Episode 11

Published on:

8th Apr 2020

Lola Phoenix - Not your tour guide through the museum of oppression - 011

In this episode of Queers & Co., I’m joined by Lola Phoenix, a queer, non-binary disabled American living in the UK. Lola writes and produces a weekly advice column and podcast called Non-Monogamy Help as well as writing on social justice topics from gender to disability to poverty.

We chat about so much juicy stuff, including how labels and identifiers can help us to feel less alone, whether polyamory is a marginalised identity, the importance of taking the time to educate people without jumping down their throats, non-monogamy and creating a podcast and column on it, learning when to step away from an argument, death positivity and so much more!

If you haven't already, be sure to join our Facebook community to connect with other like-minded queer folks and allies.

Find out more about Gem Kennedy and Queers & Co.

Podcast Artwork by Gemma D’Souza


Find out more about Lola and their work here: Medium and About.Me

Non-Monogamy Help podcast and column

Follow on Lola on Twitter

Read Thirteen Mistakes People Make When Trying Polyamory

Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM)

Email nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com to submit a question to Lola on non-monogamy

Full Transcription

Gem: Hi Lola! How are you?

Lola: I'm pretty good. How are you?

Gem: Yeah, I'm good. Thank you. I'm really excited to have you here. Thanks for doing it.

Lola: Yeah, thank you for having me on.

Gem: So, it will be really great to start with—I think I always start with this actually. I make it sound like it's a new invention. It'll be great to start with just finding out a bit more about you and your various intersections.

Lola: Cool!  So yeah, my name is Lola. I am an American immigrant that relocated to the UK. And I'm going to be here for the foreseeable future (unless things change, and it gets a lot easier to immigrate somewhere else).

I identify as queer, autistic, and disabled in lots of other ways. I have a very rare and difficult disorder to deal with. I am also queer. And I grew up in a kind of—I would say it was mostly working class. But there were kind of weird things that made it a little bit middle class. I had middle class grandparents. But my parents were definitely working class/poor. So, there was a lot of mix-up with that.

I think that definitely kind of informs my experience. I'm also a bit on the ace spectrum. And that has had a lot of impact in terms of how I look at things. And yeah, I think that kind of covers most of my intersections.

I am white, so I'm privileged in that way. And I think, unlike the vast majority of my family, I have been to university. So I have also that aspect which has given me a lot of privilege in a lot of ways.

So yeah, that's kind of my background.

Gem: Amazing! Thank you. And there's lots to explore there. And I just wanted to, first of all, for anyone listening who isn't familiar with ace or being asexual, I wonder whether you'd be happy just to maybe explain a bit about what that looks like to you.

Lola: Sure! So for me, I roughly identify as demisexual. Demisexual means—and this is really hard for people to wrap their heads around. It means that I don't tend to be attracted to somebody without some type of emotional bond to them.

And most people would say, “Well, that's how everyone is.” But there's a difference between being willing to have sex with someone and actually being attracted to them. A lot of people will be sexually attracted to people that they don't necessarily know, that they just see, but they aren't necessarily willing to jump in the bed right away with them. But for me, I just don't feel attracted to people right away. It takes a long time for me to be sexually attracted to them.

And just as an addendum, ace people—you know, people have sex without being sexually attracted to people all the time. So, you can still be ace and be interested in sex for other reasons that don't have to do with being sexually attracted to people.

I know it's complicated. And it's a bit of a confusing thing. For me, labels are helpful when they add something to my life. And when they help me understand myself a little bit better, when they helped me clarify my experiences. They're easy ways to explain to people and find other people who have my experiences. But I don't think labels should ever be a prescriptive list that people should have to meet. So they're descriptive, not prescriptive. They should be things that help people.

So there's some times when I will be like, “Oh, am I really demisexual?” because I try to pick apart whether or not I'm sexually or aesthetically or romantically attracted to somebody. And at the end of the day, it's just like this is a label that helps me say, “I noticed that I am different and how I feel attracted to people than the vast majority of people. And this helps me feel less alone.”

Gem: Yeah. Two things actually. So, within labels, I like what you say about them not being prescriptive. It's just a way to identify and also to find other people like you.

And within that, there's a spectrum, right? So it's not like using these labels means that you are absolutely this all the time, and it’s the same for everyone. It's just sort of an identifier that means that there's a scale within that particular idea that you might fall in or fall within. Does that make sense?

Lola: Yeah, definitely.

Gem: Yeah. And the other thing was about finding people, when you come across a label or a way to identify, and it really resonates with you… it's so powerful, isn't it, to realize that you're not alone anymore, and that there are other people that feel like that. Putting words to things can be really validating, I think.

