Polyamory and Pride

This article is based on a public Facebook post I made, and adapted after much animated discussion, for which I am very grateful. You can check out the original post here.

The tl;dr summary: Language is important, and I believe it’s important we, as a polyamorous community, start to get this right if we want to have mainstream understanding and acceptance. “Polyamory” is NOT a born-with orientation, but “Non-Monogamy” might be.

Feeling activated or curious? read on?

So, it’s Pride month, and I see a number of folks in polyamory groups getting excited about Pride. This frustrates me. I want to remind everyone there’s no “P” in LGBTQI+, and that Polyamory is a relationship style and not a sexual orientation.

Polyamory — non-monogamous relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved— is a choice, one of many options for doing non-monogamy, and is not an orientation. Other ways to do non-monogamy could include: swinging, casual sex, open relationships, cheating, seeing a sex worker, BDSM relationships.

It frustrates me to see people in the polyamorous community trying to co-opt Pride for themselves. I know that there’s legal issues and social acceptance issues unique to polyamorous relationships. And yes, I get it, some people who do polyamory consider it to be their orientation— there’s also people who believe the earth is flat, or that Drumpf is the greatest president ever— believing those things doesn’t mean that they are right.

I love that polyamorous communities participate in pride and march in parades. I think that’s GREAT. But please remember to do so as ALLIES to the queer community, and not as a political statement or recruitment opportunity. There’s better times, places, and platforms to push for the rights of those who don’t do monogamy.

Too many people think the only way to do non-monogamy is to cheat. Or they read about polyamory and justify their cheating as being because “This is how I am!” and a partner’s refusal to open up a relationship leads to accusations of oppression. Thinking of polyamory as an orientation is how we get far too many men (usually) on dating sites saying “I’m poly but my wife doesn’t know”.
Like, no dude, just no.

If you do poly and are queer: great, celebrate your queerness!
If you do poly and are trans: amazing, celebrate your transness!
If you do poly and are straight and cis, but have a partner who is part of the LGBTQI+ community, then ask them how you can best support them during Pride!
If you are poly and are straight and cis and only date people who are straight and cis, you can support your friends in the LGBTQI+ world by being their ally. Being an ally means you support them to make more space for queer acceptance in the world, and in your communities. It doesn’t mean you take the spotlight for yourself.

Non-monogamy diagram - Page 1 (1)

Again, polyamory is one of MANY ways to do non-monogamy, and not an orientation, and isn’t related to gender. I will continue to repeat this at every opportunity. I have seen far too many people use “I’m poly, this is how I was made, you have to let me sleep with other people or you are repressing me” as a means to coerce a partner into ‘being okay’ with opening up the relationship, or to justify cheating. This does not make for healthy relationships.

I do however think that non-monogamy might be something that is hardwired for some of us. Just as Pride includes sexual orientation (eg lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gay, etc), and gender identity (trans, intersex, non-binary, etc) I do think there’s the possibility for a third dynamic, that of relational wiring. Relational wiring might encompass aromatic, asexual/demi-sexual, and include non-monogamy. The Kinsey Institute has only just started publishing research on this stuff and it is early days yet.

So, let us say that non-monogamy is part of a spectrum of relational wiring, and perhaps that’s something that does deserve some space at Pride. Even then, we have a choice about how we do it. We can do it honestly or dishonestly. We can do it with integrity, or we can do it in the shadows. We can do it with the knowledge and consent of all involved, or we can be private and secretive about it. I don’t believe that honesty or ethics are qualities that can be inherently wired in us, I think those are a conscious choice, and polyamory is an ongoing action, rather than a permanent state of being.

I think the polyamorous community has a much better chance to public acceptance if we start to shift the conversation. “Look, I think I’m wired for non-monogamy. I could cheat, or I could do it honestly, and with the full knowledge and enthusastic consent of everyone involved.” is far more likely to be met with compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Not guaranteed to, but more likely, I think.

For me, queer is something that I am. Non-monogamous is also something that I am. Polyamory describes something that I do in my relationships.

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Me, being ever so queer, at the celebration for the rainbow intersection in Downtown Courtenay, BC, Unceded K’omox territories. Photo by Hollis Cellout

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Reclaiming Queerness

There is so much that I want to write about right now, and I don’t know where to focus. I want to write about the excitement I feel after a day of teaching about Consent Culture, and engaging in rich conversations about how we might be able to build a compassionate world. I want to monologue about how boys are socialized with one slice of a full-spectrum emotional pie (anger) and girls are socialized with the rest of the pie (every emotion but anger). I want to rage about how violent binary gender divisions are and how they enforce Dominance Culture. I want to weep about the hurt and harm happening in the world today. And I want to pause to celebrate the little things and big things that are bringing me joy.

Two days ago I walked down the high street of the rural town I live in, carrying a bouquet of roses for my girlfriend. This town is a community in transition. I walked passed the mayor’s house— the mayor who voted against a rainbow cross-walk as a demonstration of the municipal commitment to queer inclusion— and then by the abandoned railway depot, once upon a time the end of the line. I glanced in at the cafe run by a conservative Christian community, who tell me they live according to the Book of Acts, and walked by three churches before arriving at the chocolate shop where I was meeting my girlfriend. It’s a 12 minute walk.

I thought about the sheer radicalness of this act: I had bought roses at a store filled with cis men of all ages clambering to buy a bouquet for their (presumably female) partners. The only women in the shop were buying lilies, carnations, and other flowers. I had taken my time to consider what color of roses I wanted to purchase, and how creative I wanted to get with arranging them at home. Flower arrangement is something that gives me a lot of joy, and I chose a combination of large red roses, smaller white ones, and one magnificent hybrid red and white rose. I know I’m not the only woman to have ever gotten her girlfriend flowers, but in this town, it kind of felt like maybe I was.

Stepping into my intimacy with women has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I used to blame the relationship with my mother, my disorganized attachment with women a symptom of the complex form of trauma from my upbringing.

I spent most of my life hating myself and feeling ashamed because of what my mother told me about gayness and sexuality. How confusing it was to hear, “You can be anything you want to be, I will support you and love you” and then to hear her condemn women who were lesbian, men who were gay, to belittle bisexuals as confused. It was confusing for me. I learned that I could be anything I wanted to be as long as it pleased my mother, but that I had to shut down my sexuality, my orientation, my gender, my very core expression.

No wonder I had such tantrums as a toddler. I had needs I didn’t understand or know how to express. I wanted freedom. Instead I was caretaker to a parent who was struggling under the weight of their own complex trauma that was being managed ineffectively,  and living within parameters dedicated to making her happy, or at the very least, not cause her to get upset.

I was a teenager when I realised my sexual attraction to women. I found myself aroused by a music video, and felt so ashamed. I knew I had to hide this, but also knew I couldn’t deny it. When I was 16 I developed a crush on one of my friends. I had no idea how to communicate it, but we would make out at parties, hold hands walking around school, and I even spent a week one summer sleeping next to her in her bed. But I never expressed how I felt. I suppressed it. Outwardly, I would shame people who were gay. When, after high school, I learned she had been sexually intimate with another woman, I shamed her for it, and we grew increasingly distant.

It’s been a huge journey to identify my own internalized homophobia and challenge it. As much as polyamory has been a journey in self growth, I think the most profound transformations in my life have come as a consequence of my explorations with my queerness.

photo by Jennifer Brazil

I lucked out in my first handful of intimate experiences with women. They were within threesomes, there was a sense of novelty, exploration, curiosity, and everything went great. But when I went into actually dating women, I felt clunky, awkward, angry, frustrated, ashamed.

There’s something about the psychological theory that we are drawn to relationships with people who remind us of our parents. Those familiar patterns and behaviours, even when they are toxic, are enticing because we’ve grown up learning how to navigate them. And I kept finding myself drawn to relationships with women who needed caretaking, who weren’t addressing their trauma in healthy ways, who I wanted to please and save. My own unresolved trauma was running the show. It was disaster after disaster, including PTSD, and for the sake of my mental health, I stepped away from sexual relationships with women completely.

For a few years I felt a sense of imposter syndrome when I would describe myself as queer. I was mostly dating cis, hetero men. I was paralyzed by the thought of engaging intimately with women again. And yet, I was still engaging in close platonic relationships with women who resembled my mother, in their energy and ways of relating to me. Burnt out, overwhelmed, struggling to redefine my boundaries in relationships, I decided I had to figure out how to heal the trauma around my relationship to my mother before I tried dating or engaging deeply with women.

Turns out, I had it all backwards. Turns out, the key to healing from the deep trauma around my relationship with my mother was to figure out how to have healthy intimate relationships with women.

Trauma isn’t something that gets erased overnight. It sits with us, becomes part of us, incorporates itself into the grander tapestry of our beings. But, I’ve learned we can reduce it’s impact, we can transform it’s hard experiences into beautiful insights, and out of the darkness we might grow resiliency.

I think about who I am today, and what I do in the world. The things I teach, the work I do with people, so much of this comes out of the profound self-healing work I have had to engage in on this journey. It is strange to realise that, whilst I still feel hella activated at the idea of interacting with my mother— or any of the female former lovers I had traumatising experiences with— I am also incredibly grateful to have gone through those experiences, because of what I learned. I am a wiser, more compassionate, more resilient person as a consequence of those experiences. Circumstances pushed me to examine deeply the judgements I held, and also the pain and sorrow I felt around my sexuality.

The first time my girlfriend and I had sex is the first time I can recall having sex with another woman where I didn’t afterwards feel twisted up with anxiety and fear. Instead, I felt relief, ease, joy, deep affection, and gratitude. Over several months we had explored and unpacked the walls each of us have held around our sexuality, and leaned in to the clunkiness and awkwardness, getting curious about what might lie beyond that. We threw ideas and suggestions at eachother for weeks, and learned about how we might support one another if everything ended up going sideways. And when the awkwardness became about not doing the thing, rather than doing the thing, we dove in.

Something in my soul is cracking open, and I am lost for words to describe it.

I wanted to buy her flowers because there is a way that heteronormativity in polyamorous culture de-legitimises the relationships of queer femmes. A relationship between two women is often dismissed as not as weighted or as serious as the ones between a man and a woman, and I needed to remind myself that this is every bit as real and as valuable and precious as any hetero relationship I’ve been in. It’s interesting: when I reflect on my relationships with men, they have often been engaged in with so much more abandon, a sense of care-free-ness, a lightness (at least at first) and with ease. Maybe I’ve been more fearful of how to engage with women because the stakes on some level feel higher, the possible emotional depth so much more potent. And as for gender-creative humans in my life, that’s going to have to be a whole blog post on its own.

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So, thank you. Thank you to the humans who have challenged my queerness, who have chastised and rejected my queerness, and who have embraced my queerness. Thank you to the others out there who live boldly in their queerness and give those of us struggling hope that we might also one day live so boldly. Thank you to those who have gone before me, who could not live in their queerness, but fought hard so that in these small fortunate pockets of the world, some of us might.

Requiem

CW: cheating, toxic masculinity, rape, abuse, silencing, minimizing, gaslighting

 

“Our anger is deep grief and sorrow
We grieve the men who could be and aren’t
We mourn the memory of men who we once thought woke
Only to see the slumbering misogyny behind the mask of new masculine mores.”

 

Recently I had an insight about a particular aspect of my own reactions and emotions regarding #metoo.

I’ve struggled to stay engaged in the conversations around #metoo whilst navigating all the emotions and feelings that come up for me around it. I’m the sort of person who naturally gravitates into holding space for others to express themselves, and endeavour to do so without judgement, to do so with love. But even that has been tested, my own wounds triggered and activated. And while a new collective narrative unfolds socially and culturally, I find myself digging into the depths of my own experiences and the impacts they have had on me.

