Stop Saying “Poly” When You Mean “Polyamorous”

Quick clarification [Added 09/05/15]:  Please read the full article before commenting. This post is primarily meant to explore the confused, defensive, and sometimes outright racist/sexist/etc. reactions to a call-to-action around language use in the polyamorous community. The specific linguistic issue is concretely addressed in the final section.


Doesn’t it suck when someone tells you to stop using a word you’ve been using for years because they say it’s oppressive or harmful to their community?

Do you feel personally angry and/or persecuted when a term you use suddenly comes under attack? Do you think “this is political correctness run amok“?

That’s how a bunch of polyamorous folks felt when they were asked to stop using “poly” as an abbreviation. In case you haven’t stumbled upon this (I just heard about it two days ago myself),  here’s the scoop—a Polynesian person on Tumblr made the following call to action:

Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces.
Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.

Then, when people pushed back saying “chill out, lots of words have multiple meanings” or “people have been using poly as an abbreviation for polyamorous for decades already,” they responded with this. Now, do I agree 100% with their statements? Nah. And regardless of my post’s title, I don’t actually want to obliterate “poly” from your vocabulary. But before you breathe that big ol’ sigh of relief, keep reading.

Poly: Polynesian, Polyamorous, PolyWrath?

People are now discussing this debate on various Facebook groups dedicated to sexuality education and polyamory (one of the biggest has over 18K members), on Reddit  (as well as the cesspools of Reddit) and on Tumblr. It’s apparently been brewing for a few months, if not longer, and some people are PISSED. Those under the delusion that polyamorous people are all kinder and more open-minded than the general population clearly hasn’t been in one of these circles and looked at it through a social equity lens.  But that’s a post for another day. Back to the anger.

See what I did there? You're welcome.

See what I did there? You’re welcome.

Being on the receiving end of “stop using a word” or “you’re being oppressive” isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Whenever I get called out for something—most likely ableism since it’s an axis of oppression I don’t personally experience and am still learning a lot about—there’s often a knee-jerk reaction in there. A “don’t tell me what to do” demon on my shoulder who loves getting self-righteous and hates being wrong, whose first line of defense is “it’s not even that big of a deal.” Heck, I’ve definitely felt it as a sexuality educator when I’ve merely read up on newer sexuality labels and no one is even talking to me. Though most of the time the reaction is “COOL, NEW WORDS,” I’d be lying if I said I never think “this is just going TOO FAR” or “WHY SO MANY LABELS” when hearing some new categories of identity, especially if people are getting defensive about them. That gut reaction is normal…

But then I take a breath and realize I’m being ridiculous even if it’s normal.

I’m not being my best self in those moments, and I need to hold compassion for my own feelings but also push past them if they’re not serving my values of kindness and justice.

Overall, individuals and communities are perpetually trying to find ways to describe themselves and their lives, and that can be really tough especially if the words are related to identities that are devalued and marginalized. While “labels are for soup-cans” and we’re so much more complex than words could ever describe, language is a powerful thing that helps both reflect and create our world. It helps build communities, express our emotions, and even pass down our histories. It helps us name our struggles, craft banners for solidarity, and connect for change. It makes sense people have a lot of feelings about it!

Language is ever-evolving and it’s a beautiful thing when more words can become available, when more ways of understanding our world are accessible. But that doesn’t happen without friction. Sometimes our knee-jerk reactions to new words or identities come from a place of holding onto what we’ve been taught and being uncomfortable with change. Sometimes the new labels contradict, criticize, or make obsolete other labels we’ve been using—or even identifying with—and that can feel like a punch in the gut.

WAYSA

Art by Amanda Watkins, my other boo. Click on the image to check out more of her art!

Often, and as I recognize is the case with me and my pride,  immediate rage comes from not wanting to think that we’ve been ignorant and/or messing something up THIS WHOLE TIME. If XYZ person is right that usage of a particular word is oppressive, then what does that say about me, who has been using it for years? Does that mean I’m an oppressive, irredeemable jerk? (The answer is often “no, it just means stop using it” but the visceral reality doesn’t allow us to understand that quickly.) For more on this phenomenon, check out this video by Ian Danskin [one of my partners] and his overall series “Why Are You So Angry?

Point is we need to evolve with language and work through our gut reactions to change.

Now, that’s not to say we should forget about the roots of certain words or suddenly say that terms like the n-word and the r-word are chill because “we’re past them being a slur” [hint: we’re not, and racism/ableism aren’t over either]. What I mean is that we need to hold space for growth and be willing to move in new directions with our terminology—that regardless of how defensive our initial “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” shoulder-demons might be, we MUST move in a direction of empathy and kindness, particularly to those in marginalized communities with long legacies of experiencing colonialism and other forms of structural oppression.

“But Poly Is a Latin Prefix; You CAn’t Claim It…”

Yes, poly is a prefix for dozens of words and it actually comes from Greek. Even the “poly” in the naming of Polynesia came out of super uninventive naming schemas (Polynesia means “many islands”). So? No one is saying the prefix needs to be eradicated. When talking about polycarbonate lenses, polygraphs, polygons, or polydactyl kittens, they’re not being referred to as “poly[s]” on their own. There’s the qualifier afterwards, but that is not always the case when talking about people. If someone states “I’m poly” you can’t immediately tell if they’re saying they’re Polynesian, polyamorous, polysexual, polyromantic, polygendered, or a host of other identity labels [without further context]. Heck, they could be a FEW of those labels.

So what we’re talking about here is clarity as well as empathy and willingness to listen.

Whether these Tumblr folks represent a few dozen, a few hundred, or a few thousand, the questions remain the same: what are we, non-Polynesian “poly” people and our allies, going to do to provide clarity to our language and stand in solidarity with however many Polynesians want this change? More importantly, what does this situation, and the pushback from members of “the polyamorous community,” tell us about language adoption and resistance to change in our communities?

When people say this is “being politically correct,” they are trying to make basic decency into a politically contested issue and make it sound bad. Some people even think they’re brave if they’re politically incorrect, conflating deep-rooted anti-authoritarian work that seeks to dismantle structural power with, like, flipping the bird to someone on Tumblr talking about racism. Being a jerk and using oppressive terminology isn’t brave. Whining about trigger-warnings and “preferred pronouns” and “social justice warriors ruining fun” isn’t bold or radical. Saying we’re “coddling our new generations” and actually harming survivors of trauma by being more thoughtful is missing the point (and it’s not even medically accurate). Being unwilling to even consider a minor shift in language to give space for another community to flourish is not living in a space of goodwill.

So What Should We Be Doing?

As someone in the sexuality field AND a polyamorous person with a big tech geek streak, I value useful search terms and disambiguation. Heck, as a super Type A person that drools over nice spreadsheets, regardless of other sexual or racial identities, I think it’s crucial that we make the Internet an easier, more organized place to browse. I already avoided using “poly” online in any meaningful capacity  because it felt too ambiguous for searches and helpful tagging, and this debate is just another great reason to avoid it: because it’s a term that a racially marginalized community uses to self-identify and build community. If “poly” on its own works for them, more power to ’em. Even in sexuality-specific circles, using “poly” can be possibly misunderstood because there are other labels that start with poly- as well, so again, not the most useful.

