Tolerating Trauma

I am tolerating my trauma.

As I sit down to write, anticipating the next session of the Good Girl Recovery Program, and reflecting on how my life has changed since I first took it three years ago, I realise: I am tolerating my trauma.

We look at tolerance in the program. A Tolerance is often a symptom of our Good Girl being in charge. Being ‘good’ often means tolerating things we don’t like, and the feeling that we can’t do anything about them.

I have been tolerating my trauma.

I don’t much like my trauma. It surrounds me, some days like a wall of steel, other days like an amorphous blob of goo. I love the days when I forget it’s there: days filled with forming new, happy, joyful memories, and nights spent feeling safe in my body, and safe in a lover’s arms. The other days though, the days when that barrier appears, and I am straight jacketed back into seclusion and fear — I don’t much like those days.

408562534_60cf923a09_zI tolerate the effect it has on me. I tolerate the terror that bubbles up when I try to express my sexuality with women, a fear that causes me to freeze from the inside out. I tolerate that second-guessing in my head every time someone gives me a compliment about who I am or what I do. I tolerate fear living inside of me — fear that the ones who gaslight me are right.

I am so done with tolerating my trauma.

It starts, unnoticed, like a pebble in your shoe, that discomfort you can’t quite pinpoint, but that irks you all the same. As you walk, it becomes noticeable. The more you walk, the more noticeable it becomes until finally you pull the shoe off and see the bloody hole in your sock where your skin has broken, given in to the repeated annoyance. I couldn’t stop to let the wounds heal. There were things to be done, places to be reached. I put that shoe on and soldiered forward.

I have been tolerating the pain.

The irony of these tolerances is that this all began when I tolerated disrespect of my body. I was silent about my sovereignty when I could have been far more vocal, far more articulate about my boundaries — both physical and emotional. I tolerated them being crossed over and over, by more than one person. I’ve done that my whole life in an effort to ‘be good’ and ‘fit in’. Tolerating disrespect of my body and my voice cost me dearly.

I have been tolerating my mistakes.

At night I sit sometimes next to my journal, but I don’t write. I’m afraid to record these thoughts in any way, scared that if I re-read them, I will chisel them into my psyche. I wonder, what if the un-named whispers are right? What if I stand in my community an imposter, a pretender, someone not deserving of this world? What if I am some ticking timebomb of Danger, the solo polyamorous anarchist slut, the unpredictable, unpartnered, unaccountable, waiting to explode chaos onto the world — or their world, at least?

I have been tolerating a community’s abuse of me, their dismissal of my voice, and of my experience.

I don’t need to tolerate these things any more.

I can do something about my tolerances.

I take steps to heal my trauma.

courage-1197366_960_720In gratitude, I work with therapists, bodyworkers, sexological workers, somatic healers, and more. I float. I begin to feel safer in my body, comfortable again in my own skin. The nightmares no longer wake me at night. I can relax in both solitude and company.

In love, I begin to experience my sexuality in new ways, different ways than before. My partners hold space for my orgasms of tears as much as the orgasms of laughter. They listen to my body. We move together, breathe together, heal together. I am in awe of these men.

In service, I look to explore community. I cannot be blind to the inescapable pedestalling, but I can look to serve, and offer what gifts I have to those who would ask, and invite them in. I stand strong and ask for my right to space in each group that invites me to dance. With shield raised, but sword lowered, I let it be known I wish no fight, only to participate and share. Some, kindly, listen, and let me in. I find myself tolerating the avoidant silences of others.

In community, I build stronger roots. No longer a career nomad, nor shackled to the idea of permanent impermanence of friendships, I seek sisterhood, I seek kinship, I seek family — and I find it. I desire to know these humans, and for them to know me, in our deepest, raw truths. I heal, through my community.

In integrity, I prostrate myself before the roots of my trauma. I seek to honour the teachers they have been, and to find a path of peace, not war. I recognise the tragic expressions of unmet needs we have all made — both myself, and others — and ask what do we need to heal?

As I write these words, I feel relief. The releasing of what has been tolerated opens a door to new joy, and in this generous space of possibility, a life that could be well worth living for.

I choose, not to be Good, but to be Kind.

