Writing your story is “an investment in one’s self,” and more from Amber Dawn

howpoetryI published a note about me & Amber Dawn reading some poetry this week earlier today, but I forgot that I have this lovely little interview from Amber Dawn’s publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press.

Interview with Amber Dawn

Q: The format of How Poetry Saved My Life (prose pieces mixed with a variety of poetry forms) deviates from what readers might have come to expect from the literary memoir form. Sections “Outside,” “Inside” and “Inwards” hint at a narrative arc, though the overall structure remains more loose and thematic than chronological. Why did you choose to tell your story this way?

Amber Dawn: I have a great deal of admiration for authors—especially ex-sex workers—who write their memoir as a chronological journey. Some books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently are Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos and Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, by Diablo Cody. I doubt I’d have the wherewithal to sit down and write my own story in this manner. How Poetry Saved My Life encompasses nearly fifteen years of collected writing. I wrote each piece for different reasons. Some poems had more therapeutic or cathartic beginnings, harken to the book’s title. Some prose I wrote to present at sex worker conferences or forums. It took a while before I realized I had an entire book’s worth of writing, and a bit longer still before I felt brave enough to release these collected stories and poems publicly. I view the account of my experiences as more of an emotional journey, rather than a chronological one. Through this approach I hope readers will make there own personal connection to the book, even if they’re life experiences are different from my own.

Q: The book represents nearly fifteen years of collected writings. You’ve had a very diverse writing career—you’ve edited horror and porn anthologies and dipped into the magical realist genre with your first novel Sub Rosa. How did you come to write a non-fictionalized memoir?

A: I believe a voice is a powerful and privileged resource to possess, especially when it comes to something like sex work, which is constantly silenced and stigmatized. Through performing on both small and larger stages, I’ve found that in every audience there is at least one woman (or man) who not only relates to my story, but feels almost desperate to have silence around sex work and survivorship broken. I feel a duty to speak up.

Q: Is there a piece of prose or poetry in the collection that was particularly difficult for you to write or realize, and in turn share with readers?

A: “Lying is the Work” is a personal essay that juxtaposes a bad date I had during the last year of working in the sex trade with my grandfather’s story of joining the Navy at age 17 to fight in WW2. This is one of very few examples where I bring my family history into my work. I love my family and want to protect and spare them of triggers or “digging up dirt.” While I’m proud of who I am, I acutely understand that survivors and sex workers are stigmatized and that this stigma can impact families and loved ones.

Case in point, recently, my grandfather disowned me when I married my wife—a ceremony that everyone in my family attended but for him. Therefore, I feel I can tell a bit of the story between my grandfather and I—in a dignified and objective way—without worrying about him reading it. As an Italian-American immigrant and Navy veteran he has a tremendous story of survival. It’s bitter sweet that I relate to him as a survivor and yet we have no present-day relationship. This makes the personal essay very difficult for me.

Q: RADAR Productions recently awarded you the 2012 Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Chapbook Prize for “How I got My Tattoo.” How does the title poem of that particular collection fit into your personal narrative in How Poetry Saved My Life?

A: What an honour to win the Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Prize, and just before I launch How Poetry Saved My Life! I have a quite a few titles like How Poetry Saved My Life and “How I Got My Tattoo” that are posed like answers to questions. Sex workers and survivors get asked questions all the time. I could over-simplify all these questions to essentially, “How did this happen to you.” I hate that question—the question implies that being a survivor or being a sex worker is outside the norm and needs explanation—when in fact these experiences are very common. Nonetheless, I also sympathize that people need to ask questions and discuss. The titles that I’ve written as answers to questions are there to promote discussion in a proud and creative way.

Q: In the book you cite author Jeanette Winterson and “powerful women whose voices have been cut short” among your inspirations. Would you tell us more about how you have been influenced by literary and activist voices in your life?

A: I was in my teens and early 20s in the 1990s, and was gobsmacked by the Riot Grrl movement. My first serious girlfriend introduced me to the feminist music and zine culture and listing to Team Dresh and Bikini Kill gave me the idea that I too had something to say. Not only where these voices powerful, but they were accessible. I didn’t need education to understand the feminist politicking of Riot Grrl. But after being introduced to feminist art and literature, I wanted to learn more. This was probably the first time I ever wanted to learn or read anything. I began reading Jeanette Winterson, Beth Goobie, Larissa Lai, Evelyn Lau, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Michelle Tea, Sarah Schulman. Finally, I understood the comfort and solidarity that could be found through books.

Q: You’ve toured with the Sex Workers Art Show, created short films, as well as performed at a variety of venues including the Vancouver Art Gallery. How does your performance and film background compliment or deviate from your writing?

A: Performing at galleries or appearing in my own films has helped me get into my body. Like many survivors, I’m inclined to live in my head, my imagination is a real sanctuary. Performance art has allowed me to embody the themes and emotions of my work and connect more closely with audience. I really feel the work when I’m hurling my body around a stage. In turn, this has helped me sink into a deeper connectivity to my written work.

Q: You now teach creative writing classes—some to queer and at-risk youth. Can you say more about the potential of art to be a survival skill and lifeline to others?

A: Something very palpable occurs when a person writes their story. It doesn’t have to be for future publication, but simply to put memories on paper and/or to read them in a room full of safe, supportive listeners. It’s an investment in one’s self. It’s an act of acknowledging one’s worth. It’s making the unspoken, heard. This can have life-changing impacts on people who have been shut down or silenced. Each time I run a creative writing workshop I see a little bit of change happen. “Thank you for listening,” my students always say to me. They don’t need to thank me; they should thank themselves. They do transformative work when they use their voices.

“Reading erotica is a GREAT way to explore your sexuality.” Tristan Taormino Interviewed Me On Sex Out Loud

Laura Antoniou & I were guests on Tristan Taormino’s Sex Out Loud podcast this past Friday, and the show is now up & available to listen to online.

This week’s episode of Sex Out Loud has two different guests talking about their work giving voice to sexual minorities, specifically the leather & BDSM communities. Laura Antoniou, one of the most published female writers of the queer/BDSM erotic genre, will discuss her popular Marketplace erotic novel series as well as the publication of her first mystery novel, The Killer Wore Leather. Sinclair Sexsmith is the kinky butch top behind the the popular Sugarbutch Chronicles. They’re also a writer, storyteller, and performer who studies critical feminist & gender theory, sexual freedom, social change activism, archetypes, and the tantric and buddhist spiritual systems.

Check it out!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Hawkin47: Freedom is Worth the Pain & Pangs of Jealousy

Hawkin47, http://hawkin47-randomactsofawesome.blogspot.com, http://promiscuouspersonsguidetoportland.blogspot.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I hadn’t had the equation of monogamy = true love so deeply ingrained in my head that I couldn’t define an open relationship as a loving one. The relationship I’m in now started as a completely open, Friends with Benefits who happen to live together and sleep next to each other every night sort of deal. The FwB part, which precluded the idea of monogamous, romantic love, made it easier to accept the knowledge that I was sexually attracted to other people, and so was he. And over the 3 years we’ve been together, we still consider ourselves close friends more than lovers. But over these years, I’ve learned that open relationships, when they’re done right and when they’re right for YOU, surpass any level of monogamous love I’ve ever seen. The freedom you give yourself and your partner creates this incredibly open, non-judgmental sort of love that is immensely satisfying.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Jealousy, bar none. I’m a jealous goddess, and you shall serve none above me or below me. My primary partner is also an intensely jealous sort, and being ex-military hasn’t helped control that part of himself. The green goblin has reared its ugly head multiple times over the years we’ve been together, and each time has been traumatic.

We still haven’t completely expunged jealousy from our relationship, and I doubt we ever will. I doubt I’ll ever be capable of being in an open relationship without a level of jealousy on my part.

However, we have developed very effective workarounds for both of us, that I think will work in most any relationship.

First, embracing the knowledge that freedom is worth the pain and pangs of jealousy, for both of us. That part was really important, because it put jealousy in its proper place, well below a number of other things.

Second, though we are completely honest with each other, we are NOT completely open with each other. I tell him every time I’m going on a date, generally where, and generally with who. But I don’t discuss my dates when I get home unless they’ve been particularly traumatic and I need some advice or a sympathetic ear. But if they were stellar? He doesn’t need to know. And I’m ok with that. He doesn’t date nearly as often as I do, but he doesn’t tell me the intimate details of the conversations he has with other women. I’m peripherally aware of his interactions with other women, and I give advice and commiserate when needed. But that’s it. And this has helped keep the peace more than anything else we do. I have never felt the need to lie to my partner, and as far as I know he has never felt the need to lie to me. And I kind of love that :).

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

For me, I’d have to say freedom. I feel like I’ve been unchained from years of repressive, unhappy, unrealistic ideals of love and sexuality. I have given myself permission to realistically and honestly explore parts of myself that I have never been able to express or understand. I have a primary partner who understands my needs and meets most of them, and then I have as many other partners as I need who help me explore facets of my sexuality and ability to love that my primary can’t. It’s taken the pressure away from having to be everything to one person, and wanting that person to be everything to me. When I was a young girl, and all my other friends were fantasizing about the man they’d marry and the type of wedding they’d have, I fantasized about marrying a sea captain. It took me a long time to realize that the reason a sea captain was my ideal was because he was gone 6 months out of every year, and I loved the idea of that freedom. I wanted to love someone desperately for 6 months, and then have the freedom to take lovers for the next 6 months. Being in an open relationship has helped me realize that ideal for myself, year round.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Something I’ve noticed, and thought about quite a bit, is that the truly successful open relationships I’ve seen (and been a part of) all follow a very similar model. It seems to me (and this may very well NOT be true for everyone) that people in a successful open relationship often sacrifice a level of depth in their relationship in order to gain a level of breadth in their relationships.

