Tuesday, June 26, 2007

So the polyamorist says to the monogamist “POLYAMORY IS NOT BETTER THAN MONOGAMY.”

Someone who wished to remain anonymous recently sent me a response to my June 7 post, Identity Poly-tics in which they accused polyamorists in general of "trying to foist their opinions on other people." This person, who I’ll call Jo (gender neutral) said, “In another blog post, dated June 7th, Anita compared polyamory, once again, to gay marriage.”

I’m a bit confused, since I said nothing in that post about gay marriage. Jo went on to say,

“ I am so, so sick of hearing this. It really makes me mad. You aren't gay, so quit comparing yourself to people who are.”

Does being bisexual count? (Small grin.)

“The other day, I attended a gay rally, and a goth girl showed up wearing a collar with spikes 2 inches long. She was riding a bike (I wonder if you know her?) “

Wait! Is this one of those assumptions people make along the lines of, "Hey, you're from Tennessee? (Population 6,000,000) My uncle lives in Tennessee - do you know him???"

The visible polyamory community is pretty small and incredibly far flung, so I very much doubt that I do. Also, many people live poly lives whose social circles do not encompass the polyamory community itself, especially polys who are gay, lesbian and/or kinky. Some of their communities make space for them as poly people and as a community subset, and they are content with that.

“On one side was a sign that read, ‘Lesbian bed death - in your face – Polyamory’ and the other side read, ‘Queer as f* - High Femme - Kiss my a**’ It ticked me off, but it was nothing I hadn't seen before!”

“When polyamorists direct such offensive language to 'monogamists' as you label those of us who believe in two-person relationships- the first time I've ever actually been offended by a label- can you guess what the reaction is?”

How horrid of me! How dare I?!?! (Sorry, but I just can't help poking a little fun at Jo's assumptions - s/he speaks as if s/he really believes that all polyamorists are determined to make sure same sex couples can't marry.)

As to the term "monogamist", Microsoft Word’s spellcheck doesn’t even blink at it – I think that means it’s a common term and mine was fair use of it. Mirriam-Webster agrees:

Function: noun
Date: 1651 : one who practices or upholds monogamy

“Can you guess what I wanted to scrawl on her sign with the cans of spray paint sitting so temptingly nearby? It's incredibly offensive, and 'lesbian bed death' is also completely untrue. It makes me mad. I don't know why 'polyamorous bed death', 3 or 4 people who are bored with each other, isn't an equally possible scenario, or how poly is somehow a 'cure' to a bad 2-person relationship. It's utterly ridiculous.”

No poly activist I know says anything remotely like what is assumed here, i.e. that polyamory can be a cure for a troubled dyadic relationship. I would never and have never recommended such a thing. I've never heard of poly bed death, but I expect that it exists for some poly people, just like it does for the rest of the population, gay, bi, trans and straight.

I did use the term “monogamist” in the Identity Poly-tics post, in which I was discussing how some polyamorists don’t want to be referred to as such. I said that *to me* the term “polyamorist” is a simple term which I use to describe one of the two sorts of people who engage in long-term, committed intimate relationships. The others are indeed monogamists, and the dictionaries clearly agree. I didn’t imply that one is better than the other, but that’s what Jo heard nevertheless. And Jo is certainly not the first person I’ve encountered who gets hot under the collar at the perception that someone is trying to label them.

What I don’t think I said but will happily say now is that I do not consider polyamory to be any better than monogamy – it’s just different. Monogamy works for many people, and so does polyamory.

“To my mind, this little goth girl's definition of polyamory is polygamy, or "swinging". I'm sort of thinking it is your definition, too.”

I've not had much luck with trying to get an accurate impression of someone's personal definition of polyamory as they practice it by reading their t-shirt and noting their style of dress. And though I don't identify as a swinger, I fully support swinging as a legitimate form of sexual expression, and I've spent enough time socializing with swingers to have a pretty good idea that there aren't too many goth girls hanging out with them. Neither have I noticed signs of goth culture invading mormon polygamous compounds - if it has, it's their secret! We do see a bit of gothness here and there in the polyamory community, and lots more of it in the BDSM/kink community, where there are also lots of polyfolk.

