joreth: (polyamory)
I came down, not "hard", exactly, but firm on someone asking some advice. At least, compared to some of my other responses, I don't think it was "hard". But I didn't shy away from the main point. I didn't ease him into it, I just didn't pick him up screaming and throw him into deep, choppy waters.

And he *listened*. I find that to be admirable and impressive and I think there is a lot of good potential for his future in unlearning all the shit that society has instilled in him.

I think the advice is good, so I'm gonna re-post a modified version of it here as a general post not aimed at a specific person but at a situation that I see play over and over again in the poly community.  I've left the gendered pronouns that applied to the OP, because I so often see this playing out with these pronouns and I often speak from my own experience, but the stories and the advice could be found with any mix of pronouns.

So, you're trying this poly thing out for the first time with your partner.  You love each other, so naturally you don't want to lose what you already have together, but you also want to explore something new.  So you discuss it a lot, and you make some agreements as to how to go about it that you think shows your commitment to and compassion for each other.

Then she comes to you and says that this agreement y'all had?  She wants to change the agreement.  Right now, because the thing you agreed not to do is about to happen.  Or maybe already happened.  Or maybe isn't about to happen right this instance, but it's now inevitable and it's *going* to happen and you can't stop it.

And you're afraid.  And hurt.  You agreed!  Now she wants to change the rules!  She can't just do that, can she?  Well, I'm going to tell you something that you're going to like even less than hearing that.  She's allowed to do change things.  What she does with herself and with other people who are not you is none of your business.  She can change the "rules" (whether you use that term or not) regarding what she does with herself whenever she wants to, and she's not "the bad guy" for doing so, even if you feel bad feels about it.

First of all, don't confuse "it's not your business, she's her own person and can do what she wants" with "don't have any emotional investment in your partner".  A lot of mono people and recently-mono people make that mistake.

When your partner goes to work, or hangs out with her friends, is it your "business" to negotiate ahead of time what she does or doesn't do at work?  I mean, you're sharing her with her job, right?  You're sharing her with her boss.  Shouldn't you get a say in what she does?  Of course not, that would be ridiculous.  You're not "sharing" her with her boss!  Even though, technically, she does spend more time with him, the majority of her waking hours, actually.  You don't get a say in it, you don't get to "negotiate" about it, and it's none of your business.  What she does on her boss's time is between her and her boss.  What she does with her best friend when they're out together is between her and her best friend.  How she spends her time with her mother is between her and her mother.

But as a loving partner, you might be *interested* in how her day at work goes.  You might want to hear all about it, or maybe what she does isn't of interest to you so you don't really want to hear all the details but you care how her job affects her.  Her happiness or lack of happiness at work matters to you, so you're "invested" in her well-being at work.  But it's not your "business" to know anything about her work, especially ahead of time when shit happens and things come up.

She doesn't have to report to you or notify you or tell you anything to soothe your own feelings.  But she might want to share with you because sharing who we are and what we do when we're apart with our partners is part of intimacy and connecting with each other.  And she ought to tell you things that could affect your own ability to consent to a relationship (or certain activities in that relationship) with her.  But that's about your relationship with her and how *she* affects *you*, not her relationship with other people.

No one is saying that you shouldn't be "invested" in her and even in her other relationships, but this "need" to know that you're expressing *is* a form of control, whether you see it or not.  It's scary to not know what's happening, and wanting to be kept in the loop isn't, by itself, a bad thing, but expecting to know, with the (probably subconscious) belief that by knowing you can then affect the outcome, is a drive to control.

If you think that she can't just announce it, and that a conversation or a dialog has to happen before rules or agreements can change, then you're likely believing that you can influence things.  Conversation *should* happen so that you can both explore your feelings together, but usually when the person in your position feels *affronted* at the idea that he isn't granted the "right" to this conversation and feels that an announcement is insufficient, if you dig down deep enough, it's based on the assumption that he can control or influence the outcome.

And often, I see people being affronted even when their partner *does* ask for a conversation first.  The very fact of "asking permission" is seen as offensive, because you "already agreed!"  You had an agreement!  Well, now she wants to renegotiate that agreement, and if that bothers you, then you have some issues with control right now.

Maybe you don't realize that's what you're doing, but right now you're not just expressing a desire to know because change is hard to deal with and you want time to adjust.  You're also expressing a desire to influence the potential situation, to influence *her* decision-making process.  That's control.  You might not understand that your underlying, sometimes hidden, assumptions are being expressed, but they are and that's why people in forums jump down your throat when you ask for advice on certain kinds of situations.

The problem is that only people who have made it through to the other side can see what the difference is between control vs. interest, or between "not your business" and "don't get invested".  Much like privilege, most of us can't see it when we're in it, but we can damn well see it when we're on the outside of it.

Because most of us, when we're on your side of the fence, can't tell what the difference is between "not your business" and "don't be invested", it probably sounds like I'm suggesting that you shouldn't *care*, because your side of the fence has all these different definitions of "caring" mixed up with each other.  I've written before about the story of a friend who voluntarily gave up polyamory on the basis that he couldn't deal with his partner "not caring" about what he did away from her.  He couldn't tell the difference between "not your business" and "don't be invested" either.

There are very subtle, but significant, things going on that make "none of your business" and "don't be invested" two very different things, but much like trying to point out to someone their own privilege, it can be very difficult to see what that difference is, until one day you just *do* see the difference.

Second of all, another common rookie mistake is that we often make it unsafe for our partners to be honest with us.  Without doing anything intentionally, and without even going so far as "abuse" or "control", when our partners are afraid of how we will react to something, our partners often skirt things because it doesn't feel safe to be totally up front and honest, and they do that *without intending* to be dishonest.

There is a reluctance to admit to themselves what they're really feeling, which becomes a hesitation to admit to us.  They try to "ease us in" to situations, they downplay this thing or gloss over that thing.  Because they don't feel completely safe in really examining themselves out of fear of how the revelations will affect us.  This happens to newbies all. the. time.  It's basically the transitional step - if you come from a mono world, you have certain habits and assumptions and expectations built in and getting past them into trusting oneself and one's partner is extremely difficult.

The example of someone who is upset that his partner originally agreed not to have sex with her new partner on a date but then calls to ask permission to change that rule while on that date is a *classic* example and the forums are filled with posts asking for advice on what to do now.  He obviously had a problem with her having sex with her partner.  She obviously picked up on that, whether he said anything explicitly or not.  If he really didn't have any problem with it, even being surprised by a change in plans wouldn't have elicited the all-to-common plea for validation that the poly forums would see the next day, as he plaintively asks "that was wrong of her to change our agreement, right?"

She didn't feel completely safe advocating for her own interest in sex with her partner or in advocating on behalf of her partner's interests, so she hedged and cushioned and tried to ease him into it, until sex was right there, in her face, and she couldn't hide from the possibility anymore without being blatantly dishonest.  She had to wait until the cognitive dissonance from the reality of potential sex was greater than her fear of hurting you before she could admit to herself, and then to you, that sex was an option.

This means that *you* have your own share of the responsibility here in setting up the situation you now find yourself in where agreements are changed or broken and you feel "betrayed" because her emotions and desires didn't conveniently followed the path that y'all somehow thought it was possible to map out ahead of time.

She needs to feel that her actions with another aren't going to hurt you, because she cares about you and doesn't *want* to hurt you, and she needs to see that enough times to really trust that it's true, before she'll learn how to let go of this habit of hiding her wants from herself, of downplaying herself, of diminishing herself, of making herself smaller for your comfort. She likely has a *lot* of programming from a multitude of sources over her life instructing her to make herself smaller for the comfort of others, particularly if your partner is female, femme, or socialized as a woman and has male or masculine or socialized-as-men romantic partners.

I've been there.  Yes, me, the Internet Flame Warrior, Le Online Bitch, who demands my agency and takes no prisoners in these battles for autonomy and respect.  I know the complicated, swirling morass of unnamed and unrecognized feelings, the justifications, the compassion tinged with darker fears, that murky soup inside the head that makes me believe, if only on the surface, that no, I really am not as interested in this guy, no, I really don't want sex this soon, no, I'm totally happy not dating anyone else for a while, so please, honey, take your time and get used to things first.

I know how to shrink myself so slowly that even I won't notice it until the box I'm trying to fit in bursts from the pressure.  I know how to put myself on the back burner, how to dismiss myself so that someone else feels better.

I also know that it's a false sense of security.  I know that this usually just makes things worse in the long run because my partner starts to get used to this unobtrusive, inconspicuous little package, so when the box suddenly explodes and sends shards and debris everywhere, he feels like a bomb has gone off.  Either way he's going to feel uncomfortable with me taking up my full size.  I know this.

And yet, I know what it's like to do this anyway, even knowing it.  Because I'm trained to do this.  Everything in my culture and upbringing says that this is the proper way to behave.  To be a "compassionate" person, a "nice" person, a "caring" person, you have to "compromise".  You have to "move at the pace of the slowest person".  You have to "give and take" and right now you have to "give" first.

She feels that she has to be smaller than she is.  She has made herself so small that even she can't see who she really is and what she wants, and she did that because she's afraid of how you will feel if she doesn't.  It doesn't even have to be a fear of punishment or retribution or abuse.  She could feel afraid because she genuinely doesn't want to hurt you because she loves you. 

But she feels that way because she believes that being herself and wanting what she wants *will hurt you*.

You have to set the tone, and you have to do the work before she will feel safe.  That may take some time and she will probably stumble over her own bad habits for a while before she learns to trust you and to trust herself.

But it starts with you.
joreth: (polyamory)
Honey, I'd like to talk with you.   Since you brought it up a few weeks ago, I've been doing some thinking.  You're right, I think it's time that we open things up a bit.  I understand that you have needs, and that this is not a reflection on me as a partner.  But I still have some insecurities.  I love you and I don't want to lose what we have.  So maybe if we lay down some ground rules, it'll help me to work on those insecurities, y'know, just until I get comfortable with things.

[deep breath] OK, so when you start going out for job interviews, I want to make sure that you don't choose an employer who is going to come between us or mess up our routine.  So I think I should be present on your job interviews.  You haven't always made the best decisions in the past. I mean, look at some of your former jobs before we got married!  I think you could use an objective opinion.  And, after all, I'm also a manager, so I know what these people will be thinking.  I think that I ought to meet your potential employers so that you don't get caught up in the excitement of having a new job and miss some of the fine print in the job description.

We should also discuss what kinds of things you can and can't do at work.  I know you haven't even started looking for a new job yet, but that makes this the perfect time to decide these things!  That way your future employer doesn't get his hopes up.  I don't want your new boss to have more time with you than I do, so you should tell him right up front that you have to be off work in time to get home before I do.  After all, before your new job, you always made dinner.  That shouldn't have to change just because you have a new job in your life.  That would disrupt *our* relationship.  So, you have to be home in time to have dinner ready for me when I get home like always.

And you can't be in to work until after I've left for the day.  I mean, who is going to get the kids ready for school and have my stuff all organized for me if you're gone early?  That's not fair of him to cut into your time with the children!  They should come first!

Also, the job needs to be far enough away that our friends and neighbors won't notice that you're working for someone, but not so far that it costs too much in gas money.  In fact, I think your future employer ought to pay for your gas to get there.  If he wants you to be there badly enough, he'll see the benefit in paying for your gas.  I would suggest that he pick you up, but then our neighbors might start asking questions.

It's OK to put in a few hours in the evening while I'm out bowling with the gang every week.  You should do something for *you*, y'know, when I'm not around to be affected by it.  Hey, I care that you're getting your needs met, I'm just that considerate of you.  But absolutely no weekends.  That's *our family* time together.  Remember, the kids come first.  And definitely no over-night stuff either.  I would feel lonely without you in our bed, and I don't think I can handle that.  Our marriage was here first, before your job, so it should take priority.

Speaking of priority, if you're with your new boss and I need you for something, I think you should be able to leave him to help me.  Remember, our marriage came first and if your new boss can't respect that, then I don't think you should be working for him.  Your new boss can't be calling you after-hours for anything.  If he needs someone that badly for more than what we agreed to right now, between us without him present, then he should get more people to do the job.

Also, he needs to offer you a decent salary because you're worth a lot, but it can't be more money than I bring home.  I would feel inadequate as a partner if he gives you more money than I make.  But he still has to value you!

Now, while you're with him, I think it's OK to answer phones and greet people at the door, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you filing things or handling the accounting just yet.  You'll have to just work for him for a while until I adjust before you can work up to that.  I don't know for how long, I'll decide that when I'm ready.

What do you mean, what if the job isn't for a receptionist position?  What if the new employer is looking for a server or a construction worker?  Oh hell no!  There's no way I'm going to let MY SPOUSE do something as dangerous as construction work!  What if you get injured on the job?!  You'll bring that injury back home and everything will have to change!  No, that's a hard limit for me.  I can't handle my spouse working in a dangerous field.  That's a boundary for us.

What?  Of course this isn't unreasonable.  Any employer who wouldn't agree to all this isn't right for us anyway.  He wouldn't be a good match, so it's OK to reject him.  We need to find someone who is right *for us*.  We're supposed to be doing this together, right?  That's what you said.  So we need to find you a job that will make our relationship better.  If the job strains our relationship, it's got to go.  I shouldn't have to accommodate something that's coming into our lives after we've been together this long.  The job is the new guy here, so anyone wanting to be your employer is just going to have to take us or leave us.

And while I'm thinking of "new guy", maybe you ought to just work for female employers.  They tend to be more understanding of relationship obligations, whereas dudes are more territorial.  I don't want to get into pissing matches with your new boss all the time, so maybe just stick to women.

But somewhere, out there, is our perfect new employer. She'll be kind and understanding and considerate and respectful of our relationship and our family and your obligations.  She'll pay decent wages and have excellent benefits even for part-timers, because of course you can't be with her 40 hours a week if you expect to be home when I need you.  She'll never make any demands of us, and if things change, she'll let you go gracefully with a comfortable compensation package because she knew the conditions of hiring you when she interviewed you.  Don't worry, I'll write it all down for her and give it to her when we go to your interview.

Oh, honey, it'll be so great having two incomes and more health insurance!  We'll have so much more money, and you'll have that sense of purpose you've been looking for since the youngest was born!  It'll revitalize our marriage!  We'll go on more vacations together, and I can't wait to come home from work and see you there, waiting for me as usual with a candlelight dinner, and you'll tell me all about your day - every detail!

No, really, I mean every detail - a full play-by-play.  I need to hear *everything* so that I don't feel insecure by not knowing what you did while you were away.  Well, no, I never needed to know every detail while we were apart when you were home and I was at work, but this is different.  In fact, just to make sure, why don't you just text me throughout the day every time you do a new task, that way we'll be sure, and then you can recap it all at night when you get home.  Your boss is just going to have to deal with you making personal phone calls and text while you're on the clock.  That's another boundary for us.

And I promise that hearing all the details of how much fun you're having at your new job won't make me feel left out.  And I promise that I won't make you responsible for my feelings.  I'm totally responsible for my feelings and you're totally responsible for your actions that cause those feelings.  So if I start to feel jealous when I hear *too many* details, you'll just have to quit your job and focus on us for a while.  But since you're *agreeing* to it, it's totally egalitarian.  Because I love you and I respect that you can agree to these boundaries.

I know it's taken me a while to get on board with your idea here, but I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I think our marriage will be stronger than ever for the adventure we're about to take together.  Just as long as we can quit this little experiment if it gets too hard.  But it'll be great!
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Him: I just want to ask, and I don't want to be rude, so if I'm stepping into anything here, please tell me. But, is it ... do you just like the thrill? I mean, I don't know how to say it, but, you know, the thrill?

Me: No, I actually don't like the beginning of relationships. I don't like the novelty, the newness, the excitement of dating. Some do. I like the old, comfortable relationships that have been around a long time and you really know each other and you're "settled".

I'm poly because I just keep falling in love with people before I'm done being in love with the pre-existing partners. There are a lot of interesting, wonderful people in the world and I fall in love with some amazing people who all bring value to my life.

There's nothing missing or lacking or broken about any of my relationships. I fell in love with new people while still loving someone else.

Him: Yeah, I can understand that. It happens all the time.

#RealConversationsIHave #PolyEducatingBackstage

When I have conversations in real life, as when I hashtag #RealConversationsIHave, about polyamory, the conversations are necessarily limited. There's something about verbal speech that makes conversations linear. So I can't get to every talking point in the conversation because my response sparks a particular response in them and I respond to that and we go in a particular direction.  This particular conversation even continued in another direction from here.

Plus, a lot of times, I'm at work. For most people, being at work means you can't say certain things, but for me it means that our conversations are interrupted when someone yells across the room for help RIGHT NOW and we have to stop talking to run over and save someone from being crushed by a falling truss or road case. Or, in less dire circumstances, we're just walking in two different directions so the conversation can only last for as long as we're in earshot. A lot of my soundbites were developed this way. That and Twitter, which I deliberately used as a tool to create soundbites for complicated and nuanced concepts. But then the Twitter-created soundbites also come in very handy in these situations at work.

So there are several reasons why I am poly, not just the one I happened to address in this conversation. One of which is my aforementioned falling in love without falling out of love reason. That's why *I* have multiple partners myself. But a big part of being poly, as opposed to some other form of non-monogamy, is in how one feels about one's partner having other lovers, and in how one feels about those other lovers.

I am also poly because I very strongly believe in agency and autonomy. Because of my aforementioned reason, I know that it's possible (and even likely) for my partners to fall in love (or lust) with someone other than me and still love or like or care for me. So, because I value agency and autonomy, I am also poly because I do. not. believe. in restricting my partners' expressions of feelings for other people. If they fall in love with someone else, they should be allowed to explore those feelings because it is not my place to "allow" or "disallow" it in the first place.

The stronger I really internalize this value, the less often I feel things like jealousy. I am not prone to jealousy mainly because, deep down, I honestly do not see my partners as things to feel jealous over. Envy, sure, but a romantic relationship is not required to feel envy of other people. Envy can be felt over any number of other people, even people you don't even know personally. And envy in poly relationships is pretty simple to solve - I want to do that thing that other people are doing, please do it with me too? Boom, solved.

And the third aspect of polyamory - how one feels about metamours - from the very beginning I felt empathy and compassion for metamours. And over time, as I explored the reality of polyamory, I learned the real-life value that metamours bring to my life as friends, confidantes, pillars of support, activity mates, co-conspirators, and sometimes simply other people to share in the emotional labor and the joy that comes with relating to our mutual partner. I am polyamorous because I see my metamours as opportunities, not as threats or competitors or even "other". The people I count among my best and closest friends are people I met through a mutual partner. In fact, if my metamours weren't already going to be the groomsmates, I'd have them as my bridesmates and one metafore is my bridesmate. Their presence in my partners' lives, and by extension in my life, makes my life better.

There are definitely people who like the NRE and some who like it at an unhealthy level (NRE-junkies), but there are those people in monogamy and other relationship styles too. I, however, am not in it for the "thrill". None of the main reasons *why* I am poly involve "thrill" or excitement or novelty or newness. They all involve complex emotions and interactions which are easier to handle and feel better with time under the relationship, with familiarity.

There are some fun parts to "newness", to "the chase", to the uncertainty, to the novelty, to the NRE, but that's not *why* I am poly. I could get a lot of that from being a serial monogamist too, or a cheater, or a swinger, or any number of other relationship styles. That's not the part that attracts me to polyamory. The more complex parts are what attracts me, because those more complex parts have higher returns, for me.
joreth: (BDSM)

I'm finally getting around to reading "Why Does He Do That" by Lundy Bancroft so expect lots of quotes in the next few days, and hopefully some longer blog posts if I ever get a computer again. I didn't want to wait on this one because it's relevant to the atrocity of a "kinky romance" movie whose sequel just came out.

In addition to being rape and abuse apologia, the 50 Shades trilogy is also extemely classist. Some tweet put it more succinctly, basically that this book wouldn't seem romantic at all if Christian lived in a trailer park. If a guy with tattoos and a construction job behaved like Christian, even the "soft" version in the movie, it would be glaringly obvious how controlling and manipulative he is. But give him a private jet and suddenly it's "romantic"

Bancroft addresses this very thing as early as the first section in the introduction chapter on The Mythology of abuse.

"The social stereotype of the abuser as a relatively uneducated, blue-collar male adds to the confusion. The faulty equation goes: 'Abusive equals muscle-bound caveman, which in turn equals lower class.' In addition to the fact that this image is an unfair stereotype of working-class men, it also overlooks the fact that a professional or college-educated man has roughly the same likelihood of abusing women as anyone else. A successful businessperson, a college professor, or a sailing instructor may be less likely to adopt a tough-guy image with tattoos all over his body [although that stereotype is gradually being overcome these days] but still may well be a nightmare partner.
 
Class and racial stereotypes permit the more privileged members of society to duck the problem of abuse by pretending its someone else's problem. Their thinking goes: 'It's those construction-worker guys who never went to college; it's those Latinos; it's those street toughs - they're the abusers. Our town, our neighborhood, [our class of man,] isn't like that. We're not macho men here.'
 
But women who live with abuse know that abusers come in all styles and from all backgrounds. Sometimes the more educated an abuser, the more knots he knows how to tie in a woman's brain, the better he is at getting her to blame herself, and the slicker is his ability to persuade other people that she is crazy. The more socially powerful an abuser, the more difficult it can be to escape."



This is Christian Grey. This is Hair Gropenführer. This is even my ex, who is not in the same class as the extremely wealthy, but has the social power of being a white-collar, educated, middle-class, white, likeable, social-justice-conscious, cismale.

The Orangutan-In-Chief has made the "Latino" argument explicitly. One of the reasons he wants to build his security-blanket of a wall is because he claimed that Mexicans are rapists, implying  proportionally more often than US men are. My ex uses social justice language to obfuscate and confuse his victims so that they get confused and start believing that their resistance to his control victimizes *him* and that they are the monsters.

Christian uses his money. He can afford to travel literally anywhere and with no notice or preparation to stalk his victim. He buys the company his victim works for so that her income is directly tied to pleasing him. In the movie, they gave him an excuse that he wanted to fire her "abusive" boss, but a non-controlling person would seek legal prosection means to help her, not replacing one abusive boss for another. He buys her a car against her wishes. He consistently thinks that he knows what's best for her in spite of her protestations and buys whatever he thinks she "needs" from clothes to food to transportation to her source of income, regardless of her own preferences.

He uses legalese to obfuscate his manipulation in the form of a non-disclosure contract (and again in his farce of a bdsm contract) and then uses literally the power of the law with those contracts to isolate her and prevent her from communicating outside or having an independent support system.

Healthy kinksters introducing a newbie to bdsm for the first time recommend that the n00b find a local dungeon and/or community for more resources and support during the learning process. One of the red flags in the community, or "lifestyle", is when a dom tries to be the only teaching source, often insisting that he alone is "responsible" enough to properly guide the sub. One example of an extemist who uses this tactic is a cult leader who is the sole source of wisdom (and sex or decisions about sex).

I once had an ex who insisted that only he could be trusted to recognize predators in the community, so all new subbies had to be collared by him so that any dom wanting to play with the newbie sub had to court his permission and approval, so that he could "vet" them. I've also seen "poly" men use this same excuse to infantilize their female partners saying that they have poor judgement so he needs veto power to make sure that she stays safe. Ironically, this is a warning sign that *he* is the one abusing her.

Christian also uses the "I was abused as a child" myth that Bancroft addresses in the immediately prior bullet point. This excuse pulls on a victim's compassion and makes her feel guilty for her resistance because she is then continuing to hurt an already broken person, as well as making her want to stick around to "save" him.

This book and movie trilogy would have actually made a good suspense thriller (if you excuse the poor writing). If the author wasn't such a piss-poor writer and if she hadn't gone on record multiple times defending her tripe as "romantic", I might have thought that she researched abusive relationships and used the domestic abuse checklist as a character outline. And if the Twilight author wasn't almost as shitty of writer, I might have assumed that *she* was the researcher and used the checklist that the plagerizer - er, I mean 50 Shades author just unwittingly copied into her fanfic version.

I'm not even past the introduction chapters yet and 50 Shades can already be seen in the warning signs. Abuse is about power and control. Money, education, job type, and other class markers are all ways that people obtain power. If anything, it seems like it would be MORE likely that Christian and Orangeface McTinyhands would turn out to be abusers.

Don't support the books or movies by spending money on the franchise or watching / downloading through a service that tracks its popularity like Amazon or Netflix. Don't recommend it to newbies or excuse it as a "gateway" into real kink. If you happen to be interested in the erotic fantasy of being controlled or trained, I can recommend better stories that don't neglect the subbie's consent even while she submits to a power exchange dynamic, even ones that include her resistance and him "knowing her better than she knows herself".

To put it simply (yet again), it's not the kink that makes it abuse, it's the manipulation and control, and what makes it particularly dangerous is that it relies heavily on the audience buying into the class myth of abuse. This myth is one of the tools that abusers use to gaslight their victims and convince them that they are not victims. By not taking a hard stance and speaking out against this franchise, our silence contributes directly to the culture which traps women in abusive situations. Women need to know that this is abuse so they can better recognize it when it happens to them.

He is not romantic. He is not sexy. He is not a dom. He is not a broken bird to be saved. He is not your fault. He is not exempt.

joreth: (Bad Computer!)

#Irony: #Polyamory is explicitly supposed to be about "more than two", and yet every resource we have, every discussion, every fear, every relationship rule, everything centers around couples. We have to "protect the primary couple"; we have to "respect the original or preexisting couple"; we have to develop communication so that we can improve our relationships (implied to be between couples); we assuage fears by talking about how the new relationship can improve the old *couple*'s relationship; singles and solo polys wonder how to get into couples "of their own"; and dog forbid we neglect to discuss how to "open up" an existing couple! ...

"The Couple" takes on a life of its own and soon it's a battle between The Couple and everyone who is not part of The Couple. That goes for the single interloper who is a threat to The Couple and yet is also the same person they want to "include in their relationship" and that goes for everyone who has seen this story play out a million times before and tries to warn The Couple that we already know the ending to this story.

Y'know what? Fuck "The Couple". I don't give a rat's ass about your relationships anymore. I certainly don't "respect" your coercive, destructive, exclusionary relationship. I care about the people in the relationships, and that includes everyone that the people in The Couple are about to sacrifice on the alter to The Couple. I have partners of my own. I have life partners. I have entangled partners. I have partners I care deeply about and who share significant portions of my life with me. Fuck those "couples" too.

I want to focus on building *partnerships* with my lovers and metamours and friends and family. A partnership isn't *inherently* limited to a "couple" and no one dyad gets to take precedence over anyone else and certainly no *relationship* gets to take precedence over any *person*. The partnership must always exist to serve the people in the partnership and never the other way around. Sometimes my partnerships do include just two of us, and that's fine, but fuck The Couple as its own entity. I care about the people, even the two who make up The Couple, but I do not care about The Couple as if it were a living, breathing person in its own right. I do not grant The Couple personhood status. People are more important than The Couple.

And fuck those cousins of The Couple who elevate The Triad or The Quad or The Tribe or whatever fucking group name you have to the same status as The Couple. You won't have as much social support as The Couple, so you might think that your little relationship unit deserves to be in a protected class, but a bully is still a bully even among minority groups so fuck your application of The Couple filter over your technically-more-than-two relationship too.

And if you try to argue semantics with me over what you think makes a "couple" and whether that's different from a "partnership" or not, fuck you too, you're missing the point.

joreth: (Purple Mobius)

Just like the word "polyamory" itself, there is a person who coined the term "solo poly" who is living* and yet most of the community debates the definition. We seem to like taking words and terms that exist for a purpose and changing them to suit our own preferences.  Then we argue over what the words mean and get upset when people misunderstand our non-standard, unconventional, or unique use of the word.

When the term first came out, I had been an outspoken writer and activist in the poly community for many years. I came into the poly community as a single, bi-curious, woman-presenting person. I wasn't trying to "open up" some existing monogamous relationship. Which means that I was immediately beset upon by the unicorn hunters - poly sharks circling the waters after fresh meat. It's enough to put anyone off their feed, to mix my metaphors.

But I'm stubborn. And I'm very secure in who I am and what I want. And I'm also absolutely adamant about what I believe I am entitled to. Some of the things I believe I am entitled to are controlling my agency, being treated as an individual human being, being an equal partner in my relationships, and designing my relationships to suit the preferences of the people in them rather than forcing people to fit into a predetermined relationship mold. Apparently, I'm asking a lot. But I didn't flee the poly community after being treated like something to be consumed. I stuck around to fight back so that I could change the community into something that was more hostile towards those sharks and more welcoming towards swimmers like me, the people who, I had been led to believe, started the community in the first place.

Around 2012, the phrase "solo poly" started getting used, notably by one blogger in particular who is credited with coining the phrase. I became aware of her when we started interacting on Twitter because we seemed to share similar relationship preferences and a similar frustration with the broader poly community being resistant to and dismissive of our visions of respect for autonomy, agency, and living alone. I do not take any credit whatsoever in the coining of that phrase, but I was there in the beginning when it was coined and I had been publicly espousing what turned out to be its definition for more than a decade before its coining.

There were a few other terms floating around at the time and we were trying them all on to see what fit. While trying on several terms, I started the first ever solo poly group, and I put it on Facebook. I invited several phrase coiners to run the group with me, as we seemed to share the same visions and frustrations. Eventually the other terms dropped out of favor and we stuck with "solo poly".

But in my time defending this new phrase, I have discovered that lots of people use the term differently, including those of us who started the whole movement in the first place. As usual, this has caused some confusion. Today, I have come up with a breakdown of the three or four most common variations on the phrase that I think will help to bridge communication gaps when we all start throwing around this term and everyone starts arguing about what it can and can't include.

Before I get to that breakdown, though, there is one misconception that needs to be cleared up. The one thing that solo poly does *not* mean is "unpartnered". Solo polys *can* be without any romantic partners (for however they want to define "romantic partner") but that is most definitely not what the term *means*. Solo polys can and do have partners of all sorts, including deeply intimate, emotional, committed partners. We already had a word for people who don't have any partners - single. The term "solo poly" is intended to address a specific way that they "do" their relationships, not to indicate that they don't have any.

  1. The most commonly cited explanation for "solo poly", in my observation, is the desire to live alone and be off the "relationship escalator". The "relationship escalator" is that culturally defined path that people in romantic relationships are supposed to take, with certain steps progressing in a particular order, all culminating in a particular relationship conclusion. In my culture, we start programming people from a very young age, notably with the children's rhyme "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage!" There can be some variance in the steps, but in general, the "relationship escalator" involves two people always moving towards a destination that ends with life together, a marriage certificate, kids, a house, entangled finances, and a blending of the self into the relationship unit.

    This can even play out in a microcosm of individual relationships, where even sex acts are ranked on an increasing scale of importance, to be done in a particular order in a particular time and imbued with meaning or significance related to its place on the escalator.  But with respect to this element, the culmination of the relationship, it's symbol of "success", involves the intermingling of lives.

    Many solo polys prefer to structure their lives, logistically, in alternate ways, with living alone or "independently" with housemates being a top priority. Many solo polys expend a lot of energy keeping their lives logistically, practically, disentangled from other people, regardless of the emotional connection they share with others.

  2. The next most commonly cited description that I, personally, see is the elevation of the self as "primary". This is more abstract and involves prioritizing the self over others, usually in terms of self-care and emotional labor. People who use this description will often refer to themselves as their own "primary" and everyone else comes "secondary" to the self. This does not preclude any depth to an emotional connection between the solo poly and others. This is all about priority - who comes first in a conflict of competing priorities (which is usually the alternate definition of "hierarchy" that so often leads us into circular argument over whether hierarchy can be "ethical" or not, where people confuse "priority" for "power" and attach ranking terms to priorities instead of centers of power). No matter how much one cares about another, sometimes priorities conflict and that's just the way of things - just ask anyone with two or more kids who have extra-curricular activities or who have had accidents at the same time. Prioritizing one's own self as "primary" sets the baseline precedent for how to resolve those conflicts.

    In practice, many solo polys are fairly adept at what I call "interdependence" - the balancing of priorities so that each person in a relationship can feel secure that their emotional needs will be cared for and that their partners and romantic networks can provide a safety net for them to fall back on when needed. Yet many tend to emphasize the importance of putting the self first in conversation about priorities, so it often sounds like they stray into "selfish" territory (which I have defined in some long-ago blog post as being different from self-interested, where "selfish" is about prioritizing the self to the detriment of anyone else and is inherently a negative trait).

    In my opinion and experience, I think some of this emphasis comes as a reaction to abuse. One of the red flags of abuse is in the loss of individual identity and subsuming one's identity into the relationship - in making the relationship itself more important than the people in the relationship. Lots and lots and lots of people see the melding of individuals into a single unit as "romantic" and don't see the danger inherent in losing one's identity separate from the relationship. Because of that, lots of people engage in fundamentally abusive practices without even realizing it (which is where the whole power issue of hierarchy comes in), and in polyamory, the people who feel the pressure and consequent explosion first and most often tend to be people who are not entangled in escalator-like relationships.

