Jul 092014

Note: Posting this here because I typed out this giant essay on a Facebook comment, and there was some kind of network error.

I think that we (Bryan and I) are exploring the divide between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Bryan, you seem to be suggesting that what is important is what your beliefs about the True Nature of the Universe(tm) are, and that there is some sort of advantage to being on the right team when it comes to picking your religious group. (Since that view is foreign to me, it’s likely that my description of your viewpoint may come off as dismissive — it’s not meant to belittle your position, but rather to demonstrate how my perspective differs from yours).

As someone who believes in orthopraxy, the basic currency unit of my faith is that God cares about what we do and how we act, not WHY we do things. I believe that God understands that we struggle between our conflicting desires, that sometimes we don’t want to be The Good Guy, that sometimes its hard to respect other people’s civil rights, that I will have days when I do not argue with my beloved from a place of compassion and faith. I believe — or rather, I *have faith* that God doesn’t mind that internal struggle, and judges us on whether or not we muster up the courage to be good people regardless of those circumstances, and that our afterlife experience will be an opportunity to work on further improving ourselves in the areas we did poorly in this time ’round the Merry Go Round.

I think that it’s important to note that this is a personal belief, that orthopraxy is my CHOICE about FAITH and its impact on my life and the lives of those around me. Not all Hindus believe this way. My mother, for example, believes in doctrinal practices. She thinks that if she prays when she’s told to pray, and shows up for the festivals, and sings the hymns you’re supposed to sing, that makes her a Good Hindu(tm).

Since I believe that what I do is more important that why I do it, it doesn’t matter to me what groups I support or associate with, EXCEPT for how membership in that group encourages or discourages Right Action.

Membership in a particular faith-based organization inherently causes conflict (because, hey, conflict is the nature of the universe) between your social, spiritual and physical duties. They are social organizations, and they create political situations. As organizations, they choose doctrine which they believe will encourage spiritual growth among their membership. That is why it is important to have a multitude of conflicting faith-based organizations — to provide a variety of options for the spiritual growth of all the different people out there.

That last paragraph is pretty in-line with “general Hindu belief,” although it’s tricky to say some things like that because there are several other important distinctions between Hinduism and Christianity which seem to be part of what you’re struggling with, Bryan. Notably:

* Christian Churches are hierarchical structures, with a clear line of power and responsibility leading from a central authority down to successive stages, ultimately coming down to a priest or pastor, who holds power and responsibility over a particular congregation.

* Hindu temples and religious organizations are non-hierarchical, and independent of each other. In America, where Hinduism is a minority religion, this is harder to see, but in India, there is a clear division between temples maintained by brahmins (which provide the opportunity to perform artha, your spiritual obligations to treat God like he’s a cool guy you want to show up to your parties), and religious organizations (I forget the term for them) which study the writings of theologians (swamis) and encourage the practices which enlighten your soul. These organizations are typically fairly grassroots, and can be vaguely grouped into “schools of thought,” but we don’t have anything akin to the Catholic Pope.

* Christianity teaches that contact with the divine is primarily managed by an mediating third party (ie, the priest). Although there is theoretically room for an individual to experience connection with divinity unaided, in practice there are extremely few cases which are deemed authentic divine experience, and they are subject to organizational scrutiny and approval.

* Hinduism teaches that contact with the divine is actually going on all the time with everyone, and that there is a basic set of practices which anyone can practice on their own in order to gain a greater understanding of their ongoing connection with the divine. In other words, Hinduism believes that unaided, unsupervised divine experience is happening all the time, and there are a couple hundred schools that can help you achieve that if you’re interested — let the buyer beware.

* Christianity accepts only one book as an authentic religious text.

* Hinduism has, quite literally, thousands of religious texts, including the Bible (although, admittedly, we tend to think it’s poorly edited). You’re encouraged to find some of those texts to be ludicrous and off the mark.

So [deep breath], hopefully all of that will help to inform your understanding of what I say next:

> …if I first say that I sincerely believe that admission to heaven requires baptism, but then later say that another person’s belief that admission to heaven only requires God’s grace is equally valid, am I not impliedly undermining the first statement that I sincerely believe that admission to heaven requires baptism?

Yes. Absolutely true. Because you’re making generalized statements about what OTHER PEOPLE need to do in order to get to heaven. And mind you, there are Hindus out there (like my mother) who will argue over what OTHER PEOPLE need to do also.

