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!

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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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Lessons to Our Younger Selves- Polysingleish Interviews Louisa Leontiades

A freelance writer originally from the UK, Louisa lives in an open relationship with her partners and two children in Sweden. She writes full-time on her blog, Postmodern Woman, and is chairwoman of the National Polyamory Association. She also writes for Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Jezebel and the Guardian. She lives a life that makes for a lot of stories. The memoir of her first polyamorous relationship is due for international release through Thorntree Press in April 2015.
I have to say, my brief conversation with Louisa is one of the most inspiring that I’ve had with any other poly writers- I’ve always loved her fearless approach to writing about poly and non-monogamy, plus she’s been a big fan of this blog! I’m excited that her two-part memoir is being published soon!

 

“I was obsessed by someone I didn’t know. Someone I’d never met. And someone who was turning me on eight hundred miles away. More than my husband in the next room did. It was earth shattering. Mind blowing. Amazing but also horrifying. But no matter how horrified I was at the person I’d become, I couldn’t stop it. This was what I wanted. Me without the structure of society. Without the rigours of religion. Without the criticisms of my parents and in blatant disregard to my so-called decent upbringing. Which then sailed clean out of the window.”
~ From “The Husband Swap”

 

Writing about polyamory

Mel: Louisa, you are one of the most prominent writers on poly and non monogamy in Europe. You have your own blog and you write for Huffington Post in the UK, and you are working on a new book. I’m curious- what was the impetus for you to put yourself out publicly, as you (no pseudonyms) writing about non monogamy?

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Louisa Leontiades, polyamorous writer

Louisa: I think it’s the same reason I write about anything at all. And I’ve been writing for years. It’s a Pandora’s Box effect.

I think that I’m like many women, who have had their voices suppressed for a long time and have acted like the “Good Girl”. We build a sense of identity tied up with expectation, and then we come to a mid life crisis. Mine came fairly early, when I was about 18. And I’m not able to speak publicly terribly well, but I am able to write, and in writing I found the third eye for me to be able to analyse events from a different perspective. So “The Husband Swap” was something I wrote when our relationship was breaking up while I was a financial analyst in a very large telecommunications firm.

Back then I felt that I couldn’t function because I had had my voice repressed, and then I repressed it myself for so long. Therapy was one way of offloading, but that didn’t work for me. So I had to do something with all this pain, express it and re-frame it, I had to rewrite the narrative, and that was how “The Husband Swap” came into being. And- it probably played a part in me losing my job, something I don’t regret at all.

It stayed on my hard-drive for years, and of course now I look back and I think “Oh my god you were such a victim!” But nevertheless my voice was and is still valid. It was the story of me then.

It helped enormously, the power of writing and finding my voice. And once I started, it didn’t stop. I used to journal, but there’s something about writing in the public eye. It has to do with your self esteem and sense of self. You really have to face your demons. You have a choice to go back into your hole and keep repressing, or come out and say “Yes! This is what’s right for me!”

Mel: I can really relate to what you are saying with the evolution from journaling to writing in the public eye. There’s a level of accountability that comes into place.

What role do you feel that writing has played in the evolution of the way you relate in your relationships?

Louisa: There’s a thing called emotional blindness, alexithymia. Scientists don’t really know how it comes about, but it’s an inability to identify your own emotions. It can mean that you aren’t able to empathise with others, or you don’t know what’s going on inside of yourself.

In polyamory, issues around consent are a big deal, and in my case I think that not only did I let my boundaries be trampled on, I didn’t even know my boundaries enough to express them because I didn’t feel my own emotions, and  I didn’t have the structures to identify what was wrong.

Writing gave shape to my emotions, and it’s why I think there are so many great writers in polyamory- but not many of them talk as much about emotions or emotional pain as I do. The reason for that is because I sharpened my emotions, I practice feeling so that I really know where I want to put my boundaries so I can step up and say “This is not okay for me.” It used to take me years to figure out if I’m not okay with something. Now it takes around a few days; sometimes I can immediately recognise because I have a tiny little twinge, that’s like the tip of the iceberg that lets me know there’s something deeper going on. That’s something that writing has done for me.

