Archive for the ‘Expanding Community’ Category

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Sabbatical for This Poly Am-bad-ass-ador

2012.December.12

I have never cared so much about an identity or a community as I do about polyamory. When I could still travel, I would seek out connections with polyamours in other towns and states because I simply could not get enough of hearing the subtle differences, tracing the rich experiences, anticipating the surprise connections each community had to offer. It is where I learned not only to love my over-communication style, but to share it with others to the betterment of all. When you view communication as a calling in life (as I do), it’s hard not to feel validated by this environment.

The downside, however, is that when you see communication as a calling, you lose the ability to see connection as anything other than a means to that end. Every conversation is an opportunity to network, to develop new language and glean new knowledge. In nonprofit spheres, you’re supposed to be able to describe your work in an “elevator speech” so that you may advertise your work with every passing acquaintance; even though I haven’t been a paid activist in years, I approach everything in life like an activist, and any activist who doesn’t learn to unwind must confront the threat of burnout sooner or later.

This time last year, as I became a full-time caregiver to the most important person in my life, it was my intention to work even harder on the North Texas Poly community so that it could be my safest space; I wanted to help it flourish in the hopes that as my time and energy shifted more toward caregiving, the community would continue under its own power and possibly even support me when the going would get real tough. I occasionally draw hope that this plot has succeeded as I see newer members stepping up and being more clever, more thoughtful, more patient than I could have been. But most days, I’m afraid I’m too tired to care. My life as a caregiver is still pretty easy, with new responsibilities coming on much more gradually than I had originally anticipated. This means I still have a lot of time to give to my hobbies, my relationships, and my self-care. Unfortunately, I cannot shed the layer of alertness that I carry with me at all hours as a caregiver, and I don’t always realize just how stressed or tired I am. It was only a few days ago that I realized I no longer have any hobbies, just passions (like this community).

Between my facilitation activities and my almost-constant online activism, being a poly am-bad-ass-ador is starting to look more like a wage job than a career. As our community has continued to grow, there have been more logistics to keep up with, more heated arguments to de-escalate, and less time to just sit and celebrate something wonderful with my community. But since the community has never exactly asked me to take on so much, if I want that light-heartedness back, I have to figure it out for myself (and what a great microcosm for learning about poly relationships, eh?).

If poly am-bad-ass-adorism has become my job, then Facebook has become my workplace, and a drab one at that. I sometimes have to remind myself to post something fun so I don’t get de-friended by all the friends who skip over the poly and/or activism posts. Once in a while, I even remember to have some fun there myself, but it’s an exception rather than a rule. Some day, I hope to examine the culture of social networking and identify just what exactly we can all do about tone, accessibility, and patience, but — this is the kind of stuff that goes through my head full-time whenever I’m online, and geez I just need a break!

On a less cerebral level, this community is no longer supporting my all-important goal of self-care. I figure I’m in for several years of caregiving, with stressors and responsibilities increasing each year (like parenting but in reverse), so being able to keep going is critical and anything that doesn’t directly support that role MUST support my self-care. My life has gotten incredibly boring, and I cherish it. This community has offered me brilliant moments of insight, but the harder I depend on those moments, the rarer they come. Two of my three local partners have already left this community because they, themselves, felt weighed down by tension and shallow reflection. With their withdrawal, I have increasingly found myself attending community events looking to connect but ultimately wishing I just had a quiet night in with my chosen family instead. I love taking care of others, but at this time I find that taking care of my immediate loved ones meets this need without having to run out and be a poly superhero for everyone else’s relationships. Don’t get me wrong: I took that role on gladly, and I may do so again one day, but for now I’m going to focus on the hyper-local and hope that others will step up to support the community in my absence.

So what is a sabbatical, anyway? Well, it usually comes up in academia (though activists have them too). It basically means someone has been working very hard on everything they have to do and they’ve decided to take a break, work on what they WANT to do for a while, before they get completely burned out. In my case, I’ve committed to at least a month, probably longer. Starting somewhere between Solstice (December 21) and New Year’s Day, I intend to spend a full thirty days without checking in on the local community online or attending any poly events. Only after the initial thirty days ends will I consider whether to continue the sabbatical or return to the community. During that time, I will essentially ignore the community (I don’t feel ready to remove myself from the Facebook group, though I would understand if the other admins want me to rescind my  responsibilities there); events that I have heretofore organized will either be picked up by other folks or they will not happen. I may or may not read other poly resources, share stuff on my wall, or look for non-poly facilitation opportunities. If I receive private messages asking for advice, I will respond (though not urgently), but any community issues will be forwarded to other admins. I still have a couple of other projects that may keep me active on Facebook, but I suspect I will be using it differently as well. Until the sabbatical begins, I am available to discuss community matters in moderation.