Some have suggested “polya” or “polyam” as possible abbreviations that don’t conflict with usage by other groups. Personally, I think “polya” looks ugly as a word and makes me think of Dubya [never a good thing]. I feel “meh” about “polyam” but could see it as a better alternative, I guess. To each their own, and I won’t be adopting either of these abbreviations soon, but what I do advocate for is mindfulness around when and where we use “poly” to mean “polyamorous.”

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Is the word being used in a space where the meaning is clear to everyone witnessing the content?
  2. Is using “poly” for “polyamorous” making it harder for another community to disambiguate and find “their own kind”?
  3. What impact does the term’s usage have on search results, tagging systems, and online spaces?
  4. Is the decision to keep using “poly” for “polyamorous” coming from a place of spite and thoughtlessness or from a place of informed compassion?

Personally, I will continue to use “poly” in private situations or verbal conversation where people know what I mean, BUT in tagging things online—a place where categorizing information is important, where people use those systems to search for others like themselves, and so on—I will use polyamory specifically and avoid “poly.” Again, this is work I was already doing, but something that is generally not a huge effort for folks to start doing if they hadn’t been. I encourage this level of specificity in others, for the sake of more than just random Polynesian folks on Tumblr.

But in regards to those “random Polynesian folks” on Tumblr, it doesn’t matter if most of us “don’t think about Polynesian people when we say poly” or that “our Polynesian friends don’t care.” While that may inform how radical our changes are and where we enact change, it shouldn’t mean that we ignore the issue entirely or dig our heels in the dirt because we don’t want to change. To questions of “couldn’t they just as easily pick a new tag/abbreviation?” my answer is just “maybe.” But when it’s a horde of predominantly White, Western polyamorists asking that question and refusing to consider where they may change, that says something.

At the end of the day, these are people asking for us to collaborate in making the Internet and its communities easier and better to navigate for all.

If you live in a place where you are guaranteed free speech, calls for space and respect like this aren’t censorship—they’re calls for consideration. You still have the power and right to make whatever decision feels best for you, but my hope is that you will prioritize the expansion of kindness and reduction of harm in the process.

One of my favorite poly-related words. This image by Robert Ashworth used under Creative Commons license. Click through for original.


Header image of Moorea in Polynesia shot by Loïs Lagarde and used under Creative Commons license. The only change to the image is that it’s cropped a bit differently.

Update 09/04/15: Poly as a prefix actually comes from Greek, not Latin as I originally wrote. Made the correction. I always get those mixed up because they’re both present in the full word [polyamory]. Thanks for the person that caught that!

Update 09/05/15: Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard from Polynesian folks on both sides of the issue. Some use “poly” while others don’t. Some think it’s useful while others don’t. Some use the ‘net regularly while others don’t. Interestingly, the “poly-as-Polynesian” definition got added to Urban Dictionary back in ’06. Anyway. I clarified a bit of language in the post, most notably in a sentence that could be interpreted in two ways and most people were reading it differently than I intended it [the one about calling something “‘poly,’ period”].

SFS14 Workshop Recap: “Beyond Yes Means Yes: The Law, Activism, and Practice of Consent”

Two-people-talking-logoMissed the Sexual Freedom Summit by @WoodhullSFA this past weekend? Fear not! I’ll be recapping some of the sessions I attended. First up: “Beyond Yes Means Yes: The Law, Activism, and Practice of Consent” by Andy Izenson (@andyeyeballs).

Overall, I want to commend Andy for a wonderful session. He managed to strike a good balance between hilariously personable and serious, all while providing useful information and having us directly practice some of the concepts through engaging activities (AND giving space to not participate for those who hate activities and/or may be triggered by ones specific around consent). I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to judging presentations, and I had a lovely time.

While I don’t think everyone left the session with the same delicious taste in their mouth (especially not the cisgender white man who probably felt attacked when he mentioned that a way for people, and particularly women, to stay safe was to do things like “not go into the dorm room of college guys if they’re drunk,” and there was a palpable sense of rage in the room), I’d venture to say 95% of folks felt good about the workshop. Curious to hear more? Check out the workshop description to start:

This workshop will take participants through an understanding of the current state of and conflicts around sexual consent in the law, within activist communities, and in their own practices. After last year’s workshop focused solely on personal practice, this workshop zooms out to take a wider view of what it means to commit to fighting rape culture on multiple fronts. Participants will have opportunities to learn and practice positive consent strategies in their interpersonal interactions, and takeaways enabling them to empower the members of their own activist subcommunities to speak up and connect against abuse and assault. The session’s goals are to allow participants to experience consensual empowerment in a safe environment and learn strategies for spreading that empowerment throughout their own work.

Continue reading

Q&A: Sexual Debut + Conservative Background = Help!

I’m a 20-something penis-owner who hasn’t yet made his sexual debut. I grew up in an environment that was pretty conservative and repressive, so issues around sexuality were taboo. I’ve since made a conscious effort to fight this conditioning, but I still feel somewhat uncomfortable around sex. Do you have any resources you would suggest to someone who wants to learn more – how to do it, how to reach orgasm, how to help partners reach orgasm, how to do sex in context of healthy relationships?

Hey Anon! Thanks for reaching out!

I made my sexual debut with a partner at 19, so my first comment would be don’t stress about the age bit (if that was even a concern in the first place). Before my first partner, though, I had fulfilling sexual experiences with myself, so I’d like to highlight the positives that solo-play can bring about. Knowing more about one’s own body—how it feels, how it responds, what things are good/bad—can help immensely when it comes to reaching orgasm with a partner, or even just having a discussion about it. (The second piece is all about communication, but I’ll get to that later). I also think that as a society, we should start acknowledging that solo sexuality can still be gratifying for those who practice it, and it’s not like a person’s “sex-life” begins once another person pops into the picture…but anyway.

As someone who grew up under the Jehova’s Witnesses practice (read: a SUPER conservative Christian denomination), I was educated in the ways of “sex before marriage is wrong,” “homosexuality is a sin,” and all that came with that. I even overheard a conversation where it was said that “masturbation is just like losing your virginity—you are no longer pure after that.” (Oops. I was already touching myself by then, so that was awkward.) Somehow, though, I didn’t end up completely shame- and guilt-ridden the rest of my life. I also know a lot of folks who were raised in very conservative families and came out the other end feeling various degrees of sexual empowerment, so I’m sure you can achieve that as well. Hopefully the following resources can help!

The first place I’d like to point you toward would be the website for one of the places where I work: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. That is just CHOCK full of information (check out the Pleasure tab, too, which has info about positive porn, lubricants, toys, and more). Within that site/organization, specifically, I’d say check out the Q&A section here. It’s all questions people have submitted, and I think some of them might be helpful in your situation. Here are the main ones:

  1. Climaxing is not always the goal in sexual interactions, but when it is, you want to make sure it happens! So what to do when you have difficulty? This Q&A answers just that for penis-owners.
  2. On that note, not all people with penises masturbate in the same ways or want their penises touched in the same styles! Here are some tips/tricks for solo stimulation that can also be employed in various ways during sex with partners.
  3. A big question (pardon the pun) that many penis-owners have is around penis size and its impact on sex/relationships. That gets addressed here!
  4. In terms of sexual debut and just general sex-having, anal sex might be on the menu at some point, so it’s important to learn about that and prepare beforehand before just soldiering on, especially if you don’t have lube on hand.
  5. Something that might also help is reading about sex-positive spaces and being around sex-positive people, whose perspective on sex (ideally) could balance/counterpoint your conditioning. However, for someone from a conservative background, entering such a space could be weird or even super uncomfortable, so here are some tips on being more comfortable in sex-positive spaces, and even how to FIND those spaces in the first place.
  6. How do I get my partner to be more sexually adventurous? – This one could help you “talk to yourself” or even articulate things to a partner if you discover you have wishes that might be a bit outside of the mainstream.
  7. If you’re interested in vibrators and toys, this is a good intro for when you’re considering/picking something out.
  8. Someone wrote us because they had strong feelings to their partner’s past experiences, and felt insecure when comparing themselves to their partners’ past lovers. We gave some advice about how to deal with that and communicate those feelings. As someone who might make a sexual debut with another person who has already had partners before, this could be helpful to you.
  9. Sometimes penis-owners lose their erections and wonder why that happened. There are many reasons, and though this Q&A was directed at a person whose partner was the penis-owner, I think it’s important for everyone to read.