 

Being out in Europe 

Mel: So, you’re based in Europe. It’s been years since I have been in Europe; all my poly experience has been in this progressive pebble of Vancouver, where I can throw a pebble and hit someone who is poly. My understanding is that in Europe there’s a lot of awareness about relationship anarchy, but not so much about polyamory. What’s your experience with that been like?

Louisa: I’ve experienced polyamory in Italy, England, and Sweden. I found they had very different flavors.

In Italy the poly movement was embryonic back in 2007 when we lived there. The non monogamy of the day was cheating, it was highly accepted, even though it wasn’t talked about. The idea that you would be honest poses this great risk to undermine the society’s structure.

Unsurprisingly,we didn’t find much in Italy, so we joined the groups in the UK, which intersected almost entirely at that time with the LGBT community. In the beginning I had no interest in becoming alternative. I was a financial analyst. I was very mainstream.

When we went to England we went to Poly Day and Open Con, we signed up for workshops. I felt a little lonely cos I wasn’t as brilliantly out there as many of these people. I had been hiding behind my suits. Then in the evening something strange happened- the heterosexual mainstream people started showing up. All of the people we met in the evening were ALL in the closet about polyamory. Because they had been doing the regular day job, they didn’t invest in the activism or activities of these events.

I totally understand the difficulty for people in coming out, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to lie even by association. They were protecting themselves, but I wasn’t attracted to a life in the closet.

So in Italy there was no one, in England there were plenty of people but we weren’t of a similar context. In England it is much more controversial. It’s a very difficult society to come out in, unless you are alternative and you’ve already made that step to be out somehow.

Then I got to Sweden and I discovered to my great delight Sweden doesn’t like seeing anything as out of the ordinary- even if it is! Whatever you get up to its “Oh, that’s what they are doing, okay”. Sweden comes at it from a liberal background, and they seem to have bypassed a lot of the hierarchical polyamory scene and have moved to more of a non-hierarchical/relationship anarchy idea. Being out here, it’s quite interesting to compare my mother’s reaction to my partners’ parents who were “Oh you’re not getting a divorce there’s four of you, that’s nice.” Whereas my mother was “Please keep it in the bedroom”.

My other partner, who is from Iceland, his parents were like “Well, there’s many ways to build a family aren’t there?” And then they invited us in for a glass of wine. They were very cool.

Mel: That’s amazing. I’ve heard diverse reactions from people in Canada. This is a mixed bag of cultures- there’s a strong Victorian English mentality that has stayed alive, that whole “what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.” Within the alternative communities it is so much easier. Being part of the BurningMan/Raver/Festival culture it is simpler to be out. I can be with a group of friends and there can be a lot of relationship styles happening, and there’s no judgement there. It’s interesting being in communities where there is freedom to explore relationships for yourself.

Louisa: I’ve lost quite a few friends, and they aren’t bad people, they are very lovely people- but they can’t take it, they can’t take who I am because it seems I am an affront to everything they stand for, and it’s terrifying

Mel: It’s so far out of the box that it challenges people. I think when we get challenged on one thing in our tiny box of how we see the world it calls into question everything else how we see the world and that’s a scary place to go

Louisa: I don’t know if I’m a big enough person to hold the door open if they change their mind. I want to be. But you know what they say, love might be infinite but time is not!

 

Polyamory Memoirs

Mel: You’re working on your book and getting ready for publication- tell me more! What do you want to give to the world through the book?

Louisa: There are two things that are going to happen with this book. It’s an expression of pain – one of my boyfriend compares it to the painting The Scream. It didn’t end well so it’s kind of a perfect book that could be picked up by hollywood because the happy-ever-after seems to, ostensibly be, monogamy. But my objective at the time of writing it was not to laud polyamory, it was a medium of self expression.