    In other words, even though losing one's identity into a relationship in an abusive situation hurts everyone, the most visible collateral damage in these situations tends to be the "secondary" brought into an existing dyadic relationship. These "secondaries" are treated as disposable, as crutches to shore up damaged couples, as sex toys, as nannies, as need-fulfillment machines. Even when they aren't supposed to be "secondaries" and are instead supposed to be equal "thirds" to existing dyads, their purpose tends to remain the same - a person is "hired" to fulfill a role for a couple and when it all goes to hell, that third person often ends up with the most visible scars.

    So I believe that many solo polys are gun-shy, so to speak, of getting sucked back into these kinds of toxic relationships or have seen the explosions on the poly battlefield and want to avoid being yet another statistic themselves. I might fall into that camp. Many may also be unable to articulate the difference between priority and power, and fearing a power imbalance, they emphasize their priority for themselves.  I think a lot of solo polys, even though they are quite capable of building interdependent relationships and may even be practiced at it in their existing relationships, I think a lot of solo polys tend to emphasize their self as "primary" to try and explain the concepts of autonomy and independence to an audience that often sees *any* separation or individuality as a threat to their control over the outcome of the relationship.

    I am not at all, in any way, suggesting that solo polys do not feel the way they claim to feel about being their own primaries. I'm suggesting to people who think that these claims mean that solo polys are callous and selfish and unable to care deeply about other people or even work together to form mutually beneficial partnerships that those people misunderstand the importance of the concepts, possibly because of a lack of understanding of that power imbalance and of how deep the threads of abuse go into our collective understandings of relationships where "abuse" and "romantic" become interchangeable.

  3. Closely related to the "self as the primary" but some may view as distinct, is the prioritization of the concepts of "autonomy", "agency", and "independence". This can also be related to abuse. First and foremost, abuse is about control. The way one controls another is by removing their agency - their ability to operate as an autonomous individual. Many solo polys cite "agency" as their motivation, or their priority. Much of what I said in the previous element can be applied here, especially the parts about reacting to abuse, where some solo polys are aware of and concerned about abuse and emphasize the language of "agency" in their descriptions such that people who don't understand the importance can misinterpret solo polys as being "selfish", "afraid of commitment", or unwilling / unable to work together in interdependent partnerships.

    Sometimes the people who are most sensitive to a loss of agency or autonomy are part of oppressed categories and understand the loss of agency from a cultural oppression perspective. Many solo polys are drawn to the label because of their closely held beliefs in the importance of autonomy and they seek to build relationships that honor and respect autonomy and agency above everything else, where all the other elements of relationships, such as support and intimacy, exist to serve and protect the partners' respective agency. Some solo polys believe that intimacy and connection can't exist without recognizing and acknowledging agency, because it is only by relating to an autonomous individual can we truly build intimate connections in the first place. Not recognizing the essential agency of our partners is considered a roadblock to intimacy because the participants are not really in relationships with each other, but are in relationships with models of people that exist in one's imagination that are *based* on real people.

    There are also a lot of motivations for people who value independence. I'm not going to go into a deep dive over the how and why of this. Some people were raised to be independent. Some people were harmed by being too dependent and learned independence as a survival skill. Some people had bad experiences with codependent partners in the past. Some people are just that way and who knows why? And probably there are even more reasons.

    Our culture tends to give us conflicting messages. On the one hand, we're supposed to "pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps" and be a "self-made man" and not take "handouts". On the other hand, romantic relationships are culturally designed to erode that sense of independence. There is also a gender power influence here, where men who have housewives raising the kids and managing the home are still considered "self-made" who become "successful" with "nobody's help" but women who have partners are considered to need help. If she works and he stays home with the kids, he is "helping out with the kids" so that she can pursue her career. But if he works and she stays home, she's not "helping out", she's doing her job and he still built his career "on his own" because it's the charity or handouts or assistance of others that "count" as "help".

    The gender differential and power dynamic in relationships is a big enough topic that some people can actually build entire careers out of studying it so I'm going to stop here before I go off on a rant about it. Back to independence, we are taught to be "independent" but that doesn't apply in relationships. In relationships, we are taught to entangle ourselves with other people. It's even written into the law in some places, such as shared property laws where, even if you maintain separate joint checking accounts, legally speaking each spouse is entitled to half of the other's money. Some people, for a variety of reasons, prefer to retain their independence even within romantic relationships, regardless of how much they care about their partner.

  4. The fourth element is about introversion and privacy. Many people who gravitate towards solo poly are introverts. First of all, "introversion" has nothing at all to do with social skills, shyness, or misanthropy. Introversion and extroversion are jungian psychological theories that describe how people feel "energized", or engaged, active, and happy. Introversion and extroversion are also not binary states; they are on spectrums. Everyone has some of both, so I don't want to hear any of this "I'm an ambivert" or "those tests never guess me right because I do both" bullshit in my comments. Everyone does both to some degree and boxing you into a single category is not the purpose of the system. But personality type systems and the public's collective misunderstanding of them is a rant for another time.

    Back to the point - introversion is where people feel that they lose "energy" by interacting with some people and they need to "recharge" by being alone. Extroversion is the opposite - people feel that they lose "energy" by being alone and need social contact with others to feel better. Many introverts enjoy social activity, some of us enjoy it a great deal. It's just that we feel tired after the event and it takes some time being alone to start to feel better. Introversion can be a difficult state to adequately care for when someone lives with other people, so polys who are strong introverts often enjoy living alone to care for their introversion. No matter how much an introvert loves someone else, and no matter what they feel or believe about entangling finances or other relationship escalator steps, an introvert still needs a way to get "alone time". So they may be open to such entangled arrangements, but only if they can configure them in the right way. The difficulty of finding such a balance when one is also poly can lead to people identifying as "solo poly".

    And then there is privacy. Again, like independence above, there are a wide variety of reasons why people value privacy, ranging from healthy to unhealthy, from "nature" to "nurture" (i.e. being inherent in the personality vs. a reaction to past experiences), and which slide around on the intensity scale. It is much more difficult to maintain one's privacy from within a relationship that is riding the escalator. When people cohabit, especially if they don't have a room of their own, when they share finances, when they share email and online accounts, when they entangle their lives with other people, it becomes extremely difficult to have privacy. This isn't about keeping secrets (and I'm not going to entertain comments about what "counts" as a "secret"). Every mother I know has made jokes about not knowing what it's like to pee without an audience for the first 5 years of a child's life (longer if one has multiple kids within 5 years of age). Some people value privacy more than they value entanglement and these people are often attracted to the label "solo poly".

These four elements - living alone, the self as the primary, autonomy / agency / independence, and introversion / privacy, are not mutually exclusive. Most solo polys I know desire a mix of the four elements. But I would say that each solo poly person has their own blend of these four elements, with certain elements being more important than others. And that is what, I think, causes a lot of confusion.  Someone asks "what is solo poly?" and someone with a blend that prioritizes element #1 gives their answer, but then someone who really feels and believes that element #3 describes them but doesn't much care about #1 thinks that they are not solo poly because their blend is different and they're not aware of all these different elements.

My personal stance on this, the position I have always held since I started fighting with hierarchical polys almost 20 years ago that led to me collaborating with those bloggers who started coining all these poly sub-group terms, my opinion is that the first element - the logistics of living alone - is not necessary but is extremely difficult to maintain the others without it. I am of the "autonomy and agency" flavor of solo poly. I believe that maintaining one's individuality and independence, and respecting the autonomy and agency of each person, and prioritizing the autonomy and agency of each individual above the relationship are of the utmost importance and how we reduce abusive structures in relationships.

I have always held that the idea of autonomy is what makes one "solo poly", even before we had the terms to use. I have also always held that maintaining one's autonomy is possible even in relationships that look "primary-like", but that couple privilege is a subtle, insidious thing that takes conscious and deliberate effort to undermine so that people in "primary-like" relationships or escalator relationships would have to intentionally structure their relationships to make space for autonomy.

I tend to see the autonomy / agency element of solo poly as being integral to the definition and the other elements as being either expressions of that element or supportive of that element but not necessarily requirements of solo polyamory.

So when you're talking to solo polys or if you're wondering if you "qualify" as solo poly, keep these elements in mind. Maybe three of them really hit you personally but you couldn't give a shit about living alone, or perhaps you're disabled and need to live with caregivers. You could still be solo poly. Or perhaps you really need to maintain your own money "just in case" and you're opposed to legal marriage because screw the government getting up in your business but you still want to build deeply connected, intimate relationships. You could still be solo poly. Or maybe everything about this sounds awesome except that you want to do it in a commune with two dozen other people who all live in their own huts but on the same property walking distance from each other or in the same apartment complex and you socialize with everyone all the time in the common spaces like the kitchen because you're extroverted. You could still be solo poly.

If you're legally married, live with only one partner, share finances, and co-parent, I think there is still room for you under the label if you hold the other values, but I do think you will be challenged more often because I think it's more difficult to see one's internal values of autonomy and agency when one's life is structured to more closely resemble a system of dependence. If you only date together, have veto power or approval power, access to each other's emails and phone or text conversations (especially if no one outside of your dyad has the same access to these things of yours), have a hierarchy, or otherwise have difficulty separating out where you end and your partner begins, I think I would question your commitment to values of autonomy, independence, privacy, etc.

In my opinion, as long as you value yourself, your partners, *and your metamours* as independent agents and you arrange your relationships to support  and encourage that, the rest of it all is more like flavor, or color, shading your own version of solo polyamory to reflect your uniqueness and individuality. Others may disagree, but as one of the earliest pioneers of this style of polyamory regardless of what it's called, this is what I was fighting for from the beginning. Treat people like independent, individual human beings who are more important than the relationship, discourage couple privilege, and separate out the culturally appointed markers of "romantic relationships" from the emotional connection or value that each relationship has for the participants.




This is a work in progress, which is why it's so long. I hope to refine it to a more digestible description in the future.

*Morning Glory Zell is responsible for coining the phrase "polyamory", being the first person to use the phrase "poly-amorous" in print and all other publicly available derivations of the term came later. She died in 2014 but was alive and available to clarify her intent with coining the phrase for the time period in which the definition was being debated and determined. Her intentions were often ignored when people wanted to use the term differently or dismissed under the excuse that another person was the "real" coiner of the phrase even though it was used 2 years later, simply because that other person had the first internet reach. "Who said it first" is an argument for another time.

joreth: (Self-Portrait)
I am, I think, technically, a relationship anarchist although I don't identify with that label or the communities that have sprung up around the label. If I read the various definitions of the term (because dog forbid we let someone coin a term and everyone use the same damn definition), they more or less describe my viewpoint better than not.

One of the reasons why I don't identify with the term is because, in the early days of polyamory, those definitions *were* the definitions I was given for polyamory. I feel resentful of what I see as all the couples finding out about us through Montel Williams and the early news articles and invading "our" space. It's more complicated than that, but to me, we anarchists had this space first and the couples with their toxic monogamous paradigms infected it, driving out the later generations of people like me who came looking for community, didn't find it, and created their own space instead. I feel resentful of that and I keep trying to "take back" what I think of as my space so having throngs of people abandon the fight (because they aren't invested in the community like I am) makes me feel angry, and that is one of several reasons why I don't connect to the term.

But, aside from all of that, the whole reason why I gravitated towards polyamory in the first place is because I had all of these relationships that didn't fit into the neat and tidy little boxes that mono-centric culture insisted I must have. I was good friends with most of my exes. I had "best friends" to whom boyfriends had to take a backseat. I had casual partners who were good for a fuck but not good to call on in times of need. I had different ways of prioritizing my relationships that weren't tied to the kind of sexual activity we shared (or didn't share).

Some RAs insist that they don't do any ranking of relationships at all - that absolutely everyone in their contact book is exactly equal to everyone else. But others (and I would fall into this camp) say that it's not about never "ranking" anyone, it's about removing the requirement of sex as the most important ranking factor. It's about acknowledging that we have all these different kinds of relationships that mean different things to us, and romantic-sexual love should not be given the highest rung of priority *just because* it's romantic-sexual. There are other factors that are just as or more important in determining which person is given more of our priority, time, attention, emotional connection, etc.

As Charlotte once said in Sex And The City, "maybe we could be each other's soul mates, and guys can be these great, fun guys that we have sex with?" That's simplistic, sure, and there are tons of problematic things about the show, but even this heteromononormative piece of entertainment understood that sometimes people come into your life who are your anchor, your core, your foundation, and they are not necessarily the same people you have sex with.

My whole life I have struggled to explain my relationships. Part of the problem is because categorization is an inherently ranked system. Look at the words I've used so far - priority, important, more of... On the one hand, I rebel at the the thought of "ranking" anyone, but on the other hand, Dunbar's Number is still a valid theory. We have, essentially, rings of associations, and the closer someone is to the inner ring, the more ... just the "more" they are to us. That's how the brains of social animals work. Once someone is outside of our monkeysphere, they are Other, but inside that sphere, they are Someone and there are different levels of Someone inside the sphere.

I recognize that I have different levels of priority or connection to different people. I just don't associate those priorities or connections with the same markers as mononormative culture (i.e. sex, cohabitation, even relationship labels). Back before I rejected the primary/secondary terminology outright, I described my "primary" relationships in terms of connection rather than logistics. So, my Long Distance Relationships might be "primary" to me because of the strength of the connection I felt, but a local partner might be "secondary" or even "tertiary" because the connection was less, or ... different. Lots of people, particularly those aforementioned couples, in the poly community had a difficult time understanding this redistribution of primary/secondary terminology, which is what first made me reject those terms even before I really began railing against the inherent ranking in them.

So, I can explain all of this, and I have been for years, but it takes a lot of words for me to explain it. Today I read a sentence that explains it in way fewer words than I ever use.

"[H]aving a relationship with someone gives you an insight into how heavy or not heavy an emotional support request may be."

That's it. That's how I categorize my relationships. My "closeness" to someone, how often I talk to them, who gets "priority" and for what, who has sex with whom ... those may be factors that shade the relationship categorization, but those are not deciding factors. What "level" or what ring in the monkeysphere they reside on is based on how heavy an emotional support request of them might be. Can I call on them to vent for an hour on the phone about something or nothing? Can I ask them to perform Acts of Service for me? Which Acts of Service? Can I ask them to drop everything, pay for a last-minute plane ticket across the country or across the world, and just sit with me until I can quell the urge to reach for my gun without help? How emotionally expensive are these requests to them?

How heavy the request is and how not-heavy they feel the request to be is how I categorize my relationships. Not how long we've been together, not whether or not we have sex or what kind of sex, not their physical proximity, not how often we talk to each other, not the relationship label we use for each other, and not the outward markers of our relationship such as selfies together or going on "dates" or holding hands in public.

How much emotional labor is it a mutual joy to share with each other?

I've written before complaining about the amount of emotional labor I often do for others, particularly men. Those complaints are centered around an uneven distribution of emotional labor and the one-sided blindness of who is doing all the labor. By itself, emotional labor is not necessarily a bad thing. It's what partnerships are for - to share the labor to make the load easier for everyone. In happy, healthy relationships, there is a balance of emotional labor - not necessarily an equal division, but a *balance*, where each person feels comfortable shouldering the burden being requested of them and comfortable with the amount and type their partner is shouldering for them, based on their respective needs and desires and preferences.

That one sentence; it's so very simple to illustrate such a complex concept. Having an idea of how heavy of an emotional request I can make and how not-heavy they will receive that request - that's what separates out intimates from acquaintances from strangers for me. It's ranking, but it's not ranking. There's no implications of how many. There's no implied judgement (in my view) of someone being "bad" or "lesser" for the answer being a lighter load than someone else - just a different category, just as valuable, fulfilling a different niche. This request might be "too heavy", but that request might be OK. Not better and worse, just ... different. Not everyone is or can be *or should be* an emotional tank or heavy fighter. We need all kinds of skill sets to make up a good raiding party. So, to me, I don't see an implicit value judgement in this phrase, but some people probably will. There is probably a strong overlap in those people with the people who don't get polyamory in general, with those who *think* they get it but still say things like "I just can't imagine not caring enough about what my partner does with someone else, but you do you!"

But before I go off on another tangent about people's misconceptions of poly, let's wrap up this already long post. My relationships are categorized because that's how the brains of social animals work. But my categorization doesn't match the culturally accepted categorization system. The most important factor, culturally speaking, is sex - you save sex for The One Most Important Person or the sex is a representation that this person is The One Most Important Person. That seems, to me, like a rather shallow way to rank people. I have deemed you Most Important, therefore I will have sex with you (and only you), or I have deemed you Most Important *because* I have sex with you. Making that the defining criterion just seems so ... weird and arbitrary to me, especially when I *see* that it's not true in practice. Even monogamous people have platonic friends and family who are also The Most Important Person. But somehow their sex partner is elevated to this Other No Really The Most Important Person state?

I have lots of important people in my life. They are all important for different ways. They are all important because they are them and I am me and our relationships are a totally, unique organism made up of the blending of them and me that can never be reproduced or replicated by anyone else. And yet, even though everyone is important because they are unique, there is still a difference between them. There is still a difference between intimates, acquaintances, and strangers and even those 3 categories have fuzzy edges and blend into each other.

That difference is based on how heavy of an emotional request can I make and how heavy do they feel that request to be. No value judgement, people are not "bad" or "good" for the amount they can carry for me, they just are. Some people are heavy lifters, some are short burst sprinters, some can only carry certain types of weight and not others. But that's how I see my relationships. That's how I determine who are my core relationships, my satellite relationships, and my comet relationships. That's how my relationship constellation is organized.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
* I am committed to prioritizing the happiness of the individuals over the longevity of the group if / when those two values are in conflict.
This is a new commitment. I have always advocated for a family-style of polyamory. The ex I mentioned in a previous post, who prioritized his own desires above my feelings or our relationship, I remember having conversations with him where he was offended and horrified at the idea of "censorship". I remember him demanding of me "so you think it's appropriate to censor me?!" And I remember my answer was "no, I think you should want to self-censor, that this is something you would choose because our relationship is worth making that choice for." The hard part for me is that I still feel this way. I still feel a strong desire for partners who are willing to weigh their options, and who value our relationship so highly that sometimes the other option is not worth the cost, that sometimes the health of our relationship and my comfort or preferences are too valuable to trade for the other option. I still feel this way even though I always have, even as a child, believed that staying together out of obligation (i.e. "for the children") was one of the worst things you could do for a relationship.

In the commitment about refraining from hurting my partners, I discussed a situation that a metamour and I went through separately but together. That story applies here too. That was a situation where, even though she and I both want to build a poly family, sometimes desperately need that family, we discovered just how dangerous desperation for family can be. We each learned the price of family obligation. We each learned that when the relationship is too important, it becomes coercive. It becomes coercive when any member feels that they can't leave, that their individuality and their individual needs are less important than maintaining the group itself. I referenced this point in a previous post, which further linked to an article on this very subject. This kind of coercion sneaks up on you even when you think you're on the lookout for it. With all my talk of autonomy and the new poly term "solo poly" and independence, I still didn't see it coming.

One very effective trait of abusers is isolation. An abuser isolates his victims from friends and family, from anyone who might be able to see what's going on and who might have enough pull on the victim to give them the strength or motivation to leave. Something I never even considered before was that this tactic can also be used effectively from within a family to keep a family together through force as well. That sounds counter-intuitive - isolating a victim from family in order to bind a family together. It's very subtle. What you do is you make the promise of a relationship, or a family, so desirable that the other person feels afraid to leave (the other person can give you a head start by desiring that family fantasy before they even meet you); that being without this family or this relationship is a terrible option they can't even consider. Then you turn everything that they do into them attacking and hurting the family group or relationship, even if what they do is for their own emotional or physical health or has nothing to do with the family.

When everything they do somehow manages to hurt everyone else in the group - the group that they desperately need to belong to - it drives a wedge between that person and the rest of the group. Soon, communication between the individual and the others in the group dries up because the individual feels a constant wash of disapproval. If you can orchestrate this so that the disapproval is coming through you and not the other people directly (because you're the one who said everyone else is mad, not them), and direct communication starts to become affected, then eventually it doesn't even have to be true and the group starts to blame the widening rift on the individual for pulling away because they're not aware that the individual is pulling away because they think the group has positioned themselves in an us vs. them struggle. So eventually, the individual becomes too afraid to do anything for themselves or for their own good because the consequence is losing the relationship. The individual loses their agency and subsumes their autonomy into the group. This makes the relationship more important than the individuals.

I still very much want a close-knit family style of poly. But I also still very strongly believe that one does not have to lose one's individuality to the group. I mentioned this very concept way back with the commitment to respecting my partners' life choices. But this one is less about focusing on my ability to let go of my attachment to my partners' decisions and more of a step back and a look at the bigger picture. This is an acknowledgement that there are two conflicting goals in my relationships - maintaining individuality and autonomy vs. building family. I believe that most of the time, in healthy relationships, these are not directly in conflict and both can be achieved simultaneously. But sometimes, they will come to a head and conflict. I am establishing a baseline for myself that, in the event of a conflict of these two goals, the one that serves the individual must be given more weight right out of the starting gate. Because if the individuals' happiness is not being served, I believe that the health of the relationship cannot be served either. The latter requires the former, but not necessarily vice versa. So the former must come first, and the latter will follow automatically as a result, or it will end in service of the former.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
* I am committed to choosing the Path of Greatest Courage by always being honest with myself and my partners while simultaneously allowing compassion to dictate the delivery of my honesty.

Yet another old commitment, this one is best explained by two preexisting blog posts: Thoughts About Truth And Virtue and Radical Honesty. The post on truth and virtue introduces the concept of the Path of Greatest Courage, where courage is best defined at this other post.

The summary is this: "Courage is making decisions that take you closer to what you want, or to the person you want to be, even when you're scared." Courage is a virtue and life rewards those who move in the direction of greater courage. Honesty, in most situations but particularly in romantic relationships, is usually the best method for displaying courage as well as for building intimacy in relationships. But honesty without compassion is often nothing more than cruelty. Framing the discussion as honesty vs. "little white lies" is a distraction. The real discussion is between compassion vs. cruelty because both honesty and lying can be either. Honesty can be tempered by compassion, which serves the goal usually offered by those supporting the "little white lie" side ("I don't want to hurt her, so I'll just tell her a nice little white lie that will make her feel better") without sidestepping the path of greatest courage. I'm setting my bar high to strive for the path of greatest courage, which requires me to be honest in my relationships, but without using my commitment to honesty as a blunt object with which to beat my partners over the head. I am setting a goal for myself that I can and will be both honest and kind in my romantic relationships to the best of my ability.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I have a problem with our new trend of slinging around labels like "narcissistic" and "borderline personality" and even "abuse". I had the misfortune to observe up close several relationships that imploded under mutual accusations of abuse and personality disorder labels. And in many of those cases, I got it wrong. I backed the wrong horse. I heard the accusations and I chose a side to "believe the victim" and it turned out that the "victim" was not what they appeared to be.

To be fair, both sides in all the dramas that I watched *did* do some terrible things to each other. We all hurt others when we are hurting ourselves. But, when all the cards finally got laid on the table, the people I backed as "victims" were solidly, unquestionably, abusive and they were so either first (leading to their victim to lash out in whatever legitimately toxic ways the abuser accused their victim of doing) or were so worse (not that it justifies the other side if the other side was, in fact, abusive, but it does *not* justify my misplaced support of them).

Remember that post I made about abuse being about beliefs, not feelings? Here's the problem: in every case, the abuser honestly, truly, genuinely, sincerely believed that what they did was right and they ALSO honestly, truly, genuinely, sincerely believe, to this day, that they were the victims. Even when I *witnessed*, in person, live, someone gaslighting another, they sincerely believe that they have never gaslighted anyone and that their victim was really a narcissist who abused *them*. In that case, the gaslighter uses science articles about faulty memories as armor and accuses *me* of not seeing what I saw because they keep emails (nevermind that this all happened in person, not in email).

I had someone contact me once, crying, hysterical you might even say, over some disagreement they had. One person accused the other of doing something "wrong". So the one who did the thing was terribly upset over the idea that they had harmed their partner and was a horrible person. What they did, in my opinion, was not "wrong". In my opinion, the demand that they not do the thing is what was "wrong" because it was a controlling act. So, they were upset. Later, I confronted the other person, who tried to tell me that they were totally in the right over demanding to control the other in this way, and besides, the other is OK with it so keep my nose out of their business.

I told them that the other was most definitey NOT OK with the controlling behaviour, I saw how not-ok they were myself. So they called the other person over and said "now tell Joreth that we worked this out and everything is OK." So they said to me "It's totally not a big deal, we talked about it, and I really wasn't all that upset anyway." Uh, yes you were. I SAW you. You had a total and complete meltdown. You were barely even verbal, you were so upset. But no, the abuser had the victim convinced that, not only was the thing they were doing not a big deal, but that the victim wasn't even as upset over it as they really were.

So now, years later, I've had a chance to see how all these different people have evolved after their experiences in these doomed relationships. And here's the problem that I have: without exception, all the people I have now identified as "abusive" still believe that they were the victims and that they were abused. There are even therapists involved! Yet no therapist that I'm aware of in these cases has told anyone that they are using abusive tactics or holding them accountable for controlling behaviour. Although, and here's the really scary part, at least one therapist *has* told a victim that *they* were the abuser. And remember, this is one of the cases where I personally was able to witness and observe the relationship over time, and one of the cases where I originally would have agreed with the therapist until I saw the abuse myself, instead of the rewritten reality that is presented to the public after the abuse happens.

These abusers sincerely believe that they were victims. They hold onto this belief years later. They are attempting to "move forward" as if they are recovering from abuse. They have tons of sympathetic followers on social media, sending them *hugs* and "I believe you" comments. Meanwhile, their victims suffer in quiet isolation, forced to withdraw from social media and to slowly build up their support networks in person again, until they feel that they can creep back onto social media with fake names or locked down profiles or they keep only their work-related profiles active and hide their more personal activity.

How do we tell the difference from the outside? This is a rhetorical question because I guarantee that any answers anyone attempts to post in spite of the fact that it's rhetorical, I guarantee that those methods can be applied towards the abusers' stories and we can still interpret their side in their favor. I guarantee that because I'm watching it happen with these cases. Their friends lists remain large. Their comments remain sympathetic. People still "hear you" and "believe you" and "sending you sympathies" and "understanding" and "it will get better" at them. And the really ironic part? More than one of them have built a reputation for "ethical relating" and still post about consent and abuse in relationships. From the *victim's* point of view. Some of them have quite large audiences. Some of them even still get media attention for their writing about relationships.

So I see all these "they're a narcissist!" posts and I really want to support the victims and provide safe spaces for them, but all I can think of when I see these posts is "how can I trust that this time, your accusation is the real one and not the abuser calling his victim a narcissist?" Because, without exception, every case I have personally observed, the one who I believe is the real abuser, every one of them really and truly believes that they are the one who was harmed.

And I don't know what to do about it. I have no answers for this. Every bit of advice or research I've managed to dig up or had someone share doesn't help the outside observer like me because of those sincerely held beliefs. They honestly believe they have been wronged. So unless I was there to see the gaslighting happen, or to see them attempt to control another, from the outide or after the fact the stories they tell sound totally believable because *they* believe them. They can *tell* me a list of things that their true victim supposedly did, and it will sound exactly like narcissistic abuse or whatever. And their pain will be real. As I said in that other post, abusers are people in pain and fear. Their feelings are *real*, which is why abuse is not about "feelings" but about the belief that it is OK to address their feelings and fears using the abusive tactics that they employ, and why I strongly dislike the phrase "all feelings are valid" because of the slippery definition of the term "valid".

So I don't know what to do about all this, and that's the problem I have with our communities flinging around terms like "narcissism", "psychopath", "abuse", etc. I can look at all the checklists and I can say "yep, these are horrible things" and I can listen to someone tell me their grievances and I can say "yep, that sounds awful". But, if we stop there, then apparently EVERYONE is the victim, even when they're actually the perpetrators.

And THEN, on the very rare occasion when someone does come forward and admit to mistakes and makes changes or seeks help, since they're the only ones admitting to wrongdoing, that just confirms who the villain is and our collective response to villains is to ban them from community support and remove their platorms. And I'm not even saying this is wrong in all cases. I'm saying that we do not have the answers to handle abuse in our communities now that we are attempting to identify it. Now we know what abuse *is*, but we still have trouble identifying it and we definitely don't know what to do about it.

I don't have any answers and, as I said, the answers people keep giving me don't help with the first step, which is in telling apart two conflicting sides. "Believe the victim" is good advice to support victims, but only after we have identified the victim. I "believed the victim" several times when the "victim" I believed was actually an abuser. I am currently watching several abusers have major community platforms with hordes of fans and friends who believe them as "victims". Even they, themselves, genuinely believe themselves to be victims (or, at least, not in the wrong). So I have a problem with all these posts because, when I see them, all I can think now is "yes, that really sucks, but what if I'm wrong again and your sincerely held belief does not match reality? And all you did is just remove the support from someone who really needs it because the article you shared describes a horrible person and we're all supposed to 'believe' you automatically?"

And that's a terrible environment for everyone to exist in, but especially people who are on the receiving end of abusive behaviours.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
[livejournal.com profile] margareta87 shared this website and suggested that everyone read everything on it. So I'm reading the most recent blog post and I want to share it specifically.

https://norasamaran.com/2016/08/28/variations-on-not-all-men/
"Sometimes he can’t tell the difference between him feeling bad because he hurt somebody, and feeling bad because someone hurt him. ... When Kyle is 20, or 30, or 40, or 60, and harms someone by action or omission, where will the ‘parent’ be who can say “you are good and loved and not shameful, and you did this thing, now stop acting like an ass and go make it right.”?"
I have an abusive ex that I talk about often. I *think* that I've done most of the emotional repair work so that I'm no longer acutely affected by my past relationship with him, but he makes such a good illustration of the messiness of emotional abuse that I continue to talk about him as a tool (heh, pun intended) to teach ethical lessons. This was basically what he was like. He was unable to distinguish between feeling hurt because someone hurt him and feeling hurt because *he* hurt someone and they reacted to it.

As the blogger, Shea Emma Fett phrased it, being victimized by acts of control is different from being victimized by my resistance to your control. In my most recent blog piece about beliefs vs. actions, I phrase it as raising your hand to slap someone and then having your hand hurt when you strike the arm that they raised to block your slap. Where was the grownup for my ex to say "people love you, and you did this thing, now stop acting like an ass and go make it right"? When I, eventually, tried to take that role, I got punished for it. I was lumped right in with the "bad guy" and we were both seen as "attacking" him. I was called "intolerant" and told that I was a One True Wayist because I told him that his method of keeping his partners small for his own comfort was unethical and hurtful and that *he* needed to do the work to let them grow rather than making them stay small on his own timetable.

"If you harm someone and then make it so that they feel afraid to tell you about it, be aware that women are likely coddling you constantly day in and day out in ways that exhaust them and that you take as normal and do not even notice."
He did this too. He made having a difference of opinion to him so intolerable that most of the family just let things go rather than argue. And they didn't make it clear that they were "agreeing to disagree" either. Often, he and I would have an argument, he would go away to complain to the others in the group, then come back and say "I talked to everyone else and we all agree that you're wrong", but then one or more of them would come to me privately to say that they actually agreed with me and disagreed with him but they didn't want to say anything because it was too much trouble to start a fight about it.

