Being in close community with other men has freed me to love other men as brothers—and being immersed in that brotherhood has brought something else to the surface, something that I summarize with the maxim “Sisters First.”
Sisters First is my philosophy in relating with women. While no shorthand is perfect, this how I first received the message, and so that’s what works for me as a reference. What I mean by Sisters First is that I see and relate to women as sisters, first of all. I want to connect with women in the same deep, loving, soulful, heart-centered way that I connect with other men—as peers and full-featured fellow human beings. And, the only women that I want to relate to are those that I do connect with as sisters. Feeling kinship with a man—or a woman—is an indicator for me of where our relationship stands, and also of whether our basic energetic vibe is interesting, engaging, colorful, dynamic, and warm enough to support a heartfelt connection. Feeling brother- or sister-hood is a good filter for people that I want to have around me.
As you digest the word “sister,” you may find yourself thinking “But…you don’t want to fuck your sisters, right?” The way I’ve come to think about it, the same axiom that I just stated above applies even moreso—the only women that I want to relate to in any serious way, and certainly in any sexual way, are those that I connect with as sisters. So, actually (as a heterosexual man), Iwant fuck only my sisters.
Needless to say, I’m not talking about biological sisters here. I’m talking about spiritual sisters, my human sisters in the way that other men are my ”brothers” without any blood relation. I want all my relationships to start with the feeling of kinship—of being connected—and I certainly want any relationship that includes sex to start there.
The Bahá’í faith includes a core teaching about equality called Two Wings of a Bird, the heart of which is stated as, “The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.” How could it not make sense to see and relate with the women of the world, and the women in my world, with the same closeness and love that I feel with my brothers? This is the only way that the bird of humanitycan truly fly.
In Moore and Gillette’s seminal work on the masculine archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover), they write that eros and libido are “not just sexual appetites but a general appetite for life,” and that the Lover in us ”does not want to stop at socially created boundaries,” such as, I would say, the idea that our “sisters” are just our very, very few biological sisters. It follows that the Lover in us has a healthy appetite for romantic and sexual love with our many non-biological sisters. “For the man accessing the Lover, all things”—and all people—“are bound to each other in mysterious ways.”
Seeing women as sisters opens up the possibility of loving women as we love our brothers. Without this possibility, any close emotional connection with a woman elides too easily into romantic love, and will likely also arouse sexual attraction. This is part of the reason that we men so often feel unsafe to so many women—if we don’t know how to love without also feeling at least the possibility of sex, then when we feel close to a woman, we go to what we know, which is that love includes attraction, and the possibility of sex. If love is intrinsically bound with sex, then sex is always in the field with anyone that we feel loving connection with. It doesn’t have to be this way.
As Tim Kreider writes in I Wrote This Book Because I Love You, “…what I mistook for romantic love was something rarer and more valuable.” Uncoupling love from sexual attraction and the possibility of sex de-sexualizes my loving relating with that person. This doesn’t preclude the possibility that our love may include romantic or sexual feelings, but it moves those feelings from being in the ’first place’, from a place of framing the entire connection, to a place of being in the context of our connection.
Part of where this way of thinking came to me from was that I was tired of being seen as the wolf all the time. I felt that I wanted connection, that I wasn’t that guy that wants ’just’ sex, or sex in the first place—but I also often felt that when I was with a woman that I connected with that sex was also always subtly in the air. This feeling is electric, it’s enjoyable, it’s part of the joy of connecting with women, but I had begun to feel how it confused my relating, and I had also begun to realize how this way of being could feel unsafe for a woman—very reasonably so! In fact, it felt unsafe for me! With sexuality always present, close relating was always charged with sexual tension, whether I wanted it to be or not, and I felt the push and pull of that tension in relationships where I didn’t really want it to be in the picture at all. Imagine that if sexual energy is showing up in some relationships where we men don’t really want it, how often that energy must show up for women when they don’t really want it. The answer is: All the time.
Shifting my thinking to Sisters First—which is really perhaps just putting lovefirst—has also solved something that had been a mystery to me for most of my life. Connecting with women has come naturally enough, but I also had the persistent feeling that there was a category of women that I remained unable to connect with. These more grounded, multi-faceted women would meet me, they would look at me, and then they would look past me. We might exchange electricity, but that’s where it would begin—and end. I have formed relationships with many women, but I usually found myself looking for something deeper, and I couldn’t really find it, or feel it, while my heart saw first of all through the lens of libido. Once I began to embody the feeling that I want sisters first and most of all, I began to find connections with these whole-hearted women that had walked by me for so many years.
It would be easy to try to sum up what I’m talking about here as seeing women as people vs as sex objects, and that is a big part of what I’m articulating—but I want to believe that there’s something more in what I’m getting at as well. Women can be just as guilty of seeing men in a shallow, narrow way. We all have to broaden our ways of connecting and to shift some of our energy upwards from the sexual realm to enable more interesting, more soulful connection, and to be able to be with each other in the world with less fear. For my part, I had to find a way to love women in a family way, keeping sex out of the frame, to get to the place where I had any chance of connecting with a woman that I really want to love and have sex with.
Two Wings of a Bird gave me a simple, clear model for an equality that makes sense to me—not that we are the same, but that both (or all) genders are needed for the bird of humanity to fly. Sisters First gives me a similarly simple, clear model for relating to women that has opened me up to loving my sisters more deeply, without confusing that love with sex, and also to knowing that the only ’kind of woman’ that I want to be connected to, be intimate with, and partner with is a sister. This last point also makes clear my lifelong connection and responsibility to any person that I choose to have sex with, not just because sex is deeply intimate, but because if I only have sex with people that I feel close as family with, then that connection is already forever whether we’re having sex or not. You may also notice in reading this, as I did in writing, that the distinction between “woman“ and “person” has gotten less necessary. Not less clear, less necessary. What’s true for me now with regard to women is deeply informed by what’s become true for me in my connections with my fellow men—and I think this model can be applied whoever you feel to get in deep with.
Two Wings of a Bird does also speak to another sense of Sisters First, which is that we men do owe our sisters some compensatory support. Let’s call it a 21st-century chivalry—letting and even helping our sisters to go first, not because we each owe them individually for wrongs that may have been perpetrated, but because we truly want their help and full partnership in being the bird, together.
For my part, I did meet and fall in love with a deep, true sister this past year——and one of the many things that she’s turned me on to is comedy. I was digging around on YouTube the other night watching stand-up and came across this clip of the brutally dark—that is, honest—comic Anthony Jeselnik where he says, “I’ve heard from a lot of female comics that ‘You treat women like people.’ I just had a lot of sisters.” Like people. Exactly. Like sisters.
Once I learned to see men as brothers, I couldn’t help but see women as sisters.