But I don’t make those sorts of arguments, because I don’t believe I have any right to tell another person what they need to do in order to achieve spiritual salvation.

At best, I might talk about why *I* chose to undergo a baptism (or a hatha yoga practice, or a monastic retreat, or a flesh hook ritual, etc etc) and what that experience did FOR ME; how that baptismal experience felt for me, and why it turned out to be the experience it was on my journey towards a more compassionate life. If I saw someone who seemed to be stuck in a rut that I found familiar, I might encourage them to explore engaging in a milestone ritual akin to my baptism, and would view that conversation as an opportunity to explore my own spiritual needs in this moment, and examine why I felt inclined to encourage them to follow one particular path over another.

> This raises a pair of related questions: can one be Christian if one doesn’t believe in the divinity of Christ; and can one be Hindu if one doesn’t believe in iterative reincarnation? Or, can I be Hindu if I believe that I’m finding spiritual truth through Christ?

While I can’t tell you what the requirements for your religion are, as far as Hinduism goes, Swami Vivekananda is quite famously quoted as once having said, “There are only two requirements for being a Hindu: You have to believe in the existence of a Divine Being, and you have to like that He or She exists. Everything after that is just gravy.”

> …[begs the question of] whether strict adherence to the idea that “everyone’s spiritual journey has some validity” requires surrendering the Hindu label. Otherwise, isn’t he claiming that Hinduism has the uniquely correct view of spiritual truth?

Strict adherence to a lax set of parameters? I think you’re missing the whole “I don’t judge other people’s paths” point. Again, you’re confusing prescriptivist and descriptivist labeling habits.

Think of it this way: Where do I live?

The answer to that lies partially in who is asking the question, and where we are when you ask me that. If we’re in Germany, then I tell you I live in America. Closer in, and I might tell you “Illinois,” or “Northern Illinois” or “Chicago.” If you’re actually in Chicago with me, I might tell you what neighborhood I live in. If it mattered to the discussion, I might give you the nearest major intersection, or my exact street address.

Similarly, when talking to a Christian who needs me to “briefly overview the basic tenets of your religion,” I am a Hindu. But within that larger label are many smaller labels. I believe in a specific set of religious texts, and I worship a specific set of God/Avatars (loosely analogous to the practice of worshipping Saints). I engage in a specific set of practices that help me maintain a daily sense of spiritual growth, and there are other practices I hope to engage in someday once I feel I am spiritually ready for them. Each of those carry additional labels that I would use to describe myself to someone who understood their meaning.

I use those labels to describe what has and has not worked for me in my spiritual journey.

I don’t really care what labels other people use to describe those beliefs. So if it helps you to understand my beliefs as “similar to UUA,” then go for it. You’re losing a lot of nuance in that transcription error, but the data loss will only matter if you try to dig deeper into what I actually believe, and besides, YOUR labels are meant to help YOU understand things. They do not “describe” me.

And really, at the end of the day, I believe that the point of all of this is how it impacts the way you treat other people today and tomorrow. Any discussion of an afterlife is really just about what sort of carrot I dangle in front of my nose to get me to move forward in the direction I want to get this stubborn ass to move in.

Jul 112013

“You know. That guy? The one on your couch, who’s always being cool to women and then bragging about it?”
“You mean the couchsurfing feminist blogger?”
“Yeah. Him. I tried to hook him up with your roommate.”
“How’d that go?”
“Horrible. I don’t even know their names yet.”

 Posted by at 1:54 am
Jul 112013

People often ask me, “Okay, but then once I’ve got them tied up, what do I do?”

Okay, first, some basic things you can do:

  • Beat them, kick them, punch them, pinch them, slap them
  • Torture them with violet wand, tens unit, etc
  • use them as furniture: foot rest, table to hold your book/crafts, drink holder, etc
  • simulated non-consensual sexual activity
  • Force them to do chores/run errands and then laugh at them while they try
  • jerk off while watching them try to escape from the bondage. All that wiggling!

Conceptually, think about it this way:
Once you’ve put them in bondage, you’ve done the thing that they wanted. You are STILL doing the thing they want you to do. You are accumulating credit on the “for him/for me” scale. While they’re in bondage, you are MORE free to do whatever you feel like to them, because as long as those chains are on, you are actively doing something that gets them off.

