Monthly Archives: June 2012

Hey You Guys! I Have an Opinion about Orientation Too!!!

As you may have noticed, there has been a sort of blog-around going on here at Polyskeptic about the idea of polyamory as a sexual orientation.  Alex, Shaun and Wes have all weighed.  I’m not the kind of person to miss out on a party, so I thought I might say a few words about this.  I want to talk about how my personal experience has led me to believe that polyamory is not my sexual orientation, but rather my philosophy on relationships.

That, my friends, is what we call a Thesis Statement.  Awwwww shit.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Wes and I were monogamous for the first 5 years of our relationship.  Non-monogamy didn’t really enter our collective consciousness until then.  I don’t quite know how we started to think about it or where we learned about open relationships (specifically polyamorous relationships).  I can probably safely blame Dan Savage for this since he talks often about  the idea that often a long term relationship can be helped with the introduction of non-monogamy.  Regardless of how we got to the idea, one thing is certain: Though I was always monogamous in all my relationships before this, I never fully understood why so many relationships went to hell simply because partners cheated or expressed interest in people outside their relationship.

This might sound hilarious to those of you who know that I have definitely been the jealous one here.  I have spoken about this often (mostly to get over the shame of being so flawed in this way.  Jealousy really bothers me and I hate that it is part of my laundry list of things I have to deal with all the time in my own head).  I can speak about it more freely these days as it rarely causes a problem now, but in the beginning problems were many.

When Wes and I talked about opening up I was completely onboard from a rational and logical point of view.  The philosophy of non-monogamy made perfect sense to me.  I am committed to Wes.  I wish to spend my life with him.  It seemed absurd to assume that over the course of a multi-decade relationship that neither of us would never find ourselves attracted to other people.  And, as we are committed to our mutual happiness as individuals and as a couple, it also seemed absurd that we would wish that the other would deny each other chances at additional happiness.  The distinction between “in addition to” and “instead of” means everything here.  Wes and I wanted to be able to seek out happiness opportunities in addition to what we already have (and will continue to have) with each other.

So my wanting to be open had everything to do with believing in it philosophically.  The practice of what the philosophy entails was initially tumultuous because handling something emotionally is very different from handling it logically.  I was an emotional wreck for a long time.  My insecurities were fierce and they led to nasty bouts with jealousy when I feared that all of my insecurities were founded.  It was awful.

But I never wanted to pull the plug.  To me this was not an interesting experiment that Wes and I would look back on down the road, having “gotten it out of our system” and safely returned to monogamy stronger and wiser than we were before.  We chose this lifestyle because we logically, rationally, and philosophically believe in it.  If I could not work through my personal issues that were getting in the way of enjoying the possibilities that polyamory presented, it would be dishonest to blame the philosophy itself for my failings.  Viewing relationships through polyamorous spectacles illuminates things about yourself and those relationships.  If you can work through the things that scare you about being that vulnerable, about trusting that much, you can adopt a polyamorous philosophy if you want to.

In this way, I agree with Shaun’s assessment that many people could be non-monogamous if they chose.  I do not view sexual orientation as something you choose.  But, to me, polyamory is all about choice.  I could have demanded Wes and I go back to monogamy when I was at my lowest, but I chose not to because I believed that the potential freedom that polyamory could afford would ultimately lead to much greater happiness and strength of our relationship.  This is not because I was in the closet for years about my deepest darkest desires to have relationships with multiple people, but rather because the ability to trust Wes so deeply required me to tackle a number of awful things in my brain that were getting in the way of my own happiness.

At this juncture, I know that polyamory is the right “lovestyle” for me. Practicing it makes me very happy because I have the benefit of support and love from more than one person.  I would not want to go back to monogamy because that would mean not having the wonderful life I currently have.  But I do not feel that it is my sexual orientation.  I liken it to atheism and skepticism, not bisexuality.  My commitment to skepticism means that I view the world through skeptical spectacles which means that I follow the scientific method in my approach to all things.  Skepticism colors my point of view of the universe.  Atheism is the same way.  I do not believe that there is a god.  I really don’t.  I must allow for a small amount of doubt of this belief because while I don’t have any evidence that there is a god, I don’t have completely definitive evidence that there is not.  But I live my life as though there is no higher power governing what I do.  This is the philosophy which colors my point of view on morality.  Polyamory is the philosophy which colors my approach to relationships, whether I have one or several.  It is a philosophy where self-introspection, personal growth, honest communication, and truth are major tenets.  Though practicing polyamory means that I can love who I want to love, it does not dictate the type of person that I love, but rather how I love.

Polyamory is Not a Sexual Orientation

**WARNING! DISCUSSION OF SEMANTICS AHEAD!**

Yesterday, in response to my challenge, Alex wrote a post about polyamory and orientation. Shaun followed up with his own post. I disagree with both of them, as they both make use of the term “orientation” to describe polyamory.

What is Polyamory?

First, what is this polyamory thing? Polyamory is notoriously difficult to define:

Webster’s Dictionary defines polyamory as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”

Wikapedia defines polyamory as “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.”

The Loving More Nonprofit website, defines polyamory as “romantic love with more than one person, honestly, ethically, and with the full knowledge and consent of all concerned.”

However, there is some agreement in the community about what polyamory is, and what polyamory isn’t. The spectrum looks something like this:

1. A couple (or more) who each engage in multiple loving relationships with the knowledge and consent of all involved
2. A couple who are each open and looking for multiple loving relationship (with knowledge & consent of both), but are currently only seeing each other
3. A couple who are each open to multiple loving relationships, but are not actively looking
4. A single person who intends to have only polyamorous relationships in the future
5. A couple who have no rule against multiple loving relationships, but only desire each other.
6. A couple who have sexual relationships with others, but not emotional relationships (i.e. swingers)
7. A couple, one or both of which are cheating
8. A couple who agree to be monogamous, although one or both have sexual desires outside of the relationship.