I love this community. I have given a lot of thought and heart to see it thrive, and walking away will not be easy. But if this community, or I, can continue to thrive, we must know where it ends and where I begin… and vice versa. As always, I wish you all the strength you don’t know you have and all the patience you don’t know you need. Forget about me and go love more.

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Dallas Slutwalk: 1 Year Later

2012.March.28

In April of 2011, Dallas was one of the first major cities to hold its own slutwalk after a Toronto official warned young women not to dress like a “slut” if they didn’t want to be raped. Dozens of cities around the world joined the movement in ensuing months, but where is that movement now?

A lot has happened in the last 11 months. Some say there is a “war on women”. Rush Limbaugh is losing sponsors but gaining listeners after calling a young law student a slut for defending public support for birth control before Congress. Texas is sacrificing federal funding for women’s healthcare over abortion policies.

There have been victories for sex-positivity also: figures as diametrically opposed as Dan Savage and Newt Gingrich are getting people talking about monogamy, open relationships, and the boundaries of commitment. Innovations and careful marketing are bringing condoms and sex toys further out of the shadows. Even school districts in the most sex-negative parts of the country are abandoning abstinence-only programs for more comprehensive sex ed.

In the aftermath of last year’s event, we also had to recognize two very different tracks of slut-walkers: those who wanted to oppose the victim-blaming mentality that sparked the very first SlutWalk, and a subset who also self-identified as sluts (or their allies) and wanted to question whether sluthood itself had to be a bad thing. It was hard, it was complicated, and a lot of good conversations started but didn’t get very far.

Let’s pick up the conversation where we left off. Is it time for another SlutWalk? Or is there another way to gather up the momentum from last year and propel sexuality forward? Is there a way we can reconcile the two tracks or must we choose one to move forward?

We’re looking for supporters of last year’s SlutWalk and other local activists to come together and talk about these issues. We have to move fast: the anniversary is April 23rd, and April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We’d like to have a face-to-face discussion very soon and decide what the next step will be in time to commemorate last year’s walk.

Last year, Dallas Slutwalk was organized from scratch by one determined woman who is currently wrapped up in the joys of new motherhood. I’ve volunteered to help her get some folks together for a conversation about how best to follow-up last year’s successful walk, at which point I’d love to hand it off to a group of dedicated women who can take it places I can’t.

To get involved in the planning and especially the pondering, please join us on Facebook or Meetup, help us figure out a time and place, and plan to bring a friend.

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Notes from the Road: Church vs. Church

2011.February.1

Imagine my surprise when my friends in Denver invited me to attend the local Goth club. Not the invitation itself, but the destination: a Goth club called “The Church”. That’s funny, we have one of those in Dallas, too.

So, of course I have to write a comparison and contrast. It’s pretty much required of we suckers who got English degrees (cc: Princeton from Avenue Q).

Now, I’m not going to declare one or the other to be the definitive Church experience (especially since the Dallas Church freely admits to being “inspired” by another club in Miami), nor am I going to delve into a hundred years of city records to parse out the venues’ minute histories, but I think a quick look could be revealing.

Commonalities

Aside from the obvious (name, resonant playlists, sustained devotion to a dying faction of freakdom), both Churches host primarily on Sunday nights, with a smattering of special events on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Both have big stages, lights and videos, and excellent sound systems primed to pump the acerbic basslines of industrial and a thousand offshoots directly into your cardiac muscles. They laugh in the faces of high school segregation by hosting 80s music in special rooms. Each has been around for over a decade and are facing upstart competitors on alternate nights (Dallas has Cafe Excuses’ Panoptikon, Denver has The Shelter), and while the old guards reign the old venues in both towns, the newer clubs have been more successful in drawing newer, younger regulars (more on that later).

The Scene…

Dallas’ Church is dark, loud, and successfully moody. Housed in a former trolley repair shop and dinner theater, every surface across four rooms is black and/or velvety – unless it’s metallic, like the club’s famous and fingerprint-y stripper pole. Equally important are the two wood-planked patios, which offer respite from the crowd for smoker and non-smoker alike. (I’ve heard rumors that Joan Jett & the Blackhearts shot the video for “I Love Rock & Roll” here; I’ve watched it a half-dozen times and I’m more inclined to believe it was shot at Gilley’s or somewhere in Deep Ellum – if in Dallas at all.)

Dancing is the main attraction; regulars go to the uppermost platforms (see above re: stripper pole) to show off, the stage to meet people, and the pit to move. And yet everything about this Church is built on a foundational control of visibility; you come to watch, to be watched, or to disappear entirely (if this last part makes no sense, you have probably never experienced the bittersweet individuality of being too beautiful, too hideous, or too bodily-modified to blend in anywhere but a Goth club). Newbies and voyeurs linger along the outer railing, or in the cushy chairs behind. Each patron of the Dallas Church gets to decide for zirself whether to be a wallflower or a spectacle, and there is no expectation that either choice is a lifetime commitment. To emphasize this freedom all the more, the main room has an upstairs balcony with a full view of the stage and dancefloor and just enough lighting for the bouncers to make sure no one is actually having sex on the decadent velvet armchairs.

