More than Two Chapter Four

Why do I have romantic relationships? What do I get out of them?

I have romantic relationships because I am a big schmoopy romantic. But, more seriously, I have romantic relationships because I fall in love easily and romance has always been something that I’ve been drawn do. I am drawn to both romantic gestures (big and small – gifts are a big part of how I express my love) and also the closeness and connection of a sustained romantic relationship. I get a sense of joy and stability and mutual support out of good romantic relationships. However, in the last few years I have really expanded my view of what counts as an enduring relationship, and now I would say that I have loving and enduring relationships that are romantic, sexual and platonic (and relationships that combine multiple types), and I value them distinctly but equally.

For me, sex and romance are often (though not always) linked. Sex is important to me (very important), and when I feel a romantic connection with someone I often want it to also be sexual. The reverse is also true most of the time, although I do have some sexual friendships that do not include romance, and some folks that I would happily hook up with at a party without forming any kind of deep relationship (romantic or otherwise). Those are the exception, though. And I think it’s important to acknowledge this, because although I am normative in this, the fact that romance=sex is the default ends up being harmful to a lot of asexual folks – it shouldn’t be assumed that being interested in romance reflects an interest in sex, and I appreciate that the book differentiates between sex and romance. I also don’t think that it’s beyond the realm of imagination to think that I could have a romantic relationship with an asexual individual, and that it could include closeness and mutual support and connection, without including sex. That’s why poly is awesome!

What do I consider essential, indispensable elements of a relationship?

Transparency, honesty, trust, support, fun, consent, autonomy, agency, compassion, connection. When any of these are missing, the relationship starts to feel really wobbly and unsafe for me.

Are there specific kinds of relationships that I know I am looking for? Kinds that I know I don’t want?

Yes. (This is a hard question to answer because the answer is “yes” and there are some specific answers that I want to acknowledge but not publicly. But there are situations where I would really like a specific kind of relationship with a specific person but… vulnerability! Plus broadcasting that on the interwebs seems like, perhaps, not the most subtle, wise, or respectful choice.)

Mostly I want relationships that fit. I want to feel like I am seen and accepted and I am trusted with my partners’ truths. I am willing to do a lot of work for a relationship, but I need that work to feel mutual and somewhat equal (not the same, but an equitable investment of time and energy into the relationship – and I prefer “equitable” to include an awareness of different levels of available resources. Young children, chronic illness, work schedules, health, family situations – lots of things can impact the availability of resources and I think a good relationship accommodates that. But even when resources are scarce, knowing that my partner is still willing to invest time and energy as available is really important to me).

I know that I do not want relationships where I feel like I am chasing after my partner for information relevant to my ability to make informed choices about my risks (sexual, emotional, etc.). I do not want to feel like I am a burden in my relationships (and this is tricky because sometimes my insecurity makes me feel like a burden, so a lot of the heavy lifting on this one has to come from me). I do not want relationships that feel codependent (where we feel like we couldn’t survive without each other) or relationships that feel coercive. I also don’t want hidden relationships, which is sometimes unfair because it means that being with someone who is fully in the closet would be a big challenge for me. I want partners and metamours who are willing to acknowledge me as a partner or metamour in at least some circumstances.

What do I bring to the table for others?

I bring a LOT of enthusiasm to the table. I think I also bring a lot of compassion, empathy, and respect to my relationships, and a sincere desire to see everyone in my pod (paramours, metamours, maybe-mores, loving friendships, family) safe and fulfilled. I am good at making space for difficult conversations, and at accepting the parts of people that are sometimes difficult to share. I am good at self-care, and I’m pretty self-aware. Also, pie. Chocolate. Tea. Cards. Emails. And often more texts than anybody wants.

What makes me feel cherished, loved and secure?

Physical contact makes me feel loved, especially good hugs. Physical contact that doesn’t assume sex makes me feel safe, because I often struggle with my sexuality and there is so often a lot of shame and fear attached to this. Holding hands, hugging, snuggling, kissing, back rubs, etc. All super important to me. Also, in sexual relationships, make outs and sex make me feel loved, cherished, AND secure. They are really hugely important to me, even though they’re not easy or smooth. (But I’m doing a Year of Sexual Recovery and working on that. High fives, me!)

Hearing that I’m loved also makes me feel really good. My heart pumps words more readily than blood, and when someone tells me (in a text, card, email, facebook message, or in person) how they feel about me, it feels great. When I moved into my current space, my housewarming party included being kicked out of the house so that all the guests could write and hide little notes throughout my space. I still find stray notes every so often, and they make me feel so loved.

Little gifts or personal gifts also make me feel loved, even though I sometimes feel weird and greedy because of this. Knowing that someone put thought into a gift for me makes me feel like I’m present in my people’s lives even when we aren’t physically together. (Scott keeps a collection of nerdy t-shirts hidden in the house and gives me one when I’ve had a bad day or accomplished something big. Jon’s birthday gift to me this year was a series of gifts that each tied to a significant event in our relationship – both of those things fill my love tank pretty amazingly. One of my most beloved people regularly gets me any smut related comic books they see. Another gave me a gift related to my creativity, even though they aren’t really “gifty”, and for my birthday people wrote me amazing cards. This last birthday was pretty amazing, actually. I am very lucky. Aww, man. Now I feel like my heart might explode. Also, one of my best friends once sent me a whole package of various dark chocolates and an encouraging letter and it was just… straight to my heart.)

