Last weekend, right before I went to Killjoy’s Kastle, “a lesbian feminist haunted house,” running at Icebox Project Space through October 27, another man disappointed me.
He was supposed to attend with me and some friends, but in a series of long and over-apologetic texts (including a sad cat meme, which helps precisely no-one, IMHO), he canceled at the last minute. We’d been dating for a couple weeks, and phrases like “I’m not trying to escape hanging out with you,” “I’m not a bad person,” “I’m pretty into you, but…” and “this has to look like a giant red flag” pinged across my iPhone screen.
I answered in a kind but neutral way, which only engendered a demand for me to tell him how he could “make this right.” And then further expressions of guilt and sadness (which have now metastasized from texts to my Instagram DMs).
“I don’t know how you date men,” my friend said, when I imparted the saga to him over drinks after the lesbian feminist haunted house. We reflected with deep moral authority on the obvious fact that making things right simply would’ve meant keeping the date, and the fact that men often disappoint women—but the man should not then ask the woman to take care of his guilt about it.
But alas, I’m a woman who’s dated only men, and it’s no secret.
A bisexual partner recently advised me to seek queer-competent healthcare, to boost my chances of getting a knowledgeable, sympathetic doctor. “But I know you’re super straight,” he added.
“I feel for straight women. I really do,” a queer woman Instagram follower told me this week. Meanwhile, a dating app promoted my profile to a close friend. She swiped right and messaged me in exasperation: “This thing shows me straight people.”
Spectrum or binary?
Especially since visiting Killjoy’s Kastle (created with a huge team of artists helmed by Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell), a “sex-positive, trans-affirming, queer-lesbian-feminist, fear-fighting celebration,” I’ve been thinking. Has my avowed openness to the spectrum of gender and sexuality left my binary dating habits untouched?
If the people I’m interested in dig connections to people of my gender, their sexuality doesn’t have to match mine—but I have found myself almost exclusively attracted to masculine-presenting people. (Just don’t make me break down what “masculine” or “feminine” actually means.)
On the other hand, I reflexively avoid men with big beards or jacked gym-sculpted bodies—typical hyper-masculine qualities—and, unlike some women, I prefer partners close to my own height, rather than tall men. And when a past partner confided to me that he’d been questioning his gender identity since long before we’d met—and liked wearing women’s clothes when it felt safe to do so—the only thing that mattered to me was supporting my partner’s identity, whatever it was. That included checking the pronouns he wanted me to use and appreciating his pink pedicures (even if they were hidden under office loafers). When we split, it had nothing to do with our respective genders or how we expressed them.
Not for me?
When I entered Killjoy’s Kastle, I expected to feel like an outsider. Sure, I’m a sex-positive feminist, but I’m a cisgender heterosexual woman. So I figured I’d observe and enjoy this singular haunted house while knowing it doesn’t represent me.
After a brief and delightful concert from a singing guitarist in a vest and sleeveless plaid (who threatened us with a 17-hour set of folk songs), an actor/guide ushered our small group into a darkened “hallway of concerns” full of artful handmade signs. Illuminated by flashlight, a small sample read “No satanic transphobic humans allowed,” “Caution! Historical references,” and, prominently, “you will get wet.”
I won’t spoil the maze of interdisciplinary artistry that awaits past that—not even the polyamorous vampiric grannies, the giant bearded clam, or, scariest of all, the sharing and accountability. But for all its ostensibly transgressive and provocative themes, one of the foremost qualities of Killjoy’s Kastle was its active commitment to our consent throughout the whole experience. I saw a lot of things in there I’ve never seen before and won’t see again, but I felt comfortable agreeing to witness and participate all along the way.
A healing view of me and you
The visit was particularly appropriate on the heels of yet another man’s “I’m into you, but…”, though of course my welcome into the trans-affirming, lesbian feminist haunted house didn’t change my identity or sexuality, or let me co-opt a more marginalized existence. But Killjoy’s did make me want to take a gentler and more nuanced view of myself, instead of stressing over binaries.
For example, I recently came across the term “demisexual” and felt a light come on. Suddenly, my indifference to celebrities that my friends lust over, and my aversion to sex with anyone I don’t care about deeply, made a lot of sense. Maybe that’s the reason I’ve never been remotely interested in one-night stands. And after several years and many overlapping partnerships, I have to wonder: do I just sometimes prefer ethical nonmonogamy? Or should I identify as polyamorous? And if so, have I made a choice, or is this intrinsic to me?
Maybe no-one’s gender or sexual orientation is as simple as we thought. Disappointments happen, no matter who you date, but they don’t need to stop you from figuring out who you are. Killjoy’s Kastle gets it: “We embrace the identities and histories of all who enter our horrible haunted home.”
What, When, Where
Killjoy’s Kastle. Presented by Icebox Project Space and artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue. Through October 27, 2019 at Icebox Project Space, 1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia. iceboxprojectspace.com/killjoys-kastle-2019.
Killjoy’s Kastle is free and open to the public, with no advance ticketing. Icebox Project Space is a wheelchair-accessible venue, and there are low-vision and sensory-friendly tours available from 1-2pm on October 27.