An outlying fixture through the death and gentrified rebirth of Deep Ellum, The Church (Dallas) recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. This Church rewards loyalty and is rewarded in kind. Regulars can buy dogtags that earn the wearer free admission on Thursday nights (when the Goth angle is downplayed and the music and looks focus more on hard industrial) and discounts to other events, and for many Church-goers, the question is never whether one will return, but when.

The first thing you notice about Denver’s Church is – holy guyliner, Gothman! – it’s located in an actual, honest-to-weirdness, goddamned stone-and-mortar church!

I’ll let that soak in.

Legend has it that the Saint Mark’s Parish Church was an active parish until a priest committed suicide there (I don’t want to meet the Goth whose pants don’t cream at the thought of shuffling steel-toes across such un-hallowed grounds). And while the temptation is probably there to revamp the building (dig a moat, put in more ornate crosses, and paint it black), the exterior is pretty much untouched from its days as a house of God (it will remain that way, thanks to the church’s 1975 placement on the National Register of Historic Places). It is only at night – when club lights escape through the stained glass and thuddy basslines demand your attention – that its true, nefarious purpose is apparent.

Once inside, it’s hard to just think of Denver’s Church as a club. Every detail seems to remind one of the importance of one’s environment, and with good reason. It’s a club in a fucking church. Unfortunately, the crowd on the night I visited was too small to justify opening the main room – the big, church-iest hall, where once were pews and hymnals and Easter pageants and big metal collection plates – but that big empty space was just visible enough to further enhance the atmosphere, like it was a forbidden hallway to some dark lord’s throne room and only the most malevolent dark minions were allowed.

You could spend an entire night examining the little nooks and crannies, gasping at the Goth-y-ness of it all, and walk away satisfied at the end of your night. On a quiet night like the one I attended, hell, that might be the best idea. Without a lot of people to watch, one can be forgiven for walking the walls for deeper and deeper appreciation, until you finally decided to touch each brick tenderly and ask how it feels to be a mindfuck.

So What About the Congregation…

While I know of no holy suicides at Dallas’ Church, plenty of messed up people and events have passed through on their way to oblivion – and I mean that in the best way possible. My first time, a regular showed me around; she’d had to pick WHICH Gothic outfit to wear, and everyone knew her by her profile name on the Church’s website. That summer night back in ’05, even the rooftop patio was crowded, and I felt overwhelmed and underdressed by all of the costumes and the flaunting – oh, the flaunting! Of skin! Of personality! Of deviance! Of rubber and leather and metal (or cheap approximations thereof)!

The legendary Sunday night freakshows managed to convene dark horse DIYers, up-and-coming fetish models and photographers, mischievous barely-legals who worked last-minute Wal-Mart lingerie purchases like they were stomping a Parisian catwalk, and lurkers of all ages who redrew the line between creepy and sexy before Edward Cullen was a gleam in Stephanie Meyer’s eye. Innocent that I was at the time, my personal Virgil had to drag me into the women’s room to show me how unimportant was gender here – thanks to the cadre of drag queens, transvestites, and royal genderfucks who held court there.

It was all so fucking hot. And while the best days of Dallas’ Church were behind it before I’d ever set foot inside, it is still the place to go for events that belong in Dallas (but not anywhere visible in Dallas). The Church regularly hosts open fetish parties ranging from latex fashion shows to baby’s first spanking bench; concerts featuring industrial anti-heroes of Europe, the mid-’90s, and, well, the late ’90s; and old-guard reunions for early loyalists who want to break out the trip pants and the steel corset to scare off some errant frat-boys or tell out-of-towners about the good ol’ days.

Denver’s Church offered a superficially similar experience: I danced a bit, I stepped out on the smokers’ patio for a phone call, I had a drink and went to the restroom… but it just never quite got to feeling like a club. Amplified, it could have felt like anything from a loud Christian youth lock-in to a stealth rave, but everyone was just too damned chill. People were sexy, perhaps even sexier than in Dallas, but they were not as sexual. I couldn’t help thinking of when Denver DJ Fetish Dolly came to Panoptikon (Dallas’ other Goth club) few years back: she wore fabulous latex that did all the work, played good (not great) music, and flirted across the dance floor without the slightest indication of what she might do if someone were to flirt back. I wondered then what she would have thought of the ladies room at Dallas’ Church; these days I wonder how she’d fair at the hands of one of Dallas’ expert sadists.

And while the Denver folks probably had more square yards of black textile than a Dallas crowd twice as large, that was as deep as the Goth went. No one was particularly lascivious. No one was creepy. There weren’t huge groups to join or avoid. I didn’t feel like a voyeur, here; I felt like a 16-year-old attending my first Teen Night, trying not to be disappointed that THIS was what all the fuss had been all about.

