What does gender mean to you? How do we perform gender with our friends? How do we perform gender with our lovers? Hear it all on this episode of the Queer Joy Podcast; where two relationship therapists explore what it looks like to see joy in queer relationships.
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Keely: I think performing gender, not just out in public, but how do we perform gender with our friends? How do we perform gender with our lovers?
Melisa: Hi everyone. Welcome back to Queer Relationships Queer Joy. I'm one of your hosts, Melisa DeSegiurant.
Keely: And I'm your other host, Keely C. Helmick.
Melisa: Woohoo. Here we go again.
Keely: Here we go again. We're getting into one of my favorite topics, but uh, I also feel a little nervous. It feels very vulnerable.
Melisa: Yeah. Today we are talking about exploration of gender and sex and gender, I think specifically and I'm, I'm glad we are dipping back into this topic. We did an episode in season one, and it's interesting to reflect on Keely, especially personally, that my understanding of my own gender has changed since we recorded that episode.
Keely: But isn't that such a good point to even why we're talking about it? Because gender exploration isn't like this. You get to one destination, it's like, it's a continued exploration throughout life.
Melisa: Absolutely. Yeah, and I think just the way that I even worded certain things, I wouldn't use that same language now. And I'm glad that it still exists. You can all go back and listen and see what I'm talking about. I'm glad it still exists because I would want this to show, and especially on our podcast, the evolution of how we are thinking about these things and that we're continuing to grow and, and certainly for myself refining how I use language to talk about gender.
Keely: Well, yeah, and just what you're saying, like language is constantly changing as well. And depending on who you're talking to, there are generational differences. Though at the same time when, as I say that out loud, that's still not an excuse for older generations to misgender or not use correct pronouns.
Keely: But there is a different viewing of it. And I was even talking to someone the other day who grew up like in the, coming into their teenage years, like in San Francisco, Berkeley area, and they, they made a statement like, well, we weren't really, that wasn't really part of that whole movement back then. And I'm like, and I had to check them and be like, actually, trans folks, non-binary folks. All the rays of queerness has existed since humans have been around.
Keely: There was a differentiation, whether it was safe or not, what groups it felt safe to be around, but that language is always, or not that specific language, but humans that express that diversity have always been around.
Keely: It doesn't get talked about in history in the same way. Yeah.
Melisa: I mean, go look at the Stonewall riots and look at Marsha P. Johnson, trans people have always existed.
Keely: Yeah, and it's just, it shows that there's just been. There's also like a lot of cis people, and this is, ugh, a whole debate. I don't wanna go into this too much, but you know, people know about what's like going on in Florida and other parts of the country and this idea, you know, really people that don't understand will make comments like, Whoa, it's just a new trend, or, you know, everyone is like this now, but they're just, like wanting to be trendy. It's like uh, the, well, a, yeah. Okay. Yes. Let's just say everyone's queer
Melisa: Yeah. Queer is trending because we're all sick of being in the damn closet.
Keely: And everyone isn't, not no one cis.
Keely: We all have this range of gender and sexuality.
Melisa: Exactly. Exactly.
Keely: And we scare off all of the Republicans and conservative people, and they hide in their closet more.
Melisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I, I'm gonna forget the exact Instagram. It's where I get all my wonderful inspiration . But there was a post about the queer agenda, the gay agenda, and essentially like our agenda is to survive, actually. It's to live. Thanks.
Keely: Then the joking part is like just looking for someone to cuddle with. Like someone to post and that, like, the queer agenda for the day is I want someone to cuddle with me.
Keely: Which I think is a really good thought as we think about, because when we're talking about gender and specifically sexuality, I think there's a piece of like pleasure around that too, and connecting with self. And that's where the exploration can start. But before we start that we should really quickly introduce ourselves, , I'm Keely C. Helmick. I am a licensed professional counselor, I'm a certified sex therapist, I'm the owner of Connective Therapy Collective. I am a white, nonbinary, queer, fem person, and I am solo poly.
Melisa: And I am Melisa DeSegiurant. I am licensed as a marriage and family therapist, also licensed as a professional counselor, and I work at Connective Therapy Collective. I'm white. I'm able bodied, bisexual, I am polyamorous, I'm gender fluid. I use she and they pronouns.
