Girl Power?

A friend recently posted this article from xojane to my Facebook wall, saying she found it an interesting read. The author, Alecia Lynn Eberhardt, feels that women need to stop using “I have a boyfriend” as a way of getting out of situations with guys who seem interested in more than casual conversation. Eberhardt insists that using the mention of another male, present or not, real or not, perpetuates the idea that only another male matters in the situation, that a woman standing alone saying “I’m not interested” is not reason enough to stop attempting to get to more than just casual conversation. She encourages women, single or not, to stop saying “I have a boyfriend,” and instead stubbornly repeat “I’m not interested,” until it is understood that women can decide by themselves, for themselves, whether they want to pursue anything further with someone.

Seriously, she's not interested.

Seriously, she’s not interested.

In response to this article, I found I’ll Stop Citing a Boyfriend When My Consent Starts Mattering, by Heina Dadabhoy. Dadabhoy lists the number of reasons why repeating “I’m not interested” could be an unsafe option for women talking with men they don’t know. While she agrees that is certainly isn’t right that women can’t just be respected for saying “no,” she doesn’t think it’s safe for women to start expecting it and acting on it. (This makes me think about the Bechdel Test, where the last criteria is, “Do the women talk about something other than men?” Movies have been making it seem like the only important things women have to say are about men for years.)

Where do we go from here? I feel like Eberhardt probably wrote her piece because she feels what I often feel: a need to know what we can do, here on the front lines, in everyday life, to improve the broken image of women. She found evidence of the breakage, and suggested a patch, but therein lies the problem: it’s a patch, and a patch on the evidence, not the problem itself. Men not respecting women who turn them down is simply a symptom of the larger problem – women not being respected in general. Until we fix the larger problem, we’ll have to keep treating the symptoms (refusal to respect what women say, do, think, feel, etc. based simply on their gender), and sometimes the treatment of the symptoms is unsafe, as Dadabhoy pointed out.

How do we get to the real problem? How do we tackle it? I tend to think that media has a huge role in this large issue, but I don’t work in media and, as someone who works on a campground, I don’t even consume much of it. I’m limited to Eberhardt’s option: treating the symptoms I see around me. I work with schoolchildren almost every day who, before hitting puberty, have already decided that in teamwork situations, the boys should go first and then help the girls, whose primary job is moral support. I often bring it up and discuss it, pointing out that all-girl and all-boy groups have accomplished the same tasks they did, and maybe I get through to a couple, but if I only see them that one day, who knows whether the message sticks?

One thing that I find nice about the polyamorous community is that, overall, people recognize that it is a community where women are empowered by their ability to explore their personalities, wants, needs, and sexuality freely, since they are breaking so many relationship norms. Psychology Today even published a study on the topic. Polyamory may be one place where women are finding their voices; if media won’t allow it, what other spaces can we claim?

 

 

“The Line” Between Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

So, A-number-one, as some friends would say, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Hello. Hi. I am alive, well, and thinking about sex, love, and relationships sometimes but not always, because life is grand and full of awesome and busy and still awesome.

Yes.

B-number-two: that doesn’t change how bad I feel about not updating. I am sorry. I am updating tonight because of a confluence of two unrelated events that were, in my head, related and became necessary to blog about.

Here goes.

I can’t explain how much I enjoy the company I’ve been keeping as of late. I have been happily living and working with people who, in many ways, are very similar to myself, and in many ways, very different from myself. It’s been an interesting flexing and constricting of my personality muscles. It’s been an opportunity to stop and examine the effect of my actions and words on others, and grow. It’s been an unusual situation of being housed with a number of people with very different life experiences and viewpoints than my own, and that’s provided much perspective.

Today, I talked with a friend, revisiting the topic of labels. She has a pretty easy time understanding my indifference towards labels like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” whereas others, not so much. It was interesting to not only hear her take, but also hear the questions she had to ask. Would I expect different things from someone I called “boyfriend”? Would it change things?

