Unpacking the Invisible Toybag (or, Scene Specific White Privilege)

So M (who goes by _Spiral_ on Fetlife)–a black genderqueer person from Baltimore–wrote a great list of white privilege in the BDSM/kink/leather scene inspired by the famous Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh:


By and large, white people in our society have been and continue to be taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, White Privilege, which puts white people at an advantage… taught to view themselves as individuals whose moral state depended on their individual moral will… to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when they work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow POCs to be more like them.

There are numerous unearned advantages to being white in the BDSM community. The thing is, as stated above, these are not seen as advantages, they are seen as normative, ie. that’s just the way things are. These advantages include but are not limited to the following:
  • A white person can go to an event or party and very likely not be the only white person (or one of a few) at said event.
  • A white person can be fairly sure to see their race represented in event literature (ads, program books, videos, etc), and BDSM artwork and literature at large (BDSM based fiction, books, magazines)
  • A white person will very likely be able to find Dungeon Monitors, and others in charge in scene space who will be of their own race.
  • A white person will very likely be able to find event presenters and educators who will be of their own race.
  • A white person can be fairly certain that event organizers and venue owners are people of their own race.
  • Barring known nationality in some cases (cuz i bet BoundBlackDragon could tell us a story or two) a white person can be fairly certain that the type of play they like, and/or the role they’d like to play in a scene will not be assumed based on their race or stereotypes about their race.
  • Barring known nationality in some cases, when undressed, a white person can safely expect not to have their body or an area of their body or bodypart be considered a “credit to their race.”
  • Barring known nationality in some cases, when showing particular skill, force, technique, intensity, or even gentleness, a white person can safely expect that these aspects will not be attributed to stereotypes about their race.
  • Barring known nationality in some cases, when a mistake is made in a scene, a white person can safely expect that it will not be attributed to a stereotype about incompetence or clumsiness via their race.
  • If the people in attendance at an event are paying NO attention to a white person, that person can be fairly certain that it’s not because of their race.
  • If the people in attendance at an event are paying a LOT of attention to a white person, that person can be fairly sure that it’s not because of their race.

And then someone derailed the hell out of it, so obviously I commented. Can I also mention this derailer is a white, 35 y.o. male dominant who is part of a “Black Women/White Men” group, a “White Doms/Tops and Black subs/bottoms” group, a “young black women who love older white men” group, AND a “Gorean” group? I’ll just leave that there for y’all to digest.

By and large I think what you are missing is that white people generally don’t look for their own race in those situations and have no issue with other races filling those parts. As for sexual expectations you are too narrow in your scope because skinny girls are expected to be a certain way as well as large girls, blonds, upper class, lower class etc etc etc. I’m not going to go into detail because I am very tired but I think you are showing a large amount of ignorance and short sightedness yourself. By and large people are much less hated then they believe they are. Social interactions being the most complicated thing in human nature you cannot simply chalk things up so simply.

Of course, because so many spaces ARE white, and it’s not just a byproduct of “oh well there are just lots of white people in the U.S.”—it’s directly tied to how the scene operates, what’s valued in it, how cost-prohibitive some parties/accessories/etc. are, the locations where BDSM/kink activities are able to happen, and a lot more, and THOSE systems and situations are inextricably tied to racism.

White people rarely, if ever, “look for their own race” because they’re constantly surrounded by them, and people of color are the minorities that are either used to having to find community or because of circumstance, are mistrustful/uncomfortable/whatever when in a white-dominated space.

Plus, I’d sincerely hope white people “didn’t have an issue” with “other races filling those parts.” (But the thing is, some of them do. Which is fucked.)

Also, I have been told I am a credit to my race and sex as well. If there are other races in the audiences then that is very possible.

How have you been told “you’re a credit to your race and sex”? I’m curious about the context and intent there…

Oh and for the last few if you get a lot or no attention why do you assume off the top it is because of your race? Could be body type, newness, attitude or a multitude of other things. As I said above social interactions is the most complicated part of human nature and to assume you understand completely all of the intricacies only shows how little you really know and would rather remain in what feels comfortable rather then challenge yourself and your own ASSUMPTIONS(PREJUDICE).