I do make references to being sex-positive in my 6 June post, which some people hear as code for promiscuous. For the record, I do not identify as a polygamist nor a swinger. I support polygamists (when all partners are adults and have equal power of choice) and as I said above, I also support swingers as well, each in their preferred method of partnering. I believe that theirs are valid forms of intimate relationships, too.

“Anyway, everyone in the Universe now except for most gays is lumping polyamory in with gay marriage, and it has me steamed. Do me a favor and quit trying to tie yourself to me and drag down my chances of getting gay marriages formally recognized in the US as they should be under our Constitution.”

Ah, so now we get to the heart of the matter and what has Jo so steamed. In my next post I’ll elaborate on the history of the conflation of same sex-marriage and polyamory, by whom, and how hostility between same-sex marriage proponents and polyamorists is exactly what the enemies we share hope will happen.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sex Negativity and Stupid School Tricks

An article in the Washington Post, "Va. School's No-Contact Rule Is a Touchy Subject", just caught my attention. I'm a proponent of sex-positivity due to all the sex negativity that was instilled in me earlier in my life which caused relationship problems for me. So when I see our public schools banning any form of touch whatsoever – including high fives and hand shakes - I am especially appalled.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging inappropriate touching or any form of sexual activity amongst middle school students, at school or elsewhere, but I’m still appalled that students at Kilmer Middle School in metro DC Vienna, Virginia are prohibited from an occasional innocent touch. This is a great example of the totally asinine, heavy handed sledge hammers public schools often use to kill flies (so to speak).

“All touching -- not only fighting or inappropriate touching -- is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: ‘NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!’”

“[School officials] explained that the rule is necessary to keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. But Hal [Beaulieu], 13, and his parents think the school's hands-off approach goes too far, and they are lobbying for a change.”

Good for them! Hal recently found himself in big trouble for putting his arm around his girlfriend.

“A school security officer spotted this and sent Hal to the school office, where he was cited for two infractions. He was warned that a third misstep could lead to in-school suspension or detention.”

“School officials said that the girl didn't complain and that they have no reason to believe the hug was unwelcome.”

"Usually an askance look from a teacher or a reminder to move along is enough to stop girls who are holding hands and giggling in a huddle or a boy who pats a buddy on the back."

Humans are often inclined to appropriately touch each other, and the majority, which apparently includes students referenced in the article, fully understand what kinds of touch are appropriate and what kinds are not. Many, many people are touch starved, which became evident during Cuddle Parties, which have proven wildly successful, surprising everyone, including their originators, Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski.

What kind of message are our schools sending to students when they punish touching? Can’t be very good. At least young Hal has parents who understand and encourage hugs and appropriate touching and are willing to challenge this ridiculous rule by asking the Fairfax County School Board to review it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reactions to Salon.com polyamory article

As follow-up to my most recent post about "Whole Lotta Love", this week's article on Salon.com on polyamory, a subscriber issued the following challenge:

"Answer the question please. Come on just answer the question.

Couple A's 55-year old husband lusts after Couble (sic) B's nubile 20-year old daughter.

Is that OK within this whole polygamy? Come on you can't tell me it hasn't happened. What about the children rolling in the hay with the other kids? Or mixing it up some more with the parents and kids? Should be OK right?

Come on answer the question(s)."

I responded that I am not aware of the first scenario happening, and I know the polyamory community very well. It's possible but improbable. As one respondent said,

".... probably not, in my experience, because it would almost certainly make B uncomfortable and likely C as well. But the definite answer will depend on the specific people involved. And if A persists when B does not like it, B can always tell A to walk west until their hair floats."

Also, in reality, a 20 year old is well past the age of consent in any state you can name - that makes it no one else's business but that of the consenting adults involved.

As for the children rolling around in the hay with other kids, this presumes that polyfolk do or speak about things sexual in front of kids that are not age appropriate, that they give permission and encourage sexual activity amongst children, or at the very least, that they are negligent in their parenting by failing to discourage sex at too early an age. Pure hogwash. Poly people are just as responsible as parents as any other parents. There have been no studies that come anywhere close to the conclusion being made here.

