joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Here's a poly lesson I learned from my monogamous family:

My parents are of the zero-sum mindset. Time spent with loved ones either "doesn't count" or "counts less" when there are other people they don't consider "family" present. Legal spouses "count", so my aunt could visit when she was single and it would be "quality time", and she could visit with her husband when she got married and it was "quality time", but if she invited her boyfriend (who was the guy she eventually ended up marrying), it would have been rude.

Once someone is a legal spouse, he is immediately part of the family with no reservations. My parents are actually really good about that. They taught me that someone is family because an existing family member brought them into the family, and that new person is family no matter what. Even if my parents didn't like him, he's family because the person they love considers him family.

But this only applies to legal spouses.

Sort of.

They're not hostile or antagonistic towards non-spouse partners. All of my extended relatives' boyfriends and girlfriends were welcomed, and I believe my parents grew to love those partners who stuck around long enough to turn into spouses even prior to the actual wedding date. So I haven't yet figured out that magical moment when someone becomes "family" as opposed to just "someone family is dating". I only know that once it's legal, it's cemented.

My parents have been very good about welcoming my boyfriends too. There's an obvious difference between the polite welcome they gave to the boyfriends they didn't like and the warm welcome they gave to the boyfriends they did like, but they welcomed them nonetheless. However, if there was some kind of milestone special moment, my parents wanted it to be "just family". And a boyfriend wasn't "family", but a spouse was (although they have since learned to make an exception for the father of my sister's kid - they're not married but the kid is a toddler and he's an active parent and my sister loves him, so they've been forced to rearrange their mindset on this one).

My parents were uncomfortable with me having boyfriends over for opening presents on Christmas morning, or sharing Thanksgiving dinner, and they were most definitely *not* happy about me doing those sorts of things with someone else's family instead of them.

And I have never been able to wrap my head around this. It has something to do with longevity, that much I can grasp. To my monogamous Christian parents, marriage was "for life" (even if they, personally, knew people who were divorced, like my dad's parents), so once they signed that paper, the spouse was now stuck with us "forever". But a non-spouse partner could be here today, gone tomorrow - you just never know. It's like my parents felt a degree of uncertainty without that legal document so strongly that I never felt and it affected our ability to see eye to eye on this subject.  It's kind of like that one episode of How I Met Your Mother where Lily gets pissed off at Ted for inviting a date to her birthday party and she brings out the photo album to show a lifetime of important family milestones with random women in the pictures who are not around anymore.  She feels that her birthday party is diminished by the presence of this woman whose name she won't even need to remember the following year.

It's true that my past partners were only partners for a handful of years - a small portion of my lifetime. But some of them remained family even after the breakup, while even more of them at least remained friends, or friendly. Two of those past partners whom I still consider "family" are friends with me here on FB - on my "real identity" account, as opposed to my family-friendly feed which is a heavily censored version of me. Notice that my parents are on the censored feed and my previous partners are on the "real me" feed.

As a teen and young adult when I was still living near enough to my parents for this to matter, every time my parents "suggested" that perhaps I ought not to invite my boyfriend to something because it's "just for family", I was heartbroken. Every negation of that relationship was a slice with a sharp blade into my soul. This was all before giving up monogamy or learning the word "polyamory". This was just a monogamous partner about whom I was made to feel "didn't count". Our relationship wasn't "real" or "serious" because he wasn't part of the "family" yet, and he wasn't part of the family yet because our relationship wasn't "real" or "serious". I had platonic friends who my parents saw as "family" but not boyfriends. Literally - I had a friend who was abused by her father and my parents put in to foster her when we finally got her out of that situation. My parents were "parents" to several of my friends, but not the guys I loved enough to think at the time that I might spend the rest of my life with.

Fast-forward to my post-poly discovery, and I learned that there are some people who see their metamours the same way that my parents see the non-spouse partners of our family. I am already wounded and building up scar tissue from having my relationships dismissed, negated, overlooked, and now I find out that even in polyamory, where the very *premise* of what we're doing is that we can love more than one, I can't escape this zero-sum mindset. That there are some people who, like my parents, think that time with me (or with their partners) would be lessened, tainted, or diminished simply because of the mere presence of another person - that other person, by the way, who the partner in question (me, in the example of my parents) happens to feel is very important to them.

It should be obvious, but I know from past internet arguments that it isn't, but I am not suggesting that alone-time with intimate people isn't important. I am not suggesting that it is *always* appropriate to have another person present or that there aren't *any* times when an intimate moment does, in fact, lose its intimacy because of the presence of someone else. I'm suggesting the opposite end of the spectrum - that there are people who consider any and *all* time shared with a third (or more) person is *inherently* diminished in some capacity.

My parents have already taught me the lesson that this idea damages the very relationship that the zero-sum person is trying to protect. Because my parents are resistant to "sharing" me with other people, I have, over the years, become more and more resistant to spending time with them even though I love them very much and consider my upbringing and my family to be good experiences in general. I want to spend time with all sorts of people who are important to me, and the people who make me choose are often the people who lose.

I almost kind of wish that poly people with zero-sum mindsets had the experience I had - that someone they loved refused to acknowledge the importance of a relationship they valued, so that they would know the pain and heartbreak and damage they cause to their relationships when they do it to them. I went *into* polyamory already understanding how important it is to validate and welcome my metamours because I already knew how hurtful it was to claim a level of superiority or priority and to dismiss the value and importance that someone else might have to someone I love.

Contrary to those who defend their couple privilege, I don't have this viewpoint because I'm somehow more "evolved" or "enlightened" or even because I'm more experienced at poly. I do not cotton to the "training wheel" theory of polyamory. I do not believe that we have to do things "wrong" in order to learn how to do them "right". I believe it is possible to start out as a young, inexperienced person with baggage and cultural programming and still practice the "right" ways from the start. I was young and inexperienced, and I still started out right from the beginning validating and valuing my metamours.

It wasn't always easy and I also made some mistakes that sprang out of internalized couple privilege, but I still *started* by practicing the skills that I hoped to one day "master", rather than practicing those bad habits that I would have to unlearn after some magical future moment when I was emotionally "mature" enough to do it "right" even though I had been practicing it "wrong" the whole time. I have yet to understand how anyone becomes an accomplished ice skater by practicing piano. If you want to learn how to be an ethical poly person and treat your partners and metamours with respect for their agency, you start out by practicing respect for their agency, not hamstringing their agency.  If you want to learn how to trust someone, you start out by trusting them and seeing what they do with that gift of your trust.  Nobody can "earn" trust if you don't give them any trust to prove that they're trustworthy.

Anyway, this lesson from my parents is particularly difficult for me because it's not consistent. That's not true, it actually is consistent if you look at it from the right angle. See, in my family, there are certain special milestones that are celebrated *as a family*, not privately. Anniversaries, for example. My parents never had a *private* anniversary celebration. Oh, I'm sure they did some "celebrating" in private, but I mean that they never went to an anniversary dinner without taking us kids (unless they got a babysitter prior to when my memories formed). Their big anniversaries were celebrated with as many family members as we could get to come. Anniversaries were group affairs, which is apparently a weird thing to some people and, if I think about it, I can see why. I mean, an anniversary is a celebration of a relationship between two people. So it kinda makes sense that two people might want to celebrate it privately between the two of them, since the *relationship* is something private between the two of them.

So this is actually another pro-poly lesson I learned from my parents. To me, lots of events are open to the extended family. Most of my relationship anniversaries are open to my metamours to celebrate with us because that's how my parents saw their marriage. But it seems inconsistent with their stance on discouraging non-spouse partners to "important" moments. It seems inconsistent if I view my non-spouse partners as "family", though, because "family" is supposed to be welcome at these events and my parents weren't welcoming them even while they welcomed other family.

But it's not inconsistent when I factor in the fact that they *rank* people. "Family" is welcome, but boyfriends are not "family" to my parents. I don't have the same ranking system for the people in my life. Is he important to you? OK then he's invited. But to people like my parents, it's not enough for someone just to be "important" to me (or my sister or my aunt or whoever). They have to be "legitimately important" - hence the automatic extension for spouses. So now we're back to bad poly lessons - or rather, lessons on the sorts of damage that bad relationship skills and personal insecurities can have on those and other relationships.

My monogamous parents support the "ranking" system that I see a lot of newbie polys support. Some people "count" more than others (and don't a single one of you derail the comments with talk about *priority* - if you haven't figured out my stance on power vs. priority by now, go away and read up on it elsewhere). In my very large and very involved extended but monogamous family-of-origin, I see a lot of parallels between them and my poly network. My parents and their kids were the nucleus of what was the "most important" to them in terms of priority, but cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even great-aunts and great-uncles and second cousins and first cousins twice removed were all still *family* to them, and priority was reassigned based on circumstance.

So, for example, my father is now retired. His incredibly elderly aunt has cancer, is a widow, and her only son is mentally handicapped to a point that he can't completely care for himself let alone her. So when she went in the hospital, my dad dropped everything and went down to stay with her. This was 2 months ago and he's still there. If we were to nitpick about "priority", his wife & kids would still have priority over his aunt, but the situation calls for a reassessment of priority and everyone in the family, my mom included, support my father in taking care of my great-aunt, even though my mom technically "loses" my father to my great-aunt.

They would love it if I could visit my great-aunt too. I may never see her again. She's old and has an aggressive form of cancer that has already been taken advantage of by an opportunistic pneumonia infection. If I could afford it, everyone would be thrilled to see me visit her for would would most likely be the last time.

But if I invited a boyfriend to visit with me ... I hardly know the woman, although I did spend a lot of time with her as a kid. She's my dad's aunt, not mine, and I haven't seen her in, what, almost two decades? But she out-ranks a boyfriend, according to my family. Somehow, having a boyfriend present would diminish the amount of quality in our time together. And that's something I just never understood.

Because to someone with a zero-sum mindset, people are ranked, and that rank is built-in to their position in the family, not the actual connection between the people in the family, and that ranking bleeds over onto nearby ranks. Like if you mix a paint color with white paint - the color is "lessened" because the white lightens it. Before you point out that the white is also made "more than" by the addition of the color or that neither is "lessened" or "improved" but rather everything is changed into something new, that doesn't matter, because the color outranks the white, and it's the color that matters to a zero-sum mindset.

So my monogamous parents taught me how important it is for the health of my relationships to value the other people in my friends and partners' lives because I know first-hand how much it hurts to have those other relationships devalued by people you admire and love and desire to have approval of.

They taught me that extended family is important even when different relationships have different priorities.

They taught me that someone becomes family because they are connected to someone who is family and it is not within my power to deny them that welcome because it is not my connection that makes them family or not.

And they taught me that there is very little about polyamory that doesn't apply outside of polyamory so that I don't need to wait until the Relationship Skills Fairy magically endows me with Emotional Maturity and Poly Experience to start treating people with the sort of consideration that I hope to one day actually be good at. Because, chances are, I already do have some kind of experience to draw on that I can apply right now, and I will get better at it with practice. So I don't need to disrespect my partners or my metamours while I'm waiting to somehow learn how to respect them by practicing disrespect.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
On this most recent episode of Poly Weekly, on Rules About Beds, [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx shared a story that actually triggered a particular pet peeve of mine, but in a good way.  It's this thing about "but it works for us!"  That's usually a huge red flag for me, and almost always follows something toxic or harmful that people are justifying.  But [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx's story was an example of when it's legitimate.

She told of a compromise that came about between her, Lusty Guy, and Elle regarding morning sex.  Elle apparently heard Lusty Guy and [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx having sex one morning in their spare room and she felt, well, I don't want to put words in her mouth, but it sounded like a description of possibly envy - she wanted to do something that other people were doing.  So she asked that, from now on, could she have "right of first refusal", where if Lusty Guy wanted sex on Sunday mornings (the day of the week that [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx slept over), could he ask Elle for sex before he asked [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx.  This was an acceptable arrangement to everyone involved, so that's what they instituted.

Now, the problem I have is that people are going to hear that story and think it justifies them making rules or giving certain partners "priority" (or, rather, power), over others.  Because this arrangement "works for them".  But, here's the real distinguishing factor - Lusty Guy then went on to explain *why* it "works for them".  You see, just prior to this story, [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx and Lusty Guy talked about how [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx can't share sleeping space with Lusty Guy because of his snoring, so she always sleeps in another room.  That's why they were separated - not because she's the "secondary" and she's not "allowed" to sleep in the primary couple's bed or because he is "required" to always sleep next to his wife.  This arrangement "works for them" because it's something that [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx genuinely needs for her health and happiness.  She was an equal contributor in building this arrangement, and it was her own preference, not a concession she made to Elle in order to date Lusty Guy.

So, now that it's established that they are in separate rooms, and *why* they are in separate rooms, let's look at why "right of first refusal" is a legitimate use of "it works for us".  Lusty Guy and Elle have been together a really long time, and their personal preferences and connection with each other has resulted in a, I guess you could call it efficient form of sex that they are both pleased with.  According to the podcast, they can have a very good, enjoyable time in about 15-20 minutes.  I totally understand that - I am not a fan of marathon sex myself.  I love being teased for a long time (and I mean, *long* time - like start flirting with me days ahead of time if you can, and I won't be able to control myself by the time we finally get together), but then when it gets down to the slippery bits, I'm an in-and-out sorta gal.  I want to get to the penetration and hopefully but not necessarily the orgasm, and then either eat something or roll over and go to sleep.  Or *maybe*, if I have things to do, I want to get back to those things if I can fight off the post-sex fog.

So, Lusty Guy and Elle aren't likely to take a very long time in the mornings.  But [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx says that she's more likely to go an hour and a half or longer.  So, if Lusty Guy and [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx had sex first in the mornings, Elle would be waiting all day before she got a turn.  But if Elle goes first, they'll be done before [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx is even really awake enough for sex.  Add up all these details about their sex life and sleeping habits, and you get an arrangement that "works for them".

But what too many people are actually saying when they say "it works for us", is "I have this insecurity and this is how I want to manage it, how dare you tell me that I'm not being considerate towards other people while in the grips of my insecurity and how dare you tell me that my insecurity is causing me to act in ways that might harm other people!"  As I and many others have said before, if everyone naturally just wants to do this thing, then you don't need a rule making people to this thing.  If people really don't want to do the thing, a rule isn't likely to stop them, at least not forever.  Also, as [livejournal.com profile] tacit and [livejournal.com profile] margareta87 say in More Than Two, it's really really hard to be compassionate when all you feel is fear.  When people are managing an insecurity, then they are extremely likely to be inconsiderate towards other people in their efforts to manage that insecurity.  They're just not very likely to see *how* they're being inconsiderate because that fear is whispering nasty little lies in their ear and rationalizing and justifying everything done in service to the insecurity.  But just because they manage to find someone willing to agree to their method of managing, it doesn't mean that it's OK.  It just means that they got lucky and found someone with boundaries that just happen to not cross the line that the person managing the insecurity is crossing.  For now.

So, if a V similar to Elle, Lusty Guy and [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx were to make a "rule" saying that no one in the house is allowed to have sex before the wife has sex with the husband, and the wife, say, was actually more of a night person but the husband and girlfriend were both morning people, then even everyone agreeing to the rule is not "this works for us".  Technically, people could say "this works for us", I guess, because of that agreement, but in my opinion, and what those of us who dislike that justification mean when we complain about it is, this isn't "working" for everyone, this is "managing".  This is way too likely to lead to coercion, if it isn't already coercive just by its nature.

What would be "working" for that kind of V would be for the wife to work on her insecurity so that it didn't bother her if the husband and girlfriend had morning sex in the first place.  That would be the three of them working together, accommodating and accepting the nature of who they are as people, and giving everyone the power to design the relationships that they are in according to their own needs and preferences and natural interests.  If the husband and girlfriend didn't *want* to have morning sex, then they didn't have to have morning sex.  But deciding that they *can't* have morning sex because the wife wants it first even though she actually doesn't want it (because she'll sleep until noon, whereas the husband and girlfriend will have been up for hours by then, and likely sexually frustrated, as well as lacking in agency because the person with the power to decide what Hubby and GF do is Wife) is not "working for them".  Again, even if everyone technically agrees.

This is the difference between "priority" and "power" that I'm always talking about.  No one, and I mean no one, who is complaining about hierarchy or couple privilege or primary/secondary is saying that there is anything wrong with relationships that look different from each other, as long as that difference happens organically.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a married man having a "secondary" if that partner wants to, say, remain living in her own apartment, or only see him one day a week, or has no interest in meeting the wife, or whatever.  No one, and I mean no one, is demanding that all relationships must be life-partnerships even when the people in those relationships are not interested in a life-partner arrangement with each other.

If the two people (i.e. Hubby and GF, in this example) are *happy* with GF living in her own place and only seeing him every other Tuesday because she has too many things on her plate anyway and that's all the time and emotional energy she has for him and Hubby has kids and his weekly D&D night and karaoke on Thursdays so that's all he wants to see GF too, then they don't need any rules telling them that they can only see each other on every other Tuesday and GF can't move in.  That "works for them".  All relationships look different, that's kind of the whole point.  The entire reason why it's possible to love more than one person is because everyone is different, and no relationship is going to look exactly the same as any other relationship because the people in those relationships are different people.  So yes, by all means, go out and have relationships that have different priorities from each other.  No one, and I mean no one, is complaining about that.

When couples (and it's usually couples, but occasionally I hear it from male-headed poly-fi groups too) say "it works for us", they're very rarely describing *priority*, even though that's almost always the examples they trot out to justify "it works for us".  Usually, what they're saying is that the *rules* "work for them" BECAUSE the people involved have different priorities or needs or whatever.  So, to keep using the morning sex example, I almost never hear "it works for us" the way that [livejournal.com profile] cunningminx and Lusty Guy told it - their individual sexual preferences naturally led them to a pattern of first sex for Elle whereas trying it differently is inconvenient for everyone involved.  Instead, I hear people saying "we made a rule that the wife should get sex first because she's the primary, and it works for us because our secondary doesn't object".

Can you see the difference?  If not, then you're probably part of the problem that so many of us have with the poly community.

Let's try it this way.  I don't eat breakfast in the mornings.  I have a sleep disorder and waking up before noon fucks with my biology, but of course I have to wake up before noon sometimes because life.  So I wake up, but I can't eat food that early or that soon after waking or I'll get nauseated.  So I don't eat breakfast.  Other people can't function without a good breakfast first thing in the morning.  A lot of people try to talk me into trying different kinds of foods for breakfast because they think that not eating must be worse for my health than eating.  It's not.  Skipping breakfast and having something sugary (like orange juice) about 3 hours after I wake up works for me.  I'm not imposing on anyone else, I'm following my own dietary and biological needs within a set of social constraints that I'm forced to accept.  There is no need for me to pass a rule on myself *making* me skip breakfast, that's just what I want to do naturally.  And every once in a while, when a certain set of circumstances happens (that I'm aware of, but I'm skipping over those details for brevity), I'll feel the desire for food first thing in the morning.  So on those days, I eat something.  No rule is broken because I don't have a no-eating rule.  This gives me the flexibility to have control over my own eating habits as circumstances change and "what works for me" doesn't happen to work under these particular conditions.

If one person is a morning person, one person is a late-riser, and the person in the middle has no strong preference, then the morning person asking to be given the option of morning sex first because it's the option that would inconvenience the fewest people, that's "working for them".  That's not eating breakfast in the morning, except on days when I want to eat breakfast in the morning.  That's "priority".  That's when two different relationships just naturally look different from each other.  What that is NOT, is hierarchy, couple privilege, or rules.

But if one person is a morning person, one person is a late-riser, and the person in the middle has no strong preference, and the *late-riser* is the one who *decides* that they get the option of morning sex first, especially if the decision is based on relationship status (I was here first / I'm the legal spouse), which is usually a sign of some deeper, unaddressed insecurity, then even if the other two people agree to it, that's not "working for them" in the sense that those of us who complain about these sorts of things mean by "working".  This is me not eating breakfast in the morning because I, or someone else, decided that I shouldn't eat breakfast in the morning even though I'm actually really hungry in the morning and I can't really function until I get something solid in my tummy.  Sure, I might have "agreed" to it, but it's not really in my best interest and it inconveniences, not just me, but everyone who has to deal with me not at my best because of this rule.

The big problem that I see in the community is that people look at the end result - not having breakfast in the morning, or getting first crack at morning sex, or living alone, or whatever - and see no difference.  Either way, I'm not having breakfast and you're getting the option of morning sex so what's the big deal?  Well, intentions and motivation and agency are the big deal.  The outcome is *not the issue*, that's why no one is complaining about different priorities or relationships that look different from each other or any of those other things.  The outcome is not where the problem is.  The problem is in the way we arrive at the outcome, is the intentions and motivation and agency.  And if you've never had your agency taken away, particularly when the removal of your agency was justified by shady or hidden intentions and selfish motivations, then it may be difficult to understand why this is such a big deal if the outcome is the same either way.

Consider yourself extremely fortunate and just believe us when we say that it's a big fucking deal.  If you can't understand what the big deal is because you've never experienced it, then I hope you remain ignorant for the rest of your life.  I hope you *never* have to learn first-hand what the big deal is with having your agency taken from you.  But what we need you to do is to just accept that coercive structures, even if you don't *mean* to be coercive or don't understand why it's coercive, accept that coercive structures are not "working" for anyone, even when people "agree" to them, the way you might just accept something Stephen Hawking says about Hawking radiation because he is more familiar with the subject than you are.  If your partner doesn't want to eat breakfast in the mornings, they don't need you to make a rule telling them not to eat breakfast in the mornings.  Because, maybe one day, they might.  Rules only work, until they don't.  And you will be a better, more compassionate partner if you design your relationships to accommodate when your partner might someday want to have breakfast in the morning and if you really examine why them not eating breakfast is a big enough problem for you to think you have the right to tell them that they shouldn't, so that when the day comes that they want to eat breakfast in the mornings, it doesn't bother you and they can make the decision for themselves whether to eat that breakfast or not.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
* I am committed to accepting assistance from my partners when needed, and sometimes just when it would be nice.

As a tomboy, I have spent my life justifying my tomboy and independent ways by going over and above the call of duty, so to speak. In order to prove to those around me that I am capable, I have had to reject assistance because any acceptance of assistance was "proof" that I couldn't handle the independence or the subject, with the implied "like a man could" tacked on. In my history, men didn't need help, men didn't need comforting, men didn't need directions, men didn't need anything but themselves. Never mind the fact that it was blatantly untrue. Every man I knew couldn't have survived without their female partners performing the various acts that they performed that allowed the men the free time and emotional resources to focus on whatever it was that they did do. Everything that men did had to be "on his own", so anything that the women did to help was either rejected or erased. Her cooking dinner every night so that he didn't starve when he worked 12 hours a day wasn't considered "helping", it was just what she did.

In order to compete with boys and men, I had to be more than their equal. I had to be superior. Otherwise, any potential non-male trait was proof that I wasn't their equal, and, in fact, was representative of my entire gender for why none of us were their equals. So I did not like help. [livejournal.com profile] tacit once said that I was the most competitive person he knew. I didn't see it at the time. But I pitted myself against my male peers as a child and teen in athletics and grades because I had to prove that I was their equal by being better. To this day, I refrain from doing certain things that I don't think I will excel at because my competitive drive makes "losing" too uncomfortable.

But then I became poor. And I started to age. These two things combined are strikingly humbling. Because of how the economy hit my industry, I dropped below the poverty line further than I had ever been. But I had male partners who had more secure incomes. And I started having more trouble lifting and moving than I used to, as well as watching my coworkers age and, consequently, go through surgery after therapy after time-out because they were "men". By that, I mean that, as young men they did stupid macho things like trying to unload trucks singlehandedly. This didn't always result in immediate injury, but as they aged, their bodies broke down rapidly once they hit a physical peak. They got injured more easily, and injuries and near-injuries from their youth made them slower, stiffer, weaker. I saw men my own age and slightly older, looking and acting like "old men" before their time. I learned to ask for help because, as I became fond of saying, I've been in this business for 25 years and I intend to stay in it for another 25 years when my coworkers had to drop out after 5, 10, 15 years in the business because they just couldn't handle the physical demands anymore.

So I learned to ask for help at work. And now I'm learning to ask for help from my partners. Somehow, it hurts my pride more to ask for help from partners. Somewhere along the line, I developed a sense of obligation - that assistance from romantic partners carried with it a form of obligation that I didn't want to incur. Sometimes that obligation was sexual ("since I bought dinner, you should put out"), sometimes it was tit-for-tat ("after all I've done for you, this is how you repay me?"), sometimes it reinforced a gender role situation within the relationship ("I'm the man, it's my job to pay for you"). When a relationship ends, if the sense of obligation is real and not me imposing cultural baggage onto my partners, that's where I'll feel the obligation the strongest. So I have developed patterns designed to reduce relationship obligation. A breakup is also where I'll feel the loss of assistance that I've come to count on, so I tend to avoid relying on anyone because I'm afraid that the assistance will be pulled away from me in a year or two when we break up and then it'll hurt more to have to re-learn my independence than if I had just done without their assistance the whole time.

But I keep maintaining that my relationships are with equal partners. So in order for that to be true, I have to let my guard down, I have to let them in, and I have to be able to accept their assistance. Sometimes I need help and that's what partners are there for - to help and support in times of need. Sometimes it's my partners who need to help me because that's how they express their love and how they feel loved, and it has nothing to do with my abilities. My relationships are not all about me, they're about building something together. I need to remind myself that part of building something together often includes mutual support and that, if there is no obligation attached, being helped feels nice. So that's what this commitment is about.

www.theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
#‎irony‬ -

Him: this thing that dehumanizes and objectifies people is wrong.

Her1: nothing is wrong! You can't tell anyone that what they're doing is wrong! As long as it works for them, it's not wrong!!!

Them1: uh, yeah we can, rape is wrong.

Her1: that doesn't count, that's illegal!

Her2: I don't like this thing, it doesn't work for me.

Her1: you can't say it's wrong!!!

Them2: don't worry Her2, she's not allowed to tell you that your preference is wrong :-)

"There is no one Right Way" does not necessarily follow that there are no wrong ways.

Sometimes I just want to smack people upside the head and then shrug my shoulders and say "what? This works for me".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
#‎UnicornHunters‬ talk about adding a new girlfriend to their relationship like they're adding on a new room to their house. The house is already built, already has the foundation, the electrical, the plumbing, the layout already designed. All they get is this new room, but the house essentially stays the same up to the doorway where the new room has been added.

The reality is that building a triad is more like building a new house from scratch, or perhaps even simply buying a new one. A married couple decides that their current house isn't meeting their relationship needs anymore - they want something a little bigger, a little different, a little less conventional.

Their old house has a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and two bedrooms. It's nice, but they'd like something more. The new house also has a kitchen and a living room, but it has 2 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms and a smaller room billed as an "office". There are lots of similarities between the old house and the new house - lots of the rooms serve the same function, both are made of a wood frame with drywall and plaster and siding and roof tiles and double-pane windows and both have electrical wiring and plumbing. But it's still a totally different house in addition to just having more rooms to accommodate the growing family.

The house is in a different neighborhood, so you have to drive around a bit to learn where the grocery store is and the nearby restaurants and the best path now to get to work and the movie theater. The neighbors, while still human beings, are different people and you have to get to know them and develop new connections that might look different than the ones you had with the old neighbors. You might be a little more inconvenienced in this new house because you have to drive past a school during school hours and traffic backs up making you late for work if you don't start leaving earlier.

It's an adjustment, moving into a new house. Ultimately, it might be the best decision you ever made, and your life will get better for it in the long run. But in the beginning, you might have to make some adjustments, like finding new paths and doing some internal remodeling or redecorating when your old house was already furnished exactly the way you liked it. Or, it might be a mistake and you might find yourself moving again in just a short time.

But if you really wanted the exact same house, only with one more room, I'd recommend you don't make that new room out of a human being. Take up a hobby or a pet. But a person is going to be disruptive. A person is going to change things far more than adding a door at the end of the hall where there used to be a wall - something that makes your house look mostly exactly the same and that you can only tell the difference if you go into that space, but that you can ignore if you just close the door.

