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.

Superstitious

I’m sitting/sweating in my 83* kitchen, with a bowl of orange chicken courtesy of Costco, listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.”

Something deep has shifted for me this summer. Something deep inside has shifted in a way that will never shift back to a “before.” There is only “now” (and the “future,” which I could never predict anyway).

This week I’ve eaten: Chicken burrito. BshelovesmeshelovesmenotBQ kettle chips. A truly insane amount of 85% dark chocolate. Green chile chicken sausages. A disgusting amount of mac ‘n cheese. Malted ice cream. And now the orange chicken. I’m PMSing, to be sure, but also going through the most unique “break up” that I’ve experienced.

Pretty much everyone who cares about me could have (and did) predicted that I’d be here now, three months later, a bit heartbroken and (yes, still) confused as fuck. It was still worth it, and maybe it’s not entirely over. (If she’d text me back, I could get on with that conversation).

Besides feeling heartbreak over someone who didn’t even think of us as “dating,” (despite sleepovers, falling asleep in each other’s arms, kissing, having emotionally and mentally intimate conversations, and being treated like each other’s “daters”- introductions to friends and families and touching lower backs in front of people) this summer has also been a witness to:

-My desire to have my own bedroom. I’m moving up into the attic! J, you can do whatever you want with that front bedroom.

-Conversations with our best friends about them moving into our basement. Communal living has never been more appealing to me.

-My concrete realization that touch and time are too important to me to go without in relationships.

-My sister and her girlfriend becoming engaged, and several other friends getting married or engaged.

-My decision to leave my full time job in lieu of teaching (continuing on with Human Sexuality and adding Women’s Reproductive Health) and dancing and continuing on with school.

-Intense community (dis)engagement in my local sex worker community.

-The closing of Club Sesso in Portland. So so so so much sadness over that.

-Further questioning of what it means to be queer, poly, communicative, assertive, and respectful. Why have I now met so many, and felt the attitude from others, that you can’t really be a woman who loves other women if you also love men? I don’t like it.

-Questioning unhealthy and abusive dynamics in relationships that are close to me.

-Some continued self-acceptance, appreciation, and love for myself and my physical body.

-Questioning of the importance of sex (shocking perhaps- especially if you are a longtime reader of mine). Specifically- witnessing the development of the feeling of romantic love without sex happening in a relationship. I’m still letting that sift through my brain.

-Reading a few books, all of which I would recommend- Janet Mock’s memoir on growing up trans, Redefining Realness; Sarah Katherine Lewis’ memoir on her work in the sex industry, Indecent; and local Sarah Mirk’s Sex From Scratch. I’m also in the middle of both of Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.

-My overhaul of my OKC account. I even bought the stupid A-list membership so I could change my username.

When I opened my computer, I felt excited- I haven’t let myself have this kind of down-time in so long. And enough down-time to where I have the energy and interest in blogging. I want to do it like I used to do it. And maybe I will, but like I said at the beginning, there can never be a “before.” There is only “now,” and for today, right now I am doing this thing that I love.

I hope all of your summers have been rich and full heart-achey and full of learning and longing and love. Hopefully I will see you all soon.

Happiness and Sex

Hi there lovely readers!

Back again, in my new crazy, off-the-wall way. This time, with a Q&A with some friends who recently finished writing a book on sex and happiness!

Authors are Ariel and Rodrigo: Rodrigo is a Brazilian Happiness Coach and Ariel is a Relationship Coach. They are co-founders of The Portland Happiness Center here in Portland! Read more about their work here:

Now for the Q&A:

What was the catalyst for this book? What made you decide to write on the topic?

