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So! I just watched Ten’s first youtube video in their I’m Having A Feeling series. It’s a good time. It’s a short vid about, basically, Using Your Words. It’s a good video, and I’m looking forward to more.
I’m also using their video – or a specific part of it – as a jumping off point for my own ruminations. Because, guess what? I’m having a feeling, too!
 

“Undine” by Arthur Rackham (1909, based on the story by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué)
Public Domain via Wiki Free Images
A Watery Tart in romanticized Medieval garb stands by a river (her own, one presumes) in a dark wood, her hands pressed to her face and her expression distressed.


 
Something my lovely wife and I periodically have discussions about is that I don’t tell her when something is bothering me.
Which, like, obviously this is not ideal. She loves me and would rather know when I’m getting upset about a thing that she is doing, or not doing. Which is part of why she is great.
It’s also part of why she is unusual if you look at my dating history. Whether for reasons of being selfish assholes or for reasons of unexplored and definitely unresolved traumas/Mental-Health-Stuff of their own, or for reasons of A Little Bit Of Both, most of the people I’ve developed attachment bonds with, over the course of my life, have been people who wanted me to just shut up and stop having a problem with Whatever It Is. See also: “Why are you so sensitive/needy?”
 
Now. Because I’m human, and I have this pattern, perhaps it’s relevant to ask: Hey, Ms Syren! What are you getting out of these relationships? Because it’s obviously something, or you wouldn’t keep repeating this pattern!
 
Good question!
I don’t know the answer. Though I have some theories:

1) Mommy Issues. One of the people who pulled the Why U So Sensitive on me, for the better part of 30 years, was my own mother. Which sucks. At this point, I’m pretty sure that my mom has the same kind of fight-response-oriented generalized anxiety crap that I do, so most of her jerk behaviour is/was probably due to her own undiagnosed and unmedicated weasel-brain winding her up into a state of anything from “twitchy and irritable” to “lashing out pretty harshly in order to bleed off the excess panic”. So I don’t hate my mom over this (uh… any more) BUT I do recognize that, since our first attachment bonds are generally with our adult care-givers AND since those bonds tend to set our expectations (<– see what I did there?) about what attachment bonds look and feel like, there's a solid chance that my relationships with both my frequently unavailable (he worked in a different city and was home on the weekends) Dad and my reliably available, but frequently (and somewhat randomly) emotionally-violent Mom maaaaaaaaaaaaaay have some effect on how & why I develop attachments to people who, surprisingly often, are both (a) not around that often, but also (b) can't really be trusted not to treat me like crap and then tell me it's my fault that I feel bad about it.
 
2) Shame/Low Self Worth/Indispensability. Call this one what you like, it basically boils down to “If so-and-so NEEDS me, they will never abandon me”. Which… isn’t entirely correct. They might never abandon me, but they will probably resent the heck out of me if I keep wanting to have a relationship based on mutuality and So-and-so really just wants me to endlessly take care of them without having any pesky needs of my own. (I may be a little bit bitter about some of my former romances). Basically, the idea is that For Whatever Reason, I secretly believe (have a personal cosmology that tells me) I’m unworthy of love and belonging, and so constantly need to be “earning my keep” by being necessary/indispensable lest I be cast out into the cold to die, frozen and alone, in the snow. (For real. That’s literally the end-point where all my fears are aiming. Dying, frozen AND alone, specifically in the snow).
 
3) Issues Around Vulnerability. This one is pretty heavily related to #2. (It’s also something that Ten talked about in their video. AND it’s something that Brenee Brown tends to talk about a lot as well). BUT it may also have some relationship with #1. If I need less than a given co-attachment-bondee, they will be leaning on me more often than I am leaning on them, which will mean I’m not being Too Needy (note: in situation #2? Needing anything is needing Too Much, so… this doesn’t actually work) and will – hahaha – not be abandoned or cast out due to being too much work, and similar. But also: If I need less, just in general, then when my co-attachment-bondee is… not available, or reacts with outsized anger at my expressing wants and needs, then I won’t have to deal with personal disappointment, or exposure to outside threats, nearly as often.
 
4)Saviour Complex. Otherwise known as: I actually get a lot out of looking after people, so maybe I fall for people who want/need a lot of looking after. I don’t know how much of that is due to items #2 and #3, versus how much of that is just, like, the Gender Programming just took really well over here, versus how much of it is actually me getting something genuinely fulfilling (Oh, hai, Cancer Moon) out of mending my partner’s dresses or bringing my friend a casserole. But let’s go with “at least some of it”.

 
So. Those are my theories about why I have this particular pattern going on.
But! That whole list is really just kind of a tangent because what I was saying was: It’s not typical, in my relationship history, for my bringing up unmet wants and needs to be met with a willingness on the part of my partners (mostly) to try and meet them.
Which brings me back around to those discussions that I have with my wife.
 
