By Michelle Alexander
Disclaimer: Information contained in this article is solely my opinion and is based on experience and conversations I have had.
Another disclaimer: Before all of you go getting your panties, boxers and boy shorts in a bunch, I understand that there are many relationship models, gender roles, gender identities, labels and boxes in our community. I can only speak from the experience and perspective I have had. However, I think that any variation you identify with can benefit from learning to create a safe emotional place for your partner to express, cry, breakdown and heal.
Alright, final disclaimer: This article is directed to us girly girls because let’s face it, we play a huge role in setting the emotional climate in our homes. We have a responsibility to support our mates and make them feel safe and special. We have a responsibility to make our mates feel home is their refuge and solace. At the end of the day, the principles I am speaking of are interchangeable and should be experienced reciprocally. I know that there are several affirming, healthy relationships in our community. Much of the following is common sense that many of us have learned to operate from. I’m not speaking to those relationships. I’m speaking to the relationships that have issues. Issues with communication, expression, lack of emotional safety, unhealthy patterns of blame and emotional constipation. I’m speaking to the relationships in which trying a new way to connect and communicate may bring some healing to the each of you as individuals and as a couple.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the nature of relationships between us girly girls and our Studs/Doms/Ags/Butches/Dykes (whatever your term is where you live). As a Femme, I wonder if we do our Tom Bois an injustice with our expectations about their actions, emotions and roles they are supposed to play -not just in society but in our relationship dynamics.
After last year’s experience with losing my girlfriend to suicide, I was bombarded with e-mail after e-mail from Stud after Dom after Tom Boi about how they too had suffered depression and even had thoughts of suicide. The common denominator was always unexpressed emotion. They lived with fear of judgment which caused an inability to just be present with their pain and process it in the way us Femmes have been able to do without apology. It’s like we have Femme Emotional Privilege while our Doms are expected to just suck it the hell up and be a man about it. I couldn’t help thinking how femme women play a part in not just creating this issue among our partners, but cultivating it with our unrealistic gender expectations. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that at the end of the day, we are all emotional creatures. We forget as women, we need to be able to express our emotions, our pain, our struggles our inner most secrets and be able to do so in a safe emotional place with our partners.
My first thought was to reach out to our Ags and teach them how to accept, process and be ok with emotion as well as working through pain and hurt in their lives. I immediately realized I’m not a TomBoi, and while I can have theories about what I think they should do, I really can’t teach them. I will never understand what it means to operate and walk through life as a Stud.
My attention quickly turned to us girls and how we can aid in creating an atmosphere of comfort for our partners that allows them to cry, scream, hurt, and be emotionally vulnerable. I began exploring how we create environments for our partners to talk about past pain so that their hearts don’t grow angry, misogynistic, abusive, overly aggressive, beaten down, blamed, hateful, loveless and a range of other emotions associated with emotional constipation.
Using my experience with my lovers, as well as conversations with others as a guide I have created this non-exhaustive list of things we can do to make sure we are being a supportive partner.
While we are never responsible or someone else’s emotional state, we can create an environment that is safe and welcoming for our partners to just talk about what’s going on with them.
Deal With Your Own Emotional Baggage- Don’t Project – This is first on the list of having healthy communication dynamics in your relationship. We can’t be a supportive partner when we ourselves have devastating emotional baggage that we have never dealt with. Have you experienced trauma, rape, sexual abuse, abusive parents, abandonment, or domestic violence? Do you have issues of low self-esteem or an inability to express your own emotions? If so, then recognize that and get help. If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I am a HUGE advocate for mental health services. Do yourself and all your future relationships a favor. Seek a therapist. It will change your life. It’s not about anyone telling you how to live your life but more so giving you tools to deal with the issues at hand. You are not crazy for talking to a therapist, actually quite the opposite. Seeking a therapist is the sanest thing you could ever do. It says that you care about your emotional self and the state of your relationships. It’s the most amazing investment you could ever make in yourself.
