You Can Keep Thanksgiving, I’m Taking Channukah

Of all the holidays that I don’t like Thanksgiving has got to be one of my least favorites. This year I’m grateful that my least favorite holiday overlaps with my favorite- Channukah. Now when everyone is happy and wishing each other a happy holiday I can join in all the fun, plus I get to do it for eight days so that’s nifty.

When it comes down to it I’m a traditionalist. I like like ceremony and repetition and ties to my history and so while I’m a firm agnostic you can still find me singing hymns and lighting menorahs and doing all the other stuff that my religiously polyglot family has been doing for centuries. My issue with Thanksgiving is that all of its traditions seem to come back to the same place- the fact that we committed genocide and then turned the start of this genocide into a lovely myth about how self-reliant and hardy and inherently good our ancestors were.

Maybe I’m cynical horrible person who takes joy in being miserable but I’m also not a fan of current attempts to focus Thanksgiving away from whitewashing our national history towards a day that we focus on being grateful for the blessings in our life. Rather than actually addressing the blood that our flag covers we’d rather direct our attention to nice things that don’t make us think of the violence our nation sits up. I’m all for a holiday when we share our love and count our blessings and give thanks to those that bring us joy but I’d rather not have that holiday come at the expense of forgetting about, you know, fucking genocide. If we’re going to have a holiday to give thanks let’s pick a day that doesn’t erase our blood soaked history (I’d like to put forward January 25th as a nice option.)

Let’s burn down “Native American” holiday decorations. Let’s yell at people who try to use today to propagate a history that makes white cishet landowning men look good. Let’s actively try to make today a day of solemn remembrance.

But I realize that this isn’t something that’s going to happen over night. I’m still going to sit down tonight and eat turkey because I do it for a family that loves me. I’m going to practice self-care and try to avoid getting myself into situations that could ruin the holiday for others sitting around my table.

What I will do is politely speak up and remember that I have 364 other days to be rude and angry about Thanksgiving because these are the compromises we make for our immediate loved ones. And I’m going to regularly look at the menorah and take strength from the three lights I’ll see glowing at the dark window.

So I wish you a Happy Channukah with a reminder to remember our dark history that America so happily tries to forget.

Baby I’m Still Here

The other day I decided to re-dedicate myself to this blog.  Regular posts! Themed days! Regular posts! Basically just posting more than once a month! This resolution took place in like June so obviously I never really followed up on it but in my defense I’ve been really busy. If you take my personal calendar to my post history you’ll see that the last regular posts happened right before I moved from Amherst back to Northern Vermont. This move was followed by the summer camp season which was followed by getting ready to go back to Amherst for school which was followed by actually going back to Amherst for school and school followed that.

It’s about halfway through the semester now and I think I’m ready to get back to being an internet person. I’ve had a few attempts to get back into the swing of things but these attempts haven’t resulted in anything particularly meaningful. One of the issues that I’ve been facing is that  I keep giving myself these arbitrary deadlines like that This Wednesday I Will Post Every Week or whatever and the fact is that I suck at dealing with arbitrary deadlines. So I’m trying a new path.

This time I’m giving myself a list of things I’d like to do with my blog/Facebook page and instead of having sharp deadlines I’m going to view this as more of a wishlist. Hopefully most of this will get going throughout November but if that doesn’t fully work out then I’m going to be okay with that because it turns out that I don’t need to hold myself to impossible standards. Who knew.

Here’s what I’d like to do:

  • Post once a week on this blog.
  • Maintain Cartography Mondays and Safe Sex Wednesdays (Hump Day, get it?) over on my Facebook page. (I tried starting this a month or so ago and it’s kinda fizzled out but I really like this idea.)
  • Move my kinda secret queer library blog from beta to public mode.
  • Get in touch with other bloggers about the collaboration ideas I’ve been working on.
  • Make my blog’s appearance more pretty.

So with any luck you’ll see some of these things become reality over the next few weeks. If you don’t… well, whatever, I’m still angry over on Twitter.

No, I Haven’t Read “The Ethical Slut” Yet.