Long before I met my wife, I got to have “counseling in exchange for odd jobs” and, during these sessions, I started addressing my tendencies to lean towards martyrdom through Not Using My Words to express my wants and needs. So I’m better at expressing that stuff out loud than I was. I still have a tonne of fears around “asking for too much and thus losing everything”, and I still tend to get kind of choked up and… unable? to talk about stuff when someone asks me directly about what I specifically want, especially if there’s some kind of audience involved (because the only thing worse than being vulnerable in private is being vulnerable in public, am I right?), so I’m not exactly out of these particular woods. But I’m far better at it than I was.
 
Which brings me to the point of this whole post.
The reason (the other reason?) why I have a habit of not bringing it up when I’m having The Feels around something that… maybe?… pertains to unmet wants or needs, is this:

When I find myself experiencing feelings like resentment or consternation or frustration or anger or disappointment around A Thing that is or is not being done, I have trouble discerning WHY that feeling is happening.

 
Maybe I’m feeling those things because my liquid anxiety is sloshing around trying to find something to define itself by, and so I’m aiming my anxiety-derived irritability/snappishness/frustration A Thing because it’s conveniently available and I can tell myself “Oh. See? I’m not upset because my idiot brain is convinced that Some Nebulous Bad Thing is going to Happen. I’m upset because of This Specific Thing that pertains to one of my attachment relationships. I’m not a high-strung mess because I’m a high-strung mess! I’m a high-strung mess because Co-Attachment-Bondee is mistreating me in some way!
E.G.: Back when I worked for Rainbow Health Ontario, I generally had a couple of all-staff meetings in Toronto every year. This meant that I generally went traveling on my own while my wife stayed home. Around about the second night in TO, I would get ridiculously angry/frustrated with my wife over some dumb thing like “She says ‘um’ a lot on the phone”. This is something which I fervently hope never actually showed up in my behaviour, but which was definitely going on. It took me a few rounds of this to realize that this was actually a mix of (a) stress due to interacting with a LOT of people for many hours a day, and (b) anxiety around having deprioritized someone else (my wife) in favour of myself (by traveling and not being available by text for a lot of the day) which, as we know, is The Worst Sin according to my own shitty metanaratives/cosmology. This was 100% coming from inside my own head, a preemptive “Fuck you! I don’t need you!” born of a fear that Someone Will Be Mad At Me For Letting Them Down.
 
Maybe I’m feeling those things because I’m Hangry.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
See also: I need a nap, or a shower, or some introvert time, or to know for sure that I’ve got enough money for the heating bill this month.
 
Maybe I’m feeling those things because I’m not nearly as self-aware or good at self-soothing as I’d like to think, and this is actually a problem I can solve myself by taking a bath, doing some anti-panic breathing, eating some protein + having a glass of water, journaling to try and figure out why this call might actually be coming from inside the house, and otherwise doing self-care and self-work rather than expecting other people to manage my feelings for me.
E.G.: I am, by now, well aware of how threatened I regularly feel when a partner gets a new partner, or when one of their already-existing partnerships levels up or becomes more entwined in some way. But, as recently as five years ago, I didn’t really know that my generally pretty negative feelings about new metamours were at least in part due to my own fears of abandonment and being replaced. Learning how to better self-sooth, as well as doing a bunch of self-work to figure out where those feels were coming from, went a long way to smoothing my relationships with my metamours.
 
Maybe I’m feeling those things because A Specific, Concrete Thing that I asked of a co-attachment-bondee, in order to meet a particular need… isn’t actually doing the trick, BUT I can’t figure out why, and so can’t articulate a new Specific, Concrete Thing to ask for that will better meet that need.
E.G.: I once asked a long-distance partner to text me when they got up in the morning and when they went to bed at night. My live-in partner does this pretty reliably with most of her non-live-in sweethearts, so it seemed like a very reasonable thing to ask of someone one theoretically would be missing me as much as I was missing them.
I thought the need I was addressing was for contact. The kind of thing that might be named “quantity time” and that might be related to stuff like the “parallel play” of two adults hanging out on the couch next to each other, each one reading a book, not interacting much but being close together and getting something out of that proximity.
I was SO wrong.
Which is maybe (or maybe not) why a couple of auto-texts per day were really not doing it for me.
The needs I was actually trying to meet were
1) The need to mutually affirm “I’m here for you. I’m listening and will be as available as I can be given stuff like work hours, other partners, and life in general” in the morning, and to assure each other “I’m still here for you, I still care about you, even though I’m sleeping and/or on a date and will be mostly not available for the next 8-12 hours”. I wanted to let my partner know that stuff. I needed to hear that kind of stuff from them, too.
and
2) The need for frequent, albeit brief, emotional connections at regular intervals. My primary love language is touch. In a long-distance relationship, I don’t get to speak, let alone hear, that language very often or even very reliably. Which means I need to lean more heavily on secondary love-languages like “words of affirmation” or “quality time” or the kinds of “caring actions” that can be done by text/phone such as asking me about my day/life, listening to the answers, and then responding to what I’ve said as though it matters.
But it took me until several months after that partner and I broke up for me to understand why my Specific, Concrete Action (text me at regular intervals) wasn’t getting me what I actually needed (affirmation of mutual love and care; reliable and frequent-ish moments of emotional connection and mutual support through the gifts of our respective time, energy, and attention).
 
