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Peterson Gets Played

Just going to put this piece from OpenWide Online here. (As with many things… don’t read the comments).

OPENWIDE online

About half a decade ago, Jordan Peterson was a psychology professor at the University of Toronto and clinical psychologist with little international fame and even less infamy. A talented teacher and skilled speaker, he conveyed expertise within his domain and gave prestigious lectures like “The Necessity of Virtue,” which is how I first encountered him. Like any professor, he wasn’t perfect, but largely credible.

Yet after spending many, many hours watching new and old footage of him, I am forced to conclude that his recent messianic quest to “defend free speech”—which, in its purest form, is noble—has destroyed his previous credibility by amassing paranoid and shoddy “evidence” at a great distance from his home domain of psychology (where he has merits). Though he remains an engaging public speaker with certain worthy insights, his recent claims about the nature of oppression, ideological language, and social justice are often baseless, tendentious, and…

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So, a few months ago (early December), I was reading about Femme Stuff while working a reception job. I spent the whole morning reading primarily about femme invisibility and ended up writing a Twitter Thing about how the postal carrier who turned up with the mail around Noon had asked me if I’d ever considered being an actress because I was “using my facial expressions very intensely”.
What I thought was “Shit, I’m totally doing that”. But what I meant was… I’m flagging.
Flagging hard, to no-one in particular, wearing all of my sparkle on the outside because I was reading about how un-see-able I am to other queers.
 
That intense, almost theatrical, expressiveness is a thing that makes femmes intimidating and fascinating, but sometimes I wonder if that Femme Dazzling Smile (like a butch nod, if you will) that lights us up when we see each other isn’t just us saying “I See You, Femme!” but is also us asking “Do you see me?”
I mean, maybe that’s just me.
But I do wonder if we turn up the volume on our already/often pretty innate intensity, particularly in queer spaces & contexts, in the hopes of being recognized as Family when we don’t (necessarily) have fades / asymmetrical haircuts, or rock a pin-up aesthetic, or have leopard-print on that day or what-have-you. (As a side note, I have a pair of Fake Cat-Eye Glasses that I got for doing cam work, and I sometimes want wear them around town just to see how that effects the way others perceive me. I don’t know if that counts as “field work”…)
 
It’s a weird thing. Kind of nice to know that it shows up, even when I’m not consciously doing it? Kind of heart-breaking to know that I try That Hard to be visible even when there’s nobody around to see me?
 
An anecdote: Back in November, I went to a combination book-launch/dance-party/AGM/fundraiser (you know how that goes), and had all my dazzle on when I headed home afterwards. Halfway home a butch-of-a-certain-age, under a big umbrella, chatted me up for no discernible reason at all. Unexpectedly visible. Who knew?
I just about floated home. Not because that particular person was particularly exciting, just because: she (they?) recognized me well enough to flirt, noticeably, with a stranger in spite of drizzly night + my warm coat & non-heeled boots.
It was so freaking validating.
 
I’m in my late 30s. Most het-cis dudes don’t catcall me. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve “aged out” of the Easy To Intimidate range, or what (I am not complaining, if I have), but, despite that, most of the attention I get on the street is from people I’m fairly confident are cis dudes. They flock like cis dudes in their 20s who are trying to prove their manhood. Then again, maybe I think they’re cis guys because 100% of everyone else has a pretty solid idea of how uncomfortable it is to hear “How’s my wife?” from a stranger, sooo… What I’m saying is, it’s not necessarily “business as usual” to be all “Hey, Lady” when you’re QAF.
 
Years ago, on a day that was warm, but not nearly warm enough (so probably in late April or early May), I went out in my leopard-print skirt, my alizarin monster-fur ¾-sleeve jacket, a pair of dangly earrings, and a slick of raspberry lippy. I didn’t know it was Femme Visibility Day until I logged onto twitter that evening. But someone else did, some other femme with pin-up-girl bangs and winged eye-liner, who looked me in the eye like she’d seen something holy, reached out her hand, and said “You. Look. Fabulous!”
She gave me a smile that lit up the street, and I walked home wearing a crown.
 
One single day to throw away all the toxic, internalized shit that insists on telling us that deliberately-feminine-presenting people are always straight, always binary, always either cis women or wanting to be read as such (and I do not mean for safety reasons)… That it’s rude of us to plaster an unverified marginalized identity or two all over someone else’s unconsenting body, like we would be shaming them, just because they look familiar in some way. That it’s better (safer? Less painful? For whom?) for us to assume that the person with the fancy fade and the delicate Monroe piercing, is a “metro-sexual” straight, cis dude, not a brother-fem gay guy or genderqueer and pansexual or a trans dyke rocking Lesbian Haircut Number Two; wiser or kinder (are you kidding me?) to assume that the person with the scuffed, cuffed jeans and the crimson extensions, or the red, red lipstick and the fedora, is a cissexual straight girl not a genderqueer, sexuality-queer trans fem/me, a cis bi-dyke, a trans lesbian.
…That assuming anything else would be met with hostility or confusion or even anxiety, a whole other sort of Unrecognized to the one we’re used to from random androgynous-queers on the street, and all the more painful because of it.
 
The validating Butch-of-a-Certain-Age in that anecdote? The femme who made a point of telling me she could see me? Those encounters are the polar opposite of the queer dances I tend to go to. Queer dances run by femme friends. Queer dances where I at least kinda-sorta know the other regulars. Queer dances where I still walk in with the working assumption that people who don’t know me personally will be wondering what the Straight Lady is doing in their space.
And, to a point, I know that this is basically “Don’t Self-Reject” on a social scale. That I’m assuming every sort-of-stranger there is going to look at me the way my own femme friend looked at the cab-load of 20-something other femmes and assumed they were a bunch of het-cis kiddies crashing the dance during Pride.
The assumption (the fear) that I won’t be seen as “belonging” in a queer context is definitely partly pre-rejection (pre-jection?), but it’s also the end result of every time a more “obvious” (read: masculine) queer doesn’t pick up on my traffic-stopping lipstick & leopard-print skirt, every time the androgynous youngsters at the hippy indie grocery store only turn on the “Oh! You’re one of us!” familiar-smiles when I put money in the Ten Oaks donation box, every time someone I met at That Queer Thing, One Time looks right through me (huge, hard-to-miss me) on the street because I no-longer have Queer Context to flag for me.
It makes me a mix of sad and angry every time.
 