Obviously, there are a lot more types of relationships that may or may not fit into the poly framework. I’m just using these for illustrative purposes. The community mostly agrees that #1 and #2 are polyamorous, and #6, #7, and #8 are not. 3-5 are a gray area, although I favor an understanding of the term which encompasses at least #3 and #4. However, I (and the vast majority of the poly community) disfavor any definition that includes #7 or #8.

Is Polyamory a Sexual Orientation?

The term sexual orientation, on the other hand, until recently was used almost exclusively to mean the sex and/or gender to whom a person is attracted. It occasionally gets used to describe a person’s kinks or some other aspect of their sexuality, but by and large it’s used to describe the direction (i.e. orientation) of a person’s sexual desire.

There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.

Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.

A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.

Why Does it Matter?

In short, because words matter. The term “polyamory” is important. It’s the only word we have to identify ourselves. Despite it’s less than clear definition, people generally know what I mean when I say it, in a way that they wouldn’t if I described myself as “nonmonogamous” or “open.” Polyamory is the best word we have to describe our “lovestyle,” as Alex put it. If we allow it to mean something else, we risk losing one of our best rhetorical tools, and making it even more difficult to explain to people what this whole thing is all about.

What do you think? Is polyamory a sexual orientation? Does it matter?

OK, Pixar. Maybe You’re Onto Something.

As part of Jessie’s various birthday-related shenanigans last week, we decided to see Brave over the weekend.  Oh, who am I kidding? We would have seen it anyway because it just looked awesome but Jessie’s birthday week gave us an “excuse” to go because we didn’t have a specific birthday activity yet for that day.  Yes, we celebrate birthdays for a week.  We got the idea from our friend Gina and haven’t looked back.  Yeah, it’s gluttonous.  Whatever.

Anyway, yes, we went to see Brave and I absolutely loved it.  Apparently there are reasons that you can hate and be offended by the film (even without seeing it!) as outlined here.  I like this blogger generally and get what she is trying to say but I think it’s a stretch to say the least…especially when you haven’t gone to see it to see if there’s anything really offensive going on.  I just find it hard to characterize Brave as thinly veiled racism.  And I don’t see the movie as a vehicle to make fun of Gingers.  Basically, the movie is a joy to watch and these criticisms just don’t ring true with me.  I mean, if you’re going to say that about Brave, then you might as well say it about Braveheart.  As I recall, there’s a big mooning scene in that too and everyone loved that.  But perhaps that’s because Mel Gibson can do no wrong…or because it predates the Mel Gibson Can Do Nothing BUT Wrong Era.  But yes, Braveheart is a beloved movie to many and definitely had a “We wear kilts without underwear” joke in it.

I have a general love/hate relationship with Pixar.  OK, I’m really only talking about Wall-E.  I hated it and it’s a good thing I don’t believe in hell because I’m sure I’d be going there for hating it.  My reasons for hating it say much more about my twisted brain than the film itself (I am very attached to post-apocalyptic visions and I just couldn’t stand this particular one), but needless to say, I walked out wondering if it was just that I’ve outgrown cartoons.

But really, perish the thought.  I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow cartoons.  I remember being in 6th grade and having my teacher ask, “Aren’t you too old for cartoons?” and I reminded her that I was 11 and that I like would never be too old…for ANYTHING (Hear that Hotpants Emporium? Watch out!).  So, yeah, I’m allowed to hate Wall-E for strange adult reasons just like I can think Felix The Cat is really stupid for smart people reasons.

But Brave was good on all sorts of levels.  Pixar is always impressive visually of course and the Scottish landscape and characters that were created were no disappointment.  But it was really the story and the strong female protagonists that made this movie so wonderful.  And it came just in time since I’m still recovering from the Epic Beauty Showdown that was Snow White and The Unimportant Character Who We’re Supposed to Care About but Don’t.

Growing up I didn’t have a lot of strong female role models in media.  The Disney princesses who had been around were not particularly inspiring to me.  And even when they did seem to have independence and intelligence as part of their characters, the happy ending for each of them was determined by the man they ended up with.  Prince Charming did nothing for me as he was simply a standard “Good Looking Member of Royalty Who Seems Nice Enough”.  The closest thing to impressive I remember was Beauty and The Beast simply because Belle was apparently “book smart” and fearless in certain ways and she fell in love with the Beast even though the townspeople wanted to light him afire with Angry Mob Torches due to his beastliness.  But still, he ultimately was a rich nobleman and so by being less judgmental she was afforded the ultimate prize: To never have to work again.  And she’s so beautiful, so she totes deserves it.

No, I ignored most of them not really seeing how they applied to who I was and how I wanted to live.  Instead, I was drawn to female characters such as Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.  These were women who continued to fight long after all the (non-robotic) men in the story were dead and did so not because they’re pretty impressive for girls, but because they were able bodied people with a will to survive.  While their movie situations were horrifying and in many ways ridiculous, I viewed these women as strong women who could exist in my universe.  As a kid, I didn’t remember being particularly affected by the scary things happening, but the respect and awe I had for those particular characters in the face of that kind of adversity has always stuck with me. I made the decision long ago that I would never be a Cinderella or a Sleeping Beauty.  I would do my best to be a Ripley.  (I mean…I don’t really want to BE Ripley.  That fourth movie is pretty weird, and the ones that proceed it aren’t a walk in the park.)

But my parents were weird and let me watch that kind of stuff when I was 7 (thank you so much mom and dad!).  Brave is a movie that parents will let their kids see and finally there is a Disney princess to look up to.

I don’t really feel like going into a plot summary here.  You can find that if you like and I encourage you to see it.  But there are many things about the interaction of characters that made this movie stand out to me.

