Together Independently

“How do you explain to people that it is not true that you have a fiercely guarded heart? That it just feels like you have not had the space that felt safe enough to fully share it? To really let people in? And that you found that space with people who came into your life in a moment.”
~Catherin Hunter, Solo Polyamorist

Andrew GonzalezWhen’s the last time you had sex?
When’s the last time you had sex without fear? Had sex that was courageous?

I think of how often I have sought out sex in an effort to try and feel courageous, in moments when I have felt afraid. Having sex to fill a void in myself and seek out the intimacy and love that I didn’t experience in earlier life has been a band aid- one that has helped in short term healing, but that has hurt like hell when ripped off. Sex has been a remedy that’s intoxicating and addictive.

I’m used to fighting an internal battle during sex. It’s an effort to silence two voices of judgement. One tells me, “You’re being too much.” The other tells me, “You are not enough.” Both these voices come from a part of me that doesn’t feel like I have a ‘right’ to be who I am, that being solo, and polyamorous, and queer, somehow makes me ‘broken’ because I counter the expected norms. Over time I’ve learned how to navigate my focus away from those voices, but it takes some effort. And as my journey progresses, I have craved an experience of physical intimacy where those voices don’t hold any sway over me, and I can feel safe to celebrate who I am.

“Intimate relationship is perhaps the ashram of the 21st Century — a place especially ripe with transformational possibility, a combination crucible and sanctuary for the deepest sort of healing and awakening, through which the full integration of our physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.

Intimate relationship as a crucible and sanctuary for our healing and awakening — sounds good, doesn’t it? But once our honeymoon with this is over, the real labor begins. The path is not neatly laid out for us, in part because we, through our very relatedness with our intimate other, are co-creating that path, that relational unfolding, as we go, feeling our way — more often than not in far-from-straight lines — toward what really matters.
~ Robert Augustus Masters

This past weekend was the first International Solo Polyamory Conference. It was profound. It was transformational. It was healing. And I learned the incredible power of being honored, accepted, and celebrated for who I am, through honoring and celebrating people dancing the same path.

Singledom within a network of relations is, I believe, the new frontier for radical relating: it is predicted today that 1 in 4 adults will never marry and out of those that do, 50% will divorce. And it’s not that people are not wanting to have relationships anymore, they do! But within a social context that still prizes coupled monogamy above all else, we lack refined, accessible wisdom on how to actually do autonomous intimacy.

Solo Polyamory offers a ‘best of all worlds’ approach. Solo polyamory is honest non monogamy, without the relationship escalator. It is characterised by no primary partnerships, a focus on individual autonomy, and a prioritising of platonic support networks. It draws a diverse range of ages, ethnicities, genders, and orientations. We are something of a ‘fringe’ group within polyamory, overlapping a lot with Relationship Anarchy in our desire for sovereignty within relationships, and an aspiration for interdependence. In a world that seems to revolve around monogamous, dyadic coupledom, we eschew the idea that being a successful grown up means becoming a productive member of coupled-up consumer society.

To paraphrase Kim TallBear, we are people who are in recovery from monogamous colonization and upbringing.

This weekend was about making space, not just for ourselves, but for everyone who has felt disenchanted with the myths and obligations of monogamy.

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“It’s about connecting THROUGH independence.”
~Kale Gossen

Coming and being out in the non-monogamy world is ‘easier’ when our relationships are good, but it’s harder to share when things are rocky. Solo polyamorists face shaming around false notions that we are incapable of commitment, afraid of intimacy, or closed off from meaningful connection. More than once, I have experienced someone else take the slightest imperfection in my relationship landscape and jump on that to say “Aha, see? your fault, you didn’t commit.” My honest sexuality has been painted as predatorial. My solo-ness been interpreted as a psychological fault. And I’m not the only one who has been stigmatised and ostracised because they don’t subscribe to relationship escalator expectations.

This is why we had a conference. To gather together a critical mass of solo polyamorists and see what could be generated in terms of affirming our relational choices and making our collective voices heard. This weekend was about being big, and making space.

I marvel at the diversity of experience that was present over the weekend. Unified in our desire for autonomy in the way we build relationships, and an aspiration for interdependence, we formed a very unique micro-community. It was delightful to connect in person with people I had gotten to know online, and people who were totally new to me, as well as deepening some existing connections with the local Solo Polyamory community.

The weekend was rich and wonderful. With unconference sessions on everything from Consent and Abuse, to “I can Unicorn if I Wanna!”, it was liberating to talk frankly about things too often stigmatised and silenced. I felt a letting go internally of the shame I’ve held around my not-so-great experiences in my journey as a solo polyamorist.

