Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?
January 29, 2011 2:32 PM   Subscribe

This is for all y'all who are GBLTQQIA-identified (let's use 'queer' for short). Do you find--or how do you find--that living in a non-queer world puts pressure on your intimate relationships and partnerships?

My partner and I are having some problems and are working hard at resolving them. But it occurred to me yesterday, when we were at a social event with a really big group of queer folks (which hardly ever happens for us anymore) we were more relaxed and affectionate with each other than we had been in a while. It was like I got to take off my straight suit for an hour or two and everything was easier for us. It made me wonder how much being around straight folks 99% of the time, immersed in heterosocial norms, puts pressure on my relationship. (I'm not saying it causes our problems, but it seems like it might compound them. Does this happen for you? How do you deal with it?

(I'm really only interested in hearing from queer-identified people themselves. Sorry, helpful allies.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

I guess it depends on your level of comfort, level of "out-ness," for lack of a better term. I think being self-conscious about being "different" can put stress on any relationship, be it queer, interracial, poly, whatever.

I answered a similar question by advocating being out 100% of the time. The "straight suit" you talk about causes its own internal pressure, and I think that, if you're not hiding aspects of yourself because you fear what other people will think of you, it relieves a lot of that pressure on its own.
posted by xingcat at 2:54 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Probably not the answer you're looking for, but I'll share my experience.

I'm a queer woman married to a man. From the outside world, it appears that I'm in a heterosexual relationship - even though I'm not. Sure, it's an opposite sex pairing, but I'm in no way straight. My husband knows this and it's a complete non-issue in our relationship.

Still, I never really feel comfortable anywhere because I'm caught between the two worlds. I'm not straight. Never have been, never will be. Yet there's no real way that anyone would know this unless I specifically came out to them (which, of course, I do when it feels appropriate). I know that because of this I enjoy a certain amount of heterosexual privilege - for one, I'm married. That's a huge one. And one that I absolutely don't take for granted because as a queer individual, I could have just as easily settled into an LTR with a partner of the same sex and been denied that right.

At the same time, I'm not welcomed into the queer community. I'm seen as an outsider there for being in a "heterosexual" relationship, which is a bind for a lot of bisexuals - we're never quite "gay enough." I understand where this comes from (see aforementioned privilege for being presumed heterosexual), but at the same time, I'm no less dedicated to queer issues and am no less queer myself than I was when I was dating a woman.

So my own situation is that I benefit from heterosexual privilege, but lose the sense of community and feel pretty alienated a lot of the time. I've spoken to many, many women in my situation (oddly, I personally don't know any bisexual men married to women, but I'm sure they also exist) who talk about being shunned the moment they married a man. And also, at the same time, there's that sense of not really belonging in the "straight community" either. It's these conversations that help me "deal" with it - talking to other people in my situation and really recognizing that the queer community is so much broader than it seems and that perhaps more visibility to queers on the margins would help emphasize how totally normal it is to be queer.

Anyhow, this is rambly and probably not what you were looking for, but there's my experience of being queer in a straight world.
posted by sonika at 2:55 PM on January 29, 2011 [31 favorites]

Hi. I qualify to answer. Assuming Kinsey scale or sphere, I'm somewhere near the middle or core. Point of information: You did ask for responses from GBLTQQIA, and the "A" in that means Allies.

This extends to other things. For instance, I have some relatively radical notions about, among other things, bicycling. I believe that one of the most responsible, mature things a person can do with respect to their own transportation is to ride a bike. And believe you me, do I EVER relate to what you're saying above when I'm in a room full of people who are operating from that same base assumption that bicycling is a legitimate norm, and not something that should be reserved for children and poor people.

I make this point because I identify with the bike community. I'm physically attracted to enough people that I definitely qualify to answer your question, but I'm lucky enough to live in a *somewhat* accepting culture that doesn't require me to define myself as much based on who I find attractive. I mean. I'd rather talk about bike rights than queer rights, so I surround myself with that culture, and that's where I feel at home. Maybe someday minority sexuality etc. will be as acceptable as, say, blacks marrying whites ( I know there's still pressure there, but it's far more accepted than it was. And it's legally protected now) and then you'll have to worry less about that particular social pressure.

My point is that I find that living a life where you're true to yourself and your priorities (over the priorities of society) will require deviating from the norm. And when you find a group of people that you can relate to who also deviate from that norm, you'll feel at home.
posted by lover at 2:58 PM on January 29, 2011

Sonika's answer may be part of why I don't bother trying to fit in with the queer community. I don't feel like I'd be all that understood. So I focus on other things. But I do make a point of pushing people when they're making false or privileged assumptions. I do actually deal with that a lot, since I'm one of very few women in a mostly-male bike community.
posted by lover at 3:04 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Hmm, I want to clarify--we are both 100% out everywhere we go. The "straight suit" doesn't mean hiding in any explicit way, it just was this experience of, even though I am out every day 100% of the time, feeling like being in a room full of queer folks was subjectively different and freer. Like I hadn't even noticed before that the suit was there. It's not a question of out-ness in the way xingcat is describing it. I'm out. I'm out AND ALSO being around straight folks a lot of the time seems to create a lot of unconscious pressure.