When I see people making the same mistakes again and again, and people more experienced in the poly community calling them out on that- I think, sure I agree with all of that, but it’s a process. And without the screaming you can’t get to that wiser, healthier, happier place. So I hope that it shows some people they aren’t alone, this shit happens and you can still come out the other side and laugh. The steps thru pain can lead to joy and they often do.

But for those who don’t have willing ears to hear it they will see this tale as a testimony to the dangers of polyamory. And that’s not something I ever intended. I’m still active in the community, still practicing moving forward.

So at the same time I wondered if I could write a companion piece- Lessons to My Younger Self- and so I’ve written that! Both books are with the publisher now! There’s The Husband Swap, and Lessons to my Younger Self. So you get a fuller perspective.

When I was writing ‘Lessons’ I thought “Bloody hell, look what enormous pain you inflicted. All this time you thought you knew what you were doing!”
One of the things I have learned is that I am responsible for my own life experience. I have a choice- accept it, don’t accept it, reframe it, or not: these are my life lessons. And of course, in any interaction out of four people, there will be a lesson out of it.

It was very hard to write. I definitely shed a few tears

Mel: That’s incredibly valuable. There’s a tendency in what’s been written about poly to gloss over the difficult bits and glamorize it. Whereas in my own experience is that it’s been the best self development tool I’ve had. There’s so much value in that introspection going back and asking what lessons did I learn from those experiences. That seems to be something that’s been missing in the ‘poly-sphere’ of writing- connecting in with the difficult aspects, the shadow side of polyamory.

Louisa: And I’ll go back to it in seven years and find new lessons! The Husband Swap, I know I’ll get push back from the media, because books like More Than Two or Love Without Limits or Ethical Slut, they are destined for a community that is already attuned to some of the issues. But this is a memoir, and, if it does well it will make a splash in the poly community and I’m happy about that. But- it might also make a splash elsewhere and- I’m gearing myself up for that.

 

Vulnerability and living outside the box

living outside the box

living outside the box

Mel: It takes a lot of courage and strength, and confidence in one’s self, to be that publicly vulnerable, knowing you have no control over how it’s going to land with the greater community of the world. I really admire that you are doing this. It’s trailblazing.

Louisa: Thank you.

I had help, you know. I was adopted- things never seemed quite right in my world. I was playing this two-point-four children family white picket fence thing, but it wasn’t true. It was a source of displacement in my life, and gave me this feeling that this life wasn’t real. I had a narcissistic mother, and that narcissism- that was also not quite right for me. The world told me how a mother should be, and she wasn’t that. And, I came from a foreign background, my father was Greek American, and so my name wasn’t right. I just didn’t fit in.

But if you fit in, there’s no impetus to find yourself or find the path. I mean, where is your discomfort? At a certain point, maybe even those who fit in start to feel caged by what is expected of them. So we all have these sources in different ways to kick us out. I think I had a lot of them at an early age. It kicked me out pretty early into finding myself. And as you find yourself, you have to develop courage, layer by layer, every time you take a step to find yourself. I feel I’m incredibly lucky for every tool that has been given to me in my life, to be able to be in this place right now.

 

“As time moves on new perspective casts light on the experience. Personal development and analysis has allowed you to see some of the lessons learned… emotionally processing after all is often what we polyamorists do best. To understand the reasons why your relationship crumbled so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls in future. And to demonstrate that the hardest of lessons can result in the most amazing gifts.”
~ From “Lessons To My Younger Self”

 

To read more of Louisa’s writings, and to follow updates on the publication of her books, check out her blog at Post Modern Woman!

Musings on Monogamy and Marriage

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“Biologically, we are not prepared for monogamy, whereas our culture tells us that Monogamy is something we should do.”
~Dr David P Barash, co-author, The Myth Of Monogamy, in Why Knot: Breaking The Silence on Monogamy.