It’s funny / not-funny, strange / not-strange, that I get Recognized by people who I’m reading as older-than-me cis gay men – the ones who sing their sentences in much the same way that I do (so probably some degree of fem, even in the land of No Fats No Femmes Adonis-hungry gay culture) – more often than I get recognized by butch women in my own age bracket. Fellows who stop me on Booth street, in my pencil skirt and plunging neck-line, to say “Honey, do you have a light”, or who stumble, tipsy, up to me in my five-inch heels and mini dress – fresh from the Alt 101 drag show where the only people who gave me the nod, or looked anything like me, were there to perform and in costume – and inform me “Oh, sweetie, they’re gonna love you at CP” only to correct themselves with “Then again, maybe it’s not your scene” when they hear me respond in soprano… because everyone knows that a feminine cis-lady is straight, right?
 

 
This is why I try extra-hard to dazzle-smile at the baby femmes I see on Bank Street, or Somerset, or in the art classes I work for. This is why I try to assume that anyone whose style and bearing a just a little “too much” for where they’re standing – too glamourous, too skin-confident, too aware of their own sensuality – is one of mine, no matter where I find them.
The ones with Nefertiti eyeliner and pink-purple-blue hair extensions.
The ones wearing sun-dresses & stockings in November.
The ones with delicate wrist movements and shy smiles who paint fairy-wings on me in art school.
The ones who dye their armpits to match they eyebrows and scalps.
The ones who name themselves “queen” and “bi-gender” to strangers, but whose body-language says it before they ever open their mouths.
The ones who lounge on the counter, one leg crossed over the other, in deep v-neck t-shirts.
The ones who do the social/emotional labour of keeping up their end of a conversation.
The ones who sidle up to me at parties, because I’m taller than they are, and ask me where I got my shoes.
The ones braving dyke march with long, long hair and flowers in their hatbands.
The ones with boyfriends and big jewelry and hot-pink lipstick who call everybody Darlin’ in the office.
The ones with natural hair and magenta-cerulean plaid back-packs and huge earrings on the bus.
The ones who pluck their eyebrows so carefully and tailor their rock-show tshirts into boat-necks with the sleeves ripped off.
The ones who wear their plaid shirts & blunnies with cut-off short-shorts and scoop-neck tanks.
The ones in skinny jeans and perfect, sparkle-diamond nose-studs.
The ones rocking cocktail party jewelry in their 9am classes.
All of them.
All of us.
I want them to know I see them. That we gleam like fucking rubies, like lights in the dark, to anyone who knows how to look.

Poem – Shiver

My skin is
hungry flutter in
my chest
aching for touch
smooth my hands over
thighs
hips
neck
cheek
fingers trace the line
of lip and collarbone craving
hot shower
hot chocolate
burn my tongue on the absence
of a lover’s mouth
lonely body
longing for all that
heat
enough
to make me
shiver

Relationships as Juggling Acts

So a couple of days back, I got to thinking about relationships as juggling acts. Because Metaphors are my jam, apparently. I nattered away on twitter about it, and the nice person over at Poly On Purpose turned it into a Storify (which you can read here). I decided to tidy up the original and expand on it a little bit, because I like the metaphor. I like the way it can be applied to all sorts of different relationships. Parenting. Friendship. Romance. Work. Hobbies. All sorts of stuff.
So, here we go.
 
For a few years now, I’ve thought of relationships as exchanges of time, energy, and attention. Time and Energy are finite. You only have so much time to go ‘round, and you only have so much energy available. You can’t be in two places at once. All that stuff. And, yes, you’ve only got so much attention available, as well, but Attention comes in a billion nuanced varieties. If you imagine them as juggling balls, they are every possible colour you can come up with.
So start with yourself. Here you are, with your colourful collection of Attention Balls, and you can be a solo act, juggling emotional, sexual, physical, cognitive, types of attention on your own when you go to the gym or to a show by yourself, when you write in your journal or use your vibrator, when you take a hot bath or a pottery class or a walk. When you take time for yourself, to catch up with yourself, to look after yourself. That’s a juggling act all on its own, and you need to make time and reserve energy for that act. It’s important.
 
But every relationship you have with a person outside of yourself is also a juggling act wherein you both offer time and energy to juggle your various attention balls back and forth with each other.
Different types of relationships take up more or less of your time and energy, and have different ratios of Attention Balls that you juggle.
So the relationship that you have with an Activity Friend might involve tossing one ball back and forth for one hour every week. Maybe that Activity Friend sees you more frequently, face to face, than a long-distance romantic partner or a beloved-friend in town, but the juggling acts you share with the partner and the friend would involve a lot of emotional Attention Balls, along with whatever else you juggled together, than would be involved when juggling with the Activity Friend.
Likewise, a sexual playmate or a friend-with-benefits might juggle mostly sexual Attention Balls with you, with a few other types of attention thrown in there some of the time, while a work colleague might mostly juggle logistical balls with you – yes, even if you are an escort who does duos and your work involves juggling a lot of Sexual Attention Balls with each other as well.
A relationship that involves a limited number of Attention Balls, but whom you see very frequently (maybe a room-mate who keeps to themselves, or a work colleague or classmate who isn’t sharing a project with you) will still eat up a lot of Time and Energy when it comes to juggling the few attention balls that are in play. That stuff adds up, and can leave you feeling worn out if you find yourself needing to be On when it comes to folks with-whom you juggle a lot more balls on a less frequent schedule.
 