I don’t think it would, except to change the difficulty from having to explain that not having a boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t mean that I’m not emotionally invested in someone, to having to explain that, though I call someone “boyfriend”/”girlfriend”, I don’t expect things of them that most people would expect from a person with that label. It’s a pick-your-poison situation, and I guess I like handling the “if I don’t label it, you don’t feel obligated to understand it” poison.

In a completely unrelated parallel universe of my existence, another friend had, days ago, recommended I check out Sex Nerd Sandra, and when I finally got around to it tonight, her most recent podcast was on, you guessed it, Struggling With Monogamy!

In it, one of her guests poses the questions:

But what’s a relationship? And how do you know when you’re in one? And when do you decide that you’re actually in a relationship with someone?

And points out:

Monogamy and nonmonogamy; it’s not as clear-cut as it might seem.

True dat. There’s an honorable mention about polyamory at the end of the podcast, if you’re interested, but it’s mostly along the lines of “oh yeah, people these days are poly, like, ‘yeah, I’m vegan and fair trade and poly…’” before the conversation gets cut off for time. Too bad. The conversation had revolved around stuff I’ve already spent loads of thought-time and blog space on, so I won’t regurgitate it, but if it interests you and you’re new to the nonmonogamous conversation, have a listen.

Last, but not least, C-number-3: I am working on a book about sex for a, ahem, less-experienced friend of mine who would like a book on said topic. It is a very exciting venture, even more exciting at the moment than Love Times Infinity, the novel, so it’s been getting loads more attention. Hopefully, if I get it all put together, I can make it available in an ebook version, and let you all have at it.

You’re welcome.

Until my next break from climbing trees and smelling like campfire; keep smiling!

Childfree

I’m going to go slightly off-topic today, both to have something to post, and to satisfy my own need to voice my thoughts.

Having kids is not the only challenging life choice.

There, I said it.

Living child-free is becoming a more common, more talked about, and dare I say it, a more accepted thing. Slowly but surely, people are getting used to the idea that some people might not want to raise children.

“According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the number of childless people age 40 to 44 is close to 20 percent — compared with 10 percent in 1979.” (cited)

I’ve often used the excuse “I’m selfish,” to avoid lengthy conversations about why I don’t want to have kids. I’m gonna open the honesty box here and say: that’s not true. I’m not especially selfish (like everyone, I can have my moments), and even if I were, that’s not the reason why I don’t want to have kids.

The Guardian has an article, The Choice to be Child-Free is Admirable, Not Selfish, which sums up my feelings on the topic pretty well. The conversation I want to have revolves, I think, around two points:

1.) Neither the choice to have nor the choice not to have kids is “better”, “smarter,” or “more right” than the other. Every person needs to decide what is best, smartest, or most right for themselves.

and then, once we can agree on that:

2.) Not having children is NOT the “easy” choice!

And that is not to suggest that having children is the easy choice; we all know that raising kids is HARD. (Those of us who don’t have kids have been told countless times that it’s even harder than we already think it is.) Just because raising kids is hard, though, doesn’t mean that not having kids is easy. Ignoring the social stigma that still lingers around being child-free, there is still a lot of pressure attached to this life choice.

Parents tell you that their kids are their world, their kids give their life purpose, their kids will carry the family legacy, etc. For those who have decided that child-rearing is not for them, the responsibility of giving life purpose falls entirely on themselves and whatever endeavors they come up with to fill the time they’re not spending changing diapers, chasing toddlers, or trying to decode teenagers. People seem to envision life without children as an easy life spent in hammocks with adult drinks in fancy glasses actually made of glass, and while that may be true some of the time, if that is ALL a person’s life is…well, alcoholism and depression can be just as tough to live with as children, with much fewer rewards.