Openly volunteering information makes me feel secure. Talking about what’s going on, and feeling like if something comes up I will hear about it before it explodes makes me feel secure.

What makes me afraid in relationships? Why?

Not knowing where I stand. Feeling like I’m an overly enthusiastic freakshow who is about to be told to shut up. Uncertainty. Change. Dishonesty. Sudden lack of contact. My depression and anxiety also makes me feel afraid in relationships, because I always worry that I’m just one panic attack or depressive episode away from wearing out the good will of the people I’m in relationship with.

In what ways do I protect myself from being hurt? Do these strategies help or hinder my search for connection?

I am not always good at protecting myself. However, in the past I have tended to get *really* controlling if I feel like things are spinning out of control. I want to lock everything down. This is extremely counterproductive and I’m way better than I used to be about not doing this. Now I tend to disengage rather than trying to control everything. This is also not good for connection, especially ongoing connection.

My preferred method (though not the one I succeed at all the time) is to just communicate when I start to feel afraid and give my partner the ability to respond, rather than keeping it to myself until I blow up. This is hard, though.

More than Two Chapter Three

Chapter Three was exciting and also challenging because the idea of ethical behaviour is really important to me, and tied up in how I perceive myself to be acting in the world, which means that sometimes it’s hard to critically examine because what if I’m acting unethically? Maybe it’s better not to know. (I don’t actually believe this is ever the case, but the temptation is *always* there.)

Chapter Three introduces three Bills of Rights – one for anyone in an intimate relationship, one for anyone in a poly relationship, and one for anyone in a poly network. I really loved these suggested rights, and their focus on consent, agency and honesty. I also appreciated how they were structured in a way that challenges couple privilege without demanding that pre-existing or enduring partnerships be deprioritized (which is sometimes the too-far pendulum swing, I think).

Okay! Onward to the questions and the self-reflection. Same caveat as usual – I’m sharing my inner thoughts and they impact the people I’m in relationship with. If you’re in my pod and you want to talk about any of this, please let me know. None of this is directed at a particular person – I tried to keep my answers personal rather than relational. Because some of these questions relate to a specific decision, I answered them more generally.

Have I disclosed all relevant information to everyone affected by my decision?

This is a hard one, because the question of when to disclose and how much to disclose is difficult. I tend to disclose EVERYTHING IMMEDIATELY ALL THE TIME, but that can be very overwhelming for my partners. And I also don’t always disclose everything – if I am worried that disclosing information will hurt someone’s feelings, I struggle with that. I try to always choose disclosure (honesty, allowing them to consent, giving them agency), but it’s hard. Disclosure plus compassion plus working hard not to outsource my emotional management to my people. I fail, but that’s what I aim for.

Have I sought input from everyone affected? Have I obtained their consent where my decision overlaps their personal boundaries?

I am really good at seeking input from everyone, because I am indecisive as all fuck. I am also good at knowing where my decision overlaps someone else’s personal boundaries, but I am not always so good at obtaining consent, for all the reasons listed above. I think the thing this chapter really highlighted for me is how incredibly vulnerable I feel when I have to seriously consider sharing all of the relevant information with all of the impacted people. It feels like this takes away my own agency and autonomy. This is a lie, of course, because my decision remains my own regardless of the reactions of other people. But when I give them the opportunity to consent (or not) I run the risk that my decision will be one they can’t live with, and that by giving them the opportunity to consent (or not) I will have to make a difficult choice between giving up what I want or need, or giving up the relationship in its current form. That’s terrifying! But it’s necessary. It is absolutely necessary. Fear cannot, cannot, be an excuse for unethical behaviour. (In this, my outside-of-poly life skills intersect with poly. Because I have an anxiety disorder and a huge amount of intense fear on an almost daily basis, I have had to cultivate the ability to act on my principles rather than my fears, while still holding compassionate space for my fear and anxiety. This helps in poly, because acting on my principles rather than my fears is the only thing that allows me to move past my fear of rejection, abandonment, and “fucking it up” in order to be honest with the people who need, and deserve, my honesty.) But it’s hard. I don’t want to pretend it’s easy – it’s not. It’s damn hard. The fear is real, and the fear can be paralyzing. But the fear is a feeling, and our feelings do not dictate our actions. We have a choice.

Does my decision impose obligations or expectations on others without their input or consent?

Again, I try not to let this happen but it does happen and it’s really damn hard to avoid. Sometimes I don’t realize how my decision will impact those around me until after I start seeing the ripples, and then there needs to be honest acknowledgment of the way my behaviour has affected those around me. That’s hard too. It’s way easier to just pretend it’s their fault, or they’re too sensitive, or something like that. Taking responsibility – another place where I have to become vulnerable in order to act according to my values. Bah! This chapter was hard because of how much work all of this is. But it’s also not work that’s specific to poly. This is ethical behaviour in any relationship, and it’s necessary to learn and to practice and to fuck up and to make amends for and to keep practicing.

Am I seeking to have my needs met at the expense of the well-being of others?

Okay, I’m going to talk about a specific situation now. One of my partners is incredibly easy-going. They are supportive of all my relationships, they are the one who picks up the pieces when I fall apart most of the time, they are my anchor. And I worry sometimes that when I am bouncing around on my emotional rollercoaster, the effort of keeping me grounded means that they are not able to do their own bouncing. I worry about this a lot. But they tell me this isn’t the case, and part of consent and agency means trusting that people are being honest about their needs.

Am I imposing consequences that will make others feel unsafe saying no to me?

