Do all queers have equal access to intimacy?

I’ve been aware recently that I often say things like ‘find an erotic peer to practice with’ or I talk to workshop members assuming that they have people they can explore consent and do Genital Interviews with, or that they can find these people if they want to. However, this naturally isn’t always the case as there can be multiple obstacles to obtaining queer intimacy.

I have found myself thinking about some of these challenges…

The Pandemic

This one goes without saying and most of us have a grasp of how it has affected our own access to friends, partners, dating, etc.

During the pandemic, some people lost choice and agency in their relationships and who they had access to intimacy with. Many ethically non-monogamous people were confined to spending all of their time bubbled with one partner.

All kinds of relationships felt the huge strain of being together all the time, or, being separated by quarantine rules. Additionally, there was a documented rise in domestic abuse and conflict.

Events where people would potentially have met others to connect with and share intimacy stopped happening. Dates took place on Zoom and touch starvation was the subject of many online articles.

What’s more, the actual isolation, and the impact of the extended period of isolation on our relationships, is far from over.

Access to Intimacy is Impacted by Structurally Embedded Advantages (aka Privilege)

Access to intimacy is yet another ‘life chance’ impacted by our unequal society.

I remember doing a Privilege Walk and daydreaming about an ‘Intimacy privilege walk’, which, rather than asking about economics, education and safety from violence etc, specifically explored access to emotional, romantic and sexual intimacy, depending on a person’s background and social position.

I think the results would be revealing.

Having a lower income can reduce the number of options open to queer people, such as paying for admission to sex events, festivals, travel across the country for a date, etc.

Being a parent or a carer, both of which are responsibilities and roles that often land with people assigned female at birth (AFAB), can make it difficult to create opportunities for the freedom and privacy. As well as opportunities to explore different kinds of intimacy.

The touch and intimacy in a parenting relationship are of a particular quality and are usually for meeting the needs of the child. These needs can of course be relentless — think toddlers! It’s common for parents to not feel like they have energy left for partner sex and intimacy, and this is as true for queer parents as it is for any other.

Access to rest, leisure time and disposable income all helps us create the conditions for intimacy. Being in any kind of fear or stress about not getting our basic needs for housing/food/safety met means we’re more likely to have fewer choices around intimacy.

Being in ‘Survival Mode’ also means our nervous systems will be in a state of worrying about basic survival and safety. This makes us less able to relax and surrender to relaxation and pleasure.

And then there’s desirability politics.

Desirability Politics

We’re surrounded by the powerful cultural idea that our sexual and romantic lives are private, individual matters. This includes our attractions and who we’re open to sharing intimacy with. However, there are a lot of useful commentaries that argue yet another example of the personal being political. Not everyone gets an equal opportunity to be desired and sought after for intimate relationships.

For example:

  • Disabled people are not always seen as sexual and aren’t always considered as potential partners by an able-bodied mainstream.
  • Dating sites have become renowned for the racism, whether through excluding People of Colour or being places where casual or even abusive racism present.
  • People with fat bodies experience the hard edge of desirability politics, being shamed, patronised or bullied.
  • Trans people on straight or gay dating apps can face negative comments and misgendering.

Interestingly, of the groups I’ve mentioned (which can obviously overlap), some people also experience being fetishised and objectified. This is a form of being ‘desired’ that can be problematic. However, this is experienced subjectively and navigated by individuals in their own way.

Like many of you reading, I suspect it’s been tempting to think that the queer community has somehow escaped the grip of the systems of oppression. I think that although there is more awareness of it, we have a long way to go.

two queer people almost kissing

Geographical Challenges

People living in major cities with a queer scene and a population of queer people, at least seem to have a head start with a pool of others to date and interact with. However, once you’ve been active and busy for a while, I hear that even socialising within these communities can become challenging. This might be because of often bumping into ex-partners (a situation that can feel tricky), or a person may feel like they’ve already interacted with or dated everyone they’re interested in. This can then lead to the community feeling complicated or ‘incestuous’.

