The LGBTQI+ community has come far – and we are still at it, as the fight for our rights continues. We continue to challenge patriarchal, (cis)heteronormative systems that are often predicated on religion and work to erase (or refuse to acknowledge) our existence, thus fuelling or perpetuating discrimination against us in more ways than one. Yes, we continue to literally and metaphorically raise a middle finger at such systems through our very existence (even though our lives are still at risk, with some at an even greater risk than others).

While all this is happening on the one hand, on the other it is troubling to note that we queer folk seem to sustain those self-same queerphobic systems through the ways in which we relate to each other, especially where sexual/romantic relationships are concerned. We continue to allow (cis)heteronormative standards to dictate how our relationships are structured. We have created and maintain the use of various labels that only serve to preserve patriarchy as they prescribe certain behaviours that those who subscribe to/are assigned those labels are supposed to uphold.

Hierarchies in our relationships

These labels (stud/butch, femme, bottom, top, just to name the most popular ones) often create hierarchies in our relationships that are informed by dominant/submissive paradigms. One party seems to be afforded the dominant status – and that party is usually the masculine one (the stud/butch, the top). The other party assumes the role of the submissive one – and this is usually the feminine one (the femme, the bottom). It is no surprise that this imbalance of power would open the door to abuse; after all, there is a tendency by those in dominant positions to want to reinforce or assert their dominance, especially when their perceived power is threatened or questioned.

Read: The limits of imagining pleasure: Writing the history of African sex

It is troubling to note the disdain shown for two masculine women who are in a romantic relationship. Oddly enough, two feminine women in a romantic relationship are never met with such derision. One can only wonder what is wrong with two masculine women being in a relationship. Why must a relationship be between a feminine and masculine person only? And why do we show so much contempt when the masculine woman in a queer relationship gets pregnant? If she has the womb to accommodate a foetus, then why is it unacceptable for her to become pregnant, if she so wishes?

Photo: Charlotte Cooper/Flickr)

Many of us have seen and continue to see the way queer folk react to such situations. An example is the disparaging and, quite frankly, ignorant comments made when the YouTube star Domonique Wilson (a masculine woman) announced her pregnancy via social media: “Why is the masculine one pregnant though”? Newsflash: She fell pregnant because she wanted to be (and could get) pregnant.

It is even sadder and more infuriating to note how some of the popular LGBTQI+ folk with a huge social media following perpetuate this toxicity through their utterances. “A masculine woman cannot do this. She must do that.” Bottom this; bottom that. “Certain sex positions are only meant for porn”. I watched a YouTube video by two well-known masculine lesbians and I was utterly shocked to hear them say tribbing (scissoring) was something only porn stars would do. What in the world? Yes, people have a right to their own opinions – or to identify with any label – but if our opinions are informed by harmful and/or ridiculous beliefs, then we need to question that. We need to educate each other so that we can be better. And being part of a group that faces marginalisation on the grounds of our sexuality or gender does not absolve us from being called out, if needs be.

On top of this expectation for people to behave or carry themselves in a certain way, many queer people are also under a lot of pressure to look a certain way. We queer folk tend to body shame each other. The insecurities that develop from this can cause tremendous damage to our health, something that is already put under strain as we deal with queerphobia from a (cis)heteronormative society. Some people, like Tom, who is featured in Olly Alexander’s Growing Up Gay documentary, are battling eating disorders because of the pressure to be and maintain a certain body size; one that is perceived to be attractive and, sometimes, appropriate for the label you have chosen to identify as.

lesbian gay homosexuality
File photo: GayPrideMarch-26Oct13- 009. Photo: Niko Knigge/Flickr/ Licensed under Free cultural works/Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Why do we have this need to mould our relationships and ways of being so that they resemble those of (cis)heterosexual people as closely as possible?

The insistence on and obsession with labels and heteronormative roles is so exhausting; our intolerance as queer people (whose existence is far from being tolerated by many) is overwhelming. Why do we have this desperate and unhealthy need to mould our relationships and ways of being so that they resemble those of (cis)heterosexual people as closely as possible? We tell (cis)heterosexual folk to ‘live and let live’, yet we show such intolerance towards fellow queer folk who will not subscribe to labels or prescribed behaviours to stop them from ‘living’ and loving. That is hypocritical, methinks.

Read: Understanding sex and pleasure beyond the cis-gendered body

Sustaining (cis)heteronormativity will not help advance our cause for our freedom to EXIST, freedom to BE, freedom to LOVE. The freedom to receive sexual pleasure from our partners. On so many occasions, I’ve had a woman I had romantic interest in ask me if I would let her touch me or perform oral sex on me. I’ve also had chats (about queer relationships) with other women who shed more light on how butch women refuse to have their partner pleasure them. How does anyone refuse themselves such a wondrous experience? Why is it awkward for a masculine to be touched sensually? Why would anyone turn down the wonder that is oral sex? Why is it unbecoming when the masculine lesbian moans when the sex is just that good? Why the unnecessary sexual repression? Why torture oneself? Where does this all even come from? After all, the men in (cis)heterosexual relationship whom we are supposedly trying to emulate do not hold back sexually, do they?

People, it is high time that we burn the imaginary and suppressive rule book.

Let us learn to live, let live and let love.