Don't think of it as "adding a new girlfriend to our relationship" like she's a rumpus room tacked onto the back end of the house. Think of it more like getting a whole new house that, while it has many similar elements, is still a totally different building that will contain your family.

And wait to build that house until everyone who is going to live in it is present to offer their preferences for what they want in a house that they're going to live in too. Maybe you and the new person all agree that they should live in a separate mother-in-law suite in the backyard, rather than being attached to the main house, but they should still be there to help design that mother-in-law suite themselves, since they're the ones who have to live in it. But if they really are going to be part of the main house, then they really ought to have an equal say in what color the walls are and what kind of layout they want, not just to move into a house that already exists and doesn't reflect their own personality or preferences.

Remember, people are not accessories to your existing marriage, nor are they extra rooms you tack on to your existing house. They are the architects of their own lives, and if you want them to share your life with you, then they need to be collaborators.

‪#‎UnicornHunting‬ ‪#‎polyamory‬ ‪#‎poly‬ ‪#‎polyamorous‬ ‪#‎OpenRelationships‬
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
"But it's not FAIR that I have to give up X / not do X / he gets to do X!"

It's amazing how much more fair the world becomes when you stop feeling entitled to things that were never yours to begin with and when you see your partners are real human beings with their own agency instead of need fulfillment machines.

"But we're *married! It's not fair that she can just come along and start taking up his time!  He should be cutting time for her out of everything BUT his time with me!"

"But I was here first, so it's not fair for him to expect to get an equal amount of love that I get!"

"But we made an *agreement* that they would never go to that restaurant together!  That's OUR place!  It's not fair to go without me!"

My partner's time is not my time.  It belongs to them and they choose to share it with me or not as they wish.

My partner's emotions are not my emotions.  They belong to them and they choose to share their emotions with me or not as they wish.  They choose to allow their emotions to be influenced by me or not as they wish.

That restaurant belongs to neither myself nor my partner and is open equally to our business.  While it may be associated with certain memories and emotions for me, it is not, actually, the source of my specialness.  My specialness belongs to me.  My partner's specialness belongs to them.  Our relationship's specialness exists only because we exist in the relationship together.  No one can take my specialness away from me because it IS me.  My partner's specialness does not belong to me because it is a representation of my partner.  My partner can choose to share whatever of themselves makes them special with whomever they wish, and I am fortunate, not entitled, to be one of the people they choose to share themselves with.

My relationships are a gift that I get to open every single day. They are more than fair because they are not anything that is owed to me.

Releasing the sense of entitlement to my partners' bodies, time, emotions, and mind makes my relationships much more fair and tends to give everyone a larger slice of the pie.  Because agency is not a finite, tangible resource, so loosening the grip can actually make more of it to go around.

Sometimes, we have to let go of our hold on things in order to better secure our connection to them.  There's that saying about letting something go and if it comes back, it's meant to be, but if it doesn't, it wasn't meant to be.  I appreciate the sentiment, but it's not *entirely* accurate, because it depends on how you define "let it go".  You can't replace codependency or attachment with apathy.  If you don't nourish your relationships, they won't flourish.  The idea isn't to reign in your feelings for someone and stop caring for them.  In fact, letting go of entitlement is an act of caring *more*.  It's an act of courage.  You have to care so much for them, that you're willing to let them be a fully developed human being without your control to make them act as you desire them to act.

What you're letting go is your fear, your desire for power, your belief in control, your disbelief in their humanity.  Those are what you let go of, and those are things you don't want to come back.  When you let *those* things go, people are more likely to want to stick around.  When you let those things go, everything suddenly gets more "fair".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
* I am committed to including my loved ones on the higher ring of priorities in my life (partners / work / pets / family emergencies / etc.) and to not passing them over in favor of other events or people too often.

This commitment has three parts to it: defining "loved ones"; prioritizing partners; and defining "too often". Originally, I had the word "partners" in place of the phrase "loved ones". But I had issues with that. I have several sexual partners who are casual, low emotional intimacy, low effort, low entanglement, not many deliberate intentions, etc. It didn't feel right to me using a word that included some guy that I have sex with maybe once every 3 or 4 months but who I never see outside of booty calls, don't know that much about, and exert no effort to get to know very well (and who reciprocates the feelings). He's a person, so he deserves to be treated with dignity and ethical consideration, but made a priority? Part of the benefit of having a so-called "casual relationship" or fuckbuddy is precisely that we don't have to make each other a priority. Of course, some people have sexual relationships with people outside of big-R Relationships but who are nevertheless people they feel very deeply about (including me), which is why I didn't use the term Friends With Benefits here, because then I'd have to further differentiate between "friends" and "Friends".

The point is that there are classifications of sexual partners that exist in the world, and in which I engage on occasion, that include a mutually reciprocated lack of interest in deep emotional or logistical entanglements and priority (that don't need to be prescripted as such and that don't need to include an imbalance in power dynamic). I don't wish to erase those partners from my history or web of partners, but I also can't include them in this same commitment because part of the point of our arrangement together is that we don't prioritize each other, at least not on "the highest ring". Then there are friends and family who I do prioritize on the highest ring but who are not "partners" in a romantic, emotional, logistical, or sexual sense who would be left out. When I crowd-sourced the question of what kind of terminology could be used to describe someone to whom one is deeply emotionally attached and who is highly prioritized in life entanglement considerations, other than all the usual labels and semantics comments that were besides the point, "loved ones" was the only term that was suggested that really fit the point I was trying to make here. When I am in a loving relationship, where "love" is a verb whether I've said the loaded phrase "I love you" or not, part of "loving" them in this sense is in making them one of my top priorities. And that does not require specifying whether or not we have sex or what category label is used to define our relationship, which solved my dilemma of having certain partners who do not, actually, receive this commitment from me.

Second, this is a personal commitment in my life that I made a deliberate effort to change. I have always prioritized my work above anything else. I've always been poor. Some years I've been poorer than others. If I don't prioritize my work, I literally won't survive sometimes. But besides that, I'm also doing my dream job. Choosing this line of work has put me directly in the line of fire of sexism and entitlement. I have spent my entire life justifying my life choices, including my job, to people who think that women shouldn't do what I want to do or that their personal desires and fears should trump my own freedom to make choices in my life. I've spent my whole life arguing with people who insist that my job is too dangerous, or not a suitable environment for women, or that I should choose something financially safe like a nice secretarial job. I've spent my entire dating life arguing with men who think that their desire for my time or their concern for my safety should outweigh the fact that I love my job with a passion and my job is one of the things that makes me feel that life is worth living.

So I've reacted to this lifetime of experiences by prioritizing my job above the people in my life. About a decade ago, I decided that this decision prevented me from other sorts of experiences that also make life worth living. I made a decision to not let my valued relationships take a backseat to my job. These two things didn't trade places; my job isn't now taking a backseat to my relationships. Just like the previous commitment, I have to prioritize on a situational basis. But I did come to realize that consistently prioritizing my job over my partners, much like prioritizing one partner over another, would make me lose those relationships that I also valued. This is one of the other changes in my perspective that I asked [livejournal.com profile] tacit for help with as part of the goals of our budding relationship. So now I take into account my financial situation (to determine how detrimental turning down work would be), the state of my relationship, my own interest in the event, how important the event is to my partner(s), and my partners' general attitude towards my job when I decide how to prioritize any individual situation.

And it's not just about work either. I had a cat that was terminally ill for a couple of years, which caused me no end of stress and re-prioritizing my life. My cat was a dependent being who literally could not survive without my assistance. On top of that, she was a feeling being who had tied her emotional well-being (such as a cat has) to me. I took on that responsibility when I chose to adopt her. Plus, I had emotionally bonded to her just as strongly as she had bonded to me. My thoughts were constantly on her comfort and safety, and my concern for her distracted me to the point where I did not have enough mental resources to handle other responsibilities.

So I have a multitude of loved ones (and I include my job as a "loved one") that I have to allocate my time, attention, and other resources for, and this commitment is a reminder that the people who have trusted me with their vulnerability and intimacy are valuable enough to me that I should make space for them on the top tier of loved ones who get the most of my prioritization.

Finally, the review discussion about my list of commitments generated a lot of reaction to the phrase "too often". I deliberately left this phrase vague and I maintain that position after the discussion. I need to be able to remind myself that my relationships are a top priority without locking myself into some kind of prescripted schedule or definition for what "priority" means. All of my relationships are different types of relationships and each of my partners has different relationship needs. So I can't commit to a specific amount of time or specific actions that designate someone as "priority" because that amount of time or those actions could be too much or too little or not the right kind for any given person or any given moment within our relationship. After much discussion on this point, I am maintaining my phrasing of "too often" because I believe that this phrase can and should be defined individually between myself and each of my loved ones (partners, metamours, family, friends) in conversation with each of them, and it can also be somewhat fluidly defined in the moment based on what we each feel about our relationships with each other in the context of a lot of criteria, such as current needs, current life situations, current patterns, past trends, etc. I feel that leaving in a vague phrase like "too often" necessitates further conversation between me and my specific loved ones to define what that means in the context of our specific relationship, which reduces the likelihood of using this list of commitments prescriptively or contractually.

www.theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

Social Media Site: List your relationship status! Even though we've had "open relationship" as an option for years, now you can link to one partner only!

Poly Person: Oh good, now people can tell that I'm poly because they couldn't tell before when I had "in an open relationship" selected, I named everyone I'm dating in the "about me" section, and said the word "poly" in the description. Linking to only one partner in the sidebar will totally clear up all the confusion!

OKCupid's new "poly" feature is, IMO, a step backwards because we could *always* link to our partners' profiles (or anyone's, for that matter) in the open text boxes of our own profiles (which begin, BTW, right under the picture & stats header). This actually reduces the poly visibility and accessibility that OKC had previously given us.  One person argued that people don't read the profiles and therefore missed the part where she identified as poly in her profile.  To that, I submit that anyone not willing to read her profile won't see "open relationship" and her partner's name in the profile either because *they're not reading the profile*.  They also likely won't know specifically what *kind* of "open relationship" they're in (as there are many types, some of which are not compatible), again, because they're not reading the profile.  There's nothing to be done about people who don't read the profile short of either changing the culture to make that practice an aberration or back-end coding on OKC's part to prevent people from contacting anyone without some kind of "proof" that they read it, like passing a quiz or checking an "I have read this profile" box like a Terms of Service agreement with the ability to report people who turn out to have lied on that checkbox which penalizes the account holder, perhaps by removing their ability to contact people at all after a certain number of reports.  Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea.

But I digress.  Point is, OKC already recognized poly folks exist. It already had "open relationship" as an option. Yes, I know that "poly" and "open relationship" are not interchangeable, but it was always friendly to the subset of "open relationship" that is "polyamory".  It already allowed us to link to multiple partners.  It even had forums (don't know if it still does because I haven't been there in a while, but I was quite active on them for a time) and some of those forums were poly-specific where you could go chat about polyamory to poly people.  It already had hundreds of questions to answer that would weed out non-poly folk.  When you answer questions, you rate how important those questions and their answers are to you.  Those answers and those ratings contribute to your match score.  There are tons of poly and open relationship questions to answer, so how you answer those questions affects how well you match with other people on those specific topics.  If you answer enough questions and rate them important enough, eventually you will reach a point where any match above a certain percentage is almost guaranteed to be poly too.  On top of that, you can set a filter to hide any match *below* a certain percentage, so you could use OKC to see and be visible to only people open to non-monogamy.  This has been How This Works for many, many years.

I'm actually quite disappointed in the poly community in general for heralding this new feature as some kind of pro-poly feature.  It's not.  It reinforces couple privilege, it reinforces the trope that poly or open relationships are something that couples do when we ought to be promoting the fact that it's something that *people* do, and it erases every version of open relationships that don't prioritize one partner above all others or that even don't prioritize romantic relationships above all other types.

This is not a boon to the poly community.  This is not actually helpful at all.  It does not add *anything* to our profiles that we didn't already have, but it does take away from our profiles. I've linked to [livejournal.com profile] tacit since we started dating 11 years ago. The earliest other partner that I am confident I simultaneously linked to in the body (and isn't an unreliable memory that could just be wishful thinking) was 8 years ago. I have since edited my profile with each new partner and each new breakup, sometimes even including metamours who had OKC profiles.

Years. Now, suddenly, OKC is all "hey, look, you can link to your partner!" Whatever dude, you're not helping me out any. Not giving me anything I hadn't had before. And, while it's not *removing* the ability to link to multiple partners in the body text, going from "link to other profiles (multiple) in your body text" to "link to one partner in the sidebar" is still less poly-friendly than its other, preexisting features.

‪#‎OKCFail‬ ‪#‎UnicornHunting‬ ‪#‎OpenRelationshipsMeanMoreThanOneByDefinition‬ ‪#‎OneStepForwardTwoStepsBack‬
joreth: (Super Tech)

This is going to be long, convoluted, and twisty. This is me trying to work out a concept that I have been unsuccessful at elucidating before, using terminology that is new to me that encompasses what I'm trying to get at.

This is the concept of emotional labor. I've been trying to explain for most of my life that women are expected to do all this bullshit work like remember family birthdays and send thank you cards and maintain the family's religious habits and do the dishes and even know the appropriate attire to wear to social functions to tell the husband and kids when they have to wear a suit and tie and when they can wear a polo shirt. I've been trying to explain for my entire life that it's not "no big deal" or just a few extra details or even that it's "what women are good at". Now, I have a term and research to back it up - emotional labor.

I'm told that "men" just don't "see" a dirty house and I know that's bullshit because my own father was the neat freak of our family. He once threw my homework away *on trash night* because I had left it out on the kitchen table so I wouldn't forget it, but paper doesn't belong on the table so he threw it out and it was picked up in the morning before I was awake, and my homework was just gone (and my teacher didn't buy my story). It's just that men don't *have* to see a dirty house because the women in their lives will get fed up sooner than they will and the mess will take care of itself, feeding the cycle that the longer they wait, the more likely they won't have to do anything about it. The men don't have to see the dirty house because they're told that, as men, they *won't* see the dirty house, and women are socialized *to* see the dirty house and to have it bother them. So the men wait and the women pick up after them, and the gender roles assert themselves invisibly.

I once refused to do the work anymore. I watched my housemates literally step over a pile of trash *in the living room* rather than throw it away. I had long ago put a trash bin in the living room so that no one even had to get up and walk into the ADJOINING kitchen (it was one big room, no wall or counter or bar or island to separate them) to throw anything away and they still couldn't manage it. They'd toss stuff from the couch, and if it missed the can, they'd leave it there. So I stopped picking it up.

I actually broke up with them and moved out of the house before anything got picked up. And I left the trash there on the floor when I left.

In this same household, the bills stopped getting paid. I got tired of nagging everyone to pay their share. The house went into foreclosure and I moved out before anyone started paying (they actually continued to live there until the house got new owners and they had no choice). They were seriously willing to let the bank foreclose on us before either paying their fucking share or working with me to find a way out of the financial mess we were in (including selling). They just. Stopped. Paying.

Fashion is similar, although with less dire consequences. I'm fully aware of the class issues and history regarding social dress codes, particularly anything "business class" or "higher", but *I'm* the one who pays the consequences if my *partners* don't dress appropriately regardless of the class struggle symbolized by those clothes, so I was schooled at an early age to know what the various dress codes were. Men are *expected* to not know fashion, so women are the ones who get the disapproval if "their men" show up dressed inappropriately. In fact, men are *shamed* if they know too much about fashion (see homophobia and misogyny here). Women whose partners do not dress appropriately are either shamed for not getting them to dress correctly (because it's obviously their fault for failing to dress them like children /sarcasm) or pitied for having chosen men who can't or won't dress themselves properly whereas men are rarely shamed or pitied for a woman who dresses "correctly" when they don't, although they might sometimes get a little shame for not dressing up to a woman's standards. The worst that men get is shame or pity for a woman dressing *above* the appropriate dress code, which means she's "high maintenance", but that's yet another rant. *It doesn't matter* that the dress code system is bullshit to begin with and it doesn't matter if the woman herself is a conscientious objector as I am (overlooking the fact that because of those very class issues, many women don't have the luxury of objecting to fashion standards) or if she actively enjoys fashion for its own sake outside of the class issues also as I do, there are still consequences for women whose male partners don't comply with fashion standards, above and beyond any consequences for each given individual not complying with fashion standards (and you really don't want to get me started on women's fashion standards).

Dates, attire, eating meals, shopping, bill paying, caring for guests, housecleaning - all shit that if I don't take care of it, it doesn't get done. So I just stopped living with people so that I don't have to be responsible for it. I have my own difficulty with all this stuff - my OCD makes doing dishes very difficult, for instance, and if I'm not doing dishes and they're not doing dishes, shit gets pretty nasty. Unless I'm baking, I use disposable, or better yet, cook-in-its-own-container stuff so that I'm not making extra waste and I still don't have to do dishes.

But, even now, when I complain about this, it doesn't sound like it's as big of a deal as it is. Like, it's annoying to always do the dishes, but not worth a panic attack or a breakup. But it only seems like it's not a big deal when it's isolated away from the concept of emotional labor.

It's kind of a strange revelation to learn that I would be much less averse to things like cohabitation and even marriage had I not been subject to so much emotional labor over my life. I wonder, even though I'd likely still be just as independent-minded about things like autonomy, would I even consider myself #solopoly if gender-based emotional labor wasn't a thing?

I used to want to date only partnered men because I got burned by so many cowboys. I wanted them to already have a partner so I knew they wouldn't want to dump me as soon as they got another partner. Not only do I now see the flaw in that logic, I'm also very suspicious of guys who cohabit with women, particularly if they married young. They tend to be the worst I've seen for not just expecting women to shoulder the emotional burden but of being totally unaware that they're doing it.

Like, asshole patriarchal men who are still single (probably because they're assholes about it) make it easy to spot and therefore avoid. They're pretty obvious that they want women to shoulder that burden. But liberal men who champion women's rights but who have never noticed how the rent gets paid on time because they went from mommy's house to a dorm paid by mommy and daddy to wifey's house who paid the rent, did the cooking, picked up the trash they step over, and didn't have to remember anyone's birthday because wifey will remind them when it's important - they're something I've learned the hard way to look out for.

They're the ones I get burned by these days, especially before I had this language of "emotional labor" to express this concept. Before, I might talk about each individual chore or responsibility and get "Of course I can cook my own meals [but won't notice that you gradually start taking over more of the cooking duties because I'll just sit here at the computer until you get hungry enough to cook for us and your empathy and hostess training forces you to cook for both of us instead of just getting food for you]" and "I just don't remember dates, that's just how I am, take it or leave it [and I don't recognize the extra burden put on you to "take it" because I think the matter is just a simple "accept your partner for who he is" equation, so by forcing this binary choice on you, I'll also add pressure on you to choose the "take it" option instead of the "leave it" option by resting unintentionally on patriarchal standards that require women to "stand by your man" and making you look like the shrew trying to "change me" or not be accepting enough if you don't - a particularly guilt-laden punishment in liberal circles who espouse acceptance and tolerance of people's differences]."

See, in liberal circles especially, we tend to embrace this idea of accepting people for who they are and not trying to "change" them. Taken to its extreme, this leads to people who actually have very toxic or damaging habits that no one is allowed to confront or address because we might not be "tolerant" or "accepting" enough. I once dated a guy who was extremely emotionally insecure (although I didn't realize how badly at the time). He felt personally rejected every time I turned my back on him while sleeping. He felt that I was metaphorically and deliberately "turning my back" on him. That the act of facing away from him was *about him*. Of course, it wasn't. I have a bad shoulder and lumbar problems. I can only sleep on one side, especially on his hard mattress on the floor. Sleeping on the bad shoulder seizes it up and sleeping on my back or stomach makes my lower back hurt. So I sleep exclusively curled up on my left side. I also don't like sleeping face-to-face with people. That breathing in my face just bothers me. I don't like it when my cat does it and I don't like it when my partners do it. On top of that, I have some trust issues. Turning my back to someone is a sign of either trust or lack of fear. I have to feel very confident about someone (or about myself) to allow them access to me in a vulnerable position. Added to *that* is the fact that, sexually, my backside is very sensitive and is a secondary erogenous zone. So, in my mind, facing away from my partner not only isn't a negative thing, it's a very, *very* positive thing.

So, this guy got his feelings hurt every time I went to sleep. But, instead of talking to me about it, he kept it to himself until a dozen little, correctable things added all up to one big conflict and he broke up with me over it. During the breakup conversation, he admitted that this was one of the reasons he wanted to breakup. When I expressed my surprise that he never mentioned it before, he said it was because he didn't believe in forcing anyone to change for someone else. My turning my back was "just who I am", apparently, and asking for any sort of accommodation, or even asking me to come up with compromises that I would be comfortable with, was intolerant and not accepting of me.  O.o

The BDSM community has a similar problem with "Your Kink Is Not My Kink And That's OK". In principle, it sounds like a good idea. It promotes tolerance and empathy and understanding. We don't have to be all alike and we can still get along. But in practice, it ends to work out as a defense for abuse. No one is allowed to say anything negative about another person's sexual proclivities, even if they're harmful and especially if the person in question is a community leader, because that wouldn't be "tolerant". So guys (in general) get away with never having to learn how to use a calendar or run the washing machine because "that's just who I am", and asking them to take on some of their own emotional labor in a hetero relationship would be "intolerant" and "unaccepting" of who they are as a person. When, the reality is that asking for this kind of change is actually *more* respectful of their agency than just mutely taking on the extra burden and not supporting them in taking control of their own life.

I was talking to one friend who found herself recovering from a relationship with an emotionally controlling partner. She's a strong, intelligent, capable, generally secure woman (like me) who nevertheless ended up being controlled and manipulated by someone in extremely subtle and clever ways. No one saw it coming, and no one even saw it happening, until it was too late. So, she asked me one day how she could ever have been talked into giving up so much of herself to this man. How could no one have seen the signs? Neither of us knew or used the phrase "emotional labor" at the time - this was years ago - but she wanted to know how she could have been talked into being responsible for his own emotional landscape. How did it ever get that far? How did none of us see that he made other people shoulder the burden for his emotional care?

This was not something I had thought about before, but sometimes revelations pop out of my mouth without me having consciously considered it, because I see patterns and I connect dots, as I talked about in a FB post that sparked this one. I responded that the reason it had gone so far before anyone recognized the warning signs is because she had been conditioned already to be the one to care for a man. We had both dated men before who had primed us, unintentionally, for exactly the sort of releasing of boundaries that this other man took advantage of. The guys in our past could not care for themselves. One in particular had done the parents-dorm-wife path himself and had never even questioned that life would be managed by the women in his life, mainly because he kept getting involved with women who took their own sense of identity from exactly that role. They *demanded* that role from him, and it suited him, so that's how it was. If someone didn't remind him to eat, he didn't eat. If he finally noticed that he was hungry and there was no food in the kitchen, he didn't correct it by grocery shopping, he bought McDonald's, setting himself up for the same thing to happen the next day because there still wasn't any food in the fridge. He didn't remember anniversaries or dates because he never had to - his female partners controlled his calendar for him and he just showed up when he was told. Although I notice that men in general are terrible at remembering dates like birthdays and anniversaries ... yet they have no problem managing a freelancing schedule that has them going to different cities on different days and different times or part-time jobs with schedules that change at the whim of a boss and not working a set M-F 9-5 job. Some men have secretaries to keep track of client meetings and conference calls and other office type scheduling, but a lot of men, especially freelancers, don't and those also seem to be adequate at managing a calendar. But as soon as they get a girlfriend, it's all "I'm sorry honey, I'm just not good at remembering anniversaries" and "here are some flowers to make up for me forgetting Valentine's Day" and "it's my mother's birthday already? Did you send her a card from us?" Anyway, this partner in question didn't pay attention to fashion requirements because he worked in the tech industry and Steve Jobs brought blue jeans into the office. He didn't even have to cut his own nails or hair because his wife insisted on doing it for him.

My friend had been primed to accept abuse because she, like me, had a long history with man-child partners and a society that says this is acceptable and expected. This past partner who sloughed off the emotional labor onto his female partners, he wasn't abusive. He was loving and considerate and compassionate. He valued the agency of his partners. He is not a bad guy, and he's not even a Nice Guy. He's genuinely a good person who would not *want* to be participating in this system if inequity if he were aware of it. But he *is* participating in this system because no one knew how to make him aware of it - that's how privilege works. The system benefited him so he didn't see that he was benefiting from anything. He dated or married women who embraced the system and considerately let women go who could or would not (rather than abusively making them embrace the system against their wishes). When I dated guys like that, because I didn't have the language to explain any of this, I simply restructured the relationship so that I didn't have to deal with it by not living with him and only seeing him in the capacity where I didn't mind temporarily being "in charge". But even I had simply learned to accept that "men" were just like this, and it was a patronizingly "cute" personality quirk that smart, capable women had to keep the men in their lives fed and clothed. So, with this training in hand, my friend was set up to be taken advantage of by someone who manipulated exactly that training.

You don't want to hurt me, do you? You don't want to leave me when I could hurt myself, do you? Remember your training that says you are responsible for my well-being. If you shirk your responsibility, you are an irresponsible, inconsiderate monster. It's your fault if I get hurt. It's your fault if my life falls apart. You are a compassionate, kind person. You must stay and do what I say, or else your compassion will drive you insane because of how much I am hurting. If you leave, you will not be a kind, compassionate person, and you don't want that, do you?
I'm fortunate in that I'm not particularly bothered by people thinking I'm a cold-hearted bitch. That's not true, I *can* be bothered by it, but if it's applied when I'm doing something I feel strongly that is for my own good and in support of my own agency, that overrules any concern about being considered a bitch. So the "you don't want to hurt me, do you?" form of abuse doesn't work on me. I just raise an eyebrow and point out that what I'm doing is not about hurting them, it's about supporting me and that any harm they do to themselves for failing to care for themselves is on them. Other people, women in particular, don't have this specific defense mechanism. It seems to be internal to me, not something I learned. It can be learned, but usually at great cost and many just don't have the teachers to show them how to learn it.

But I *am* particularly susceptible to ignoring or overlooking abusive tendencies under the "I must be tolerant and accepting" banner, as well as overlooking this whole thing of displacing emotional labor that isn't abusive, per se. I have controlling tendencies myself, and I have overcompensated for them by backing WAY off when someone doesn't change in the way that I think they ought to. So, when I fall in love with a man-child who hands off the burden of emotional labor to his female partners, I don't insist that he take up the slack in his relationships. I just let him pawn it off on his other partners while I back away far enough that he can't hand that burden off to me. I can't make sure they eat their vegetables or pay their rent if I don't live with them or see them often enough to judge their diet or get their bills in the mail, and they can't reasonably expect me to.

They also can't reasonably expect me to assuage their insecurities by controlling my behaviour with regards to other partners if they don't see themselves as "entwined" enough to justify doing so. A cohabiting fluid-bonded partner might feel justified in telling me what kind of sex I can have with someone else, but a long-distance partner might be more willing to deal with it by just wearing a condom with me when we have sex and out-of-sight-out-of-mind keeps him from facing that he'd otherwise be willing to infringe on my autonomy if given the chance. However, I have had some try to justify telling me that he deserved to have a vote in whether and when I took a new partner and which sex acts we were allowed to engage in and at what pace we began engaging in them, even though this partner did not live in the same city, hadn't had sex with me in months, and was currently embroiled in a lot of drama with one of his own partners who I warned would likely cause exactly this sort of trouble but didn't try to enforce a pre-dating veto power that he wanted to give me. He wanted to date her and I didn't see myself as having the right to control his decision about it, although I did give my opinion on it.