Plus, they’re really helpless. Let yourself be inquisitive. How bendy IS the human ear? Does he really need to be able to flex his big toe in order to walk? Where do his lips attach? Do his teeth wiggle? Does he have cavities? Are they attached solidly to that tooth? Now’s your chance to really get to know your partner as a human being.

What the fuck is he going to do to stop you from finding out? He’s chained up.

 Posted by at 1:53 am
Apr 102013

I embarrassed myself a bit last night with the vehemence of my position. Someone had asked me how I fulfilled my responsibility as the secondary partner to maintaining the primary couple’s boundaries.

I began by pointing out all the couple privilege and hierarchical assumptions that question contained, and how I disagreed with his premise.

First off, let’s toss out the hierarchy from this question, because I am not going to play second to anyone, particularly in my own love life. So then question becomes, “How much responsibility do I have to maintain my partner’s relationship contract with her co-habitating partner?”

Now let’s toss out the couple privilege from that sentence as well: “”How much responsibility do I have to maintain my partner’s external relationship contracts?”

At which point, the answer becomes pretty obvious to me: None at all.

She is responsible for maintaining all of the contracts she enters into. I am not responsible for maintaining any of her agreements. I didn’t make them. No one invited me to that negotiation.

Equally, I feel that she is responsible for presenting the sum of her boundaries as her choice, and not as restrictions that have been forced upon her by external parties. “Oh, I’d love to fuck you but my other partner would get jealous” is really close to telling me, “I regularly enter into relationship contracts that I don’t intend to keep.”

My responsibility, I informed him, rests solely inside the relationships I choose to enter into, with the people I enter into them with.

“Well, okay, I can see that being true for a casual, one-night sort of thing, but aren’t you going to be the guilty one if you violate the primary partnership’s agreements in a long term relationship? You presumably care about her feelings, about hurting her,” goes the argument.

Well, yes. If I were being victimized by couple privilege, and being held responsible for her failure to respect her relationship contract with other people, then I’d be held as the guilty party, just like when a husband cheats on his wife, society is quick to blame the adulteress, who didn’t even know the guy was married.

I can only be held responsible for doing the best that I can do, given the knowledge that I have.

As far as her violation of her relationship boundaries go, if I’m in a long term relationship with her, then sure, I will absolutely support her and nurture her while she resolves HER mistakes.

(This was, if you hadn’t guessed, the point where I got rather loud, and quite a few people stopped talking around me.)

In this scenario, I most likely have a relationship with my metamour, her other partner. And I recognize that their relationship has a certain value to them: they have agreed to co-habitate and co-mingle their finances, and that indicates that they perceive that relationship has legs, will be lasting for a while. But I am also in it for the long-haul, and to suggest that my relationship is less worthy of consideration or allowance just because they met each other first…it’s simply insulting to me.

Furthermore, until they, as a couple or as two individuals, sit down with me and negotiate all the terms of the dozens of relationships going on in that situation (her + me, her + him, (her+me) + him, etc)…until my voice was a part of that discussion, and I agreed to the situation, I feel no obligation at all to uphold those contracts.

It is not enough for them to have simply considered my feelings when renegotiating their positions. In fact, I’ve been in situations where they have given me more than I would have asked for, and I found that insulting. I have to be in the room. I have to be treated like an equal member of the negotiation, or I reject outright the suggestion that I am liable for those agreements.

You might well imagine how I react to the idea of End User Licensing Agreements.

 Posted by at 1:18 pm
Mar 262013

I had lots of fun at Bound in Boston 2013, teaching my class on Karadas. I received possibly my best compliment so far after the class: “You’ve added flexibility to my world.”

I’ve barely got time to think before I need to leave for Frolicon but I DID have time to throw this little number together:

During the Open Space Technologies section of Bound in Boston, I stepped up to teach an impromptu class on Chest Harnesses when the originally requested presenter recalculated his transit needs. When I asked the attendees what they wanted to know, they asked for examples of male harnesses. Operating on my basic principles, I tossed out a few example ideas, and they liked some of them enough to ask me to put together a tutorial document on it.

Here’s a simple Chest Harness for Men, may you use it in good health. (You probably want to right-click/Save that link, rather than opening it)

I’ve decided to use this tutorial as a freebie introduction to my new project, Knotty American Comix. That link will presumably have issues of the comic available someday.

A simple Chest Harness for Men.

 Posted by at 4:12 am
Jan 252013

As I assemble my thoughts and update the outline for my Solo Polyamorist class (which I’ll be teaching at Winter Wickedness), once again life tunes into the Serendipity Station, and starts flooding me with links to various folks and their thoughts on the subject.