And lover, you're right, I guess I should have left the A off, and I appreciate what you're saying. Still, I am mostly interested in hearing from queer people, not allies.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 3:16 PM on January 29, 2011

My partner and I mostly move in queer circles socially, but there are some exceptions. When we're in another social space that is not explicitly accepting of non-straight relationships and non-cisgendered people, there is a level of guardedness I have noticed in myself. I try very hard to confront that and act like my true self in those situations, but like anything that's not totally natural, it's difficult.
posted by yomimono at 3:33 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am finding this notion of a straight suit quite interesting. As a woman who has been 100% out of the closet for almost twenty years, I am fascinated by what a straight suit might be? Is this a person you pretend to be when surrounded by heteros? Is this a pressure that you feel is being placed upon you by straight people, i.e., when you are around them, you feel as though you must behave like them (whatever that means)?

I go through my life assuming that everyone I meet is gay, until they tell me otherwise. And, when I am out on the town with my lady, I am 100% *with* her. If my affection for her bothers other people, that is their baggage to deal with, not mine.
posted by AlliKat75 at 3:36 PM on January 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would think it depends on the people in the relationship. Nearly all my friends are gay men, so in a relationship I feel more comfortable moving in that sphere. Some of my partners seemed to hardly know any gay men, and mostly hung out with straight people. So I guess they may have felt more comfortable moving as a couple in that sphere.

Assuming the straight people you hang out with aren't homophobic, it might actually be easier, in the sense that as a gay couple you fit their idea of 'good gays' and get subtle encouragement for your relationship. However, with other gays, there might be some subtle jealousy and the potential for temptation. It's true it's more comfortable performing PDAs with other gays around (still tacky tho) but I think it might be easier to put up the "we're an inseparable team forever" front with straight people.
posted by kevinsp8 at 3:41 PM on January 29, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
Okay, ignore the "straight suit," because it's obviously distracting folks from the actual question, which is "Do you find--or how do you find--that living in a non-queer world puts pressure on your intimate relationships and partnerships?"

I guess I didn't make myself clear. I really don't want any more speculation about whether I'm 100% out. You'll need to take my word for it that I am, and this is really not about outness. It's about how being in a heteronormative culture might put pressure on a queer relationship. If the question doesn't make sense to you, please just don't answer it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:59 PM on January 29, 2011

It was like I got to take off my straight suit for an hour or two and everything was easier for us.

Yeah, of course. I mostly deal with it by "acting queer" with straight people if I feel like I need a little space. It's not quite like relaxing with other gay men, but if I'm faggy in a friendly straight group and get a little acknowledgement of my special snowflakeness it makes me remember that my straight friends are accepting and loving too. It's a bit goofy, but it helps. Works in groups of strangers, too, although you risk a negative reaction.
posted by Nelson at 4:26 PM on January 29, 2011

Well, yes. But so does being in any situation that's not 100 percent comfortable to all the people in a relationship. If you're really into skateboarding, and your partner indulges your passion for it but could not personally care less, then when you go to skateboarding events, one of you is not going to be as happy. And when one person in a relationship isn't happy, then everyone in that relationship tends to be less so. Being in a skateboardingnormative culture would put pressure on that relationship.

Heterosexuality isn't your thing. So being surrounded by heteros isn't your thing either. You're a little uncomfortable. Your partner picks up on that. Perhaps your partner feels the same way. Either way, that bit of friction exists.

Now that you're thinking about it, it'll probably be a little easier. You can seek out events where you feel more comfortable, or just take steps to assuage the friction.
posted by Etrigan at 4:38 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not queer, this isn't technically a direct answer by Wilson, and I hope someone will tell me if this violates the rules, but...

You might want to consider the possibility that the fact that the question doesn't make sense to people is in fact a meaningful response to your question. One thing you're asking is whether this phenomenon you're describing is experienced by other queer-identified people here; if the question doesn't make sense to them, that suggests that they don't experience what you're describing.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:56 PM on January 29, 2011

I'm a woman married to a woman and move pretty much entirely in a straight (but very liberal/accepting) world. I haven't noticed any differences in how affectionate and happy we are in queer space versus straight space. On a few trips to developing countries, we have been closeted and found it deeply frustrating; the pressure to hide our relationship (and a huge part of our lives) sometimes resulted in a general tension and grumpiness with each other.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:34 PM on January 29, 2011

My response to this is, of course. Of course being the only queers (or a tiny minority) among heterosexuals is fatiguing and stressful for you and your partner in ways both subtle and overt.

