Poly: Orientation or Identity?

J and I had a lively conversation about whether poly was an identity or orientation sparked by Dan Savage’s recent column responding to someone who identified as “a poly.” Dan is adamant that poly is a relationship structure, and that you choose to have a poly relationship; no one is “a poly” according to Dan. He says that if you have a preference for poly it can be overcome, because it is simply a preference and thus requires a simple decision. We disagree, to say the least. Of course poly is a relationship structure, but it can be much more than that for many people (in our opinion). (We both contributed to this post, by the way!)

What makes an identity versus an orientation? Here are some thoughts we had from our very long conversation about it:

-An orientation seems like an immutable, innate characteristic someone is born with. (We’re still thinking about this one. Sexual orientation, for example, is often thought of as something you are born with, but my experience alone makes me question this. Was I always bisexual, since I was born? I don’t feel like I “chose” that orientation, but that I discovered it. Sexual orientation is also often described as fluid… So this one is confusing!)

-An identity seems like something you can choose based on an orientation, or something that you choose based on a group or culture you are a part of. Being part of different cultures or groups can mean you identify with those groups. Maybe you identify as a nerd, a foodie, or a runner.

-It definitely seems like some people “orient” poly. They express feeling like they have felt poly all their lives. J and some other people we have met fall more into this camp. J expresses that he felt a lot of dissonance with monogamy for most of his dating life, and it feels much more natural now in an open/poly relationship. He could never go back to monogamy because it just feels so wrong for him.

-Other people (like K) seem to choose poly as an identity based on ideas and culture. I (K) don’t feel innately poly, even though I don’t think I could ever be monogamous again (just to make our conversation a little more puzzling). I identify more with with the culture and ideas and values of polyamory and so I identify in this way.

-Something we also talked about was whether humans are “blank slates” with regards to their preferences/orientations for polyamory or monogamy. As J asked, if I don’t feel innately poly, do I feel innately monogamous? My answer is No. So do some come into this world “pre-wired” for one or the other? Are some people more heavily socialized for one or the other? (Nature versus nurture?) One of my ideas is that humans have an innate capacity to love multiple people, and that our social and cultural values around monogamy is what shapes our brains to understand that you can only have one romantic love at a time. I think I may have just been hit a little harder by all of that socialization, because even though I logically agree with poly values and hold them as my own, I have a lot of gut-level reactions that run counter to those values.

-It seems like it would make sense that just as gender or sexual orientation could be fluid throughout someone’s life, that someone’s relationship preferences could also be fluid throughout their life. Maybe for two years you prefer monogamy and then later prefer a poly structure. Similarly, it seems like within the open or poly community there is a spectrum of feelings on identity or orientation. Someone may be in a poly relationship because they feel like they are innately poly and simply could not operate romantically any other way, and someone else may choose to live a poly lifestyle even though all of their deeper-seated/right brain reactions make it difficult because of monogamy norms and socialization.

-Part of what has helped me make these distinctions is the ease in which J and other people we have met express their poly selves. Jealousy comes up, but it’s very rarely debilitating for people who “orient” poly. Poly principles are more easily believed and adhered to, rather than having to experience specific situations and people and having to get comfortable with each new thing. I feel like I have to do a lot more internal work to have a similar outward expression of poly, like I am having to rewire my right brain to match up with my left.

Repost: 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy


I have this hanging on our fridge after seeing a million Facebook friends post it a year ago. I think it is a wonderful reminder. J is adamant that the person who wrote it is poly. It definitely fits within an open relationship framework. I try to read it every day and Zen out. The hardest ones for me are 2, 9, 11, 14, and 15. It’s a process, baby. Below is the text, and the above link will take you straight to the original posting of it.


