The #MeToo movement has been all about the power imbalance between females reporting to or coming into contact with males with a lot of power, whether it be financial, reputational or both.
The movement has led me to think about and consider the power imbalances I have faced in my own life.
I'm gay and have only been in intimate relationships with other males. In talking to my friends who are bisexual, they've said power imbalances are more obvious and more defined when they're dating somebody of the opposite gender. I also feel like the media and society have long reinforced stereotypes that define what the role of males and females "should" be in heterosexual relationships. In my opinion, the roles of partners are significantly less defined in same-sex relationships, which can lead to a struggle.
There are several ways we define our relationships with others. One way we do this is through titles and responsibilities, which can dictate the different ways you'd interact with your boss, your stock broker, your landlord, your parents, your teachers, etc.
In this way, knowing your role in a relationship offers both parties a useful starting point. Each person has an idea of what is expected of them. As a relationship grows and evolves, as it should, those involved can reassess their roles through a process of give and take — figuring out what works and what doesn't, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they're comfortable with.
There is no starting point for partners entering a same-sex relationship — it's like a blank canvas.
Roles in heterosexual relationships are evolving and have been for quite some time, but traditional gender roles often see the man playing a dominant or protective role, while the woman is expected to be submissive. These roles are often reinforced through media, society and our institutions. Whether right or wrong, a relationship commencing along traditional gender lines gives each partner a place to start with the knowledge of what their respective roles are or can be.
In my experience, however, there is no starting point for partners entering a same-sex relationship — it's like a blank canvas.
Some people may like that and find it to be liberating and freeing, but I find it to be overwhelming. My life thrives on structure and what one's expectations are of me. Every relationship will come with its own sets of challenges; mistakes will be made and lessons will be learned. My mother and grandmother raised me, and while everybody should be treated with respect, these two women who raised me specifically taught me "how a man should treat a lady." These lessons were rooted in sexist preconceptions that men were superior to women. As I began forming relationships, I quickly learned the heterosexual expectations I had learned growing up could not and should not be applied to same-sex relationships. I had to throw out the rulebook I had been taught as a child and try to figure things out on my own.
I could not find any studies conducted on general power imbalances in same-sex couples except for whether the power imbalances influenced sexual risk outcomes. I have had several boyfriends all of which I've been sexually active with; I have never felt like I was at a greater sexual risk, though I did feel like sex was a tool one of my exes frequently used to exert control over me.
I have not had long-lasting or meaningful romantic relationships, and for the longest time I believed it's because I had a poor choice in men. A couple of my exes have gone on to get married and appear to be genuinely happy. As I've done some deep soul searching, I've come to believe I've lacked having successful relationships because I have struggled to learn what my role is supposed to be, I have had trouble adapting, or a combination of both.
When any kind of relationship doesn't have clearly defined roles, it leaves things open to be misinterpreted and for people to do their own thing. One of my lesbian friends has avoided dating because she is overwhelmed by not knowing what her role should be. This severely shrinks the pool of potential partners, which has made finding a girlfriend feel next to impossible for her. In my opinion, gender roles provide guidance and define the role people in a relationship should consider taking.
Most importantly, I need to be an effective communicator rather than just sitting back and letting my partner exert full control over me.
For many of my friends who are or who have been in same-sex relationships, they have recognized there are power imbalances and have worked through them. My friends felt that being able to effectively communicate and work through the conflict that the power imbalance posed ultimately determined whether or not their relationship would survive. Conflict can be healthy and one's ability to work through a conflict and come out of it builds character. For my friends, it cemented and strengthened relationships with their partners/spouses (though they had some doubts).
I had wrongly assumed that if my same-sex relationships could not be built along opposite gender lines, then they would have to be defined by me being naturally submissive while finding a dominant partner; instead, this just led to even more tension as I felt like my partners were taking too much of a leadership role and therefore shutting me out of the decision-making in our relationships.
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As I seek a new relationship, I have learned that while I will continue to be submissive, I need to be very clear with a future partner. I will tell them how I view my role in the relationship and ask how they view theirs, setting reasonable expectations and sidestepping potential pitfalls. Most importantly, I need to be an effective communicator rather than just sitting back and letting my partner exert full control over me.
Some couples may not need to have these types of conversations, but the lack of communication on a variety of subjects can lead to relationships deteriorating.
It is OK to be submissive, but I'll need to set boundaries using the lessons I obtained from prior relationships in an attempt to avoid them from repeating themselves again in the future if I want to ultimately settle down with somebody and make it last.
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