth all my friends had vanished to (no mobiles in those days, kids!) I had a bit of a book hangover. And there was the time 13 years ago when I’d recently started work at a company full of fellow young nerdy types who, bless them, insisted on dragging me out for the occasion and so I spent it getting to know new colleagues over cocktails and ended the night in Pizza Hut with a plastic rose between my teeth because Valentine’s Day will out. I also have a vague memory from somewhen of a night out with a couple of other single people which involved us spending the evening somewhere that involved large pink heart decorations and getting irritated by people assuming we must be on the pull and therefore interrupting our conversation with inept attempts to pull us. Those occasions, though, are memorable because they’re the only ones I can bring to mind.

I gave up asking if people were
free-for-a-drink-or-something-sometime-near-my-birthday after hearing ‘can we have your birthday on another day instead?’ a few too many times and with my sister’s similar experience (her birthday is two days after mine) as confirmation, I suppose.

Even when in a relationship, at which point, particularly if you manage to make your anniversary around then too, there is at least one person who is more or less obligated to spend some time with you, evenings are a bit of a minefield of suddenly more expensive restaurants and Romantic Valentine’s Day Things. Not being a particularly traditionally romantic type, I’ve always preferred to go out for the day, maybe go for a walk or something, have lunch and then stay in with a Chinese takeaway and a bottle of something interesting in the evening – just a *something* to mark the occasion.

I suppose it’s silly, really. Plenty of people don’t give a toss about birthdays, and in terms of the whole getting older thing neither do I. I’m not particularly bothered about gifts – things are just things, although a well-chosen thing will always be appreciated for its thoughtfulness. And the urge to celebrate is flagrantly selfish in a way – it’s basically ‘would like to see fun people for fun times’ with a hefty side order of ‘oi! make a bit of a fuss of me!’. But still. That last thing is not something I say very often, and, dammit, I’m *worth* a bit of a fuss once in a while! (I say that; it was really bloody difficult to type that sentence without heaping on enough maybes, modifiers and disclaimers to suffocate the sentiment entirely and I still couldn’t let it stand without this parenthetical waffle. Asking for the things I want is hard, I’m working on it.)

That said, most folk I know don’t really seem to do the birthday gathering thing – especially not for birthdays that don’t end with either a five or a zero. But having attended other people’s yet failed to muster more than one person for my own 25th, 30th and 35th birthdays perhaps all that means is that I should take a leaf out of Lori‘s book and make plans for a 40th bash in a few years’ time?

After all, it’s pretty much impossible to muster people at all when you don’t even try.