I had a very visceral experience of the power of creating a safe space for people to show up authentically. Getting to sit into being more a participant than organiser during most of Sunday, I feel an alchemy in action. I had tears rolling down my cheeks during Kim TallBear’s keynote on decolonising love; and the tears continued thru the day, with sharings raw and personal during breakout sessions, and feeling profoundly seen and supported in a web of kinship bound thru shared values and relatable experiences.

The closing circle was, for me, the most profound part of the weekend. In talking about our weekend highlights, one participant stood up to thank myself and co-producer Hannah Darvill for our organising, and the specific things said to me touched me in ways that I am wordless to express the full impact and significance of: that they were grateful for my peer-leadership, my role modelling of consent through the whole weekend, for the way I inspired and brought together so many while still sharing in raw and vulnerable ways. I cried again, in front of everyone. I’m still working on breathing into how deeply healing those words were.

18156567_10158651748435584_6701670662310936136_oI won’t ever be able to talk publicly about some parts of my personal journey, and the challenges therein. Suffice to say that those specific things (servant leadership, consent culture, empowering individuals within community) reflect values core to who I am, but are also values which have been called into question in the past. To hear that positive reflection from someone I so greatly admire, and to see the resonance with others around the room- that’s a moment I’d like to dip into again and again and again.

 

I started this article talking about sex.

SoloPolyCon was not about hooking up. It was about connections. And my weekend experience was punctuated by a connection rich with compelling chemistry. I’ve always found my connections with other solo polyamorists to move with less friction and more speed; maybe that’s got something to do with the shared value of autonomous intimacy. We speak the same language that dances between freedom and connection, and there’s a tremendous sense of ease for me in that.

Travis came up to me on the dance floor at our social mingler on the first evening and thanked me for something I’d said about us having a shared value of autonomy. My comment had been met with laughter and resonance, but he had found himself experiencing a strong emotional response to this. He said he’s been looking for his “people” for years, and when he saw everyone raising their hands for autonomy, he realised- here we were! We spent that first evening diving into deep conversation, which concluded with a kiss goodnight. 

I loved our autonomous and flirtatious interactions over the weekend, sometimes just a glimpse of eye contact or smirk at one another during sessions we were both in. At other times, a full on staring contest and radical honesty in conversation. Delightful. Mischievous. Unapologetic. I liked this guy! After so many months of wrestling with PTSD and struggling with feeling connected to my sexual expression, I celebrated my healing journey with sex that was bold, kinky and fulfilling. 

We had sex that was fearless. Where the voices that say “you’re not enough” and “you’re too much” were silent and I no longer had to do battle with or play prisoner to them. I didn’t have to force them into silence. They. Just. Weren’t. There.

After a steamy Saturday evening date we celebrated our autonomy once again: I headed out dancing, and he back to his airbnb.

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My counselor reflected to me that it’s rare to find healing in similar circumstances to where our wounding happened. Having felt wounded in sexual intimacy, and then again wounded in poly community, I feel profoundly grateful that this weekend I experienced healing both in one on one intimacy, and within the greater polyamorous community. I felt loved and welcomed for every inch of who I am, and in no moment did I feel a need to justify or defend myself. It’s all still sinking in, and I suspect it will take a while for the immensity of what was created this weekend- for everyone, not only me- to fully land.

My cup is so full, my body vibrating, and my heart bursting.

Someone had remarked to me earlier that a lot of ‘movers and shakers’ turn up to conferences like these. In that closing circle we talked about the highlights of the conference, and the ‘what now?’. I was so moved to see dozens of people step into positions of community leadership in answer to an invitation to action. I have tingles up and down my spine thinking about this.

Alone, we’re solo and isolated, and can too often think we are powerless, or ‘broken’. Together Independently, we are a movement of social change and advocates for autonomy within intimacy. Though we are still detoxing from the monogamy hangover, we are, all of us, Superheroes- with the ability to inspire and celebrate one another in big, meaningful, profound ways.

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Compassion, Communication, and Community in Consent Culture

“I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general.  Cut that shit out of your life.  If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right.  Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along.  Accept that no means no–all the time.”

~ The Pervocracy

I do not put myself up as a poster-child for Consent. Like everyone else in the world, I have been raised with mixed messages around Consent, messages about gender roles that negate autonomy, messages about societal expectations and how to counter that. It has been a journey of great humility and some difficult lessons, for myself and for many others. But, it is a journey I am 100% dedicated to, because I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person.

I’ll say that again- I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person. However, I also believe that we have all done so, in moments of what I call “selfish idiocy”.

There are no experts here, we are all students.

12The deeper you go into the “rabbit hole” of Consent Culture, the more you find there is that you had never considered before, and the more you begin to see every interaction with another human being through that lens of Consent.

That can be challenging, for many people. It can be especially challenging for people who have been the victims of consent violations to realise that they have violated the consent of others.

