Asking for what you need 

I read Nonviolent Communication, finally, while J and I were on vacation. I’ve seen it touted among the poly community for forever as a staple in communication skill building. Reading the book gave me more insight and awareness into the structure that the model articulates, and I feel pretty invested in cultivating my ability to practice it.

Essentially, NVC asks you to:

Communicate what you observe without using judgment words

Communicate how you feel

Communicate what you need or value 

And, make a specific request without making a demand

Here is an example:

When I saw you come home last night drunk, I felt worried about you because I value your safety. Would you be willing to call me or a cab next time you go out drinking?

Or:

When I didn’t receive a phone call or text from you last night when you said you would, I felt lonely and disconnected because I value growing our connection. Would you be willing to share information about why I didn’t hear from you?

I think this communication can be anxiety provoking and highly vulnerable. Many of us are quite used to blaming and shaming others, and keeping ourselves in high esteem as if our actions and intentions can rarely be called into  question. It can also feel much easier to say “it’s your fault you feel shitty. I did everything right.” This method both asks us to own how our feelings derive from values and needs while also listening to how we do or do not understand, empathize with, and honor the values and needs of those we are relating to. It also emphasizes creating authentic communication and actually tuning into the people we’re talking to- it’s not about being “right” or trying to make someone feel bad or guilty for how we feel.

If you’re looking to take your communication and relationships to a deeer level, I can’t recommend this book and practice enough.

Reflections from a flight home

On my flight back to Portland, by way of Salt Lake City, I sat next to a very friendly young guy- 21 years old, Mormon, and exceedingly friendly. In the culture of staring at phones while in public places, lest one catches the eye of a stranger and feels obligated to say hello, his immediate engagement in having a conversation with me was startling. And refreshing.

He asked me what I do in Portland, and I held back little in telling him about teaching Human Sexuality. After just teaching the week on sexuality education, I was highly curious to know how this person connected his religious background to his perception of relationships and sex. He was able to talk articulately about being committed to abstinence, not feeling ready to get married, and loving to date (he goes on 3-4 a week with different people). He also asked for my thoughts on what kind of sex ed I thought teens should get, and seemed to be able to hear me talk about comprehensive education and allowing teens to have choices and options over their sexual and relationship decisions.

Talking with him reminded me of an experiential assignment I have this quarter in my sex therapy class: I’m supposed to find some kind of sex related event to attend, one that pushes my comfort zone. I’ve been a little bit stuck with this- what am I uncomfortable with? I’ve been to swing clubs, strip clubs (male and female), tantric events, kink events, and poly meetups. I haven’t been to all gay male spaces or cuddle puddle events (and other things I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now), but I’m not uncomfortable with them. But I realized something very important during my conversation on the plane: I am uncomfortable talking with someone from a conservative religious background about sex. That sort of blows my mind. It was challenging for me to explain my perspectives without using language that could alienate him or result in some kind of disengagement. How can I be diplomatic when I have such strong beliefs of my own about sexual and relationship rights and autonomy? 

Thanks, Taylor, for a wonderful conversation and for reminding me where my growing edges are.

My Framily

For the second time in my life, I am in a class requiring me to create a genogram- essentially a family tree that uses symbols to denote characteristics like gender identity, family ties, marriages, divorces, family secrets, miscarriages and abortions, pets, sexual orientation, mental health diagnoses, substance abuse, and any other applicable dynamics. In mine, I also include domestic violence, poly relationships, education, and geography.

A few years ago, I discussed creating a critical sexual genogram, which is a variation on the traditional method that I totally love.

The last time I made one for class, I created it based on family ties and marriages. This time, I decided to include my framily- those friends of mine who have, over time, become family to me. 

Especially right now, when the world seems like total shit, it is extremely strengthening and heartening to me to see, on paper, the people who rely on me and who I rely upon, who I trust and love and care about. Who I know are genuinely kind and compassionate people, who are all doing their best in their own ways, of making the world a better place.

I talked to my sister on the phone tonight, and she was asking me, How do I not let the stress I’m experiencing from all of The Shit get to me? There’s only so much I can do! I have to work and I can’t know everything about everything, and there’s so little in my control.

I feel you, sis. Making my genogram tonight was so helpful though- people matter. People doing their best to be kind MATTER. Small actions matter. It can be hard to remember that, especially when we have been watching such big, destructive things happening so quickly. Creating community, building authentic relationships, continually striving to be more compassionate and loving people- that all matters, and it does make a difference.