Worshipping Online

That Goth communities have endured this long is, in large part, thanks to the concurrent development of online networking, and few businesses of leisure have ever milked that opportunity as brilliantly as Dallas’ Church. Since before there was Facebook, or even MySpace, The (Dallas) Church’s three websites offered a community where DFW’s lost young adults could grow from bad poets to bad dancers to bad-asses who, at long last, know the strength of numbers – the strength of belonging – and also might happen to make their own leather goods.

The homepage boosts information, events, and highlights content from sister sites. For visitors of all stripes who go to see or be seen, there’s The Church Pictures, which posts pictures from special events and other nights. Dallas’ Church has long capitalized on their voyeuristic allure by welcoming professional photographers and local models at every event, stamping their pics for credited sharing, and encouraging Church-goes to share their own. Before the advent of Facebook, hard-core fiends went to The Church Boards, a third website where even the most sporadic visitor could feel like a regular  (socializing is easier to manage typing to a screen than shouting into the darkness).

Although The Boards appear to have fallen, the Facebook page is active, updated, and well-administered. Dallas’ Church has always stayed at the forefront of online social networking, luring newcomers via MySpace, Facebook, and even Twitter, while avoiding niche sites like Foursquare and LinkedIn that are, frankly, irrelevant. Somehow, the club rarely panders too hard, yet it maintains a strong online profile. And while most of the Dallas fetish community might not be in regular attendance, they do follow the local Church on Fetlife and can attend kink-themed events without embarrassment or irony. (An opposite cross-over posture is maintained by Dallas’ thriving fetish model community, most of whom are only kinky when the camera is on but know better than to bite the hand that feeds them.)

As for Denver’s Church… um, they have a Facebook, I think? One that, despite having three times as many fans as the Dallas page (ooo, dems is fightin’ words!), exhibits only a minimal online presence. Seriously, I did an online search for “Church Goth club”. Out of the first 10 links, 6 are for Dallas, 2 are for Denver (none of them an official homepage), 1 is for yet another “Church” in Ohio, and the last is to SecondLife. Need I go on? No wonder there was no sense of community…

Deviation from Deviance

Despite its infamy, Dallas’ Church has experienced a steady decline in attendance for about as long as I’ve been old enough to attend. The O.G. scene (Original Goths, or at least “original” within my lifetime) got older and had to move on when work got tiring, babysitters wouldn’t work Sunday nights, and the clothes at Hot Topic just didn’t seem to fit any longer (sometimes figuratively, sometimes horizontally). It didn’t help that Deep Ellum was crashing and burning under the willful oversight of late ’90s and early ’00s City Hall.

But the thing about anachronistic subcultures: eventually, they simply fade away. It is a credit to the fetish, burlesque, and even steampunk aftershocks that Dallas’ Church still gets its two nights a week; Friday and Saturday nights, the building is known as The Lizard Lounge, a decidedly non-alternative club predating (and technically operating) The Church and catering to kids who would have gone Greek if they hadn’t gone to community college. The more The Church loses its infamy, the more these heretical brats show up on the wrong night, degrading the once-proud costumes of black, royal purple, and red wine with just a few too many white polo shirts and (Goth forbid!) ballcaps.

In Denver, I didn’t have to step into the swank (and empty) cigar lounge and eye the (brilliantly idiosyncratic) sushi bar on ground level to suspect the same thing might be happening there. But I suspect these quirks make sense to folks in Denver, and there are definitely some upsides. The Church in Denver is only ever The Church; there are no aliases, no frat nights, no Invasions of School Girls that I can tell (all fishnets aside, Dallas, there’s nothing Gothic about plaid skirts when their invasion is timed perfectly with Spring Break). Denver’s Church gets concerts in the great hall that stretch the boundaries of “Gothic/industrial” to include even rap; this probably says less about Denver’s Goth community than it does about Denver’s entire population, which is generally more laid back, homogeneous, and Caucasian than is Dallas’.

The fact of the matter is, Denver’s Church has everything it needs to throw a good party – namely, a smaller prevalence of white ballcaps.

In Summary (A Slow Night…)

I wish I’d had more than one brief night to draw from in writing about Denver, but little things tell a lot. The setting is incomparable, but that can only go so far. I get the sense there’s room for more interesting people – and therefor more potential for a resurgence – in Denver. Dallas appears to have the better crowd, but the well of black gold is nearly exhausted, and their absence just makes slow nights more painful. A slow night in Denver would probably just mean more room to dance and a better chance of hearing your friends, while a slow night in Dallas could mean a run-in with a drunk rich kid or a decidedly underwhelming visual adventure.

What I’d really like to see is a Goth-exchange program; just once, let’s take a busload of Dallas freaks up and invade Denver’s Church for the greatest night Goth America has ever seen.

