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.

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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

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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

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!

Born This Way: Polysingleish Interviews Rachel Lark!

Sassy songstress Rachel Lark, formerly of Psychedelic-Rock Band Antioquia, is the rising star of the sex-positive comedy scene in North America. Emerging from Dixie De La Tour’s Bawdy Storytelling in San Francisco, Rachel has performed on the Savage Love Cast, and recently finished up a tour of North America. I got to meet her last year when she came to play at Vancouver’s Erotica Electronica and blew the socks off everyone! She just launched a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her first official music video- for her song Warm, Bloody and Tender- and I decided to find out a little bit more about this phenomenal woman.

 

The Importance of Play

10456169_965426473477060_1911291600581177019_nMel: Rachel! You’re a singer and songwriter. You used to teach music to babies…

Rachel: I actually still do teach babies, a little bit- I do a bit of contract work with preschools.  Basically I teach parents how to be musical with their babies, because kids learn from modelling, so if your parents sing to you when you are a child, it is very likely that you will be musically proficient. It actually doesn’t matter how good they were at singing, it just matters that they sang. So that’s what I used to do full time, and  I really like that balance, cos sometimes when you’re a musician, in clubs and bars, in makeup, dealing with drunk people… well, its really refreshing and energising to be around young children, who are completely unaware that later in life they’re gonna have to get drunk to be this silly, you know? They’re just into it because its fun. You don’t have to convince them at all. I love working with kids, I get inspired by them, and it’s a hugely validating experience to have a group of children super stoked and having a good time. Of course, if I was only doing that full time, I’d probably have to kill myself, because there’s only so many times you can sing “Pop Goes The Weasel” before you go crazy, but its a nice balance.

Mel: So how the heck did you end up touring North America and singing songs about consent, cunnilingus, and dropping acid on christmas day?

Rachel: They sort of happened simultaneously! When I first came here to the Bay Area, I came here to join a band called Antioquia, and we toured the country non stop for two years. It was my full time thing, we were all broke, and I had random gigs trimming weed and catering and substitute teaching and babysitting. We would come back home, do a couple of things to make money, and hit the road again. So it wasn’t till that band broke up that I wanted some kind of job in the Bay Area that was regular and fulfilling to me, rather than just all these gigs on the side, and that’s when I started teaching full-time, but that’s also exactly the same time I started my solo career, and picked the name Lark, and worked on the stuff I’d wanted to write for a long time.

So I found this stable job that was really fun and creatively gratifying, and I started making this music that was really fun and creatively gratifying, and it was really in tandem for a while till it hit the point where I really had to pick one. And it was hard to give up the teaching because, a) the money was good and b) it was really rewarding and great to get to know these kids and families. But I needed to be able to tour the country. And I decided, you know, I can teach twenty years from now, I can’t necessarily tour and play five shows a day twenty years from now.

But- maybe what you’re asking about is I sing about sex and drugs and I also teach kids? I think that makes perfect sense! I might be wrong, but I think that people who are good at working with kids tend to understand Play, and if you understand Play, well I think that we think of Play as being something that is reserved for children, and when grown-ups play, its usually like sex or drugs or dealing with life in a fun, uninhibited way. I think that Play is extremely important no matter what age you are. Clearly it needs to be age appropriate, but I don’t think there is any real contradiction there in understanding play at whatever stage you are at.

Mel: It’s almost like you have this Clark Kent Persona that teaches music to babies, and then you take the glasses off and let your hair down and are like, “Hi, I’m Rachel Lark, and I’m going to sing a song to you about a threesome.”

Rachel: I don’t feel that I’m a different person when I walk into my classes with kids. Clearly I’m not singing about the same things. But my suspicion is that if you were to come to one of my preschool classes, you would also be laughing your ass off and having a great time, and wouldn’t be disturbed by this new Rachel you see in front of you. I think it’s a continuous thing for me- and my bigger mission of just getting people to simultaneously to lighten up, and question everything, is very compatible with both of those ideas. I’m also lucky that in the Bay Area a lot of parents I meet are thrilled to find out what I do in the evenings. They don’t see too much of a contradiction. It is funny. It is good fodder for a memoir.

Sex Positivity

Rachel playing in Vancouver at Erotica Electronica, Oct 2014. Photo by Cameron Bowman

Rachel playing in Vancouver at Erotica Electronica, Oct 2014. Photo by Cameron Bowman

Mel: What does the term “Sex-Positive” mean for you?

Rachel: I just read this article about Sex Negative Feminism. To me, sex-positive means celebrating sexuality, and this article that I read was saying that this author’s view of sex negative feminism- and why she called herself a sex negative feminist- is because she believes that sex discourse has a place when we are talking about sexuality too. Some third wave feminists believe that whatever turns you on is great and we should never talk about how that could conflict with your feminist ideals, whereas this other author is saying, no, we should think about how patriarchy plays out in our sex lives and we should be analysing that.