I had tolerated being good and it made me mad and angry. I choose to change that. Not to act out of obligation and expectation of what I ‘should’ do, but rather, to move from my heart, to act from compassion — both for myself, and for others. Moving out of a space of tolerance is not so much a question of “what’s good for me?” rather it is “what would the kindest choice be?”

And in such kindness, I receive from myself, what I tolerated a lack of from others: a compassionate embrace, gratitude for what is, forgiveness for what I wish was not, and hope for a kinder tomorrow.

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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 Self Reliance and Community Responsibility

“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce….. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past… Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’ Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”

~Gabor Mate

 

I read an article recently on Radical Self Reliance, and how this concept is killing people. In it, the author talks about the concept of Radical Self Reliance as it exists in the modern influence of Burning Man Culture on the world at large. Simply defined on the Burning Man Organisation’s website, it is encouragement for “each individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

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walking across Playa, August 2014

In practice, it’s to encourage personal responsibility for one’s own well-being: you bring to the Playa what you will need, you don’t expect anyone else to look after you. It’s a fantastic principle to have, and I have found huge value in the practice of living life in such a way that I take on responsibility for my own well being and experience- it has taught me resilience and emotional fortitude that I don’t know I could have learned elsewhere.

I do, however, see a shadow side to this. Radical Self Reliance can become toxic, I find, when we shift into exclusively looking after ourselves, and forgetting that none of us are physical- or emotional- islands.

We are all in relationship to one another. Until only one human being is left on this planet, there is no escaping this.

Individualism and “Poly Libertarianism”

Individualism- putting the individual first, and ignoring the collective needs of a community- is, I believe, one of the most prominent characteristics of the endemic disconnection emerging in modern society.

No one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions or meeting anyone else’s needs. There is no more co-dependence. There is interdependence, on a voluntary basis. Each member is an autonomous, free individual, who can come or go as she or he pleases. Our love is earned, not expected.”

~Sara Burrows, on Poly Libertarianism

I see many people engaging in what has been labelled “Poly Libertarianism”, where they state their needs and shirk any responsibility for meeting what other people’s needs might be. Heck, I’ve done that and been one of those poly people. Prioritising my relationship with myself has been fundamental in my own journey in Solo Polyamory. For a long time, I needed to shut out the idea that others had needs and requests that I could (and should) respond to because I’d internalised damaging messages about having to please others. I view this behaviour pattern now as an adaptive behaviour I used to cope with my own personal experience of the collective trauma inherent with being a woman raised in a patriarchal society. I’d suppressed my own desires for so long that now, when I was finally free of that suppression, I didn’t want to stop and listen to what anyone else wanted. I had to discover what I wanted.

As much as that path allowed me to get clear on where the stories around obligations and ‘shoulds’ came from, as much as it taught me the power in saying no to meeting someone else’s desire, and asking for my own desires to be met, it didn’t bring me joy in my relationships, because it alone didn’t support connection. It was hugely valuable in the process of finding authenticity in myself, but it didn’t support intimacy.

Intimacy and Compassion

Intimacy doesn’t exist in individualism. Intimacy can only come from connection, and while individualism encourages more self-awareness and connection to one’s own needs, wants, and desires, it is Intimacy  that asks us to recognise the needs, wants, and desires of our partners, families, friends, and indeed, our entire community.

“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity and love. What seems nonadapative and self-harming in the present was, at some point in our lives, an adaptation to help us endure what we then had to go through. If people are addicted to self-soothing behaviours, it’s only because in their formative years they did not receive the soothing they needed. Such understanding helps delete toxic self-judgment on the past and supports responsibility for the now. Hence the need for compassionate self-inquiry.”

~ Gabor Mate, In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts

For the first few years of my journey in polyamory, focussing on Solo Polyamory, I nourished and refined a fantastic relationship with myself. It has been a remarkable journey in self-intimacy. And yet, the relationships I had with others didn’t reflect the kind of intimacy I was desiring. I was so keen on my own radical self-reliance, that I forgot a very important piece: community responsibility.

Yes, you are responsible for your Self, I am responsible for my Self- and yet we exist in the same place and time, and therefore we have a relationship with one another. In that relationship, I cannot shake off responsibility for the effects of my words and actions on you, nor can you shake off responsibility for the effects of your words and actions on me. That is to say, while your reactions are your own, that doesn’t mean I can’t participate in the processing of your reaction, or that I should ignore the effects my own actions and words have had on you- no matter what my initial intent was.