I was twenty-one when I got engaged, twenty-two when I got married.

I’d graduated from University only a few months before, and wasn’t really sure what to do next with my life. I’d not really given much thought to anything beyond getting my BA, and was in a personal limbo, figuring out what was next. So, when my then boyfriend proposed on Christmas Day, I tossed aside the fact that my hair was grungy and I was still in my pajamas, and figured, sure, why not?

Marriage seemed like a good next step in life. After all, that’s part of being a successful grown up, right? Graduating from university and getting married are two of the big check marks on the list of “Things Successful Adults Do”, after all. And, we were in love with one another. This was the first relationship I had ever been in that had lasted for more than four months. We were well on track for a successful ride up the Relationship Escalator. We got engaged. I followed him to his home country- Canada- and a few months later we were husband and wife.

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Yes, this really is one of my wedding photos. Yes, there really is a large sign behind me saying “DANGER”.

A huge part of my process in the last few years- as I process through both the emotional untangling and the legal untangling- has been examining that choice I made to get married. At the time, I just simply believed it’s what you do. After all, that’s how all the Disney princesses lived in a warm, fuzzy, static happy-ever-after. And I was terrified that I would end up like Bridget Jones: horny, lonely, a social klutz, and no idea how to conduct myself in relationships, eating ice cream alone in my baggy underpants, watching romantic movies that made me cry, bitching about the “Smug Married Couples” in my life. I feared that being single equated to being alone.

These days I shudder at this kyriarchy based idea that one person can own, control and have dominion over another, and that without someone to tie my life to, I am incomplete or less of a successful person. Yes, I found there were some positives to being in a monogamous marriage, but I became happier when we attempted to open it up, and have only re-discovered my sense of joy since leaving the ideas of monogamy and marriage behind me completely.

In a time where the gay rights campaign is still fighting to gain the right for marriage equality, it might seem totally against the grain to question the institution of marriage all together, but nevertheless, that is what’s happening, and I am not the only individual who is scrutinizing the social default of monogamous marriage. For a really comprehensive overview of the history of marriage, check out the Huffington Post article on historical marriage definitions.

Today, more than ever before, we are seeing the rise of Single Culture fighting the stigma of Singledom. Recent articles like “A Single’s Guide To Living Courageously“, “The Rise Of The Solo Citizen“, and “Why Do We Have Such A Problem With Being Alone?”  are helping us, as a society, to embrace and re-imagine the archetype of the ‘lonely singleton’. The Bridget Jones of today doesn’t have to fret over indecision about her oscillating lust between two very attractive, satisfying, and different people. She can be proud of her single status- and she could also date them both!

To move away from the notion of owning someone else and having them own me, I have committed to owning my Self. This is where I’ve made a shift from living in a paradigm that is all about struggling to please other people, and I’ve chosen to step into a place of self-development and commitment to working on myself. I am single in terms of romantic and intimate relationships because no one owns me, and I don’t own anyone else- in other words, I am not ‘coupled’. I do, however, have meaningful, significant loving relationships, both sexual and non sexual, which explore interdependance rather than codependance. Hence, I’m singleish.

“I really wanted to get the ownership out of love, that love was not about ownership, that love was about opening your heart to someone, that love was about caring about somebody.”
~ Dossie Easton, Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy.

WhyKnotI was very excited when someone sent me a link to a documentary being made called, “Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy.” After a successful Indiegogo campaign, the Globe and Mail featured it as one of the top ten crowd-funded projects to watch for in 2014. I was immediately intrigued by the campaign trailer, showing that this was a documentary exploring both monogamy and non-monogamy, and their continued place in today’s emerging society.

If there is a truly total opposite to monogamy, I feel that the Solo and anarchical approach of being Singleish is it. So, I got in touch with Dhruv Dhawan, the film-maker, and his colleague Daamini, to see how much they knew about the Solo Poly perspective, and if they would like to include something about it in the documentary.