People in the group were constantly rearranging things in order to make him feel comforted or to accommodate him. If an argument got too heated, he would shut down, go into a semi-catatonic state, and when things got really tense he even reverted to self-harm and threats of self-harm. People in that group would literally force themselves into situations where they felt physically and emotionally unsafe just to prevent him from having a meltdown. Any attempt to tell him that his actions harmed them was met with said meltdown in which people had to back up and take back what was said. He called it "admitting they were wrong" and "owning their own shit" and he also called it "backtracking" and being "unreliable" which made them afraid because there was no right answer and no way to get out of the quicksand bog of arguing with him. I called it "badgering them into conceding." His victim called it "gaslighting". Whatever it was, he rewrote reality around him so that he was always right and everyone else catered to his "needs".
"Is it possible they have tried to tell you in a nice way, and you have clapped your hands over your ears or made it hard for them, and eventually they lose the capacity to be ‘nice’ while they are getting harmed? If you think back – really think back – how long were they trusting you and quietly asking you for help and empathy and support and compassion and honesty before they lost their buffer of capacity to speak kindly while drowning?"
This is what happens when people "blow up" seemingly "out of nowhere". If it looks like someone is "overreacting", there is a very good chance that they are actually acting appropriately if you add up all the times in the past, instead of taking this one instance in isolation. Regardless of how righteous you feel in your position (and believe me, I've seen plenty of people "blow up" at me on things that I'm dead certain that I'm right about - like gently pointing out something mildly racist and having them explode all out of proportion to what I actually said), embed this in your brain - if someone has lost their shit, there is probably something deeper going on. It is likely that they are reacting to an accumulation of things and your most recent encounter is just the straw that broke the camel's back. Now it's *your* job to step back and see if they are reacting to a lifetime of microaggressions and it's not personal to you or if they added together all the times they tried to talk to you about this and they're fed up with you not hearing them.
" if you make it hard for people around you to let you know you have caused harm, you’re going to invoke survival strategies in your friends and colleagues when you think you’re just having a regular hangout with your friend."
This partially explains when people of some sort of privilege get on their FB soapbox to preach about maintaining friends of different viewpoints. For someone with privilege, it's not a big deal to have a friend who has a different perspective when that person has less privilege because that different perspective doesn't affect the more privileged person directly. Their "debates" are all "academic" and they can take them or leave them. But the less privileged person is *harmed* every time they have that "debate" because, for them, it's not academic, it's personal. So one person thinks they're just having a friendly, spirited debate and the other person experiences it as one more cut in the death of a thousand cuts. So they have to employ fucking *survival strategies* in order to maintain that friendship, and eventually it becomes too much to bear. Think about that - the person you think of as a friend has to treat you like they're handling live plutonium and put on protective emotional "gear" just to be in your presence. I hope that makes you feel uncomfortable. Now sit with that discomfort because I'm not going to provide the coddling to make you feel better about yourself over it.
"I would actually apologize to him for having felt afraid. Because my hurt and fear hurt his feelings."
Being victimized by your control is not the same thing as being victimized by my resistance to your control.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
(If you are seeing white text on a black background and the reverse is more comfortable, you can read the Google doc that I used for my final draft here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jDo84msoBu74TQIW2OM4MLiILCoDIiQyzNllinU_FVg/edit?usp=sharing. The wording is identical.)

Modified disclaimer: "This is a personal post so it has extra rules. I don't want advice. I don't want condescension about my age or any other aspect of my identity or lifestyle or about not "seeing clearly" precisely because I've been through some fucked up experiences. I do not want devil's advocate. In fact, since this is all completely about lessons I've learned through very painful personal experience, I'm not interested in entertaining any debate over it. You are welcome to believe that I am wrong about my own life and experiences, if you keep that to yourself. If I see anything in the comments section that makes me regret having been open about my life, it'll be deleted without further explanation."

I have an ex-boyfriend. He abuses women. But he didn't abuse me. I'm not the kind to abuse easily. I'm not totally immune to it. I spent several years in my youth engaged to an emotionally abusive person who was successful at it. In fact, that's partially why I refused to believe it when his victim accused my partner of abuse. I had been through abuse, you see, so I should know it when I see it. And I didn't see it, therefore it didn't exist.

In general, I'm not the kind of prey an abuser looks for. I'm loud, aggressive, I have a strong support network, and I'm extremely confident in my memories and in defending my autonomy and my boundaries. Frankly, I'm too much work for an abuser to abuse. But, here's the thing I learned in my most recent lesson with abusive men: abusers aren't comic book villains twirling their mustachios and plotting out their Rube Goldberg-esque schemes to erase their partners' identities for personal gain. The term "gaslighting" is incredibly valuable, but not all gaslighting looks like the movie the name comes from. In fact, most gaslighting does not look like a film noir movie.

Abusers are often people in pain. They don't abuse because they hate their partners. They abuse because they're afraid. They're afraid of being abandoned. They're afraid that they're unlovable and if their partner ever discovers the "truth" about them, they'll lose that love. They're afraid of who knows what else. But a lot of us are afraid of things like that. So what makes them abusers and us not abusers?

They believe that they are right to address this fear by overwriting someone else's identity. There is also not necessarily a sharp dividing line between "us" and "them".

From the an article by Shea Emma Fett called Abuse In Polyamorous Relationships1 (all bold emphasis in all quoted passages in this post are mine):
"Most importantly, abusive behavior arises from beliefs, not from feelings, which is one of the reasons why people who are abusive are resistant to rehabilitation. I think this is a really important distinction, because people who engage in abusive behaviors can be kind and caring and gentle, and happy and wonderful to be around. They are not abusive because they are evil. They are abusive because the abuse makes sense and feels justified to them."

"[Lundy] Bancroft [author of Why Does He Do That?] says, “Anger and conflict are not the problem; they are normal aspects of life. Abuse doesn’t come from people’s inability to resolve conflicts but from one person’s decision to claim a higher status than another.”"

"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 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.

But more than that, many of our fundamental beliefs in relationship[s] create a fertile ground for abuse. The goal of marriage is often longevity at any cost, and the presumption is mutual ownership over not just intimacy, but our partner’s choices, feelings and thoughts. And even if we take care to form our commitments outside of these assumptions, we still often carry a powerful sense of entitlement in intimate relationships. In short, intimate relationships often default to the power over model, and the relationship becomes a struggle for this power."

"The purpose of abuse is to erode a person’s ability to make choices for themselves. The abuser feels justified in taking proactive and punitive actions because of a fundamental sense of entitlement to their partner’s choices."
And from 10 Things I Wish I'd Know About Gaslighting2 by Shea Emma Fett:
"Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality. The rest just happens organically when a person who holds that belief feels threatened. 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. And in my experience, identifying that paradigm is a lot easier than spotting the gaslighting."
I'm not certain that identifying a paradigm of ownership is easier than spotting gaslighting, at least for me, because I've seen some people who are really good at twisting and using language to appear like they're on our side, but aside from that so, what? I've referenced these articles before, many times. Lots of people are talking about abuse nowadays. Why another essay on abuse that is basically just referencing something that's already been said? Well, because I don't think that the concept of "abuse is about beliefs" has really sunk in yet. I've spent many years yelling on the internet about why hierarchy* and rules in poly relationships are dangerous. People keep insisting that they can be done "non-abusively" or that everyone agrees to it therefore it's not abuse, but I don't seem to be able to get my point across - that it's not whether this specific action or that specific action is "abusive" or not or is "consented" to or not. It's about the underlying mindset and beliefs that allow people to think that hierarchy and rules can be done "non-abusively" in the first place.

From Relationship Rights: Can You Negotiate Them Away?3 By Eve Rickert:
"I believe that if you’ve come to a place in your relationship where someone has negotiated any one of their rights away, that relationship includes coercion, and that invalidates consent."

"There are certainly cases where you might choose not to exercise a right. It might be easy enough to say you don’t need the right to leave when, well, you don’t want to leave. But when you decide you do want the right? It’s still there.

And that’s what makes it a right."
That is the foundation of some later blog posts on whether or not hierarchy can ever be "ethical".

From Can Polyamorous Relationships Be Ethical? Part 2: Influence and Control4 by Eve Rickert:
"Healthy relationships are ones in which we can express our needs and desires, but it’s when we feel entitled to have our partners do what we want that things go off the rails. Entitlement makes us feel like it’s okay to overrule our partners’ agency (and that of their partners). If we’re part of a socially sanctioned couple, this is especially dangerous, because we’ve got lots of societal messages feeding that sense of entitlement. And the most damaging parts of hierarchical setups tend to come about when we enshrine entitlement into our relationship agreements."

"Once the tower of intimate influence is defended, however, we see the village once again reoccupied. The village is things that a person feels entitled to control in their partner’s relationship, or rules and structures that are put in place to ensure that one person’s needs are always favoured in the case of resource conflict."
I didn't recognize that my partner was abusive because he didn't *behave* that way towards me, and I didn't *see* him behave that way towards his other partners. So when this one person came forward and said he had abused her, I, along with his other partners, all stood up and said "He can't be! He's not like that! He's never done anything like that to us! The problem must be with you!"

But the truth is that he *did* do things like that to his other partners. They just looked a little different because we were all different people so he had to use slightly different tactics. His abuse was expressed differently with everyone so it didn't look like "abuse", but they were all expressions of the same set of *beliefs*. So when his other partners succumbed to his manipulation of them, it looked like everyone was consenting, therefore it couldn't be abuse. Because it wasn't necessarily the behaviour, it was the underlying belief that permitted the behaviour. "[I]f you’ve come to a place in your relationship where someone has negotiated any one of their rights away, that relationship includes coercion, and that invalidates consent."3
"Do abuse victims “consent” to be in their relationships? On the surface, perhaps it looks that way, but that is rooted in a victim-blaming, “why doesn’t she (he) just leave?” mentality and a serious oversimplification of the psychological dynamics of abuse. Abuse relies on tearing down your partner’s sense of self and personal agency to the point where consent is really no longer valid. And it doesn’t take physical violence to make a relationship abusive."3
The thing of it all is that this pattern was visible from the beginning. It wasn't invisible at all. It was just camouflaged beneath this community insistence that "anything" that two people "consent" to is A-OK. That whole YKINMKBYKIOK (your kink is not my kink but your kink is ok) mentality that I find so profoundly dangerous. I get why we started that. It's easy for people to place our own biases and judgements on other people even when we're trying to be all liberal and inclusive and shit. Look how often the furries get thrown under the bus by other kinksters, for instance. We had to teach ourselves that we don't have to agree or approve of someone else's preferences for those preferences to still be legitimate and valid and accepted. But instead of opening the door to inclusiveness, the door swung in the other direction and is now being used to bludgeon anyone who tries to critically examine toxic or harmful behaviour. It's like the religious extremists using "freedom of religion" to justify *imposing* their religious values onto other people by granting corporations personhood status to avoid covering contraception.

When I first met my abusive ex, he was in a hierarchical relationship that enforced triad structures only (FMF with bi-women, of course). So I thought "I kinda like him, but there's no way I'm touching that with a 10-foot pole!" Over time, their structure evolved until, many years later as our friendship grew, I was told that they had worked through their issues and they could now have independent relationships without each other and those relationships were allowed to grow on their own. So I thought "Hallelujah! People can change! People can learn and grow and break out of their insecurities!" Boy, was I wrong.

See, he and his wife still had a lot of rules with each other that I found ... disconcerting. But I wasn't told the full scope of all the rules, just that they found what works for them but that they had reached a point in their lives where they could accept that their other relationships couldn't work that way. So, in enters YKINMKBYKIOK - it works for us and we're not imposing it on you, so don't question it unless you want to be seen as intolerant of other people's preferences. So I didn't inquire too much, except to insist that this structure absolutely, without a doubt, no exceptions, would not work for me. They assured me they wouldn't try to impose it, and thus reassured, I entered into a relationship with him.

In the throes of NRE, I saw all the red flags, but I ignored them. Because he wasn't doing them *to me* and the person he was doing them to *said* she was OK with it and even claimed to be her idea in some cases. But they niggled at the back of my brain, so I stored these red flags in my memory (sometimes literally - a lot of our conversations were via chat, so I have the chat logs and I'm not relying purely on my memory) and when things came to a head years later, I was deeply ashamed that I hadn't paid more attention back then. And holy shit, when I learned what some of their rules were much later I was *really* upset with myself that I didn't press the issue in the beginning.

One of the red flags was that his wife didn't allow pictures taken of herself. Not just explicit photos, but any photos. Well, very occasionally she would pose for group photos of social events. But no candids and definitely no sexy shots. At the time, I thought this was just a quirk of hers. And it was, but sort of. She's also a very dominant personality, much like me in a lot of ways. Back in the beginning, when I thought "nope, not ever gonna go there!", I thought it was because *she* was calling all the shots and I didn't want anything to do with any relationship where the wife had more power over my relationship than I did. But they inadvertently introduced me to what I now call Relationship By Hostage Crisis. This is where two people get into a relationship with each other and one of them allows their partner to remove their agency in some way because the first person wants to remove the agency of the other themself. So they basically trade their own agency in exchange for controlling the other person's agency.

Some people seem to think that this is a fair power exchange, that it's not abusive if it goes both ways. But we're not talking about a D/s agreement where someone has the power to concede something. The reason why that's different is because *that person always maintains the power to take it back*. If they don't, it's abuse, by definition. I know this gets a lot of serious edge-players up in a snit when I say this, but kink is all about fantasy and illusion. None of it is real. Sure, it's real *enough* that it triggers the reactions in our brains so that it *feels* real. But it can end at any time. Franklin ([livejournal.com profile] tacit) once knew a guy who insisted his wife was his slave in every sense of the word and he owned her in exactly the same way he owned his TV. He insisted that it was a real slave relationship right up until his wife divorced him. You'll note that she wasn't summarily hunted down by the government and lashed or hung for leaving him.  But we do see cases where women try to leave their male partners and the men punish them by stalking, harassing, raping, and killing them.  He feels entitled to control her agency - her choices - and she is punished when she makes choices he doesn't approve of.  She does not have the power to take her agency back.  This is not a D/s consensual power exchange fantasy.

Giving up your agency in order to have control over someone else in trade is not a BDSM power exchange fantasy. You may indeed have power over someone else, but you *lose power over yourself* in exchange. This is not something you can renegotiate later when it's not working for you. You have become *powerless*, and it takes a great deal of effort to wrest that power back, if you ever get it at all. As they say, two wrongs don't make a right. Sometimes you can have two bad actors in the play instead of just one.
"Our brains are optimized to seek pleasure and avoid threat. It’s most of what we do. There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid things that we believe will hurt us. However, most people would also agree that you can’t put a gun to someone else’s head in order to avoid the things you fear, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences. Sometimes we have to face what we fear because all other options require taking actions that we consider to be wrong. Therefore when we harm each other because of fear, let’s recognize that it was not the fear that was the problem. We all have fear. The problem was a belief system that said, well, maybe I can put a gun to your head."1
So, the wife wanted control over her husband in some way so she allowed her husband to control her body in this way (among others). He didn't want other people looking at her body in ways he didn't approve of. They held emotional guns to each other's heads. This is not a fair power exchange. No one was empowered by this situation, they were both disempowered *even while* they held power over each other. So, no pictures of her. Except that *he* obsessively took pictures of her. Of everyone.  At all times. And I mean at *all* times. I had ample opportunity during group sex to see him actually stop the sex, reach for a camera, and take a dozen pictures, all with her glaring at him in the picture because she didn't like having those pictures of herself taken. *She* wanted to control when pictures were taken and right then was not when she wanted to have pictures taken. But it didn't matter, because *he* wanted them.

I had a conversation with her about this once. This is where I learned that the no-dirty-pictures rule wasn't her own preference. She would have wanted to have posed for something for her own enjoyment, but he wouldn't allow it. She saw nothing wrong with his prohibiting her because, as her husband, he had that right to determine what happened to her body, but he also had that right (she believed) because she gave it to him. But there was no consideration for renegotiating that rule, at least not in practice. He made disagreement with him so traumatic to everyone in the family that everyone avoided disagreement with him at much cost. He literally made it a matter of life and death when people disagreed with him. So it was easier to capitulate than try to talk him out of one of his catatonic or self-harming states, and then they got to believe that it was their "choice" to negotiate that power away.

Later on, some other things were happening regarding her relationship with her boyfriend and my partner and I were arguing over his wife's autonomy and the boyfriend's rights in his own relationship with her, and we circled around to the subject of sex work, which led to the subject of dirty pictures. He was appalled, I mean *appalled* at the idea of a partner of his either "selling her body" or of his wife having nude pictures that someone else could see. We veered into all kinds of tangents, including me demanding him to explain how "selling one's body" through sex was any different from me getting paid to dance or to perform manual labor or how sex work was any more inherently demeaning than my soul-sucking retail job at barely above minimum wage.

I also had to watch him go through a series of mental gymnastics to explain why it was OK to be dating me, who has naked pictures of myself on a public website from when I posed as a tutorial model for [livejournal.com profile] tacit's BDSM site, but not OK to have a wife who might have similar pictures. The gymnastics got even more convoluted when I disclosed to him that I had been paid to pose for a nudie calendar years before and that picture is out there, floating around somewhere that I've never even seen and certainly have no control over what happens to it. The takeaway I got from that exchange was that it actually *did* bother him, but he was unable to admit it to himself so his cognitive dissonance forced him to justify on the spot why it was somehow different to be dating someone with that kind of exposure than to be married to someone with it.

But what really stuck in my memory was his explanation of why he believed he was in the right for not allowing nude pictures of his wife on the internet. He told me the story of the bowl of M&Ms. So, let's say you have a bowl of M&Ms on your desk at work. You love your M&Ms. They're your favorite candy. And sometimes you don't mind sharing your M&Ms with your coworkers, but you have this one coworker who you hate with a passion. He's a major asshole to everyone and he definitely doesn't respect you or your M&Ms. He feels entitled to them. You don't want him to have your M&Ms because they're not *his* M&Ms, and, in fact, you hate him so much that you don't want him to have any M&Ms ever because you don't want him to have the pleasure of eating M&Ms at all because he's such an asshole that he doesn't deserve the profound bliss that is the M&M.

I couldn't believe what I was reading (this was a chat argument). I couldn't believe this was coming out of the same person who was otherwise so aligned with all my values and beliefs and philosophies! So I said "but your wife isn't a bowl of M&Ms, she's a person who you can't own and she gets to make up her own mind about what happens to her own body." He tried to handwave away the objectification inherent in his analogy and pushed the "but he's an asshole and doesn't deserve to see the glory that is her body" angle.

He tried to appeal to my sense of justice but I don't actually want people I dislike to not have good things. I might often wish bad things on them, but all the times I can think of when I did that, what I wished was for the bad thing to be relevant to why I disliked them so that they would ultimately learn compassion and empathy from the bad thing, or at least be punished in the same way they were punishing others. I honestly don't give a fuck if Racist Joe in the next cubicle gets a lot of pleasure out of his cold Budwiser while sitting in his favorite recliner watching football at the end of the work day. I don't want to steal his Budwiser just so he can't have one. I'm not bothered by the idea that someone I don't like might actually be experiencing something pleasant or enjoyable or feeling happy. But I am deeply disturbed by the idea that other people are bothered by that.

There are so many other examples, that I have been using my experiences with him as moral tales for years since it all went down and I have yet to run out of examples. Argument after argument, random side comment after pointed discussion, there are a million different ways that he expressed his underlying belief that his partners could not be trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies; that if left to our own devices we would necessarily choose things that were not in *his* best interest; that what was in *his* best interest was therefore what was in *our* best interest; that what was "best" for the group took precedence over what was "best" for the individual; and that he was absolutely entitled, as the romantic partner, to have the power to make those kinds of decisions and to ask, demand, or manipulate his partners into doing what he decided we should.

I didn't see any of this because, for most of our relationship, what I wanted for myself and our relationship and what he wanted for me and our relationship were in alignment. "It might be easy enough to say you don’t need the right to leave when, well, you don’t want to leave. But when you decide you do want the right? It’s still there." Until one day, we weren't in alignment. He had no need to try any of the gaslighting or logic-circling or even more blatantly abusive tactics like threats of self-harm because I wasn't doing anything contrary to his vision of how our relationship ought to be or how I ought to be in our relationship. Until one day, I did. And then I saw it. I saw what his victim had been crying to me about just a few weeks before. I saw the entitlement. I saw the belief that he ought to be able to dictate my actions. I saw the carrot-and-stick game he played with her - using group acceptance as the carrot to get me to fall in line and group shunning as the stick if I didn't fall in line. "I talked with everyone else, and they all agree that you are wrong. You’re hurting the whole group, don’t you care about us?" I saw everything she said he had been doing to her for the length of their relationship, finally, in one day, directed at me.

And then I saw that I had always seen it. It had always been there.
"Therefore when we harm each other because of fear, let’s recognize that it was not the fear that was the problem. We all have fear. The problem was a belief system that said, well, maybe I can put a gun to your head.

The prioritization of fear arises when we replace a relationship of mutual support and co-creation, with one of parental protection. ... A relationship that is hostage to fear is one where everything, the relationship, the mental health of the participants, the future, everything hinges on the avoidance of something. Every relationship that forms on top of that avoidance, forms under the premise that the fear is more important than anything else. But just because you’ve agreed to never open the box, doesn’t mean the box isn’t there, informing the health and stability of every relationship that touches it."1
When we first broke up, it came as a shock to everyone. To everyone on the outside, he and I were the most compatible and stable of all his other partnerships. We were so similar in so many ways. And by the time we broke up, his relationship with the victim who came forward had gotten so tumultuous that all his other relationships were being affected, except, apparently, ours. Everything in his life seemed to be falling apart. He was so wrapped up in the drama with this one person that he had no more resources for maintaining any of his other relationships and they were all in danger of blowing up too. His last blog post prior to our breakup was lamenting the fact that his life was falling apart and I was his one port left in the storm. So no one saw it coming, because no one understood that this box containing his beliefs and fears was still there, informing the health and stability of every relationship including ours.

When I told people who had met him or who were privy to my gushings of my relationship with him during NRE, when I told them of how it ended, without exception everyone said that it sounded like I was describing two different people. It was a total Jekyll and Hyde story. His victim once said that she tried to reconcile these two people in her head. Part of what made her stay with him so long is that she kept thinking that she could get back to the nice Dr. Jekyll if she could only find the right way to behave that wouldn't let out Mr. Hyde. But her other partner pointed out to her, "He's not two different people. Your nice, sweet boyfriend is also the abuser. They're the same person."

I keep saying that patterns are important. But I also keep saying that it's the underlying beliefs that are important. People might be tempted to say "but look at all these other relationships he has! She was the outlier! The pattern is that he's a good guy and she's the problem!"  But that's not the pattern. The pattern is in his beliefs. Sure, he didn't try to manipulate me or control me ... as long as what I was already doing was something he approved of. So it may have *looked* like there was no pattern of manipulation or control because he didn't seem to try that on me. But the real pattern was that he *believed* that manipulation and control are appropriate methods of dealing with a partner whose behaviour was something he didn't approve of. "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."

This is why benevolent sexism is still sexism and still a problem. The behaviour, on the surface, might seem like it's not oppressive because it supposedly elevates women. It rewards them. It "privileges" them. But only as long as women toe the line. Only as long as women fall within acceptable ranges of behaviour or dress or thought. A pedestal *seems* like a place of power and enshrinement, until you realize how confining it is to stand in one spot or risk falling to your death for daring to sit down or change positions.

It's tempting to say "he's not an abuser because he didn't abuse me!" I know, I said that at one time. But it's also tempting to say "but abusers don't abuse everyone yet they're still abusers". The thing is that they actually do, we just can't see it behind the camouflage. As [livejournal.com profile] tacit, and one of my metafores, are fond of saying, it’s not a problem … until it is. "Every relationship that forms on top of that avoidance, forms under the premise that the fear is more important than anything else. But just because you’ve agreed to never open the box, doesn’t mean the box isn’t there, informing the health and stability of every relationship that touches it." A racist who keeps his mouth shut when a black customer walks into his store is still a racist towards that customer. He's not a racist because he does racist things. He's a racist because he holds racist beliefs. And he holds those beliefs all the time, at everyone. A person who believes that they are entitled to control other people’s bodies, thoughts, and choices still believes those things even when they don't choose to exercise that entitlement, for whatever reason they choose not to in that moment. And those beliefs leave signs. It's not about whether or not he tries to manipulate a partner who is already doing what he wants her to do. It's about whether he *believes* he is right to manipulate her should she ever not want to do what he wants her to do. And that kind of thinking leaves footprints, if we only learn how to identify them.

The reason why this is important is because it is too easy to dismiss abuse when it doesn't look like how we think abuse ought to look. It's also too easy to accuse people of abuse when they are not, in fact, abusing anyone.

I wrote a paragraph in a recent post where I distinguished between "selfish" and "self-interest". That paragraph got quoted, and some people took exception to that distinction because abusers will just turn around and call what they're doing "self-interest" to justify their actions. What these detractors didn't seem to get was that this was my whole point.

What worked on my partner's victim was the accusation that she was being "selfish". That it was *she*, not he, who was the abusive monster. Her story is remarkably similar to the same one I linked to and quoted above. That's why I keep sharing Fett's writing - it really hits home with how similar it is to everything we (mostly she) went through. It all started unraveling for me when she called me crying, desperate that she had harmed him in some way, and how could she fix it? When she told me what she was afraid she had done, I was horrified that she could possibly think that she had done anything wrong at all. But how could she be such a monster? she wondered. How could she treat him so heinously? Are you fucking serious? I asked her. This had nothing to do with her at all. This was all about him.
"If you are being abused, there is a very high chance that you will be accused of being abusive or of otherwise causing the abuse. That’s because this accusation is devastatingly effective at shutting you down and obtaining control in a dispute. However, I also believe this accusation is often sincere. People often engage in abusive behaviors because they feel deeply powerless and that powerlessness hurts. But not everything that hurts in a relationship is abuse, and not everything that hurts your partner is your responsibility. It’s important to be able to distinguish abuse from other things that may happen in relationships that are hurtful, or may even be toxic or unhealthy, but are not fundamentally about entitlement and control."1
There are all kinds of things that are problematic to varying degrees. But they are not all about entitlement and control. And this is *very* important to recognize. And they should never be conflated. That harms actual victims of entitlement and control. It's not always just the abuser accusing his victim of being abusive. I see it in communities as well. Now that we're finally talking about abuse in my various subcultures, a lot of terms are getting bandied about - abuse, harassment, consent, violation, predator, narcissism, borderline personality disorder ... just to name a few. Not all of these terms are being applied where they should. When things that aren't abuse get mislabeled as abuse or "rounded up" to abuse, it makes it much harder for actual abuse victims to find proper support. When things that are indeed problematic but not "abusive" get labeled as "abusive" instead of their real problem, then we can't address the problem in ways that are effective for solving the problem.

And when people live in fear that any possible misstep might get them cast out of communities under accusations of "abuser", especially if those people are actually victims who have been told by their abusers that they are the abuser themselves, it makes it way more difficult for anyone to seek help or to seek correction for things that might actually be correctable (or not even offensive at all).

I think we're on the right track now that we're sensitive to abuse and harassment and control in our communities. But I think we're also in danger of slipping off the track too easily. We're not quite at the destination yet and we still have further to travel. One of the dangers is in stopping too soon. Now we know all these words, and now we have started supporting victims and accusers in order to break the previous chilling hold on victims from finding the support they needed when they come forward. But we still don't quite have our finger on the pulse of the problem yet.

Patterns are important, but it's the underlying beliefs that those patterns reveal that are the real key. Those underlying beliefs are what enable abuse and harassment and control and oppression and all the other bad things we're finally starting to look at and combat. Those beliefs set up the foundations that allow abuse and control and manipulation to happen. But not all bad things are about entitlement and control. It's the beliefs that make abusers so resistant to rehabilitation, so it's the beliefs we need to confront. If we don't confront the beliefs but instead attack the behavioural patterns, abusers will simply change their behavioural patterns to continue avoiding detection. It's the beliefs that need to change, and the behaviour changes will follow naturally as a consequence.

At the same time, if those beliefs aren't present, then not only is the attack the wrong way to approach the situation, the behaviour itself also has different chances of correction. It's much more likely to correct someone's behaviour if the behaviour doesn't stem from a deep belief that their behaviour was, in fact, already correct. I’m repeatedly told by those with social anxiety and other social awkward issues that we need to stop excusing bad social behaviour by labeling it some mental illness because people who aren’t predators but legitimately socially awkward often feel horrified when it is brought to their attention that they have done something wrong and they want to learn how to do better. That’s because they don’t have an underlying belief that they were right, they were simply unaware, and they don’t want to do these wrong things. These issues are correctable, but not if we ostracize everyone who does something wrong without first finding out if it was a social awkwardness / anxiety thing or if it was a boundary-pushing predator masquerading as socially awkward thing. One of them believes they didn’t do anything wrong and the other doesn’t. One of them can have their behaviour corrected with guidance and the other can’t because they don’t believe their behaviour was wrong.

How we address the problem needs to be changed if the belief underlying it isn't about entitlement and control, if we want our efforts to be effective. And, as my partner's poor victim learned the hard way, if there are no underlying beliefs about entitlement and control, then there's a good chance that she wasn't doing the abuse she was accused of in the first place. She, like Fett, wracked her brain trying to figure out how to stop this "abuse" she was doing to him, and that only made things worse for her. Fett describes many times about the extreme self-loathing and self-hatred they felt because they believed themself to be an abuser when they weren’t. Because they weren’t actually abusing anyone, the intense searching for the root of non-existent abuse only deepened the wound and left them more and more vulnerable to their abuser’s manipulation.

As Fett says, being victimized by your control is not the same as being victimized by my resistence to your control. His victim wasn't abusing him because, no matter how much he felt hurt, she wasn't the one doing any hurting of him. She did not have any underlying beliefs that she was entitled to control him. In fact, all of his hurt stemmed from her very strong belief that no one was entitled to control anyone else. She was resisting his control and that made him feel hurt. If your hand hurts after slapping someone who raised their arm to block the slap, that person didn't hurt you; you hurt yourself by slapping them.

But *his* underlying beliefs of entitlement were always there, and were always visible. When he first accused her of abusing him, almost everyone who knew her were shocked and suspicious. What do you mean she abused him? She had never exhibited that kind of behaviour before! They had relationships with her that weren't abusive at all! When she later accused him of the same, people said the same thing about him.

But she did not have those underlying beliefs, and her supporters were not wrong to question the accusation. It *was* contrary to everything about her. And because it was so contrary to her very nature, it was a sign that she was actually a victim of abuse herself. When his supporters questioned her accusation of him, well, I don't want to go so far as to say it was "wrong" to question, because serious accusations deserve to be treated seriously, which includes inquiry into the situation. But their dismissal of her accusation in favor of their personal experience with him *was* misplaced because they were looking at the wrong thing - his actions and feelings vs. his beliefs.

When her supporters questioned his accusation of her, they investigated her beliefs. In light of what she believed about entitlement and control, the accusation was patently absurd. The absurdity of the accusation is what led to the situation finally being identified accurately - that he was gaslighting her and emotionally abusing her. He accused her of abuse. Some people who knew her (not me, to my great shame), questioned that accusation. It didn't fit what they knew about her. She had never done anything like that to them. But, more than that, her *beliefs* were so contrary to the accusation, that her supporters were able to start piecing things together for her when she was so mired in self-doubt and illusion that she couldn't do it herself. So they started adding things up and told her "you are not this person he says you are. He is gaslighting you."

She finally broke free and accused him of abusing her. Some people who knew him questioned that accusation. It didn't fit what they knew about him. He had never done anything like that to them. But that's where they stopped. They did not question his *beliefs*. If they had, like I eventually did, they would have discovered that his beliefs are not actually contrary to the accusations at all. And they would have discovered, like I eventually did, that signs of his beliefs had been visible from the beginning. So no one else started adding things up, and to this day people believe that she abused him and that I also abused him because I withdrew my support and then resisted his attempt to control me when I withdrew that support. Because they looked at actions and feelings and not beliefs.

Those beliefs were visible, and showed a pattern, if you knew how to look for them. Without those beliefs, she could not have abused him. Hurt him, sure, because we all hurt people, especially when we are in pain ourselves and especially because the people who are the most vulnerable with us are also the most susceptible to being hurt by us precisely because of that vulnerability. But she *could not* have attempted to control or manipulate him because she *does not* hold any beliefs that she is entitled to his thoughts, his body, his choices. Everything she ever did in that relationship was an attempt to escape his control, not exercise it. But her attempts to escape that control were *felt* by him as "harm". And misunderstood by everyone else as "selfishness". And I, of all people close to that dynamic, should have been able to see the difference, since that is essentially my very existence within the context of romantic relationships - constantly attempting to escape control and being labeled "selfish" for the attempts.

The problem is that this subject is so complex and so nuanced that I don't think I'll ever be done writing about it. And so this post now becomes a mini-novel. All to explain that patterns are easy to disguise or misinterpret if we only look at actions and not at underlying beliefs. When we look at patterns of *beliefs*, things appear very different. Someone who seems totally affable becomes a manipulative monster (everyone's favorite TV dad, for instance). Someone who is accused of being that monster turns out to be a victim themself. And within communities concerned with social justice, it's hard to see sometimes because those monsters learn to co-opt the language of social justice. But the beliefs are still there, and they show up, if you know how to look for them. So when you go looking for them and they don't show up, it's time to wonder just who is the attacker and who is being attacked and maybe all is not as it seems.

When a bunch of people all stand up and say "I looked, and they didn’t perform those actions on me!", maybe we can question the validity of the group defense. But when a bunch of people all stand up and say "I looked, and those beliefs just aren't present", maybe we ought to question the validity of the *accusation*, like when my abusive ex accused his victim of being abusive for daring to resist his control of her. She (and later, I) was ostracized from her community and her support group because everyone automatically believed the "victim", meaning he called dibs on the label first and everyone jumped to his side by default, without critically examining whether his claims were even plausible, given the beliefs of the people involved. Her actions were deemed "abusive" simply because he felt hurt by them, without looking to see if there were any elements of entitlement or control present and, if so, which direction they flowed.