My second big resource would be Charlie Glickman’s work, and specifically, the “shame” tag on his prolific blog. He writes a lot about shame and the related situations/feelings, as well as how to recognize, deal with, and overcome them. He has many years in the sexuality education field, and his dissertation was all about sexuality and shame, so he knows what he’s talking about ten times over.

The healthy relationship part of your question I could write about forever and still have things to say, so I’m going to write a separate entry about it in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Q&A: I Think I Might Be Pregnant…

I might be pregnant. I had unprotected sex with my boyfriend and I’m about 5 days late (I’m pretty regular). I have NO idea what to do about it. I consider myself Pro-Choice, but I’m also a believer that things happen for a reason? I’m very confused. While I believe it is every woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her body, I feel that if I were to choose aborting this hypothetical child, it’d be selfish that another being got denied life because I was too careless to prevent it.

Post last updated on 7/8/15

Hi Anonymous! It’s normal to feel confused, especially around a situation like this. Because you’re already 5 days late, I’m assuming this sexual contact was more than 5 days ago and thus taking emergency contraception wouldn’t do much. So, my suggestion would be to first assess your risk (to see how likely it is that you are pregnant), and then take a pregnancy test ASAP to check it out. In my opinion, you don’t need to think further ahead until you have the results and facts more concretely; over-thinking the possibilities will probably just stress you out. First of all, though, remember that many things can throw off your cycle, including changes in diet, stress-levels, and exercise…it doesn’t have to be a pregnancy.

In terms of assessing risk, I’d ask you a few questions

  • Did he ejaculate inside of your vagina (or on your vulva)? If yes, there is a chance you could be pregnant.
  • Did he pre-cum inside of your vagina? If yes, there’s a possibility, but it’s fairly slim. Pre-cum doesn’t contain sperm unless there was a previous ejaculation and the guy didn’t pee between ejaculating and pre-cumming; then the sperm comes from semen still in the urethra.
  • Did you engage in any activity that could’ve led semen to enter your vaginal canal (e.g. anal sex with bf ejaculating when you were facedown and thus it could’ve dripped)? If so, there is a chance of pregnancy.

Like I said before, it’s perfectly normal to feel confused and even feel at odds with your political beliefs/thoughts. Remember, though: being pro-choice doesn’t mean automatically having to get an abortion; it means considering the options and having the freedom to pick the one that best suits you in a variety of ways. Keeping a child or putting it up for adoption doesn’t make you any less of a pro-choicer (or feminist, if you ID that way). There are support groups, message boards, counselors, and a variety of folks available to talk you through these thoughts and situations. See what resources you have at your disposal. Be wary of crisis pregnancy centers, though–many are anti-choice/pro-life and use scary rhetoric that doesn’t actually give you all the information you need to make an educated choice about what to do if you’re actually pregnant.

After assessing your risk, I’d suggest a pregnancy test ASAP. (The longer you wait, the narrower your options get for dealing with it.) They have them at drugstores and some HS/college health clinics, but access to them depends on your location. Some places even offer them for free! I could perhaps help point you in some direction if I knew your area? Feel free to private-message me or email me, if you want! If you can’t access them or don’t feel comfortable doing so, perhaps asking a friend would work? Some folks even ask strangers because there’s little investment in their opinion! While pregnancy tests are not infallible, they can at least give you a preliminary answer. I’m a fan of always taking two tests just in case (one a few days after the other). For more info on how to do them, how they work, and all that, click here.

You can choose to mention that you’re going to take a pregnancy test to your boyfriend, but you can also choose to do it without notifying him. Depending on how you feel about your relationship and how long you’ve been going out, you may feel a need to talk through this with him (before, during, and/or after), but it’s also perfectly fine for you to take care of yourself first. Bottom line, though: you don’t have to go through any of this alone, and you get to decide who you talk to–find someone who will be helpful, respectful, and supportive. If you’re in the US or Canada, you can call Planned Parenthood’s hotline (1.800.230.PLAN), the NAF hotline (1.800.772.9100), and/or Backline (1.888.493.0092).

If for some reason you feel you need another test or another opinion, you can try to visit a local Planned Parenthood or any sort of clinic with access to a physician, and OBGYN, and/or some sort of professional that can either perform a fluid (urine/blood) test or do an ultrasound.

So, post-test, if you AREN’T pregnant, this is a good opportunity to think through what you would’ve done if you had been. It can be something to bring up with your boyfriend, and something to keep in mind next time you are thinking of how to protect yourself against pregnancy. Maybe using another birth control method could be useful? Maybe making up some rules regarding contraception and when you can have sex? Who knows. If you ARE pregnant, you should learn about your options so you can make the best decision for you. The short-list would be: put it up for adoption, keep it, or abort it. You don’t have to make the decision immediately, but definitely be aware of your time-frame!

(Now, this is my VERY PERSONAL VIEW on others bringing life into this world and by no means do I wish to impose it on you; I wish to merely share it in an attempt to provide perspective.) I’m someone who considers overpopulation and the fact that we have so many kids in the foster system already when thinking of bringing new life into the world. For someone who currently does not want a child and/or feels unprepared to (and/or cannot) care for one, I feel it’s best to put it up for adoption or to abort it. Due to the aforementioned issues, I believe that if a fetus is going to grow into a baby, then it should be born into a space that can nurture it, and it’s often more sensical to pursue abortion rather than adoption when such a space can’t be provided/secured.

It’s not an issue of being selfish or not, especially now; this fetus is something that can grow only if you help it grow, and you have the choice to make that happen or not, and to decide what will come of that. Since you feel everything happens for a reason, consider the fact that if you get pregnant, the implication doesn’t HAVE to be that you should keep it. Perhaps this happened so you would change your birth control, have a conversation with your partner, or any number of other reasons. Personally, I don’t think it makes you selfish to not keep it, but in the end, the opinion that truly matters is your own. At the end of the day, you should make the choice that, given everything, is best for you and you can safely make.

For more information, feel free to contact me again + please check out the amazing Scarleteen resources on this topic.

Showing You Care in The Right Language: Part II

If you’ve read Part I, you’re already familiar with the idea that humans receive and express love and care through 5 main avenues: physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, and quality time. Once you’ve learned what those 5 “languages” are, you can figure out which languages YOU use to express and/or receive love. Then, when you know what your needs are, as well as your partner’s, you can begin to express your love in a fruitful way, and that’s what this article will cover. Remember: to show love, you must do it in a way to which your partner will be receptive! Showing love is not about doing what’s most comfortable for you, but what is most effective and loving for your partner!