Not long ago, I saw a former friend. And I was overcome with a feeling that I first identified as rage. It was a fire in my heart that felt like a fist punch waiting to errupt. This guy had broken promises in his relationship (not one that involved me), and there had been much heartbreak. I had been witness to many of the emotions that arose from the situation. Seeing him, I felt myself erect a kind of energetic wall between myself and him and could not bare to engage with him.

As is often my way, I chose to meditate on my emotional journey, and I got curious about this wall.

I found I was angry at him, for not being who I had believed him to be. Even though I wasn’t the one hurt by his actions, (and those who had, had forgiven him and done some deep healing with him) I still felt- betrayed, let down, disappointed. The wall was in part my desire to disengage with someone who had let me down and hadn’t been the person of integrity I’d thought him to be. The wall was also there because I needed to own my own reactions and didn’t want to projectile my own rage from past relationships onto him, just because he was the person I had access to.

I thought of all the times he’d gently pushed at my edges and in my mind I’d had no red flags because he had a partner. I recalled some of the things he’d told me about flirting with women that sounded like straight up pick up artistry— and how I had dismissed the idea because he had a partner who was bright, intelligent, outspoken, and also a dear friend. I thought of the times I spoke up and recommended him as a good person to other women, and men. And then I realised, that underlying my anger was a deep, deep grief.

I was grieving that, at the end of the day, he wasn’t the woke feminist I thought he was. He was, at best, lucid. Aware enough to not be #thatguy and yet asleep enough that he still acted out of places in him I perceive as being lodged in toxic masculinity: mainly, centring his desire for sex over his commitment to a partnership.

And then a huge wave of sorrow rose up in me. This grief was about more than just my experience with him. I thought of all the other men who I’ve defended, supported, spoke in testimony to, and more. Men who I have been far more intimate with. Men who I have dated for years. Polyamorous men who I saw as safe because they had other long term partners (so they must be good ones, right?). I thought of the lover many years ago who I watched assault and rape a friend of mine, who threatened me into silence— and who I still defended socially, calling him a trustworthy and safe person (what was I thinking?). I think of the partner whose praises I sang even while they were minimizing and gaslighting their other partners in a toxic and traumatizing pattern of relationships. I think of the boyfriend who I thought was one of the best partners I had, who inspired me and with whom I felt like I was coming ‘home’, even while he dismissed my sexual trauma and insisted I ‘get over’ my conflict with the person who had abused and bullied me so we could all be at a party together, harmoniously. And so many many more.

This grief is immense. It is overwhelming.

This grief, it wants an outlet. I witness now the stages of grief as they play out in me: the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression— and have yet to fully find acceptance.

I question myself. Have I just had poor judgement, or are the majority of men oblivious to the ways they hurt and abuse? Why have I kept myself silent about awful things even when they were right in front of me? Did I really value the imagined security of a relationship with someone who was hurting me (or others) over the idea of being without partners and lovers? Can I even trust my discernment anymore around partners and lovers? And then, I find myself frustrated with women who still date these men, who by doing so seem to enable them to continue being, at best, ‘lucid’, but not woke. Women whose presence on their arm denotes an endorsement of their behaviours as not being harmful at all.

I was once that woman.
No more.

But I don’t know what that looks like yet. How do I redraw these boundaries? How do I forgive myself for past ignorance and blindness? How do I move into a space of compassion for men who have been raised in a society that taught them to be this way, and taught them to take without asking?

I grieve to wake up to the reality of the flaws and the pain and hurt my relationships with these men brought to my life. How much energy I spent tolerating the immaturity of the situations. I grieve at the part I have played in this system of complacency around misogyny when it comes in an attractive and alternative packaging— of which there is plenty in polyamory. I recognise how I test and push into people to see where they sit in their wokeness: do they understand what trauma is and how it effects a person— and are they engaged and open to learning more?

This is the biggest piece for me. What I have noticed to be missing with so many of these ‘lucid’ (but not woke) men is that they got part way, and adopted a complacency with where they were at. They seem to think the work is done, or act like their small steps are enough.

There are men out there who don’t get complacent. Who keep reading, keep listening, keep engaging in new discussions to unpack and recognise how misogyny and toxic masculinity shows up in themselves. I am deeply grateful for these men. I wish I knew more of them, or had closer relationships with them. Right now, I’m struggling with that, and maybe I’m not ready to move on from this grief. Perhaps I need to really feel the full weight of this grief before I can let go of it, and let go of the connections that I am mourning.

What’s the solution? I don’t know. Maybe it’s in rites of passage. Maybe it’s in men’s groups and other forms of male accountability. Maybe it’s in being more vocal and calling in and naming the behaviours when and where I see them. Maybe it’s in withdrawing from spaces where I’ve barely tolerated the veiled toxicity. I’m still figuring this out.

Maybe first I need to finish grieving.

Spiritual Paths, Solo Polyamory, and Primary Self-Relationships

“Honor your self,
Worship your Self,
Meditate on your Self,
God dwells within you as you.”
~ Swami Muktananada

325Muktananda was a controversial figure, who had a profound affect on many lives, my own included. My mother met him in the 1970s and became his student. He was an Indian Guru, a teacher of yoga philosophy and spirituality, who toured the world with an entourage of swamis and lay-teachers, establishing ashrams and meditation centers wherever they went. It was at one of these ashrams that my parents were married, and where I had many of my formative spiritual experiences as a youngster and teen. It was at another of these ashrams that I met my future ex-husband. Muktananda—  or Baba, as he was affectionately called—  and his teachings, have been a huge influence on my life.

When he talks about “God” he doesn’t mean some old guy in the sky. The God he talked about is Love, Bliss, Ultimate Freedom. The goal of the yoga path he taught was to become so open hearted one could greet everyone as a form of love, as a form of divinity, and in so doing, experience the bliss of freedom. Maybe this sounds a little woo. And that’s okay. I’m not trying to convert you here, I’m sharing with you how I came to be in a primary relationship with myself.

I never met Baba, though he gifted me a name in Sanskrit that I sometimes use. I became a student of his successor, a spirited and compassionate woman, Swami Chidvilasananda.  Their teachings have always been a guiding star for me to turn to whenever I have felt lost. Part of why I don’t talk about them openly is because they are a very private experience for me. It was these teachings I returned to when, in 2011, I separated from my then husband. When my mother started trying to guilt me into being monogamous and straight, I looked to the teachings that held more sway in my heart than my co-dependant desire to please her: I remembered Chivilasananda once saying that if we ever had to choose between tradition and love, to choose love, because Love is the highest spiritual path there is.

And so I chose to follow my heart. I embarked on a journey of polyamory. And when I started this blog it was with the general idea that I didn’t want a primary relationship like I’d had before- I didn’t want to be putting a partner before my own needs, or the needs of the relationship ahead of the needs of my heart and soul. I needed to follow Baba’s advice and honor my self first and foremost if I wanted to find freedom. I was going to be in a primary relationship with myself—  and have an orgy with the universe!

I haven’t written much directly about my spirituality on this blog before, but today it felt important to do so, in order to honor the roots of a philosophy that is so very dear to me, and thru the presence of this blog and my voice in the polyamorous community, a philosophy that has come to be closely associated with Solo Polyamory.

To be in a primary relationship with one’s self is not the exclusive purview of Solo Polyamory any more than it is exclusive to the spiritual teachings I grew up with. I’ve heard arguments that if people in primary, nesting, or cohabiting relationships are using this phrase that they are appropriating a value that is reserved for Solo Polyamory only.

Well, that’s nonsense.

What my spiritual path has taught me is that relationships where we see the divine in the other but not in ourselves—  that is to say that we forget our own sovereignty and surrender it to our partner—  we loose our freedom, we create a codependant dynamic, and we become trapped by the toxic stories within partnership. I’ve also learned that this is one of those ‘universal truths’, a nugget of wisdom that pops up in many traditions, religions, spiritual paths, and philosophies around the world.

In the past 6 years my experience has been that when I have returned to treating myself as primary, and honoring, caring, and fawning to meet my own needs as if I were two (incredibly sexy, intelligent) people madly in love and romancing and supporting eachother like a loving elderly couple might, then I am saner, happier, healthier, and am better resourced to be present in all my other relationships.

full cupAs a relationship coach, so often I see people caught in dynamics where they feel trapped or limited as a result of surrendering their self relationship over to the partnership in their lives. A lot of the work I do is centered around supporting my clients to reconnect with their own needs, wants, and desires, and empowering them to find the blissful freedom that is possible when they can prioritise themselves as an act of self love, so that when they go to care for others, they do so with a full cup.

“My primary relationship is with my Self. All others are but mirrors of it.”

~ Shakti Gawain

The idea of a primary self relationship is by no means exclusive to spiritual teachings either. Modern psychology and wellness has caught on to what monks, nuns, swamis, and other renunciates have known for centuries: that renouncing the ideas of being completely beholden, subservient,or entwined with a partner is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Sex educators, therapists, and feminist punks alike have been recognising the benefits of getting out of co-dependancy and dominance culture by nourishing a primary relationship with one’s self.

I have met many people in marriages and common law partnerships who tell me they resonate a lot with Solo Polyamory, and ask if they can be solo polyamorous while married. Well, technically I would have to say no, you can’t. The defining factor of Solo Polyamory is the eschewing of coupledom that entails— things like living together, sharing expenses, and so forth. However very few people in this world have the privilege to be able to afford to live alone. Many of us have experienced moving in with a partner, or with friends, and merging resources with others as a means for economic and social survival. So I don’t think those choices made out of a need for survival should remove us from the solo polyamory description. Practical intimacy is only one dimension of intimacy, and sharing a home with someone does not necessarily lead to ‘couple’ dynamics in emotional, social, and sexual aspects of relating. In relationship anarchy, we work to dismantle the socially endowed privileges that coupledom receives, and as such, couples who are embracing an RA philosophy may find that being their own primaries is useful to that end. In fact, many couples have found that by enacting more of an autonomous, solo philosophy in their relationships, their relationships have grown healthier.

My bottom line here: if everyone in the world could be in a primary relationship with themselves, and we could all learn to honor the primary relationships of everyone, we might have a much better world to live in. And who am I to deny permission for others to try this path out, whatever kind of relationship they happen to be in right now.

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If you want to read more of Baba Muktananda and Swami Chidvilasananda’s writings, please visit the Siddha Yoga website. You may also find resonance with the work of Christopher Hareesh Wallis, whose Recognition Sutras course I highly recommend.

A Letter to the Magpies

European folklore holds that Magpies like to steal shiny things for their nests. Although this has now been debunked by scientists and bird experts, it’s a phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again within the polyamorous world: someone new enters the community and has no pre-existing ties to anyone. They carry ‘no baggage’. Maybe they are just out of a divorce (as I was) or they are new to the area. They are overwhelmed with attention, and begin to date multiple people, many of whom may be far more experienced in polyamory. The new shiny is alluring, and receives a lot of attention—  especially if they are solo and female.

Magpie-Lark_male_kobble_aug06Tarnished by many Magpies, I can bite my tongue no longer. This is a letter for the corvid creatures who swoop in on the polyamory novices. I hear you justify yourself magnanimously with stories of consensuality, and sit on your pedestals of knowledge preening- but you do not see the harm you do. Meanwhile, as a coach, I see it again and again. And I want you to understand. Because I have been on both sides of this story. And no one deserves to be tarnished by ignorance to what’s happening beneath the surface.

I will be blunt: This new shiny person is not here for you to objectify. She is not here to be your Disney-land escape from your failing marriage. She is not a fuck toy that you can groom into a BDSM princess in order to feel better about your own sexuality.

Do you see her as a person? Do you recognize the social conditioning that may have led her to be unaware of her boundaries, unconscious of her own needs and desires, a scripting that tells her to capitulate and be whatever and whoever it is she needs to be to please you?

Magpie_swooping_signYou think you’re doing her a favor, introducing her to the flirtatious fabulousness that is your life, but you are oblivious to the trauma lying under the surface. You see only the face she wants you to see, and you remain ignorant to the fear underneath that mask.