Living child-free, REALLY living that life, is HARD. Filling each day of your life with meaning is a challenge. To be able to wake up each morning and feel that whatever you are doing that day has purpose is tough when you can’t say, “Well, I’m working this Monday-Friday, 9-5 job to feed my family, and then I’ll come home to that family, and on the weekend, I’ll spend some rejuvenating time with that family.”

When you don’t have children, you have no excuse to work a job that isn’t fulfilling, other than that currently the job market is awful and you have crushing student loan debt – hardly as rewarding a reason to work an unrewarding job. Having kids is much more motivating.

So, cut child-free people some slack, because they didn’t choose the easy way out. Neither did you. We’re all working hard to make our lives matter, and there’s no point in trying to step on each other to get it done.

Duke

I’m sure that the blogosphere is and has been blowing up about the Duke University freshman who is a porn star, but I’ll be honest: I haven’t really looked outside of my own little circle of blogs I follow, and within it, I haven’t seen a single mention. That really surprises me, given the blogs I read. It also means that a lot of people in my circle of friends are probably oblivious to the topic and the conversations I’d like to have surrounding it.

So, here’s me, having a conversation with myself about it.

Over at xojane.com, the woman in question submitted an absolutely amazing, well-written, honest and direct response to the negative attention her story has been getting, in a piece titled “I’m the Duke University Freshman Porn Star and for the First Time I am Telling The Story in My Words“. I absolutely loved reading it. You should read it. It’s good stuff from an articulate Duke student, which I think makes it even more powerful.

I am well aware: The threat I pose to the patriarchy is enormous. That a woman could be intelligent, educated and CHOOSE to be a sex worker is almost unfathomable.

That’s it right there; people are so aghast because, as an articulate Duke student, why on earth would she choose PORN?!

…the answer is actually quite simple. I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love.

SHE LOVES IT! She absolutely loves it! And who wouldn’t? Sex is awesome! Being filmed having sex, if that’s your thing, is awesome! And think about it, as the Duke Chronicle article about Lauren* (name changed) points out: “With an estimated 450 million visitors each month, porn sites account for 30 percent of all data transferred across the Internet.”

Clearly, people, lots of people, watch porn. If Lauren gets off on making it, and people get off on watching it, who’s losing here? Why are people so up in arms and upset?

In addition to explaining her personal experience with filming porn, Lauren also brings up issues bigger than herself: the fact that, though she has had a wonderful experience in porn, many women do not, but the problem can’t be addressed if we keep pretending that these women “deserved it” for choosing to be sex workers. She brings up slut-shaming and rape apology, which she has encountered outside of the pornography world, but not within it. She addresses the issue of society convincing women that sex is shameful, something to withhold, something to make hard to get – but not too hard, lest you land on the “prude” end of the female sexuality dichotomy rather than the “slut” end.

Wait, what? Exactly.

She’s intelligent and aware. She asks anti-pornography feminists, and everyone, to “deconstruct why they treat female sexuality with such disdain,” to ask ourselves why “we condemn women who have had multiple sexual partners outside of a marriage.”

Great thinking points, great talking points. I like this girl.

I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else. In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality. As a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks, I feel completely accepted. It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.

Trending

trends

I’ve had a tab open on my computer with this graph displayed for, oh, a week or so now. It’s from Google Trends, and I was having some fun, and just couldn’t bring myself to close the tab.

What can I gain from this graphic?

It is, at first, hard to read. The highest spike, the yellow one for the search term “open marriage,” is hitting a line labeled “100″ at it’s highest point. It appears that 100, though, is simply the value assigned to help us understand the popularity of search terms in the rest of the graph by comparison. i.e.: The blue line’s highest point is at 95, meaning that, at it’s peak, the search term “polyamory” was only 95% as popular as the search term “open marriage” ever was, and “open relationship” only 77% so.

The bar graph on the side, though, marked “average,” suggests that, over this 10-year period, “polyamory” did actually get searched more often than “open relationship” and then “open marriage,” respectively. Interesting.

