A Letter to the Magpies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whose Ethics Are They Anyway?

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

Specifically, my problem is the terminology.

Ethical. What’s ethical? I ask myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canadian geese are jerks.

Some Things that are Uncool To Do In Relationships:

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

Some Things that are Cool To Do In Relationships:

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

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

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

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

Radical Relationships and the Evolution of Identity

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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