Did you know that one of the responses to trauma is ‘fawning’- where someone looks to please a person who seems to be more influential than they are? Did you know that women are taught to find self worth through their partnerships? Have you stopped to think what is going on for someone when, fresh out of long term monogamy, they want to date people in positions of power, knowledge, and influence?

You may not see yourself as the ‘cool kid’, but if you seem like you have your shit together with polyamory, and talk about it with confidence, then she may be seeing you as the cool kid. She may be looking to you to create a blanket of security for herself- and by so doing, unconsciously bypassing the deeper issues she needs to address.

Have you ever heard her No? Not just the “I don’t want to go out tonight” No, but her “I can’t be around that person” No. The “I have a hard line No to this kind of behavior” kind of No. The “I’m not interested in what you’re asking me to do” kind of a No. Do you know what her No looks like in her body, feels like in her breath, or sounds like in her voice?

We who are raised as women are told that boundaries are bad, limiting, and ruin the fun. We’re told that to be liked and loved we need to be good, giving and game. And a lifetime of good, giving and game leads us to tolerate a lot of bullshit from a lot of people until we grow numb to the bullshit and begin to tolerate the death of personal joy instead.

When you’ve lived a life repressed in relationship, the candy store of polyamory can seem so golden and desirable… but medicating with flirtatiousness can only go so far. The wounds underneath remain.

Do you see her glowing radiantly and hanging on your every word? And underneath that do you see the fear and insecurity that she’s been told is an inconvenience to her sexual availability, and has told herself to ignore?

Here’s what it boils down to, dear Magpies: if you can’t hold a boundary for yourself until she knows her own boundaries, then you’re taking advantage of the poly-novice.

And yes, that’s a lot of emotional labor to do for someone! It can take a lot of patience. It can be painstaking and challenging and you may not even end up being her partner. But is it worth it? In the longer term, it is always worth it to gently push back on people to empower them in their own agency, and support them to understand what it means to be ‘at choice’ in all things.

I get that you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. I understand you think you’re good to go because she’s given you an affirmative yes. This is about more than that.

This is about understanding the ways in which society has programmed us all to exist in systems of dominance. Good intentions are not enough to prevent hurt. To engage in your relationships with kindness, develop more mindfulness. If you want to love her, slow down. Breathe. Take a step back. Let other people be her guides, lend her your books and connect her to the communities. Help her find diverse voices, so she is not just guided by yours. Empower her to find her authentic truth, to embody her boundaries, to connect to her core values— and support her to be freely expressed in them.

Together Independently

“How do you explain to people that it is not true that you have a fiercely guarded heart? That it just feels like you have not had the space that felt safe enough to fully share it? To really let people in? And that you found that space with people who came into your life in a moment.”
~Catherin Hunter, Solo Polyamorist

Andrew GonzalezWhen’s the last time you had sex?
When’s the last time you had sex without fear? Had sex that was courageous?

I think of how often I have sought out sex in an effort to try and feel courageous, in moments when I have felt afraid. Having sex to fill a void in myself and seek out the intimacy and love that I didn’t experience in earlier life has been a band aid- one that has helped in short term healing, but that has hurt like hell when ripped off. Sex has been a remedy that’s intoxicating and addictive.

I’m used to fighting an internal battle during sex. It’s an effort to silence two voices of judgement. One tells me, “You’re being too much.” The other tells me, “You are not enough.” Both these voices come from a part of me that doesn’t feel like I have a ‘right’ to be who I am, that being solo, and polyamorous, and queer, somehow makes me ‘broken’ because I counter the expected norms. Over time I’ve learned how to navigate my focus away from those voices, but it takes some effort. And as my journey progresses, I have craved an experience of physical intimacy where those voices don’t hold any sway over me, and I can feel safe to celebrate who I am.

“Intimate relationship is perhaps the ashram of the 21st Century — a place especially ripe with transformational possibility, a combination crucible and sanctuary for the deepest sort of healing and awakening, through which the full integration of our physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.

Intimate relationship as a crucible and sanctuary for our healing and awakening — sounds good, doesn’t it? But once our honeymoon with this is over, the real labor begins. The path is not neatly laid out for us, in part because we, through our very relatedness with our intimate other, are co-creating that path, that relational unfolding, as we go, feeling our way — more often than not in far-from-straight lines — toward what really matters.
~ Robert Augustus Masters

This past weekend was the first International Solo Polyamory Conference. It was profound. It was transformational. It was healing. And I learned the incredible power of being honored, accepted, and celebrated for who I am, through honoring and celebrating people dancing the same path.

Singledom within a network of relations is, I believe, the new frontier for radical relating: it is predicted today that 1 in 4 adults will never marry and out of those that do, 50% will divorce. And it’s not that people are not wanting to have relationships anymore, they do! But within a social context that still prizes coupled monogamy above all else, we lack refined, accessible wisdom on how to actually do autonomous intimacy.

Solo Polyamory offers a ‘best of all worlds’ approach. Solo polyamory is honest non monogamy, without the relationship escalator. It is characterised by no primary partnerships, a focus on individual autonomy, and a prioritising of platonic support networks. It draws a diverse range of ages, ethnicities, genders, and orientations. We are something of a ‘fringe’ group within polyamory, overlapping a lot with Relationship Anarchy in our desire for sovereignty within relationships, and an aspiration for interdependence. In a world that seems to revolve around monogamous, dyadic coupledom, we eschew the idea that being a successful grown up means becoming a productive member of coupled-up consumer society.

To paraphrase Kim TallBear, we are people who are in recovery from monogamous colonization and upbringing.

This weekend was about making space, not just for ourselves, but for everyone who has felt disenchanted with the myths and obligations of monogamy.

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“It’s about connecting THROUGH independence.”
~Kale Gossen

Coming and being out in the non-monogamy world is ‘easier’ when our relationships are good, but it’s harder to share when things are rocky. Solo polyamorists face shaming around false notions that we are incapable of commitment, afraid of intimacy, or closed off from meaningful connection. More than once, I have experienced someone else take the slightest imperfection in my relationship landscape and jump on that to say “Aha, see? your fault, you didn’t commit.” My honest sexuality has been painted as predatorial. My solo-ness been interpreted as a psychological fault. And I’m not the only one who has been stigmatised and ostracised because they don’t subscribe to relationship escalator expectations.

This is why we had a conference. To gather together a critical mass of solo polyamorists and see what could be generated in terms of affirming our relational choices and making our collective voices heard. This weekend was about being big, and making space.

I marvel at the diversity of experience that was present over the weekend. Unified in our desire for autonomy in the way we build relationships, and an aspiration for interdependence, we formed a very unique micro-community. It was delightful to connect in person with people I had gotten to know online, and people who were totally new to me, as well as deepening some existing connections with the local Solo Polyamory community.

The weekend was rich and wonderful. With unconference sessions on everything from Consent and Abuse, to “I can Unicorn if I Wanna!”, it was liberating to talk frankly about things too often stigmatised and silenced. I felt a letting go internally of the shame I’ve held around my not-so-great experiences in my journey as a solo polyamorist.

I had a very visceral experience of the power of creating a safe space for people to show up authentically. Getting to sit into being more a participant than organiser during most of Sunday, I feel an alchemy in action. I had tears rolling down my cheeks during Kim TallBear’s keynote on decolonising love; and the tears continued thru the day, with sharings raw and personal during breakout sessions, and feeling profoundly seen and supported in a web of kinship bound thru shared values and relatable experiences.

The closing circle was, for me, the most profound part of the weekend. In talking about our weekend highlights, one participant stood up to thank myself and co-producer Hannah Darvill for our organising, and the specific things said to me touched me in ways that I am wordless to express the full impact and significance of: that they were grateful for my peer-leadership, my role modelling of consent through the whole weekend, for the way I inspired and brought together so many while still sharing in raw and vulnerable ways. I cried again, in front of everyone. I’m still working on breathing into how deeply healing those words were.

18156567_10158651748435584_6701670662310936136_oI won’t ever be able to talk publicly about some parts of my personal journey, and the challenges therein. Suffice to say that those specific things (servant leadership, consent culture, empowering individuals within community) reflect values core to who I am, but are also values which have been called into question in the past. To hear that positive reflection from someone I so greatly admire, and to see the resonance with others around the room- that’s a moment I’d like to dip into again and again and again.

 

I started this article talking about sex.

SoloPolyCon was not about hooking up. It was about connections. And my weekend experience was punctuated by a connection rich with compelling chemistry. I’ve always found my connections with other solo polyamorists to move with less friction and more speed; maybe that’s got something to do with the shared value of autonomous intimacy. We speak the same language that dances between freedom and connection, and there’s a tremendous sense of ease for me in that.

Travis came up to me on the dance floor at our social mingler on the first evening and thanked me for something I’d said about us having a shared value of autonomy. My comment had been met with laughter and resonance, but he had found himself experiencing a strong emotional response to this. He said he’s been looking for his “people” for years, and when he saw everyone raising their hands for autonomy, he realised- here we were! We spent that first evening diving into deep conversation, which concluded with a kiss goodnight. 

I loved our autonomous and flirtatious interactions over the weekend, sometimes just a glimpse of eye contact or smirk at one another during sessions we were both in. At other times, a full on staring contest and radical honesty in conversation. Delightful. Mischievous. Unapologetic. I liked this guy! After so many months of wrestling with PTSD and struggling with feeling connected to my sexual expression, I celebrated my healing journey with sex that was bold, kinky and fulfilling. 

We had sex that was fearless. Where the voices that say “you’re not enough” and “you’re too much” were silent and I no longer had to do battle with or play prisoner to them. I didn’t have to force them into silence. They. Just. Weren’t. There.

After a steamy Saturday evening date we celebrated our autonomy once again: I headed out dancing, and he back to his airbnb.

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My counselor reflected to me that it’s rare to find healing in similar circumstances to where our wounding happened. Having felt wounded in sexual intimacy, and then again wounded in poly community, I feel profoundly grateful that this weekend I experienced healing both in one on one intimacy, and within the greater polyamorous community. I felt loved and welcomed for every inch of who I am, and in no moment did I feel a need to justify or defend myself. It’s all still sinking in, and I suspect it will take a while for the immensity of what was created this weekend- for everyone, not only me- to fully land.

My cup is so full, my body vibrating, and my heart bursting.

Someone had remarked to me earlier that a lot of ‘movers and shakers’ turn up to conferences like these. In that closing circle we talked about the highlights of the conference, and the ‘what now?’. I was so moved to see dozens of people step into positions of community leadership in answer to an invitation to action. I have tingles up and down my spine thinking about this.

Alone, we’re solo and isolated, and can too often think we are powerless, or ‘broken’. Together Independently, we are a movement of social change and advocates for autonomy within intimacy. Though we are still detoxing from the monogamy hangover, we are, all of us, Superheroes- with the ability to inspire and celebrate one another in big, meaningful, profound ways.

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Solo, Polyamorous, and Seeking Healthy Community

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

Abraham Maslow

We all have a need for consistency and community. What Abraham Maslow classified as ‘belongingness’ is one of our biggest sources of security. And,  while many individuals find this most commonly through partnership on the Relationship Escalator, Solo Polyamorists- who eschew the escalator model- look to their greater community and chosen family in order to meet that need for security and safety.

A big part of my journey in Solo Polyamory has been in seeking out that community and looking for ways to meet that need outside of an escalator relationship. The plural nature of polyamory lends itself well to this- at first glance, at least- with all the interconnected relations and interweaving of people. I, like many, have found myself at times falling into that old trope of “You’re poly, I’m poly, we have so much in common!” We don’t always choose the best family.