Finally, maintaining a healthy & helpful cycle of check-ins to make sure all is running smoothly will guarantee that the love-train keeps chugging along during your relationship. At the end of the article, I’ll also address this.

Note: Though this article will center on romantic pairings, much of this advice can be tailored to ALL sorts of relationships (yes, even the platonic one you may have with your TA!).

Some Tips for Showing Love in All the Languages

Physical Touch

While I could talk about big bedroom moves, touch is oftentimes a much more subtle art; there can be lots of variety depending on what you want to express and to whom. For romantic partner, or even close friends: is there a specific body part that they’re self-conscious about? Sometimes expressing your appreciation for it through touch can work wonders (but be careful: sometimes self-consciousness runs too deep and a lot of attention can actually be harmful). Does your partner walk a lot? Offer them a foot-rub! If you’re in public and don’t want to get too affectionate, try placing a hand on the small of their back, locking pinkies, or brushing their shoulders as you pass them by. Holding hands can also be very powerful, especially as a means to show a variety of emotions, including concern and deep care. Experiment with a slew of affectionate gestures to keep your partner feeling loved in a lot of different situations! For non-romantic partners, pats on the back, firm handshakes, hugs, and other forms of contact can keep them feeling appreciated.

Quality Time

First of all, turn off your phone (or at LEAST set it on vibrate), step away from your computer/TV/electronic device, and focus on your partner. Give them your undivided attention. This is crucial for folks who need quality time. To ensure that this happens, planning weekly “date-nights” that you commit to can be helpful. These can range from all-day Saturday outings to Thursday-night home-cooked dinners, or even 1-hour lunch-breaks a few times a week; it’s up to you & your partner to decide how often and how long these blocks of quality time have to be. Lock these into your calendar and honor them; don’t just reschedule on a whim. Do activities that you both enjoy and allow you to spend time truly being present with each other (read: watching a movie probably rates lower on the scale than walking in the park and talking).

Gifts

Pay close attention to this person, and give them something based on your observations. Do they collect anything? Are they missing a vital rubber-ducky from their huge rubber-ducky collection? Are you on a trip and can you get them something cute from that location (bonus points if you can send it while you’re still on that trip!) that shows more thought than a mere t-shirt or shot-glass? Is there something from their childhood that you could base a gift on? (For example, I had a torrid love affair with a character from an obscure Disney movie and my partner got me a figurine of the character for my birthday, as well as the DVD of the flick for the holidays). Sometimes practical gifts can also be helpful, and they can conveniently straddle the line between gifts & acts of service!

Acts of Service

The magic words are usually “Let me do that for you.” Sneak a peek at your partner’s to-do list for house-chores and surprise them by completing one or more of them. Vacuuming the carpet? Check! Doing the dishes? Check! Watering the plants? Check! The best things are those that will ease their burden, so don’t waste time in helping them out with something that’s completely irrelevant (e.g. perhaps color-coordinating their closet, while cute, is not a huge priority). For college students, it can be something like going to get their mail, printing out their big final paper and delivering it to their professor’s campus box, getting them rolls of quarters for their laundry, taking out their trash, or printing their class readings for the week. With all of these things, though, make sure that your partner is okay with you doing them; while some folks appreciate service, there are certain tasks they want no one else to complete but them! If you don’t want to ask right before doing something, have a conversation about what TYPES of things they’re okay with you doing, so you have a general idea and can make calls based on that.

Words of Affirmation

Words don’t always have to be spoken! Doing the clichéd, but still adorable, post-it note message system can work wonders. You can put a spin on it by leaving them in unexpected places (inside sock drawers, on ceilings, in the fridge, in closets, in shoes) or by giving unexpected compliments (mentioning that you noticed how the freckles on their arm align perfectly to mimic the Big Dipper can show your attention to detail!). This also works well with folks with whom you don’t have a romantic relationship; sending a thank-you card in the mail in this digital age can give some folks the warm n’ fuzzies. Another cool (and potentially anonymous) way of showing you care could be by creating an “event” in this person’s calendar (be it paper-based or digital) to the effect of “National Celebrate How Awesome [Insert their name here] Is Day.” There’s also the tried & true method of simply verbalizing “I like/love/appreciate you!”

Keeping It All In Check

Dr. Chapman recommends doing regular “tank checks” throughout the week. By conceptualizing one’s feelings of being loved as liquid filling an imaginary tank, one can develop a vocabulary to describe feelings in a very concrete way. If one’s “love-tank” level is low, there’s a need to fill it up! Through this metaphor and through the practice of checking the “tanks” regularly, partners can develop a habit of communicating about how they’re feeling and what they need without resorting to passive-aggressive complaints or awkwardly worded pleas for attention.

A possible way to do this is to ask your partner “How is your love tank tonight?” If, on a scale from zero to ten (or whatever you devise), it is less than the maximum, ask them “What can I do to help fill it?” Then, follow through as best you can!

If yours is the tank that is feeling low and your partner hasn’t asked you about it, take initiative and bring it up. Let them know how you feel, and have some concrete ideas that they can grab onto so they can help make you feel better. You could say something like “Hey, my love tank is feeling a little empty right now. I think some cuddling would make it feel fuller. Could we snuggle and watch a movie after dinner or something?” Remember to be realistic, and always try to come up with a few options just in case one or more of them aren’t viable at the moment. Partners aren’t mind-readers, and holding them up to unrealistic and unexplained expectations will only be a disappointment for everyone involved.

Showing You Care in The Right Language: Part I

Have you ever been in a relationship where you feel you’re giving someone gallons of affection…and they don’t seem to realize or appreciate it? Or worse: they complain that you’re not showing them enough love? Before cursing your communication stars or complaining that your partner just doesn’t “get it” and you couldn’t be MORE loving, consider the following: maybe you’re just not speaking the same language (love-language, that is).

According to Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book “The 5 Love Languages,” there are five main “languages” in which people can receive and express care. When people’s languages for showing love are not compatible with the languages in which their partners receive love, all parties involved can feel at a loss. So how can you avoid having this happen? The first step is to learn what the love languages are! Then, you’ll be ready to analyze and figure out which ones are yours and which ones are your partner’s. (Stay tuned for part II where I’ll talk about how to show your love in fruitful ways and how to keep a relationship love-steady.)

The Five Love Languages

Physical Touch

This is perhaps one of the most well-known languages, one of the “oh, that’s obvious!” ones. It’s that attitude of “it’s obvious,” though, that can lead to miscommunication with partners; not everyone enjoys touch to the same degree! Touch can encompass a wide range of expressions, too, from sexual contact to a totally platonic holding of hands while walking down the street to grab dinner; it’s not just about the hot n’ heavy. Touch can also embody a wide range of emotions: concern, care, love, comfort, excitement, happiness, the list goes on. For people whose primary love language is touch, feeling physically/spatially distant from their partner can be torturous, as their connections thrive with proximity.

Quality Time

For folks who are into quality time, that usually means turning off all electronic devices and having their partner’s undivided attention. Chores, the day’s stresses, kids, friends, ringing telephones, dirty dishes–all of these should take a backseat for a while. Showing someone love in this fashion means making them feel special and taken care of, so make sure you eliminate all distractions and keep your attention focused on them. For that same reason, try your best to minimize the number of postponed dates or cancelled engagements with them, since those can be extra hurtful. Also, when having a conversation, no matter how trivial, it can feel distancing to have a partner constantly checking their email or texting, so please pocket your phone!