15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy

Here is a list of 15 things which, if you give up on them, will make your life a lot easier and much, much happier. We hold on to so many things that cause us a great deal of pain, stress and suffering – and instead of letting them all go, instead of allowing ourselves to be stress free and happy – we cling on to them. Not anymore. Starting today we will give up on all those things that no longer serve us, and we will embrace change. Ready? Here we go:

1. Give up your need to always be right

 There are so many of us who can’t stand the idea of being wrong – wanting to always be right – even at the risk of ending great relationships or causing a great deal of stress and pain, for us and for others. It’s just not worth it. Whenever you feel the ‘urgent’ need to jump into a fight over who is right and who is wrong, ask yourself this question: “Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?” Wayne Dyer. What difference will that make? Is your ego really that big?

2. Give up your need for control

Be willing to give up your need to always control everything that happens to you and around you – situations, events, people, etc. Whether they are loved ones, coworkers, or just strangers you meet on the street – just allow them to be. Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better will that make you feel.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” Lao Tzu

3. Give up on blame

 Give up on your need to blame others for what you have or don’t have, for what you feel or don’t feel. Stop giving your powers away and start taking responsibility for your life.

4. Give up your self-defeating self-talk

 Oh my. How many people are hurting themselves because of their negative, polluted and repetitive self-defeating mindset? Don’t believe everything that your mind is telling you – especially if it’s negative and self-defeating. You are better than that.
“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.” Eckhart Tolle

5. Give up your limiting beliefs

about what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible. From now on, you are no longer going to allow your limiting beliefs to keep you stuck in the wrong place. Spread your wings and fly!
“A belief is not an idea held by the mind, it is an idea that holds the mind” Elly Roselle

6. Give up complaining

 Give up your constant need to complain about those many, many, maaany things – people, situations, events that make you unhappy, sad and depressed. Nobody can make you unhappy, no situation can make you sad or miserable unless you allow it to. It’s not the situation that triggers those feelings in you, but how you choose to look at it. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

7. Give up the luxury of criticism

Give up your need to criticize things, events or people that are different than you. We are all different, yet we are all the same. We all want to be happy, we all want to love and be loved and we all want to be understood. We all want something, and something is wished by us all.

8. Give up your need to impress others

Stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not just to make others like you. It doesn’t work this way. The moment you stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not, the moment you take off all your masks, the moment you accept and embrace the real you, you will find people will be drawn to you, effortlessly.

9. Give up your resistance to change

 Change is good. Change will help you move from A to B. Change will help you make improvements in your life and also the lives of those around you. Follow your bliss, embrace change – don’t resist it.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” 
Joseph Campbell

10. Give up labels

 Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different and try opening your mind, little by little. Minds only work when open. “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer

11. Give up on your fears

Fear is just an illusion, it doesn’t exist – you created it. It’s all in your mind. Correct the inside and the outside will fall into place.
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
 Franklin D. Roosevelt

12. Give up your excuses

Send them packing and tell them they’re fired. You no longer need them. A lot of times we limit ourselves because of the many excuses we use. Instead of growing and working on improving ourselves and our lives, we get stuck, lying to ourselves, using all kind of excuses – excuses that 99.9% of the time are not even real.

13. Give up the past

I know, I know. It’s hard. Especially when the past looks so much better than the present and the future looks so frightening, but you have to take into consideration the fact that the present moment is all you have and all you will ever have. The past you are now longing for – the past that you are now dreaming about – was ignored by you when it was present. Stop deluding yourself. Be present in everything you do and enjoy life. After all life is a journey not a destination. Have a clear vision for the future, prepare yourself, but always be present in the now.

14. Give up attachment

This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too, (it still is) but it’s not something impossible. You get better and better at with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things, (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another,  attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and self less, where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist) you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene. You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.

15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations

Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need….and eventually they forget about themselves.  You have one life – this one right now – you must live it, own it, and especially don’t let other people’s opinions distract you from your path.

Strip City: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey Across America

I finished this one: it was pretty excellent. Burana is an awesome writer, and even though I don’t agree with some of her perspectives on stripping (as they don’t resonate with me), she really does capture a lot of the complexities that stripping entails. There are a lot of passages that spoke to me in different ways, and while I would want to type them all up here (okay, I practically did type them all up- I couldn’t help it!), it would take too long. Although I could recap her story and talk about what I thought in detail, it sounds more enriching for me to go back through and find the places that meant something to me. So here they are.