I understand the drive for Poly Libertarianism, I really do. It provides an amazing buffer against the shadow emotions that can come up in relationships, experiences of jealousy, which some believe are rooted in feelings of fear, loneliness, loss, sadness, anger, betrayal, envy and humiliation.

I would propose, however, that the Individualism approach doesn’t actually address the core issue. I have found that those root emotions so often mentioned are all manifestations of fear, or more specifically, they are a side effect of living with a scarcity paradigm.

We fear loss, loneliness, betrayal, humiliation when we believe love is a limited resource, and we experience envy, anger, possessiveness as a reaction to that fear, still within the scarcity paradigm. These all relate to the core (false) belief that we can have ownership of someone else’s love, and that we may be entitled to it because there’s a limited supply.

And, scarcity is a story we can choose, and it is one that we are sometimes unconsciously choosing when we set ourselves apart on that metaphorical island where we are only responsible for ourselves, both physically and emotionally.

Our other option is to switch gears and choose to recognise that love is abundant and can come in infinite forms. And, that if we dare to show vulnerability and compassion, an infinite number of connections can form, and intimate community can grow.

“Cultivating intimacy with something means becoming sufficiently close to it to know it very, very well. When we don’t get close enough — like scientists keeping themselves emotionally stranded from their subject of study — we miss essential aspects of it. And if we get too close, to the point of fusing with it — like new lovers letting their boundaries collapse in a romantic swoon — we will no longer be able to keep it in focus.

In intimacy, we are deeply relating to an “other” — which could be a person, object, or state — getting close to it in a manner that transcends mere proximity. When it comes to cultivating intimacy with something, connection with it and separation from it are not opposites, but rather fluidly intertwined dance partners.”

~Robert Augustus Masters, “Cultivating Our Intimacy”

When you’re living in an abundance paradigm, the fear of loss, loneliness, and ownership of love don’t appear in the same way, you’re sharing love with everyone, you’re giving your care-bear-stare of compassion and welcoming to each person, whether lover or friend, in whatever way feels right and consensual, and you never feel depleted, nor do you feel lacking when alone.

The Balancing Act between Individual and Community

e727a05410166fcb542ee1eea918I’ve noticed a trend when relationships hit rocky waters: we can confuse the need for individual sovereignty with selfishness, and relationships that put individual needs of one person over another can grow dysfunctional. Likewise, sometimes individuals shirk responsibility for their participation in another person’s emotional state. When that happens, I think there’s a repression of empathy and compassion, which ends up perpetuating internalised stories around scarcity, othering, duality, and disconnection. And, on the flip-side of that, Individuals who take on responsibility for another person’s emotional state are effectively engaging in a form of self-repression, where their own state is ignored and they become energetically subservient to another’s projections of them.

So what is the solution? Relationships that respect there may be both overlapping and incompatible needs, and approach this quandary with compassion- that’s where I feel healthy Intimacy lies. Recognising that our intent is often different from the results of our actions and interactions allows us to have boundaries whilst engaging with compassion. When things go awry and things aren’t the way we want them to be, we don’t necessarily have to take on responsibility for how someone else feels, but we can recognise our own participation in events that may have created that experience- and, more importantly, if those events have been ones that have hurt, injured, or left trauma with another person, we can engage in the process of healing.

Recognising our own potential for active participation in improving the experience of all our partners, family members, friends, metamors, and community, is a huge leap in nourishing both intimacy and compassion. And, huge leaps are not easy. This one asks us to grapple with the stories of self shame, pride, ego, the desire to Be Right, and to find in ourselves greater stores of compassion, humility, empathy, understanding, and that thing we all say we’re here for: Love.

For 2016, my invitation to you is this: don’t be an island. Radical Self Reliance is great, and- you also don’t have to be alone. Our society is suffering from a disease of disconnection, and I sometimes wonder if the urge to explore polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy stems from a deep rooted desire for greater experiences of connection.

Do you dare to open yourself to the possibility of deeper, and more intimate connection? Are you willing to examine what it is that you, as an individual, need, want, and desire? And also to examine what the people around you need, want, and desire? Radical self-reliance can teach us about ourselves; Radical Community Responsibility is the journey of growing to know one another.