“Ethical slut,” though supposedly a popularized term by a book published in 1997 and re-published in 2009, has a surprisingly low register, even in 2009. The term “nonmonogamy,” I should tell you, didn’t even earn a blip on this graph.

This makes me remember a conversation I had with a friend once (a very monogamous friend in intent, I should say, and not so much in practice, though never, to my knowledge, unethical). The friend said something along the lines of, “you know, I never hear anyone mention any of these terms….polyamory…ethical slut…but you. I think you’re just in a tiny circle of people who think this way, and you think it’s a lot bigger than it actually is in the real world.”

Harsh. Possibly true, I guess – thought it’s just as possible that he is a part of his own circle that is shut off to these kinds of ideas, or that we both suffer of a combination of both of these problems. If, however, the banner of this blog, my linking my posts to Facebook, and my day-to-day conversations help introduce these terms and, by the transitive property of information, their meanings and the concepts therein, then so be it. I’m always happy to be a bearer of information to the curious, or the instigator of curiosity.

Go ahead, Google search some stuff you see. I want to see the peak on Google Trends.

Beyond the Fad: Polyamory and Relevance

As I write this, my fourth post to this blog in as many days, acknowledging a newfound urgency to express the things I’m thinking, I also find that I need to admit one of the reasons I wasn’t posting for so long:

I worried that polyamory had become a fad.

It was a moment of weakness, I admit. I faltered under the weight of the fear that all I wrote might be summed up by readers to simply be anecdotal contributions to the trendy new lovestyle that has garnered so much attention in the media, including TV shows like “Polyamory” on Showtime. I stopped working on my novel because I decided that, by the time I was done writing it, finding an agent, and doing the work necessary to get published, I would have “missed the boat” – the fad would have passed, polyamory would be old news, and no one would want to publish the book.

Discussion and visibility of polyamory has skyrocketed in the last year or two, and while the benefits of that include visibility, the drawbacks include the fact that people enjoy simplicity, and trying to simply define something as complicated as polyamory just doesn’t happen. Instead, people define it by comparing it to things they already know – infidelity, swinging, commitment phobias, sex addiction, etc. I feared being lumped into those definitions.

I should have been stronger. I should have waved away the possibility that I’d be just another voice in the polyamorous cacaphony, just another polyamorous person whining with other polyamorous people about being misunderstood.

But this blog, and my book, and my writing in general, are not about that.

This isn’t about polyamory and its visibility. This isn’t about convincing people that polyamory is okay.

This is about love; about rethinking relationship norms. That will always be worth writing about, even if the whole world suddenly became polyamorous. Ultimately, my biggest hope for every single person who reads what I write is that they stop to think about the way they love, and decide for themselves what ways of loving work for them. If polyamory is not a model for you, I have no intention of trying to “convert” you; I simply want you to know that for yourself because you actually took the time to think about it.

Blogging about polyamory has never, for me, been about getting more views and attention by playing into a popular topic. When I started doing it in 2007, it wasn’t a popular topic at all. Just because it has become one shouldn’t deter me. If it is a fad, then like all fads, it will pass. When the dust settles, I’ll still be here, plodding along, thinking about love, sex, and relationships and how people can be happier with all of those things in their life.

Hopefully, if it is a fad, it will be one that changes some love lives for the better.

Shoutout to the Secondaries

This one goes out to the secondaries out there: the satellite relationships to the primaries, the other significant others, the lovers to someone with a boyfriend/girlfriend, the boyfriends/girlfriends to someone with a husband/wife. The umfriends.

This is for you!

Cheers!

I want to celebrate your awesomeness today, because many people who look at polyamory often don’t realize it, but you are so awesome.

While the media portrays polyamory as an emotional and sexual playground for experimental couples, you are often seen as the toys to be played with. People misunderstand, thinking you are some bonus appendage to be added to the existing relationship, like a really cool monkey tail. The tail makes life interesting; it means you can do new things and experience life in a different way. But, if the tail were lost or detached, life would go back to the way it was before the tail appeared.

large__9727321344

It’s probably more like having a kid…things NEVER go back to the way they were before.