I worry a lot about this, and work hard to make sure that I’m not unintentionally imposing consequences on others if they need to say no. However, just like everything else, I fuck this up. Sometimes I respond with huge emotional energy to what feels like rejection, and I know that some of my partners have felt like this was stifling for them. Sometimes I can’t stop myself from spiralling into anxiety when things appear to be going sideways, and again this can feel like coercion to my partners. The only way I’ve currently found to manage this is by being up front with my partners about the fact that my emotions are often fairly intense, but it doesn’t mean they dictate my actions. I might turn into a wreck, but that doesn’t mean I actually want you to do something different. It’s not perfect. It’s one reason I am more comfortable with text-based communication for difficult issues, because I can take more space to keep my head on straight (or appear to, anyway). I also try hard to do a fair bit of metacommunication – talking about what we’re going to talk about before we talk about it. The reason for this is because letting someone know what my interests are, and hearing what their interests are, before we go into the conversation means that we can set it up to be safe for us both. But, again. I fuck this up. A lot. I’m trying, though.

Am I offering others the same consideration that I expect from them?

This one I feel like I can honestly say yes to. 90% of the time, in 90% of instances, I do this. High fives, me! And the rest of the time, when I fail at this, well… that happens to. Listen, learn, do better next time.

Phew.

I’m really enjoying this book, but it’s some emotional heavy lifting, for sure!

More than Two Chapter Two

First, I want to acknowledge that these questions were heavy, and challenging. I feel somewhat anxious about sharing them. Not only because of the past relationships that they recalled to mind, but also because of some current poly situations I’m in. So, for any of my poly pod – my paramours, metamours, maybe-mores – if you see yourself here and you find it uncomfortable, I’m open to talking about it. It’s really hard to talk about these issues without also talking about the people who are impacted by them. Obviously I left identifying characteristics and names out, but I recognize that my poly feelings and views and histories are not only my own. They also belong to the people with whom I have shared heartspace, headspace, bedspace.

What are my needs in relationships? Are they attached to specific people? That is, do I need these things generally, or do I need them just from certain people?

“What are my needs in relationships?” is a massive question. I actually run a whole writing workshop on developing a personal user’s manual to help people answer that question in ways that they can share with their partners (the next one will be a private session for a group of assault survivors – I love my work). So, the short version of my needs:

  • I need to be seen. I need the people I am in relationships with to be willing to acknowledge my whole self – my anxious self, my depressed self, my awkward self, my self-hating self, my enthusiastic self, my invisibly disabled self, all of it. I do not need every person I’m in relationship to engage with every part of me (one of my best friends just stops answering my calls or texts when I’m going through a depression – they can’t deal with it, and that’s okay), but I do need my people to see me and acknowledge me. And in my deeper relationships, I need them to be willing to at least sit in the dark with me some of the time. I need to feel like I am not making their lives worse by being who I am.
  • I am also realizing, after a difficult stretch of time with a couple people in my life, that I need to feel like I am able to see the people I’m in relationships with. This is much harder to admit, because I have this gut-level sense that it is unfair to demand someone else’s visibility. And I don’t feel this way about everyone. I respect anyone’s right to keep their stories to themselves. But those people that I want to share a deeper connection with, I need to feel like I’m seeing them. I’m afraid of the dark, I guess. So I don’t need this with all of my friends, and I don’t know if I need it with all of my lovers, and I know that I don’t need it with all of my metamours, but the sense that I am able to see my people (that I am trusted with their darkness, especially), is way more important to me than I had realized. I’m still working through this, though.
  • I need to be touched. Hugs, cuddles, sex, massage, kissing… I don’t need this from everyone, but it is hugely important to my well-being, and I need it from multiple people in multiple ways.
  • I need regular contact. “Regular” varies depending on the relationship, but I like a lot of contact. More than most people, I think. And I need a variety of contact. Hand-written letters feed my heart in a really specific way, and so do stories written for me, texting, sexting (which I fucking LOVE and haven’t had much opportunity for because it is not a universally loved form of contact), FaceTime if I’m distant from my people, sitting and chatting, spending time together writing, even watching tv together. Lots of contact, and lots of types of contact. I don’t like phone calls, though.
  • I need honesty, and I need my own really intense desire to be honest to be valued, even though it’s means I’m hella awkward and share more than is strictly recommended. I need that in all of my relationships – lacking this, everything else becomes secondary.
  • I need my pod to be acknowledged. I don’t need all my poly people to be out, and I know that the fact that I am out about poly is a huge privilege, but I do need to know that if my people meet my other people, they will see each other as being valued in my life. I wouldn’t be okay with a partner ignoring or dismissing another partner (though I don’t expect everyone to be friends).

Phew, this list could go on a long time. Moving on.

What configurations am I open to? Am I looking for a particular configuration because I’m afraid that other might be more scary or more threatening?

I am much more comfortable in a networked poly configuration – one where everyone knows everyone and where we spend time together both as pairs and in our various pods. I really love pod time. This is partly because I just have awesome people and I really love smooshing awesome people together with other awesome people, but there is also an element of fear to it. I like networked poly because I feel less threatened by people I am friends with. So I like networked poly for myself because it makes me feel surrounded by love, but I like my partners to also practice networked poly because it makes me feel more secure. Not all of my partners are comfortable with networked poly, though, so I have had to learn how to sit with the discomfort of “spoke and wheel” poly (where my partner is a hub, and myself and their other partners are spokes that don’t necessarily interact). It’s not comfortable for me, but it’s a totally valid way to do poly and I try to respect it.

