Friday, October 31, 2014

Addicted to AA

Kicking an addiction can be incredibly difficult and there aren't a lot of sure answers to the problem.  Unfortunately as a society we feel like we have to do something when someone has an addiction that is causing problems for others and we can't accept that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.  That 'but we have to DO something' line is a problem in all kinds of situations but I think it is especially bad when we are talking about a person who is trying to end an addiction.  In particular it is terrible that we so often mandate particular forms of treatment that simply don't work like 12 step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous being the obvious example).

It seems to me that we almost have a societal addiction to such things.  We have used them so long that they have become the new normal and kicking the habit would be very painful because we would have to admit that we have been wrong all along.  This is a habit we really need to get around to kicking though because there is no reason to continue and every reason to stop.  Explicitly religious organizations telling people they require God to kick a habit are not something a country with religious freedom can mandate.  That would be true even if 12 step programs worked but they don't even have efficacy going for them.

Addictions can be a problem but we can't solve that problem with one size fits all solutions.  The roots of addiction are incredibly varied and hamfisted attempts to end them make things worse.  I would use the analogy of everything looking like a nail if all you have is a hammer but at least hammers are known to be good for something.  This is more like everything looking like a nail when all you have is a bottle of nuclear waste.  Addiction is a hard and complicated problem so any solution we attempt must be demonstrably effective as well as kind to those who are suffering.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The jealous divide

Val and I were talking a bit about jealousy this week because of the post they made about it.  Both of us feel like language is a serious stumbling block in the attempt to talk more usefully and openly about jealousy because there are several different situations that the word jealousy tries to cover and they are very different both ethically and practically.  Moreover some occurrences of jealousy are totally fine, even useful, and some of them are destructive and indicate real problems.

I am talking about jealousy as it is related to a romantic partner's behaviour.  Such jealousy always comes from worrying about getting one's own needs met but too often that "need" is to control a partner's behaviour, body, or associations.  That might seem like splitting hairs but hopefully I can describe why the need for control is very different than other needs.

If I am feeling like I really want snuggling in a relationship and I am not getting it then that can be a real issue.  If my partner then spends hours on end snuggling somebody else it could trigger a jealous reaction because it made me realize that I am not getting what I want.  I don't need them to stop snuggling others, I just need them to snuggle me too and then everything will be fine.  This sort of jealous reaction is useful because it can let us know that there is some need that isn't being met.  Of course it should be framed that way as well "Hey, I have been feeling somewhat jealous because I really miss snuggling you a lot.  Could we find time to do more of that?"  When thought of as a sign that a person needs something for themselves jealousy isn't a problem.

Often though jealousy has nothing to do with an internal need and stems only from a desire to control a partner.  This is often celebrated as a sign of love, particularly when men violently attack other men who dare be near a female partner.  The classic example in Archie comics is Moose violently beating Reggie simply because Reggie happened to be standing beside Moose's girlfriend, Midge.  Moose has a desperate need to control Midge that has nothing to do with how they relate to one another or their time together.  Moose clearly doesn't think of Midge as a full person with autonomy and rights but rather as a piece of property that belongs to him.  This sort of jealousy is destructive and dehumanizing to one's partner.

Differentiating between the need for a particular action and the need for control is critical.  The question that should be asked is "Is there something my partner could do just between the two of us that would make me feel better?"  If the answer to that is yes, then the path forward is clear:  Have an honest talk about what it is you need and try to find a way to get that.  If the answer is no, then you are only looking to control your partner's behaviour and you need to stop that.  Changing that mindset certainly isn't easy but we all need to accept that when people are doing things that make them happy and don't affect us we need to let them do that.

All of this doesn't mean you can't have agreements.  If you both agree that neither of you will snuggle anybody else then all well and good.  As long as everybody freely accepts the terms then you can have whatever sorts of terms you like.  Jealousy caused by breaking of agreements is perfectly reasonable because the need that isn't being met is for both people to tell the truth.

This description of jealous behaviour can be useful for understanding the question often asked of polyamorous people: "How do you deal with the jealousy?"  The answer is that I don't treat my partners like I own them.  This means that the destructive kind of jealousy simply isn't an issue and the only thing left is (very rare) moments of jealousy that serve as a useful reminder that I need to take some time to think and then have a constructive talk with someone.  Dealing with that, needless to say, just isn't that hard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ghomeshi affair

Jian Ghomeshi has put up a big post on Facebook that is getting a lot of attention.  He claims that he was fired from the CBC because of his interest in BDSM and that allegations of abuse and violence against him are the product of a deranged ex.  There is a huge amount being written on the subject and for once I am shocked at how well the media is doing at presenting a balanced and thoughtful analysis.  See here and here and here.  They aren't perfect, obviously.

My analysis is that if he was actually fired because he engaged in consensual sex acts then the CBC is in the wrong and should be chastised.  Legal action or union arbitration of some sort is obviously necessary.  I will happily and loudly stand up for people who are fired based on private sexual (or non sexual!) desires or activities.


The read I am getting on this situation is that there are a lot of serious allegations of violence and abuse from multiple sources.  Those sources are being intimidated into silence by people impressed by Ghomeshi's celebrity status and his 'I am being oppressed' post.  I also don't think it likely that the CBC actually fired someone because a person in their past wanted to out them as being kinky.  Really?  If that was the standard half the people in the organization stand to be fired as soon as some grumpy ex decides to make it happen.