I tend to be between the two. I think sex is fascinating to talk about from an analytical and political perspective. But at the end of the day I do believe that understanding what turns you on and embracing that is a wonderful thing, and I think that we have to live in this world, and we have to love ourselves in this world, and we are not going to help ourselves by feeling shame about what turns us on, because that is often like a very deep thing that is part of who we are.

I think that what’s wonderful about the Kink community and the overlap between feminism and kink: there are ways to play with these things that can turn you on, while also holding true to values that you have as an individual in other parts of your life. In short, I think sex-positive means loving your kinks, loving your turn ons, and having that eager curiosity to learn more about sex and appreciate the joy and the play it can bring into our lives.

Mel: Well said.

Rachel: Thanks!

Non-Monogamy and Healthy Relationships

Mel: I know you talked with Cunning Minx a bit about this- I’m curious, how would you define your flavor of non monogamy?

Rachel: Hmmmmm. Ummmm, my flavor of non monogamy. Well, I definitely feel like calling it Non-Monogamy. For starters! But, I don’t know. Since I did that interview a lot of people have talked to me about the Relationship Anarchist title, and I do like it, I think I do wanna stick with it. I believe in honesty and communication and commitments. but I don’t believe in promises about the future. I can promise behaviours for the present, and I can commit an intention about something, but I’m very jaded about the concept of “I will love you forever.” But maybe that’s just cos I’m someone who got married when I was 23! On my dating profile I write, “I make no commitments except to honesty and things not sucking.” Does that answer your question?

Mel: Oh, it totally does. And I can relate, as someone who got married at 22, that jadedness about loving someone forever- you learn a lot about getting stuck with those expectations and getting trapped and limited by them. I was going to ask you what you think makes a healthy relationship, but I think you’ve already answered that! Honesty and things not sucking, I like that.

Rachel: Yeah, you take care of you and I’ll take care of me, so we can take care of eachother. I think ‘healthy’ is such an interesting word. We have so many weird cultural markers for what’s healthy, and often ‘are you in a relationship’ is a marker of if you are healthy. You’re in a long term relationship- oh even healthier! I don’t identify with that as a gauge of mental or sexual health necessarily, but I think that healthy relationships of all kinds, whether they are friendships or romantic relationships or flings, are relationships where you both feel like you are being seen and valued for who you are, while at the same time being challenged to grow in the ways that you want to. I think that’s the good place to be. And if you’re a single person with a bunch of great friends and fuck buddies and you’re getting that, i think that’s extremely healthy. And you know sometimes we get stuck in relationships, and we’re not growing, and we start growing backwards and pulling out the bad parts of each other, and I think that’s very unhealthy, and you should get out of a relationship if that’s what’s happening.

Mel: Dan Savage has talked about the importance of people doing non-monogamy to be open about it, if they can. Do you see a role for yourself in promoting awareness of healthy non-monogamy?

Rachel: Absolutely! It’s a big reason why my boyfriend Andrew and I put our relationship status on Facebook. It’s not something either of us were into before we started dating, but I felt it was important to put “In an open relationship with so-and-so” on facebook, in large part because I feel it’s important for non monogamy to be visible. I want people to be aware that I am in a happy, public, non monogamous relationship. Also, I wanted him to have an easier time getting laid.

I feel like I’m in a place where I feel super fine being open about it and have no problem talking about it.

Consent

Mel:Your song “For the Guys” has become an anthem for Consent Culture. What inspired it?

Rachel: Yay! Oh, what inspired it? A couple of years ago I was in a community of musicians, and a guy in that community was sexually assaulting women in that community. It started with one rumor that was easily brushed off cos “she was crazy” but then it started to be more and more women. And I hooked up with this person, and had a situation where we were making out and things started going really fast and I said “Hey stop! Hang on!” And he didn’t, and I had to scream and push him off me. I wasn’t raped, but what I had been through certainly gave a lot of credibility to what other women were saying.

I was approached by some women who wanted to organise an intervention of sorts, and it was a really, extremely hard and strange process. We had no idea what we were doing. There wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute this person. A lot of the women felt they weren’t heard or seen by this community they used to be part of, and they wanted a chance to speak, and confront this community they felt had turned their back on them. We organised 50-60 people together, to have a meeting about what to do. It was one of those events where you see everyone’s true colors. Till this point we all knew each other from partying and having a good time, and things never got deep or challenging, and then we were facing this moment where you could see who was willing to step up and handle this, and who would rather act like its not a problem.