Am I flexible in what I’m looking for?

I think so. Especially if I feel like I have a solid foundation to fall back on if everything goes kaboom.

If my relationship changes, is that okay? Can I accommodate change, even unexpected change or change I don’t like?

I fucking hate change. It’s terrifying!

But it’s necessary. And it’s good. And relationships need to be able to change as the people within them and the contexts around them change. You bend or you break, right? This knowledge moved from intellectual to experiential when my relationship with one of my core partners transitioned from cohabiting to living apart. It wasn’t a change either of us ever anticipated, and it was fucking brutal emotionally, but in the end the relationship we have now is stronger and more supportive than what we had before. The change was terrifying and it was not part of “the plan” but it was absolutely necessary and for the best. I think after that experience, I am much more open to relationships changing even if I haven’t anticipated it and don’t like the change. (Though still not comfortable. I like to know where I stand, and I like to know that I’ll have a place there in the future! But that’s not how life works. The best we can ever offer is “I hope that you will be in my life for a very long time,” which is something I can honestly say about a lot of people.)

When I visualize the kind of relationship I want, how much space does it leave for new partners to shape the relationship to their needs?

I try to make space for new partners to voice their needs, be seen as whole people with valid needs, and for their needs to be met. It’s hard, though. Some people need things that are incompatible with my needs, and that always hurts and feels like a rejection. I try to remember that it isn’t a rejection, though, and it isn’t a judgment. It’s just an incompatible need! And the beauty of poly is that (some) incompatible needs do not have to be dealbreakers, because those needs can often be met in other ways and with different people. (Though sometimes incompatible needs are dealbreakers. My need to feel like I can “see” my partners is incompatible with some folks need to keep things private until they’ve processed it all. That doesn’t make a relationship impossible, but it does put a built-in limit on the depth of intimacy that I can feel with that person.)

Am I focusing on an idealized fantasy more than on making organic connections with real people?

I hope not. But I don’t know. Especially in a few instances, I feel like I have attached a lot of weight to the fantasy I want to make a reality, and I worry that I am not leaving space for the relationship to develop organically in whatever direction it wants to. I am trying to be conscious of this, and intentionally leave multiple paths open for the relationship. It’s hard, though, when you want a specific thing so badly and when you think about it so often.

What happens if I connect with someone in a way that differs from how I want my poly relationship to look? What message does that send to someone who doesn’t fit neatly into my dreams?

I think/hope that I am flexible enough to allow relationships to develop however they develop but there are some limits that are non-negotiable. I can’t imagine myself transitioning to monogamy with any partner, no matter how deep our connection might be. I also can’t imagine engaging in non-consensual non-monogamy (where one or more non-involved partners are unaware of the interaction) because of the potential harm that it could cause. I struggle with this last one because I do think there are multiple valid reasons for cheating and that sometimes cheating is the choice of least harm*, but because of my commitment to being honest with everyone in my life and my ideal of networked poly, a cheating relationship would be unbelievably difficult for me to maintain, and would seriously fuck with my sense of self.

Phew! Those were difficult questions to answer.

 

* Because cheating is so vilified in our culture, I want to expand on this. I think that sometimes people have needs that are not being met within relationships, particularly around certain kinds of emotional or sexual intimacy. And sometimes those relationships are not open to a transition to poly, and are fully functional in every way other than the missing element. In those cases, cheating can be a way to maintain a relationship while still meeting needs. I also think that sometimes cheating is the only thing that gives a person the strength to get out of a relationship (this was my situation). So I am uncomfortable with contributing to the universal vilification of cheating and cheaters, even though it is not a relationship choice that I can see myself being comfortable making again.

More than Two Chapter One

My book club is starting up with More than Two, and I’m excited about it. I’m going to answer the questions in each chapter here, and do some reviews of the chapters as well (but I mostly want a place to put the answers to the questions).

Have I ever felt romantic love for more than one person at the same time?

– Yes. Definitely. Currently. And, if I’m honest, I’ve felt romantic love for multiple people concurrently many times in my life, even years before I knew what poly was.

Do I feel there can be only one “true” love or one “real” soulmate?

– I used to. But then I found that one true love a whole bunch of times and every time it was really intense, so I figured there were multiple but you’d only love one at a time, and then I gave up on that to. So, no.

How important is my desire for multiple romantic relationships?

– At this point, super fucking important. Because there are multiple romantic relationships in my life that I am not planning on ever giving up.

What do I want from my romantic life? Am I open to multiple sexual relationships, romantic relationships, or both? If I want more than one lover, what degree of closeness and intimacy do I expect, and what do I offer?

– I really want romance. Dates, time together, snuggles, sharing media, sharing music, sharing moments. And sex. And support in my Year of Sexual Recovery. I really appreciate frequent contact with my romantic partners. I’m often afraid that I’m way too intense, and partners who accept/appreciate that about me are really valuable. (And having multiple partners helps with that – nobody has to deal with ALL of my issues.) And I really want the kind of community that I’m finding in my current poly, where I love my partners but I also love their partners and my metamours and the relationships, whether they are romantic, or sexual, or platonic, or any combination, are loving and beautiful and awesome. I think I offer some value, in terms of being empathetic and emotionally supportive and loving and also I tend to buy my people lots of little gifts. I’m romantic and passionate and committed to acting on my principles, even when poly makes me anxious or when my desires conflict with my principles.

How important is transparency to me? If I have more than one lover, am I happy with them knowing about each other? If they have other lovers, am I happy knowing them?

