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Hey!
So a friend of mine is looking to get 200 Ontario Trans folks to participate in the TransForming Justice legal needs assessment survey [EDIT: Survey closes on or before September 30th, 2016, afaik. /EDIT]
 
The following is taken directly from the needs assessment website and/or the survey itself (emphasis is mine, though), which is available in English and French, and which you can download to preview the questions and/or fill out by hand, OR complete online:
 

Transforming Justice is a research project to help document the legal needs of trans* people in Ontario, identify access to justice barriers that trans* people face, and determine the needs of legal service providers (lawyers and paralegals) to provide more informed and inclusive services for trans* clients.
Given that HIV can also effect access to justice issues, a specific component of the project is examining access to justice issues experienced by trans* people living with or impacted by HIV.
We are collecting data using a survey for trans* people, one-on-one interviews for trans* people living with HIV, and focus groups for trans* people, including specific focus groups for Trans* People of Colour/Racialized Trans* people, First Nations, Metis, or Inuit Trans*/Two-Spirit People, and Trans* People living with or impacted by HIV. We are also collecting data from Legal Service Providers through focus groups.
 
While we are collecting data, the project is working to improve access to justice for trans* people by conducting public legal education workshops for trans* people about trans* legal rights and how to access reliable legal information and services. We are also providing continuing professional development workshops for legal service providers to help increase their capacity to provide informed and inclusive services for trans* clients.
 
To be eligible to complete the project survey and/or participate in a project focus group, you must be 16 years of age or over, live or work in Ontario, and identify as trans* [based on the following definition]:
“The project uses “trans*” as an umbrella term to refer to people with diverse experiences and identities, including two-spirit, non-binary, agender, gender queer, cross dresser, transgender and transsexual, as well as those who identify as men or women who have a history that involves a gender transition.”
 
The survey contains 4 core sections and is expected to take approximately 45 to 60 minutes to complete. The core sections ask questions about you, about legal problems you may have had, about how you get your legal needs met, and about your views of the legal system.
There are 2 additional sections that ask more in depth questions about legal problems, experiences in different legal settings (for example, a court house, a tribunal, and/or law office), and interactions with people associated with the justice system (such as with judges, lawyers, paralegals, and/or police). The additional sections are optional, expected to take approximately 20 to 30 minutes, and are designed for people who have experienced legal problems and have gone to court or tried to get help from a legal service provider to deal with the problems.

 
So you know what you’re getting into:
 
Section A includes questions about personal information – “About You” stuff like binary/non-binary ID(s), gender ID(s), sexual orientation(s) (with a fair number of “tick all that apply” questions), racial(ized) identity/ies, Canadian immigration/citizenship status, & personal income, but also includes stuff about anxiety, depression, suicidality, housing-security, food-security, and abusive/violent relationships.
 
Section B includes questions about access (time, energy, availability, knowledge, physical accessibility), self-advocacy, and personal & professional access-support.
 
Section C includes questions about your feelings regarding the legal system in Ontario (it’s a pretty short section).
 
Section D includes questions about legal problems/“problems”, and interactions with the legal system in Ontario, that you have experienced personally, including family & child-specific family law, employment law, housing problems, medical treatment & mental health law, immigration law & refugee situations, jail time, personal injury & property damage, debt, various forms of social assistance including Ontario Works and ODSP, HIV-specific legal issue, and Discrimination stuff including, but not limited to, trans-specific discrimination.
 
The one thing that I would have expected, given that it’s a survey about the legal system that also touches on things like financial insecurity, job discrimination, and HIV criminalization, is that there didn’t appear to be any questions about sexwork or sexwork-stigma and how that effects people’s interactions with the legal system. It’s possible that they’re in there and I just missed them, though, as I was skimming rather than going through it line by line. YMMV.
 
ANYWAY. If you are trans, an Ontario-resident, and have had experience(s) with elements of the legal system, I hope you will take the time to fill this out, even though it’s a long one. Legal Aid is paying attention to the results of this one, so your responses might actually make some positive changes happen.
 
Thanks very much, and please feel free to pass the link and the information along to Ontario trans folks you know.
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.

So I’m continuing to read More Than Two. I’m enjoying the questions the authors ask their readers to contemplate, and will continue to blog my own answers here as I move along.
Right now, though, I want to talk about Communication and how it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
 
It’s possible that the authors, when writing up their Chapter 7 summary of good communication techniques (active listening, non-violent communication, & direct communication) are giving a coles-notes version that they’re going to expand on in later chapters. We’ll see if that happens. I know that right now, though, I’m getting really twitchy reading about “I statements” and – rather more-so, in my case – about how “direct communication” requires using one’s words rather than “hinting” through body language, tone of voice, and facial expression and how, if a partner doesn’t bring up a problem “directly” (AKA: verbally), one should take them at their (lack of) word and trust that there is no problem.
 
I’m not great at direct communication, so maybe that’s why I’m getting soooo twitchy, but I have a LOT of side-eye for this.
Yes, if I have difficulty with this, it’s on me to learn how to discern and acknowledge my own wants and needs, and then to Be Brave and state those wants and needs out loud with words, even when I’m not sure my requests are going to be met with a Yes. Similarly, if I have difficulty recognizing and naming my emotions, its on me to develope a nuanced vocabulary when it comes to that, and then to Be Brave and talk about those feelings, even when I’m not sure I’m allowed to feel those things or how my People will react to them.
 
BUT!
 