You and I know better.

You and I know that you are not only confident enough to be a part of a relationship where much of the outside world sees you as an underdog, but you are also self-aware enough to know that you are in the relationship you are in because you and the people involved want you to be, and it might be the best thing that ever could have happened to all of you. You know that you like, possibly even love, the person/people you are involved with, that their happiness is important to you and yours important to them, because you are compassionate people.

Of course you have doubts from time to time; you’re human – we all do! Those of us in relationships are especially prone to doubts. We have to doubt in order to assess. We have to doubt in order to make conscious decisions about what is best for us, continually. I don’t say this because I’ve had extensive experience as a secondary: I have been one on occasion, but I was so blissfully engaged in life and loving, that I didn’t think much of it.

And the amazing people who have been in my life and who have been secondaries were often also doing exactly that.

So, to my lovers, umfriends, and especially the other significant other who was so proud to be one for five years of my life -

who-is-awesome

And for those of you who have a secondary in your life – let them know how awesome they are today!

Singlehood

“You’ve been single your entire life. Does it ever bother you?” I asked a friend one night.

“Not really. I guess I feel lonely sometimes, but I look at the things my friends who are in relationships go through emotionally, and I don’t think I’m any worse off.”

“Are you eager to find someone who is worth going through all that stuff for?”

“Not particularly. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind; I don’t spend much time thinking about it I guess.”

I had this conversation shortly after writing my entry about SoloPoly and Singlish. Being single was on my mind. You see, I’ve been “involved” with someone in one way or another since about the age of 13, from middle-school “boyfriends” who I would hold hands with and sit next to at lunch, to polyamorous relationships and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy as an adult. Though my Facebook status has read “single” for the last 3+ years, the truth is, I haven’t truly been “alone” in terms of romantic involvement in well over 10 years.

I’ve realized that my perception of “singlehood” is likely very different from others’. My perspective is that of someone who grew up in Los Angeles, where, by the age of 13, having a significant other was a prerequisite to having any social standing above “loner” at school. My perspective is that of someone who moved to St. Thomas at 16 and soon entered a 7-year relationship, which was completely normal in the new cultural context. At the ending of that relationship, I began navigating singlehood without ever straying too far from some kind of romantic connection. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but because of it, I have wondered at my ability to be happy while being completely romantically alone. I have wondered at the ability of others, as well.

There are many studies about whether being married increases a person’s chances of being happy, and a few studies, I believe, about whether just being “in a relationship” does so. A study from MSU published in 2012 actually tracked people’s levels of happiness ten years before and after marriage and compared them to a control group of people who remained unmarried for the length of the study, and found that married people experienced a spike of happiness during their first year of marriage, then declined to pre-marital levels of happiness. Unmarried people’s happiness declined over time, leaving them worse off than married people, except, it appears, in the cases of unmarried people who cohabitate with a long-term partner.

As I search the internet for more of these studies, I can’t help but notice how much of the “happy and single” movement is moved by, and geared towards, women. The friend I had the conversation above with is a woman in her 20′s. She’s happy, if not wishing only for a more challenging career. I somehow expected that, as a woman, she would have experienced some doubts and loneliness about her singleness, if for no other reason than movies and songs and TV shows are constantly telling her that she’s supposed to be in a relationship.

Apparently not. I continue to find evidence that happiness is, ultimately, up to the individual. Perhaps the single people whose happiness declined over time were feeling less happy because they believed that they should have been married by a certain age. Perhaps positive attitudes about singleness could rectify much of this reported unhappiness.

Thoughts from people with perspectives besides my own?

It Keeps on Turnin’

As sometimes happens, it’s been a while.

I am back on St. Thomas, employed as a server at a pub I worked at while in college (and high school, actually). Not much has changed there, though I’ve changed a lot.