That is not to say that primary partners don’t love each other deeply and passionately. But… but it seems like the role of lover is often less appropriate than the role of friend amongst primary partners. Acknowledging that sacrifice, if that’s how you see it, has been important to me. It’s helped me figure out what I really need from my lovers and my life, what’s truly important to me. The satisfying breadth of experience I’m given and allowed to take has more than made up for the inherent lack of depth that non-monogamy has meant to me. That may not always be the case, and it may just be my own lack of experience and knowledge talking. But it’s been a helpful sort of idea.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Becca Bee: Identify Needs vs Wants

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That you need a support system of people who understand when you are just having a feeling that needs to be heard, but not necessarily by your partner. That they can listen and validate the feeling without worrying that your other relationship(s) are in jeopardy because you’re having a feeling. Crisis mode/intervention is not needed every time you have envy or even *gasp* jealousy.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

That I’m awfully good at introducing my primary partners to their new primary partner. I’m currently working on this by not having a primary partner, and acting as in independent owner/operator. Which is very different for me.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Beefing up my communication skills with the world. Each relationship exponentially adds to the communication load of every other relationship. Updated calendars are a must.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Identifying your actual needs vs your actual wants. Sometimes they look an awful lot like each other, and the identification can be difficult. Also, letting your relationships know what things they provide for you that is unique and important to you.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with EK: I Wish I’d Had A Manual

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

Before I started an open relationship, it would have been nice for someone to tell me just how hard it was going to be. Hard in a sense that my oh so creative imagination was gonna death grip my balls and have me thinking and over thinking just about any possible scenario when came to my girl fucking someone else. I wish there would have been a manual to give me step by step guides on how to deal with the jealousy, the nights alone and the reconnection part that is oh so necessary once you have returned home and showered after a night out with someone else. But most of all, I wish someone would have told me that being in an open relationship is like walking a tightrope. One false move and you’ve disrupted the balance and you’re falling… falling fast.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I thought that the hardest thing going into the open relationship would have been controlling my jealousy and my possessiveness. I thought it would be hard to let my girl know that it was ok. That I was ok with it. In the end I overcompensated by suggesting people… like.. hey, so and so, they’re cute. I would totally be ok with you banging them. In the end I think I suggested the wrong person, and she ended up falling in love with him… which, disrupted the balance and I am now currently laying face flat on the ground.

But in general we knew it was going to be a trial… so we made rules. No sleep overs, no feelings, no breakfasts, no fancy dinners, no dating. This was not a dating game. This was a sex game and we lay down boundaries to help each other feel safe and secure.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The best thing about the open relationship was the freedom I felt. I could talk to women, I could flirt with women and I could touch them and not feel one tiny bit bad about it. I knew deep down that they could never match what I had for my girl, so I felt safe, and free to be myself. There was no pressure and a sense that I was in the best relationship in the world. I had it all.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Open relationships really are not for everyone. To me open and polyamorous relationships are a whole different ball game. You need to be sure to build solid foundations, and build up slowly. Reassurance must be applied in the right doses depending on the different participants. So much communication… talk about it to death. Write down rules. Write down all that could happen and what you dont want to happen. And also know… that it could make or break your relationship. Mutual consent all round. Communication to all parties… I can’t stress this enough. Deceit only increases the chances of disrupting the balance. But most of all.. remember who you are going home to. Make sure your sex life is a healthy one before you starting opening up doors to other people. Resentment can build so fast and its so easy to falter…or say the wrong thing. I am no expert at these things, but I know what has gone wrong and I have a good idea why. Timing can mean everything, but mostly it is balance and communication. If I could go back and do it all again, I probably wouldn’t… given the outcome I was met with. But I’m not saying I wont ever do it again.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Katie: Fluidity in Long Term Relationships

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That no matter how progressive your family might be, they might have a very difficult time accepting plural relationships. In my adulthood, I’ve only had one protracted fight or falling-out with my mother, and it was over my concurrent relationships with two men. Her inability to understand came out as disgust and it hurt me tremendously for quite some time. Also, that you yourself must want that type of love in your life – don’t ever get into it because of someone else’s ultimatum.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Initially, when I began, it was pretty much a neverending onslaught upon my sense of security and self worth. Living in a world that upholds monogamy as the ultimate form of love really shapes the way you view loving and being loved — when someone doesn’t approach you and your relationship in the de facto ways, it can be very disorienting and scary. I struggled a great deal with jealousy, but much of that had to do with my (at the time) primary partner’s adherence to the old adage “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission”. I felt like a lot of stuff happened without consulting me first, and that my concerns about partner selection were not being heard. In the end, I suppose I overcame that by not remaining with that partner. He was a lovely person who was not a good partnership fit for me — acquiring the knowledge that you can love and respect someone a great deal but not “fit” with them was a real eye-opener.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

It forced a great deal of introspection in my early/mid 20s. I learned myself, my emotional patterns and my weaknesses very, very well. Through a great deal of reading (I’m particularly partial to Tristan Taormino’s “Opening Up”), I learned a tremendous amount about non-violent communication. How to know what I wanted or needed and how to ask for it without resorting to passive aggression (or straight-up aggression) has been a boon to literally every other aspect of my life, too.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m no longer actively nonmonogamous. In short order, I’m marrying the person who was, for several years, my secondary partner. Meeting each other on the terms of an atypical relationship structure forced us to communicate on a different level than if we had met each other as single people. There was a lot of deep discussion that might not otherwise have happened at such early stages. The raw honesty that was required forged an incredibly solid bond between the two of us. We’re certainly keeping ourselves open in theory if not in active practice, as we feel it stops us from lapsing into bored complacency. There’s a bit of a safety valve built in there, too. If we become infatuated with someone else, knowing we can talk to each other about it and possibly negotiate for a very happy conclusion really takes some of the pressure off of a long-term commitment to each other. It’s very unlikely either of us would run off with a sexy coworker or what have you, if we acknowledge the truth fluidity of desire within a long-term relationship.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Colin: Jealousy is a Pain Reaction

Colin

Reading your questions, I realize that I may not be the target interviewee for you, since, while I am technically in an open relationship, it’s because I identify as poly and have for way longer than I’ve been in this relationship. My girlfriend is dating someone of equal importance to me and was dating him before I came along. Still, I’ll answer the questions in hopes of being useful!

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

While no two open relationships are the same, there’s some basic stuff that I wish was more common knowledge. ‘Communication is key’ is one that gets taught to all poly people who get taught anything at all, and it’s very true, but ‘No Surprises’ is a solid guideline that makes any open relationship easier. Gonna start dating or fucking somebody? Tell your partners before it’s a sure thing. It may cut down on spontaneity, but it dramatically reduces paranoia and resentment.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

This question doesn’t quite apply to me. I identify as polyamorous, which means that I only go into relationships with the understanding that they will be open. The relationship that I had that went from closed to open didn’t work out and is now in the distant past.

When it was still pertinent, jealousy was an issue and I’ve seen it be an issue for a lot of people. It can still be one now for me, but I approach it far differently than I used to. I see jealousy as a pain reaction — it’s your psyche reacting to something uncomfortable. Sometimes you feel uncertain that your partner values you as much as you need, sometimes you feel like you’re not on the same page, sometimes you don’t feel like you know your partner’s partner well enough. In all cases, letting the jealousy dictate your actions is a bad idea; you want to get to the root cause of the jealousy and explore what might alleviate it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Being polyamorous has allowed me to explore a lot of different kinds of love, sex, affection, and intimacy. If I were monogamous, I never could have maintained an asexual relationship, but I have since come to have a few and feel deep love for the people I had them with.

I’m not interested in having a power or kink dynamic with my ‘primary’ partner; I need an equitable partnership. But since I’m poly, I am free to explore kink that my partner and I aren’t interested in doing with each other! (‘course, I have run into problems with my local kink scene, but it has nothing to do with polyamory.)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

‘Open relationships’ creates a very wide umbrella. It covers people who love only each other but can fuck others individually, it covers people who love only each other and will only fuck others together, and it can cover people who love each other and are free to love others.

It doesn’t necessarily cover people who consider themselves to be polyamorous by identity but aren’t currently partnered. When I am single, I’ll only date someone who is willing to enter into an open relationship. ‘Open’ also doesn’t necessarily cover polyfidelity, where a member of a relationship is dating more than one person, but not open to any new relationships.

There are more types of multi-person relationship than there are terms to cover it, but I’m still glad to see the concept getting more attention!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Ozy: Compersion is Seriously Excellent

Ozy Frantz, ozyfrantz.com.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

The biggest insight I have about open relationships is that they’re less difficult than you think they are. Admittedly, I kind of fell into polyamory by accident. My now-girlfriend then-roommate hooked up with a guy that she thought I’d be interested in (we both liked comics). Like the kind and generous-souled person she is, she brought him home. That night, the guy and I ended up having sex with my now-girlfriend in the room reading Sandman; we invited her to join us and by the next morning, without anyone quite meaning to, we were all dating.

So I didn’t really put much thought into the whole “becoming polyamorous” thing. If I had, I probably would have processed it a lot more than I did and worried about jealousy and time management and communication and all that stuff. In practice, though, polyamory is basically like a monogamous relationship, except with more people. Good intentions, communication, and honestly wanting the best for each other is the most important thing.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing for me is that I tend to be very afraid that people will abandon me if I don’t do everything right. So sometimes I get worried that my partners will leave me. That’s really the only time I get jealous: normally, I’m not a jealous person at all. The big thing for me was realizing that my jealousy and fear of abandonment are important issues. I had– still do have, in a way– a tendency to repress my emotions because they’re irrational and I shouldn’t have them. But even though my fear of abandonment is very irrational, it’s still real. It’s okay for me to bring up that I’ve been feeling abandoned lately and to talk about it with my partners and make sure they spend some extra time taking care of me until I feel more secure.

Also, dishes. My poly household gets into some truly epic arguments about dishes.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Compersion is seriously excellent. You know that feeling when you’re watching your favorite TV show and the couple you’ve been rooting for for six seasons finally gets together? Like that, but for real people. Not to mention that finally there’s someone who is as interested in discussing the fabulosity of your romantic partners as you are, as opposed to your regular friends, who would really just prefer you get back to discussing My Little Pony.

I also like the way polyamory makes relationships so much more fluid. I feel like, with monogamous relationships, there’s a certain mold you’re supposed to fit: sex on the third date, “I love you” by month six, moving in together after a year, that sort of thing. But because of polyamory I can have all kinds of relationships that enrich my life but would be deeply unsatisfying as my only relationship. A romantic relationship where we don’t have sex, a platonic relationship where we love each other and have sex but still don’t want to date, long-distance relationships, flirty platonic friendships… every relationship grows into its own unique form once you take away the way it “has” to be.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s amazing how natural polyamory feels to me. It’s like the final puzzle piece clicking into place, a puzzle piece I didn’t even know was missing but now that it’s here the entire picture makes sense. Normally I’m a very analytical person who questions whether I’m “really X” a lot, but I have never questioned being polyamorous since I started. I literally cannot imagine going back to monogamy.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Doodle: Assumptions, Impatience, Jealousy, Emotional Freedom

Doodle, @doodle_pops

Before I get started with my answers, for context, I live with my fiance, boyfriend, girlfriend, and metamour, most of whom have relationships outside our family, although I currently do not. The five of us are in this for the long haul and intend to spend the rest of our lives together, although that was not initially the plan.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had realised how many assumptions I was making. When I negotiated opening my relationship, I was dating my fiance. Then I fell in love with a married man, who I knew was in an open relationship. I made a number of assumptions about what it meant to be married and open (that we were allowed sex but not feelings, that his wife would always take priority over me, that I had the right to sleep with him, but not the right to hang out and watch movies with him, that I couldn’t ever call him and ask if he was free because I’d be intruding on time I assumed he was spending with his wife and she would get irritated and end our relationship, that our relationship could never be anything long term, because he and his wife did want to settle down to monogamy at some point) which were all completely untrue.