We have always been interested in people and our relationships with people, as a subject matter. We both travel a lot and have lived in different countries, experienced different cultures. I had recently gotten divorced and Rodrigo had recently married and so the subject of finding happiness through our relationships was a big topic between us when we would talk. My divorce had a lot to do with the sexual part of my relationship. The idea for the book came out of these discussions. Not just our connections with others, but sex itself as a factor in our happiness levels. At one point I said I wanted to ask people on the street “are you happy? Are you having great sex?” And take a poll to see how many people were having satisfying sex and were all those people really happy? But instead of talking to people on the street we decided to have some longer interviews. 🙂
What was your main research question when interviewing people? What were you hoping to learn about?
We thought that we were going to prove that if you are having great sex with someone you’d be happier. We set out to prove that. But our hypothesis kind of flew out the window with our first interview!
We asked a handful of questions:
-what was your most influential or most important relationship?
-how important is sex for you in a relationship?
-are you able to separate your own happiness from what is happening in your relationship?
-how long can the sexual life carry the rest of the relationship?
-how does orgasm play a role in your happiness level?
And a few others… We just ended up having conversations with people. We talked about things like cultural differences, expressing what you want from your partners, happiness base levels people see themselves at… We also talked about open relationships, asexuality…
How many people did you interview? What were some of the demographics represented? (Age, gender, sexual orientation, relationship style, race/ethnicity, country of origin, etc)
We interviewed about 18 people, some of which we didn’t include for certain reasons. Ages ranged from 21 to 70… men and women, straight, gay /lesbian, bisexual,  We had people in monogamous and open relationships, people who were single too… We had Black, Brazilian, Japanese, French… We had several white Portlanders as well. A range, but we wished we could have kept going and interviewed all kinds of people. The book is just a starting point. We would like to take the same questions to say, rural China. Or to places where people are really ingrained in a culture different than our standard culture here. with lack of time and resources, we got a slice of the people around us and were pretty much dependent on who responded to our requests for participants.
What were some commonalities and differences that you heard among your interviewees and their experiences?
For this you’ll have to read the book! Everyone seemed to have a different take on the questions. Which was incredible! In general we found that people are trying to find happiness, through themselves, through others whether their relationships with others are romantic or not. That we all need a support system via human connection. How physical and how monogamous or not those connections are seem to be very individual.
Are there any stories or experiences that stood out to you or impacted you? What were they and why did they stand out?
Oh boy. Well everyone’s story was unique and after each interview Rodrigo and I admitted we gained so much hearing that person’s story. For me, because of my own outlook on life, I found that discussing the idea of monogamy vs open relationships was most interesting. I have come to the conclusion in my own life that a single person can never fully satisfy the needs of another. So does that mean we engage in an open relationship? Or do we simply have continuous casual relationships? What about companionship? I don’t have an answer but this theme was of particular interest. I also loved the story one man told of finally being able to let go of the anger he had for someone who could never apologize to him for breaking his heart. That he was carrying around this anger for years, and it wasn’t serving him. He finally learned that this person would never be able to say what he wanted to hear. It was very moving, and I’ve found most of our dysfunction in relationships stems from us having expectations of others that are not fulfillable on their ends, and attachments to others that create codependency. We can be interdependent- in fact we need to be – but codependency is a precarious place to stand. If that person leaves we fall.
How have the interviews shaped your own self perception of your experiences? What have you learned about yourself from listening to others?
Rodrigo and I learned so much about ourselves through this project. It brought up so many thoughts and questions in our own lives as well as for future projects. I almost feel like there was a piece of my own experience in each person we interviewed. Even if demographically we were extremes, there was a commonality in the search for happiness, love, physical desire… Some interviewees I found I could really relate well to and others I felt quite the opposite … The ones with whom I had opposite experiences and outlooks, they influenced me more because it made me question “why DON’T I think that’s important? Why DON’T I see life like that? Why do I feel I could never live my life that way?” Those questions really made me think and evaluate my own relationships.
What questions do you still have? Did any new questions come up as a result of writing this book that you would want to investigate?
We have so many more questions! We are ready to start the next book to help answer them. 🙂
In the end not only did we fail to prove our hypothesis, we also failed to come to some big conclusion. In the end, everyone sees things differently and everyone’s wants and needs are unique. We can agree that we need people around us to be happy, to lead fulfilling lives. Without human connection we do not thrive. And it is also true that the more  people and connections we have, the healthier, and happier we are as individuals.

I’m Alive and So Are You!

So it’s been a while!

Thank you to everyone who has asked or emailed me to check in. It means a lot to me! And if I haven’t written you back yet I will 🙂

A month has gone by and I stepped away from SR mostly because I mentally couldn’t keep up with myself. But I’m back.

In my world, in no particular order:
I start school (again) today
Work is going well. I’m officially a supervisor!
My dear friend who I have been crushing hard on for two years finally realized it was a good idea to try dating me! 😉
Domestic violence is a hard thing to see and hear about
I did one nonsexual escort date and long story short, I got paid $2500 and J and I have gone out to dinner with both the dude and his wife (more on that to come)
I still LOVE dancing
I only have one box left in the house to unpack
We’re flying home next weekend to see the fam
I want to go Hawaii SO BAD. Especially since today is the first really dreary day in Portland.
Have you checked out Bitch media?The falll issue is called Love/Lust and has several excellent pieces on the questioning identity, feminist porn, and more
Still trying to figure out why my most comfortable state is naked. Or rather, trying to be naked more often

What’s new with you all?