Merida (the princess and main character) belongs to a family that is filled with love.  Yes, they are royalty, but this doesn’t seem to be a particularly important point.  The relationship between Merida and her parents is a loving one.  Her father is unconcerned with the fact that his eldest heir is female and teaches her about the interests she and he have in common.  Her mother is charged with her education and teaching her to “be a lady”, which causes strife between them.  The plot thickens when Merida is supposed to marry the most “worthy” boy in the kingdom.  A lot of other stuff happens.  But ultimately, mother and daughter learn the usefulness of both their strengths.  Survival skills, compassion, and eloquence are ultimately proven to all be incredibly valuable.  Merida learns these lessons without having to be rewarded with “the right man”.    There is no lesson for viewers that if you are good enough, you will be rescued by the best possible boy and that if you fail you will be punished by having to live out your days with a useless, ugly man, or worse…no man!  The movie doesn’t even try to validate her choices and strengths by showing her become queen.  Her efforts are instead rewarded with happiness in the form of life as she knew it and wanted it, and with the love of her family.  She made naïve mistakes, like anyone would at her age, and then she faced these mistakes.  Her courageousness, intelligence, and resilience won the day and this meant that she could go back to being a kid and enjoying life as such.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I think overall the movie teaches an important point of view for young kids to see.  The lessons of our parents often come in very handy as we grow in the world, but it is also very important to be true to ourselves and shape our own world as we see fit.  This is each of our responsibilities as we navigate life.  We must challenge and reject as needed without losing sight of the wisdom present in the things people we respect tell us.  And on a superficial level, getting the best looking, nicest guy doesn’t mean that you have succeeded in life.  This shouldn’t be a person’s only goal.  The best relationships are between those who continue to grow and change as their knowledge of the world increases.

I hope that movies like Brave will be the trend of many films and other media for young people.  It’s time to stop validating old bullshit (I’m looking at you Snow White Huntsman Crapfest, also Twilight).  If we really start to see women being portrayed as people with motivations and desires and dreams of their own, maybe everyone will start to believe it.

Religious Conversions Happen for Social Reasons

Some of you may have heard of Lea Libresco’s recent conversion to Catholicism. A lot of people have been posting about it, but Chris Hallquist has the best take I’ve seen on the topic:

I was briefly puzzled when I heard about atheist blogger Leah Libresco’s conversion to Catholicism. But I was immediately un-puzzled when I read Dan Fincke’s post on it, which reminded me that “the very premise of Libresco’s blog was that she was romantically involved with a Catholic.” Oh yeah. Duh.

But Ultimately Honest Communication is Key

Unless you’ve been living under a rock where you have no internet access and, for some unknown reason, haven’t been reading Polyskeptic, you might have noticed a lot of discussion lately about the tension between being expressing sexual/romantic interest in people and creating a safe space for all to feel comfortable in places like conferences (and really anywhere).  That is quite the oversimplification and I encourage you to read the posts I linked to if you haven’t already.

I thought that perhaps I should weigh in, but I don’t really have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said.  I am in the “Directness is better and preferred” camp of social interaction.  I didn’t used to be…I used to spend a lot of time either not saying things or coming up with excuses so that I didn’t have to say no (and I’m not even talking about rejecting people’s sexual advances.  I’m talking about how I used to speak to my friends).  In the past few years I have made a real effort to be honest even when it is difficult (which is usually is).  In addition, I greatly admire people who are blunt and honest.  To me, dancing around subjects isn’t cute or desired.  In my experience, overly polite communication is unsatisfying and relatively ineffective.

But instead of writing an entire essay about this philosophy, I thought I would write about a recent example of A+ blunt, honest communication being the best way and why I think that this should be everyone’s goal in a perfect world.

I met Alex at a BBQ.  Yes, I met the Alex that now writes for Polyskeptic at a BBQ.  BBQ’s are awesome apparently because you meet awesome attractive people who also happen to be highly intelligent and equipped with mad writing skillz.  Perhaps that’s just this particular BBQ, but I’ll take it.

As is the custom these days, we became Facebook friends days after the BBQ and began “liking” each other’s status updates and posting witty comments on each other’s walls.  I pointed this out to Wes and he coined the phrase “Flirtbooking”.  After a few days of this, I was wondering whether it was, in fact, flirtbooking, and being interested I decided to just come right out and say something.  Long story short, we made a date for last weekend.

After the initial “Ooh! Shiny new person! How exciting” wore off, I started to fret.  It is no secret that I am close to a few self-proclaimed, unapologetic sluts.  I equate this, and many of their other attitudes, as very sex positive.  I have spent a large part of my life being terrified of sex for various reasons and so the confidence and comfort it takes to be this way is something I admire.  Of course, it’s really the confidence and comfort I admire over the actual sluttiness, but it all kind of goes together in my mind.

I suppose that I can say that I have been going through an awakening of sorts over the last few years.  I have become less negative in general, and part of that has been about gaining a positive, healthy point of view about sex.  I have been feeling so much better about it that I thought that it would be possible for me to emulate the things I admire so much.  And yet, there I was fretting about what I was supposed to do on this date if I was going to be all sex positive and stuff.  I kid you not when I say that I actually sat there wondering how best to serve the feminist movement, the poly movement, and the “let’s stop demonizing sex” movement with my actions on this date.  I was barely thinking about how I actually felt and what I wanted to do.

Finally, after many conversations with Wes and Shaun, I realized that I don’t have to be the revolution and the best way to serve any of it is to do what I want.  That’s basically what every revolution is about anyway: Changing society so that more people can be free to do as they please while respecting everyone’s autonomy and agency.  Or something.  The point was that I knew that I felt completely uncomfortable with the idea of hooking up with someone I barely knew, no matter how good at making cheese related puns via text message they were.

