Tag Archives: Polyamory

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.

Review: “Trans/Love: radical sex, love & relationships beyond the gender binary”

I don’t know when I first heard of Trans/Love but I do know that at some point I got it into my head that it was a collection of beyond the binary erotica. Last week a friend met me for coffee and they lent me a copy for my train ride up to Vermont. I read the first story somewhere South of Brattleboro, Vermont, and went, “Meh.” As I plodded through the second story something clicked in my head and I went back to read the introduction. I was entirely wrong: These were not erotic stories but rather personal essays of, to quote the subtitle, “radical sex, love & relationships beyond the gender binary.” In that moment everything changed. I had been reading as if I was reading erotic stories designed to get me off and once I realized that these were non-fiction essays I found them intensely more engaging.

I’m not going to review every single essay in this anthology. Frankly I think that these essays work together to create a beautiful entity. I’m not saying that there aren’t any that can stand on their own but as a whole these essays weave tell stories from the East Coast to the West, from people of varied ethnic backgrounds, from privileged and not-privileged backgrounds, and from a variety of identities. There are 29 stories, the majority only a few pages long, and they touch upon almost any non-binary gender and sexual identities you can think of. From this highly enjoyable collection I’d like to showcase a few that I found to be particularly wonderful.

You know what we need more of in our progressive and positive communities? Acceptance and representation of “other” bodies. Joelle Ruby Ryan’s “Fat, Trans and Single: Some Thoughts from an ‘Othered’ Body on Control, Alientaion, and Liberation” talks about their experiences as a “fat, single, genderqueer, transfeminist, writer, teacher, [and] activist.” Beyond discussing the experiences of fat or otherwise differently bodied queers they also do an excellent job of addressing bi- and asexual erasure.  For some this essay might be a wakeup and for others it might be a reminder but no matter what it’s a damn important essay.

Speaking of building inclusive communities- There’s a two-and-a-half page excerpt from Imani Henry’s play B4T (before testosterone) that tells of a non-binary sexual encounter between two people of color. Alright, it’s actually so much more complicated than that but I’m going to say that you need to read this piece to fully take it in. Jennie Kermode’s “Getting It Out In Public” tells the story of their discovery that they are intersexed. Their story is interesting as is but I highly appreciated their discussion of their intersex identity as I feel that this is an identity that is far too frequently left out.

It might be the fact that I’m baby/toddler crazy at the moment but I am in love with the two family-with-children focused essays in this anthology. “Milk, Please” by Patch Avery is a lovely meditation on fatherhood, queers in “traditional” family models, and being brown in America. “Out Loud and Pride Six Months Before Surgery” by Dee Ouellette is also lovely but focuses on her experiences as a “queer tranny […] mother” and her own process with adopting the labels that felt right to her.

“City Hall,” the story of Phyllis Pseudonym’s green-card marriage, gave me the warm-cuddlies all throughout my body. This snapshot of her life, the few hours in the morning that follow along with her wedding, was, well, well it gave me a hope for my own romance. Besides finding her writing to be enjoyable to read I also found myself envious of her relationship. Alright, maybe not envious since I’m happy with my life right now but it gave me comfort to know that there are other people in the world who are looking for the same sort of relationships that I am.

I don’t want to say that I had a favorite essay but, um, yeah, I’ve got two favorite essays. While I was touched and inspired and brought to tears and to laughter throughout this collection there were two that I found particularly relatable and significant. Don’t know if you’ve picked up on this yet but I’m fascinated by the act of sex and how sex is important to us as individuals. “Made Real” by Sassafras Lowrey and “Resexing Trans” by Kai Kohlsdorf are both on this subject. Please just read them, they come highly recommended by me.

Look, I really think you should read Trans/Love. Buy it, borrow it, steal ( well, no, don’t steal it), do what you need to do to get your hands on it. This anthology is important, and not just for members of the queer community. There are so many topics and themes brought up that don’t receive enough attention from us, whether we’re queer or straight. For many of you this slim collection of the stories of people from a wide variety of marginalized sexual/gender identities will end up educating you and expose you to new ideas. Some people might be afraid of the words “radical sex” on the but if you can handle HBO or George RR Martin then you can easily handle Trans/Love.

Trans/Love; Morty Diamond, ed.; copyright 2011; Manic D Press, pub.

Your Friend Told You They’re Polyamorous and You’re Confused

Dear Samuel,

My dear friend (who we’ll call “Samuel” because that’s his name) told me that he’s polyamorous. The thing is that I’m pretty sure he’s European, what should I do? Should I show him his grandparents’ Ellis Island certificates or play along with his delusion that he’s from tropical islands? Help!

Love,

Samuel

 

Well Samuel, you stupid little twit, the word  you’re thinking of is “Polynesian” and that’s quite different from what “Samuel” actually said. So why don’t you grow a pair of ears, you miserable excuse for a human, and sit down so I can explain to you what your friend actually meant.

Considering that your friend and I are the exact same person I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what he was talking about. Your friend is using polyamorous to describe the fact that he can feel romantic and/or sexual attractions to multiple people at the same time. Samuel feels comfortable acting upon his various attractions even if he’s currently involved with other people. You need to understand that Samuel is not cheating as he has not entered into any relationship with the expectation that it will be monogamous. To achieve this Samuel places a premium on constant communication to ensure that all participants are informed and feel safe/comfortable.