What is Empowerment?

One of my biggest life lessons from the past year or two has been learning how to hold multiple, coexisting truths that seem to contradict one another.

Recently, I was listening to and reading conversations by other dancers about empowerment in the strip industry. A few argued that the industry itself is disempowering and controlling, and so how could strippers themselves feel empowered by their work?

I would agree that the industry and system itself does not provide strippers a foundation from which to feel empowered. It’s set up to benefit employees, most of whom are male. It does cater, largely, to male eyes. It was created within patriarchal and sexist cultures, times, and places.

AND. I personally have felt empowered as an individual working within that oppressive system. I have felt in control over my body and actions, been able to feel a true ownership over my body and time, and for the first time, felt like I could truly support myself financially. My brief stint working at a gym two years ago gave me none of that. That job was disempowering.

That being said, I know that not every sex worker or stripper feels empowered by their job, and I know that I haven’t felt “empowered” by stripping every time I go dance. If customers aren’t there or aren’t tipping, when I have to tip staff out, when customers are rude or disrespectful- that chips away at my feeling of agency and personal power. And yet: I, personally, have a choice as to whether or not I engage in this oppressive system. And, I know that not every worker has this same choice. My education, other employment, whiteness, and class make my choice a true choice.

Excellent points were also made regarding the fact that sex workers have an incredible amount of pressure from media, friends, and family to say that they feel empowered by their work, in order to justify their participation in such a taboo job and industry, even if it’s not true that they feel that way. Workers of other jobs are rarely forced to justify their work as empowering.

I have also been mulling over the issue of race in sex work conversations that I read and am part of. I am disconcerted by the fact that so far in my support group (which doubled its attendance this month! wahoo!) we are all white, activist-y types, engaging in sex work that has quite a bit of autonomy attached to it. I am disconcerted by the fact that there are very few women of color voices in the stripper forum I am part of. I am aware I am missing a perspective that has been historically much more marginalized, oppressed, and disempowered than where I have come from. I am a stripper, but I am white. This piece is worth reading.

Patronage & Empowerment

Two pieces I recommend this week related to sex work:

‘Insatiable’: One Woman’s Love Affair With The Porn Industry

and

Erica’s latest awesome comic on being a good strip club patron

Thursday night I worked (danced) and it was a rough time for me! I was so tired at 12:30am- and still had at least an hour and a half to go. It didn’t help that a group of guys came in who barely gave me any energy or money; it wasn’t enough to go off of and forget that I was as sleepy as I was. And yet, I kept smiling and laughing to myself: I’m so tired, I have to get up in seven hours for my other job, these guys are boring and making me even more tired. Why am I doing this? And the answer kept coming back: because I love this job. I love performing, I love getting naked, I love making awesome money doing it (ha, not from those particular guys, but in general).

One unexpected interaction I had was with a young guy (just turned 21) who moved out here not that long ago from Florida… because his ex stabbed him. He disclosed this only after I told him what I do for my day job. “I guess you could call me a victim of domestic violence,” he said. He cried. “The cops just laughed at me.” It’s not your fault. Thank you for telling me. That’s fucked up. I’m so sorry that happened. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship. There are some certain interactions I can count on working in a strip club, and even though I don’t count on interactions like this one, I am thankful I have the ability to navigate them.

2014-07-22stripclub

Queer Models, Weddings, Pussy

My fave links this past week:

I love me some queer hot mamis: 20 Out Models We Love

Guess which kind of wedding J and I had: Every Wedding You Will Ever Attend: A Field Guide

The next video in asking strangers to do stuff with each other; I can’t help but love it: The Director Behind the “First Kiss” Video Is Back with “Undress Me”

I personally want one of her pussy phone covers. And I hope the attention brought to her arrest helps bring the irony to light: Japanese Artist Megumi Igarashi Arrested for 3D Printed Artwork Based on Her Vagina (nsfw)

On explicit, proactive communication, invisible fences, and fuzzy landmines: How to (not) trip/blow up poly relationships | SoloPoly

And, for those of you into reading academic-y, philosophical things related to sex, relationships, identity, and sex work: Philosophy of Sex