These first three passages are ones I take issue with, because I think it shows some differences in how I think about my body and how I share it with people while I dance compared to how she thinks about these things. She seems to have some different ideas about female virtue and what exposed genitals mean than I do. I think these passages could resonate with a lot of dancers who haven’t worked through societal messages about female purity and virtue and thus may feel “dirty” or guilty working in strip clubs:

“In every strip club I’ve been to, the stage is a sacred space. Girls Only. Men can approach the side of the stage to tip, but that’s it…The sanctity of the stage is highly symbolic- like a woman’s virtue, her bedroom, her sex- violate it and you violate her.” (p158-9)

Questioning nude strip clubs where dancers do “spread shows” (dancers show their genitalia to customers): “I wonder about the intangibles: Is it frightening to have so many men get close to you at one time? What is it like to go home after spenging the night bouncing your crotch over the faces of people you don’t know? How long does it take to settle back into your body, because you’d have to go pretty far away in order to be that exposed for that long, wouldn’t you?” (p 162)

“Retail vagina…I feel as if the roiling in the pit of my stomach is what has queered my complexion. Retail vagina. That’s got to be what’s at the core of my unease with working nude, at least at a ‘spread club’…” (p 164)

The rest of these passages I love; they resonated with me and my experiences so far, as well as with ideas that I have thought about:

“It takes real nerve for a woman to come to a strip club and it’s a form of female misbehavior I think should be richly rewarded. So I work it-belly to belly, breast to breast. I nuzzle her neck, inhaling her scent. It’s so rare to get any kind of approval from women not involved in this line of wok, I want to draw her excitement deep into my lungs, as if to keep it with me always. If I rubbed up against this woman any harder, I’d end up standing behind her, and she really seems to enjoy it. Here’s to claiming new territory, sweetie. Sisterhood is powerful.” (p84)

“After days and nights of listening to couched offers, half-sincere compliments, and flat-out lies, both giving and receiving, I am desperate to hear soemthing wholly-felt and true.” (p120)

“Stripping takes out of me things that I didn’t even realize I had. The near-nudity isn’t the problem, or the physical vulnerability, or working well outside the margins of acceptable female behavior. It’s the damn neediness: Angry men scowling at me like they can buy me for a dollar, lonely men professing love after a ten-minute chat with the specter of femininity that wafts before them, and confused and desperate men convinced that only if they could get a girl to do what they ask, however outlandish, things will be better somehow.” (p121)

With regards to striptease and burlesque dancing: “Stripping today is more athletic- less subtle and more high energy. We’re in an accelerated culture now. Who’s got ten minutes to spend taking off a glove?” (p141)

“The nine o’clock sun…sneaks in behind the partition and gleams off of the girl’s deeply tanned flank. Her upper body is rather petite- under her shiny red PVC teddy, she has no breasts to speak of, and her face is a little girl’s, but her ankles are thick, her calves sturdy and her thighs firm and mighty. The stuff of R. Crumb’s dreams, the inspiration for a thousand hiphop songs. This girl is a masterpiece. Mother Nature’s magnum opus.” (p168)

Applying at the Lusty Lady in SF: “The only thing dancers have to do is dance naked on the stage behind glass. They earn an hourly wage, so there is no hustling for tips, and many of the dancers are artists, activists, and college students working their way through school…The application is full of unusual questions: How do you feel about men’s sexuality? How do you feel about yourown? Are you comfortable with your body?” (p199)

“Dancing together, naked, side-by-side onstage, we Lusties grow very aware of the individual beauty of our bodies. Not having to compete with one another for tips, we become friends. We become agents of our own path.” (p204)