In a related vein, a polyamourous ‘comet’ relationship might only take up one weekend per year, but all your respective other juggling acts get put on the back-burner while the two of you clear your calendars and focus on juggling every ball you’ve got with just each other. A romance that is geographically closer, meanwhile, would take up more of your day-to-day time, but would also require everyone involved to be aware of each other’s respective other juggling acts. Partners with-whom you share finances, housing, parenting, elder-care, etc… would juggle a heap of logistical Attention Balls with you that less-entwined partners never have to worry about, but those less-entwined partners might get a smaller amount of your time & energy to share a juggling act because you need to spend more of your (always finite) time and energy keeping all those extra logistical Balls in the air with other folks.
 
Sometimes, someone with-whom you share a juggling act will need to skim time and energy from your shared act because there are suddenly more balls in play in another act they share. Someone has a crisis or a baby, it’s crunch time at work or school, maybe a relationship becomes more intimate on some level and everything gets a bit of a re-org. In those situations, some of the balls you and that person were juggling together may get dropped. Maybe it takes you a minute to find your own balance when you’re (suddenly?) juggling more balls on your own than you had been a minute ago.
 
…Which is it’s own thing, actually.
 
Those balls that get dropped? Sometimes they’re just gone, and that particular juggling partner is never going to pick them up again. Sometimes you’ll find that you can start juggling them with some of your other co-jugglers. The social balls that were dropped can be shifted into juggling acts where your fellow juggler is interested in taking on more stuff. That’s a tricky thing to do, because you won’t know if the other person can juggle with a few extra balls in place until you try. And maybe they won’t know that either. There can be some trial and error involved in this, and sometimes that’s going to hurt or be awkward or similar. (Uh… Ask me how I know… ). Alternatively, you can juggle them yourself – fill those suddenly-empty evenings by taking on a new project or doing something nice with Just You (I started a poetry show, back in 2009, for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that I needed to direct my Attention at something other than missing my long-distance girlfriend. Similarly, I spent some time volunteering at a local Food Centre in 2016, because I had a heap of social and care-giving Attention Balls to do… something… with now that my (also long-distance) partner had upped and ended our romance). Either way, you are going to have to figure out what to do with those “suddenly extra” balls because lobbing them back at the person who can’t keep up with them anymore? That’s usually not going to work. Sometimes? Sometimes it does. The crisis is temporary. The juggling partner gets their balance back and you can re-add that particular Attention Ball to the mix, albeit probably at a slower, or less frequent, rate than it was there before. But a lot of the time, that isn’t how things go (sit tight, I’m getting to it).
What I mean is that there’s more to this juggling metaphor than just the variety of Attention Balls a given relationship diad can opt to keep in the air at one time. Like literal juggling acts, relationships require everybody to be equally invested. A juggling act is a type of balancing act, as much as it’s anything else. You and a given fellow juggler might opt to keep thirty different balls in the air, but to make that work, you both have to be moving at the same speed, at the same time. You’ve both only got two hands, so if one of you can’t keep up (or if one of you is shifting things too fast), some of those balls are going to drop and somebody is going to get hurt (in the non-metaphorical sense) because of it. Likewise, because we all – polyamourous or not – have a lot of different juggling acts going on at any given time, we need to be aware of the time and energy (and number of Attention Balls) involved in maintaining both our own juggling acts and those in-which we are not directly involved. The co-worker who has a sick relative or a kid in day-care, who can’t do overtime work on Project X. The metamour who’s having a bad bout of depression right now. The teacher who’s expecting a term-paper from the friend/child/sweetheart with-whom we, too, are juggling some kind of a relationship.
 
What I said, above, about dropped balls and how lobbing them back at the person in question generally doesn’t work? I’m talking about unbalanced relationships. The kind of situation where either you feel like you’re being pelted with balls that you didn’t ask for and can’t keep up with (and which are making it harder for you to keep juggling the balls you did sign up for). But also the kind of situation where you feel like none of the balls you’ve tossed, so hopefully, to this new (or not-so-new) other person are being juggled back, which can mess with your head, especially if the person in question is saying things like “Woah, nelly! Look at us juggling! So many balls in the air!” …The metaphor falls apart a little bit here, since actual attention isn’t a finite, physical object, but work with me for a minute: In this kind of situation, it’s sort of like you’re stuck with fewer balls in your own kit, going “Hey, uh… Person? That Attention Ball I just tossed you? I need you to toss it back. I’m due at my buddy’s house for Fannish Night in half an hour, and if you don’t toss that ball back, I’m going to be hella preoccupied and checking my phone every five minutes”. (Like I said, the metaphor doesn’t work perfectly here. In reality, I can choose to put my damn phone away during a get-together with someone, whether or not someone else has answered my most recent text. Still, I probably will be preoccupied, and I think you can see where I’m going with this particular scenario). If you are a parent of a child who is Exerting Their Independence, you may be familiar with this kind of feeling. If you were ever a teenager with a parent who seemed over-protective or nosy (note, I am not talking about abuse situations here)? That’s part of the re-balancing of relationships (adult-child parent/offspring re-balanced to adult-adult parent/offspring), too.
 
In the case of friendships and romances – voluntary, chosen relationships – I can offer a warning here. One that I am, personally, utter CRAP at heeding, but am trying to get better about. If the Attention Balls you toss to a given juggling partner are Not Coming Back? What you’re doing, if you keep throwing balls at them, is basically up-ending an entire box of your attention balls onto someone who is either (a) hoarding attention balls with no plans to ever start juggling with you, OR who is (b) not really interested in juggling with you, at least not to that degree, and the message has just not sunk in yet.
 