Cheers to small actions, kind deeds, and the people who make the world brighter. I love you all, FramBam. You help me keep the hope that things, eventually, will be better for everyone. 

Nasty Women

Sex workers are the original nasty women. I love this piece by Jacq The Stripper. 

Jacq covers many of the main points I’ve been wanting to say since experiencing the Women’s March this past weekend. 

I know how much privilege I hold in general, and how those privileges buffer me from the risks in working in the sex industry: I’m white, cis, able bodied, middle class, and I work in a legal part of the industry, with relatively supportive staff. Geographically, stripping in Oregon is another huge privilege. As best I can, I want to use that privilege to speak up for the rights of all workers in the sex industry.

I was stunned at the conflation of sex and gender at the Women’s March. Anatomy does not equal gender identity. Equating having vaginas and vulvas to womanhood leaves our trans sisters and brothers out of the conversation, and is harmful and exclusionary to trans folks working in the industry.

Reading about the back and forth that the March organizers went through about the inclusion of the statement on sex workers’ rights was both inspiring and disheartening. Like Jacq says, thank goddess for Janet Mock:

“I know sex work to be work. It’s not something I need to tiptoe around. It’s not a radical statement. It’s a fact. My work and my feminism rejects respectability politics, whorephobia, slut-shaming and the misconception that sex workers, or folks engaged in the sex trades by choice or circumstance, need to be saved, that they are colluding with the patriarchy by “selling their bodies.””

If you want to support nasty women, be sure to support sex workers. They are, we are, the original nasty women.

Kitchen Table Poly

I have often thought that I was comfortable with both kitchen table poly and parallel poly, as defined by Kimchi Cuddles. I have told many potential and actual partners that they needn’t feel pressure to interact with J and that I don’t expect everyone to be best friends. I still foundationally believe those things, but it is becoming increasingly clear that I prefer the kitchen table model. I love it when my best friend/J’s partner is around all the time: she and I spend time together and the two of them spend time together, and the three of us hang out all together often. We share stories, make nachos, hot tub, walk the dogs, and more. I love the intimacy that we have developed, and the safety and security I feel with both of them.

My boyfriend is learning about poly and has become increasingly comfortable with various aspects of it. It’s been almost six months of dating and he and J don’t really know each other, except what they each know of each other through what I’ve shared. I want it to feel comfortable for both of them if they run into each other in the morning or J and I have a party and boyfriend comes. I want them to genuinely appreciate each other, even if most of that appreciation comes from a respect of who they each are in my life. 

But I don’t want, and I can’t, force that kind of intimacy-building connection that J and best friend and I have been creating. Both J and boyfriend are open to hanging out one on one, after I expressed my need for increased integration. It’s tough for me to know that they are pretty different from each other, and tough to accept the fact that they just may not like each other on a very deep level (although I hold out hope that they may in time like each other). I appreciate each of them for being willing to think about hanging out more.

What kind of poly structure do you have, do you like, would you want? What factors are important to consider? What kinds of situations would you make exceptions for?

Passionate Marriage

My clinical supervisor recommended I pick up one of David Schnarch’s books, so when I found Passionate Marriage in an Ashland bookstore, I decided I’d give it a try.

Main points:

  • I couldn’t finish it. I found his tone pretentious, and lines that insinuated the AIDS epidemic to be a good thing for its encouragement of monogamy to be in poor taste. 
  • His infused sex and marital therapy model is based on the construct of differentiation, as utilized in Bowen’s family systems theory. Basically: the more that each partner in a relationship is differentiated (able to truly speak their minds and be themselves in a relationship, and able to self-soothe and self-regulate) the likelier it is that a couple’s erotic and sex life will be truly intimate and passionate. I buy some of this, for sure. He also argues an interesting point: the more important a partner becomes in one’s life, one’s level of differentiation must also increase. Otherwise, a relationship will inevitably become “emotionally fused” which leads to a whole host of issues.
  • He argues that intimacy is NOT “good communication”, reciprocal disclosure, and other-validation. Rather, he argues intimacy comes from and includes conflict, unilateral disclosure, and self-validation. Expanding from the concept of differentiation, he argues that we are not actually intimate with our partners if we are constantly relying on them for validation and to always be in agreement; true intimacy comes when we are brave enough to be ourselves even when our partners do not agree with us. We experience intimacy when we can stand to be truly seen and to truly see our partners. 
  • The whole middle section is when I lost my momentum with the book. He describes three or four methods in which couples can begin to experiment with methods to increase intimacy in erotic and sexual situations. I got bored, honestly.
  • There was no discussion of nonmonogamy, and implicit in his description of “emotionally intimate” relationships is the assumption that those relationships are also monogamous.