At some point, the word ‘polyamorous’ was mentioned instead of ‘open relationship’ and I looked it up and realised that the model I’d been basing my assumptions on might not be true and I should probably check. (I’d spent three months trying to pretend unsuccessfully that I wasn’t in love with him at that point.) Not a one of them turned out to be true. Funny, that.

I wish I’d realised that signing up for a relationship includes signing up for me when I have inconvenient feelings, instead of just when I’m at my best. I tried to ‘protect’ my other partners from that for a while. Big mistake!

I wish I’d realised that if I wanted to know how my boyfriend and his wife thought about a topic, I had to ask them both, instead of asking him and assuming I was getting the ‘party line’, so to speak. Had I just had the nerve to speak to his wife, all of these misunderstandings would have been cleared up in half an hour and I’d have fallen in love with her sooner.

I also wish I had been less impatient with my fiance. It wasn’t until two years later where he found someone he liked and was in a relationship with, as opposed to casual sex and I suddenly realised how hard I had pushed him in the beginning, how little time I gave him to adapt, because I was in the New and Shiny time and I didn’t realise what I was doing. I have come to a new appreciation of how well he was dealing back then.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

For me, personally, it’s letting other people in. I have recurrent depression and gender dysphoria, so it’s really important for me to be able to say to my loves “I can’t stop thinking X terrible thing about myself, even though I know it isn’t true. Can I have a hug and some reassurance, please?” It’s one of my methods of coping, but it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable.

I’ve been with my fiance longer than my boyfriend and girlfriend, so it’s easier to talk to him than it is the others, because I’ve had more practice.

Letting more people in, past the defences I put up, feels intensely vulnerable. The only way to overcome it is to keep trying, hour by hour, day by day. I remember a quote from Neil Gaiman that summed my strategy up in a nutshell. He was talking about making art, but I think it applies to an awful lot of polyamory, too. “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself- that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

Jealousy is kinda horrible for everyone and while it comes up more and more infrequently as we get better at navigating it, it so often blindsides us. I have a horrid tendency to compare myself to my metamours and think “If they’re dating this person, it must be X quality that I don’t possess that attracts them! Oh no, I must cultivate a more femme gender expression/a love of knitting/the ability to not be squicked by certain sexual acts/a more dominant-than-thou aura of command for kinky fun times/the ability to not be bored to tears by ice hockey!” It is utterly ridiculous.

I’m finding that because I tried to protect my loves from my feelings for so long, I’ve got a backlog of stuff to work through with them, now I finally feel secure about our long term future. They didn’t even know that I was doing that! The moral here, ladies and gents: do not bottle up your feelings. Lesson learned.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Emotional freedom. Hands down. When I was monogamous, I always said I would be more upset if my partners fell in love with someone else, than if they slept with them. (With the caveat of “and didn’t tell me about it”, this is still true.)

As a result of that feeling, I felt that the most important thing I could do to show fidelity was never be more than casual friends with someone I was attracted to. This is a problem when you consider that I have a large number of incredibly attractive friends, both in terms of looks and personality. At the start of monogamous relationships, I used to have to explain to partners that I expected them to make exceptions to this rule for my two best friends. (It worked really well, until I fell in love with one of my aforementioned best friends.)

I realise this is not how everyone does monogamy, but it’s how monogamy was drummed into my head. I tried for a long time to change my definition of monogamy, but it only led to a nagging feeling that I was doing it wrong somehow. It wasn’t til I left it behind entirely that I realised how much it’d stifled me.

Now, I don’t have to have designated best friends who are exceptions to this rule. An example- one of my closer friends is, somewhat unusually for our crowd, entirely monogamous (and does not do monogamy the unhealthy way I used to) and our friendship can just be what it is, as deep as it is, with as much love as there is, instead of me having to force it into the shallows for the sake of his marriage or my relationships. And that applies to every single person in my life, too.

I may have gotten into poly because there was a cute boy I wanted to sleep with, but this, this right here, is why I’ve signed up for lifelong poly.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There will be people reading this thinking “This is all well and good, but can it work in the long term?” because they want it, but they’re scared of trying, scared of messing up or because the way they want to do poly looks different from the way people on the internet do it.

Please, oh faceless denizens of the internet, have faith in yourself and try. I don’t know of another poly family the size of mine who live under one roof anywhere in the world. The five of us still bought a house and intend to still be in it when we’re seventy. There are so many different people doing poly who don’t talk about it on the internet.

I went to Polyday ( http://www.polyday.org.uk/ ) in London last year and there were folks there who had been poly since before I was born and raised grown up kids who had gone on to be poly themselves. Find out for yourselves, if this is what you want.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Parks: This is Magic, I Promise

Parks Dunlap. parksdunlap.wordpress.com

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

(I’m currently in my early twenties, so my younger self would be nineteen and stubbornly monogamous.) I would tell her, Working two jobs is not the way to be so busy you won’t form crushes on other people than your partner. You will still fall in love with about three people you shouldn’t have. Don’t get married just yet, but you’ll figure that one out. Nonmonogamy is not a quick fix solution, but it will feel a whole lot better than repeating, “you are monogamous. You are monogamous. Focus,” to yourself all the time. BDSM is a significant part of the reason you are nonmonogamous. And it is okay to want that. This is all going to be really hard, and it/s going to feel like you are starting over, but this is going to be magic, I promise.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships has been acknowledging the shame that comes with wanting, with desire, and with breaking away from queer assimilationist relationship expectations. It is often hard to feel wanted, and to want. And it is really hard for me to trust that its okay to be a big slut. I’m from a conservative southern family, so rejecting and fucking within that socialization is hard work.

The other thing that is often hard checking my privilege and learning how to be an ally. This is a constant practice outside of and in relationships. I think that it is often hard to see my relationships as non-neutral ground, and see the way social structures affect my relationships. For example, a partner of mine does not have the hours to date other people because she works a full time job and goes to school full time. I have the class privilege that I do not need to work a full time job while in school. We have had to discuss the complicated feelings that come with this difference in our lives, and the jealousy that comes up when I have time, money, and energy to date and she does not.

I have not overcome either of these things, but I have found things that help. Asking for affirmation from my partners and poly friends helps with the guilt, and my two sisters are really supportive of my dating multiple people, which is super helpful. The privilege and ally thing is going to be something I work at my entire life. I have learned that shutting up when called in, and taking notes during those long processing conversations is really helpful. Google is also an excellent resource.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

How hard it is. It is constantly pinning me into a corner and forcing me to look at my own vulnerability. It has really helped me to grow as an individual. Also I really love playing the game of “when I grow up and have babies with all my queer poly friends what color are we going to paint the porch?”/having queer Dad house butch dreams.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I have been so impressed with the majority of queer poly folks I have befriended, worked with, and admired from afar. I think that poly done in a radical context can be serious political work. And if anyone ever has the chance to hang out with Joy Fairfield, who presented at this year’s Open SF conference, ask her about her Rhizomatic Intimacy lecture. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Andrea Zanin: Applies to All Relationships, Not Just Poly

Andrea Zanin aka Sex Geek, sexgeek.wordpress.com & 10 Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

To preface this, and my other answers here, I don’t think much of what I have to say is particular to polyamory. It’s about relationships, and it so happens that I’ve been doing polyamorous relationships since my very early twenties, so for nearly fifteen years now. But I’m pretty sure most of this would still apply if I were monogamous.

I’d tell my younger self that it’s okay to break up—that breaking up does not mean failure, and that there’s no bean-counter in the sky judging me if I haven’t tried absolutely every single possible thing to save a relationship. Deep joy is crucial. If a relationship drains you for a little while as you work through something difficult, fine. But if your experience is one of constant drain, pain or sadness, and there’s no realistic way that’ll change substantially in the foreseeable future, then it actually doesn’t matter how much you love someone, or how much they love you, or whose fault any of the bad stuff is. It’s okay to leave just because you’re unhappy. You have permission.

I’d also share a term I came up with just a few months ago: “terminal issue.” All relationships encounter challenges, right? Sometimes we don’t even register them as such because we deal with them so easily and quickly. Sometimes they take up space for quite some time, or are especially big and painful, but then we resolve them and they don’t come back. But sometimes they last, and last, and last; or they get worse over time; or they arrive in one fell swoop, but are so gigantic they stop us in our tracks. Eventually, those big or long-lasting issues, if they’re serious enough, are the ones that can lead to a split. Those are what I call terminal issues.

In my experience, the terminal issues are rarely about circumstance or outside events, though outside events can reveal or exacerbate them. They’re the ones that relate to deep-level incompatibility—the structural components of two people’s personalities, psyches and life philosophies that simply aren’t going to budge enough to accommodate one another and result in mutual joy. To wit, if I look back at my past relationship splits, the terminal issues are ones that would still be present today if I tried to get back together with the person, even many years later. Neither of us magically changed after a split. No amount of work would have made us fit better. I think that the more clearly I learn to discern workable issues from terminal issues, the more I understand how compatibility is crucial, and the less important it becomes to figure out who’s at fault when that compatibility is absent in a given area.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that? 

It’s been challenging to understand the difference between poly as a value system and poly as a concrete practice. For me, they go so closely together that I make no separation, but I’ve learned that for many people this is not the case, and it’s been a painful lesson. For some people, poly is a value that may or may not translate into practice for any number of circumstantial reasons (health, time, emotional readiness, etc.). For some, it’s a practice that may not relate to a value system; it’s simply helping them meet a need (sex, closeness, whatever) at the moment. Neither one is inherently better, but they do lead to two very different ranges of assumptions, some of which may clash. I am definitely better off being involved with other people who, like me, hold polyamory as a core value or a key element of their identity. I was devastated once, for instance, by a lover who took for granted that if she got seriously involved with someone, we’d split up (I didn’t know this). So when she announced she’d found a partner, for her that was a breakup conversation, but I was just happy for her and still looking forward to our next play date. To her it was obvious: a real relationship meant no more playing around with me. To me it wasn’t obvious at all—after all, we were playing around even though I was in two serious relationships myself! Clearing that one up was pretty ouchy. Definitely it taught me to ask more questions about value systems from the get-go.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

It’s allowed me to live by my ethics rather than accept the ones that were fed to me as a child. Full honesty, not just honesty about the stuff you’re supposed to think and feel and want, and denial about the rest. Real, vibrant, living desire, not duty. Deep, gentle commitment to everyday relationship quality, with longevity as a by-product, rather than a gritty commitment to stay together til death do us part while ignoring the daily cultivation of intimacy. Poly has also allowed me to co-create the kind of family I deeply value, with long-term partners, metamours and friends who are, frankly, amazing people.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I learned the word “idiolect” the other day, and I think it’s a really handy one. It’s a linguistics term that essentially means each person’s totally unique, individual way of speaking a given language. I think the concept can apply to emotions, too.

