Posts Tagged ‘polyamory’

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Snapshot: Gender and Attraction

2015.August.25

I was asked by a male-identified person about the lack of Y-chromosomes in my current polycule. What follows is the bulk of my response, posted here for posterity or whatever:

My gender identity is cisbastard. I got that Y chromosome you were talking about (as far as I know) and was designated-male-at-birth and I’ve gotten by more or less okay like that (being tall, surly, and able to draw probably spared me from a disproportionate number of ass-kickings as a preteen, but I’m okay with that). What I really got by without, though, was a traditional father figure enforcing masculinity. I had a loving grandfather-figure and an evil step-father and a father whose face I knew but not well and that was about it. Their respective gravities, along with other privileges and talents, allowed me to slip through the cracks of gender enforcement for the most part. The further I got away from any sort of strong relationship with masculinity, the less I needed one.

I’ve been attracted to women my whole life. I never had a cooties phase. I tried to be friends with everyone, but as I got older, I found that men were the hardest to make and keep as friends. I just didn’t get them, by and large. In recent years, I figured out that lacking a personal relationship with masculinity has made it distasteful to me, but in recognizing that, I’ve been better able to unpack gender stuff in my attractions and see people as people regardless of genitalia. I still shy away from flaunted masculinity in friends, sex, and romance, but because that is so common and so fundamental to how men are taught to function, it makes me much more attracted to men who don’t exhibit gendered power dynamics. In general, I find people attractive for their feminine or gender-neutral traits, and the brighter these outshine their masculine traits, the stronger is that attraction.

I suppose I should state here that I have a definition of “masculinity” that skews negative but also narrow (however common). I associate it with power, dominance, aggression, taking up a lot of space, anger over compassion, shouting over listening, etc. etc. etc. I have yet to see someone present me with a so-called “masculine” trait that I couldn’t either re-interpret as gender-neutral or feminine or otherwise find harmful to all parties involved. So if I say that I don’t find someone “masculine”, it is meant as a compliment, and does not necessarily correlate to how that person genders their own positive traits.

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Notes from the Road: Sorted Lives

2011.February.8

What Else Is Out There?

Whenever I travel, I try to meet with locals at sex-positive gatherings. In the four weeks surrounding my Western States road trip, I attended dinners, discussions, and parties in Austin, Denver, Boulder, Los Angeles, and Dallas. This itinerary gave me a taste of the best of the other towns, but it also raised questions for me about DFW (that is, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex). The contrast between the Dallas and Denver Churches in particular sparked questions about deeper differences between various alternative sub-communities. Some urban reputations seemed to be reinforced in poly circles. Austin was more hippy-ish. Denver and Boulder were more homogeneous. L.A. was more shallow (though interactions there were limited). And Dallas, well it is more…

What is Dallas, anyway? The community I know best also happens to be the hardest to describe. I’m not saying that my stomping grounds are uniquely complex, but the Metroplex does call for a certain specificity: which DFW subversives? Polyamorists? Fetishists? Democrats? There are plenty of people around here who identify as some combination of polyamorous, kinky, bisexual, burner, DIY, non-Christian, and/or liberal — regarding which only the Democrats usually limit themselves to one. Each descriptor I’ve listed (and there are more) gets its own local sub-community, yet however often the labels overlap, the communities themselves rarely do. For every five kinky poly bi pagan artists, one will dedicate zir time to the kinksters, one to the poly group, one to a pagan group, one to the art scene, and one to sex- or gender-progressive activism; there will be little in the way of doubling up or cross-over.

There is something about Dallas that encourages alternative folks to choose one sub-community to the exclusion of all others. Everyone is specialized, focused, and so busy with their One True Community that they start to feel uncomfortable anywhere else. And yet, once that choice is made, the community doesn’t really take over their day-to-day lives and social spheres, only their leisure time. I can’t help but contrast this against Austin or Denver, where more folks manage to make time for each group that fits. I doubt anyone would attend four sex-positive events in a single week, but a sizable portion would probably attend two, maybe even three — and their groups meet more often.

It was through visits to Austin that I had first begun to perceive that sub-communities could be better connected. Every person there seemed to be active in at least one other subversive lifestyle group, be it kink, burner, pagan… Austin’s kinksters and polies didn’t just double up and intermingle, they managed to integrate their “alternative lifestyles” into their actual lives. They organized discussions, workshops, and retreats to welcome newcomers and advance community topics. They maintained and kept track of intricate, healthy chosen-family trees that included friends, lovers, coparents, and everything in between. They were sustained by active, passionate people who could deftly jump from swapping poly parenting tips to plotting sex parties to unpacking their latest self-awareness meditation, and they could do it all without shame, hesitation, or lengthy backstory. Austin’s pervasive sense of community made Dallas’ alternative domain look like a closet of half-hearted hobbies, or worse: dirty little secrets.