So we had this meeting. We brought in a woman from Bay Area Women Against Rape to talk about Rape Culture, and then each woman read out their story to everybody. There were eight women; those are just the ones we knew about. There was a facilitated meeting, a conversation. It was frustrating, because there was one comment at the time that really got me. This guy raised his hand and he addressed the women in the room, “You know, women, you guys need to express yourself more, cos sometimes it’s not clear, and sometimes there’s this grey area and we don’t know what’s going on.” And I didn’t have the words in the moment to say, “Cool, then get your dick out of that human! If it’s not clear, what the fuck are you doing?”

I didn’t have the words at that time to say that, and I was just in shock. There was so much in the meeting about what women can do to protect themselves better, and also how to help this guy. It was frustrating, realizing that a) I don’t know what to do in that situation, still, cos what we did didn’t do a damn thing, cos he raped two more women within a year after that and he’s still out there, and b) it was really amazing to see that people find it so much easier to believe that a community of women would make this up, than believe that it actually happened.

I stayed in that community for a while and was jamming at someone’s house one night, there were thirty people drinking and playing music, and at a certain point I was going to leave, and everyone was like “No don’t leave!” I joked to my friend about how no one was letting me leave, and he said, “That’s cos you’re the only girl left.” I suddenly felt really unsafe. But I realised I was drunk and so I decided to crash, and he gave me the couch. I went to sleep and turned off the lights and then I woke up later to a guy making out with me. At that point, I realised that community was toxic. And I held so much anger about this, and people were telling me to write a song about it, and I was like “Fuck that! This is so stupid, it’s so obvious you don’t behave the way these men behave!” I was kinda defiant. Assholes don’t get songs written about them! I’m writing positive stuff about positive experiences!

And then- there was a Bawdy Storytelling show coming up, and the theme was “Trigger Warning” and there were no stories about rape in that show. So I started writing it six months before I had to perform it. It was the hardest song I’ve ever written.

Mel: Wow, thank you for sharing that. That’s intense and, the sad thing is, that’s not the only community where things like that happen. I hear these stories repeated over and over again. It’s great that you wrote that song, I’m so glad that you wrote that song. Humor can help teach people. My experience talking about Consent Culture in my community has been that a lot of people just want to get angry about it and about fighting Rape Culture. But the people who are oblivious, who don’t understand there’s a problem or that they might be part of the problem, they don’t respond well to the aggression, and they just act defensively and say “Fuck You!”. But to have this song, and say, “Here, this is funny, and we can laugh at ourselves in this song” I find that sinks in deeper, and reaches more people.

Rachel: I agree! I have been sort of humbled and terrified that there have been several men who have come up to me and said “Wow I never really got it that way before thankyou.” I think, wow, I feel excited that my song did that for you but I’m also like- really? You didn’t get that before this moment? But yeah it is pretty amazing.

On the Rise to Stardom

Mel: So, you’ve performed for the Savage Lovecast, as well as for Bawdy Storytelling. How does it feel to be an up and coming celebrity in the world of Sex-positive, non-monogamous Relationship Radicals? What’s it like?

Rachel: Surprising! It’s surprising, it’s exciting- and yeah it’s certainly not how I thought my path to career musician was going to go. There’s so many great musicians out there who write great and funny songs about sex, and I didn’t think myself to be so different from a bunch of songs that Dan must have heard already. But, I’m super grateful. I do write about other things! And sometimes friends who have known me throughout my career ask me, “Is it weird for you that people just expect the funny raunchy stuff?” And- no. I mean this stuff is still super emotional for me. I don’t think it’s trivial, but also the reaction that I’ve gotten is that people who become my fan through hearing me on Savage Lovecast or Bawdy, once they discover my other music they are usually really into it and supportive as well. I don’t feel that it’s a different person I put on. It’s all me. And when people like an artist they tend to trust them to do different stuff.

Mel: I’m super appreciative of your musical versatility. I loved your loop set when you played here in Vancouver. You sang Flowers Fuck- with all the beautiful feminine vocal melody happening. It’s so cool! Its groundbreaking.

Rachel: That’s the next music video I want to make! For the electronic version of Flowers Fuck!

Mel: Speaking of music videos! Let’s talk about the Kickstarter campaign! You raised 25% in your first day! And from what you told me, it’s going to be a “who’s who” of today’s sex-positive celebrities. What more can you tell us about it? How do you think it will affect the world?

Rachel: Well, I can tell you that Dan Savage is going to be covered in… blood. And, call me crazy, I think that might get some reach!

It’s tricky being an artist and wanting your stuff to get a bigger and bigger audience and thinking maybe this will be the thing that goes big! And I try not to think that way cos my path so far has been through this awesome organic growth of community, and I think that’s more important than suddenly getting a million views on Youtube and being forgotten later.