Gifts

This is not about being materialistic, money-hungry, or obsessed with accumulating things! For folks who are into receiving gifts as a love language, the important thing is the thought behind the gift–the effort and attention to detail, rather than the fact that they’re getting an object. Perfect gifts show their receiver that the giver knows them, is listening, and cares for them. For these folks, hastily-thought-up gifts, missed anniversary presents, and things of that nature can feel pretty terrible.

Acts of Service

Easing the burden on someone can be a truly meaningful act of love, and for those whose primary love language is “acts of service,” it’s one of the most meaningful of all. For those folks, something as seemingly “trivial” as having their laundry taken care of, or their dishes cleaned, can mean the world. Like with the language of receiving gifts, it’s less about the actual object or thing being done/given, but the emotion behind it. While the burden being eased is a big draw, the fact that someone is taking the time to do them a favor is what really sets this person’s heart aflutter. For that same reason, being flaky, lazy, unpredictable, and irresponsible when it comes to fulfilling obligations or doing tasks can really hurt and irritate your partner.

Words of Affirmation

For folks who are into words of affirmation, compliments can be everything. Kind words that show you appreciate them, that you’re listening, that you validate their feelings…all of these can work wonders. For that same reason, be very mindful when critiquing your partner; watch your language carefully so you don’t unintentionally hurt their feelings. This should be a general rule, of course, but for people who know their partners are particularly sensitive to words, this should be an even higher priority.

Figuring Out Your Love Languages

For how you express love, start off by asking yourself a few questions:

How do I usually express my love to others? When I want to show someone how much I value them, what do I immediately try to do? Does it vary depending on the person? What factors go into how I express my love? Does it vary when I’m in public versus when I’m in private?

For how you receive love, ask yourself the following:

When I feel unloved, what do I feel is missing? When I’ve been feeling unappreciated in the past, what have people done to cheer me up? In bad relationships, what do I usually complain about? What things have people done for me that have made me feel really good and appreciated?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how you usually express love and prefer to have love shown to you. Remember: they don’t have to be the same language (and they usually aren’t!).

Talking About The Taboo – Conference 10/10

Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health to hold its 2nd Annual Conference,
“Talking about the Taboo”.
Pawtucket, RI September 20th, 2010 –
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (The CSPH) will be holding its second annual conference titled “Talking about the Taboo: Discussing Difficult Issues in Human Sexuality” on October 10th at 1:00 pm at its location in the historic Grant building in downtown Pawtucket, RI. The CSPH is the first sexuality resource and information center on the East Coast.
What: This conference represents the outcome of a battle to open the CSPH dating back to September of 2009. The CSPH was originally denied permission to open after a controversial zoning decision made by the Pawtucket City council, stating that the Grant building was not zoned to allow businesses of and educational nature. After a media frenzy and intervention from the ACLU, the city reversed their decision and allowed the CSPH to open in February of the following year. The “Talking about the Taboo” conference will be the first legal event the CSPH will hold in Pawtucket.
Through this conference the CSPH will provide sexuality education to adults in a safe and open environment. By bringing together sexuality and the pleasure, education, advocacy and medical worlds, the CSPH will take subjects that are traditionally “taboo” and illuminate them, showing that exploring taboo topics is necessary for providing basic education, and can be discussed in thought-provoking ways.
When: October 10th, from 1:00pm-5:00pm.
Where: 250 Main Street, The Grant Building, Pawtucket, RI 02860
Who: The “Talking about the Taboo” conference will include panels with sexuality specialists such as Dr. Charlie Glickman and Dr. Logan Levkoff, alongside nationally known authors and bloggers such as Sinclair Sexsmith and Audacia Ray. There will also be vendors and local- and national-level community organizations exhibiting 100% safer sex products to conference attendees.
Why: The CSPH is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Beginning with this conference the CSPH will offer educational discussion groups, conduct sexuality studies, and hold classes both for professionals and for the general public.

For more information, please visit the CSPH’s website at http://thecsph.org or contact Ms. Andelloux by phone at 401-345-8685 or email at thecsph@gmail.com

SPC Series Part II: Purpose & The Rules of Engagement

(Before reading this, check out SPC Series Part I: Introduction to Stop Porn Culture! Conference)

So what was I, a porn-positive, pro-sex-worker rights individual, doing at an anti-porn conference? I wanted to:

  • Listen. I wanted to hear about anti-porn thought straight from the horse’s mouth. Or, in this case, horses’ mouths; there were many presenters and their views were not 100% aligned with each other’s. I not only wanted to learn what they thought, but how they presented it, and why they thought that way. What better way to gain insights into all this, and what type of people attended this type of conference than by attending the conference myself? What better way to understand “their” tactics and thought processes than by walking among them and taking notes? What better way to address their concerns than to know exactly what those are, and the nuances of their production and dissemination? SPC promotes something similar from their end (though it obviously sounds less interest in dialogue than just learning about “the enemy,” but still)
    • “This isn’t for everyone, but it can be helpful to surf some porn sites every now and then to stay up on the pornographers’ latest tricks. Reading Adult Video News online (avn.com) and other news sites about the industry (xbiz.com) is helpful in understanding pornography.” 
  • Humanize “my side” and present at least one good face of sex/porn-positive activists and activism. Similarly, I wanted to humanize the anti-porn activists, because too often there is intense mudslinging at faceless enemies and we forget that, at the end of the day, these are all PEOPLE–individuals with lives, ambitions, and pressures. Need I remind people about the hate-mongering and vicious bulletins Donna M. Hughes (one of the presenters), Margaret Brooks, and Melanie Shapiro (both in attendance at the con) put out about Maymay and my/our events? They dehumanized us, and it was also easy to dehumanize them because all we could see was that they were The Bad Ones. I think if we all actively thought about our humanity more often, we would feel more empathy and there would be less douchebaggery out there from BOTH sides. Once someone can connect faces to a movement, faces they might relate to on some level, it makes it harder to easily and blindly spread hate + vitriol (not that it doesn’t happen, OF COURSE). It’s not about respecting other’s hatred; it’s about respecting others as human, and respecting their positive aspects (because no one is 100% bad). And if someone calls me naive for saying this, I will fucking scream; being respectful and realistically optimistic is not naive, so stop being an asshole kthxbai. Also, again, SPC has a “tip” regarding presentation-etiquette that I find relevant regarding this (emphasis mine):
    • “For the discussion after the slide show, come into the audience if possible so that you can stand near the questioner, looking the person in the eye and acknowledging them. Listen attentively to each question, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times.”
  • Ask insightful questions and correct factual inaccuracies if I spotted them & had the info to back it up. I wanted to make people at the conference THINK, and at the very least be slightly jolted if I asked a question they hadn’t thought about before. This purpose wasn’t entirely fulfilled because I only attended the second day, which was less lecture-heavy and apparently less tense, but I did speak my mind a few key times.
  • Give some semblance of a voice to pro-porn ideals in the midst of all the anti-porn people by speaking up. I wanted to show them that there were people who disagreed (& how), but were nonetheless interested in learning, interested in dialogue, interested in fostering some sort of understanding while still having their own agenda, values, and goals. Maybe some would even be inspired to attend OUR events as well! One can only hope.
  • Find the places of convergence and swim through the sludge to get at the ACTUAL concerns being clouded by thoughts of “porn is evil” so we could somehow address those and hopefully effect change regarding them. What concepts did both sides talk about most? What ideas did we share? Where could we build bridges? And at the same time, where did we have seemingly irreconcilable splits (and why)? Between this and listening, I think those were my main goals because they would be the most effective later.