But those who cared enough to look beneath the surface finally saw the truth. Those who took the time to look for patterns of *belief*, not actions or not simply whether someone felt "hurt", when we saw the patterns of belief, we knew that she could not have been abusive, even if she might also have caused harm. And my refusal to see this pattern when it was first shown to me, that led to consequences of my own. Consequences that could have been avoided, and possibly even resulted in better protection for his victim sooner, had I learned to look for belief patterns and had I learned to recognize that internalized paradigm of ownership rather than quibbling over whether or not specific actions "counted" as "abusive".

Maybe, had I done that instead, I wouldn't today be wracked with guilt and self-doubt, all these years later. Maybe his victim would have escaped sooner and healed faster had I not backed the wrong horse and had I not challenged everyone else who said "but she can't be an abuser because our experience of her is different!"  Maybe she wouldn't have been so easy to isolate had I listened to *her* other supporters instead of arguing that they just didn't see how much drama the family had only when she was brought into the fold. Instead of questioning their support of her on the basis that they were too close to her to be "objective" and not close enough to the situation to see all the hurt feels he had. Maybe if I had acknowledged that, as people who knew her so well for so long, they might actually have had some insight into her belief structure and been exactly the right people to know if she had the beliefs necessary for her to abuse him. Maybe, if I had known that it was the beliefs that were important, not actions that happened behind closed doors that can be interpreted in many ways or rationalized and not simply “feeling” hurt by someone, things could have been different and we both could have been spared at least some of the damage that dating an abuser left us with. Maybe, had I understood all this back then, I wouldn't today feel like that house with broken windows**.

This is not the only time I made this mistake, either, although I was closer to this situation than to others. There was another time someone cried "abuse", and I believed them automatically because I was told I should, and only many months later did I learn that he was, in fact, an abuser. He was just the one who cried foul first. But, again, it took a confrontation with him personally where his beliefs that it was acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality became visible for me to see the pattern. Two people accused each other of abuse, and I took this side because I now "knew", thanks to my experiences dating an abuser, that abusers often think of themselves as victims. So, obviously, his abuser was just doing that, right? Except that later, he tried to gaslight me too. After telling him multiple times my feelings on something, he continued to insist that I did not feel those things, and to insist on his own narrative of what I felt. Now his "abuser’s" accusations of gaslighting sounded more plausible. He *believed* that he was entitled to control another person’s reality, and patterns of that belief were visible, if you know what to look for. That doesn’t let the other person off the hook for whatever wrongs they committed in this very messy situation. But it does mean that I was wrong to "believe the victim" without treating all the accusations flying around seriously and critically examining the situation even though I thought I did at the time. My bias towards "believe the victim" and my personal experience with abuse telling me that I should now know what abuse "looks like" fogged the matter and I did not examine the situation critically enough, or with enough information (knowing the difference between beliefs vs. behaviours or feelings) to be able to examine it properly.

So I yell on the internet, hoping people can learn very expensive lessons without paying the high price I paid to learn it first. After I believed the wrong "victim" more than once, I'm not positive that "believe the victim" is the right response. *Support* the victim might be a better response, because support allows for the ability to examine the situation and then provide the *right type* of support based on that examination. Had I "supported" all the actors in that messy double-accusation drama instead of "believed" just one of them, I might have been able to provide better support for the actual victims in the story, given that I had some community authority and responsibility in the matter. Had I "supported" my then-boyfriend instead of "believed" him, I might have discovered the truth sooner and been able to support him by holding him accountable instead of inadvertently contributing to the gaslighting of his real victim. Had I "supported" him instead, I might have been able to hear the chorus of "she couldn't have done that because we know her!" and looked into it more clearly instead of dismissing it out of hand, and I might have then learned about this beliefs vs. actions/feelings problem.

And maybe we might both have escaped without breaking first.



* I will not be hosting any debate in my comments about the definition of hierarchy. That’s why I linked to the definition I’m using here. If your definition differs, then you’re not doing what I am calling "hierarchy" and I don’t care. I absolutely refuse to hold space for this endless circular argument because it has managed to keep the entire community derailed for over 20 years. I’m insisting on moving on. Any comments that include anything even remotely resembling "but sometimes hierarchy is…" or "but I don’t do that…" or "but my kids really do take priority!" will be summarily deleted regardless of what other content the comment may have. If you’re feeling the desire to make a comment like that, go read the link I provided for the definition of hierarchy, and then parts 1 and 2 of Can Poly Hierarchies Be Ethical first. If you still feel the desire to make those comments, re-read all three posts. Continue re-reading until you no longer feel the need to make those rebuttals.

** This is in reference to an essay that might not be available. The essay is an analogy to living in a house with windows that aren’t perfect but that do the job. They’re good enough and the house is sound. Then one day, someone comes along and breaks the windows. And you spend a long time ignoring the broken windows, and then working around the broken windows, and then finally learning how to fix the broken windows. One at a time, you repair them. They’re not all repaired yet and some rooms are still unusable because of the broken windows, but the house is getting fixed, the new windows look great, and you learned a new skill. But the windows were fine to begin with. You didn’t need to learn this skill or replace the windows until someone came along and broke them. So you’ve had to spend all these years learning how to fix windows that shouldn’t have had to be fixed in the first place, and all these years ahead of you continuing to fix each window, when you could have been using that time to learn a different skill, to get better at something new, to grow or improve. Instead, you spend all this time just trying to move backwards to get back to a place you were before because you can’t move forward until you get there first. The breaking of the windows was a huge step backwards and now you’re playing catchup. And it all feels unnecessary because the windows were fine to begin with.



1. Abuse In Poly Relationships by Shea Emma Fett - https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/abuse-in-polyamorous-relationships-d13e396c8f85

2. 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Gaslighting by Shea Emma Fett - https://medium.com/@sheaemmafett/10-things-i-wish-i-d-known-about-gaslighting-22234cb5e407

3. Relationship Rights: Can You Negotiate Them Away by Eve Rickert - www.morethantwo.com/blog/2015/01/relationship-rights-can-negotiate-away

4. Can Polyamorous Hierarchies Be Ethical? Part 2: Influence and Control by Eve Rickert - www.morethantwo.com/blog/2016/06/can-polyamorous-hierarchies-ethical-part-2-influence-control
joreth: (Super Tech)
Me: ... I even know what song I'd dance to at my wedding.

Him: You don't even want to get married! Do all girls just naturally like planning weddings?

Me: No, you don't understand, I've had my wedding planned since high school because it was a *required class*! I've had the dress designed since then and even had a version of the dress made as my high school prom dress (which I still have in the closet, I'll show you later if you're interested). Obviously, if I really were to get married today, there would be some changes because I have some very different values since being a teenager (like not believing in marriage, for one thing, and being poly for another), but the reason why so many women have ideas for their weddings even before there is a prospective husband is because we're proactively coached in wedding planning.

Not everyone is forced to actually take a wedding class in high school. Some get it through their cotillion or sweet 16 parties or similar "coming out" parties that are really just mini-versions of today's weddings. Others just get it through their families. But I had sex ed every year from 6th grade through 12th grade, and eventually there's only so much biology to be taught on the subject. So they covered other related subjects.

One semester, our "sex ed" course was a self-defense class where I learned tae kwon do (not that I remember any of it, but I did flip a real assailant over my shoulder once, which was pretty cool). That class doubled as a P.E. credit. Another semester was a marriage and family planning course where we had to actually plan an entire wedding, down to calling venues to find out about how to reserve dates, developing color schemes, and making a budget. We were also randomly assigned various careers with certain incomes and had to plan a household budget with given criteria and limitations. The course ended the semester with one of those flour sack baby projects. And I also learned all the symbolism and significance to all those wedding traditions.

Did you know that the bride is supposed to have two bouquets? One of fresh flowers that she walks down the aisle with and then dries or freezes to keep stored forever and another fake bouquet to throw at the reception?

Him: What? You have to keep the bouquet?

Me: Yeah, along with the dress. That multi-thousand-dollar dress that you only wear once and then put in a box in the closet, never to see the light of day again. The flowers can get preserved and saved too. If you spent all that money on flowers, wouldn't you want to keep it too?

Him: I suppose. I just didn't know you were supposed to.

Me: So it's not a guy vs. girl nature thing, it's that I literally didn't have a choice. And even women who don't have a class to make them plan their weddings don't really have a choice. We're hounded by our family and friends, asked questions about our wedding plans that we have to answer, and when we're segregated into our respective gendered wedding parties, you guys are expected to go out and get rowdy while our "parties" are actually helping the bride prepare for the wedding. So even if I hadn't ever had that class, all I'd have to have is an invitation to a bridal shower or a close relative get married and I'd have been expected to help pick out dresses and florists and taste-test the cake and look at invitation fonts and discuss the hopes and dreams and expectations of the bride and her bridesmaids.

That bridal shower is pretty much all wedding planning and grooming. We give the bride wedding gifts that are supposed to help her with the wedding ceremony or the marriage after. The "games" we all play at these things are basically silly versions of wedding traditions that reinforce the cultural programming of weddings. Like dressing the bridesmaids up in toilet paper wedding dresses. That's dress designing reinforcement right there, even if it's silly.

Do you know the importance of choosing an invitation font? Or the seating chart at the reception? Or the consequences for having a more casual reception where there is no seating chart? How about the order of events? Do you know why, when you were a groomsman and you walked down the aisle with your bridesmaid, your linked arms were "wrong"? Do you know why that's important? And the cake, the topper for the cake is supposed to be saved too, frozen, and then eaten on your first anniversary together. Every little bit of the wedding and reception has to be planned out and it all means something.

Him: !!

Me: We are literally pulled into two different worlds and coached on different things. So, yeah, I have a wedding plan even though I'm ethically opposed to the government regulating my romantic life and philosophically opposed to most of the symbolism inherent in traditional marriage ceremonies (which, as I told Franklin, is subtly but significantly different from being "opposed to marriage" but it's too complicated to say all that so I summarize it as "opposed to marriage", but I'm not quite, not exactly). I have that plan because it's not really very likely to be socialized as "female" in this society without one. Even for us conscientious objectors or conscientious "modifiers", we can't be "conscientious" about it without looking into the whole concept of weddings and marriages and analyzing what we disagree with and why, both for our own introspection and also because we, as women, will be challenged on our objections so we have to really understand the subject in order to defend our position.

You guys just get to show up with a tux, or not. Even if you choose not to, you don't *have* to really examine why. You're guys. You could just be "a bachelor". But I have to defend my protest with reams of historical data, studies of sociological mores, piles of legal precedent or justification, and a degree in biology to counteract the false "evo-psych" bullshit that says I'm supposed to want to get married.

And even then, I'm still supposed to be able to describe the dress I would wear if I ever changed my mind.

Him: Huh. I didn't realize there was that much that goes into weddings.

Me: Yeah, it's not a "girl thing" in that we just like planning weddings. It's way more complicated than that. We don't really have much of a choice in whether or not we "like planning weddings".



In response to the inevitable "but I'm a girl and I didn't take any classes like that in school!" response:

I went to a private Catholic school, which held this class. But many public schools do have flour sack or egg baby projects so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they also have wedding planning mixed in there somewhere. Maybe in home economics class? I dunno, I'm told they don't have that class anymore, but they did when I was in high school, so it's not that archaic. Not yet anyway.

But, as I mentioned, we do have cotillions and bat mitzvahs and other religious or social practices where wedding planning sort of sneaks in there. Much of our "wedding training" is pretty subversive.  A lot of us go to religious or cultural classes in addition to our public school education. I went to Catechism as a Catholic (religious Sunday School), for instance. The Filipino Catholics had cotillion training that I only learned about after I joined a Filipino church and was invited to someone's cotillion, where I discovered it was basically a wedding reception where they dismissed the importance of the "groom" entirely except to be arm candy for the girl whose party this was. She held "court" and everything.

But many, as I said, just learned about wedding planning through attending the pre-wedding events like the bridal shower. It's sort of an informal tribal-school learning session, where the bride is the main attraction and the elder women all gather around to assist and then instruct the younger women and girls on doing the legwork. I can't tell you how many times I sat at someone's kitchen table with a sponge and a stack of invitations, stuffing envelopes and listening to the older ladies all talk about the wedding and the symbolism and the etiquette and fielding off demands from the grannies to know what *my* wedding will one day look like.

So even before high school, it's not like my mother quizzed me on wedding rituals, but I absorbed a lot of this knowledge just through cultural osmosis by being around other women going through their wedding preparations.  Which I was required to do as a "girl" as my mother, and then later myself personally, was invited to participate and celebrate in weddings, because the wedding activities were all segregated, with women attending bridal showers and pitching in to help and men attending bachelor parties and pretty much nothing else.  Really, sometimes my upbringing looked like a movie from the 1950s without the poodle skirts.

Plus, as I mentioned, even when women do opt-out of the cultural expectations, a lot of the time they still end up knowing about weddings precisely because they chose to opt-out.  Either they really looked into the subject and what they saw informed their opinions, or they started looking into the subject for their own weddings and got overwhelmed and just said "fuck it" and deliberately ignored the rituals.  Either way, the guys still mostly had the luxury of just showing up without really having to learn much about the process they were either participating in or eschewing.

It should also be noteworthy that people who follow me online are kind of a self-selected group, particularly a group of those who break gender norms, and when I speak of gendered social programming, I'm speaking of cultural trends where it should be obvious that some individuals (especially those who follow me) would be on the outsides of the bell curve.  Obviously I wasn't alone in going through these gendered normalization practices.  I grew up in one of the largest cities in the world and was raised in one of the most populous religions in the world.  While weird to my current friends and followers who follow me pretty much because we're all weirdos in these ways, my experiences growing up were still very common and are typical examples or illustrative of the sorts of experiences that shape the culture in which I live.



*Update*

In the comments of someone else's share of my post, someone said they were glad they didn't grow up like me. I have a response to that which I think is kind of important. I'm noticing a lot of borderline horrified reactions, and I think that's kind of missing the point.

The point of my tale was not "poor me, I was forced to learn about weddings". The point was "poor men are excluded from this process and women are expected to pick up the slack so here is yet another example of culturally enforced gender discrepancy of emotional labor".

The learning of the wedding process wasn't the criticism. In fact, I believe I benefited from the learning process and that maybe classes like these should be taught more often - just without the gender role enforcement or heteronormative structure.  Imagine what kind of cultural awareness we could be teaching our youth in classes that examined popular cultural traditions like weddings in-depth and challenged the students to understand why those practices are used and why they might want to keep or reject any given practice by having them plan and explain their own hypothetical weddings!  Imagine how the entire wedding industry might have to change as a result of an entire generation of youth growing into marriagable ages where they have already examined and challenged the gender roles embedded in weddings and already examined the interconnected economic consequences for participating in the wedding industry!  Imagine the generation after the "millennials" seeing the economic disaster that their parents are currently facing and learning about how we got to that point and how it affects even day-to-day decisions and larger decisions like the structure of our relationships, and then applying that knowledge to their own creations of their own relationships and futures!

There are much worse things than expecting children to learn and understand the culture in which they are expected to participate as adults.

Here's my comment:

I am glad to have grown up as I did. I learned a lot about my own culture, so that when I choose a different path, I have a very in-depth understanding of what I am choosing, what I am rejecting, and the whys of it all. I have a deep understanding of our cultural history and all the connections made over time and across cultures as imperialism and trade created influences on our own culture.

Knowledge is a good thing and I was fortunate to have grown up with people who embraced knowledge. It wasn't enough for my family and teachers for me to just adopt, say, wedding practices without understanding them and it wasn't enough for them to let me get to the stage where I would have a wedding without learning all the work involved in putting one on. My schools and the elders in my life wanted us to be prepared for adult life. They didn't want us to build these giant, unrealistic dreams of fantasy weddings, they wanted us to know how much they cost and how much work goes into them. They didn't want us to go out into the real world without understanding how checkbooks and credit cards worked and how much of our pay would go to essentials like rent and utilities.

I was better prepared to enter life as an independent adult than most of my friends who went to schools that didn't offer such instruction and I had a better understanding of why we culturally did the things we did than those same peers. No, the sad part is not that I learned all the stuff that I learned, but that men don't also learn these things and aren't expected to shoulder any of the burden while women are expected to know and do all this on our own (whether the women were given instruction as I was or not). As I told the person in the original story, if I ever was to have a wedding, my future husband would be an equal partner in the wedding planning because he would be an equal partner in the marriage. But thanks to culturally enforced gender roles, if I want an equal partner in this, it'll be up to me to educate him to the point where he *can* be an equal partner, and that's the part that is the problem, not that I'm already schooled in how to put on a wedding.
joreth: (Misty in Box)

http://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2016/08/16/selfishness-valid-response-entitlement-boundary-crossing/

In a completely different context, I have been known to say to my coworkers:



"I can totally tell you're a straight dude, because you've *obviously* never dated another guy.  Y'all think you're all rational and logical and shit, and that you're all about the sex and not the romantic stuff, but I know what y'all say to women when your dudebros aren't around.  You whine about not 'connecting' and missing the romance and all the fucking talk, talk, talk.  After a while, it's like 'do we have to talk about our relationship ONE MORE TIME?  Can you please just shut up with all the relationship talking?  Is it too much to ask to just come home, have some dinner, watch a little TV in quiet, have a little sex and go to bed?  Jesus fuck, you guys with all the talking!'  You sit there and complain about girls doing that but as soon as a girl doesn't WANT to do that, y'all turn into the whiny little bitches you complain about!  And don't tell me it never happens, unless you've dated as many men as I have, I'm pretty sure I have more experience with how dudes behave in relationships than you do.  You're getting the story your dudebros TELL you and the side they want you to THINK.  You're not seeing them behind closed doors.  I am.  Y'all are just as whiny and emotional as any of the girls you complain about."

Now, keep in mind that, when I phrase it like this, I'm talking to dudebros.  I'm talking to guys who are working in a masculine industry, talking to other guys, and doing that toxic masculinity bonding thing where they complain about how girly girls can be.  But the story under the language is true - I have spent a lot of time in relationships throwing my hands up in the air, yelling in frustration, "what the fuck, dude, I don't want to talk about our relationship anymore!"

Before I started dating [livejournal.com profile] tacit, about 13 years ago, just about every relationship I ever had ended in accusations of being a cold-hearted bitch.  I've had a few since then too, but he sets a high bar and my tolerance for partners who can't even come close to meeting that bar is rapidly dropping as I age, so my other partners since dating [livejournal.com profile] tacit have been a better ratio - with only a couple of outright abusive assholes using that accusation and the rest breaking up for other reasons.  By the end of things with those who accused me of being a cold-hearted bitch, I was no longer interested in hearing about their day, in listening to them whine (because that's how I thought of it by the end) about how much they "missed" me, in making them dinner, in sitting with them to watch their favorite show, in, really, doing anything at all kind or compassionate for them.  There would come a point in the relationship where I would just ... check out.

And I bought into this idea that I was some kind of borderline sociopathic monster (or, a dude in a girl's body, because the other common accusation is that I act like "the guy" in the relationship, which "forces" them to act like "the girl", because there always has to be one of each? Oh right, if *I'm* not performing the emotional labor, *someone* has to, and it's just not *fair* that it has to be the actual penis-holder!).  So I would warn people up front that I'm "the guy" and this is what I do.  But, in the beginning of a relationship, I like performing some amount of emotional labor - I like hearing my partner's inner most feelings.  I like baking for them.  I like validating them.  I am actually pretty schedule-oriented so I will keep the calendar and schedule events and remember (or get calendar notifications for) people's birthdays and anniversaries.  I even like the cuddling and the sex, in the beginning.  So they get used to me behaving in a way contrary to my warning words.  Then they start to feel entitled to that behaviour, and that turns me off.  So then they're surprised when I start acting exactly like I said I would because they weren't hearing my words, they were seeing my actions which contradicted my words and they put a filter over their interactions with me that projected their own biases onto my actions and filtered out my words.  Then they accused me of being "cold" and I would yell right back at them "what part of 'I'm a cold-hearted bitch' that I said in the beginning didn't you understand?"

The Five Love Languages theory claims that everyone has one primary Love Language that they use to express their love for people or that they feel love when expressed towards them.  It claims that it's possible to learn the other languages just like it's possible to learn actual languages, but that there is always The One.  I disagree.  I think that there is no limit (upper or lower) to the number of languages any given person naturally "speaks".  Some people have a single language and all the rest will always be a struggle for them.  Others, like me, speak all five fluently and naturally.  And most everyone else is somewhere in between.

Here's something I learned about the Five Love Languages - if a person has a particular Love Language, and that Love Language gets abused from an early age, and/or often, then that person will develop a strong aversion to the expression of that Love Language precisely because that Love Language is so important to them.  It's like touching an exposed nerve almost.  Maybe not quite, but touching something sensitive - if you do it exactly right, it will make them melt with pleasure, but if you do it wrong, it'll be a screaming, painful experience for them when the rest of us are all like "I don't get it, what's the problem? This doesn't hurt *me* that much!" (we see this very clearly in the "can't you take a joke?" defense where some people have no problem slinging insults around as signs of affection, but get confused when someone they love takes it "personally").  If that Love Language gets abused early enough, before the person is aware that this is a Super Important Way To Express Love, this person might believe that they are actually opposed to it completely, instead of it being extremely important to them.  And then, because they are avoiding the expression of that Love Language out of self-defense, their "love tank" runs on empty for most of their life.

A "love tank" is often compared to a car's gas tank or a bank.  It's this metaphorical space that gets "filled up" when you do things that makes the person happy.  When the tank is "full", they have a reserve to fall back on when things are tough.  When the love tank is full, and you have a fight, they are more likely to be charitable or compassionate during the fight and get over it afterwards because they have this extra cushion to fall on, this extra reserve to draw from, so they can afford to bend more, be more flexible, give more during a conflict.  This is why conflict, anger, or arguments are not necessarily a sign of a bad relationship - all relationships have these.  It's contempt that is the big warning sign.  Contempt, and similar emotions, are what gets brought out when these love tanks are running low.  Contempt and disgust lead to a lack of empathy, and that lack of empathy leads to "selfish" behaviour.  If you can't empathize with someone's position, you prioritize your own safety or your own security or your own escape route.

These behaviours are labeled "selfish" because you are putting yourself ahead of them.  I, personally, make a distinction between "selfish" and "self-interested".  "Selfish", when I use it, means putting WANTS ahead of someone else's NEEDS, and doing so either knowing that your actions will harm another and not caring; or thinking of yourself to the exclusion of the other person so that it doesn't even occur to you that someone else might get harmed.  When I say "self-interested", I mean that you are putting your NEEDS ahead of someone else's WANTS.  I might include "putting your needs ahead of others' needs" as well because sometimes there are situations where two people have legitimate "needs" that are incompatible and someone might have to choose themselves over someone else.  I don't consider that to be "selfish" so much as "self-interested".  Often, the person putting their own needs ahead of someone's wants is aware that someone else might feel hurt by it, but they feel it is a regrettable necessity.  They aren't lacking empathy, they are making a choice about priority.

I think this distinction is very important because the accusation "selfish" is a very powerful tool of abusers to maintain their victims.  Being "selfish" is one of the worst things a person, especially a woman or someone coded as "female" or "feminine", can be.  So it's easy to keep her in line by grooming her for her entire life to not be "selfish" and then drawing on that grooming whenever she acts self-interested.  Meanwhile, the actions of the abuser are, in fact, "selfish", by this definition.  I think it's important to note these two similar but distinct actions and belief systems with their own labels.  This is not a criticism of the original article's use of the term, but an explanation of my own position on the subject and how I normally use these terms.  Regardless of which term is used, I completely agree with the posted article's position on this subject, which is why I'm sharing the article.  It prompted me to take a look back on all the times I've been called "selfish" and "cold" in relationships and to be critical of those accusations.

So, back to the Five Love Languages - I apparently speak all 5 fluently and naturally.  Which might sound awesome at first hearing, because there are so many ways that people can express their love for me and I can speak naturally to any of their individual ways so you'd think that I'd get along well with a whole bunch of different people.  But, as I like to joke, it's actually more like there are so many *more* ways that people can fuck this shit up than those who only speak 1 language.  Because there are *5 separate love tanks* that people have to keep filled, not one, if they want me to feel secure in our relationship.

So, I would start out in a relationship with the NRE filling the role of the "cushion" or "reserve" in the relationship.  Kinda like how lactic acid works when there's an oxygen deprivation to keep you physically moving, only in reverse - I start *out* with the NRE giving me a boost just long enough for the new partner to start making emotional "deposits" that I will eventually start drawing on when the NRE wears off.  So, the NRE makes me all physically affectionate, verbally validating, intensely interested in everything they have to say, interested in doing things for them, and even wanting to give tangible things to represent my feelings for them or to show them that I was thinking of them when they weren't around (in order, the Love Languages of Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Gift Giving).

But here's something that the Love Language theory doesn't cover.  I propose that "entitlement" can actually draw *out* any saved reserves from love tanks.  So, even if my partner is actually expressing love for me in ways that might otherwise fill up my love tanks, if he is acting *entitled* to any of these expressions of love from me, that entitlement will start to siphon off some of those reserves.  So, he may be showing his love for me by wanting to spend Quality Time with me, but if he's also *demanding* that time of me because he feels that I owe it to him as part of our relationship bargain, that Quality Time now starts to act as a deficit instead of a deposit.

"Leaving aside the fact that it’s still her phone and she still gets to decide who gets to use it and for what–a very important fact that I’m only leaving aside because I’m writing about something else–our brother has a pattern of entitled, demanding behavior towards her. He treats her time, belongings, and energy as if they’re his to take. Unfortunately, that happens a lot to selfless and caring people.

Because of that pattern, my sister has stopped being as giving with our brother as she used to be. Often she angrily refuses to do even tiny favors for him, like letting him borrow her phone for a few minutes to take some photos. Occasionally he makes his requests in a more appropriate way, but sometimes she still reacts with knee-jerk irritation and, raising her voice, tells him no."

I have been quoted as saying that I have a long fuse, but a huge blast radius.  This means that I seem to have these endless reserves of patience and caring and compassion and empathy ... until you reach the end and then I blow up in what appears to be a totally disproportional way.  I have yet to find a way to fix this, because I actually have gotten very good at clearly stating my boundaries and warning people that I'm nearing the end of my rope.  But that seems to make it worse for me, because then when they overstep my boundaries, they're doing it *knowingly*, from my perspective, and I take it now as a deliberate blow.  But, there's something else that gets added on top, it's just that very few people ever get to see it these days because I've gotten more comfortable with the banhammer and burning bridges.

When I have finally lost my patience with someone on a particular thing, but for some reason I haven't decided to nuke the entire relationship, I never again build up any resources to deal with that particular thing.  So, for example, my family.  My family doesn't do anything so horrendous that I'm willing to cut ties with them.  They're not abusive, they're not racist (at least not all of them, and the ones who are aren't overtly racist), and since I live 3,000 miles away I can enjoy their company in small doses of my own choosing.  But when we were kids, my sister used to steal my stuff.  My clothes, my cassette tapes, whatever I had, she would steal it whether she liked it or not.  One day, I'd had enough and we got into a fight about something probably not even related, and I shoved her bedroom door through the connecting wall.  I got grounded forever and I had to do the repair work on the wall when my parents got home.  To this day, I am extremely short-tempered about my stuff going missing and I'm incredibly territorial about my stuff.

Another example is my parents not respecting my agency.  In a million tiny ways almost too hard to describe, my parents have never respected my autonomy and my desire or ability to make my own decisions or be an independent person.  It's hard to describe because any one example is minor enough that many people just don't get why it's a big deal.  The big deal is the aggregate.  It takes a lifetime of tiny little chips away at my autonomy before I finally blew up about it.  I got into a huge fight with my mom and moved out (and into the arms of my first abusive fiance, but that's another story).  My mom tried to physically restrain me from leaving the argument and, for the only time in my life, I pushed her back and into the hallway wall.  My sister came running down the hall and broke up the fight and I left.

My mom and I have repaired things and I consider her a good friend in addition to being my mother now, but every time she does even the slightest thing to remind me of an infringement on my autonomy, I get red-faced, temperature-raising, pissed off.  The most common example is that, every time I visit or they visit, mom asks me if I need her to wake me up in the morning to get to whatever we have to do that day on time.  She doesn't believe that I can do it myself just because my sleep disorder showing up in my teen years took me some time to learn how to compensate for.  No, I don't fucking need mom's help to wake up.  I'm motherfucking middle-aged and I've been getting myself up for two-thirds of my entire life.  Don't fucking wake me up before my goddamn alarm.  I have a system that works for me, don't fucking do it.  See?  Totally unreasonable reaction if seen out of context and in isolation.  But I have never been able to build up any extra reserves to my mother infringing on my autonomy, so it is *always* that exposed nerve, that empty tank.

"Once I realized that my partners thought that it was my job to do emotional labor for them, I started rapidly losing the desire to do it."

"Even now, even to myself, I sound selfish and cold. But so does my sister, out of context. Neither of us is selfish or cold. What we are is exhausted. What we are is tired of being unable to set any boundaries. What we are is totally done doing things for people who have never, ever asked us what we need."

"When someone’s reserves of compassion get drained like that, they start setting boundaries that are much stricter and tighter than what they would’ve been otherwise. No, you can’t borrow my phone for even a few minutes. No, I don’t want to listen to your feelings at all. No, I honestly don’t even have enough emotional energy to give you a compliment to make you feel better about yourself."

"Because others’ entitlement often shuts down our desire to help them, and when we’re constantly afraid that our boundaries will be ignored, one strategy that many of us feel compelled to use is to start loudly, bluntly stating and defending those boundaries, as if to remove any plausible deniability from the person who continually crosses them."

The author goes on to say that they're not very optimistic about salvaging a relationship after the point at which it has collapsed from one person just flat out giving up on doing any more emotional labor.  I can relate there too.  Once I "go cold" like that, once I'm just done giving a shit about their feelings in the matter - any matter - I really have no interest in trying to repair the relationship and I don't see it as being very likely that anyone else will have any success in their own relationships after someone reaches that point.  I'm reading a book now that claims to be able to help people come back from that precipice, but I'll be honest, I have some reservations about it.

The book I'm reading is all about the scientific research being done about "trust" in interpersonal relationships, and it actually had me for about half of it.  I was on board, I was nodding my head as I read, I was already trying to come up with ways to work some of its theories into my Love Languages and Breaking Up workshops.  And I *still* think those parts have merit, so I may still reference them.  But then I got to this one part where he lumped kink into "impersonal sex", which tells me that he has no fucking idea what kink is, which means that he really doesn't understand what's going on in the minds of people regarding trust at all.

He moved away from kink and went back to just talking about repairing trust and betrayal and I thought, well, OK, the 5 Love Languages is deeply problematic too, coming as it does from a heteronormative, couple-centric, deeply Christian perspective, but I managed to strip it of all that bullshit and find something usable to present to the poly community so perhaps I can pick and choose with this book too.  But I'm not entirely sure I agree with his premise for using his research on trust and betrayal to mend broken relationships.  He seems, from my perspective as someone who has been thrust down the rabbit hole of abuse in poly relationships, to be fetishizing the couple and prioritizing the needs of the relationship over the needs of the individuals in the relationship - a core axiom of ethics violation in poly relationships.

We go through so much trouble to try and salvage relationships after things have gone sour.  There is a point before which things are rocky but there are enough good parts to a relationship that things can be improved and bring value and joy to everyone involved, and there is a point after which I'm not so sure it's worth the effort even if it *can* be turned around and start bringing more joy than suffering again.  And that's not a hard and fast point that I can just say "if X happens, it's not worth it anymore, for anyone, no matter what!"  I think that's something only the people in the relationship can decide for themselves, and I think it's possible for it to be true for one / some of the people and simultaneously not true for the other(s).  But I think that point exists, and I think it's very important that we as a society acknowledge this.  Relationships and love are abundant.  We can find them all over the place.  But we can't *see* them, or won't be open to receiving them, if all of our resources are tied up in Scotch-taping broken relationships back together.  Sometimes, we might just be better off by using our resources more efficiently by giving up on a broken relationship and spending those resources in other places that aren't so broken.

In this book that I'm reading, the author talks about this point where someone in a relationship starts comparing what they have to what they could have elsewhere, either a real person / relationship that they know of or a fantasy in their head of something that might exist elsewhere if only they could go look.  I really want to expose this researcher to healthy poly relationships where believing there is "someone else" out there who can do or be this other wonderful thing *isn't relevant* to whether or not we choose to stay with our current partners.  But there is a nugget of truth in there, that if we are too busy spending all of our resources on a sinking ship, we don't have any resources to maintain or repair all the other ships in our lives, whether it's other romantic partners, family, friends, hobbies, or jobs.  This even has a name - the Sunk Cost Fallacy, where we keep dumping in resources after resources into an endless pit because we feel that we have to justify all the resources we have been dumping in so far.  To cut our losses and run is to have "failed" and to invalidate all those spent resources.  So we keep spending.  And that contributes to people staying in abusive or toxic relationships (among other things).