Mixing it up sexually between parents and kids? Insulting, quite frankly. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the suspicion or conclusion that polyamorists are more likely to sexually abuse children. If you look at the deplorable statistics on child sex abuse in our society, it is clear that so-called traditional families have no claim to being a safer environment in which to raise children.

Polyamorists on the whole tend to be highly ethical people who only engage in relationships that are egalitarian in nature, where all involved have equal power to set their own boundaries on what is and is not OK in their relationships. Children can't give consent to sex with adults by law.

You really have to wonder what motivates people who go to such extraordinary lengths to sensationalize someone else's private life. It's obvious that sex makes some people uncomfortable, and these people should deal with their own issues instead of casting spurious allegations on people who are doing nothing wrong.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Whole Lotta Love in Salon.com

I am delighted with the article on polyamory published on Salon.com yesterday entitled "Whole Lotta Love". As it happens, I and several other polyamory spokespeople have been working with the journalist who wrote it for several months. (I am quoted in the beginning of the article.) She did a wonderful, even-handed job with it, something we haven't always gotten from the media. In the bad old days, mostly we were sensationalized via the open sexual component of polyamory, which is just one of the aspects of it that bear examination in order to fully understand the concept of polyamory. So to Liz Langley and the folks at Salon.com, I again say a big thank you!

The comments following the article are very interesting. There is a lot of harsh negativity, some more tolerant voices, and then there are the polyfolk who are doing an excellent job of explaining in detail the more subtle but no less vital parts of the polyamory concept that are impossible to convey in an article in soundbites. And then there's the emotional underpinning that I believe is largely responsible for the strongest and more defensive negative reactions. Here is the response I posted.

When polyamory is the subject of a news article, certain assertions are invariably quickly made, i.e. that polyamory is just an excuse for cheating, it's bad for the kids, it's bound to result in the spread of STDs, and so forth. Polyamory as a concept clearly evokes fear in some folks. This is understandable. It scares we polyamorists, too, sometimes, and we want it, so it isn’t difficult to imagine how someone not so inclined might feel if their partner came home one day and said “Honey, I’m interested in polyamory, would you consider giving it a try?”

We are all subject to the fear of loss those words inspire because we’ve all been marinated in the same culture that has told us since we were born that love is scarce and must be hoarded. When you add to that the anthropological fact that possessiveness was once a useful behavior for perpetuating the species, the urge for which still exists in the reptilian part of the brain called the amigdula, no wonder the idea is very unsettling.

What there wasn't room to elaborate about is that though we polyamorists sometimes feel the same fear of loss and so forth, we choose to work through those emotions, be great poly parents, etc. In other words, we work hard to transcend the challenging parts because we know others who have done it, that we can succeed at this and in doing so satsify both the human need to pair bond as well as the human need for sexual variety.

One of the posters expressed resentment at their perception that polyamorists give the impression that they believe they are more highly evolved than monogamists. Over the course of eleven years I've only heard a small number of comments from polyfolk I would consider to rise to the level of snottyness being perceived, so I'm a bit bemused by how often I encounter this accusation from non-polys. Some of it comes from general resentment toward us over what they perceive is our shaking up their seemingly safe monogamous world. I also wonder whether to mono folk it seems that when we talk about what we have to do to deal with our emotions and other challenges of being good at polyamory, we are automatically perceived by some to be raising the bar without their consent in terms of relationship skills required to be competent relationship partners of any sort. I'm definitely going to make further inquiries about this as I'm always looking for better ways to craft our public message so that it resonates and doesn't put people off. Comments on this especially welcome.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Identity Poly-tics

I subscribe to a number of polyamory-themed e-mail lists and have done so for many years now. Recently I read where someone said that though they self-identify as polyamorous, they found the term "polyamorist" to be inappropriate and objected to being referred to as such.

To them the term refers to people who have an agenda and wish to influence others' judgment on the subject. A gay polyamory activist I know also urges care in use of the term, believing it could become a tool with which those who oppose us (largely religious extremists and advocates for traditional marriage) can bludgeon us by using the term derisively. This may well be reasonable advice, however, in my experience, the opposition is entirely proficient in finding something to seize upon and use for their purposes no matter what we do.