And then, when we get home, let’s all bury the NIN T-shirts, give leather back to the S&M community, and start creating some new ways to access the darkness of it all so the up-and-coming moody teenagers have something to aspire toward that is more original, authentic, and revolutionary than sparkly vampires and girls who only make out with girls when their boyfriends are watching.

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Education: Opportunity or Right?

2010.May.21

[Editor’s Note: In acknowledgment that I take too long between posts to keep this blog lively, I have invited a couple of friends to post here as well. Our beliefs overlap somewhat but I value their different perspectives and look forward to what they will bring this page. Don’t hesitate to let them know you like them more!–QT]

Contributed by JohnCLeonard

In talking with some of my more libertarian Internet acquaintances here recently, the subject fell on whether or not everyone in the country has an equal opportunity to “make something of themselves”. It was more than a little disturbing to me to hear these people, primarily white males, argue that the only cause of poverty is laziness. Their response to my suggestions that this simply was not the case, especially in regards to education, was to invoke “equality of opportunity” vs “equality of results”.  As the debate continued, it became more and more clear to me that the people I was debating with considered education to be an opportunity and not a right.

What’s the difference? You can choose not to exercise an opportunity or not to exercise a right. There’s still a clear choice involved. However, an opportunity only exists for a finite time while a right presumably exists throughout your entire lifetime. So is education a right or an opportunity in this country? The laws that ensure that everyone has access to public schools all treat an education as one of the basic rights that every United States Citizen and resident should have access to.

The ability of our children to receive an education is one of the things that has set our country apart over the years. It’s possibly the most important reason that the United States has become one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Why did we gain that advantage? Because we treat education as a right.

That treatment leads me into the point that I was trying to get across to my acquaintances: an inequality in available education is an inequality of opportunity. Without a solid foundation to build on, you either go sideways or down. There is no up. There is no amount of hard work or skimping that can make up for that inequality. But where does this inequality lie? It’s most prevalent in areas of extreme poverty. You know, the kind of poverty that you can still taste on a person even years after they’ve managed to pull themselves out of it. The same sort of tenacity that I saw in my grandparents who survived the Great Depression.

For a lot of people in this country, every day is their Great Depression. I’m not talking about out of work stockbrokers, insurance actuaries, bankers, or that ilk. I’m talking about Kentucky coal miners and the inner city kids with the mom that works three waitress jobs just to afford a roach-infested firetrap that’s too hot and too cold in the wrong seasons. I’m talking about the sons and daughters of family farmers (the few that haven’t been put out of business by corporate agriculture).

People can’t help but be born into these situations. The parents don’t have access to good medical care, let alone cheap and effective contraception (or they’re too religious to use it). They don’t have access to good education, either, as it’s very likely that their own parents were in the very same situation.

Education in general has degraded over the years, but most especially so in the areas where poverty is rampant. The communities can’t afford to pay for good teachers, so they get the ones that can’t get/keep jobs anywhere else. Then the government saddles them with NCLB, and the whole thing becomes a game of “let’s teach the kids how to fill in ovals” rather than an education that teaches them how to use all the rights they’re given responsibly or even how to actually read, write, and do basic arithmetic.

If we remember that education is what put our nation in the lead for so many years, then why do we now, in this increasingly scientific and technical world, quibble about whether or not it’s a right? Without an education, there is no way to function as a productive member of modern society. That, in my opinion, makes it a right we can no longer afford to think of as an opportunity. Sure, some people may not choose to exercise their right. We don’t even force people to vote in this country, and really, that ties back into education as well because this country was founded on the principals of an educated and well-informed electorate.

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Creating Change Tangent 1: Microcosms

2010.March.7

[This is actually my third entry on Creating Change, but the second entry was far more personal than political and I did not share it as widely.]

Are our desires microcosms for the politics, or are politics a macrocosm for our desires?

While exploring my own fear of desire in my last writing, I wandered into a ramble about gender dynamics for those of us who are mostly hetero, sympathetic to feminism, and complete chickenshit. I briefly broached the subject of how bad I am at approaching someone pursuant to dating, but I left out something equally important: I’m just as bad at turning someone down.

Fortunately, I am rarely approached by women or men, so it’s not a problem I have to deal with often–but it is a problem I should be happy to have. I love it when a woman makes the first move–I consider myself a feminist and a coward in this regard. And as for men… well, my desire is rather undeveloped there–not so much new as untested–and it might help to have someone else leading… But since I get most of my desires met by women, it’s just easier to focus on them, isn’t it?