But it would be cool. It would be cool to make a music video that gets picked up by some sex and feminism blogs, and I feel ready. I feel like the music is ready to be heard by more than just the West Coast pockets of sex positive communities that I’ve gotten into.

Being an independent artist and having a well done music video that showcases your message is critical, it’s like a business card, its an essential part of levelling up in terms of the kinds of shows you are booked at, the reach you are able to get, how much you get paid for different shows. It’s a critical step in your career, and to do it right, you do kinda need a lot of money. It’s going to be pretty epic. The team working on it is amazing, their sense of humor and professionalism- it’s that perfect balance of class and vulgarity that I tend to hang out in. It’s a really good fit. We’ve been doing pre production for months, and so much has already been happening. It’s amazing to see all these people who want to be part of this project, and that it is worth all this effort.

Mel: It’s my favorite song, well, other than Acid and Hot Springs.

Rachel: It’s a catchy one! It has a solid hook!

Mel: Yes! That sing along bit! One of the best things I have ever witnessed was three hundred kinksters and ravers sitting down to listen to you play that, and joining in with the chorus.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s the preschool training!

You can find Rachel’s Kickstarter campaign by clicking here, download her previous albums on her Bandcamp Page, and stay updated on her tour and show schedule by following her on social media here!

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Compassion, Communication, and Community in Consent Culture

“I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general.  Cut that shit out of your life.  If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right.  Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along.  Accept that no means no–all the time.”

~ The Pervocracy

I do not put myself up as a poster-child for Consent. Like everyone else in the world, I have been raised with mixed messages around Consent, messages about gender roles that negate autonomy, messages about societal expectations and how to counter that. It has been a journey of great humility and some difficult lessons, for myself and for many others. But, it is a journey I am 100% dedicated to, because I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person.

I’ll say that again- I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person. However, I also believe that we have all done so, in moments of what I call “selfish idiocy”.

There are no experts here, we are all students.

12The deeper you go into the “rabbit hole” of Consent Culture, the more you find there is that you had never considered before, and the more you begin to see every interaction with another human being through that lens of Consent.

That can be challenging, for many people. It can be especially challenging for people who have been the victims of consent violations to realise that they have violated the consent of others.

I have deep respect for all the people who have devoted their time and energy to exploring aspects of Consent in so many different arenas of life. We, today, are better equipped, have better tools for learning consent than ever before. And change is happening, inch by inch.

However, I personally caution against anyone thinking that they’ve got consent 100% nailed down in themselves. Overwhelmingly the message about consent is linked in with sex. But, consent is about so much more than sex. Consent is something we can aspire to in every interaction.

When we are learning about consent only with sexual motivations as a reference point, I think it hinders the ability to really develop consent within ourselves.

https://instagram.com/ecoeclectica/

Got Consent?

What is a consent violation, if not something solely to do with sex? Quite simply, it is when you take what someone else isn’t willing to give, or force someone to accept something they don’t want. It could be physical, verbal, tangible or intangible, emotional, or simply a question of using time and/or space. Whether intended to harm or not it doesn’t matter. What matters is that another individual’s desires and boundaries were not respected. And any violation of consent becomes serious if it creates trauma.

Consent culture is about respecting that we have no right to take or demand what someone else is not willing to give or share.

A culture of consent is, I believe, one in which interactions are guided by compassion, respect, tolerance, kindness, and patience.

I’ve been contemplating for a long time- how does one call someone on their non-consensual behaviour? When someone within your community, your ‘tribe’, your polycule, or your family is behaving with disregard to others, how can you confront them? And, when someone has seriously violated others- whether intending harm, or simply acting from a place of selfish idiocy- how can we, a community, lovingly yet sternly put our foot down about it?

shadowsCalling someone ‘out’ can ostracise them. It can leave a long-lasting stigma. Staying silent about someone’s behaviour, on the other hand, means that they will likely to continue to engage with those same behaviour patterns, and- intentional or not- continue to hurt others. I’ve seen some community groups just quietly remove someone from their social circles. I’ve witnessed the “back-stage” type gossip, where people try to pass along the word about a potential ‘predator’ (or actual predator) without pulling things into a public spotlight. I don’t think any of these approaches really addresses the root cause.

The root cause, is that we’ve grown up in a paradigm where we’re told it’s okay to take something from someone, even if they aren’t willing to give it to you. We’re told we live in a world of scarcity, that we have to battle to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted. We live in a paradigm of fear, of distrust, and of competition. And because we- as a society- tend to default to seeing the world through that lens, we are more prone to violate the consent of others.

I think we need to change that paradigm. And I think we can do that by shifting the way we address situations where people have problems recognising boundaries, and problems recognising that they have violated consent.

“The first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen. Mistakes in communities seeking justice and freedom may not hurt any less but they also have possibility for transforming the ways we build with each other for a new, better world. We have got to believe that we can transform.”