If you’re a therapist working in your own local community, bring on even more complexity to navigate. Consider ‘you’ve booked tickets to a kink event and this morning’s client just shared that they are going’ type scenarios.

Small Community

Statistically, what we call the ‘queer community’ (and the blurry edges merging into the lesbian/gay/bisexual communities) in the UK for example, is relatively tiny. We are gathered in some cities more densely but also spread out across the country. We find each other through networks and hubs of festivals, scenes, sex clubs, parties, camping, gatherings, etc, and then, of course, dating sites.

What this means for us is a relatively small pool of people to connect with. And, it’s more likely we need to travel to spend physical time with the person/people we’re interested in meeting. Also, this person/people are more likely to be in one degree of separation from somebody we’re already in/have been in a relationship with (your ‘fuck in laws’ – ever mapped that out?).

If a relationship ends, or there is a conflict or consent issue, this can affect access to the already small number of gatherings and queer spaces. The interwoven network means that there is a higher likelihood that we continue being in contact with former partners because we go to the same places. Friendships and other relationships can be affected if we have a troubled relationship ending with someone.

There can be positive aspects to a small community, and of course it is not static; it is constantly growing as new people join. There are also challenges, especially as a marginalised community, we’re more likely to experience minority stress and trauma, which clearly impact relationships and intimacy.

Therapist or Practitioner in a Small Community

The longer I am a practitioner working in the community, and the more therapists and practitioners I speak with about this, the more I realise this to be an issue in seeking intimacy.

When people offer therapeutic, space-holding and educational work to the same community they are a part of, and when they are committed to ethical practice and boundaries, this has a very real impact on their ability to access dating, intimacy, romance, sexual connection and erotic peers for themselves.

It’s really easy to become someone who values queer/kink/sex positive space so much that you end up involved in all the projects and holding space everywhere. When you’re in these roles, you feel a level of responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of others and you are in service. We often have ethical guidelines about involvement with people attending the space or workshop, which means that the aforementioned small pool continues to get smaller (for good reason).

The problem is that practitioners need chances to be nourished and fed by erotic pleasure and intimacy, and to be able to do the receiving of embodiment, processing, healing work around sexuality that they offer others.

We need erotic peers, supervisors, sexological bodyworkers and sex workers who enable us to be in our own bodies and pleasure and process. The lack of access to these things affects our ability to work effectively with others.

Dating Sites – Groan!

I have had mixed experiences on dating sites. On the positive side, I have met some lovely friends and sound people to share play, fun and intimacy with. Even from Tinder!

However, I notice that I often have conversations with people where, despite the fact that they too have had positive experiences, there is still eye rolling and groaning. There seems to be a lot of challenging stuff we have to wade through and tolerate. There are typical stories of unsolicited genitalia pictures, racism, transphobic and intrusive questions and generally disrespectful behaviour and poor communication.

In the post-lockdown world especially, many people are fatigued with online connection and Zoom. They’re longing to be with people in person, so online dating with potentially long slow messaging conversations before meeting, is not right for everyone.

I chatted with a friend who is aware of me talking about people finding ‘erotic peers’, and how we wished there was ‘an app for that’. We imagined an app where everyone on it was queer and seeking others for all sorts of connections. Connections that could have the qualities of erotic peership…care, consent, conscious touch, communication and connection.

Age – Both Ends of the Life Span

We live in an ageist society that affects people at both ends of the spectrum; younger people and older people. This is especially prevalent within the realm of sex and relationships, where the mainstream is biased towards young, healthy, able-bodied people. If you do not fit into this group, then it may be assumed that you’re less interested in intimacy, or others will have less interest in being intimate with you!

In my previous career as a youth worker, I understood where young people were viewed in a particular way by the media and by their older peers. This has got me wondering if younger people (18+) would feel strange coming to a workshop where some participants are significantly older than them, and vice versa of course.

Older people talk to me a lot about how their access to intimacy, sex and relationships is impacted by ageing. This might relate to how they’re viewed on dating sites, how they feel about themselves and their changing body and energy levels.

