By Guest Writer Maniza Ahmed '16
My professor often asks me, “Are you an anarchist?” Our last conversation about anarchy had to do with anarchist views on religion, although he is more interested in how a society could function without a governing institution. My interests transcend the state - I’m interested in all of the power structures (such as religion) that guide social life. Anarchy is a tempting ideal for those desiring to live without oppression and struggle imposed by authoritative institutions. It allows individuals to reclaim power and to resist the systems of oppression that inhibit the choices they can make in order to lead fulfilling lives. Anarchists oppose practices that limit freedom and choices.
I tell my professor that I’m not an anarchist (I can get behind a big government), but I am persuaded by the ideology, especially when reflecting on my queer identity. Heteronormativity is problematic because it marginalizes other identities and ways of being. Lakehead University Professor Sandra Jeppeson writes, “queer practices and theories are important for the liberation of heterosexuals from normative standards of intimate relationships from friendships to sexualities.” So many of my friendships and romantic experiences have been limited by adhering to heteronormative standards (who gets to make the first move? how do I come off as less clingy? can I be the first to admit I’m crushing?). I had never considered my crushes on anyone identifying as a woman, genderqueer, or transgender as anarchic, but they are. They challenge the dominant expressions of sexual desire or love. That is not to say my feelings are just a radical tactic to act against hetero-patriarchal relationships - they come from a genuine desire to love and be loved. In freeing myself from boundaries imposed by gender or sex, I’ve opened myself up to experiencing fun, meaningful, and intimate relationships with people.
Following heteronormative scripts when building relationships with others isn’t freeing - resisting those guidelines is. Deconstructing relationships has also illuminated the ways dominant conceptualizations of romance have limited the ways I have perceived my relationships with others. What does it mean to be “with” someone? It can mean physically sharing the same space as someone, but it can also describe the intangible, interactive dynamic between two people. I believe that if I care for someone who also cares for me, and we’re actively involved in each other’s lives, then we’re with each other. However, many people define “being with someone” as a romantic, and often monogamous, relationship. What I’ve described as being with someone, others would characterize as friendship. But what’s the crucial difference? I’m not convinced that I’m only with someone if we’re committed, in love, having sex, or all three of those presumed conditions. Some relationships don’t even involve commitment, love, or sex, yet the individuals participating in them can still claim they’re with their partner(s).
My relationship with someone does not have to be labeled or categorized in order for myself to credibly say we’re with each other.
Perhaps the most expansive (and formative) relationship I’ve had is with one of my closest friends. We dated in high school, broke up before college, and got back in touch. Over the past three and a half years, we’d reach out now and then, but only a few months ago did our friendship become more intimate and open. I’ve never been so close to anyone else, and I’ve never experienced a stronger desire to be so free and candidly myself around another person. When we are together, I feel something unimaginable, something bigger than myself. And yet, for a while, we never referred to each other as anything other than “friend,” because that had been enough. Not defining the relationship was fine with me, because I didn’t want our relationship to follow guidelines imposed by some label. I didn’t want to put our relationship into a box, so I’ve described our relationship as a friendship without borders. I have no qualms about admitting that I love this person a lot, and I have enjoyed the openness and space our undefined relationship has encouraged.
And yet, challenging traditional relationship labels is hard to do. On the one hand, I’m empowered by resisting monogamy and a heteronormative script, but on the other, I’m conflicted. It can be strange to refer to someone you care so much for as technically “just a friend.” If I really want to be with someone, and if that desire drives me towards defining our relationship and describing them as my significant other, does that make me less adequate at combating patriarchy and heteronormativity? No one wants an important, personal relationship to become political. My issue with romantic labels is that they can be restrictive in how one appreciates their bond with their partner(s). You shouldn’t have to categorize intimate connections with other people. When I chose not to define my relationship, I appreciated the ways my partner was there for me as a friend or lover. But I should be able to feel the same way even with a label. I’ll concede that sometimes the structure provided by relationship labels helps when it comes to navigating conflicts.
Love is an individual experience shaped by social factors. Romantic love and heterosexual relationships are encouraged by the society we live in. We are taught to desire and seek love in a heteronormative context. This is not freedom. When we participate in monogamy or categorize our relationships, it is important to understand that we engage in these processes because we have been indoctrinated to believe this is the course our romantic lives should take. For some people, traditional relationship arrangements are frustrating and constraining. Approaching relationships anarchically - without any restraining influences - can be exhilarating and liberating.
Realizing that monogamy is socially constructed as the ideal form of a romantic relationship is important. It’s not wrong to care about more than one person, since having multiple partners encourages individuals to be communicative, honest, and respectful. Anarchists may not promote monogamy, because it can limit partners to the expectations and rules created by this type of commitment. It can prevent people from exploring themselves outside their romantic relationship by restricting them to one other person. Even though monogamy is an artificial custom, it is not wrong. I recognize it as a social construct, but I still understand people’s decisions to be with one person only.
Returning to my conversation with my professor about religion’s clash with anarchy - I told him that religion and anarchism can be opposing forces, but they don’t have to be. Because if religious beliefs help you understand your place in this universe and you feel fulfilled by certain rituals, then religion benefits you and isn’t oppressive in the way some anarchists may argue. That being said, relationship categories aren’t repressive either. You can totally call someone your girlfriend/partner/significant other, and if each partner gains from the arrangement formed by traditional relationship labels - then power to them.
*Credit where it’s due: “Your Love Will Set You Free” is a really good song by Caribou.