I have deep respect for all the people who have devoted their time and energy to exploring aspects of Consent in so many different arenas of life. We, today, are better equipped, have better tools for learning consent than ever before. And change is happening, inch by inch.

However, I personally caution against anyone thinking that they’ve got consent 100% nailed down in themselves. Overwhelmingly the message about consent is linked in with sex. But, consent is about so much more than sex. Consent is something we can aspire to in every interaction.

When we are learning about consent only with sexual motivations as a reference point, I think it hinders the ability to really develop consent within ourselves.

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Got Consent?

What is a consent violation, if not something solely to do with sex? Quite simply, it is when you take what someone else isn’t willing to give, or force someone to accept something they don’t want. It could be physical, verbal, tangible or intangible, emotional, or simply a question of using time and/or space. Whether intended to harm or not it doesn’t matter. What matters is that another individual’s desires and boundaries were not respected. And any violation of consent becomes serious if it creates trauma.

Consent culture is about respecting that we have no right to take or demand what someone else is not willing to give or share.

A culture of consent is, I believe, one in which interactions are guided by compassion, respect, tolerance, kindness, and patience.

I’ve been contemplating for a long time- how does one call someone on their non-consensual behaviour? When someone within your community, your ‘tribe’, your polycule, or your family is behaving with disregard to others, how can you confront them? And, when someone has seriously violated others- whether intending harm, or simply acting from a place of selfish idiocy- how can we, a community, lovingly yet sternly put our foot down about it?

shadowsCalling someone ‘out’ can ostracise them. It can leave a long-lasting stigma. Staying silent about someone’s behaviour, on the other hand, means that they will likely to continue to engage with those same behaviour patterns, and- intentional or not- continue to hurt others. I’ve seen some community groups just quietly remove someone from their social circles. I’ve witnessed the “back-stage” type gossip, where people try to pass along the word about a potential ‘predator’ (or actual predator) without pulling things into a public spotlight. I don’t think any of these approaches really addresses the root cause.

The root cause, is that we’ve grown up in a paradigm where we’re told it’s okay to take something from someone, even if they aren’t willing to give it to you. We’re told we live in a world of scarcity, that we have to battle to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted. We live in a paradigm of fear, of distrust, and of competition. And because we- as a society- tend to default to seeing the world through that lens, we are more prone to violate the consent of others.

I think we need to change that paradigm. And I think we can do that by shifting the way we address situations where people have problems recognising boundaries, and problems recognising that they have violated consent.

“The first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen. Mistakes in communities seeking justice and freedom may not hurt any less but they also have possibility for transforming the ways we build with each other for a new, better world. We have got to believe that we can transform.”

~ Ngọc Loan Trần, in Black Girl Dangerous

If we embrace the fact that we are all going to make mistakes, I think it becomes easier to talk about our mistakes. And, talking about our mistakes brings us closer in a practice of healthy conflict process. We can accept and own our errors more readily when everyone else accepts and owns their own errors too- and then, we get to share some humble pie and look at how we can transform together.

It’s also very important to remember that, even if our own consent has been violated in the past, even if we carry trauma from that, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of hurting others. We all need to work on healing our wounds, and make sure that we don’t transfer our pain onto others.

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So, when we need to call someone in our tribe on their behaviour, are we doing so to try and vilainise and ostracise them? Or, are we doing so because we want to let them know they made a mistake, and to ask for their support in helping the person(s) who have suffered from that mistake, while also supporting them in their learning journey?

When we ourselves are called on our errors, the moments we have pushed past thinking about whether there were boundaries or not, how do we respond? Do we fly off the wall in a rage, defending every minutiae of our behaviours, or can we listen and accept that, regardless of our intent, something went wrong, and another being has suffered. If so, how then can we atone, and show remorse?

I believe that answer to all of this, is that we need to be involved in one another’s consent journey, in the healing process for everyone. Being involved in someone’s healing journey might well mean staying the fuck away from them if your presence is going to remind them of the trauma you inadvertently caused. The things that support someone else to heal might be very different from the things that support you to heal. Ultimately though, we’re not alone. We are in this together, and so I think we need to come together, with love, with patience, with compassion.

I don’t pretend this will be easy. In fact, I have already witnessed how hard it is, both in myself and in others. However, I think an essential part of talking about Consent Culture is the willingness to examine one’s own behaviour, and willingly place oneself in a place of accountability that can be challenging or uncomfortable. Yes, this means having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, having your words or actions challenged, or sometimes interacting with people who might make you feel uncomfortable.

People are hesitant to question leaders, afraid to be shunned. I think that sometimes leaders are, just like any human, oblivious to the added power dynamic they employ in relationships through being a leader. That means it is so important for community leaders to be open to public feedback, to be humble and earnest about their own journey with Consent, and to respond with respect and compassion when they learn they have caused hurt or harm to others.