He was not content to just give his opinion on my new partner (that I could take or leave) and he wasn't even content to notify me of how my behaviour would affect his own boundaries with me to take into consideration when I made my dating decisions. He wanted voting rights because he had insecurities and was not willing to do the work to eradicate those insecurities. Instead, he fell back on some couple privilege as the pre-existing partner, and palmed off the emotional labor onto his partners, who were required to limit their behaviour until he "got comfortable", at which time *he* would magnanimously declare the behaviour ban lifted. But since it didn't address the underlying issue, he would have to require the same ban the next time, and the next time. Because these bans eventually did get lifted, he offered this as evidence that he was "working" on his issues and making "progress". But the procedure itself never changed - his partners had to limit their behaviour until *he* felt comfortable, and then *he* decided they could remove the limitation. Always, his partners had to carry the burden, not him. He never had to sit with the discomfort himself. Oh, but he would insist that he was uncomfortable! But don't let that fool you like it did me - feeling uncomfortable when your partner does something that you don't like isn't the same thing as feeling uncomfortable by facing *why* your partner's actions make you uncomfortable in the first place. That's a very different sort of discomfort, but easy to confuse.

So, back to the whole pattern recognition thing from the Facebook post that inspired this post (I complained that I can see social patterns that others can't see, and gave emotional labor as an example of one such set of patterns, the entire text of that example is now the beginning of this blog post). The concept of emotional labor as tied up in the feminist movement and patriarchal society and internalized sexism is a dot that I can now use to connect a bunch of other dots - why it's such a big deal to me when men rely on their female partners for domestic labor and upholding social standards, why I tend to back away and structure my relationships more "casually" or less entwined to avoid shouldering that burden, and even more extreme dots like emotional relationship abuse.

If you saw me blow up on Facebook recently about dress codes when I was trying to talk about how men don't know the categories and then some men jumped in to sidetrack the conversation about fashion being tied to classism, this is why. I was bruised and sore about carrying my male partners' emotional labor and feeling the social burden and the consequences for it, while men (those who can most afford to ignore the social burden or consequences for dress codes) were dismissing my complaints and instead choosing to talk about economic class struggles, which, frustratingly, are *part* of the reason why that particular emotional labor is such a heavy load for women, who - all else being equal - are almost always in the lower class than men.

Basically, I was drawing a connection, and I was failing at making myself understood, so I lost my temper as I am wont to do when I get frustrated, and as I am particularly likely to do when someone is "intellectually debating" a topic that affects me very intimately and personally. This idea of emotional labor makes seemingly isolated events like women doing domestic duties or being the sole emotional outlet for men (because men aren't allowed to have emotionally intimate male friends) apparent that they are related to each other. It also shows that these events have more weight than simply doing an extra chore or taking extra time. If all other things in life are exactly equal, having a woman spend an extra 30 minutes doing dishes after dinner doesn't sound like a huge deal, especially if you throw in that the man mows the lawn or something. But add the weight of cultural history and institutionalized misogyny and patriarchy, and those 30 minutes doing the dishes take up more than just the literal minutes of the day in the emotional landscape of the woman's life. Once you factor in that extra weight and see how all these separate activities are connected under the same umbrella, then we see the path light up leading to emotional abuse. It's not the only path, nor is it necessarily the guaranteed destination. But they're connected.

And now I have some language to describe and explain what I'm feeling and those patterns that I can see that no one else seems to see. It will take a few more novel-length blog posts, I'm sure, before I work out some quippy soundbites or before I streamline my ideas based on those take-aways that seem to work for readers most often.

More resources on what Emotional Labor is, how to recognize it, and what to do about it:

joreth: (Purple Mobius)
* I am committed to prioritizing situations, not partners, because all my partners are a priority.

I don't do hierarchy. I don't know how many times I have to say that to people before it starts to sink in. My partners are human beings with feelings and I have knowingly entered into a relationship where my actions affect them on a deep, intimate level. I cannot possibly prioritize one over another, it would be like prioritizing one parent over another or one child over another. I have to prioritize situations, and I have to consider those situations within the context of our entire relationship and our entire network. There are so many different types of situations and so many variables, that I couldn't possibly even begin to list out anything specific. Everything has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, taking into account everything else in my life.

For example, I might prioritize a live-in partner because we share a daily life so calling to let him know that I won't be home for dinner might be important so that he doesn't waste any effort making dinner for me. But if a long-distance partner comes for a visit, I might spend more time with the long-distance partner than with my local partner because I'll have plenty of time to catch up with the local partner later and the long-distance partner won't have that privilege. But then there are pre-established commitments, like holiday plans or tickets to an event that are already purchased. But then there are one-time-only events or emergencies. And then there are regularly-scheduled events that can afford to be skipped now and then precisely because they're regularly scheduled and something "special" or "important" or "meaningful" might need to take that time slot.

The important part is that every situation gets analyzed both individually and within context, and that every situation gets discussed with all relevant parties. Everyone gets an equal say. Not to each other, no. One of my partners does not get an equal say in what I do with one of my other partners. Everyone I'm in a relationship with is on equal footing to me, not to each other. No one outside of a relationship gets more say about what happens to that relationship than the people in it. That's why priority has to be assigned situationally. I have found that making everyone equal to their own partners in their own relationships yields much better results and more likelihood of everyone being willing to compromise, make sacrifice, and "take turns" with regards to priority because they tend to trust that their turn will come around sometime soon and that it all balances out in the long run. And that fosters far more security, I've found, in relationships than giving any individual top priority all the time, and certainly honors my first commitment far better too.

http://theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html
joreth: (Misty in Box)
It boggles my mind how many people conflate "I forbid you" - which is a position of authority over another human being that denies their agency - with "I recognize you as an autonomous individual and I have some steep concerns about this thing in your life, what it represents, and how it affects me as a person and us as partners and I'd like to encourage and support you in moving in a direction where this thing is not a part of your life anymore, and I do so with your full cooperation because you recognize the validity of the claim that your life is better without this thing in it and you take full responsibility for the decision to accept my support and encouragement in your efforts to make this change."

"Forbidding", like "veto", ends the discussion and transfers the responsibility for the decision onto someone else as well as transfers the consequences for said decision outside - usually to a third party who is affected by the "forbidding" or "veto" or whatever.

The second option does not take away autonomy even if the outcome is the same. The second option requires the person who would otherwise be the one "forbidden" to do something to instead say "I have two choices - one where this thing is in my life and this person I care about is unhappy about it, and one where this thing is not in my life and this person I care about is happy that it is not in my life. I am making the choice myself to prioritize the happiness of this person and I agree with them that my life will be better without this thing in it."

There are two kinds of people, I've discovered. One kind of person sees the huge gulf between those two options. To them, these situations are like apples and jet planes. Another kind of person sees that, in both scenarios, the individual loses whatever the thing is and therefore sees no difference between the two scenarios.

These are people who don't understand autonomy or agency. These are people who frighten me. Without being able to understand the difference between agency and authority, they lack the basic, fundamental principles to understand why rape is wrong, why slavery is wrong, and why all the other things I fight against are related to these things, like why abortion is so important and why Planned Parenthood is important and why #BlackLivesMatter is so important and all the other causes big and small that get my ire up. They're all related by issues of agency.

If you can't understand agency, if you can look at the above scenarios and only see similar outcomes and not understand how things can look similar on the outside but have very different foundations underneath, then you can't understand how all these other things I argue about are related to each other and why they're important and I really don't know the right words to make you understand. Even if you happen to agree with me that some of these things are wrong, if you can't see the issue of agency in the two scenarios, you won't understand how all the things I think are wrong (whether you agree with me on them or not) are related and how they affect each other when any are prohibited.

And I noticed those people have a tendency to be the sorts of people for whom their agency is never questioned or never taken away in the first place.

There is a third kind of person, who says, "I forbid people, but it doesn't mean that they're not allowed to do something, it means that we start the conversation and discuss it rationally and they're allowed to make their own decisions, so you're just wrong because I'm making up definitions for words that go contrary to their generally accepted use and I'm going to argue semantics with you just because I feel entitled to make shit up and don't like the cognitive dissonance you're creating by your judgmental posts". If that kind of person feels the need to comment below, I'm just going to delete the comment because fuck you. Also anyone who caveats D/s or M/s relationships because a healthy power exchange is actually an example of the second option where the sub or slave retains the power to make the decision to transfer power in negotiated ways (just with fantasy-based language like "control" and "authority" and "forbid" to set an illusory scene) and also retains the power to amend, halt, or end said power exchange at any time in spite of the superficial trappings of authority - that's what makes it not abuse.

Back to the point. It reminds me of a scene from a movie I just watched again recently. Bedazzled is a remake of a movie where a guy sells his soul to the Devil for 7 wishes, mostly to get a girl he likes to notice him. In the negotiation scene with the Devil, she tries to convince him that his soul isn't worth hanging on to, so might as well sell it for something good.

She says things like "have you ever even seen your soul? What is it good for? What has your soul done for you lately? You won't even notice that it's gone."

Obviously, as an atheist, I don't believe in souls. But agency is a lot like that dialog in principle. When you live in a world that doesn't even question that you have agency, and never tries to take it from you, what is there about agency to notice? Have you ever even seen your agency? What has it done for you lately?

But spend your life fighting to have your agency recognized, let alone have control over it, and you'll sure as hell be aware of it then. To most of the people I've talked to who struggle to see the difference between acquiescing to "I forbid you" and making the autonomous choice to forgo on your own, they tend to be people who, if someone ever *tried* to say "I forbid" and they disagreed, there is literally nothing that could come of that. They recognize "I forbid" as essentially toothless and a command that requires compliance. So they can't see a difference in the two scenarios because, to them, their agency *can't* ever be compromised, therefore this is not a question of agency and but of goals and both scenarios have the same goal when you remove the question of agency - to get rid of the thing and make a loved one happy.

But those of us who are in a position for someone to "forbid" and there are either no options to refuse or the consequences for refusal are worse than compliance, we can see the apples for the jet planes. The goal is *not* the same. The goal is not to get rid of the thing, the goal is power and control - of the body, of the self, of the mind, of the decision-making process, of that which makes us a person. With our very souls on the line, we have to consider carefully if those 7 wishes are worth signing for. And some of us do end up signing away our souls agency, either because we're manipulated into it by increasingly stepping past our boundaries just a little bit at a time so that we don't really notice until we're in too deep to get out, or because we're held at pitchfork-point and forced to sign using brute force and intimidation.

While some of us fight the Devil even as the rest of the world thinks we're delusional as we scream about things that they aren't even aware exist. Unlike my soul, I'm confident that my agency exists and that I am an autonomous individual and I will continue to point out every time the Devil shows up in a cop uniform that she isn't the good guy she appears to be and she is trying to steal people's agency and the 7 wishes you get aren't worth the price.  And some people will continue to ignore me and think I'm crazy because the Devil never made a deal for *their* agency so they don't even know what it's good for but they just assume they have it.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)

Hey, people, we need to have a little chat. I'm glad that the poly community is talking more openly about abuse and all, but could we stop throwing around diagnoses like we have any right or ability to do so?

Stop accusing people of being narcissistic or sociopathic or whatever just because you read that article that one time and the person whom you've never met but got into an online argument with said something you didn't like. Or even that person who you dated who turned into an asshole. He's probably not a sociopath, and if he is, you're not qualified to determine if he is.

Unless you have an actual degree in clinical psychology AND you are this particular person's psychological diagnostician (in which case, you REALLY shouldn't be publicizing diagnoses because it violates patient confidentiality) OR they actually disclosed to you a diagnoses (in which case, unless they're public about it, you're still violating someone's privacy and even assholes have a right to medical privacy), you don't know if they have any particular disorder or what it might be.

Be pissed off at someone if you think they wronged you. Talk about your own experiences at their hands if you think it's relevant. Just stop flinging around these terms. You look like monkeys flinging shit.

They are important labels and we devalue them by using them carelessly and casually. We actually end up hurting our efforts to address abuse in our communities by liberally applying specific terms with specific meanings in medical or psychological contexts to people who just irritate us or say stuff that makes us mad because people become too inured to seeing those terms and it eventually turns into either a witch hunt or a dismissal of people with mental disorders who *could* be productive members of society with the right kinds of help.

I'm glad that we've started sharing things like "5 Warning Signs You're In An Abusive Relationship" and "8 Toxic Relationship Behaviours", and even those articles detailing the criteria for narcissism and borderline personality disorder and all the rest.  I really do want people to be more aware and more educated and more sophisticated in their relationship evaluations.  But y'know how easy it is for people to put in their symptoms into WebMD, get a list of possible diagnoses from likely to plausible to WTF no one has had this in generations in this country?  And then people start freaking out that they have fucking brain tumors when they're just dehydrated and have a headache?  Mental diagnoses are like that too.  But it gets worse because we start applying these internet checklists to the people we know.  And the information we absorb about "is your coworker a sociopath?" changes our behaviour with respect to how we treat these other people and how we interpret their actions.

This is not fair, not medically accurate, not intellectually honest or rigorous, and it's actually making things worse.  Apparently, half of all my social communities have Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the other half have Borderline Personality Disorder, and about a third are completely sociopathic, and everyone is an abusive bully - depending on who you're talking to.  People are already starting to tune out, and this is extremely dangerous for people who are *actually* trapped in relationships with people who are harming them.  Psychological terms need to be used with care, in their proper time and place.  The actual victims of abusive relationships need as much support as we can give them, which means that we shouldn't be devaluing the language they need to talk about and process their abuse by accusing everyone of everything just because we don't like someone or someone was mean to us.

Because, here's a newsflash - it's totally possible to be mean to someone without them being clinically psychotic.  Just so you know.

joreth: (Purple Mobius)


* I am committed to addressing issues early in order to prevent them from becoming too big to handle.

This is one of my earliest commitments. I've known from a very young age that problems and issues need to be addressed early, and that unaddressed problems merely grow in size until they become insurmountable even if the problem itself is quite small. But one of my weaknesses is that I have a tendency to want to avoid being an imposition. So I am not always clear that something is a problem that needs to be addressed.

I had a partner once, though, who really hammered this lesson home for me. He did not understand that, because of the way I process things internally, by the time I'm willing to mention it at all, it's big enough to be considered an "issue" and something that needs to be addressed. So I had to learn to be clear about these things. I had to learn how to say things like "this is something that kind of bothers me but isn't really a big deal, so if you did something about it, that would be great, but not imperative" and "this is a problem that doesn't bother me all that much right now but you need to prioritize solving this with me before it becomes a serious issue." He needed to know the difference between "I'm just stating something" and "I need some kind of action from you on this".

If I didn't explicitly tell him that I needed a response, then he merely acknowledged that he heard me and moved on. I took "acknowledgment" to mean more than simply "I hear you"; I took it to mean "I accept your request to do something about this". Even if I said "I'd like you to do X that you're not currently doing", he heard that only as a suggestion that he was free to take or leave, not that I was having a problem over which his non-compliance would eventually strain our relationship. So when nothing would get done, I'd only gently remind him in an effort not to become the "nagging girlfriend", which he would continue to merely acknowledge that I said something and still not do anything about it, and it would continue until I finally got pissed off at him and he sat there wondering where all that anger came from, since he never understood that he was supposed to do anything about what I was saying. So I eventually developed the skill of explaining how important to me a response was, what kind of response I was hoping for, and where on the timeline this request fell between annoyance I can live with and relationship implosion.

[livejournal.com profile] tacit, by the way, is super amazing at guessing when something is a Big Deal even before I recognize it myself that it is a Big Deal. He doesn't have a 100% track record, but he long ago recognized that the very act of stating something is an invitation to explore one's vulnerability, so he tends to take what I say very seriously. Which means that he has, on several occasions, prioritized something just because I happened to mention I would like something done even before I, myself, realized that doing this thing was incredibly important to my happiness and the health of our relationship. But we are both active communicators, and we both have a hard time understanding passive communicators, so if there's going to be a problem understanding a call to action, that's probably where it will be found. This is also a reminder to me to continue to improve my active communication skills.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Hey media! I know you're never gonna see this, but I have something to say to you anyway. You know how you're having so much trouble finding "triads" and "poly couples" to interview? THAT'S BECAUSE POLYAMORY DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY.

I mean, yes, there are triads in polyamory, and yes there are people who are partnered and could be called a "couple". But you're looking for people who fit a very specific relationship structure who are also attractive enough for your audience and willing to be public about their very personal romantic lives and who have everyone they're connected to be willing to be public about being connected to them. That's a tall order.

Mainly, polyamory isn't something that "couples" do, or even something that "triads" do, it's something that people do. Most of the people in poly relationships look like a lot of different sorts of configurations. Regardless of what people think they want out of poly relationships, the reality is that you either find yourself in amorphous, fluid, or unexpected configurations because that's just who you ended up falling in love with, your you find yourself still searching for that Third 20 or 30 years later and always blaming your failed relationship attempts on the selfishness of the unicorns you're hunting instead of recognizing that the forced structure you're imposing isn't meeting the real-world needs of the participants.

So if you, as a member of the media, want to have any luck at all in finding respondents, don't be the even-more-clueless version (I didn't even know that was possible) of the Unicorn Hunters. Open up your search to include a variety of possibilities. This means that you may not get that sensationalized photo of three people in bed together because the relationship is actually an asterisk or a "polycule" network with several long distance partners and a couple of partners who don't like each other so they won't pose for group photos and maybe one or two who refuse to participate because they're not out. We're not all playing house together and trying to build a commune or pretending to be "just like monos only with 3".

Most of us, those who have successful relationships anyway, have relationships that look different from Escalator Relationships (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a mortgage and 3 babies and a poodle because the hubby has allergies) and don't make for convenient, easily wrapped up story packages. Yes, even those of us who started out as a monogamous couple who "opened up" don't often look like the threesome version of Escalator Relationships (also known as polygamy). You may have to interview us separately. You may have to only interview one of us because everyone else is too busy or not out. You may have to include 5 or 6 people because portraying only 3 of us as a "triad" is to leave out people who are integral to our lives and we don't want to exclude them for the sake of your convenient number 3.

And I didn't even begin to touch on the issues of gender expressions or orientations or even socioeconomic class. We are not all pretty, skinny, white, urban professional, 30-something, straight cis men and bi cis women either.

For an excellent, even more media-appropriate open letter on this same subject, check out So You Want To Interview Polyamorous People? by [livejournal.com profile] emanix and linked to on the Polyamory Media Association website.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Listening to people justify giving romantic partners full access* to each other's phones & emails in the aftermath of a broken trust in order to rebuild that trust. Saying that because someone did something related to texting that was "against their rules", it sucks, but it might be a necessary way to regain the trust of the person who was betrayed.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

If someone has broken an agreement or betrayed the trust of the other person, giving someone full access to things that DON'T BELONG TO ONLY THE PERSON IN THE COUPLE IN QUESTION is not acceptable. Texts and other communication owned by the "betrayer" are not their sole property. Those communiques (and, more importantly, the thoughts and intimacy they contain) also belong to the person who sent them. You are not sharing something that is private to the person who broke the rule, you are sharing something that is private of someone who is not in the relationship where the broken trust occurred.

By insisting on full access to the communications of a third party, you are pawning off the burden of repairing your broken trust onto that third party. The *third person* is the one who has to shoulder the responsibility for the "betrayer's" actions and for the "betrayed's" fear. And not just that person who participated in whatever action constitutes a "betrayal", but ALL third parties who might communicate with the "betrayer" in that manner - every single person has to give up their own privacy (and potentially hamper their own intimacy, even platonic and familial ones) to assuage the "betrayed" and fix this now "broken" relationship. All friends, all family, even all future partners (for those in open relationships) have to pay for what the "betrayer" and some other person did.

If your relationship is now "broken" and you are trying to rebuild trust between the two of you, it is your ethical responsibility to find a way to work through that pain and fear in a way that makes the two of YOU shoulder the entire burden for the work involved. It is not ethically right to violate the privacy and intimacy of people who are not in your relationship, who did not break any agreements (because they didn't make those agreements with you since they are not your partner), and who are not trying to rebuild any broken trust with you. New metamours may be trying to *build* trust with you, but they should not have added onto their load the responsibility of *REbuilding* the trust that someone else broke.

If you are choosing to put the work into this relationship so that you can eventually trust your partner again, that is your choice and you need to shoulder the burdens of your own fears regarding your partner's lack of trustworthiness. I'm not saying it doesn't suck. I'm saying it's YOUR burden to carry. All too often, poly people carry into polyamory with them bad habits from monogamy that go unchallenged in monogamous culture.

Until the industrial revolution, and really until WWI, marriage was not considered the One Relationship To Rule Them All.  In fact, just the opposite.  Philosophical treatises were written and sermons were preached condoning the act of making one's spouse the sole source of all types of support.  People were expected to find emotional, financial, labor, and sometimes even sexual support from all manner of relationships other than their spouse.  Placing one's spouse in a position of one's Everything was considered to be an affront to God himself because it was seen as replacing God with a human being.  Men and women were expected to have strong emotional ties to people of the same gender, and in some eras, those ties were expected to be stronger than the ties to one's spouse.  Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, extended family in general were expected to live under the same roof, or at least nearby, to help with the labor of running a household and raising children.  One's pastor or preacher was expected to carry the burden of one's religious commitments and spiritual support.  And, in certain eras and locations, sex with one's spouse was considered a necessity for procreation but sex for pleasure was expected to be saved for one's lovers.  It was considered "unseemly" to be "too in love" or too infatuated or too attracted to one's own spouse.  That wasn't their role.

But then, somewhere along the line, mainly about the time that the industrial cities took over as holding the bulk of the population, all that changed.  With famine and war, people left the countryside in droves and flooded the urban centers, leaving behind extended family, generational churches, and best friends.  The nuclear family took over because single adults left their entire network behind to make a living in the big cities and started raising families alone, while existing families could often only pack up themselves (the spouses and kids) to search for a "better life" in the city, again leaving behind their support networks.  Suddenly, spouses HAD to become one's Everything because all they had was each other.

Although the U.S. has made attempts to build other sorts of networks from the wreckage the Urban Influx left on the old-style networks, the nuclear family and the myth of the One reigns supreme.  We have elevated the role of the spouse (and by extension, any singular romantic partner) to such a degree that people, even those of us conscientious objectors who ought to know better, can't even see the ethical dilemma with privileging one role above all others.  When faced with questions like "should your spouse have unrestricted access to your text messages", we don't even blink an eye when we shout "of course!"  That's not even a question for most people - it's taken for granted that spouses would share everything.  Even those things that don't belong to the other spouse to share.  It's written into marriage vows.  It's part of the cultural fabric.  And if some third party would dare to suggest that this thing here doesn't belong solely to the spouse in question to be giving permission to access, it's just flat out assumed that the romantic primary couple has "priority" so of course anything belonging even in part to the spouse belongs entirely to the spouse and simultaneously belongs to the other spouse.  Requests for privacy are seen as direct challenges to the primacy of the couple.

Personally, if my romantic relationship isn't strong enough to accommodate for individual privacy, I would say that the relationship isn't as "primary" as one would think.  The specialness and strength of my relationships and of my role within those relationships comes from the connection itself which is comprised of the individuals that make up the relationship, and nothing can take that away short of the individuals themselves.  Including the rights of the individual within the relationships.  Once the rights and integrity and very personhood of the individuals within the relationship are seen as less important than the relationship itself, the relationship is inherently doomed because the foundation of the relationship is the individuals in it.

So no one has "unrestricted access" or "full access" to those paths of intimacy, including communication, that involve anyone other than the two of us on that path together.  Some of my partners and metamours may have emergency access, but that is not "full access" or "unrestricted access".  Attempting to access the communications and therefore possible paths of intimacy of my other partners and loved ones is seen as a boundary violation, both my own boundaries and those of the other people, by the one doing the accessing.  It is understood that the wrongdoing here is in the accessing of data, not in the keeping of privacy.

When I was a teenager, my sister used to sneak into my room and steal my clothing and my cassette tapes.  No amount of shouting or sneaking into her room to steal them back would stop her.  I begged my parents for a lock on my door to keep her out.  They responded that a locked door would enable me to hide things from THEM, and as my parents, they had a right to access every space in the house, including my space.  I had no right to privacy as their daughter living on their property.  These are the kinds of assumptions that we bring with us into poly relationships - property and ownership of other people - their bodies and their minds.


As a child, I knew this was wrong.  As an adult, I know now why.  This is a violation of my very autonomy, the thing that makes me a person.  So, in my romantic relationships I can leave the metaphorical door unlocked because everyone knows that opening that door without an emergency-based reason would harm the relationship between myself and the person who opened that door.  My partners are not children or pets who can't be trusted to stay out of my room, nor are they overprotective parents who think that I am not entitled to my own autonomy.  Should I ever feel the need or the desire to lock my door, my partners understand that it's my room to lock and they didn't have a right to access that space anyway.  But, because they understand this, I can leave the door unlocked for safety purposes and everything that anyone gives me that I keep in that room is safe from anyone else getting to it.

I understand the desire to infringe on someone else's rights in order to make the bad feelings go away.  I understand how scary it is to shoulder my own burdens in a relationship where there is fear, insecurity, and broken trust.  I've been there, I've done that.  To this day, I may feel a strong enough fear to prompt me to ask to violate someone's boundaries for my own comfort.  But the key is that I do not assume it is my right to do so, and I must shoulder the burden myself to do the work on repairing the broken trust and calming that fear.  The allure of making someone else carry one's own burden is strong.  It will take everyone's effort to stand up to that allure and to create a culture that does not support the violation of other people's boundaries, privacy, and intimacy in service to our own fears and pain.



* By "full access", I do not mean that one *must* keep a lock on their phone and *never* show any texts to one's partner.  My phone doesn't even have a lock because it's a dumb flip phone, and I have a shared document online with passwords and other instructions for access to my files in the event of emergencies where someone else needs to run my life on my behalf.  But my partners have no interest in accessing my data short of an emergency, and everyone who communicates with me has a reasonable expectation that what they say to me will be held in confidence if they ask for it.  When they communicate with me, they know that they are communicating *with me*.  They do not have to communicate with me under the assumption that they are also communicating or sharing with someone else.  Assuming that all communications will be shared with someone else creates a built-in filter that hampers and infringes on the intimacy we can build together because they can only build as much intimacy with me as they are willing to build with this other person who will have access to that intimacy.

Partners who ask for "full access", in this context, are not asking for pragmatic, emergency-based access, nor do they technically have access but a lack of interest in accessing data.  Those are different situations and one that I am not addressing, so please don't derail the comments with "I can read my husband's texts because we trust each other but I don't because I don't care / we trust each other."  That's not what I'm talking about.  "Full access", in this context, is when one partner is suspected (or known) of possible relationship agreement violations and the other partner deliberately goes into their data (or wants the ability to do so) in order to check up on them.  They either want to police their activity like a child who can't be trusted to do their homework without the teacher sending home a homework sheet that the parents check off every night, or they want the threat of checking their activity to act as a deterrent to prevent their partner from misbehaving.

And these people will justify their actions or their request to violate privacy on the grounds that their partner has already proven that they can't be trusted, therefore punitive and corrective action is necessary.  That or if an infidelity of some kind hasn't actually happened, they will hand-wave away their violations with things like "if he's not hiding anything, then it shouldn't matter if I have access" and other hand-wavy justifications like the ones my parents used to deny me a lock on my door, which all have the underlying root of couple privilege and ownership.  It's not about "hiding" things, it's about treating partners as adults who have the right to make their own decisions (even bad ones), and about respecting the autonomy of both partners and third parties, AND about carrying one's own relationship burdens and responsibilities without pawning the work off onto someone else.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

* I am committed to protecting the safety of myself and my partners through informed consent and risk-benefit analysis of behaviour, prioritizing evidence-based reason above emotional justification.
This is deliberately vague. Most people like to put down in writing (i.e. stone) their safe-sex rules. I've written several times about my safer sex guidelines, from the classifications of sex categories based on STI risk to my preferences in when I decide to take those risks. But I have learned over the years that even prefacing all that with "guidelines" and "agreements" doesn't stop anyone from attempting to prescript behaviour, impose rules, or resist change. Sometimes shit happens. Sometimes Game Changers come along and change the game. Sometimes the risks are lower because of special circumstances. And, as I said at the beginning, this is not a contract between me and my partners. This is what I commit to myself. Which means that my agreements and arrangements may be different between myself and different partners.

