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
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.

Sep 172011

I had dinner with a friend who had recently been nominated to her first position of leadership within the kink community, a position which I had once held, not too long ago. We were discussing how we’d grown since first getting into the kink scene, comparing the steps that led us to be interested in the job, and the impact which assuming that role had placed on our respective Journeys.

Tangent: I’m making an effort to practice what I preach here, by discreetly leaving out names and identifying details except where they are necessary to the point I’m trying to make. It is just as tough as I knew it would be, and some of these thoughts may come out awkwardly until I get stronger at clenching that particular muscle.

I was intrigued by how such similar experiences yielded such different reactions. Taking on a position of authority within the community had made me feel anchored, secured, connected to a greater whole. For her, the experience left her feeling cast adrift from her previous life, disconnected to the vanilla world, lost to a way of life she had once cherished.

She described her emotional experience as a sort of final act of renunciation. In taking on the role, in agreeing to be someone whose job it was to Disseminate Knowledge, she was also agreeing to be frequently identified as someone who knows what is going on in the kink world. She could no longer pretend that she was a spectator, an attendee, a fleeting presence. This was not some detour she was briefly engaged in, this was a life she had signed up for, and as she signed on the dotted line, she looked back at the life she was leaving behind and wondered if she was ready to be done with it.

For me, the experience had been more akin to rebirth, to surrendering myself to the winds, to settling still. I had been involved in such roles since I was a small child. My earliest memories are of folding and addressing newsletters for my father’s temple. My 20s had been consumed in an act of rebellion against that culture, against both the culture of my religious community and the culture of competent project management which permeated my father’s house. I had spent that decade floating on the surface of the world, never wanting to connect, violently tearing free of any commitments I found myself making. My primary partner and my friends believed in nothing but their own inability to make a difference in the world.

I did not so much cast myself adrift from my previous life, as I put my foot down and stood once more on solid ground. I had already rejected my previous life, had spent the intervening years lost at sea, seeking safe harbor, wishing I could believe in something as fervently as I had in my youth. Now I had found a community where I felt that I could belong, could openly espouse the beliefs I had developed. Taking on a role of responsibility was, for me, a natural byproduct of feeling accepted and embraced.

Because of all this, it was very hard on me when I realized that I needed to let go of that role and focus on my financial career and my romantic life. It wasn’t long before I began to struggle underneath my self-imposed restraint, daydreaming about ways in which I might give back to my community, how I might continue to support my social structure, while still keeping myself focused on financial and emotional stability.

This is the balancing act of life. Or at least, of my life. There is such an intensely hungry urge to embrace each piece of life that I want. The trick is figuring out how not to let each moment engulf me, how to be attached to something without being anchored by it, how to be connected to every part of who you are and what you want out of life, all at the same time.