“I had always lived uncomfortably with the notion that making sex a significant area of inquiry meant that you were a bimbo, a head case, or a person with no better bargaining chip. The implication was that a woman had to choose between her sexuality and her credibility- you couldn’t have both….Like every woman in this country, I came of age sexually bent under the weight of guilt and judgement. My sexuality was something I knew how to use for financial advantage, but enjoying it to the fullest was a foreign concept.” (p204)

“…I couldn’t believe dancers everywhere weren’t up in arms about fees and tip-outs, but traveling the country has mellowed me. Not everyone can tilt at windmills, and most dancers just want to make their money with as little fanfare and frustration as possible.” (p246)

“I haven’t written anything since June. I don’t have the mental energy to spare. My thoughts are absorbed in processing, organizing, evaluating what is happening to me, all that I’m seeing. I don’t mind it being this way, exactly. In fact, it’s kind of nice, like I’ve been given a break from adulthood. My mind has veered away from the demands of the straight world and has lapsed into a luxuriant, meditative dumbness, a lazy inward gaze. My perception is right on, my observations acute, but my intake is skewed. It’s as if everything I see, hear, or touch is cushioned by a layer of cotton batting. Some knob has been twiddled, making the world appear to operate on a several second delay.” (p262)

And probably my most favorite passage near the end of her book:
“Whatever compulsion I’ve got that makes me love stripping, this is that it sounds like. I don’t know if it’s skill, comfort, risk, dissociation, or a combination of them all that, in rare moments, makes stripping seem like a borderline ecstatic state. But I know I’m having one of those moments now. When it just feels right. Righteous. At times like this, I can believe that I have all the hearsts in the room gathered into the palm of my hand. I will never get old. I will never know harm…
It’s like I’m suspended in a narcotic bubble, yet I’m more fiercely aware and alive than I’ve ever felt…It’s indescribable bliss resting on the blade of a knife, the most strange and foreign place I was ever meant to be. I would be helpless to try to explain it, but if had ever known that sensation, you’d never want to leave that warm, wet spot on the lip of the maw.” (p300)

Performance Anxiety

happens both ways! Thanks to an excellent conversation with the awesome B&B this morning, and an analogy that they illustrated for me, I feel like I have a bit better handle on my own psychological workings when it comes to developing intimacy.

Most of the men that we know have experienced sexual performance issues at one time or another. We know some women who have as well (I have, too). It’s pretty clear to me why this might happen: relaxation is a prerequisite to having the physical ability to getting turned on. If you’re not relaxed, for whatever reason, you can’t “perform.” Some people might completely shut down to sex at this point and not even be interested because the cycle feels too difficult to break. The more pressure you put on yourself, the less relaxed you get, you can’t get turned on, and you put more pressure on yourself. Yuck.

Well. Just so happens that phenomenon also describes pretty well my own psychological battle with emotional intimacy. I have put a lot of pressure on myself in the past to be in a certain head and heart space with a new partner or partners, even if I know I probably am not there because chemistry isn’t there. Or, when we are seeing a new couple and I am witness to the chemistry and emotional intimacy that J is building with someone new, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to experience the same thing that J is. Part of that reason is because I really want to experience those things, too. But I have to relax because if I don’t, I end up shutting down emotionally to new partners. And then I get even more freaked out because I really don’t feel emotionally intimate with these new partners. And then I freak out more. It is a reminder to be present and relax. Sheesh. :-)

Boundaries: Respecting Your Heart

It was my last evening of training for my crisis line volunteer work. So, while this topic was brought up in the context of sexual violence advocacy work, the topic spoke to me with how it applies to relationships.

Our trainer drew a heart on the board and asked for things that we might reserve parts of our heart for. People called out Self-Love, Family, Friends, Work, Activism, Dancing, Spirituality, Romance, etc. She segmented the heart with lines and wrote each facet inside a segment. She then discussed how when we let a facet of our lives (in this instance, work or advocacy work; the implication being that we are essentially putting other people and their problems first) take over and allow our boundaries to be crossed, other pieces of our lives and things that we love are taken over and diminished. She started erasing the lines and the words of the other things that we reserve our hearts for. We start reserving less and less time and energy for other parts of our lives; we start giving less priority to other things in our lives that give us meaning and nourishment. Our self-care and ability to love ourselves lessens as our boundaries give way to this other thing (in this case, direct service advocacy and/or work). The lessen: keep your boundaries clear and stick to them so that you can take care of yourself.