An example:
I have TONNES of Attention Balls that I can share with people, and not very many people with-which to juggle them. Most of them are near-and-dear friends. Not a lot of work colleagues in my web of jugglers, and only one sweetheart. My income-quilt of semi-solitary, flexibly-scheduled jobs means that I have tonnes of Attention Balls available to be an attentive, care-giving Buddy and a friend-group social co-ordinator, while someone else – someone who works a 9-5, or whose job involves a lot of emotional labour – might be using those logistical and social Attention Balls to deal with work-related social interactions, meeting-coordination, and similar.
Another example: I am a romantic, sexual person. Amatonormative, basically. My lovely wife is romantic, and Grey A. We are both polyamourous. What all this means is that
1) While I have a dozen (or more? Who knows?) Sexual Attention Balls in my juggling kit, she only has one, maybe two at the most. I will always have spare Sexual Attention Balls to juggle with other people.
AND
2) While I have only one romantic partner (for now), my lovely wife has… noticeably more than that. This means that, while I’m juggling my Romantic Attention Balls with her, and her alone, maybe occasionally (if I’m feeling brave, and not too burnt, and there’s someone who looks like they might be a good fit) tossing out one of my many, many spares to see if somebody else is up for juggling with me – my lovely wife needs to juggle her Romantic Attention Balls with multiple people. Note: there are a variety of ways to do this. You can juggle most of the Romantic Balls in your kit with one particular person, but occasionally juggle the few that remain with other people else (think: hierarchical poly). You can juggle 100% of your Romantic Balls with each respective romantic partner at different times (which is closer to what my wife does). You can find whatever balancing act work for you between (or outside of) those two particular options, too.
 
Something that relates to the above: It helps if you and a given juggling partner are working with a matched set of balls. They juggle a passion for Foucault and pizza dinners your way, you juggle your own passion for Foucault and pizza dinners towards them, and everyone is offering and receiving Attention Balls that they actually like and know what to do with. Within the context of kink, this is pretty-much built into the culture – you can be as good, giving, and game as you want, but if you’re just not that into knife play, your S/M partner will have to find somebody else to cut them up – but it applies just as much to non-kinky hobbies like knitting or motorcycle maintenance or snow-shoeing or whatever. I may have a dozen different hobby-type Attention Balls available, but I probably won’t be able to juggle all twelve of them with each specific (or even one specific) co-juggler I’m involved with. This theme is one that shows up in all the poly101 books, I know, but I’m only just starting to be able to wrap my head around how it works without spinning it like I’m expected to treat all my partners as Interchangeable Needs-Meeting Machines or something.
Likewise… remember what I said about how, sometimes, if you and a given juggling partner drop a ball, you have to either find someone else who wants to juggle it or you have to learn how to juggle it yourself? There’s a Kimchi Cuddles comic that I tend not to handle so well. I read that last panel “What if he doesn’t WANT to give me more attention?” // “Then you give it to yourself” as just the most trite piece of bullshit EVAR.
But I’m trying to sort through it.
 
I’m going to use an easy-ish[1] example here. If I want more sexual attention, and I can’t get it from a partner because my partner is Ace / I’m sexually insatiable / I only have one sexual partner / insert-other-reasons-here… there are things I can do about that. Jerking off is a thing. I can have sex with myself. But I’m learning to parse the different Attention Balls that are juggled into the mix when I have sex with another person. Affection. Admiration. Romance. Emotional and Physical Connections. Stuff I can’t get when the loop involves only me and (maybe) something battery-operated.
It means that, right now, I have a few balls that are just… parked between my feet, while I look for people I can trust and care about and connect with enough, and in the right ways, to bring them into play again; while I try to figure out how to trust and care about myself enough, and in the right ways, too.
I’m trying to teach myself to build intimacy slowly, rather than trying to bury someone in a ball-pit all in one go. I’ve definitely had a few (a lot of…) relationships where I moved too fast, flung too many Attention Balls (some of-which I wasn’t aware that I was trying to juggle) at somebody who might not have been up for them (at all, or just yet), a rash move fueled mostly by scarcity thinking. I’m hoping that the metaphor of relationships as juggling acts – both the balance and equal-investment required to make them work AND the vast variety of different kinds of attention that can be juggled between various people in various ways & to various degrees – will help me pace myself, but also help me gauge who is actually up for starting to juggle with me, or for adding new balls to an already-shared act.
Fingers crossed that this will work (and I’m not just Overthinking Things).
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] I’m saying “easy-ish” because I’ve got a whole lot of not-so-easy stuff going on in my brain telling me that I’m just not supposed to “need” sexual connection with other human beings. That I should be able to Make Do with what I get with the partners I’ve got, or else be able to cobble together some mixture of vibrator + affectionate friendship + ‘non-serious’ flirting with semi-strangers at queer events + hot baths, body lotion, perfume, chocolate & other sensual stuff… or something to approximate “giving myself” the sexual attention-cocktail that I actually want. “Want less, and you’ll always be satisfied” is a damn hard indoctrination to shake.

So… I’ve started reading Conflict Is Not Abuse.
It’s… difficult. (There are going to be a lot ellipses in this post, which I know can be irritating, but please just bear with me).
 
I’m not yet 50 pages in, so I have some hopes that it’s going to get easier, that the author’s theories about powerful individuals or groups reading threat & danger into what would more accurately be called resistance to oppression will find a better fit when she’s talking about white cops and unarmed black men, or occupying forces and the people they’re terrorizing (she uses Israel and Gaza, but could just as easily be talking about Canada and the many nations contained within, and overlapping, its borders). But at the moment, we’re at the “micro level” of this theory, talking about interpersonal relationships, flirting and dating, power plays, “shunning”, and… you guys, it is not going well.
 
It’s hard to read this book, or at least it’s been hard so far, because a lot the stuff that the author is saying – and probably feeling pretty confident about her professionalism in saying, given that her publisher is the kind of place that has a slush pile, professional editors, and a number of titles that wound up on Canada Reads – sound like the inside of my own head when I’m not doing well at all.
 