Think about the experience of physical pain. It can be very real and intense for the person experiencing it, but anybody looking on can only ever understand it from the way it manifests. If different people are experiencing identical pain, one might scream and cry, the second might grit their teeth and be stoic, the third might giggle and make light of it, the fourth might faint, the fifth might get angry and kick the wall. They’re all legit pain responses, but an onlooker might have a very different read on what’s actually going on in each situation.

The same is true for most inner experiences. The way each person expresses, for instance, respect, care, desire or anger is all just their individual manifestation of what’s going on inside. Figuring this out means it’s become easier for me to ask questions about the inner experience instead of interpreting it all from the outward manifestation and reacting only to that. Questions like, “What does X mean to you?” “What is your reasoning behind Y?” “What is your intent when you say or do Z?” “When you act in this way, what’s going on inside you?” When I start to understand how their emotional idiolect works, I have an easier time immediately “hearing” what they’re “saying.”

So, for instance…
Manifestation: Partner is unfocused and keeps changing the subject.
Interpretation: If I were doing this, it would be a sign I probably wasn’t too interested in the conversation, or had a big issue on my mind.
Question: You seem distracted. What’s going on with you right now?
Inner experience: This means they have low blood sugar, not that they don’t care what I’m saying.
Solution: Feed them now, talk later.

I find that if I remove the focus on the outward expression and look to the inner experience instead, it’s relatively easy to empathize with my partners or explain what’s going on with me. From there, if someone’s outward manifestation is a problem, it’s much easier to tweak, since it’s not loaded with the added emotional weight of misinterpretation.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Lolita: Rules Can’t Balance Out Insecurities

Lolita, leatheryenta.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I now have less rules with my partners. Rules can’t balance out my insecurities. Instead I have become more self-confident and less controlling. If somebody is an asshole, they will be an asshole with or without rules.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I have not opened up my relationships. They start out open and stay open. I would not do it any other way.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I trust my partner. I don’t worry. Having no worries is very liberating.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There is no such thing as TMI between us. Sometimes it is tough to tell my partner things, but after it’s out in the open, it’s so much better.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Jack: Ridiculously Hot Kink & Sex

Jack Stratton, writingdirty.com

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

Ask for what you want and help your partner understand your attraction.

One of the main of causes of the negative aspects of jealousy is your partner(s) filling in what they don’t know about your desires/partners with their own worries, fears, and self-consciousness. Be upfront about what you want and why you want others. I find it a lot easier to get into that lovely compersion zone when I understand my partner’s attraction. I don’t have to share in it, but often I do, since my primary and I are somewhat similar.

Know that people want different amounts of information and different types of information and sometimes they are not going to know exactly what they want right away. You have to communicate a lot. You have to communicate about how you want to communicate.

Keep discussion and negotiation as fun as possible. Remember that you are not brokering a business transaction, you are figuring out how to get your desires and your partners desires met (and exceeded) while keeping everyone happy.

Reinforce each partners’ specific special place in your life and in your heart. Keep certain things sacred to certain partners.

It’s okay to to give your primary veto power.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

Learning when to talk about what. I tend to worry about talking and negotiating if my partner is in a bad mood or busy. Sometimes that has bitten me in the ass because I end up talking to them too late or too close to a date or something. Timing is the toughest for me.

Asking for what I want. It means knowing what I want and understanding what I want.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

The rush of meeting new people mixed with the joy of stable long term relationships. Swooning over people and watching my partner swoon over someone. Getting all tangled up in mutual attraction and three way attraction and so on. Having crushes all the time and being able to follow them through as much or as little as I like.

Ridiculously hot kink and sex.

No guilt ever.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Google Calendar. Google Calendar. Google Calendar. It is the most useful thing in the world for poly people. Knowing who is doing what, when, and where but me and my partners at ease. Also, you can look and if you see something you’re not sure about you just drop a little note. “Who is Lisa again?” I love it.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Dire: Relationship Resilience (and Sexual Variety)

1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?

Don’t give more of yourself than you’re capable of giving. There have been a number of situations in my open relationship which have made me very uncomfortable, but I felt as though I shouldn’t feel that way for one reason or another, and so I would say I was okay with whatever the issue was and hoped that I would eventually become comfortable. I didn’t, and, in fact, it only got worse until it reached the point where I would consistently be reduced to tears and laden with anxiety. Both individuals have to develop and evolve together, and expanding the open aspects of the relationship need to be guided by the least open/comfortable person, not the most.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?

The hurting. It is inevitable that at some point both individuals in the open relationship will get hurt. Whether it’s jealousy, misunderstandings, insecurities, STD scare, or any number of other issues, being part of an open relationship exposes you to a plethora of tribulations and pain that will need overcoming. Overcoming being hurt isn’t possible — which is important to remember when considering your ROI vs cost — but you can address each issue as it arises (or before, if you can foresee it) to minimize future hurting.

3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?

I won’t lie, the sexual variety has been pretty fantastic, but I suspect that’s the more obvious benefit, so instead I would say the resilience of our relationship. My mate’s brother once asked him, after discovering that we were open, if he was worried that I might leave him for someone I was having sex with. His answer was, “No, because if our relationship is so bad that it can be ended by good sex, then it wasn’t good in the first place.” Because we’ve expanded our sexual experiences as a couple to involve other people, we’ve removed an emotional weak point that is often exploited in traditional couples.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

  • Don’t sleep with your roommate(s).
  • Never compromise your morals, convictions, or safe practices for anyone.
  • Remember that the health and emotional wellbeing of you and your mate is paramount.
  • Don’t use an open relationship to fill the gaps in your current relationship, or to transition to a new person.
  • Don’t have sex with a lot of people just because you can. An open relationship isn’t an invitation or an obligation to be promiscuous.
  • Don’t use an open relationship as a way to compete with your mate sexually. If you’re having vindictive or equalizing sex, you’re gone astray.
  • Always be completely open with your mate. This will save you so much strife.
  • Always play safe.
  • Remember to put your relationship first, and playing with others somewhere down the list.
  • Be mindful of playing with people who are, for one reason or another, emotionally vulnerable. Don’t play will people who will get attached, or angry for one reason or another, or jealous, or otherwise be unable to handle being part of your open relationship. This will take some practice, but trust your gut and learn from your mistakes.
  • An open relationship isn’t accountable to anyone but those in it with regards to what you’re comfortable with. Just because other couples or individuals are comfortable with something, that doesn’t mean you need to, or that your open relationship is somehow inferior to theirs, even if you never become comfortable with a given practice. Whatever you and your mate are comfortable with in any given moment is what’s right for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that moving more or less open.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Rory: Special Treat Lovers

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I don’t know if I would have done things any differently if I had known the following things. Perhaps I would have been more realistic in my hopes and desires. And not so long ago, knowing all these things, I entered into a trio with my mate and another woman – wanting it to be different, ignoring all the warning signs that I was headed down a familiar path.

In my experience, a woman might start out feeling ok about having a part time relationship with my mate. And often, the more she is in love, the more time and emotional demands she makes. At some tipping point (different in every relationship) that is likely to become uncomfortable for me.

Many people want a full time partner. My current life mate likes me to hang out with him and his other lovers. I am better at making space, especially if another woman and I don’t connect well or have had a falling out. If I do hang out, I often feel most of my mate’s attention is going to the newer lover and I see no point in me being around.

On the other hand – while I appreciate my lovers being friendly and respectful of each other – I like to spend most of my time with a special treat lover apart from my mate, unless we’re all lovers.

I can’t seem to keep a sexual relationship with a woman going longer than 6 months, unless it’s long distance. Intimate / platonic friendships with women are way easier and longer lasting for me.

Many people are judgmental of the life style.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

N/A. I haven’t opened a relationship that started out closed. My first lover and I read the Harrad Experiment. It made sense to us. We were 16 and it was 1970. We did the best we could – which meant he was open to me being with woman, and couldn’t handle me connecting with men. We were together 15 years. I have been in completely open relationships since. (Except for some months when my mate agreed not to take a new lover at the request of another lover.)

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

While in that first long relationship, I got to explore a little with women. Next came some years of busting out – lots of playmates and a steady guy. Now, I share my home / life with a man I connected with more than 20 years ago. I still have the freedom to explore with other people – from ongoing relationships with people I care for deeply, to experimenting with someone I am curious about. I’ve had plenty of encounters I could have skipped, so I am picky these days – and it’s still important to me to have the freedom to connect with someone new, or a lover who comes round again when the time is right.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

A question – any response to my musings?

Open Relationship Mini Interview with TP: Dating is Hard

TP

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

First and foremost, I wish I had known how much love I would find and conversely how much hate I would find. It feels so natural but I feel as though we are looked down upon not only by the right, but also among many in the gay community who feel we distract from thier cause. As soon as those on the right attack gay marriage saying the next step is legalizing polyamorous marriages, we say why not? Many gay rights advocates turn on a dime and throw us under the bus.

I always thought we would see some converse support for our cause after theirs however I see this to not be the case. See also the recent statement from Dan Savage. In the way he addressed polyamory initially, it almost seemed to discount the experience entirely. He did recover nicely printing responses from other voices he respected. I must also say that I do appreciate his writing for the most part anyways.

I wish I would have known/remembered how hard dating is.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Two Words: Time Management. This is probably not what you were looking for but arranging time with our honeys is hard. Really hard. We have to cover for each other in watching the kids and often times we have to facilitate each others dates, we even sometimes buy each other condoms and other items in preparation for each others dates. Balance can be hard unless we are forcefully intentional about it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The freedom to explore our fantasies with other people that we have not been able to experience for ourselves. I am circumcised. In a monogamous relationship my wife could never honestly experience giving falacio to a man with an uncut penis let alone riding him. But with our open relationship she can experience many different kinds of penises, and the concept follows for me with other people. It opens up a brave new world.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Marie: Keep Loving

Marie

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That each person is an individual. There are no hard fast rules on polyamory. One must work out the parameters of the relationships based upon their own merits and not on rules given by friends or experts.