So we should not understate how challenging it is to come out with these sorts of allegations and how much people are willing to shout down evidence when it incriminates someone they like.  Whether Ghomeshi did commit crimes and immoral acts against these women I don't know.  What I do know is that the way this whole thing is going down is a good illustration of how hard it is to be someone who steps up and reports abuse.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The polls were right

So there is good news and bad news in Toronto.  The era of Ford governance is over, for now at least, and we have a staunch conservative with a mediocre plan in power in the form of John Tory.  Tory won't be a great mayor but he won't be a world wide gong show sensation like Ford was.  It is nearly certain that Tory will end up pushing policies I don't much like and putting on a decent show as a politician who doesn't want to offend people.  We could do worse, I suppose, but we sure could have done better too.

I voted for Olivia Chow.  I would sure have rather had her than anyone else on the ballot if I have to pick a mayor at all.  I liked her ideas and her transit priorities.  I think she struggled with speech making and with getting people excited - she doesn't have as much presence as people tend to expect from a leader of a major city.  I don't think that presence is all that much use in the job but it sure does seem to kick your chances of getting the job in the junk if you lack it.

Trading wild lunacy for quiet mediocrity.  Huzzah politics.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Be a beaver

The shootings in Ottawa this week have brought out a lot of fear as these things tend to do.  People worry about when another madman with a gun will decide to kill some people and fret about what we should do about it.  As always there is incredible pressure on politicians and police to do something, anything, that will convince the populace that now they are safe.  Build a wall around Parliament, stand soldiers shoulder to shoulder, round up suspicious types, spy on people more, whatever it takes to keep us safe.

But what the people behind those exhortations don't see is that we can't be safe.  If we build an invincible defensive fortification around Parliament any shooter can just walk into a mall and kill a dozen people easily.  Even if they want to attack the barrier they can be as successful as the recent shooter and just gun down one single guard.  Who will guard the guards?  What we can do is make sure that when something like this happens the perpetrator ends up in a box.  Whether that box is made of concrete or wood doesn't matter that much.

After that single individual is dealt with we rebuild.  Mourn the dead, patch the bullet holes, rebuild the buildings, and move on.  No amount of surveillance will be enough, no physical barrier can be effective, no preventative measures will stop the very rare murderous lunatic from killing someone.  But we can show them that they don't matter.  We can make it clear that we will not be intimidated, we will not be afraid, and we will not flail about madly in response to a single random incident.  We will stay calm and carry on.

We can be like the beaver, one of Canada's national symbols.  I know from childhood what happens when you smash a beaver dam - they rebuild it.  They rebuild it so fast that even if you gather a group together and spend an afternoon smashing a dam it will be rebuilt in a day or two.  The beaver simply demonstrates that it will outlast you.  It will never be broken, never give up, never quit.  It will simply keep on doing what it does until you give in to the inevitable.  Be the beaver.

It can be hard to give up the desire for revenge and it is difficult to accept unavoidable losses.  But we cannot prevent these disasters, especially not with knee jerk responses that deal with an attack that is already in the past.  All we can do is show the world that we will grind over these few deranged individuals like a steamroller over a worm.  We will defeat them not with panic but with the raw power of numbers.  Their loss, their complete lack of efficacy, is inevitable.  Let us treat it as such.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who attracts you

OKCupid occasionally publishes interesting data on who does what on their dating website.  It is often very revealing and usually not very complimentary - those that bet on our better natures rarely win.  Sometimes they are funny such as when the writers note that everyone around OKCupid thought that men posting pictures of themselves shirtless with their heads cut off was a terrible idea.  Turns out no - muscle shots were actually a very successful tactic.

Recently they published some data on race and attraction detailing who got how many replies based on race and sex.  In this case race was self described and nobody at OKCupid tried to evaluate it themselves, which is certainly a good thing.  Their data is disappointing but not at all surprising.  People exhibit strong racial biases when responding or contacting others, penalizing black people in general and asian men in particular.

One interesting thing is that the way people answer questions has changed substantially over the past few years in a good way - people answer questions to indicate that they don't think taking race into account in dating is acceptable.  Unfortunately when the data comes in on who people talk to it turns out that they still take race into account just as much as they did ten years ago.  It is good that people are trending towards the notion that you *shouldn't* dismiss people based on race but unfortunately actions aren't matching up with words yet.

The comments after the piece were what really got me though.  A lot of people were outright furious that this data was even published and railed at OKCupid for talking about race at all.  There were a lot of accusations of racism on their part and suggestions that even talking about race and dating preferences explicitly like this was unacceptable.  (Of course there were also plenty of white supremacist posts and other awful garbage so wade through it at your peril.)  I think that the accusations of racism and the suggestion that this sort of data shouldn't be published are really problematic but not in as obvious a way as the other dreck.

It is hard to look at stats that indicate widespread racism like this.  Instinctually we look at our group of friends and associates and find plenty of exceptions to these rules whether it be people we are sure aren't racist or people who don't fit easily into a single racial group chosen from a drop down box.  We wish the world weren't like this and hope that banishing the data will banish the problem, or simply insist that the people who publish the data must be responsible for it.  Unfortunately refusing to look at a problem doesn't make it go away.