I'm tired of trying to nail down every little detail for every possible hypothetical scenario. That's not realistic. This commitment is intended to cover all my partners current and future, which means it has to accommodate for different arrangements and different people. I've cut away all the extraneous details and just gotten to the point - the underlying goal for what all those rules and agreements and boundaries are supposed to be doing: I will protect my safety and my partners' safety by giving the information they need to give informed consent (thereby respecting their agency, autonomy, and personal sovereignty) based on their respective boundaries, we will use that information in an analysis designed to assess risk on a per-case basis, and I will not use sexual safety boundaries to mask emotional concerns or issues. If I am feeling concerned about a partner taking on a new partner, and my concern does not match the actual, evidence-based risk, then I intend to get to the root of the issue without using safer sex boundaries as an excuse or justification or a Motte-And-Bailey Doctrine.

I get it, really I do. I've been there myself. No one wants to look like they're cavalier about safer sex, so pulling out the "I'm worried about STIs so we need to have safe sex boundaries / rules / agreements" card is a great way to make someone toe the line. It's really easy to avoid looking deeper at an insecurity when that insecurity just gave us a perfectly reasonable distraction to focus on - sexual safety. I was once so bothered by a metamour's resistance to polyamory that I said I felt "unsafe" and instituted physical barriers and restrictions between myself and my partner. I now know that was the wrong way to handle it. I should have said that my emotional concerns are affecting my willingness to be physically intimate with him, and I shouldn't have hidden behind "safety". That would have been owning my shit. But I didn't, and I do not wish to make that mistake again. At the same time, though, I want both the freedom to pursue relationships as I see fit and to be the sort of person who feels a responsibility for how her actions affect her partners so that I will be considerate of the risks that I take with regards to how they impact others.

This commitment to myself seeks to find that balance between consideration for others and freedom for myself and honoring their freedom; between maintaining a rational, reason-based, evidence-based skeptical worldview and embracing opportunity, love, sex, relationships, being vulnerable, and other emotion-based actions that bring color and depth to life.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
http://polyamoryonpurpose.com/theres-no-right-way-to-do-polyamory/

It's about time other people are making blog posts on this subject. I've been saying this for years (it's even the catch phrase for Miss Poly Manners), and a handful of people have been saying it in online arguments for years, but there aren't very many articles, blog pieces - reference-able statements that take this position. Some try to be too conciliatory, as if they're afraid to alienate or piss off the people who are using this phrase as a silencing tactic.

We need more literature on this subject, particularly by names with larger audiences, and we, as a community, need to show a growing awareness and a harder stance against abusive tactics. These tactics masquerade as "reasonable", which is how they get entrenched; they co-opt well-meaning but misguided or simplistic philosophies because people who are trying to be well-meaning don't generally consider how they can be taken advantage of by those who aren't so well-meaning. We need to be uncovering them, revealing them for the manipulation that they are, and eradicating them from our lexicon, our philosophy, our communities.

"And for many people who do polyamory in a way that harms others “there’s no right way to do poly!” has become a useful tool to shut down conversation and deflect attention. As soon as someone says “There’s no right way to do poly,” the person confronting them has to defend their right to express their concerns. The conversation becomes about polyamory theory rather than whatever is concerning the person who spoke up.

This tactic can be used to shut down a secondary upset with the way their voice is being silenced, a mono partner who has agreed to try polyamory and is uncomfortable with the direct the relationship is going, other people in the local community calling out abuse or unethical behavior, and much more."

Abuse in polyamory is also a theoretical discussion, and this phrase is a useful tool to shut down conversation about that. When we talk about abuse in poly abstractly or generally, not speaking about a specific relationship, inevitably, someone comes along with "there's no right way to do poly" to justify gaslighting, manipulation, disrespecting of agency in the form of rules & hierarchy, control, and unequal distributions of power, even racism and sexism and other -isms that find their way into interpersonal relationships.

We are too afraid to say "there are wrong ways to do this", and we need to get over that.

In this article that was referenced in the previous link, Jessica Burde illustrates Shea Emma Fett's lesson that being victimized by one's control is not the same thing as being victimized by one's resistance to your control.

"In dealing with abusive relationships, it is important to recognize that playing the victim can be an extremely useful tool for the abuser. A classic example of this in polyamory is when one person tries to control their partner’s relationships. When their partner objects to this attempted control, the abuser responds with, “There is no one true way to do polyamory—you are just trying to control me and force me to do polyamory your way because you don’t like rules.”"

I ran into this a bunch of times in my past, but my most recent brush was also my most obvious example. He was so good at manipulation that I couldn't tell that he was doing it to others. I was convinced that he was ... well, not a "victim" because he had built up such a comfortable little power dynamic that everyone within it enabled each other so it didn't look like anyone was a "victim" of anything, but I was convinced that he was not in the driver's seat when it came to who controlled the group.  Ask me about poly-by-hostage rules sometime.

So when he employed those same tactics on a new partner and there was more turbulence than their little insulated, co-dependent group usually gave back to him, I, along with everyone else, assumed it was the new person's fault. The new person was the disruptive one, obvs, because things were running smoothly until they came along.

But the new person made large enough waves that the red flags finally started popping up in my field of vision. Not quite enough for me to have recognized it, but enough to have *primed* me for when he finally had the opportunity to turn his tactics on me. It was only when he accused *me* of victimizing him for resisting his control that I could finally connect the dots and see what he was doing to everyone else.

The kicker for me was when my life was falling apart by events totally out of my control - my landlord selling the house after my lease was up and not giving me enough notice to move out, the person who "rescued" me by offering me a room until I could find a new place to live torturing my cats while I was at work, a new partner who I was deeply in love with and deeply insecure about deciding to move away before the relationship had even gotten established, shit like that - when things were out of my control and I was flailing around trying to hold onto anything that wasn't sinking, he said to me "how could you do this to me?" It was in that moment that I finally realized that this was not a case of two people with different but valid styles of polyamory. This was a case of one person trying to control another, and the other resisting that control, and the one person then crying "victim!" when he didn't get his way.

Every argument we had where I tried to explain how his rules were hurting other people, he responded with "you're just trying to make me do polyamory YOUR way - this way works for us!" Yeah, in the way that any abusive situation "works" for the people in it - the one in control gets to stay in control and the one being victimized gets gaslighted into thinking that they're being abused for their own good.

"You don't get to arbitrarily decide how to take new partners without my approval" - uh, yes I do. You have choices you can make based on how I decide to take on new partners, but those decisions aren't about you, they're about me. I do have full control over those decisions that affect me.

"You don't get to decide the terms of when I speak to you" (said to me when I told him he was not to contact me again unless it was to apologize for something) - uh, yes I do. Again, I have full control over decisions that affect me. I absolutely get to decide the terms of how you interact with me and you are not "victimized" when I resist your attempts to control me or your access to me. You are not a "victim" when I fall in love with someone new and our relationship moves at a speed and in a direction we didn't anticipate.  You are not a "victim" when you violate my space and I refuse you access to me without an apology for it.  You don't have to like my decisions, you can feel hurt by my decisions, but you are not *victimized* by my decision to not interact with you or when I resist your attempts to direct what I do with my body, my mind, or my emotions.

Things that I do with my body, mind, or emotions are not things that I do TO YOU. They can affect you (which is why I'm so adamant about building friendly, or at least civil, metamour relations), but they are not done TO YOU. They are not about you. They are things that are happening to me. And you have no right to control those things or cry victimization when you don't like what happens to me.  Manipulation, intimidation, and control are, in fact, the wrong ways to do polyamory.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
In response to some comments I have seen on several other people's threads where they shared that graphic trying to explain that no one *owes* you their time, attention, love, sex, relationship, thoughts, etc. these blog posts are relevant.

Discussions about agency and abuse in relationships tend to get sidetracked by the minutia and strawman arguments of people pursuing *selfish* (i.e. not self-centric, but selfISH where it requires a lack of concern for how one's actions affect others) hedonism. In other words, there is some defense of "but if the other person is doing things for their own pleasure and it hurts you, that's not OK!" Of course it's not, but that's a different discussion.

"This is my experience. You can not know my experience.
That is your experience. I can not know your experience.
These are my choices. You are not entitled to control over them, you are not victimized by them.
Those are your choices. I am not entitled to control over them, I am not victimized by them."

"When we really understand the difference between these statements, we will understand how to support both survivors and abusers.

'I was victimized by acts of control' is not the same as 'I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.'
"

http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-community-response-to-abuse.html

And then in the article they reference:

"“An abuser’s behavior is primarily conscious — he acts deliberately rather than by accident or by losing control of himself — but the underlying thinking that drives his behavior is largely not conscious.”

What is this underlying thinking? Well, it’s all around you. It is the foundation of rape culture. It is the fundamental belief that women do not have a right to their own personal power. It is the fundamental belief that they can retain power over their bodies, minds and choices, only so long as we agree with those choices. It is the way in which we punish women if we feel they’ve stepped out of line. It is the way we always suspiciously ask “what is she getting out of this?” when a woman reports abuse, harassment or assault. It is the reflexive dismissal of female anger as irrational, and female pain as imaginary. It is the way we, all of us, men and women buy into the belief that we are entitled to women’s bodies, thoughts and choices. In polyamory, this belief makes it easy for us to treat our partners as things and not people
."

https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/abuse-in-polyamorous-relationships-d13e396c8f85

This part is relevant because most of the objection to that graphic is in the idea that someone just has the *right* to go off and do whatever they want to do. OMG what is the world coming to that anyone can just LEAVE whenever they want?!? What if I don't want them to go?!?

"It is the fundamental belief that they can retain power over their bodies, minds and choices, only so long as we agree with those choices". It doesn't matter if we think they are making a poor choice for themselves. It doesn't matter if we are hurt by their choice to leave us, stop loving us, not liking us, revoking consent to sex with us.

They do, in fact, have that right. They might be behaving like dicks about it, but they still have that right. If someone gets involved in an explicitly monogamous relationship and then decides to have an unsanctioned sexual relationship with someone outside of that relationship, their monogamous partner does not own their body and they have the right to do with their own body what they will.

They're being a dick and I will harshly criticize and name-call and publicly shame people for making choices that infringe on other people's right to consent. *That* is not what they have the right to do. The choice to *remain* in an explicitly monogamous relationship without giving their partner the information necessary to give informed consent is what they don't have the right for. But they, and they alone, hold the rights to what happens to their own body and mind.

That graphic does not address the content of the person's character when it says a person has the right to leave, to not love, to stop loving, etc. It only addresses the one seeking to exert control over that person trying to leave.

"Understand, that when your reasons for disrespecting the boundary become more important than the boundary itself, you are displaying a belief of superiority, entitlement and control, and these beliefs are the foundation of a culture that tolerates rape and abuse."

"But what if…
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it was unjust. It doesn’t matter if it hurt you. It doesn’t matter in reference to whether or not you respect the boundary. It’s their right to set the boundary because they are a whole and complete and autonomous human being. When you don’t respect the boundary, you are telling them in no uncertain terms, that you think that they are less than this.

But…
No.
"

http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2014/11/how-to-respect-boundaries.html

Yep, it absolutely sucks to have someone want to leave a relationship that you want to keep. It absolutely sucks to have feelings for someone who doesn't reciprocate. It absolutely sucks to have a partner make partner selection choices that involve other partners who do not respect your own relationship with the mutual partner. They are still allowed to make their own decisions about their own body, mind, and emotions, just as you are allowed to make your own decisions about your own body, mind, and emotions, including whether or not to remain connected to someone whose choices result in your pain.
joreth: (Nude Drawing)
I've noticed a trend. Every couple of years, I seem to get this restless sort of feeling where I end up with a casual partner or two. Usually it coincides with a breakup, so I've been thinking that it's a rebound pattern of mine, but now I'm not so sure. I've always enjoyed casual flings, I just don't usually have the emotional resources for very many partners at once and long-term, deeply intwined relationships take up a lot of those resources all on their own. I'm actually quite fine with one, maybe even two long-term, intertwined, local partners tops (I've had up to 3 of those kinds of partners only when I mix long-distance in).  As I keep saying, being poly isn't about how many partners you currently have, but how you handle your partner's agency (previously stated as how you handle your partner getting other partners).  So I don't need a large number, just the freedom.  Plus, I know that I get insecure if my partners are into casual sex so I kinda feel like I shouldn't pursue a type of relationship that I would feel uncomfortable with my partners pursuing. So I end up either putting off getting new casual partners when I start seeing someone "seriously" or I let my existing casual partners fall to the wayside when I get a new boyfriend-type partner.

But, I think, instead of a rebound thing, it might be more like I get involved with guys who get really attached who have some buried mononormative assumptions or fears. Then, in a couple of years, when I start getting restless and more emotionall "available" for a casual sort of relationship, those more attachment-type partners of mine sense a change in the stability of our relationship that they've come to depend on. Like, whatever my configuration was when they started dating me, they assume it'll always be the same thing, even if they think they don't - or maybe they don't "assume" but they do get comfortable with it and feel uncomfortable when it changes. Both of my last "serious", long-term partners completely freaked out when I wanted to start dating someone new, even though they had both pursued other relationships in the interim after we started dating. It was like, now that we have a comfortable rhythm going, I feel confident and secure about this relationship, so I have the emotional resources now to divert to starting something new and they're going "hey, wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for!  You billed yourself as a long-term poly, family-oriented partner, not as a swinger or someone who has side flings with people who aren't integrated into the collective network!"  Because it's true, my preference *is* for long-term, intimate partners who are committed to polyamory itself and who feel a part of my poly network and can develop close, independent relationships with their metamours, and I prefer those kinds of relationships to ones with partners who aren't interested in getting to know my other partners or my own metamours (who are family to me).  But having a preference doesn't necessarily mean that the less preferred option is an active dislike either.

I once had a partner who lived with me but I did the grocery shopping.  He told me that he "didn't care for" rootbeer.  I can't have caffeine, and since we were on a tight budget, I would rather spend our money on soda that we both liked because otherwise it was zero-sum.  So I stopped buying rootbeer, which I love.  Then I saw him drinking rootbeer at a party.  Feeling a bit betrayed, I cornered him and demanded to know why he was drinking rootbeer when he told me that he didn't like it.  He said that he never said "didn't like", he said "didn't care for".  To him, that meant that he had no active positive preference for it, but that he didn't have an active negative preference for it either and he would drink it if that's what was available and the other options were less desirable.  In his mind "to care for" implied an active liking, which he didn't have, but "don't care for" didn't imply an active disliking, which he also didn't have.

I think this exact communication error is what happens between me and many of my previous partners when I talk about my own relationship preferences.  I say that I prefer "boyfriends" and "family-oriented networks", and they hear "I ONLY like 'boyfriends' and 'family-oriented networks' and nothing else" and then when I get interested in something outside of my stated preference, they feel a sense of betrayal because their model of me was incorrect or incomplete and they feel that I misled them somehow when I feel that I was totally clear on the subject.  And for those who have unresolved insecurities or hidden biases rooted in monogamous assumptions of ownership or entitlement to one's partners, even if I haven't strayed outside of my stated preference but I have developed an interest in someone that doesn't mesh well with the group or that this partner doesn't like, it still feels like a betrayal because they have that incorrect model in their heads of who I am and what I want.

Even if I haven't started pursuing anyone in particular, I think my diverted attention catches their notice (probably on a level they aren't even aware of), and that's when, out of the blue, "insurmountable" problems arise that lead to a breakup (and a breakup can be initiated by either of us). So, suddenly I'm "single" right about the time I was starting to be interested in a fling anyway, and I just go out and find a rebound to play with until my next "boyfriend" comes along and I don't have the resources to maintain a casual, ongoing fling in addition to that more intensive relationship. And I think that I thought this was a rebound pattern, not perhaps contributing to my breakup pattern in the first place. Because things are going just fine with my current long-term partners, and there is a new possible relationship on the horizon that will probably be a more casual sort of arrangement only because of the distance but I sense the potential for something really "serious" if the logistics would allow it. So my relationships aren't on the verge of collapse and they're all taking up plenty of my time and attention and are emotionally fulfilling, but I'm starting to feel restless again and I'm starting to reconsider options that I dismissed previously because they weren't the more desirable big-R Relationship options even though I'm not "single".

In the past, I had worried that my rather predictable trend of a casual relationship with someone who is generally unsuitable for a poly arrangement but who was fine with accepting an open FWB or fuckbuddy type arrangement while they were "in between girlfriends" was an unhealthy rebound pattern that I ought to try to understand and fix.  These rebounds were a lot of fun in the beginning but not very emotionally satisfying for the long term, and I would start to fill unfulfilled and lonely after a while, which prompted me to become open again to more big-R type Relationships. Which then, of course, would take up my time and attention and I would let my casuals fade away.  But now I'm wondering if the unhealthy part wasn't the rebounds, so much, as the breakups or even relationships that superceded them?

Because most of my casual relationships ended amicably.  Even if one of us wanted to continue it when the other was ready to fade away, we still parted on good terms and maintained platonic friendships or acquaintanceships after the sex ended.  Many times, those casual sexual relationships got restarted a couple of years later when the cycle repeated, with a couple of them getting restarted several times over the years.  In my big-R Relationships, those only ended amicably when I was the one who initiated the breakup.  In those, I seemed to be able to recognize when it was time to move on and was able to extricate myself with enough compassion for my soon-to-be-ex that he wasn't put off at the thought of transitioning to a friendship with me, even if there were hurt feelings during the breakup conversation.

But the breakups where my partners did the initiating?  Those seemed to always be surrounded by hurt, trust-damaging accusations that I think indicate a fear of change or abandonment.  In those cases where I was developing a new relationship, the partners who broke up with me somehow managed to find fault with my character when they didn't see those supposed faults before, even though I have never shied away from showing my difficult side as early on in a relationship as possible.  So breakups happened with a lot of contention and deliberately caused pain because these weren't conversations about differing needs and expectations taking us on divergent paths but about suddenly, from out of nowhere, deciding that I am a horrible person in ways that they not only never had a problem with before, but in some cases actively celebrated in me before.  I spend a lot of time in breakup conversations asking "what part of that was a surprise to you?"  It may be true that I'm a horrible person, but these partners didn't seem to think so until a new potential partner came along to upset the routine.  Even when that new potential relationship had very similar beginnings to how the preexisting relationship began so it shouldn't have been a surprise when a new relationship started in that way.

In the cases where I didn't yet have a potential new partner to consider, my existing partners seemed to intuitively feel, without understanding why or being able to identfy any specific actions to point to, that I was freeing up some of my attention for something or someone additional and they would react to this observation by trying to grasp me tighter to keep me from "leaving", even if I had no intention of doing so.  This is when a partner would start asking for relationship limitations but I, because of my outward-directed attention, had little patience for entertaining.  In the beginning of a relationship, I might (rightly or wrongly) accept some agency-denying boundaries because I would be in the throws of NRC (or NRE) and also feeling a lot of compassion for someone who was new to poly or unsettled and insecure in a new relationship that hadn't yet found its stable ground.  But a couple of years in, and I might start to get tired of protecting them from their insecurities or fears and I would start to unshoulder some of that burden and just expect them to start carrying the weight of their own emotions.  So when they would try to tighten up the relationship boundaries, I was much less amenable to them because now I was directing my attention outward and on myself, instead of on them.

So I think this is where all the dysfunction is happening, not in the rebound or casual sex relationships but in the breakups themselves or perhaps in my partner selection or my method of dealing with partners' fears or biases which lead to breakups, which lead to me being "single and looking" for casual sex partners.  The dysfunction or unhealthiness of the pattern is different for different situations and different people, which is a whole other series of posts that I could go into with each individual case.  But the hypothesis that I'm currently entertaining is that my casual relationships that followed my breakups may not be, by itself, an unhealthy pattern.  And I think if I can learn to embrace the part of me that enjoys casual sex enough to insist on partners who can embrace that part of me too, rather than tolerate it or write it off as something I did in the past, then I think all the associated dysfunction can be addressed more effectively.  See, I *do* accept that I am a person who likes casual sex, but I keep compartmentalizing it in my head as something I only do when I'm "in between" big-R, local partners, which may result in me ignoring when I'm ready to accept a casual partner until after I've broken up with someone, which may lead to either resentment on my part or denying any changes a preexisting partner is noticing which could lead to conflicts that could lead to breakups.  I know that when I was only aware of monogamy as the sole option, my attraction to or interest in casual sex used to lead me to conclude that I must therefore already be "over" a partner and that the relationship needed to end if I was "moving on" to that other relationship.  So a faulty awareness of where the actual problem lies can harm relationships.  I need to restructure my own model of myself in my head as someone who likes casual sex irrespective of when I'm in a big-R Relationship.

Sure, I still don't have many resources for lots of partners, and I prefer to save those resources for the more fulfilling big-R Relationships, but a preference for one thing doesn't necessarily imply an active dislike for something else.  When my Relationships are stable and I feel confident and secure in them, those Relationships take less daily maintenance.  We have fewer Relationship Talks because we've worked out a lot of the wrinkles and now we just need the occasional check-in to make sure we're still both on the same path.  We may even see each other less often because NRC has ended we are confident enough in the relationship's existence that we can survive time apart without fear of that distance signifying the possible end of the relationship.  Or maybe we see each other more often because we've entwined our daily lives so we can afford to start spending more time apart because we're confident that the other will still be there when we return.

So, when the conditions are right, I may be open and emotionally available to divert some of my other resources to one of those less fulfilling but still fun casual relationships for a short time.  That's not necessarily an unhealthy rebound pattern.  It doesn't even have to be a "rebound" pattern at all, if I can just better arrange my Relationships to accommodate that this is a Thing for me, which will only happen if I rebuild my own internal model of myself to change it from "someone who occasionally choose unsuitable partners for casual sex after a breakup that might signify some kind of breakup damage to my self-esteem" to "someone who occasionally chooses casual sex partners who are suitable for casual sex but not more emotionally intimate or intertwined partnerships when she feels she isn't too encumbered by relationship maintanance from other relationships simply because they're fun and because all different kinds of relationships have value and someone being unsuitable for one type doesn't mean they're unsuitable for all types".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

* I am committed to taking care of myself so that I can be the best partner I can be.

I learned this one through "osmosis". I've always been a fan of letting other people learn my lessons for me. I don't need to burn my own hand just to learn that fire is hot. I became a fan of the Anita Blake series because I felt like Blake was all of my bad traits exaggerated and none of my good traits. So when I saw her get herself into blindingly obviously stupid situations that she could have easily avoided, I used her stupidity as a guide for What Not To Do. Similarly, when I saw my metamours bend so far over backwards to accommodate and enable their partners' dysfunctions, I saw that their lack of self-care directly led to the relationship's toxicity. When my metamours didn't take care of themselves, they were unable to provide the best source of support for their partners in need. When they didn't take care of themselves, they lost the ability to recognize unhealthy relationship patterns. When they didn't take care of themselves, they had no defenses for preventing others from harming them. It turns out that being a good partner, someone who has the emotional resources to care for and support their partners and who has the internal strength and fortitude to maintain good boundaries, requires being in a physically and emotionally healthy state - or as healthy a state as possible given any individual circumstances.

Taking care of myself should be a goal all on its own. But sometimes taking care of myself is a means to an end. Sometimes, some of us need to be in a good state for someone else's sake. My sister was on a downward trajectory involving drugs, alcohol, sex-too-young, and lack of education. But then she got pregnant. Suddenly, her own health became of paramount importance because she had someone else to care for. I'm not saying that my own health takes a backseat to how well I can serve someone else, but I am saying that my ability to be a good partner is related to how well I take care of myself, and these are a list of commitments intended to remind myself of how to be a good partner, so it's included because it's an integral part of being a good partner.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
One of the things that makes me twitch every time I hear it is "different partners fulfill different needs". My partners are not need fulfillment machines. While it's true that I have certain emotional "needs" from my various relationships in order for those relationships to be maintained, it's not an obligation for my partners to meet them. That's my job. Plus, most of my relationships have overlapping "needs".

In my romantic relationships, I "need" to be listened to, I "need" to feel that I am considered, and I "need" for my partners to follow through with whatever things they say they are going to follow through on most of the time, like if they say they will attend a party with me, I expect them to actually attend the party with me barring some emergency. Without these "needs" getting met, I don't feel loved, and if I don't feel loved, then there's no point in being in that romantic relationship because, to me, a romantic relationship is about loving and being loved by someone. These kind of needs exist in all my romantic relationships - that's part of what sets them apart from non-romantic relationships.

But I hear way too often about how polyamory is how people get their "needs met". People basically build a Frankenpartner out of their various partners - I have a list of 100 needs, Bob meets 78 of them, which is a majority, so he's my primary, Steve meets 13 of them so he's my secondary, and Jim meets 9 of them so he's my fling on the side, and that way I get all my needs met. I set out to find people to meet those needs, and I have carefully screened all the applicants, and each one was hired for the role based on their ability to meet those needs. Should they ever cease meeting my needs to my satisfaction, they will be fired and I will replace them with someone who can do a better job.

Blech.

I have some general "needs" - to be heard, to be seen, to be considered, to be accommodated, to be appreciated. Sometimes I have a romantic and/or sexual attraction to people who can do those things, and if so, then I find out if they'd be interested in some kind of romantic relationship with me. From there, we work out the logistics.

And it's these *logistics* that I believe are more like what most people are referring to when they say "meet my needs". I liking having people to dance with. I like having people who share my kinks. I like having people who read the same kinds of books as me. I like watching movies with people. I like engaging in philosophical existential discussions about science and the meaning of life. I like having rock climbing and belaying buddies. I like cuddling. I like sex. I like eating meals with people. I like crafting and creating projects with people.

These aren't *needs* in the same way that the above needs are. Those needs are things that my relationships must have to flourish. These are things that, the more of them a person has, the more entangled and intertwined our lives have the potential to become. None of my partners really "needs" to ballroom dance with me, even though I'd be happier if at least one of my partners shared that passion. None of my partners need to rock climb with me, although I'd be happier if at least one of them did. And if only one of my partners shared that particular interest with me, I'd probably be just fine that none of the others did. Kink is a good example of this one; if I have at least one partner who shares my kinks, I'm usually just fine with the other partners who don't because then I'm getting to explore my kinks *somewhere*.  You could say that I got my "need" met by this one partner, so I'm good and the others are off the hook.

And looking at these sorts of things as "needs" is what, in my opinion, contributes to people seeing their partners as need fulfillment machines: You are my Boyfriend; the Boyfriend Role requires that we go to parties together; therefore you are obligated, expected, and responsible for taking me to parties.  I think it would be healthier to come at the idea from the opposite direction:  You like going to parties with me, therefore your role, for as long as we are both happy with the arrangement, is the Co-Party Attendee Partner.  Should either of us ever no longer be interested in attending parties together, we can reevaluate at that time what kind of role we will each have in each other's lives without the shared interest in parties.

I have not found a way to articulate an alternative to this problem - something that still indicates the importance that any given activity might have to any given relationship role, but that doesn't include the implicit obligation of "meets my needs" ... that removal of a partner's autonomy and turning them into something that serves my interests. Until today.

I'm still not sure if this will work out long-term enough to make it into a permanent part of my language, but today I used the term "niche" in place of "need". My partners each fit into their own relationship niche, which includes movies with Bob but co-crafting with Steve and food exploration with Jim. Even if Bob and Jim both include karaoke, they still have their own niches where Bob has co-crafting and karaoke while Jim has food exploration and karaoke. Even if two or more of my partners have *exactly the same* list of logistical criteria in common, they all still fit into their own niche as individuals. Bob fits into Bob's niche, Steve fits into Steve's niche, Jim fits into Jim's niche. But, really, the odds of any of them having exactly the same criteria with absolutely no deviation? So highly unlikely as to be not even worthwhile of consideration. Maybe Bob and Steve share exactly the same interests in common with me, but Bob lives 2 hours away and prefers texting to phone conversations while Steve lives locally and still has a landline, or something.

