For a long time, the fight for equality for the LGBT community was focused on marriage equality. An alternative (and less popular) perspective on it suggests, that while marriage equality increased our access to certain legal rights that weren't available to us prior, it simultaneously limited the validity of other types of kinship and relationships that were practiced by queer people. Prior to the marriage equality act, we had no option but to create our own familial structures. Since we didn't have access to state-mandated structures, every relationship structure we chose was equally sanctioned (or paradoxically, accepted as an equally viable alternative to the norm).
In the spring of 2013, when the marriage equality cases were discussed and decided in the US Supreme Court,I was going through my first big break up, struggling to define and create a structure for a relationship that was not following the norm. While everyone was celebrating being recognized as equals in our right to get married, I was mourning a dying 7-year long relationship that didn't even have an identifiable name.
I learned a lot of lessons from this relationship (and our breakup). The main one was that my ideal relationship structure doesn't fit in the hetero-normative model. I started looking online for resources and role models (after all, queer people have been creating their own family structures for decades, so despite their obscurity, they are out there), an effort that required to come up with some ingenious search terms. Knowing how valuable the information I found could have been before my break up, I created The Queer Relationships Project: an online resources archive. One of my favorite categories in it is the "vocabulary" resources. Terms like queerplatonic, romantic friendship, passionate friendship, and compersion, describing different structures and experiences, were suddenly available for me to describe my tendencies and desires. My lived experiences finally had words to describe them, make them "real", and explain them to others.
My personal focus has shifted since then, but I am still drawn to more obscure experiences and types of knowledge. Recently, I've been doing a lot of learning on the topic of shadow aspects, a concept in analytical psychology. Early 20th-century psychologist Carl Jung has described shadow as "the unknown dark side of the personality", referring to unconscious aspects of our personality that we reject (in ourselves and others) in response to negative reactions we've received on these traits from our environment, usually during early childhood. These shadow aspects develop to keep us safe and loved, but oftentimes we carry them into our adulthood, where instead of protecting us they now hold us back and sabotage our relationships - with ourselves and others. Limiting beliefs, inner critic, impostor syndrome: these are all related topics and concepts, that have evolved thanks to our ability to describe certain experiences and ideas.
Our lives are full of experiences that we don't always have the words to describe, yet we continue to try. Topics explored in psychology, for instance, are enjoying the stamp of approval of academia in creating models and words for us to use (much like how certain societal concepts get approved and gain recognition by legal bodies). On the other hand, ideas that are explored in areas such as spirituality, which isn't neatly fitting in our hegemonic knowledge systems, are often considered obscure and less valid. Still, as time passes and ideas keep being shared, we get to find words and concepts that can help us make sense of our experiences in the world and to become more compassionate and accepting, towards ourselves and others.
Exploring non-traditional ideas and perspectives has long provided me the tools and language that allows me to lead a life that might be non-traditional, yet one that feels more aligned with my values and dreams.
Until next Sunday --
PS - if you're curious to learn more about shadow and related topics, keep an eye out. I'm working on a workshop on the topic and will share more details next week. In the meantime, you can download my free Limiting Beliefs workbook here.