If we had a better term to refer to people who are polyamorous I'd gladly use it, but we don't. I've been using the term "polyamorist" to simply refer to myself and others who identify themselves as polyfolk, polyamorous, etc., for years. I use it in writing and in poly relationship skills educational programs. I haven't been keeping track of whether and how often other polys use it, but I know they do. I expressly do not use it with any intent to describe people with a common agenda, the poly movement and such, though I'm engaged in polyamory activism on a regular basis and do use the term when talking about polyamorous people in the context of poly activism.

"Polyamorist" is a natural way to refer to we who are not monogamists. "Monogamist" is a very common term, at least in my observation. One reason I prefer the term "polyamorist" is that in terms of polyamory activism, it simplifies and clarifies communication with those who are not aware of polyamory and have no knowledge of what it means. As far as most folks know, everyone is a monogamist. Hence, the use of "polyamorist" as a simple and practical term of reference.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Sugasm #82

Mon 4th Jun, 07 - The best of this weeks blogs by the bloggers who blog them.

Thoughts on Sex and Relationships

Polyamory from a Lesbian Point of View (practicalpolyamory.blogspot.com…)

The Friday Night Bookstore Crowd (silent-porn-star.blogspot.com…)

A hundred blowjobs in one night? (www.katiegirl4u.com…)

Poly & Death (perverselypoly.blogspot.com…)

“When he was just a word.” (un-cool.blogspot.com…)

Highlighting the top 3 posts as chosen by Sugasm participants. Want in Sugasm #83? Submit a link to your best post of the week using this form.

This Week’s Picks

Back Surgery and Sex-How do you connect sexually when you can’t connect physically? (deliciously-naughty.typepad.com)
“There was no sex. It wasn’t possible.”

A Hard Day’s Play - part 4
“But all the while, there was the awareness of the runes.”

Unrequited (junohenry.wordpress.com)
“The man in question is a friend and sometime fuck-buddy.”

Mr. Sugasm Himself
Google Search: &imgtype=face (sugarbank.com…)

Editor’s Choice
Coffee (gentlygently.blogspot.com…)

More Sugasm
Join the Sugasm

See also: Fleshbot’s Sex Blog Roundup each Tuesday and Friday (Fleshbot.com)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Polyamory Ain't for Sissies

This week has been a challenge for me - it’s a good example of why, committed to polyamory though I definitely am, I am also sometimes heard to say that polyamory ain’t for sissies.

A fews days ago my primary partner, T, had a job interview. During the interview he disclosed that he is polyamorous and explained what that meant. He already has a good job, is OK if he doesn’t get the new job, so he elected to test the potential employer’s waters to see whether our open relationship might create on-the-job problems. There was enough of a negative reaction to cause him to speculate that if he doesn’t get the job, it will likely be because he is polyamorous, since the interview was otherwise highly positive. This potential job discrimination has upset me more than him. It certainly pisses me off more, but I’m the poly activist in the family.

Another concern on my plate includes anticipating potential and as yet unknown adjustments to my and T's relationship because T is interested in beginning an intimate relationship with A, someone we both like very much who is very much interested in him, and maybe me to a lesser extent. Yes, even we experienced polyfolk can get a little hinky about how a partner’s new relationship may affect our own, no matter how much good will we feel otherwise.

Yet another challenge is that this week I had to have a very painful talk with a friend, B, who recently dredged up and shared with T’s fairly new significant other, C, an ancient and ugly drama in which B and I became embroiled about eight years ago when we were newly dating each other, I was newly dating a man, D, in whom B was also interested, and all three of us were very new to polyamory. The details, which B did not relate to C with adequate context, made C very nervous about sharing a partner with me.

I learned of this at a recent local poly support group meeting at which B was not present. C disclosed all this to me in front of the group (though was careful not to identify B as the source of the info). In attendance was also A, T's new potential love interest referenced above. Argh. Being basically compelled by circumstance to explain in detail and defend my part in an eight year old drama in front of that group and specifically to two of T's love interests was highly embarrassing and has certainly put great strain on my friendship with B. The good news is that B and I have spoken, B has apologized profusely and sincerely, has even offered to set things straight with the whole support group, so we have resolved this with our friendship still intact. C says she has no further concerns now that she knows the whole story, so her relationship with T and friendship with me is unharmed. A seems unconcerned as far as I can tell.