This caught my attention because of the word “boundaries;” it is a word commonly used between J and I and in the open community. Tonight’s discussion gave me an opportunity to reflect on what boundaries are and what purpose they serve.

For me, a boundary (in a relationship) is something that I have for myself or something that I want in my relationship with J to establish expectations. The boundary can deal with an emotional, physical, sexual, or logistical (time, scheduling, financial, etc) aspect of a relationship. The goal of boundaries (for me) are often to alleviate anxiety around a new situation until that anxiety is reduced, to establish trust with new romantic partners, or to prioritize my primary relationship. For me, boundaries can be important in retaining my sense of what my primary relationship with J looks and feels like. J and I differ on these ideas a bit I think; I don’t think he needs the same kinds of boundaries and I am not so sure boundaries mean the same things to him.

Time is probably my biggest boundary right now, and has been for a while. Because time is finite and holds emotional meanings, it is difficult for me to think about spending less time with J than I otherwise would because another relationship was taking precedence. Another boundary is around emotional intimacy. While I have never said that I don’t want J to have a deeply emotional relationship with another partner (in fact, I make a point to verbalize that I want him to have this because it is important to him), it is the more difficult kind of intimacy for me to deal with him having. Therefore, I have had to express and relate my feelings of being challenged and I think that has had the effect of J moving more slowly with secondary partners. It has become somewhat of a “soft” boundary in this way, in which J knows that I need some building up of trust and comfort in order to relax and have my anxieties reduced around this new partner and relationship. J, on the other hand, has very few boundaries of his own; I’m not even sure I could pinpoint one. What happens when the boundaries of two people don’t match up perfectly? For example, in the case of J and I: I have a harder time with him having emotional intimacy with other partners and he doesn’t have any problem with me having emotional intimacy with others. I think what I have discovered for us is that we have to meet each other in the middle. Neither of us can have a satisfying relationship if we don’t try to compromise and work together. I have to work on pushing my boundaries slowly (through working on fears and insecurities) and he has to work on patience, reassurance, and working with me. I know for some couples, though, boundaries are set by one partner instead of both partners. While this works for some couples, it doesn’t work for us.

Rules, as opposed to boundaries, are to me things that establish codes of conduct or parameters around behaviors. I think we only have one main rule right now: condoms must be used with other partners during vaginal sex (and anal sex if we had anal sex with other partners). We have discussed how this rule could be changed in the future if one or both of us had a long-term partner. For now, though, and the foreseeable future, this is pretty non-negotiable. Other rules we have are related to keeping each other informed (“in the loop” as we like to say) about our interests in and attractions to other partners, so that we can each stay appraised of how those relationships are unfolding and what direction they are moving in.

So to bring this post back to my original thoughts: boundaries are important to establish within myself. Both in terms of the kind of work I am doing and engaging with to keep myself emotionally healthy, and also in terms of how I engage in my relationships. Boundaries are made apparent to me when I feel very uncomfortable about something. They don’t mean that they are untestable or can’t be pushed or recreated; they do tell me something about myself, about my insecurities or fears, and give me a chance to be explicit with J and others about my comfort levels, needs, and desires. I know from experience that when I let a boundary be crossed (because I don’t speak up when I am uncomfortable), I end up feeling used or violated or displaced or devalued in some way. I let someone else’s desires take extreme precedence over my own feelings. Boundaries should be more mutually discussed and managed (at least in our relationship). It is extremely important to make them clear to retain a sense of cooperation in my relationship and ownership of my feelings and experiences.