(1) Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are PART OF how we, as humans, communicate.
I’m sorry (or, y’know, not sorry at all) but Rape Culture’s plausible deniability relies a LOT on the complete discounting of body language as a means of communication. I’m not thrilled that the authors of More Than Two are actively telling their readers that those modes of information-gathering just don’t count.
When I ask my wife how she’s doing? I’m listening to her words, yes. But I’m also “listening” to her facial expression, her body language, her tone of voice, and paying attention to contexts such as [what she’s been doing with her spare time recently] and [when was the last time she ate something]. As such, if I say “How are you doing?” and her words say “I’m great”, but her jaw-set and her fidgeting and her tone-of-voice and the skin around her eyes are all saying “I’m not great at all“, I will double-check, mention what I’m noticing about her other modes of communication, and invite her to open up a little bit. (She says she will never play poker with me for this reason).
And, yeah, I might get an answer like “No, I’m fine. I’m just pre-occupied with work stuff”, at which point I have to drop it and let it go, because boundaries are still a thing (yes, even when your internal monologue is rolling its eyes and saying “Come on…”).
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a dick move to completely ignore a huge swath of how humans communicate with each other, particularly when those modes of communication are what we fall back on (or can’t cover up as easily) when we’re concerned about the Consequences of wanting something other than what a given partner wants (or wants us to want, or what we THINK they want us to want… there’s totally a rabbit hole you can fall into here…).
 
…Which brings me to my other point:
(2) Communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Polyamoury communities are FULL of people who are visibly and/or invisibly disabled, trans, abuse survivors, queer, some combination of the above, and/or otherwise have personal-histories or systemic-cultural-histories that include a LOT of social conditioning AGAINST trusting what our bodies are telling us we actually want/need, and a LOT of social conditioning TOWARDS looking to the social cues of other people (doctors, parents, partners…) to tell us what is appropriate for us to want/need, and when it’s appropriate to want/need those things. (Jess Zimmerman has an article about exactly this situation, which is currently my Everything, and I think you should go read it. There’s also this article, aimed at cis guys, which touches on a related communication-doesn’t-happen-in-a-vacuum topic – Point #3 is particularly relevant).
People with these histories are most likely going to (a) have a harder time even just discerning what they want want/need (or even that they have wants/needs), and (b) have more difficulty voicing those wants and needs in a direct way rather than coding them as questions about another person’s desires.
Example 1: There are a lot of femme cis women, and a lot of trans women of various gender-presentations, who figured out they were gay-as-fuck relatively late in life because (a) trans women and cis women both get told to ignore what our bodies are telling us in favour of believing what other people tell us we should be/want/need, and (b) none of us “looked like lesbians” since “lesbian” is popularly coded (both in and outside of queer communities) as “masculine-of-centre cis woman”, so how could we be possibly be dykes?
Example 2: Folks who are abuse-survivors frequently develope a nearly-psychic (or actually psychic) ability to anticipate the wants and needs of other people (particularly those to-whom they are attachment-bound) to the exclusion of their own wants and needs. This is a serious survival-strategy that kept us alive and safe in those abusive situations… but it’s a hard “habit” to break when we’re finally not in those situations anymore. It is VERY hard to discern what *we* want or need, and then to say those things out loud, when our lizard brains are telling us to “Want what they want right now, or you are literally gonna die”. Differentiating between [what we think we’re supposed to want] and [what we actually want] is really hard to do, and feeling our way through sorting that out, especially out loud, can be overwhelming and frightening, even in a really supportive space.
 
Similarly, polyamoury communities are ALSO full of people who, for personal-history or systemic-culture-history reasons, have had a LOT of social conditioning TOWARDS emotional stoicism or emotional repression and a LOT of social conditional AGAINST developing a nuanced understanding of their own feelings (maybe you grew up with “boys don’t cry”, or being gaslit to the tune of “you’re just too sensitive” and “over-reacting” in your family-of-origin, or when your white friends didn’t/don’t recognize the racism being aimed at you. Maybe you grew up being taught that it was only acceptable to feel one emotion at a time (like Tinkerbell! Or like being required to remain an emotional toddler for the convenience and comfort of others), or that “emotional maturity” meant disociating from your feelings rather than courageously wading into them and articulating them even when you’re neck-deep).
People with these histories may have a harder time (a) discerning what, exactly, we’re feeling in a given situation, and then (b) naming those feelings out loud in a nuanced way, particularly if we are feeling multiple things at once. If you haven’t seen the Pixar movie “Inside Out”, I really, REALLY suggest that you watch it, as it can be extremely helpful in terms of being able to recognize the types of feelings that may be interacting inside your brain.
Example 1: “Defensive” is a mixture of sadness, fear, and anger. But maybe you’ve been taught that “defensive” is a pansy way to feel, and so you call it “jealousy” and tell your partner it’s their fault you feel that way; or maybe you call it “anger” because that’s the emotion you’ve had the most practice recognizing over the course of your life, and so that’s the part of “defensive” you can actually put a name around.
Example 2: Have you ever felt warm-hearted joy at seeing your sweetie all moony-eyed over their new squeeze? But also felt anxious that they might start to like said new squeeze better than they like you? Plus maybe sad and/or irritated at being left out, on top of that? How about a little bit squicked, in addition to the rest, because your empathy and compersion didn’t actually extend to finding your partner’s new partner attractive?
Like that.
It’s totally normal to feel all those things at once. But teasing out all the different bits of that big, complicated cocktail of feelings? That can be overwhelming, frustrating, and scary, even in a really supportive space.
 