What did I NOT do at the conference?

  • Try to radically change the minds of seasoned, extremely-anti-porn activists. 
  • Be rude! I didn’t name-call, glare at, condescend, or otherwise mistreat anyone.
  • Get into heated arguments.

To elaborate upon these points:

Some folks accused me of wasting my time trying to change the views of “leading anti-sex-worker extremists,” but that wasn’t my point. I wasn’t there to somehow magically & forcefully change their minds, especially when so many of the most “notable” presenters at the Stop Porn Culture! Conference have made careers out of their anti-porn stance. I was there for the MODERATES, for the audience, for those who have little information. (Sure, if you’re already attending this conference, it’s more likely that you’re leaning in the anti-porn direction, but still. There were definitely people there seeking information, who weren’t hardcore anti-porn folks) Y’see, this is another place where the pro/anti-porn people converge as well: we’re all out to get the moderates. It sounds predatory, but it’s true.

I’ve heard it countless times in both camps; we are not going to sway the loudest, most intense people from the opposition, but we can definitely sway those in the middle, or those seeking information. We may not be able to change the views of “leading anti-porn activists,” but the thing is MOST PEOPLE AREN’T LEADING ANTI-PORN ACTIVISTS. Most people are normal folks, who may or may not yet have opinions on “the porn debates,” but haven’t devoted their entire lives to it. These are the people we can inform and “win over” through mature activism instead of blind fury that only serves to alienate others and give credence to the anti-porn extremists who vilify us.

How do we engage with these people, though? The first thing we have to do is NOT BE ASSHOLES. I fucking hate it when people are rude and condescending. Thus, I strive to NOT do that to other people, and call them out if/when I see them doing it to others. If I’m ever condescending, it’s because I’m purposefully trying to be cruel, and I’m not particularly proud of that. Anyway. At the con, I firmly stood my ground, looked at people in the eye, smiled, and engaged. It’s bizarre to be in a room where most people have some views that are radically different from one’s own (esp. when they regard one’s entire LIFE and even personal safety), yes, but it’s not an impossible thing to tackle, especially with a support network. I had the fortune of not being personally disrespected (aside from 2 incidents with Donna M. Hughes, which I will blog about later, but that wasn’t surprising at all), and I found no excuse to be anything but respectful back (not that I was looking for one in the first place).

It’s not about “turning the other cheek” and taking violence with a smile, just begging for more. It’s instead about not resorting to the shady tactics of those we consider our enemies and STILL acting positively to further our goals. It’s about not being rude, about not debasing oneself to the practices we revile in others. It’s about minimizing harm and striving for ideal situations of engagement. Again: it’s not about being NICE or KIND or FRIENDLY; it’s about *NOT* being an asshole. The first demands an action; the other demands that one restrains from an action. 

To those that CAN be friendly with “the enemy,” more power to you. Like Rachel D. said, those who can be kind, should, but not everyone is required to do so. I, personally, am on the fence re: how I deal with “my enemies.” First of all, I don’t draw such neat lines, boxing some people as “enemies” and others as “allies.” I usually just draw big Venn diagrams, where everyone is a circle, and I can find our places of overlap/difference and then act based on those, not the entire circles, y’know? (Sounds kinda like “hate the sin, not the sinner.”) Secondly, I’m torn because I find pleasure in being kind to “mostly enemies” because I feel it’s a slap in the face to them and their ilk, and that it’s embarrassing for them in the eyes of other people. However, at the same time, I don’t want to even engage with them sometimes, because it’s hard to be positive and optimistic when people are threatening your life, livelihood, and entire…well, everything! Still, I usually strive for positive engagement and know that being a hostile little fuck won’t get me anywhere with them.

On the SPC website, I found a particularly pertinent tip. While they’re giving the tip so people can effectively present one of their antiporn slideshows, I think it applies to any person giving a presentation about which they feel passionate (emphasis mine):

It is important not to come across as overly hostile or aggressive, both while narrating the slides and when answering questions. It’s understandable that we feel angry and sad when we see these images, and it’s OK to let the audience see that. But remember that audience members (especially women) are in a very vulnerable place seeing these images for the first time. They need to feel like you have things under control. Also, by keeping your own emotions in check, you allow them more space to experience their own feelings and reactions.

I repeat: it’s understandable to feel angry and sad. Heck, it’s understandable to feel so utterly outraged and upset that you want to smash things/people with a hammer. However, it is my belief that we should strive to channel strong emotions (as they are definitely important catalysts!) into more practical and useful weapons for change. Furthermore, to quote Emma: “We need to be strong, mature advocates of our viewpoint. Disagreement doesn’t mean we can take others lightly.

Once again: I’m not against ANGER or people’s personal feelings, but I *am* against letting that anger result in vicious attacks that don’t do anything but alienate others, both on “our side” and “the other side.” I think it’s useless to go into a conference (or general situation) swinging the battle-axes. We need to listen and engage first so we can properly educate, demystify, and ACTUALLY create some positive change. We need to make our “enemies” respect us as people too, and hopefully get them to engage in the same way with us.

I think it DOES harm our causes of promoting a healthier sexuality, more open communication, sex-workers’ rights, gender-justice, size-positivity, anti-racism, and all other such worthwhile movements when we act with condescension, disrespect, and immaturity. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for humor, but  that we cannot wave away other people’s concerns or comments with sarcasm and jokes. I’d feel insulted if someone dismissed MY points of view and didn’t engage with them, so I strive to avoid making others feel that way as well.

Finally, we must simultaneously remember our insignificance AND our power. Our actions have the potential to ripple off into many individual people’s lives, and that’s definitely not something to be underestimated. Also, that just because we don’t engage with “the enemy” doesn’t mean they magically disappear. Just because we close our eyes or turn our backs, it doesn’t mean their opinions go away. Thus, instead of ignoring them (for whatever reason), I feel we have the imperative to face them head-on.

Stay tuned for Part III!

P.S. More on this later, but I want to highlight early on that we DID find spaces for dialogue. One of the presenters commented–not just to us, but on her Twitter and the Scottish Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation Facebook–that she “also had the chance to sit and speak to the folks from yesterday who were live tweeting. really productive and positive conversations and hope that it helped in keeping options for dialogue open. Understand alot more how they felt as individuals in a room full of people where they were unsure of how they would be treated. nice to see the tweets today taking a different tone.”

Pain vs. Harm (and some other thoughts)

Via Nonzer0 (which you should check out because it’s fantastic).  
Emphasis mine. 
——

From my limited experience:
Pain is different from harm. Whether the two coincide often has to do with intention or context–the pain felt during childbirth is processed and experienced differently (and usually not as psychic or emotional harm, even if the body is injured) whereas an equal amount of physical pain felt when being tortured in someone’s basement or in a POW camp I would guess is much more likely to be harmful.

