Here in England, we are beginning our slow return to how things were in the before times.
And I’m scared.
Not of the virus. But of the impending rush to settle back and live our lives in exactly the same way as it was before. That everything might go back to how it was, just doesn’t sit well with me. Because if we’re honest with ourselves and are able to name the groups of people – and the systems they prop up – that will come out of the pandemic unscathed, we will see that nothing has really changed on a structural nor political level.
I’ve found it monstrously difficult to accept that the pandemic hasn’t loosened the vice-like grip of late capitalism; a system that entrenches ableism, white supremacy, neo-liberalism, conservative normativity, and the inevitability of the oppression of the marginalised. And that those in positions of power have revelled in the opportunity to lead with an increasingly hateful vested interest in upholding the status quo. Each time opportunities have arisen to pursue a more equitable future, certain premierships have chosen mass death, and the impoverishment of all but their crony elites.
*closes eyes and takes a few deep, cleansing breaths*
Yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the many months shut away during these lockdowns have provided some clarity. Since all semblance of my high-octane, culture-drenched, urban lifestyle has been stripped back to just the occasional canal walk with one friend or a vibe-less online event, I’ve had time to seriously engage with all the meta issues I’ve been preoccupied with for, like, forever: coloniality, conflict, disempowerment, interpersonal relationships, pleasure politics, power structures, sex, vulnerability etc, etc, etc.
Up until this point, I’d never considered that time away from the constant noise and stimulation of my near-decade in London could allow me the headspace for the difficult, yet necessary, work of radically interrogating injustice.
This year, like most people, I’ve spent hundreds (thousands?) of hours watching stuff on my laptop. After binge-watching drama series after dramas series for weeks (months?) on end, it becomes almost impossible not to notice that scripts for most films and TV shows feature inadequate conflict resolution. Because conflict is essential to any compelling screenplay, interpersonal relationships – especially romantic and sexual relationships – in popular culture are frequently based around toxicity.
We all love a good sex scene, right? But it is rare to find vocalised consent written into the script. Instead, tropes such as the ‘interrupting kiss’ often lead to explicit physicality without vocalised consent from any party. And with the #MeToo movement continually throwing sexual violence into the mainstream discourse, it is super important that we all improve the way we engage with communication in our sexual and interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, most people don’t have the language and self-confidence to express their emotional and physical needs to their partners; such as what feels good in their body, or how to ask for more of what they like. We are simply not educated to think about our bodies, pleasure and emotions in such a way. Many feel confusion, shame and guilt around desire, and the constant on-screen messaging of passivity around receiving pleasure then makes it difficult to recognise – and model – healthy modes of communication in real life.
On-screen relationships almost always foreground controlling other people as a means to meet your own needs and desires. But aren’t healthy relationships really about making the consensual decision to continuously share yourself and your life with others?
I know that my dysfunctional approach to relationships stems from never, ever having seen the type of physical interpersonal relationship that feels most natural and authentic to my psyche, portrayed in the media. Intuitive emotional intelligence, communicational integrity, and the ability to mindfully work through conflict – while also maintaining fulfilling physical relationships – are never realistically portrayed on screen. Could this be because we so rarely come across these combined traits IRL?
All too often, scriptwriters add an unhelpful moralistic dimension by making sure that characters who sit outside the realms of normativity never get their happy ending.
These days, I’m struck by how much fear limits us.
I can spend full days procrastinating instead of setting the intention to write. Because facing up to the intense reality of dredging my emotions up through my body, processing them (without accidentally retriggering myself), and then translating them into prose that people can connect with, takes an immense amount of effort.
Because I choose to write on topics that are taboo, even as a radical progressive, I’ve found myself locked in a daily battle where my fearful self pre-emptively shuts down all the thought avenues that I find confronting and transgressive.
I’m also struggling to let go of the parts of my sexual identity that no longer serve me. Much of my confidence in my own body is tied to whether someone else is able to enjoy it. A wonderfully large and varied circle of friends and acquaintances, alongside a rich and physically fulfilling sexual past, is not enough to overcome my reliance on external channels to feel validated.
It’s hard to admit that I’m experiencing a shattering sense of loss when I realise that I may now have well and truly aged out of being someone’s first choice – now that the avenues for connection are limited to the superficial and gamified realm of app dating. The dating profile as a concept flattens out the rich and multifaceted natures of our personalities. The universally accepted differentiators of age, height, job and three of the most flattering – yet candid – pictures of your face and body have come to be the sole determinants of compatibility.
I find the idea of being examined or observed as a potential fit from such meagre scraps of information abhorrent. A person’s body language, and energy behind their silences, will tell you more about a person’s true intentions than the way in which they’ve strung their words together. The gap between intention and interpretation only grows when relationship-building shifts from IRL to text-based interactions.
And so, by opting out not to engage in that contemptible marketplace, I will have to come to terms with being my own companion.
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