 

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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!

Coupling, and Its Inescapable Privilege

A lot has been said, in Poly literature, about something called Couple Privilege, and about something called Hierarchy. The two are commonly perceived to be a package deal, and certainly the way many people talk about them, that’s understandable.

However, I’ve noticed a concerning trend to consider them as the same thing; I recently read a lovely piece by a married woman about how she and her husband didn’t have couple privilege because they didn’t have a hierarchical relationship. I fully respect the place she was coming from, but I felt inspired to examine these concepts again for myself, as something just felt off for me.

I’ll be honest- the first time I heard about Couple Privilege, I tuned out. I just didn’t get it. It’s only in the last few months, as I’ve grown deeper into a relationship with a married man, as I’ve been studying relationship and intimacy from a counsellor’s perspective, and as I’ve seen this topic come up multiple times in the Solo Polyamory group on Facebook, that I feel I’ve started to really grok what this is all about.

What Couple Privilege Is:

The culturally entrenched priority, and measure of value, given to couples by society, both in public perception of them, and the legal status of them.

hisnherstowelsCouple Privilege doesn’t just refer to the legal rights of married or common law partnerships. It goes beyond the right to visit your partner in the hospital, or be legally included in their inheritance even if they didn’t leave a will. It’s more than the financial benefits of being able to file your taxes together. It’s something that is also entrenched in the way that we are taught to see couples. Successful coupling is seen as a milestone in the process of being “grown up”.

In short, it’s what gay and lesbian couples have been fighting to attain the right to have in the USA and many other countries around the world.

What Couple Privilege Is Not:

Couple Privilege is not something that couples can opt in or out of. Just as you cannot lose male privilege whilst being a man, or lose white privilege when you get a summer tan, you cannot select out of couple privilege if you are coupled.

Couple Privilege is not the same as hierarchy, even though the two are often conflated. They are two separate, often co-existing, phenomenon.

What Hierarchy is:

The prioritising of one relationship over another.

If you have a child who you are responsible for, they become the primary focus in your life. If you have a spouse or partner you share financial commitment with, they will be higher a priority than a partner who you don’t live with, have children with, or share finances with. Plain and simple. Hierarchy is implicit, I believe, when you move in with someone, marry someone, or have a child with them.

What Hierarchy Is Not:

Though often considered to go hand in hand, Hierarchy does not mean Veto Power.

Veto Power is a construct that many therapists have recommended to couples opening up their relationship. It is when your spouse can decide you cannot have a relationship with someone else, regardless of your own feelings and desires, because they have said so. Veto Power is an approach to maintaining boundaries and preserving the primary relationship, but I think there are ways to create relationship rules and sculpt boundaries that are far more consensual for everyone involved, including the secondary, non coupling partners.

I’ve met many couples with relationship rules, and have often been informed of their rules very clearly before engaging in anything relationship or intimacy wise with them, yet I have not encountered many couples with Veto Power. Maybe that’s a statistical blip, or perhaps Veto Power is not as prevalent as it once was.

Wait- Is There Such A Thing As Solo Privilege?

solodateAs Western society experiences a surge in popularity of individualism and celebration of the Solo individual, there is a romanticism about the freedom of the Solo Person that arguably gives them some privileges couples do not enjoy. In the polyamorous world, for example, a solo person can “pass” or even be out publicly far more readily than someone who is coupled.

Arguably, this is actually because of Couple Privilege: we value the unit of the couple so much, that anything that challenges that would threaten the ‘fabric of society, and so it makes it hard for couples to come out. And, on the flip side of that, a person who is solo is simply seen as “not coupled yet”, and so their non-monogamous relationships can be more readily dismissed as “Oh they just haven’t found the one yet!”

Single, non-coupled people, can experience a struggle to be recognised as successful and competent adults by their families, friends, and work peers. They can also have a more challenging time financially, supporting a home on a single income and receiving none of the tax benefits that couples do.

How Couple Privilege and Hierarchy Are Different:

1. You don’t have to be coupled to have Hierarchy. For many solo people there is a hierarchy too- its our self-relationship first.

2. Couple Privilege is something awarded you and your coupling partner by Society. You have no choice about this. The moment you display signs of being a couple, you have attained a new level of privilege. What you do have free choice over, is how to react and relate to your own privilege.