So here’s the thing.
If we are people who are at a disadvantage when it comes to discerning and articulating wants, needs, and/or feelings (and we may have trouble with all of the above at the same time)… we still have to do that work. We still have to be hella brave and dedicated and say that stuff out loud to the people we care about and don’t want to lose.
BUT!
Our partners need to have our backs while we’re doing it.
AND
When we are partnered with people (and we are *all* going to be partnered with people in these boats at some point) who have trouble discerning and articulating wants, needs, and/or feelings?
We need to throw them a freakin’ bone.
We need to take on the emotional labour (because this, too, is work which requires time, energy, attention, and effort) of making space for our People to figure that stuff out.
 
Y’know why? Because when you care about someone, you INVITE communication. You don’t half-ass your way through a relationship by expecting the other person – who is most likely hurting and stressed, sinced communicating that everything is fantastic, when it’s actually fantastic, is pretty easy to do, but bringing up scary stuff is NOT – to carry 100% of the weight of getting a heavy/difficult message across.
 
And, hey: We can do this by ASKING QUESTIONS and INVITING ANSWERS. By checking in with our partners.
 
Ask “Are we okay? How are you feeling about the way we relate to each other right now?”
 
Ask “Are you getting enough of what you need?”
 
Ask “Is there anything I can do to help with that?”
 
Ask “When you say you need __________, what does that look like? Does it mean I need to do X? Would Y or maybe Z work too?”
 
Ask “Hey, you got really quiet just now. Can you tell me what you were feeling right then? Can you tell me, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense?”
 
Ask “What does it feel like in your body? Does it feel like numbness or cold? Does it feel like a fish brushing up against you in the water and then darting away? Does it feel like too-hot and maybe small?”
 
Ask “When you say you want to do X with me, can you tell me what it is about X that makes it important to you? Is it wanting to try something new with me specifically? Is it the event/activity itself? Is it the potential for one-on-one time? Is it something else?”
 
Ask “Even if you think it sounds weird or silly, can you tell me what would feel really good right now? Can you tell me what “loved” looks/smells/feels like when you imagine it?”
 
Ask “You’ve been feeling really distant/far-away/withdrawn lately. Even if you feel really bad about it, or think you’re not supposed to feel like that, can you talk to me about what’s on your mind? I miss you.”
 
Ask “I know you’re busy and have a lot on your plate, but how are you feeling?”
 
Ask. Check in. Listen to, and act on, the answers (<– Do not skip this step).
Deliberately offer a space to the people you care about where they can explore (using their outside voices, no less) how they feel and what they want and need. This is how you build relation-ships that are deep and lasting and strong.
Because, here's the thing: It's not a one-way street.
Yes, there will definitely be times when one partner in a given diad or constelation is going to be experiencing a harder-than-usual time and will need extra support.
But, by and large, this asking, and listening, and making space is something that we are all doing for all of the people we care about, and that the people who care about US are all doing for us at the same time. Because we’re in cahoots with each other, accepting and offering care to/from each other in a never-ending, multi-directional flow of give-and-take.
 
And yes, for sure, this isn’t easy.
Chances are really good that a given person is both dating people who have trouble with this stuff, and being someone who has trouble with this stuff, at the same time.
And it’s really hard to ask those space-making questions of (for?) someone else when you, yourself, are lost in your own Stuff; to ask “What do you need to feel safe right now?” when you’re very afraid the answer is going to be something that makes you feel like you’re dying:
When “I need space” is all they can articulate, but all you can hear is “I am kicking you out of our home, I do not want you here”.
When “I want ice cream” is what they can discern, but isn’t what will satisfy the underlying need (which might be for emotional-care or body-pleasure) they can’t discern yet, and you are struggling with the tapes in your head that are telling you over and over that nothing you ever do/provide/offer will be Good Enough, or substantial enough, to make you loveable.
It’s really hard to do this stuff when everybody involved is hurting. And soooooo many of us are hurting.❤
 
One suggestion I have for this is to practice under lower-pressure circumstances. Some people do this by having a regular weekly Relationship Check-In date, where they set aside 20 minutes to bring up Stuff that's kind of annoying or that's weighing on their minds, or that's going swimmingly well, or whatever. Other people ask each other "Whatcha thiiiiiiiiinkin'?" and "How's my Person?" through-out the course of a day or week, and offer honest answers in return ("I'm thinking about steam engines" or "Reading an article about emotional labour and the goddamn patriarchy" or "Feeling a little jumpy and paranoid, and I can't put my finger on why" or "Gosh I'm besotted with you" or "I think I'm maybe hungry? What do you want to do for dinner?[1]" and similar).
It may feel clunky or weird at first, or you may be tempted to gloss over the maybe-not-so-great stuff because you figure you'll be able to solve it yourself once you've got it All Figured Out. But try. Try to build kind-and-honest information-giving AND kind-and-active (not just with your ears, folks) information-requesting & -receiving into your relationships from the get-go. It won't make the scary conversations any easier or less frightening. But it will make YOU more aware of your ability to actively participate in them, and survive them, with each other.
 
We signed up for consensual non-monogamy, folks.
We signed up for a love-style that is pretty-much guaranteed to smack us in the face with our worst fears (of being abandonned, of being devoured, of being unworthy of care or kindness no matter what we do). Open relationships are graduate-level relationships because of this. But every one of us has decided “I am up for this challenge”.
 
So be up for it.
 
Ask questions, even when it’s exhausting and frustrating, even when you’re not sure if you’re asking the right questions, even when your partner might offer dead-end answers that aren’t any help but *are* all they’ve got to go on right now.
 
Offer information, even when it’s terrifying, even if you’re offering it unprompted and you don’t know how the recipient will react, even when you’re not sure you’ve found the right answer, or the whole answer, yet.
 