Just as one uses discernment — or not — when seeking out romantic, intimate, and sexual relationships, it would seem to make sense to also use that same discernment to choose carefully the community one engages with, right? However, as the saying goes, common sense is hardly common. Survival instincts can sometimes override common sense, and it is possible to settle with a close fit where the places of misalignment seem they can be tolerable.

There is most definitely a risk of falling into old patterns of habits and behaviors when choosing community.

Five years into it, and I reflect on how so much of my journey in Solo Polyamory has been about reclaiming a sense of independent identity. I grew up with mixed levels of security, and- for all my independent spirit- I struggled to find security as a young adult without a partnership. The conscious choice to do polyamory without a primary relationship was, in part, me challenging myself to step out of codependency habits and into an experience of interdependence.

I discovered that the long ingrained patterns of codependency still occasionally showed up within the survival-driven community-building I’ve endeavored to engage in. More recently I have found an ever clearer line between the relationships that feel nourishing and energizing, and the relationships which feel draining and depleting.

IMG_20161205_143322045This year so far has seen me diving into deep introspection around this. The cocooning winter hibernation has provided the perfect space for grounding into a deeper understanding of my self and what I need. I am someone who hasn’t experienced much security in my adult life, and many relationships- both romantic and social- have been ones that I’ve engaged in in part as a survival strategy, to build networks wherein I might find a safety net. And when I’ve found a dynamic that feels good, I’ve leaned in heavily, perhaps too much at times, in search of that security I crave.

But I have yet to really achieve that reliable safety net. So far what I’ve done hasn’t been working for me. 

I found it’s easy to fall into a trap of spending all one’s time trying to please others, out of a fear of potentially losing them if you don’t please them. But that’s putting the community before the individual, and when that happens, your individual health suffers.

When you put your self aside in order to please others, you aren’t honoring your individual needs and desires; you’re surrendering autonomy to the whims of others- and replacing an old co-dependency on one with a new co-dependency on many. And, it’s possible to go from reforming self identity to fit one partner’s expectations, to trying to fit a community’s expectation.

That can be healthy and empowering if the community is one formed of individuals who are engaging in self awareness and growth and celebrate diversity of individuality. It can be potent and liberating if the community embraces consent, compassion, empathy and forgiveness. However, if a community is mired in draining, limiting, fear-based behaviors, if the community lacks cohesiveness in shared values or tolerates abusive behaviors, it may end up generating new self-identities that limit self expression and freedom. It’s easy to feel small in that. And when people allow themselves to be small in their own lives, that’s when they might experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

And yes, I speak from my own experience here.

When people appear to be something other than good and decent, it is only because they are reacting to stress, pain, or the deprivation of basic human needs such as security, love, and self-esteem.

Abraham Maslow

So what do we solo polyamorists do?

For us who are polyamorous and queer, our family may not be a source of security. For many of us who are solo, we don’t necessarily experience our romantic and sexual relationships as the most grounded source of connection in our lives; the communities we choose are often fluid and changeable themselves.

My recent experiences have led me to believe it is paramount to figure out the compatibility between one’s self, and a community of friendship- whether that is entangled with one’s polycule, or not. Do your core values align? How do you deal with conflict? And- to what degree are people able to be independent in their relationships?

I’m examining this in many areas of relating in my life. It’s important to note that I’m not deeming a person (or group) to be toxic, but rather, the dynamic that exists between people- which they both participate in- that can be draining. ‘Toxicity’, while being an evocative and charged description I sometimes lean on, is really a judgement and story about a feeling, one which often comes with finger pointing and blame. 

When we use the word toxic to describe how we feel about something, we judge that feeling. Instead, consider that any number of people (including yourself) can play into a relationship becoming toxic. What’s more, there’s the possibility that a dynamic can change when the people in the relationship change their behavior; very nourishing connections can become draining, and likewise draining connections can once again become nourishing.

“The longer you are in an echo chamber the shittier your coping skills become.”
~ Paul Verge

So what do we do? In the echo-chambers of sub-culture communities, how can you tell the difference between the draining, ‘toxic’ dynamics, and the ones that are nourishing? Here’s my checklist for evaluating a relationship dynamic, be it with a person, or a community:

snake-mamba-green-mamba-toxic-38268Signs this relationship dynamic might currently be Draining for me:

  • I make a lot of excuses for this person’s behaviour.
  • I experience feeling exhausted/drained/tired/lethargic in their company or after spending time with them.
  • I perceive that I seem to be doing a lot of the emotional heavy lifting in this relationship.
  • I don’t feel that this person appreciates what I do.
  • This person seems to have a lot of ‘drama’ in them and around them.
  • I’m afraid to confront this person because of their possible reaction (but I’m not afraid of confrontation in general).
    I feel really lost and abandoned if this person isn’t communicating with me.
  • Communication with this person seems to be very one way.
  • Communication with this person seems to be limited in topic range.
  • I don’t feel I can be totally myself with this person, I need to pretend some things about me are different, or hide some aspect of myself.
  • I feel like the ideas this person holds onto are stuck in an echo chamber, and they resist considering alternative perspectives.
  • I feel like I need to make myself ‘small’ in order to please this person, or at least, not anger them.

 

Signs this relationship dynamic is currently Energising for me:

  • I have no fear in talking to or approaching this person.
  • We make our way through difficult conversations without escalating conflict between us.
  • I feel heard and appreciated by this person.
  • I experience two way communication with this person.
  • I am excited for this person to meet other friends, and for friends to meet them.
  • I feel energised, refreshed, possibly inspired, after my interactions with this person.
  • We are able to mutually hold emotional space for one another.
  • We talk about and explore many different topics together.
  • I don’t feel a need to hide any part of myself, I can be totally authentic.
  • I feel like I can present alternative ideas and perspectives to this person without being shut down or shut out.
  • I feel very empowered by this dynamic, and I notice the other person also feels this way.

I read something recently about being in an abusive relationship. One of the questions posed was, “Do you find yourself making excuses for, or justifying, your partner’s harmful behaviour?” I look at this question in the framing of my relationships, and I can see how, in about half of the most compelling relationships I have been in, I’ve taken steps to defend or justify a partner’s hurtful behaviour towards others. This pulls me into some serious self-examination around why I feel the need to defend hurtful behaviour- and what boundaries do I need to consider in future relationships whereby I won’t find myself doing so again?

So, what do you do when you realise a dynamic is no longer fulfilling? There’s many things. Here’s a few that have been working for me:

Strategies for Shifting from Draining To Energising:

  • Check in with your core needs and desires– are they being met, and if not, what could you do to refocus on them?
  • Create boundaries that are loving and compassionate, that nourish your needs and create spaces where you feel energised.
  • Take a time out from the dynamic to allow for recalibration.
  • Examine what your core values are, and consider how you could bring them to life in your day-to-day world more.
  • Diversify your social circle.
  • Spend time doing things you love and invite people in your life to join you doing them.

No matter how great the sex is (or has been), no relationship is worth tolerating a draining, unfullfilling dynamic in the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of the relationship- and my inner good girl has defended one too many people who ended up doing me more harm than good.

I’ve learned that the longer we tolerate relationships that don’t feed and inspire our spirits and hearts, the more weighed down we feel. Solo polyamorists need their communities as a core element of security, stability and anchoring in their lives- not just as an emergency survival strategy, but as a long term relationship- and we each deserve to find communities of friends and lovers who will respect our independent spirits, and hold us steady through the rough times.

For me, I’m on my way. I’m excited for 2017 becoming the year where I redefine how I relate to the communities I’ve participated in, and choose to engage with. I’m stoked for the new boundaries I’m creating that make space for me to show up fully. The biggest piece: I realised I can’t keep playing small in order to make others feel better: I’m here to love in big ways, and invite everyone to join me in being big and bold in the ways they love. And perhaps, if we can all love in big and bold ways, we’ll grow a community with much deeper roots, stronger foundations, and dynamics that enrich and enliven us all.

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Keeping Up With The Joneses

8e5bec20-1613-0134-24c3-0e1b1c96d76bI love Bridget Jones.

If I had to pick three fictional characters I most closely resemble, she’s at the top of my list.

For a chronically single 20-year-old at theatre school in London, Bridget Jones’s Diary spoke to my soul. The awkward, granny-panty wearing, overweight singleton, was the first representation of a grown woman in media I genuinely identified with. Her self reflective journaling is an unabashed lense on her world; the book was a homage to loving — and being loved for — our messy, imperfect selves.

I identified with Bridget’s constant confusion in matters of the heart, and her distaste of “smug married couples,” her desire to prioritize her friends over lovers, and her determination to define herself on her own terms, not by the relationship she was in.

I had bought into the fear of singledom, though, and at 22 married the first man I had a serious relationship with, afraid of ending up in my mid 30s, single, miserable, alone, writing in my journal, wearing granny panties.

Well, today, I’m 34, divorced, writing in my blog, and wearing granny panties. And life is good.

I took myself out for a self date tonight. It’s a little ritual I’ve fallen out of practice with. There’s something delightful about treating myself to the kind of experience I once expected from — no, pined for — from a boyfriend. I was curious: in the decade since the last Bridget Jones movie, I’d been married, miscarried twice, and now lived as a solo and polyamorous woman making her way as an entrepreneur and writer. Bridget’s life would have changed in the intervening years too, and I wondered how her path compared to mine.

I won’t give you any major spoilers, on the off chance you do go see Bridget Jones’ Baby, where our heroine once again finds herself torn on the choice between two men. However, I squealed out loud half way through when she uttered the word “polyamorous.”

One of the fictional characters who inspired my chosen form of relationships, just said the word to describe those relationships — and in a mainstream movie no less! Did I hear that right?

Media is changing. We are at a tipping point, and there’s no going back.

bridget-jones-gallery-06As I watched Bridget progress through pregnancy, uncertain of who the father was, I saw the new paradigm begin to shine through. I saw a portrayal of two men in competition for a woman grow kinship instead of rivalry, and even express compersion in the midst of jealousy. I watched an exploration of the possibility of non-traditional family, and I smiled because Bridget beamed as she watched the two men become the closest of friends.

Alas, the movie only hinted at polyamory, and while I’d like to think it helped set the stage for more unconventional storylines in the rom-coms of tomorrow, for Ms. Jones, polyamory was not to be.

It turns out Bridget went up the relationship Escalator after all, albeit in an unconventional manner, stumbling up and down (which isn’t surprising, considering her penchant for stumbling through important moments).

Meanwhile, here I am, firmly living a life bohemian and unconventional. While Bridget finally got the recognition she wanted through the relationship legitimacy she craved, I’m content to remain Solo: sharing love with my friends and my partners, no intention of childbearing. I’m a little more graceful perhaps than I was at 20, but hopefully I still have that awkward charm, loving the mess and imperfections of my life — and of course, my granny panties. I feel a small victory, being the single woman in my 30s, alone in the cinema, watching my heroine step out of her spinsterhood and onto the Relationship Escalator. I didn’t have to choose between Darcy and the other man, and the other, other man. I date them all!

I can’t help but wonder what’s next for Bridget. I have my fingers secretly crossed, that she’ll wake up one day and, true to her fiercely independent nature, realise she doesn’t need a partner to complete her. Maybe she’ll read a blog about a young divorced woman in Canada, and realise that she can be free and date and have sex with whomever there exists mutual consent, and she could actually have the best of all worlds, and not have to choose between her many male loves any more, whilst also firmly avoiding the trap of becoming part of a smug married couple.

Bridget Jones’ Polyamory? Ha. Maybe. 

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All images are from Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones’s Baby, by Miramax, Studio Canal, Working Pictures, and Universal Studios, based on the character by Helen Fielding. Please go see the movie: http://www.bridgetjonesmovie.com/

Tolerating Trauma

I am tolerating my trauma.

As I sit down to write, anticipating the next session of the Good Girl Recovery Program, and reflecting on how my life has changed since I first took it three years ago, I realise: I am tolerating my trauma.