Then I went to Colorado. Even Austin, it seems, could learn a thing or two from Denver and Boulder. The alternative communities of the Mile-High City and its radical hideaway neighbor share strong ties and deep integration of politics into their lifestyle. Whereas Austin’s sex-positive types tend to be very personal with their politics — pushing themselves and their communities on issues like the environment, but steering clear of Austin’s aggressive activist contingent — sex-positive Coloradans engage in direct political action as an extension of their intimacy. Denver featured more polies, kinksters, and pagans who participate in campaigning and advocacy than any other town I’ve visited. They also ally with local nonprofits, attend national conferences for everything from grassroots organizers to kinky Rennies, and are coordinating a Boulder satellite to Seattle’s Center for Sex-Positive Culture. I found the connection personally affirming; since politicos and polies in DFW frequently want nothing to do with one another, my occasional campaign work often results in a wearying degree of self-segmentation.

Colorado’s greatest surprise has to be its integration of all sexualities. While bisexual and, to a lesser degree, gender-non-conforming (GNC) people are welcome and active among Dallas and Austin’s hetero-centric subversives, it was in Colorado that I first witnessed self-identified gay and lesbian participants in a poly community. They organized, attended, and played right alongside everyone else, with nary a squick to be seen; the Boulder Poly group even holds events at the Boulder Pride House and organizes charity drives for LGBT causes. I had heretofore seen only a strict, unspoken segregation between those poly folks who required same-sex relationships and those who were hetero, heteroflexible, or bi (with strong emphasis on girls playing with girls, then coming home to a man). While I recognize that convenience, comfort (for both sides), and no small amount of latent homophobia make such integration a non-issue to most polies, I was heartened to see that it was possible.

Growth Potential

Polies in Dallas and other communities often fail to see how their own lifestyles tie to the legislative, cultural, and personal struggles of LGBT people because — despite being almost universally progressive on social issues — many prefer to avoid politics altogether. It is usually less of an ideological choice than a decision to avoid wading through yet another cultural quagmire where one’s lifestyle is in question; an apolitical stance requires less justification, faces less challenge by others, and results in less disappointment. A similar attitude is common among many young LGBT voters.

I have long theorized that the inability to contextualize themselves reflects a lack of maturity in DFW’s sub-communities — not that the individuals involved are immature, but that the communities themselves are. For example, the poly group, which meets only once a month for an informal dinner, faces a revolving door of newbies and draws only a fraction of the people in DFW who identify as polyamorous. The group is not terribly old; it has no structure, no leaders (no volunteers to become leaders), and very few regulars who have been actively poly for more than 3-5 years. Those seeking to develop their understanding must look elsewhere: written and online resources, Austin’s two poly groups, or even the local kink community. Indeed, while some polies eschew community or are just afraid to attend a function in public, the more-developed kink community is Poly DFW’s biggest siphon.

However hard sexual subversives in North Texas try to distinguish themselves (even in private) from the populace at large, the communities actually have a very Dallas mentality in some ways. Dallas is a fractious but powerful city; it has always been contentious, always conflicted, and eternally brash. Today’s elite are much like the cocksure wealthy from the eponymous 80s soap, except with better PR and worse writers. Fortunately there is a counterbalance from stronger Black, Latino, and LGBT neighborhoods, but working the existing system has trained their leadership with some of the same bad habits. Their drives have become pervasive, infecting residents across the entire Metroplex.

You see, Dallas is a diverse city whose people are, far and wide, pre-occupied with image and control, two motivations that are hungrily coveted, weighty when obtained, and burdensome to defend.

I trace the personality of Dallas first to politics. Austin, Denver, and Boulder have similar political environments to one another because they have all long been liberal oases in conservative states (though Colorado is trending purple of late). LA, well, the communities there were pretty un-inclusive, so I doubt I’ll have much to say about them.

Dallas’ liberal majority is new and inconsistent at best; far more dynamic racially and economically than Austin, Denver, or Boulder, Dallas’ diversity has helped left-leaners to gain a political foothold without really quelling culture clash. Self-segregation thrives city-wide, and affluent corporate interests who favor the profitable status quo remain strong. The struggle between such disparate powers is exhausting and polarizing, leading even more residents (sex-positive and otherwise) to check out entirely. I suspect such tension compels small communities to attempt to be more impressive or, at the very least, to blend in amicably. For sex-positive sub-communities, blending in openly is unlikely; better to hunker down incognito than face an unpopular image and risk losing what autonomy (control) exists. This struggle is faced at all levels — by individuals, families, and communities — and I believe it is behind the “immature”, disconnected quality of DFW’s sex-positive folks.