Every time we do this, every time we (request)-offer-recieve information with kindness and courage, with care and attention and action, we strengthen and deepen the connections we’re building together. And what are we here for if not for that?
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Did you notice how this answer involves (a) the recognition of a possible need/want (“I’m maybe hungry?”) but also (b) the coding of its possible solution through the lens of someone else’s desire (“What do YOU want to do for dinner?”)? This stuff is hard to unlearn, folks.

Go read Andrea’s peice!

Sex Geek

It’s been a helluva month for queers, folks. Most especially for Black queers and queers of colour.

Here’s the current situation. The Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, an organization that has sprung to life in the US and Canada to protest police brutality against Black people, was given Honoured Group status at Toronto Pride, which took place this past weekend. BLM representatives spoke at the Trans March on Friday night; led the Dyke March on Saturday, and briefly halted the march as an act of protest; and staged a half-hour sit-in during the Pride parade on Sunday. At that time, they presented a list of demands to Pride’s director, who signed in agreement, after which the parade moved on.

But it sure didn’t end there. The discussions in the media and all over social media in the past few days have been… epic. And while queers everywhere seemed…

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So, I (finally) picked up a copy of More Than Two because someone posted a screenshot of an excerpt (on twitter) about how part of asking for what you need is being able to handle refusal (regardless of whether it’s “can’t go there (yet / at all)” or “don’t wanna go there with you (yet / at all)”) with grace. Which I am really, really bad at[1].
 
So far, I am… skipping the first chapter entirely. It’s the “Might you be poly?” chapter. I am already polyamourous. I know that bit.
BUT
I really like that the authors (Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux) have included Questions To Ask Yourself at the end of each chapter, and I’m inclined to answer them – in blog form, no less! – just to find out what my answers are.
 
So here we go!

Dear other white queers, hop on over and read this, please.

Woman of Qolour

Writing from Coast Salish territories.

I’ve just arrived home and I smell like fire.

I feel like fire too. Raging, quiet, resilient.

Today, QTIBIPoC living on Coast Salish territories gathered to mourn, pay respects to, to send love away with the 49 people who were murdered in the Pulse nightclub on June 12th in Orlando, Florida.

Today, I held hands with friends and cried silent tears onto an altar of offerings. Today, I heard prayers spoken in Spanish, in Arabic, in Punjabi and sung in vocables from the lungs of Indigenous bodies. Today, I learnt new ways of loving and healing that I was never allowed to know. Today, I understood why I am crying, 3,000 miles from Orlando.

Vigils have happened and we are late to the game. This time, it is not like usual. We are not late because we are communities of over-worked, labouring bodies not…

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Queer Femme Mama

Screenshot 2016-06-12 13.07.06In between museum visits and snuggle time with kiddo, I have spent today glued to my social media feeds, watching the horror of the Pulse mass shooting unfold in front of my eyes.

First the news that 20 — now 50 — people had been killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pride event in a primary Latino gay bar.

And then the immediate Islamophobic speculation from the very same right-wing politicians who fight to put more guns in people’s hands and against the very rights that the LGBTQ community is fighting for.

I can only imagine the horror of the people in that club last night, in a space that was supposed to be celebratory and safe.

It’s easy for those of us who live privileged queer lives to forget that there are people who want us dead. But we can’t forget that the latest spike in anti-queer, transphobic…

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So I had a lovely evening at a friend’s birthday party yesterday. Around about 7pm (iirc) the usual shift-change happened, as the folks with young kids headed home and the folks with no kids (or with no kids with them) hung out a little longer in an all-grown-ups space, and I got to chatting with a few people about kink and polyamoury, and navigating that stuff.
 
Strictly speaking, I’m not new to polyamoury. I’ve been identifying as non-monogamous for about eight years. But for seven of those years (and once again, alas) I’ve been “the most monogamous poly person I know” (and possibly shooting myself in the foot as a result of saying as much… woops). Dating one person at a time, even if said people have been dating lots of others in addition to me.
 
I recently came up with the metaphore of Floating Docks to describe how I understand “relationship status”:
So, in my head, there’s a stable, floating dock called “casual pals” and a stable, floating dock called “close friends” and a stable, floating dock called “long term romantic partners” and… there isn’t really anything else. All of these docks are connected. They’re all landing points on a continuum of (a) available/expected time, energy and attention AND (b) emotional & physical/sexual intimacy. But these floating docks are connected by long, semi-submerged and very precarious-feeling chains. Not walk-ways, not linked-together chains of floating docks, just chains.
 
So if I’m in some sort of relationship with someone – which, if I’ve hung out with you more than once? We have some kind of relationship – I feel very unstable and anxious if that relationship isn’t one that (based on how we name each other, but also – very much so – on how we interact together) lands squarely and securely on one of my (very few) floating dock options.
 
This blows.
 
I mean, it’s great to finally have words and metaphors to put around how I conceptualize relationshps. But it blows because I have so few options. Like: It would be really great if I could build myself a metaphorical floating dock between “casual pal” and “super besty” so that folks who wanted to hang out with me at an emotional-intimacy level that was somewhere between “We hang out in big groups a few times a year” and “I am where you stay if you suddenly get divorced” weren’t stuck either out in the cold, so to speak, or being overwhelmed with more intimacy than they wanted. When I look at the (long, loooooooooong) space between “close friends” and “long-term romantic partners”, though, it gets even worse.
I would really, really like it if I had a few alternatives to “We’re in this For Ever” when it came to romantic and/or sexual relationships. I’d love a “friends with benefits / play-partners” dock and a “long-term lovers-as-opposed-to-partners” dock, both of-which would allow for long-term relationships that didn’t require huge outputs of time, energy and attention in order to be sustained or maintained. I might also (maybe) enjoy “summer fling” or “quick-and-dirty hook-up” docks that would allow for deeply emotionally-and-sexually intimate connections that were heavily bound/bordered by time limits.
 
