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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Solo, Polyamorous, and Seeking Healthy Community

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

Abraham Maslow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, I speak from my own experience here.

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

Abraham Maslow

So what do we solo polyamorists do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Signs this relationship dynamic is currently Energising for me:

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

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

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

Strategies for Shifting from Draining To Energising:

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

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

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

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

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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.

be-excellent-to-each-other

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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Polysingleish Interviews Franklin Veaux, Part 2: Sex and Boundaries

In Part 2 of my interview with Franklin Veaux, blogger extraordinaire and author of xeromag.com, and of poly resource site morethantwo.com, we discuss Poly drama and politics, Sex At Dawn, the darker recesses of the BDSM/Kink community, how passive participation can enable sexually predatory behavior, and coming out to your family. Note: this article discusses some things that may be triggers.

POLY DRAMA

M: People tend to think of the poly community as being implicitly ridden with drama. What is your experience of that like?

FV: The poly community is absolutely ridden with drama! It’s true! But it’s not because its about polyamory or because of the relationships. Its because every community is ridden with drama. The poly community’s got nothing on the Model RC Airplane Enthusiast community I used to part of. Dear god, these are people obsessed with their planes!

Some people say that anything that is emotionally unsettling or uncomfortable is drama, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true at all. But yes, there’s drama in the poly community. There is drama in every community. I don’t think the poly community is any more or less than any others. A lot of the people I have met in the poly community are really good communicators and that helps cut down on the drama.

SEX vs LOVE vs RELATIONSHIP

M: Some people seem interested in polyamory, but actually just want to fuck a lot of people, without building connections or relationships.

 FV: I think it’s inevitable. We live in a society that has conflated sex and relationship by saying that the only time it is appropriate to have sex is when you are in a relationship and the only person it is appropriate to have sex with is the person that you are in a relationship with. So as soon as you start talking about relationships with more that one person, people start thinking oh yeah that means sex with more than one person because these ideas of relationship and sex have gotten so conflated. So they see a justification for having lots of sexual partners. Because society says lots of sexual partners is bad, but if you have lots of relationship partners, then this group of people over here say it’s cool, and if you want to have a lot of sex, you can go over and be with those guys and you don’t have to be a dirty promiscuous slut, you can be polyamorous, and get all the sex you want.

Until we start to look at them separately, I think it’s inevitable that a lot of people are going to hear polyamory and think sex.

Sex At Dawn. Haven’t heard of it? Visit http://www.sexatdawn.com to find out more.

M: The book Sex At Dawn seems to have done a lot to promote that. The whole premise is that intrinsically we’re not monogamous, that we’re wired for sex and promiscuity. What do you think about that?

FV: I really like Chris Ryan a lot. I don’t want to critique the book, because I really do like him. He’s a really interesting guy. I am skeptical of the entire field of evolutionary psychology though. The evolutionary psychologists are the people that sociologists can point to and say ‘Those guys over there aren’t really doing science’. It’s difficult sometimes to see evolutionary psychology as anything other than a way to construct stories that validate social norms.

I like sex at dawn because it is an evolutionary psychology book that is not trying to validate monogamy and traditional 20th century western notions about what relationships are supposed to look like. It’s important to have that conversation, to say, well maybe its not natural for people to be monogamous for life.

At the same time, I have a hard time taking evolutionary psychology with any kind of real serious rigor. You can’t go back and do the experiment. You can’t go back and set up a society control and a society experiment to see how changing cultural norms changes behavior. It doesn’t work that way. So, you are storytelling.

KINK AND POLY

M: Lets talk about the whole kink and fetish thing… you write a lot about BDSM and Kink. How does that fit into polyamory for you?

FV: Wow. That’s a loaded question. I have a lot to say about the BDSM community and a lot of it is not really very pleasant right not.  I am a little disenchanted with the BDSM community these days. I have seen a lot of dysfunction and really reprehensible behavior in it. A friend of mine last year was sexually assaulted by somebody who is a well known and respected BDSM community leader, and when she came forward about being assaulted the community closed ranks behind him, and against her.  It was really horrifying and appalling to see it happen. There were the men of course, who were like, “What did you do to bring it on, you must have wanted it somehow, you must have done something to provoke it,” and then there were women who were like, “Well, you know, if you were a real submissive you would have been okay with what happened”. And, that’s fucked up!