So I thought I’d talk about what goes on in my own head.
Which is a scary thing, in and of itself, because a whole bunch of it? Is probably really wrong.
So. Here we go…
 
The first thing is this:
Boundaries are complicated.
I mean, yes, they’re also really, REALLY simple. They’re as simple as “No”. As simple as “Stop”. The words that two-year-olds say over and over and over – No! Mine! – because they are at the developmental stage where they start actively differentiating Self from Other and that difference is HUGE big news.
But they’re complicated – for me, if not for everyone – because they are many-layered things. Boundaries are No and Stop. The place where I begin and You can’t cross.
But they are also the place where You begin and I can’t cross.
The place where my privileges end.
But also the place where my responsibilities end.
I had such a lightbulb moment, years ago now, when my therapist told me that she wanted to try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – AKA “talking to chairs” – with me. With much trepidation and a lot of side-eye, I told in all seriousness that I was willing to try it, but that I couldn’t guarantee that I would know where I was supposed to go with it.
And she said something along the lines of: “You’re not supposed to know where to go with it. That’s my job. Your job is to trust me and give it a shot. See? Boundaries.”
Mind. Blown.
It was a total penny-drop.
But I still have trouble with it.
I try to anticipate what a given partner or friend will want/need/feel so that I can have that base covered by the time they’re wanting/needing/feeling it. If my life were a movie, the results would probably involve Zany Hijinks, or at least Hilarity, ensuing but… this is real life so it mostly just involves me putting undue pressure on myself and then needing a lot of reassurance that I’m not doing something wrong just by existing in a not-actively-helpful way.
I try to chess game my way through Hard Conversations (job interviews, relationship transitions, crisis moments), to know how my interlocutor is going to react, so that I can address whatever comes up perfectly, so that they won’t be scared or angry, so that things won’t go completely to hell, so that the person won’t Leave Me[1]. So that I’ll (hopefully) get what I want, whether that’s a happy and invested romantic partner or a realist-artist who wants to hire me again; a friend who is eating a real meal, with protein, for the first time in three days, or an acquaintance who’s interested in meeting me for Pho at a confirmed date and time.
…And the more intimate the relationship, the more invested I am in it continuing, the higher the stakes are when I have to go into a conversation (even if it’s with an empty chair representing my own inner child, if you will) where I don’t know what the path to the other side really looks like.
 
So that’s the first thing.
 
The second thing is… My primary love language is touch.
So, yes, when a romantic partner and I have sex together, I’m speaking (and listening to) my love language. But that’s also what happens when I offer my hand across the pub table to the friend who’s having a really hard week, and she takes it. Or when I hug my favourite auntie (or my mom, even if our relationship is still a little bit fraught), and she hugs back. Or when my wife snuggles up and spoons me at night, and I twine my fingers with hers. Or when I scratch my pal’s recently buzzed scalp and they lean against my shoulder, while a big group of us chat over brunch.
And that’s all lovely. That’s all consensual and delightful and good.
But things get pretty fraught, pretty fast, when you are asking (pleading with?) your partner to start speaking your love language… and that language is touch.
I don’t think that happens nearly so much, or to such a degree, if one’s primary love language is, say, Caring Actions. In which case, maybe what you’re asking for is “Can you be at the train station to meet me? Can you call, out of the blue, to offer to pick me up from work in the car so I don’t have to brave OC Transpo during flu season? Can you know what my favourite food is and keep it on hand and make it for me sometimes, Just Because? Can you surprise me by hanging the pictures while I’m out getting groceries, so I come home to a house that feels a little more finished? Can you put a photo of us, together, on the lock-screen of your phone, or the desk of your home office, so that when I visit, I can see it and know that you are wishing me close, even when I’m far away?”
…As opposed to asking that someone to “speak your love language” in ways that, whatever they happen to be, all boil down to “Can you touch me for longer durations, and/or in more intense ways, and/or with greater frequency, than you are probably comfortable with, because if you were comfortable with them, you would probably already be doing so?[2]”
Yeah.
That can turn into scary-pressure really fucking fast, and I’m not sure where the line between “advocating for my needs” and “pressuring someone else” really is in that situation. (If I’m upset that someone said No (I don’t want to have sex with you; I don’t want you to hold my hand right now; I don’t want to sit next to you; etc) do I have to hide my upset forever, or can I talk about it the next day? If the next day isn’t okay, what about the next week? Can I ask for touch at all, or is that pressuring someone in and of itself? Is my level of skin hunger abnormal? Does that make it bad? If it’s not bad, why is it so hard for someone else to meet me where I’m at? Is there something wrong with me?)
 
So. That was the second thing.
 
