There are only a handful of things I like to be playfully competitive about. The occasional Scrabble game. Costuming for an event.
But most of the time, I'm a cooperative player, which is not something society is particularly used to or welcoming of. I suppose in some ways it's what I was trained for in most situations, being socialized as a woman. Women are expected to bustle about together to make life more palatable for the menfolk at our jobs, at school, at home. When we're competitive with men in these spheres, especially if we take up space by doing so, it's seen as distasteful and masculine.
Yet women are also taught to compete with each other in order to get what they want or to survive. And I HATE it. I feel like I encounter it a lot and it sucks every time, perhaps because I genuinely want to trust that other people aren't trying to fuck me over. Yet women are kind of encouraged to fuck each other over, subtly and overtly, all the time.
I've mostly experienced this when it comes to relationships, especially nonmonogamous relationships. My ex was incredibly skilled at playing women who didn't want to engage in femme competition against each other, and then gaslighting me when I pointed it out. I began to question if every incident that felt like him making us compete for his attention was just something I saw that way because I was jealous. I tried to ignore it, or train myself out of it. I tried to look the other way when he ignored me at parties, not checking in before going off to fuck someone else but letting me discover him mid coitus and then accusing me of not being really poly when I felt hurt. I tried to combat my feelings of insecurity by talking to the other women in these situations, who often had not been told we were even dating. It's definitely created a web of anxieties and suspicions that I still find very difficult to navigate.
It's been a couple of years now, but there's been multiple years before that where I was trained to be in a continual state of tension between wanting to trust other women and have femme solidarity and having that trust violated repeatedly. When it came to sex work I knew to trust my gut, but when it came to being suspicious of other women (and my often male's partner interactions between other women and me) I have always had a hard time knowing when my gut is right and when my gut is being reactionary. I want to believe, you know? And even when other women pull competitive shit like wedging themselves between a partner and me or telling me one thing and my lover another, I have a hard time being mad at them, because that's how this game works. Rather than play the game, I just want to take my pieces and go home.
I was reading this piece about polyamory and how gender dynamics can play out within polyamory and it really resonated:
"Polyamory is a way that heterosexual men can “hedge”, or invest, in various women, to the degree that they want to, and benefit from the returns until the investment is no longer worthwhile. There are many things that can make the investment become less worthwhile -when women start to ask for something in return, or demand more emotional, social, or sexual accountability, or transparency, or care activity. The polyamorous hedge then becomes a shield against accountability, and a guarantee that there is other attention to exploit without having to really offer anything back. Should the return gain fail on one relationship, or should you be asked to be accountable for your actions with that woman, or invest more by caring more, you have created other relationships to fall back on and reap gains from...
...While it may be true that men could sexually or emotionally reject one woman in the favor of a monogamous relationship with another, while “cheating” certainly occurs in monogamous relationships, in polyamorous relationships where men have more than one partner it is a common occurrence that women end up competing with each other for the little bit of attention or return on their care labor. This is not always the case, but it hesitates a militant praxis amongst women sharing male lovers-that their sociability remains intact-and is difficult if one of the women do not already have a feminist praxis.
In polyamory, women may have to work double time at their care labor to become more desirable than other women lovers. Perhaps they must be more sexually willful and open, more caring and sweet, sometimes more youthful and simultaneously mature, they must overall have a better performance in reproducing the man in the center in order to continue to earn their part of the attention or by worth the investment, since there is hedging and other investments placed against them."
When I posted about this, I got a lot of reactive responses, especially from one woman who indignantly asked if I was even polyamorous. Questioning how gender dynamics, sexual capital, and class figures into nonmonogamy seems to be incredibly taboo, despite the fact that we pat ourselves on the back as a community for being "more evolved" and more capable of having these discussions. I have found the opposite to be true much of the time, similarly with kink- being kinky or poly appears to be such a vulnerable and delicate identity that to question how power dynamics imposed by cultural norms impact the practice is to desire the destruction of polyness and kinkiness altogether. This adds an extra layer onto the dislike of competitiveness, because when to ask about it or to address it is to invoke defensiveness, I often find myself wondering if I care enough to "fight" for my feelings. Sometimes I feel like I not only have to navigate my own complicated feelings, separating the reality from past trauma, and the impact that has on my partners, but also navigate the overarching complications of social expectations... and how willing people are to name them.
I have my own ways to try and decrease competitiveness in my own nonmonogamous relationships that has mostly worked. I have my partners meet each other and socialize sometimes. I encourage them to talk to each other if they want to. I try to hang out with metamours one on one, and almost always offer up my vulnerability first to foster trust in sharing. But a lot of these things rely on good faith, and sometimes it's still really hard not to caress the scars from times I've been burned before and feel wary of someone's intentions, even when I wish I could.
I am nonmonogamous despite the constant reminder that to be so as a fat political queer is to set myself up to be devalued, ignored, desexualized, dismissed, and humiliated. I envy those who have the luxury of not feeling jealous, or not feeling like a lack of sexual capital holds them back, or just having access in the first place- I know it would make my life easier, and my lovers lives easier. It is one of very few areas that makes me hate myself for being so petty, and so painfully aware of the impact of sexual capital on how people treat me. I deeply resent the way women are taught to compete (and men to encourage it) but I also hate feeling like an idiot when I give people the benefit of the doubt and they use that against me.
I am a cooperative player, but on some level I suspect it's because I'm afraid if it was a competition I would always lose.