Aggie Sez, the author of Solo Poly, has written (in an unpublished comment to an article conflating Couple Privilege and Hierarchy):

“Relationship hierarchy boils down to default, competitive decision making. That is, where people in separate but overlapping relationships have differing needs and wishes, this gets framed as a competition to be won, or as a potential threat to be controlled. It’s mostly a foregone conclusion who will “win” based on how the people/relationships involved are “ranked” — typically according to the nature or duration of those relationships. More life-entwined relationships (such as a cohabitating legal marriage) usually tend to get higher rank. But you could have a poly network where no one is legally married or living together, yet still practice hierarchy among the various relationships involved (though none of those relationships would have social couple privilege).”

So, Hierarchy is something you have more of a choice about, and it feeds into your decision making process. Hierarchy is implicit in most circumstances, but in different ways. It is really only limited to one linear measure if you’re attached to the rules of monogamy. For example, a relationship anarchist might have four different relationships that take priority in different ways at different times: one for longevity, one for cohabitating, one that is long distance (when they come into town), and one for it’s newness and novelty.

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Being single in a sea of couples is not always easy.

Okay, So Now What?

What you can do, if you are part of a Couple, is be aware of both the legal benefits and the social status advantage you enjoy through your relationship, and ‘check your privilege’. What does that look like? Well, you can consider, where do you benefit from being coupled, in a way that your solo friends don’t? Knowing that, how can you be conscious and aware of this and demonstrate this in your actions. You can be an ally to people who are Solo, and be an ally to the other partners your partner has.

Like with Couple Privilege, if you are in a relationship that has some inherent Hierarchy (such as living close versus living long distance, or working together versus not) you can still mitigate the aspects of Hierarchy you are uncomfortable with. You can work to establish an egalitarian base for your relationships, splitting time equally, sharing calendars with all partners, actively working towards more balance in your relationship. For example, if you are uncomfortable with your nesting partner taking priority over your non-nesting partner, you need to consider how to balance this. You could arrange sleepovers when your live-in partner has a date at one of their partner’s homes.

It’s also important, even for non-coupled people, to be aware of how they play into the scripts around couple privilege. When meeting two people who appear to be a couple, do you ever make assumptions about them, and their relationship style?

This approach to combating both the effects of Couple Privilege and Hierarchy is the basis of many of the writings of Franklin Veaux, the book More Than Two, and indeed, much of what I think of as the “second wave” of literature on polyamory. It is an approach that generally considers Couple Privilege and Hierarchy to be constructs that do more harm than good in practices of honest non monogamy.

new-paradigm-ahead

We are now experiencing an emerging “third wave” of poly theory. Drawing from the principles of Relationship Anarchy (‘RA’) of love, trust, and customizing your commitments, and with a focus on healthy self-relationships, couples are emerging who have firmly eschewed as much of their Couple Privilege as they can whilst still remaining coupled, and Solos are discovering ways of having aspects of coupled relationships, enjoying some of the societal endowed privileges whilst abstaining from the legal and community restrictions associated with it. With less focus on trying to ‘balance the scales’ of Privilege and Hierarchy, the RA-inclined non monogamists and polyamorists tend to not fight the aspects of each construct, and rather, they embrace them. Intimate networks, that can include couples, singles, triads, friendships, and long term relationships unbound by rules, are an emerging frontier in radical relationshiping.

I definitely fall into this latter category; my polycule is a social network of its own, with many diverse approaches to non monogamy represented within it, varying relationship rules, agreements, and structures. We are in exciting new territory of discovering what long term non-monogamy, completely outside of the monogamy paradigm, might look like. And I find that quite exciting.

Born This Way: Polysingleish Interviews Rachel Lark!

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

 

The Importance of Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex Positivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mel: Well said.

Rachel: Thanks!

Non-Monogamy and Healthy Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Rise to Stardom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel: Yeah, that’s the preschool training!

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

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Lessons to Our Younger Selves- Polysingleish Interviews Louisa Leontiades

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

 

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

 

Writing about polyamory

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

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Louisa Leontiades, polyamorous writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Being out in Europe 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Polyamory Memoirs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vulnerability and living outside the box

living outside the box

living outside the box

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

Louisa: Thank you.

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

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

 

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

 

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

Expanding and Exploring

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

Do you really know how to play?