We had a really great conversation on Skype a few weeks ago, covering many topics, all of which I feel I could write essays on. It was great to chat with Dhruv, and hear more about where he is approaching this documentary from. He’s already interviewed folks like Christopher Ryan (author of Sex At Dawn) and Dossie Easton (author of The Ethical Slut), and he seems driven to present a complete picture of the alternatives to monogamy. This is exciting!

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Film-maker Dhruv Dhawan, on a quest to understand alternatives to monogamous marriage.

I have a feeling that Why Knot is going to be one of those ground-breaking documentaries. Whilst people like myself live in a lovely bubble of progressiveness, I am aware that I’m privileged to do so, and that I’m processing ideas and concepts that many people in today’s world have never even been exposed to. My conversation with Dhruv has had me thinking about a lot of things. He talked about how numerous social studies show that human beings are “naturally gregarious creatures” and that being alone is against our nature. I can’t disagree with these studies; my own experience is also that we are social beings, who draw much enrichment from being in community and in relationship with people. But that does not mean that we have to be in a monogamous relationship to build  that sense of tribe or family. That doesn’t even mean we need to have to choose a primary mate. As Dr Elisabeth Sheff notes in her article on Solo and Singleish Polyamory in Psychology Today, many solo poly folks invest more into their friendships, creating a chosen family around them that exists independently of romantic and intimate relationships.

We no longer have to accept that monogamous marriage is our only option if we do not want to be alone. The generation reaching adulthood today, who are willing to question the status quo of sexual fidelity and monogamy, no longer wonder, “Who is my soulmate?” The more significant question for them, to paraphrase Hamlet, is ‘To “I do”, or not to “I do”.’

So, if we aren’t climbing the relationship escalator, if our success with the relationship escalator model is not the measure of how successful we are with relationships, nor a measure for our own success in life, then how do we measure our success? Whether monogamous marriage is in your paint box or not, I would propose that we need a different way to quantify relationship success, one that is independent of the Relationship Escalators.

I propose that it is the integrity we maintain in our own relationship with ourselves and others that matters. It is the quality of relationships we experience, and how well we can communicate- not just with the people we are, or have been, sexually intimate with- but also with all the relationships in our lives. It is the degree to which we are able and willing to grow and learn from our relationships, and the commitment to that self-evolution as non-static beings.

This, I feel, is a far more relevant way to measure an individual’s success in life. Even in our solitude, we are part of a local and global community, and when we conduct ourselves in relationships with honesty, integrity, and honor our own core values, we move closer towards a positive, healthy, functional tribe- one in which all forms of intimate relationship structures can be present; one that is capable of meeting the multiplicity of our needs for love, affection, and connection. I believe that when we value and invest in the relationship we have with ourselves- without seeking dominion over anyone but ourselves- we automatically increase the value of all our other relationships, and the value of Life itself.

To learn more about the documentary, Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy, or to purchase an advance copy of the completed film, due in August 2014, please visit www.whyknotmovie.com.

An Interview With The Wet Spots

Cass King and John Woods, perhaps better known as sophisticated sex comedy duo The Wet Spots, are partners in life as well as in showbiz. And they are also openly polyamorous. Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview them. Their career has taken them as far afield as the Sydney Opera House, and seen them share the stage with the likes of Dan Savage and Margaret Cho. They wrote and produced a musical, Shine: A Burlesque Musical, in 2009 which played in Vancouver, Seattle, and at the New York Fringe Festival. Amidst anecdotes about picking up the phone to hear Alan Cumming warbling their now infamous song, “Do You Take It?” and discussions on sketchy landlords, we got to talk about musical theater, poly relationships, and how art contributes to a more enriched society. Cass and John share one of the most beautiful and unique poly relationships I’ve ever come across, and are great role models, I think, for how two poly people can create and nurture a productive long term relationship whilst maintaining independent dating lives. 

How poly people meet.

M: My first question is how did you guys meet?