If we want to actually tackle issues of racism or any other sort of bigotry we have to take the best data we have and look at it, unpleasant as that experience may be.  The uncomfortable feeling we get acknowledging these issues publicly is far less serious than the feelings of those who are on the wrong end of them.  It isn't racist to point out that race exists and that people who look particular ways are treated differently.  I am white and that gives me a lot of advantages I did not earn and do not deserve.  I can't ignore that.  We notice race and it powerfully affects us and no amount of pretending to be colourblind will make that go away.

We have to look at data like this head on.  That doesn't mean that we have to take it without any criticism because of course methodological errors exist but the harsh light of day is the treatment such things deserve.  Only by knowing and understanding the issues can we know how best to approach solving them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Crashing down

The Olympics is a bubble.  We talk about bubbles in stocks, housing markets, and other economic ventures but I think the term is just as useful in this context.  In the past the Olympics have been sold to people as an investment in infrastructure that returns many benefits to the host city and country but it is becoming abundantly clear that this is bogus.  What truly happens is that the host area spends an outrageous fortune building facilities that will be used for two weeks and then mostly abandoned.  I found a great photographic tour of the wreckage of previous Olympic sites here.  The benefits are pretty much entirely restricted to bragging rights and that looks like a pretty sketchy purchase for $51 billion dollars.

Now it turns out that only two cities are left bidding for the 2022 Olympics.  Not because the other cities were deemed in appropriate or lacking but simply because nobody wants the games anymore.  The only people who are willing to pay the bill are dictators who don't have to care what the average person wants their cash spent on and can happily drop any sum to shore up their egos.  That said, it looks like the 2022 Olympics are safe as somebody will want to give them a home.  Should things not change course though I think the future is going to feature a gigantic crash.

Just imagine what happens when the Olympics gets about this far through the selection process and it turns out that literally no one wants to make a bid.  The sponsors suddenly get terrified that their event isn't worth funding, the prestige of the event takes a huge hit, and everyone will spend months examining every facet of what has gone wrong with the IOC.  The problem is that everyone is so used to the splendour and opulence that the Olympics has come to represent that selling them on a drab, pedestrian event that focuses on athletic achievement instead of shining construction will be nearly impossible.

Hosting the Olympics has become a matter of vanity and vanity requires that you do something even more than all previous attempts.  At some point that has to come crashing down to earth with a savage thud, if not a sickly splatter.  When the IOC is demanding things like "IOC members will be received with a smile on arrival at hotel." and demanding special traffic light patterns, highway lanes, and airport construction just for them you know it has gone completely to their heads.  They have bought into their scheme not realizing that the bubble will pop and when it does the aftermath will not be pretty.

Of course this is a good thing.  The world has better things to spend money on than the Olympics.  Tests of athletic skill are all fine and good (though the nationalism that accompanies it is disturbing) but the pageantry that is associated with the event has gotten completely out of hand.  It is long past time people stopped pouring money into this utter waste.

Think of the children

One very common question / concern that comes up when discussing polyamory is "But what about the children?"  Every time I hear this question I end up thinking of a particular Simpsons quote:

There are a few different things this concern can really be about, some of which are really legit and some of which are just bigotry trying to sneak in the back door.  All of them are addressed from the perspective of a straight married couple with kids becoming open; there are many other stories but this is a very common one and also the one I happen to be intimately familiar with.

The simplest worry is that if someone is in a marriage with children and comes as polyamorous people assume that their marriage must be on the rocks and that the children will soon have to deal with a divorce.  This is a thing that happens sometimes as people with relationships that are falling apart try desperate things to salvage them.  Thankfully it isn't true in my case - polyamory has made things better rather than worse for me.

Being able to relax and let myself be more natural has been wonderful and it is honestly a great feeling to know that I can get different sorts of needs met by different people.  That sounds overtly sexual but it manifests itself in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with different people having different ideas, hobbies, and experiences.  Just having someone new to tell all my stories to who hasn't heard them is pretty fun.

The second thing this sort of question often means is far more insidious.  It is passive aggressive code for "Obviously your actions are vile and deviant and you wouldn't want to corrupt the innocent youth with them, right?"  Any time someone tries to claim that they accept you but that you need to be kept away from the children they are quite obviously saying that you are wrong and shameful.  Loving more people isn't wrong, it isn't shameful, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why children should be kept in the dark.  Any attempt to use them as leverage to force someone else to bend to your will is simply not acceptable.

Telling the children is another important step along the road towards being fully out and it is often to used to justify outrage and oppression by those who resist change.  The children, more than anyone else, need to know.  They need to know that the world is full of all kinds of people doing things that they don't see in movies or TV shows.  It isn't as if keeping them ignorant is going to help - it will only mean that they end up uninformed at best, confused or unhappy at worst.

The last sort of thing people mean when they ask about the children is "How are you going to deal with talking about this topic with your children?"  Some people just keep their kids in the dark with varying levels of success.  I wouldn't be comfortable at all with sequestering away important relationships from Elli and hiding things from her.  There are obviously some things I am not going to do in front of her but I won't keep paramours away from her deliberately and I certainly won't hide affection just because she is around.

People often assume that children couldn't possibly handle knowing about their parents being poly.  This is hogwash.  Children throughout history have lived in all kinds of different arrangements from group marriages to multiple households to large extended families to single parents to being raised by grandparents to not knowing who their parents were.  The consistent thing is that when children know they are going to get their needs met, that they are loved, that the people around them love each other, and that this state of affairs is going to continue they simply don't care what their caregivers do romantically.