The BDSM community prides itself on consent and makes consent the whole corner stone of what separates kink from abuse, and then responds to breaches of consent very poorly. A lot of people in the community talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk and that really bugs me.

There is a huge amount of overlap between BDSM and poly. A lot of people I know who are poly, though certainly not all, are kinky as well. There are a lot of people I know who are kinky who are also poly. I’ve noticed a huge difference between people who say, “I’m a poly person who is kinky”, and “I am a kinky person who is poly”. And I have discovered that I am not likely to be compatible in relationship with people who say, “I am kinky first and poly second”. One of the big differences I have seen is that people who are kinky first and poly second will see polyamory as ‘The Dom gets to do that, the sub doesn’t have any say about it.’

There was a conversation thread I saw on fetlife- before I quit using fetlife a while ago- where somebody said “I am a submissive woman in a poly BDSM relationship and my partner, my Dom, has taken this other submissive and I’m really jealous and really insecure. I don’t want to be poly, but he’s the Dom so he gets whatever he wants, and he says we’re poly so we’re poly. And I’m not really sure how to deal with these jealous and insecurity feelings that I get.” Several of the replies were of the form of “Well, if you were a good submissive and properly knew your role you wouldn’t be jealous.” “This means the Dom is failing because he is not keeping his submissives in line because if he was doing his job properly then all of his submissives would know that their role is to serve him and please him and they wouldn’t have time to feel jealous.”

And I’m like woah! Are you people serious? Have you met any human beings- like, ever?

And yet, that is not an aberration. That is a mindset I see often in people who identify as BDSM people who are also poly. And I think that approach is wildly incompatible with mine.

M: I’ve noticed there’s this line where, for me, kink stuff is bedroom specific. I can’t imagine allowing myself to be submissive with someone in bed and then allowing myself to be submissive to them in everything else in life.

FV: That’s not something that works for me either. I’ve met people who work that way and it seems to work for them. If they find the right partners. There is a danger there of what some people call “sub frenzy’, if you are a person who really craves being submissive and having someone take control. You do that to a point where it can cloud your ability to make judgments about partners and big decisions. Someone comes along and says “Oh yeah, I’ll Dom you” and that person is totally incompatible with you, or worse, actually a predator or an abuser. You can sort of get roped into that. But I have also seen people who are in full time BDSM relationships and are really well put together and in healthy relationships, so its a dynamic that can work, it just doesn’t work for me.

PROTECTING BOUNDARIES

M: Connected to this then- how do you set out your boundaries? Not necessarily just in kink. In relationships too. This goes back to: how do you say no in a respectful way?

FV: Ooh. There are entire essays about that. On the Yes Means Yes (http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/) blog there’s a really interesting essay about how people are conditioned not to say no. We live in a society that makes it very difficult for us to just look someone in the eye and say no to something they want directly. We tend to be culturally conditioned to say no in very indirect ways. It’s easier to say yes than it is to say no. And that gets a little messed up because if you see people who say things like no means no when it comes to things like sexually assault, well people rarely say no directly. So what I think is a much better approach, and they talk about this in the yes-means-yes blog, is that only an affirmative yes means Yes. Anything else means no.

I think it’s important to not lead people on. I think its important that if the answer is not ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’ that you don’t say ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’ll get back to you.’ The best way to say no is probably the hardest, which is just to say no. At the end of the day I think that’s a lot more respectful than dodging the question. 

M: I’ve been following on the news lately this sexual abuse scandal in the UK. Over several decades, hundreds of children were abused by one man, sometimes right on the premises of the BBC, a trusted institution. Many lives were deeply hurt and traumatized by what happened. He was a well known and respected celebrity. He received a knighthood. And all I can think is, “My god, what was going on there? How did the wool get pulled over so many people’s eyes? ”

FV: The wool gets pulled over so many people’s eyes because people are willfully blind. People make choices to not want to see things they might have to step up about. It is so much easier to look away from abuse than be the person who says, “You can’t do this”. It’s very hard to do that.

