power, love, and relationships
May 29, 2016
Not too long ago I posted a little… love something on my fifth anniversary with my br0friend. All of that remains constant and true. But there are also some inherent challenges to being in a relationship with so many different power differentials. He’s white and I’m not. He’s cis and I’m not. He has a middle class background and I do not. Those are the main ones. We are both neurodivergent but in different ways (and I’m actually not sure if he even considers his to be disabling).
There are times like last night when the unbalance of power strikes me and I feel a sort of… hopeless helplessness. Like we will be forever trapped within this dynamic. Certain issues remain constant sources of tension. I’m usually the one who will breakdown and react poorly when I can’t handle certain things. Then I hurt his feelings. Then I feel bad. And the cycle continues and very little substantive changes.
Its super weird to be this Super Aware Ultra Social Justice Warrior advocating for this and that, when your personal, intimate life replicates the same patterns you spend your days critiqueing. The cognitive dissonance is jarring. I normally deal well with contradictions, since I don’t often think they are real problems. But I do care about justice and freedom. It all makes me wonder: if I can’t even manage to overcome and transform the power dynamics in my relationship, how the fuck do I think I’ll manage to change anything larger?
(Sometimes I really think that I can’t. Because all that awareness has done is allowed me to see this in our relationship and get frustrated by it. Which then gets me spiralling into a different kind of Trope, the one where I think maybe I’m just being too sensitive. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m too demanding. Maybe I’m fucking crazy. Or maybe I’m a femme in a relationship with a man and the system pervades all aspects of life. Maybe.
It doesn’t help that I know I’m rigid and difficult to live with. Yes, I can point to my autism as an explanation. Which is great and all, but I have no interest in forcing him to adhere to my need for schedules and routine. I don’t want him to change bc I love him as he is. Or rather, I don’t want him to be the only one that changes. If we change together to create peace and balance, that’s ideal. Working together to find solutions that allow both of us to remain us but also reduce tension and hurt feelings. Maybe this is impossible. Idk.)
Last night I was washing the dishes and generally feeling Not Good. The thought occurred to me that, if he had the shingles, I wouldn’t let him do the dishes. And I had a moment of clarity about the difference in how we care for each other when one of us is sick/unwell. Its one of the moments where I realize that I’m the Woman/wife and he is the Man/husband.
And I can’t tell you how much I hate framing our relationship like that… and yet. Its honestly a fairly apt description of how certain kinds of labour are parsed out and divided.
Despite being an emotionless robot, I do a lot of the emotional labour. The onus is usually on me to initiate discussions about this sort of thing. To probe and prod him about his feelings. To try and find solutions to our conflicts and rough edges.
The issue of chores and housework continues to be a problem between us. Like. I fucking hate saying it like this but… he’s a man. And I fucking hate how simply invoking his gender like that says everything I need to say about his approach and attitude towards housework. The maintainance, cleaning, and upkeep of our home is my Responsibility. How could it not? I’m the wife, afterall, am I not?
At this time, I’m also the primary breadwinner. In another sense of the word: I’m also kind of the husband. I bring in the money that sustains us. Sure… we are poor bc I’m a fucking loser and can’t get a full-time job. But I make it work. I’ve been making it work. I’m pretty sure I burned out sometime in the past few years. But that’s irrelevant bc its either I keep working or….
A lot of the time none of this bothers me. I’m in a routine now and my autistic need for routine means that I usually can do all the things, I’m compelled to. I do chores on sunday bc that when chores (well some of them) are done. Dishes must be washed everyday bc they must. I only like going to work on the same two days every week. And so on.
A while back I told myself that it isn’t fair to make ppl adhere to my routines. This is when I was living with the abusive, white supremacist guy. For four years, I was his wife (my br0 isn’t even close being as bad as he was). Four years of me doing the dishes everyday. Four years of me cleaning the bathroom and kitchen every week. Four years of sweeping floors. I didn’t cook for him. But I was his domestic goddess.
At the time I told myself that if I wanted to live in a reasonably clean home, then it was my responsibility to do so. If I wanted the bathroom cleaned every week, that was up to me. It wouldn’t be fair to try and force him (which him?) to live according to my arbitrarily set up boundaries and routines. We are two autonomous adults living together. He isn’t my child. I’m not going to mother him.
(But the boundary between ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ seems awfully thin when we think about traditional gender norms. Often people are both at the same time. So if we fall into this traditional pattern, does this mean by ‘wifeing’ him I’m invariably mothering him? Maybe. Probably.)
