Aug. 8th, 2015

joreth: (Bad Computer!)
I know this will piss some people off, but I firmly believe that everyone has a right to not have sex with anyone they don't want to have sex with, for any reason they have, or no reason at all. Even if that reason is stupid. Even if that reason hurts someone's feelings. Even if I think that reason is so full of shit that I want to physically and literally knock some sense into them. They have a right to say no and they have a right to revoke consent at any time.

What they don't have a right to do is treat that person any differently in a non-sexual context than anyone else, or harm them in any way, or participate in a system that discriminates against them or any of that other bullshit. But that's not the issue. Those are good reasons not to disclose private information to people who are not sex partners and it's a good reason not to take on certain people as sex partners (with the added bonus that you don't have to disclose to them). It is *not* a good reason to manipulate someone into becoming a sex partner who would not consent to that role had they known.

"But we can't read minds to know all the possible things that all the people in the world might possibly make them not want to have sex with me!"

Strawman argument. There are things that we know by virtue of living in our cultures what people are *likely* to object to. Just like I know what Christianity is all about, and what the experience of being a white male out in society is all about, and what mono relationships are all about - even though #NotAllWhateverMajorityDemographic, I know enough about those demographics because I'm steeped in the expression of the experience of those demographics every fucking day of my life. I know that if some guy hits on me while I'm walking down the street, there is a greater-than-average chance that he won't like me *because* of my atheism, my polyamory, my feminism, my job, my independence, and my gender identity even though I'm really not that far away from cis. Those things all go contrary to the cultural narrative, so I'm pretty sure that at least one of them will be deal-breakers for the average guy who thinks it's appropriate to hit on me while walking down the street.

But, on the very off chance that he might like me precisely because of those things, or that maybe he won't mind those things, telling him about it up front will be a bonus. It'll give him even more reason to be interested in me. But that's such a statistically unlikely event that it has never once happened to me in all my years of being hit on by randos on the street.  Excuse me, not minding the atheism thing happened exactly once, but he was not American-born and he was from a country where religion isn't a big thing, so I don't think it's really an exception to my point.

Now, disclosing all that shit to street randos is not what I'm advocating either - that's a personal call regarding safety. But by the time I've decided to accept someone as a sexual partner, and he has accepted the idea of me as a sexual partner, I know there are certain things that he is, by pure numbers, likely to have a problem with and could affect his willingness to consent.  Most of those things are actually related to the act of sex itself and are not unreasonable to want to know, even if their reaction to that information or their beliefs about that information are, in my opinion, unreasonable.

What I absolutely do not want, as a small female person, is to find out *afterwards* that he would not have given consent by *him* finding out afterwards and thinking that I betrayed him. I've actually already had that happen to me and I count myself damn lucky that all I got away with was a hurt pride and some temporary embarrassment at being shoved out the front door without all my clothes on. I know all the excuses - this was just for fun and not some long-term relationship, if that was a deal-breaker for him then it was his responsibility to ask about it, blah blah blah.

I know how mainstream guys (and a lot of poly guys) feel about the idea of putting their dick in somewhere that some other dick has already (recently) been. Telling them up front that their dick isn't the only one is the best way I've found so far of only fucking the guys who won't beat me for it later, and being open about that in general is the best way I've found to locate guys who actually think it's pretty fucking cool that they're not the only ones.

When someone finds out after they have already had sex with someone whom they wouldn't have had sex with had they known what they found out later, it doesn't matter how "wrong" they are for not wanting to have sex. It doesn't matter how unjustified they are for feeling betrayed. It doesn't matter to the people they kill, or beat, or humiliate. Being "right" doesn't save them that beating, that death, that humiliation, that heartache, or that disappointment.  Knowing that the potential partner is that sort of person is the kind of information you want *before* you fuck them and not to find it out the hard way.

It didn't feel great when I had to disclose to people who I liked that I had an STD.  It really hurt my feelings to have people I cared about be so afraid of something based on stigma, and not facts, that they were afraid to even touch me non-sexually even though it wasn't something they could catch that way and it wasn't even something that was likely to harm them.  But it would have hurt them more to have sex with me without the information necessary to give informed consent.  It was more than just physically harming them, because I disclosed my STD long after I needed to, long after it wasn't possible to pass it on, just to make sure they understood sexual safety.  Not giving them that information would have been robbing them of their agency.  It would have been manipulative, and it would have been making decisions for them - deciding what they "needed to know" on their behalf based on what *I* felt about that information.  Sure, *I* knew that the STD wasn't likely to harm them, but that wasn't my call to make.  They have the right to refuse sex with me on any grounds and to make decisions for their own participation based on their own risk analysis, not mine.

If the information that you're hiding (even passively) isn't a big deal, then it shouldn't be a big deal to disclose. This goes along with the Little White Lies defenses & [livejournal.com profile] tacit's post on truth and virtue- if someone is defending the secret that hard, then it's clearly not "no big deal". Remember, this isn't a situation where one partner is demanding to know something that isn't relevant and is attempting to violate another's privacy. This is something that could *change someone's consent* for having sex with you.

If you can't trust the person you're about to get slippery with to handle the information that you're keeping secret, then this is probably not the safest person for you to be getting slippery with either. If you fear for your safety, then don't take them as a partner. You don't *have* to disclose anything that will make you unsafe, but if you're unsafe with this partner, then choosing them as a partner was your first mistake (assuming you, yourself, weren't coerced or forced into the encounter in the first place - this whole rant is aimed at consensual sexual arrangements, not abuse victims keeping secrets from their abusers to prevent further abuse - again, go back to the truth and virtue post) and keeping the secret is the second in a list of mistakes.