All is well that ends well, but it doesn’t mean it was any less trying. But, in for a penny, in for a pound. Polyamory is still what I choose for myself as what works better for me overall. It’s just that every once in a great while such a time comes along when all my relationship skills, communication skills and emotion-balancing skills are put to the test – like this week. It is times like these that cause me to say that polyamory ain’t for sissies.

Friday, June 1, 2007

New Jersey Religious Extremists Target Polyamorists

Well, this is a first to my knowledge, though no surprise. Tomorrow, June 2, 2007, in Mays Landing, New Jersey, a part of the Atlantic City area, a local marriage rally is being held opposing efforts by what religious extremist rhetoric calls "radical fringe groups such as polygamists and polyamorists, together with homosexuals to redefine marriage." Like so many sensationalist press releases issued by religious extremist groups, this announcement seems to only be showing up via Christian "news" sources. The mainstream press almost always ignores them. Still, so far they've not focused their efforts on polyamorists and have stuck with gay bashing. The main sponsor is the New Jersey Family Policy Council.

One thing I find curious is the title of the article: "Coalition Only Invites Citizens Who Disagree with Radical Attempts to Redefine Marriage to Rally this Saturday" It's like they think this will discourage those they wish to bash from attending.

Polyamory activists have made contact with local press and offered up resources for information on polyamory for any coverage they may decide to give this event, which it's not actually likely to get, so we aren't too concerned, but still, it is interesting to find ourselves squarely in the sights of religious extremists. It was bound to happen thanks to the efforts of Stanley Kurtz and his slippery slope message put forth repeatedly over the past few years, especially in his 2003 Weekly Standard article, "Beyond Gay Marriage" and his 2005 National Review article, "Rick Santorum Was Right"

When We Don't Get Along with a Partner's Other Love

This week, Seattle columnist Mistress Matisse wrote, "... even when you're all committed to multiple love relationships, there are stumbling blocks. One that Max and I had to cope with is what happens when you don't get along with your partner's other lover."

I learned just this lesson and under very similar circumstances. Some years ago my partner, A, began a long distance relationship ("LDR") with someone new, B, about the same time he began his relationship with me. This all went fairly well for some years while theirs was an LDR, but then came the day when B moved to town and B and I found ourselves in each other's company fairly frequently, both as family and local poly community members.

I recall giving it my best, but it soon became clear that B and I hadn't much in common other than A. If A weren't in both our lives, I feel sure we would never have sought to be close. But because he wanted us all to be family and preferably a MFF triad, we tried our best. But it was not to be. Despite attempts on both our parts to establish warmth between us, there was often a certain amount of discomfort when we occupied the same space. Most attempts to communicate and establish rapport between us failed.

To some polyfolk polyamory is a philosophy, even a world view, in which everyone loves everyone. Some believe an inability to get along can be overcome if all involved are really willing. I don't. Some people just don't mesh. I can see how A could find redeeming qualities in B that would support their romantic relationship whereas I could not find much basis for relating to B as either lover or close friend.

What I did get, and clearly so did B, is that B and I, if we loved A well, were obligated to respect each other's place in his life and refrain from conflict and discord between us. We've talked about this and agreed that it is important, that we are family in a certain way, and I'm proud to say that this strategy has worked quite well and as intended. Though A had to accept something less than the triad he had hoped for, I think that B and I both feel good about how we've managed to make it work.

Poly people don't have to love and spend a lot of time with with their SO's OSOs, but we do have to respect their place in our SO's life and refrain from doing things that are harmful to the other SO and their relationship with our SO. Some polyfolk enter into poly life longing for a loving family, but creating one from SOs and OSOs isn't always a matter of pure will. Compatability matters across the board, and when two who share an SO find they don't especially enjoy each other's company, there is no reason they should have to force the subject. On the other hand, there is plenty of reason to demonstrate respect, as I believe both my and Mistress Matisse's stories illustrate.