ImageCass: Well, we were double booked to perform at open mic at the now defunct Cafe Montmarte…

John: The host at the time says that he booked us accidentally on purpose cos he thought that we should meet. He suggested Cass do a piece and I accompany her on sitar, which I did.

Cass: It was spoken word, a piece of lesbian erotica called Late Bloomer.

M: So, you gave your piece of lesbian erotica and you played the sitar…

John: Yeah it was very “East Van”…

M: And then you looked at each other and said, “Hey, we should perform sexy songs around the world”?

John: Well, I had a gig playing at the same cafe again and I invited Cass to come check it out. She showed up with her spiritual adviser, who was this slightly insane Cuban fellow and they were kinda half in the bag…

Cass: Point of clarification- we were all the way in the bag and halfway out the other side.

John: At the end of that night I decided I liked her and we wound up making a date- and we wound up sleeping together before our first date… Cassie had a last minute cancellation with something else and I had a bunch of folks over, and I said, “Yeah, come on over, we’re watching the Ken Burns Jazz series on VHS” (to give you an idea of that era)…

Cass: He was being mister smooth and putting the moves on, and I was really conflicted. I was like, “Ok dude, I don’t want any big thing here, I don’t want a relationship,  I just got out of a relationship, and I just got out of a relationship where I was collaborating with my partner, and I actually do want to write some songs with you, and make music with you and I just don’t want to enter into that kind of relationship again. I don’t want to fuck up the songwriting thing by, you know, making a mistake here.”

And he said, “Well let’s just kiss and see what happens.”

M: How many years ago was that?

John: Eleven

Cass: Well it had to be more than that…

John: Maybe twelve….

[they do some math]
Cass: A little over twelve years.

M: You guys have a polyamorous relationship. Has it always been an open relationship?

Cass: Yes in theory, not in practice. We were both on the same page of this “I don’t want anything serious right now, we should take it as it comes.” I remember saying to him, “If you have a date, some night, just tell me!” And he’s like, “I have a date tomorrow night!” and I was like “Okaay!”

See: it can be like that. So, even when went through all of our NRE and were spending all that time together, we never had an expectation of being totally monogamous. The way it looked in the beginning is very different from how it looks now, and non monogamy is not the same as polyamorous. In the beginning we would have, lets say, close mutual friends…

John: Mmhmm, yup.

Cass: We discovered after a while that we didn’t totally have the same taste in partners, and it became a little difficult because, fundamentally, I didn’t want to be tugging on John’s leash- to put it bluntly- and I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I think our love styles were also different, and have proven to be so in our poly lives.

John: Maybe yes, maybe no. I think I might be unsuccessfully aspiring towards your love style.

Cass: Alright…

John: Maybe. (thinks for a moment) Oh, no, no, I think I’m more of a hoe!

M: So what does it look like for you guys now? How are your love styles different in your polyamorous relationships?

Cass: This very interesting thing happened a little over five years ago. I met a sweetheart, S, who was only ever one day at a time- but he became a big part of my life. And between that relationship and my relationship with John, I personally didn’t feel the need to go abroad much further. I had my hands full with everything we were doing. Did I mention that we three also wrote a musical together?

John: I’ve been in and out of shorter dating relationships, some that have lasted a couple of years, some that have lasted a couple of weeks, a couple of months. While I absolutely value things that are longer term and go into deeper levels of intimacy, I also happen to think that having sex is a really fun thing you can do with your friends, so that’s something that ends up being part of my love style. And like Cass said, back in the day we had a lot of mutual intimate friends, whilst now it’s definitely something we pursue separately.

Honoring your truth: Relationships as Ongoing Negotiation.

Cass: If you have something in your relationship that’s true for you, even if you think disclosing it is going to be the worst, most destructive thing you could possibly do and you try to avoid it yet it continues to be true, disclosing it will not be any less harmful than sitting on it.