Overlooking what qualities they share, each insular group avoids getting too close with the others, quietly judging them for nuanced differences like sects of a schismatic church. Dallas polies can be quick to dismiss swinging as degrading to women and blanketly denounce monogamists for reinforcing love as “possession” (justifying their own ubiquitous OPPs all the while). Many bi activists, who are fighting for visibility and acceptance from both hetero-dominant culture and the gay and lesbian alternative, distance themselves from non-monogamy rather than being seen as reinforcing the stereotype that bisexuals just can’t choose. Pagans and irreligious types denigrate Christian domination while growing dogmatic about the structure of their own dis/belief. Certainly these kinds of behaviors are present in alternative communities across the country, but they seem particularly common in Dallas and particularly rare in Austin and Denver.

How Good Could They Be?

But surely Austinites and Coloradans keep their eclectic sensibilities private! Well, yes and no. From what I’ve seen, it’s a matter of scope. DFW folks tend to hide their lifestyle choices from everyone who does not share them: coworkers and neighbors, family and exes, even friends and roommates. As I said above, Dallasites who feel the need to segment their lives (which is most of them) center one large fragment around work, family, and the home and a smaller one around their weekend sub-community; it is as if they maintain full-time secret identities to cover for their part-time hobbies.

By comparison, sex-positive folks in Austin, Denver, and Boulder can be surprisingly forthright, living visibly across a much larger swath of their lives and promoting awareness at every chance. Those who maintain double lives might regard work (and perhaps judgmental relatives) as a part-time secret identity, but come home to their real lives full-time. By focusing on authenticity rather than how they are perceived and what they control, they have found a better grip on both; and though I can’t say for certain that it is related, they also seem to be more successful at finding work that fulfills them beyond a mere income.

There is a sex-positive beacon of hope for DFW in the Dallas kink scene, which offers a terrific well of wisdom, training, and resources from which to draw — so long as you are open to it. Dallas’ propensity to play up image makes the fetish community hard to enter gradually. While kinksters do address topics like polyamory, self-reflection, and activism expertly (especially at the Leather community’s two annual conventions), they usually do so along the periphery of kinkier topics and in highly charged settings; the displays of power can be overwhelming to those without a strong interest and open temperament toward whatever one might see. Without a thoughtful, supportive introduction, a quiet person can easily get the (wrong) impression that the entire community is unapproachable; for the eager, it is easier to get laid and diverted than to get the type of knowledge one might seek (and who has ever entered such a sub-culture knowing exactly how much they needed to learn?).

Dallas’ fetish scene is the single biggest community for sex-positive people in the area, so large it becomes easy to assume that all sex-positive people are universally kinky (which is not the case here or anywhere else). Even the kinksters are divided into sub-sub-communities (no pun intended) by interest. Thanks to frequent major events and strong online networking at FetLife, there is better overlap amongst these groups — including kinky segments of the LGBT community — than all other Dallas sub-communities combined; unfortunately, the benefits of interconnection are impenetrable outside of those settings. Anyone not interested in BDSM or unable to afford the often-pricey suggested donations has no direct access to the vanilla knowledge available there.

Well, What Do You Suggest?

Sex-positive DFW can continue to look to the kink community for guidance, but we risk irrelevance if we expect it to remain the centerpiece for all local development. The socially conservative culture has fostered a growing generation of sexual subversives who merely want the freedom to explore on their own terms; as long as these disparate groups remain focused on their own back yards, that exploration will be stifled and alternative lifestyles will stay relegated to our extracurricular activities. We will all continue to guard our dirty little secrets as if there’s something wrong with us.

Fuck that.

Instead, I propose the sex-positive people of DFW begin a conscious effort to develop our little communities of weekend deviance by strengthening our connections to one another. I’d like to see more poly events on the Fort Worth side of the Metroplex. I’d like to hear more discussions about strategies in politics and seeking out new relationships. I’d like to swap more stories about the places we have visited to hear what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to attend a workshop on some sex-positive topic without having to fill my gas tank or bring my own rope. Austin and Denver succeed in areas where Dallas doesn’t even know there are areas, but it is not because they are better or sexier than us; they just got a head start. As a result, their events range from facilitated classes and discussions to chosen-family reunions to hot, hot private parties. They nourish their communities because they are not just protecting their hobbies, they are protecting their lives. We can look to them for inspiration, but it will be up to us to forge our own way, hopefully a way built on something more than just image and control.