The third thing is that I’m still trying to internalize/grok/something the relationship between “Abuse is too much closeness, NOT too much distance” and Covert Boundary-Crossings like lying, manipulation, and gaslighting. Because I think there is a relationship there. (The gaslighting link talks about a thing called “glamour gaslighting”, where someone puts you on a pedestal and then gets mad, or freaks out, and pulls away when you start asking for support or care which, like, “Oh, hai, extreme familiarity”… And it feels very much like “too much distance” to the gaslighted party, and yet… may still qualify as abuse?)
I went to Kai Cheng Thom’ and Kota Harbron’s “Monstrous Love” workshop on mental health and intimate partner abuse, about a year ago. It wasn’t what I was expecting it to be, but it was an interesting workshop. There was an example given by the presenters wherein they roll-played two conversations, in which the respective people in a romantic diad each confided in a friend about something scary and uncomfortable going on in the romantic relationship. Then the presenters asked the workshop participants to identify who was abusing whom in the shared scenario they’d just performed.
One partner was clearly experiencing anxiety because of something their partner was doing to them (asking a lot of questions about what they’re doing with whom, when, and getting angry or otherwise upset when they weren’t home or made plans to hang with other people), whereas the other partner was clearly experiencing anxiety because of something she was doing to herself inside her own head (replaying situations from a past, painfully-ended romance and assuming that the same thing is happening in her current relationship).
I have a really hard time discerning when I’m reacting to stuff in my head versus when I’m reacting to stuff someone else is doing to me.
When my friend says “we should do coffee soon” but never follows up with possible dates and times (nor responds to my suggestions of dates and times), am I feeling angry and blown-off because my friend is actually blowing me off? Or am I feeling angry and blown-off because I’m hyper-sensitive and/or believe that I have a closer relationship with this person (friend, as opposed to friendly-acquaintance?) than I actually do? Is someone actually doing something to me (blowing me off, suggesting a thing and then not following through) or am I doing something to myself (having unrealistic expectations about the kind of relationship I have with this person, expecting follow-through when “we should do coffee soon” really means “it was so nice to see you at this public, group event, I hope I’ll see you here again”).
When I ask the person who refers to herself as my girlfriend to act like she likes me (see: love languages, limerence behaviours, the general idea that one can – one hopes – expect a reliable degree of acceptance, empathy, validation, and reciprocal disclosure from one’s romantic partners) and she tells me that I’m being unreasonable or needy, is she reacting to something she’s doing to herself (replaying an earlier romance that devolved into stalking, or a childhood situation where she was made to take responsibility for the emotions of an adult care-giver, or a limbic-response that relates to her ambivalent/avoidant attachment style), or is she reacting to something I’m doing (Am I actually being unreasonable for wanting those things? Am I being needy/pushy/demanding in how, or how often, I ask for them)? And is my upset/panic/spiraling at her reaction based on something she’s doing to me (punishing me for wanting care or reliability, gaslighting me about what are, or are not, reasonable things to expect from a partner) or something I’m doing to myself (my own limbic responses as relating to my insecure-anxious attachment style; replaying stuff that happened in earlier relationships – a minor schoolyard disagreement at age nine directly resulting in years of ostracizing & bullying; my ex-husband insisting that there wass nothing wrong with how he was treating me, and that the problem was clearly my having a problem at all – and believing they are happening again)?
A lot of the time, I suspect it’s a little bit of both.
But I am an absolute MESS when it comes to sorting out… basically, how much of that “little bit of both” is stuff that I’m doing and can therefore (ha, in theory) control, or at least make decisions about.
 
So that’s the third thing.
 
But. Back to Conflict is Not Abuse.
There are things that the author says in her book that are… unbalanced. I get the strong impression that the grace being asked for in interpersonal conflict situations… doesn’t go both ways.
That the author is asking the reader to extend a lot of empathy and compassion to someone whose “being interpreted as abusive” behavior is (probably) coming from a place of unexamined, maybe even unacknowledged trauma & anxiety, but that they are not asking the reader to extend that same compassion to someone whose “reacting to perceived abuse” behavior is ALSO (probably) coming from a place of unexamined, maybe even unacknowledged trauma and anxiety. Honestly, I kind of feel ike maybe we, as readers, are straight-up being asked NOT to extend that compassion towards the “reacting” person. That it’s cruel and wrong to force someone to back off (by cutting off all contact), but not cruel or wrong (quite the opposite) to force someone to keep talking, keep meeting (in person, no less) with someone they don’t want to be around anymore.
 
And that’s just majorly fucked up.
 
Even I know this. Even I have my shoulders up around my ears (when my eyes aren’t rolling skyward, at any rate) reading some of this stuff, and I understand really, really well the feelings of loss, anxiety, abandonment, and hopelessness that the author describes the “perceived as abusive” person feeling when all contact is refused.
I have SO been there.
Deep Breathing through hours of unanswered texts or days of unanswered emails & social media messages, trying to find a balance between the Captain Awkward axioms of “Silence Is An Answer” + “People Who Like You Act Like They Like You”[4] (I swear, Captain Awkward is how I learned what boundaries actually are in practice) and the million Totally Reasonable Reasons[5] that someone might not have gotten back to me yet.
Fighting off yet another goddamn anxiety spiral because I ended a message with a question mark[6] – “How’s your day?”; “I’m free for coffee and knitting on Tuesday. Want to join me?” – and the vulnerability built into one stupid piece of punctuation, the rawness of showing even that much wanting, needing, is overwhelming[7]. (I… don’t actually have a clue why it’s that overwhelming, but there it is).
That place of doubt, where you can’t actually tell if you’re really asking for way too much or if it’s within reason to expect the other person to probably be game for snuggles/hang-outs/sex/writing-critiques/confidences/coffee/whatever most of the time, or at least be up for proposing alternatives; where your own desires seem utterly monstrous specifically because (apparently) they’re not returned; where you feel so lonely and so nuts…
That’s a hell of a shitty place to be.
 
But you don’t get to call the other person “childish” just because they don’t want the same things as you. And you DO have to at least be willing the see the possibility that, while you feel like you’re starving or desperate, or whatever, the other person is maybe feeling crowded or eaten alive, or otherwise overwhelmed by the closeness you are asking for, however minimal that might be, or might be right now, or might be in a different situation but NOT right now, or whatever.
And I get that.
So it’s really uncomfortable to see what are basically My Worst Moments – the stuff that scares me when I think it, and that I try to never let come out of my mouth[8] – published in a mass-market paperback, as if they were totally reasonable things to think and act on.
O.O
 
It’s a bit of a tough go, you might say.
 
So, we’ll see how I do with the rest of it, but… I don’t know if this is going to be something I’m able to finish or not.
 
 
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Whether that means “not hire me” or “break up with me” or “retreat into shame-hiding and massively disordered eating” or some other thing doesn’t really matter in the context of this post. It all tends to boil down to “don’t leave me” when we’re talking about my brain.
 
[2] And here’s the thing about me: I don’t even know if that’s true. If my assumption that someone would be doing the things that tell my limbic system that I’m safe and loved in return if they were comfortable doing them, that I wouldn’t need to ask (at all, let alone over and over) because it would come naturally[3]… Would it? I have no freaking idea.
 
[3] As happens during limerence – AKA New Relationship Energy – when your brain chemistry tends to lead you to want to share as much time, energy, and (various forms of) attention with The Other Person, whether or not you’re actually thinking about, or putting conscious effort into, it.
 
[4] For some reason, “Silence Is An Answer” translates in my head as “If an answer is not forthcoming within a two (txt) or 24 (email) hour period, you should just wrap your head around the idea that the recipient of your message has finally gotten sick of your shit and is either waiting for you to get the hint that you are no-longer friends, or else has moved on already”.
 