So we went out and it was a great time and we talked about a whole lot of things.  I told him about an incident last year that was very upsetting.  It was the closest experience I have ever had to an assault and I realized as I sat there fretting for days that I am still very affected by it.  There was nothing about Alex that was creepy.  Nothing he was saying or doing was indicating to me that I had anything to fear, but I assumed that I should fear and it was a great source of conflict for me.

I came home and was still conflicted and it was all because I was remembering what one asshole did a year ago.  The date with Alex went quite well and I was excited and happy about that, but I was also terrified of making another mistake as I had before in trusting too easily and assuming that no one who knows me and gets to be with me like that would ever hurt me.  And I realize that this is, quite unfortunately, something that many women deal with constantly.  I was lucky in that I had gone 30 years of my life without ever dealing with any kind of thing like that, and I am astounded at the effect that it had on me.

So this week rolls around and we start talking about when we’d like to go out again.  I’m going to put the text messages here (Alex has given me permission to write about all of this):

Alex: I’m free Friday.  Have the whole house to myself, in fact. I might even do some weeding/cleaning if someone’s coming over. J

Me: Hmm, I will let you know.  Have to see if I can have the car and such. J

What was really happening after I sent that message was that I was having a bit of a freak out.  Again, I was completely conflicted.  I knew that I was interested in Alex, and attracted to him…but I didn’t know if I wanted to be in a situation like that.  I talked to Wes about it and he calmed me down saying that if I don’t feel comfortable, then it’s probably premature to be alone with him in his house.  So after that I did the only thing I could: Be clear and honest.

Me:  So here’s the thing.  I definitely like you.  I am definitely attracted to you and all that good stuff.  But, I also think I should get to know you better before I’m in that sexy a situation.  Last night I went through a lot of difficulty remembering everything about the incident I told you about.  Sex requires a lot of vulnerability for me, and I need to trust you.  I don’t think that will take long.  I don’t really see a reason to be scared of you…but I’m scared in general.

He completely understood, saying that he likes showing off his house and that his couch is more comfortable than the dark park we were sitting in before but that going out would also be lovely.

The next day he wrote me a really impressive email explaining himself.  It was impressive for a few reasons.  First, he talked a lot about how he could understand how his proposed plan may have seemed creepy even if that wasn’t his intention.  He admitted that he trusts people pretty easily but that him trusting people will likely not result in some sort of grave consequence.  He explained that he is interested in me for more than one reason.  But he also didn’t say that was uninterested in sex.  He made it very clear that he is attracted to me and would be pleased with that eventuality.

That last part is important.  He could have easily said, “What?  NO! The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.” Or something that would be a less obvious lie like, “No, no, no, I was inviting you over just to watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”  Because he was upfront and honest about everything, I know that the rest of the things said in the email weren’t bullshit.

Now, I could have responded to his text thusly: “Oh, well, it looks like I won’t be getting the car, so getting to your house will be difficult.  Why don’t we meet in the city?”

Perhaps he would have replied immediately that this plan sounded good.  But he also, more likely, could have replied that there were public transit options or that he could come get me or various other solutions.  By not saying my real concern, I have given him a fake stumbling block that is easy to overcome.  I, like many of the people I adore, are solution finders, so if you lie about the problem and the problem is something we can solve, the conversation gets very drawn out.  If I was committed to not hurting his feelings therefore refusing to say that going to his house at this juncture is scary to me, we would have gone back and forth until I would have been forced out of exasperation to tell him the truth OR “give in” and put myself in a situation I don’t really want to be in, be all weird about it, and possibly shame myself into doing something I am “supposed to do” because, well, I’m the one that agreed to come over. (Again, he gave me no indication that anything like that would be an issue, but I had left over fears).

In addition, because I chose to be honest with him, it started a really good conversation.  Both of us apparently had moments in our email exchange where we were afraid to hit send because we thought that sharing that much about the inner working of our minds might be a turn off, but we clicked send anyway and have gotten that much closer to really knowing something about each other.  As such, I am looking really forward to going out on Friday, and not just because we’re going to get to make fun of hipsters at Barcade.

I have chosen to share all this because I think it’s a good example of two people who ARE in fact interested in dating and that it all could have gone to hell if we didn’t choose to really speak to each other.  I know that it’s different than some random person coming up to you at a bar or at a conference, but I think it highlights why honesty and straightforwardness can be so very important and so rewarding.  Sometimes being very upfront, on both sides, can lead to changing the conversation to something both people can be happy and comfortable with, and that can lead to even better things.

Honesty is Hard; Rudeness is Easy

Wes here.

On Sunday, I wrote about how honesty is hard in a sexual/dating context. My previous post was an attempt to address what I see as a problem, where people hide their true intent in social interactions due to politeness, social expectation, fear of punishment, or maliciousness. Today, I’d like to highlight one of the misconceptions of that post, namely, that I advocate cold-propositioning in inappropriate situations. The previous post was meant to address what happens in social interactions, which is why the focus was on dishonest behavior.

A few people have suggested to me that the arguments that I make could be used to justify things like catcalling, interrupting, and other rude/unacceptable behaviors, all in the name of “I’m just honestly communicating.” I do not feel that I made any arguments advocating in favor of such things, but if anyone disagrees, I invite reasonable, calm discussion on the topic.

The difference between what I’m advocating and something like catcalling is that catcalling is rude for reasons other than the sexual content. Yelling “nice tits” at a woman on the street is rude because (a) it interrupts whatever she is doing, and she’s given no indication that she is interested in socializing, or that she is interested in your opinion; (b) it’s not designed to start a conversation; (c) it’s clearly meant to intimidate, not actually to compliment.* This behavior is rude because it involved showing nudity to a non-consenting person, and because it violated the conference’s policy on propositioning (but not for any of the other reasons set forth in the post).

Propositioning someone for sex is rude in any case where propositioning someone for any other activity is rude. If it’s rude to ask someone if ze’d like to go ice-skating, it’s rude to ask for sex. Conversely, if it is NOT rude to ask someone to go ice-skating, then I don’t believe it’s rude to ask hir to have sex (unless of course, that person has made clear that ze wishes not to be propositioned in that manner).