And currently? Currently, I have none of those docks.
 
It’s a problem. It’s a problem that leads me to avoid asking for play-dates or scenes or even coffee “too often” for fear of getting more attached than I, or they, might want to be, and it’s a problem that leads me to pushing for relationships that are more emotionally-invested than they, or I, can reasonably sustain under a given set of circumstances.
It’s messed up, is what I’m saying.
 
I once asked my wife how she (having numerous sweethearts + being Ace + having lots of friends whom she loves) differentiates between “primary” sweetheartships, close/loving friendships, and “secondary” sweetheartships, and what she said was that it all depends on where the energy is going at any given time. She doesn’t try to force it, effectively, but just lets relationships be what they’re going to be.
 
I have no idea how that even works.
 
I mean, it’s possible that this is just because I’m (a) lazy, (b) needy, and (c) kind of an introvert/home-body who has to Make myself get out of the house on the regular, but I feel like (or fret that), if I were to just let the energy go where it’s going to go… I would basically be a shut-in with no social life of any kind what-so-ever. Audra Williams writes about how friendships (and other types of relationships, honestly) require (mutual) effort and maintenance to grow and thrive. Which is a no-brainer. But I find myself, these days, wondering “Okay. How much effort and maintenance, in which areas, will result in the growth and thriving of (a) a romantic relationship, (b) a casual lover-ship, (c) a one-on-one buddy-ship, (d) a cherishing friendship… vs how much (or how little, for that matter), in which areas, will result in an intentional casual, small-doses/big-groups friendship or occasional/one-off intimate encounter that doesn’t accidentally(?) end up on a relationship escalator.
 
A long (loooooooooong) time ago, I made the mistake (“mistake”) of going on my first-ever Real Date with someone I had zero interest in. Because I didn’t want to be “rude” or “mean” and because I thought “Whatever. It’s just a date. He’ll get it out of his system and leave me alone”. Which, duh, didn’t happen. So, being in my late teens and having no concept of even unhealthy boundaries, I made the decision then and there that I would never again date anyone I couldn’t see myself marrying.
For real.
 
Well, that was a bad idea.
And also: I’m currently (happily – woot!) married, and trying to find ways to navigate polyamoury without automatically aiming for some kind of Future wherein My Date quickly (or slowly) becomes part of my Poly Family and we eventually all live together in some sort of urban-farming eco-village-like compound that everyone returns to (sort of like the Mother Ship, except intimately tied to the cycles of our bioregion because also: I’m a huge Pagan), no matter how many months they spend traveling the world in any given year.
…Not that I’ve planned this all out or anything. >.>

 
So, yeah. I would like to know how to build myself some more Floating Docks so that I can feel comfortable and stable and safe having relationships with people that are “more than friends” but aren’t (and may never be) “permanent ‘blending finances and living arrangements’ relationships” either.
 
Any suggestions on how to go about doing this? Because presently I’m just overthinking everyting and not getting very far.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

So, below, is a fairly large excerpt from this other post I wrote for Urban Meliad as part of the New Year New You Experiment in Radical Magical Transformation (if you’re a Woo Person, you may want to give it a go yourself). Given the subject matter, I thought it was appropriate to post it over here, as well.
As a heads up, I’m talking a little bit about dissociative things I do in (some) sexual situations but I’m not getting into discussions or depictions of sexual trauma. Also, I talk a bunch about tarot cards which might be a little out of left-field here, but is context-appropriate for the way I’m doing the Experiment over at Urban Meliad.
Onwards!
 
 
The first time I looked at the Osho Zen depiction of the Queen of Cups (Receptivity), what I saw in her double-helix-stemmed lotus blossom body was the Chalace (Brittish Traditional Wiccan style, in case you missed the metaphor). I keep thinking about the message to Slow Down from back in early April, and about not being as in my body as I thought I was and, maybe it’s because of the afore-mentioned sex-and-money rabbit hole, but I kind of feel like the Hard Thing I’ve been putting off is sex, specifically bottoming in sexual situations. (It’s something I can do, and something that I can enjoy a LOT… but I’m also really out of practice, and the last few times I’ve tried it, things have not ended well. I’ve wound up clinging to my various partners asking them over and over “Are you safe? Are you okay?” – a dissociative Thing where it’s pretty easy to spot what I’m really asking. FML.
I’m fucking tired of it!
 
So I did a Hard Thing the other night, and asked for something sexually specific from someone specific. And the someone specific said Yes.
 
Which you’d think would have been it for the hard part, but you would be wrong!
Turns out, there’s a whole other Hard Part that I didn’t even know was there!
 
So. Working this out:
Brené Brown writes (in The Gifts of Imperfection, iirc) that Joy is one of the most vulnerable feelings out there, and that because of this, people (i.e.: ME) are quick to numb out joy with things like Preemptive Tragedy or by setting up a permanent campsite in the Slaugh of Despond (perpetual, pre-emptive disappointment).
 