[5] Phone died; driving; person is at work or has a date or other social event; their in-laws visiting; Maybe they… kind of didn’t feel like talking? (<– This one sucks SO MUCH, but it’s still an option, and it’s not actually the end of the world); they needed some introvert time, or didn’t know how to respond to the question; Got swamped on some other front and then felt embarrassed (I have been here, too); was in the middle of a really good novel and didn’t hear the phone; etc…
 
[6] For real. I figured out last… February? That I am waaaaaay more likely to get antsy or worse about an un-answered text or email if I’m asking the recipient a question. Because a question is a request for contact, and an attempt to build or strengthen ties, and if it’s left hanging, maybe it means that I’m the only one who wants those ties in the first place[7].
 
[7] Yes, I know Normal People don’t do this. That a text message, an email, or a tweet suggesting that “we should do coffee soon” isn’t actually a referendum on a given friendship/partnership/lovership/whatever. It was kind of a clue that maybe I have Actual Problems and am not just, I dunno… weak-willed or “too sensitive” or some other bullshit.
 
[8] Except here, clearly, where I’m telling you all about the mess that is my insides.

On Gaslighting

Go forth and read this. Particularly the list of Very Understandable Reasons why people gaslight other people. O.O

Dating Tips for the Feminist Man

I keep having the same conversation over and over.

That thing where someone undermines your perception of reality, and says you’re crazy, or denies that something is happening that is in fact happening?

picard-four-lights

When people we love and trust do that to us? It really messes with our minds.

Over time, or when it is about important things, this experience of having words deny reality can fundamentally shatter our sense of self-trust and our ability to navigate reality.

“There’s a word for that,” I say, hearing yet another such story from a female friend. “It’s gaslighting.”

Friend says “What’s gaslighting? I’ve never heard of that.”

“It’s when someone undermines your trust in your own perceptions and you feel crazy because your instincts and intuition and sometimes even plain old perceptions are telling you one thing, and words from someone you trust are telling you something different.”

“Oh.” (looks it up).

“Oh,”…

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Go check this one out, please.

Dr. Jen Gunter

Ohio is the latest state to attempt to pass a medically illiterate abortion “heartbeat” bill.

It’s bad enough that these bills exist, but the press needs to do a better job of calling them what they are. If politicians want to play medicine they should be using medical terms and when they refuse to use the correct terminology the press should correct them. People who vote for the assholes who write these bills know these shit shows as “heartbeat bills” not because they follow them as they groan through committee, but because that is how they read or hear about them in the news. The people who write these bills know what they are doing  as a “heartbeat” bills is a way of making a 4 mm thickening next to a yolk sac seem like it is almost ready to walk.

Fetal cardiac activity can be detected as early at…

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Jealousy and Compersion are Not Opposites

So – quite some time ago, now – a lovely human being of my acquaintance asked the twitterverse what, if anything, we would want to have included in a Polyamoury 101 workshop.
I answered that I would want to hear that you can experience jealousy and compersion at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive or either/or.
A couple of people responded with, basically, yes, they’ve experienced both at the same time, too, and it’s really uncomfortable and confusing.
And I basically opened my mouth and didn’t shut it for a bit. The following is built around what I tweeted, ages ago, with some extra stuff added in to flesh it out:
 
So here’s the thing.
I’ve had plenty of experiences where I brought up Relationship Insecurity with a partner and, in some of those cases, the partner in question (Reader, I married her) took the opportunity to listen to my fears, reinforce our relationship bonds, and show me some love and care… and in others (my very first open relationship partner, in particular), my fears were met with “Well, maybe you’re just not really poly” and all the shaming and disregard that comes along with a statement like that.
I think those experiences (both of them) high-light a key thing about jealousy, which is that – for me, at least – jealousy is a kind of fear that is rooted in insecurity. Not self-insecurity (although that 100% plays a role), but relationship-insecurity. The fear that your relationship with a given partner is unstable. And the thing about that is that you can’t “fix” fears about perceived (real or imagined) instability and uncertainty in ONE diad by being Happy for the (overlapping) people in a different diad.
It can help, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem.
 
Seeing my sweeties be lovey-dovey with their Other Partners has usually been really wonderful to observe and/or hear about. Not always easy – I did have to learn how to sit with the ache of “Oh, but I want this, too…” and how to be comfortable watching my People be romantically affectionate (romantiffectionate?) with their (other) People – but generally something that I could parse as a Good Thing, and something to encourage, even when I wasn’t comfortable with sharing space with those activities.
The thing is, that sweetness never stopped me from aching for arms around me, for kisses/cuddles/erotics of my own.
It tempered it, sure, but it didn’t stop it.
 
Similarly, a metamour of mine, when she first hooked up with Our Mutual Partner, insisted on getting together for coffee with me a couple of times a month, one on one, just to hang out and get to know each other.
It was a really good idea! (I hated it, in the beginning, but I could still see that it was a good idea. As of now, though? Totally endorse this plan. 100%).
It is much harder to be actively hostile towards someone when you are actively pushing to feel some empathy with them.
But feeling some empathy for my metamour, and feeling lots of delight for my partner who had this new person in her life… neither of those things made those “Oh, but I want ice cream…” feelings go away.
 
Compersion and jealousy are SO OFTEN presented as opposites. “If you feel one, you WON’T feel the other”, “You should/can feel X instead of feeling Y”, these are the messages that I’ve consistently picked up from Poly 101 books and blogs. But, experientially, I’ve found that those feelings are based in two different areas.
 
Compersion comes from sharing joy with someone you care about.
Jealousy comes from feeling fear that your relationship is unstable.
You don’t stop feeling jealousy when you get “happy enough” for someone else. You stop feeling jealousy when you feel safe and secure in your diad(s).