I think we need to stop romanticizing the Forever After and accept that relationships, even successful ones, may not always last until Death Do We Part.  I think that it is not necessarily a bad thing to reach this point of No More Fucks To Give and decide that, even if it's possible, it's not desirable to try to "fix" the relationship.  I think that, not only is not a bad thing, but it's actively a good thing in many cases, and that it's also not a bad thing to decide it's not desirable *before* reaching that point in order to meet a different goal of maintaining a civil breakup and post-breakup relationship.  Better to walk away still remembering the relationship fondly and perhaps even harboring some loving feelings, than to wait until the only feeling you have left for them is contempt, disgust, or anger.  Assuming, of course, that you can choose when to walk away, but that's a different discussion.

When we have someone who repeatedly violates our boundaries, or regularly draws upon our emotional reserves in the relationship without putting enough of their own back in to compensate, "selfish", or as I have termed it, "self-interested" behaviour is a valid response.  If you're wondering why someone seems to have "checked out" or why they seemed to have lost all their compassion for you, it may be because you've been drawing on their "love tank" reserves instead of filling them up.  If you're being accused of being "selfish" and you're wondering why you seem to be this heartless monster around this person in particular but you either remember not being that person or you aren't that monster around other people, it may be because this particular person is crossing your boundaries in small, almost unnoticeable ways or because they're acting entitled to your emotional labor or because they're withdrawing your love tank resources instead of depositing into them.

And if that is the case, it may be for everyone's benefit that you act a little more "selfish", or at least self-interested, and remove yourself from that relationship.  If full removal isn't possible at this time, I'd recommend embracing the accusation of being "selfish" and/or looking into ways that you can get away with enforcing as many of your boundaries as possible and acting in your own self-interest in as many ways as possible, as often as you can.  If "reclaiming" the label of "selfish" gives you the strength you need to do what you have to do, go for it.  If just reminding yourself that "selfish" and "self-interested" are two different things and that people who have a vested interest in keeping you under their control often use the "selfish" accusation when you're really being "self-interested" - if that reminder is enough make you feel better about taking care of yourself in the face of boundary-crossing and entitlement, then hold onto this until you can improve your circumstances and keep reminding yourself of it.  It is not a bad thing to take care of yourself in the face of this kind of violation, even if that means you have to "shut down" something in order to cope.
joreth: (::headdesk::)
From Tumblr:

"here is an idea: normalize the idea that adopting kids is a valid option even for parents who could conceive a child themselves, and not just an inferior backup option for parents who can't." ~ monsterkissed

I've been trying to do this since I was a kid. I'm adopted. There is no difference between the love my parents have for me and the love people feel for their genetic offspring. I have maintained from the first time that anyone ever asked me about being a mommy that I would adopt if I were to have any children at all.

To me, it seemed the only thing to do. I was given a home when I might otherwise not have had one. The right thing to do was to pay it forward and give some other child a home who might not otherwise have one. There is nothing wrong with my reproductive cycle. I just believe that children already born should be given a chance at the same kind of decent life I had growing up.

I am ever thankful for the decisions of both my sets of parents that led me to the home I had. Adoption is a valid, noble option for anyone to choose. There are few things more selfless than to either choose another set of parents when you know you cannot give a child the best life it deserves or to choose another person's child to raise as your own.

Not everyone who was adopted had my good experience, of course, but that doesn't make adoption an inferior choice. Adoptive parents, like genetic parents, are a mixed bag. Some genetic offspring are far worse off for having been born or kept, but no one suggests that parenthood is anything other than a "miracle" or "noble" or "the best thing a person can do with their life". It's like monogamists blaming all of polyamory for a poly relationship failing but blaming the couple for a monogamous relationship failing.

The truth is that parenthood and families in general are incredibly complicated and nuanced no matter how those families are formed. So the point should be not that all adoptions are wonderful, but that adoption should be a valid option and if it WAS a valid option, it would have more cultural support than it currently does, which would make it a good option *more often*. Kinda like polyamory.

If adoption had the cultural (and governmental) support that such an incredibly important choice like this deserved, the negative stories would decrease because of the support given to ensure the safety of the child and to care for the emotional needs of the parents releasing their parental rights. More children would have the positive experiences that I had growing up, at least on par with biological parenthood and likely higher simply because adoption requires deliberate, thoughtful choice and planning and oversight and independent approval whereas the decision for biological parenthood can be made after the fact by pretty much anyone.

Kinda like polyamory - if it had the cultural support to be just one option among many, the intense introspection and thoughtfulness required to do it would likely result in higher satisfaction ratings among practitioners than other options if we removed the social pressures, stigmas, and cultural baggage that poly people have to unlearn in addition to learning the extra skills.

And P.S., if you adopt an older child, you are still a "real parent". That comes with its own set of challenges that ought to be acknowledged.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/08/09/as-seen-at-the-olympics-there-is-still-a-lot-of-ignorance-about-adoption/


"In a world that embraces the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, why is it so difficult for people to understand my family and Simone’s family? Setting aside the idea that it isn’t anyone’s business for the moment, what makes adoption so confusing? It is not a rare occurrence. Since (at least) biblical times, when Moses’ mother floated him in a basket, babies have been raised by others who aren’t necessarily their biological parents. Each year in the United States, about 135,000 children are adopted."

"DNA was not the defining characteristic of our relationships."

"Ask yourself, what tethers you to your own parents or to your own children? Is it a shared recessive gene that caused you to both have green eyes? ... Rather, isn’t it the time your heart was shattered and your father hugged you tightly and let you cry on his shoulder? ... That is what makes us parents. What makes us sons and daughters. That is what makes us real."
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I have, on occasion, offered to host "guest posts" for people I know who wanted to write something they felt was important but didn't feel like their own platform was the appropriate place for it, for whatever reason. I'm not really known as a blogger with a large audience, and LiveJournal isn't really a popular blogging platform these days, but I figure with my history of topics I can probably afford to host certain posts when others can't or would rather not.

So, today I'm providing a platform for Jess (Burde) Mahler over at Polyamory On Purpose:



Had a conversation today that pulled into focus some thoughts on “boundaries” “control” and, most importantly, “choice.”

I’ve said in other contexts that every day we choose to be in our relationships. I didn’t decide to be with Michael one day seven years ago and that was it. Every day we have been together, I have decided to be in a relationship with him and to make our relationship healthy(er).

In the same way, every (social) relationship you are in is one you choose to be in. Work, military and political relationships can be forced on us. Who we love, befriend, count as family, and bump bits with cannot. Every day we choose to be in those relationships.

Usually, we aren’t aware of these choices. If you choose to be in a relationship with Wanda, you aren’t going to wake up every day and say “Do I want to be in a relationship with Wanda today?” You default to the established choice. Somewhere in your subconscious a decision tree runs “I decided to be in a relationship with Wanda yesterday and nothing has changed (or things have changed for the better) so I’m still in a relationship with her today.” We only become aware of this choice when things go wrong. "Wow, I can't believe Wanda did that. Maybe this relationship isn't the best idea. No, I'm going to stick it out, we can make it work!" (Or "...Yeah, I'm not sure I can do this anymore. I think it's time to leave this relationship.)

People always have the right NOT to be in a relationship. At any day, at any moment, we can choose to end an existing relationship. Starting a relationship takes agreement, ending a relationship does not. No one can require you to be in a relationship with them.

Remember that.

Okay, so this conversation I had today, someone was bothered by the distinction between controlling and consideration for a partner’s feelings. The specific phrases were “My bf/gf won’t let me….” and “My bf/gf would be hurt if I did ____, so I won’t.” The person I was talking with basically saw the second phrase as emotional manipulation. Emotional manipulation is a way of exerting control on someone and is a form of abuse.

I, on the other hand, saw the second phrase as respect for a partner’s boundaries. My partner will be hurt if I do this, I don’t want to hurt my partner, I won’t do this.

The difference, the critical difference, (and why I still think I’m right ;) ) is choice.

Let’s break those two phrases down a bit.

“My bf/gf won’t let me...” In this statement, you do not have a choice in your actions. Your partner has made the choice for you. This is controlling. It would not surprise me to learn that this relationship is abusive. (Controlling relationships are not always abusive—you can choose to give control to your partner, a la power exchange relationships, but controlling relationships where the control is coercive are always abusive.)

“My bf/gf would be hurt if I did...” In this statement, you have a choice. You may choose to do this thing. You may choose not to do this thing. All your partner has done is give you information. In this case, the information that if you do this thing, they will be hurt. In consent, giving additional information is called making sure your partner is fully informed. Same applies here.

Now, if you choose to do the thing that hurts your partner, and your partner punishes you for it, that is abuse. Your partner is trying to control your choices. The next time you think about doing something that would hurt them, they want you to choose what they pick for you to choose. Not what you would choose for yourself.

Telling a partner what to do: controlling.

Telling a partner your feelings and preferences: informative and important for fully informed decisions.

Telling a partner your feelings and preferences and punishing them if they don’t do what you want: controlling and (outside of consensual power exchange relationship) abusive.

With me so far? Cause the next step is a humdinger.

“If you do ____ I will not be able to be in a relationship with you.”

I’ve been told in the past that this kind of statement is automatically coercive because it is an ultimatum. But if I fill in the blank this way:

“if you hit me I will not be able to be in a relationship with you.”

Suddenly the same people who were saying it is controlling or coercive language agree that you are making a perfectly reasonable statement.

Let’s drop something else in the blank:

“If you talk with your ex I will not be able to be in a relationship with you.”

All of a sudden, those same people will once again see it as controlling or coercive. But it’s the same language, the only thing that has changed is what your partner is talking about.

So the idea really seems to be “asking your partner to do or not do certain things in order to be in a relationship with you is controlling.”

And this is where we come back to where we started. No one can require you to be in a relationship with them. I can break up with you tomorrow because you have a hangnail. I can break up with you because your voice is squeaky. I can break up with you for no reason at all. And you can do the same, in all of your relationships.

It’s not asking your partner to do or not to certain things to be in a relationship that is controlling—they are asking you. The idea that “asking your partner to do or not do certain things in order to be in a relationship with you is controlling” This is controlling and coercive because it implies “you can’t break up with someone because they do something you don’t like.” Fuck no, I can break up with who I want, when I want, where I want. And so can you. And so can your partner. And their partner. Ad the nauseum.

But-but-but-

I can hear the objections. “Saying ‘if you do this I can’t be in a relationship with you’ isn’t asking! It’s telling them what to do if they want to be in a relationship with you!”

big sigh

Rather than argue, which I so could, I accept this framing. And?

Seriously, so what? I have the right to lay out requirements for the relationships I am in. This goes back to (again) No one can require you to be in a relationship with them.

If I want to, I can say that no one can be in a relationship with me unless they shit gold and fart rainbows, while dancing the rumba. That is my right. Deal with it. (It’s also your right. And your partner’s. And their partner’s. Ad the nauseum.) If I say that, chances are I’m not going to find anyone to be in a relationship with. That’s my choice. If I relax my standards to only people who shit and fart while dancing the rumba, I might actually find someone to be in a relationship with. But if I don’t want to relax my standards, I don’t have to. (also, ewwwww.)

So let’s go back to “If you do ____ I will not be able to be in a relationship wit you.” If it’s not controlling, and it’s not asking, what is it?

It’s laying out a decision tree.

It is saying “You have choices. You can choose to do this. You can choose to not do this. Those are your choices. After you make your choice, I get to make a choice. I get to choose (again, just like I do every day) whether or not to be in a relationship with you. If you do this, I will probably choose not to be in a relationship with you. If you choose not to do this, I will probably choose to continue being in a relationship with you.”

In this can, your partner is not taking away your choices. They are not controlling or coercing you. They are clearly stating “These are your available choices. These are the choices I will make depending on what you choose.”

This, like “My bf/gf will hurt if I do ...” is providing information. It is providing information that you need to make an informed decision. You can choose to do this, knowing it will probably end your relationship. You can choose to do this and coerce your partner into continuing to be with you (abuse) or you can choose to not do this because being with your partner is more important than doing this. These are your choices. These have always been your choices. The only difference is, they have now been stated clearly, so you understand them.

“But not letting me talk with my ex is coercive!” Yup. And if your partner said “you aren’t allowed to talk with your ex,” that would be controlling and wrong. (Again, assuming not a power exchange relationship.) However, your partner is allowed to say “I will leave this relationship if you talk with your ex.” Why? Because your partner can leave this relationship at any time. Because you cannot require your partner to be in this relationship. All you can do is choose to be in this relationship with them and make the right choices for you.

What if something your partner wants is harmful to you?

Well, then we have an incompatibility. One of the incompatibilities that gets talked about a lot is children. I want children. You don’t want children. We are incompatible. We have two choices. One of us can give up what we want to keep the relationship together, or one (or both) of us can choose to leave the relationship. Some incompatibilities can be worked around. “I am a vegan, I need to be in a relationship where I don’t need to eat meat.” “I’m not a vegan, I need to be in a relationship where I don’t need to eat tofu.” “Okay, how about we each cook our own meals, and we can make sure our families are on board with us bringing some vegan/non-vegan chow for the holidays.”

Now, someone saying they can’t be in a relationship with me if I talk with my ex would be a major incompatibility for me. I couldn’t give up talking with my ex even if I wanted to (we have kids together). So what would I do? I would not be in a relationship with this person.

What if I’ve been in a relationship with someone for a while and they say they can’t continue the relationship if I talk with my ex?

We go back to that decision tree. Being able to talk with whoever I want is a major deal for me. So I would reluctantly decide “I love you, but if you need me to not talk to people in order for our relationship to continue, I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you need to leave our relationship, I understand.”

Maybe they leave the relationship. Maybe we talk about it and they realize it was never about my ex, it was about their insecurity. Or maybe they tell me that every time I talk with my ex I’ve been picking a fight with my partner and didn’t realize it. (in which case, they kinda could have phrased their boundary better, but hey we’re all human). Maybe if there is an underlying cause of their boundary that isn’t directly about talking with my ex, we can find a compromise. Or maybe not. Maybe this is just an incompatibility that can’t be worked through. Or they aren’t willing to work through it. And they go their way.

And none of this is controlling. Or coercive. It’s just two people making the best of a hard situation and doing what is right for us.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

* I am committed to be as clear about my expectations as possible, both with myself and with my partners.

This is another really old commitment and should be as clear as the intention of the commitment itself. I am a direct communicator and it is my opinion that direct communication is the best form of communication between people in romantic relationships. [livejournal.com profile] tacit says that we can't reasonably expect to get what we want if we don't ask for it. People suck at telepathy, no matter what those wooager "psychics" say. We just can't do it. I cannot expect my partners to read my mind. However, as established [in previously posted commtments] and elsewhere, I believe that my partners are with me because they love and cherish me, and I believe that part of love includes wanting to meet each other's reasonable expectations whenever possible. But if my partners are not aware of my expectations, then they can't hope to meet them even if they intend to meet them.

Dr. Gary Chapman, of the Love Languages books, says that it's important to tell our partners how best to love us. We need roadmaps and instructions on how to best love each other. That's what my entire Me Manual tag is for - an instruction manual for how best to love and understand me. But even telling my partners about my expectations won't work if I'm not clear about my expectations to myself. Clear communication starts with clear thoughts. In order to clearly communicate my expectations, I need to know what my expectations even are. I am committed to practicing introspection so that I can understand myself and my expectations, so that I can further communicate those expectations to my partners so that those expectations get met whenever possible.

joreth: (Misty in Box)
In the course of explaining my quirks to a new partner, it gets bought to my attention just how much emotional labor I perform in my relationships, or at least how many habits I developed from performing this emotional labor and compensating for other people's inabilities to deal with their emotions in the past.

There are all sorts of little things that I do that, by themselves don't really seem like a big deal, but when I'm spending a week with a new partner and nearly every interaction we have involves me saying "so, this thing about me, I do this thing and here's why", the aggregate of all my emotional labor is more apparent.

For example, I cut the bread for the table. I used to sell and demo cutlery and I have always had an affinity for knives. I am also a bread addict - er, I mean, aficionado. I have known a lot of people who do not know how to properly cut bread and it ends up smashed in a lump when they grip it to cut or rip it apart. Instead of light and fluffy and we now have to *chew* it instead of lightly chewing it while it also dissolves on the tongue (for those breads that are soft and do that). I can slice the softest breads and cakes with even a fairly dull knife and still retain most of the integrity of delicate pastries and breads.

But I have learned over the years that some men do not like to be schooled on proper cutting technique. I'm not sure if they don't like to be schooled by women or they just don't like to be schooled in general and it doesn't really matter for this discussion. But I have had some men react harshly to what they perceive as criticism of their manly cutting skills, and still more men who just ignore my corrections entirely and continue to mash the bread. I have never had either reaction from any woman I have had this conversation with.

So, in order to avoid hurting feelings or eating smashed bread for the rest of my life, I now automatically reach for any communal bread on a table and slice off two slices for myself and a few more for whoever else is at the table, without trying to teach anyone anything.  I just kinda do it as if I just happened, by coincidence, to be the first to reach for the bread and oh, by the way, here are some slices for you too, honey.

So, as I said, this is not a big thing in isolation. But when I tell this story and it is the third story I've told that day that involves me changing my own behaviour in order to manage someone else's feelings or to get something that I want without a confrontation or conflict over it, I am reminded at just how often I shoulder the burden for maintaining my relationships.

That's the thing with emotional labor - it's largely invisible to both sides, the side shouldering the burden and the side not carrying the weight. It isn't usually one giant rock weighing us down, it's a sack full of pebbles that grows over time. One person carries a handful of pebbles while another is bent over double from the sack on their back. They didn't notice how heavy the sack got because each pebble only weighs a few ounces and they were added one at a time over a lifetime. But if you try to split the weight and make the other person carry two handfuls, suddenly it seems "unfair" that they're having to take up so much extra work! Why do they have to do these things anyway? It's just a pebble, can't you just keep holding it?

This is why it's important for adults to know how to do their own fucking laundry. This is why it's important for adults to know how to cook a number of meals that provide for their nutritional needs and not just that tastes good, even if they have the money to pay other people to cook for them. This is why it's important for adults to know how to cry. This is why it's important for adults to have a friend and family network of some sort to turn to for emotional support and celebrations, in addition to their romantic partners. This is why it's important for adults to know how to use a calendar system *of some sort*, whether it's Google or paper or whatever. This is why it's important for adults to know about culturally appropriate dress codes, whether they agree with them or not, and how / when to break those codes along with the consequences for doing so. This is why it's important for adults to pay attention to their bodies, eat as healthy as they can under their given circumstances, exercise as they can under their given circumstances, take their damn medication when they can access it, and treat their mental health as seriously as their physical health (which is to say, treat them both seriously) including utilizing mental health professional services when they can access them. This is why it's important to stop calling what fathers do "babysitting" when they watch their own kids or asking them to "help out" around their own house.

This is why feminism is important, particularly the latest wave of non-TERFy feminism that sees the harm of imposed gender roles and binary systems.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I think I'm zeroing in on why I still get startled when I see people talking at my abusive ex (even though I've blocked him so I can't see his online activity). It's not that I'm upset that people still talk to him - it's more complex than that. It's more like ... I expected that person to be closer to me than to him so I project my own discomfort of him onto those people even though, in many cases, I wasn't actually close enough to that person for them to know enough about the story to choose "me over him".

So, here's what I mean. When he and I broke up, I lost direct contact with that entire branch of my network, even though I was *also* romantically involved with someone in that branch and had what I thought to be some very good friendships from that branch. This was mostly by my action, although I wouldn't go so far as to say it was my "choice". My abusive ex was stalking another one of his exes, with whom I was still in contact, so I and several other people on my side of the network actually blocked his entire side so that "his people" couldn't feed information to him about the ex he was stalking through our contact with that ex.

This sounds like that entire network was in some vast conspiracy to hunt down a single person, but I don't think it was like that. Maybe it was, I dunno. But I still have mixed feelings for some of those people I lost. When I see them some of them in person, I still greet them warmly. But I don't tell them anything personal or intimate about my life now. Someone once questioned me upon witnessing me hug one of them hello why I was still willing to do that but not still date or keep in contact with that person. I said something about how I didn't trust them enough to be intimate with them, but hugging isn't intimate. They thought that was weird, and after I said it, I can understand how someone else might find it odd to hug someone you don't trust.

But, the point is that I knew those people were going to side with him - that's not exactly true, they were going to either side with him on certain specific things or they were going to abstain from taking sides on certain other specific things which *effectively* put them on "his side", given the details of those things. I knew that. I know the dynamic of that group. That's partly why I had to block them too, because I knew that they did not find what happened between us worthy of siding against him. So, when I see one of them out somewhere, it doesn't surprise me or, well, "trigger" used to be an appropriate word but I'm much less effected by his memory now so I don't know if it applies, but it doesn't do that to me when I am reminded that people in that group are still actively in contact with him.

I've long since gotten over my disappointment that they didn't find his behaviour worthy of "breaking up" with him too, and I don't actually feel that abusers need to be left completely isolated and alone. There was an excellent blog post by Shea Emma Fett (whose blog is now taken down but there is a wayback link at http://web.archive.org/web/20160211074648/http://emmfett.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-community-response-to-abuse.html) about how abusers *need* friends, but they need friends who can hold them accountable, and we need to find a path to reintegrate people back into our communities after accountability has been held. Otherwise, all we do is shove wolves out to find some other flocks to prey on (www.morethantwo.com/blog/2015/02/thoughts-community-abuse), only now they're also resentful on top of their entitlement that led them to abuse in the first place.

Please note that "reintegrating back into our communities" is not a statement on what any specific individual victim ought to do with regards to their abuser. I'm not saying that victims can't make their own choices as to who they allow into their lives, but broader communities need to have different standards and tactics (which I am not personally always able to uphold but I still believe in).

So, back to the point - I'm not bothered that my ex has friends, aside from my early disappointment of losing those same people as friends back when it happened. I *am* bothered that they don't seem to be holding him accountable, but the mere act of there existing people who like him isn't what's bothering me when I get that twinge when I see his name @replied to online. That surprise I feel is always "how can you still be friends with him after what he did to other people?", but now I can see that it's more than that. It's that, but ALSO it's "you're supposed to be MY friend!" and it's also "don't you know about this thing?"

The problem is that A) no, they probably don't know that thing because I don't name him when I talk about him publicly. So if they're not one of my in-person, RL friends who I am close enough to confide in about abuse, then there's a good chance that they don't know who I'm referring to when I say "my abusive ex", even though they're also friends with him. And B) because I haven't confided in them, that means that they're not close enough to "take sides", and consequently to take *my* side.

It's true that several of my communities are pretty gung ho on the "always believe the victim" policy right now, but that's much easier to say when all the people in question are internet-friends or famous people or are otherwise not someone one currently thinks of in intimate terms. I'm not even going back on that policy and saying that we shouldn't. But I am saying that personal emotions and social nuances make things complicated in the minds of individuals and it's not fair to tell other people when to stop being friends with someone when there are all these other influences regarding social ties or intimate connections.

So I'm saying that these twinges are a result of a contradiction, of a dissonance in my head between social justice policies and personal expectations. One the one hand, there's the "burn the abuser at the stake!" anger, while on the other hand there's the "hold them accountable and that requires not shunning them out of the community" compassion (that I am still not very good at).  One the one hand there's "how can you still talk to him, I thought you were my friend?" while on the other hand there's "oh, right, we're just acquaintances and you don't know my side of the story".

There's no real point to this. There's no deep lesson to learn from this, no "here's how you can be a better person" morality tale. Just uncovering a little more nuance into my own psyche for my own benefit (hopefully).

* see also http://polyweekly.com/2015/01/pw-418-emotional-abuse/
joreth: (Bad Joreth)

https://youtu.be/XBmJay_qdNc





"In his mind, he wasn't just stealing music, he was fighting for freedom!"

Coincidentally relevant to my last post (coincidentally in that it happened to cross my feed and my attention right after making my last post).

This is an interesting observation on exactly the points I was making - 3 in particular:

  1. We are all the heroes of our own stories and we can justify everything we do from within our perspectives;

  2. That doesn't mean that there is no such thing as "right" and "wrong" just that it's more complicated and the paths to correct people need to reflect that complexity and that understanding; and

  3. We have to leave room in our communities for people to fuck up and to treat them with compassion and understanding if we want to have any hope at all in changing the culture around us to lead to fewer fuckups with lesser degrees of consequences.

Burning it all to the ground (as I have been known to do) and leaving no room for tolerance or understanding (as a community - it's still OK for an individual to not want contact with someone or to give up on someone who harmed them) doesn't prevent people from doing bad things. This is why punitive justice systems don't work. If people come to believe that they are Bad People, for whatever reason but often because their society insisted that they were Bad, they tend to think "well, fuck it, if I'm bad, then I'm going out all the way!" There has to be room for redemption. That is actually much more effective at stopping bad things from happening and in limiting those bad things that still do happen to more manageable bad things.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
I'm watching a show where a divorce attorney is getting divorced and it's all his fault (and he knows it). I'm sure those of you who have seen it can guess what I'm talking about, but I'll try to keep it vague for those who haven't seen it. Anyway, he's the one who fucked up, he still loves his wife but can't stay married to her, he knows he hurt her, and he hates that he hurt her but that's the way things are.

So he starts out the divorce following the script he usually gives to his clients, which is to prioritize self-preservation on the assumption that the other person is his opponent. But she sits him down and points out that the person on the other side of the table is not one of his clients' "crazy ex-wives", but HIS wife. How does he want to handle this one?

He admits that he has no freaking idea. In all his years of being a divorce attorney, it has never once occurred to him that the person he is fighting is a human being with a shared history and complex emotions and that the person on his side of the table also has complex emotions about that other human being. In all his years as a divorce attorney, he has seen people at their worst, fighting for what they believe is their survival against an evil enemy but he has never thought that self-preservation might actually be counter-intuitive and cause exactly the sort of situation where self-preservation tactics are necessary.

So now he's facing his own wife across the table. Preemptively shutting down the accounts to prevent her from retaliatory spending didn't protect him from her vindictiveness, it made things worse. It hurt her and treated her like a criminal. It attacked her very sense of self as a decent person. It created self-doubt in both of them. It tarnished not just the memory of their marriage together, but even the love that they both still feel for each other behind all the pain.

That action actually changed the very nature of their relationship and their feelings towards each other and about themselves. That action was not the result of things changing, it was the catalyst.

But in their future, they won't remember it that way. They will see each other through this new lens, and that action will be representative of this new changed perception of each other, rather than the action *causing* the change. Because that's how our memories work.

What would our world look like today if the entire divorce industry had been built up from a societal foundation of compassion instead of brutal self-preservation? I don't mean that self-preservation was thrown out the window and that everyone just rolled over and let people take advantage of them. I think that self-preservation is a natural extension of compassion, it's just that it takes different roads to reach that destination, and the destination is a prettier landscape than what the other road leads to.

What would our world look like today if divorce attorneys had a background in psychology that believed compassion should form the foundation of every interaction? Would there be more attempts by attorneys to reason with each other and their clients? Would law firms have mottoes espousing compassion, ethics, and dignity? Would law schools teach, in addition to the law, how to see others as fully formed human beings and how to see multiple perspectives?

Would divorce offices have couches and personal end tables for writing instead of large, domineering conference room tables where people square off against each other? Would everyone sit down in these comfortable but not vulnerable seats, and would the attorneys lean in and say to the future ex, "I'm so sorry this is happening. This must be very difficult for you. Let's try to work together to make this as painless and equitable as possible. Would you like some tea? Can I make you more comfortable? How is the temperature in here for you?" and would they make every effort possible to instruct their own clients to reign in their tempers, to give just a little bit more than they're getting, and teach them how to see things from their soon-to-be-ex's perspective?

And if this was the *norm* for the divorce industry, not just individual practices existing here and there, what would the society that spawned this kind of industry look like?

We are all the heroes of our own story. Everything we do seems rational and justified from inside our heads, with the information that we have and the feelings that we have and the experiences that formed us and and the memories that we have created. If other people could only see from that specific perspective, they would also understand how rational and justified our positions are.

That doesn't mean that we are always *right*. Our memories are faulty. Our information is incomplete. Our brains are subject to logical fallacies and flawed premises. The world in which we are operating is the way it is, and within that way, sometimes things have to be done that do not reflect the way we would like to see the world become but the way the world is.  But from within that perspective, things look very different from outside that perspective. And, most of the time, with the situation being what it is, people are not unreasonable for making their choices from within that perspective.

When you're on the opposite side of the table from someone with a very different perspective, it can be difficult to remember that. This is not one of my strengths. I got the nickname Flame Warrior for a reason. I have a long history of burning people at the stake and razing forums to the ground. In each and every case, I felt justified in doing so. I have very good reasons for everything I've done. My compassion has always been reserved for the people on whose behalf I was doing the burning. It was from that very deep wellspring of compassion that I acted as I did, because it was held exclusively for the people whose side I was on, much like a divorce attorney going to the mat for a client. I put everything into the best defense for "my side" and fuck the other person for being on the opposite side in the first place. They were clearly wrong, that's why they were on the opposite side.

But what would the world look like if I was better at sitting down in one of those comfy chairs? I'm not naive. I identify far more with the Operative in Firefly than with most of the other characters (although I love the other characters more). He explained that he was there to do the hard, ugly work of creating his perfect world. When Mal snidely accused him of going to live in his perfect world after he's eliminated all the messiness, the operative said quite clearly that the perfect world was not for him. He was a monster. But a monster was what was needed to create the perfection for everyone else.

I don't believe I'm a monster, but I've never literally burned an entire colony of children and peaceful people just to hurt one man and get him to come out of hiding. My point is that there is no such thing as a perfect world and I don't believe that all conflicts can be solved in pleasant rooms with cushy chairs. Just look at any of our upper-tier "diplomatic talks" throughout history - they have plenty of cushy chairs to sit in and yet still they send other people out to die for abstract ideas like power and religion. Sometimes, we need a bulldog to defend us who will keep holding on until he wins.

But just what if? What if we were all taught how to see through different lenses? What if we all learned how to identify with those on the opposite side of a conflict with us? Without giving up a goal of putting more credence and weight to objective facts and metrics, what if we knew how to value other people's feelings and how we affected them? What would divorces look like then? What would political squabbles look like? What would social justice look like? What would our communities look like?

Every time I get into a conflict, if it's bad enough to require me to vent to my partners for some relief, [livejournal.com profile] tacit has to butt into my ranting with "well, from their perspective..." It's infuriating. Not just because it's interrupting my momentum for a good rant, but because he's always so fucking right. And I hate having to learn that someone else has reason for what they're doing. It's so much easier to be pissed off at them when they're so clearly wrong and irrational and mean. It's so much easier to work myself into a righteous rage when they're malicious and evil and hateful.

And it's so damn irritating to have to acknowledge their humanity even while the objective facts still bear out that my side is the more correct side. When I'm right, I should be right, goddamnit, and they are just fucking wrong. It's much less satisfying to be right-but...

[livejournal.com profile] tacit makes me aspire to be a better person. Which I suppose he ought to, seeing as how he co-wrote the book on how to be an ethical person. And I fail often, but I am ever striving to do better. Which is all anyone can really hope for, honestly ... just to keep doing better. To keep seeing the humanity and the nuance in other people, especially those who I find myself opposite of in a conflict.

It doesn't mean that there are no "right ways" or "wrong ways", and it doesn't mean that even when I can see the other side that I am necessarily "wrong". But it informs how I treat the other side as people. Which makes me a better person for my own sake and the sake of those I interact with, no matter who is "right" and who is "wrong". Because I am not talking about who is "right", I'm talking about how to be *better*. There can still be a "right" and a "wrong" side while the participants are practicing being their best selves. It just makes those sides more complex, richer, nuanced, and messier. And it also opens up the options for solutions because the sides are not black and white. There are more ways out of a conflict when it isn't an all-or-nothing brawl. Yes, even if only one side is seeing the situation in color and the other is still viewing it in monochrome, there are still more solutions available.

If I had taken my Breaking Up workshop as a teenager, what would my future had looked like? What kinds of mistakes would I have made differently? How many flame wars would I have engaged in, and what would their outcome have been? How many more minds could I have reached and more hearts could I have changed? Sure, some people need a bulldog to defend them still. But what could have been, had I started becoming a better person sooner and what could the world have been if we all had started becoming a better person sooner?



Cultural attitudes about seemingly small things can lead to massively different cultures because of their foundational nature, and some of them are simply objectively better than others even with their problems and flaws.

The idea of a collaborative divorce as an institution in the US is laughable. I can't even imagine it catching on as a thing, although I can imagine individual legal firms attempting to offer that kind of service. But divorce is *assumed* to be adversarial, therefore it is. Any individual who bucks that trend is considered an exception, even a sideshow freak on the extreme end!