– Transparency is extremely important to me. I want to know what’s going on in my relationships. And I love networked poly, meaning that all my people know all my people, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. If I had a metamour who didn’t want to know me, or two paramours who didn’t want to know each other, I would be a little uncomfortable with that but I could respect it as long as there was transparency in communication and everyone in the relationships was being respected and treated as a full person. I like to know my metamours, and I like my metamour relationships to be mutually supportive. I like being on my partners’ team, when it comes to their other relationships.

How do I define commitment? Is it possible for me to commit to more than one person at a time, and if so, what would those commitments look like?

– I define commitment, in poly relationships (or I guess anywhere) as a willingness to invest time and energy into the relationship and to sustain that investment over time. I am committed to multiple people, and those commitments look different in each relationship. I like the flexibility to allow commitments to change – where the stable element is the investment of time and energy without a strict set of rules about what that investment looks like (because some of my partners are parents, or are chronically ill, or are just super fucking busy and because I am chronically ill and super busy!)

If I am already in a relationship, does my desire for others come from dissatisfaction or unhappiness with my current relationship? If I were in a relationship that met my needs, would I still want multiple partners?

– My needs are currently being met, but my heart still cliffdives after people who are not currently in my poly pod. It’s not so much about finding other people to meet my unmet needs (although that is part of it – one of my relationships includes zero power exchange or thuddy-spanky kink, and that’s a need that I absolutely need to have met in some way in my life, and some of my relationships don’t include romantic dates or much texting, and both of those things are also really important to me).

My poly practice

I debated where to put this post, because it is quite personal but it also intersects with my activism and my academic interests. I decided on this blog, and maybe I’ll cross-post it over at Fibro Files. I’m going to skate back and forth between the personal and the academictivist, so bear with me.

I have been thinking a lot about polyamory in the last while, since one of my enduring partnerships has just introduced a new partner, and I am interested in introducing new partners myself. I have also been grappling with what my polyamorous practice looks like as a disabled person, because it is a fact that it looks different than it would if I did not have such restrictions on my energy, clarity, and physical abilities (sex, especially kinky sex, and fibromyalgia is an area I am still trying to map for myself).

A few years ago, I would have said that polyamory was primarily, for me, about sex. The ability to be sexually expressive with a variety of people, to have romantic and sexual friendships while maintaining my enduring relationship (singular at the time), to explore physically with whoever shared a mutual interest with me. Then I fell in a different kind of love with a new partner, and it got complicated. And then fibromyalgia and depression robbed me of my sex drive, and suddenly polyamory became even more complicated because that sexual element was not present but the love still was.

Although I was not asexual at any point, Kristin Scherrer’s work on asexuality and polyamory was helpful for me. She points out that asexual non-monogamies are largely absent from the academic literature, and her essay in Understanding Non-Monogamies is one of the only places I’ve seen a nuanced discussion of asexual non-monogamy (for me it was non-sexual non-monogamy, and I do not mean to appropriate the experience of asexual poly folks by highlighting how helpful it was for me to find information on asexual non-monogamies). Sherrer writes that “the distinction between types of relationships can be challenging to categorize, particularly for asexual individuals whose relationships may be less likely to include sexual behaviours” (156), and I found this to be the case once my relationships all became non-sexual.

I felt a huge amount of anxiety about my sudden “deficiency” as a partner. Because I am not asexual, and because I have internalized many of the cultural messages regarding the normativity of sexual behaviour as a legitimizer of intimate relationships, the lack of access to my sexuality felt like a dysfunction – I am still picking apart how much of this is cultural conditioning that needs to be rooted out of my subconscious (the privileging of sexual relationships over non-sexual relationships, definitely) and how much is an acceptable and authentic expression of my own identity as a sexual person. Despite this anxiety, I found my ability to feel close connections with friends without needing to categorize them (in part because I felt anything “more” than friendship was out of reach) was a lovely side-effect of a difficult transition from temporarily able bodied to invisibly disabled.

I am a person with a lot of fear. I am afraid of change, of loss, of water and of crowds and of my own inadequacy. I am afraid of rejection and spiders and death and horror movies, and some of those fears are a lot harder to manage than others. I am a person in nearly-constant existential angst. This is partly my anxiety disorder, disordering my life. It is partly my personality, separate from the anxiety. I am an over-thinker, and an over-feeler, and I collect biased evidence to support my fears. It is partly a response to past experiences and circumstances, hurts and traumas from long ago. These fears are as much a part of my identity and personality as my nerdiness or other defining characteristics. I spend a lot of time in my anxiety bubble.

Polyamory triggers many of my fears. Inadequacy, loss, change… poly brings all of those fears immediately to my mind.

The thought of my partners finding other partners is hypocritically painful for me. Although I know that I can love multiple people without it impacting the depth of my affection for any of my partners, I worry that they will suddenly realize that they don’t actually love me, because they were somehow fooled by my facade. I worry that I am a grocery store tomato – fine if that’s all you know, but woefully lacking once you’ve tasted one from the farmer’s market.

This belief is, as my counsellor has told me many times, a maladaptive and ultimately disrespectful belief. Although my fears are rooted in a sense of my own insecurity, it is incredibly disrespectful of me to think that I know my partners’ minds better than they do. On the surface, this fear seems to be about my own sense of myself, but scratch the surface and it turns out to be at least partially about thinking I know better than anyone else. (This is where we would normally insert an ugly shame spiral, but honestly we all have these wonky thought processes and shaming ourselves for them is normal, but not necessary. I’m embracing my wonkiness and learning how to work around it rather than hating myself for it.) No matter what my self-centred inner critic likes to tell me in the middle of the night, the fact is that if my partner says that they love me, I should trust that. (Trust. Like it’s so easy! But, well, we’re all just working on it, right?)