So I'm gonna try replacing "need" with "niche" whenever the context of "different partners meets different needs" comes up in conversation and see how that goes. Each of my partners fills different niches, not "meets different needs".  My intention is to remove "meets my needs" entirely from my vocabulary but still make my conversation understandable by people who are not necessarily up on all the latest poly lingo, in much the same way that I am attempting to describe my relationships without ever once using the term "primary", even as a bridge term with caveats and explanations.

So let's see how well "niche" ... well ... meets that need :-)
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
http://www.babble.com/relationships/this-is-what-divorce-looks-like/

This is why I'm so adamant that poly lessons are very rarely ever *poly* lessons, and they're more like lessons for healthy relationships in general. This is why I can seem pushy about polyamory - I'm not out to "convert monos" because, frankly, I'd rather not have your monogamy baggage clouding up my dating pool. But I *am* out to improve the existing relationships of those around me, and it is my opinion that those lessons are most commonly found in poly circles.

Those lessons include advanced communication skills, but more importantly, consciously designing your relationships to meet the needs of the individuals, rather than trying to shoehorn people into a single relationship mold.

This is also the very foundation of why I am solo poly. Solo poly does NOT mean "unpartnered". It's not "being single" (although solo polys *can* be unpartnered, they're just not synonyms for each other). Solo poly means, to me, that I am an individual person, not half of a whole or a third of a triad or whatever. It means that all my partners get all of me as a whole and complete person, and each relationship is constructed based on that concept. Which further means that none of my relationships will look like the standard Escalator model, because that model hinges on the submerging of the individual into the group (or couple, in this case). It requires making the relationship more important than the individuals in it.

So I *might* someday have a relationship that superficially resembles an Escalator Relationship with some traditional markers of "couplehood", but the foundation of my relationships will always include the axiom "the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship". This leads, inevitably, to less traditionally structured relationships in order to meet the unique needs of the individuals in them. Like in the case of these and other parents who have figured out that they make excellent coparents but not spouses.

Build the relationships to meet the needs of the people in them. A marriage certificate is not necessary to create a healthy, fulfilling relationship, even one with a life-long emotional bond and children.

"Meshing your life with someone else’s is no small feat and the concept of marriage isn’t as simple as: Hey! We get along really well. We should live together forever! There are a million subtle nuances within every relationship that cause it to work or not to work, many of them only understood by the two people who experienced the relationship. I get along with my ex. I love my ex. That doesn’t mean we belong together." ~ Ditching The Escalator: Marriage does not have to be the only option; aka "it's possible to really and truly love someone and still not make a good partner for them" via [livejournal.com profile] tacit.

"Yeah, it’ll be weird, initially, watching my ex-husband with someone new, but I’d far rather adjust to that than maintain a very formal, even icy, existence with the father of my children and the woman with whom they’ll spend a large portion of their lives. ... I want to work with, not against, a woman who could potentially be the main female figure to my children when they’re not with me." ~ Metamour Relations 101

"Everyone is so caught up in defining family in this way or that way ... instead of just looking around at those people who are a part of our lives on a daily basis who love us and whom we love and being happy that so many people are present. The more the merrier. We are all family." ~ Consciously Designing Relationships

"The decision to end a marriage is not about quitting; it is about letting go of one relationship in exchange for another." ~ Polys Don't Breakup They Transition / aka our Breakup Workshop
joreth: (Nude Drawing)
There is a special, sweet tension that comes with unresolved sexual attraction. There are several people I feel a strong sexual draw towards, whose personalities or other traits make them incompatible with me for any category of sexual partner - from one-night stands to full on Partners. Knowing this, I choose not to act on these feelings, not even to discover if they are returned, to avoid what will inevitably be a much more uncomfortable situation as the incompatibilities play out to a predictable conclusion. I would tell them honestly, if they ever wanted to know, but I have not been given any indication that they are curious, so I don't offer.

Actually, I find it increases the acuteness of the tension when we both are aware of the attraction and of the fact that it can't be acted on. The flirting takes on more nuance and is much richer when that happens. But many people find that knowing someone is attracted to them when a reciprocal relationship is unavailable (either because they're not interested back, or they are but I won't agree to one anyway) to be awkward enough to avoid wanting to know about it. Out of consideration for social mores, I generally choose not to reveal my interest in someone if I'm not at least willing to consider acting on it should they be so inclined. I don't like making people feel uncomfortable around me unless discomfort is my goal (I'm looking at you, misogynists, racists, & PUAs). Anyway, so I am attracted to certain people while simultaneously being repelled by the situation that acting on that attraction would create. Feeling this ambiguity creates a sense of tension that I have come to enjoy in a similar way to how people who like the pain of eating spicy food seem to enjoy that particular torture. Which makes my day when I have to work with one or more of those people very ... flavorful.

One of the effects of being able to experience physical attraction to people without requiring some kind of emotional or intellectual connection is that one might be attracted to someone who is not a suitable romantic partner of some stripe or another. And being attracted TO someone is not the same thing as finding someone attractIVE. I am perfectly capable of appreciating the aesthetics of a person without wanting to fuck them, or have some other sexual encounter with them. I find all kinds of things aesthetically pleasing, like architecture and sunsets and kittens, without wanting to have sex with them even a little bit.

The same goes for people. As a matter of fact, this created quite the dilemma for me just after puberty. As a photographer and an artist (although my proclivities in this area were as yet unrealized back then), I found lots of women attractIVE. Unfortunately, in the era and area in which I grew up, I was pressured by individuals and the culture at large to interpret this pleasure at seeing the female form as a *sexual* attraction, and I identified as bisexual for a few years. It wasn't until I actually started having sex with women that I was able to recognize a distinct difference in my attraction for women vs. my attraction for men - namely that I had no attraction *towards* women, just an *appreciation* for them. But, I digress.

Anyway, because I don't need to have some kind of emotional or intellectual connection to a person in order to develop sexual feelings for them, I can find myself desiring to have some kind of sex with a person who really isn't someone I ought to have a sexual relationship with. It could be that they don't feel any attraction in return. Or it could be that I might want a different style of relationship than they are interested or willing to engage in. Or it could be that they would be willing to have casual sex with me, but would then develop contemptible feelings towards me as a female willing to have casual sex because they have internalized the misogyny of our culture's attitudes about sex. Or it could be that they would be more than willing to have a relationship with me but they are not capable of having a healthy poly relationship (which is non-negotiable with me) and are either not able or not willing to do the work necessary to eventually reach that place. I am not a beginner relationship. If you aren't ready for the hard, advanced work, a relationship with me will be more struggle than pleasure and I do not believe in maintaining relationships whose risk-reward ratio is skewed towards the risk instead of the rewards.

It could also be something on my end. There are lots of traits that people can have that I find very off-putting, and I have discovered through trial and error that ignoring how the first rush of NRC (usually referred to as NRE) can make me overlook those things in the beginning always, and without fail, results in me developing contempt or disgust for my partner when that NRC wears off and my natural dislike of the trait reasserts itself. So, for instance, smoking; I absolutely hate smoking. I hate the taste, I hate the smell, I resent the addiction, and I tend to think less of people who are willing to harm their bodies in this way. I might be able to downplay all of these reactions in the beginning when I'm running on happy brain chemicals, but eventually my dislike of smoking will overcome the waning NRC. And as we know, contempt is the biggest predictor of a relationship's demise. I would rather remain friends with someone and maintain some platonic friendly emotional boundaries around them than engage in a relationship that will eventually trigger my contempt or disgust even though these negative feelings would be merely one of many feelings including many positive ones.

So I sit here, contemplating the tug-of-war going on between my body's sexual attraction and my brain's reminder that this will not end well, while a detached part of me watches all this going on and enjoys the tension it produces. It took me a long time to understand, accept, and lean into this tension. And it's still a balancing act - swing too far to one side and it reverts to that unrequited ache of a teenage crush (with a bit of self-doubt just to mix things up) but swing too far to the other and the body's urges take over and make regrettable decisions. I'm reminded of a comment I once posted on More Than Two's Facebook page, that they liked well enough to reproduce as its own post. I've been meaning to post it myself, so as to archive it, and today's contemplations on the subject are as good a time as any:

"The truth is, sometimes you fall in love with someone who’s a terrible fit for you. In polyamory, sometimes you fall in love with someone whose partner is a terrible fit for you. And sometimes you are a wonderful partner for somebody in one stage of your lives, but then things change, and you find after five or ten or twenty years that you’re holding each other back instead of helping each other flourish. None of these necessarily come down to mistakes; they’re just things that can happen, because people are complicated." ~ Louisa Leontiades' book review of The Husband Swap.

That's why I love [livejournal.com profile] tacit's aphorism so much about how sometimes we can really and truly love someone and still not make a good partner for them. We have to be able to see the end of a relationship as separate from the failure of a relationship and we have to be able to see that our feelings for people are not the same thing as our compatibility with those people.

The whole *point* of polyamory is to consciously design relationship structures that work for the people in them that break away from the "traditional" model. As long as we're admitting that the Flintstones model doesn't work for everyone, why stop there? Why not question everything about relationships, including the assumption that they're supposed to be forever, or that they're supposed to "be" at all.

The thing that liberated me from the devastating misery that is the unrequited crush (that, as a nerdy, bullied girl, was the majority of my early romantic experiences and the source of much later anguish and self-doubt) was the internalized acceptance that I could have feelings and that was all they had to be. I could love someone, or crush on them, or admire them, or have the hots for them, and the end goal for those feelings was to simply have them. *Doing* anything about those feelings, for example: pursuing a relationship, was a *different* issue. They might be related, but they are a *different* answer to a totally different question.

It's not "I have feelings, therefore...", it's "I have feelings - full stop." It's not even about not acting on the feelings. I'm not suggesting that we don't act. I'm suggesting that acting is *separate* from feeling. Fully recognizing that, perhaps ironically, opens up the possibilities for acting to include more choices. More choices, which might have more options for "success", if we define "success" as "the participants are happy / satisfied / fulfilled with the outcome of their choices" rather than merely "lived together until one of them died."

This is all a very highbrow, analytical, navel-gazing, philosophical essay to say, basically, that I lust after some people I know, including some coworkers, but who would make totally unsuitable partners, so I am not acting on my attraction, but I am enjoying the lustful feelings when I see those people.  If you have not yet learned how to lean into your discomforting feelings, such as desiring someone who doesn't desire you back or who would not make a suitable partner for you, I highly recommend learning how to do this.  In addition to merely removing the discomfort (and / or the drama that comes with poor partner selection), it also creates a new sensation to enjoy.  It takes a lot of practice and a lot of work on the self-esteem to do it, but it's totally worth it.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
There are benefits and drawbacks to being solo poly. Mostly I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks by a wide margin, which is why I do it. But it's not a utopian state. One of the benefits is that I have the freedom to encounter and engage in a wide variety of relationships. Being poly, and specifically solo poly, means that I'm open to experiencing things that I might not otherwise be open to. I can go into my relationships with little or no expectations and to just let them be what they will be. That's incredibly liberating and incredibly gratifying.

The downside to that is that I may experience more goodbyes than other people. Since my relationships don't have to be one at a time, and since they're not expected to last "forever", I have had such a wonderful opportunity to meet and enjoy the company of amazing people whom I may only know for a short time.

Con hookups, for example. Unlike many I know, I don't have to be emotionally attached or intellectually stimulated by someone to be attracted to them. I can engage in casual flirtations (or more) with people whom I just find physically attractive, or with people I even like only in certain ways but am not compatible with in a "relationship" sense. This combines with my openness to experience relationships for just what they can be, instead of needing them to fit a particular mold, to provide opportunities to me like hooking up with someone at a convention.

The reason why I'm putting this in the "down side" category is because, sometimes, when the circumstances dictate a fleeting interaction, sometimes I discover that my attraction to someone may have started off as a physical attraction only or may have started off as a superficial or mild interest in them or as an interest in only a specific or narrow aspect of them, but then, over the course of our short time together it may develop into something deeper. Sometimes I find myself really interested in someone as a person, really interested to know them on more intimate levels, really drawn to who they are and how they think and the stories they have to tell and the experiences they want to have.

Which is wonderful and awesome and great ... unless I'm in one of those circumstances that dictates only a fleeting interaction. I mean, it's still wonderful and awesome and great, but it's also a little sad because I've been given a peek into what kind of relationship we *could* have, and then life butts in and shuts the window and pulls the drapes.

All of this is to say that I had an amazing time at DragonCon and for once, my introverted self is not relieved to be going home. I think this year is somewhere at the top of my list for best 'cons and I'm happy to be going home to my own bed and my lovely local partner, I'm grateful for the time I spent getting to know someone who's pretty amazing, and also sad to not being able to explore something that I think could be really incredible. I'm also going to be enjoying the memory of a really good kisser for a long time to come.

‪#‎bittersweet‬
joreth: (Purple Mobius)



There's this country song that's popular right now that is supposed to be kind of sad, bittersweet, but I think it's actually *almost* an understanding of how poly works.

It's called "I Got The Boy" and the chorus goes "I got the boy, she got the man". The whole song is about how the singer has this history with this man that the new girl will never have and how that makes what she had with him unique and special, while the new girl now has this future with him that the singer will never have.

It's supposed to be sad because the singer *only* has the boy and his past, and is no longer in a relationship with him now as a man. Not quite spiteful - it's not "ha ha, I got this part of him that you'll never have!" It's more like longing, where she fondly remembers what she used to have in the past and she envies what she will not have because this new girl is getting the future and it's so very different from the boy of the past because of how much he's grown and changed over the years.

But the only thing that I can think of when I hear it is "yes! That's the point! A new person can never come in and replace me because I have this whole history that connects us that she'll never have with him!" and "yes! The preexisting person has such power with the anchor of this shared history that the new person will never have! And I need to be ever-conscious of that as a preexisting partner to not wield that power over anyone else!"

Hearing this song is kind of like reading Heinlein, to me - it's like "yes, that's almost it, just a little bit further, you almost have it ... wait a minute, you're gonna stop there? But you're so close!"

This song comes so close to explaining why poly relationships work and why they're so special. It highlights that each relationship is different, unique, and that each person is going to share experiences with a partner that can never be duplicated or replicated with someone else, even if those experiences are similar. I don't like hearing this song because I want so much for it to be a positive celebration of the differences in relationships instead of this envy and regret for losing - losing to another woman, losing the future.

It's songs like these that really put it in sharp relief for me how lacking the poly community is in music and culture. We have lots of movies now, and books and comics, but we're still really lacking in the love songs, or even heartache songs (because poly heartache isn't quite the same as mono heartache). The possessive and mono-centric love songs remind me of this problem too but the songs that just almost-but-not-quite see the point *and are sad about it* (probably because they almost see the point but just miss the mark) are the songs that really make the lack of music something nearly painful for me.

Many people know now about my passion for movies, but I also have a passion for music. Before I let other hobbies take up my time and I fell out of practice, I played 3 instruments, began teaching myself another, and sang in a choir. I wanted to make music so badly that I taught myself how to read sheet music and how to play a double keyboard organ when my parents refused to "waste" money on lessons, all before age 10. The reason I got into film and video in the first place was to make music videos because I got influenced by the videos in the '90s that really brought the music video to a whole storytelling art form like a film short. My dancing is about more than just physical movement - it's about using the body as a visual representation of the music. I may not excel at any of my endeavors, but I am passionate about them.

And I feel a dearth, a loss, with the hole that the lack of music has left in our community and our poly culture.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
"How much privacy is someone allowed to have when they ..."

Gonna stop you right there because the rest is irrelevant. Privacy is a basic right of autonomy so they are allowed all the privacy they want. If what they want to keep private isn't acceptable to you, or they are using the word "private" to refer to things that affect your own right to give informed consent, you have the right to negotiate or leave the relationship.

Now, if you want to get into a discussion about what *I* think constitutes "your right to give informed consent", we can, but that wasn't the question. How much privacy are people allowed to have?

All of it.

What do you have to agree to? That's up to you. Are you "right" for not agreeing with this particular thing? That depends on the thing and what we mean by "right".

For more on this subject, read the article from More Than Two: Privacy & Transparency In Polyamory - https://www.morethantwo.com/privacy-in-polyamory
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
I think I get one of the reasons why I lose my temper online, and I'll try to expand later (but right now I'm running late, as usual). The things I post are about people's subjective experience, their personal autonomy, their personhood, and their dignity. These things are not up for debate.

Yet people treat the posts in my feed as though it's a stage where two equal ideas with equal merit are to be weighed and considered. The counterpoint to the stuff that I post about does not deserve to share a stage with the stuff I post about. They do not deserve equal time, equal consideration.

My rage is part frustration that I'm not being heard and I'm not making myself understood, and it's also the sheer horror that anyone could even think that these topics are up for debate in the first place.

I post things for people's education and information. Which means that people need to *learn*. Learning involves listening, not talking back. People's autonomy, personhood, dignity, subjective experiences, the right to exist - these things are not up for debate, and if you think they are, you're a horrible person and I will not host a platform that helps spread your position. The Flat Earth "theory" does not deserve to share the stage with real science and rejection of other people as people does not deserve the same stage as respect for those people.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
I've been seeing the "polya" abbreviation being used for a while now, and at first I thought it was just someone who didn't speak English very well. Then I started hearing rumblings in the community that some people wanted us to all stop using the abbreviation "poly" to refer to polyamory because Polynesian people also use the abbreviation "poly" to refer to themselves. I didn't get into those debates or follow them very closely, but what I was hearing was that the people who were espousing this change were also being mean to other marginalized identity people, so it didn't strike me as really anything worth following. What I *wasn't* hearing, was from the Polynesian community itself that this was a problem.

But now, apparently, someone has made a Tumblr comment asking polyamorous people to stop using the "poly" shorthand because it somehow harms Polynesian safe spaces. So now it's time for me to take it seriously, but honestly, I'm still having trouble with this. For me, the difference is that when asked to stop using other words, it's because those words mean *bad things* and the casual use of bad words normalizes the bad thing. In this case, "poly" doesn't mean anything bad in either context. It's *only* an identifier, and one that is still not in common use outside each group. But polyamorous folk are winning the visibility first. Both are marginalized communities, although we could get into a game of More Persecuted Than Thou, but I'd rather not.

According to the Tumblr comment, tagging your tweets with "poly" instead of "polyamorous" is invading a Polynesian "safe space" and harming aromantic or asexual Polynesian people and making it hard on them because they have to wade through tweets that aren't relevant to them and I'm having difficulty accepting that. Twitter in particular is a character-limited format, and insisting that all posts get tagged with the longer form makes it difficult for *our* communities to find *our* posts. What about *our* "safe spaces"?

I don't see this as the same sort of situation that generally calls for more sensitivity of language. There's no cultural appropriation happening, no normalization of slurs or hate speech, no casual acceptance of marginalization. It's just two different groups who happen to have the same Greek prefix that both use as shorthand for their identity. And both were arrived at independently. Simply establishing which is being referred to when in a confusing context should be all that's necessary. I don't see it as reasonable to prevent the use of similar words *just because* the word is already in use, especially when that word isn't a whole word but a shorthand or abbreviation.

I'd add the reminder that others have pointed out, that not only is the word not commonly used outside each group, but it's also rarely used within the Polynesian community for itself (as I am told), whereas it *has* been embraced by the polyamorous community. If anything, the word "poly" might have more cultural significance and weight to the polyamorous community than to the Polynesian community. But even if we don't try to quantify who has more cultural significance to the word, the point is that both groups do, not just one.

Part of the reason, I suspect, why there's such resistance to dropping the abbreviation isn't just about white privilege but because it's a case of culture clash. White people have a tendency to think of themselves as "without culture" (unless they claim an attachment to, say, Ireland, or something, but being *white* itself doesn't have a "culture", per se). Being part of a non-ethnic subculture like LGBTQ, goth, atheism, etc. gives people without any real sense of culture their own "culture". The poly community has decades of existence, is multi-generational now, and has its own music, art, and even parts of language. It is a *culture* now, along with everything that implies (including the fact that not everyone fits into the cultural stereotypes or molds and that there may be regional differences). For a lot of white people, this is the first time really experiencing what it's like to have a culture of any sort of significance. Being asked to give up that word because some other group "had it first" and doesn't even use it all that often can feel like being asked to give up a part of their identity. In fact, that *is* what is being asked, because that word is an identity label. But, let's not forget that, although white people may make up the majority (or possibly it looks that way thanks to media highlighting pretty, thin, white, middle class people), not all of us polyamorous folk are white. And we are using the shorthand "poly" too.

As I said above, this is not the same thing as asking people to stop calling those A-line tank tops "wife beaters" (a label that I find difficult to give up, btw, because of long-standing habit, but I'm making the effort). That label refers to an inanimate object and normalizes domestic abuse. It's *really* not a hardship for people to stop using it, other than they have to think about it for a while until they change a habit. This perspective on the "poly" shorthand is asking people who feel marginalized themselves, who have built a community and a culture *around that word*, to stop using the very label that they used to refer to themselves as people and to the culture that they've adopted (or grown up in).

Let me ask, would this be an issue if, say, a people from the Pacific Islands and an indigenous group from Australia, both of which were colonized by English-speaking Europeans, if they both happened to be named something similar and the shorthand or abbreviation was the same, would we still see one group asking the other to give up their label? Or is this only an issue because so many polyamorous people are white so we assume that they can't also be experiencing marginalization or cultural identity? When we stopped calling Native Americans "Indians", it wasn't because Indians said "hey, we had that name first!" It was because some Native Americans said "that's not our name for ourselves, stop calling us that!" Being white, sure, we should be cognitive of white privilege, but that's not the only power in play here. I'm *constantly* fighting for my own identity labels and frankly, I'm tired of other people telling me what I'm allowed to call myself.

I want to be clear that I'm not drawing a hard line here. I'm not taking the definitive stance "you don't own that word, so fuck you, I'm gonna use it!" I'm suggesting that this issue is more complicated than simply white privilege asserting dominance over a marginalized brown group, therefore a hard "you can't use that word, it's ours!" isn't applicable either. Some of us polyamorous folk are minorities in a lot of ways, and we're fighting for our own cultural identity and to be free of persecution on many fronts. I don't want to have to fight yet another battle on my identity. I'm a minority in gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic class, and even medically / health-oriented. I have to fight for my right to identify myself in every single area that makes up a person's identity. But, at the same time, I have privilege in many ways too because I can coast on my cis-gender, I pass as white, I can pass as hetero, I can pass as mono, my health issues are invisible a lot of the time so I can actually do quite a lot of physical activity, and my religious beliefs are not readily apparent unless I choose to make them so. This means that I do have to be conscious and careful when my resistance to acquiescing to another minority doesn't come from one of those internalized privileges.

I think that this is a complicated matter involving many crossed axis of privilege and oppression. As the arguments are presented to me right now, I do not believe it is reasonable to give up the prefix "poly" as shorthand for "polyamorous" in all contexts, and I think most people agree with that on both sides of the debate. The real question is in that word "all". If not all, then some. If some, then which ones? As someone who is vehement on clarity of language, and who has repeatedly taken the stance "you can define a word however you want, but if you use it contrary* to everyone else's understanding, then it's your fault for not being understood and you're in the wrong", if you were to find yourself at a Polynesian picnic, for instance, where your Polynesian friend invited you to a family gathering, then yeah, using "poly" to refer to your romantic life would be confusing and it would make you the more considerate person to alter your language for ease of communication.

But changing Twitter tags? Blog tags? These are *public* spaces. *Anyone* can click on a Twitter tag and see anyone else's tweets. It's not within the context of a poly *group*, where you have to deliberately join that group and it can therefore be assumed that you're aware of the context. I'm not going to argue against anyone who chooses to not tag their tweets with "poly" anymore. That would be telling someone else how they should identify, which is just as bad as telling them that they can't identify (both examples have exceptions, but generally not a good idea). But I don't see it as reasonable to *ask* us not to use those tags ourselves in public forums. An article defending the use of content warnings in class syllabi explained that the content warning wasn't to "coddle" students, but to place responsibility for their own self care on the student themselves. The content warning was to indicate to the student that they *would* face information that they might find difficult so that they could prepare themselves to address it in whatever way was best for them.

I see use of the internet as similar. I don't use reddit because I just can't handle the misogyny and racism found there. I keep getting told that I should just not read past the first 3 comments, but I have not found anything on reddit to be worth the effort my own self-care would require to wade into that cesspool. Anything worth seeing is often screencaptured and then posted as a meme on FB by people who I have deliberately culled to be people worth interacting with. True, I do not subscribe to the advice "if you don't like it, just don't use it" when applied to all of social media. FB and the like are often the only means of self-care and of contact for marginalized people. I approve of social media *controls* so that we can edit out the parts that are too difficult for us. I can block people on FB. I can choose to join only certain groups and not others. And if I have a traumatic trigger to the use of certain tags, I can choose to follow other tags.

So, for me, I do not see enough justification to give up the use of the poly prefix in polyamorous-specific spaces or in general public spaces and plenty of justification to defend its use. But I wouldn't insist that all Polynesian people adjust themselves to my use of the word "poly" while I'm in Polynesian-specific spaces and I'm just going to have to accept that I may have to wade through tweets that are not relevant to me or that actively engage in sexism and religious bigotry because those things are embeded in the background of colonized Polynesian culture just like they are in US culture (yes, it's true, reading the Polynesian-based poly tweets can be "unsafe" for some of us polyamorous people too). We'll just have to use context to figure out what people are talking about, just like we do for every other homynym in existence, just like we know that someone has rejected an offer even when they don't use the literal word "no" because of context, just like we understand the question "can I?" often means "may I?" instead of "am I able to?" in the right context. Context is important, and I believe that context is sufficient to allow both groups to use the shorthand so that neither is required to give up their own cultural identity.

I do not see this as a white privilege vs. marginalized people issue. I see it as two marginalized groups trying to find themselves and crossing paths. There are definitely some white polyamorous people who are being jerks about it, as there are always some white people being jerks about cultural sensitivity. I just think that cultural sensitivity has to go in both directions in this case, *even though* some people in one of the directions happen to be white because cultural issues are not always and only about ethnicity.

*By "contrary to everyone else's understanding", I am exempting those situations in which someone is attempting to *educate* others on a misunderstanding of a word. So, for example, telling people that you're monogamous but you have 3 live-in romantic partners who all know about each other and agree to the arrangement and insisting that others accept your use of the word "monogamy" is "wrong" because it's contrary to every reasonable and common use definition of the word. But explaining to people that the vast majority of the culture thinks "feminism" means "man-hating" when it really means "equality", that's an exemption. They're not insisting on using a word differently because they want to define words however they want. They're insisting on using a word "differently" because it's actually more accurate and they're trying to educate the population about a miscondeption of identity and oppression.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/things-wish-known-gaslighting/

Awesome article just got republished on Everyday Feminism​ by a terrific online blogger I discovered a year or two ago, Shea Emma Fett​:


"Gaslighting does not require deliberate plotting. Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality."

"The distinguishing feature between someone who gaslights and someone who doesn’t is an internalized paradigm of ownership."

"Gaslighting Doesn’t Always Involve Anger or Intimidation"

"Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive."


I once knew someone who was abusing his partner, and I knew the partner as well, but I didn't see the abuse. Because I couldn't see the abuse, I unwittingly enabled it, for which I feel deeply ashamed and guilty to this day. That guilt is a good deal why I write about abuse so much more now - to prevent anyone else from unknowingly enabling abuse.

One of the ways in which I enabled the abuse is because of this principle. As a skeptic, I am fully aware of how fallible our memories are. This often leads me to demanding proof before believing something. When it comes to real-but-invisible things like abuse or oppression, that's a dangerous mindset to have.

This abuser that I knew also considered himself a skeptic. So, naturally, we shared an understanding in the fallibility of memory. In fact, his memory was so fallible, that if it didn't exist in pictures or a chat log, his brain would erase the memory all together.

So, when he said that his partner was remembering things wrong, I saw no reason to contradict him. Of course she was remembering things wrong - we all remember things wrong! Except in this case, he wasn't being scientifically pedantic about memory, he was using her natural fallibility to *rewrite history* and therefore erode her own sense of self.