Do you really know how to play?

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

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

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

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

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

piano maestro

“Practice Makes Perfect”

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

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

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

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

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

Endings and Evolutions

Almost all the the literature on healthy relationships is about how to stay together. Which, if you’re looking at it from a Relationship Escalator perspective, makes sense, right? We want to stay on that escalator. We want to ascend it with someone. That, after all, makes us successful at being grown up, or so we are led to believe. But, what if you aren’t interested in escalator type relationships? What about for those of us who are Singleish? The Solo adventurers among us? The Relationship Anarchists who aren’t attatched to any particular mold or outcome? Are solo style relationships ‘disposable’? Where is the literature,the self-help books, and the support forums about how to conclude relationships?

The reality is this: all relationships end.

And, when you choose a love-style that does not bind you to vows of “till death do us part”, how then do you recognise when it is time to part- and is it possible to do so without personal emotional rollercoasters?

People who are singleish will probably experience more breakups than their monogamous, escalator seeking friends. In the last two and a half years, since I separated from my ex husband, I’ve been through at least twelve “breakups”. Some of them smooth, some of them horrendous and turbulent.

kpi9I9J

There is almost nothing written about how to end relationships with integrity and positive intentions. With all the advice about how to have beautiful relationships, very little exists about how to have graceful breakups.

A while ago, I learned that integrity was one of my core values, and how to have, and conclude, my relationships with integrity is something that has become important to me. It is something I work consciously to create, as I dislike the messy, ugly, emotional breakups.

I stayed in my marriage way beyond the point when I was emotionally invested in it. It took me two years to realize that I was trying to beat a dead horse with a stick in attempting to continue a blind pursuit of a picket-fence-perfect family with him, when my heart, my dreams, my desires were already beckoning me elsewhere. When I reached the point in my marriage where I knew with certainty that I couldn’t stay married anymore, I felt awful for not having acted on the impulse sooner. I had strung him along because I didn’t want to disappoint him, I didn’t want to break his heart- even though I had been cheating on him and having an affair. I gave a lot of thought to how I could leave the relationship in a healthy way, regain some respect for myself, and honor the man I had called my partner for eight years.

There is tremendous power in walking away from a relationship that no longer feeds or nourishes you, in not binding one’s life path to another. Yet, leaving people to their journey and stepping back into your own- alone- can hurt. It can be hard- even though it is, ultimately, empowering.

There’s a beautiful point in relationships where we know one another so well we can see parts of the other person better that they can see themselves, and we grow to value the way that our partners can reflect those parts to us- but sometimes that’s uncomfortable. We aren’t always ready to go there to witness those hidden parts, and we can trigger one another because we try to see the Self that isn’t wanting to yet be seen.

Ultimately, my ex husband and I had been growing in different directions. We had both been compromising for the sake of our marriage, and neither of us was happy with that. It wasn’t easy to say those words to him, “I want to divorce.” But, once I said it, a huge weight began to lift from both our shoulders. It has taken time, and there have been many challenging conversations along the way, but we are, at last, legally unshackled from one another. And our lives have each flourished in amazing and previously un-imagined ways.

That’s not to say that everything is ‘done’. There are still some unresolved wounds from my marriage: the deep sorrow of a decade of never really being seen by my partner; the shame of sexual rejection; the pain of hiding under a proverbial rock- creatively, sexually, professionally- and only now realizing just how much of me had been missing from the picture. I wish I could have been seen, I wish I could have been all of me without the fear of being me. These wounds have bled in to some of the more recent relationships in my life, including one that I have held incredibly dear, and written about a lot in this blog.

My emotions have weathered far deeper, far harder storms than this. Processing the end of my marriage- I was already over it by the time I chose to end it. With Orion, however, getting over has been hard. Complicated. Unfamiliar.

417849_179968288824675_180673540_n

In the past, with breakups, I’ve been able to retreat away from the person, and they’ve been able to retreat away from me. In this instance, it’s different. There is no avoidance. I dance with my emotions and the discom-poly-ation of things and must learn to embrace and flow forward, despite the parts of me that yell and scream and tug. There’s no other way- the longevity of our friendship and the all-encompassing nature of the spiritual kinship and emotional connection we’ve shared more of in the past year plus means that our lives have multiple overlapping friendships, social connections, activities, and work opportunities. In this case, the only way out is through.