It makes me think of cycles: how much changes, how much stays the same. How much I’m glad I’m just cycling through a winter here once again, with plans to return to working Outdoor Education in New Jersey in February or March. I love being in the Caribbean, don’t get me wrong, but I think my biggest problem is that I have yet to find a calling on the island. Until I do, I’m doomed to search in other places for one.

Friends from camp left today after a 10-day visit. It was interesting to watch friends from different walks of my life interact. It was interesting to see how some came together so well, and how some didn’t. It was interesting that I love them all.

Some of my friends are more expressive of their affections than others. Some friends are coming into being comfortable with that kind of expression. Some will always be more private in their expression. As I took time with them in groups and, on occasion, in moments with each of them as individuals, I remembered just how much every person on this planet is limited by their own perspective, including myself. We only know what we know. We have learned only from our own experiences, and, if we’re paying attention, by the experiences of the people we’ve encountered in our lives. Even if we’re very perceptive, our perspective is still, always, severely limited in the great, grand scheme of things.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched some friends’ perspectives severely affect their experience of St. Thomas. I’ve watched some friends’ perspectives affect their interpretation of relationships and actions within relationships. I’ve read some friends’ perspectives on their lot in life, their standing, their worth, even.

Perspective is important.

I think I need to read more, get out more. I need to watch more news. I need to talk to more people. I need to listen to more people. I still feel that I do have important things to say…to some people. Some people need to hear what I have to say. People who find this blog need to hear what I have to say about the topics there within. Not everyone does, though. That’s okay. Those people, when I meet them, might have something to say that I need to hear. I need to listen.

I’m ready to listen.

And perhaps, when I have listened for a bit, I will have more to write.

To Date or Not To Date: Monogamous People

As a single polyamorous person, I’ve read and heard a lot of advice and preferences from other poly folk about the dating world. One phrase I’ve come across quite a few times is, “I don’t date monogamous people.”

I’ve never quite liked it. First off, so many polyamorous people lived monogamous lives up until a certain point. Isn’t it possible that the currently monogamous person you find yourself attracted to possibly has the capacity to be polyamorous, just as you did? If not, could you at least credit them with the emotional intelligence (you are attracted to them, right?!) to decide whether a polyamorous partner is something they could be happy with, be understanding of? If they say no, then that’s that, if they say yes, who knows what could happen? A relationship only exists for as long as both partners want it, and I trust the people I love to let me know if they no longer want it. If we both do – let’s!

Secondly, I’ve always believed that we can’t help who we fall in love with, and that as long as you love someone, and they love you, most obstacles can be overcome. It can be hard, but aren’t relationships always hard at some point? That’s the challenge of relationships, isn’t it? Relish the joy and ecstasy of being in love with someone at the cost of often having to reconcile the fact that you are, in the end, two individual beings with different needs and wants. Relationships are full of compromises; some are big, some are small. This is a big one.

But perhaps I only feel all of this because I am an optimist. When it comes down to it, this is one of those obstacles that is much harder for one partner than the other. Monogamous people often try to do things to prevent their partner (and themselves) from falling in love with someone else and leaving the relationship; polyamorists need to be allowed to love others. Because most romantic pairs are scrutinized under a monogamous light, a polyamorist who dates a monogamist could, in times of duress, be seen as someone who is “getting more than they’re giving,” in the relationship, even if it’s not true. Societal standards are tricky that way.

Perhaps people who choose not to date monogamists simply don’t want to invite the possibility of that being a perceived dynamic. They don’t want to potentially set themselves up to be “the bad guy.” Or, perhaps they simply find it easier to date people who have already explored themselves and their capacity for love, and people who identify as polyamorous have usually at least started that journey. I, ever optimistic, like to think that I fall for people who are capable of deciding whether they want a relationship with me, a polyamorist and ethical slut, or not. I expect them to know what they want, be able to communicate what they want, and decide if I fit that.

Maybe I have high standards, after all.

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