M: I found myself in that situation for the first time a few months ago. I was at a party, and a friend of mine got drunk. For some reason the drinking was out of control, and his knowledge of where the boundaries were was not there, and he physically abused another man there who I knew; he groped him. And I was there, I witnessed it. This guy’s partner was there and witnessed it. The guy said, ‘That’s not ok’. My friend backed off for a moment, “Yeah yup, you’re right its not okay,” and then moments later he did it again, saying, “Oh no you like it really.”

FV: Oh yeah, at that point that’s deliberate.

M: Yes, and that’s really NOT cool. So I told him, “That’s not cool.” The guy and his partner were also saying, “That’s not cool.”

Now, afterwards, the next day I think, I talked to this guy that this happened to and said “Look, I feel really bad I brought my friend there. I feel some level of responsibility because I introduced him to this group and to you, and then this thing happened. I also don’t understand what’s going on for him and I think you should tell him, reiterate to him that what he did was not okay, because otherwise he’s going to think he can do that and there’s no repercussions.” And this guy said, “No, I don’t want to have anything to do with him, I don’t see any need to talk to him.”

And, whilst I respect this guy’s choice, that sucks, because now my friend thinks it’s okay for him to do that because there are no repercussions. So I had to go to my friend and say “Look dude, you behaved inappropriately at the party: you offended, you upset, you crossed people’s boundaries, and I’m not cool with being friends with someone who is going to do that.” My friend could have turned around and said, “You know what I was really drunk and I don’t remember what happened, I’m really sorry.” He could have reached out and made apologies and got into a dialogue and realized he has drinking and boundary issues that need to be addressed. But instead he denied it ever happened. And I lost the friendship with him completely.

INDIRECT PARTICIPATION IN INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR

FV: There’s a friend of mine here in Portland who has been writing about the idea that if you are a part of a group and there are people- and this is especially important for people who are seen as leaders of the group, but really anyone- if there are people who behave inappropriately and you don’t speak up, essentially what you are doing is sanctioning that behavior. You are saying that behavior is appropriate and that you are willing to at least indirectly participate in it. And he has written a lot about that and I’ve linked to some of that in my blog, but this is something that I’ve been feeling really passionately about lately as well, and he and I are working on setting up a website with the idea of promoting the sort of notion that as part of a group it is YOUR responsibility to step up if you see someone who is behaving inappropriately. It is your responsibility to police behavior that is inappropriate. If you are looking the other way, you are participating.

M: I really agree with that. That’s important. I’ve been really surprised by the reluctance of people in a position of leadership to do more.

FV: Its been my experience that people in leadership positions in a sub community are often more prone and not less prone to acting out and to being inappropriate or predatory, and to looking the other way when other leaders are inappropriate or predatory. If you are a person who is predatory, a subculture is an ideal hunting ground: people feel a closeness, they’re not likely to reach out beyond that sub community and if you can get yourself into a leadership position, you can pretty much behave with impunity and people wont speak up, because they wont want to loose access to the things you bring to the community.

M: And the leaders as well, I can see them being in a situation where they don’t want to loose the ‘faith’ of the people who they are leading. That makes it sound like a cult, but even in just facilitating events, they want to please the majority and not ruffle any feathers. It can be easier to maintain status quo.

FV:  People don’t want to let go of things. People don’t want to say, “Oh yeah this guy is a predator because he’s hosting play parties and I want to go to these play parties, and if I speak up I’m going to loose access to that.” It is already very hard to come forward if you are an abuse victim. We already treat people who are abused poorly. On top of that, if the person who is the predator is viewed as a respected leader in the community, it’s even harder still because people’s natural instinct is to rally behind that person, and that’s fucked up on so many levels.

M: I’ve also heard the argument of “Well you went to that play party, you knew what you were getting into.”

FV: And that’s the other issue. Consent to one activity does not imply consent to all activities. Consent to being tied up does not imply consent to sexual intercourse.

coyote roadrunnerRECOGNIZING PREDATORS

M: There are some really awesome fetish parties around here, and they have a small dungeon area at the events, with a dungeon team doing rigging. The last event I went to I thought it would be great to get tied up and do some suspension. I got there and checked out the guy doing the rope work and watched him working on the girl, and I got this creepy vibe. He was enjoying it just too much.