~ Ngọc Loan Trần, in Black Girl Dangerous

If we embrace the fact that we are all going to make mistakes, I think it becomes easier to talk about our mistakes. And, talking about our mistakes brings us closer in a practice of healthy conflict process. We can accept and own our errors more readily when everyone else accepts and owns their own errors too- and then, we get to share some humble pie and look at how we can transform together.

It’s also very important to remember that, even if our own consent has been violated in the past, even if we carry trauma from that, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of hurting others. We all need to work on healing our wounds, and make sure that we don’t transfer our pain onto others.

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So, when we need to call someone in our tribe on their behaviour, are we doing so to try and vilainise and ostracise them? Or, are we doing so because we want to let them know they made a mistake, and to ask for their support in helping the person(s) who have suffered from that mistake, while also supporting them in their learning journey?

When we ourselves are called on our errors, the moments we have pushed past thinking about whether there were boundaries or not, how do we respond? Do we fly off the wall in a rage, defending every minutiae of our behaviours, or can we listen and accept that, regardless of our intent, something went wrong, and another being has suffered. If so, how then can we atone, and show remorse?

I believe that answer to all of this, is that we need to be involved in one another’s consent journey, in the healing process for everyone. Being involved in someone’s healing journey might well mean staying the fuck away from them if your presence is going to remind them of the trauma you inadvertently caused. The things that support someone else to heal might be very different from the things that support you to heal. Ultimately though, we’re not alone. We are in this together, and so I think we need to come together, with love, with patience, with compassion.

I don’t pretend this will be easy. In fact, I have already witnessed how hard it is, both in myself and in others. However, I think an essential part of talking about Consent Culture is the willingness to examine one’s own behaviour, and willingly place oneself in a place of accountability that can be challenging or uncomfortable. Yes, this means having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, having your words or actions challenged, or sometimes interacting with people who might make you feel uncomfortable.

People are hesitant to question leaders, afraid to be shunned. I think that sometimes leaders are, just like any human, oblivious to the added power dynamic they employ in relationships through being a leader. That means it is so important for community leaders to be open to public feedback, to be humble and earnest about their own journey with Consent, and to respond with respect and compassion when they learn they have caused hurt or harm to others.

So we have also got to have compassion for the challenge this presents, and have patience with one another.

My own personal goal, is to hold space and provide experiences whereby others can really grok, that is, to know it inside and out, what consent is and isn’t. What it feels like right in your bones to ask for consent, to respect a no, to give a no, to give an authentic yes, and so forth. And, not just with sex. With anything and everything. With, “May I touch your nose?” all the way to “Would you like some help?”, or, “May I interest you in these plums?”.

Developing that awareness, that honest and heart felt consideration for one another, in the face of living in a society that gives us the explicit message that we can only get what we want by demanding or taking it, regardless of others- that’s the challenge. And that’s a process that needs to be engaged with not just at sex parties and sex clubs, but across the board- in schools, in work places, in relationships, in shared homes, within families, at dance parties, on the bus, on the street, in the stores- in any place and in any way that humans interact with one another.

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Expanding and Exploring

“You have permission to ask for what you want.”

Do you really know how to play?

Do you really know how to play?

These words of relationship advice, from Marcia Baczynski, shifted my perspective about the relationships I was in at the time, leading to an evolution in the way I have found myself approaching relationships today. I had been growing fed up of intimate relationships where it felt like no one ever knew what they were doing. In bed, I too often felt like a beautiful musical instrument, with a novice randomly plucking strings, hoping to coax a melody- or concerto- from this highly complex form. I didn’t want that any more. I wanted that to change.

Last summer at a music festival, I fell in love on the dance floor. The crowds parted and I became mesmerized by a young man spinning a glowing staff. My attention caught, I complimented him on his dancing, saw him again briefly a few days later- but it wasn’t until running into him several months later in the city that we actually had a chance to connect.

The incredibly beautiful, exotic, fire and poi-spinning Marco had me curious. We chatted online and on the phone for a couple of months before going on a date zero- I was a little hesitant to date someone eight years younger than me, but I soon forgot about that and had an amazing time. On our next date, we discovered that we lived ten minutes walk away from one another.

Marco puts extra anarchy into relationship anarchy, in a really good way. It’s almost impossible to keep up with how many women he might have dates with. His work schedule is on call and often unpredictable and so dates are sometimes really spontaneous. One of the things I enjoy the most is that the dynamic he and I share together is one of experimentation and adventure.