I am in a bi-amorous situation myself, and my husband has 2 girlfriends and me. His girlfriends are married to other men.

I am married and about a year ago started dating a friend whom I left over a decade before, for my husband. I was also in a relationship at the time with a third man, which was not working out well, but I did not leave him right away.

I nearly did not have a chance at a relationship with my old friend due to some established polyamory rules I’d heard and read that a secondary partner (and we take issue with the term “secondary”, but I’ll leave it here for clarification purposes) should not have a say in possible tertiary partners. We worked it all out, but the “rules of polyamory”, as I’d heard them, were a major source of trouble in the beginning. To this day, my lover does not consider himself polyamorous, as he is monoamorous with me.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing has been time management and scheduling. Time is definitely the enemy. I wish to be with both of my men more and also to have a life of my own. It’s my own life that is suffering the most from lack of time attending to it.

My husband has made similar sacrifices for his ladies.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I have the man back whom I love so much, from before I met my husband. And I didn’t have to shatter my world apart and leave my wonderful husband to get him back.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Keep communication open. Realize that people need to enjoy their new relationship energy. Keep loving those whom you love and remind them of this always.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Cricket: Support

Cricket; general reference points: I identify as a butch genderqueer boi and I’m a student at a liberal arts college.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I can be a very controlling person at times – I am drawn to “help” or “fix” people even when that isn’t something they really want or need, and I depend on the people close to me to be bluntly honest and call me out when I try to take on responsibilities that aren’t mine to take or treat people like projects I need to get an A on. As a result, I’ve learned that it’s a very bad idea for me to commit to a person who has very few other support systems in their life, because I will attempt to guide and support them in everything, which is stressful for me and generally both emotionally uncomfortable and enabling for them, because then they don’t have to look for other sources of support or work on self care, and the stress I feel in trying to give too much support mainly serves to put stress onto them.

When I first got involved in an open relationship, I thought the fact that I was dating multiple people who were themselves also with other people would keep me from being anyone’s “one and only” and attempting to intensely overmanage their life. It turns out that is absolutely not the case. Regardless of the number of people I’m with or the level of commitment I have to them, I need to watch myself and work to manage my controlling tendencies. Don’t expect a shifted relationship model to turn you into a new person or magically erase unwanted traits or habits you display in monogamous contexts. Being someone’s lover/partner/term of your choice is a conscious process of interaction. Assuming you know what’s best for your partners without communicating and evaluating your own thoughts is a bad idea, whether you’re with one person or a dozen.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Everyone I’ve been with has exercised the dynamic of openness in a different way. We each have different degrees of comfort with being sexually or romantically close to other people, an different activities we’re generally drawn to. A fear of imbalance has definitely been present at times. When I’m close to people other than my primary partner, I sometimes worry that she’ll be jealous – not that other people are close to me, but that opportunities haven’t arisen for her to do the same kinds of things with others. This goes both ways – she’s expressed some jealousy that I’ve found a Dom friend who’s a willing play partner, while I’m jealous of her warmth and social acumen, and her resulting ability to initiate casual kisses and cuddles with friends in a way I seldom have the nerve to suggest. We aren’t jealous out of a sense that we own or possess each other, but when one of us has a positive experience outside our relationship dyad that the other desires, we are jealous from our own lack of access to the experience.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I am intensely grateful for the lack of shame. I know I’m capable of having monogamous relationships – I was in one for over three years – but when in it I felt a deep sense of shame around my own sexual and romantic feelings. I was attracted to and had crushes on other people. Even though I didn’t have any particular need or even an intense desire to act on those feelings, I felt ashamed. The simple act of finding other people attractive made me feel like a failure in my relationship, perverse and unable to control my desires. In my current relationship, which started out relatively monogamous, I was extremely clear and upfront about the fact that I would be attracted to other people while in the relationship. I wouldn’t act on those feelings without some serious pre-negotiation, but I would still feel them. As a result, even when the open elements of my relationship are not directly in practice, I feel far more secure in myself because I know I will never be vilified for finding others attractive. Knowing that not only my feelings but even actions associated with them are permissible is beautifully freeing. It is so good to have affirmation that I can care about someone, even love them deeply, without pledging exclusivity, and that having feelings for others does nothing to lessen the romantic commitments I have already established.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Not seeing the relationships you practice or desire represented in the media can seriously mess with your head. It gives you a sense that you aren’t meant to exist, and that you will never find community and acceptance. Without a group of close and caring friends, many of whom also practice various forms of non-monogamy, my relationship would feel far less comfortable and possible. I am also deeply lucky in that my parents don’t have a problem with the way I run relationships. I’m not out as poly/open to all of my extended family, but being able to tell my mom how awful I’m feeling after a breakup with someone other than my primary partner without facing judgment for simply attempting to run multiple relationships is something I am hugely grateful for.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with c.: There Are Lots of Ways To Do This

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I came into poly life in a little queer bubble, where being poly was sort of expected, and sort of the norm, and there were pretty intense social expectations around what that should look like. I wish I had known from the beginning that there are lots of ways to do this thing, and as long as you are honoring your relationships, feelings, partner(s), and self, it’s ok if your rules don’t look like other people’s rules, or you have feelings other people aren’t sharing.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

My current relationship is with someone who was generally monogamous before we got together, and I feel like the two of us have been generous and brave together in making up a set of rules and scripts to follow. Building your relationship from the ground up is scary and challenging, and there have been lots of times when our needs, expectations, feelings, and desires have bumped up against each other, or not fit together in any neatly arranged way. Pulling apart the mess of feelings that can happen when that comes up, and figuring out where everyone’s responsibility begins and ends can feel like playing cats cradle with spiderwebs. I’m still learning how to be gentle with myself and with him when things are hard. Living with ambiguity is wonderful and hard. Probably none of that is helpful concete advice. Times that have been the hardest for me are when I know that my partner is having some bad or uncomfortable feelings about a date I’m going on, or a person I have crushy feels about. I have to spend quite a bit of energy convincing myself that I’m not being cruel or unfair by pursuing those interactions with knowledge that he could feel badly as a result. Not taking total ownership for other people’s feelings is really hard, and can feel like doing harm to someone I love. It feels like a dangerous amount of trust to place on his word that he is in this with me with full knowledge of possible consequences and avid consent, despite the bumps and bad feels that sometimes come up. That trust is precious and rare and I treasure it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I love having crushes. I love flirting and blushing and and feeling sweet on people. Sharing those exciting feelings with my partner is just about the nicest. That crackly energy is good for me, and good for my relationship.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve been more and more interested recently in playing with other kinky queers (rather than pursuing more traditional “dates” with all sorts of humans), and this has provided really interesting opportunities to engage with other folks in sexy ways that are quite structured. These sorts of dates have been somewhat simpler to navigate with my partner because of the high level of pre-negotiaion that (for me, anyways) is such a fun part of planning a date or scene with someone. I’m excited about growing more connections with perverts!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Alex: It’s Okay To Have Feelings

Alex Bettencourt

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had come into the polyamory arena knowing it was okay for it a) not to work in every relationship, b) that it was okay to have feelings about my polyamory, and c) that it was okay NOT to be okay with my polyamory every single second. I think it’s a big fallacy that, when we are poly or open, we are okay with it one hundred percent of the time–that all our relationships are lined up well, are balanced, are in good working order, and that our feelings fall in line with that. I’ve found that such a delicate balance is usually not in play–someone might be feeling ignored or threatened by a new
partner, the time commitment isn’t there, your relationship is going through difficult changes, etc. I had to learn that it was not perfect all the time.

I wish I had known ahead of time how much work goes into poly arrangements–how much personal work, and how much interpersonal work. No poly arrangement is hatched fully formed without at least a little bit of growing pain somewhere, be it personally or in another relationship or whatever. I think it’s sometimes believed that, somehow, poly arrangements are LESS work than monogamous ones. I think they are equal work, or are work in different ways, with similar goals of having a functional, healthy relationship(s).

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I think my own insecurities have been the most difficult thing thus far, and I have not overcome them nor do I think I ever will. It’s a matter of managing them and addressing them as necessary, and doing the work on WHY they are insecurities and what I can do about them, with help from my partner(s) as necessary. I think that’s also a big fallacy in open and/or poly arrangements–that insecurities magically disappear and are never dealt with again.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The sense of personal freedom and validation. I feel like, being poly, I can bring all of myself to the table in ways I was not able to when I was trying to be monogamous. That’s not to say that monogamous people do not bring their full selves into their relationships–I just couldn’t. I feel like I can be transparent with who I am and with my needs and, if my partner(s) are not into something or can’t meet that need, I am free to go elsewhere to have that need met.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I feel like people believe that polyamory is kind of a better way than monogamy and I don’t think it’s true–I think they are just different animals and some people are suited to one or the other. There shouldn’t be judgement attached to the ways in which we are able to love.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Deserthooker: More Confident, Self-Assured and Grounded

Deserthooker, @deserthooker

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had understood that relationships can take different courses than the traditional one. I struggled at first with how to navigate levels of intimacy and involvement because I was used to things always tending toward more enmeshment. Being a secondary was a completely new feeling for me, for example. I still seek deeper, more lasting relationships with my partners, but so far I’ve found that each relationship has to develop on it’s own path. Surprise surprise, not everyone wants to be married. And even more surprising, I don’t always want to be either.

The other thing I wish I understood more deeply was the “locus of control” concept when it came to boundaries. The difference between “I want you to do the dishes” and “I want the dishes done” is vast, and delicate, and understanding the difference has helped me through a LOT of difficult moments in poly.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

By far the hardest thing about opening my marriage has been navigating that while also dealing with my partner’s depression. We still struggle with that, sometimes on a daily basis. It is difficult to know what is a “real issue” and what was coming from the depressed place at times, for myself and for my partner. I’m a pleaser by nature, so I had to learn that not every problem can be fixed or even NEEDS to be fixed. I’ve also had to learn that just because someone is temporarily unhappy, that doesn’t mean I should change my plans or feel guilty for being happy myself. I had to learn to separate my partner’s happiness from my own. That remains the biggest challenge I face, both in poly and in life.