I remember one time in particular when she even came to me and told me that he was doing this. I had been in full protect-my-sister-empathize-with-her-fully mode, but then she brought up the memory thing. I instantly backpedaled and tried to "explain" that he wasn't gaslighting her, he was just being a good skeptic by reminding her of the fallibility of memory.

If I could go back in time and smack myself upside the head when I said this, I would. This was the equivalent of "oh, he didn't mean anything by it! He's harmless! You shouldn't feel creeped out by him inappropriately touching you!" I'm still working on the balance between scientific accuracy of how memory works and supporting victims of abuse. I have not mastered this trick yet.


"Change should make you bigger. It should increase your tank of self-love. It should make you stronger, clearer, more directed, more differentiated, and more compassionate. The pain of growth is different than the pain of destruction. One will fill you with love and pride, even when it’s hard, and the other will fill you with shame and fear."

"It’s ridiculous when someone tries to tell you who you are, what you feel, what you think, what you intended, or what you experienced. When it happens, you should be angry, puzzled, or maybe even concerned for them."

"You can solve a lot of things with communication, so long as the objective of both people is understanding. But the minute someone tries to replace your experience, it’s time to stop communicating, at least on that subject."
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).
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)
http://www.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/how-i-got-burned-my-polyamorous-relationship

I really wanted to open this link and blast the author for their monoprivilege, their insecurity, or their discrimination.  Then I read the tagline "Those you pursue are humans who have feelings and needs and desires and don't cease to exist when you go home to your primary partner." and I wanted to herald this as more ammunition in my fight against couple privilege.

But by the time I got to the end, I wanted to smack them both.

This whole situation is filled with wrong.  Both sides are wrong, both sides are doing harm.  First, the couple *is* exactly what's wrong with couple privilege.  The author is completely right that "I told her I didn't like a man telling me what I could and couldn't do in my bedroom."  This is absolutely unethical.  It is ethically wrong and un-compassionate for people to decide what someone else can and can't do with their own bodies.  When the husband and wife decide, before ever meeting the author, that the wife will never spend the night and will never use dildos in her sex play with others, this is WRONG.  I have the utmost sympathy for the author being treated like a second-class citizen, like a need fulfillment machine, and for having her agency dismissed.

But the author isn't exactly on a moral high horse herself.  And no, it's not because "the fault is mostly [hers]" for failing to have seen the red flags.  She is right that the media portrays this couple privilege enshrinement as Just How Things Are Done and the media fails to explore how this affects everyone who isn't part of the primary couple.  So, much like people exploring kink and BDSM for the first time, she shouldn't be blamed for being thrust into a relationship style she had no knowledge of with shitty tour guides and then failing to know how to navigate it well.

No, her fault is that she didn't want to be poly in the first place.  She went into the relationship under false pretenses herself and now she's blaming all of polyamory for failing to consider her monogamous needs under our poly banner.  If this couple didn't have these kinds of rules, if they were truly egalitarian, truly open to others, not hiding behind their insecurity, the *author* still would have seen her relationship as being "loved by half of one".

"Sharing the person I loved most in the world with someone else was the most painful experience I've had as an adult. This is the nature of Polyamory, however. "  This is *not* the nature of polyamory.  This is a flawed premise.  In order for polyamory to work well, the participants have to drop the idea that people are things that can be "shared" in the first place.  Our partners are not toys that we share with others.  Our partners are human beings who share *their* time with us.

"The irony is that Poly people believe that they are somehow more evolved than their monogamous counterparts when in fact, they are quite often driven by selfish desires, a fear of true intimacy, and a need to feel validated by more than one lover at a time."  This is her mindset.  No matter how the couple handled their relationship, she was never going to feel valued or loved in a poly relationship because she is starting with the assumption that polyamory is selfish and for people who are afraid.  She is starting with the assumption that monogamy is the only path to "true intimacy".  With that assumption, everything else follows that her experience with polyamory is going to suck.

This article pisses me off because she's not wrong about how couples often treat their secondaries.  This is why I'm opposed to hierarchical structures.  But it pisses me off because I can't use it show couples how they're hurting others because she is exactly what those couples are trying to protect themselves from.  She is merely validating and justifying their use of unethical, selfish tactics because she is the exact thing that they are afraid of - someone who is really monogamous, coming into an existing relationship, developing feelings, and then wanting to destroy the preexisting relationship so she can have one of the partners all to herself.  And calling them "selfish" in the process.

There can be two "bad guys" in any relationship.  Both sides here are wrong.  Even if both sides are making valid points, both sides were still in the wrong.  Couples:  you can't make up rules that affect the new people without the new people's input.  You can't decide what they can and can't do with their own bodies.  You can't decide ahead of time the course a relationship will take.  New people:  you can't bring in your Monogamous Mindset into a poly relationship and expect it to work.  You can't expect to have your monogamy catered to in a poly relationship - that defeats the purpose of having a poly relationship.  You can't treat your partners like objects or possessions.  You can't hold onto your monogamous values about intimacy, sexuality, jealousy, time, and agency.  If you view everything through a monogamous filter, you will never find satisfaction or security in a poly relationship.

Both sides are actually doing the same thing.  Both sides are viewing the Couple as the pinnacle of relationship intimacy.  It's just that both sides think that their side is the one who ought to get the highest ranking.  The couple and the author are both viewing the wife as a piece of pie that they have to cut into pieces and share with each other.  The husband doesn't want the women to use dildos because there is something magical that happens when you put a penis in a vagina that erases all the specialness of any other relationships.  The author gets jealous when she thinks about her girlfriend going home and having sex with her husband because there is something magical that happens when you put a penis in a vagina that erases all the specialness of any other relationships.  The couple wants to protect their relationship from losing the ability to post camping photos or having to explain to others who is having sex with whom, so they keep the author hidden from public view.  The author wants the right to post camping photos or to have others know who is having sex with whom so she resents the couple's public identity.

Couple privilege & hierarchy in polyamory and the "cowboy" mono coming to "steal our wimmen" are two faces of the exact same coin.  This is why neither should be accepted in the poly community.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
This is Jane. Jane is monogamous. She believes in the One True Love. She believes that there is someone out there who will compliment her, support her, bring out the best in her, and she will do the same for him. She believes in being sexually fidelitious to one person at a time, even if she's not yet sure if he's The One. She believes that, when you commit to someone, that includes prioritizing them above all others (except for children, of course). She believes that a good relationship is defined by more than just sexual activity, but also a strong emotional connection, common values, and shared goals. She believes that her partner is her sexual partner but also her best friend. Even though she also has best friends, the kind of best friend that a romantic partner is supposed to be is different, and it's not just because of the sex - there is a special connection between two people in a romantic relationship that doesn't match any other type of relationship. That's what sets it apart.

Jane is an adult in the modern age, so she doesn't necessarily believe in "saving yourself for marriage". She doesn't think there's anything wrong with being in romantic relationships and expressing yourself sexually even if that partner turns out to not be The One. She's not a virgin and she doesn't feel "damaged" about that. Sure, she's had some partners in the past who she regretted sleeping with, but she's also regretted some meals she's had and some hair styles she's worn. She doesn't take it as a personal flaw, she just accepts that sometimes she makes poor choices and she tries to learn from her mistakes.

Jane is a monogamist. She had her first boyfriend when she was 16. She was so deeply in love with him. She wrote her first name and his last name in her school notebooks. She tied up her parents' phone line for hours. When that relationship ended in senior year, she was devastated. Then Jane went away to college. She went on a bunch of dates with a bunch of different guys. Not all at the same time, of course. But she'd go on a date or two with a guy, decide that he wasn't right for her, meet another guy, go on a few dates with him, etc. Then she met another guy who turned into a boyfriend for a few years. When that one ended, she decided to focus on her graduate studies and just had friends with benefits for a while.

Jane had a variety of different kinds of relationships before she found someone to marry. And after they got divorced, she had a couple more different relationships before finding the man who would turn out to be The One. Each of her relationships looked different from the others. Some were longer term than others. Some were more emotionally connected than the others. Some were short-term but deeply, intensely connected and some went on for a while but didn't take up too much of her emotional energy or attention. Some relationships were slow and sweet, while some were fiery and passionate fireworks. And, of course, some of them took more conventional pathways - building at the socially acceptable pace, moving in the socially acceptable direction, hitting the various milestones in the socially acceptable timeframe and the socially acceptable order.

The reason why I'm telling the story of Jane is because most people can hear her story, her history with a high school sweetheart followed by a period of experimentation followed by a deep, committed relationship, followed by a more "selfish" phase, followed by another deep, committed relationship ... people can hear that story and they can hear me call her a "monogamist", and no one bats an eye. Within the boundaries of monogamy in a culture that doesn't enforce the literal translation of the term (one marriage, implicitly for life), there is nothing contradictory between someone who ultimately hopes to find a single partner to marry and be sexually and emotionally fidelitous to that partner, and someone who has relationships that don't look exactly like that description. A person can be a monogamous person based on the kind of relationships they desire or prefer, regardless of what their current or past relationships look like.

And yet, 25 years after the term "polyamory" was first put into print, we still debate whether or not someone is polyamorous based on the description of their relationships at the exact moment of the debate. Is someone still polyamorous if they only have one partner? Is someone polyamorous if they have casual sex? Is someone polyamorous if they take their opposite-sex primary partner to sex clubs to hook up with people they meet at those clubs? Is someone polyamorous if they're unpartnered? Is someone polyamorous if they haven't yet been in a poly relationship?

We're still debating whether polyamory is an orientation or a choice. The truth is that it's both and neither. The word "polyamorous" can describe either a person (orientation) or a relationship (choice). Just like the sexual orientation spectrum, people can be to one side of the line or the other, or they can be somewhere in the middle where they can choose to participate or not and still be happy in their relationships.

I'm sick of this debate. Unless someone specifically states that they're non-monogamous, we assume people are monogamous by default almost no matter what their current relationships look like. There's no cognitive dissonance in our collective minds between someone being monogamous and someone having relationship structures that vary. Monogamy encompasses a wide range of things. Even cheaters are still accepted (generally) as being "monogamous". They're probably considered to be fucked up, but still monogamous unless that person has a pattern of cheating or has more than their established partner and one "mistress" or other partner that they're cheating with (more than 2 partners total).

There are several discussions and debates in the poly community that I'd love to never see again. This isn't even one of the more aggravating ones. And I, in particular, like to categorize things and put things into boxes and draw lines around like-things. This is poly, this is not poly. But I'd love to see the end of discussions questioning whether someone can be poly who also happens to like swinging, or who also happens to have a fuckbuddy, or who only happens to have one partner right now. Of course they can. Their swinging relationships might not be poly relationships, but they can still be poly people. Their poly relationships are still poly if the people in those relationships also happen to swing. Poly relationships, because of the etymology of the word, assume some sort of loving connection between the participants. But, in my opinion, part of loving someone is in accepting them for who they are. And if who someone is happens to be a person who also likes casual sex, then I see no problem with someone applying the label "polyamorous" to either themselves or their loving relationships even though that person also has sex-focused relationships, or even if they find themselves polysaturated at one partner.

Sure, I can get behind questioning the validity of using the poly label for a relationship that explicitly forbids the development of emotional connection with anyone other than the one partner in that relationship, or that explicitly forbids any kind of sexual activity outside of the core dyad. But a person in one of those arrangements can still be polyamorous themselves even if they agree to a non-poly relationship. And there is also the question of where those limitations are coming from - a relationship in which one partner has the power or attempts to limit the other partner's behaviour or emotional state in those ways could have its poly label questioned, whereas a relationship where neither partner is limiting the other but they just happen to find themselves in those situations due to their own choices or their own limitations is less up for that kind of questioning. So, if my partner told me that he didn't want me to fall in love with anyone other than him, you could probably question whether or not my relationship was "really poly". But if my partner was totally fine with me loving other people, and I just haven't found anyone else to love right now or I'm too busy with other things to be emotionally available to develop a loving relationship with someone else right now, I don't think that questioning the poly label is appropriate.

So, my point here is that, in many ways polyamory is just like monogamy. We like to reinvent the wheel, for some reason. We keep thinking that we're special snowflakes who are doing these totally different, totally unique things that we need all new rules and structures to deal with, but we really don't for most things. Monogamy covers a very wide spectrum of relationship structures and styles. Healthy monogamy does, anyway. So does polyamory. It can cover closed quads, it can cover open networks, and it can cover a bunch of things in between and to the side. A person can be polyamorous no matter what structure their relationship happens to be, even if that relationship is monogamous in structure. I think it's very valuable to be able to say "this is definitely poly" and "this is definitely not poly". I think it's valuable to be able to define and explain what things are and what they're not. But for the stuff in the middle, I think we need to stop fretting about them and just let them be. If Jane can be a monogamist while she's focusing on her studies and just goes out occasionally with a couple of guys for now, then we can be polys even if sometimes we like to swing or if we have relationships that have a more developed sexuality than emotional connection.

I totally get why a lot of the long-time poly activists and more experienced polys stopped hanging out in poly-centric social circles. After almost two decades of hearing the same fucking debates just because each new generation of newbies thinks that they're the first ones to come up with these questions and they don't want to accept the answers the veterans have already figured out, I now completely understand poly veteran burnout. I just wish there was a primer of some sort that we could just give poly newbies that says "Hi! So you're new to polyamory! We've already had the discussions you're about to start in your new poly groups! Here are all the answers so you don't have to ask us anymore!"

Oh wait, there are primers like that.



This came from a comment I made in the Facebook thread where I posted this same content. It's relevant, so I'm adding it here:

This is a tough one, because so many people are unable to distinguish between categorizing for language and communication vs. boxing people in.  We have to be able to say "this is" and "this isn't" so that we can find each other, find ourselves, build solidarity, communicate, and yes, sometimes even "discriminate" (not in the sense of oppressing others, but in the sense of protecting oneself and/or one's community from those who would harm them).  But at the same time, we can't get so rigid about those category definitions and labels that we end up being the ones to do the harm. Taxonomy is important, but it's important to remember that taxonomy is also messy.

So, take my previous rant on cheaters calling themselves poly. A poly person can cheat. The *relationship* that includes cheating isn't poly and I think we would be doing harm to the community and the cheating victim to allow cheating under the poly umbrella. But the person participating in cheating can still be poly, depending on how they felt about the cheating.

For example, I believe that the reason why I used to cheat is *because* I am poly. I just didn't know how to go about it. Those were not poly relationships, and the unethical harm I was causing made me seek another way so that I could stop cheating. That sense of ethics, that integrity, is what made me "poly" even while I was fucking up.

There needs to be both "this definitely is but that definitely isn't" as well as "this is somewhere in the middle and you're still welcome in the club".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
http://theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html
I am committed to working through problems with my partners starting with the assumption that we love and cherish each other and are therefore really on the same side.
I've had people pay lip service to this one, so it is really important to me to be committed to this point and to include this reminder. There's a clip from Sex And The City that is applicable here.



I once knew someone who wrote a blog post all about starting with the assumption that partners are on the same side, and how much smoother conflict resolution goes with that premise. It impressed the hell out of me at the time. But then I got a closer look at how he actually handles conflict resolution in practice. Everything that his partners did that triggered a bad feeling in him was countered with "how could you do that to me?!" Notice I said "that triggered a bad feeling", not "that did something negative towards him". When his partners did something that had nothing at all to do with him, when they made choices that directly affected only themselves or themselves and other people, when they misunderstood something and then went out and did something based on their misunderstanding of the situation, when they didn't take him into account at all, or even when they did consider him and intentionally chose what they thought was the best possible option under the circumstances, if he felt wibbly about it for any reason at all, he interpreted the action as a conscious, deliberate attack on him. EVERYTHING was in opposition. As far as I could tell, he only believed that his partners were on his side if they happen to think, want, or do something that he thought, wanted, or did. It got to the point where the others in his family just stopped telling him when they disagreed because, as one said to me, "it's just not worth the fight". They didn't all agree to disagree; the others didn't let him know that they disagreed, so he thought they were all agreeing with him on things he felt strongly about when they weren't. Then, when someone new came along and didn't yet know how much trouble it was, he would talk to the others in the group, who wouldn't disagree out loud, and then go back to the one and say "we all think you're wrong," making the new person feel isolated and ganged up on during conflicts, increasing the feeling that they were not on the same side, but were in opposition.

Our insecurities have a way of getting control of our rational brains and steering us into the shallows with hidden reefs and rocks and the wreckage of past sunken ships now lying in wait to take us down with them. It's far easier to see someone with a different vision and believe that it's in opposition to ourselves than to take a look at all the underlying issues and motivations and biases and assumptions, where we might have to face that someone else sees things more clearly, or that we might have interpreted something incorrectly, or that we might not actually be on the same path with the person we love, or that sometimes shit just happens and we can't always have things match our idyllic utopian ideals, or even that we did the damage ourselves. It's very dificult to see someone with a different perspective whose very prespective might be different precisely because they have the same goals we do but different experiences telling them how to get there.

I've had a long history with partners who weren't on my side. I've dated a lot of people who really didn't like me very much. I was always some "hot chick" or some sexually adventurous chick that they were attracted to, or who made them feel awed that I might be interested in them, or who offered them an opportunity that they didn't want to pass up. And sometimes I was just a warm body with the appropriate genitalia. But I wasn't always someone who was compatible with them. And too many guys have tried to overlook that fact, leading to relationships where they didn't really like who I was and either hoped to change me or hoped they could ignore the stuff they didn't like in order to get the stuff they did like.

But taking the assumption that my partners don't really like me into my relationships from the beginning is kind of a good way to guarantee that we'll end up on opposite sides, one way or another. I've made it very difficult to get to know me and I put my worst foot forward, all to weed out those who don't really like me very much and to keep around only those who really are on the same side. So I want to remind myself that my partners love and cherish me, that they are with me because they want to be my partners, and that, even if we seem to be on opposing sides, maybe from their perspective, they are actually trying to accomplish the same goal, which is to find a way for both of us to be happy.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
This whole article is amazing and a must-read, and there are so many points that could be picked out and reflected upon. But I'm picking out one particular point, and it's not even one of the main points. I'm picking it out because I have a personal association with this particular point.
"So, even though I had meant to tell him what happened between me and Peter, I didn’t. When Nathan gets upset at me, I tend to recoil. He’s intimidating, though he would never physically hurt me. ... That was another Huge Mistake.

Nathan was totally fine with Peter and I becoming partners as well, but he said that he thought it would be best if we didn’t do anything sexual yet. That created a lump in my throat and a questioning in my mind. After much stewing, the next night I told him what happened, and he Flipped the Fuck Out. He punched the wall, told me I cheated on him, and that I had totally broken his trust. " ~ Advice Asker

"You are a woman who wanted something, and you went after it in a way you thought was within the bounds of your relationship. You found out later that your partner didn’t agree. You didn’t do anything to deserve the amount of humiliation and worry and fear you are feeling right now." ~ Advice Giver
I wish I had known about this years ago.  I have ridiculously high self-esteem.  I am supremely confident in myself and my ability both to handle romantic relationships and to leave them if they go bad.  This means that I've missed people's attempts to manipulate and emotionally abuse me in the past.  I just thought they were jerks.  It took seeing someone I love dearly get emotionally manipulated, and to eventually see how my own ignorance of the situation contributed to it, before I finally started to learn anything about emotional abuse.

I know what physical abuse is, and I've always done the "the second someone raises a hand to me, I'm outta here".  And I've held to that my entire life.  What I didn't know was that doing that kind of mental calculus, "the calculus called Would He Hit Me?", is a sign of emotional abuse.  I never *felt* emotionally abused by my partners getting jealous and punching things in their rage.  I knew, without a doubt, that they'd never hit me.  But I thought their jealousy was unreasonable (not the punching the wall - that was a totally safe outlet for anger, I thought), so I'd leave them for that reason alone.

I once had a partner.  Like the questioner above, who wrote into Captain Awkward with her story, I had a partner with a mismatch in poly relationship expectations.  Unlike that questioner, it wasn't because I told him my boundaries but he refused to tell me his, so I would bump into them on accident.  No, we talked about it.  And we still didn't see eye to eye.  But because we talked about it, I *thought* that we understood each other and it was only until I smacked head-first into his massive armored tank of insecurity and abuse that I learned otherwise.

I found myself in an incredibly unstable situation.  I was experiencing loss left and right.  The situation that led to the discovering-my-boyfriend-was-an-abusive-monster thing was only the beginning of my series of losses, and the whole series combined threw me into a deep depression that I hadn't experienced since I had been bullied as a kid.  I not only thought about suicide, but I started planning it.  This was the time that I needed my partner the most to be supportive and compassionate.  But this was the time that frightened him the most, so he lashed out.

I went after something that, at the time, I felt I needed to help cope with all my chaos and loss and pain.  And it did help.  It was honestly the right thing for me at the time and I don't regret it at all.  It directly led to another series of events that eventually contributed to my healing, and to pulling myself out of the bleakness that was consuming me.  It turned out to be absolutely necessary for me, although I couldn't have known that at the time - I thought it was something I should do, but I didn't realize how it would start a snowball effect that would ultimately lead to saving my life.  The details are not mine alone to share, even anonymously, but I will also say that the thing I "went after" is not actually the thing that I was accused of doing that lead to my partner "Flipp[ing] the Fuck Out".  But I did pursue another relationship, and its progress frightened my abusive ex.

Something that Captain Awkward doesn't mention in their response is a lesser known truism - if you make it unsafe for your partner to tell you the truth, they are likely to start hiding things from you.  My ex made it very unsafe for people to share difficult things with him.  Some things were difficult because they triggered his insecurity.  Some things were difficult because he felt strongly about them and argued tenaciously (a trait I share with him) so that his loved ones stopped giving their contrary opinions on those subjects because it simply wasn't worth the argument.  He made sharing difficult subjects with him a very scary thing.

In addition to that, he was largely unavailable at this time, both temporally and emotionally.  This was part of the chaos that had entered my life - a small part, but a contributing part.  He had begun working longer hours, long enough that he essentially was at work for all but one or two waking hours a day.  This pissed off his live-in partner, because she never got to see him anymore, and their tradition was for her to wait for him to come home so they could eat dinner together and this meant that she was now waiting until 9 or 10 at night before she could eat.  He was trying to manage a total of 4 romantic partners and two of them were emotionally turbulent, to give the understatement of the year.  We used to chat online throughout the day, but his work situation had recently put an end to that.  So I was allocated the 10-minute drive from his office to his house to talk to him on the phone in the evenings.  Except on those nights where one of his other partners was in the car with him because there was also car trouble in the group and some car sharing had become necessary.

So, here I was, in a relationship with someone who was giving me about 30 minutes of his time per week, knowing that I would only have his attention for 10 minutes at a stretch, which would have a pretty hard cut-off time otherwise his live-in partner would get pissed (and I'd have to deal with the knowledge (that he insinuated to me) that it was all my fault she was pissed because he was giving me more attention than her, whether that was true or not), most of that time would be taken up with his anguish over the troubles his other relationships were giving him, AND that, because of how he reacted to difficult news, telling him about my own emotional tailspin and the subsequent Incident would be a very Unsafe Conversation and definitely take more than 10 minutes, further ruining the night for his live-in partner who was waiting for him so she could finally eat her one big meal of the day.

All of this added up to the fact that he was unreachable to talk to immediately after the Incident (again, too busy at work, putting out relationship fires at home, just not available), and he was very "intimidating" to talk to when I did finally have his attention.  So I know that I handled my end of the conversation poorly several days after the fact when I could finally have that conversation with him.  I was accused of "cheating" on him when I A) didn't do what he said I had done and B) acted completely within my own ethical framework that I thought I had conveyed to him but I found out because of this that we had different relationship frameworks.  He immediately tried to impose restrictions on me.  He was very slick about it, though.  Unlike the abuser in this advice letter, he didn't do it punitively, exactly.  He tried to *retroactively* impose restrictions on me.  He wanted me to obey some restrictions that he claimed had *always been there* that I had now broken.  Those restrictions violated the agency of my other partner because they imposed limitations on his own behaviour and he was not present to negotiate for them, nor would he have accepted them had he been present. I felt (and still do) that I would never have agreed to such restrictions had I understood that's what *he* thought our relationship was operating under.  As they were not restrictions that *I* wanted either even self-imposed, that should have settled the matter.

But, instead, my ex told me that I could not just arbitrarily "change" the nature of our relationship without his permission.  Since the so-called "change" he was speaking of was regarding my own behaviour, yes, actually, I can.  He can choose to remain or not, but I am the sole arbitrator of my own behaviour and, as such, am the *only* one who has the ability to "change" it or not.

I do not believe he had ever encountered any romantic partner who faced that kind of challenge from him head on with "yes, I can make, re-make, and re-arrange the boundaries around my own behaviour without input from you" before.  Whenever I had seen him challenge one of his other partners in such a manner, without fail, they backtracked and apologized and, in many cases, grovelled for his forgiveness, and accepted all kinds of restrictions and limitations in order to "prove" their worthiness of remaining in a relationship with him.  He called it "accepting responsibility for fucking up".  I call it "falling victim to gaslighting", at least in these cases where I witnessed it and where I have details of the situations that I'm not sharing here.  I believe my refusal to bend on the issue of who can command my behaviour is what ultimately saved me.  As a blogger once said, "'I was victimized by acts of control' is not the same as 'I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control,'" and "These are my choices. You are not entitled to control over them, you are not victimized by them."

He felt "victimized" by my resistance to his attempt to control my behaviour.  He felt "betrayed" because I behaved in a manner that didn't affect him directly at all, was something that I needed to do for myself in a time of need, but was something that he found frightening because it was not under his control.  When I gave no quarter, the relationship ended swiftly, without build-up or warning.  Everyone was surprised by how quickly things escalated to a breakup.  And I can't be more thankful for that, because I saw what happens to his partners when the breakups are slow in coming, and when they try to negotiate and seek compromise in good faith with him.

There is no "in good faith" with an abuser.  I did not recognize him at the time as an abuser.  I do not feel abused by him because his attempts to control me were met by my stubborn refusal to give up my autonomy.  I am quite unyielding about that.  And when people feel "victimized by the other person's resistence to my control", that unyielding feels cold, hard, calculated, uncompassionate, uncaring, and other words that are supposed to be bad adjectives for a romantic partner.  But those are the adjectives that have rescued me from several abusive relationships.

And, strangely, those partners of mine who have not attempted to abuse me or who do not have abusive tendencies don't feel that those adjectives describe me in the slightest.  Funny, that.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/10-things-i-wish-i-d-known-about-gaslighting-22234cb5e407



"Gaslighting doesn’t have to be deliberate ... We learn how to control and manipulate each other very naturally. The distinguishing feature between someone who gaslights and someone who doesn’t, is an internalized paradigm of ownership."


"I believe that gaslighting is happening culturally and interpersonally on an unprecedented scale, and that this is the result of a societal framework where we pretend everyone is equal while trying simultaneously to preserve inequality."


"The book The Gaslight Effect refers to a type of gaslighting called glamour gaslighting. This is where the gaslighter showers you with special attention, but never actually gives you what you need. They put you on a pedestal, but then they are not there, in fact they may get angry at you, when you need a shoulder to cry on."

This is one of the many reasons why I have a problem with so-called "goddess worship" or the belief that women should be worshiped as "queens" or that they are "better" than men. Women are put on pedestals, but only until they do something that shows how human they are, and then the anger comes out - "slut", "whore", "bitch", "crazy". You're only a "queen" until you step out of line, and then you're lower than dirt.

"In another type of gaslighting, the gaslighter is always transformed into the victim. Whenever you bring up a problem, you find yourself apologizing by the end of the conversation."


"Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive. But, it is normal to lose your memory when you are being gaslighted. In fact, it is one of the signs that you should look for."