What is also rude is saying “wow, that’s really interesting” when you mean “you’re really hot.” It’s rude to say “I would love to, but I have plans” when you mean “I don’t want to.” It’s rude to pretend to care about someone’s problems when you really just want to get in hir pants. In short, it’s rude to communicate things that you don’t mean and/or take active steps to hide the way you really feel/think. They key, of course, is ACTIVE steps. There’s nothing rude about seeing an attractive person and NOT telling hir that you think ze’s hot (and, depending on context, it can be very rude to just go up to someone and announce that). It’s only rude if you’re actively concealing that fact.

When a woman says things like “I would love to, but I have a conflict” or “I wish I could,” (especially to a sexual invitation) these are generally understood by all parties as clear refusals. Some people have taken this to mean that there is no miscommunication involved in such a refusal. But the fact that it’s a refusal is as far as the clarity goes. All refusals are not created equal. Saying “no, I’m not attracted to you” sends a much clearer message than “I would, but I’m very tired.” The former sends the message that sex is not an option for the foreseeable future, the latter send the message the woman in question would like to have sex under other circumstances. Both are refusals, but both contain different information in addition to the refusal.

Couching a refusal in terms of being unable to do something as opposed to being unwilling is generally seen as polite. I do not see it this way. I see it as a lie, and a very unfriendly thing to do to someone. As I said in my last post, hurting someone’s feelings by telling them the truth is a brave and awesome thing to do.

There is, of course, a grey area in between catcalling on the street and admitting your intentions once conversation has been started. It’s hard to say exactly when it’s ok to approach a person, and when reasonable boundaries are being crossed. What I propose is that sexual desires are given the same treatment as any other desire to participate in an activity with someone. I’m serious about the ice skating thing. Interrupting someone reading a book to ask if ze’d like to go rock-climbing (or bike riding, or going for a walk in the park, or playing video games, etc.) with you is rude; just as doing the same thing with an invitation to sexual activity is rude. Asking someone you just met to go rock-climbing is not rude if you’re already engaged in mutual socializing. However, asking someone if ze’d like to have sex in such a situation is often considered rude, which I don’t agree with. It’s also considered rude to see a person as merely a means to partnered rock-climbing, and not as a human with independent desires of hir own, just as the same thing is rude with sex.

I’m not advocating unbridled communication of sexual desires. I’m just saying that if you’re going to communicate, communicate honestly and bluntly. If someone is going to be creeped out by your desire, hiding your desire is not the answer. Ze should be creeped out by your desire if you have creepy desires. Masking them in subtlety and politeness might make you appear less creepy, but really you’re just hiding them.

In conclusion, I’d like to highlight this comment from Ginny:

part of approaching people respectfully is making yourself the vulnerable one. I highly advocate beginning a sexual advance with, “I’m very attracted to you,” rather than putting the other person on the spot by asking if they’re interested. Stating your own attraction puts yourself in the vulnerable position, and doesn’t instantly demand something of the other person.

Good advice! I heartily agree.

_________________________
*this is a non-exhaustive list. There are probably a lot more reasons why such behavior is rude and/or unacceptable.

Poly Porch Swing!

I made this porch swing a couple weeks ago, and Gina painted/stained it today! Someone insert a “swinger” joke…

Honesty is Hard

For the past month or so, the skeptic blogosphere has been talk a lot about harassment at skeptic events. Throughout these conversations, I’ve made a few disturbing observations:

  • People (mostly women) are getting harassed at skeptic events. This doesn’t seem to be occuring at higher rates than at other events, but any harrassment is too much, and we can do better than that;

  • Many people (mostly men) in the skeptic community are not taking this problem seriously. This is also fucked up, and I’m glad it’s getting some attention.

These issues have been extensively documented by Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds.  Everything that I could say on the topic (and how disturbing it is) has been said much more eloquently elsewhere, and I have nothing new to add. Suffice it to say that yes, this is happening, and I hope atheist/skeptic conferences all adopt strong harassment policies, with an emphasis on enforcement.

What I’d like to discuss is a secondary issue (which is not nearly as important as the two identified above, but I think is worth discussing): the issue of harassment has led to a number of discussions about exactly where the line is between consensual flirting and harassment.  These are important discussions to have, I think, but I’m bothered by two (somewhat related) themes I keep seeing crop up in these discussions:

1) It’s wrong to want sex from people without being interested in getting to know them

This is generally couched in reasonable-sounding language like this from PZ Myers:

I have a simple suggestion. Think of sex as something two or more friends do; but also keep in mind that most friends don’t have sex together. When you’re at a meeting, plan to make friends promiscuously, but remember: the purpose first and foremost is friendship, not sex partners.

At first glance, this seems like a reasonable suggestion. Most people prefer to get to know people before having sex with them, and most people would rather have sex with someone they like for nonsexual reasons also. But some people just want sex, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s not up to us to tell people what their goals should be in a social interaction. Denigrating anonymous men for wanting to “bag a young hottie” (which is Jen McCreight’s paraphrase, not an actual quote from anyone) at each speaking gig sends the sexnegative message that desiring sex with a person you find attractive (which is how I would have phrased it) is WRONG and CREEPY. In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do contributes to the myth of men not being hot. McCreight puts desiring sex with attractive women in the same category as talking only to a woman’s chest, nonconsensual groping, and following a woman to her hotel room. I think that’s terribly unfair. There is nothing wrong with sexuality. There is nothing wrong with desiring sex for purely physical reasons. Resorting to slut shaming is not necessary to discuss harassment. It’s bullshit, and it should stop.