Slogging through the internal landscape of what I think I am, and am not, Supposed To feel:
I’m not supposed to want things
OR
I AM supposed to “want things” but only in-so-far as I’m able to psychically predict what other people want to me to want, which I an then present to them like it was all my idea OR Wanting specific things is greedy, and makes you a burden/bother, and you should know better than to be like that
OR
You can WANT things all you like, but actually ASKING for them is heaping social pressure on someone else to do what you want, whether they want to or not, so you might as well just tattoo “rapist” on your forehead and get it over with, you horrible, horrible, self-centred, demanding jerk
 
…Slogging through that stuff is hard. Getting the words out of my mouth is hard. But, for me at least (and in a situation where there was at least a 50% chance of getting a Yes in the first place), it was even harder to get through what came after.
 
The Hard Thing, it turns out, is stopping myself from slamming my own fist down on hope and joy by telling myself All The Stories – stories like:
They’re just saying yes to be ‘nice’ to you, they don’t really want to do this and you should just let them off the hook before you screw this up even worse;
OR
Okay, you’ve asked, and they’ve said yes. Now what happens if you freeze up and reneg on the deal? What happens then, huh? You’ll have Led Them On and then Let Them Down, that’s what! Maybe you should just call the whole thing off before you screw this up even worse.
 
The hard part is staying open, and it took recognizing the feeling as one I’d had before (over a year ago actually, back when C first said they were interested in me and I spent a train-ride home from Toronto wanting to sob my eyes out because I was so full of hope that was trying so hard to turn into despair) for me to figure out what was happening.
Maybe if (when?) I feel that feeling again, I’ll be able to recognize it and tell myself: “Wait! This isn’t something that you have to squash! Stay hopeful! Stay open! This is already going somewhere good!”
 
Staying open felt like being filled up to overflowing (with something really positive), feeling a little overwhelmed and like I needed to dial things back or else Something Would Go Wrong… But it didn’t, in and of itself, feel bad. And staying emotionally open had some er… pleasant side-effects on the physical front? Yay?:-)
 
I think that feeling – brim-full and possibly overflowing, but able to accept that more is coming – is the Queen of Cups Feeling.
 
I read something in Healing Sex (which I’d forgotten I’d bought years ago and in-which I’d already made a bunch of notes) the other day, about how as you push through barriers, you are going to feel all the uncomfortable, crappy feelings all over again, and you’re going to have to figure out which of those uncomfortable (emotional and/or phsyical) sensations are crappy-and-triggering because you don’t like them, versus which ones are uncomfortable but actually okay (like: If you try to stop yourself from getting turned on because of bad experiences or feelings around getting turned on during a Bad Situation, it’s okay to continue with a Good Situation, even if you are trying not to get turned on, and you might be able to let yourself get turned on in those Good Situations eventually). This reminds me a little of that.
 
Learning (or remembering?) how to discern which Intense Feelings mean “stop” versus which ones mean “keep going”, rather than treating all of them as “This is Too Intense! ACK!” is… kind of a big deal? I feel kind of like I’ve had a penny-drop moment, albeit probably one that’s going to involve a lot of practicing before it becomes something I can do without having to talk myself thorugh it on a concious level. (Although talking myself through “stay hopeful, stay open” in the emotional sense is actually a mega-tonne easier than talking myself through “stay in your body, don’t over-think everything” in the physical sense has ever, ever been, possibly for obivous reasons).
 
I have a chunk of rose quartz tucked into my bra, near my heart. I have Plans for this, but one of them is a little bit of self-glamoury to keep some love-for-me close at hand when I need it.
Touching on the Two of Cups again [EDIT: this is the tarot card I chose to represent this prompt over at UM for a bunch of reasons which you can read all about in the original. /EDIT], the Mary-El version, as Beth Maiden puts it, depicts the “[…J]oy of emotional connection, the sublimity of blending energies[…]”. Of offering and accepting and receiving and offering back; of feeding each other.
I want to do this with my partner(s).
I want to build on this and keep opening.
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.

My year-at-a-glance horoscope for (big shock) the year my Saturn Return began said “Scorpios can stay in a bad situation longer than is healthy for anyone” (or words to that effect).
 
I think I’ve only (sort of) initiated a break-up once in my life, and it was kind of by accident. I’d been trying to tell my then-boyfriend that I needed him to shape up and contribute financially to the household (hahaha, in retrospect this was so unlikely to happen it was a joke I even asked, but hey) and, well, that wound up being the end of the relationship. Now, something like a decade-and-a-half later, I find myself contemplating a more-recent breakup (The Archivist and I stopped dating at the end of January). Maybe it’s because I’m hitting that particular stage in post-breakup grieving where I get pissed off, or maybe it’s for some other reason, but I find myself thinking a lot about how much of that (long-distance) relationship I spent feeling exhausted, anxious, lonely, frustrated, or otherwise in the Seriously Unhappy end of the emotional nebula.
It’s not their fault. They were giving me everything they could (and, as such, were probably feeling a lot of similar things, a lot of the time). I just needed more than what they could give me[1].
 
Which is what brings me to my titular question: How Do You Know When To Quit?
 
If you’ve been here for very long (or know me in person), you know that I’ve had very little dating experience. Like: Six people. Two of whom I full-on married, and two more of-whom didn’t make it past the 3-month mark. I’m still just starting to learn the patterns of my own romantic Healing Process (e.g.: I’m at the familiar, slightly heart-achy, slightly embarassing stage where I think about how “five years from now”, after we’ve both done a lot of Emotional Growing and got our business in a bit more of a heap, maybe we could be lovers/confidants/neighbours/partners (pick a stand-in for “close”) again, and not fuck it up so much. Note: This has yet to actually happen – though I’m on fairly friendly, if “acquaintancy”, terms with the guy I think of as “my first boyfriend” – but you never know) and my data sample is pretty scant when it comes to trying to figure out My Patterns.
None the less, that thing from my horoscope rings pretty true for me.
 