Pick it up if you’re interested. I give it a 3/5 for for some thought-provoking insights, and for the recognition that I think some of the book that I didn’t like could be quite compelling to others. Maybe I’ll pick it up again in a few years.

Nonoppressive Poly

I recently read this piece titled “9 Strategies For Non-Oppressive Polyamory” on the Black Girl Dangerous blog. It is from a few years ago, and completely thought-provoking. I shared it with my innermost open family and had some lively discussion about it. I write this piece from my position as a middle class, white, cis, queer, femme woman.

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with the author when they write:

“Polyamory doesn’t get a free pass at being radical without an analysis of power in our interactions.  It doesn’t stop with being open and communicative with multiple friends, partners, lovers, etc. We’ve got to situate those relationships in broader systems of domination, and recognize ways that dating and engaging people (multiple or not) can do harm within those systems.  Our intimate politics are often the mostly deeply seated; it’s hard work to do.”

It is deeply important to me that my partners and I, my poly family, and my larger poly community continue to find value in self-growth, self-awareness, and becoming healthier in communication and relating to one another. Dating as poly does not automatically mean that someone is “healthy” or “open-minded” or more self-aware than someone else, and it is not some destination that one reaches in personal growth and evolution. We must continue to deconstruct and reconstruct our relationships so that they are as healthy and compassionate as possible.

Go take a look at the piece and then come back.

To start, here are the two points that I take some issue with:

“4. Remember that polyamory doesn’t make you radical all on its own, regardless of which directions your desire is oriented.   We all have these preferences based on race, class, ability, gender, etc that need deep work and questioning.  Dating 5 White cisgender people at once isn’t necessarily a radical act.”

I basically disagree. I think daring to show love, commitment, and care to more than one romantic or sexual partner IS a radical act in a capitalist and patriarchal society, especially for women, as we have historically been tied to monogamy (whereas men have had much more freedom to experience nonmonogamy). I also do not think that one must date people who hold marginalized identities in order to “prove” to anyone else that they are radical lovers. Please, do your work on uncovering your biases and prejudices and intentionally educate yourself and use your privilege to support people from marginalized communities. Again, though, daring to be honest and authentic and sharing that authentic self with the world IS, in my opinion, a radical act that I wish I saw more of in the world.

“7. Keep in mind that ‘poly’ is not a category of oppression in and of itself.  This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.  There are material privileges that support your access to the possibility of non-monogamy–ie the fact that you are able to make this choice.”

This one is pretty dicey to me. I have had experiences coming out to people as open/poly that support me in thinking that I was being intentionally hurt because I was not monogamous. Our culture and society, too, privileges those in monogamous relationships and marriages. I do think that the system of monogamy is intertwined with the systems of patriarchy and sexism (and all of the other systems of oppression in various ways), and that perhaps it cannot stand on its own like patriarchy can. I think that for people who are rejected from their families of origin or denied child visitation rights because they are in nonmonogamous relationships, it is too black-and-white to say that “This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.”  In addition, while there are material privileges that may make nonmonogamous pursuits easier (more money and time off for dating), there is also the argument that having nonmonogamous relationships supports families in lower income positions.

To close, I do want to highlight a couple of points that resonated with me:

“1. Don’t treat your partners like they’re less or more than one another based on super hierarchical divisions.  Numbering and ranking don’t make for resistive queer relationships; openness and compassion do.  Your secondary partners are not secondary people–they’re just not the folks you might devote the most time or energy to in a particular way.”

Yes, yes, yes. A partner may be more primary because I share a home, finances, and long-term goals with them, as well as a longer history and the intimacy that comes from having navigated many ups and downs with them. That does not mean that another partner does not have value or priority in my life, and it is important to find the specific ways of communicating that to people in my life. I like this recent Kimchi Cuddles comic addressing the issue of “primary” relationships.

“9. Finally, remember that polyamory is not a new or edgy concept invented in the Western world.  It’s a millenia-old idea to have and value multiple relations.  Let’s avoid perpetuating that cultural erasure.”

Again, yes. Nonmonogamous relationships and cultures are much older than 1960s swinging in the U.S. Just as we can find evidence of patriarchal and monogamous relationship structures and cultures dating back as old as humans, so can we find evidence of matriarchal and nonmonogamous relationship structures and cultures just as old.