Keely: Awesome. I think we're getting these like intros down to like almost to science.
Keely: Like they're getting more efficient. Definitely a mouthful still, but like location of self introductions are important. Cause then people can know, I mean they can go on and see our faces on YouTube, but getting to know.
Melisa: Do we have updates? I dunno if there's anything to update.
Keely: I don't know. Cause I'm trying to remember what I said in the last episode. I just, if I were to ever be comfortable enough to be vulnerable about doing a chart of Portland, I've definitely become more and more entrenched in the chart of Portland. And I am now friends with benefits with somebody who is also sleeping with somebody that I share, three, no, three partner, or not partners, but three sexual people, partners with.
Melisa: It's the web, it's Alice's web from L word.
Keely: Yes. And the web has gotten really intricate. So that's, I think that's mainly my update. And then just, you know, I'm noticing, as you know, Melisa, you and I do our trainings and workshops and do the podcast. Really getting more and more into these really in depth, more specific conversations. and learning more about what I'm comfortable and not comfortable with. Really learning some boundaries, the Big B word, so, I mean, that's my update. I'm still just like, dating. I got off the dating apps for a minute. I'm still not on the dating apps, but even not being on the dating apps, I have plenty of stuff going on.
Melisa: I was gonna say, it doesn't sound like you're having any trouble.
Keely: No, and I do have a date on Tuesday. I do have a first date on Tuesday and the person like seems really cute and sweet and like, it was so funny cuz they were like, oh, are you gonna be at the Thorns game on Sunday? And I'm like, Yeah. Maybe we'll see each other. And I was like, Oh, what an awkward way to see somebody. We don't have a first date yet, but we run into, you know, each other on the game. I didn't see her at the game, but she did, like, we texted afterwards and it was just really cute. And then I, yeah, I just have these ongoing, my, my circles of ongoing people just like mm-hmm. If you look at my texts, like , like 70% of the people I'm texting with are people I've slept with at some point.
Keely: So yeah, there's my life right now.
Melisa: Yep. That's how, how it goes sometimes.
Keely: Yep. That's my social life, so.
Melisa: Well, some of my updates, one of 'em in particular, I'm gonna save for Queer Joy, so I won't spoil that one, but I'm kind of loving the warmth of this beginning of fall.
Melisa: And still getting to be outside.
Melisa: Glorious day yesterday where I was walking all over Portland. One of my favorite things to do is walk across the bridge, cuz I live on the east side, so walk across to downtown.
Keely: Oh yeah.
Melisa: And it's just, it's amazing. There's something about looking at the city, having the water, just the air. It just, it's incredible. So, It's been, again, we sit here and talk about updates, and here I am talking about my solo dates again.
Keely: And I talk about the messiness of all these humans that I'm juggling. And like,
Melisa: Yeah, something's never changed. I'm definitely still invested in my relationships, a lot of deepening and things like that. So maybe there will be more updates in the future that are more specific or more juicy. But yeah, no things are- Things are going well. I am still very happy.
Keely: Oh, yay. So yeah, I liked your question that we were talking about. I think that's a really great place to start is the question, what is gender?
Melisa: Yeah. When I think about gender, what we were talking about before recording Keely was just what comes up in session. And I think we skip that sometimes. Like what even is gender? Is gender important to you? If not, why not? If yes, why, like, those I think are really valuable questions to be personally reflecting on and and I do think that's a personal reflection. I don't think I can sit here and tell someone. What gender is other than a construct, , you know, and maybe even other people would challenge that particular definition.
Keely: Yeah, and what I notice in more discussions that I have with folks is there is this differentiation for some people saying, I want gender not to exist. And then other folks are like, Oh wait, I really want more vocabulary. And they'll go in depth about their gender.
Melisa: Right? Yeah.
Keely: And so just like so many things, it is very individualized, which is why the question of asking each person, what is gender to you? What does gender mean to you? Yeah. And as we said at the very beginning, that this is a journey and exploration for life. And we can't negate, as much as we would like to, was my opinion. We can't negate how even, like my gender is non-binary and the way that I express my gender and how I see my gender, there's also the influence of how other people see me.
Melisa: Right? Right. We don't exist in a vacuum. Other people can influence our own perception of ourselves.