One of the many things that I enjoy about my new college is that when I come out as poly the response I get is rarely one of discomfort or a blank lost stare. Instead I’m far more likely to receive a blase “That’s cool” and then them asking if I’ve read The Ethical Slut. The answer I give is that I haven’t read it yet at which point it’s assumed that I have some major moral/philosophical/ideological beef with its authors. In all honesty I have nothing against Dossie Easton or Catherine A. Liszt, I just don’t have a strong desire to read it.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here’s a quick overview. (For you queer and/or poly people who hang with other queer and/or poly people you probably know plenty about this book and you should feel free to skip this paragraph.) The Ethical Slut has kinda become the de facto bible for poly communities since it was published in 1997. Billing itself as “a guide for infinite sexual possibilities” it is the main how-to book for poly/open/non-traditional/etc. relationships. Its cultural weight is so big that even when I was a teenager up in rural, no where, isolated northern Vermont I was familiar that this book existed. (I didn’t really know what “polyamory” was but I did know about this relationship book for open relationships.) In short it’s the book that every poly seems to expect every other poly has read.

Like I said earlier, I’ve got nothing in particular against T.E.Sbut reading it just isn’t high on my list of things to-do.

The big thing is that if I want to know what the book says I can just ask one of my fifty billion friends who has read it. Seriously I’ve got friends who can probably quote from that thing like a nun can quote from the Holy Scripture or I can quote from The Uncommon Reader (the number of times I’ve read and re-read that novella is actually so high that I’m embarrassed to share.) What’s the point in reading it when I could read something I know nothing about?

For all my glibness in this post there is a kinda serious reason I’ve delayed picking up T.E.S. For better or for worse I’ve kinda connected it in my mind to a particular form of polyamory that I’m just not a fan of.

Over the past year I’ve begun to feel that there’s a dominant type of polyamory that I’m just not into. Do I have a clear example of this? Well no but I can give my impressions. It feels white; queer but the sort of queer that doesn’t view transwomen as, you know, women; privileged and like it’s actively trying to show the monogamous world that we’re just like them! I guess it feels like Dan Savage…

This dominant type of polyamory is the one that seems to be putting pressure on me for my polyamorous relationships to be a certain type of polyamorous relationships. I feel as though I’m expected to have a “primary” and then date on the side. There’s also the nice cozy triad model with optional dating on the side but I’m not allowed to form long term relationships with the people outside of my triad. Hey monogamous people, we’re not that different after all! Accept us!

My relationships need to be nice and clean and something that the New York Times can easily write a piece on. My relationships need to be stable and it would be great if I could live in Brooklyn or in the Bay Area and eat organic produce because I can totally afford it. Whenever I enter into any sort of new relationship it needs to start with a formal meeting about limits and boundaries and we need to have this written up in contracts and also it would be great if this took place in a carbon-neutral, vegan, free-trade coffee shop. Also I need to talk about the T.E.S. whenever I talk about being poly.

So yeah, I’ve got nothing against T.E.S. but in my head I’ve linked it to the poly communities that I am actively trying to avoid. I’m sure that it’s a lovely book but I spend enough of my polylife trying to push back against expectations put on me by a dominant poly narrative that in my free time I try to avoid any contact with anything I associate with this narrative. At some point I’m going to read The Ethical Slut and when I do I bet there will be parts I agree with and parts I strongly disagree with in how they relate to my own poly identity. Until that time comes I’m just gonna keep answering,”Have you read The Ethical Slut?” with a smile, a shrug and a vague “It’s on my to-read list but you know how long that it is!”

Stop Being So Fucking Condescending (Polyamory edition)

I identify as polyamorous (check Wikipedia if you’re confused) and there are few things that I find more irritating or upsetting in my personal life than having to tell someone that I’m poly. Actually it’s not the “coming out” that I hate it’s the follow-up conversation that I hate because almost without fair I am immediately told some condescending things that make me want to scream.

In an effort to make my life just a bit more bearable I’m going to give a “typical” response that I get to saying, “So I’m poly.” and then I’m going to follow with my own response.

“You haven’t met the right person to settle down with.”

Oh my god, stop. Please just stop right now. Stop it. Before you go any farther I want you to think about polyamory. Think about the idea of being in a poly relationship. You know that emotion you feel when you try to picture yourself being in a poly (or even open) relationship? That feeling of confusion and discomfort? It probably feels like you’re trying to jam a square peg into a circular hole. Well that’s how I feel when I think about being in a closed monogamous relationship. Trying to imagine myself being in a monog relationship is just like you imagining yourself in a poly relationship but the difference is that your relationship has been declared “normal” by your society.

Furthermore this has nothing to do with me “settling down” with anyone. I can settle down with two people or six people or HOW EVER MANY PEOPLE I END UP BEING IN A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP WITH.  This is not swinging or cheating or whoring it up or about “shallow” relationships. This is me having sincere and real and true emotions/attractions to people and being honest about it.

And let’s  talk about the fact that you’re telling me this is a phase. Ultimately this is one of the most painful things for me to be told. At it’s most basic level you are stripping me of my legitimacy to say that I know who I am by telling me that I am incorrect. So let’s just leave this bullshit in another room.