And I think that's symptomatic of a generally adversarial outlook. All of our conflicts are seen as adversarial, not collaborative. We so often immediately jump to opposing sides rather than individuals with similar goals but differences in opinions on how to obtain those goals.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
"It can be easy to forget that the other people that your partner loves and cherishes are not problems to be worked around. They're human beings who add value to your partner's life." ~ Franklin Veaux

This is most clearly illustrated in poly relationships when pre-existing partners want to set up hierarchy and rules dictating "outside" partnerships, but this is actually an example of couple privilege because it's true in all kinds of relationships.

Think of the mono-hetero couple whose spouse doesn't get along with one's friends, or the stereotype of the wife and mother-in-law not getting along. Because our culture is set up to privilege the romantic dyad, we are told to take it as a given that a romantic dyad takes precedence over all other relationships. When that happens, some people view their partner's loved ones as problems to work around (or in some cases, like parents and siblings, they view their loved one's PARTNERS as problems to work around, still because of this assumption that romantic dyads come first so it's assumed that they will "lose" the loved one to the new partner and therefore the new partner is a "problem" to work around), rather than remembering that they are human beings who add value to their partner's life.

When you don't like your husband's buddies, it's hard to remember that they add value to his life, because the value system you need to judge by is *his* value system, not yours. The buddy is friends with him for a reason. He doesn't have to be *your* friend, he is still a human being who adds value to your husband's life.

When you can't stand her mother, it's hard to remember that she adds value to her life just because *you* find her annoying and she doesn't like *you* so she makes *you* uncomfortable. Doesn't matter, she's her mother and your partner wants her mother in her life for a reason. You don't have to have the same value system. She thinks her mother adds value, and her mother is a human being.

These people are not *problems to be worked around*. Not getting along with them might *cause* some problems, but they themselves are not problems, they are human beings who add value to your partner's life. The ethical way to deal is to not treat them like an interference that you have to manage. The ethical way to deal is to accept that they are human beings who add value to your partner's life, and that your partner is a human being who is capable of deciding for themselves what and whom brings value to their own lives.

‪#‎MetamoursMakePolyamoryWorthDoing‬ ‪#‎IHeartMyMetamours‬ ‪#‎MetamoursAreHalfTheReasonToDoPoly‬ ‪#‎InternationalPolyJusticeLeague‬ ‪#‎YouAllBringValueToMyLifeToo‬
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
www.morethantwo.com/blog/2016/06/can-polyamorous-hierarchies-ethical-part-2-influence-control

"But in giving Gilles an ultimatum, was [Elena] prepared for the possibility that he might say no—thus leaving her in the position of having to make good on her promise to end her relationship with him? Or was she working from an expectation that he would say yes—thus making the ultimatum dangerous for only Louisa, and not for Elena? What would her response be if Gilles said no? Would she be angry? Consider his choice a betrayal? Use shame and guilt to try to get him to do what she wanted? Or would she accept his decision—and leave the relationship?"

Eve Rickert follows up with part 2 on the question "are hierarchies ethical?" I pulled this quote out because of my own experience with "accidental hierarchy".

I was not always as secure in my relationships as I seem to be now. Hell, I'm *still* not always as secure in my relationships as I seem to be now. But my security has grown over time, as have my skills in handling my insecurities. In the past, I have taken advantage of Couple Privilege (without realizing it) and I have been in sort of de facto hierarchical relationships, even though I have never approved of hierarchy.

One common tactic I have actually participated in was the pre-approval veto - where any new partner must be pre-approved by the existing partner before any moves are made towards a partnership. This is often seen as an exception to the no-veto rule because the new potential partner often isn't even aware that they are being considered as a potential partner at this point - they might not even be interested, or at least they might not have expressed any interest yet. And if the veto is played, they may never know. I could go on a whole blog post about how that isn't really any different or better from a regular veto, but that's not the point of this piece now.

A long time ago, I dated someone who sought to reassure me about a new partner he was interested in. She wasn't poly. She had never heard of it before. She hadn't even had very many romantic partners at all. I was concerned about how "advanced" her relationship skills were and how this would negatively impact my relatively new relationship with our mutual partner. But I was here first.  So my partner volunteered that, because he was committed to *polyamory*, not just me, if this new interest of his started making "enough" trouble, he would break up with her and not just for me, but because he also didn't want any mono-poly drama.

So, fast forward something like a year and a half, and I decided we had reached "enough trouble". So I pulled out my defacto veto. I reminded him of his promise and told him to break up with her.  This has always bothered me. In hindsight, I see where I went wrong and I am now opposed to even the pre-approval veto. But it bothers me that I could have been opposed to veto and hierarchy for the whole power imbalance thing and I still pulled rank when I had it.

So that's where this quote comes in. Before I called his hand, I thought long and hard about doing so. I thought of every possible outcome to challenging him to break up with her. And I didn't do it until I had decided what the worst possible outcome was and accepted it. I waited until I was fairly certain that he would *not* break up with her, and that my challenge to him would result in our own break up.

When that's exactly what happened, I wasn't angry. I was sad and disappointed, but not angry. I did not feel betrayed. I felt let down because I felt as though he hadn't lived up to his commitments, but that's actually part of a pattern - he had broken several commitments to me over the course of the relationship and those commitments were *to me*, not about her, but that's what led me to the decision to issue the challenge in the first place. So I felt let down, but not betrayed.

However, many years later, I dated someone who believed that I had violated some agreement that I still do not believe I ever made, and he felt *betrayed*. Based on this partner's reaction, my emotions to that earlier partner choosing not to break up with his other partner were nothing like, and not even in the same family as, the emotions that this later ex seemed to feel towards me and my choices of partners.

I did not shame or guilt my then-partner into breaking up with her and staying with me. I accepted his decision immediately, and I left the relationship. We hugged, and got to work on building a new foundation for a friendship. I'm not saying it wasn't painful, and that I didn't have feelings of resentment, but there was no coercion and no entitlement there.

Later, when the shoe appeared to be on the other foot with that other partner, I worried about consistency. When *I* had a partner who took a new partner that I wasn't happy with, I told him about my unhappiness and I broke up with him when he didn't "do what I want". But then when this later partner was unhappy with my new relationship and this time *I* refused to either curtail or end this new relationship in favor of my existing partner's feelings, how was I any different from this later partner?

I *felt*, deep down, that there was a difference. But of course I did. I am the hero of my own story, after all, as is everyone. Of course it's "different when I do it"! But, was it really?

I think it was. As this article explains, it can be really difficult tell from the outside because often the end result is the same. "An outside observer who did not know Elena would in fact not be in a position to say whether her actions were a veto or not. Why? Because the difference comes down to expectation and intent."

This later partner felt *entitled* to have me choose him. He felt *entitled* to make demands on who I chose as another partner and how that new relationship could progress. He attempted to shame me for not allowing him to dictate the constraints of my other relationship, still trying to shame me even after he broke up with me. He felt betrayed. In fact, that's the exact word he used. He felt it was OK to override the agency of his partners, and not just me. Part of the reason why I refused to be flexible with respect to how difficult this situation was on him was because I saw him override other people.

See, I'm one of those annoying people who, when you back me into a corner, I'll just dig in my heels, bare my claws, and fight back out of spite. I'm working on that, but it's something I do. When I see someone having a hard time with something, and I don't see a good faith effort to own their shit and deal with it, I tend to throw people in the deep end.

Which means, in practice, that when I first start dating someone, I'll be extra considerate to make sure that they're comfortable with all the new poly stuff. I am not a beginner relationship. Even other poly people need a little adjusting when they start dating me. But if I start to notice that they are not making an equal effort to move past the discomfort and grow, if they are instead taking advantage of my consideration, I'll stop coddling them all at once, kind of like throwing ice water on someone. It may not be my best self, but I'm at least self-aware about it and I do warn people up front.

I had witnessed him being unreasonable towards his other partners. I saw him attempting to control their bodies. I saw him even trying to control their minds. He was startlingly successful at it. So I got pissed off. Then I started talking to someone new. This was the first time I had added my own new partner since he and I had started dating, and he was *not* prepared.

Incidentally, this is why I do not subscribe anymore to the principle that you should let your newbie partner start dating first. I mean, if it happens that way, then it happens that way. But I do not believe it is actually doing them any favors to "ease them into" polyamory and I no longer believe that all people need is to experience how it's possible to love more than one and they will magically not be afraid when their partner starts loving someone else.

Personal experience and observation of hundreds, if not thousands, of relationships in the poly community over the last two decades that I've been participating in it have taught me that putting off one's own entry into the dating world, or "easing them in" only makes one's partner comfortable in a fiction. They start to get accustomed to life as it is - with you not dating anyone - and then it's a shock to the system when you finally do start dating someone, because it's a *change* that they never really accepted. How often do we see people have no problem at all dating someone who is already partnered, only to freak out when that someone gets an even newer partner? The existing partner was part of the calculation, but a new partner is a *change*. The kindest thing you can do to someone like that is to show them up front what sort of relationship they can expect from you - and that includes how actively you date others.

Anyway, this partner had become accustomed to me not having any other partners for several years, because I made him a priority. But he added several new partners of his own and his time became more scarce. So eventually I had more time and emotional resources to devote to meeting new people as he dealt with the distraction of trying to control too many women at once. With his time being taken up by all the fires he had to put out with his mismanagement of his other relationships, and his attention definitely not on me or us, I felt alone and was open to considering other partners for the first time in several years.

But I wasn't *just* open to considering new partners, I was also pissed off at him for how he was treating his other partners. So I took off the kid gloves and I just did my other relationships however it felt natural between myself and the new partners and I expected the existing partner to just deal without any coddling from me.

Let me be clear and say that I don't believe I was *cruel*. I don't believe I was *anything*. My other relationships were between me and my other partners. They had nothing to do with him. He and the other partners didn't even live in the same city (or state). What I did was refuse to limit or restrain or shape these other relationships according to *his* wishes even a little bit. Not even the pre-approval veto that I previously believed didn't "count" as hierarchy or infringing on agency. But I'm quite sure that he disagrees with me on whether or not I was "cruel".

So when he confronted me about my new relationships, he was *angry*. He was mad that I wouldn't get pre-approval. He was mad that they progressed at a speed he didn't condone. He was especially pissed that I disagreed that we ever made some sort of "agreement" where he *could* have a say in those things. He called me names. He called me unethical - a sure stab right into my very sense of self. He accused me of betraying him. He accused me of being *unsafe* and putting him and all his other partners in danger, even though A) I had done nothing to put them in "danger" and B) I gave him all the information he needed to make his own safety decisions before we were even in the same city together again.

These are things meant to control. These are things meant to disempower. These are things meant to overrule agency. These are the tower - safety, ethics, consideration for existing partners' feelings. But I saw the village behind them - control, entitlement, fear, disempowerment. And these are not the things that I did with my prior partner, even though the outcome looks superficially similar.
joreth: (Super Tech)
"Our bodies are special so only our (future) husbands should get to see them!"

My body isn't special because no other man has seen it, nor is it tarnished because men have seen it. My body is special because it is part of me and *I* am special. It is the vessel which houses my soul, my essence, me. No man is so powerful that he can remove my specialness just by looking at me.

No matter how many men see or touch my body, it remains special because *I* am special. No matter how many men I share the experience of my body with, every experience with me is special because *I* am special. No one, man especially, is powerful enough to remove my specialness.

Just because I exist, I am special. Just because I *have* existed, I will always *be* special.


It's also why I'm not afraid of polyamory. Nothing my partners do or say or think or feel with other people changes my specialness, and our relationship is special because *we* are special and *we* are in the relationship.
joreth: (Bad Joreth)
https://thingofthings.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/1433

With the awareness of abusive patterns growing in the poly community (which is completely a good thing!), I'm also seeing a fairly common correlated pattern of people discovering a new thing and then labeling everything as that new thing, or thinking the new thing is the solution to everything.

So, for instance, often when polys first discover polyamory, we can become a bit evangelical and/or run around yelling about how poly can solve every relationship problem. I've been trying to get better about clarifying that I mean a *society* that embraced poly as one option among many would be a *society* that had fewer instances of certain types of problems, but those two people in particular would not necessarily benefit from poly *right now* as they are in this society because they don't have the skills (or the "nature" or the interest or whatever) to make poly work and, in fact, attempting polyamory from that broken place would only make things worse.

Now that we've done a fairly good job of raising awareness about abuse in poly relationships, I'm seeing a lot of armchair diagnosing of people as "narcissistic personality" or abuse. But, as I've been accused of things like abusing people for things like refusing to accept his control of my body or not tolerating abuse apologetics in certain forums that have been deemed as "safe spaces" for victims, I'm concerned that we, as a community, are throwing around that word too glibly.

And I say that as someone who fully intends to continue to speak out against abuse in poly relationships and to identify certain poly trope behaviours as abusive patterns and to maintain my hard stance against abuse apologetics.

It's a difficult line to walk and I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers. Stray too far down this path and actual victims start to question and doubt themselves. But, as part of one of my activist goals for bettering the poly community's collective skills in breaking up, I think we need to take a more nuanced approach to this problem. In some contexts, I think it's very important to label things as "abuse", but in other contexts, I think maybe it's not so important what we call it, we just need to recognize that it's not for us. Although I'm sure I will continue to argue with people over which side of that issue is the "correct" one for any given individual circumstance.

One of the bad habits from mono culture that we keep dragging into poly culture is the toxic breakup. We are taught to villainize our exes. I believe this is harmful to the community as a whole and to the individuals who go through this process. This makes it easy to switch from "he's a horrible, evil, hell-demon!" to "he's abusive!" when that may or may not necessarily be reality. So I hope articles like these can help bring the nuance back to the conversation without making abuse victims feel too shameful or self-doubtful about their situations. I mean, a bad relationship is still a bad relationship and everyone has every right to not be in a relationship that they don't want to be in, no matter what their reasons. Even if it's a good relationship but it's not meeting something in their life that they feel is important.

Relationships should serve the individuals in them. When individuals serve their relationships, that's when coercion happens.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Well, I suppose it's progress. Phone call with mom tonight included telling her about helping Richard move across the country, so she asked how I felt about him and I got to gush for a bit. Then she actually asked about Ben! To be fair, she did ask me if I was still seeing him, but she didn't automatically assume we weren't now that I'm also seeing Richard, and she even said to say hello to them for her!

I still had to remind her that I'm still dating [livejournal.com profile] tacit, though, which irritates me because I've been with him for nearly 12 years now (which suitably impressed her when I pointed that out - mononormativity means longevity = success). But she hasn't met him yet so it's harder for her to remember. Couple privilege rears its ugly head in the damnedest places sometimes.

Society places a higher priority on relationships that have met the milestone of "meeting the parents", which is why I actually make a point of introducing my partners to my parents as early and as often as I can even though it's not a big deal *to me*. I recognize that "meeting the parents" legitimizes relationships in my parents' eyes and in the eyes of most other people. When attempting to communicate, more ground is gained when I can speak in the other person's language. So I will often do or say things that mean one thing to me but another thing to someone else, because that *meaning* is what I am trying to convey.

In this case, meeting the parents isn't really a big deal to me because they're across the country and I hardly see them. But when I'm trying to explain to them how important someone is to me, I know that "meeting the parents" expresses "this person is really important to me" in their language, so that's why I do it. It's also why I have started to teach myself how to get comfortable with the selfie and with taking silly "couple" photos when I'm with a partner. That's another thing that society uses as a marker for a "legitimate" relationship, and I have chosen to use that marker as another communication tool that my relationships are real and "serious".  It's important to me that my partners feel legitimate, important, and validated in their relationship with me, and part of that includes making sure everyone else understands that my partners are legitimate, important, and valid.

It seems to finally be bearing fruit. Mom remembers at least 2 of my partners and acknowledges them both as "serious" partners. She acknowledges the other one as a serious partner but still has to be reminded that he exists because A) she never met him and B) I rarely see him so I don't have a lot of goofy "couple" photos of us on FB.

Only 15 years after I came out as poly, but, as they say, slow and steady wins the race!
joreth: (Bad Joreth)


If an abuser is a dick 24/7 they'll never actually GET ANYONE TO BE IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM in order TO abuse them.  Thinking about this logically for .5 seconds would make all the "but he's nice to ME" people realize that OF COURSE HE'S NICE TO *YOU*, HE WAS NICE TO HER TOO BEFORE HE WASN'T


I have this problem with one of my exes. All our old mutual friends are still friends with him because he never did any of his abusive shit *to them*. He never did it where they could see it. His victims were the "real abusers". Not one single person left his friendship over his abuse who wasn't already on the victims' side before the abuse was revealed. Not one. It still throws me for a loop when I see people @reply him on social media or when I run into people I used to care about who are still connected to him (who often say that they miss me when we meet in this manner).

Hell, even *I* tried to defend him at first. It took him turning his tactics on me before I could finally see what his victims were saying was true.  He's charming and endearing and so harmless-seeming because he's not attempting to control everyone he meets.  Everyone loves him.  Except those he has harmed.

I just can't trust people who try to play the "neutral party" with abusers anymore, even though I was one of them and even though I adamantly believe a person who has harmed can still redeem themselves if they show a willingness to be held accountable (and I have put my money where my mouth is and given some people a chance when they showed evidence of accountability).

Consequently I remain apart from my old communities because too many people are willing to throw their hands up, say that they weren't there so they don't know and won't "take sides", and continue to socialize with certain people because Zeus forbid they give up access to parties or events in order to take a stance and not implicitly condone or support abusers' unwillingness to be held accountable for their actions.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
It's kind of amazing how often saying "when you say 'I trust my partner but don't trust other people' it really means that you don't trust your partner" results in other people responding with "that's not true, I totally trust my partner!" and then proceed to give examples that can still be traced down to "I don't actually trust my partner". It's just that sometimes that lack of trust isn't rooted in reality.

I mean, "I totally trust my partner 100% because I absolutely know without a shadow of doubt that they would never cheat but I feel strong emotions anyway" only means that you don't actually trust your partner, you just have no *reason* to distrust your partner - you just feel that insecurity inside your head because of you.

Really, any "no, I totally trust my partner, but..." means "I don't trust my partner". If you trusted them, there is no "but". You can *mostly* trust someone, like trust them enough to get on with life and not be upset over things, but at some point, your trust runs out.

Like, I don't actually *distrust* my partners to be honest about their STI statuses, but I still want to see their paperwork because I have experience that tells me that not everyone has the same understanding of STI tests as I do (I actually had a partner who swore up and down that he got tested for "everything" even after he showed me his paperwork and was surprised a couple of years later to learn that he had never been tested for HSV, which I knew because I read his paperwork).

That means that my trust is conditional. I trust, but only up to a certain point. That point at which my lack of trust kicks in may be entirely in my head due to my own experiences and not because of anything my current partners have done to earn that lack of trust. But I'm owning that this is where my trust for my partners stops. Trust can be gradient and can apply unevenly to different circumstances.

"I trust my partner but..." means you don't trust them, at least not about that thing or after a certain point. But the number of people who, upon hearing that, respond with "that's not true!" and then proceed to list exactly the point that they don't, in fact, trust their partners, is kind of amazing.



*inspired by this post: I Trust My Girlfriend. I Just Don't Trust Other Guys.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
In my effort to eliminate the use of the word "hierarchy" from my discussions about hierarchy, to prevent the usual derailments of people confusing empowerment with priority, I think I'll try on the word "authority" for size.

"I don't do hierarchical" = "I don't do authoritative where one of my partners has more authority over another of my partners."

"Hierarchy is bad, m'kay?" = "Authoritative is bad, m'kay? It disempowers / disenfranchises / disrespects autonomy & agency."

"Why do you need a hierarchy to maintain your priorities?" = "Why do you need to assign authority of one over another to maintain *your* priorities?"

I need to make a page somewhere that I can find and reference for all the alternative terms that I am trying to use. I replaced primary/secondary with core/satellite. And I made a post like this a while ago but fuck if I can remember when or what terms I used to search for it!

Oh! I think it was replacing "needs" with "niche", as in instead of "he meets my needs", "he is in this niche". I've also used the word "permission", as in, "permission-based relationships". It strikes me as bizarre how many people don't mind the infantilizing implications associated with needing "permission" from a partner. But I think that's a cultural thing - we're so indoctrinated with the idea of giving up our autonomy to a relationship or a partner that all manner of disempowering, and frankly abusive, traits in a relationship are seen as acceptable.

But, then again, that's how "hierarchical" got established in the first place. No one saw any problem with the assumption that "of course the spouse comes first!"
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
"But what if two of your partners have an emergency at the same time?! Polyamory can't work! You have to have a hierarchy or else anarchy reigns and everyone loses!"

A few days ago, my great aunt, who has leukemia, slipped and broke her hip. My dad, who is retired and spent 2 months last year out of town to care for her when the cancer got really bad and she was hospitalized, went down again to care for her with this latest emergency.

Today, my mom tripped and broke her ankle while my dad was out of town.

My parents are not poly. Yet they also have to answer tough questions like what happens when two loved ones have emergencies at the same time. Who should my dad choose - his wife or his ailing aunt with whom he has previously set a precedent for being her caretaker?

This is a rhetorical question, of course, because the answer isn't anyone else's business. The answer is between these three people, their specific needs, and the agreements that they all come to after all relevant parties discuss it because no one could have anticipated this exact set of circumstances.

Kinda like polyamory.

We already have these scripts. We already have these skills. We already have to face these kinds of challenges. Ethical and compassionate relating doesn't change just because there is sex involved.

‪#‎ThereIsNotMuchAboutPolyamoryThatIsSpecificToPolyamory‬ ‪#‎PolyLessonsILearnFromMyMonogamousFamily‬ ‪#‎PolyPeopleTryToReinventTheWheel‬
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
There are some assumptions that the poly community makes that I think bely some faulty premises. I have spoken out in the past against the assumption that we all "need rules" at the beginning of poly relationships just until we somehow magically learn how to be ethical people while practicing being unethical. I have written recently how I wish I had the power to strike certain words entirely from our cultural lexicon like "hierarchy" because it allows people to mask some assumptions that I think are harmful behind the confusion of using a word to mean two very different concepts (priority vs. power) and I want to force people to have to spell out their intentions rather than using this Motte & Bailey Doctrine of hiding their disempowerment of partners behind more reasonable "priority" lip service. I have written even more recently about wishing that I could get everyone to stop talking about polyamory as a source of "getting needs met" because it reinforces the idea of people as need fulfillment machines. And I have another blog post brewing wherein I will be railing against the very existence of the word "jealousy". In other words, I have opinions on certain things that people in the poly community say that I wish they'd stop saying.

This time, however, I am not making the argument that people should stop saying something, although I *can* make that argument in this case too. This time, I just want to talk about something that *I* do that I wish had more representation because that lack of representation is leading to some assumptions that I think are making it harder for people to be ethical - they're struggling upstream.

In the poly community, there is an idea that is taken for granted. We see it in many forms: "No single person can be *everything* to someone"; "Sure, a good steak dinner might be your favorite meal, but you can't live on the same food for every meal - people need variety!"; "I love my partner, but I'm kinky / a dancer / into sport stamp collecting and my partner isn't so I have other people in my life who share these things with me"; "I get to explore different parts of myself with different people"; etc.

I'm not saying that these things are *necessarily*, *inherently* bad, not like how I say hierarchy is fundamentally disempowering at its core so that even if people manage to somehow find a way to engage in hierarchy "ethically", the very structure of hierarchy is unethical. But, to me, all these things are *consequences* of relationships, not causes. When they become causes, that's when people turn into need fulfillment machines. When "I like variety" becomes "I need variety, therefore I will seek out someone who is different from my existing partners to fulfill my desire for variety", that's treating people as things. But when "I like variety" comes *from* "hey, I like you, and you happen to be different from the other person I like in this way, this variety thing is kinda neat!", that's a *consequence* and the partners are not need fulfillment machines or things.

Language is an interesting thing. It turns out, that the words we use and the order in which we use them can affect how we think. There are some fascinating linguistic studies of various cultures (particularly tribal cultures) where the group doesn't have words for certain things and therefore can't even conceive of the broader concept for it, or where the order of the words affects how they perceive time itself, really complicated shit like that which I don't have sources to cite at my fingertips but it's fascinating. This is why I am so particular about the use of words and phrases like the hiearchical terminology - we may *say* that we "love" all our partners and that the ranking terms only mean things like who lives with us, but research suggests that our deep seated beliefs and actions are more affected by the words we use than we might realize even up to and including an inability to see that we can't understand a concept. This is why I'm so adamant about the "I don't believe in labels" argument. Language is probably our most powerful tool and most powerful weapon. Even our actual weapons are conceived of, built, and shared using languages.

When I hear things like the above phrases, one of the implications I hear in them is the subtext that our partners are "not enough". That's one of the biggest insecurities that poly people face - that we are not good enough, deserving enough, that our partners won't love us enough. On the one hand, there is a certain amount of freedom and security that comes with truly accepting that no single person can be "enough" for anyone so we can let go of that expectation either to put on ourselves or to impose on others and that we all, mono people included, have multiple intimate connections in our lives that fulfill different roles. But, on the other hand, there is also a certain amount of danger that we are seeking other partners because our current partner isn't "enough" which further implies that there is something *wrong* with them or the relationship, and I'm not even going to touch the issue that needs aren't usually transitive in this piece.

I know, I know, people are going to get defensive at that and rush to tell me how much not-wrong their partners are even though they say those phrases. Refer to my first two paragraphs above and save the defenses. I *know* there are plenty of people who do not use their partners as need fulfillment machines and I *know* there are plenty of people who do not see their relationships as lacking anything while they are simultaneously open to other relationships. I would like to see more of the people like me in this regard represent this perspective in the poly community so that these phrases are not just a given. People say things like "humans like variety" as if we all understand this is a big-t Truth. The language that we use is important. I have been changing my language over time to reflect exactly this problem with assumptions and flawed premises that underlie certain phrases that we use.

When asked "why are you interested in people outside of your relationship?", instead of responding things like "because I like variety" or "because no one can be someone's everything!", I see my relationships differently. I am interested in other people because people are interesting. There is absolutely nothing wrong or lacking with any of my relationships. They are the way they are because of the people in them. Yes, they are different in some respects from each other, but I am not *seeking out* people who are different in order to fill a raiding team in a role playing game (although I will sometimes joke about my extended poly network being a zombie apocalypse survival team). The relationships are different and encompass different things because the people in them are individuals and I *see* them as individuals, therefore their differences and the different aspects of myself that come out when I relate to them are reflected in the different dynamics of each relationship. Do you see what I mean? It's a *consequence*, not a motivating cause.

If, for whatever reason, I was only with one of my partners, that relationship is whole and complete all by itself. No, not all my partners are kinky. No, not all my partners are dancers. No, not all my partners are local. No, not all my partners are anything other than cismale, which is still a consequence of me being hetero (although that hasn't historically always been the case). But I didn't seek any of them out because the others weren't kinky or dancers or local or whatever. I met people and some of them turned out to be that specific kind of awesome that made me have romantic feelings for them. As a *consequence* of having the freedom to explore those feelings, I happen to have some partners who are kinky, some who are local, some who are learning how to dance, some who share my tastes in movies, some who share my taste in activism, etc., etc. As a *consquence* of having the freedom to explore those mutual feelings, I have learned different things about myself, I get to express different facets of myself, and I get to have "sexual variety", which makes my life richer and more complex than when I can only explore romantic feelings for people serially.

Yes, it happens to be true that no single person can fulfill every single role in someone's life - no one person can be parent, sibling, child, mentor, student, lover, partner, therapist, co-parent, boss, subordinate, platonic friend, Dom, sub, puppy, daddy, cousin, grocer, blah blah blah. But I don't need polyamory to solve that. Monogamous people also manage to have romantic partners while also having parents, siblings, friends, therapists, bowling teams, hiking buddies, or whatever else. Swinging is one of many options to have that sexual variety that people seem to crave. And yes, as I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes it is even appropriate to seek someone out specifically to fulfill a particular role, such as competition dance partner.

But I would like to see more poly people who are recognized for not seeing their partners as a lobster dinner to keep from being bored to death with steak every night (because, really, there aren't very many people out there who take "if I couldn't date other people, you'd bore me eventually" as a compliment). I would like to see more poly people talk about their relationships being fulfilling in their own right rather than filling holes in some other relationship. I would like to see more representation for this way of looking at people and relationships so that the rest of the community, especially the newbies, don't take those assumptions for granted, as if "I like variety" was the *reason* why everyone is poly, rather than "variety" being one happy consequence of being poly.

I am not interested in other people because my current partners are lacking something or not fulfilling some "need" or because it's "boring" to be with the same person every day for the rest of my life. I am interested in other people because people are interesting. And I wish more people talked about polyamory or answered that question like that, as if *that* were a given.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
And, if those two workshops weren't enough, in just 2 weeks from now I will be on a panel with Billy Holder and Tikva Wolf of Kimchi Cuddles and others to talk about poly in the media!
If you have any interest at all in polyamory in either news media or popular media & entertainment, you seriously don't want to miss this panel! Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Poly Weekend 2016, come out and see us!

PLUS!!! Sterling Bates will be back once again at APW to discuss how to use personality type systems to improve your relationship communication! This workshop fills up every time he gives it, and he also improves it every time as new research brings even more helpful ways of understanding ourselves and our partners and metamours. I've never missed one of his personality workshops and I learn something new every time.
He will be presenting FIRST THING on Saturday morning! Again, make sure you get your weekend or Saturday passes and check in EARLY so that you don't miss out!

Visit www.AtlantaPolyWeekend.com for the full schedule of all the awesome presentations and workshops next weekend!
joreth: (Swing Dance)
In just 2 short weeks, Sterling and I will be bringing back our Lead & Follow Communication workshop to Atlanta Poly Weekend! It's the first workshop on the schedule, so you have to get there early!

In this workshop, we will teach you exercises to practice at home with your partners that will improve your ability to:

1) be aware of the physical and emotional space that you take up and how that affects those around you;
2) be conscious and considerate of your actions with your partner and how they affect people outside of the two of you;
3) how to better navigate metamour relations and juggling the emotional considerations of multiple partners while still allowing time to focus on one person at a time (i.e. it's not all everyone together all the time or compartmentalize everyone always);
4) how to get better attuned to recognizing nonverbal communication and expressions
5) how to get more comfortable asking for consent;
6) how to get more comfortable giving clear, verbal, affirmative consent;
7) how to become more comfortable giving clear, verbal rejection to your partner and to potential partners kindly;
8) how to hear a rejection and learn how to not take it personally or to accept it and move on more easily.

These are techniques learned over time in the dance community, but we will be teaching them to you without any dance experience required. In fact, we will not be teaching any dancing at all so you do not need to be good at dancing or even interested in dancing to attend! But we will be having fun with music and movement, so if dancing *is* your thing, whether experienced or not, you will have a good time! If you *are* an experienced partner dancer and are already familiar with leading & following, you may still enjoy learning how we put these skills together with relationship communication.

You do not need to come with a partner for this workshop. You can learn these skills on your own and apply them to your relationships later. You will also receive a handout to help you remember and practice the exercises at home so you can teach your partners on your own time.

I hope to see everyone there!
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Dehumanizing, Objectifying Method Of Polyamory:
Quinn, Jordan, and Taylor all meet different needs. Quinn is my activity partner, Jordan is my domestic partner and co-parent, and Taylor is into kinky sex. Together, they all add up to the perfect partner.

Agency-Respecting Method Of Polyamory:
Quinn, Jordan, and Taylor are all different people. Quinn is my Quinn partner, Jordan is my Jordan partner, and Taylor is my Taylor partner. Together, they all enrich my life in their own unique ways.

There are several phrases that the poly community uses that I wish I could erase from the cultural lexicon. "Meets my needs" is one of them. Partners should not be hired to perform certain tasks, they are complex human beings and deserve to be treated as such. I'm not with [livejournal.com profile] tacit because he's into kinky sex. I'm with [livejournal.com profile] tacit because he is [livejournal.com profile] tacit, and because he is who he is and I am who I am, consequently kinky sex is part of our relationship. But if all I wanted was someone to fulfill a kinky sex service, there are any number of people who could fill that role and the person in that role becomes interchangeable. But no one else is [livejournal.com profile] tacit and that's why I'm with him.

I don't find people to fit the spaces in my life. I make spaces to fit the people in my life.

‪#‎polyamory‬ ‪#‎poly‬ ‪#‎polyamorous‬ ‪#‎OpenRelationships‬ ‪#‎EthicalNonMonogamy‬ ‪#‎LoveMoreBeAwesome‬ ‪#‎Frankenpartner‬



The thing is, when a person isn't dehumanizing their partners but still recognizing what role a person plays in their life like "the friend who likes playing poker", they're not doing what I'm talking about precisely because it's not about that one thing. To not recognize that the people in our lives do these things with us, don't do these other things with us, like those things, don't like those other things, etc., is also to not see them as people and is also dehumanizing (related essay: http://tacit.livejournal.com/241568.html).