Lola: Yeah, definitely. And especially kind of when you feel like you're so different from how everyone else is experiencing something…

And it's not to say that like their experience is invalid or that mine is more valid or anything like that. I think people at their core, even people who are like me, I'm very introverted, I'm not a big social person, but I don't think people—you know, I think we're social, we’re encouraged to be social. That's how we've survived for ages and ages, forming communities and being with one another. And so, I think in that aspect, it's hard to feel alone, and you don't want to feel alone.

And so, if a label can help you feel like, “Okay, I'm not the only one who feels this way,” then that's really, really important.

Gem: Yeah, I'm just thinking you mentioned some of the other parts of your identity. And I'm wondering what queer looks like to you. So within the queer label—and it can mean all kinds of different things for different people—how would you identify with being queer?

Lola: So, I think that queerness for me is more than just about sexuality or about gender. For me, I want that label in particular because it has a political meaning. And I think that that's really, really important.

My mom's a lesbian. And so, I grew up within the community and saw it from a different perspective. And I didn't actually come out until I was in—and coming out was kind of a rough kind of thing of what I did. But I didn't realize and kind of accept myself as not being straight, or at least not being typical in that regard, until my mid-twenties. And my mom said very biphobic things growing up. And I think that came from a place of frustration for people that she thought that could choose to be oppressed or not and she didn't understand.

But I think that, for me, queerness is about realizing that society has decided to privilege others and punish others and to choose not to assimilate into that. I do a talk occasionally about the history of the Stonewall Uprising and the history of that resistance within the US. And there is a long history of people who want to assimilate, people who want to be “normal,” people who want to be accepted by the mainstream and people who don't. And that's always been a huge tension in the community between people who just want to be “accepted.”

We're usually already accepted in a lot of other ways—because they're white, because they're middle class, because they fit in a lot of other boxes. And being gay is just the little thing that's hanging out that they want to hammer down, so that they can fit in. And for some people, fitting in is just not an option.

And I feel like for me, even if I were fully accepted being queer, and from a gender presentation or whatever is not a factor in what I find attractive in someone, or it doesn't matter to me, even if I were fully accepted in that, there's still lots of other ways that I'm not accepted. And there are also still a lot of other people who aren't accepted.

And for me, queerness is about “I don't want to assimilate.” And that's a big part of the identity.

I think there are a lot of gay people who aren't queer. And I think that I'm willing to expand the definition of queerness to consider things outside of sexuality and gender.

The thing that I am wary about is when people start trying to take it as a means to gain power. Particularly within the polyamory community and within the kink community, there are very white cisgender, heterosexual men who want to add and tack the letter on to LGBTQ as a way to get out of the things that they say and the things that they do that are oppressive. And that isn't okay.

So, when I started getting more into fat liberation and fat activism—and I'm kind of more on the small fat spectrum in that regard—when I started getting more into that, the idea of calling someone “straight sized,” I was like, “Oh, actually, that totally makes sense to me because being queer is about being on the margins. And fat bodies are on the margins.” That makes a lot of sense to me. And I'm fine with that.

But certain things, their acceptability, I think it's debatable. But if it comes down to someone taking that label and using it as a get-out-of-jail free card for the other stuff that they do, I can't get on board with that.

Gem: Yeah, that's super interesting because I know Virgie Tovar, for example, identifies or has talked about identifying as queer as being a fat person, that fatness is a queer identity. But yeah, that's so interesting. Just because I guess of my exposure to different communities, I've not come across many straight white men who would identify as queer or would want to use that identity. What was that like, seeing people trying to claim that?

Lola: It’s really frustrating. And to be fair, it's not just men. It is sometimes women who do identify as heterosexual. It's just these people arguing that polyamory or kink should be added to the LGBTQ letter.

I don't think that they push to identify as queer specifically because they don't understand that queer is a political identity. And they would probably be more in the camp of queer as a slur. But they do want to be part of it.

And they make a big deal of marching in the Pride Parade as if they wouldn't be allowed as a straight person to march in the Pride Parade. They make a big, big deal out of being part of that community. And then, when you call them on transphobia, when you call them on any of the things that they do, they're like, “Well, I'm marginalized because I'm polyamorous” or “I'm marginalized because I'm kinky.” And it's not really the same. It’s frustrating.

Gem: So, it makes me think of what we were talking about before we were recording, before we started recording, the idea that just because you are polyamorous, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are a member of an oppressed community. Whereas it sounds as though people who are taking part in their Pride marches and kind of really pushing the point potentially do feel like they're part of a marginalized community.

Lola: I think that there's a lot of variation. I mean, I'm not going to pretend like people welcome and accept the idea of polyamory easily. However, I think that… how do I say this? I think that we have to look at history. And part of what makes a marginalized identity is looking at the history of the way people have been treated and how they've been targeted and how systems have been built to disenfranchise them.

If you look at history, men have typically always been able to sleep with and have relationships with mostly whoever they wanted to without a lot of punishment—especially if they're wealthy, especially if they are in positions of power. Mistresses have been common. There are a lot of places where—I mean, I'm not saying polygamy is the same as polyamory. But there are a lot of places where it is perfectly acceptable for men to have multiple partners. That hasn't been a thing that they have been unable to do.