It's about having your lived experience and cultural customs always be the exception rather than the norm. It's about being constantly exposed to assumptions based on hetero gender roles and relationship patterns, and having to decide whether to swallow them without comment or create social discomfort by expressing divergence. It's about being treated in ways that affirm your relationship versus ones that try to force it into a model that doesn't fit.

It's about feeling the pressure to be "good gays," which means filtering out aspects of your relationship that don't fit hetero social norms. At worst, it means having to assess new people and new social settings in terms of the risk they pose of condescension, cluelessness, hostility, or outright physical harm.

Harry Hay said: "Most people say we are the same as straights except for what we do in bed. I say what we do in bed is the only place where we are the same."

Don't underestimate the cultural differences between straight people and queer people -- or the stress that comes of constantly living as a minority, no matter how lovely and accepting the majority may be.

And how does this affect me and my partners (there's one of those heterosocial assumptions I was talking about), and how do we deal with it? By having lots of queer friends, and by spending time in contexts where our experience is central and validated, rather than marginal or tokenized.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:38 PM on January 29, 2011 [12 favorites]

I just asked a similar question, which was linked to above. I definitely find that living in a predominantly heterosexual world puts a level of stress on my queer relationships. I get that many relationships are non-normative in different ways, and being in a same-sex relationship isn't the only reason to feel that your relationship is a bit unusual, if not also stigmatized, in the world at large. But I really don't think it's the same thing as being super into biking, or something else that strikes just a tiny bit less closely at the very core of myself, and that is less associated with major legally- and socially-sanctioned discrimination. It probably is more like what being in an interracial or religious relationship felt like a couple decades ago in this part of the world.

Most of the time, when I'm with a girlfriend, I'm only focused on her and me. I'm not worrying about anyone else or even paying that much attention to anyone else. But, there are times when I give her a quick kiss and see someone out of the corner of my eye do a doubletake. There are times when random people on the street shout slurs at us as we walk by. There are times when I tell a new acquaintance about "my girlfriend" and they reply with awkward comments about "your, uh,...friend." When I was with my ex and her parents, she usually wouldn't want to hold hands because they weren't that comfortable with her dating a girl.

It makes it hard to be as spontaneous and open as I'd like to be when I also am often confronted with other people's reactions to my affection toward my partner. I know the best thing to do is still be spontaneous and open. But there's no getting around the fact that a fair number of people tend to have reactions to queer relationships in a way that they don't to most straight ones. And even though I know their reactions aren't my problem, I can't help noticing them. I try not to let their reactions affect my actions. But I don't think it's possible to not notice them at all.
posted by zahava at 7:11 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Boy, I can't tell you how many times I have had things thrown at me from porch steps and moving cars by people calling me a fag. This has happened when I was alone, and I was even attacked. This has happened when I was with my partner even though we weren't engaging in PDA. This isn't in some horrible neighborhoods. Heck, there have been a string of gay-bashings in the freakin' Castro recently.

After getting jumped, after being hit by bottles, after horrible words I don't think I will ever feel 100% comfortable in public. Even at gay bars and pride festivals I still look over my shoulder. So, it does put a bit of strain when you don't feel comfortable to engage in the same activities hetero couples do. You are constantly saying to yourself that you are not as good or as worthy as other people.

Of course, tonight when my boyfriend held my hand for the duration of a movie we watched I absolutely glowed.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:21 PM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

This question brought home to me that I've been feeling the same way. I am very out as well as looking pretty dykey, and have been for going on 20 years. In the past few years I seem to have ended up with nearly no queer friends locally and next to never inhabiting queer spaces. The bike comment and the "good gay" comment both resonate. I sometimes compare it to my ex-pat status, sometimes you just want to be at home. You asked about relTionship stressors, I am beginning to wonder what impact is had by never seeing relationships modeled for me. Never seeing other women interact with eachother other than occasionally on tv shows. I need to get out more, thanks for the question.
posted by Iteki at 12:22 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is a minor but important difference for me in my comfort level in completely queer spaces and heteronormative spaces, although I am out and comfortable (and very happy!) with my sexuality. I haven't noticed it putting pressure on my relationship, but I do feel freer and more joyous in queer spaces. It's more fun to be with my gf there. The feelings you're describing make sense to me.
posted by studioaudience at 1:03 AM on January 30, 2011

After reading the above responses, it occurred to me that I didn't really feel comfortable, and I felt more of an obligation to let people know (or maybe they asked more?) elsewhere than I do where I live now. Here, I flirt with people who I think are interested, and don't have to worry about it so much. It's something of a relief to not have to worry about that. However, I feel like I'll be able to be less worried about it when I leave here, too, because I feel like the Internet is doing a lot to bring awareness to the population at large.