Of course–there are a lot of means of oppressing people, a lot of different types of privileges, and the OP is not saying that racism trumps all other oppressions and that if you are a person of color you are ALWAYS OPPRESSED IN EVERY WAY. They’re trying to highlight the way RACE specifically operates in terms of privileges. Just because there are other fucked up assumptions we make based on other identities (such as body shape/size) doesn’t mean the ones based on race are “not as bad or important.”

Re: the attention issue—Jesus H. Christ. AGAIN, the OP is not saying it IS ALWAYS ABOUT RACE. They are saying that one of the privileges of being a white person in the scene is that race is USUALLY NOT AN ISSUE FOR WHITE PEOPLE. While a person of color moves around the world dealing with their race and probably having to think about it every damn day, white people don’t have that, and at the very least if they do for some outside reason, they don’t have it in the same, systemic way that POC do.

Once again, if you reread the post, it says a white person can be fairly certain their level of attention, regardless of if it’s high or low, is NOT RELATED to their race, while–again, based on experience–a POC CANNOT be fairly certain that that’s the case.

Social interactions are indeed complicated, but to try to veil them with “oh, it’s complicated, you can’t break them down like this” is ridiculous.

Re: The White Elephant in the Room

This is my response (edited from my Tumblr version of it) to Black Girl Dangerous/Mia McKenzie’s post about The White Elephant in the Room. (Please go read that first!)

When “woman of color” includes Latin@s of all stripes, then yes, I am a woman of color.

When “woman of color” is just shorthand for “African or African American,” then no, I am not a woman of color and would never claim to be. (And I mention this because many spaces I found, especially initially, were for WOC and QWOC but only had African American folks in them—no other groups were represented/part of those spaces).
When “woman of color” includes people born in the Caribbean and Latin-America, whose culture and upbringing and politics were not those of white U.S. Americans, whose heritage includes slaves and indigenous folks and colonizers all wrapped up in one, whose native tongue isn’t English, who don’t have the privilege of NOT thinking about their race/ethnicity/culture, then yes, I am a woman of color.
When “woman of color” means that I’m oppressed based on my skin color, then no, I am not a woman of color and would never claim to be. (The kind of shit I get for my skin color is not oppression, and now that I’m living in the U.S., is even less of a talking point.)
Though it’s not the same thing (obviously), I feel there are important parallels to sexuality and gender here, the feelings from folks who are “visibly” queer in one or both of those arenas vis-a-vis those who can “pass.” The important thing is for those who can “pass” as a dominant group to ACKNOWLEDGE their (our!) privilege, use it for the best (cross-reference that video I posted a while ago about using white-privilege), and help speak for our communities, but be aware that we should also help to centralize folks of the most marginalized positions instead of just repeatedly highlighting the same voices who are “most palatable” to dominant groups. It means being aware of WHY we have privilege and HOW we have privilege, and striving to do something about it instead of going “oh well, I can’t help my privilege!” or “it’s so HARD to be privileged!” It means not being content when something that claims to represent queer folks really is just “cisgender/normatively-gendered white-looking queer people” or feeling all self-satisfied when we work for the inclusion of POC in white spaces and all the POC are suspiciously white-looking. It means we need to try harder and step back more sometimes, and it means our identities are never at rest.
At the same time, for ALL of us, it also means knowing that there are people within and behind all those long laundry lists of identities, and that identities can be painful and joyful and help us build communities but also keep us out of communities that once felt or should have felt like home. It means knowing there will be rage and sadness and hope and laughter and that we need to have at least a little understanding and compassion in our hearts, but that our feelings are valid and don’t need to be 24/7 crafted into tasteful, polite little snippets.
For someone who can pass as white (though I am usually on a mission to make it clear who and what I am), I don’t get harassed on the basis of my skin color on the street. For someone who can pass as heterosexual (if I try/when I have male partners/etc.), I can go without getting harassed for my choice of partner.  These are things that make my life easier. A lot of POC and a lot of queer folks and a lot of people at those intersections don’t have those privileges, and so I need to own them very clearly. Heck, on a more “superficial level,” I can purchase makeup and not wonder about how it will look on my skin because the models on the ads have the same skin-tone as I do. I can listen to love songs and not have to *always* switch pronouns and genders around. I can watch movies and see people that look like me on the surface. On both life-or-death as well as day-to-day levels, I have a ton of privileges that make my interactions with the world similar to those of a white, cis, hetero person. Still–that doesn’t suddenly make me a white, cis, hetero person, and it doesn’t erase all the ways in which my identities as a Latin@, queer, genderqueer/fluid/hotmess do affect my day-to-day experiences in ways that clearly align with those/my communities.
If we’re building community based on our culture and background and queerness, it’s not okay to be told “oh wait, you’re not queer enough, please leave” or “you’re not enough of a minority, this isn’t for you” or “whatever, even though your heritage is X you look like Y so let me erase your entire experience.” It DOES mean people can tell me to shut the fuck up if I’m speaking about an experience that’s not mine though, for sure, and it means that we might all be POC/queer/whatever, but that our intersecting identities make it so that all our experiences aren’t the same, and that we can’t hold hands and pretend that we all experience the same level of oppression. We need to learn to build our communities, as complex as they may be, and also learn to stand in solidarity with those that are different from us, be they part of certain spaces we inhabit or be they complete outsiders.