We look at tolerance in the program. A Tolerance is often a symptom of our Good Girl being in charge. Being ‘good’ often means tolerating things we don’t like, and the feeling that we can’t do anything about them.

I have been tolerating my trauma.

I don’t much like my trauma. It surrounds me, some days like a wall of steel, other days like an amorphous blob of goo. I love the days when I forget it’s there: days filled with forming new, happy, joyful memories, and nights spent feeling safe in my body, and safe in a lover’s arms. The other days though, the days when that barrier appears, and I am straight jacketed back into seclusion and fear — I don’t much like those days.

408562534_60cf923a09_zI tolerate the effect it has on me. I tolerate the terror that bubbles up when I try to express my sexuality with women, a fear that causes me to freeze from the inside out. I tolerate that second-guessing in my head every time someone gives me a compliment about who I am or what I do. I tolerate fear living inside of me — fear that the ones who gaslight me are right.

I am so done with tolerating my trauma.

It starts, unnoticed, like a pebble in your shoe, that discomfort you can’t quite pinpoint, but that irks you all the same. As you walk, it becomes noticeable. The more you walk, the more noticeable it becomes until finally you pull the shoe off and see the bloody hole in your sock where your skin has broken, given in to the repeated annoyance. I couldn’t stop to let the wounds heal. There were things to be done, places to be reached. I put that shoe on and soldiered forward.

I have been tolerating the pain.

The irony of these tolerances is that this all began when I tolerated disrespect of my body. I was silent about my sovereignty when I could have been far more vocal, far more articulate about my boundaries — both physical and emotional. I tolerated them being crossed over and over, by more than one person. I’ve done that my whole life in an effort to ‘be good’ and ‘fit in’. Tolerating disrespect of my body and my voice cost me dearly.

I have been tolerating my mistakes.

At night I sit sometimes next to my journal, but I don’t write. I’m afraid to record these thoughts in any way, scared that if I re-read them, I will chisel them into my psyche. I wonder, what if the un-named whispers are right? What if I stand in my community an imposter, a pretender, someone not deserving of this world? What if I am some ticking timebomb of Danger, the solo polyamorous anarchist slut, the unpredictable, unpartnered, unaccountable, waiting to explode chaos onto the world — or their world, at least?

I have been tolerating a community’s abuse of me, their dismissal of my voice, and of my experience.

I don’t need to tolerate these things any more.

I can do something about my tolerances.

I take steps to heal my trauma.

courage-1197366_960_720In gratitude, I work with therapists, bodyworkers, sexological workers, somatic healers, and more. I float. I begin to feel safer in my body, comfortable again in my own skin. The nightmares no longer wake me at night. I can relax in both solitude and company.

In love, I begin to experience my sexuality in new ways, different ways than before. My partners hold space for my orgasms of tears as much as the orgasms of laughter. They listen to my body. We move together, breathe together, heal together. I am in awe of these men.

In service, I look to explore community. I cannot be blind to the inescapable pedestalling, but I can look to serve, and offer what gifts I have to those who would ask, and invite them in. I stand strong and ask for my right to space in each group that invites me to dance. With shield raised, but sword lowered, I let it be known I wish no fight, only to participate and share. Some, kindly, listen, and let me in. I find myself tolerating the avoidant silences of others.

In community, I build stronger roots. No longer a career nomad, nor shackled to the idea of permanent impermanence of friendships, I seek sisterhood, I seek kinship, I seek family — and I find it. I desire to know these humans, and for them to know me, in our deepest, raw truths. I heal, through my community.

In integrity, I prostrate myself before the roots of my trauma. I seek to honour the teachers they have been, and to find a path of peace, not war. I recognise the tragic expressions of unmet needs we have all made — both myself, and others — and ask what do we need to heal?

As I write these words, I feel relief. The releasing of what has been tolerated opens a door to new joy, and in this generous space of possibility, a life that could be well worth living for.

I choose, not to be Good, but to be Kind.

I had tolerated being good and it made me mad and angry. I choose to change that. Not to act out of obligation and expectation of what I ‘should’ do, but rather, to move from my heart, to act from compassion — both for myself, and for others. Moving out of a space of tolerance is not so much a question of “what’s good for me?” rather it is “what would the kindest choice be?”

And in such kindness, I receive from myself, what I tolerated a lack of from others: a compassionate embrace, gratitude for what is, forgiveness for what I wish was not, and hope for a kinder tomorrow.

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Whose Ethics Are They Anyway?

I have a confession to make. I’ve been quiet about this for some time. I’ve a problem with “Ethical Non Monogamy”.

Specifically, my problem is the terminology.

Ethical. What’s ethical? I ask myself.

Ethics are defined as morals, as the right/wrong, good/bad code of conduct adopted by a group of people, often determined by their cultural or religious teachings. That means that ethics are variable across the world. Ethics are subjective guidelines, whose application can vary situationally and contextually. And, they can often come into conflict.

5920131438198Consider the differing moral codes of Islam and Modern Western Society, for example, and all the many conflicts that arise from that. Someone raised Muslim, of Muslim faith, may have no qualms with a man having multiple wives, something that many in Western Christian culture would find abhorrent. The modern western embrace of gay marriage as a human right is, similarly, seen as abhorrent to many of the Islamic Faith.

So, I’ve got a moral dilemma over defining my non-monogamy as “ethical”.

There’s a plethora of articles on the internet examining the ethics of non-monogamy. In fact, it seems like the vast majority of discussion and rhetoric available online- and in print- on the subject of polyamory is devoted to debate of the ethics and morals.

That’s understandable, I think. When life long monogamous matrimony has for so long been held up as The Moral Standard in the globally dominant white-settler-centric culture, the number one fear that many hold around challenging that structure is that it might mean losing one’s sense of morals and ethics. The implication, especially from more conservative elements, is that being non monogamous is synonymous with being an immoral and unethical person. And so, when there can be fear of judgement and internalised shame around being non-monogamous, it is no wonder that so much bandwidth is given over to the discussion of the polyamorous ethical code.

However, the dominant voices in that discussion have begun to take on a ‘poly-er than thou’ tone, attempting to police the definitions of non monogamous relationships with projections of their own personal ethics onto others. When we as a community find ourselves in the position where individuals are taking on the job of drafting the moral code which we are all expected to follow- or be shunned for not following- we begin to tread dangerously into the territory of dogma and religion.

High_sparrow_blood_of_my_bloodI’m a firm believer that it’s the people involved in the relationship that get to mutually decide between them how that relationship is explored, defined, and evolves. Maybe this is diving into a rabbit hole of philsophical and political thought here: I see dictating ethics and imposing one’s own morality is what the White Christian settlers did when they arrived in the Americas. That led to genocide and cultural erasure, leading in turn to generations of oppression and trauma. I am a non-Christian settler to North America, of ancestry (Irish, Greek, Roma) that knows too well of the trauma involved in having another’s cultural values and ethics superimposed with an iron fist. And so, I’m averse to someone else dictating their own ethics and projecting them as ethics for all of us to follow. Each of us has our own values, our own personal moral code, formed from the cultures we grew up in, the life experiences we have had, and the life choices we make now. Assuming that our individual ethics need to apply to everyone is oppressive. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Rather than get into a debate over whether hierarchies and such can be ethical, I’d like to propose that many of these discussions are missing the point:

In ANY kind of relationship structure- be it monogamous or not, hierarchical, egalitarian, anarchic or otherwise- you can behave like a jerk, or you can behave like a decent human being.

I’m an anarchist, a celebrator of individuality and personal autonomy. I don’t want to do the thing that I’m critiquing others of, and tell you now what you should be doing, or not doing. I think everyone has the right to choose, define, and articulate what works for them, without imposing it (by force or by implication) on others. What I’d like to do is invite you to consider what might be cool, or uncool, actions in healthy relationships, whatever your relationship styles are.

goose

Canadian geese are jerks.

Some Things that are Uncool To Do In Relationships:

  • Abuse others- verbally, physically, emotionally.
  • Manipulate (Coerce others to doing what you want them to do).
  • Gaslight (Make others feel responsible for something you did, ignoring your own responsibility.)
  • Ignore your partners’ wants, desires, and nos.
  • Ignore the needs, desires and nos of others involved in your relational landscape.
  • Stone wall/ghost (ie give the silent treatment).
  • Ignoring one’s own privileges and/or levels of positional power within the relationship.
  • Blame others for how you are feeling without giving space for dialogue and resolution.
  • Expecting other people to “just know” you (telepathy).

Some Things that are Cool To Do In Relationships:

  • Listen to what your partner’s needs, wants, desires, and nos are.
  • Express your own needs, wants, desires and nos.
  • Be compassionate and considerate of the needs, desires, and nos of all people involved in your relational landscape.
  • Respect each individual’s personal autonomy and individual right to make informed choices.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Have courageous conversations, even if the outcome might not be what you want.
  • Acknowledge your privileges and/or levels of positional power within each relationship.
  • Take responsibility for the effects of your actions.
  • Work on knowing your own self.

What I’m getting at here isn’t so much about subjective ethics, as it is about honesty, and full transparency in relationships. It’s about having personal integrity first and foremost as the foundation of your relationships: knowing one’s self, and engaging in such a way as to know others. Curiosity to understand the motivations of others, and how their own values and ethics might differ from yours, can be a valuable quality to nurture.

My invitation to you is this: as you continue to sift through the many volumes of literature (in print or on screen) devoted to non-monogamy, whenever you notice the debate begin to dive into Ethics, consider: whose Ethics are these? Very often, they are the ones of the writers, ones that are invariably coming from the cultural context and personal experience of the writers. This doesn’t make them wrong or invalid. It’s just good to keep in mind that, as one friend of mine might say, your own mileage might vary. You may have values, ethics, and personal morals that differ from others- and that is okay. I encourage you to read the writings of non-white people on polyamory- writers like Michon Neal and The Critical Polyamorist– read the writings of asexual, non-coupled, and queer polyamorists. Take the time to imbibe contrasting ideas and thoughts! Let’s get outside the box of projecting one cultural subset of ethics onto the whole spectrum of non-monogamy, and let’s start defining things in a way that one doesn’t need a course in ethics to understand them.

I prefer the term Honest Non Monogamy, and I invite you to use that term too.

Polyamory, Trauma, and Unmet Needs: Facing the Hydra

hercules-hydra2

Trauma
The result of experiences that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope.

I want to share something very personal with you- and I’m scared. I’m nervous that people may read this and project themselves into the story. I’m afraid that people’s own trauma might be triggered by this. What I hope is that sharing this very personal thing might help me find some healing- and perhaps, if you’ve been through something similar, it might help you find some healing to know that you are not alone. So, here goes.

There’s a story from my matrilineal ancestors in Ancient Greece, of the demigod hero Heracles- son of Zeus- who faces the Hydra, a giant multi-headed serpent with venomous blood who has terrorised villages. Heracles uses his sword to cut off one of the serpent’s heads- but in its place grow two new heads, and when he cut off one of those, two heads more. Heracles fights with futility against the serpent who spawns exponentially more heads for each that are severed, and grows more venomous and more monstrous as the battle wages on. Realising he cannot win the battle alone, Heracles calls for help from his nephew, who holds a torch to each severed stump to prevent new heads from growing, and thus through the power of sword and fire, Hydra is defeated.

In Mythological symbolism, the Hydra was seen to be the embodiment of the archetype of the venomous feminine. Raised by quick-to-jealousy goddess Hera, her entire purpose was to kill and destroy Heracles, and prevent his possible ascension to Mount Olympus. Joseph Campbell would identify this part of the Heraclean legend as part of the Road of Trials in his Hero’s Journey. An arduous, almost impossible task, that makes him stronger and teaches him the strength he will need in order to triumph in a future challenge.

shattered glassI have this crucible, this road of trials that I traverse. Some time ago, something happened to me that was not okay- not for my body, nor my psyche. It haunted me, raged in my dreams, and drove me to build walls between myself and others. I’ve been ‘brave’ to process through this- and to do so privately and silently whilst elsewhere a different story is spun has been one of the most painful experiences of my life, an experience that has taken me to the precipice of a darkness and hopelessness in myself that I do not ever wish to see again. My hope is that by sharing something of what I have held silent, that perhaps I may find ease.