We’ve gone through a period where it was like, “Are these people telling us that we don’t really have a marriage, are they right? Would it be simpler to just get a divorce and start over as friends? Are we in a marriage?” And we took that on and lived separately for a year while we were going through a period of individuation. We had to listen to people saying “Don’t you think that this whole poly business is just about cos you guys don’t love each other anymore and it’s time to let it go?” And we knew that they were wrong. We didn’t know where it was all gonna end up but we knew that they were wrong.

John: We knew there was something there and it was very profound and it did not look exactly like how other people would define marriage, and yet it seemed to us like one of the most precious things. I know it remains one of the most precious things in my life and it has made sense to continue to nurture it.

Cass: You know, the truth shall set you free. In my experience, that’s true.

John: Relationships are ongoing negotiation, and I think the number one thing you can do to be healthy in a relationship is to continue to be honest and fearless about what you need. When you put those cards on the table and negotiate, negotiate from an honest place, even if it means you gotta throw the whole thing away, even if it means that “We’ve been negotiating and we cannot find common ground here,” to throw that away. That  can be such a scary place to get to, but even getting to that place is less painful than sitting around and being unfulfilled and being afraid.

Joy and Polyamory

M: How would you define love?

Cass: I think love is the point where you reach the outer limit of your own self awareness and look at somebody else without fear.

John: I think it’s a decision that you make. There’s NRE, and that can be awesome. I can only speak from my own experience. At a certain point, whether you know you’ve made the decision or not… well, Henry Rollins has this piece where he’s like, “Yeah man but then I started loving this girl, but that’s like- love- and that’s… aw dude, I love you you’ve got a big postulating goiter on the side of your neck but I love you…”

I think at a certain point whether you realize it or not you come to this place where, “When it’s really awesome, I’m gonna love you and when its really sucky and hard, I’m gonna love you,” and at some point its almost illogical-

Cass: But that’s one kind of love you’re talking about.

Love can be so fleeting and short. Ever fallen in love with a guy on the bus that you don’t know? And he gets off the next stop bus and you have this moment of, “I see you and you see me and we’re two human beings that are alive, together, right now.” There’s that moment, and love can be so fleeting and momentary, and believe me I’ve been around this issue of people’s different definitions of love. It’s been one of those things that I have had to examine a lot, because of one of the relationships that I’m in, and my definition of love is very different than my sweetie’s.

So when I say I love you, I kinda mean “I see you. I am here for you. I accept you.” You know? Also, “I feel seen by you.” Right? And that doesn’t necessarily come with any kind of long commitment. Whenever I’m around Reid Mihalko, I feel loved. And that guy has that gift. This guy (who I want you to interview next), this beautiful man- he’s a sex and relationship coach and he’s certainly helped me to turn a corner emotionally and spiritually with the idea of love, I feel loved every time I see the guy, and I see him once every few years. Its like that.

M: What’s the best thing about being poly?

John: Well, when it comes to non sexual friendships it’s not expected that the guy you go fishing with is going to also share your interest in vintage cars or be the same guy who plays bass in your band. To find somebody who could do all those things would be an amazing stroke of luck. And we don’t expect that! We go, “Oh yeah, I’m going fishing with Joe, that’s what me and Joe do: we go fishing. Joe doesn’t give a fuck about vintage cars, but me and Rick, we go to vintage cars shows, that’s our thing that’s what we do,” and that’s awesome! And it’s kind of accepted as unreasonable that you would find one person to be all those things to you: your fishing buddy, your vintage car buddy, your music buddy.

When it comes to the world of sex and love relationships there is a lot of pressure placed on monogamous sex and love relationships, that the person with whom you are sharing this relationship is expected to be many, many things. And particularly if you are somebody who is embracing your own kink, it may be that your partner and you have a whole bunch of overlap in your sexual interests, and some areas that really don’t overlap. And those areas are very important to you and your partner’s just not into it. So I think that one of the advantages of poly is that you actually get to have these experiences with other people.