In less dramatic senses, I think there is more risk of harm when we are acting out of any sort of malice, retributive anger, hatred, resentment, defensiveness, aggression–anything that Yoda would put on the dark side of the force.
This purtains to kink in that, when it is done in a “safe, sane, consensual” manner, one of the intentions may be to cause pain–physical or emotional–but not to harm. Anyone who wants to do you lasting damage isn’t someone that it would be healthy for most people to get kinky with. A good top, when you are not “playing” with power or other kink stuff but doing something more serious, is more like a spiritual guide, knowing when to push and when to slow down, open to feedback, offering support and encouragement when necessary, with steady love beneath whatever else is going on or whatever the expression of it is (you know I don’t necessarily mean romantic love). And in this context, the sub has the opportunity to experience and confront some of the things we struggle most with as humans– perhaps, physical pain, which she will learn is easiest when one surrendors to it or accepts it wholely; mentally, humiliation–which can be an joyful release from selfhood, an entry into intense trance states, a way of taking the ego and breaking it against a rock, failure or guilt–which, in going into fully in the safety of the setting she will learn to fear less in daily life, and to meet fully when it arises, her psychic and physical limitiations–which may help release her from some of the perfectionism conditioned into us by our culture, fear–which she will become intimate with and learn to and enjoy, create for herself the tool of imbuing the terrible with the erotic thus helping her to face it, to make it bearable.

It is a grounds, perhaps most of all, for giving and recieving unconditional love. There is incredible risk on both sides to exposing “shadow” sides, in asking for obedience or giving it, in giving a command or following it. The scene can exist only when both parties conspire together, are in it together. And it is amazing, to humiliate oneself completely in front of someone, to for a period of time exist in a state of utter trust and let someone cause you pain without trying to escape, and instead of leaving, the person stays, appreciates, loves you all the more. And the top, I would guess, has a reciprocal experience–to demand, inflict, command, humiliate, and still be loved. It’s breath-taking, isn’t it?
The difference between this and actual abuse has much to do with explicit consent and intention. Abuse often comes from intentions to harm, defend, protect, intimidate. Kink, in good situations, comes from intentions to expand and open emotionally and experientially, to achieve intimacy, to give and recieve love, and often includes inflicting pain in the service of these things.
Of course some people use kink to channel hatred of various sorts, or to put themselves in harm’s (rather than pain’s) way, and in those scenarios, there is great potential to damage all involved. But in the best cases, sex can become a pretext, a means, a background, or simply a component of a deeply intimate, alchemical process.

Defining Relationships & Breakups: Musings & Ramblings

Part of a journal entry I wrote like 3 months ago,
when these thoughts were fresh and raw in my mind.
A bunch of stuff has been added and subtracted
for the sake of clarity/elaboration

(and of not being too personal :P).

Generally, just because people go through rough patches or “more friendliness than mad desire” patches, they don’t just break up. However, what if one’s not enmeshed in what’s considered a traditional romantic relationship (or even a traditional breakup)? What if there was no big and official “want to be my girl/boy/x-friend?” What if there’s no “finality” to a split and there’s always the hazy possibility of somehow getting back together on any/some level? How does one define a breakup there? What exactly is there to break off, first of all? “How do you ground that which is ungroundable?” (shameless South Park reference; goth episode) If a couple hasn’t created a set boundary around them that they can just topple if the need arises; if they haven’t wrapped themselves with ropes that can be severed if shit comes to that…

Sometimes the words “breaking up” aren’t even uttered, and the shift in a relationship begins its demarcation through the “Uh-oh, where do we go from here?” An answer to such a question–particularly in the case where both sides wish to remain friendly and are breaking up for non-spiteful/dramatic reasons–would probably consist of defining expectations (or a lack thereof, which I think is an expectation in itself, anyway) and talking about how the involved parties would interact with each other “post-breakupwhateverthisis” more than anything else. “The Talk” in such a case would not be about about not seeing each other again, or “breaking up,” or anything of the sort. It would be about the repercussions of such a decision–the ACTIONS that would come as a result, and thus, it would involve setting clear expectations and boundaries, essentially redefining the relationship. Or something like that. Because sometimes, some people don’t like boundaries and expectations, or have little regard for their own, so that makes things at once easier and a thousand times more difficult for the other party. But I digress.

Even the words BREAKING UP sound a little harsh, no? The connotation of rupturing something, of violence, of pain. In Spanish (at least where I’m from), it would be more like “we left each other” or “X left me; I left X.” It’s more about the act of separation than a violence of breaking something (off) or someone being left in pieces. Then again, saying “s0-and-so left me” sounds really sad, too, so I guess I’m just focusing on the “mutual” terms–“we broke up” and “nos dejamos.” Maybe it’s just my experience, but to ME, “nos dejamos” sounds way less “explosive” than “we broke up.” I guess a more neutral way of putting it in English could be “we’re no longer seeing each other” or “we’re no longer together” even if those aren’t literally accurate (especially the former). Meh.

With that in mind, explaining a breakup is so strange, especially because a lot of people usually expect it to be a shitshow–crying fits, pints of ice-cream on Friday nights, awkward drunken dialing weeks afterward, gossip smacktalk, people begging to be taken back, keys scratching sides of cars, spiteful exes…DRAMA. If it’s not that, some people just wait on the sidelines, waiting for the shit to hit the fan (or someone’s head). This is…sometimes realistic? Since breaking up IS often a messy affair, I guess? But it’s also detrimental, I think. Having one’s friends constantly waiting for one’s ex to fuck it up? When a breakup “goes well,” having friends say “just wait” because “your ex is going to shit on your head”? Like…no. That’s not helpful. I understand where it’s coming from, but it just seems so negative to stand there waiting for bad shit (especially when the people doing are not even the ones who broke up, but their friends). It’s good to be realistic and acknowledge the possibility that parties involved in a breakup may turn to asshattery, but the perverse “waiting for it with an expectant smile” seems unhealthy to me. It’s no longer being realistic; it’s being pessimistic and masochistic. I think a better approach would be to say “yes, shit may hit the fan, and we’ll deal with it when/if it does, but for NOW, let’s just deal with what’s on our plate at the moment and not get ahead of ourselves.”

So, in the case of a “non-traditional” breakup (regardless of why it’s non-traditional and all the “but what does traditional even MEAN?” whatnot), especially one that is more about redefining a relationship than cutting it off entirely, the whole language and connotations surrounding “breakups,” I feel, are inadequate. But maybe that’s just me.

Moving on a bit–defining (or not?) relationships based on their little spurts and little individual moments is not something I’m used to–like, “we don’t have a label, but oh, today we’re more like romantic partners, and oh, today I feel more like ‘just’ friends.” That can work…but it also has its pitfalls. I like having that safe blanket-statement that covers and defines as a WHOLE what a relationship is. I’ll admit, it feels liberating and wonderful to NOT have that definition, because sometimes there’s just no need for it. But sometimes…it’s good and useful and safe to have it. But…relationships are fluid, I guess, and things do change, so an inherent label fluidity there is also useful. BUT what if the two people aren’t on the same plane and don’t talk about it? Pain and angst can ensue. However, that can be curbed with open, constant communication so one person doesn’t think “oh we’re together” when another thinks “oh we’re just friends” or something like that. I guess both have their pros and cons. The key to all of them is still communication, though, and NOT just making assumptions all the time.