But to see a person as "fulfilling my poker-playing need" is objectification, as opposed to having a need for connection and shared interests, among which playing poker is one interest that only some people will share, and which is not objectification. The lists of things that we like to do or share with people that too many people list as "needs" usually overlap with multiple people, and they aren't really needs. They're vehicles for meeting a need. That's an important distinction and one that few people ever make.

I have a need to share common interests with people, because of the connection that it builds on shared interests and shared passions. Dancing is a *vehicle* through which that need can be met. But to deliberately look for a *romantic* partner who is "The Dancing Partner", and that trait is the defining element of our relationship - the thing that sets that partner apart from the others, is to dehumanize him. If that partner was instead That Partner With Whom I Dance Among Other Things - a whole and complete person that I see for himself who shares a common interest, that would not be dehumanizing, that would be recognizing his differences, his uniqueness. To relegate him to "my dancing partner" is to ignore the rest of him. The language is important, because it shapes how we think and consequently how we act. This is why hierarchical terminology is so dangerous.

This is not to say that there are never times when it's appropriate to have people in one's life to fulfill a specific role, such as a dance partner that is a business-like arrangement where two people negotiate and discuss to limit their interactions to dancing for some shared goal. But that still makes those people disposable and interchangeable - any number of people could qualify for the role of "dance partner" because that role doesn't depend on the partner being a whole person, just someone whose dance style and dance goals are compatible.

We often enter into limited engagements with other people. I'm saying that it's not appropriate for healthy poly relationships - other types of relationships, perhaps - and is actually the source of the very insecurities that so many poly people try to use this method of relationships to protect against. If I am "The Partner You Kiss On The Lips", then anyone else you kiss on the lips has the potential to replace me. But if I am your Partner, whom you kiss on the lips, then it doesn't matter who else you kiss, because I am me and no one else can be me and kissing is just one trait among many that make up our unique relationship.

One of the big distinguishing markers for when it's dehumanizing and when it's not is to answer the question "if this partner stops doing this thing, will they lose their value and their place in my life?" If my friend who goes to the movies with me stops going to the movies with me, is there anything else to value about that relationship and him as a person? Can I have the same movie-going experience with someone else to replace him if he stops going to the movies with me? Can we flex our relationship to accommodate no longer doing that thing together? Will their Friendship Contract be voided if they renege on going to the movies with me? And will *they* be held responsible for *my* no longer being able to do that thing as long as they remain in that friend slot?

That last one is important. That's what makes someone a need fulfillment machine. We see this with certain types of monogamy, where one partner stops wanting sex and the other partner believes the first is *obligated* to provide that sex because they "need" sex and if the first doesn't *provide* sex, they are no longer useful as a partner and they have "voided" the marriage contract. This is usually the first step on the justification for cheating - "they broke the marriage contract first, so it's not cheating when I have sex with other people without telling them", for instance. But I digress.

When it comes to "needs", the question is, who has the responsibility for getting that "need" met? Is it my movie-going friend's job to make sure that my "need" to watch movies is met? Or is it my responsibility to find some way to watch movies that will make me happy and not infringe on the autonomy of anyone else? And is "going to the movies" *really* a need all on its own, or is it what I said above, which is a need for connection through shared interests and one of those interests happens to be going to the movies?

What I'm talking about above is when people make "going to the movies" a "need" that their partner has to fulfill for them, and deciding not to go to the movies anymore invalidates the relationship and finding literally anyone else to go to the movies with is equally as acceptable. Just having a body there at the theater is the important part, and if their partner won't do it, they'll just find someone else to do it, because there's nothing specific about *that person* that made the experience special or a "need".

What I'm talking about is instead recognizing that "going to the movies" is not a need, in and of itself, but is a representation of a need for connection through shared interests, acknowledging that it is no one else's responsibility to "meet" that need for me because it is my responsibility to find ways to develop connections through shared interests with the important people in my life, then developing relationships with people with many facets to reflect their humanity and our shared relationship so that they are not defined and obligated by the one activity or "need", and finding anyone else to do those things with will produce *different* experiences even though the activities are the same because those other people are *different* people and that will affect the experience.

Oh, and also that last line above "together they add up to the perfect partner" - that's a direct quote that I've heard so many times I've lost count. That's kind of important to the mindset. These people *literally* see their partners as part of a person, not a whole person.

Sure, if you call them on it, they'll backtrack and say something about a metaphor, but as I said, language is important and it shapes how we see things and how we behave.
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
So, there's a certain type of person for whom my words resonate. I became a pseudo-public figure so those people could hear me, not to gather a large following. It's more like I was just making myself into an available resource. I know that I'm not to everyone's taste, and I'm fine with that. The people who like what I have to say can read what I say, and the people who don't, don't have to.

So I find it interesting that only a portion of my posts get multiple shares. If I'm extremely lucky, the number of shares gets to the 2 digits. Like I said, I'm fine with that because I'm not in this for the numbers, I'm in this to be available to those who want my words and that's it.

But the really interesting part isn't that I only get a handful of shares every now and then. No, the interesting part is that the more angry I get, and the more cuss words I use, the higher my shares go. And the post that I made that starts right out of the gate with cussing and rage? Yeah, over 1,300 shares so far.

So, to those people who think that a message will go further if it's nicer, fuck you. To those people who like the sentiment of an activist, but not the anger, fuck you too. The anger is PART of the sentiment. Even people who were embarrassed by the cussing and preemptively apologized for it in their shares, they still shared it because it was *important*, because it said something that people felt needed to be said.

I know that I'm not going to accomplish very much sitting here at my computer and making Facebook posts. That's why I vote and why I sign reputable petitions and why I contact elected officials. But what I *can* do from my computer is provide people with a voice. I will express that rage and that sadness and that horror that people are feeling even when some people wish I would just shut up and stop causing a ruckus, because I can afford to. I will express anger so that people know they're not alone in their passion, and I will share words for those who need to borrow some.

I don't have very much to give, but I do have my emotions and my words. Those include swear words, ugly words, harsh words, because sometimes, those are the only words appropriate for the depth and the intensity of the emotions they represent. There's a reason why my most angry, most cuss-filled posts get the most shares - they reflect what people are feeling. You can't separate the "bad words" from the emotions. They are the expression of those emotions.

So I will continue to swear when I'm angry. And when I'm happy. And when I fucking feel like it. And you will know that I am offering an honest, raw expression of my emotions. Because I have built a life where I can do that, and since so many people still don't have that luxury, I refuse to modulate my words and my tone on their behalf for the dainty sensitivities of the very people who won't let them do it for themselves. Anyone who is more upset at my use of language than the message itself is part of the problem.
joreth: (Self-Portrait)
www.xojane.com/sex/dating-a-social-justice-warrior-made-me-more-vulnerable-to-abuse

"I know that he's going to convince himself that everything that has happened between us was OK and that he is a good guy. He's going to pursue other women with his enlightened talk about feminism, polyamory, kink, and consent."

"Meanwhile, the person I left is sad that our "relationship failed" and will use my story to gain the sympathy and trust of women he can do this to again"


My ex was not this person. He did different things. He didn't do those things to me, he did them to someone else. When he tried to do his usual thing to me, I didn't react the same way he was used to women reacting so he dumped me instead. My anger and rage and confidence has always saved me from prolonged attempts at gaslighting and manipulation.

But these quoted sentiments - I still feel this way as a result of my last brush with an abuser. On paper, everything about him was "right". He was feminist, poly, kinky, secular, he cared so much for other people both those he loved and in the abstract of humanity. I thought he was safe. Instead, it was harder to detect the subtle misogyny that made him believe his female partners were not capable of making good decisions without his input or control, with the assumption that "good decisions" automatically meant "decisions that benefit him and never make him feel icky". Instead, it was harder to see his forms of gaslighting because he sounded so *reasonable* with his talk of science and brain chemistry and independent verification. Instead it was harder to recognize his need for control with his Warrior Woman Worship - a form of objectification of women related to Goddess Worship but specifically aimed at the "strong independent woman" as opposed to more traditional forms of femininity or womanhood in general or, even worse, "female sexual energy" that is more typical with Goddess Worship. How could he feel the need to control his partners if he was so appreciative of women with minds of their own? How does that even work?

I don't have a solution to this. I don't have some kind of checklist or test to weed out abusers who use whatever social constructs are available as manipulation tools. I don't have a way to fix those constructs that we need such as feminism or social justice or even polyamory and kink so that abusers can't warp them for their own use. I just want to add my voice to those saying that we have reasons to be fearful and distrusting. I try very hard not to let my fears shut me down and to begin my relationships with the winning game strategy of "trust first and only defect if they do", but it's hard. Things like this are why.



Just so it's clear to everyone, I'm not asking any questions or trying to understand something or even still processing bad feelings. Anything that ends with a question mark here is rhetorical. I've already done my personal work on my past experiences. This post was made to share with others the dangers and to help illuminate a problem in our communities. The only thing I've seen so far have even a chance of helping is a personal concern and fear of being "that person" and keeping people close who are willing and able to call us on our shit. My ex *thinks* he has people like that in his circle, but his circle has come to me on many occasions to say that they disagree with him but it was too much effort to contradict him, so they don't. So he is unaware this his circle disagrees with him on things, or even that he is viewed as "too much trouble" to disagree with.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
I have a problem with Relationship Anarchy. I'll preface this by clarifying that it's not a problem with RAs themselves, or even the basic philosophy. My problem is that everything that defines RA are the reasons why I got into polyamory in the first place and it irritates me that so many of us feel the need to create a separate space for it.

When I got into polyamory in the late '90s, I was told about this new thing called "polyamory". I was told about it because I was trying to explain to a date why I could never be his "girlfriend". I was trying to explain how I needed the freedom to explore relationships as they happened, organically, and to take them where the relationship itself wanted to go naturally. I reiterated my standard bit about non-traditional gender roles and how I absolutely could not play "the girl" in a relationship and that was non-negotiable.  I said that I had some platonic friends who meant more to me and were a part of my life longer and more significantly than any romantic relationship I had ever had. I talked about how difficult it was for me to label various people because they don't quite fit the existing labels since some "friends" were sexual and some weren't, and some romantic partners weren't sexual and some sexual partners were lower priority than some non-sexual relationships, etc. I mentioned that I was very independent and not terribly a fan of cohabiting and was definitely not interested in marriage or having kids. I said all these things to "let him down gently" so that he wouldn't expect a monoheteronormative relationships out of me (although I didn't know that word back then). He said "I know what your problem is - you're polyamorous!"

So I looked it up. Everywhere I looked, hideous Geocities websites and forums with infantile UIs all said the same thing - freedom, independence, naturally occurring relationships, fluidity in relationships, valuing different kinds of relationships for what they are instead of forcing them to all look the same - everything I was looking for and everything that, years later, people started calling "relationship anarchy".

Except the labels thing. I differ from many RAs on the importance of labels. And back then, the poly community was as divided on labels as it is now with one side coming up with all kinds of useful (and some not so useful) terms faster than we could adopt them and the other side eschewing "all labels" because they couldn't be "penned in". I think it's naive to take the position "I don't use labels" because we clearly use labels all the time. This entire sentence is made up of labels. I labeled that string of symbols and grouped them together into an identifiable set and called it a thing that everyone reading this can understand even if they all have a slightly different understanding of what that thing actually means. It's called "language" and it's how we communicate. Labels are important for a variety of reasons, but that's a whole other rant and I don't want to digress here (or in my comments) about it. Point is, I do use labels descriptively, I am emphatically anti-prescriptive labels, and I've been having this same argument about labels with the poly folk since I joined the communities back in the last century.

So, the reason why I have a problem with RA is because, based on my introduction to polyamory back when it was still fairly new, polyamory IS relationship anarchy. My experience with the community says that this whole couple privilege thing, this whole closed triad thing, this whole relationship escalator thing, this whole ranking of relationships based on the categories and usually involving the type of sexuality involved, this whole valuing the Primary above all others - my experience says all that was added to polyamory after the fact and that those people came into what I had started to feel was "my space" and started fucking things up for the rest of us. Maybe, technically, it wasn't "added" after the fact, because it depends on which specific local community one got involved with back in the beginning, but based on my introduction, those couple-based concepts as *defining* poly elements came later. Back when I joined, people may have held those concepts but polyamory itself was much looser, much simpler - it just meant "many loves" and required being ethical about it. That's it. That left a lot of room for a variety of expressions of polyamory and it didn't automatically associate the term "poly" with all that other bullshit that is essentially mainstream monogamy with "permission to cheat" or as essentially religious polygamy minus the religion (or, rather, substituting one patriarchal religion for a goddess-worshiping religion which is technically not patriarchal but I could argue is still misogynistic because it's still objectifying, but that's yet another digression that I don't want to get into here).

I have a problem with RA because I feel like we already HAD a community for exactly that, but couples with their hierarchies invaded, took it over, and pushed everyone else who is like me out. Not that there wasn't room in polyamory for a variety of ways to practice it - back then we did have terms for the spectrum with "family-oriented" at one end and "free agent" at the other. So I'm not even saying that polyamory must be a term to describe exactly what I'm doing and no one else who is doing similar but not the same gets to use the label. There was room for most of us in the community, back then. I'm saying that the couples with their fucking rules and fucking fears and fucking disrespect and fucking disempowerment got so numerous and so loud that they tainted the community to the point that people on the other end of the spectrum felt that it was better to just break off and create their own communities rather than stick around and improve the existing community - a possibly futile exercise.

Not everyone left, of course. Some of them identify as both RA and poly and are trying to drag these couples out of the toxic, abusive programming they've had from mainstream society and into the whole reason why we all came looking for something like polyamory in the first place. And some of us are sticking around and not identifying as RA (even though one could say that I technically am RA, I just don't use it as an identifying label) because we still believe that this is what polyamory *is* and we're still trying to keep those couples from destroying our cultural history altogether by being the only ones left (history is written by the victors, as they say).

So Relationship Anarchy bugs me, not because of the people who choose the label or because of the definition of that label, but because the label reminds me every time I see it that we already HAD a space carved out for us but people with their toxic bullshit came in and filled it with their abusive practices and self-defenses so much that many "free agent" type veterans left in disgust and new people see only These Couples when they look at the community and if they're not like Those Couples, they decide that this community isn't for them so they wander off to find something that fits better.

RA bugs me because I am resentful of what people have done to the poly community that I first joined which resulted in the sorts of people I came here to find splintering off to form, basically, the same community that we started out with only without attracting Those Couples because it costs  too much to deal with their insistence of trying something fundamentally in opposition to mainstream society while using all the same mainstream tools.

It kinda reminds me of the A+ community when socially conscious atheists split off from the atheism movement community because of the racist, misogynistic, trans- and homophobic assholes making it a toxic waste dump, only the RAs were more successful in carving out their own niche whereas SJW atheists are still trying to find the right way (i.e. comfortable fit) to label and organize themselves.  Also, the RA symbol of a heart and an A in place of the infinity reminds me of the poly atheist symbol, which is the infinity-heart with an A - not sure which came first, but I saw the poly atheist symbol first so that's what I associate with an A in a heart.

So, I have a problem with Relationship Anarchy, but it's not the relationship anarchists - it's the people who drove them to feel that they needed some other community in the first place because the community we had doesn't provide a safe enough space for them and their ideals. So, really, I have a problem with the poly community and I just want it to be better so that RA isn't a necessary thing.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
*I am committed to limiting my actions and words which have the intent or goal of harming my partners, although I acknowledge that some decisions I may make for the benefit of myself or my relationships may result in hurt as a consequence, unintentional or not.

This one is complicated and may require its own post as well. This one took the most number of rewrites to get to a point where I felt it was close enough. The original wording was about harm reduction and a promise to avoid deliberately causing harm to my partners. That sounds pretty good - promising to not hurt someone I love, right? But, as usual, Shelly brought to my attention a different perspective.
"Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
You see, Shelly and I had a very difficult experience together. It wasn't the same experience, and I rather think that she got the worst of it by a long shot. I also don't think we quite realized that we were in the experience together. In fact, we started out the experience at odds with each other. I first wrote this commitment to do with avoiding hurt. But conversation with Shelly changed my perspective. Our experience had taught us both, but it really reinforced in her particularly, that sometimes the only available options to us will lead directly to hurting our loved ones. Sometimes, for our own safety, we may have to do something that will cause hurt, and we will have to do it knowing that it will cause hurt because the alternative is to further hurt ourselves.

I balked at this perspective. I had a previous relationship with someone who routinely did things that hurt me because he placed a higher value on meeting his own desires than on choosing to abstain in order to refrain from causing hurt. I hated the feeling that my partner was more invested in experiencing something that he wanted to experience than he was in considering how much pain his experience would cause me. I considered it a fundamentally selfish point of view. But my shared experience with Shelly taught me the darker, evil twin of this point of view. It's possible to use someone's desire to avoid causing you pain as a form of emotional blackmail to prevent them from doing what is necessary for their own emotional or physical health.

Shelly resisted my original wording because she found herself in a terrible position. She found herself in the position of needing to make a choice for her own safety that she knew would cause pain to someone she loved. I slowly came to connect with Shelly's position because I had a partner who looked at my decision to do something for my own good that would result in his pain and responded "how could you hurt me, you evil monster?!" I hesitate to say "cause him pain" because, in my case, much of what hurt him wasn't directly aimed at him. What I needed to do for me were things that were about me and had no direct effect on him, only indirect, but that he twisted into somehow being all about him. Even things that I hadn't actually done but just contemplated doing, the very act of considering them hurt him. I had the potential opportunity to have a sexual experience once that I believed was unlikely but still possible that I really felt was something I needed to experience for my own emotional gratification and my own self-identity. It's a long story why I felt this one experience was so important, but it was. Maybe I'll tell that story sometime. I recognized that it would be discomforting for him and I acknowledged that I would be uncomfortable if our positions were reversed. So, just discussing the situation hypothetically, I tried to show him that I was on his side (see the relevant point [prior]) by acknowledging his concern and being willing to compromise in order to assuage his concern.

For many people, when we have concerns about our loved ones, we just want to be heard. Many times, all we need is for our loved ones to acknowledge that they hear us, really hear us, and we feel better. We feel like a team. But not in this case. In this case, being willing to say "I hear your concerns, I think they are valid, I've already considered your feelings and agree that the likely reaction would be totally appropriate and I accept that reaction as a consequence for my choice" didn't result in relief at being heard and a willingness to bend with me towards a compromise. Instead, what he heard was "yep, I know this will destroy you because I've already thought about it and I'm going to do it anyway with full forethought because I don't care if it hurts you." Instead, my acknowledgement of his concerns was to make my position even worse because I couldn't even use ignorance as an excuse for hurting him. In his mind, what I had proposed to do was now deliberately stab him in the back with intention and malice. Remember, this was all about something that was only hypothetical at the time and, I thought, pretty unlikely although there was a non-zero chance it could happen. I was just discussing the possibility because, as my point [prior] states, I wanted to address it before it became too big to handle. I felt that addressing it before there was any emotional investment in the outcome would result in a more rational, easy-to-tackle decision. I wanted to work it out when I didn't have the possibility hanging over me and the pull of a missed opportunity influencing my position. But even this became a deliberate attack on him.

But I really didn't want to rewrite this commitment in such a way that acknowledging the fact that we would inevitably cause our loved ones harm would leave the door open for the opposite to happen - that which I experienced with the other ex who seemed to blithely go about doing things without concern for how they affected me simply because he wanted to do them. I didn't want to leave room for a partner to read my list of commitments, then go off and do something hurtful, knowingly hurtful, and come back and say "well you gave yourself an out to hurting me like this, so I'm only doing what you want to do to me!"

So I'm trying to limit the ways in which I hurt my loved ones. I want to limit those ways to only unintentional harm, accidental harm, but my experience with Shelly and my observations of her experience with that situation forces me to leave myself a back door where I might have to hurt someone and do so knowingly, for my own health and for the good of the relationship itself. To leave that door open, I have specified that actions with the goal or intention of causing harm are to be avoided when possible. I don't want to hurt my loved ones, but if my intention is for some greater good or need, and harm is the consequence and not the intent, then even if I am aware of the potential to harm, I believe this serves the conflicting goals of needing to do for myself what is necessary and still not trampling over my loved ones on a selfish ride of personal desires. I need to somehow simultaneously prioritize my right to do things that I need to do, being considerate and compassionate towards my partners and how my actions affect them, and not demonizing myself whether I am able to foresee the consequences or am unable to see the consequences. And I need to do it in a way that a partner reading this can't rules-lawyer his way into excusing or justifying his disregard for me. I feel that this wording is the closest I have come to achieving all those conflicting goals.

www.theinnbetween.net/polycommitments.html
joreth: (Bad Computer!)
http://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2016/04/04/one-penis-policies/

I had a partner once who, when I found out that their pattern of both he and his wife only dating women was partially instigated by his discomfort with having his wife date a man and not fully because she was really more into women than men, I got really upset with him and pointed out the inherent sexism. I went through the usual objections, including the idea of ownership over his wife's body, etc., but right now I want to focus on his reaction to the proposal that the reason why he wasn't bothered by his wife having female lovers but was regarding male lovers is because he, fundamentally, believed that "lesbian sex / women's relationships don't count".

It basically boiled down to "I can't compete with other women and they can't compete with me because we have different parts, so I'm not threatened by them because they offer her something she can't get from a relationship with me, but another man can give her the same thing that I can, therefore she might leave me if she has access to another man" with the further assumption that said other man would necessarily be "better" in some way to facilitate the threat that she would leave if she only had the chance to know some other man.

This idea equates people with their genitals. A) No one can "give her the same thing [you] can" because NO ONE ELSE IS YOU. B) Since your relationship is not purely sexual, a woman can also give her the "same" things that you do, which are good sex, companionship, understanding, support, love, fun times, arguments, and everything else that makes up your relationship in addition to inserting your penis into her vagina. C) Women can also insert penises into vaginas - either the ones that are part of their own bodies or the ones bought in the store.

Since this argument is literally condensing all of human romantic / sexual interaction to which body parts people can mash together, it requires an unspoken assumption that mashing two particular set of body parts together is more important than mashing any other set of body parts together because mashing those other body parts together (or, y'know, any other part about relating to each other) couldn't possibly compare to or threaten the act of mashing that one set of body parts together.

BY DEFINITION, being afraid that someone else's vagina coming into contact with someone else's penis might make that vagina-haver discard everything about your relationship that makes it special and break up with you, but not being afraid of someone else's vagina coming into contact with literally any other body part from some other person will do the same thing is erasing the validity and legitimacy of relationships between women (going with the position of those who defend this policy of equating vagina-having with "women").

I also want to address the idea of using rules with what's called "sunset clauses" - a specific time limit for when the rule will end. This is a legitimate use of rules to work through specific issues and I have used them myself. However, I remain suspicious of them as "rules" - limitations that one person imposes on (or asks nicely of) another person(s) with regards to how they interact with other people to mitigate one's own issues, again, primarily because of this same former partner.

He and his wife also used the excuse of sunset clauses to justify rules, and they used these as "evidence" that they were both "getting better" and experiencing "personal growth". What would happen is that he would have a bad reaction to the idea of his wife doing a thing with a guy, the wife would hold off on doing that thing until the husband felt better, then when he could deal, he allowed her to do the thing. Their position was that, since the wife was building an ever-growing list of specific activities that she could do with men, clearly the husband was "getting better". I thought that sounded like it too.

I was wrong.

Yes, the wife was able to check off additional specific sexual activities over time that she was able to engage in, but neither of them ever got out of the mindset that *he* had a right to control access to *her* body or that sexual relationships with other men was somehow inherently more "threatening" than sexual relationships with women. There was never any actual personal growth happening, just a desensitization of specific sexual activities and positions. That is not "working on it" and it is not "getting better". It's basically just moving the goalposts while defending the same basic premise.

There is a time for when people have such a strong emotional reaction to something that the first thing they can focus on is just desensitization. I've used this tactic myself. But the point of desensitizing myself to an idea is to "numb" the emotional reaction enough that I can see through it to the root issue, and then actually do work on the root issue itself, so that I won't *need* to continuously desensitize myself to something that, ultimately, has nothing to do with me in the first place (i.e. my partner's other relationships).

But too many people stop at the desensitization process and think that, now that they're "numb" to this one thing, problem solved! Then that exact same issue gets triggered by a totally different thing, and they think "well, last time this desensitization made it more bearable, let's do that again!" It's the emotional equivalent, to borrow the pill analogy from the article, of taking shit loads of ibuprofen for my endometriosis. Every month, I'm wracked with pain and forced to spend a day or two in the fetal position, so I take ibuprofen to numb the pain enough to barely function. That is not a solution! A solution would be to attack the endo at the root cause so that I don't have to rely on copious amounts of drugs that may ultimately damage my liver from chronic use ever again!

Unfortunately, our medical industry is also misogynistic and has not put any effort into solving the root cause of endo, so millions of women are stuck desensitizing ourselves just to make it to work every month or ripping out a part of our internal organs which may or may not fix the problem anyway.

So don't let your cultural misogynistic programming work like our cultural misogynistic medical industry - we should not accept as sufficient the mere desensitization of emotional issues or hacking out deep parts of ourselves just to function. Focus on solving the actual problem of not seeing queer relationships as equally legitimate to hetero ones so that you don't need that mental ibuprofen anymore.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
A long time ago (in a personality far, far away), I used to hate physical affection. I couldn't stand it when my partners held my hand in public. I hated it when they put their arm around my shoulders. It really bugged me when they wanted to snuggle on the couch while watching movies. I even came to feel anxious about back rubs.

And then I read the book The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman (and I now offer a workshop on this subject for poly and non-romantic relationships with all the gender role and religious elements removed *shameless plug*). I discovered something about myself that really cemented for me the importance of a communication tool like 5LL: I discovered that Physical Affection is actually one of my primary Love Languages and that's *why* I had a strong aversion to PDA and other forms of touch. It'll make sense in a moment, I promise.

See, when you imbue extra meaning into something, and then people abuse that thing, it warps how you view that thing. I've written about my difficulty with accepting physical affection in the past, although I don't really feel like actually digging up those articles to link to right now, and how I misunderstood my discomfort with abuse of affection for a dislike of affection but that the reason why it bothered me so much is because of how important physical affection is to me. Now I'm starting to wonder if Gift Giving might have fallen into the same category.

I've never enjoyed the act of gift giving. I have pictures of myself as a kid eagerly opening and holding up holiday and birthday gifts, so at some point I clearly enjoyed at least the *idea* of receiving gifts. But, for me, gift exchange has always been fraught with expectation, obligation, and dejection. My family, as loving and understanding as they tried to be, nevertheless held pretty rigid (if wider than many) gender role ideas. Every Christmas morning I would rip into my gifts hoping to find some Transformers or Legos or a chemistry set and instead I would get a pretty new skirt or durable jeans or, as I entered my teens, one of those generic "girl gift bags" of bath products and nail polish. My gifts didn't all suck of course, but gift exchange opportunities always ended with a pervasive sense of being let down because, not only did I not get the toys I really wanted, but I also got the sense that people didn't really see me. I came to rely on my wishlists to tell people what to give me so that I wouldn't feel let down and they wouldn't feel unappreciated. Every time someone says they strayed from the list, I feel a spike of anxiety because I expect, based on my history, that they're going to get me something "wrong" and I'll be stuck carting around something I don't really want or can't use because otherwise they'll get their feelings hurt if I get rid of it.

Later, I was given flowers by men when they fucked up, even after I told them that I don't like flowers as gifts because I don't know what to do with them - they die in a couple days, my cats try to eat them and get sick - and because gift flowers reinforced gender roles that I continuously struggled to overcome even within my own relationships with people who should have known better. My second fiance bought me engagement jewelry without consulting me and it was *awful* (that should have been a huge red flag right there). Then I dropped below the poverty line and trying to navigate through people's hurt feelings when I didn't want to participate in gift exchanges just added onto the shit pile laced with landmines that was the whole gift exchange process. Gift exchanges just seemed so fucking materialistic (and I was also a tree-hugging hippie who snubbed materialism back then, before poverty taught me both the value and the power dynamic in materialism). Throw in some internalized misogyny that turned me into the Chill Girl who looked down on women who wanted gifts as evidence of "love", and you have a recipe pretty much designed to ruin the concept of gifts for me.

I hate gift exchanges.

But then I met one of my metamours. We had a lot of communication issues in the beginning. We just seemed to talk past each other a lot and there was a lot of managing feelings. But she and I stuck it out. One of our issues is that she really needs to feel *seen* by people - understood - and she also wanted to feel considered. She had a lot of experience as the classic "secondary" whose primary metamours didn't really value her presence and made rules to restrict her relationships. So when she had the opportunity to be "the one who was here first" and have a metamour who wasn't her partner's "primary" and therefore felt she had more freedom to advocate for her needs, what she needed was for me to consider her. Now, from my perspective, I had no idea how to make her feel "considered", because when I "consider" someone, that's all in my head. How does someone else know that I'm "considering" them all the time? Texting wasn't a thing back then, let alone social media, and my cell phone was still charging by the minute, so regular contact was just not practical and not a skill I had developed anyway. How was she supposed to know I was doing a thing that was totally internal?

But then, I was out somewhere in a store (I have no idea where at this point), and I saw something that made me think of her. It was inexpensive, so I impulsively bought it for her and gave it to her some time later. I was not expecting her reaction. She was so effusive and happy over this little nothing gift! She said because it was a tangible reminder for her that I was thinking about her when she wasn't around. Suddenly, the whole gift thing clicked. Suddenly it made sense to me. It wasn't about money, it wasn't about obligation, it was about recognizing another human being for who they are, recognizing and appreciating their presence in your life, actively desiring their joy, and offering symbols of that recognition, appreciation, and enjoyment that will remind them of your recognition, appreciation, and enjoyment. Suddenly, gifts started making sense.

The trick, I've discovered, is in finding other people who can disentangle all that obligation and social programming. That's such a complicated process that I still prefer not to engage in gift exchange in general. But I've developed intimate relationships with some people who are similarly introspective and critical of social norms. We can say "no, you don't have to get me anything" and mean it. We can say "I love it!" and mean it. We can let go of attachment and give gifts without any obligation to reciprocate, or even to keep the gift, because we genuinely understand the gesture behind the act. And, it turns out, when all the bullshit is stripped away, gift giving turns out to Mean Something to me much in the same way that physical affection Means Something even when I thought I hated it.

I've had a handful of memorable gifts, and they all Mean Something. The first gift that I ever got that expressed everything I wanted and hated about gift giving was from a former partner of mine. I went on vacation for a week or something, and his car was out of commission at that time so I lent him my car while I wasn't using it. My car radio wasn't working and hadn't been for a while. When I came back from vacation, my car was washed, detailed, and his old car stereo had been installed to replace my broken one. He took his very nice factory radio out because it had a tape deck and replaced it with a CD player, and then installed that very nice factory radio in my car. I preferred tape decks because I still had cassette tapes, and I had one of those tape-to-audio-jack thingies and a skip-resistant jogging CD player for the very few CDs that I owned anyway. That the radio was technically "used" and didn't cost him anything was irrelevant. Actually, it wasn't "irrelevant", it was a good way to make my point that I didn't care about gifts for the financial investment but rather the consideration that went into the gift. He knew that I wanted a new radio and he knew what kind of radio I wanted specifically. He gave me that exact radio and put in the effort to install it himself. He also cleaned out my car, which I hated doing. That was a *meaningful* gift that actively made my life better.

All of this musing is because, as I write this, I have a little figurine standing over me made out of melted tools and nuts and bolts to remind me that one partner recognizes my tomboy gender orientation and celebrates it, a practical little assistive tool that another partner had just received for himself and I expressed an interest in that I wasn't really expecting to get but found one awaiting me on my laptop 2 days later, and a giant candy bar that yet another partner made the effort to read through my writing and find is my favorite kind. These gifts came free of any obligation to reciprocate, didn't cost very much money, and represent being *seen* and *heard*. My partners are listening and accepting my experience of myself. My partners are listening to my expressed wishes and doing what they can to accommodate. My partners are taking the time to learn *who I am* and showing it with symbols that they could only know if they were paying attention when I talk about who I am.

I also have some bits and bobs lying around for gifts for various people that I just haven't gotten around to giving to them yet. I still have the jewelry tools and extra materials sitting out from a necklace I made for my best friend because I saw the pendant in a store and thought of her, so I built a chain mail necklace around it and gave it to her on my trip out to see her. I have other pieces, some of which are complete in and of themselves and some are parts that I plan to use to make something else out of (like that necklace), for other people. I feel happy giving these gifts because they go to people who don't expect gifts from me (even on gift-giving holidays), but who feel recognized when I do give them gifts because they are spontaneous expressions of my love for them and my acknowledgement of who they are as people.