My crucible is the quest for peace with my own personal Hydra- a many headed serpent formed from both the inner and outer mechanisms in my life that continue to fuel an experience of compounding trauma.

“As soon as you concern yourself with the “good” and “bad” of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weakens and defeats you.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

The proverbial Hydra I fight appeared in my life some time ago now. The catalyst for it was a sexual experience. For the first few weeks, I existed in a state of confusion, almost like I wasn’t in my body. My dreams were filled with flashbacks I couldn’t understand, I found it challenging to engage sexually unless I was intoxicated. I don’t remember now what my outward behaviour was like at this time- it’s a blur- but friends noticed I was behaving differently, irrationally. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, and that my life was unravelling and I couldn’t comprehend why. Slowly, with the support of friends, lovers, therapists and counsellors, I began to piece together an understanding of what had happened to me, and I exploded with rage and sorrow.

There are no ‘villains’ in this. Only, as one friend might put it, a series of painfully tragic expressions of unmet needs.

I was so embarrassed by the rage I felt; I thought I had made so much progress in finding my inner Zen until then. I was chastised by some for my anger- couldn’t I see how much it was hurting the other people who had been in that situation with me? I felt like I was losing my mind; I asked for space, and I asked for help- but I didn’t know what would help me, other than finding space away from everyone and everything that was associated with that experience. Sleeping at night meant relying on pills and sometimes alcohol to numb my mind that couldn’t let go of the screams I was suppressing.

I was ashamed of myself, of my inability to cope with this new experience. I sunk into the depths of depression, a cavern I still work on escaping from. I worked hard to give my sorrow healthy expression through my writing, and others told me this replaying things in my mind all the time was not going to help. So I suppressed the sorrow, I isolated myself, I silenced myself in the hopes of finding peace- I tried to cut off the head of the Hydra… and it grew two more.

shadowsEven today, after months of processing through this, my body feels heavy and foreign to me as I write, and my hands shake and vibrate with emotion as I sob from this deep heartache. I have cocooned to find healing, to defeat this Hydra through my own self-work, and many times I have courageously emerged from that cocoon only to find that it has grown more venemous in my absence.

Something I have grown weary of in polyamory is the insular nature of the community. As a friend puts it, “In Monogamy, if I have a bad break up, or an iffy one night stand, I can just wipe the slate clean and start fresh with someone new, and move on with my life, processing what happened at my own pace.” In polyamory- the community being smaller, and the relationships being frequently interwoven- this is not so straightforward; the same people show up again, and again. One either needs to find a way to coexist peacefully through the painful emotions, or withdraw completely from an entire social network in order to retreat from an individual.

This is one of the shadow sides of polyamory that doesn’t get the air-time it deserves: as much as the interconnecting relationships can foster connections and offer a sense of community, when you withdraw to look after yourself, all of that can change. Those connections can so quickly drop away as everyone moves on with their lives, dating new people- and while you are withdrawn in your emotional safety zone, projections and stories and hurt feelings grow in the void. There is all the cliqueiness of high school, alongside all the more complex conflict that can emerge between grown adults.

love-heart-love-feeling-girl-wings-sunset-freedom-sky-horizonMy brave, brave heart is so tired and seeks rest, seeks peace. There are well-meaning, kind souls who wish to help, who wish to support healing, but with my own voice having been silent, they’ve had no means of knowing the hurt, the sorrow, the life-arresting and emotionally paralyzing trauma that I’ve been through.

There are moments when the discordant anger I feel is overwhelming- and I write and work harder at what I do, because I don’t want to let the anger win. I refuse to let the anger- or the trauma- become the defining feature of who I am. And, while I haven’t wanted to ‘burden’ others with my pain or my story, in recent months I’ve been learning the deep value of being vulnerable and allowing my emotional state to be seen.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”

~Sun Tsu,  The Art of War

I’m afraid sometimes. I’m scared that people will think differently of me if I let go of my silence and share openly about my experience. I’m concerned my friends will try to take on the fight for me, to hold that flame to the Hydra’s body, and put themselves in harm’s way. I don’t want to let anger dictate my actions; I know what it’s like to be a slave to it and lash out at others. I don’t desire to be that person. But I also know that I can’t fight this Hydra- and find lasting healing- alone any more.

Too often in relationships we compromise, walk the other way, withdraw ourselves from the places that might hold land-mines for us- but compromise isn’t peace. I realise now that one of the biggest mistakes I made in my life was compromising my own commitment to my self: ignoring red flags, forgiving deal breakers, falling into fantasies of polyamorous perfection, and not being firm when my boundaries were repeatedly bumped up against- and, continuing to come back because I thought, in some twisted way, forgiving those actions meant connection, and symbolised Love. I compromised in an attempt to ‘keep everyone happy’ and maintain the status quo.

I’m sure there are many people in my life I have rubbed the wrong way. I’m certain that the very nature of who I am and how I do relationships has put people on edge- including other polyamorous people. I seek to live my life courageously and authentically, and I’m fortunate to make my home in a part of the world where that is possible, and where there is wider acceptance of alternate lifestyles. I know, however, there will still be people who will judge, who will misunderstand me- whether it’s my polyamory, my queerness, my ethnic heritage, my cultural background, my physical limitations, my trauma- we all project our own stories onto others, and there is little I can do to change that. Instead, what I am able to do is to seek kindness and compassion in myself, to nurture my emotional muscles for empathy, and to send love to those whose words and actions have (intentionally or unintentionally) brought about more hurt for me.

I believe in a culture of consent and for me, that’s synonymous with a culture of compassion, nurturance, and empathy.

friendship

There’s so much in this that I still hold back on speaking to, out of respect for the pain of others, the trauma that can be triggered when such things are spoken of. Even in those lowest moments when the stress and anxiety has drawn me to contemplate how I could end my life, I’ve made a choice to be silent and to spare others from pain- yet in silence others can project their own pain in a myriad of ways, and truth can seem to evaporate.

I choose to not react from a place that would be oppressive. In any challenge such as this, we have a choice: to go to war, or to go to peace. I don’t have to live from my pain and my anger. Though they are a part of me, so too are kindness, love, and compassion, and so I choose to live from those. That choice is a daily one, one I’m admittedly not always effective at playing out, but this is the choice that has helped me to find healing.

In my youth I realised that the  ‘bullies’ who would push me around at school were people who were hurting too, and didn’t have help to understand and heal from their pain. I still believe this to be true. Anyone inadvertently crossing boundaries and shirking responsibility is hurting, a victim of a society that tells us its acceptable to cross boundaries and shirk responsibility. Anyone lashing out in anger and bitterness is a person in deep pain; the target of their venom is often not even the root cause of their anguish. They might try so hard to pull down and destroy others, only to find their hurt magnified. They need our love, our compassion, and our support for healing the deeper wounds they carry.

I haven’t yet ‘defeated’ my Hydra. My healing journey continues. I acknowledge the very real, very destabilizing effect this has had on my life, the opportunities and invitations I have had to turn down because I haven’t had the internal resources to face anything beyond my bedroom walls. Many who see me may only see the shiney happy side of me, and not the consistent storm that leaves me feeling so often lost. Those dear few whom I have trusted to hold space for my breakdowns, they reflect back to me the courage they see, that they witness someone able to face life challenges with conscious determination. I hold hope that one day, I will find lasting peace against this Hydra.

We all have a choice. You have a choice, in whatever battles you find yourself fighting, the Hydras you duel in your own lives, in your own relationships: you have a choice. Please don’t sink into a stalemate of silence; it doesn’t allow an opening for peace. Please don’t rage at the serpents heads with swords; you will only cause more pain. Peace is the only way everyone can heal. And that means addressing each piece of the pain, one by one, and cauterizing the wound so that no more pain can grow. That, takes time. It takes patience. It takes asking a friend (or friends) for help.

bravery

The Slut, The Witch, and the Solo Poly Woman

“Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”

~
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

There is so much that has been written, and so much yet to find expression, in the lives of those who have been raised as women. For centuries, being born with a uterus has meant being locked into being nurturing, polite, gentle. Women have always sought to break out of those limitations, and dared to ask to be seen for more than their breasts, their sex appeal, or their procreative abilities. We ask to be known for our intelligence, our personalities, our integrity, our insight, our wildness, and our strength. This is the timeless journey to find “the great woman”, and there are many expressions of who the Great Woman can be.

I wish to share something of my own journey in this.

Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.

~ from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

There is implied trust of the partner of someone who is well liked and trusted. Whether conscious of it or not, we form opinions of people that are often informed by our opinions of the people they are in relationships with, and our perceptions of the interactions in those relationships. Without visible partnerships and relationships- which can happen both to Solo Polyamorous individuals, as well as individuals who need to keep their relationships secret (which can be for a variety of reasons)- opinions can grow through a kind of tunnel vision, where we are never able to witness the other facets of a person’s character and integrity.

growing togetherThere are many things I miss about being ‘coupled’, many moments I wish I had a nesting or primary-like partner: when I want to check in about someone new I’m seeing, or need to talk about something I’ve experienced. There is absolutely a void there, one that I seek to fill through my friendships, and by gently inviting partners into that space as our relationships allow.

Whereas coupledom offers a mechanism where someone can say, “Hey, your partner was out of line there”, or even allow someone to call their own partner in, the uncoupled person has the potential to be a source of chaos- and sometimes, it’s true, they are- because there’s no fail-safe accountability system that is immediately obvious. And, as human beings, we have learned to be suspicious of individuals who don’t have someone to hold them accountable, encourage them to apologize for their mistakes, or support them to own their actions, even when they’ve made poor choices.

In honest non monogamous relationships it can be tricky to balance the individual requests for privacy, with requests for transparency from other partners. With no primary partner to be accountable to, I’ve lived my relationships with a particular degree of openness, allowing my close friends and partners to take the place of that accountability normally handed to one person only. Blogging about my experiences has been one way of offering myself with accountability, but it certainly hasn’t been the only way. I’ve learned to be less impulsive in my actions, and to temper my passions with patience. I trust the people around me to let me know if I’ve acted out of line. And, I ask my partners and my friends to trust me, as I allow my life to be a little more transparent than most

But trust is hard. Trust is not easy. Everyone’s had experiences of trust being broken. And so, some people are looked on by society as more of a risk, more of a threat than others.

I’m recently finding myself confronted with a level of Judgement I hadn’t experienced before. Perhaps it is something emerging as I age and my grey hairs become more populous. Maybe it’s that I continue to stay Solo and uncoupled through the years, committed to my single-hood in many ways. When I began this blog, and at every step of the growth of my path as a Relationship Coach, I have noticed that many have felt challenged by my singleishness personally, and by the idea of Solo Polyamory in general. I was fortunate to find many like minds, and form networks of support through social media, and very quickly felt that I was not alone. However, I live in a bubble of solo-support.

I ask myself, what is it that I’m feeling, that I’m labelling as ‘judgement’? Perhaps it’s fear? Fear that I, as a solo, polyamorous individual, might secretly try to “cowboy” someone’s beloved, rope them off from the herd, and seek to make them my monogamous or primary partner?

Maybe there is a fear because, as a solo individual, I don’t appear to be answerable or accountable to anyone. The kinds of agreements that help a primary couple in their path to opening up are not ones that I have to make with any partners. I don’t need to make a check in call or let my partners know before I have sex with someone new (though, I do choose to keep them up to date, and let them know if I can when sex with someone new to me might be a possibility). That can bring up anxiety around sexual health and safety, and I get that. But at the same time, I’m forthright in my relationships about operating on a system of trust: trust that my partners will disclose everything I need to know about their sexual health, and asking them to trust that I will do the same.

