“Labels, and Why I Hate Them” was one of the classes Vesper suggested at the recent Madison Satyricon GrUE, and it seemed to coincide well with my own proposed class: “WHATCHAMACALLIT: Finding Different Words for What It Is We Do.” The discussion itself was very enjoyable, and probably could have gone on far longer than originally intended. One insight that came from it was the realization that for some people, words have relational meaning, whereas for others, they have meaning in terms of identity.
DJ, a fantastic rope top from St. Louis, used the example of the word “Master.” To him, it is possible to be a Master without necessarily having a slave; it is a state of being, integral to the idea of self for many people. Others such as T-One (another great rope top from St. Louis, what’s up with that?) feels that Master is a statement of relationship, such as husband or father; you have to have the complement in order to have the identity.
Someone said, exasperated, “Do we really need more words?” to which I have to say, well, yes. When DJ uses the word “Master” he was talking about something different than when T-One used the word. They were using the same word to talk about two different things. That means there needs to be more words – whether in terms of labels, or at the very least in terms of further conversation.
Recently I’ve found that there are also causal changes to the meanings of words – not just nouns, but verbs. Naiia has told me of the many, many people – nice, well-meaning people – who have been asking her if she’s “all right.” They’re referring to my move to Pittsburgh, and what they perceive as abandoning a relationship, leaving Naiia completely to her own devices there in the Bondage Capital of the World. “After all, you moved there for him,” several people have said, “it must be hard.”
To which Naiia and I both say,
See, we were there. We were there for the two years of long-distance friendship that developed some distinct benefits, including great sex, D/s dynamics, and the fits of giggles we’d go into any time we tried being all “soft & gentle.” We were there as she grew more and more disenchanted with her home in D.C., both due to former relationships and due to her job.
We were there when I heard of a job opportunity in Madison, and told her about it. Like any good friend, I offered to let her stay with me until she found her own place.
That job didn’t work out, and the economy being what it is, she ended up staying with me longer than expected, and that “friends with benefits” situation made it even more pleasant. We even tried some 24/7 D/s, and she was a lovely and attentive girl, but I was not able to comfortably settle into that dynamic.
But I love my Naiia, and it showed. And I guess it makes sense that people would automatically assume several things, because they seemed logical:
Gray and Naiia are lovers.
Naiia and Gray obviously enjoy a D/s dynamic.
Oh, yeah, there was that time that she –
That’s why she moved out here.
Huh? Um, no, see above –
The two of them are a couple.
Well, depends on how you define it – we’re not BF/GF, more BFF w/Benefits, if you must –
Gray is leaving? She’s going to be abandoned!
What?!? No!! Remember the two years before that, when she was in D.C. and I was in…
…at which point I just shake my head and realize that it’s probably hopeless to try and change popular perception.
Then I shake my head again, and realize I have to try.
Well, it comes back to that situation of identity that we were talking about at the beginning of this blog post. An important part of my identity is not abandoning responsibilities. The obvious example is my children, but there are others that verge on the ridiculous – situations where I should have stopped long before I did, refusing to follow W.C. Fields’ advice: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use making a damn fool of yourself about it.”
More often than not I’d prefer to have the label Damn Fool than the label Cad. And since I take D/s relationships very seriously – if Naiia had moved up to Madison in order to be my girl, I would indeed be having second thoughts about “leaving” her there, even with the excellent support network of friends that she’s made over the past year.
But I also have trouble with this word “leaving“. Most of our relationship was spent apart, communicating through email, text, and chat, and the occasional event where she was my “native guide” and a superb demo bottom. The fact that she also was a fellatrix extraordinaire was, well, I confess, an added bonus, especially when doing interviews for John Baku’s podcast, but the point is: distance didn’t keep our relationship from developing; why on earth would I let it stop now? That would make no sense at all, and while I’ve been known to do some stupid things, that is not one of them.
So the reality for Naiia and I (and for DoNotGoGently, the reason I did move to Pittsburgh) is that our relationship is just as wonderful and enjoyable as it has been – but with some distance which is, admittedly, inconvenient. We do what we used to do – bitch about our jobs, snark about politics, send each other dirty pictures found on the web. When we are together, such as at the Truly Bound 2 event or the Madison S’GrUE, there is laughter, there is watching Dexter, eating lasagna and taco bell and oh, yes, much violent fucking, beating, spanking, biting, and the oral sex and occasional leather boot to the head.
But what’s the word for that?
That’s our reality; it’s what actually exists, but how do you explain that? Naiia and I tend not to really care, to be honest; we call ourselves “best friends”, we call ourselves “lovers”, we used to call ourselves “roommates”, but really, we are what we are to each other, and ca suffit. It’s hard for people that see us together, though, because they see a situation and want to put a label connected with all sorts of other expectations and connotations onto it. She’s kneeling at his feet. She must be his slave. All sorts of assumptions about future plans, living conditions, other relationships are made along with that, regardless of their accuracy.
As if that’s not enough, DoNotGoGently has to deal with it from the other end, where people try to go from labels to understanding the relationship. I heard the frustration in her voice as she’d tried to explain where I was this past weekend.
Gray’s at a GrUE? Why aren’t you there?
Well, he’s at this one with Naiia.
Oh, so you’re doing that whole mono/poly thing. How’s that working?
Actually, no, as part of “coming out day” he came out as not poly or mono, so that –
But…then what is Naiia, to him?
Well, they’re lovers, and best friends, and –
Oh, so he just gets to have whatever relationship he wants and you just deal with it?
At this point a certain look of pity tends to come over the face of whoever is trying to understand, because obviously a monogamous person wants to be with a monogamous person, whereas a poly person (or, in this case, not-monogamous-or-polyamorous) can just be with anyone. Right?
(sigh). But that’s another blog post.
Reality Trumps Perception
I think the point of this one comes back to Mark Twain’s comment: The map is not the territory. I can show you a map with labels and the places and events I’ve shared with Naiia, and even come up with some labels that might give you an idea of what parts of our relationship are like. The truth is, though, I will never be a good enough writer to convey exactly what it was like staring into her eyes while DJPet’s GrUE mix played in the dance hall where the GrUE play party was held. Maybe if you combined a violet wand, a netti pot, and the first time you saw the Matrix into one experience you’d come close, but even that’s inadequate. Maybe the time your best friend and you both aced a hard exam you’d been studying for plus the time she first did that thing you fantasized about but were afraid to ask for plus the taste of cinnamon hot chocolate on a crisp fall sunday morning as you triumphantly finish the NYT crossword.
Yeah. That’s close. But still not there. The fact is, even the thousand words that this picture is worth (plus the 1500 I’ve spent blathering on the subject) aren’t adequate. And if I’m having this much trouble explaining it in broad terms, no wonder it becomes more difficult to explain it in exact terms to those who need to know, such as my girlfriend DoNotGoGently?
Accepting the Is-ness of Us
A while back, while I was mentoring a group of LGBTQ teens in a theater group, I heard the group questioning a young man. “Are you gay? Straight? Bi?”
He looked at them with a calm, almost amused expression. “I’m John.”That said it all (and yes, I changed the name to protect the not-so-innocent, though he’s been an adult for a while now).
I think that has to be the answer, really. It’s got to just come down to the subject and the verb, with no predicate to muddy the issue. When asked the question What are we? we have to either be prepared to get into a long conversation about boundaries, sacred spaces, intimacy, trust, communication, and blowjobs, or else simply give the easiest answer.