It really doesn’t help that this is exacerbated by race. I cannot help but feel, sometimes, that I’m simply another filipina in a relationship to a white man in a long line of filipinas in relationships with white men. This is another trope. Its a trope that shifts, changes, and inflects the dynamic I describe above. Do I worry so much about being ‘difficult’ because I know that I’m supposed to be ‘docile’? Do I worry about making too much noise because I know that I’m supposed to be silent, caring, and devoted?
Why don’t I know my place?
And again complicated by disability. I try to bend, compromise, and be undemanding. I’m too autistic. I’m too black/white in my thinking. I always invariably make assumptions about his behaviour and feelings based on my own. Which never works because I am me and he is him. We often talk about sensory stuff and I tease him about living a ‘half life’ because he misses so much. Its only through talking to him that I realize that I really do take in a lot more sensory information than he does. I notice things. He does not.
I need to maintain a certain level of cleanliness in the home for my mental health. We all know what happens to our environments when we get depressed. When I was a teen and in my first major depression, I was a filthy disaster. I have it fixed in my head that certain things need to be cleaned regularly in order for me to be functional. My body is also one of those things. I spend my spoons on this bc I know its good for me.
I’m still not used to asking for accommodation, since I only very recently realized that I’m disabled (and have been since forever). But in this kind of situation, what is accommodation? After five years, I begin to think that there isn’t a solution to this problem. If only because I feel like I’m the only one trying to find a solution at all. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks its even a problem.
He has his own struggles and mental health stuff. He often seems plagued by a kind of…. paralyzing helplessness. When I bring up problems… he never has a solution. And in not knowing what to do, usually chooses to do nothing. This triggers one of his insecurities and the spiral begins (or perhaps it never ended and he just hops back on).
I once asked him to do some kind of (pretty important) emotional labour. After over a year of no movement, I ended up having to do the labour. It really was a very important issue and given how it was impact our relationship and how easy (at the end of it) it was to resolve, I’m not sure how I can feel other than our relationship isn’t a major priority. But then I know how slowly I can process information. And how ‘emotionally’ loaded discussions are easy for me bc I’m so disconnected from my own feelings. I know it isn’t fair to expect him to process an important issue on my schedule. He’s allowed to take time and space to figure his shit out.
I wonder why I always have to ask for help. I think about that poem, ‘not waving but drowning’ a lot. I wonder if anyone (read: him) will notice that I’m drowning before I actually die. If the water is my depression, anxiety, burnout, despair, hopelessness, and all that….
Treading water does seem like an apt metaphor for how I feel. If I stop, I’ll die. Its been years of this and I’m tired. My dad kicked me out in high school and tossed me into the ocean. Or maybe I was there already.
I hate that I can’t tell if my feeling that no rescue or relief will ever come is one of my mental illnesses talking or a result of the power dynamics I’m discussing.
I had a life plan that I’d adhered to and succeeded in accomplishing right up until it came to have a career. Turns out I was one of those runners who sprints at the very beginning of a long distance course and so has less and less energy as they go on. Getting slower and slower overtime bc energy wasn’t conserved. I can’t tell if I’m doing the slow shuffling walk I current do bc of the shingles pain, or if I’m crawling. The problem with this race, though, is that a monster is chasing me. Stopping equals death. Its already breathing down my neck. Waiting.
This post is scattered. I think I was supposed to be talking about power dynamics in ‘mixed’ relationships. I’ve done some of that.
Like many things, our relationship is complex. But I hate that it can be so easily boiled down to simply facts about our identities and how they relate to each other.
I’m a transpinay and he’s a cis white gay man.
How can all the love I feel for him boil down to that. Why does it have to be like this. As bad-dominicana always says: “the micro is the macro”. This is socialization and culture. I’ve become a women-wife despite my alleged ‘male’ socialization.
It doesn’t matter, though. Because this is all in my head. I’m being high maintainance again (or more accurately, still). I’m demanding. I’m literally the nagging/shrew of a wife. How did this happen to me. Can anthing be done to change it.
The micro really is the macro (and the macro the micro). Both my br0 and I are ‘aware’ ~sjws~. He reads all of my writing and posts. He also does ‘research’ and learning beyond that. We ought to know better. But we are caught in this trap and forced to dance.
Here we are. Two parts of a much larger picture. Our shape and position already decided. We fit together in a way that partially disrupts the larger picture while also helping to complete it.