Queer menopause is a big factor for many people in a changing relationship with intimacy, and there can be an amount of loss and nostalgia for a time in life when things were easier.

For young queer people, accessing dating and seeking safe encounters certainly comes with its own obstacles and complexities. This may be to do with the places they are likely to hang out and be able to meet others. Although I’m now in my mid-forties, I do have my own perspective on this as someone who was young once!

Intra and Inter-personal Relationship ‘Stuff’

How we feel about ourselves in relation to others is a significant aspect of our holistic wellbeing. Many of us are affected by trauma and attachment wounds that originated in childhood.

Queer children and young people have particular experiences of feeling different and perhaps not feeling accepted by our families, caregivers or peers. This can cause problems with intimacy and feeling safe with others, or not being able to regulate needs, which can lead us to be avoidant or clingy. We may deal with minority stress in our everyday lives and the impact of this on how safe and well we feel.

The effects of trauma, chronic health issues and mental health challenges are common. A result of this can be that it’s hard to make social plans or dates, and perhaps sometimes feel the need to withdraw or not keep commitments. This can have an impact on all kinds of relationships.

One thing I see often, is people have a lot of anxiety around intimacy because of previous bad experiences, relating to both sex and intimacy. This can relate to being rejected, being taken advantage of, non-consensual touch or being drunk/zoning out.

We need healing opportunities around all of this, and a chance to have contrasting positive experiences where there is safety, consent, care and acceptance. We need to create new, reparative memories in our bodies.

Opportunities

The various challenges of queerness, non-normativity and aspects of being marginalised, go hand in hand with some huge positives. We get to be part of a community and a movement that is about RESISTANCE. A community that is interested in fairness and justice, and one that has put a lot of effort into building Consent Culture.

I think there’s a lot to be positive about, including that you’re reading this blog and belong to the intimate, but growing, Quintimacy community.

Here are some opportunities to consider…

Cultivating Intimacy with Yourself

The three-month trans group programme I am holding includes a session on a Saturday morning every month, which is a self-pleasure group (inspired by Non Binary Self Pleasure groups). Self-pleasure can mean so many things and is also connection and intimacy with yourself.

Dancing, self-massage, having a warm bath, sensation play with toys, eating a dessert mindfully, listening to music, playing with energy or flesh genitals, all are on the menu. Within the Saturday morning session, we share intentions at the beginning and end, and the practice of solo intimacy suddenly becomes much easier to prioritise when we do it with others.

This is not an argument for any queer to become an island! Or that a queer must love themselves before anyone else can! We absolutely need other people, AND we can give a lot (of love, pleasure, kindness) to ourselves.

Everyone is on their own path to work the balance of this out, and recent circumstances have meant a lot has been out of our control regarding solitude and togetherness. Most of us need BOTH.

Is a Queer Intimacy Opportunity Right in Front of our Eyes?

I know I can tend towards a negativity bias about my situation, and a so-called ‘scarcity mindset’ (although there are a lot of real challenges, as described in the first half of this post).

Through that lens with which we filter the world, we can sometimes miss the relationships and opportunities for all sorts of intimacy that might be right in front of us. Sometimes all this requires is the right approach and the right conversation to be had.

A part of this process might be considering intimacy outside of our usual attractions, people we might have overlooked because they’re not the usual gender, body type, or not someone we want to ‘marry’, etc.

Relationship Anarchy (an ethically non-monogamy philosophy) talks about how all kinds of relationships are important, and how it’s a mistake for the sexual and romantic ones to be prioritised at the top of a hierarchy. It suggests we can be more creative about having emotional and physical intimacy in what would otherwise be called ‘just friends’ relationships. The term for relationships that are platonic but have elements we normatively associate with romantic partners (such as cuddles and some mutually agreed commitment) is ‘queer platonic’.