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Our dates have included a trip to the STI clinic (followed by lunch), midnight booty calls, loud and kinky morning wake up calls, making a stilt-walking elephant together, an epic sexy after party in our hotel room where we mostly observed and directed our friends having an orgy, eating ice cream together in his bedroom hammock, sensually grinding together on the dance floor after almost 24 hours of no sleep, poi spinning lessons in my back yard, and whispering poetry to one another into the wee hours of the morning. We talk about kinky things we want to try out, we share thoughts about shamanism, and we collaborate on creative projects.

From past relationship experiences, I’ve found myself growing cautious of diving too deep into clothes-ripping passion all the time. I’ve had some really beautiful connections burn out because the focus was so much on physical expression- but not so much on exploration, and as a result I would have great sex the first few times, fuelled by the excitement, adrenalyne, novelty and NRE- but it would quickly peter off, resulting in a string of six-week long relationships.

I didn’t want this to be another six week relationship.

I also found myself in a quandry over sponteniety versus consent. Marco and I were exploring the edges of our kinky personas, and both enjoyed doing so with sponteniety. He knew I was very passionate about enthusiastic consent, and expressed once that, in his perspective, the conversation around consent was taking away from the spontaneous aspect that made things so much fun.

Just because you're enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?

Just because you’re enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?

For my part, consent has become an important part of relationships and building trust. I’d experienced holding back a lot in intimate exchanges because I was afraid of having my own boundaries crossed or of crossing someone else’s unintentionally- something that had happened for me in the past. I mean, there’s always that hope that I will find partners who are 100% psychic and can read my mind to see if I’m comfortable or not- but the reality is, we can’t expect someone to know something about our intimate preferences unless we reveal that information to them, and likewise, we need to ask our partners for feedback about whether what we are doing feels good for them or not- instead of just assuming that it probably is.

One night when Marco came over to my place, I decided that I needed to ask for what I wanted. So, I put forward a proposal to him:

“Tonight, I’d like to invite you to explore me. Just do whatever you want. Follow your instincts. And I’ll give you feedback at every step. I want you to learn my body. And if something doesn’t feel good, or doesn’t do anything for me, I’ll communicate. And if it’s amazing- you’ll know, and if I know how to, I’ll guide you on how to enhance the pleasure for me.”

Never before had communication felt so sexy. As we played, I got to show him how my different erogenous zones can be connected, how a slap or a bite in just the right place can make me melt or take me to the edge. I learned things about my own body as he experimented with differing pressures in different places. And after, we talked about all sorts of other things we want to try further down the road.

After that experience, not only was the quality of our physical intimacy enhanced, but our communication around sex grew leaps and bounds too. We’d taken time to learn one another’s language. He, as someone who plays more dominant, had discovered how to read my responses, and I’d learned how to communicate with fewer words and in ways that made the communication part of the play. As a consequence of just that one night, we started to feel more comfortable with greater sponteniety. The trust we share evolved because we took one another to the edges and learned to recognise one another’s “no”.

piano maestro

“Practice Makes Perfect”

There is tremendous power in slowing down from the insane devouring passion and finding our way into a natural flow of communication between bodies. Tuning in, and learning how to read our partners, rather than just assuming we know what’s going to feel good, assuming that all people function exactly the same.  Think of the difference between someone who sits at a piano and randomly tinkers on the keys hoping to make music, versus someone who has studied and become a piano maestro, effortlessly dancing their fingers across the keys and filling the room with the sweetest music.

We may both be Solo, we may be one another’s ‘proximal’ relationship, we may be in love, but we also know this relationship may not last in this same form for all time. Marco reminds me to be present to what’s in front of me, to be present to the moment. We are growing and learning together, and there is no telling what the future may bring. I pinch myself from time to time that someone as unique and talented an individual wants to hang around with me, let alone undress me and devour me with so much passion- and it’s a passion that seems to just grow deeper and deeper.

Exploring the edges of our comfort zones, and expanding beyond them, has never felt so comfortable, nor been so fun. We explore eachother’s bodies, eachother’s minds, eachother’s souls.

And the lesson in this- that asking for what you want is one of the best things you can possibly do within a relationship- has me contemplating all the other things I have often wished for but never outright asked for from my partners. There’s a sliver of risk involved in asking. What if they say “No”, or judge you for it, or break up with you because you asked for something? That’s the fear dialogue running through our minds holding us back.

We don’t have to listen to the voice of fear. We can embrace the risk and choose- dare- to ask the ones we love and trust if they might be interested in something that we are interested in too. And when we do so, we give ourselves- and our partners- the opportunity to experiment, expand and explore new edges of being.

Power Play and Passion: Consent in the Kink Community

This isn’t about polyamory, but rather about a topic that is very dear and important to me: building Consent Culture.

There’s something severely broken in the way we relate to our sexuality if events billed as sexy are using visuals of war and violence, torture and objectification, gore and the glorification of power. There’s nothing sexy about war. There’s nothing healthy about subjugating a group of people to violence and death on the name of the squabbles of a few individuals.