It’s difficult. I struggle with it. Fear can be an overwhelming force, and when I am afraid, I want to make the source of that fear go away. I don’t want to befriend the fear, manage the emotions, move through the insecurity and jealousy. I just want it to stop. I want it to go away.

In the last few years, I have made it a personal goal to acknowledge and engage compassionately with my anxieties and fears, but to act on my principles. It’s okay for me to feel what I feel, but my actions should, as much as possible, be informed by my principles and not my fears.

I didn’t come to this easily, and I don’t practice it perfectly.

A few years ago, shortly after I moved out on my own, I asked my anchor partner to be monogamous with me. They refused. It was a turning point for me.

Pepper Mint has pointed out, in his fantastic essay “The Power Mechanisms in Jealousy” (in Understanding Non-Monogamies), “the cultural responsibility for fixing jealousy falls on the partner. We typically expect the partner of a jealous person to adjust their behaviour to assuage the jealousy” (203). This is a cultural script that is very easy to fall back on, and one that is entirely out of line with my principles.

I was feeling a lot of anxiety about a major shift in my life, and dealing with the then-undiagnosed pain of fibromyalgia, and experiencing almost daily panic attacks. There were lots of reasons for me to want to retreat into the “safer” model of monogamy. Monogamy theoretically means that my partner won’t find anyone better than me. They won’t leave me for their exciting new partner. They won’t ever realize how much tastier the farmer’s market tomato is. (This is a false sense of security, as my own marriage demonstrates.) All of the anxiety about the rest of my life was focused onto a fixed point – the threat of loss presented by polyamory. My request that my partner be monogamous with me was an attempt to make them “fix” my anxieties, shifting the responsibility onto them. It wasn’t wrong for me to want monogamy at that time, and it wouldn’t have been wrong for me to need it, but I was asking for it in ways and for reasons that weren’t well-articulated or reasonable.

My partner was afraid of losing me. But they are polyamorous, and monogamy (even temporary monogamy) would be out of line with their principles. They acted on their principles despite their fears, and it was the best possible response. Rather than compromising themself in order to assuage my fear and stabilize the relationship, they told me that they couldn’t be monogamous and that it would be a dealbreaker for them if I demanded it.

I was… upset.

Later, I was inspired.

I think that recognizing and owning our emotions is incredibly important, and that it is never the responsibility of other people to manage my emotions. When my fears demand action, that action has to be internally generated.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t make requests, or set boundaries. I do. Lots. All the time.

But it does mean that the responsibility for identifying my needs is mine, and as much as possible I set boundaries and make requests based on what I need and not what I want my partner not to do. (It’s a fine line. I dance on both sides of it, and my goal of basing my boundaries on my own needs rather than my fears is just a goal. I doubt I’ll ever get it right every time, but I do hope to get it right more and more of the time.)

I don’t like the way my fears are so bossy, so controlling. If I acted on my fears, my partners would never go on dates unless I’m also on a date, and they would never flirt with anyone I felt threatened by, and they would always give me first priority, all of the time, in all of the cases, because how else will I know that I still have value? That’s abusive behaviour. Controlling, manipulative, coercive. That’s not me. And although I recognize that my fears are normal, and my feelings are valid, my behaviours can be better.

I can choose to behave in ways that are trusting, consensual, ethical. I can practice radical self-care by acknowledging my needs and speaking openly about them. I can practice radical compassion by putting my fear to the side and recognizing what my partners and metamours might need in a situation, by recognizing that I am not the only one who feels fear and insecurity. I can practice radical vulnerability by being willing to open up awkward conversations, and acknowledge my fears out loud so that I can be reassured and comforted. I can practice radical openness by talking about my failures and my successes, and accepting the imperfection of my poly practice.

Poly is hard for me. Poly is hard, period. So is monogamy. Relationships are hard.

Having a partner who was willing to model acting on principles while feeling fear has made it a lot easier, though.

They’re the coolest genderqueer person I know.

Cultural appropriation of food, questions

This was posted on my facebook wall, and is shared here with permission (thanks Joe and Linda!) and I’d like some help answering. Feel free to comment!

“TL;DR – Cultural Appropriation of food.
Hey Tiffany! Linda and I were talking this morning about cultural appropriation as she was wondering where it intersects with cultural foods. A Korean market and Japanese market have opened near to where we live so has helped instigate these thoughts. We couldn’t quite figure out all the nuances and I know posting on your wall often creates the liveliest of debates. Here are some things I was considering:

1) Cultural food is big-commerce in the western world (and anywhere people immigrate, it seems). Many immigrants and even Settler Canadians (thanks for the term, Tiffany) have opened restaurants to serve their cultural foods. However, this trend is arguably helped by challenges to find job or careers in old (white) boys clubs and other high-paying careers that are tied with power in the community. So is eating at these establishments helping those immigrants be successful in a unbalanced system OR is it needlessly supporting that unbalanced system, or both?

2) In the same vein, it may certainly be cultural appropriation if I went to a Japanese restaurant owned and operated by people who are not Japanese. I often favour Japanese owned establishments, but usually the choice is framed as the food will be better, or more authentic, if the owners are Japanese. Either way, it’s rare that I take time to really get to know the owners which might make frequenting the establishments more acceptable as being part of a larger community.