Maybe I’m feeling those things for the reasons Ten talked about in their video: I don’t feel like I have the right to ask for my partners’ time, energy, and attention.
E.G.: Because demanding those things makes me a shitty metamour or Bad At Polyamoury. Because if she really wanted this power exchange, I wouldn’t have to ask for X Task to be completed anywhere near as frequently as I do. Because they’re going through a really hard time right now and don’t have the emotional energy or attention to offer, even if I psyche myself up and ask for it. Because if they wanted to prioritize spending time with me, they would take some initiative and ask, instead of leaving it to me 100% of the time. Because, if she wanted to spend more time with me, wouldn’t she be kinder to me on the phone? Because if I keep reminding them about X Significant Date in my life, they will feel stupid or like I don’t think I can trust them to remember stuff that’s important to me. Because asking for stuff, when that stuff isn’t forthcoming after asking once, is being a pest at best and being abusive at worst, and I don’t want to give them reasons to be uncomfortable with, or irritated at, me. The list goes freaking on.
 
Maybe I’m feeling those things because I have asked for The Thing, and my co-attachment-bondee is dismissing my want or need by telling me that I over-think things, or that my emotions are exhausting, or that I’m too needy (or too sensitive), or that expecting fair treatment and basic kindness from someone who says “I love you” to me is expecting waaaaaaaaaaaay too much. Or whatever. (Which, btw, is why I was having such a feeling of Consternation while watching Ten’s video). Maybe my co-attachment-bondee’s behaviour is not matching up with their stated feelings/intentions, and I’m feeling Actually Fucking Bonkers on top of feeling frustrated and angry.
 
See?
Sometimes those feelings are a definite indicator that something is wrong in one of my relationships, and/or that I need to talk more explicitly (or even just remind a given partner) about what I need and how to help me get it.
But a lot of the time, those feelings are the result of stuff that I’m kind of doing to myself. Brain weasels. Limited and relatively new coping techniques for dealing with same. Ignoring basic stuff like feeling hungry, tired, or socially drained.
Between that and a history of my needs being poorly received, and often dismissed, when I’ve expressed them?
I find it’s generally a less risky, but also more-likely effective, plan of action to take a look at how I can solve my problems myself.
 
Which would be great, if some of those problems didn’t take literal years to solve.
Which would be great if, by doing so, I wasn’t also reinforcing the hopefully-false belief that “People only want me if I give them things am compliant and low-maintenance (easy to ignore when they don’t want something from me)”.
Which would be great if these behaviours and assumptions didn’t make it easier for other people to manipulate and gaslight me around whether the things I want and need are “reasonable” or not.
 
It’s kind of fucked up. Equal parts necessary self-work and possible/probable self-sabotage, and I’m not sure what to do with it all.
Clearly I have more work to do in this area.

The Bias

Header Image: “The 95 Twee-ses” by Annalee.So you’ve been called out. You are baffled. Shocked. Why would someone shame you in public like that? It isn’t fair! If they’d talked to you privately, this wouldn’t have happened! How dare they?

Among people who’ve been criticized in public, this is a common refrain. Maybe they acknowledge that they caused harm or maybe they don’t, but the real issue they’re focused on is that they’ve been treated unfairly. The internet dropped on their head without any warning.

They want to know why no one took them aside to explain what they’ve done wrong and to give them a chance to fix it. Don’t they deserve the benefit of the doubt?

Many of the people I’ve seen doing this are being disingenuous and deserve every ounce of scorn they get for pretending they didn’t know better. But I’d like to address the…

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One of the reasons I originally wanted polyamoury was that I wanted the chance to get better at Doing Relationships faster. I thought – and was probably super mistaken – that if I were involved in multiple relationships at once, I would get to practice Having Relationships with lots of people, and therefore work out some/most of the “bugs” more quickly. I think I was approaching romantic partnerships sort of as if they were like writing novels. To hear my writer friends tell it, when it comes to novel-writing, you don’t learn how to write A book (and then you know how to write books forever more), you learn how to write THIS book, and you have to learn it all over again with the next one, and the one after that.
And, yeah, you learn how to Do a given relationship and it will not be the same way you do a different given relationship. I kind of love the metaphor of romances (or sex) being improv music, in that you’re co-creating something that does have some rules and expectations built in for functionality, but beyond that is up to everyone involved to create something together.
But also I feel like a bit of a jerk for having thought of relationships with actual people as “practice” for later relationships down the line in any way.
 