When did this become a sexy ideal?

When did this become a sexy ideal?

This is different from power-play, different from unleashing primal instincts within us. It’s the promotion of a highly regimented and heart-disengaged approach to sex. It separates us from the beauty of things.

Personally, I’m not interested in the kink of emotional distance, nor in sex that is without heart.

A little while ago I went to a kink event where I knew several people. After this event, two friends of mine (who did not know one another) came to me and told me they had been physically assaulted at this event. Their descriptions of the assault (being physically grabbed and pushed) matched up so closely that I surmised it must have been the same person who did both,-and upon further inquiry, I found out that yes, it was the same person. And this person regularly attends similar events.

Now, I get that grabbing and pushing is something that two people might decide they want to get into in a scene. That can be someone’s kink. Heck, when I am with a partner I trust implicitly, I enjoy exploring some rough handling. But, the trust has to be there. Consent is not optional- it’s mandatory.

When did violence become sexy?

When did violence become sexy?

So, the simple fact that someone could walk into a kink event thinking that it is okay to do something like that, to grab and push someone without asking for permission, without engaging in consent-positive behavior- that deeply concerns me. It’s an example of what so many people find repulsive and disgusting about the kink world. It’s that perpetuation of the emotionally disengaged sexuality.

To put it quite simply, if your kinks revolve around being emotionally disengaged from the people who you are exploring experiences with, then something isn’t right.

That’s not to say you have to be in love with someone before you can be sexual with them. It’s about maintaining your humanity and compassion whilst engaging in kinky activities.

Aggressive actions, if consented to within the context of intimate and sexual play, cease to be violent and can become expressions of passion. Without consent, however, without an established intimate dialogue, they are violent, unhealthy, and amount to physical assault.

Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.

Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.

So- I ask you to ask yourself, what are your motivations when you are getting your kink on? Do you have empathy and compassion with the partners you engage with? Are you coming at it from your heart? And, most important of all- do you remember to ask for permission and check for consent?

Bottom line: when we connect with our innate care, compassion and consideration for other beings, consent comes naturally.  I think it’s high time that we work to put the affection back into all forms of sexy play, to let our kinks be led by our loving creativity rather than by suppressed violence.  

Knowing your “No”s

The first word I ever said, was “No”, and it’s a word that I have been contemplating a lot recently.

traffic-light-1024_159700kI’m finding myself moving into a space of exploring my Dom side- and I am hyper aware of the fact that not everyone feels comfortable all the time with saying No. Since I am seriously contemplating kinky things that would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, I want to make sure that whoever I do anything like this with is confident in their ability to express their boundaries- both ahead of time, and during any kind of play session.

As a woman, I was raised with the idea that only men could be rapists, and also that all men wanted sex. As an assertive woman, I found myself pushing things far beyond consent on several occasions before I ever heard male friends tell me their stories of being assaulted- and being raped. It opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can be a rapist, sexual assault can be committed by anybody- regardless of their gender- and this began to highlight for me the importance of consent, checking in, and engaging in dialogue about where everyone’s at in the moment.

Sexual assault, rape, non-consentual experiences: it doesn’t matter what gender you are, nor your sexual orientation. We are all capable of causing it, and we are all potential victims of that. We all, I believe, have a responsibility to have honest dialogue with ourselves, to recognize where our own “No”s are and learn how to recognize where other people’s “No”s are- even when they might not know them themselves.

Internalized sexual shame can drive us to stay with partners who have abused us- and I don’t think that we always realise in the moment that it is abusive. I used to have sex with my husband when I didn’t want to cos, well that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are married, right? That feeling of obligation can also kick in within the sex party scene- after all, if you go to a sex party you must want to have sex and be ‘down to fuck’. I’ve had experiences where I absolutely refused to believe that my body was trying to say no to something that, intellectually I wanted, and yet physically something else was going on- and then forced myself to go through with it anyway. Cos, you know, what would people think? There’s so many other ways in which we can be abused. Partners can mentally dominate us in so many ways, not just through bullying- sometimes it is unconscious, it’s a pattern of behavior we have learned from others. Sometimes it is deliberate: negging, for example, is a type of mental domination: putting someone down and then praising them, so that they become reliant on you for feelings of self worth.

My back prickles when I hear women talking about men as being sexually dangerous, and, in the same conversation, they take an attitude of needing to take these men down a notch by making them their subordinates. I grew up around a lot of dialogue like that. It makes me very aware that there can be a tendency to want to dominate out of a desire to level the playing field. I have met many empowered, feminist women, who honestly believe that it is their right to make men submit to their will.

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The primal “let’s fight fire with fire” reaction that comes up a lot is, I think, understandable from an animal behavior point of view- many women have grown up seeing men as a threat, and so that fight or flight survival response can be triggered.