Keely: And of course that's where for some, some, you know, a lot of people, If they experience gender dysphoria, that's where the gender dysphoria comes into play is because how I see myself is not being reflected and how others see me.
Melisa: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Keely: And I would say also in my, you know, I, I'm not speaking for others in the moment. I'm speaking for myself that it's interesting to me how when people get to know me more, they do actually see my gender more. So there's that like split second, Oh, this human blank, and they identify and then as they get to know me, they, they, they see it more.
Keely: Which is interesting. And I don't know if other people experience that.
Melisa: Well, it, to me, it brings to mind that. I guess the reminder that gender is how we feel on the inside. It's, it's something we can only really dictate for ourselves because as someone's presentation may not match from, you know, an outside person's eyes with the way they experience their gender, and that's just fine. It does not need to be congruent. Some people don't change their pronouns. And still identify differently with their gender and that's just fine. Right? And so we need to get away from this idea that everything has to be neat and tidy and congruent and like what convenient for us so we can judge people appropriately. Like what is that about? Right? Like, why can't we let it be complex? Because it is
Keely: Well, yeah, cuz a lot of people, Alok, talks about this a lot actually. And I've listened to other writers and podcasts where it's like, Oh, you're feeling if a, if another person is feel, I'm feeling uncomfortable about my gender or my gender presentation or how I am in the world, that's actually about them.
Keely: And it's not about me. And so Alok will goes to as far as their responses when people are like, Oh, like a really common response they get. And if you don't follow Alok, Alokvmenon on Instagram or Facebook, please follow them. Just, they have so much, many amazing things to say about gender and sexuality in the history and just an amazing human. But they, they'll go so far as, you know, they get common comments like, Oh, you'd be so much prettier if you shaved. And they're like, Oh, that's a bummer that, that that's what you're going through for yourself. They're like, cuz I'm, I'm, I'm good with myself. But this is a reflection of how you feel about yourself.
Melisa: Right? Right.
Keely: I'm, you know, people that aren't cis hetero often make other people feel uncomfortable because they actually see when, when cis hetero people or cis hetero quotations, who knows if they're cis hetero, are uncomfortable or make comments towards non-binary trans queer people, it's actually a form of uncomfortableness because they're looking at how much pleasure or joy they're seeing that person really in their gender.
Keely: And owning their sexuality.
Keely: So. It- again, it is really about the other person.
Melisa: It can shed light on where someone else is holding themselves back.
Melisa: Maybe even for the name of performing their gender, the way that the world has taught them they are supposed to. So anything beyond that is risky.
Keely: Yeah. And I do like, and I think that wording you just said, I think that's really important in this discussion is talking about performing gender. And what that looks like or how we, and I think performing gender, not just out in public, but how do we perform gender with our friends? How do we perform gender with our lovers?
Keely: Expectations based on how we look or present expectations that are in the bedroom.
Melisa: Yeah. And I want to, and I, I know I've said this before, even I think in our last episode, but the word performing can be used as a negative thing and sometimes I know I have felt in a negative way expected to perform gender a certain way. But we don't have to put shame on that concept altogether. I think it's fair to perform gender the way you want. Like some days I'm feeling myself in a certain vibe and I'm, I want to perform, if you will, that way or present that way. And that is authentic and that that doesn't need to be shamed, you know? We just, we get in such shame spirals with all this stuff. We're like really excited to shame ourselves for everything .
Keely: You know, there's been multiple people that have done official researching. And it's interesting, I don't know if you experienced Melisa. I know very well at how, pretty much how I'm gonna be treated based on how I'm dressed that day and how I'm showing up in the world. And so when I hear that word performing, I think about, okay, I wake up in the morning and if I want to be perceived and treated in a certain way, I consciously choose different outfits. I consciously choose how I wear my hair if I wear a wig.
Keely: What jewelry I put on, or no jewelry. Like I think about that and so that's part of the, like owning that performance.
Melisa: Right, Right.
Keely: If I, It's a sunny day, if I, take a shower, do my hair a certain way, wear hoops, wear a dress, and some like sandal, I am gonna be treated very differently than if I'm wearing a ball cap, like Bahama, you know.
Melisa: Yeah, totally.
Keely: And a queer shirt. You know,
Melisa: I feel you.
