I was immediately asked, “Are you a top or a bottom?”. Entering the queer world of kink was full of many questions and very few answers but why was this the first question asked? I already understood power dynamics through my dysfunctional family and the hierarchical corporate lenses but did I need them even in sex? Even when one engages in something pleasurable and not dysfunctional?
I entered, I gave myself an identity to navigate the worlds of kink, love, and sex. It was easier for others to understand who I was with all the labels and markers. I identified as a ‘Switch’, ‘Pansexual’, and ‘Polyamorous’ person practicing relationship anarchy in the dating world. Do I identify in the same way now? I do, sometimes. It depends on the context and it is a little more fluid.
We all find examples of order rankings, identity markers, and hierarchies around us. We still live in a binary and hierarchical world. Some people say it is crucial to the way we operate as a society, some live by breaking them at all levels: the anarchists. Even they are in the binary trap! It is definitely much easier to classify everything as higher or lower, as good or bad, as black and white, as best and worst, etc. The binary world has been with us for a few hundred years after all. It is simple and easy, it gives two options. It does resonate with the old Judeo-Christian worldview, doesn’t it? Heaven or hell. But what about the sweet lingering of the purgatory? Are Dante’s Paolo and Francesca forgiven for the infidelity? How romantic!
Now think about a conventional romantic relationship. The first image to pop into your mind would probably be that of a monogamous heterosexual couple. A girl and boy holding hands, getting married looking at the sunset. Why don’t we have an image of non-monogamous relationships or queer relationships pop up? Are these relationships wrong or inferior in the large-scale things, in the hierarchical and binary constructs of our society? One can argue that they are a minority. But why are they a ‘minority’? Perhaps we have not yet allowed them to exist and bloom in a non-binary world, in a non hierarchical world.
The monogamous heterosexual couple represents the top of the hierarchy for our mainstream folx and it is no surprise that even in the non-monogamous structures the throuple (most often 2AFABs + 1AMAB) represents what the community aspires to. Having a primary partner is also aspirational because we are still holding on to the construct of monogamy, we are still holding on to the idea of ‘couple’ as being superior. Within polycules the imprint of patriarchy in 2AFABs + 1AMAB throuples is overlooked because we feel that at least the construct of monogamy has been disrupted, but for which gender’s benefit? How beautiful it would be if we equal numbers of 2AMABs + 1AFAB. One can only dream.
In their 1980 essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality”, Gayle Rubin talks about how we classify sexual relationships into the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. Our simple, good old binary way. It’s a forty year old thought piece but still relevant for mainstream society. Rubin illustrates this binary with the help of two concentric circles, one within the other. The smaller circle represents sexual activities that are considered ‘acceptable’ by our society – the charmed circle. And those lying outside the circle to be ‘unacceptable’ – the outer limits.
- Source: Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality, by Gayle Rubin
This is a theoretical framework. When will the outer circle shift to the inner? Because we all know it will. How long does it take to move from theory to practice? History teaches us that, first ‘the thought’ is practiced by a minority and, when the context is fertile, ‘the thought’ moves into mainstream practice. Think of ideas we hold valuable in today’s world: democracy, empathy, equality, the internet. Some took two millennia, some a few decades. What would we be without Cleisthenes, Jesus, Freud, Vint Cerf afterall?
When we think of our current human experience we know that emotions are complex, fluid, and multi-faceted. There is no one rule that fits all because we are all unique in the way we think, speak, feel and love. Personally I feel that the binary and hierarchical societal constructs are slowly fading away. Maybe because I am part of that minority and I feel at the forefront of this societal shift.
Is absolute elimination of hierarchies and binaries the solution, then? I have no idea. We still have a long way to go in demolishing what we have built for so long: the constructs of gender, patriarchy, romantic love, etc. We are not so simple anymore. Most of us don’t live on farms, travel by carts, or spend time chatting with families. A lot of us live in small boxes, travel space and time through internet cables, spend hours looking at rectangular screens and swiping to find sex and love. My only suggestion at this point is to stay open while we look for new ways of existing and loving