Jealousy / Compersion

Community at Stake

When Sexy Galexy told me about all the fights she used to see in Sydney, and how important it was to instil in young people the realities of lesbian (and queer) community (“Of course you’re going to have fucked every fifth person in the room, but we need to give each other a break”), I didn’t realise just how right she was. But, sitting in the gutter one Friday night considering the merits of going home or back into a club that contained a girl I liked making out with my best friend, I remembered. 

The ensuing drama, angst and bitching ripped apart not only the three of us, but our friends and community as well. The need to be prepared for the collision of our friends and lovers is urgent: we’re artists and writers and community organisers and educators. This world needs us: strong and capable, and causing trouble to other people, not each other. 

Strategies polyamorous communities have developed for negotiating multiple relationships, especially in regard to jealousy, provide useful learning tools for lesbian/queer social groups.  Regardless of the mono/poly status of participants, our communities inevitably involve the overlapping of relationships, (often aptly named ‘the web‘). 

While it’s easy to acknowledge that feelings of anger and hatred are not helpful, emotions are rarely rationalised away. But our ability to describe and experience emotions can be enabled or constrained by our cultural vocabulary; the language of partnerships, ‘infidelity’ and ‘jealousy’ makes it difficult to talk and think about building and maintaining relationships outside of the dominant paradigm. ‘Jealousy‘ is a particularly salient example of the mononormativity of language, as it is constructed as a negative emotion as well as the ‘natural’ response to any perceived threat to a relationship. In resistance, polyamorous communities have spent time creating new languages to describe the positive experiences and emotions of engaging in multiple partnerships and relationships. ‘Compersion‘ is one such neologism: the opposite to jealousy, particularly sexual; the feeling of pleasure at the idea or sight of one’s lover/s involved with other people, especially each other. Here, the invention of the word ‘compersion’ helps enable the experience of positive emotions in situations which otherwise could provoke only negative terms/feelings. But the word is only the beginning. The cultural tendency towards jealousy and rivalry, rather than compersion and appreciation, is yet another obstacle in queer sexual lives (one just as valuable and rewarding to overcome as compulsory heterosexuality).

Discourses of ethical polyamory, which focus on openness, honesty, and mutual caring, are useful for broader queer communities: we all need to listen to and respect each other, be honest, and take responsibility for our own feelings and their impact on other people. The intertwining of our relationships should provide platforms for community building, not disintegration. In the end, as Sexy Galexy put so clearly: “we’re all banging on the same fucking door”; we need each other.

With Love and Respect, 

Max xx


1 Comment

Filed under What's Queer Here?

One response to “Jealousy / Compersion

  1. Dear Max,

    Thanks for writing about this.

    Sometimes being on the queer scene feels like being in a nest of vipers.

    So many of us seem to get embroilled in destructive arguements and standoffs that at times going to an event can seem like negotiating a minefield of simmering conflicts and lines drawn across pathetic disputes a teenage girl would probably turn her nose up at.

    It’s negative and destructive especially when accusations of any kind of phobia are used to fuel flames rather than create equality.

    Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced this so much it made me feel like throwing the towel in and going and finding a different playground where the kids might play a bit nicer.

    I developed a new performance piece called “Holding Court” which explores the way denunciations, back stabbing and vitriol appear within any group of people and how revolution turns into tyranny.

    I agree with Galexy, in whatever way we need to be honest to ourselves and potential new recruits about life in the queer hotbed is really like.

    look in the mirror: ugly beautiful.

    Love and tweets,

    Birdie x

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