Ah, the slippery slope of polysexuality

No wonder some queer communities are getting frustrated with the rise in “pansexual” events. It may be more okay for people to acknowledge and indulge their same-sex curiosities these days than in the past, but it’s still a hell of a lot easier to just focus on the stronger and/or more socially acceptable end of the spectrum, so many people (and I include myself in this) do. Instead of liberating queer and queer-friendly spaces that build bridges through sexy fun, pansexual events are increasingly flagging into a realm for self-segregation. These spaces can quickly become mostly hetero-normative, overrun with heteroflexible girls giggling their way through same-sex exhibitionism, the boyfriends they’ll be fucking later–in private–standing as far from the other dudes as possible, and a handful of late-coming queers standing around the edges, awkwardly looking for the real action. [I’ve been following a deep conversation on this topic on FetLife, but if anyone knows of another forum that doesn’t require a login, I hope you’ll share a link with me.]

This encroachment hinges strongly with the complicated struggle between queer communities (yes, there are more than one!) over the prominence of sexual liberation within the political movement for equal rights. My interest in promoting politically-charged sexual freedom has long made me feel isolated in hetero communities (even before my self-identification began to shift). As long as you’re not hurting someone (yes, I mean minors, animals, and people who have not given you clear consent), I don’t see why anything should be out of the realm of negotiation.

To some extent, I imagine it was the marginalization of gay communities in the past that encouraged their members to explore and embrace less standard forms of sexual expression–for that alone, even french vanilla heteros should be donating to LGBT causes in droves. Once you’ve created a safe, comfortable niche outside the mainstream, why not expand it? But now that conservatives have successfully re-framed the political focal point to the very specific and contentious notion of gay marriage, gay communities are facing an identity crisis. Social moderates and even many liberals are quite comfortable lobbying for gay votes with promises that gays will be able to marry! Some day. Or at least, um, unite civilly. You know, as long as they talk about love, but never sex. And leave the trans people at home. And there’s only two at a time.

To be sure, there are people in the gay community who are just as monogamous and vanilla and gender-normative as your grandparents on their fiftieth wedding anniversary (if they made it that long before death or the degradation of the institution of marriage got to them first)–and it’s a positive thing that the rest of the country is seeing that these people exist. But there are fears that if this group gets what it wants politically without bringing along at least some broader notion of sexual liberation, the rest of the communities will end up with an even further uphill struggle for visibility, respect, and political power.

A couple years ago in D.C., activists in other campaigns were promoting the notion of a broader “human rights initiative” to promote progress for all people by shifting our attitudes on what it inherently means to be human (I’ll give away the ending in as few words as possible: participatory self-articulation). Right now, most movements for political equality are fighting a war of attrition for the members of that one group to gain exceptional acceptance: “We’re okay. We’re just like you, except that one thing. We’ve been contributing for generations, you just weren’t ready to acknowledge it. Let us prove that the one thing doesn’t really matter any more and then you can let us in!” And the unspoken oath of assimilation, “We promise to be just as discriminating as the last group.” I think class is the most obvious example (volumes have been written about how the bourgeois and the elite trade places over political cycles without class values really shifting much), but there are also resonant patterns in race, education, immigration, partisanship–pretty much any demographic box any politician might ask you to check.

Fighting for the right to assimilate, no matter how staunch one’s terms (even fighting for gay marriage carries with it expectations for some adjustment to hetero-normative laws on discrimination, obscenity, and sex practices), is not the same thing as promoting a human rights initiative. The former benefits only the people explicitly implicated, and can actually create new forms of discrimination against those who complicate the assimilation. Those who blur the lines that are comfortably overcome are vulnerable to exile after assimilation. For example, while Black Americans have made huge strides in legal and cultural acceptance since the Civil Rights Era, Black/White bi-racial people are still often overlooked or treated differently by both communities, since they don’t fit into either side of the resultant racial truce. Similarly, while queer communities have yet to attain such a “truce”, they are at great risk of leaving behind bisexual people (who could “pass” more easily, but at the cost of having their identity even more debated and allegiance more questioned by both poles), to say nothing of trans and other gender-non-conforming (GNC) people.

Envision the eventual orientation truce treaty as an assimilation waiting area; a sign that reads “Mainstream acceptance through this door!” hovers over two lines: a fast-track if you’re hetero, a slower-but-still moving line for gays and lesbians. Do bisexuals have to choose to get in? Do they have to pretend to be one or the other? For how long? And people who are uncomfortable with their external sex–if and when they can get into the gender acceptance waiting area, will they be able to change lines between “male” and “female” as they transition? Will they be welcomed in the line they choose? Will they forever have to sacrifice any of the joys of androgyny or genderfluidity?

The human rights initiative necessarily leave no one behind. You teach yourself and others how to support the right of every individual to define zirself. Instead of pulling individuals or small groups out of the margins, you focus on shifting the margins–the paradigms behind their marginalization– that put them there in the first place.

