Self Intimacy, Sex-Positivity, Shame, and the Resilient Edge of Resistence

“Boundaries are an essential part of life. They delineate and maintain needed borders and separations, making differentiation possible at every level. Boundaries both contain and preserve the integrity of what they are safeguarding, be that physical, psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual. Without them there is no relationship and therefore no development, no evolution. But despite this clear truth, we often fall into the trap of believing that boundaries hold us back, preventing us from being free…”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

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I heard a great metaphor for boundaries recently, from my friend and mentor Marcia. Boundaries are like skin. Skin protects us from bacteria, contaminants- it keeps the bad things out. It also holds our bodies together and keeps the good things in. It has elasticity and can stretch and squish for short periods of time (this is called the Resilient Edge of Resistance, think of it as a plus/minus margin around your boundaries). Push that edge too far, and we reach our limits- the skin breaks. It is semi permeable, so we can let good things in (like sunlight and moisture) and sweat the bad things out. And without skin around us, things get messy.

Similarly, without boundaries, life gets messy.

In polyamory we are constantly being challenged to redefine our boundaries, to explore some of the difficult stuff in that resilient edge of resistance- sometimes we reach our limits. We also traverse an emotional field where we invite more vulnerability into our lives, because we are allowing more people to connect with that core part of ourselves that the boundaries are there to protect. The more partners we have, the more we are asked to live in that space of vulnerability. Doing so feels radical, revolutionary, and many people experience a sexual and emotional liberation when they begin exploring this.

In a traditional coupled relationship, boundaries are created to protect and preserve the primary relationship. They are there, like a warm blanket, keeping the relationship safe and in a place of comfort, where the individuals in it can relax and grow and flourish. This is true of monogamous and honestly non-monogamous couples.

However, when it comes to flying Solo, it is not quite so straightforward.

Evening clouds above

There is no primary partner, there is no obvious other to create shared boundaries with- though we absolutely can, many people perceive boundaries as limitations, and equate them with primary like relationships. Ultimately, we all have to develop our own clear boundaries around what we want to nurture in our lives, and what we want to keep out- and this is far more apparent when exploring Solo Polyamory. The nature of Solo Poly relationships is so often fluid and changing, that one can sometimes feel there is no safe-house to come home to unless you create one for yourself. But, it can be easy to forget this, and when you are unattatched to a primary partner, there are plenty more opportunities to explore that Resilient Edge of Resistence.

I pushed and stretched and redefined my personal Resilient Edge of Resistence for two years. After a lifetime of frustration with the limitation of my creative expression and sexual shaming, I dove heart first into a dynamic and powerful exploration of living life without restrictions. I began to embrace my sensual expression, I grew to honor my shadow self, I found alchemy in letting my spirit blossom and fly free. I looked to the free spirits around me and followed their examples. I was going to sex parties, being guest listed for kink nights, throwing my own kinky raves with my friends, being invited to participate in the sex-positive community both locally, and internationally. I felt comfortable having sex around strangers, and engaging in BDSM play to the side of the dance floor. It was so incredibly liberating! I had come so far from the shy, ashamed, repressed young woman who flinched at the idea of talking about sex.

shattered glassAnd then, I became intoxicated with the freedom. I became addicted to my shadow self. I pushed myself too far.My resiliency broke. I lost my boundaries. I lost my skin. My guts went spilling all over the place, and toxic, unhealthy influences entered into my life.

Months later I still wake in the middle of the night from nightmares filled with flashbacks of trauma, and my heart remains heavy with heartache, regret, and deep sorrow.

After reaching a breaking point with exploring my resilient edge, I attempted to build a wall around my heart, and my Self, reinforcing my boundaries into an impenetrable fortress. While this made me feel more safe, it also made it impossible to reach out to the ones I loved- because I couldn’t connect to my heart without connecting to the pain too. They felt pushed away.

While all this was happening, I was diving into studies of the nature of intimacy, boundaries, and self-actualisation. I learned about something called Self-Intimacy, the conscious awareness of one’s own emotions, desires and thoughts. Without healthy self-intimacy, we struggle to engage in healthy conflict, and displays of affection can become shallow and disconnected. When we lack healthy self-intimacy, our negative emotions can build up, and without expression or support for resolution, they can drive us to disregard our limits, and live in a state where our resilient edges are being constantly pushed to breaking point.

I had spent so long pushing myself to explore my edges, I had forgotten how to relax, and just be with my self. My inner perfect poly person had grown adept at suppressing my shadow emotions in relationships, and my mind was at conflict with my heart. Even though I had intellectually consented to almost all of my experiences, my heart’s consent had not been present. I had been ignoring the messages from my body, ignoring the crushing pain of approaching my limits- until they had been reached, with heart-breaking consequences.

jumpingLiberating ourselves of the shame around sex and embracing sex positivity shouldn’t have to mean going to orgies or BDSM play parties. It doesn’t have to be a process of pushing our resilient edges of resistance to breaking point- either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It might mean those things for some people- and that has certainly been part of my own journey- but I don’t think that it has to include those things. I think sex positivity is hi-fiving ourselves and our friends and partners for good sex, sex positivity is exploring healthy connections and physically empowering chemistry. It’s about not flinching when someone else talks about sex. It’s embracing your own nature as a sexual being. It’s accepting the diversity of experiences people have had, and the complex relationships each person can have to the act of sex- and respecting that most people do not need to live in the adrenalin addiction of having their edges challenged in relationships constantly.

I’m valuing the existential crisis inherent in all of this. In my personal quest for identity, relationship, and meaning, I have too often become trapped in doing mode, a state entangled in mental pathways, removed from the experience of simply being. Rather than following my head into new situations, I’m slowing down and listening to my heart, and my whole body. In finding solitude and quietude again, I’m reconnecting with the courage to just be, and finding freedom in that. The clearer I become on what I’m living for- my deepest desires- the more my natural boundaries become apparent. The margins of my being may not be what I once thought they were- or perhaps, they have changed- and I am giving myself permission to change, and nurture my resiliency.

I don’t need to live life on the edge all the time- and neither do you, if you do not want to. You have permission to be loving to yourself, to honor your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional body and boundaries, to embrace your shadow self, and your light. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the cutting edge, doing all-the-things. Life can also be lived with warmth and nurturing; life can be lived by simply being. You can love your boundaries. You can grow roots, live a life that doesn’t push your resilient edge of resistance to breaking point, and still be radical and sex-positive.

self-empowerment
“We are not here to shed or abandon our boundaries, but to breathe integrity and strength into them, to fully illuminate them, and to make sure that they take a form that serves not only our highest good but also the highest good of all. We are not here to override or devalue our boundaries but to use them as wisely as possible… discovering the freedom in fully engaging our experience. Our boundaries stand as guardians on this path, with an authority that supports our growth and awakening.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

(with gratitude to Orion and Chelsie for editorial feedback)

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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!