You know all that Brené Brown stuff I’ve been reading? The stuff where, if it feels like someone is hurting you because they are understepping, rather than overstepping some line, somewhere, it’s still an issue about Boundaries?
I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that one, but I think I’m starting to get it. Not grok it, by any stretch, but get it.
 
And yet.
But.
 
Because, so often, those situations feel circumstantial. She’s not emotionally available because she’s trying to do DIY therapy. He’s not making time for me specifically, because he’s out of town for the summer and can only come in for one day at a time. They’re not around as much as I’d like because they’re trying to find their feet in a new city. She’s not interested in sex because she’s exhausted from working two jobs.
…Sometimes that stuff is true. Sometimes that stuff is true, but there’s other stuff going on that they’re not telling you about, or that they can’t yet name. Sometimes that stuff (the circumstantiality of it) isn’t true at all, and they’re never going to smarten up and treat you as well as you treat them, make as much time for you as you make for them, love you the way you love them, want you the way you want them. Sometimes they are just not that into you, and sometimes they’re totally into you but… they still can’t give you what you need.
 
So. How do you know?
 
I was talking (elsewhere) about how “relationships, even when they go through sucky periods, are only hard when they are not what you want them to be”.
…And I’m still not sure how to discern that. How to catch it when those clouds aren’t just a passing storm, a temporary grey period, but a situation that you can’t Process or Self-Care your way out of?
 
Brené Brown – among numerous other people – basically says that when someone’s behaviour is not meting your needs:
1) You have to actually use your words and make sure you’ve stated your needs out loud to the person in question. (I can do this bit. I’m graceless about it, halting and stumbling and sometimes needing to try a few different ways of saying it before I actually hit on The Thing that I actually need, but I can say that stuff out loud).
AND
2) You have to leave if they say no.
 
Which is maybe over-stating things a little bit, but that’s what it boils down to. You can’t force someone to turn their “no” into a “yes”. That’s not on. Which means either (a) you change what you need[2] so that you don’t need The Thing, (b) you accept that the price of admission for having a relationship (or whatever kind) with Person X is that The Thing is not going to happen, and you will need to get The Thing via some other avenue[3], or (c) you do not have a relationship – or at least you don’t have that kind of a relationship – with Person X[4].
 
And it feels like such an ultimatum. “Do what I want or I’m leaving you!”
 
Maybe it’s just because I have big ol’ fear-of-abandmonent Issues, so this tactic feels like the nuclear option from where I’m standing. Like: How could you threaten someone you care about with The Worst Thing In The World???
Or maybe it’s the bone-deep suspicion that if I actually pulled that on someone who was already not ponying up on the kind words, quality time, or caring actions fronts, they would be like “Fine. G’bye.” Either because they don’t have the energy to play That Game, or because they’d really rather just get rid of me and I’ve just presented them with a way to not be the Bad Guy while doing it.
Maybe it’s because I have a ridiculous degree of Scarcity Mentality going on when it comes to Love And Belonging, and some part of me really does believe that I have to take what I can get when someone I’m nuts about has – for some inexplicable reason – decided that they want to be with me at all. (Yeah, I know.😛 I’m working on it).
Regardless, it seems like a Horrible Idea. The kind of thing that’s doomed to failure and regret and wondering how you could have been so stupid as to let them go or push them away.
 
And I need to stop feeling like that.
 
I keep thinking – wrongly, I know – that if I could just stop caring about people I care about then I could have relationships (well, no, not really) and they would never hurt. Or – maybe more accurately? Maybe not? – that, with enough practice, you just get used to functioning and getting things done through small but constant injuries, the way you do when you work in a kitchen or a workshop and just get used to burns and nicks on your hands and forearms.
 
How do you know when to quit? Even if you do know how.
 
My first queer relationship was one hurdle after the next and, yes, I was prepared to stick it out for years (that mythical five years, as it happens, though she broke up with me after a year-and-a-half), even though I was miserable more and more of the time and my girlfriend was unreliable and, frankly, mean to me quite frequently.
My second queer relationship? Reader, I married her. And we have had some BIG bumps in the time we’ve been together, but our relationship is also solid and still working.
My third queer relationship just (well, “just”) ended.
 
Do you know it’s time to quit because you’ve said “Hey, this Thing keeps happening. How can we deal with that?” and the answer has been “Let’s break up”, and you officially know that they can’t (or won’t, depending) do the Big Scary of fumbling and talking and trying again? And, if that’s the case, does that even count as you doing the quitting?
 
Do you know it’s time to quit because you’ve said “I need The Thing” in half a dozen different ways, and the answering actions have been consistently Not The Thing?
 
I think maybe you (I?) know it’s time to quit when you are consistently more unhappy in that relationship than you are happy in it… I just don’t know what the time-line is for that. How long do you let something run to see if it gets better, if the Crisis Machine of someone else’s life will let up enough that she or he or they have the emotional energy to turn towards you and try to collaboratively fix The Thing, or if it’s just… time to pull back, pull away, even though it hurts.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] …And didn’t neccessarily know many of the underlying needs my wants were pointing to, or standing in for – which is kind of a key thing that I may revisit in a later, more generalized post.
 
[2] I have yet to make this work, in spite of trying it in every relationship I’ve ever had.
 
[3] Not always an option. If you need consistency and reliability from all of your partners, the fact that Partner Q is solid as a rock is not going to make it any easier if Partner X is a big flake who never calls when he says he will. If you need all your friends to be up on the latest episode of Jessica Jones, or Orange Is The New Black, or whatever, and I don’t want to get a netflix account just to hang out with you, then I’m sorry, but we’re not going to be friends. (I’m sure you’re awesome).
 