And re: the OP, relating to that last point about light-skinned privilege vs. white privilege—what would “visibly POC” mean? Very curly hair? Slanted eyes? A wider nose…? Or…? I also ask because the idea of separating “white skin” from “light skin”doesn’t make sense to me unless we’re saying that using the language of “light” vs. “dark” poses dark skin as its “default” and so you can have a “dark black/brown” skin tone or a “light black/brown” skin tone and beyond that, it’s just “white skin.”

My 7th Grade Class Helped Me Define My Relationships

I remember learning about elements and electron-shell diagrams in my 7th grade science class. Who would’ve thought that that same model I saw on the whiteboard would be the key to explaining what the heck I was doing with my relationships years later?


Please scroll to the bottom for a 2016 update/note!


Fluorine has 2 electrons on
the first shell and 7 on the
second shell.

Unless you count a torrid online romance with a guy from Canada when I was 14, at the age of 19 I’d never been in a relationship. All my knowledge of the mechanics of sex and intimacy were purely theoretical, and then I suddenly launched into something with a married polyamorous man with a Ph.D who was almost 10 years my senior. Oh, and did I mention he also had another girlfriend in addition to his wife? Though precocious and definitely interested in alternative sexuality since before high-school, nothing had prepared me for this relationship model.

So I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I researched! I devoured everything I could find online about non-monogamy (and polyamory especially), spending hours upon hours reading personal accounts, advice columns, informational websites, and research papers. I had to unlearn a lot of things and reprogram my brain to understand this new model of relationship. In that process, I had to interrogate the metaphors I used to describe my love-life, what visual representations I used to talk about significant others, and what kind of language in general I used to describe my intimacy and the people involved.

Enter: SCIENCE!

If “Lithium” actually just meant
“Aida,” this diagram would say that
I have 2 primaries and 1 secondary!

With increased hands-on experience (wink wink, nudge nudge) in non-monogamous living came more “opportunities” to describe my situation, both to potential partners and the general public.

One of the hurdles in explaining my relationship configuration was discussing how I could have two super important partners at the same time. I’m a pretty visual person, and non-monogamy sometimes necessitates a lot of diagramming, so I needed something I could draw for people. At some point along the way, my brain cycled back to my 7th grade science class and the electron-shell diagrams seemed to resonate.