Keely: A man's quote/ unquote button up shirt. Like, it's just so different.
Keely: You can own that word.
Melisa: Yeah, exactly. And, and make it for you. I mean, that's- ask a gender fluid, gender queer person. Like, I think that's what's fun about gender. And you, here's the thing, you can present differently and with fluidity, even if you identify as cis gender. So I'm tired of making this like a queer person's like, issue. Like, no. Like we should, that's my should statement for everyone, . We should all be free to be creative with how we present ourselves. And again, whether you tie that directly to your gender or not.
Keely: Well, and I think just like when we talk about race and like for me as a white person, I have the privilege that I don't ha- quote, you know, I don't have to think about race, but I, it, for me, it's a social justice issue. It's very personal to me. I identify and very much in anti-racism. The same thing. I still have ethnicity, right, as a white person, but I just don't think about it because I'm in a place of privilege, especially in Portland, Oregon. Same for cis hetero people. Cis hetero people still have a gender and a sexuality. They just are walking in the realms of privilege, and so they just don't think about it. And I think one of the things that I really push as, as a supervisor being in the therapy world is having people who identify as cis hetero to ask them what their gender means to them.
Melisa: Right? Yeah.
Keely: How they identify gender because they don't think about gender often. And so the, when we talk about performance, it's like, oh, is that a non-intentional, like when I'm intentionally performing a certain way because I'm choosing to, versus someone who is really in that box of cis hetero um, normativity and how many. You know, things we hear just daily, you know, especially when think about elementary school and middle school and high school, like people experience even as cis hetero people. You know, cis hetero boy who acts too quote/unquote girly or acts like a sissy and then you know, cis hetero girl, that is too opinionated or bossy. So within that realm of gender, it applies to everyone. And we're sitting here saying, Hey. Our challenge to you, a growth edge is if you identify, if you identify as a cis hetero person, cis hetero, monogamous person, explore those, explore your gender, explore your sexuality, explore your relationship dynamic.
Melisa: Yeah, absolutely. I think you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't. Right? There's always more to learn. So talk about gender and sex specifically, because in the therapy space, This is where so much comes up in sessions that I have with my clients. I don't even know where we wanna start with that. Like,
Keely: I don't know, the one that came up to me is that someone said this earlier, and it's, it's just a phrasing of like a butch in the streets and a fem in the sheets.
Melisa: Love it.
Keely: But then I want, I want the opposite of like, I, you know, I would identify sometimes as a fem in streets, but a butch in the sheets. But like, what does that mean actually?
Melisa: Right. What does that mean? Even, the thing that comes to mind where we start talking, because to me then it sounds like topping, bottoming, like who's power and control and all that. And we make assumptions often based on someone's, again, maybe not even their gender, the way they identify, but their, their presentation.
Keely: Yes. Their presentation of how they look.
Keely: I think that happens and I, you know, I am externally hang out, in the white cis gay world in Portland. And I'm not as familiar with that world as like, I feel like there's like, there's like defining like certain generations of queer folks. There's like the lesbians, there's the gay men. I mean there's, there's these differentiations and I would love for people to write in about this. Cause these are just my, the things that I have noticed, being in Portland for 42 years and being out for, you know, 24 years. But there is something to be said within the queer dynamics. Lesbians, definitely there's like differentiation and expectation, but even the queer world of defining and almost feeling, and even on the dating apps, it feels like really having to define so that you find the quote/unquote right match for yourself.
Melisa: Right? You have to be able to tell the world, here's what I am, here are all the terms, but again, we've said this before, that can be limiting. Like how do we know we may shift with each partner? I experience sex differently with every single person I have sex with. So how am I supposed to know what it's gonna look like with the next person, you know, that sees my pro- profile.
Keely: Well, and I'm gonna interact differently. So I identify as a switch and I jokingly, but seriously will sometimes use like percentages, I'll be like this percent of top this and this percent of bottom. What is the thing that I bought a car earlier, even just playing with the word top and bottom. One of the people I'm dating, they'll say like, Oh, you're such a top in like, world stuff.
You know, like, oh you're such a top when it comes to buying your car. Or like, you know, you're such a top at work. And it's interesting cuz it does play into power, but also really basically to find, often it's like a top is someone who's the person either penetrating or doing the sexual act on or for another person,