HUMP 2012!!!


was so awesome :D

Here’s a link to the Mercury’s brief description of all of the entries. Here is what J and I thought about our favorites and the ones that stood out to us:

-Magic Love was J’s favorite and one of my favorites. It was super cute and funny with how they used stop-motion animation. The FMF at the end looked cute and fun, and the packing peanut cum was hilarious.

-We both thought The Beat was hysterical. I voted that one Best Sex (I also voted a masturbation entry last year as Best Sex- there is something about masturbation that is so hot to me)- the guy was just totally diggin it. And the end (spoiler alert!) where we see he is a Mormon is just awesome.

-Dueling Dames was great. It was one of the entries where the sex actually looked fun- like everyone involved was really into what they were doing. And the premise of a competition devolving into sexy awesomeness and cooperation was fabulous. 

-Toe The Line was awesome!! J loved the political nature of this one. I thought it was really clever, too. They say fuck off, so we say get off! :D Want to stick it to the anti-gay evangelists? Jack off to Romney on TV and get it on in the Mars Hill church parking lot. Done and done.

-Boyfriend was spectacular. It was as well done (in my mind) as Teenage Dream was last year. Extremely well choreographed and planned and filmed and clever! Loved it. I think we both voted for it as Best in Show.

-I was so happy to see an entry featuring a differently-abled individual. I think Krutch really helped expose the sexuality and sensuality of the individual in the film. I am hopeful that it got people thinking about people with disabilities, and the fact that we are trained to see these folks as not being sexual. Being alive means experiencing sexuality, and just because someone looks different doesn’t mean they don’t also desire sex and experience their sexuality.

-Neither of us are artsy enough to pick up on the subtlety and intention of Milking Honeys. It was the only “art film” submission, and I am sad to say the meaning was lost on me.

-This post would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Mansmash. Why? Because the Mercury’s description of it is completely accurate for both of us: “Jam-packed with horrifying images that will instantly sear into your brain, this flick combines masochism, absurdity, and coconut milk with a speed metal soundtrack.” This film is (unfortunately) seared into my brain. I respect kink and BDSM and fetishes, and I think it is awesome when people find other people to explore those things with. And I think it’s great that people (like audiences at HUMP) can be exposed to ideas and turn-ons like this, if they haven’t been already. But Christ Almighty- it was just too much for both of us. I wish I had covered my eyes. I did vote this one as Best Kink.

Some overall impressions: there was a lot of group sex this year!! A lot more than we remember last year. It was kind of odd to see so much of it because of how normalized it made group sex seem. Also- even though lesbian sex was one of the qualifications for bonus points and thus there was a lot of girl-girl sex, there were only a few submissions where the two women actually looked like they were into each other (I am thinking of Beyondeep, Dueling Dames, and Produce). And, I was totally waiting to see some squirting. None!! I will have to change that next year I think. As I will also have to change the fact that there were no multiple men-single women (aka gangbang or goddess worship) entries. :D

The Hypnotic O

I meant to blog about this a while ago, but about three or four weeks ago J started looking at self-hypnosis videos on YouTube. It started out as a quest for meditation videos, and quickly became a hunt for good hands-free orgasm videos.

We decided to try it together. We laid down on the bed and turned off the light. The computer was set up and the video started playing. We first did a “beginner” hypnosis video so we knew what to basically expect and how to start zoning out. Then we moved to the “advanced” self hypnosis hands-free orgasm video.

Let me tell you: we both experienced physiological reactions to being zoned out or hypnotized or meditative (whatever you want to call it!). Neither of us came, but we had clenched up and contracting pelvic muscles and the sensations of coming without touching ourselves. It just shows you how your brain is your biggest sex organ. It was crazy!! I recommend giving this sex toy a try during a self-love session or with a partner- you might be as surprised as we were with how well it got us relaxed, turned on, and wanting to come for reals! (It isn’t that surprising I suppose since you have to be relaxed before you can get turned on- so the deep relaxation that the video helps you get into coupled with thinking about being turned on means that it is probably relatively easy to have a hands-free orgasm.)

J just found this two-person video. We have plans to try it out later tonight ;-)