But I really don't think it's the same thing as being super into biking, or something else that strikes just a tiny bit less closely at the very core of myself, and that is less associated with major legally- and socially-sanctioned discrimination

I generally feel far safer with same-sex PDA than I do on a bike. 40,000 people die every year from car accidents in the United States. Automobiles play a huge role in the historical development of an American identity. In my liberal, bike-friendly town, I feel far more comfortable holding hands with absolutely anyone than I do riding a bike. Riding a bike is far more likely to get me killed. It's not the same thing in that no two experiences are identical, but that doesn't make it any less a subject of legally- and socially-sanctioned discrimination.

posted by lover at 8:29 AM on January 30, 2011

Yes. There has been studies but I couldn't find the references. It's one of the functions of heteronormativity. Social hierarchies work to preserve themselves. "Know your place" and all that. It's more effective when it's transparent, unconscious, "natural," and it feels like it's your little personal problem.

Freud said that there are always four extra people in bed with the couple (the parents). Well, now we know that there are actually zillions, like the whole society. Sex is politics. Understanding the politics of relationships is useful for queer and straight people alike.

I agree with others who said that creating/being in queer spaces helps.

Then again, being a couple is hard work, even when one is the norm. Like, if you're a straight couple with kids, you might one day wake up and ask yourself, "Am I doing this because I want it or because I was told to?" and then we have a Douglas Kirk melodrama in the making.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 10:06 AM on January 30, 2011

*Douglas Sirk :)
posted by TheGoodBlood at 10:07 AM on January 30, 2011

Lover, I appreciate your point and will think about it. I don't know much about bike issues because I'm afraid to bike in the city after two friends-of-friends were killed by cars, which pretty much makes your point that there is real and hugely problematic societal disregard for bikers' safety.

I think one other dynamic that makes homophobia especially impact relationships is that most other stigmatized identities aren't so directly tied to our relationships. I find that I experience a lot of the aspects of discrimination against queer people the most when I'm in a relationship. Sure, I care the rest of the time that I can't get married or put a partner on my health insurance, but that only has real implications when I have a partner. Homophobia makes it harder for us to care for our partners and families in practical/legal ways and also means that there are potential costs to showing our love and affection publicly. It seems very logical to me that it would put a strain on relationships.
posted by zahava at 4:23 PM on January 30, 2011

Yes, lots of pressure being out in the 'straight' world. We are very much in love and enjoy walking hand-in-hand when we are together. We are always stared at when we walk hand-in-hand in the 'straight' world, and often, perhaps once per month, are yelled at by strangers for walking hand-in-hand. In 'straight' world, we constantly hear people making anti-gay jokes or using "gay" as a pejorative. (Mostly, these folks don't think they are doing anything wrong.) And, in 'straight' world, even when we know there are other queer folks around, we are usually the only easily identifiable queer 'couple' - because we are holding hands. It is much more relaxing to socialize in a queer space.
posted by hworth at 8:20 AM on January 31, 2011

One thing I've noticed about this is that it seems to be qualitatively different for people at different places on the spectrum, not just because of bi invisibility making bi folks feel marginalized, but also because it affords us a certain privileged access to both ways of existing in the world. I say this because being out in the world with a girlfriend has been easier for me than it has been for either of the last two women I've been involved with, both of whom are extremely out and visible lesbians. Both of them have expressed anxiety about public affection, or surprise at my ease with it, at moments when I was totally unaware of the issue.

The other day, I kissed the woman I'm pursuing right now goodbye as she was about to get on the bus. Later, she said something about the kiss, and made a point about the fact that it was right in front of a bus full of college students, and how it's probably good for them to see two women kissing. I hadn't even thought about the bus until then. For me, it was where we were saying goodbye, so it was where I was going to kiss her. For her, it was surprising that I wasn't thinking about it as a moment of queerness in a non-queer space, and that there was no anxiety involved in kissing her in public. I could tell similar stories about my last ex, but I think this makes the point pretty well-- there's a constant awareness of how gay you are acting and where you are doing so that can be exhausting.

It's clear to me that this is not because of some weakness on their part (so fucking clear) but more likely because neither of them has ever had the experience of having their sexuality be completely accepted by everyone in the world around them. That awareness has always been necessary. Because I know what it's like to be in a relationship that looks normative (and because I'm pretty straight-looking on top of that), I can, in a sense, import the privilege I experience in that kind of relationship into my queer relationships. Which is a pretty weird thing to do, if you think about it.

(I'm answering this wicked late because it sat in my RSS feed for a while while I thought about it. OP, I'm fascinated by this question & if you're still reading & want to talk about it more, please feel free to MeMail me!)
posted by dizziest at 8:01 AM on February 13, 2011

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