3) Then there is the whole food bastardizations (like Ginger Beef) which are Westernization of cultural food made more “appealing” to the Western palate. And walking that line are the ‘fusion’ cuisines that one could argue is paying homage or taking inspiration from international cuisines, but still irks me when, say, Wendy’s or Earl’s has a Thai chicken wrap.

4) On a more personal level, there is home cooking. Linda and I like to try our hand as making sushi at home. We do it because we like sushi and we tend to buy sushi-grade fish from Asian markets. It doesn’t feel problematic – but being privileged white people, perhaps we can’t see it.

Overall, I see it as a complex issue but I don’t see much discussion about it. I wonder if its due to food we eat not often being considered a social statement? Also, North American culture has access through immigration and shipping networks to such a wide variety of foods and it’s often painted as a great thing and I don’t recall seeing it framed as one of the huge privileges that our society enjoys.

When I try to think of ways to make a similar case like Halloween style cultural appropriation, I imagine the scenario where someone makes culturally significant foods (foods used in cultural rituals). And even worse if they served them at their Western wedding or birthday party. I see that as the worst case, but there is so much grey between that and having a rice course with dinner.

I would love to hear some thoughts on this, especially from people with immigrant relatives who might be closer to this then myself as a third generation Canadian mutt of various European descent and no particular ties to a culture outside of Canadian.”

Speakers Corner Calgary: Abortion Debate

I participated in the Speakers Corner Calgary “Abortion: Whose Human Right?” debate yesterday. This is the text of the speech that I gave.

***

I am pro-choice. By this, I mean that I strongly believe in free, legal, safe and easily-accessible abortions. I believe they should be available on demand to anyone who makes the choice to have one.

Not only cisgender women, whose gender expression is in alignment with the sex they were assigned at birth, but also anyone with a uterus, including trans men, non-binary individuals such as myself, and some intersex people are impacted by reproductive politics. We have an obligation to trust individuals to make the best decisions for their own bodies. And we have an obligation to treat individuals with uteruses with at least as much respect for bodily-autonomy as we would a corpse – meaning that we cannot demand that having a uterus obligates a person to donate their body to sustain another’s life. We do not make these demands even of our own dead – how cruel, hypocritical and unjust would we be to demand this of our living?

I am also a pleasure-positive feminist activist. Consent is at the foundation of my politics – I believe that consent must be given for anything that happens to our bodies, and I believe that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Consenting to kiss is not the same as consenting to sex, consenting to sex is not the same as consenting to be pregnant, and consenting to be pregnant is not the same as consenting to remain pregnant.

I believe our right to bodily autonomy includes the right to engage in whatever brings pleasure to the consenting adults involved. I believe that sex – the right to engage in it and the right to choose not to engage in it – is a fundamental right.

In order to create a consent-focused culture, we need to reduce the stigma attached to sex and sexuality.

We need to reduce the shame surrounding frank conversations about sexuality, and the violence and harm that results from that shame.

There are points on which I will never be able to find common ground with anti-choice rhetoric.

I believe that personhood begins at birth, and I recognize that the two sides of this debate will likely never see eye-to-eye on that question.

I also believe that individuals should not be shamed for seeking an abortion, no matter what their reasons for wanting an abortion are. Abortion as birth control is often held up as the inevitable result of free access to abortions, and some people would use it that way. I have no problem with that. People have elective surgeries all the time, and what they do with their bodies is up to them. Consent. Bodily-autonomy.

However, because I think that there are many more points on which common ground can be found, I want to focus on the potential bridges between seemingly insurmountable differences.

First, people on both sides of the abortion debate claim to want fewer unwanted pregnancies. For me, this is because as much as I believe an individual has the right to choose not to carry a child to term, I also believe that for many people it would be preferable to just not have to deal with it in the first place.

There are ways for us to work together to make that happen.

Comprehensive sexual education that is both queer and trans*-inclusive, free and easy access to a variety of effective contraception options, a concerted effort to stop rape and intimate partner violence – these are issues that we can work on together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions in those instances.[i]

A study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in October 2012 found that free, reliable birth control could prevent between 41 and 71 percent of abortions in the United States.[ii] The scientists found that access plus education was even more effective in reducing abortion rates than they had anticipated.

Current access to birth control, including more effective options such as IUDs and hormonal birth control, is often inaccessible to individuals who do not have medical coverage or financial privilege. Even less effective barrier methods are not always accessible, especially not for individuals who don’t know about organizations like the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, or some of the Alberta Health Services initiatives.

Further, our sexual education is woefully lacking. Not only do we not teach about consent and creating a culture of consent, many educational programs are cissexist and heteronormative, presenting a single definition of sex and gender that leaves many individuals unaware of their potential for pleasure AND for risk.

We need to recognize that trans* folks, binary and non-binary, have sex! We need to recognize that queer folks have sex, sometimes with people of multiple genders. We need to recognize that asexuality is real, and that our discussions of pleasure-positive politics must include asexual individuals, both those who do not have sex, and those on the asexual spectrum who engage in consensual sex with their partners. All of these things are real, all of them happen, all of them have the potential to result in unwanted pregnancies and a lack of awareness and education for these groups is incredibly harmful.

This is the most important way that our two sides can work together to reach a common goal of fewer unwanted pregnancies. By increasing education, increasing access to effective contraception, and reducing rape, we can put our efforts into work that will be effective for meeting both of our goals.