Be Financially Independent – Independence is multidimensional, but here I’m speaking about being financially independent. In an age where women still earn less than men, it’s safe to say we are often in the same financial boat with our partners. Yes, a lot of our Doms are expected to be the provider, pick up the check, handle the financial hardships and be the rock. And while some of these traits are just inherent for a dominant woman and provide a sense of accomplishment and confidence, we have to understand that they don’t have to do this all the time. An independent woman should be able to pick up the check sometimes, be the rock when your Dom is down on her luck, or having some financial hardships. Now I’m not speaking about taking care of a woman who has no ambition or never holds a job. I’m speaking about your career minded, financially independent and responsible Stud who generally handles her business. I think it goes without saying that if you are dating a deadbeat then you have bigger fish to fry. So, be independent enough to be a support to her. And for Pete’s sake, buy her a damn drink sometimes. Take her out to dinner, take her shopping. Spoil her the way you expect to be spoiled. We are all women who are paid at an unequal rate and it would take a huge weight off of her shoulders if you stepped up financially sometimes. This would help them not carry the entire financial burden in the relationship and free their minds to talk about their emotions.
Create A Safe Space For Her To Express – When a woman doesn’t feel safe she will either retreat or lash out. Us girly girls aren’t solely responsible for the emotional climate in our relationships but we do play a part in the level of comfort that resides in our homes. When your Butch tries to earnestly express herself, step back and really listen. Don’t respond from a place of internalizing what she is saying but seek to understand her perspective. So often we internalize others’ expression that we feel the need to defend our position and stance on the subject. We get loud, we interrupt, we explode, we cry and we react in ways that make her wish she never opened her mouth. Steven Covey, in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said, “Seek first to understand then to be understood”. So sometimes, just sit back, don’t react, don’t argue, just listen. Your turn to talk will come, but understanding where she is coming from without a dramatic response can create a safe space for her to express her deep-seated emotions. Now, I know that everything has to have balance and I’m not saying that every conversation you both have needs to start with your silence, but those where you know your Stud is really making herself vulnerable to you, create a safe space for her to do so. She will feel like she can do it again.
While Encouraging Her To Express Her Emotion, Allow Her To Do It In Her Time – This is not really a Femme only issue, but I thought it worth mentioning. Dealing with difficult emotion can be an uncomfortable experience for some. We don’t like it. So often we, me included, want to resolve things now. Let’s sweep it under the rug, or talk about it until we beat a dead horse, but dammit we want to fix it now. Give your Tom Boi a little space to process what she wants to talk about. It takes a lot of courage to really make yourself emotionally naked in front of someone. Make it a safe space for her and she will open up. Trust takes time to build. So just give time, well… time.
Be Non-Judgmental – This is a biggie. When having conversations with women who reach out to me, being judged and looked at as weak is the number one reason why our dominant women don’t share their burdens and pain. There is this unrealistic belief floating around out there that Studs should never show emotion and that doing so makes them weak. I’m not saying that she is not responsible for her own issues, but we can reassure her that she won’t be judged. This is not done in our words, but in our actions. When she has a break down, do you hold her? Do you sit and just listen, solely focused on her, making eye contact? Do you listen more than you talk in these moments? When it’s all said and done, do you embrace her and view her as the same strong woman she was before the breakdown? Do you make fun of and mock her for crying? Do you throw her tears back at her when you are angry and dig into her pain? Do you tell your friends what happened only to shame her and make her not trust you? I know this sounds like obvious ways to support your mate but more often than not, the fear of judgment is real and it happens. Why? Because hurt people hurt people and sometimes we project our own emotional insecurities to our mates. I have been in relationships where my most personal pain was shared and then thrown in my face to jab and hurt me. Never do this, it will shut her down and damage your relationship to a place past repairing. So don’t judge, just be open and loving. If you disagree with something she says, address it in a way that doesn’t dig and cause more pain. The plan is to always communicate in a way that edifies your mate and not tear her down, even when you disagree with her.