So we have also got to have compassion for the challenge this presents, and have patience with one another.

My own personal goal, is to hold space and provide experiences whereby others can really grok, that is, to know it inside and out, what consent is and isn’t. What it feels like right in your bones to ask for consent, to respect a no, to give a no, to give an authentic yes, and so forth. And, not just with sex. With anything and everything. With, “May I touch your nose?” all the way to “Would you like some help?”, or, “May I interest you in these plums?”.

Developing that awareness, that honest and heart felt consideration for one another, in the face of living in a society that gives us the explicit message that we can only get what we want by demanding or taking it, regardless of others- that’s the challenge. And that’s a process that needs to be engaged with not just at sex parties and sex clubs, but across the board- in schools, in work places, in relationships, in shared homes, within families, at dance parties, on the bus, on the street, in the stores- in any place and in any way that humans interact with one another.

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Lessons from Loneliness

 “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~ Janet Fitch

Loneliness isn’t a condition unique to people who fly solo in life. Nor is it very common for people who are poly and in active relationships. But there’s a interesting intersection of being Solo, poly, and alone.

nakednessBefore leaving for Mexico for five weeks of family time, I spent an evening and night with both the men I have been dating. Called a “princess night”, a concept cooked up by my sweetie Alexander, it was a night designed to be all about me. I could ask for whatever I wanted, and my “attendants”- Alexander and Marco- would oblige.

Over a week later, I lie back in bed, and find I am craving both their presence either side of me. There’s an echo of their presence and I can’t decide if the echo makes me miss them more, or is helping me feel more connected to them while I’m away. In this moment, I want to feel Marco’s teeth playfully biting down on my shoulders, and Alexander’s hand gently stroking my glutes as he sighs in delight. I want to be held, caressed, grabbed, kissed, loved. I want to share laughter into the night. I want to gently nibble at the ears of my lovers and feel their bodies melt under me.

Instead, I’m alone in my room here in Mexico, listening to the far away murmurs of a conversation between my father and his partner, alone to confront and think about a lot of things from my childhood that were long forgotten.

Loneliness can be hard.

Loneliness can also be a profound teacher.

166068_10151908986325584_1351222355_nThe last time I spent this much time ‘away’ from my life it was a wild and transformative adventure- two months without a ‘home’, camping and living out of my car, couch surfing when I needed to, some nights in the wilderness without any phone connection or internet access. I learned so much more about myself in that solitude. I became resolute in a whole new way in that solitude. It was during that time that the notion of being “singleish” emerged, and out of the solitude, this blog was born.

But that solitude started out with a lot of fear.

Technically, I’m not ‘alone’. I have people around me to converse with, I’m meeting lots of people in this adorable little town, but I feel without a tribe. I’m so used to having conversations with my friends over tea about how the universe works, and the dynamics of relationships in our lives. I’m accustomed to having sex regularly, and feeling the beating heart of a lover as our naked sweaty bodies entwine. I’m working to remind myself of the process of moving into ‘solitude’, of the inner challenges I felt after the first week and the novelty of alone-ness began to wear off during my time living in my car, as I go through a similar process once again.

Much like in a detox process, my body is going through withdrawal. I feel a full chest ache as I sob without even knowing why. Every moment of loneliness in my childhood returns to memory, fears of abandonment resurface.

The opportunity within loneliness is to develop a new relationship with one’s self. And so, this has to be about me remembering to celebrate what I already have within me, and not mourning the loss or absence of things external.

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I’m occupying my time by going through old childhood photos, catching up on sleep, practicing poi spinning on the roof, journalling profusely, and designing a tattoo. I’m using this as an opportunity  to work on myself, and to learn about myself. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s possible I am just feeling homesick- which is a novel feeling for me, I don’t ever recall feeling homesick before. Perhaps that is a testament to the life I have been creating, and the fact that it is fulfilling me in ways that my life never has before. I didn’t wait for my life to magically fall in to place for me- I decided to be proactive, set an intention, and then worked at making it manifest.

I skyped tonight with Marco, and then with Alexander. Poor internet connections made for disjointed conversing, but it was sufficient enough to be reminded of why I value both of these men so much in my life. Sometimes, I’m not sure what’s easier- missing someone in silence, or the agonising illusion of being together yet unable to touch. And so the loneliness begins to eat away at my insides again, devouring all distortions.

Sometimes all we need is that human contact, that touch, that feeling of holding and being held. It’s so simple and yet so illusive.

In the meantime, I embrace my solitude, and surrender to the transformations that might emerge from this chapter in my life.

The lesson in all this? Remember to love your self.

 

Embracing my Solitude