2) Dishonesty is expected, and even encouraged, where sexuality may be involved

This is related to Point 1 by virtue of the fact that if wanting sex is wrong, then people who want sex are going to be encouraged to hide that fact until the socially appropriate time. People who just come out and say they want sex (even in the least coercive and lowest pressure way I can think of) are disrespectful, objectifying, and should be ashamed of themselves. Fuck that. Asking for sex is not seeing a person “as your plaything.” It’s just asking for sex. Objecification only happens if you see the other person’s desires as irrelevant. As long as you are genuinely seeking enthusiastic consent, if you want sex, you ought to ask for it! Hiding your intentions is just being dishonest, not respectful. As one commenter on this blog put it:

I too find smart, interesting people who think about things quite sexy, yet am generally skittish of strangers. I’m also alternately oblivious to and skeeved out by the way flirting (in most mainstream venues) happens most times. Still, I’d far prefer for someone to tell me they think I have great boobs and would like to make out with me than to just hint at it, assuming they are respectful of my possible “no thank you.” I like transparent, respectful asks, and people who ask for consent frequently and sincerely.

In addition to those desiring of sex being encouraged to remain silent, women who are objects of such desire are also encouraged to be dishonest about their refusals. The (true) observation that rapists ignore refusals is used to suggest that women shouldn’t be encouraged to clearly communicate their own desires. The (also true) observation that women are socialized not to clearly communicate a refusal is used to suggest that we should not be encouraging women to break free of that socialization and be more honest about what they want. This is confusing the “is” and the “ought.” The undeniable state of mainstream heterosexual flirting is that men are expected to be the aggressors, that clearly communicating a desire to have sex is disfavored, and that a clear refusal is often met with hostility. None of this is an argument that the status quo is the way things ought to be. We should all be encouraged to be more open and honest about what we want from a social interaction, even if the we may be subject to negative social consequences.

The exception, of course, is when physical safety is in question. If anyone is in doubt about his/her physical safety in an interaction, all of these rules go out the window, and people should do whatever they need to in order to get to safety. That cannot be stressed enough, and it should never be forgotten.

Of course, the flipside of this is that we should stop punishing women for being blunt. A woman who clearly communicates a “no” is not being harsh, she’s being honest. A woman who says she’s not interested in someone (even if s/he hasn’t made any advances) is just being communicative. Hurting someone’s feelings through deception is a dick move. Hurting someone’s feelings by telling them the truth is a brave and awesome thing to do, and we should encourage people to do it.

However, the danger of social disapproval is not a good reason to be dishonest. If your friends will think of you as a bitch for giving a clear refusal, get some new friends. If the object of your affection will see you as creepy for being clear about your sexual interest, that’s not a reason to hide your interest. Honesty often has negative social consequences. It does not follow that dishonesty is justified. If flirting should be about creating intimacy, then it relies on both parties behaving in a trustworthy way (i.e. not lying to each other).
Jadehawk disagrees:

You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

I agree that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to completely go against their socialization, but that doesn’t mean that we should not ask them to do so, or, when we’re discussing behavioral standards, to hold up an against-the-mainstream behavior as ideal. Society socializes us to do many things that we reject. Dishonesty could be one of them. Jadehawk’s view is that women are just brainless products of society’s conditioning, and have no choice in how to act. I think we all have a choice, regardless of what we’re told, or how we’re taught. I don’t think “the social context is what determines how women will respond.” I think women will respond based on their own individual choices, in light of the social context.

To be clear, I don’t think people are always (or even usually) obligated to express their sexual interest or lack thereof. It’s all about your intentions. If you intend to send the message for someone to back off, do it clearly. Don’t use subtle social cues that are open to interpretation. If you want to get to know someone, do that. If you intend to communicate sexual interest, do it clearly. Don’t do it by pretending you want to get to know someone. And don’t pretend you’re interested in sex if you’re only interested in getting to know someone. If you want to get to know someone, and also have sexual interest, then feel free to communicate either or both. My only problem here is dishonesty about one’s intentions.

This also shouldn’t be taken to mean that I think people always have clear intentions. It’s perfectly reasonable to be hours, days, weeks, or years into a social interaction, and still not really be sure what you want out of the interaction. That is actually, I would argue, the mainstream expectation. The problem occurs when people know what they want, and pretend that they don’t.

Flirting is not easy. But if we try, we could make it a little easier.

There Isn’t Really Any Easy Way Out

I have been thinking a lot about identity.

Living in society we get a lot of input from all sorts of sources about who we should be, could be, would be if only xyz.  Everyone has an opinion about what a good person is and what a bad person is.  People like to make statements like, “I’m a person who…” and you fill in something you consider to be truly definitive of “Who You Are”.   But, in my experience, figuring out the answer to the question, “Who am I?” is a lifelong quest.

I have spent a considerable amount of my life dealing with self-loathing and worrying about what other people think about me.  Looking back at my life thus far, my entire identity has been told to me by outside observers.  It is only recently that I have begun to get an idea of me.

When I was a kid growing up around astrology, it was easy to get swept up into a ready-made identity bestowed upon you by the stars.  “You are an Aries.  This means that you are passionate, outgoing, intense, FIREY!  On the flipside, you are prone to bad versions of these things, mainly in emotional overreaction, an overinflated ego, and a need for people to be around you to be happy.”  This description was very convincing and looking at it currently, it makes me laugh because, well, all of those things are true.  I don’t particularly describe myself as firey or intense, but the struggles I have certainly fall into the above stated categories.

Of course, I can boil these truths down to nature and nurturing; genetics and environment.  When people talk casually about astrology, they generally refer only to a person’s sun sign.  This explains you in broad strokes, which is good enough for most people.  If you happen to be talking to someone who knows a little more, you can explain all of your other qualities.  For instance, I am an Aries with a shitload of Libra in my chart.

Yes, my “chart was done” when I was born.