They *notice* when you break the mould, certainly.  Children are abundantly aware of the cultural message that monogamy is absolutely required and any deviation is wrong.  As an example, Elli noticed me getting a heart icon in a Facebook message and asked what it meant.  I replied that it meant that the person loves me.  Elli gave me a look and asked if that meant kissy love.  I said yes.  Then she asked if it meant like the way I love Wendy.  I said yes, but that it wasn't exactly the same.  Wendy and I are going to live together and make decisions together but that we both can love other people too even if they aren't ever going to be part of our family.  Elli completely accepted that explanation and wandered off to play quite happily.

She cares that no one is being lied to or betrayed.  She cares that her world is secure and that she is loved.  She doesn't give a damn what else we do as long as those basic things hold and she is very much like other children in that regard.  She cares far more that a given person will read her a story or ask about the picture she is drawing than she does about their romantic involvement with me.  Children are not clever in a lot of ways but in terms of figuring out if their parents are happy and emotionally secure they are extremely talented.  Giving them credit for that talent and treating them like they are responsible will do far more for their happiness and trust then obfuscation ever would.

The fact is though that sometimes children will blab secrets to people.  That is a real risk for people who are closeted.  Working out what the best course of action is in that situation is tough.  When you can be open though there is no reason to hide an open relationship from children whatsoever.  All you have to do is tell the truth:

We love you.
We love each other.
We love other people.
We are going to take care of you.
We know this is weird, but it makes us happy.

If you tell them this and if it is the truth it won't even be the most difficult conversation you have in any given week.  Furthermore when they end up having difficult times of their own they will *know* that you will shoot straight with them and that is of incredible value.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Compersion for all

I follow The Ferret's blog consistently even though I often disagree with what he has to say.  Sometimes people are surprised that I read his stuff given how often we aren't on the same page but I think generally it is a really good idea to follow some things that are well written and interesting but which contain opposing viewpoints to keep you from ending up in an echo chamber, impervious to new or alternate ideas.  Today he wrote about being interesting on dates.  Specifically he thinks you should be genuine and get your important stuff out there even though it will get you dumped a lot of the time because it will also help you find someone who will actually be good for you.  I agree, which should be no surprise since it is a very similar piece to what I wrote yesterday.

Agreeing with people isn't super interesting though so let's get right to where Ferrett and I disagree.

In his post yesterday and an earlier one he talks about how compersion should not be the base value for polyamory.  Compersion is feeling joy and happiness when one of your romantic partners is happy in a romantic relationship with someone else.  Polyamorous people tout this as a very important part of poly living - rather than feeling upset and jealous they feel happy for their partners instead.  Not only should compersion be the base value for polyamory, it should be a natural extension of not being a jerk in the rest of life.

If someone I know has been working on an art collection for a long time and succeeds in getting it shown at a gallery I should be happy for her success.  I could be bitter and grumpy about her achievement but everyone would rightly condemn me for being a jackass.  If a buddy of mine finds a new girlfriend that he is all kinds of crazy about I ought to be pleased.  If I gripe about his happiness and get all wrapped up in a funk then I need to get my damn priorities straight.

Fact is when people we love are happy and are doing things they enjoy we should be happy for them.  Full stop.  That doesn't mean that other emotions don't exist of course but if your base response to someone you care about doing happy things is to be angry, bitter, jealous, or resentful you have a problem that needs addressing.  Imagine that I had a friend who got all bent out of shape every time I hung out with someone other than them; we would call that friend a toxic, possessive lunatic and I would be advised to avoid them in future.

Ferrett is right in that sometimes people do use compersion as a hammer to try to convince people that they are not allowed to feel their feelings.  They say "Well, *proper* poly people are just happy about their partners doing things with other people, you are just doing it wrong."  That isn't reasonable or fair.  Everyone has days where they see their friends doing big things and feel a bit blue that they haven't accomplished those same things.  You are allowed to have feelings.


The baseline, the default, the general case needs to be that you are happy for your loved ones when they do things that make them happy.  (Clearly this is not true when they are betraying their word or violating a trust, but that isn't what we are talking about here.)  When my friends go to a fun event I should be happy they went.  When a lover of mine enjoys time with another paramour I ought to be glad for them.  If you can't manage that as a baseline then either you need to fix that problem somewhere between you and the other person involved and if you can't fix it you probably shouldn't be in that relationship at all.  Maybe that means a long talk about needs, maybe it means therapy, or maybe it means changing the nature of your relationship but defaulting to being upset as a response to happy is a disaster.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Something interesting

People seem to think that online dating is hard.  According to most people I hear talking about it you need to go on dozens of first dates at the very minimum to meet somebody you are going to want to be with for any amount of time.  I have heard the estimate that only 10% of first dates actually lead to a second date.  I think the biggest reason that online dating is so tedious and inefficient is that people's profiles suck.  You can't guarantee that a person with a great profile is going to be a great match but at least it is a useful guideline.  The standard profiles out there are pretty much set up to be failures from the get go.

"I love dogs, having a glass of wine with friends, and Breaking Bad."

That is often the entirety of useful personal information people supply.  Oh, they have more words there, like "I am just living life the best I can." and "Getting by one day at a time." but those are utter wasted space, worthless filler with no meaning.  What exactly can you do with the knowledge that a person likes a glass of wine with friends, dogs, and Breaking Bad?  NOTHING.  Liking the same TV show is a useless indicator of long term compatibility, particularly when it is a hugely popular mainstream show.  Liking dogs and a glass of wine with friends narrows your search down to ... pretty nearly everyone?  Cutting out teetotallers with dog allergies is hardly relevant.