None the less. That’s not how things actually worked out, and I’ve spent almost all of the last nearly-ten years being in relationships with one person at a time.
Consequently, most of what I’ve learned “about polyamoury” isn’t actually about maintaining more than one romance at a time. Most of it is about me and how I do relationships, what I need in and from relationships. A lot of it is boundaries stuff.
 

Screenshot from Labyrinth. Wide-eyed protagonist Sarah realizing (and stating) that the Goblin King has no power over her.

Screenshot from Labyrinth.
Wide-eyed protagonist Sarah realizing (and stating) that the Goblin King has no power over her.


 
For example. I (very recently, maybe even embarrassingly recently) realized that… that it’s not on me to “make do” with whatever relationship another person is inclined to give me. I’m not talking about “using my words” here. I’m talking about leaving if someone isn’t offering me the kind of relationship I want to have.
TBH, this discovery kind of blows.
I mean, I’m not saying that it’s good to think that it’s on me to modify my wants and needs so that I can be theoretically (uh… >.>) happy having a low-entwinement, low-time-commitment relationship with someone when what I actually want is something significantly more emotionally intimate and time-intensive or, for that matter, happy having a high emotional-intensity, heavily entwined relationship with someone who can’t offer me mutual care or whose personal coping mechanisms press my buttons in all the wrong ways.
I’m just saying that recognizing that I have the power to walk away from romances – or potential romances – that aren’t giving me what I want… It kind of leaves me feeling complicit in my own loneliness.
Which is bizarre, and probably has a lot to do with a scarcity-based understanding of the world.
It’s like, on some level, I’m thinking “Gosh. If only I’d settled for being taken advantage of, or having constant anxiety spikes and deep unhappiness, at least I’d be Really Polyamourous (TM) because I’d have more than one partner at a time…”
What on earth, right?
Right.
But it’s still a thing that I’m grappling with.
Anyway. Other things I’ve learned:
 
I have a pretty small dance card. This isn’t particularly surprising. Ten years ago, I wasn’t particularly expecting to have more than two heavily-entwined partners and maybe a friend or three who I did occasional scenes with was wasn’t emotionally entangled with more than I would be in a non-sexual relationship. So the bit where juggling two romances at a time feels… just about right? I mean, sure, it might be because I’ve never had more than two relationships at a time, and those relationships generally take a lot of energy because I tend to go deep or go home. But two seems… nice. More than that might be too hard to handle. (Granted, I only have one right now, so… we’ll see what the future holds, I guess?)
 
I am CRAP at casual flings. I seriously wish I wasn’t. I wish I could – and am trying to figure out how to do the Boundaries to – do casual hookups and low-attachment sexual encounters. I wish I could be playful about sex without getting my heart caught up in it. Right now, sex is kind of fraught for a whole heap of reasons, and needing to “make sure” that I’m hooking up with someone who will do right by me – or otherwise constantly be doing the dance of retracing my own boundaries with myself– just adds to that stress. I’m not saying that there’s a line-up or anything, but I would like sex to be fun. I’d like to be able, in the hypothetical situation where this kind of proposition even happens, to say Yes to the friend-of-a-friend who I met at a party or a community dance, to have a short 5-10 minute negotiation rather than having to spend a week of each others’ time hashing out the specific details of where hands and mouths can and can’t go, before we even end up in the same room again.
 
I am way better at spotting other people Meta-Narratives and Self-Defeating Stories than I am at spotting my own: As is obvious to anyone who talks to me for, like, five minutes at a stretch, I have a maybe-not-so-great tendency to hand out unsolicited advice. (I’m trying to keep a better lid on that, FYI). Humans love narratives. These big, multi-layered, complex patterns made up of other, simpler patterns. We use them to tell us how the world works and how we fit into it. And, as individuals, a lot of us – particularly when we’re trauma babes and abuse survivors – have narratives we rely on to explain Why Someone Does That in a way that lets us treat “That” as normal, forgivable, understandable behaviour, rather than abuse. It’s so much easier to catch on to other people’s Stories. The things that come up over and over again. I had a girlfriend, once, whose Story was that “everyone leaves me in the end”. In all the times I decided to actively counter that narrative by Not Leaving, I never once asked myself whether my decision to be perpetually available to her, to upset her self-defeating narrative, happened to have anything to do with maybe reinforcing one of my own.
I finally (good grief, after a decade plus…) figured out that my OWN self-defeating narrative is one that says:
“If I center my own wants and needs instead of those of [other person], I will be letting [other person] down, and they will LEAVE ME to die, frozen and alone in the snow”.
It wasn’t polyamoury that helped me realize this. Not by a long shot. (And it probably had more to do with various personal growth projects and getting some life-coaching than with striving for anything in the realm of relationship anarchy). But being able to see my own narrative playing out on multiple fronts, and (eventually) being able to ask myself “Hey, Ms Syren, what story of YOURS is having the play-button hit because [other person] is playing out one of their own?”, has definitely been part of why I was able to recognize it as, ha… “fast” as I have.
 