So how does this work for me (and how might it work for you)? Read on, look at the Lithium diagram to the right, and keep the following in mind:

  • The big, red circle is the nucleus (made up of protons and neutrons), and that is the self (me!)
  • The little gray circles are electrons, and those are other people
  • The shells/rings are levels of commitment/closeness

1: There can be more than one electron/person on each shell (which goes against the ideas of “only one soulmate” in the monogamy model and against the “only one primary” notion in some polyamorous communities). The electrons don’t occupy the same exact space on the shell (read: the electrons are not on top of each other, ), but they ARE on the same shell, so it embodies how multiple primary partners are on the same general level of importance but are still fulfilling in different aspects.

2: Up to a certain point, the further a shell is from the nucleus, the higher the maximum number of electrons allowed on it. (For example: the first shell can hold a max. of 2 electrons, the second shell can hold a max. of 8, and the third shell can hold a max. of 18.) In relationship-talk, that means that I have a maximum number of people that I can pay attention to at a given time on a given rung, and I could have bigger numbers of lower-investment relationships than higher-investment relationships*. The maximum of two on the innermost shell is also probably accurate; I don’t think I could ever handle more than 2 primaries!

3 (not tied to the shell diagram, but just general atomic knowledge I wanted to include)While the electrons affect the charge of an atom, an element is identified by the number of protons in the nucleus. This jives well with the idea that while relationships might change me (and, heh, make me more positive or negative), I’m my own person and I have a recognizable identity outside of whomever I am partners with at a particular time.

4: Finally, just because a shell has a maximum number of electron spots available, it doesn’t mean  I HAVE to try to get that shell full of electrons or that bed full of people just because I can.

*Still, the model isn’t perfect. Number of partners on each “commitment rung” don’t have to follow the “filling” patterns of atoms. For example, in Real Science, each shell can only hold a particular maximum number of electrons (2, 8, 18, 32 for the first four shells) and shells get filled from the inside out, so I wouldn’t have an element/relationship with 2 electrons/people on the first shell, 4 in the second, and then 9 in the third. In my love life, however, I could totally have 5 casual partners and no primary, or perhaps I could have 2 primaries, 1 secondary, and 12 tertiaries. And actually, according to the Madelung Energy Ordering Rule, there are certain atoms who have “partially-filled” outer rings, so straying from the 2, 8, 18, 32 pattern is possible, but not the rule by any means.


07/30/16 — Edited to add: How I personally arrange my relationships and what words I use for them has changed considerably throughout the years! It’s important to clarify that the way I describe relationship arrangements here follows (or can follow) a fairly hierarchical model (though different from the “only one primary” idea, and without the problematic “only primaries matter” mentality). This electron shell model is useful for some but certainly not exhaustive, and there are tons of layers of nuance we can/should layer on top of it. This shell model can help with broad explanations and debunking some common misconceptions, but it doesn’t say anything about kinds of commitment, what names and partnerships in these “relationship rungs” look like, or anything like that. Intimacy and commitment are rarely so easily categorizable, so please keep that in mind when perusing. For some food for thought on polyamory, hierarchy, and more, check this and this out.