The very thing that others can be suspicious of Solo people for, is often the very reason we are Solo: a strong desire to preserve our individual sovereignty.

“For me being solo poly seems to have made me aware of just how much ownership I have over myself. That no one, even if I am dating them, has ownership of me or control of my actions (except in the sense that we have agreed on something or negotiated it). It’s lovely to be “free” to just be.” ~Catherin, Solo polyamorist

The Harlot

slutA few months ago I started doing work with a coach, examining archetypal energies, looking at past traumas, approaching his work on an energetic and experiential level. When we were looking at my archetypes, one that stood out, was the Harlot

A Man and One Man at that, is what women are supposed to want. So, women for whom this isn’t of interest have traditionally been treated with suspicion. You only have to read the horrific stories of how lesbians are routinely treated in South Africa and hundreds of other cultures to see how women who don’t base their lives around men are viewed as a threat to the social order. Or look at the rampant slut-shaming of any woman in history who has ever dared to suggest she enjoys sex, or can have it without love, or can enjoy it with multiple partners, or is happy to sell it.”

~Catherine “Chas” Scott 

This archetype reading has really stuck with me, and offered me a new framing to understand how I, a solo polyamorous woman in my mid 30s, can be perceived by the world.

The socially accepted path for a woman today is far more liberal than the expectations held of our mothers and foremothers. A woman can date around through her teens and twenties, but there is an expectation that she will, eventually, find a partner to settle and nest with, and perhaps have children with. She is encouraged to find her sexual empowerment during her dating years, and can continue to have a sexually rich life through her years of marriage, and become a loving, nurturing mother.

Women in nesting partnerships who open their relationships consensually are perceived as doing so with support and agreements with their partners (ideally) and so the sexual freedom that open relating can offer manifests through a funnel of clear accountability. The safety zone created by being coupled, makes this woman’s sexual empowerment safer, perceived to be tempered by her partner.

While a sexually empowered solo man is often deemed a ‘player’, an archetype sometimes celebrated, the only framework we have for understanding the sexually empowered solo woman is as a slut, a whore- the harlot.

“Recently I’ve been subject to what I feel is, if not downright slut-shaming, then at least some pretty harsh judgement by other women due to my fairly sexually open persona. What I perceive in those women is projection of their own insecurities, possibly also jealousy that I’m unafraid to admit that I’m attracted to more than one man, and ultimately a need to police other women’s behaviour and desires because I represent a threat to this starvation economy, where Men are the ultimate prize, and Other Women are our competitors for that prize. I find it kind of amusing, if I’m honest, but it’s also pretty sad. “

~Catherine “Chas” Scott 

 

spice girls 2

The Spice Girls: sexually empowered women celebrated in their 20s, but shunned in their 30s.

The unwed and solo woman, empowered in her sovereignty- including, but not limited to, empowerment in her sexual and sensual expressions- is terrifying to society. I don’t think it’s that she is fundamentally scary; I think it’s because she embodies the antithesis of the accepted order of things.

Take the stigma of being a woman, and add to that the stigma of being a sexually forward woman, who articulates her desires, a ‘slut’ if you like. But a slut is no longer a slut if she is coupled, owned, tamed. She can be a slut when she is in her twenties, fresh and exploring.

The slut who remains unowned, untamed, beholden seemingly to only herself beyond her 20s- that’s terrifying. She is an unknown variable, a ‘witch’ of seduction.

Solo polyamorous women in their 30s, 40s, and older, have faced all kinds of discrimination and shaming- from employers to family members, to complete strangers. People question “Well, what’s wrong with you?” when they learn that you are not interested in marriage, and not desiring to have children. “Why are you afraid of commitment?” come the well intentioned inquiries. Doctors and other medical professionals profess “Oh, you’ll change your mind about having children eventually.”

The Witch and the Crone

witchThe desire to not have children, for me, is not just from my own miscarriages, but also arises when I see dear friends surrendering dreams to their children to make manifest for them, some two decades from now. While my desire to be unshackled by legal wedlock was born from seven years living in default monogamy and sinking into co-dependance within that, the commitment to stay unwed and without bearing children of my own has grown from a very real desire to focus my energy and time on other endeavours.

In ancient societies, an older woman who dedicated her life to disseminating the wisdom of the community, who could speak up with boldness, was seen as the Crone- a perhaps mysterious elder to be respected.

But if a younger woman grew into her Crone-hood before her hairs were grey and while her libido still hummed, a woman who was perhaps childless yet passionate- she was labelled a Witch.

“The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise. They commune with nature/ Spirit/God/dess/Choose-your-own-semantics, freely, and free of any mediator. But most importantly: they make things happen. The best definition of magic I’ve been able to come up with is “symbolic action with intent” — “action” being the operative word. Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world.”

~ Pamela J. Grossman

I never fully appreciated it until now, how much my body would change in my 30s. How much my energy levels would shift, and the extent to which I would desire to untangle myself from the very limiting scripts of expectations placed upon me because of my physical biology.

A woman in her 30s is ‘supposed’ to be kept, mothering children, boundlessly compassionate, giving her nurturing to anyone and everyone, and she helps sustain the status quo. If she says no to any of those things, if she asserts her boundaries around what feels good and doesn’t feel good for her, if she speaks up against things happening in the world that don’t sit well for her, if she dares ruffle any feathers at all, she is often shamed and both she and those around her are made to believe she is being neglectful and selfish, and potentially dangerous.

As I move through another layer of understanding my inner Good Girl (a term coined by my friend and colleague Marcia Baczynski), I find I just don’t have energy to play into that story of self limitation any more. As risky as it is to put myself out to the world as who I am- queer, solo, polyamorous- and as much as I may be shamed, even treated with suspicion in certain quarters, it costs me far more inside my soul and my heart to not be open about who I am and to live my life authentically.

I don’t know if what I write will make sense for anyone other than the other solo poly women who will read this. It can be challenging for us to find community, to be accepted in an experience of village/tribe/community when we are so clear on our soloness, our desires, and our edges. Some perceive that as being in conflict with their values around Community. We are emotionally strung up for having boundaries. We are berated for not meeting someone else’s expectation or assumption of a perceived obligation.

The Great Solo Woman

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I want to invite a new possibility into this conversation.

In the Good Girl Recovery program we talk about bringing our Great Woman into the world. She’s the one with beautiful bold boundaries, who isn’t trapped in by the ‘shoulds’ society tells her, who does not quietly suffer from tolerations that she has the ability to address. She is empowered. She has her voice. She ruffles feathers. She shines into the world.

Just as our old foremothers in their crone-hood became keepers of wisdom, the elders and teachers of communities, I hold that for us younger, solo poly women seeking out our Great Woman, we too can become holders of insight and guides of sorts. I feel that, moving into my life as a relationship coach, I’m already exploring this. My primary relationship these days is in collecting my writings, sharing my thoughts, and coaching others through their journeys to understand themselves and their loved ones.

I don’t wish to be plagued by the feeling of self shame that arises when someone casts a subtle judgement on my life choices, or when someone skews my outspokenness, my boundary setting, or my comfortability in my sexuality, into a narrowed implication of my values and intentions.

And- this is not to say that the coupled women and the mothers do not have their own struggles to be seen. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I want every woman to find her Great Woman.

I look first at my own life. In keeping with the wisdom that says one must look after one’s self first before tending to others, I feel so palpably now that what I’m seeking is a means to dance courageously into my Great Woman, into my harlot-crone, the wise lover, the wild knowledge giver.

Her magic is to fall in love, not with a single human body or soul, but potentially with everyone, and every thing that is.

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Radical Self Reliance and Community Responsibility

“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce….. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past… Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’ Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”

~Gabor Mate

 

I read an article recently on Radical Self Reliance, and how this concept is killing people. In it, the author talks about the concept of Radical Self Reliance as it exists in the modern influence of Burning Man Culture on the world at large. Simply defined on the Burning Man Organisation’s website, it is encouragement for “each individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

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walking across Playa, August 2014

In practice, it’s to encourage personal responsibility for one’s own well-being: you bring to the Playa what you will need, you don’t expect anyone else to look after you. It’s a fantastic principle to have, and I have found huge value in the practice of living life in such a way that I take on responsibility for my own well being and experience- it has taught me resilience and emotional fortitude that I don’t know I could have learned elsewhere.

I do, however, see a shadow side to this. Radical Self Reliance can become toxic, I find, when we shift into exclusively looking after ourselves, and forgetting that none of us are physical- or emotional- islands.

We are all in relationship to one another. Until only one human being is left on this planet, there is no escaping this.

Individualism and “Poly Libertarianism”

Individualism- putting the individual first, and ignoring the collective needs of a community- is, I believe, one of the most prominent characteristics of the endemic disconnection emerging in modern society.

No one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions or meeting anyone else’s needs. There is no more co-dependence. There is interdependence, on a voluntary basis. Each member is an autonomous, free individual, who can come or go as she or he pleases. Our love is earned, not expected.”

~Sara Burrows, on Poly Libertarianism

I see many people engaging in what has been labelled “Poly Libertarianism”, where they state their needs and shirk any responsibility for meeting what other people’s needs might be. Heck, I’ve done that and been one of those poly people. Prioritising my relationship with myself has been fundamental in my own journey in Solo Polyamory. For a long time, I needed to shut out the idea that others had needs and requests that I could (and should) respond to because I’d internalised damaging messages about having to please others. I view this behaviour pattern now as an adaptive behaviour I used to cope with my own personal experience of the collective trauma inherent with being a woman raised in a patriarchal society. I’d suppressed my own desires for so long that now, when I was finally free of that suppression, I didn’t want to stop and listen to what anyone else wanted. I had to discover what I wanted.

As much as that path allowed me to get clear on where the stories around obligations and ‘shoulds’ came from, as much as it taught me the power in saying no to meeting someone else’s desire, and asking for my own desires to be met, it didn’t bring me joy in my relationships, because it alone didn’t support connection. It was hugely valuable in the process of finding authenticity in myself, but it didn’t support intimacy.

Intimacy and Compassion

Intimacy doesn’t exist in individualism. Intimacy can only come from connection, and while individualism encourages more self-awareness and connection to one’s own needs, wants, and desires, it is Intimacy  that asks us to recognise the needs, wants, and desires of our partners, families, friends, and indeed, our entire community.

“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity and love. What seems nonadapative and self-harming in the present was, at some point in our lives, an adaptation to help us endure what we then had to go through. If people are addicted to self-soothing behaviours, it’s only because in their formative years they did not receive the soothing they needed. Such understanding helps delete toxic self-judgment on the past and supports responsibility for the now. Hence the need for compassionate self-inquiry.”

~ Gabor Mate, In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts

For the first few years of my journey in polyamory, focussing on Solo Polyamory, I nourished and refined a fantastic relationship with myself. It has been a remarkable journey in self-intimacy. And yet, the relationships I had with others didn’t reflect the kind of intimacy I was desiring. I was so keen on my own radical self-reliance, that I forgot a very important piece: community responsibility.

Yes, you are responsible for your Self, I am responsible for my Self- and yet we exist in the same place and time, and therefore we have a relationship with one another. In that relationship, I cannot shake off responsibility for the effects of my words and actions on you, nor can you shake off responsibility for the effects of your words and actions on me. That is to say, while your reactions are your own, that doesn’t mean I can’t participate in the processing of your reaction, or that I should ignore the effects my own actions and words have had on you- no matter what my initial intent was.

I understand the drive for Poly Libertarianism, I really do. It provides an amazing buffer against the shadow emotions that can come up in relationships, experiences of jealousy, which some believe are rooted in feelings of fear, loneliness, loss, sadness, anger, betrayal, envy and humiliation.