Now, there have always been rants about how people are co-opting the term “polyamory” to mean any form of non-monogamy. There have always been rants about people “choosing” polyamory as a fait accompli, an ethical structure they’ll adopt in order to make their existing behavior somehow more acceptable. But lately, there have been an awful lot of rants about how polyamory has become popular and is suffering from the inevitable effects of popularity.

I’m linking to Sex Geek’s rant because it is the one that stirs me up the most, and the one that I’ve spent the longest time sitting with, trying to understand the depth of my response to it. This was my initial response to reading this article:

Felt of rant like to me. A lot of griping without suggesting how to solve any of these issues, or even talking about what “better” looks like. I would rather see articles that lead by example. That show us new paths rather than complain about what everyone else has written. It is easy to bitch. For example, in all this railing against hierarchy, the author barely spent an entire paragraph suggesting alternatives or what their benefits and flaws are.

All well and good, but the more I sit with it, the more I feel like I have left things unsaid. There’s an assumption underlying the anger in this article that polyamory is some kind of activism, that it is some kind of movement rejecting oppression, and that like all other movements, polyamory therefore has an obligation to reject acceptance by the mainstream.

This is not my view. I think of polyamory as an ethical stance taken by an individual — something Sex Geek advocates for as well. But where Sex Geek and I differ is that I don’t feel all that particularly attached to the term itself. I don’t feel like the word has a sacred meaning which I most protect and advocate for.

The more time I spend giving advice on polyamory forums, the more time I spend reading the opinions of polyamorist activists, the more I see polyamory become accepted by the maintstream. Which I think is great, unreservedly, because I have no illusions about how mainsteam acceptance works.

We are pack animals. Herd creatures. Humankind has ever been thus. Always, there have been the fringe elements of our herd, individuals who are uncomfortable being in the center of the pack. Fringe elements, who stray away from the comfortable feeding grounds and seek out new places. When we prove these areas safe, the rest of the herd moves in. It’s societal. It’s evolutionary. It’s what humans do.

Of course the importance and meaning of individual lyrics get lost as bands gain notoriety. Of course important philosophies become trivialized as their wisdom gets broadcast as part of sandwich commercials. I do not rail against this anymore than I would stare at the ocean and wish that it would, for just one stretch of sandy beach, stop crashing against the shore.

On the other hand, I am a fringe creature, and I choose to lead by example. Instead of complaining that people are still using hierarchy terminology, I make a point of discussing my relationships in terms of radar ranges (a metaphor replete with the sense of movement and shifting priorities, of targets and vectors, and different directions we might all be traveling in). When people ask me for advice about their relationships, I answer with questions about the ethics of the individual and the choices you are empowered to make about your own life.

I chose to call myself a polyamory activist because at the time I discovered the word, it felt very accurate to me. But like all intimate arrangements, time moves ever forward, and meanings shift and relationships change. The word “polyamory” no longer means what it meant when I claimed it in 1995.

I think it’s time I let it go.

“But gosh,” says one of my girlfriends (a close-range target that I’ve been tracking for a while). “What will you do without that identity? Are you really going to give up who you are just because you don’t like one article?”

Nonsense. I’m not giving up an identity. I’m not letting go of who I am. I’m just saying goodbye to a word that no longer describes what I am, what I have been, what I intend to be.

What will I call myself instead? I’m not really sure. “I practice a form of ethical non-monogamy that doesn’t have a catchy name,” isn’t very illuminating.

Maybe I’ll be lighthearted about it and tell you that I’m a Protestant Polyamorist, part of a group of doctrines that reject what polyamorism has come to mean today. I can joke about rejecting the pervasive influence of King Xeromag and the Papal proclamations of Cunning Minx.

In more somber moods, I might tell you that I don’t know what I’m calling my ethics yet, because I haven’t bought the domain name yet. And without a pulpit, how could I possibly preach change?

Most likely, what will happen is that I’ll babble these long-winded lectures about how the word has come to focus on a set of espoused beliefs which have very little to do with what I believe in anymore, and that I got close enough to the term to care about distinctions and so I don’t want to be called that anymore, and everyone else of the planet will say, “That Master So’N’So, he’s one of those polyamorists who have opinions about what they do.”

And really, I’m fine with that. Because at least I’m not preaching hate against the latest bunch of humans who have just found out about this cool idea that I like.