 
Now, a bit of a caveat here: If your gut reaction to this is something along the lines of “Well, I wouldn’t feel insecure in my relationship if {Person} wasn’t dating, or doing X with, So-and-so”? You’re gonna need to investigate where that’s coming from.
Because usually it doesn’t really stop there.
Example (NOTE: Q and X are actually both me):

Q: Well, I wouldn’t feel so insecure in my relationship if {Person} wasn’t dating So-and-so.
X: Okay. How come?
Q: So-and-so is pushy and demanding without even thinking about it! And {Person} likes it!
X: Okay? Can you tell me about that?
Q: {Person} thinks So-and-so’s a natural domme. I just think she’s [redacted], but I’m so new at this whole power exchange thing, and I’m totally clueless and really uncomfortable with ordering her around, and I just…
X: [*nodding encouragingly*]
Q: I’m afraid she’s going to ditch me because So-and-so is better at Dominance than I am…

 
…Which is basically the sped-up version of a conversation I had with myself over the course of about six months during my first year with Ghost.
 
Look, I’ve tripped up a LOT on this one. If I’m feeling neglected in my relationships, I tend to get antsy/upset/jealous when the people I’m feeling neglected by are making time for the other people in their lives, but aren’t making time for me, or are offering affection to said other people, but not to me. (You get the idea).
If I feel safe asking for what I need, and if I am reliably getting those needs met in a given relationship, my heart is free to drop its armour and feel that shared joy for that partner. If I’m armoured up and self-protecting, due to personal insecurities (remember how I said they do play a part) and/or due to a given partner not reliably stepping up to do basic relationship maintenance or suggesting that me having relationship needs at all is, in some way, being Too Needy? Well, go figure, it’s a LOT harder to take my armour off!
 
It’s not so much that Compersion negates Jealousy (it doesn’t). It’s that SECURITY[1] calms the fear that manifests as “jealousy”. When that fear calms the F down, and your limbic system relaxes, you have a much easier time swinging to the Empathy (thanks Brene Brown…) end of the vulnerability dial (away from the “isolation”/shame end) and letting that shared joy shine.
Yes, you can (sort of) force yourself to feel less threatened by a given metamour by pushing yourself towards empathy and putting yourself in your metamour’s shoes (as the above Regularly Scheduled Coffee Hang-Outs can give one space to do[2]), but I find it’s far more effective (and easier on your heart) if you can come at it from the other direction.
Pushing for compersion (empathy) in order to calm jealousy is a Hack. It’s a bandage to help you (all of you) get through the interim. “Solving” jealousy doesn’t take compersion. It takes being secure in your own relationships. That takes longer (because self-work is a slow process + relationship security is a thing that takes time and consistency to develop), but it’s very much necessary.
 
To sum up:
Jealousy and compersion effect each other, but they are not opposites. They don’t cancel each other out, and you can totally experience them at the same time. So if you are experiencing them at the same time?
(A) You’re not doing poly “wrong” or anything like that
(B) While, yes, it’s good to put yourself in your metamour’s shoes (Empathy helps. Empathy is connection is vulnerability that doesn’t feel like danger. It’s good stuff and gods know the world needs more of it) ALSO look to the places in your own diads that feel uncertain or unstable. Talk to your partners and try (and it can take a bunch of attempts, trial and error is not a bad thing) to sort out those things within your relationships. Follow the thread of your anxiety past “I wish Partner wouldn’t do X with So-and-so” to what the root of your fear really is, and then take time with the Partner in question to address those fears within that relationship[3].
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Which comes from both an internal sense of self-worth/worthiness (which is super hard for me and which I’ve been working on for the past ten years with, for sure, more years still to come) AND an external reality of a given partner walking their talk in terms of caring for and about you.
 
[2] Also recommended: Watch the entire Harry Potter series of movies, one movie per week, together with your metamour and the partner you have in common. I did this and, while at the beginning, Ghost was basically The Demilitarized Zone between the two of us on the couch, by the end? We were all hanging out and chatting over dinner and comfortable with each other, which is a massive big deal. Recommended!
 
[3] Pro Tip: It’s waaaaaay more effective to say “I need you to do XYZ with me” rather than to say “I need you to do XYZ with me but not with So-and-so” or “I need you to NOT do XYZ with So-and-so”. Why? Because, in saying “I need you to do XYZ with me”, you are telling someone who cares about you how to meet YOUR relationship needs, as opposed to asking them to prevent someone else (about-whom they also care, fyi) from getting their respective relationship needs met. It works WAY better.

Also this (suuuuuuuuch a big deal, go read it all): “If you have shamed something in yourself – like a normal need for intimacy – so early and so completely that you don’t even notice you are doing it, you will interpret that same need as shameful when you see it in others.”

Dating Tips for the Feminist Man

The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men* increasing their capacity to nurture, and becoming whole.

The Ghomeshi trial is back in the news, and it brings violent sexual assault back into people’s minds and daily conversations. Of course violence is wrong, even when the court system for handling it is a disaster. That part seems evident. Triggering, but evident.

But there is a bigger picture here. I am struggling to see the full shape emerging in the pencil rubbing, when only parts are visible at a time.

A meme going around says ‘Rape is about violence, not sex. If someone were to hit you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening.’ And this is true. But it is just the surface of the truth. The depths say something more, something about violence.

Violence is nurturance turned backwards.

These things are connected, they must be connected. Violence and nurturance are two sides of the same coin. I…

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Someone I still love did this to me.

Dating Tips for the Feminist Man

There are two kinds of boundary violations: overt and covert.

We know a lot about one half of boundary violations: the kind acted out in an anxious way.

This first kind of boundary violation is hopefully already obvious. This is when you say no, or are unable to consent, and someone goes ahead and touches you anyway. This is the kind of boundary violation that occurs when someone touches your body when you are drunk, or are unconscious, or are drugged, or do not say an enthusiastic yes, or your body language communicates trauma, fear or hesitation and someone goes ahead anyway.

It is the kind of boundary violation when men insist that we smile for them on the street, or smile before they will give us our food at a restaurant, or when they insist we talk to them and placate them and flirt with them when…

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