I don’t have to “drive off a cliff” but can (and must) meet people where they’re at. What I said about getting some life-coaching? Some on-going therapy? Up until about a year ago, I had (and still have – though I’m trying to get a handle on it for Many Reasons) a bad tendency to respond to “Hey, would you like to go on a date?” with “Sure, I’d love that” and then follow it up by “modeling” the kind of relationship I wanted to have with said person by… being reliably (and, um, endlessly) available, getting in touch regularly, pitching plans for us to spend time together on a frequent (but hopefully appropriate) schedule, opening up emotionally and being brave when it comes to talking about what I want/like/need, etc… even though said individual may not have asked for, or expressed interest in, any of those things. I wrote about this more extensively here, but basically this Thing that I was (and still am) doing can both (a) open me up to being very easily, and very badly, taken advantage of, but also (b) can put my date in an uncomfortable position of basically fending off my overwhelming attentions.
I need to try and meet people where they’re at. Sometimes this means waiting to see how often
 
So. Here I am. Ten years in, and still very-much getting the hang of things.
I’m trying to teach myself to be open to the possibility that The Unexpected might not be a total disaster. Trying to teach myself that it’s not on me (not my responsibility, but also not my right) to manage – or micro-manage – other people’s relationships. Trying to figure myself out enough that I can say what I want, and what I need, without freaking the fuck out that “I will keep my own boundaries in mind” doesn’t feel like a dangerous deal-breaker, and without falling apart when someone else says “that’s not something I’m up for” either.
 
The road goes ever on (as the saying goes).
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.

So. I signed up to take part in (meaning receive videos from) this year’s Explore More Summit.
I’m feeling equal parts excited/anticipatory and… prepared to be disappointed?
 

An oval. Around it are arrayed the words "Thought", "Behaviour", and "Outcome",with arrows leading from one to the next in an endless loop.

An oval. Around it are arrayed the words “Thought”, “Behaviour”, and “Outcome”,with arrows leading from one to the next in an endless loop.


 
I’m feeling “prepared to be disappointed” because the last/first time I signed up for this (Free, I should mention, so I’m not out anything but time – and that’s pretty flexible right now) series of discussions, I found that there seemed to be a significant amount of centering or assuming… something that looked a lot like heterosexuality even when it wasn’t necessarily so (a lot of stumbles around what “sex” looks like, what the gender of a woman’s partner is likely to be, and what kind of genitals she and said partner(s) are likely to have). I felt this to the degree that I actually wrote to the (turned out to be queer) organizer to complain about how othered I felt, even as a cis woman who periodically dates people whose genders don’t overlap (er… much) with my own[1].
So, in spite of the glorious array of queers who are signed up to present at this year’s summit, I’m prepared for the possibility that those same assumptions will be present.
 
THAT BEING SAID…
 
I’m also excited and looking forward to this. I like me a good workshop series. I like having ideas to poke and prod at. I like a “facilitated discussion” as much as the next Harvister, and there’s bound to be a lot of food for thought going on here.
Seriously. There are so many talks about “messiness”. About uncertainty and navigating trauma in sexual (and maybe non-sexual?) situations, about desire, self-compassion and pleasure, along with discussions around dominance, sex magic, femme-daddying[2], “writing towards pleasure”, sexual creativity, and other stuff that is really relevant to my interests.
 
Speakers I’m particularly looking forward to include:
Cristien Storm
Alok
Sage Hayes
Cavanaugh Quick
Alayna Fender
Imran Siddiquee
Rafaella & Dalychia
Steve Haines
Lorena Olvera-Moreno
Karen B.K. Chan
Fran Tirado
Barbara Carrellas
Joy Harden Bradford
Vivienne McMaster
Sinclair Sexsmith
Mia Little
AND
Leonore Tjia
 
Which is, I think, slightly more than half of the presenters.
I think it’ll be good. 🙂
And I think it’ll be good for me to do a bit of a write-up about (or jumping off from) each of the talks I take in. So that’s the plan.
It all starts tomorrow! 😀
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Dear Queers: I love us. Please feel free to center your queerness in all things and in all ways. We get to be our whole selves, no matter who we’re dating.
 
[2] Not me, but… probably related.