This is about two things - 1) respecting your partner's agency enough to give them the information necessary for them to give consent. You can't read their minds to know that they would revoke consent if they found out that you once masturbated to a poster of the New Kids On The Block when you were a kid and they have an irrational fear of cooties from Donny or whatever the fuck one of their names was, but you can know that there are certain kinds of information that is culturally important and likely to affect someone's willingness to fuck you if they knew about it (and if you don't know that person individually well enough to know their specific deal-breakers, you at least know those culturally likely deal-breakers). Your partners are human fucking beings and deserve to be treated with no less dignity and respect than allowing them to consent to sex with you and I can't fucking believe this still has to be said;

And 2) saving yourself either the repercussions of being found out later, or of being a person who is not your best self. Sure, it's possible that person may never find out, especially if it's a one-night stand in a strange town and you didn't exchange names or phone numbers and have no overlapping social circles or interests to ever run into them again, even on the internet. It's probably even likely. But *you* know that you will have acted with the best of intentions and the highest degree of integrity. *You* will have been a person who respects your partner's agency. *You* will have been the sort of person that you ultimately hope your partners would be for you - someone who does not take it upon themselves to decide on your behalf what information is "necessary" when it's actually something that you think is not only important, but reasonable to be informed about.

This isn't about degree of severity.  I have two analogies I often bring out in this debate - murder and jawalking aren't the same thing and don't deserve the same punishment, but both are against the law.  A creek isn't the same as the ocean, but both will get you wet if you step in them.  I'm not talking about whose the baddest, most evilest, most terrible person out there and I'm not talking about stringing people up by their toenails even for minor infractions.  The guy who didn't dislose his HIV and had unprotected sex with a bunch of people, giving them HIV? Yeah, he was a monster, and I'm not putting him in the same category as someone who has a sort-of sexual partner with no arrangement of exclusivity not disclosing that person to a one-night-stand in another country on a business trip.  But both are still examples of not disclosing information that not only could affect one's willingness to consent but is *likely* to.  Both are still examples of not respecting the other person's right to not have sex, one example just has much more dire consequences than the other.

I'm far less likely to make a personal value judgement about someone who says "I've done some things where I wasn't my best self. I know my justifications for them, and I may even slip and not be my best self in the future, but I know that this thing is not living up to my highest ideals of integrity," than someone who tries to justify their actions, digging in their heels and doubling down on preventing informed consent with excuses, selfish justifications of "privacy" and "not my responsibility" and "too much trouble / effort."  Someone who says "yeah, I torrent big blockbuster movies.  I know it's wrong, but I do it," isn't getting the same kind of judgement from me as someone who says "I don't care if you're a starving artist, you OWE the world, and consequently me, the right to use your art without being compensated for it." (That's a real example, btw, not a strawman and not hyperbole).  This isn't about degree.  It's about being your best self and by doing so, treating those around you with the dignity and respect that they deserve, especially those you engage intimately with.

If I want to live in a world where I, as a woman, have the right to say "no" for any reason whatsoever and no reason at all, if I want to live in a world where my body is completely mine and I have ultimate authority over what happens to it, then I have to make that world by defending other people's right to say "no", even if I disagree with their reasons, because it's *not my place* to decide the validity of someone else's reasons for saying "no".  If integrity were easy, everyone would do it all the time.

"Ben, there's a story eating at you ... one you know you gotta tell."

"Not that simple."

"Telling the truth is never simple... or easy. Why only the best of us ever really try."
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
www.theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html
* I am committed to supporting my partners in being the best version of themselves that they can be.
This one took a couple of revisions to get it the way I liked it. I tried something along the lines of "accepting my partners for who they are", but that led to either being resistant to desired change on their part or to accepting real, problematic flaws that need to be worked on and improved. An interesting bit of trivia about my and Franklin's relationship is that I originally first considered dating him for the purpose of improving myself. I had just read about the concept of New Paradigm Relationships, which advocated using our interpersonal relationships as vehicles for personal growth. I had also just become aware of BDSM and kink, and I was doing a lot of self-analysis and discovering some rather toxic and inhibiting behaviours of my own that I wanted to get rid of. I am deliberate in all things. When my phobia of spiders started negatively influencing my daily life, I decided to stop being afraid of spiders. When I recognized a terror of falling, I rode a free-fall ride in which I had to pull my own rip cord and cause myself to go into the fall. When I finally recognized that I had panic attacks, I chose to not have them anymore. Not everyone can do this, and I can't even do it for everything, but I am deliberate in who I am, so I do what I can to live with intention.

So when I decided that I was inherently kinky but had no idea how to explore it safely and that I had some relationship fears that were preventing me from experiencing a larger range of happiness in my relationships, and I met Franklin who was skilled in just those things, I told him that I was interested in dating him for the purpose of working on those issues with his help. What followed was a decade-long relationship (as of today) that is the healthiest relationship I've ever been in and the eradication or reduction of exactly those inhibitions that I felt were hampering my relationships. Dating Franklin has made me a better person and I'm very different in some key ways than I was 10 years ago, some ways I didn't even anticipate or set out to change. So I really don't want to cut off avenues, even implicitly, for personal growth in my partners. I want to encourage their growth.

But at the same time, related to the previous point, I can't stand the popular romantic ideal "I love you, now change". So when I rejected "accepting my partners for who they are", I considered something like "promoting growth and accepting change". But that led me too closely to "I love you, now change". I don't want to push my partners into being my ideal for them. I don't want a Pygmalion project. I don't view my partners as fixer-uppers and I most certainly don't want them to view me as such. So I ultimately came up with this phrasing that I hope will reinforce two conflicting relationship goals - to accept my partners for who they are without trying to change them into something that I want them to be; and to encourage and support growth and change without letting fear of the outcome of that change lead me to restricting them from things that are in their best interests (but not necessarily mine).

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