I would say the main thing that helps us through the upheaval of depression is our D/s dynamic. I act as anchor in a very stormy sea, and that helps us both stay on course. We have daily rituals, for example, that are said no matter how hurt/upset we are. Keeping my boundaries firm and clear also helps, as well as getting a LOT of down time and support. Also being sure that when things are good, we make the most of it. When a foundation gets rocked, it can always be rebuilt but I had to learn to let go of resentments and hurts and just enjoy the partner I have when I can.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I would say the best thing is the ability to truly open up to love the way I think I was always supposed to, but didn’t understand how. I always joke that I could fall in love with a lamppost. I love people. I spent a good quantity of time in life being used, my good nature and willingness to be there for others are easy to exploit. Well, they used to be, anyway. Being in an open relationship means I can integrate my natural tendency toward loving relationships into my life without hesitation. I am safe to explore whatever avenue may appear, rather than artificially limiting myself because of convention or societal expectation. At this point I have a network of wonderful, intelligent, loving people that I can count on to treat me with respect and love me as much as I love them.

Right along side that, I have learned how to navigate many relationships with better boundaries and respect for myself in place in a way I might never have if I’d stayed monogamous. I feel I’ve gained a few levels in the game of life since poly, and I feel more confident, self-assured and grounded than ever before.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that none of that good stuff would be possible without the support of my partners and dear friends who are the backbone of everything I’ve become in the last few years, and I’m so grateful for each of them.

And also that you’re a fantastic writer, and your journal entries have also been a wonderful way to access community for me, so thank you so much :D

Gaga Feminism Giveaway! And Q&A with Jack Halberstam

I—like, I suspect, many of you—was first introduced to Jack Halberstam’s work in college, where I read Female Masculinity in a gender studies class. Jack’s work has been largely influential on the gender binary critiques and to many people that I have studied and read since, and of course influential on my own ideas about gender and performance and masculinities too.

And, he’s got a new book out! The book is called Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal and it’s published by Beacon Press, officially released yesterday, September 18th. It’s an incredibly readable book—like Jack said in my interview with him for Lambda Literary Foundation earlier this year, it’s on an unacademic press and intended for a wider audience. So even if you’re not a theory buff—and I’m not, though I do love theory—it’s a very good read.

A Few Quick Questions for Jack Halberstam

(It’s intimidating to interview one of your mentors! Thanks Jack!)

1. When you discuss the concept of “gaga feminism,” which you say is a feminism “that recognizes multiple genders, that contributes to the collapse of our current sex-gender systems, [and is] a feminism less concerned with the equality of men and women and more interested in the abolition of these terms as such,” (p25), I find myself identifying deeply. I run in many communities which are more invested in that than in the analyzation of the male-female binary, and often feel disillusioned with the mainstream feminism movements which have less concepts of breaking down the system and more that seem to maintain it. How can gaga feminism help queers and genderqueers and other marginalized communities get our message farther into the mainstream, to continue to influence the larger culture? What barriers keep our gaga feminist perceptions of gender from reaching the mainstream, and do you have any suggestions for how to continue the activism of working to break down those barriers?

Great questions Sinclair! As you say, it is frustrating to see so many people acting as if male and female are totally stable categories and as if all the changes in technology, in social formations, in sexual identities and in the visibility of queer bodies have made no difference whatsoever! I hoped and still hope that GAGA FEMINISM would have some appeal as a more mainstream and readable book and that it would be able to circulate complex ideas about sex, gender and fast-changing technologies of gender in an accessible and fun way. That said, there have been a few books out recently like How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin and Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb that purport to be feminist analyses of men, women, marriage, work, love and family but actually they mostly shuffle around the same old cliches about hetero reproduction and hope for the best. GAGA FEMINISM begins with the premise of taking a longer tradition of anti-marriage, anti-capitalist feminism seriously and joining it to new queer theory and queer forms of life.

2. I loved your writings about The Kids Are All Right (which start on p54). I enjoyed that film quite a lot and have had many elaborate conversations about its construction, but you articulated some new things I hadn’t heard. I am especially curious about what you said about depictions of relatively sexless long term (lesbian) relationships, as I have been theorizing a lot lately about keeping the spark going in a long term commitment. You’ve been with your partner for many years now—do you have any tips or suggestions about staying sexually connected and satisfied while building something long term?

Well, my point there was that straight culture likes the idea that lesbian long-term relationships are more prone to “fizzle out” that others because women are the kindling rather than the spark when it comes to romance…pardon the metaphor but you get my point. Heterosexual mainstream conversations about desire love to depict women as the ones who create an environment for love and romance and men as the ones who set the whole thing on fire. For this reason, when you have two women, the old narrative goes, you have a lot of love and cuddling but no real…spark! So, The Kids Are All Right feeds into that narrative and assigns all the sexual energy to the sperm donor dad. But that was just one of many reasons I found the film disappointing. As for tips on staying sexually connected etc…sorry dude, I am a terrible advice columnist!!

3. You talk quite a bit about butches and butchness in this book (p86). I do a lot of organizing around butch identity and community, including some work for the BUTCH Voices conferences (and of course your book Female Masculinity has been a huge influence on my understandings of genders). You mention the concept of stone and melting the stone in particular, which is something that I discuss and think about often. I tend to define stone as “having control over how one’s body is touched,” which is not quite the same as impenetrable or not ever receiving sexual pleasure or stimulation. Have you noticed that the caricature of stone butches as “rigid or immobile or frozen” (p86) has changed as we are entering an age of gaga feminism, with more depth of understanding and multiplicity in our definitions of gender roles in general? How can we continue to break down those frozen stereotypes and build something unique and open, with more room for people to be expressing themselves authentically and not feeling stuck in limitations of labels?

Yeah, definitely. I was just using the example of the stone butch in GAGA FEMINISM in order to say that we assign pathological narratives to masculine behavior when it appears in the butch (inflexibility or impenetrability becomes neurotic) but not when it appears in a man. If the man does not want to be penetrated, then he is, well, normal! And in fact, if he does want to be penetrated, then he is suspect. I think GAGA FEMINISM is about recognizing the rapidly generated new forms of desire, embodiment, orientation that proliferate all around us and developing new systems for naming them, owning them and inhabiting them.

**

J. JACK HALBERSTAM is the author of four books, including Female Masculinity and The Queer Art of Failure. Currently a professor of American studies and of ethnicity and gender studies at the University of Southern California, Halberstam regularly speaks and writes on queer culture and gender issues and blogs at BullyBloggers.

Giveaway! I have one copy for one lucky commenter …

Thanks to Beacon Press, I’ve got an extra copy of Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal to give away. I’ll pick a number at random on Monday, the 24th of September, and the corresponding commenter will get the copy.

In order to enter, simply leave a comment on this post and tell me one influential book you’ve read about feminism, or one book about gender, or something you love about Jack Halberstam, or something else entirely. Make sure you leave a valid email address; anyone can enter. I prefer to mail the book to someone in the US, because I’ll be paying for postage—so if you are outside the US, I might ask you to kick me a few bucks to cover the cost of mailing you the book.

Tomorrow’s Gaga Feminism Blog Tour post will be at The Qu—check it out.

Gaga Feminism was sent to me from Beacon Press to review. Thanks Beacon! Pick up your own copy at your local feminist queer bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Oh, Hi

I tossed up a couple things yesterday without really giving a proper hello on my return from SXSW and Austin, Texas. Hello!

My (metaphorical) account of the weekend and what I think of Austin and such is up today on my Sex Is column, Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend, titled Mr. Sexsmith Goes To SXSW and Takes a Lover.

The Engaging the Queer Community panel at SXSW and the Oil Can Harry’s meet-up were a big success. I hear the panel was videotaped, hopefully the video will be available online sometime soon, I’ll certainly let you know where you can find it.

But meanwhile, there’s some other media and interviews with me floating around the web and new this week:

  • The Feministing Five: Sinclair Sexsmith: “Sinclair Sexmith is a sex blogger who writes the Sugarbutch Chronicles: The Sex, Gender and Relationship Adventures of a Kinky Queer Butch Top. She’s been blogging about sex and gender for several years now, and at Sugarbutch she blogs about everything from getting past old heartbreaks to sex with her current girlfriend to her own evolving masculine identity. When I asked her about how she manages writing for a public audience about such private things, she said, “the sex is actually easier to write about than the emotional complications.” When I asked if she adheres to any ground rules for she discloses about her sex life, she said “there are no hard and fast rules,” at which point I giggled, revealing myself to be twenty-two going on twelve.”
  • Feast of Fun Podcast: Butching it Up with Sinclair Sexsmith: “For gay, lesbian, bi and trans folks telling our stories is vital to our personal growth. The internet creates a safe space for people to discover the sexier side of themselves by reflecting on their experiences with others. Today we continue our series of interviews with well known bloggers who know how make it happen. We have kinky writer, queer butch top, Sinclair Sexsmith of the Sugarbutch Chronicles. Listen as we chat with Sinclair about her journey writing erotica, coming out in your blog and New York City’s Lesbian Sex Mafia!”
  • Queerty: How Can We Shift the Focus of Queer Media From Homophobes and Lady Gaga To Actual LGBTs? – Video interviews with all the SXSW queer panelists. “Looking around the SXSW Interactive’s first-ever LGBT panel, “Engaging the Queer Community”, I saw a shrunken pink-haired woman wearing steel-toed platform boots and green stockings walking past a large-nosed horn rimmed kid with horse teeth and acne scars, and I realized that even though we’re all adults now, we very much remain the theater fags and lunch geeks we were in high school—conflicted and sightly scared people looking for a voice. But why then are our personal stories so often trumped by the like of homophobic senators and, bless her, Lady Gaga?”

I kind of miss Austin already. I swear I felt my anxiety and stress level raise to ORANGE ALERT as soon as a woke up the morning after my return to New York City. Hard not to be reminded that there are easier places to live.

Two podcast interviews: sex, sex, and more sex

I’m still behind on, well, everything, so this is just links for now, no commentary. I had fun recording these interviews and recommend their podcasts in general – lots of interesting guests!

Sex, Love, and Intimacy Podcast episode 92 with Chip August. “Sinclair Sexsmith defies categorization. He’s a self described lesbian, kinky writer, queer butch top, feminist sex educator in New York City. Join us as we talk about gender expression, identities, labels, transcending the mutually exclusive binaries, queer culture, concepts of how gender identity and sexual identity intersect, butch/femme roles as a language of desire, how labels can be restrictive or liberating and so much more. And don’t miss the exercise for you to try at home.”

Masocast with Unspeakable Axe and me: Could You Just Use Your Fist? “Sinclair talks about gender, swagger, sex in public, cock confidence, how she’s having the best sex of her life and more.”

Download the mp3 files directly from the websites, or subscribe to the podcasts using something like iTunes.

Butch & Trans In Conversation: Interview with Cody

When I went on that gender tirade back in August, Cody & I talked a bit about the butch/femme identities, and I was really curious about the ways that my arguments translated into arguments for why trans identities are subversive genders as well. He was graceous enough to agree to be interviewed about his gender opinions. Here’s the transcript.