Sex Geek

Written Tuesday, April 17 in situ

(CN: murder, police)

***

I decided, on a whim, to come and write at Glad Day Bookshop. It’s smoky in here, like they burned a grilled cheese sandwich or something moments before I arrived. The gaymers are here, as usual for a Tuesday evening. The whole back section is full, with knots of enthusiastic men gathered around each tabletop game. They span a range of races, ages, body shapes. The mid-level hum of their voices is punctuated by occasional peals of laughter and shouts of victory.

As I walked here from Wellesley subway station, I couldn’t help but notice the shabbiness of the area. The Ho’s Team barbershop windows are papered over, lending an urgency to the bright mural on the building next to it, a jumble of gay slogans and symbols. Above the Pizza Pizza on the corner, a Pride flag and…

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This is a Femme Slam

Just passing this along.

Sian Torrington

I was asked to be a part of a panel called ‘Femme Velocity’ at CIty Gallery, Wellington, on Saturday  6th April 2013. I was so excited, because I thought I was being asked to speak on a queer panel exploring femme identity. I quickly realised this was not the case, that ‘femme’ was being used in another way. Below is my speech… queer revolution with love and compassion

friends XImage

 

I am Sian Torrington, a proud, out queer femme artist pirate. I usually love talking about my art, but today, I need to talk about Femme. Femme is a gender identity, and a sexual identity, and it’s my identity. It’s not just a cool word. Words are important. We live in a colonised country, and we know the importance of words. We know about what it means to take something from another culture without asking what it means or…

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Sassafras Lowrey

Growing up in urban Ontario, with queer aunties looking out for me, this wasn’t my experience. But it is relevant. I write myself down too, for much the same reasons. Go take a look.

Older Queer Voices: The Intimacy of Survival

We Know How to Do This

by Sassafras Lowrey

I cut my teeth on a survival based activism. Grew up on campaign losses, learned organizing from small town queers who ran from skinheads and protested by making love in the back yards of klansmen. I was raised up by queers who made family without hospital visitation, who found children without adoption, and built homes without leases in our chosen names.

Now in my 30s I came of age at the tail end of a generation of LGBTQ people who had no legal recognition or protection, who couldn’t come out to our neighbors, or on TV. We didn’t have google or tumblr at our fingertips, or  cell phones linking us together. I grew up in semi-rural America, amongst the kind of people who elected Donald Trump. These are the kind of people who also kicked me out of their homes and…

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Helpful Hints.

Captain Awkward

So, you said something racist. Or, someone told you that you said something racist.

Or, someone you really like & admire said or did something racist, or is getting told on for saying something racist.

And now you feel uncomfortable. You feel guilty, maybe, or ashamed. Whatever it is, it’s weird and you don’t like it.

What I need you to do when this happens is stop, drop, and be quiet for a minute. You are not Racism Columbo, your job is not to interrogate the situation for whether it is actually, “objectively” racist. Your job is not to find the motive, to drill down to whether it was intended to be racist. Your job is not to revert to High School Debate Club mode and split hairs looking for plausible deniability. Your job is not to defend your fave from the racist stuff they said!

Your first job…

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Why am I still so bad at this?
That’s one of the questions that hit me when I realized I’m a few short months away from my personal ten-year polyversary.
Ten years ago, I definitely had a daydream about what my polyamourous life would look like after ten years of practicing and – also on the very pressing to-do list at that time – getting myself some on-going therapy. And, yeah, I imagined having significant romantic attachment bonds[1] with, oh, roughly two people, neither of whom lived with me and neither of whom were dating each other, but both of whom had other partners. I imagined me and my hypothetical beloveds giving each other a lot of our time, energy and attention. At the time, I probably would have talked about this by saying “I have two primary partners”. At this point, I’m aware that hierarchical language like this has multiple meanings, that it can be used to talk about degrees of entwinement and (often-related) availability, but it can also be a flag for how much consideration and care a given partner is “allowed” to expect or rely on in a given polycule (which… often seems to relate to some sort of seniority thing?[2]). What I mean when I use it is something like “Primary Partner vs Friend-with-Benefits” and it means “someone who (mutually and in an agreed-upon way) refers to me as their partner/girlfriend/wife/sweetie rather than their friend/pal/It’s Complicated/FwB”. Ten years ago, it was a way of referring to how much time, energy, and attention I was giving to my partners. These days (and quite recently at that) it’s become a little more nuanced, but I’ll get to that in Part Three.
 
Where I’m going with this is that, ten years ago, along with all that other stuff, what I imagined was that I wouldn’t be so scared all the time. I wouldn’t police myself so much. I wouldn’t HURT so much.
 