This is one of the biggest problems with abuse in skeptical people or skeptical communities. Because we know that memories are fallible and malleable, an abuser can use that information to justify his gaslighting by pointing out that his victim's memory can't be trusted. But, somehow his memory can be? Sure, having holes in one's memory is normal, but when someone uses that fact to dismiss what you're saying about how you *feel*, which is an internal, subjective process that they have no control over and no direct observation of, you should be wary.

It's particularly subtle and effective when something bothers you, but you don't talk about it right away, or if the thing that bothers you is a *pattern* that has developed over time. That makes it so much more plausible and easy for the abuser to quiz and harangue you about the details of *factual events* about which you might be fuzzy after some time has passed.  This way, they can focus the argument on the details of your memory instead of the bigger issue, which is that you feel hurt or angry or whatever emotion you're feeling that needs to be addressed.  Why bother addressing your pain if we can establish that whatever caused you pain didn't really happen the way you remember in the first place?

This is particularly effective because our emotions are *not* always "valid", in the sense that they are not always a reflection of reality.  They're always "valid" in the sense that you really do feel them.  But we can, and do, feel hurt, for instance, when no one actually hurt us.  This particular tactic is also useful for an abuser, and is quite a common justification for a lot of abusive and toxic relationship rules in poly relationships.  They justify punitive behaviour.  So it's very important that we learn to use our feelings as signposts that something is wrong, and then address what's wrong.  That way, we can't get sidetracked by an abuser attempting to gaslight us by interrogation and the discovery of totally natural holes in memory, and we also won't use our emotions as blunt objects with which to beat our partners over the head when we are feeling insecure to make them change behaviour that isn't really harming us but which may be harmful to *them* if we make them stop (i.e. impositions on autonomy issues).

"The problem was that I did not realize that sometimes empathy is not the right approach. Sometimes the right approach is to not engage and instead to make space. Make space for yourself and your gaslighter by setting boundaries. Make so much space for your abuser that they can no longer effect you."

This is exactly what I do when I block someone on social media, although I wouldn't call every altercation "abuse".  Sometimes empathy is not the right approach.  Usually, the reason why I've gotten into the argument in the first place is because I'm empathizing *with someone else* which makes my opponent out to be (or feel like) a "bad guy".  Although I *do* empathize with my opponent, my empathy for the other side is both stronger and more important because they are the ones getting hurt more.  When I block someone, empathizing with that person is no longer the right approach to take, and making so much space for them that they can no longer affect me is the necessary tool.

"It is ridiculous when someone tries to tell you who you are, what you feel, what you think, what you intended, or what you experienced. When it happens, you should be angry, puzzled, or maybe even concerned for them. You might stop, stunned, and ask “what would make you think that you could know what’s inside of me? Are you OK?"

I actually had a whole other post on this topic that I couldn't make because FB disabled my account, so I'll address it here instead.  I've been pondering over my most recent blocking of a friend who insisted on telling me what Im thinking.  Normally I just rage about it for a while and move on.  But today, my brain drew a connection, so I'm considering the validity of that connection and I don't have it all worked out yet, hence the dwelling.

I've been talking about abuse a lot lately, and I recently got into a discussion about how pretty much everyone exhibits some behaviours that could be described as abusive, simply because our culture accepts those behaviours as normal.  I've also been hinting at a series of blog posts I have in the making, explaining my own experience with abusive men and how the particular combination of traits that add up to my self-esteem seemed to have saved me from being abused by these abusive men.

And it occurred to me that there is a connection to these three things - blocking a friend, abusive behaviour being cultural, and being less susceptible to abuse than other people.  Gaslighting is where someone breaks down another person's sense of reality by insisting that the things that a victim knows are true really aren't true.  With factual claims, that's really hard to do, but with *perceptions*, it's surprisingly easy.  Very generally speaking, it's the dismissal of someone's experience until they no longer believe their own experience and instead look to the abuser to provide the framework for their reality.

So, for example, when a kid hurts themselves, telling them that they don't feel hurt or that "it isn't that bad" is a form of gaslighting.  If successful, eventually the kid learns to dismiss their own experience of pain and could lead to not treating something serious because they don't identify pain anymore.

Telling me what I think or feel in contradiction to what I've said I think or feel is a form of gaslighting.  Online, it most often takes the form of seeing someone's behaviour, and then projecting motivations onto that person to explain their behaviour.  People who tak welfare assistance are lazy.  People who are late think their time is more valuable than others.  Women are just crazy.

So, back to the part where I believe that I have a particular combination of traits that interferes with people's ability to emotionally abuse me, I think that part of the reason why I flip my lid and get so pissed off at people online is because I intuitively recognize this behaviour as abusive without having the cognitive, conscious understanding or language for this behaviour.  When I feel cornered, I lash out.  Telling me what I think or feel causes me to lash out as if I were being cornered.  This reaction seems to many to be a complete overreaction to what appears to be a simple exchange from a nobody on the internet.  But, to me, I react as though I've just seen someone deliberately push a baby into traffic.  So that's the connection my brain made - I think that people are participating in gaslighting all the fucking time and it's socially acceptable to do so.  Which means that it's really difficult to identify gaslighting when it's being done to you "for real", i.e. in some kind of intimate relationship like a partner or family member, because, to most people, that's just how discussions and arguments go.  We've probably even said those things ourselves.  When it happens to me, I get angry.  Maybe if we all got a little more "unreasonably angry" when this happened, our culture wouldn't treat it as "normal".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
I've been seeing a lot of "this thing happened between my partner and their other partner. How do you handle that / deal with that / take that / interpret that happening between your partner and their other partner?"

My answer is (and my advice that pretty much everyone should also do this) "there is nothing there for me to handle / deal with / take/ or interpret. If it wasn't about me, then it's not about me and there is nothing for me to react to."

It's things like, the metamour wants to try some sex thing that they haven't done before, or some new person has been flirting with or sexting the partner, or maybe the metamour dislikes something about the partner and they had a disagreement over it. It's relationship stuff between two people who are not me, and it's not something like abuse or anything damaging to my partner.

This kind of thing is symptomatic of our cultural values of ownership and possession in romantic relationships, and the lack of agency and autonomy. Those values seep into our subconsciousness and into our assumptions about relationships and they manifest in all kinds of strange and interesting ways, even when we think that we respect and value our partners as people. We probably do, but it's really hard to overcome all the cultural programming that we're subjected to.

And when someone asks how I feel about something that occurred between two people who aren't me and had nothing to do with me, that programming becomes obvious. At least, it does to those of us who have learned to read code.

The context was something like, someone posted in a *poly* forum "How would you guys handle someone flirting with your partner?"

My reaction was "there's nothing for me to 'handle'. It's not something that's hurting him, it's between two people that has nothing to do with me."

There wasn't any lying or deception going on, there wasn't any actual sex yet, the poster knew about the existence of the person flirting with their partner before it happened, and the partner & the flirty person had some romantic history together.

That's not the only post I've seen, just the latest one that prompted this thread. What would we do about some situation that is not happening to us? The underlying assumption is that we have some right or obligation to interfere in some way, that what happens to our partner happens to us or is some kind of statement to us or about us that we need to react to.

I find the whole thing very weird and off-putting.  The very question, and the fact that it comes up so often under different contexts, belies some incredibly deep, unexamined assumptions about possession in relationships.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
http://theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html

Haven't posted one of these in a while: ‪Poly Commitments‬

* I am committed to considering my metamours as "family" regardless of the structure or emotional closeness of our individual metamour relationships and to treat them accordingly.

Speaking of poly families, this one is actually complicated enough to deserve its own post, but I will attempt to summarize here and post the link to the full post when I get around to making it. Basically, I was raised with a strong sense of "family" and a strong sense of commitment to family. But I was also raised to view "family" as being this large, nebulous thing with fuzzy borders that accommodated and allowed for everyone in the family to find their own specific relationship structure. The point of valuing "family", in my family, was to acknowledge that, for better or worse, we are all connected to each other through bonds that are supposed to be based on love, and that we all have an obligation to each other to be considerate of how our actions affect each other, although that doesn't trump doing what needs to be done for ourselves - our personal happiness and health is more important than familial obligations.

My family is a chosen family. As an adopted child, it was really hammered home that we are family because we chose to be family through the bonds of love, not blood. But my family was more than just my parents and myself. It was my parents, my sister, my grandparents, my dozen aunts and uncles, my two dozen cousins, great aunts and great uncles, second cousins twice removed, and family friends. Just because someone was a cousin, it didn't mean that we had the exact same relationship as the relationship that I had with my other cousin. I was allowed to develop different kinds of relationships with my different family members. We were friends, or not, as was natural. But at the same time, I was expected to welcome new members into the family because the happiness of the person they were connected to was important. I was expected to be considerate of my cousins and other relatives and to be aware of how my actions affected them. These were valuable lessons that I take with me into my poly family. My metamour relations are allowed to develop in whatever structure is most natural for the personalities involved. I welcome metamours into the family because the happiness of our mutual partner is important and it's his desire to date her that defines whether or not she's part of the family, not my like or dislike of her. I am considerate of my metamours and I try to be aware of how my actions affect them. To me, that's what makes an extended family.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

www.elephantjournal.com/2014/10/when-emotional-abuse-looks-a-lot-like-love/

"Because abusers see their partner merely as an extension of themselves rather than their own person with every right to their own opinions and limitations, boundaries are often blurred."

This. This so clearly and succinctly explains the problem I have with our culture's view on relationships. And this toxic attitude has seeped into the poly community. It starts as the One True Love fantasy. It morphed into the Soulmate dream and the "two halves of one whole" myth. When we subsume our identity into the relationship, and when our partners accept that submission, that enables abuse even if the abuser never *intended* to abuse or be malicious.

The act of viewing a partner as an extension of oneself rather than an independent person who has chosen to entangle their life with one is an abusive act. Merely seeing a partner as an extension is a dehumanizing event and robs them of agency, even if you are "benign" about what you do with that view.

When it moves into polyamory, we see this in closed groups and in typical unicorn hunting "add a third to our relationship". I shouldn't have to say this, but I will because I do have to: this is not a commentary on the *structure* of triads or of core couples with secondaries. This is about the *mentality* that often leads to a particular structure rather than other structures because those structures are so compatible with abusive mentalities. It is possible to be in a triad that is not abusive. I was in one myself. But the structure of a pre-existing couple wanting to add a very specific sort of person to "complete" their household has, at its very foundations, the script for abuse.

It's right there in the descriptions - "complete us", "add to our relationship". This could be a quad or a quint or anything else. It's the context, which is why motivations are so important.

Abusers see their partners as extensions of themselves. Couples who see their secondaries as an extension of themselves or an extension of their relationship are starting out with the exact same dehumanizing, agency-removing viewpoint as abusers. People in quads that put the "family" group above the needs of the people in it are dehumanizing their partners, which removes their agency, which *fundamentally* removes the ability to consent.

I was in an "open" 6-person tribe. Some members viewed the other members as extensions of themselves via the family group. This led directly to abuse.

It's not the structure, it's the mindset. It's just that there aren't a whole lot of dehumanizing abusers out there deliberately setting up *open* networks. That's too difficult to control.

But a triad filled with unexamined gender assumptions and gender and/or racial privilege, with a dash of cultural discrimination in the form of couple privilege is much more logistically easier to control, as well as including built-in support for isolation and other common abuse tactics.

Poly folk are so busy reinventing the wheel and thinking that mono-based scripts don't apply to us, that we're all too ready to ignore and rationalize away abuse under the well-intentioned but very damaging rose-colored lens of "there's no Right Way" and "truth is relative" and "we are trailblazers making up our own society as we go".

It's so very easy to hide abuse when the culture has its own persecution complex mixed with our fucking stupid American Rugged Individualism. Galileo Effect, Dunning-Kruger Effect, No True Scotsman, and our fantastically good innate ability for self-deception - it's past time to stop harboring abuse in our communities and in our relationships.




joreth: (Super Tech)
So, I'm new to the Social Justice War. I know it doesn't seem like it, but I spent most of my formative years fighting for environmental issues, and I moved immediately into poly issues, which doesn't really feel like "social justice", at least not in the early days because the level of persecution doesn't even compare to any other social justice issue. Feminism, racism, homo- and transphobia issues, these all came to me recently, even though my *feelings* on the subject have always been for equal rights. So bear with me here, because this needs to be fleshed out.

It has come up in several different contexts over the last week that there is a lot of confusion over what an ally is, what an ally should do, intersectionality privilege and oppression, and related topics. Because I'm so late to the game, I'm sure someone better researched and more knowledgeable than I has already come to this conclusion and written about it somewhere. But this is a new concept *for me*, and I wanted to share it as a way to work through it and refine it in my own head.

People with privilege have come to hate the word "privilege" and they have stopped listening when that word comes up. But we *all* have privilege in some ways, and we are all disadvantaged in other ways. I'm female, so I'm disadvantaged. But I pass as white and I grew up middle class, so I'm privileged there. But I'm currently lower / working class and I'm technically an ethnic minority as well as a religious and sexual minority so I'm disadvantaged there too.

And just because I'm part of a class of people who is *structurally* disadvantaged by *the system*, it doesn't necessarily mean that I, personally, experienced the kind of systemic discrimination or oppression that others in my class have, or of other disadvantaged classes. And just because I'm part of a class of people who, as a *group*, are given *group* privileges by that same system, it doesn't mean that I, personally, haven't had some hard times, or even that I haven't had some hard times specifically because of that same class that is supposed to be privileged.

So I want to stop all this bullshit fear of the word "privilege" and instead I want to just recognize *where* we have it and where we don't - because we all do and we all don't. I refuse to play the Oppression Olympics. My oppression is not worse or easier than someone else's - I've had some benefits and I've had some shit in life, that's just how it goes.  My oppression is not *equal* to others, either, I just don't think the relative level of oppression is relevant here.

Instead of arguing over who has privilege and who doesn't, I want to recognize where my privileges come from, and then I want to *use* that privilege (to steal a phrase from a different issue) to "punch up". Here's where being an ally gets complicated.

People who pride themselves on being allies often find themselves feeling confused and betrayed when, after all their hard work they've done for underprivileged people, those people turn on them and tell them that they're doing it wrong. Some of us might just cross our arms and say "well, fine, then, if you don't like my assistance, then I'll just stop helping!" Others really want to help, but if they've spent any time at all listening to disadvantaged people, they've probably heard "you can't know what it's like to live my experience" somewhere along the line. And if they've heard that phrase, then they might have no idea what they can even do to help, since the privileged person can't possibly know what it's like to be someone who is in a class that they're not in so they don't feel that they can talk *for* that class.

Here's what, in my opinion, it takes to be a good ally: First, listen to the group that we want to be an ally for. That way, we can learn what their position is. Next, take what we hear, and speak about it. But, here's the tricky part. We have to speak to people *in our privileged class*, but we cannot speak *to that group* that we are defending about their own experience.

So that's what I mean by "punch up". We have to use our status as white, cis, straight, male, whatever to be an amplifier for the voices of the non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-whatever that we are trying to support. We have to say the words that are being spoken by the underprivileged group, and we have to say those words *to the privileged group* that we are a part of, because that group only wants to listen to other members of the same group.

But then here comes the next part ... after listening and after speaking, we then have to go back to listening. We have to be conscious that we aren't taking on the mantle of the White Savior. The words we are speaking are not our own. We are only repeating them to people who refuse to hear them otherwise. But if the people we are speaking for don't like that we're speaking for them, or they don't like *how* we're speaking for them, being a good ally means not arguing or defending ourselves against the people we are trying to support. That would be "punching down". In the end, this is not our fight, so it is not our place to decide that we are the warriors the fight needs or that our fighting style is the proper strategy. THEY are the generals, and if we step out of line, it is our duty to be corrected.

We have to "punch up" by punching a hole in the defenses of our own class or higher so that those from beneath can rise up. It is not appropriate to "punch down" by telling those beneath us how they should run their war. We are the support team. We are not the drivers of the movement. And, as part of the support team who happens to have better armor and weapons, we might end up being put on the front lines to absorb some of the attack while we take the more effective shots from the front while others direct us from behind our human body shields.

As someone in a privileged group, I can afford to be put out in front. They can't. That's why they're underprivileged in the first place. As someone in a privileged group, I have less to lose therefore I have less need for additional defenses or reinforcements to watch my own back. Not zero - remember, I am part of privileged groups but I am also part of underprivileged groups. As a woman, I need men to stand up to other men on my behalf because the men they are standing up to *won't hear me* when I speak. As a white woman, I can afford to face down other white people because they will hear me better than a black person when it comes to issues of race.

I have other, related thoughts on this - stuff about how it's our responsibility to sacrifice for those less privileged but to not expect the same level of sacrifice in return, but I'm going to save those for another post. This one was specifically about punching up. That phrase came from criticisms on comedy. Comedy is a necessary tool for discussing difficult issues in the public sphere. But what differentiates a particular joke on a difficult issue from being funny vs. being offensive is whether it "punches up" or it "punches down". Does it make fun of of the privileged class or the underprivileged class? Making the rapist the butt of a rape joke is funny. Make the victim the butt of a rape joke is offensive. Who is being targeted? Someone above, or someone below?  Are we punching out the big guy with muscles and a bullet proof vest or the little guy who is already beaten and bloody on the ground?

In a similar vein, we all need allies in our social justice battles. We need people in higher classes to help us fight our wars. But since people belong to multiple classes, it can sometimes feel like we're trying to rank people when we talk about privilege and who has it worse than whom. And then it can feel like, when we *do* try to help, our help wasn't appreciated. Or maybe we're so conscious about the Savior Complex that we're afraid to help because we don't want to step on anyone's toes.

So I'm proposing some simple rules of thumb to help navigate this complex privilege discussion. 1) We all belong to some classes that might be considered privileged and we all belong to some classes that might be considered underprivileged. Accept that and leave off debating who has it "better" than whom in any area. It doesn't matter if someone is part of 3 privileged classes but only 2 underprivileged classes and someone else is part of 4 underprivileged classes and only 1 privileged class. Pick one category, and if you're in the privileged class, then shut the fuck up and listen to the person in the underprivileged class *on that class experience*.  If we're talking about race, leave out your underprivilege-ness in some class that isn't race.  That's a distraction.  We're talking about race here, and in race (for example), you are not the underprivileged one so shut up and listen.  If you belong to some other underprivileged class, then use your experience to develop *empathy* internally for this group that you are not a part of, but we don't need to compare and contrast our various classes.

2) Use whatever privileged status you have to repeat the words of the group you want to be an ally to to others in your same class. Point those people in your class directly to the source of your words as soon as they are finally able to hear the source instead of needing it filtered through your shared class.  Your responsibility is to get them to listen.  Once they are able and willing to listen, pass them off to the source so that you don't become The Savior.  Our job is to *borrow* the words of the underprivileged class, not to steal them.  They still get all the credit.

3) Never presume to tell someone in the class you are trying to be an ally for what they ought to do or what their experience is, especially if someone is directly contradicting you. Let them debate amongst themselves the best strategies, if there is any debate to be had. If one of them asks you for advice, and you happen to have information on the subject, you can share what has worked for your other underprivileged classes in those fights, but they may not be directly comparable so don't get too attached to the group you're talking to actually adopting your advice.

4) Retain your humility and always be ready to apologize and change strategies when someone of the group you are trying to be an ally for tells you that your efforts aren't appreciated or are contraindicated. Remember, this isn't your fight and if you're doing it for the social cookies, then you're not really an ally. We've all had to adjust our methods as the groups we're defending have matured and tried different tactics over time. We just have to learn to try and keep up and accept that we are not the experts in their fight.

These are the lessons I'm hearing right now from the various groups that I wish to be an ally to.  These are not the lessons I grew up with and I'm trying to change my tactics to accommodate.  I hope that I will be a good enough ally, that when the strategies change again as the culture changes in response to all these social justice battles, that I will be able to rewrite these rules of thumb to better reflect the needs of the communities that I wish to ally myself with.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Pet Peeve:  I hate it when people argue against the phrase "it's not all about the sex" by talking about those times when it is about sex.  That phrase does not *exclude* being about sex.  The keyword there is "all". It means that polyamory is not ALL about sex, it doesn't mean that it's NEVER about sex.  It means that the sex is not the single, sole, or only criteria.  That's what that word "all" means - all, only, single, solo, there is no other.  It means that out of the list of criteria, every single criteria option available is "the sex".  Which, of course, means that polyamory is not all about the sex.

That phrase doesn't exclude sex, it only removes the limitation to sex.  Which means that yes, sometimes, polyamory is about sex in exactly the same way that monogamy is about the sex.  In other words, some relationships are more sex-centric than others, and some situations or contexts within individual relationships are more sex-centric than others.

Monogamy is an extremely widely varied category.  There are people who get together pretty much because they have amazing sexual chemistry and not much else.  There are people who have emotional or spiritual unions and sex may be a small, or non-existent part of their connection.  There are people that have waxing and waning elements of sexuality within their relationship over time.

Newsflash:  polyamory is the same thing because we're talking about romantic relationships involving people who have different personal definitions of "romantic" and different sexual needs and identities.  Which means, by definition, that it's not all about the sex.  Tacking on an addendum like "but sometimes it *is* about the sex" is redundant and a red herring distraction because no one ever said it wasn't about sex.

It's kinda like someone trying to explain that football isn't all about touchdowns, because there are also field goals and strategy and passing and gaining / losing ground and camaraderie and sportsmanship and life skills and leadership skills and teamwork and ... and ... and...; and then someone comes along and says "hey, sometimes it IS about the touchdowns!"  Well, yeah, if there weren't any touchdowns ever by any team or any player in any game in existence, then it wouldn't be football.  But it also wouldn't be football if the only thing anyone could do was score touchdowns and no one could block or tackle or make a 40-yard pass.

It doesn't contribute anything to the conversation to declare opposition to the statement "it's not all about the sex" because that statement doesn't exclude sex so it's not actually in opposition.  Sure, we should be talking about the sexual element in polyamory.  It's just that the statement isn't saying that we shouldn't.  Contradicting the popular phrase with "it IS sometimes about the sex" is actually a Straw Man argument because no one is saying that it's never about sex and it redirects the conversation to where someone who is trying to talk about the complexity of polyamory or perhaps the distinctions of polyamory now comes across as sex-negative or slut-shaming when, in fact, discussing the multidimensional nature of polyamory is often a very sex-positive position.

So what I'm saying is, that it's really fucking annoying when people don't pay attention to language and then seem to deliberately or willfully muddy the waters by arguing shit that no one is disputing.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
No patience anymore. "But what if my husband and his new girlfriend make a decision that takes time or money away from me, the mono partner? Don't I get a say in what they do?"

No, you don't. You never did, even if you made a rule that says you do. That's an illusion. They'll do what they want to do. The only thing you get a say in is how he treats YOU, not how he treats someone else.  It's harsh, but reality doesn't really care about our feelings. And the reality is that he is his own individual with his own agency, and so is she, and your opinion of what they do in their relationship ultimately doesn't matter. It only matters for as long as they let it matter, which means, ultimately, it doesn't matter.

If he wants to spend money on her, you could technically get into legalities with common property laws. But, ultimately, if it's something he really wants, he can divorce you and spend his money on her anyway.  If he wants to spend time on her that doesn't include you, you don't get a say in that. You don't get a say in how he spends his time that isn't with you. You *do* get request an amount of time that would make you happy, but it's up to him to decide what he has to cut out in order to make that time for you. You also get to request what kind of time he gives you (i.e. if you want some fun date time mixed in with the household duties, etc.), and then the negotiation between the two of you can begin. But he will spend whatever time on her that he wants to spend, and if he doesn't have enough time left over between his girlfriend and his job and his friends and his hobbies to suit you, then the only thing you have any real control over is whether to accept the time he gives you or to leave.

Now, in a caring, healthy relationship, he won't be a dick about it and he'll try to work with you to give you enough of his resources to keep the relationship flourishing. But the bottom line is that, regardless of how caring and loving he is, his resources (his body, his time, his emotions, his intimacy, his money with certain legal exceptions) are his to allocate and his relationship with his girlfriend belongs to the two of them and you get no say in it.  If you've chosen wisely and married a caring, considerate man, then he will take your feelings into consideration and try to make decisions regarding his resources and his other relationship(s) that don't tax you too much, but that's not the question. If I were talking to him, I'd be advising him on how to treat *you* compassionately and considerately as he begins new relationships, but I'm not addressing him right now, I'm addressing hypothetical you. And your question is, do you get a say? The answer is no, you don't.

I'm tired of mincing words, which is why I'm vaguebooking instead of addressing anyone directly, because this response would not be well-received as written and I'm out of patience for addressing this question constructively because I've seen this question for the last 18 years and I'm tired of it. At some point we all need to just take a deep breath, be an adult about it, and jump. We do not get a say in our partners' other relationships - romantic, familial, friendship, or work-related. We can advise and we can indicate consequences if their other relationships *directly* negatively impact our relationship. That's it. Those relationships are not our relationships and we do not have any right to hold power over them. The people in those relationships will do as they will anyway. If they want to be considerate towards us, then a rule making them considerate is unnecessary. If they don't, then a rule won't stop them.

I think the entire poly community would fare much better if they all had the horrible opportunity to experience what it feels like to pull a veto and have their partner just blink at them and say "no". It hurts.  But it's like ripping off a bandage.  I think that some people will not be able to accept that vetoes and hierarchy and other methods of control are illusions until they experience first-hand that it doesn't matter how much you love someone or they love you, it doesn't matter what rules you set in place in the beginning, that Game Changers happen and there is nothing we can do or say to make someone do what we want when they no longer want to do what we want them to do.

Much like spoiled, entitled children, it would probably do the entire community a world of good to have someone tell them "no" once in a while.  I get that it's borne out of fear, but the only way past fear is to face it.  The world still turns, the seasons still change, and we continue to march towards the inevitable heat death of the universe.  There is much we can't control, so we need to give up trying to control that which we can't, and focus on that which we can.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

Atlanta Poly Weekend 2015 is coming up soon! Make sure to get there early, because Sterling and I are giving our Breaking Up workshop first thing Friday afternoon and you don't want to miss it! We've added new content for how the metamours can handle a breakup. Last year, we received rave reviews, including the comment:

"If More Than Two is the General Theory of Don't Be A Dick, then your breakup workshop is the Special Theory of Don't Be A Dick!"

We give practical advice for how to handle a breakup with compassion and grace even in the face of an uncooperative ex, and how to deal with your partners' breakups as the metamour. Given how common breakups are, we believe that we need to shuck the notion that discussing breakups isn't "romantic", and instead, we need to develop relationship skills that will help us to handle the inevitable.

Our culture tells us that we should find our One True Love the first time we try dating and that the relationship will last until we both die. Statistics suggest that this is FAR from true. So, as a culture, we need to take the blinders off and put on the big boy pants and learn how to deal with a situation that we are almost guaranteed to go through at least once in our lives.

Come to our panel at 1 PM on Friday to learn how!

On Saturday at 5:30 pm, come and hear me talk about Polyamory & Skepticism - What's Love Got To Do With It? I'll be revising an updated version of my keynote speech on the intersection between ‪skepticism‬ and ‪polyamory‬, and why they are so important to go together.

And finally, a brand new, hands-on workshop (yes, you can just observe) just for APW 2015 - Using Lead & Follow Techniques To Improve Your Relationship Communication!

Right before the Masquerade, come hear Sterling and me show you how to apply the partner dance techniques of Lead & Follow to your romantic relationships to improve your relationship communication. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO DANCE! Seriously, you can totally have 2 left feet and still get some important tips for your relationship! We will not be teaching how to dance at this workshop.

Lead & Follow are dance terms for who gives the signals in a dance and who receives the signals in a dance. They are not dance steps and they are not specific to any style of dancing. You do not need a partner to participate in this workshop and you do not need any dance experience or even any interest in dancing. This is a communication workshop that applies certain skills from partner dancing to relationships.

We will tackle issues like consent, invitations, acceptance and rejections, non-verbal signals, trust, and more. This is a fun and interactive workshop that will take place conveniently right before the Mardi Gras party, the Drag Show, and the big Masquerade ball! We'll have a few exercises and play some fun music, plus a couple of dance demonstrations with some fun and sexy dances! We'll get you up and moving and ready to party the rest of Saturday night!