The fundamental problem here is that people are scared of revealing anything important.  They somehow feel like if they only say completely inoffensive, wholly irrelevant things that Magic will happen and their Perfect Lover will just swoop on in.  The advantage of internet dating is that it lets you look through huge numbers of people rapidly to search for important things you have in common and issues that could be dealbreakers.  If you have a thing that is important it should be in there so that you don't have to date a bazillion people who are going to break up with you or make you miserable on that basis.

Saying important things will put some people off.  This is an advantage!  Yes, some cute folks who have political views you find repugnant won't message you.  Yes, people who cannot deal with your religious belief / nonbelief will run away.  Yes, people whose sexual identity / style / kinks don't mesh at all well with yours won't want to date you.  Hurray, you just saved yourself twenty awkward first dates with people you don't want to date!  More importantly though when a person who is absolutely right for you stumbles across your profile they are way more likely to message you and to want to go out with you if they see all those things that match.  How is someone wonderful going to know how great your relationship could be if you look exactly the same as everyone else?

The epitome of this problem is the question on OKCupid "The most private thing I am willing to admit."  People constantly answer this one "Heh, not willing to say that here, get to know me first."  The bloody question says the most private thing you are *willing to admit*.  If you won't admit it, then it doesn't qualify!  By saying that you won't tell you are admitting that not only did you not understand the premise but you were also totally unwilling to offer something interesting, fun, or saucy.  The question is optional - you could have chosen to simply not answer it, but you decided it was important to emphasize that you have nothing to say.

At the very end of their profiles many of these folks complain that everyone who messages them has only looked at their picture.  If you refuse to say anything interesting what exactly are they supposed to comment on?  How much they also like Breaking Bad?  Your amazing and unpredictable shared liking of dogs?  Perhaps that they too have enjoyed a glass of wine and what an amazing coincidence!  Your picture is the only thing there that is remotely unique to you.  I totally empathize with how obsessed with appearance people are but if you want them to judge you by your amazing personality and interests and quirks then you have to write those down.

If you really want online dating to work then your profile should scare away those who aren't compatible with you and intrigue those who are.  To do this you have to write things that frighten you to say out loud and things that will offend others.  The scariest thing of all is someone who would be absolutely wonderful for you clicking on your profile, skimming through it, and then then clicking away again saying "Meh, wine, dogs, Breaking Bad, whatever.  Next."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Talking it up

So given my last two posts we know that I am polyamorous and why I am poly so this time I want to talk about why exactly I feel the need to talk about it.  There are certainly people out there that really want to keep their relationships private and I support their decision but for me being public about it is very important.  It is necessary for me to be this way but I do not expect others have the same reasons, pressures, or desires that I do.  How you run your life and what you tell others is your business; this post is about why I do what I do.

Part of my desire to talk about being poly is this blog itself.  There are a lot of things in my life that serve as jumping off points for my writing and some of those involve my relationships.  There were a lot of things I couldn't say without outing myself and it restricted my writing in ways that frustrated me.  I have a lot of thoughts on how relationships work and ideas that I think are amusing that could not be shared without lying as long as I remained closeted.  I want to share those things and I want to let those thoughts flow and I will not lie about my life to do so.  I write personal and powerful things about myself here because it helps me understand myself, assists in framing my thoughts, and because freeing my secrets makes me feel so much better about the world.  To do that I can't be sequestering off a large and important part of who I am.

When I was young I had no role models whatsoever for open relationships.  The only sort of nonmonogamy I was aware of was straight up cheating and I was rightly taught that this is terrible.  What my family, peers, teachers, and cultural experiences taught me is that there is only one ethical romantic relationship model:  Serial monogamy.  I carried that forward through my adult life and it took a lot of reading, talking to others with different viewpoints, and reflection before I managed to come to terms with the fact that monogamy simply isn't right for me.  Not that my life was bad before, far from it, but now I am living in a way that is better for me.  Breaking that mould required a huge amount of rewiring as I unlearned all the lessons I had absorbed throughout my childhood.

I want to be that role model for other people.  Not in the sense that everyone should do what I do, but in the sense that if you want to do as I do you can see how it is done.  I want people to see that you don't have to live the RomCom / Disney story in order for your life to be joyful, honest, and successful.  I want to be a living example of how you can set aside powerful cultural expectations and do what makes you happy.  I want the next generation to know that they have choices, and that there are people out there making those nonstandard choices right now.  I also want those who are adults now to realize that there are a lot of people out there not following the standard narratives and that they should not be dismissed as freaks.

To achieve these goals requires people to be out.  Every time someone comes out of the closet they make it easier for others to follow.  There are those that cannot do so because of physical danger or because they would be ostracized by their communities and I am not subject to those concerns.  It is safe for me to be out (though not without difficulty and conflict, to be sure) and I feel a deep obligation to do that because somebody needs to do it and I can be that somebody.  The world is made a better place by small things, incremental changes, and whether it be opening up about depression, sexual orientation, relationship style, or other things that people feel obligated to hide, every single person that comes out improves things.  It acts as a beacon giving those near them who aren't part of that group an understanding of the issue and giving those that are part of that group a sense of belonging, of normalcy, that they are not alone.