Still, I do think that those blanket-statements can be good; they define the commitment the two people have toward each other, y’know? Regardless of how individual interactions play out, there is an underlying base there. If it ever needs to change, it CAN, but it allows the couple to operate under a certain set of assumptions and expectations (they define) while the label is in place. For example, within a marriage, there will probably be an ebb and flow of erotic desire and all that jazz, but underneath that, there is a commitment and there is a love and there is a fixed label. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. Just because the romance isn’t always there doesn’t mean there is NOTHING there at ALL. But in order to have those blanket-statements…one would have to pinpoint the place(s) where a relationship morphed from something into something else. How did a couple move from acquaintances to people who had sex with each other / friends to people with a more emotional…I don’t even know? And…fixed labels are such a terrible idea anyway…lol. I guess what I’m saying is that those “fixed” labels (such as wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend) require an acknowledgment of some sort of transition between spaces/other labels and NECESSITATE those distinctions in the first place.

Those fixed labels provide some form of “security” and “proof of underlying commitment.” However, they can mean whatever one wants them to mean, I guess (e.g. for some, a serious relationship implies exclusivity, but for others it doesn’t)…so the terms are devoid of inherent and universal meaning (nothing new there?), except for the implication that there is SOME sort of relationship there…and thus I guess it works out fine in the end, as long as one approaches the terms and labels in such a fashion and acknowledges how they work (or don’t).

So where does one draw the line between a lover and a friend, though? (And now I’m obviously going to be speaking for myself and my own desires, expectations, and boundaries) That’s the thing. 🙂 I don’t know. Before, it was easy. It was easy because my definition of love was pretty much singular. Now that my conception of what love is/can be is broader, it’s harder to draw little lines between things like “lovers” and “friends.” I mean, my lovers ARE friends, but not all my friends are lovers…so is the only difference the sex? What about FWBs? Those can be friends AND lovers, but lack a certain…spark, I guess. Is it a lack of sexual/emotional/romantic commitment and/or desire? Maybe. I think that’s part of the key. Who knows. The difference between love and in love under my new parameters? These things are all fuzzier now that I’ve embraced a more non-monogamous perspective, too. If before I might have defined the divide between a friend and lover with arising feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or a desire for exclusivity (especially the latter!)…now I can’t use it to define relationships because I DON’T feel that way, or don’t feel that that way is the ONLY way to construct a healthy relationship. So…ultimately—the line dividing the love between lovers and friends…is actually unnecessary in many cases. It’s a fluid line ANYWAY, which at any moment could potentially “be crossed,” so when it comes down to it…whatever. The line between who is considered a friend and a lover, however, I do feel is more important. Again, because of its relevance to relationship status and “official” shit, especially with monogamy.

A few examples I read about on an LJ polyamory group I follow:

A. The best I can come up with is: With your significant other there is an expectation of a certain level of communication and priority that goes beyond friendship. It has aspects more closely resembling a partnership, where final decisions are made together with the partner’s needs and wants a high priority. For instance, if I invited my best friend to Christmas, but he told me he was going to spend Christmas with his girlfriend and her family, I would bow out without complaint and wish them happy holidays. His girlfriend has priority. No problem. If my [primary?] boyfriend told me he would spend Christmas with another girlfriend without discussing it with me, I would be hurt that he hadn’t talked about it or wanted to negotiate.

B. An SO is a romantic partner whose needs I consider if I get sick of a location and decide I want to move. (Though I think this varies a bit if a person has hierarchized primary/secondary relationships and stuff, especially if they’re married? Though considering needs doesn’t mean making them priorities, so I guess that works…)

C. For example, if I want to quit my job, or move to another city, or have a child, or yadda yadda. Friends, fuckbuddies and similar people in my life might have input and I value their opinions. However, what they say will not have a deciding vote on my decision. The people who I consider to be my partners are those whose input will affect my final decision on those kinds of matters. (Again, the primary/secondary hierarchy, if in place, would matter here for some people.)

D. It’s an extra level of connection and commitment – I love you dearly, and share my life with you, and beyond that, we will work together as a team and see each other’s goals and hopes as our own. I will care for you when you are sick, as you would for me. We share our resources, invest together, and actively build our family’s future. (Older age-bracket, or simply more geared to cohabitating partners, which is not my case at the moment.)

E. If I have a good opportunity that would force me to move, I’d say “I’ll miss you” to a friend and “Do you think I should go/When can you come with me?” to an SO. I’d also be more expecting that an SO would try to move with me than a friend would. So, in my mind, I guess, an SO has a level of long-term commitment to work together towards common goals, where a friend, while maybe emotionally and physically intimate, doesn’t.

My personal example was (since I am not dealing with cohabitation, children, or pooling of resources at this point in my life): If I wanted to start a monogamous relationship with someone, but found I couldn’t without SOMEHOW breaking up with other people in my life…that’s a pretty nice indicator. Or, er, putting it in a different and less negative light, if I’m beginning to date someone and there is another person (or a set of other people) whose level of closeness and intimacy I feel I should inform this new potential partner about because it would/should/might affect their decision to date me or not, then that’s an indicator.

I guess the importance of labels is relevant in terms of how one’s relationships impact, er, one’s relationships. We don’t live alone, or in pairs, so what we do and whom we do it with affects things outside the “immediate” circle. Also, Linda/Speedy brought up a nice point in our discussion of this–labeling friendships. We both have decided to NOT label friendships (in terms of what kind they are, like best friend, better friend, close friend, yada yada)–people are friends and that’s it. Trying to hierarchize and tier-off friendships would be hard and not really productive, especially in a world where social circles shift, people move for college, and friendships can be established and/or carried on via the internet, or after being incommunicado for months (even years). Personally, I feel each individual relationship gets negotiated between the two people involved. There are friends whom I’d drive 100 miles to see, there are some whom I wouldn’t, and there are yet others whom it would depend on a multitude of other factors.

That’s a reason I don’t want people to gauge my love for them or my interest in our friendship by, say, what gifts I get them, or what random things I do for them, or what things I feel are appropriate to share. Sometimes I feel more inspired and creative, or have more time, or *know* a certain person REALLY wants X object, and so I get it for them..but it doesn’t “devalue” the other relationships I have. I think the non-zero-sum love model is applicable here as well, and that whatever happens in one relationship adds or detracts from THAT relationship, not the others. Anyway, I guess I’m not worried about labeling friendships because they don’t…affect our “official relationship status” or legal standing. Because that’s the biggest and most relevant, I guess, real-world and long-term application of all this theorizing = legal benefits and the difference between singlehood, domestic partnerships, and marriage. I’m not going to get into that now, but I just wanted to put it out there for those that may feel all this rambling is totally unecessary. 🙂

To wrap things up, I wanted to say that I’m in favor of using new terms or unique words/phrases to describe relationships. Kinda like what Katie/TLC do (or did). Calling a partner “kool-aid” (e.g. She’s my kool-aid!) or “licorice” or something of that nature is interesting. Using labels for people that are more descriptive, or personal, like…cuddle-buddies, cagemates, occasional lovers, sweeties etc. They’re more individualized categories than gf/bf/xf and such. The labels mean whatever the two people involved want them to mean. However, when translating that so other people can understand…it gets a little harder. That’s something one can deal with, though, somehow. Whatever. Analogies, anyone? I loves dem.

Ok. Blah. I’m done. Enough about relationships.