Sinclair: I’m looking over the transcript of the chat we had a few weeks ago about butch/trans identity…

Cody: Okay. Are we beginning the interview? Should I put on my game face? Not that gender is a game or a construct. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that Id joke about something so serious.

Sinclair: That’s a great place to start. If gender is not a game or a construct, or a “role,” what is it?

Cody: Well, Actually, I was kidding. I think it’s all of those things, and none of them really. Gender is whatever you make of it. I also think (and I’m going to get a little woo woo here so bare with me) that gender is also this internal thing something you feel, some, internal energy that informs you about yourself. This is obviously informed by outside forces etc. But not completely. Does that make sense?

Sinclair: That absolutely makes sense. I’ve been writing a lot on Sugarbutch about the ways that butch/femme are not reproductions of some sort of heteronormativity, and I came up with a couple of major arguments about why those genders, though appearing to be hetero, are actually subversive of the whole sex/gender binary, and compulsory gender as a whole. And while I was writing this stuff out I kept thinking, you know, I bet these same arguments apply to the trans identity as well. It’s frustrating – I still hear so much transphobia kicked around in the queer/dyke communities.

Cody: Yeah, there’s a lot of that. But watch out, we all THINK about kicking back now and again.

Sinclair: Oh yes. I kick back, that’s for damn sure. So my question is, how do you think those arguments translate? More specifically, how is the trans identity subversive? Because it appears to be a heteronormative reproduction, especially (obviously) when the trans man is straight, or dating femmes or straight girls.

Cody: Well, the simple answer is that simply by the nature of my physical body [my trans identity] is subversive. And when I am dating femmes, the identity is subversive for a lot of reasons, but if we want to get down to bones here, I’d say the ways in which we have sex are subversive. Also, here’s something I realized the other day that made me laugh: I can never ever have straight by the book hetero-sex. It is physically impossible for me to do so. If that doesn’t make me fucking goddamn subversive I don’t know what does!

Sinclair: I love it! Hell yeah!

Cody: To get back to the question: what I mean about the nature of my physical body, is actually something I’ve been having a weirdly large amount of dialogue with folks about lately. This discussion of my junk (and by junk I mean my genitals) because that’s really what it comes down to in most discussions about trans shit: “What have you got between your legs?” Which has, frankly been making me very angry lately. Because, hell, I’m not a shy dude, but when people (even people in my queer community) are asking me about my dick (or my cunt) I feel kind of well, a little put out. But then again, this is how we end up understanding each other. By our genitals and how we use them to fuck, and how all of this informs who we are presenting to the world (meaning our gender).

Sinclair: Interesting – so that equation is, genitals plus fucking equals gender presentation. That seems accurate, although I would say that’s not everything that goes into gender.

Cody: No, of course not. But for the purposes of this particular vein, yes.

Sinclair: Would you tell me more about what you said about the nature of your physical body? I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that yet. By the nature of a trans body? Born into one sex, but altering it physically?

Cody: Yes. I mean, the fact that I’ve altered or am merely presenting my body in a different way from which I was told upon birth it was, makes the mere nature of it subversive. I mean, it’s a small part. But it’s an argument I like to use, because it’s easy to understand, and If people make you feel uncomfortable (which you totally aren’t, just an example) it’s a good shut down.

Sinclair: Ah I see. And it’s subversive because our sex/gender binary paradigm says that your body informs your nature? Or – your biology informs your self, perhaps is a better way to put it? I don’t want to put words in your mouth here.

Cody: Exactly! No you’ve got it. The binary says that my body should inform everything, right? So if I change my body, I’m fucking with the entire paradigm!

Sinclair: I like that. I know what you mean, I feel that way about the butch identity, too. And that’s one piece of that “butch/femme are not reproductions” argument, definitely. That it fucks with the sex/gender paradigm, by its very nature.

Cody: Definitely. The fact that it is NOT what it seems on the surface makes it so subversive.

Sinclair: Are there places that you feel the trans identity does become reproductive, perhaps sometimes in a negative way?

Cody: There are all kinds of ways that the transmale identity can become negatively heteronormative.

Sinclair: You mentioned before that you have noticed trans men rejecting the butch identity when they transition, perhaps because butch never fit them, and yet that’s something that you have held onto.

Cody: Yes! [I did not] reject the butch identity in favor of my trans identity. It’s more about embracing it because it INFORMS my trans identity. I figured about butch stuff (re: myself) around a similar time in my life that I was discovering trans stuff.

Sinclair: The identities seem closely aligned – or can be. Some of my best trans guy friends have explored so much about butchness with me.

Cody: Its funny, my best friend and I would sit down, and he would tell me about butch stuff, and it was SO HARD for me to understand it (because I was scared I think) and I would explain Trans-ness to him and he would balk. Now, well, now we are both butch trans men.

Sinclair: What changed? Was there a moment when butchness “clicked” with you?

Cody: Well, I think we were both scared, of all of it, of identity politics. Of talking about all of this. I don’t even think we knew at the time, that what we were talking about was so huge. We were just trying to work things out with ourselves and the people we cared about. God, saying that makes me feel like it used to be so much easier before we had to worry about a whole community, too! I mean, it wasn’t suddenly I passed the butch test with myself, but over a period of time, things started happening that helped me to nurture that part of myself, and understand that’s what I was doing. The other thing [that happened was] that I started meeting femmes. Something that I had never really experienced before. Where I grew up there was an incredibly small pool of queers.

Sinclair: How did that start altering your identity?

Cody: While now my butch identity is strong enough to stand alone, in the beginning [of its development], in order to build yourself up, let’s be honest, we need femmes. Let’s be really honest and say, butches need femmes all of the time. [What changed was that] I stopped feeling so ashamed of the ways in which I was masculine, and the ways I wasn’t. I worked out how to feel less shame about being a butch, and about being a man. The man part took way longer.

Sinclair: What was different about the man part & the butch part?

Cody: The butch part I think was easier, because honestly I had more support from those around me about it. The man part, well, I got a lot of shit about. The man part made me into a patriarch. Dykes, butch dykes, femme dykes, lesbians, straight feminists… In the small community I was working shit out in, the backlash was INCREDIBLE. I didn’t call myself a ‘man’ until I had been out as trans for years, partly because of that. I identified almost exclusively as a Butch-Trans-Boy

Sinclair: That [backlash] is so sad. We need to be allies!

Cody: It is [sad]! I had this idea, that if I didn’t align myself with the identity of being a man, I didn’t have to take responsibility for any misogyny.

Sinclair: Yes! I think that’s the same reason it took me so long to come to a butch identity, because I was picking and choosing very carefully what traits of masculinity I wanted to adopt, and I was scared as hell about betraying my feminist politics and enlightenment.

Cody: Funny, when you are trans, when your gender is male, no matter your history, you’ve got to ‘step up to the plate’ about it. It was like, white guilt. Plus, being a boy is all about fun and flirting and whatever. It’s easy!

Sinclair: That’s a huge concept. So, dare I ask? How does one do that? Step up to the plate about it?

Cody: Take fucking responsibility for yourself! Stop forgetting about your feminism because you have passing privilege. I think it’s almost more subversive to be butch, or to be a man, and be a feminist, if you are stepping up to it.

Sinclair: I like that. Is this why we have a serious lack of butches (and/or trans feminists) but we have this new fad of “boi” and “bro”? So many dykes I meet who I would perhaps label as butch tell me they don’t identify as such, but sometimes do identify as boi.

Cody: I think so. I think that’s a big fucking part of it. It’s fear. It’s [seen as] not hot to be a butch, or a man. Because you have to work for it.

Sinclair: It amazed me how much I felt socially policed while I was still coming to this butch identity. All those comments from other butches about toughness, competition, objectifying women. I still get those comments – they just don’t effect me as they used to. One comment would throw me for a loop for days.

Cody: Every time someone put down my butchness, or my male-ness, I regressed like YEARS in my discovery and comfortability with it.

Sinclair: [Masculine identities are] so sensitive! I wonder if this is also what teenage boys go through, all that fag/pussy-bashing stuff.

Cody: Homophobia: the deconstruction of masculinity. Homophobia is all about the construction of masculinity. It’s more about gender than sexuality – sexuality is a part of it, but its more about gender. It’s all about ‘othering’

Sinclair: And [it’s about] misogyny. I would say that’s perhaps because masculinity has historically been defined as not-woman, not-female, not-feminine, and as the gender revolution opens up more and more places for women to occupy, and expands the definition of feminity, that the space that masculinity can occupy becomes smaller and smaller.

Cody: Instead of cutting out any way that it’s okay to be masculine, why can’t we just look at better ways to be masculine?

Sinclair: Which is why I still think we need a masculine-gender revolution. It’s brewing, I think, and trans guys are at the forefront.

Cody: I think you are so right! But we aren’t alone, I think butches are up there on the line with transdudes about this masculine gender revolution. I think we have to hold each other up. This may all sound very idealistic, and utopian, but you’ve got to dream right?

Sinclair: Absolutely. This is what I aim for, even if I feel that it’s going to be a hard bumpy road to get there.

Cody: Oh, man, is it EVER.

Sinclair: So how do we encourage the butches & trans men to be aligned? For some reason, we are often so threatened of each other.

Cody: I think by doing what you and I are doing right now: by fucking talking to each other. By realizing that we’ve got a lot in common, even if it’s scary. By being okay with the fact that this doesn’t mean either one of us is presenting ourselves wrongly. Trans men aren’t ‘abandoning’ the community, and butch women aren’t too scared to ‘man up.’

Sinclair: Well said – that neither of us are presenting ourselves wrongly. That’s a big part of the intimidation factor, isn’t it? That these identities are so fragile, so hard to grow and to maintain, but then when we see someone with something so close to us but very different it becomes a worry that somewhere I’ve made a mistake.

Cody: Exactly. Also, we’ve got to keep in mind, that for some trans men, the ‘trans’ part of our identity fades once we have passing privilege and we’ve all got to respect that. I think that the queer community has a serious peter pan complex going on. Butch ‘bois’ and tranny ‘bois.’

Sinclair: So, you’re talking about respect a seeming rejection of queerness?

Cody: To be honest, there isn’t a cut and dry answer to it (which I think you know and is why its so hard). Every single trans man is different. Sometimes, it IS about rejecting queerness.

Sinclair: Of course. I definitely agree with you about the Peter Pan complex – especially when it comes to the butch/male/boi/tranny boy identities. It’s safer to stay young, perhaps? Not as much examination of identity is required?