It is easy to sell out our allies by working for exceptional acceptance instead of striving toward a paradigm shift. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but between my politics and my desire, I know that I am much more likely to sell out my desires. Values, left inactive, amount to hypocrisy, while desires, left inactive, are supposed to be a sign of responsibility and even respectability. That’s why so few American politicians can survive a sex scandal. We’re not supposed to respect someone whose desires aren’t in complete check at all times, no matter how many times we ourselves have succumbed to less than ideal temptations.

Vanilla, heterosexual, monogamous, love-driven desire focused on people you already know may just be more respectable, but when you pick the fastest line out of convenience, you will miss meeting the interesting people on the other side. You miss the fuller experience of knowing yourself, of having your desires understood, fulfilled, and, yes, respected by others, and of creating new paths where others might follow while defining the most important label of all.

“Me.”

I contend it is a disservice to any authentic movement to be anything less. Is this not integral to the activist’s credo to “Be the change you want to see in the world?”

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Everything I Know about Desire I Learned from Politics

2010.February.10

[First in a series of Creating Change follow-ups…]

It’s only natural that the scope of my desires should expand as I am feeling more politically active than at any time since I left D.C. Both inclinations were squelched during my time in college, then redefined as I worked for social justice in Washington. By the time I left that job–that life–it was because I was as sickened by my own acting out against monogamy as by the self-righteous gridlock down on Capitol Hill. I learned “transparency” as a political term before I applied it to my relationships, and I learned “polyamory” from a political mentor long before I had embraced the concept of having multiple (even conflicting) political loyalties.

It was maintaining the politics and sex I already had that took me to D.C., but it was searching for the politics and sex I wanted that brought me back to Texas. In the four years since, I have found the sex I want, found the words I need, found the love I deserve, mostly while acting like politics was not pivotal to my being. When I was hired on by a campaign, I did not tell my employers that I was poly or sex-positive or a former condom-slinger, even though they were openly gay and (rumor has it) had at one time run a “novelty” shop themselves.

Campaigning helped me feel connected to politics again–to the extent that I could considering how annoyed I get by political parties, even (especially?) while working within one–but this time sex became secondary. Politics became a convenient excuse to resign myself (yet again) from confronting tough questions about my fulfillment (what would those sweet little old ladies for Obama think?). Only in 2009, after the elections were out of my purview, could I once again take up dating in earnest. I had many prospects in mind, but I kept politics out of my sex and vice versa.

After attempting a political hiatus for the year, fate drew me back in as an old friend got bitten by the activist bug himself and started calling on me for fledgling advice while organizing for LGBT equality. I was honored at the chance to be useful and to strengthen my role as an ally, but I consciously remained in the shadows. I was straight, and this was clearly a place where I should have as little input as possible–it had to be community-led, I told myself. I helped my friend get on his feet as an organizer, attended a few marches, and accepted (without being told) that I had to be a silent partner because I didn’t sleep with men.

2009 was the Year of Queer, though, because even as I was scaling back involvement with my friend’s organizing, I was trying to be more active in preparing the upcoming Creating Change conference, to be held in Dallas. Creating Change had been pivotal to my time in D.C.: I had made some of my first contacts around the conference, did some of my best outreach, and forged important friendships–without having ever attended. Concurrently, the mentor who had first taught me about poly fell in love at Creating Change and expanded my fly-on-the-wall education by sharing tidbits of the courtship.

By 2009, four years after I had last seen her, that mentor was working and facilitating for the conference, so I had to get involved if only for the chance to catch up. I joined the host committee and helped them build an outreach database, but I forswore sending any communications myself. “I’m straight, so it wouldn’t be authentic.”

If there’s a third leg on which my desire now stands, it is community. I joined the DFW Poly group early last year and have always found it to be supportive, but my later encounters with the Austin Poly group were nothing short of empowering. There were large, multi-layered poly families with integrated childcare and unashamed sex parties and political awareness–and not from divergent corners, but overlapping, integrated, enthatched, with roots throughout a broad and active community. Lovers old and new gave me the strength to go places I wasn’t sure I belonged and seek out my own niche. I was safely and patiently invited into a relationship that blurred those clearly defined boundaries of straightness further. I had by this time started calling myself “heteroflexible”, but it seemed woefully understated. Who knew that I was so dependent on labels? Standing in so many gray areas had me at a complete loss for self-identification.

As 2010 began, with Creating Change and other political opportunities dominating the horizon, I was struggling with relationship structures and–more importantly–with my tendency to create them unnecessarily. I recognized in myself a fear of freedom that had been squelched by focusing on more formal relationships rather than untethered connections (even as I knew I craved both). I stopped worrying about how others would see me (including my political employers and even my own partners) and resolved not to try to turn every connection into something that is deep and emotional in a mono(gamy)-normative way.  Most of my ongoing relationships thrived, and more time became available to explore. My eyes were wide to all the new possibilities, and I celebrated many of them over a timely weekend in Austin.