I also feel very strongly that denying my relationships disrespects my partners and grants all of the power to those who do not accept those who are different.  Every time I call a romantic partner "my ... ummm.... friend?" I am making it clear that honesty about what we are to one another is less important than pandering to those who think what we do is wrong.  Each time I say that I am implicitly telling my partners that though I might love them I will sweep them under the carpet any time it becomes convenient.  I wouldn't do that to a friend - if someone was offended that I had a friend of a particular type and insisted that I pretend that relationship didn't exist I would tell them to shove it.  Why would I treat a romantic partner as less than that?  I will not disrespect those I care deeply about in order to make it easier for people to shame me.

There are all these reasons - wanting to make the world a more tolerant place, respecting the bond I have with my partners and the choices we make, and having this place to write about myself honestly.  The most powerful reason though is that it makes me feel positively ill to lie about myself to people I care about.  I want to spend my life being around people who like me for who I am, not people who like me because I pretend to be some other guy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why be poly?

I am polyamorous, but it is interesting to ask why that is true.  What exactly is it that makes me this way, and why did I make the choices I made?  Part of it is simply being born this way - like most people I have the capacity to love more than one person at once.  However, there is a huge gap between having that capacity and deciding that doing so is the best way to live one's life.  Getting from 'possible' to 'do it!' took a lot of thinking and experience which is particular to me and my life.  Other people have different biological baselines, experiences, and priorities so they will end up at different conclusions.

The primary things that affected my choice are sex, poly theory, and a singular experience of new openness.

Sex is a big deal for me.  I have a big sex drive and very much appreciate variety of all sorts.  I want sex when I am sad, happy, stressed, calm, tired, energetic, and all places in between.  My primary love language is touch and for me the biggest and most impactful component of that is sex.  If I am not getting it I don't feel loved in the romantic sense.  For many years I felt that while sex in my marriage was good I could get extra happiness and satisfaction if I had more partners and more options.  If I could just find someone else who wanted to have sex constantly and then visit them for 30 minutes every day that would be super duper right?  (Good *%&#$ing luck with that, btw.)

More intellectually compelling but less viscerally powerful was my liking of poly theory.  I have always found jealousy distasteful and I dislike the idea of blanket social contracts with no room for individual preference.  It is completely cool if people want to be exclusive but it bothered me that doing so was considered the only moral choice.  I like the idea of every set of partners negotiating the things they need and granting their partners the freedom to do whatever makes them happy as long as everyone is getting what they need out of the relationship.  Being able to arrange the relationship to suit the people in it rather than arranging it to placate those outside of it makes so much sense!

I also grew to love the idea that love is not exclusive.  I can snuggle on the couch with two people I am romantically entangled with simultaneously and the love I feel for both of them does not diminish because there are two of them.  (Double snuggle makes me smile so hard it threatens to crack my face.)  It is both possible and common to be happy to see a lover be happy and deeply in love with someone else; such feelings are called compersion and it is a big selling point of polyamory.  I so much approve of the idea that love need not be the source of anger, need not require tight control.  Even if I weren't suited to polyamory or couldn't participate due to circumstances I would approve of the theory very much.

So sex and poly theory both pushed me to want to be polyamorous but what truly cemented the deal was an experience I had in the very early going.  After deciding to have an open relationship I felt a huge change in myself.  I felt walls that I unconsciously erected around myself fall away and a new sense of immense freedom took hold.  I took my vows of monogamy incredibly seriously and made certain to never put myself in a position where being unfaithful was even feasible.  Letting go of that control, allowing myself to flirt, to express interest, and to let my emotions flow where they wanted to instead of clamping down on them was *amazing*.  I had exerted such force in keeping myself on the straight and narrow without even being aware of it that being able to skip doing that completely was a transformative experience.

It got even more powerful when I actually did something about it.  The first time I confessed that I had a big crush on someone she was a friend who I knew pretty well - we had plenty of experiences together and a degree of trust.  Her response to my confession blew me away though "But I didn't even think you *liked* me..." That hit me hard because I suddenly realized that those walls I had set up around myself weren't just keeping me in check; they were actively keeping people away.  I realized that I had spent years pushing away people I liked, respected, and wanted to know by keeping myself unavailable and distant.  It made me wonder how many people had found me cold and unfeeling and how many friendships I had torpedoed by unconsciously trying to keep to my vows.

That experience made it clear to me that I cannot go back.  I can't again be someone who walls himself off from people, who when faced with someone wonderful immediately takes a step back instead of forward.  I fall in love easily and do so with people and in circumstances that aren't necessarily a good idea.  The only way to prevent that is to keep myself so far back emotionally that it damages any chance of a good friendship.  Doing so is far too great a cost and that isn't a promise I will make again.  That doesn't mean that every time I fall in love something has to happen - after all, sometimes love just ain't enough - but it does mean that I must live in such a way that love may happen and that it is okay when it does.

I showed up to the poly party on the back of lust and intellectual appreciation of a theory.  I am staying at the party because being here makes me happy and because it makes me a better person.  I can't think of a better set of reasons to do anything.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Out of the closet: I am poly

I am polyamorous.  That is, I can and do have multiple romantic and sexual relationships at a time.  This isn't a theoretical thing but rather something I have been doing for some time and am just now being fully open about.  Polyamory is not cheating; they are very different things.  I am in a marriage that started out monogamous but now is not because we decided together that we would be happier this way.  Gladly, we were right.  Wendy is also polyamorous but she prefers much more privacy than I do.  Things most people keep quiet I tend to shout from the rooftops.  Negotiating these different desires for privacy has actually been the biggest issue we've had to deal with.  As such, the details I will share about her are few though I will certainly discuss my own thoughts and feelings on the matter at great length.