Privilege, Blackface, and the Burden of Education

(This post is coming as a result of a debate on a listserv of which I’m a member)
The first reaction to a claim of “that’s racist” or “that’s fucked up” or anything in that vein should not be kneejerk defensiveness + “I AM NOT RACIST” + “LOOK AT ALL MY MINORITY FRIENDS.” In instances where someone is calling us out, we need to listen before trying to defend ourselves
No, blackface is not an homage, even if the wearer intended it as such. Blackface and any other cultural appropriation can be deeply offensive, even under the guise or art and political commentary. Have any of you heard the “We’re a culture, not a costume” poster campaign? If not, you should check it out. A poster on Autostraddle summed it up pretty well:  “The problem with racially insensitive Halloween costumes: While people who dress up as racial stereotypes might be able to take the disguise off the day after Halloween, people who are minorities can’t. And the resonance of everything from a geisha to a terrorist stereotype persists long after the end of October.”
Another interesting discussion? This video from The View. It’s interesting because two folks “of the group being discussed” don’t agree on the matter.
My takeaway points?
  • Just because some folks in a minority group are not offended does not mean that the action is suddenly okay or shouldn’t be construed as offensive to other members of that community. In this case, just because Whoopi was fine with it doesn’t discount (and shouldn’t minimize) the point that the other person was making.
  • People can be very aware and sensitive around some issues, but entirely clueless about others. Also, let’s remember that just because someone makes fucked up OR super intelligent statements doesn’t mean they are fucked up OR super intelligent across the board. For example, in the Halloween video I was totally on board with the speaker opposing Whoopi, but in this video, I’m totally on board with Whoopi and her defense of Sasha Grey.
  • Being ignorant about an action’s cultural baggage and the stereotypes that come along with it is UNDERSTANDABLE when folks come from a position of privilege where they have never had to think about that baggage. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean the ignorance is OKAY or that it should be allowed to continue and be perpetuated. *This is an important distinction.*
  • At the same time, people with privileges shouldn’t just expect that people from oppressed groups educate them one-on-one and on-demand. This is what happens a lot, though, and it’s exhausting as fuck. For a person who’s asking to be informed about privilege, it’s just one question; for the person getting asked, it’s sometimes a constant stream of “please educate me.” And EVEN if the people come with great intentions, they need to understand that minority groups don’t have all the time/energy to educate every single person. There needs to be empathy on both sides, of course, but we need to understand how these things work so we can see where the anger comes from. There are many resources out there at our disposal. Let’s use them. Let’s also not be *afraid* to ask our friends who are part of minority groups to help us learn, but let’s understand their potential reluctance/rejection and not take it “personally.”
  • Aside from the issues around education, folks in minority communities DAILY have to deal with the systems that fuck them over. Not trying to paint this as “woe is me I’m so oppressed,” but honestly–we need to think about all the daily stressors people face around their social positions and identities so we can be more compassionate and try to understand where they’re coming from. 
Finally, here are some more resources:

Reverse Racism DOES NOT EXIST

REASON 1: 
If you ascribe to the simplest and broadest definition of racism, which means “discrimination on the basis of race,” THERE IS NO WAY FOR IT TO GO IN “REVERSE.” Racism doesn’t mean “hating on minorities”–it means “hating on ANYONE because of their race.” Thus, “reverse racism” is a ridiculous concept/idea because any instance of racial discrimination would just be racism.

REASON 2: 
If you ascribe to the definition of racism as institutionalized discrimination/oppression, “reverse racism” (which again, is a term that does NOT MAKE SENSE ANYWAY, AHHHH) doesn’t exist. Discriminatory actions can be perpetrated by anyone, but racism needs the institutional backing. Racism is not a one-off moment of discrimination; it is a cycle, a web of power and structures that affirm one group’s dominance over another. Racism has deep roots and a wide reach.

At the end of the day, a discriminatory action can stay encased in that moment where it happened, or it can reverberate throughout a person’s life and be repeated over and over.

Of course, racism and discrimination don’t play out in the same ways in every person’s life because their other circumstances and identities affect their experiences. Still, the point is that if you can leave your moment of experiencing racialized discrimination relatively unscathed and without having great odds that it will be repeated, it was PROBABLY NOT RACISM. If you leave that moment and go back to a place where you are inherently valued more because of your race, where systems in place privilege you, IT WAS NOT RACISM because you live in a society that has the scales tipped in your favor on the axis of race.

Befriend Your Butt

My freshman year at Brown, I attended a public debate about SexPowerGod–the famous Brown University Queer Alliance dance/fundraiser made notorious thanks to Bill O’Reilly’s efforts. Anyway. Team pro-SPG had the two event coordinators for that Fall (2007): Kathryn Lamb and Robin Peckham. Team anti-SPG had Sean Quigley and Joshua Unseth (’09), two very vocal conservative students (in charge of right-wing organizations and publications on campus). While Quigley was (for the most part, as I recall) quite civil and used academic or intellectual arguments (though I disagreed with them because they were ALL based on the premise of a monolithic moral and religious code which does NOT ACTUALLY EXIST), Unseth was quite the opposite of civil.

