Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Opening Up

I first started becoming interested in non-monogamy about five years ago, for two very, very bad reasons: I wasn’t happy with the relationship I was in at the time, and someone new had begun flirting with me.

Too afraid to leave the relationship I was in (which I had convinced myself was the “right” relationship for me, one that would last forever) but unable to deny the fact that I was unhappy and needed something to change, I starting thinking that maybe there was just something wrong with me, that I was just wired differently and needed to love multiple people, that I could never be happy with just one.

Now, of course, I know that’s all rubbish. For me, at least. It was just a justification, for me, to place the problems of our relationship elsewhere, to chalk up my distancing myself from my boyfriend and our rapidly declining sex life to a need to be with other people.

While I was searching for validation of those justifications, I did a lot of online reading and picked up a few books as well (The Ethical Slut and Redefining Our Relatinonships). All of it did more to frustrate me than entice me, because so much of it was vague, contradictory, and infused with a new-agey spiritualism. Sometimes people seemed to agree with my thought that “poly is an orientation,” that some people just needed to have multiple partners in their lives. Other times they seemed approach non-monogamy as some sort of “advanced” relationship model, vastly superior to monogamy and even politically radical—thus, something that everyone should aspire to, not something that some folks need and others don’t.

I eventually gave up, but not after I had really sent that relationship on a nosedive. When I started dating my current partner, we talked a little about our experiences with or impressions of non-monogamy, and both of us indicated that we weren’t really interested in doing that. And for three years, I was totally happy with our monogamous relationship.

Then, about eight months ago, my partner brought up the issue again. I was completely surprised, but my initial reaction was one of excitement and happiness, not fear or concern. I immediately recognized that unlike what I’d done in my previous relationship, he was starting to think about non-monogamy again not because he secretly wanted out of our relationship but because he felt a sense of security with me, because he felt that we could now trust each other enough to do it right. But then, a couple of really bad bouts of insecurity and envy (mostly due to another woman he’d expressed an attraction to) left me totally unprepared to actually venture forward with talking about what that sort of relationship would actually look like for us. My partner dropped the issue entirely.

Now, I’m starting to reconsider, and we’ve started talking about it again. Or rather, talking about talking about it. (Sheesh.) My partner borrowed a copy of Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, with the idea that we’d both read it and then start out by discussing it. It’s fantastic, everything I wish I could have found five years ago. (It also helps that it’s extremely kink-friendly, to the point that I think a non-kinky person reading the book would probably be a little confused by how prevalent discussions of BDSM are in the book.) It lacks both the “the only real/good non-monogamy is polyamory” of The Ethical Slut and the gushing “non-monogamy is radical!” rhetoric of Redefining Our Relationships, providing a wealth of information of all kinds of non-monogamy styles, common problems people face, and the important questions to ask before opening up a relationship.

(More to come once I finish the book…)

Meanwhile, as for my specific fears around opening up my current relationship: I’m realizing that I could never be one of those people who simply says “I don’t want to know.” I not only want to know, I want to meet the person. Or at least, I want to know about them. Specifically, I need to be reassured of their flaws—any flaws—and weaknesses, so that they become human to me and not the “perfect match” for my partner that I know I would fear each and every one of them to be. That woman I mentioned above, the one I was so terrified by my partner’s attraction to? I’ve gotten to know her better since then, and guess what—that sense of intimidation, that fear, is completely gone. That isn’t to say that I feel a total lack of jealousy if I think about him fucking her, but that it isn’t overwhelming, as it once was. It’s really interesting to feel that change.

The “Bondage Awards”

Through Bitchy Jones, I stumbled onto the Bondage Awards website, and good god, is this a perfect example of the sort of sexist & heterosexist crap that makes it so fucking hard to defend BDSM when arguing with non-kinky feminists. I mean, to take the words of a certain radfem blogger, they’re making it too easy.

Take a look at that page. Does it give you any indication that not all bondage models are female, not all riggers and photographers are male, not all women are submissive, and OH YEAH not everyone is fucking straight? Nope.