Sharing Hidden Loneliness with Others

Sharing our experiences of loneliness and isolation with others is vulnerable and perhaps we might avoid it. How many of us have ever felt so lonely that we felt unable to message anyone we knew for support?

Even in the middle of a queer festival surrounded by queers, we can feel lonely, because loneliness and lack or loss of intimacy is something we feel inside of ourselves. Sharing circles are places for reconnection and to share emotions that are coming up. It’s often this sharing of our real experience that supports us in reconnection and discovering that others really get it.

It goes beyond simply reporting or complaining, but being willing to be with each other’s pain around this, and to patiently sit with it for a while.

Before we move forwards, maybe we need to acknowledge how we feel about what we have lost or never had, and how this feels in our bodies. We must know that we have others alongside us; we are definitely not the only ones.

Consider Paying a Professional Practitioner/Sex Worker

If we have sufficient income to dedicate some towards a touch, cuddle, massage or erotic service, this can be an option. I wish I could provide a link here of an online directory of queer/trans and other queer/trans-competent sex workers and erotic practitioners. Unfortunately, like my app idea, this does not exist, at least in the UK.

However, you could look on escort sites, Tantra Link, Trusted Bodywork, Cuddle services, or simply Google relevant search terms, and have an open-minded exploration.

Be well prepared to ask a good comprehensive set of questions. Be ready to ask for what you want and negotiate.

The dream would be to find practitioners who are trained in the concept of the Wheel of Consent. However, I also don’t want to suggest that if someone has not done oodles of expensive training, you will not get a great service from them. Not everyone can afford to do these trainings, but they may have developed excellent consent practice by being a Dungeon monitor at their local kink club, for example.

Listen to your instinct, and see if you can get recommendations from trusted friends.

Organise a DIY Cuddle Party/Peer Practice Event

There has been a severe shortage of cuddle parties over the past two years. Also, when they’re facilitated by a professional practitioner, they cost money. You could put the feelers out with people you know to organise a cuddle puddle/pile/party, and talk beforehand about music, snacks and how to communicate about boundaries. There are also lots of small consent exercises you could all do to get in the mood.

The kind of consent exercises, such as the Bossy Massage, are ones you would learn at a Quintimacy event and can all be done with a group of friends/peers.

Ask Someone to the Prom…I Mean to be Your Erotic Peer!

A few years ago I ran a workshop at a festival called Queer DIY Sexological Bodywork. During the workshop, participants got the chance to learn and practice key principles and practices around embodied consent and communication. These practices were done with a partner to optimise the chances of both people having a wonderful experience together.

Erotic Peer; a working definition…

  • A relationship that embraces the aim of mutual support in our erotic, somatic, sensual and embodied existence.
  • Erotic Peership is based on intentional communication, commitment to consent and a growth and healing mindset towards sex and pleasure.
  • Erotic Peers may create space for engaging in physical erotic or intimacy practices, and/or may offer space for learning and processing through talk and sharing.

An Erotic Peer can be…

  • someone we deliberately seek out with the aim of establishing this kind of relationship.
  • one dimension of a relationship that has other qualities and characteristics, such as a friendship, a colleague or a romantic/sexual partner.

Let’s get the term erotic peer or intimacy peer into everyday language and ask someone if they would like to be yours!

Quintimacy Community and Events

Finally, online and in-person Quintimacy workshops are a fantastic place, not only to learn and practice skills but to have a unique and memorable time with other queers. It’s a chance to meet like-minded friends who are also interested in cultivating more intimacy in their lives.

For more information about future Quintimacy events, head over to the events page.

How about you? Can you relate to the obstacles I describe here? There may be more you can think of, from your perspective and I would love to hear about it.

What opportunities can be created and cultivated? Or perhaps, for now, is it a moment to just accept and acknowledge that access to intimacy is not equal or easy.

I remember my co-host Dan saying in a Quintimacy workshop…

“When your body feels a squeezing or a stroking, it doesn’t know the difference between a touch from you, and a touch from someone else.”

So, maybe give yourself a hug and some touch this weekend!

Beck xx

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