Everyone is welcome - extroverts, introverts, dancers, non-dancers, singles, couples, any relationship configuration and any relationship style, and even lurkers! If "interactive" isn't your thing, you can still come in and observe, take notes, and practice at home using our helpful handout. In fact, the tips we teach in this workshop are intended to be continuously practiced, so *everyone* can take what they learn here and bring it back home with them to keep improving their relationship communication!

You won't want to miss this!

If you can't attend Atlanta Poly Weekend, then share this post to spread the word to those who can!

joreth: (Purple Mobius)
I saw a post that I just can't get out of my head. A married hetero couple has decided that they will be expanding their attempt to have a baby by allowing the wife's boyfriend to try to father the child too. Sounds wonderfully poly, right? Well, this couple has also already decided that they won't learn who the bio-father is, and no matter who that bio-father is, the married couple is who will raise the child. And they're going to announce this decision to the boyfriend soon.

I just can't properly express my horror at this situation. There is so much wrong here that I'm having trouble knowing where to start. This is exactly the kind of thing we're talking about when we complain about not being an equal partner. I want to be very clear about this: I am NOT suggesting that the boyfriend MUST be an equal co-parent to the child. What makes this a disempowering relationship, what makes the boyfriend not an equal is not what role he will play in the child's life, but that the decision on that role has been made without his input.

Here's the thing. I'm adopted. I strongly believe that my bio-parents made the right decision in giving me up for adoption and I have always believed that. This is not about who gets to be the parent. The decision to give me up was made by my bio-parents, not my adopted parents. My adoptive parents did not decide that I should be their child and then they found my bio-parents and announced to them from on high that they shall bear their child for them. I have a relationship with my bio-mom, so I actually do know the circumstances of my adoption. She decided, on her own, without any coercion from anyone, that giving up her parental rights was the best thing for me. Her parents would have supported her if she had decided to keep me. It was a hard decision for her, but she made that decision because she believed it was the best thing for me. She chose my adopted parents from a list of hopeful parents. My adoption was a case of everyone involved coming together and choosing each other voluntarily. My bio-mom had full agency in the decision to not be a parent. If anything, she had more power in the decision than anyone else in the equation.

I am a firm believer that not everyone should be parents, even if they contribute the gentic material to the child. I support parents who leave their children and spouses because I believe it frees the kids and spouse up for building working families and prevents children from being raised by parents who don't actually want to raise them. I don't approve of leaving children in financial straits, but that's a different rant. I wholeheartedly support people who do not want to be parents, for whatever reason, and I believe that children are better off not being parented by people who don't want to be parents.

I keep reiterating that my argument is not that the boyfriend ought to be the father because I know that some people are going to hear my objection and come back with "but what if he's OK with not being the dad?" That's not the point. That's SO not the point. The point is that the decision has been made for him by people, at least one of whom is not even in the relationship and who will not be biologically related to this man's child. Imagine if a divorced woman remarries, and her new husband has the ability to go back in time and tell his new wife's first husband "this kid that you're about to father? Just so you know, it'll be my kid. Legally, and in practice, and from before it's even born. You don't have a say in this, if you don't like it, you can just avoid impregnating your wife, or you can divorce her now before she gets pregnant and we'll find someone we like better to father my child for me."

"But he doesn't have to accept! He's free to say no, or to leave if he wants to." Again, missing the point. Once someone has given their heart to another, they are not as free to say no as it seems. Especially when that person is already entangled with people who, judging by this situation, have set him up in an inherently disempowering situation. If everyone involved believes they are happy with their current arrangement, and if he is in love, it's all too likely that he'll look at the situation and think "sure, I don't mind not being the 'father' because I'm still the boyfriend and I'll still be a major part of my child's life." Because when one is in love, imagining the day when the relationship goes sour and custody battles get wicked seems so ridiculous, so absurd, that one usually doesn't even consider it as a possibility.

"Of course my partner would never be one of those frightful, evil witches who would keep me from my own child! If I thought they were that kind of person, I wouldn't have fallen in love with them in the first place!" No one who ends up in divorce court, bitterly tearing their children in half and using their children's bloody pieces to whack each other over the heads with ever thought their spouse was the kind of person who would do that sort of thing. When we're in love, we can't even imagine our partners doing anything so horrible. This is why people are able to say stupid things like "unconditional love". I guarantee that there is something that your loved ones can do that will make you stop loving them. The problem is that you don't think they are the kind of person to do that sort of thing. And you are also terrible at predicting your future emotions - everyone is. What we think is acceptable when we're in love, we often don't think is acceptable after the love is gone. I've certainly agreed to things in my relationships because I was in love and I didn't think it was really that bad, but after the relationship ended, I was disgusted at myself for having agreed to it and for not seeing how that thing was really a prelude to exactly those things that led to our breakup and it was actually far, far worse than it looked from the beginning.

Things like veto, and this situation, are like that - they don't seem that bad when you haven't gone through it and you're in love so you can't see how the other person could possibly have bad motivations or would possibly take advantage of the situation and harm you. It's usually not until you've gone through it and are out the other side that most people even have the opportunity to see it for the bad thing that it is, and even then usually the only people who do so only do because it didn't end well. It's like when people don't wear their seatbelts.

I know a guy who refuses to wear a seatbelt. Apparently he was in a car accident once and got ejected from the car, and someone told him that it was a good thing that he did because if he had stayed in the car, he would have been injured worse or killed. So he never wears a seatbelt. He's been ticketed multiple times for it, but each time he goes before a judge and says that he absolutely will not change - that he's only alive today because he didn't wear a seatbelt. The only way he will ever learn what a bad idea it is to not wear a seatbelt is if he gets in some horrific wreck that makes it obvious that a seatbelt would have prevented his permanent paralysis or loss of limbs or the death of a loved one or something. And even then it's not guaranteed that he'll learn that lesson, but it will take something awful to get him to see that not wearing a seatbelt is inherently a bad idea if anything can convince him at all.

Some people go their entire lives never getting into car wrecks. Maybe they get into a fender-bender or narrowly miss another car or something. But, out of sheer luck and the mysteries of the statistically probable, some people manage to not do something like roll their car down a hill (not that I would know anything about that). And they will go through their life believing that something they're doing or not doing is responsible for not dying in a car crash. I knew another guy who tailgated something awful. Because of him, I learned how to sit in the front seat of a car and never once look out the front window. I was terrified of him rear-ending someone and having my legs crushed beneath the dashboard as the car crumpled underneath the rear bumper of the car ahead of us. He thought he was a good driver. He insisted he was a good driver and that he had certain skills that prevented him from rear-ending anyone. A couple of years after we broke up, he totaled his car by rear-ending someone. I dated a first-responder and we were always pulling somebody out of a broken wreck of a car because he was obligated to respond to any accident he came across and we came across a lot while out on dates because we dated in California - home of the original Road Rage and the CA freeway system. I have a dozen stories just like this - some idiot thinks they're bulletproof and that they are because of something they're doing or not doing. And many of the people we hauled out of mangled steel and burning hulks came out of there still believing that it wasn't some failure of theirs that got them into the accident.

What I'm trying to say is that if, and that's a big if, but if this boyfriend just happens to be OK with impregnating his girlfriend and not being allowed to be the kid's father, that's coincidence. It's not proof that the hierarchy is working. If he was really OK with it, then it wouldn't have needed to have been decided ahead of time. And if he is OK with it, then he probably isn't in a position to understand his own disempowerment. He probably believes that he has all the choice because he chose to be in a relationship with these limitations. So this couple will parade him about with "but our secondary says it's OK, therefore it's not disempowering!" Yeah, and I know some black people who don't mind if their good white friend calls them nigger either. It's still fucking racist. If the boyfriend agrees to this, it's likely because he can't imagine the married couple doing anything to make him regret the decision. So it will probably take them doing something to make him regret it before he'll understand what's wrong with this whole mess and how the deck was stacked against him from the beginning.

That's the problem with abusive structures, as I'm coming to learn, unfortunately from first-hand observations - they seem reasonable at the beginning, or from the outside, because if they seemed unreasonable at the beginning, no one would get into them. We often can't recognize them until it's too late and we're neck-deep in alligators. Some of us will even vehemently defend the swamp because we can't see the alligators from our vantage point. We'll insist that we have agency and that we are empowered, because we can't see the invisble threads being woven around us that will hold us down while the aligators eat us, and we won't see those threads until we try to move out of the little niche we think we carved for ourselves.

And, even worse, we often can't see when we're the ones weaving the sticky spider silk around our prey, because it's just what we do so we don't know anything different. Hey, he wandered into our web, didn't he? We couldn't have trapped him if he hadn't stood right where we could build our web. It's his freedom of choice. So why should we bother to change our ways when there are victims just lining up to stand where we can weave our webs around them? Oh, I dunno, maybe because it's not good enough to be a spider, trapping prey in a swamp filled with alligators? Maybe because we should be trying to become people who are willing to help lift up our partners out of swamps instead?

If your relationship structure includes the ability to make decisions for people without their input, your relationship is inherently, fundamentally, unethical. Period. It doesn't matter if those people are willing to accept those decisions. If they were not able to come to the table with you as an equal and say "here's what I am interested and willing to do with you", then you are, by definition, disempowering your partners. The final configuration is irrelevant. It isn't about who gets to be the primary and what if someone likes being a secondary. It's about who gets to decide who gets to be the primary or the secondary. If the answer includes people who are not in the relationship that the decision is affecting, and it doesn't include anyone who is in that relationship that is affected by the decision, then it is an unethical, unequal, disempowering structure. It's not the configuration or the end-result roles that make it so, it's the process.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
"But we need rules to keep people from lying to us!"

I got news for you honey, rules don't keep people from lying to you, they only tell people willing to lie what they need to lie about. An honest person and a liar look exactly the same ... until after you discover the lie, and by then it's too late. Rules won't stop someone from lying because, and I'm gonna let you in on a little secret here ... someone willing to lie to you won't care that there's a rule against lying. It's like someone who is intent on murder isn't going to say "oh, you mean it's illegal for me to own a gun? Oh, well, I guess I won't go murder then!" Being against the rules isn't what stops people from lying, cheating, or hurting us.

But I'll tell you what does stop them from doing those things, most of the time. Respecting people's autonomy, giving them the freedom to make their own decisions, and providing enough safe space for them to tell you things that you might find difficult to hear - that's what prevents most people from lying.

It's kind of amazing how much more willing people are to be honest to you if they believe that it's safe to be honest to you. Lying takes effort. It takes work. But our society rewards lying and punishes telling hard truths. This doesn't mean, of course, that you're not allowed to react or have bad feelings when you hear something upsetting. But it does mean that there has to be some incentive to tell a hard truth that is greater than the incentive to lie and the consequences for telling the truth have to be less than the consequences for lying. Why should I tell the truth if I can lie and nothing bad will happen to me?

Because telling the truth would make a better person, and if you don't make it so difficult for me that not being a good person is the lesser consequence, then I'll tell you the truth (giving myself Brownie points for being a Good Person) and avoid the hassle of lying.

This doesn't stop everyone from lying, of course. Some people have a mental disorder called pathological lying. Some people have programming that's just too ingrained. Some people get off on secrecy and subterfuge. But the kicker is that, for those people, the rules won't stop them. The rules just tell them how they can "win" the game by oh so considerately laying out exactly what they can or should lie about. The rules don't weed out liars, they create opportunities for liars.

I've often been baffled by guys who would get into relationships with me because I said I wanted an open one, and then they would proceed to lie to me about seeing anyone else. Like, WTF dude? You have my blessings! There's no reason to lie! Those people are out there, absolutely. What do you think would have happened if I had made a rule that these guys couldn't date other people? Do you think they would have said "oh, well, I WAS going to sneak around behind her back and fuck this chick on the side, but now that she SAID that I couldn't, I guess there goes that plan then!" Because that's totally realistic, right?

People who are going to lie are going to lie. Supporting people's freedom and autonomy and encouraging them to follow their own path while nurturing a haven for them to share the stories of their travels with you is far more successful at weeding out liars and developing honest relationships.

I know, it's surprising, that treating people with respect makes them want to be respectful back. Totally counter-intuitive, right? Well, yes, it is in a culture that confuses "respect" with "fear my authority". But it's really easy to make people fear you. It's much harder to make them willingly respect you. I guess if fear and control is what you're going for in a relationship, at least you can own up to that and stop kidding yourself that you're doing it for the "respect".
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Don't let your mind be so open that your brain falls out.

I see this is lefty politics, in right politics, and in poly groups. People want to keep "considering the options" even when the evidence against efficacy mounts.

There comes a point at which it is no longer reasonable to continue considering certain options. It is no longer reasonable to continue considering the possibility that the world is flat. We have such overwhelming evidence, that we can safely discard that hypothesis without being "close minded".

When the poly community erupts over a book or a blog post that carefully details a more effective, efficient, and ethical way of doing relationships, the *reason* why the community erupts over that literature is because someone has finally written a Theory Of Ethical Relating that explains and summarizes the overwhelming evidence that this method is more effective, efficient, and ethical.

That's what a Theory is - it's not a guess, it's a summation of the facts that exist and an explanation that ties those facts together. You may not like the conclusions, but the "open minded" person doesn't keep their mind continually open for bullshit and crap. Being "open minded" means being willing to consider the evidence. When the evidence is in, you can accept the conclusion and still be an "open minded person", because you did what open minded people do - you considered the evidence.

All this to say, if everyone in the community is saying "dude, that method is fucked up", then the community is not the bad guy for discarding your fucked up method. You are not Galileo. The "experts" agreed with Galileo, and the religious nutbags were the ones who condemned him. The "experts" are not agreeing with you. You, in this analogy, are the close-minded nutbag who refuses to accept the changing consensus which was developed as more and more evidence accrued.

Being open-minded is considering the evidence. Insisting that your lone wolf maverick idea is the right one when everyone around you is saying "dude, that's not new, we already tested that one and it failed testing multiple times over" is the very definition of "close minded". You are not willing to consider the evidence. You are the close-minded one.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
http://freethoughtblogs.com/heinous/2015/04/23/baiting-poly-smugness/

Here's the thing.  When lots of monogamous people think they hear "arrogance", what they're actually hearing is a confidence and appreciation for a relationship style that is working which triggers their own personal insecurity about participating in a broken system, so they project "arrogance" onto the speaker.  Or they may, instead, be hearing a poly acceptance awareness effort, which is where someone deliberately speaks of their relationships in a confident manner to dispel common myths about coercion and inherent failure in the system, and where they mention polyamory within the context of combating monogamy-as-default, non-monogamy-erasure.  But, either way, it's confidence that they're hearing.

What I mean is not to suggest that *polyamory* is inherently better or more enlightened, but that some poly people really *do* get the art of relationships more or less "figured out", at least for themselves.  Polyamory offers more opportunity (not the only opportunity of course, but more chances than in some other relationship styles) to develop advanced relationship skills that some polys manage to take advantage of (and others continue to fail at miserably).  These skills allow the poly person to enjoy safe, successful, multi-person romantic relationships.

Then there are *some* monogamists who really haven't got the whole relationship thing figured out yet.  They're participating in a version of the system that is fundamentally broken.  They're engaging in sexism or wallowing in self-loathing or perpetuating destructive cycles or one of a number of different things that our society condones as acceptable romantic relating, so not only are they "doing it wrong", but they have the weight of cultural acceptance behind them, pressuring them to continue making those same mistakes.  As a poly person without a cultural script, I *have* to figure out some of these skills because I don't have any handy, ready-made script telling me how to compensate for being without them.

So when one of these monos meets one of the above polys, there is *no way* to respond to their revelation that they lack relationship skills that can't be perceived as "arrogant" if the mono wants to deflect the cognitive dissonance they're feeling at being forced to confront their bad habits or choices.  It's much the same way that someone who lacks, say, professional business or technical skills might blame all his problems on how his boss hates him or is brown-nosing or something every time things work out for the boss who has the professional game "figured out" but the employee doesn't quite have the knack yet and it's easier to think poorly of the boss than to reflect and adjust his own attitude.  This doesn't mean that all employees lack professional skills, nor that all bosses have them.  But *some* of those employees learn to build those skills while some complain about those who do.

When people say things to me like "I couldn't do that!", it says much more about the speaker than it does about me.  When they say things like "it's so much work just with one partner, I don't know how you deal with two!", that reveals a lot about the speaker's choices and relationship skills. I'm not going to apologize for those times when I make my relationships work well.  I've made plenty of mistakes and I've had plenty of relationships blow up in my face, just like anyone else.  But, over time, I've gotten better at relating (as is likely to happen with anything you get to practice often).  I've gotten better at communication and identifying red flags and at partner selection and at introspection.  And I had a head start at those things too, with my early experiences with similarly introspective and compassionate partners.  That's not arrogance, that's acceptance and confidence.  I'm aware of my flaws and areas where I need improvement, but I'm also aware of when I do something well.

If someone thinks that my multiple relationships are "so much work", that tells me that their own experiences of relationships include a lot of work.  I've found that if I make good partner selection and if I do some of the ground work like learning how to communicate and how to listen and how to empathize, then multiple partners are actually *less* work than a dyadic relationship between people who can't do that.  Personally, I've found that monogamy takes much more work for me than polyamory does, when I make good partner choices in polyamory.  But in monogamy, there is so much more that I have to maintain, ironically.  Polyamory between "grownups", for me, doesn't really require a whole lot of work, but learning the basic relationship skills like communication, honesty & transparency, knowing myself, advocating for my needs, building and maintaining healthy boundaries, etc., did take some work.  Which I've done (and continue to work on).

If someone thinks that they wouldn't want to put up with the shit they already put up with times two (by adding another partner), that tells me that they don't think highly of their partner.  I've had a high turnover rate of partners in my past mainly because I *don't* put up with a lot of shit in my relationships.  I only stay with people who don't disgust me, who don't piss me off more than they make me happy, who don't make my life difficult.  Sure, I've dated people who *do* do that stuff, and we broke up.  I don't want to put up with the shit that these complainers already put up with either.  The difference is that ... I don't and they do.  That's not arrogance.  That's knowing my own self-worth and having enough compassion for both me and my partners to let go of a relationship that is bad for the participants involved.  One could argue that *not* doing so is often a sign of low self-worth, rather than doing so being a sign of too much self-worth.

[livejournal.com profile] tacit has written excellent posts* on Dating Black Belts and other important relationship skills.  These have nothing to do with polyamory, in the sense that they are inherent to poly and not applicable to other relationship styles.  But they are connected to polyamory in the sense that one will find it incredibly difficult to manage multiple romantic relationships with grace and dignity and compassion for the other participants if one does not learn these skills, whereas other styles of relationships have more tools for compensation, including social safety nets that encourage the avoidance of these skills:
Benchmarks For Good Relationships: http://tacit.livejournal.com/388034.html
Principles For Good Relationships: http://tacit.livejournal.com/389373.html
Some Thoughts On Dating Black Belts: http://tacit.livejournal.com/372716.html
Some Thoughts On Assumptions In Relationships: http://tacit.livejournal.com/331121.html
Some Thoughts On Choosing Relationships: http://tacit.livejournal.com/325057.html
How To Have A Happy Relationship: http://tacit.livejournal.com/280915.html



* There is a post out there somewhere about how someone once said that poly and / or relationships are a lot of work, and [livejournal.com profile] tacit responded that *relationships* aren't a lot of work, the underlying skills on being a decent person are a lot of work, but once you have those skills worked out, the relationships sort of take care of themselves.  I can't find that post, but the memory of it is what sparked that final paragraph, and the search for that post led to the list of links above.  If I find that post, I'll add it to the list.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again in a dozen different ways. But it bears repeating.

I've learned that the most effective guidelines for sex in open relationships (and, frankly, guidelines for all areas of all styles of relationships) are to stick with personal boundaries, not rules or agreements that tell other people what they can or can't do.  I tell my partners how I want them to treat me (and only me) and let them make their own choices. Then I choose partners who have similar boundaries.

So, for instance, I might say that I want to use condoms with them every time and I want to know their STI risk profile and any time it changes. That says nothing about what they can or can't do with others. If their risk profile changes to include a higher degree of risk than I am comfortable exposing myself to even with the use of condoms, then I alter the parameters around my partner and me (NOT around them and their other partners). Maybe I have to refrain from PIV entirely or maybe we stick to only non-fluid and non-direct skin contact BDSM. Maybe we abstain until new test results are in. Whatever, the point is that I police only what happens to my body and my emotional well-being.

I've learned that trying to police my partners' behaviour only works for as long as they want it to, and then people do what they want to do. So I can be betrayed, or I can set things up that doesn't leave room for betrayal and leaves only me with the responsibility of protecting me while treating my partners with dignity that honors their autonomy and their right to make their own decisions like the grown ups they are.

And I try never to pull rank. Just because I happened to meet a partner at a particular time, it doesn't give me more "privileges" with regards to his time, attention, or resources, or even his love. If he wants to be with or do something with or feel something for another person that I don't get from him, that's his right as an autonomous being.

It might hurt and I might feel envious, but it's not my call to make. His time, emotions, body, and resources are his. My job is to communicate effectively so that he understands how his actions affect me and to choose partners who honor the respect I give them when I value their autonomy, as well as arranging my life to suit my own needs and idiosyncrasies instead for trying to arrange other people's lives to suit me.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
www.theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html

This is serendipitous. I *just* answered a question in a poly group about the responsibility we have to our metamours, and this was the next Commitment I had lined up to post about in my "but what do you commit to if not sexual fidelity?" series:


* I am committed to allowing my metamour relationships to find their own structure and direction without forcing them into a predetermined shape.


This is related to the previous commitment. I very strongly favor family-style, inclusive networks where all the metamours get along with each other and, preferably, develop independent friendships with each other. The main reason is because I believe in non-zero sum relationships where time spent with one partner does not have to automatically mean time taken away from another partner. It is my opinion that the only way this can be possible (and not a chore) is if the metamours actually like each other and like being around each other. At a bare minimum, we have to all agree to be civilly polite to each other at social functions and to actually be willing to attend social functions where other metamours might be present in order for non-zero-sum to be possible.

So I need a reminder that forcing my metamour relationships to conform to a prescripted relationship path is no different than forcing romantic relationships to conform to a prescripted relationship path. I have been on the other end, with a metamour trying to force a relationship structure on me that didn't fit, and I am committed to making an effort to avoid doing that to someone else. The things I value most about my various metamours is our differing relationships. Just like my romantic partners and just like my non-poly-connected friends, each metamour relationship is special precisely because it is unique and tailored to the metamour associated with the relationship. I have very important connections with each of my metamours and they only exist because each relationship was allowed to flourish in its own way.

Not all of my metamour relationships are going to be as amazing as the ones I have now, and not all of my past relationships have been this wonderful. Several times, I have had virtually no relationship with a metamour because we just didn't mesh well. If we hadn't had a mutual partner, we wouldn't have had any reason to be connected to each other at all. Only one time did I have a metamour with whom I didn't get along and I was not satisfied with merely coexisting. I believe that the reason is because she artificially imposed a distance between us due to her discomfort with poly relationships. I still use a willingness to meet and foster friendly metamour relations as a litmus test for poly readiness, so this commitment is to remind me that a willingness to meet and foster friendly metamour relations must be different in both intent and execution from prescripting those same metamour relationships to fit my preconceived notions of poly family.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
So this is interesting. I've noticed a trend now, that I started seeing many years ago, but had less nuanced and accurate language to describe.

In the poly community, there are frequent debates on how much information we are supposed to share with our partners, usually regarding our other partners. To me, this completely sidesteps the issue. It's like Franklin's blog post on Radical Truthers where the question isn't between "truth vs. white lies" but about compassion and empathy. I've noticed that the following people tend to side with the following argument:

Pro - you should share EVERYTHING with your partner and keep no secrets ever! This includes no password locks on cell phones or emails or computers, or if you do, both parties should have the password.

I've noticed that this position is overwhelmingly held by people who are in primary-style relationships (or desire one) and only applies to the primary couple (or group if they're equilateral poly types) but not to anyone outside the couple, regardless of length of time of that "outside" relationship. These people nearly always disregard the suggestion that this level of entwineness is actually an invasion of privacy on the poor "secondaries" who do not receive an equal level of snoopiness into the couple's privacy. Sometimes this is not held by both members of the couple, and usually after some digging, it comes out that the one who does hold this position would rather that their relationship be more couple-centric hierarchical than it is, while the one who doesn't hold this position doesn't favor the couple-centric hierarchical model.

This position also finds favor more among straight cis-men whose female partners aren't exclusively interested in dating other women. Maybe they already do date other men, maybe they only date other women but they're bi, or maybe they even *say* that they don't want to date other men but their primary male partner picks up some "vibe" from them that makes them afraid that the woman might want to in spite of what she says she wants. That "vibe" could be completely in his head, too, as misogynistic men don't really believe that women can know what they want or make valid choices for themselves, and may suspect desires of their female partners that their female partners explicitly state they don't have.

I wanted to include the other side here, but it turns out that there are a whole bunch of different kinds of people who favor the con side, with several different motivations, and it's a mixture of both reasonable / respectful rationales and unreasonable / abusive rationales. So I'll explore that perhaps in another post, maybe on my blog where I can go into more depth.

Basically, as someone who fully embraces transparency and honesty in relationships, it's really disturbing to me to see so many people swing to the abusive and controlling side of the "honesty" spectrum, and use "honesty" as a blunt instrument with which to beat their partners & metamours over the head by disrespecting autonomy, privacy, agency of both their partners and their metamours. These sub-categories of people aren't really about "honesty" so much as they're about control and objectification, but it's couched in "honesty" language because that's more reasonable (and they perhaps don't even know that they're motivated by control because they may not have examined their insecurities deeply enough yet).

Demanding passwords and sharing accounts and the like is about controlling their partners and dehumanizing the metamours. This is *fundamentally different* from actual transparency in relationships, which still seeks to protect the privacy and agency of all involved. When it's motivated by compassion and respect for agency, then there is no conflict between transparency and privacy.

When desire for knowledge about one's partner is motivated by respect for agency, the desire for that knowledge is not about preventing people from "keeping secrets", but about sharing your life, your intimacy, and your vulnerability with someone. Because this person understands that it's about intimacy and vulnerability, this person also understands the need to protect the privacy of their partner and metamours BECAUSE they know that what is shared between the partner and metamour is ... get this ... intimate and vulnerable. If you respect intimacy and vulnerability, then you should also understand why it's so fragile and must be protected in others.

If you have empathy, then you understand that another couple's relationship (your partner and metamour) has the same right to have its privacy settings be set wherever that relationship needs them to be set just as your relationship with your partner does, regardless of your personal preference for *where* that boundary goes. if you have empathy, then you know to respect the other person's perspective, not to insist that whatever *you're* comfortable with is what everyone else should be comfortable too.

But when the motivation for information is about controlling other people, it's all too easy to rationalize why one person is privileged above another to invade their privacy and to force their way into another couple's intimacy and to demand a third party's vulnerability. Because, with this motivation, it's all about YOU, the person making the demands for information, not about the intimate experience that's shared between two fully-formed, vulnerable, sentient human beings. YOU need to "know" this. YOU need to feel "secure". YOUR feelings trump any space set aside for other people to be intimate or vulnerable and your feelings trump consent.

It doesn't matter if the other people involve acquiesce to the demand. It doesn't matter if the metamour says "sure, I have nothing to hide, so go ahead and share all our text communication with your wife." This only means that the person making the demands happened to find someone whose boundary is so far back, that it hasn't been stepped on yet. But the demand is still an attempt at boundary-pushing. The demand is still invasive, still intrusive, and still dehumanizing. And if the insecurity driving all this behaviour isn't dealt with, it'll only escalate until they DO find the boundary. And suddenly they'll wonder why everyone is yelling "abuse!" at them. When the truth is that they were abusive the whole time, it's just that no one ever pushed back at their boundary pushing before.

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