When I was a kid I had considerable problems dealing with expressing my preferences and requesting my needs be met while over-accommodating other’s people’s preferences and requests.  I know…I should probably not talk about that in the past tense as it is still something I struggle with.  But I used to have fits of stress followed by fits of anger and sadness when a friend spent too much time at my house.  I would talk about this with astrology buffs and they would identify this as me having a need for balance.  Libra, represented by the scales, is very focused on balance…so it all makes sense.

Looking back, I thought this was amazing.  “Of course!  I have been dealt the ‘you have a need for balance’ card in life! That’s why spending a long time with my friends makes me crazy!”  This fact also had me convinced that I was an introvert.

As it turns out, it’s just that I’m pleasant and over-accommodating so I used to attract mostly assholes as friends.  I worry too much about what everyone thinks so I fear stating opinions and calling people on their shit.  Assholes love that!  Also, people would call these Pisces problems and, as I was born on the cusp between Aries and Pisces, again, this all makes sense.

Astrology can get really complicated…you know, like the human genome and quantum mechanics.  OK, I suppose it stops short of the other two, but for most people’s purposes you can explain every single thing about them by fitting all of their attributes into the different houses and ascensions, moon landings, solar flare mega action and…oh, who knows.  In the end, you can completely discount that you are a bag of chemicals at the mercy of electrons.

Astrology also gives you the idea that you are written in stone.  On the day you are born you are given a group of “good things” about you and a group of “bad things”.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it…haha, choices, that’s rich…is to learn to “just be” with the bad things.  I mean, what choice do you have?  The stars have proclaimed it!

And, of course, astrology is not the only belief system that says this.  Every person is born for a purpose and everything happens for a reason is a tenet of many a religion.  This idea gives support to the thought that all the things that drive you crazy about yourself are necessary and unchangeable, but it’s OK because you’re that way from some Grand Purpose.

Growing up I got a lot of labels put on me.  “You’re so nice!  You’re so theatrical!  You’re so out there and unique! You’re funny!  You have such an interesting style!”  And while these were mostly good (though some were often thinly veiled criticisms), now I can give you multiple bad sides to all of those attributes.  “I am spineless.  I am afraid to speak.  I like a lot of attention.  I might make you uncomfortable with my view of the world and my disdain for your mainstream view.”  The terror of being honest and alienating people whose opinions about me I valued has oft stopped me from saying anything, for speaking up for myself and others, for doing what I really want to do.

When I was in highschool, I was miserable.  I spent my days surrounded by people I didn’t particularly like but refused to say so.  I had completely “valid” reasons for finding these people distasteful, but I wouldn’t speak up for fear of them knowing and being mean back or whatever.  I never said what I wanted from people.  I never asked what they wanted from me.  I let everyone tell me who I was because I didn’t have a way to articulate my own thoughts on the subject.  I spent years in silence feeling only free on a stage playing someone else, or in front of classroom reading something I had written or presenting.  On the outside I was strong, theatrical, and brave and I never got upset.  On the inside I was insecure, constantly questioning everything I did or said, and worrying about everyone’s opinion all the time.

I have changed drastically over the last several years.  Wes helped me to discover that I was most certainly not written in stone.  He helped me to find a level of awareness about what I wanted in life, what would make me happy, and what I was personally doing to stand in my way.  I am always open to change.  I want to be as happy as possible.  If there’s something that always bothers me, then I need to figure out why and address it.  There is no “this is too hard” or “well, I’m not the kind of person who can do that” for me.  I can do anything I want.  I can affect whatever change I want.  The only thing standing in the way would be my own dishonesty or my own false value assessment.

Like I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity.  And I realize that despite the fact that I have spent so long struggling with insecurities and worrying about everyone’s opinion, and despite the fact that I have worked so hard to change the things about myself that cause me harm and stress, I have never really not known “who I am”.  Or, at least, I have a strong sense of self deep inside that never waivers.  At 31 years of age, I still can’t articulate what that means in words.  The only thing I can say is never once during the journey to those changes have I worried about losing sight of myself.  And each success, each stressor that I struggle with and learn to control, I am happier and the happiness brings a clarity to that sense of self.  The harder I work, the more I learn and grow, the stronger that sense of self is.  I am flawed but I am strong.  I am scared but I am committed.  I am crazed but I have a sense of humor about it.  I am emotional, passionate, ridiculous, confident and insecure.

In other words, I am human and will never know everything about me.  I know myself better at 31 than I did at 21.  At 51, I will likely look back at this and laugh at how much further I was going to go and at 81, I will be old and too busy doing my full time “Old Lady with funny hats and accents” impression.

You are an active participant in your identity.  I look at myself as clay over iron framework.  I am malleable but retain my underlying composition as I stretch and expand.  I am vigilant about the things with which I struggle.  I see no reason to not identify the things I dislike and work to change them.  There is never a downside to this and much like an old piece of clay holds onto pieces of previous forms it was in, these things are always there in some way as a part of me.  But they are not “Who I Am”.  They do not have to control me or define me.  They are just there, sometimes nagging at me to indulge them.  Other times they are just memories of a darker moment.

You are who you truly want to be.  Change attempted for the sake of other people will not stick and only leads to resentment.  Change must come from within one’s self.  You have to want it.  You have to be honest.  And you have to work.  Having to work hard doesn’t make me feel like I’m being inauthentic.  It makes me feel like I am finally taking on all of the bullshit that keeps me from enjoying this one beautiful, irreplaceable life.

And every day that I am alive and moving ahead or even when I am standing still in a mire I have likely created, I think to myself that it is always worth it to push through, to let go, to be brave against my own demons.  Every day is a light at the end of yesterday’s tunnel.  Each day is new and full of potential.  I will not waste it saying, “Well, I guess that’s just who I am.”  No.  Not again.