I honestly think part of the reason he indulged in ridiculous theatricality was that he knew he was a minority in that debate, and so he decided to have “fun” while he was there. Regardless, it was highly unprofessional and I think that any moderates in the crowd were swayed to the pro-SPG side due to his antics. Anyway. One of his “shticks” was to call LGBTQ folks by “disparaging” names, such as rectal rangers, fudge-packers, carpet-munchers, and butt-pirates. Instead of being (just) insulted, I thought these were actually quite brilliant and pretty hilarious (if wielded appropriately and NOT like he was using them). Am I the only one who images “rectal-rangers” wearing super-hero costumes and flying around?

Anyway, this brings me to the point of this entry: let’s embrace this! I encourage everyone who reads this to explore their inner butt-pirate and get in on some anal play. After all, everyone has an anus! It doesn’t mean you have to love anal ANYTHING, or ever try it again, but at least give yourself the chance to explore the idea.

Many people are scared of anything going “back there,” and that’s why I’m here–to point you in the direction of good resources as you begin (or even consider) your rectal-ranger adventure. For now, I’ll leave you with a video that a friend shared with me today, of Nina Hartley (via here) talking about making friends with your butt and starting off slowly.

If you want more anally-focused info, check out Tristan Taormino & PuckerUp.

G-mail and Intersectionality

Or, alternatively titled “Why I Love G-mail: Reason Number 69”

Labels. Simple as that.
“What? Aida loving LABELS? Sacrilegious!
No, dear readers. It is true. I love labels (though my relationships with them outside of G-mail is a bit more complicated than that). Labels not only allow me to more effectively organize my virtual correspondence, but their very existence also mirrors my life philosophy (or part of it).

With other email providers (e.g. Hotmail), we must organize our mail into folders. These make us “choose” where to put something, and an email can only be put into ONE folder at a time. This mirrors the realities of archiving physical papers. You can put a paper in a SINGLE folder. If you wanted to have papers in more than one place, you’d need to make copies, and these would just create clutter, and maybe you wanted to change ONE document and then would have to get all the OTHER copies and…yeah. Inefficient. Plus difficult choices have to be made in regards to classifying correspondence–“Is this more of an X or more of a Y? Hmmm. This has such and such thing, but it ALSO has this other thing, and THAT should be in THIS folder, but THIS should be in this OTHER one…”

You see the problem?

Labels, however, allow for things to hypothetically/virtually occupy multiple places at a time. Gone are the days where categories were mutually exclusive and we had to hierarchize an email’s content! We can label emails with “funny,” “financial aid,” “images,” AND “sex” if we so desire. A more visual explanation of how this works: we have a stack of papers, but instead of putting them in folders, we just attach various colored strings to them, so whenever we want papers that are somehow tagged as “blue”, we can pull the blue string and they all come toward us, still with all their other strings attached and intact. The reality is less messy than that explanation, but still. That’s the gist of it. Emails exist in a ‘space,’ and there is only ONE copy of each email…but we can access them through various channels.

And how is all this techno-babble related to my life philosophy? I believe in complexity and things that aren’t mutually exclusive. I don’t like trying to put things in compartments when I know I can only put them in ONE; I hate that hierarchization and inherent denial of intersectionality. I love seeing the connections between things, and the current ways in which we organize our lives are often conducive to the OPPOSITE of that.

I prefer my little boxes with malleable sides, holes, connecting tubes, and glitter.

Some other features I wish non-virtual life had:

– Search function (this would be SO USEFUL when reading books and articles)
– Tags (which are basically just labels…but I feel these are more specific?)
– Zoom feature
– Undo/Ctrl-Z
– Virus protection (just imagine it, during sex–“You’re about to enter an unsafe area. Do you wish to continue? This orifice doesn’t have a security certificate. Your body has detected and blocked an attempted intrusion attempt. Virus protection has detected herpes on this person’s genitals; do you wish to exit the room?”)
– Adjustment slider bars for saturation, contrast, brightness, and hue

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.