I would propose, however, that the Individualism approach doesn’t actually address the core issue. I have found that those root emotions so often mentioned are all manifestations of fear, or more specifically, they are a side effect of living with a scarcity paradigm.

We fear loss, loneliness, betrayal, humiliation when we believe love is a limited resource, and we experience envy, anger, possessiveness as a reaction to that fear, still within the scarcity paradigm. These all relate to the core (false) belief that we can have ownership of someone else’s love, and that we may be entitled to it because there’s a limited supply.

And, scarcity is a story we can choose, and it is one that we are sometimes unconsciously choosing when we set ourselves apart on that metaphorical island where we are only responsible for ourselves, both physically and emotionally.

Our other option is to switch gears and choose to recognise that love is abundant and can come in infinite forms. And, that if we dare to show vulnerability and compassion, an infinite number of connections can form, and intimate community can grow.

“Cultivating intimacy with something means becoming sufficiently close to it to know it very, very well. When we don’t get close enough — like scientists keeping themselves emotionally stranded from their subject of study — we miss essential aspects of it. And if we get too close, to the point of fusing with it — like new lovers letting their boundaries collapse in a romantic swoon — we will no longer be able to keep it in focus.

In intimacy, we are deeply relating to an “other” — which could be a person, object, or state — getting close to it in a manner that transcends mere proximity. When it comes to cultivating intimacy with something, connection with it and separation from it are not opposites, but rather fluidly intertwined dance partners.”

~Robert Augustus Masters, “Cultivating Our Intimacy”

When you’re living in an abundance paradigm, the fear of loss, loneliness, and ownership of love don’t appear in the same way, you’re sharing love with everyone, you’re giving your care-bear-stare of compassion and welcoming to each person, whether lover or friend, in whatever way feels right and consensual, and you never feel depleted, nor do you feel lacking when alone.

The Balancing Act between Individual and Community

e727a05410166fcb542ee1eea918I’ve noticed a trend when relationships hit rocky waters: we can confuse the need for individual sovereignty with selfishness, and relationships that put individual needs of one person over another can grow dysfunctional. Likewise, sometimes individuals shirk responsibility for their participation in another person’s emotional state. When that happens, I think there’s a repression of empathy and compassion, which ends up perpetuating internalised stories around scarcity, othering, duality, and disconnection. And, on the flip-side of that, Individuals who take on responsibility for another person’s emotional state are effectively engaging in a form of self-repression, where their own state is ignored and they become energetically subservient to another’s projections of them.

So what is the solution? Relationships that respect there may be both overlapping and incompatible needs, and approach this quandary with compassion- that’s where I feel healthy Intimacy lies. Recognising that our intent is often different from the results of our actions and interactions allows us to have boundaries whilst engaging with compassion. When things go awry and things aren’t the way we want them to be, we don’t necessarily have to take on responsibility for how someone else feels, but we can recognise our own participation in events that may have created that experience- and, more importantly, if those events have been ones that have hurt, injured, or left trauma with another person, we can engage in the process of healing.

Recognising our own potential for active participation in improving the experience of all our partners, family members, friends, metamors, and community, is a huge leap in nourishing both intimacy and compassion. And, huge leaps are not easy. This one asks us to grapple with the stories of self shame, pride, ego, the desire to Be Right, and to find in ourselves greater stores of compassion, humility, empathy, understanding, and that thing we all say we’re here for: Love.

For 2016, my invitation to you is this: don’t be an island. Radical Self Reliance is great, and- you also don’t have to be alone. Our society is suffering from a disease of disconnection, and I sometimes wonder if the urge to explore polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy stems from a deep rooted desire for greater experiences of connection.

Do you dare to open yourself to the possibility of deeper, and more intimate connection? Are you willing to examine what it is that you, as an individual, need, want, and desire? And also to examine what the people around you need, want, and desire? Radical self-reliance can teach us about ourselves; Radical Community Responsibility is the journey of growing to know one another.

 

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Musings on Metamours

post-party legs shot with a former metamour, and dear friend

coordinating party outfits with a former metamour, and dear friend

“Metamour” (noun)
The partner of your partner.

Within the realm of honest non monogamy- and polyamory especially- I think that the significance of the metamour relationship is too often overlooked and underplayed. It is strangely too easy to ignore the awesomeness of having your partners bond, and to be oblivious to the multitudes of relationships that come hand in hand when you are in multiple relationships with other people in multiple relationships. And, when metamours find themselves in opposition to one another, it can endanger multiple intimate relationships.

I’ve noticed that, when forging metamour relationships, many people focus on “getting along” first and foremost. It seems to be a too-common trope, especially amongst people still fresh to polyamory, that if you aren’t sexually attracted to them, then your metamour needs to be enthusiastically tolerated. I find that a little disappointing, personally. I’ve been there and tried that- tolerating my metamour- and I noticed that, for me, it affected my relationship with the shared partner.

At a very fundamental level, I believe we are all in relationship to one another. Even with the people we haven’t met yet. And, the moment you start engaging with someone who has multiple relationships, you are forging your own relationships to those relations. It’s kinda unavoidable.

How do you prefer to organise your relationships?

How do you prefer to organise your relationships?

I’ve become what would be termed a “Kitchen Table Polyamorist” (as opposed to the compartmentalised “Kitchen Cupboard” style of polyamory, or Parallel Polyamory where you know about your metamours but don’t talk about them). I enjoy not just meeting my partners’ other partners, I also desire to form friendships with them and have an enthusiastically positive relationship with them. And that kind of friendship can’t be forced, or feel obligated, it’s something I desire to be authentic.

Reality check: you won’t like all your metamours, and they won’t all like you. And, when that happens it will suck, and you may well find yourself wrestling with your inner Perfect Poly Person and try to force yourself to like them. You might have metamours who end up (directly or indirectly) hurting you- even in ways that have nothing to do with your partner- and that pain may still be felt long after the relationship you shared is done (been there, done that).

You might have partners who refuse or are resistant to meeting your other partners, their own metamours. Your partners won’t always get along, and may even hate one another without ever meeting. Over the years, you may experience the really not-so great metamours, the ones who stalk you at work and harass you day and night, who assault and bully you.

friendshipBut what if your metamours were like your family, and you could purr and snuggle with them with as much ease as you do your partners? Dance with them at festivals? Laugh together into the wee hours of the night? Conspire about what shirt to buy your shared partner, and collaborate on birthday surprises?

What if you could even share a home with a metamour (independently of your partners) and develop loving and close familial bonds with them? What if they became not just metamours, but deeply connected friends?

Any healthy relationship is founded on knowing your mutual needs, wants, and desires. My advice is to treat your metamour not as metamour, but as a whole person. They are an entire human being, and you can embrace that there is the possibility of knowing them beyond the scope of the partner you share. Maybe all you’ll ever do together is go for tea- if that’s so, then I humbly suggest to make sure you don’t just talk about your partner. Ask them about themselves. Learn what things they love, what make them tick, what they loathe, what excites them. In short, explore what it’s like to get to know them just as you might with any potential friend, lover, colleague or acquaintance; don’t limit them to the label of ‘metamour’.

And, if you are reading this, and are struggling with a metamour, then I invite you to consider the following:

  • What story or judgements might you have about this individual? Where has that come from?
  • Are you picking up red-flags? (Red flags are important, don’t let your inner PPP push them aside- talk about them with your partner, and/or address them with your metamour.)
  • What could you do to reach out, and connect with your metamour in a meaningful way?

One day, I know I might find myself again with a metamour who I am not all that enthusiastic about, one who I have reservations about, or who just rubs me the wrong way. I’m not sure what I will do in that case, but I do notice that the practice of unconditional positive regard has helped me get over pre-judgements about people, reduce my experience of jealousy, enhance my capacity for compersion, and that I have better relationships in my life today, in general, than I did two, five, ten years ago.

At electroswing with two of my favorite humans- who also happen to be my metamours. Photo by Geo Anomeleye Shutter& Spore VFX

At electroswing with two of my favorite humans- who also happen to be my metamours. Photo by Geo Anomeleye Shutter& Spore VFX, cropped with permission.

My metamours today are women who I love, am inspired by, share the dance floor with, and purr like kittens with. I have great memories of driving an overheating GM van back from Burning Man, with my metamour and I switching off driving and navigating as we refilled the coolant every hour and our partner napped in the back. Yes, we do all the ridiculous things you might expect, we conspire for birthdays and surprises, and while my sexuality with women remains with question marks, yes there are a few who I’ve made out with. Most of the time I’ve spent with my metamours has nothing to do with our shared partners though; it’s been about us building our own connection. And, yes, sometimes they intimidate me, but mostly, they inspire me.

My metamours have taught me about new possibilities in unconditional love, and through the growing kinship, I find a sisterhood and healthy relationship with women that I’ve never had before in my life. There are still some metamours I haven’t met, and some who I yearn to know more. And I have tremendous gratitude for all of them, because I know that it ain’t always this good.

There is a full spectrum of relationship possibility open to you, you get to choose together what kind of relationship you forge with your metamours! 

Radical Relationships and the Evolution of Identity

Three years ago I set out on a journey to explore my identity- I wanted to know who I was and what was going to work for me in relationships. I committed myself to a two year period of being Singleish, without a primary partner, and being Polyamorous, having multiple partners. Three years and thirty-nine lovers later, I have an identity- and it isn’t the one I started out with.

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Every so often I get asked about the difference between Relationship Anarchy and Polyamory. To summarise very obtusely, the former is more of a philosophical approach to relating to people, whereas the latter is the label given to a particular form of Non Monogamy. Yet, in practice, they appear to have a lot of overlap. For me, the more I dive into exploring and examining what Relationship Anarchy is, the more I develop a love/hate relationship with the term “Polyamory”- adoration for the freedom it offers, and frustration at the limitation it can present with.

I can tell you what I believe to be true about Relationship Anarchy- it’s a philosophy that provides a construct for the most consensually-based relationships. Whereas the act of applying labels like ‘monogamy’, ‘primaried’, ‘polyamory’, and so forth, is about defining what we have with someone (sometimes with the belief that by defining something we preserve it, a notion I don’t personally buy into anymore), Relationship Anarchy is a conversation about, “Where are we right now?” and “Who are we today?” and “What’s real for us in this moment?”

I sat down recently with my dear friend Ian MacKenzie to talk about the concepts of Relationship Anarchy, and the possibilities I feel it provides for whole communities, along with the opportunities for a new paradigm of relationshiping to emerge- one in which individualism and collectivism can once again be in harmony. This is a paradigm that I think goes a little deeper than the scope of Relationship Anarchy, and so I’m calling it- Relationship Radicalism.

You can listen to my conversation with Ian below, and/or follow along with the transcript here.


I think that Radical Relating- and the evolution we are seeing within that- represents a powerful paradigm shift around the art of relationshiping. It isn’t relating for the sake of arriving at some fixed destination, nor is it a process of auditioning for particular roles one requires to be filled. Rather, it is relating for the sake of relating.

It is relating from a place of authenticity. It is relating in a way that both honors the needs, wants and desires of the individual, whilst seeking connection- and synergy- with a collective.

This is the paradigm I find growing in my own life, as I witness myself blossom into a multitude of deeply loving, evolving, embodied, long term relationships, both romantic and aromantic, sexual and platonic, with lovers, metamors, friendtimacies, and platonic friendships all occupying significant places in my life.

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What I see coming in the not-too-distance future, both in my own life and in the communities around me, is something that is about much more than romantic, sexual, and intimate relationships; I feel that it provides possibilities for whole communities, and is independent of whether individuals are choosing monogamous or non-monogamous relationships. And, I’m excited to explore that together with some extraordinary people!


Ian MacKenzie and another friend of mine, John Wolfstone, have been making a documentary, The Healing Of Love, inspired by the Tamera project in Portugal. Tamera is an intentional community, a functioning example of people experiencing relationships from a place of consent and radical honesty. Please go check it out and support their project by sharing the word!