In academia, what I seek would be considered Interdisciplinary Studies: identifying and cultivating the intersections between unlike subjects. We must take time out to reflect on what our communities share with one another and build on that. We must recognize that politics reaches into our daily lives and if the system isn’t speaking to us we must speak to it. We must develop better self-care techniques and encourage them with our friends and loved ones. We must discover exactly how much we don’t yet know as a community, develop that knowledge, and share it widely.

A few months ago, I told someone on the local poly email that if they wanted to make more events happen, they had to step up, take the lead, and be ready to fail a few times before anything caught on. So I’m not proposing this stuff empty-handed; I am ready to step up, and I’ve already got some other folks involved on some new things coming down the pike. But we don’t want to drag everyone to something they don’t want to do. Help us. Guide us. Join us. Or blow us off and start your own events — it’s not like we know what we’re doing. Just help us make something happen.

The only incentive I can offer is better sex — no — better sexuality. How much could we better understand ourselves and each if we had more of the community watching out for each other? How many newbies could we keep around if we could figure out what to tell them at their first appearance? How much of our time together is wasted relearning the same things someone else has already gone through?

Let’s show that Dallas isn’t just a hobby city any longer, but an integrated community that is ready to grow.

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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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The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change

2010.February.3

Why am I going to Creating Change?

  • To see one of my mentors from D.C., and hopefully other contacts from my time working there.
  • To get in on the first real activist development opportunity that has presented itself in the Metroplex since I left D.C.
  • To develop better awareness and skills around gender and sexuality at a time when DFW seems primed for thoughtful action.
  • To recognize that after blurring the lines for years, I have now clearly stepped outside simple heterosexuality and to own this deliberate process.
  • To celebrate sexual diversity very close to my home turf and strengthen local ties between the LGBT and poly communities.
  • To learn how to be a better ally to friends and colleagues and, in turn, to take these lessons back to other allies who don’t always know how to express their support.
  • To see some really hot activists talking about “really lascivious things, like communication“.
  • To identify lessons and opportunities on the periphery of queer activism that may be useful to my book and my campaign work.

…and because hetero people don’t generally talk about sexuality as candidly–whether it’s related to love, pleasure, or politics–and I simply need more.

What will I be doing  at Creating Change?

Wednesday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 1: Challenging and Transforming White Supremacy in Our Work: Our Vision, Our Roles (anti-racist workshop specifically for Whites)

Thursday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 2: Sexual Liberation Institute (topics of sexual freedom discussed by the afore-mentioned mentor, her partner, and Tristan Taormino, author of my favorite poly manual)
OPENING PLENARY (followed by a Poly speed-greeting)

Friday
WORKSHOP SESSION 1: Class Matters (identifying issues that cross communities, featuring story circles!) or The Art of the Schmooze (because I need it)
WORKSHOP SESSION 2: Integrating New Media into Your Organizing Strategy (to enhance my existing communications skills) or What Your Parents Never Taught You About Sex  (including discussions of demographics, risk, and practices, because I’m due for a refresher)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 3: Strengthening the Connection: Racial Justice and LGBT Rights (presenters include Rinku Sen, a personal hero) or Storytelling for Social Change: Gathering LGBTQ Stories (because personal storytelling is pivotal to my approach to nonfiction)
WORKSHOP SESSION 4: Reaching Out to the Blogosphere (a strong need if my writing is to gain traction)
CAUCUS 1: Young and Poly (if 29 is not too old… definitions vary greatly, so I’ll be asking in advance) or Transitioning Beyond the Boxes (on expanding gender identities beyond male/female)
RECEPTIONS

Saturday:
WORKSHOP SESSION 5: You Lie! Right-Wing Race Backlash: What It Means for Queers (because anti-racist and interdisciplinary discussions make me happy)
WORKSHOP SESSION 6: Mapping Your Desire (very timely for me)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 7: Kink, Race and Class (the presenter’s definition of kink includes multi-partner relationships, so all I can say is Hell yes!)
WORKSHOP SESSION 8: Talkin’ Bout My Generation: Intergenerational Storytelling and Dialogue (more relevant to my book) or The Future of Sexual Orientation (expanding beyond gender and gender preference, and also featuring Tristan Taormino)
CAUCUS 2: Designing Useable Research (this is also pivotal to my book) or Polyamory/Nonmonogamy Caucus (if I am, indeed, too old for the Friday Caucus)
ENTERTAINMENT
Sunday:
BRUNCH PLENARY
CONFERENCE FEEDBACK

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