FV: One thing a friend of mine wrote about lately was that we can recognize predators. You can recognize predatory behavior. You can tell, you can sense the vibe- unless you are talking about people who are really socially stunted in some way- we recognize it when we see it. But predators are so skilled at riding the line right at the edge where you can’t point to any single thing they have done and say ‘that was inappropriate’. It is difficult to speak up because you can’t say, “This thing that he did was wrong” or. “This thing she did really pushed this boundary”. They are really good at riding that. So you end up in a situation where you know by feel that this person is behaving inappropriately, you can tell there’s something icky going on, and you’re like, “Well what if I’m misreading it?” And it becomes easy to rationalize, well what if it’s just the feeling that I have and everything is really ok. I can’t point to something this person is doing, so you know maybe im making a mistake. What do you do with situations like that?

M: Yes. There have been situations where people have asked me to come to the mixers for play parties, and I’m not sure if I want to do that. Maybe I’ll go meet people, but I don’t know if I will go to the play parties. That seems to require just so much trust, and if this is a room full of people I don’t know? My walls go up, and I wont enjoy it.

FV: When I go to play parties, it’s invariably with a person who is a partner. And then you can create that sort of environment where you can enjoy what’s happening and not be looking for, or open to participation by, people who are not your intimates and that really makes a big difference. But yeah if you are going into a situation like that and you don’t have someone there who is your intimate, then yeah, that doesn’t really sound like a lot of fun.

POLY POLITICS

M: I’ve heard people say they hope the 21st century will see the acceptance of non-monogamy as mainstream.

FV: Well, cultural ideas change all the time.  If you go back, in the roaring 20s, homosexuality was more accepted than it was in 1945. There are always cultural ups and downs in the way that sexual minorities and subcultures are treated.  It’s hard to look at the subculture and extrapolate from that. It’s a tough question.  We don’t exist in the vacuum. Everyone one of us has grown up with idea that when you know you are in love and have your own true soul mate, then everything will be perfect forever. It affects us, and it’s really hard to filter out.

I would argue that because we are social animals there is no such thing as our intrinsic nature, because our intrinsic nature is to be affected by the societies we create. It’s a pickle! How do you say what a human being’s intrinsic nature is?

M: There’s a fanatical element within the poly community, those who have taken it on as a political movement, and absolutely, its important to fight for rights. We are lucky to live where things are more liberal now, in terms of how we can have our relationships. I can love a man; I can love a woman, that’s acceptable. In Canada, it’s not technically illegal to have more than one common law partner, though it isn’t technically legal either. We are very fortunate. But there are some people who seem to take it too far in that fanaticism, they take it too far, “Everyone has to be polyamorous. No one is allowed to be monogamous, and anyone who says anything about monogamy, we’re going to shut them out.”

FV: I think that’s inevitable. You’re going to see that in any sub community or subculture of people who feel under attack or under threat. There are going to be some people who respond to that by saying, “If you’re not with us you’re against us. If you’re not like us you’re a bad person.” You see that in the BDSM community, the LGBT community. It’s an inevitable consequence of being human.

COMING OUT

M: Switching topics slightly. Your family- do they know about your polyamorous love style?

FV: My family of origin? My family has always known that I’m poly because it would have been impossible to hide it.  I mean I took two dates to the prom when I was in high school! Little bit of a giveaway there. My mother is really laid back and really cool and has always been an awesome person. My father doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He keeps veering back and forth between “Oh my god you go! My son is such a stud,” and, “Well why cant you just be normal like everybody else?” My family has met most of my partners throughout my life and they have always been very, very open and accepting.

M: That’s awesome.

FV: It is.  I got lucky in that way.

M: Yes. You are very lucky.  I have noticed there can be this attitude that, if you are sexually deviant, there is something wrong with you. “You’re dealing with mommy or daddy issues. You have a weird fetish? You must have been traumatized as a child.”

FV: Yeah… I look back over my childhood, which was actually pretty good, and I’m a kinky mutherfucker. Maybe- it’s just a normal part of human variability!