[4] Not always an option. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and deal with the fact that your coworker participated in March For Life (I am so sorry) and you can’t just fire him for believing his uteris-enabled co-workers don’t have a right to bodily autonomy.

So, yesterday was Queering Power 2016.
It was, surprisingly, an easier day that QP usually is. Which isn’t to say it didn’t have its hard bits.
One of the workshops was on trauma-survival and kink and I was expecting that to be pretty hard. It… wasn’t. I mean, I had my knitting out and was basically listening with half an ear. I have to work at it to remember what people said in the small groups we broke into to talk about stuff. The main thing I remember about it was (a) getting colder and colder and colder during the workshop itself, and (b) This:
Apparently there’s a thing called “hyperarrousal”, which is a thing that happens (or can happen) when you’re Triggered. Hyperarrousal isn’t the same as “hypervigilance”, and it includes a whole bunch of things like a distorted sense of the passage of time, anxiety, irritability, & fatigue (among lots of others). It’s been described as a “chronic state of fight/flight/freeze”. (Particularly interesting to me is that decreased body temperature is – apparently – associated with PTSD. I’m cold ALL THE TIME – like, up to and including shivering in a hot room, under blankets – when I’m freaking out about something).
 
The things you learn.
 
The first workshop I went to was a Facilitated Discussion (we *love* those faciliated discussions in this crowd) about chronic illness – physical stuff or mental health stuff or both – and dominance. I talked a little bit about how (a) I have physical pain that doesn’t go away + a brain that tells me horrible, bullshit stories (that are so easy to believe), but that (b) my Owned Property is dealing with the same stuff, but several orders of magnitude worse than I’ve got it. In that situation, how much of this relationship, where she’s “supposed” to be taking care of me is really going to be like that? And what does that mean?
And, when the link between anxiety and vulnerability came up (again and again and again),the words I put around it were (paraphrasing here):
 

I’m not supposed to want. And I’m not supposed to need[1]. But, as someone’s owner, I am supposed to want. Actively and openly[2]. So what do I do here? The story I tell myself is that how this is Supposed To Go is that I pretend to want/demand only those things that my Person already wants to give/provide[3]. So when I have something I actually want, something that doesn’t fit the script I’m (secretly) assuming my Person is (secretly) following… It’s terrifying. Asking means admitting that I can’t just do it on my own. Because if I could thrive without X, or could provide X to myself without anyone’s help, I would already be doing it. Asking feels like danger. Like “this is me, putting my chips down, and asking”. And I feel so fucking powerless.

 
Which was hard, but good, to say out loud.
By the end of that workshop, I was having my usual reaction to having let myself be “seen”, which is equal parts “I need a hug”, “I need a good cry”, and “I need to remove myself from mixed company before I hit somebody non-consensually”. I don’t know if that’s a vulnerability hangover, or what, but there it is.
 
But the part of the day that was the hardest for me was the opening plenary.
The current Ms Leather Toronto, who ran the plenery, included an exercise that was done by a couple of volunteers… They could have been me and Ghost, but they weren’t. In spite of Ghost nudging me in the shoulder and trying to convince me to give it a go.
I didn’t want to.
 
The exercise was that the members of a given D/s dyad would take turns saying:
“I see the beauty of your [dominance/submission] in your [action/characteristic/etc]” + asking if the other person could accept that their beauty was seen and acknowledged. (Each person does this five times, and then they switch).
I did not want to do this. Not with an audience, and not with my wife. Not right then.
 
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to come up with five things, off the top of my head, and that my inability to do so would reflect badly on me (because I’m clearly not focusing on the good things that my Person brings to our dynamic) and also on her (because what does it MEAN if your owner can’t praise you for specifics??)
I was afraid that, if I could come up with five things in-which I could see Ghost beauty as a submissive, that I would pick the wrong things. That I would spot her beauuty in the ways that I spot it, but that I would totally miss some aspect of her submission that is super-central to her identity and that she needs to have recognized and valued. I was afraid that I would screw it up and/or let her down like that.
And I was afraid of – and overtly hostile towards – having to hear Good Things about myself. The point was that I would have been supposed to accept those things, those “I see your beauty as a dominant in [XYZ]” and… I wasn’t sure that I could. In fact, right at that moment, I was absolutely certain that I couldn’t. That I’d have reacted (or at least wanted to react) with a snarling “Stay away from me!” if someone had tried to show me that much praise.
It’s… telling.
I’m not sure what my shame was, right then, but letting someone be gentle with you, letting yourself absorb that kindness… it means taking off your armour. And I deeply, deeply didn’t want to be unguarded.
Telling, indeed.
 
Someone once said to me that she found it hard to hear me tell her that she’s easy to love.
I think I understand a little bit better now what that was about.
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Which is very likely The Patriarchy talking in my head, but is also something that I have huge, vast, awful amounts of shame around. Wanting means I’m Too Demanding, Too Much, Too Pushy. Needing means I’m a burden. Asking, unless I’m considerably more than 90% sure the answer will be Yes, is basically putting social pressure on someone else to do what I want them to do which, in some cases, equates to assault inside my head.
 
[2] My much-neglected-of-late Cultivating Entitlement tag is all about my struggles with this.
 
[3] As if a 24/7 d/s personal relationship was supposed to play out like a paid, time-bound session with a pro-domme wherein all feminization is “forced”, and where one is “punished” with exactly the thing that will get one off. My brain is weird.