Cody: Exactly, and its CUTE, right?! It’s so cute to never grow up.

Sinclair: It’s safer, too. And cute means not threatening. Because when women move into a masculine identity, they are moving UP in the hierarchy, which is threatening.

Cody: Uh huh. Not threatening means no need to examine masculinity means no responsibility. “Oh! Isn’t it cute that that little butch boi just called his partner a bitch?” Gross.

Sinclair: That’s an aspect of masculinity that I don’t want to take on, that I have worked SO HARD to reject. This is why we need a masculine manifesto and revolution!

Cody: You are very right! Also, the word revolution gives me such a hard-on for change!

Sinclair: Oh, that is seriously hot.

Cody: Of course! T-shirts anyone? Also, I really appreciate you even asking these questions about how to not hate on the trans. :)

Sinclair: Thanks! And likewise I really appreciate you answering my questions! I suppose the last thing I want to ask you is something I hesitate to bring up, which is that idea about trans-ness as a fad. it is definitely becoming more prevalent, and it does make me sad to loose the butches, and I am concerned about it as a ‘trend’.

Cody: Mm…Okay. Well, I want to tell you first that I’m glad you brought it up. It’s a hard question to answer/dialogue about.

Sinclair: It is hard to talk about. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s identity. But it definitely comes up in conversation; at least, it does with the dykes. Not so much when I’m talking to trans guys.

Cody: Because I think this is why butches and transmen have a lot of disconnect sometimes, this issue puts us all on the defensive.

Sinclair: But at the same time, I know people who have transitioned and then transitioned BACK, I know people who have ALMOST transitioned and then at the last minute decided not to. It makes me nervous that younger and younger kids are doing this seemingly on a whim.

Cody: Here’s the thing. I think that in some ways it is becoming a fad. Just like when all the girls in high school I knew were bi. Yes, I’m comparing the two. This is VERY controversial of me to say and if a lot of dudes read this they might vote me off the island. But sometimes I feel like my personal struggle is getting fucked with and devalued because dudes are making this whole trans thing into a big goddamn joke. Like its something fun. Here’s the secret: Being trans ain’t fun most of the time. It’s not fun to realize that you feel fucking uncomfortable in your skin, or uncomfortable with the way your gender is in the world. It SUCKS. It ain’t fun to get your shit cut open and cut out and stick yourself with a needles every two weeks for the rest of your life. But, young (and by young I mean, new to transition) dudes are making it all into this GAME. It makes me very …well, it makes me very angry. My fucking life and experience isn’t a game, and it ain’t fun. It wasn’t EASY for me to, figure shit out, to be alone, to find a doctor who would give me T, to pay for surgery, etc. Also, I think its GREAT when people fuck with gender for themselves, when they work out how they feel most comfortable, I think that’s AWESOME ‘cause that’s what I did, am doing. But don’t make me feel like shit ‘cause my struggle doesn’t align with your PARTY.

Sinclair: So what is that other part for you – you don’t align with the party?

Cody: I just got so hot under the collar. Okay, I guess what I’m saying is, when people turn all of this gender business into a big game, it’s a way in which they aren’t willing to examine their privilege. Because that’s hard, right? My struggle don’t play. My life is hard, and I’m down for it. I’m down to work on it.

Sinclair: Ah, so it’s about privilege and examination? That makes sense. That’s exactly the places where gender is the most frustrating for me, skating by on some sort of butch/masculine privilege without even realizing that’s what it is, no examination, no understanding of what you’ve taken on.

Cody: It’s like walking around with a bandana tied over your eyes, and putting your nasty little fingers everywhere.

Sinclair: I don’t know, maybe for some people this identity comes more “naturally”? I just feel like I really really had to WORK at mine.

Cody: I mean, its all ‘natural’ in a way, cause it ends up making sense and feeling like you are at home when you work it out. It takes a much stronger person to realize something about their identity, feel comfy in it, finally! After all of this time! And then KEEP working on it, to keep improving upon what is there and makes you feel good.

Sinclair: Yeah, it really does take constant work, I definitely agree. Everything can be refined, everything is a process, all that. And gender is so complicated! We live within this huge gender system, and it is the source of major agony/pain for pretty much everyone involved, in my opinion. Those places where gender is liberational, and subversive, and fabulous, they are worth navigating the fucked up system for. But man that takes a lot of work.

Cody: Very, very true! All of it. Why can’t we take the shit we need to work on, plop it right down into a comfy space, get out the glue sticks and go at it?

Sinclair: Glue sticks! I love it. I guess first we have to MAKE a comfy space, for everybody involved, right? A forum in which to discuss these things, for as many people as possible. Which is definitely one of the goals of Sugarbutch — to bring this stuff TO LIGHT so that people feel more comfortable exploring, sharing, and articulating to begin with.

Cody: Which is hard, cause we are an exclusive goddamned bunch, aren’t we? Our communities are so INTENTIONAL, that I’m not willing to compromise. But, if we keep creating dialogue and space for those we WANT to work on this with, it will bow out. Get bigger. We are talking grass roots here. But that’s where I operate best. With my hard-knuckled fists working the wood of the problem. Yo! That’s why we butch! That’s why femmes are femme! Because we WORK.

Sinclair: It’s that old quote from Airen Lydick: “Femme is knowing what you’re doing.” As in, being aware and conscious of the identity you are developing and presenting and taking on. And maybe that comes back to other gender questions I have, too, about how to view these roles as celebratory rather than confining, as liberational rather than limiting — by creating dialogue and space to explore all aspects of these complicated identities.

Any closing thoughts?

Cody: Just that this is the beginning of the conversation. Include my email address (codycoquet@gmail.com) and my blog address (codycoquet.blogspot.com), and encourage people to write if they want to discuss/ask anything of me.

Sinclair: Thank you, so much, for the conversation.

gather ’round, kids, it’s story time

Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration by Audacia Ray
Seal Press, 2007

You know how they say that the first test – and drive – of new technology is porn? Well, we folks who have been around on the ‘net for a while know a lot about all the various aspects of sex on the internet, and there is a lot to tell.

Dacia’s relatively new to the online sex world, by her own admission; in her introduction she gives a brief history of her own path to blogging and the ‘net, which began in late 2003 and took off in 2004. This is not to overlook, however, that she has become a major player in the sex blogger circles, especially here in New York City. And having been on the periphary of those circles for a few years now, myself, I know the kind of pull and influence and impact she has had.

It makes sense, then, that as a social scientist interested in sex and technology and the internet, Dacia would come to writing and researching a book like Naked on the Internet. In it, she chronicles all sorts of online sexual explorations and avenues, gives a history of where the internet has come from (BBSes, telnet boards – remember those?), and even some hints at where it’s going (cyberdildonics come to mind).

For me, the most interesting content were the chapters on online dating and also the sex blogging, partly because that is where I am the most connected, and also because (it seems) that is where Dacia has the most knowledge and presence as well. Other parts of the book were much more of an observed subculture then organized and reproduced for the sake of recording the various aspects of sex online.

This book is unique and singular – since online sexuality is, though extremely common, still quite taboo, there have not been a lot of studies or records kept of what is happening, how people are using this new medium, yet. I have no doubt that it will continue to be explored and we will keep gaining new insight and cultural significance from the online sex world, and that it will have – and already has had – a significant impact on a whole era’s sexual growth and, ahem, sexploration.

Don’t forget to visit Waking Vixen, or check out Dacia’s other recent accomplishment, the film The Bi Apple.

ps … I was interviewed for this book a few months back, and a couple of my quotes are in there, oh, somewhere.

In Which Viviane Interviews Me

Questions from Viviane over at the Sex Carnival

When did you start blogging?

in 1998 I started the only feminist blog there was called Feminist Media Watch. it was collaborative, and got extremely popular, at one point we had about twenty-five authors and had very high traffic. I’ve had a personal blog here or there since about then too, which has moved around.

What do you like about blogging?

my most successful blog projects have always been deeply personal, semi-anonymous explorations of my relationships, sexuality, and personal dramas. I’ve met some fantasic and wonderful people through my blogs, many of which have stayed in my life for many years.

Is blogging a major or minor way of connecting to other people for you?

Both, I suppose; it is a major source of deep connection for me, in that I am often sharing serious and intimate information about myself, but I do a lot of socializing in my peer groups in person too. So though it is major, it is not my only source.

Where’s your blog? Do you use a free hosted service (Blogger,Wordpress, Livejournal, AOL, Google Pages, etc.) or do you have your own domain and web server?

Both; I have four domains, and accounts at blogger and wordpress. I primarily blog at a blogger account at the moment, the others are more stagnant.

What do you do to promote your blog or your writing (using tags in your post, blog roll, del.icio.us, Digg, Pingoat)?

very little, actually. I always visit my commenter’s websites and try to link to them, to encourage them to come back and comment/write more, and I go to their sites and comment on their writing too. so I guess I’m more into individual advertising than any sort of major site promotion. Every once in a while I get on a kick and try to make my profile on technorati or feedburner fancy, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I contribute to sugasm sometimes, that always enhances my traffic. Other than that? I try to write every day, so people will visit every day, but that’s about it.

Fill in the blank

my favorite way to come is: strapped on & fucking, missionary style, while she whispers in my earthe way I come the hardest is: when she goes down on me

what I think about to tip myself over the edge: easing my big cock into her mouth or cunt

what scenario I imagine when I’m alone: most often? a threesome; my position in it varies, and I’m kind of everybody. A is strapped on and standing, B is sucking her off. B is kneeling over C’s face. C is lying on her back, sucking B’s cunt and masturbating, until A stops the blow job and begins fucking C, sometimes in the ass. I read it in one of Nancy Friday’s ‘women’s erotic fantasies’ books when I was a teenager. (I suppose I should write out this story.)

what I crave: blow jobs, fucking her strapped on, feeling her come while I’m on top of her, hearing her cry out from pain & pleasure

… and you?

naked on the internet interviews

Public Service Announcement:Hey you! Are you female? Do you look at porn or sex writing or sex blogs online? Audacia Ray wants to interview you for her upcoming book Naked on the Internet.

She needs: Women who use webcams for fun and/or profit, especially as part of one-on-one chat with friends and lovers, as a member of a cam network, or as a supplement to a website. Women who have researched health topics on the internet or participated in online communities about health, especially with regards to the topics of abortion, transgender/transsexuality issues, and disability. Women who have used internet-enabled sex toys (call em cyberdildonics or teledildonics if you like) – stuff you can operate from a distance over the internet.

I know a couple of you regular readers who would qualify here … (Kimi, and Maddie, that means you).

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sugarbutch Chronicles.