And if you look at the way that society has always kind of tried to control certain people, to me, I kind of compare it to being non-binary. I'm not trying to make it into an oppression Olympics or who's the most oppressed. I think that I face a lot of different things than people do. And I think that there's a very good argument for non-binary people being discriminated against when you talk about colonialism and you talk about how white Europeans coming and invading lands, basically defining non-binary people out of existence, wiping out anyone who—

I mean, you know, colonial-wise, there has been an erasure of those identities, of violence against those identities. But that is also a system that privileges me as a white person. So I can't sit here and say that me being a white non-binary person is the same in terms of oppression as a non-binary person of color or two-spirit person or anyone else. It's very complicated.

And I think that when it comes to having multiple partners, the people who the hammer is going to fall on are generally not the people who claim to be marginalized by it. So many people in communities—because I also give advice in a lot of Reddit communities and things like that—they're very worried that society is going to outcast them, that their children are going to be taken away.

They ask questions about CPS or child protective services or how does it work with children in schools when so many families that I grew up around had other adults living in the home because we didn't have the money for these nuclear two-parent families. So, we would have aunts and uncles and grandparents and other stuff picking us up.

Schools don't care as long as you give them a list of people to pick up, or if you have divorced families, you have multiple step parents. That’s not an obstacle if you’ve had those types of families.

And my experience at least with the CPS is that I've had family members who have really mistreated their children. But because there's no marks on them, the CPS hasn't done anything. Whereas in some places in America, the child protective services are purposely taking indigenous children from their homes and putting them into white homes because they make money off of it.

So, you're worried that the CPS is going to come in and take your children, and I just feel like who's the CPS going to actually target, who are the state system is going to actually target. If somebody is going to get in trouble for bigamy laws or any of those kind of laws that are sort of “yes, there are laws, but are they really enforced?”, who is the hammer going to fall on?

I feel like definitely there will be people who will be punished for being polyamorous. But the more privilege you have in general, I feel like the less likely it is that you're going to suffer the consequences.

And I feel like the hatred or any kind of stuff against polyamory tends to be less about having multiple romantic partners and tends to be more about slut-shaming and more about misogyny than it is about a purposeful category of polyamory being created by an oppressor, and then therefore being enacted in a state way. I'm not wording that very well. It’s not an institutional thing that is happening.

You know, people haven't outlawed multiple marriages because they hate polyamorous people. I took a huge part in marriage equality rallies and everything when I was in the States. As a teenager, that was a big part of the activism that I did. And I had people shout “Get your hands-off marriage in my face!” I know you know what it's like for people to consider you vile. And people compared my mother to a child molester for who she loved.

Again, this isn’t about oppression Olympics. But this is about a system. Marginalization is about a system that is created to target you and priviledge other people.

And just like I said, I don't feel like—you know, marriage isn't legal between more than one person, but I don't feel that that's because people hate polyamorous people. I feel like that is about capitalism and about misogyny and about controlling women and less about hating polyamorous people if that makes sense.

Gem: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And you’re mentioning, going on to demos and stuff then, it sounds like your activism has taken lots of different forms and in different spheres. I just wondered if you'd be happy to talk about how that's evolved for you.

Lola: Yeah, so activism is… direct action type of activism is really hard for me now because, with my disorder, I don't produce cortisol, which is the stress hormone that your body makes when you're under physical stress and mental stress and things like that. It doesn't mean I don't get stressed. It means that if I were to be physically injured, then I need that medicine right away. And if I don't get it, I could very well die.

My condition is so rare that I don't feel confident that if I were at a situation where I was injured and I needed medical assistance, I don't really feel like I could trust the police to give that assistance if they arrested me, or allow an ambulance to come through if I needed it.

So, I am very wary to participate in that because I just don't feel like I'm that useful if I'm dead....

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About the Podcast

Queers and Co.
A podcast for queer folks and allies on self-empowerment, body liberation and activism.
Hi, I'm Gem! Join me as I chat to queer folks and allies about self-empowerment, body liberation and activism. My guests are at the forefront of change-making, working in areas like fat activism, sex positivity, intersectional feminism, drag/cabaret, LGBTQ+ activism and children's rights.

I'm a transformational coach, activist and founder of the Queers & Co. zine, podcast and community. Through my work, I support LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.

Find out more about my work: www.gemkennedy.com
Find out more about Queers & Co.: www.gemkennedy.com/queersandco

About your host

Profile picture for Gem Kennedy

Gem Kennedy

I’m Gem. I'm the founder of the Queers & Co. zine, community and podcast, as well as a transformational coach and activist. I’m also queer, fat positive, an intersectional feminist and Mum to two free-range children.

I help LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.