This by no means justifies it though. We are human beings and we have the ability to master our actions and consciously choose our reactions.

My mother told me stories of taking a knife with her to protect her when she went on dates when she was in her twenties. She was disgusted by sexuality in general- male sexuality specifically. She had no problem putting men down in a struggle to boost her own self confidence. I grew up with a model of emotional manipulation from wife to husband, and thus for many years I simply emulated that in the way I related to lovers. One day, I realised that this really wasn’t any way to treat any other human being, and that I was tired of relationship dynamics being governed by sexual guiltifying and an ongoing tit for tat squabble.

An important factor for me being Singleish has been that I don’t want to slip in to that learned behavior model of manipulation and control anymore. Even as someone who, in kink terminology, is more dominant, I refuse to let that mean, “I have control over you”. If someone I’m with prefers that I take charge? That’s something that lovers and potential lovers have to outright express a desire for before I’m willing to go there, and even then, I have found I am very cautious in negotiating what that means for them. In short, I do not want them to feel that they have to do it just because it’s what I want.

I noticed that the times in my past when I myself had gone too far, hadn’t checked in with myself or the other people around me thoroughly enough, it was predominantly when I was under the influence of alcohol. Even when people’s bodies were giving clear signals (drying up, loosing erections, etc) we all just tried to keep going. So, I now choose to not have sex if I am drunk or if the other person is drunk- even if I am in an established relationship them. And if someone isn’t seeming interested, I don’t try to make them want me more- I check in and see what’s up.
I know I got better at figuring it out in others once I learned how to hear and acknowledge a “No” in myself.
Why then, is it still such a challenge for me to say “No” to others?
 
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“Subspace is often characterized as a state of deep recession and incoherence… intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of … natural chemicals … the increase of hormones and chemicals produces a sort of trance-like state, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”

~taken from Wikipedia entry on Subspace

“Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it. My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
particular reason.”

~from MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace, Falling or Floating or something else?

When I go in to subspace, or sub drop, it can be hard to communicate. It’s a hypnotic-like state, where free will surrenders, the body surrenders, and your conscious mind sinks in to your unconscious mind. It can be a very liberating experience- but it also has its dangers. I’ve experienced going in to subspace and not realising till afterwards that what was happening wasn’t actually something I wanted. I’ve also experienced being unsure, and not being able to actually physically find any words to vocalise my feelings.

So, sometimes non-consentual things can happen in intimacy because one person has subdropped and is no longer able to communicate clearly. That’s why safe words and hand signals are incredibly helpful- they are the absolute “stop everything you are doing” signal that help to keep everyone in a space of enjoyable, consentual, fun intimate play.

However, they only work if we know where our boundaries are. I’ve struggled with this, and with getting to know where my “no”s are- and as a consequence I’m super cautious now about moving to an intimate space with someone, not just because of my own sub drop, but because if the other person goes in to a sub drop, I need to know way ahead of time where their “no” lies, and figure out how to recognise it when even they might not.

I have known so many people who have been in relationships that were abusive- physically, mentally, emotionally- and not just between lovers. Sometimes in family or work situations too. And I’m so concerned when I see one of my friends enter in to a new relationship or situation that might have the potential to take them in to that deep state of hypnosis, and I don’t know that other person well enough. 

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Consciously craving the subdrop can be a form of escapism, as a reaction to post traumatic stress disorder. I mean, the thing is- kink can be REALLY HEALING for PTSD type things (for me, a lot of the PTSD I experience is connected to my miscarriages). With the right people, I’ve been able to dive in to my own traumas and let go of a lot of things, and right now I’m on pause while I await connection with someone new who might be able to help me in this exploration.

In general, I’m concerned that the person I’m with may not recognise when things might be physically damaging. If they are new and don’t know much about how much one person can surrender not just their body, but their mind- well, that’s something that can be taken advantage of. That is power that can be abused in unskilled or unaware hands. And, can have long term repercussions, especially if the subspace is helping the person receiving access their own deep traumas. Dealing with our traumas and shame can be terrifying. To step in to that most vulnerable of spaces and have someone create further trauma- that, to me, is the most dangerous element of kink, and why I remain so cautious.

It is such a fine line. I don’t want to short change someone on an amazing experience, and nor do I want to push things too far. I don’t want to create psychological scars on anyone.

Above all else, one of my goals in how I share my love in relationships is for it to be something healing and nurturing. Eye opening; heart opening. I want to share my love in such a way that the people I share it with feel free. And, once again, I come to the conclusion that the better I know myself, the more I am able to know others; the stronger I am in my relationship to myself, the more connected to my Self I feel, the greater my capacity for connection to others, and the richer and more rewarding my relationships become.
 
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