Surely some readers will think that this is an obvious thing because I already write about polyamory and other non mainstream relationship styles more than chance would indicate.  Others will no doubt be worried, shocked, or concerned and still more will shrug and not care very much.  Most of what I am going to write today will be addressed towards those who are worried and the interesting stuff will come in the posts I write over the next few weeks and months.  There are plenty of questions that get asked on a regular basis so I felt that I should write up a small FAQ to cover some of them.

Q:  Is your marriage falling apart?

No.  Really not.  There are plenty of people out there who try to salvage a relationship that is ending by trying an open relationship and that usually fails but this is not what is going on.  Polyamory has made my marriage stronger and been an incredible learning experience.  There are plenty of successful, happy open relationships out there but few people are willing to talk about them because of the judgement they face for doing so.

Q:  Aren't you going to find somebody new and sparkly and want to leave your spouse?

The opposite, really.  It is easy when you can't get into the meat of a relationship to fantasize about how wonderful it would be.  I have found that being involved with other people has led me to see that the world is full of wonderful people who I want to spent time with and I married the best of them.  It is far easier to gain perspective on the challenges of a long term domestic partnership when you are reminded that everyone else has their own set of challenges.

Q:  But isn't one partner enough for you?

Isn't one child enough for you?  Isn't one friend enough for you?  Isn't one pair of shoes good enough for you?  This question is obviously absurd when asked in nearly any other context, and the same goes for this one.  It isn't about enough, it is about people being different and providing different experiences.  Just like I have some friends I roleplay with, some I drink with, and some I watch movies with I have different romantic partners because we do different things together and that is fun.  The idea that one partner must be your all and everything is incredibly damaging regardless of how many partners you have.

Q:  How does it work, anyway?  Is it like on TV:  Big Love or Polyamory: Married and Dating?

It isn't like TV.  (Surprise!)  It is like I have friends, and some of those friends I kiss, and some I fall in love with, and some I don't.  How much I see them is based on our schedules, random events, and desire.  I meet them through online dating, randomly at parties, or just having current friendships grow and change.  Sometimes there is drama, but mostly not.  The thing that would shock you most if you watched my life is just how normal it is once you accept the basic premise.  They have to make TV poly dramas ridiculous to keep you interested, just like a soap opera.

Q:  Why do you have to *tell* people, can't you keep it a secret?

I am not ashamed to love people or to seek pleasure.  Keeping it a secret reinforces the idea that it is wrong and I refuse to support that.  I will not hide it any more than I would expect you to hide the fact that you are married, or that you would expect me to hide that I am married.  Unless you would be happy to tell everyone that your spouse is just your friend and never reveal your relationship to anyone then expecting me to do a similar thing is incredibly hypocritical.

Q:  Does this mean you want to convert everybody to polyamory?

Hell no.  I do want people to feel that they have a free choice in relationship style and won't be discriminated against or hated for it.  I want them to understand those choices and make them in an informed way.  What they choose for themselves is irrelevant to me as long as they make an informed choice that people accept.  You can be single, a swinger, monogamous, monogamish, polyamorous, whatever you like, as long as you choose it and choose it freely.

Q:  But what if people don't want to hear about your sex life?

While I could drive a ton of traffic to my blog by talking about who put what in who else's whatever I am not going to do that.  No more than before, at any rate.  However, if you don't mind people talking about having children, being in a relationship, or getting married then you obviously don't mind hearing about their sex lives.  This is no different except that it is a sex life that is not the same as what you expected.

Q:  What about diseases?

For starters, poly people take more precautions in terms of barriers, discussions, and testing than monogamous people do on average and as such have similar rates of STIs.  In addition, phrasing a moral objection as a health concern is completely ridiculous.  Unless you chastise people for going downhill skiing or driving to the cottage (both of which are drastically more dangerous than being poly) this objection is not a reasonable one.

Q:  Don't you get jealous?

I totally got jealous in a serious way, once.  Which was funny because I had absolutely no reason to do so, it was just me being insecure about nothing.  Jealousy is a signal that you are irrationally controlling of your partners and do not trust them or a signal that you aren't getting something that you need.  The first problem is you being a jerk and you need to stop.  The second requires a discussion and working out how you can feel better and get your needs met.  Neither has anything to do with relationship style.  Monogamous relationships have plenty of jealousy, as we all know.

Q:  Aren't rules a big problem?

Polyamory has a million forms.  Some people go in for complex rulesets and I find those mind boggling.  Honestly most of the time the poly people with byzantine rules for their relationships are new to poly and they rapidly relax into a more unstructured style.  I have the same sort of rulesets for lovers that I do for friends - take care of domestic responsibilities first, have fun second.  Whether the 'have fun' part is board games with my gaming buddies or a date is completely irrelevant.

Q:  What if people won't accept you?

I want to be loved and appreciated for who I am.  If people are only willing to love a guy who is kinda similar to me but not the same, what good does that do me?  If people shun me because I want to have more love and joy in my life in a way that hurts nobody, then they can officially

Q:  But isn't coming out like this scary?

Yeah, it is.  Not so much for me, really.  You can see my attitude above.  However, I do worry that people will take this opportunity to try to hurt Wendy or Elli or try some manipulative bullshit to change my life into something they approve of.  I hope they don't but I can't spend my life hiding from those who will not accept what I am.  If nothing else I want to set the example for Elli of someone who will not be intimidated by fear of irrational disapproval.