I will not deny that there is a possibility that I will end up in a long-term, committed and monogamous relationship. As a matter of fact I am open to this potential future, I just don’t think it’s likely at all. Like most aspects of human emotion/attraction/sex/romance/life I do believe that there is a spectrum between polyamory and monogamy and I think it’s possible for us to travel along the spectrum throughout our life.  Consider this for your own life. When you ask me to be open to a potential future in monogamy I will ask you to be open to a potential future in polyamory. Just as I might meet a person who I will end up being monogamous with you might end up meeting people with whom you share a deep love with and you need in your life as romantic partners.

So next time I or someone else brings up the fact that we’re poly please don’t be a condescending dick about it. Accept it as that’s who this person is then do research if you’re confused (I’m making a list of resources that I’ll link to when it’s done.) The important thing is that as a poly person we’re frequently told that our relationships are wrong or not valid/legitimate or creepy or abusive and we have enough shit to deal with besides yours.

The Allegory of the Artist with Depression

You’re baking a cake and it’s not going well. All the ingredients are perfect, your oven is exactly the right temperature and you’re using state of the art utensils but at every step you ever so slightly fuck it up. The butter isn’t creaming. You lost count of cups and might have put in too much flour. Despite the fact that this is the hardest you’ve ever worked on something in your life small mistakes keep cropping up.

Finally the cake is out of the oven and let’s face it- it looks disappointing. Not awful, just flatter and duller and dryer than it’s supposed to be. You want to toss it away, to be done with it but before you can do that everyone you know is in your kitchen and eating this flop of a cake. Hell, there are even some strangers there digging into big wedges of cake.

And the worst part? The worst part is that they love it.

Despite all your fuck-ups they still love the cake and so you tell yourself, “Maybe it isn’t so bad.” You take your first bite only to find that this is the most revolting thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. Yes the taste rots on your tongue but it does more than that, it creeps through your body so that every fiber of your existence is in revulsion.

All around you people keep eating this cake with joy. Seeing everyone else’s joy makes you feel worse about yourself. What’s wrong with you? No, what’s wrong with them? They’re wrong about this cake or they’re lying to themselves in a misguided attempt to make you feel better about yourself or maybe they’re stupid.

And you keep baking. You keep baking cake after cake after cake and each one is worse and worse and worse and everyone else can’t stop raving about them. Despite the compliments you want to stop, to break off this painful routine but you can’t. Whenever you try to stop you just end up back in the kitchen baking, whether it’s your own compulsion or you’re lured back by the kind words of those around you. Perhaps you even reach a point where you forget how to make good cakes. After all you’ve made so many bad ones that it’s all that you know.

You hate it. You hate the process and the result and you especially hate the part where people lie and say they love your cakes. You hate it and you keep doing it.

A Letter To My Allies

(Use of word “faggot”.)

Dear Allies,

Thank you for supporting me being honest about my sexual orientation (pansexual) and gender presentation (nonconforming to the expected male presentation). For me your support seems like a no brainer (I mean, come on, why should you care if I enjoy giving blowjobs and wearing velvet dresses?) but I recognize that some of you have had to overcome a lifetime’s worth of teachings about how homosexual sex is gross and men wearing dresses can only be viewed in terms of comedy so that’s pretty nice of you. Good job on being nice to me about issues that do not actually impact you.

With all this being said there is something I think we should go over.

Allies, sometimes y’all are really irritating. Sometimes I’m tempted to throw up my hands and say, “Enough! I’m done with straight people and done with people whose sex and gender and gender presentation all match society’s expectations! You can all go fuck yourselves for all I care because I am done interacting with you lot.” However not only is this impractical it’s also unproductive. I’d much rather change society than moving to an isolated mountain where you all can’t get to me; which means that I need to teach you what I makes someone a real ally to me.

Here are the ground rules that I expect from my allies:

  1. Don’t Tell Me How I “Should” or “Really” Identify: The labels I use are ones that I feel most at home in, that I feel best represent me. If you’re Straighty McStraight-Straight from Straight St. then I don’t want to hear your opinions on what labels I should be using. You could have a degree in Gender or Queer Studies but if you’re straight I’m not going to let you tell me my identity. Once you know how it feels to live my life that’s when you get to talk to me about my identity/labels.
  2. I Get To Reclaim Slurs, You Don’t: I have a friend that calls me a faggot and I call him faggot as well. If almost any other person called me a faggot I’d probably punch them. My friend and I use such language to each other not only because we know that we both feel safe but because our use of it becomes a “Fuck You” to anyone who has used it as a slur. If you want to use the word faggot around me then talk to me about it first. It may be that I’m comfortable with you using it but I’d rather have you ask then assume. Furthermore if your friend uses a slur as a label that still doesn’t give you permission to use it casually around me or to apply it to me. I respect your friend’s identity but we are two different people.
  3. When I Say “Stop” You Stop: This really should be a given but from my own experiences it isn’t. When we’re talking about gender or sexuality and I get uncomfortable I can shut this motherfucker down. It doesn’t matter if we’re joking around or having a serious conversation, I retain my right to unilaterally stop a situation that makes me feel triggered or unsafe or hurt. Frequently it will have nothing to do with you and everything to do with my own psychological discomfort so know that it’s not personal.
  4. Don’t You Dare Come Into My Safe-Spaces: When it comes to sexual orientations and gender presentations the majority of the world is probably a physical and emotional safe-space for you. In response to this I need to go to spaces that are intentionally created to be safe for people like me. These spaces are safe because people like you aren’t in them. Again, it’s nothing personal but I need the opportunity to be with people like me. You know, like how almost anywhere you go you’ll find other straight and gender-conforming people just like you.
  5. I Am Not Your Punch line: Please, for the love of all that is holy stop trying to make jokes about my identity. Society is full of these jokes and not only do I find them not funny but I find them actually painful. Throughout our relationship I’ll let you know what I’m comfortable with you joking about but unless I say it’s ok please shut your mouth.

Got it? Good.

I know, I know, these four rules seem so utterly basic that it seems almost silly for me to write them down like this but that’s the sad part. This sad part, this utterly tragic part, is that these seemingly obvious rules are violated in my life on a regular basis. On a regular basis I find my identity questioned or my safe-space violated by people who are trying to be my allies and that’s just not cool.

If you read this list and thought, “Oh good! I’m an ally of Samuel and I’ve done none of these things!” then I need you to think long and hard about all of our past interactions. I’m surrounded by wonderful allies but I’m hard pressed to think of a single one who hasn’t broken at least one of these rules at least once. Now that I’ve shared this with you please be mindful. Please remember that sometimes I’m too afraid or too hurt to speak up so you need to take a level of responsibility for your words.

Of course we all make slip-ups. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re hurting one another but it’s important that we have these conversations to make sure that there’s as little hurt going on as possible. Allies, be aware of what those you support tell you they need or want. Be mindful that sometimes it’s painful or embarrassing or frightening for some of us to tell you that you’re being a shitty ally so don’t assume silence is approval. When you feel that you need to ask questions then ask them (Try to be respectful about this part.) and honor the answers you get.

Thanks a bunch.

Yours,

Samuel A. Zaber

Speedy Book Reviews

(In an effort to improve my book reviewing skills I’m trying to post a review of every book I read. Right now I’m a bit behind so instead of three long reviews I’m going to do three shorter reviews.)

Moab is my Washpot 

Stephen Fry has been fairly well cemented as a secular saint and if you’re reading my blog you’re probably familiar with him. Moab is a moving autobiography  and Mr. Fry’s love of language makes it such a joy to read. Even if you’ve never heard of Stephen Fry I still highly recommend reading his autobiography. Do it, you’ll be thrilled with the results.

Stephen Fry, copyright 1997, Arrow Books

Shooting Victoria

When I first saw Shooting Victoria I immediately thought, “520 pages about the eight attempts on Queen Victoria’s life? Well that’s probably over-kill and only going to be interesting for a very narrow audience.” My second thought was, “I need this book more than I need my lungs.” Yeah, it turns out that I’m not bad at predicting things because my first thought was actually really wrong. Yes, this book is big enough to kill a child but it’s definitely not over-kill. Paul Thomas Murphy took the eight assassination attempts and used them to show how Queen Victoria’s reign began the transition into the modern monarchy. Well written and accessible and an all around wonderful read. Particularly recommended for fans of the British monarchy, European history and the Victorian era.

Paul Thomas Murphy, copyright 2012, Pegasus Books LLC

America Again

Friends, you know that I’m not Stephen Colbert’s biggest fan. Actually, you probably don’t know that. I’ve got nothing against Mr. Colbert, I’m just am not a huge fan. Reading America Again  was like watching an episode of his show. Yes, there were some moments that made me laugh pretty damn hard (which Americans he would eat if he needed was one of my favorite sections) but for the most part I found it to be mildly amusing. If you’re a fan of Stephen Colbert then yeah, I’d recommend it.

Stephen Colbert, copyright 2012, Grand Central Publishing