And, to some extent, that has turned out to be true. I can hook up at a play party and do a scene with someone I’ve been ever-so-slightly crushing on for years. I can having make-out dates and play dates with friends-with-various-types-of-benefits. I can hang out with a metamour, or send my wife off on an overnight with one of her partners, and feel comfortable and happy rather than tense, irritable, anxious, and threatened.
Which is all great!
But I’m also anxious, in general, and tend to spin on the things that did, or could, Go Wrong, so maybe it’s not surprising that I still feel Very Bad At This.
 
The thing is, I’m not sure what it would take for me to feel like I was otherwise.
I think about the theoretical still-unfilled spaces on my non-monogamous dance card, the ones that must be there because otherwise I wouldn’t keep getting crushes on people (right…?), and how worried I am about what will happen to my current relationship – the one with the woman who is ready and willing to wait patiently for me to get back from The Land of NRE when those other beloved people come along – if I fall deeply for someone else again.
I think about how confident I was, eventually, in my current relationship, how much I believed I’d licked the insecurities that had me spinning in anxiety and fear of abandonment for the first couple of years with my now-wife, thinking that I’d figured out how to navigate the fear that gets labeled as jealousy. Thinking that I’d Fixed Myself without understanding that a big part of that was being in a relationship with someone who cared about my well-being, treated me kindly, showed up reliably… but also not understanding that, in a situation where the person I was with wasn’t doing those things – was unreliable, cruel, careless or thoughtless when it came to how they treated me – not only would those insecurities (understandably) surface again BUT that if they did, it didn’t necessarily represent a flaw in me or a problem in myself that I needed to fix.
 
I think “why am I still so bad at this” relates to some sort of dearly held but false belief that If I were good at this, none of my relationships would fall apart, or otherwise deviate from what I wanted them to be, because I’d magically be able to discern who would love me, and behave lovingly towards me in ways I could discern, For Ever vs who would get bored of me in a couple of months, think I was too much, or have unrealistic expectations of selflessness from zir partners, and just… equally magically… not fall for people in the latter group.
Because that’s realistic…
 
One of my Brene Brown books – I have so many at this point – offers this little fill-in-the-blank thing as one way of sorting out where your Shame Stuff lives.
“I’ll be worthy of love and belonging when I ____________”.
The blank is supposed to get filled in with stuff like “lose ten pounds” or “get that promotion” or some other specific theoretically achievable, but always moveable, goal. Mine looks like:

I’ll be worthy of love and belonging when I no-longer need them.

 
So maybe it’s not surprising that, when I read and re-read Polyamoury101 books (or comic strips, or podcasts or-or-or), I have a hard time not interpreting them as saying that Good Polyamourous People don’t actually get anything from each other, or even want anything from each other, because Good Polyamourous People are capable of meeting 100% of their attachment needs without actually attaching to anyone.
That isn’t necessarily what they’re saying (I certainly HOPE it’s not what they’re actually saying), but it’s easy for me to read that into the text (or wevs) because I’ve got this unhelpful core belief around how I’m not supposed to want or need things, not supposed to burden other people by Having Expectations of anything what-so-ever.
 
It’s dumb. And I’m not sure how to fix it. But I think that’s where a lot of my “why am I still so bad at this” feelings are coming from.
Anyway. Onwards.
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Though, ten years ago, I’d never heard the term “attachment bond” – among many, many other terms – let alone what it meant or why it mattered.
 
[2] Which… I can sort of get behind, to be honest. Like, I’ve had to remind myself on a number of occasions not to update my will to include someone I’d been dating for less than a year, no matter how much I cared about that person, because I had zero way of knowing whether or not they would for sure be in my life two years down the road. The problems start (well… “start”) cropping up when those more-recent partners have also been around for YEARS but are still being told that they can only ever expect to be treated like a new and untested fling.
 
[3] Which means I need to make a bunch of art about this, basically. Time to write more poetry. 🙂

Late last year, Laurie Penny wrote an article about having been polyamourous for almost a decade. A friend of mine linked to in the other day and I was shocked, in a way, to realize that so have I.
This June. June 5th, to be exact. My personal polyversary.
And this has me thinking about a few things.
First: Why June Fifth?
And Second: Why am I still so bad at this?
With a third, follow-up question of: Okay, but what have I actually learned on this adventure so far?
 
Naturally, I decided to write about it and, equally naturally, I decided to write about these super-personal, more-than-a-little-vulnerable topics in a very public way by broadcasting my thoughts to the internet. LJ-generation for the win, I guess?
 
So.
“Why June Fifth”, which, if nothing else, is simpler or maybe just more topical given #metoo and #timesup.
June fifth because that was the day I asked my then-husband for an open marriage (in a letter, because I was terrified), and he said no. Very nearly walked out before I got home, without telling me the marriage was over.
It’s the official – not in the legal sense, just in the “what we told the relatives” sense – reason for why we got divorced.
 