Back home, I was invited to work another campaign, solidifying the role of politics in this year once again–but first I was going to Creating Change. You’d think with all these affirmations flying left and right, I would have been relaxed and open to anything, but when I entered the Sexual Liberation Institute on the conference’s second day, I was a wreck. I was set off by mere questions of identifying desire and almost cried when another terror-struck attendee spoke on the malleability of words. The mentor mentioned above was facilitating, but I forced myself to focus inward, sit through everything patiently, and to deal with it alone or with the strangers around me rather than count on her for shortcuts.

Halfway through the morning, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to lunch, but by the end of the day I didn’t want to leave. I liken the experience to being a hard-boiled egg whose shell was cracked, cleared away, and then reconstructed. It was the cracking that was most terrifying, the clearing that was most nourishing, and the reconstruction that was least inhibiting. It still took a few days for me to feel comfortable being myself at the conference, but it was always about how I saw myself, not how I saw others or how they saw me. It was one of the safest spaces I have ever known, which only encouraged me to further confront my own ambivalences.

Embracing the term “Questioning” as not only encapsulating the moment but perhaps also identifying the path ahead, I discovered a lot about my desires each day. I look forward to writing more about them somewhere down the line, but for now, I need only add this:

The more comfortable I felt with my own sexuality/orientation/expression (however ill-defined), the more open I was to the political moment happening all around me. My desires, embraced, translated into clearer thinking, better planning, and exponential rejuvenation of my writing, my relationships, and my dedication to understanding, inside and outside the political sphere.

Talk about transformative…

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Did I Bury the Lead?

2009.February.28

In my earlier entry about Birmingham, I skimmed over an important detail that I would like to revisit: the moment I cried.

It was in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, in the second room after the film introduction. There were tall glass panels, free-standing like a small crowd in a wide room with high ceilings. Each panel had been laser-etched with full-bodied portraits: people of various ages and races in uniforms for several vocations or lifestyles. It was very idealistic, with everyone smiling and comfortable with his or her panel standing alongside another panel with someone of another color and background – probably bordering on cheesy, but I responded well, I was all smiles, just like the etching of the little black girl carrying her lunchbox and dressed for school.

After meandering through the twenty or so panels, I emerged on the other side of the room to see a large wood and glass cabinet set in stark contrast to the rest of the room. Inside hung a full set of Klan robes, alongside a small, rope-bound cross, ready for burning.

How could they include this? I asked myself. How could they put this on display? How dare they?

Instantly, the answer poured from my face – hot, painful tears that shamed me and shamed my passivity through the earlier exhibits. I had to walk away, lean against a wall, so that my uncontrollable sobs would not disrupt the experience of others. I have never shied away from crying except when there was an audience, and an audience of strangers who were likely having a very different experience only made me more ashamed, simultaneously of my tears and of their lack of them. I didn’t even know why I was crying!

A young Black man came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder. He reminded me that we had come a long way and offered me a hug. My companion came over and stood with me until I was ready to move on. We went at separate paces, and I’m afraid I wasn’t there when her composure was later lost over the choice parents faced between getting their children a better education and saving their lives. The rest of the exhibits were very vivid, very informative, but I worked through them, taking notes and scuttling closer to the gift shop.

It wasn’t until after we had left that I was able to piece together the thoughts that had set me off. There were plenty of violent events covered in the museum, there were artifacts and scenes painted all-too vividly, and there were moving biographies and tributes to heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, but none of these had stirred the guttural sadness that the robes had. What had overcome my jaded, learned, untouchable stance of observation? My reflections led me to think about context. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m too liberal, but I can understand (though not justify) the actions of an individual. Every individual has stories, and relationships, and complicating factors that can lead to a single instance of bad judgment or even divert them permanently toward a life of violence and antipathy.

What bothered me about the robes was their power of community. Such power does not come overnight, and it doesn’t come without permission. The acts of the Ku Klux Klan were accepted and congratulated by Whites throughout the South as a backlash against those events we now celebrate as “progress”. Then there’s all the half-assers… for every community that actively embraced the Klan, how many more were there who passively supported it, tolerated it, or kept their discomfort to themselves? Yes, I can wrap my brain around just about any action committed by an individual in a particular circumstance, but I have no ability (or desire) to comprehend broad, successful movements of hatred and violence.

Believe it or not, it is just such communities whom I wish to describe in my upcoming book. But I’m not ready to say too much about that here.

Why did I not tell this story when I first blogged about my day in Birmingham? Well, for one thing, I was blogging closer to real-time then, and I was not yet ready to write about the incident or to share it with an audience. But for another, I was not yet sure at that time of the tone I wanted for this blog. That tone has come to me in subsequent entries, as I have decided to focus this journal on my politics through travels and my travels through politics. I cannot write the political without writing the personal, and vice-versa. They resonnate, and it’s these points of resonnance that always interest me most.

Thanks for reading.

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