Now, you’ll notice that on the home page there’s a post indicating that there have been a number of people writing in to him about the sexism/heterosexism issue. Here’s the response, summarized:

I didn’t intentionally make it sexist. I just looked through my photo collection and picked out some pictures I liked. Also, last year the awards got great feedback, and not one person suggested that gender neutrality was important. So let’s not talk about it any more and just have fun, because that’s what this is all about, right?

Sigh.

As Bitchy points out, probably next year they’ll just include a couple of busty women with whips and absurdly high-heeled boots and call that “gender equality.”

The thing is, after getting really upset about this last night, I came to the realization that this person’s website is actually just sort of sad. It’s an egotistic attempt to place himself (I’m guessing this is a single dude running the site) at the center of the bondage porn industry by working this annual “bondage award” thing up to be a well-recognized event. The stuff that makes me angry about the website is really no better or worse than pretty much any other fetish website out there. And that, really, is what I should be upset about.

Sex in our culture is so, so broken.

Crashing and Recovering

Okay, so I’ve had a few days now to actually sit back and start processing everything that happened on Saturday, and it isn’t all of it good. I’ve now heard from several people about some bad stuff that went down at the party (mostly involving inappropriate behavior / nonconsensual touching) and am actually sort of surprised that nothing worse happened. Folks in the Anarkink group have started talking (okay, emailing) about what was good and what we need to do better, and most of it has to do with being clearer on boundaries and such beforehand, keeping our invite list restricted, making sure people are monitoring scenes, checking people who are out of line, and providing safer sex supplies. All of which is good, and all of which is stuff I’m sure we would have done had we been planning a play party. Which we weren’t; we had planned a fundraiser party, a dance party that featured some performances and a spanking booth. We just hadn’t planned for the event turning into a play space, and weren’t prepared for what to do when it did happen. That said, I still think people did a really good job under the circumstances.

As soon as I let myself relax, after the party was over, I completely crashed both physically and mentally; I’m now fighting an awful cold and have spent the last three days since the party largely in bed or curled up on the couch under a blanket. I keep lapsing into crying fits that appear out of nowhere. The thought of any sort of responsibility, any task to accomplish, any project, fills me with renewed anxiety.

Honestly, it wasn’t so much the work involved with these events—though that did factor into it—as the emotional stress of, well, being out. For nine hours I sat with some stacks of zines and buttons and answered questions like “Anarkink? What’s that?” or “So what’s with the blue and black star?” I didn’t encounter any real drama, nor did I end up having real conversations with anyone about BDSM or why it’s important to talk about it. And when I noticed the two friends that I’m most scared of being out to walking around near where I was tabling, I stood up and pretended like I wasn’t tabling, but looking at zines at the table next to me. So in terms of really confronting my fears around being public about this sort of thing, I only made it about halfway. And I still felt completely fucking destroyed by it.

I know that it was all worth it. I now have a handful of friends that know about Anarkink and my involvement with it, so by extension that know (and are ostensibly okay with the fact) that I’m kinky. I helped make more people aware that Anarkink existed, which will hopefully bring more folks into the group, get a wider variety of faces and voices and perspectives, and get more ideas about what this group should and could become; ideally, this will also mean that we’ll have more people who can take over the organizational aspects of keeping the group going. And we also raised a couple hundred bucks to donate to the Long Haul Infoshop, our new meeting space, which should cover us for the next year.

But right now, it’s really hard for me to want to do any of this at all. We’re meeting again next Thursday, and I honestly don’t even know if I want to go. I was excited about the idea of starting up a small distro for kinky zines, and now I have little interest in it. I was even starting to consider contacting other people to help organize a KinkForAll in San Francisco, but after this event, I’m not sure I could handle it. I sort of want to just get back to having sex, in private, and just being happy with that.

I know in a week (or maybe even less) I’ll feel completely differently. But it’s going to take some recovery time.