Written September 17, 2016
We have a family dinner policy that we do not bring electronics to the table except under very unusual circumstances (such as someone traveling or needing to call for a ride home) and that we can talk about ANYTHING at our dinner table. No subject is considered too big or too small, too personal or too abstract, no one’s language is policed regardless of age and if you are not biologically related to us, but you are sitting at our table at dinnertime, you will be treated like family.Some nights we are all tired and conversation is sparse, but for the most part this means that family dinners are lively affairs, with topics ranging from politics, philosophy, social justice, the latest scientific research (this week it was the use of bioluminescent ligands to light up cancer cells and help guide surgical removal), the book someone is reading, the most recent season of Game of Thrones or what demon world my fifteen year old is currently exploring in her favorite video game of the week. Dinner conversation frequently results in someone singing a song, or pulling up a YouTube video or Tumblr post when the meal is finished and sharing it to the rest of the family to illustrate a point.
At dinner last night, my fifteen year old was discussing a Tumbler post that broke down different sexual orientations into pithy statements about who heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual and asexual people have sex with. The particular quote insinuated that bisexuals “need” to have both a male lover and female lover at all times to be satisfied. This led to further discussion about whether who you currently are (or are not) having sex with defines your sexual orientation, or whether sexual orientation is really rooted in our internal sense of self.
This conversation has continued to percolate around in my mind. With my 50th birthday in March, I seem to have entered a strange stage of life where most of society doesn’t see me as a sexual being at all, thus making the question of my sexual identity irrelevant. There seems to be a creeping invisibility women of a certain age seem at risk of developing—much like a virus or a rash- that only women like Helen Mirren and Sophia Loren seem immune to. Although I find street harassment and catcalls as repellent and unwelcome as the next woman, becoming completely de-sexualized was NOT a part of aging process that I was looking forward to. Actually, the ONLY parts of the aging process I was looking forward to was finishing menopause (enough with the hormones already!), not giving a fuck and paying less for admission at the movies.
Add the fact that I am married to a man and my sexual identity can easily be viewed by the world as even less relevant.
My 20 year old self would have been completely incredulous to find out that that I could EVER become invisible. My 20 year old self thought I was a badass. Despite my teenagers’ perceptions, I bet even a few of you thought I was a badass once upon a time. My 20 year old self would have assumed that I was too opinionated, too vocal, too unconcerned with anyone else’s opinion of me and too unmotivated to be “behaved” or “ladylike” to have most of the world’s perception of me to be reduced to “Mom,” “wife,” or “co-worker.” Don’t get me wrong– these are roles that I willingly took on, but last night’s dinner conversation reminded me that there have been times in in my life when it has been a real struggle to remind myself, my family, and the world that there is an inherent part of me, some essential Christine-ness, that is not just the sum of my roles and relationships to others.
I sometimes tell people that I have lived several interesting lifetimes. I have been an undergraduate student at Mount Holyoke discovering the world and inventing myself, I have worked three jobs simultaneously in Boston to make ends meet and experienced my first serious, adult heartbreak (and played enough Melissa Etheridge in the middle of the night to prove it!), been a focused graduate student in Philadelphia, made seismic career changes, loved women, loved men, gotten married not just once but twice, connected fiercely with certain communities and moved on when it was time to go. Some of my life changes were carefully thought out and planned well in advance and sometimes I let the tide take me or simply trusted my gut instinct and jumped.
I have always said that I fall in love with people, not genders, and that I have never been overly concerned about whether the person I have fallen in love/bed with has internal or external plumbing. In the 80’s and 90’s, this made you bisexual. Bisexuality has always been an interesting hot potato. I have heard members of the LGTQ community say that there are NO bisexuals (mythical like unicorns?)—only closeted gays/lesbians who won’t “commit” or bi-curious heterosexuals who are going to dump you as soon as the “right” member of the opposite sex comes along. I don’t buy this. I was pretty comfortable embracing a lesbian identity for ten years and felt a real sense of loss when it no longer felt authentic or appropriate to claim that identity when I happened to fall in love with a man.
The stereotype that bisexuals “need” to have both a male lover and female lover simultaneously to be satisfied seems to be more prevalent among heterosexuals. I was in a “non-monogamous” relationship in my early 20’s. What that meant was that my partner was non-monogamous in practice and I was non-monogamous in theory. I have been kindly described as “intense” and I have always had a really hard time splitting my emotional energies. Let’s just call me the queen of serial monogamy. And then there are the practicalities—I put in ten hour work days on a regular basis, I have two kids, a husband, an ex-husband and a dog. I am honestly grateful I get a shower and six hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. How would I ever manage two lovers?
My much hipper and better informed children have introduced me to a much larger continuum of sexual identities than I ever conceptualized of when I was their age. I quote a Tumblr post below that does a great job of explaining this simply to those of us over 30:
Heterosexual- I’m a Coke fan
Homosexual- I’m a Pepsi fan
Bisexual- I’m a fan of both of them. Not at the same time, but either is fine.
Pansexual- It’s all just soda to me. I drink whatever I am in the mood for.
Asexual- I drink water.
The nice thing about being 50 is that I don’t really care whether people perceive me as bisexual or pansexual. In fact, I kind of like the label “pansexual” and may try it on for size. What I am sure of is that becoming invisible is NOT acceptable to me. I may not be Helen Mirren, but it is time for me to start fighting the good fight for all the beautiful, amazing, badass women over 50 out there. We still matter. We are NOT irrelevant.
© 2016 Christine Elizabeth Ray – All rights Reserved