I've been telling people for years that I speak 4 of the 5 Love Languages pretty fluently and naturally, but the Gift Giving language was just not something I can quite grasp. However, the other day, surrounded by examples to the contrary, it occurred to me that maybe that 5th Love Language wasn't an aberration after all; that maybe, like with the Physical Affection language, I just had some bad programming that healthy and loving relationships helped to debug.
joreth: (Misty in Box)
I talk a lot about how the language of abuse gets co-opted by abusers and how they create the narrative that they were the victim. I reference often the article by Shea Emma Fett and the quote where they say that being victimized by one's control is different from being victimized by another's resistance to one's control. I give a lot of sample examples, with identifying features modified or removed, but they're always simplified or summarized for the sake of analogy or making a point.

I'm going to give a real world example of what it looks like when someone uses social justice language to build a narrative that they were the ones who were victimized when someone attempted to resist their control.  So that you can see what it actually looks like and why someone could interpret that position sympathetically.

I was living in a room in a larger house where the owner of the house decided he didn't like me personally and wanted me to leave, but he refused to actually *tell* me that, so he started messing with the climate control to my room which caused my terminally ill-but-then-stable cat to go into heat stroke and shock and she died shortly thereafter. When I discovered he was deliberately fucking with me / my cats in this way, I hurriedly tried to escape, seeking a new place to live and trying to move out "secretly" so that one day I would just be gone and he wouldn't know where I was or how to reach me. Naturally, I had confided in my then-partner all of my fears and concerns and worries about my cats and how this living situation was unfolding. I was also tweeting about it, and my then-partner obsessively read my tweets.

So, while I was trying to escape and while I felt that my cats were in danger of this person when I wasn't home and while I was trying to vacate without him knowing what stage of moving I was in, my then-boyfriend broke up with me when he insisted that I had agreed to allow him to mandate the speed and progression of any new relationships I had, and I insisted that I never made that agreement. Also, of importance to note, is my position on Dividing Property in a breakup. I have a THING about separating our stuff when I break up with someone. It actually kinda falls into my OCD because of how compulsive I am about keeping track of whose stuff is whose so that we can separate our stuff. I *do not* keep other people's things. I can't stress this point enough. I fucking mark my books, music, and DVDs even when I live alone just in case I might one day live with someone and have our things get mixed up and I will want a way to identify whose things are whose.  I have one of those "diamond" pens that scratches into any surface so that I can mark my property, and I'm fucking poor with old, outdated shit that no one would steal unless they wanted to hurt me.  I'm not exaggerating about how much this is A Thing for me. I made my fucking *fiance* mark his books separately so that when he merged our Stephen King collections into one massive library, I could still tell them apart and when he emotionally abused me for months before I escaped, I made damn sure that he got all his books back, even though keeping his books would have made my nearly complete collection more than complete (which was a goal of mine at the time). I'm not exaggerating about how much this is A Thing for me.

So, my ex decided that I couldn't be trusted to return his spare toiletries that he kept at my house for overnight stays or his extraneous DVD burner that he told me I could keep for as long as I wanted because he had no use for it. He sent this house-owner into my room to retrieve his things. Yeah, you know that face you're making right now?  That shocked "he did what?!" face?  That's how everyone looks when I tell this story.  But to this day, he does not see how this action is wrong.  This violation into my personal space was the last straw for me in a series of him attempting to insert himself into my personal space (trying to control my other relationships & my emotions). I told him that I did not want him to contact me in any way without first giving me an apology for sending the house-owner into my room and assuming that I wouldn't return his shit. Nothing about our relationship or our breakup, just an apology for this one act. I felt (and still do) that he couldn't possibly begin to understand what went wrong in our relationship unless he could understand how this act was a violation and why it was a violation, and I wanted an apology that reflected this understanding. Without this understanding, I feel that there is nothing more to talk about because we are at an impasse.

He contacted me twice more over the next several months. One time was to express sympathy at the death of my cat, which I told him was not sufficient, I still expected an apology if he wanted to talk to me. So, for those keeping track, that's twice that I laid out the conditions under which I would consent to hear from him - an apology for sending someone I was trying to escape from into my personal space. The third time he contacted me was just to reach out. He felt that "life was too short" to remain angry with each other and we should start rebuilding our friendship. He did say that if he had known how upset I would get at the intrusion of the guy I was trying to escape into my room, he wouldn't have "taken him up on his offer". Since I happen to know that the two of them were not independent friends and did not have a correspondence with each other prior to our breakup (unless he had kept this hidden from me), this means that one of them had to contact the other *for the purpose* of discussing our breakup and / or my vacating the house, so I call bullshit on that. But, notice that his concession was about how "upset" I was, not any sort of validation for being upset, not an understanding of *why* I was upset, just that he didn't want to deal with my rage.

I said:
"No, it doesn't count. I want an apology that shows that you understand why what you did was wrong and expresses remorse for your behaviour, not a not-pology where you're just sorry I feel hurt without taking any responsibility for having hurt me and where you simultaneously try to defend your actions.

I don't know what's wrong with you that you can't see why I wouldn't feel violated by you sending in the asshole who tortured and killed my cat, for fuck's sake, while I was *in the middle* of trying to escape from him or deeply insulted by the accusation that you couldn't trust me to return your fucking spare hair dryer and extra drive that you weren't using and you said I could use as long as I needed because it was so extraneous to you.

I don't want to hear any more bullshit defense of 'he offered', any more 'I'm sorry you feel bad' not-pologies, or anything else about our relationship or breakup except a sincere apology for the final straw in what was the worst behaviour I have ever personally witnessed during a breakup. Not a single word of 'explanation' or defense. The only possible exception might be if you really don't understand and you sincerely want to understand why you were wrong but then it depends on how you ask for clarification and if I believe you are sincerely trying to make amends and not just trying to get me to spell out my argument so you can better argue your side. I don't want to hear your side and I don't care if you think I'm being unfair.

I've said at least twice now not to contact me without that apology or I'd block your methods of contact and I'm not going to repeat myself again."
So he contacted me a third time, just to get in another defense of how he wasn't really "wrong" and how I'm the villain here:
"I will not consent to a conversation that starts out with restrictions being placed on what I can and can not say. It's wrong of you to make such demands and ridiculous to think that I would accept such terms. Along with your having deleted my last message unread, it's clear that you're less interested in achieving understanding and finding the truth than you are in defending the narrative that you've spun for yourself about the circumstances surrounding our breakup. That's not setting personal boundaries. That's trying to dominate the conversation by threatening to take your ball and go home."
You see that? "I will not consent to a conversation with you". "you're not interested in finding the truth". "That's not setting boundaries, that's threatening to take your ball and go home."

"I will not consent" - that's co-opting the language of the victim. He doesn't *have* to "consent" to any conversation with me because I'M TRYING TO GET HIM TO STOP FUCKING TALKING TO ME. I don't *want* a conversation with him, I want him to go away. I left the door open a crack for future conversations by offering him an avenue to start a dialog with me (which, frankly, was more than he deserved), but I am not *asking* to have any more conversations with him. I am demanding that he leave me the fuck alone, which he ignored 3 goddamn times. He's not so concerned with *my* refusal to consent to talk to him, but tell him he may talk to me under certain conditions and suddenly I'm violating his "consent" because he wants to talk to me without any conditions for what he can talk about. That's entitlement.

He considers himself a rational and a skeptic, as do I. The part about not being interested in "finding the truth" is a jab at that, because it assumes that he has some "truth" that I'm unwilling to acknowledge and I'm just being "emotional", compared to his so much more legitimate "reason" (and you SO don't want to get into the irony of that, considering the whole thing happened because he had an emotional reaction to me beginning a new relationship and I refused to modify my new relationship to suit his emotional state). It's yet another defense of his position, which I said I didn't want to hear. Entitlement - he thinks he has a "right" to be heard. As I told him when I first issued my no-contact boundary, I do not believe that we can even begin to get to the "truth" of our relationship until he understands what was wrong about sending the house-owner into my space. That entitlement into my space and the assumption that I am not capable of making rational decisions or choices that are in my best interest (whether they "hurt" him or not) without his guidance or intrusion is the WHOLE POINT of the conflict in the first place, and an example of his sexist-based abuse that he inflicted on other partners of his who are less resistant to this form of control. This is another point that the blogger Shea Emma Fett said in another piece about how misogyny informs certain types of abusive relationships. He had a pattern, that I had just discovered at that time, of not trusting his partners to make decisions about their lives and he needed to be a part of that decision-making process to ensure that they made decisions that he would approve of.

I know that this is hard for some people to understand, but I, and women in general, am capable of making decisions for myself that are in my best interest including when to not engage with someone anymore. The "truth" of the matter of our breakup is less relevant than the fact that he repeatedly intruded on my boundaries - my physical space of my room, my emotional state, my other relationships - and took personal offense and victim status when I rebelled against his intrusion. There's more to his "truth" claim, but that involves other people and other situations that I don't feel free to share. Suffice to say that I warned him of something that would come to pass if he didn't change his ways, he very condescendingly told me that I had no idea what I was talking about, and then the thing happened. But in this email, a few months later, he still maintains that I don't know what I'm talking about and I'm missing some "truth" about the course of events that I am willfully ignoring (which, of course, he must provide for me).

That bit about taking my ball and going home is just ... it's hard to know where to start with how off-base this is. This email exchange happened 10 months after *he* broke up with *me*. The whole reason why I wasn't speaking to him is because he LITERALLY took his shit and left, and I was pissed at him for doing that (or, rather, *how* he did that). There is nothing left for me to "take" away from him and leave, except myself. And, that's exactly the point - he feels entitled to my attention, my "understanding", and I'm saying that he doesn't get those things, and he stomped his feet and threw a tantrum because I'm taking myself out of his reach.

Also, this phrase is often used as if taking one's toys and leaving are a bad thing. Two little kids are playing ball, one kid owns the ball and the other doesn't, and the kid with the ball gets pissed off at the kid who doesn't own the ball and takes his toy and leaves. We're supposed to feel sorry for the kid who doesn't have a ball to play with now and we're supposed to disapprove of the childish behaviour of the child taking his toy away, but, frankly, more people ought to feel empowered to pack up their shit and go when they're not having a good time anymore. The idea that we owe it to the other little kid to play with OUR toys is a toxic, abuse-apologist idea that needs to die.

This is *different* from the idea that we should be teaching people empathy and compassion and sharing our privileges, which I suppose is what the analogy is supposed to teach. If we see a homeless person on the street, we should be more willing to share our financial bounty, and not take our cash out of his hands if he mumbles something that we don't like. But the only time I see this analogy actually used is when two adults have a conflict and one adult removes themselves and access to things they own from another. As they should.

Yes, I am taking my ball of my time and energy away from you, because I don't want to share my time or energy on you anymore, and I'm "going home" in the sense that I'm telling you to get the fuck out of my house and stop coming around here anymore, just like THE LAST TWO TIMES I SAID SO.

"I will not consent to a conversation with you" - good, strong, boundary setting and the c-word - consent! Ooh, Joreth is violating consent! Obviously she's the bad guy!

"You're not interested in the truth" - see? Emotional! One might say 'hysterical' even! Joreth isn't reasonable or rational! I'm being abused because she won't hear my side of the story!!

"You're taking your ball and going home" - infantilizing, condescending, paternalistic. Now now sweetheart, you're just not seeing the big picture! Let me tell you what reality really is. What do you mean, you don't want to hang on my every word? You're silencing me!!!

Fuck you and your theft of marginalized people, oppressed people, actual REAL victimized people. You are not victimized by resistance to your control.  You are not entitled to anyone else's time, attention, emotions, patience, body, or even their subjective experiences.  When someone tells you to go away, YOU ARE NOT VICTIMIZED by that.  When someone tells you that you hurt them and they will not engage with you without an apology for what you did, YOU ARE NOT VICTIMIZED by that, even if you personally feel hurt by it.  You can feel hurt, you can feel offended, you can feel dismissed, you can feel angry, you can feel misunderstood, you can even disagree about the circumstances, but you are not the victim when someone tells you to apologize or GTFO, particularly after you did something to hurt them.  Stop throwing around terminology like "abuse", "victim", "consent", etc.  It only devalues it for when we need to use it legitimately.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
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. Every time I saw one member of his group try to reach outside the bounds, and he would freak out and try to reign them back in, every time I called him on it, he would yell at me that everyone in the group "agreed" to this manner of veto and group consensus and it "works for them" and that when I pointed out the pain it caused one of the other members to give up something in order to assuage his hurt feelings at things that had nothing to do with him, he would say that I was trying to "impose" MY way of polyamory onto him - that *I* was victimizing *him* and trying to force him into a style of polyamory that wasn't a good fit for them. There are lots of people who seem to think that "agreeing" to disempowerment is always acceptable, that their agreement makes it empowering. This is not a D/s arrangement we're talking about here, this is abuse. By definition, someone who is disempowered isn't *able* to give informed consent - that's why we have statutory rape laws. We can coerce people to "agree" to all manner of things, it doesn't make their agreement "empowering" or right.

"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. This should be especially obvious when I'm poly, I'm out, and my policy of no-rules is widely known and published in my online writings, but technically, anyone has that right even if they're in a monogamous or otherwise restricted relationship. Betraying a promise is hurtful, and I don't condone any kind of action where one takes a romantic or sexual relationship without one's existing partner's knowledge and then intends to maintain the ruse that the new relationship doesn't or didn't exist, but they still have that *right* of bodily autonomy. No one needs another's *approval* for what you do with your own body, mind, or emotions because those things don't belong to them, you just need their non-coerced informed consent to engage in whatever kind of relationship with *you* that you're asking them to engage in with you.

"You don't get to decide the terms of how I speak to you or what I'm allowed to say 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: (Misty in Box)
I have a question and I need for everyone interested in answering it to assume that I am asking in good faith, not trolling.

Are there any articles that directly compare and contrast the difference between being gaslighted and someone who is *actually* the horrible things that a gaslighter accuses the victim to be?

Let me expand a bit.  OK, a lot.

I've had the misfortune to see a gaslighter work his black magic now in person, right in front of my eyes but on someone other than me, and I've seen the devastation it caused. I've seen it in a poly context, which, for some reason, actually made it harder for me to see at first - easier for the gaslighter to hide. I've been an outspoken critic of what I have eventually come to see as real abuse in the poly community and how our own community standards protect and privilege abusive relationship structures and behaviours. So, in no way do I want to counteract any of the work done to bring awareness and solutions to gaslighting.

But I'm reading a lot of articles on gaslighting lately, and it struck me that, if I switched perspectives in my head and read the article *as if I were* the gaslighter himself (choosing a gendered pronoun because I am most familiar with male abusers and female victims, and I feel the need to use different pronouns to help keep the illustrations understandable), using the excuses and justifications he gave to make it look like he was the victim, if I took on that mindset for a moment, I couldn't tell from many of these articles who was whom. And a gaslighter or narcissist can find ammunition in these articles to continue their subjugation, and validation in these words.

So, for example, this one article lists several "tell-tale signs":

1. Something is “off” about your friend, partner, … but you can’t quite explain or pinpoint what.

So, this gaslighting observation that I mentioned above, in the beginning, he had me (a close but outside observer) convinced at first that he was the real victim. He confided in me his perspective. I do believe that he really did believe the stories he was spinning to me. It wasn't until I talked to the victim alone and then confronted him about the victim's side, and then HEARD him say "no, they don't feel that way, here [victim], tell Joreth that you don't feel that way" and then the victim proceeded to confirm the gaslighter *even though* I had just had an hour long conversation with them in tears about exactly how they felt. The victim told me that *I* must have misunderstood or misheard their anguished cries, that it wasn't a big deal, that everything was worked out.

I KNOW WHAT I HEARD. The victim felt a particular way, the gaslighter insisted that they didn't, and then the victim's story changed to match the gaslighter's version.

My point is that I believe the gaslighter is that fucked in the head that he (and most of them) really does believe his (their) version of events. I don't believe that most gaslighters are deliberately plotting to undermine people like in the movie, but I know for a fact that undermining people is the effect that's happening. I was one of his confidants, so I heard what I really believe to be his honest and true view of himself and his motivations. I believe that I understand the view of himself that he holds, at least well enough to read an article from a gaslighter's perspective who doesn't think he is doing anything wrong.

So, when I read articles like this and I put myself in the mindset of that confidante for whom I was on his side before I knew better, I have a hard time telling from these articles that *he* was the one who was doing the gaslighting. That's how he had me fooled for as long as I was.

He believed that something was "off" about his victim. They kept "changing their story". They weren't consistent. They saw things in strange, corner-turning ways that he didn't understand. I was constantly playing "interpreter" for them because he just didn't understand the victim.

4. You feel threatened and on-edge, but you don’t know why.

As the blogger Shea Emma Fett alluded to, abusers really do feel victimized, but they feel victimized by their victims' resistance to the abuser's control. When this gaslighter attempted to control his victim, and they resisted, the abuser felt personally threatened. I went out on a date once with a guy who I had a history with and I was interested in a future with, and my then-bf, when I told him all about it, accused me "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!" Listen here, asshole, I did *nothing* "to" you. This thing *happened* to me. It may have affected you, but it wasn't done *to* you and certainly not with malice. Nevertheless, he, and the abuser I'm talking about, felt threatened. This abuser was *constantly* fighting with his victim, to the point that he started working as late as possible to avoid being at home where another fight might break out. He was on edge all the time. He didn't understand why this was happening or how to avoid it (because he didn't understand that it was his own doing and he didn't understand the victim's wants - namely the desire to not be abused). He would check off "yes" to this one too.

6. You never quite feel “good enough” and try to live up to the expectations and demands of others, even if they are unreasonable or harm you in some way.

The motivation for this gaslighter's behaviour was a massive amount of fear and insecurity.  Every time he felt his insecurity crop up and it prompted him to try to control other people to manage his fear, I stuck my nose in to tell him that he should do better.  His victim also ineffectually tried to tell him that his attempts to control them was hurting them and he needed to do better.  In my own arguments with him, he accused me of being unreasonable for insisting that his attempts to control his partners were harmful.  He insisted that *my* suggestions for not controlling people were actually harmful *to him* somehow.  We argued in circles and I never got a clear explanation for how other men (even men that he didn't like) seeing naked pictures of his wife harmed *him* (for example), but he clearly believed that it did.

Remember that ex above?  He honestly believed that my date, and what we did on our date, with my new prospective partner was something done *to* him, and that it harmed him in some way, even though he wasn't on that date and he was told about the date both before and afterwards, prior to my seeing that ex in person again so that he could make informed decisions about how to relate to me in the future (and no, I didn't have wild, unprotected, fluid-exchanged sex with some random stranger and come home with an STD or something, which is usually what people point to when they want to defend the position that it's reasonable to be upset about what one partner does outside of a given relationship or to control, or even request, a specific set of behaviour for outside a given relationship).

I insist that a no-rules, boundaries-based relationship is the better relationship standard, and the gaslighter believed that my standards are too high, are unreasonable, and harm him in some way.  He's not the only one who thinks that either.  I have been told, verbatim, that not everyone is as "evolved" as I am when it comes to relationship and emotional maturity.  I call bullshit on the "evolved" part.  As far as I'm concerned, respect for agency is the bare minimum.  I get that it's not always *easy*, but it's also not some advanced, high level concept set aside for, I dunno, monks who have reached enlightenment or Clears who have spent millions of dollars to the Church or whatever.  Learning to respect other people's agency is something that children are capable of learning, and it's a lifetime of societal reinforcement that causes us to unlearn it (if we learned it in the first place) by instilling a sense of entitlement to other people's bodies, emotions, and minds.  When fear has a hold of you, respecting other people's agency may be challenging, but challenging is not the same as "harmful".  But because it can be challenging, someone who is an abuser or who is gaslighting someone can indeed believe that the standards their victim might suggest are "too high" and are "harming him".  Personal growth is uncomfortable, especially when you resist it.  That doesn't make it, necessarily, "harmful", but it can feel that way, so a gaslighter could see this "tell-tale sign" as evidence for his narrative too.

7.  You feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, e.g. you’re neurotic or are “losing it.”

The gaslighter excused his efforts to control people away by claiming he had PTSD.  I do not believe that self-diagnosis, I believe another one made by an actual diagnostician but that's not actually relevant right now.  What is relevant is that the gaslighter *does* believe that he suffers from PTSD and he does, indeed, exhibit several symptoms, including "checking out" (which, I'm told by reliable clinicians, are also symptoms of a handful of other mental illnesses including the diagnosis I believe is more likely to be the correct one).  Every time he tried to control his victim and they pushed back, here's what would happen.  The victim would insist on their reality, and the gaslighter would go glassy-eyed and catatonic, unable to interact with the world around him.  *Until*, that is, the victim recanted and accepted the gaslighter's reality.  Then, suddenly, he would "wake up" and start interacting again.  Later, though, he would use that as "evidence" that the victim was "inconsistent" and kept "changing their story" and therefore shouldn't be trusted to know what reality was.

But because he would get "triggered" by his victim's resistance, he would often come to me in distress over how he was "losing it" or that there was something wrong with him.  PTSD and other mental illnesses are viewed as "something fundamentally wrong with you" or "neurotic" by society in general, so regardless of which mental illness he might have, he could legitimately think that "something is fundamentally wrong" and he would be "correct" about that.  He felt that he was being hollowed out, that he couldn't function in daily life anymore as their arguments increased in frequency.  He had trouble concentrating at work because he was always upset about their latest argument.  He was stressed and frightened by obsessive thoughts of losing his victim.  When I saw only his catatonia and the aftermath of their arguments, it was completely believable that he was the "victim".  But that required keeping the victim feeling isolated in an "us against them" tribalism within the group, because as soon as I started talking to the victim themself, and seeing the arguments from the beginning, not just the effect of the argument on him, things looked very different.

My second fiance was a gaslighter.  He was very young, though, and clumsy about it, and I'm way too self-confident for those kinds of tactics to work for very long on me.  He did things like this too, only he wasn't nearly as believable about it.  Whenever we got into an argument, if it looked like I was going to win (or that he was going to lose, since the argument was usually about whether or not he could have sex with me or I could go out in public without him), he would get "sick" somehow.  He got "the flu" twice a week on the nights of my ballroom dance class.  He got an upset stomach on laundry night if I wanted to do it at my parents' house instead of his parents' house.  He got another one of his upset stomachs on the night of a friend's bachelorette party when I told him it was "no guys allowed".

One time, he even "knocked himself unconscious" on a low-hanging pipe in the carport when we walked from the car to the house during an argument.  He managed to somehow hit himself in the head hard enough to lose consciousness completely without actually making any sound of impact and while moving at the rate of a slow lumber.  I've had someone swing a metal pipe at me with the intention of hurting me and hit me on the head and I didn't go fully passed out.  Head injuries don't work like they do in the movies.  And when I left his ass lying on the concrete, he also somehow managed to get "robbed" in broad daylight while lying unconscious (that one was the last straw and I called his bluff hard enough that he admitted his lie).  His various maladies and misfortunes were intended to distract me from the argument and trigger my compassion so that I would forget why I was mad at him and run to him to take care of him.  Fortunately for me, I'm not the "maternal" type and my reaction was to give the benefit of the doubt the first time or two, but then to become contemptuous of an adult who couldn't care for himself.  Contempt is the number one relationship killer, and unconsciously developing that emotion as a response to abusive tactics has probably saved my life on multiple occasions.

So, once I saw this gaslighter's tactic from the other side, I recognized it from my own abusive ex-fiance.  He would get "sick" and I would have to stop arguing to care for him, because if I kept being mad at him while he was sick, then *I* was the monster with no compassion.  Fortunately for me, I'm not terribly bothered by people I'm mad at thinking that I'm not compassionate because *I* know better, and that's what matters to me.  But this gaslighter was taking legitimate mental health issues and preying on his victim's concern over harming others and their fear of being seen as not compassionate.  Again, I believe that he really believes his side of things.  I don't think he actually deliberately calculated how to fake PTSD in order to win an argument (whereas I do believe my ex-fiance faked his unconsciousness - which happened more than once - although his upset stomachs were probably a real reaction to anxiety).  I believe that he really was "checking out" because I believe there is really something very wrong with him.  But it was always just so *convenient* that it ended as soon as the victim recanted, and then that recanting was used later to further undermine the victim's position and even their standing in the community.  If the victim stood their ground, they were "driving" the gaslighter to a mental breakdown, but if the victim backed down, they were unreliable and couldn't be trusted.  Either way, the victim was the "monster" who kept "harming" their abuser.

But from the gaslighter's perspective, since these episodes came more and more frequently as the relationship spiraled faster and faster towards its demise, he felt that he was "losing it" and becoming more and more unhinged.  And he was becoming unhinged.  He was a total wreck of a person by the end.  But he was still a gaslighter, and I do not believe the victim was doing it *to* the gaslighter.  I believe it is a consequence of the sort of person the gaslighter is who had to face the sort of person that the victim was.

8. You feel like you’re constantly overreacting or are too sensitive.
9. You feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood and depressed.

This is really just more of an extension of the last one.  The relationship was spiraling out of control because the victim was doing more and more resisting of the gaslighter's attempts to control them and their own breakdown as a result of the gaslighting working, and that led to daily fights that consumed their every waking moment and also took over the atmosphere of the rest of the immediate community whenever either of them was present.  When you feel like your life is going out of control, regardless of why or how, it's not unexpected to feel isolated, hopeless, misunderstood, or depressed, especially if someone is trying to tell you that your behaviour is out of line.  When he wanted to control his victim, I told him that he was essentially overreacting.  I told him that he needed to dial it back and let his victim (who I had not yet begun to think of as "the victim") have their agency and do their thing.  I told him, more or less, that his feelings of fear and the need to control them were too much, out of sync with the reality of the situation, and that the solution was for him to get over his issues, not control the victim's behaviour.  In essence, it could be argued that he saw my words as telling him that he was "overreacting or are too sensitive".  So, from his perspective, these are a big "yes" also.


11. You feel scared and as though “something is terribly wrong,” but you don’t know what or why.

Again, I believe that he believes his own narrative.  This gaslighter felt that his life was spinning out of control and he didn't know how to wrestle control back.  Every day was fraught with arguments and intense fear.  More and more people were becoming unhappy by the splash zone of this one relationship.  Life began to look chaotic and turbulent.  Not only was this relationship a source of pain and fear, but because the two of them were constantly fighting, all his other relationships started to suffer and he started to fear that he was about to lose his other relationships as well.  Then, not a month after he told me that I was the one stable thing in his life, we had our own blow-out that he apparently couldn't anticipate.  Everything was "terribly wrong", but because the truth was his gaslighting and he didn't recognize it, he didn't know why everything was "terribly wrong" or how to fix it.

12. You find it hard to make decisions.

With his catatonic episodes happening more and more frequently, and the arguments happening constantly, he started to revert to a more child-like mental state.  He had trouble making decisions because his brain was just freezing up from all the chaos.  He was never good at making decisions anyway, preferring others to take the lead on things, which is actually one of the reasons why it took me so long to figure out that he was controlling the people around him to manage his insecurities.  It's hard to believe someone is a manipulator when they appear to be such a follower.  But because he felt that his life was out of control and that he was losing his own grip on reality, making decisions became more difficult than usual.

13. You feel as though you’re a much weaker version of yourself, and you were much more strong and confident in the past.

This was something he actually told me, more or less. He was so distraught by everything that was happening, that he felt like he was becoming "hollow", which is sort of like saying he is a "weaker version of [himself]". I have absolutely no doubt that he felt like he was losing his mind. His life wasn't looking the way he wanted it to look and the way he had always controlled his life in the past wasn't working with this partner. This partner was resisting his control, and he felt so entitled to controlling them to keep his own mental issues manageable that their resistance to his control was threatening and made him feel harmed.  Having those feelings, and the extent to which this whole relationship was disrupting everyone's life, it doesn't matter that he was the one abusing the victim, those feelings still feel real and still affect how one sees oneself and their place in the world.

14. You feel guilty for not feeling happy like you used to.

This gaslighter was *known* for his exuberance for life. In the dictionary, next to the word "happy", you'd see his picture.  I've known a bunch of people like that - in fact, it seems to be one of the elements of "my type". [livejournal.com profile] tacit is one of those people for whom "happy" is an integral characteristic too.  But, obviously, this gaslighter was not happy all the time during this period.  He was stressed and anxious and depressed and angry and sad all the time.  For someone whose very *identity* includes "happy", not being happy can make one feel like one is not oneself anymore.  And for some of those people, if part of their identity rests on their ability to be happy and for others to see them as happy, particularly if their happiness makes other people happy and their sadness makes other people sad for them, no longer feeling happy can feel like a personal failure.

So, this gaslighter failing to control his victim, causing them to be miserable, which causes them to challenge the relationship and the attempts to control, which makes the *gaslighter* unhappy, this can lead to a sense of guilt for not maintaining this happiness in the face of all this loss and misery even though the gaslighter is the one causing the chain reaction in the first place.  Since this sort of gaslighter doesn't realize that he's the one setting the spark, he has a difficult time recognizing that his unhappiness is something he can fix because it's something he caused.  Or, he might suspect or know (possibly subconsciously) that it's something he caused (even if he believes he caused it but have the wrong ideas on *how* he caused it), and so feel guilt for knowing that he did it all to himself.

So, this whole long exposition is to explain that I am looking for sources to help explain why, when a gaslighter feels these things, it's *not* a sign that they are a victim or being gaslighted by their actual victims.  When a person is gaslighted, they start to believe that they are an abusive monster who is doing terrible things to their abuser, but an abuser actually *is* doing all those things.  I could write a similar checklist of "how to know you're being abusive" and read it through the perspective of a gaslight victim and that victim could conceivably reach the conclusion that they are, indeed, an abusive monster because of the lens that each is viewing the world through.  I know there's a difference, I just don't know how to explain or illustrate that and I'm looking for sources to cite and other people's words to use as analogy or illustration or explanation.
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: (Super Tech)
There's this thing that some guys do. I say "guys" because I'm straight and I exclusively date guys, so I have no idea if any other genders do it, but I do know that some guys do it.  There's this thing where I'll tell a guy that I don't think we're romantically or sexually compatible because I have certain values that I don't think match his, but those things might not interfere with a possible friendship and he's otherwise cool, so let's be friends.  Then the guy proceeds to temporarily turn himself into whatever it is that I think he isn't in order to gain my attraction.

  • "No I'm totally all about polyamory!"

  • "No, really, I've matured since the last time I flaked out on you."

  • "I know it SAID 'libertarian' on my profile, but it's really little-l libertarian and, honestly, I have more socialist leanings than anything else, I just haven't updated the profile to reflect that."

  • "I'm sorry, I've gotten over my whole blaming all women for my failings thing. I completely realize that I was wrong."

The point is to sleep with me, so he can then walk away saying "ha! Toldja we weren't incompatible!  You said you wouldn't like me, but I proved you wrong and you DID like me!"

Except, no, I didn't.  You weren't that person so I didn't like you.  And by pulling the Disappearing Act (because it's almost always the Disappearing Act, where the last indication is that things are going great and they just suddenly disappear, unfriend you, block your calls, etc. with no explanation, unless you manage to track them down like a stereotypical psycho ex-gf with a vengeance - and trust me, that never ends well), you actually proved me right because you did not, in fact, have the values that I said would be necessary for a successful relationship with me.

The values I require in an intimate partner are: honesty, transparency, respect for agency, integrity, shared worldviews on religious and social justice topics, a handful of common interests, a personal commitment to polyamory whether they get to date me or not, a similar style of polyamory to the one I do, and likes me for who I am as a person, flaws and all.  The values I require in a casual fuckbuddy are: I'm sexually attracted to you and you avoid talking to me about topics that will force me to face the fact that we don't have any of the other values in common.  Even with one criteria, you'd be surprised how many people can't meet this one.

The act of not being that person means that I was right about them.  The act of trying to have a sexual relationship with me under false pretenses means, by definition, that I was right about them.  The act of leaving without the dignity of a considerate breakup means that I was right about them.

They did not successfully "fool" me into having the kind of relationship that I said was unlikely because the relationship ended (usually abruptly and soon after it started) and because it was a farce, which means that we did not, in fact, have the kind of relationship that I said was unlikely.  They did not successfully prove me wrong because their attempt to "prove me wrong" is, itself, the proof that I was right.

BTW, this is a huge dick move full of entitlement, and I will find a way to work it into my Breaking Up lesson, one way or another - either in the workshop or in the book or somehow.  I've never shied away from outing assholes before, and now I even have a platform specifically for using assholes as illustrations of What Not To Do.  This is the very essence of entitlement.  These guys can't even have a girl *they don't even like* not want them, so they *make* her want them against her consent (because if she knew the truth, she wouldn't like them) just because they don't want her to dislike them.  And, as I have learned from those that I did what I say not to do in my Breaking Up workshop when I tracked them down to get "closure", they think of themselves as Nice Guys, who are "misunderstood" and girls only like jerks anyway.

Fuck you.

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