A Revisit to “My Big House”

I was talking to Shaun recently about my other blog and some of the important posts I have made there.  My other blog doesn’t have much of an audience because it tends to be about more personal things.  However, it is also where I started writing a lot about polyamory and atheism.  When Shaun invited me to write here, I stopped writing about these things over there for the most part but I reference a few old posts often.

At his suggestion, I am reposting the only post I ever wrote there that I would consider remotely “famous”.  Other than a moderate amount of page views (very small in the spectrum of actual famous bloggers), it served to help a lot of people understand why polyamory is right for me.  This served as a coming out post and also a celebration of when Wes and I invited Jessie to move in with us.

This was also written almost a year ago, so I’m taking the opportunity to update where I see fit (new comments in italics).  I hope all you new readers enjoy it!

“My Big House”, originally published in July, 2011

As I have mentioned in a recent post, I started this blog so that I could write intelligently and interestingly (and amusingly) about my life.  I have had blogs in the past and was very honest in them about various things going on, but back then there was never anything I felt like I had to hide.  Part of it was naivety…there were things about me that didn’t occur to me as overly strange or offensive that I offhandedly referenced, like my atheism.  Who knew it was something so controversial?  I missed that memo, but over the past several years I have learned differently.

But this post isn’t about atheism.

I have been struggling to write here because I had been leaving large chunks, very very important chunks of my life out, dancing around subjects, choosing not to tell hilarious stories because of life events or characters that are crucial to the punchline.  I have left out important revelations from my happiness project because I wasn’t ready for the world at large to know everything.  But that’s so silly.  If you asked, I’d tell you in a heartbeat.

So, here we go:  Wes and I are polyamorous.

What does this mean?  It means that we are in love with and devoted to each other.  We are completely committed to each other.  Hell, we just got married and the law says that it’s a big pain in the ass for us to not be in a relationship together.  We completely respect and care for one another.  In short, we are in a relationship that you can understand.

Except we can also sleep with, date, love, respect, care for, become devoted to other people as well.

Many of you already know this, but I realized that there are many who do not.  Our relationship has been of this form for a little over 2 years and we don’t particularly hide it, but I certainly don’t make a million Facebook statuses a day about it either.  We have come out to our immediate families, but we didn’t go make a big announcement at Christmas.  But it is most definitely a defining factor in our lives and to leave it out of conversation, or to leave out the intimate nature of some of our relationships is kind of ridiculous.

Wes has been dating a wonderful woman, Jessie (whom I have mentioned many a time on this blog) for a little less than a year.  From the very beginning, she and I got along very well and while, at times, I resisted it, it was always clear that she could be integrated into our lives, both of our lives, beautifully.  Insecurity and worries about what other people would think of me for being happy about her presence stopped me from embracing it immediately.  I don’t break rules.  I don’t walk on the grass when the sign tells me not to.  But we have grown to be close friends and she has been practically living with us for a few months now.  She was in our wedding.  She spent a day with us at the beach during our honeymoon and it was possibly the most fun day ever.  I realized that something I didn’t think I’d ever be ready for as a polyamorous person was something that I wanted.  I love Wes and Jessie together.  I love her being in our home and I found myself thinking how silly it is that she isn’t officially living there.

So, we asked her to move in with us the other day and she accepted the offer.  So, here we are, adding a wonderful person to an already fabulous household.  Our little suburban house just got a little bit bigger.

There is so much to say about all of this.  Polyamory for me was something I wanted to do initially to purge myself of terrible emotions like jealousy and possessiveness.  I wanted to do it because I believed that it would add to the longevity of our relationship.  But what I found was that it added so much more to my life than I ever thought it could.

Some people believe that you only have a finite amount of love to give.  Perhaps this is true for some people, but it is not true for Wes and it is not true for me.  What I have found is that I have unlocked a capability in myself for more love.  The communication in our relationship(s), the respect, rationality and caring that can be given seems limitless.

In short, I have gotten over so much of my shit, or at least, have learned how to deal with it in a positive way. I am so much closer to the person I want to be and everyday I get closer.  I love myself more now than I ever have before and I owe it all to casting away convention and having an amazing partner to take the journey with.

I have recently started seeing someone who, in a very short time, has added a great deal of happiness to my life.  He has a girlfriend who is absolutely delightful and brings me joy to be around.  We are officially adding Jessie to the house for even more joy and 8 years ago I met the perfect man for me and married him a few weeks ago.

I think I often forget that all this wonderfulness happened around the same time last year.  Now that it has almost been a year, I am so happy to report that I was not wrong about the continuing joy I would experience after this post.  Jessie has lived with us for almost a year and no one has ever regretted the decision.  Shaun and I are approaching a year of being together and each day brings us closer.  We were already high-functioning polyamorous people back then but now…well, you read the blog.  You know.

I have a career I actually like.  On a regular basis I get to make awesome music with my best friend (and sometimes get paid for it) and produce entertaining and interesting theater.  The old me would have been suspicious of all this.  Who am I to be able to have such a wonderful life?  I am flawed.  I am imperfect.  I struggle with emotions and can be crazed.  I can be insecure and worry about how the world, how those close to me will judge me.

This last bit hasn’t changed.  I still struggle with all of this, but it has always been completely worth it.

But this brings us back to that whole atheist thing I mentioned earlier.  This is my life.  It is the only life I have. When my body fails, I will disappear and all I will have had is this one charmed, miraculous existence and I refuse to do anything less than live it to the fullest.  I want to share it.  I want to love and revel in the positive things and get through the negativity rationally and with purpose.  I want to continue to improve myself.  I want to give of myself.  I want to get over myself and all the silly things I hold onto when I am sleep deprived, dehydrated and feeling down.  I want so much and I think I can have it.

30 has been one hell of a year.

31 hasn’t been too shabby either.  If anything, I am more committed to making this life everything that it can be.  Thank you to all who make me so happy to be alive.  I wish that everyone could be so lucky.