Q:  I am still freaking out, what do I do?

Keep calm and carry on.

Q:  What do I do if I have more questions?

It depends what you need.  I am always happy to answer questions, whether they be in the comments on my blog or at my email address (on the sidebar).  No question will be turned away.  If you want reassurance that my life is not going to blow up you can always message my brother - he knows the score.  Here is a really good resource that talks all about a variety of poly topics if you want to do more reading.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The future is scary

The future is a scary place for most people.  Maybe you are scared of climate change induced cataclysm, the end of civilization due to the laziness and indolence of this latest generation, or perhaps you simply think that the rapture is due any time now.  What so amuses me is that even though there are plenty of things to be concerned about that are entirely real we persist in making up all kinds of absurd 'threats' that are going to wreck everything.  As though the worries of the world aren't enough people desperately hunt for new and imaginary ones to freak out about.  I got linked to a silly piece on ranting about how nerds are creating a terrible dystopia on the back of Google Glass and soylent (a food replacement sludge that claims to provide complete nutrition with no thought or prep time).

I cannot help but giggle when hearing people go off about how terrible things are going to get strictly based on the assumption that society peaked at a point that is super convenient for them personally.  Some very common examples:

-The English language was perfect right about when I was three years old and learning the rules, don't you see.  All these modern changes are corrupting the one pure form of the language.

-Technology needs to stop right here right now so I, a writer who publishes on the bloody internet, can avoid having to absorb something new like Google Glass.  Can't you all tell that the technology I am familiar with right now is sensible and new things are terrifying?

-Culture ought to be the same way it was when I was a teenager.  Just slightly different from my parent's generation so that I can feel like we fixed things, but then it needs to stop changing!  These new ideas are weird and I am pretty sure we had it all right when I turned 20.

The post on on The Guardian is particularly silly because it talks about how nerds are creating this terrible world by optimizing all of our shared human experiences out of existence and nobody wants that.  A hint:  If people are selling labour saving devices like hotcakes and making a fortune doing it then people do, in fact, want it.  The world is desperate for Google Glass and they are going to pay gazillions of dollars to own them and use them.  This is no different from people crying foul over the printing press (it will ruin people's minds because they won't need to memorize everything!), smartphones (it will ruin people's lives because they will have the option to be connected at all times!), or even cars (aren't horses good enough for you?).

If you are very worried about a change because it upends your idea of how things should be you should immediately check and see if your idea of when things were perfect makes you and your education about the world seem infallible.  Did school work correctly just when you happened to be in school and now everything is awful?  If so, you had best consider just how likely it is that you are biased to the point of uselessness on the topic.  Sometimes you are going to be right and things are getting worse but the broad sweep of history tells us that every generation thought things were going down the tubes and they have been so, so wrong.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Taking it all off

I feel very strongly that nudity should not be a big deal.  It is fair to say that when people freak out about the unclothed human body it enrages me as I see all the harm that hiding ourselves away compulsively causes and see no benefit whatsoever.  I read a post by a mother of four boys which talks about how she wants them to see her naked so that they have a reasonable idea of what a woman looks like who has not been airbrushed or specifically chosen to appeal to them.  I definitely support that ideal but even though many people think she is too radical I don't think she is quite radical enough.

The trouble is that she, like so many others, thinks of sex as dirty.  She doesn't want her children to even think about sex until they are 25 years old, presumably because that would somehow debase or ruin them.  There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality.  There is nothing wrong with desire.  Wishing to keep that entire portion of the human experience away from one's children is a sad thing indeed as it displays an an acceptance of internalized shame surrounding a normal part of life.  Sexual activity has its own troubles, pitfalls, and challenges of course, as does everything we do, but glorifying virginity and celibacy helps nothing and causes plenty of harm.

I think the extremes to which our society views clothes as some kind of magical armour are ridiculous - for example, on the subway people stand close together without issue but if their clothes were removed they would all suddenly be guilty of serious crimes.  What is it about a couple of layers of porous cotton fibres that differentiates a bored commuter from a dangerous sex offender?  What amazing powers textiles have!  

Of course I am not telling you that you need to be naked - you should wear whatever you bloody well please.  What I am saying is that if a person walks around without a protective layer of clothing covering their genitals the appropriate response is *not* to put them in a concrete box but rather to just shrug and continue on with your day.  If they were going to hurt you a pair of boxer briefs would not protect you and the suggestion that it is tantamount to assault to merely exist as you are in the presence of others is absurd.  It is much like the way I support freedom of religion despite being an ardent atheist - if you would not want others imprisoning you for dressing the way you like you should not support imprisoning them for dressing the way they like as someday the balance of power is going to shift against you.

Sex and sexual desire are not wrong or dirty.  Even if they were nudity is not sex and being naked is not an assault on everyone around you.  Our laws should reflect that, as every time the government uses force to imprison people for victimless crimes we erode our freedoms and waste precious resources only to wreck people's lives.  It isn't as though removing laws against nudity would suddenly result in hordes of naked people running through the streets - Toronto made women going topless legal years ago and I have not yet seen a single woman behave differently based on that change.  A few people would go about naked, get gawked at, and then everyone would realize that nothing has changed and they would all get back to doing their own thing.  A change in these laws and norms would likely have minimal measureable impact on behaviour but it is still the right thing to do.