When I think about some of the relationships I have had over the years, that have been very profound, friendships that have lasted for many many years, there are some friends in my life where I can pick up the phone or skype after six months and the moment we fall into conversation- we’re there. And part of that relationship has been a sexual relationship- it might even be that the sexual part is not part of the relationship anymore, but the intimacy I feel towards that person is informed by the fact that one dimension of that relationship over the years has been sexual, and that increases the intimacy of the connection.

Cass: (smiles) I think its about being able to share, being able to be open to the idea of intimacies with other people, people other than your current partners. I think its also the idea, a radical one, of choosing INTO your relationships every day. I know a group of people who call it ‘at cause’ being the one who is responsible for making the choice to stay in relationships- even though we all are- there’s nothing about a heterosexual monogamous marriage that takes away choice- but with poly thats just very much at the forefront every day, realising why we choose. And that we are choosing.

Making a difference in the world

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Cass (left), John (right) and Dan Savage (center): making a difference to how people think about their sex lives. [Photo Credit: Opt BC]

M: What difference do you hope your creative work together makes in the world?

John: A few years ago this couple came up to us and they said “We first saw you guys about three years ago and we’ve been dating for several years, and you did this song called Smack my Bottom- and we left and were laughing all the way home “Can you believe they actually sang a song about spanking!”, and then we talked about it and she said “I would love you to do that to me some time” and he said “Really? Cos I have wanted to do that to you for years.” That was three years ago, we got married a year ago and tonight is our first wedding anniversary.”

Okay so here’s two people,  both wanted to do this thing, and neither of them feeling like it was okay to ask. I think theres a lot of that in the world. I think digging out a ‘communicating-about-sex’ manual is valuable, but I think sometimes you can seep ideas into people’s consciousness through entertainment and it doesn’t seem like work, and then that seed can grow and you can get into these conversations.

So that’s one piece. I think it sparks conversations. Sometimes it gets people to open up and feel okay talking about things.

And I think a lot of good comedy and theater that tells you you’re not alone. Some of the stuff that makes Margaret Cho and Richard Pryor so valuable as comedians is they just don’t  flinch from the pain that they’ve experienced. They don’t flinch from it. If you’ve gone to that place, if you’ve experienced pain that’s like that or similar, its powerful, it tells you you’re not alone. And it also allows you to laugh. If this person up on stage can talk about how painful it was, then maybe I can laugh at myself and lighten up too. I don’t have to be ashamed. I don’t have to be sitting with the shame on top of everything else. So I think the shtick of the Wet Spots is we don’t even understand that shame exists about this stuff, we just barrel in there! I think it kinda frees people in this way.

People struggle a lot with shame around their sexuality and their bodies. Am I good enough. Is this too weird? Am I weird to think this or want that? Am I wrong to want this or want that, you know, morally wrong- especially in the world of polyamory. I think to actually have an act that even talks about these things and jokes about how it can be weird and funny and wonderful- it just kinda makes people feel a little less alone and maybe sparks some communication and maybe puts a dent into some shame here and there.

Cass: I think the message is Self Acceptance. In everything we’ve done together, and I think a lot of what we did before we met, it was about letting your freak flag fly and finding a space where other people like you can also be unique, original, honest, real. You know, there’s a rebellious streak in that, I don’t think that life is as it seems in the Gap commercial. I think the Gap commercial people have french kissed each other and stuck their fingers up their butts when no ones looking and they are real, real people with real feelings, and I feel like the world is increasingly fake and airbrushed and filtered. I  think the more that we can do as individuals to create space for people to be authentic- and so often that equates to weird even though I personally think EVERYBODY’s weird, on the inside- I think that creating space for that and creating examples of that automatically liberates others, like in that wonderful Marianne WIlliamson quote:

“As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”


You can find The Wet Spots on Youtube, Facebook, and iTunes and of course at their website http://www.wetspotsmusic.net/.