Breakups feel like waking up from the intoxication of a dream. There’s a hangover as the presence of the relationship in our lives begins to wear off. Now, writing a few weeks after the fact, rather than a ‘break up’ I see it more like a break through. I feel like it’s a leveling up, a giant gear shift to the next chapter of exploring what Singleish means for me. I’m learning completely new things about how I relate to my relationships, renewing the relationship with my Primary- my Self- and diving in to new, exciting, connections with others.

The transformations that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks seem to reflect that the relationship with Orion was over long before it was over. I feel disappointed that we both were stringing things along, trying to dance between friendship and friendtimacy when the healthier thing (as has now become evident) was to walk away entirely if we ever hoped to hit reset on the friendship. Rather than get caught up in the petty game of resentments- a path of bitterness that I do not choose to buy in to- I ask myself, what could I do differently, in the future? How can I build healthy relationships that have empowering conclusions, and do not emotionally drain any participant in the process of the relationship ending?

I have some theories.

First of all, acknowledge that all relationships have endings. Come to terms with it for yourself, and, acknowledge that with the person you are in a relationship with. Talk about it- remove the veil of fear that exists in talking about endings! One sweetie, Gerard, who I have been dating since last fall, has been great at conversations like this. Without going in to details, we both know that our intimate relationship has a very limited time frame. We don’t know when it will end, we just know that it will. That fact has been on the table right from Date Zero. And so we’ve talked about how we want to talk about that when the time comes. Very meta, right? I know.

photo (1)So that’s the second point- talk about how you like to experience endings. We have been ingrained with this terror of ending relationships, a fear that it means we will be a ‘failure’- and so when time comes to end it we either ignore the signals, or we act from that place of fear, that place of fight-or-flight. We might try to keep things going ‘as friends’. We may lash out. We can say irrational things. We start talking at one another rather than talking with one another. The best way to get over any fear is to deal with it before it comes up. Ask yourself- and your partners- how long do you want to explore this relationship? What are your indicators for when a relationship has run out of steam? How do you want to communicate these things to each other when they come up? How do you like to relate to former lovers when the relationship has ended? These are important conversations to have with ourselves, as well as with anyone we form a relationship with. It’s like having an informal relationship pre-nup chat.

Third- recognise that there are no problems, only opportunities. The end of one relationship births the way for new ones. The conclusion of a chapter opens the path for exploration of novelty. Learn how to embrace the changes it brings. For me, I’ve been reconnecting with activities that I love, and spending more time with people I haven’t see in a long time. I’ve shared beautiful walks in the forest with wise and intelligent friends. I reorganized my bedroom. I’ve been taking myself out on Me dates. I’ve discovered that someone I was mesmerized by on the dance floor at a music festival last summer lives ten minutes walk away from my home, and he happens to have a passion for rope and bondage that’s very compatible with mine. In summary- I’ve been actively rediscovering the world around me, and finding that I love it so much more than I thought I would, and so much more than I have been in the last several months.

Last of all: when things are ended, find a way, if you can, to communicate what you have loved and cherished about the relationship, and what the relationship has meant to you. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for whatever was in it to be grateful for. It could be big things, or it could be the little things. This is possibly the hardest part, as it can take years to figure out. Last time I saw my ex husband, we talked a bit about this. I shared with him that I was grateful to him for introducing me to the world of psychedelics, and for being the reason I came to Canada. I can’t imagine where my life would have gone otherwise. He, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what difference I had made in his life, but said he would think about it. It was one of the most nourishing and positive conversations we have had in years. Being able to say to a partner, “The external presence of you in my life has nourished the internal experience of my Self,” when we have broken up- that’s something I now aim for.

Endings signal evolution. Breakups breed growth, and growth isn’t in the easy flow. The easy flow is what you get to once you’ve grown. The growth is in embracing the challenge, in diving in to intimacy with your fears and judgements. It’s in being able to look someone in the eye who you have loved, who has triggered you, turned your heart inside out with thrashing anguish, brought about emotional reactions that have completely and utterly terrified you, and the absence of whom has made you feel you are nothing and insignificant- and being able to feel like you can still love their soul, fall in love with their cosmic essence, and dance with them in the uncertainties between you.

photo (3)