And I guess, right this second, I want to talk about my divorce – or the breakdown of my first marriage, or something along those lines – before I get into the other stuff about polyamoury, because the reasons behind “Why am I still so bad at this” are pretty tangled up with – among other things – how that first marriage went down.
 
I married a guy who told me, on our third date or so, that he though people who wanted to get abortions should have to get approval from some sort of governing body.
You know, like back in the bad old days that are absolutely not very long gone at all.
I was so sure that he was just clueless. After all, I’d been clueless, right? I’d been pro-life back in grade eight, why would a dude in his late 20s be any more capable of empathy than I’d been before I hit puberty? I was sure, in my “I’m TAing women’s studies for the first time” way, that this progressive dude would smarten up if I could just tell him why that line of thinking was bullshit, y’know, using the exact right words.
 
I married a guy who sexually assaulted me in his parents’ basement, and many times there-after, because I didn’t believe him the first time he told me who he was. (Uh. “I went through with the marriage because I didn’t believe him the first time”. Not “he sexually assaulted me because I didn’t believe him the first time”. To be clear). I was so sure that he was just clueless, that he would smarten up if I could just tell him that I wanted him to stop [touching me like that], y’know, using the exact right words.
 
I married that guy because I was in love with him, but also because I had already passed the age where my mother – who bless her probably-didn’t-mean-to-be-cruel heart, had once told me she was astonished that I thought I’d ever get married[1] – had married my dad, and also because I hadn’t had enough dating experience to know that NRE is a thing and it follows certain patterns like “the wanting to fuck constantly” lets up at least a little bit at the three month mark, or “you will probably have your first significant fight around 9-10 months in”, or “You might want to hold off on making any legal or (theoretically) permanent decisions until after the 2-year mark, because that’s how long the merging/infatuation/NRE stage can last, if things are going really well”… and so thought that this relationship, which had managed to make it past the three-month mark (the point at which my very few previous relationships had both fallen apart), was The One.
 
I married a guy who turned out to be controlling, isolating, petulant, and periodically sexually violent. A guy who not-so-subtly threatened to sabotage our method of birth control. A guy who treated the suggestion that he actually participate in the raising of his own hypothetical children as a demand that he “babysit all the time” and who told me that, if I didn’t let him get me pregnant, that he’d have to conclude that his marriage to me had been a waste of time.
 
Ten years later, I still don’t know how much of that was him being an abuser versus how much of that was him being a run-of-the-mill straight, cis, white guy from a slightly-wealthier-than-my-own (cis, white, comfortably middle class) background who due to those intersections, had never had to consider other people’s wants or needs as anything but an inconvenience to be worked around or a favour to be magnanimously granted (or not). And I don’t know how much of it was me, either.
Sometimes I wonder how he felt, when the woman who had been so visibly, actively in love with him got distant and silent and turned in on herself, if he was just as bad at talking about the growing gulf between us as I was. Sometimes I wonder if he noticed. Sometimes I wonder why the ever-loving fuck I give a shit. But I do.
 
That’s why I keep talking about it. Because it’s really easy to bury myself in “What if it was me?” or “Was it really that bad?” and I have to keep my head above water.
 
The stories I tell about my divorce aren’t always the same. Sometimes I say “he left me”, which he did. Sometimes I say “we decided to end our marriage because it wasn’t doing either of us any good”, which is true, we did. And sometimes I say that left my husband.
I didn’t leave my husband.
I wasn’t even able to consider leaving my husband until I landed a more-than-minimum-wage temp-job and was able to get out of the part-time retail situation that meant I was economically dependent on my him. The thought of losing the only person who, here-to-fore, had loved me[2] enough to stick around, was utterly terrifying when my whole head was basically one big ball of shame, fear-of-abandonment, self-loathing, and scarcity. I’m not even the one who walked out the door.
What I mean is that I asked for what I wanted and needed and, for once, instead of waiting for him to “get it” and become the husband I wished he had been, I stuck by what I wanted and needed, even though the price was watching him walk away.
 
He walked away on June fifth, ten years ago this year. It took me a week to start getting angry and start naming myself for what I am.
 
 
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] I think I was in about grade six. It was the very early 1990s. Like, early enough that the RCMP was still keeping tabs on suspected-to-be-gay public servants in case they became a matter of national security. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my mom already knew that her oldest daughter was a homo, and was probably trying to suggest that there were other options available and that marriage was not the be-all-end-all of womanly life. However, being a little kid – and one who was getting pretty hurt, pretty daily, by her peers – what I heard was that my own mother was astonished that I thought anyone would ever love me. Marrying someone as some kind of a “Ha! So there!” to a third party is… not a good reason to get married. But I can’t deny that it’s wound up in that mix somewhere.
 
[2] Even if how he went about loving me was pretty shitty.