Second, people on both sides of the abortion debate claim to care for children. Though we disagree about when a fetus becomes a person, people on both sides claim to care for children.

When abortions become inaccessible, children suffer. Evidence of this is painfully obvious. In Romania, both abortion and contraception were banned in 1967, by the 70s and 80s the number of children in state-run care facilities was over 100 thousand. In one such institution, the mortality rate of the children was over 50%.[iii]

People who seek abortions either do not want, or cannot keep or care for the child they are carrying (many people who seek abortions already have children, and do just fine with them). There are a thousand thousand reasons a person might want or need an abortion, and the only one who can judge that reason is the individual themselves. However, regardless of the reason for wanting an abortion, the result of being forced to give birth with adequate access to resources is not good for either the parent or the child.

We can work together by working to reduce poverty, to increase access to education, health-care and social services, and making sure that the children who are currently in the world are given a real life.

Third, people on both sides of the abortion debate claim to care for the individuals who might seek abortions. My colleagues on the other side of this debate talk about the harm caused to an individual who has an abortion – primarily the emotional harm.

I want to talk about the harm the results from illegal abortions.

First, a simple fact – abortions will happen.

Abortions have been happening since pre-history, and they continue to happen even in countries where there are severe legal repurcussions.

So the question is not WILL abortions happen – the question is, HOW will abortions happen?

Legal abortions are among the safest medical procedures available. Complications from having a first trimester abortion are significantly less frequent and less serious than those associated with giving birth.[iv]

On the other hand, illegal abortions are extremely unsafe.

In countries where abortions are illegal, abortion is a leading cause of maternal death. And according to a 2005 World Health Organization report, over 68,000 women die each year, worldwide, from unsafe abortions.[v]

In El Salvador, for example, abortion is illegal and the laws are strictly enforced. A report by the Centre for Reproductive Rights found that “clothes hangers, iron bars, high doses of contraceptives, fertilizers, gastritis remedies, soapy water and caustic agents such as car battery acid” were used in clandestine abortions.[vi] There are individuals serving up to 30 years in jail for having an abortion, and these are the tools that they are using. So when I say that abortions will happen, I mean that abortions WILL happen.

And this is an issue that disproportionately impacts poor individuals. In El Salvador, wealthy individuals retain the “right to choose” because they can fly to locations where abortion is legal and accessible. But among the poor, this is not an option.

It’s easy to look at this and entertain the racist thought that we do better here in Canada. Yet it was not that long ago that Canadian women faced the same class and wealth-stratified access to abortions. And in Texas, where abortion clinics are being forced to close, there is increased risk for individuals who have to seek out illegal and unsafe street drugs sold as abortificants.[vii]

When we simply and uncritically vilify individuals who seek abortions, we do harm on multiple levels. We over-simplify an issue that is incredibly complex. The people who seek abortions are many and varied. They include parents who know they do not have the resources to care for another child, teenagers who know they are not ready for parenthood, victims of rape and intimate partner violence, individuals for whom a pregnancy would cause health risks, including mental, emotional, physical or financial well-being – some of the stories of abortion are heart-wrenching and emotional.

One of the people I admire most in the world had an abortion, and the story of how they came to their choice makes me so proud to know them – the amount of thought and care that went into the choice, the deliberation, the intention with which they chose to abort their pregnancy – these stories deserve to be told.

Other stories also deserve to be told. People who do not need to deliberate because it’s not a big deal for them – their abortions are just as valid and their stories just as real. People who use abortion as birth control, people who have five or fifteen abortions. Regardless of how a person chooses what happens inside their own body, that choice is theirs. It is their right to consent to whether they share their body with a fetus, or whether they choose not to.

This, then, seems like a point on which we cannot find common ground and yet I think that is unnecessarily gloomy. Because there are things we can do to increase the health and well-being of individuals who have uteruses. We can increase their access to social services and reduce poverty and class divisions so that more individuals who want to carry their pregnancy to term have the resources to do so. We can increase access to social services after birth, such as child support, so that pregnancies are less likely to drastically reduce an individual’s success in their job and their ability to support themselves. We can increase education and access to safe, effective contraception so that, again, there fewer unwanted pregnancies.

Even here, where it seems like an unbridgeable gap exists, there are ways that we can work together towards a common goal.

Finally, I want to talk about the language that we use when we talk about abortion.

Often we talk about abortion as a “woman’s” issue. It is not. As I mentioned earlier, trans men, some non-binary individuals and some intersex individuals also have uteruses and also require control over their reproductive lives. But also, and importantly – not all women have uteruses, or are reproductive. Trans women do not have uteruses and are women. Cisgender women who have had hysterectomies or gone through menopause or are infertile are still women.

The way that we talk about abortion is important. Often the discussion reduces women to their ability to bear children, and excludes from the conversation any women for whom that is not an issue.

How we define sex, and who we see as relevant has impact beyond the people who need abortions. Our discussions of abortion impact our perception of the full humanity and bodily autonomy and integrity of people who have uteruses. These discussions impact how we talk about sex, and whether we view it as a human right or something shameful. This debate impacts our thinking about rape and rape culture, and consent. Especially consent. If we begin to argue that consent is not relevant for people who have uteruses, that consent is not on-going, that we cannot change our minds and stop giving consent – think about the repercussions of that line of thought. Reproductive freedom, consent and bodily autonomy, comprehensive sexual education, the full humanity and bodily integrity of people on all points of the sex and gender spectrum – these things are not trivial and they are not, in my opinion, up for debate.