Here’s some basic advice:

First of all it is not your place to question the validity of Samuel’s, fuck this I’m going to use first person pronouns, of my relationships. If I am in six relationships (long term relationships with two people, casually hooking up with three, just starting to date one- obviously this is hypothetical because in what universe can I get one date, let alone six) then I am in six relationships that mean as much to me as your one relationship. What I feel for each person is genuine and sincere and it is not your fucking place to tell me otherwise. If we’re close friends and you feel that there’s something wrong with one of my relationships because it just doesn’t seem healthy then please express your concern but the fact that my relationships might look different than yours means jackshit.

You might have some questions with terminology. Who is my boyfriend? Who is my make out buddy? Valid questions and they deserve valid answers: I’ll tell you who is who. If you’re confused then you can ask, “Hey, how do you refer to Steve? Or Belinda?” Be polite and I’ll be polite in return. It’s probably not a big deal but you’ll make it one if you obsess over it.

In trying to answer all the questions that I felt people would want answered I realized that what I really cared about was respect. Please respect my relationships and my feelings. When I act upon my attractions it’s because they’re sincere emotions that I truly feel. Furthermore I do my best to keep communication at the forefront of my relationships. Also, it’s not really your business. I mean, as long as everyone involved is freely consenting and know what’s going on then you can’t really complain. So fuck off?

If you have any questions about polyamory please ask. I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my abilities and provide resources that I’ve come across.

An Open Letter to Alison Bechdel (Review: “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For”)

Dear Alison Bechdel,

By Michael Rhode (101_3633 Alison Bechdel) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thank you.

I know, I know, you’ve received ten-thousand letters like this but let’s make it ten-thousand-and-one, shall we?

I grew up a queer outcast in a very heterosexual little rural farming town. My exposure to any sort of queer identities was limited to the occasional “let’s be nice to people” discussion in class. At a very young age I identified as not comfortable with how I related to heteronormativity. True, I didn’t always have the vocabulary to express my thoughts on my gender/sexual identity but I was aware enough to recognize that I was different.

I didn’t have the sorts of role models that my normative friends had. Where were the male superheroes that wore pink and why couldn’t Luke and Han make out? (Answer: Because Luke’s a weenie and Han and Leia are bad-ass soul-mates.) What I did have was 7-Days, the alternative paper that my parents brought home every two weeks. I thank my agnostic deity(ies) that I was introduced to 7-Days while in elementary school. Not only did their “Hot2Trot” personal section help guide me through puberty but it introduced me to your comic.

When I read Dykes to Watch Out For I had role models, I had superheroes. A bearded dad in a utility kilt and a transgender teen and people of color (I’m from the second whitest state in the union so this point is particularly important) and liberal intellectuals and queersDykes to Watch Out For was my exposure to the idea that queers came in all shapes and sizes and that we didn’t have to confirm to stereotypes. Yes, I was a male with same-sex attractions but that didn’t mean I had to be limp wristed and lisping (though I do have a bit of a Jon Inman wrist). There’s nothing wrong with happening to share characteristics with society’s ideas of queers but you helped me see that I didn’t need to let it define me.

For a young boy who was being introduced to sex primarily by his male, similarly aged friends (all of whom had very cis-centered, heterosexual, patriarchy themed ideas about sex that they wanted to share) Dykes to Watch Out For also expanded my ideas about what sex could mean. Your cartoons regularly covered discussions about sex as well as depictions of responsible and healthy sex. I can distinctly remember reading a strip featuring masturbation and realizing, “Oh! I can do that! And that’s not a bad thing and in fact it seems like it’s a good thing!” So on behalf of the sexually frustrated adolescent who relied on masturbation to help get him through years of celibacy I must offer you a tremendous THANK YOU.

One thing that I can’t thank you for is inspiring in me the idea that I could easily find a community like the one you wrote about. First of all I assumed that all the action in DtWOF took place in Burlington, a mere forty-five minutes from my house. I believe it was sometime when I was in high school and your book Fun Home was being promoted that I found out that the city was probably somewhere near Michigan. (I was actually really upset when I found this out.) Even with the knowledge that Burlington wasn’t the city you were writing about I still figured that if I went to a medium/small-sized liberal city then I’d find the queers. Well, Ms. Bechdel, I went to the University of Vermont for a year-and-a-half and didn’t meet as many queers as I would’ve liked. My own antisocial nature and reluctance to interact with humanity might have been a stumbling block but if Mo could find friends like that then why couldn’t I? (Side note- I’m now in Amherst and there are a lot more active queers so things might not be as bleak as I once thought.)

Reading The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For brought me back to my days of smuggling a 7-Days into my room and losing myself in the black-and-white lines of Mo and Co.’s endless pursuit of life, liberty and the perfect lentil soup. I tore through The Essential (even setting aside the book on Catholic priests in Protestant England I was currently reading, so you know, it was pretty serious) only to find myself reaching the end far too soon. When I closed the book I could feel my heart sinking as I realized that the lives of characters who I love and adore were frozen in perpetuity. The ending wasn’t all pain though as I found the fire you helped to light all those years ago suddenly flare up as it feasted. Not only was there a rekindling but a new fire was lit. I’m older and a different person than when I first read DtWOF and I’ve found new ways to connect with the work. Now I’m super-charged and ready to take on the patriarchy. I’m looking for my own Mad Wimmin Books and searching for my own Stuart/Ginger/Clarice (Hey, it’s not my fault you wrote such wonderful characters that I want to be in relationships with.) It’s time to be subversive and time to be radical and time to kvetch over hummus.

Thank you, Ms. Bechdel.

 

Yours most humbly and sincerely,

Samuel Aloysius Zaber

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For; Alison Bechdel; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Company, copyright 2008.