Offer Counseling As a Couple and Be Fully Engaged In The Process – Counseling is never bad and can only help. There is no harm in trying. Truth be told, people don’t go to counseling for one of three reasons;
• They are ignorant to what therapy really is and how it can help.
• They fear it’s financially unattainable for them.
• They are not ready to talk about their stuff.
Those are all reasons that, at the end of the day, produce no results. You are both still in pain and no one is talking. If your relationship means anything to you, get some help. It will change your life. If your insurance doesn’t cover therapy (most do these days) there are sliding scale clinics that will help you cover the cost by charging only what your income says you can afford. There are resources out there and if it means enough to you, you will make a way. Be resourceful.
Re-evaluate Your Emotional Gender Roles and How They Play Out In Your Partnership – A large majority of us grew up with heterosexual parents who operated in very segmented gender roles. We learn the man is strong and the woman is the emotional, irrational one. I know these are not true and I don’t personally subscribe to this thought process, but many do. This is what we learn. Does this model fit who you are today? What if you didn’t have an unrealistic expectation that your Stud be hard and never show emotion? How would that change your relationship? Do you expect her to be as “hard” as a man? Are men really that hard? Is that expectation even realistic for a man? No, it’s not. All of us, men and women, are created to be emotional beings. It’s our spirit that directs emotion in our lives. The life force we need to connect with other people is based in emotion. How can we really connect with others if we don’t connect with our own emotion? Even when the emotion we need to connect to is painful, it moves us to a place of cleaner emotional head space and that has to be good for all relationships, right? Emotional expression is a human issue, not a role or label issue.
Support Her, Love Her, Hug Her, Cry With Her, Heal With Her – When you are partnered, I mean really partnered with someone, you tend to feel what they feel. Cry when they cry, laugh when they laugh and heal when they heal. Even if your Dom’s pain is personal and deep rooted; her healing means your healing. As she heals, your relationship heals, your time together is better, your communication is deeper, and her vulnerability brings closeness and intimacy that can’t happen when there are emotional walls. So if she is dealing with pain, let her feel it and just be there with her. Often time others’ pain makes us uncomfortable. It’s hard to see someone we love in pain so we try to fix it for her, when really all she needs is to be heard, held and loved.
Be A Woman of Honor and Character – Ok, I’m probably going to get some flack for this, but it’s time we Femmes stand with deeper character. Don’t play games in your relationships, don’t lie to your mate, don’t cheat on your mate, and don’t play with her head and heart. Have integrity in your conversation. Know yourself well before getting into serious relationships. Show up in your relationships with integrity, honesty, love, compassion, and your whole self, and with a direction you have created in your own life with your own goals. Don’t look for someone to take care of you. Stand on your own two feet and create your own path. Strong, independent women attract strong independent women. So when you want to complain about how there are no good women, look within first. Don’t look for the right woman, become the right woman. Its time all of us, Femme or Dom, to cease creating more broken women in our community. We each have a responsibility to show up in our relationships with integrity. And likewise, our Tom Bois obviously need to do the same without question.
At the end of the day, no matter how you identify, what label you wear or what box you live in, we need to support each other so that we can all grow, heal, learn and operate in healthy relationships. This short list of how we girly girls can better support our mates can be turned around and applied to any relationship model.
How do you honor your mate and create a safe emotional place where she can express herself, right where she is? How do you love her? Does she feel safe? Can she trust you to hold her pain and hand as she heals? Do you allow her to heal? Do you love yourself enough to invest in your relationships on a level that is deep and connected to the core of your spirits? If you can’t operate on that level with a mate, then my question for you is: Are you really ready for a relationship? A real relationship deals with real issues. A real relationship has emotional Free-Doms.
Michelle is the founder of AGurlzGuide.org. She is Coach, Mentor, Motivator, Public Speaker, Entrepreneur, Lover of People, Emotional Activist and Life Enthusiast pursuing a life of amazing.