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.

Integration, Disassociation, Connection

I keep wanting to write, and then feel overwhelmed by my lack of presence. So I’ll just start with where things are now, and the missing pieces from the past several months will filter their way in. Writing and sharing is too therapeutic for me not to do it, so I’m going to try to do it more.

I remember writing a post way-back-when on anal sex, and the hang-ups I have around it. I remember writing about the non-consensual anal sex that my high school boyfriend had with me. That’s called rape, by the way, and I can type it but I can hardly say it out loud (I’ve said it once now). For some reason (I don’t know what the reason is; if I did, I think it might help in processing all of this), this memory and experience bubbled up and had been sitting for the past few weeks, until coming over the edge yesterday.

The part that is getting me the most is the realization that I have been doing the same stuff that most survivors of this kind of trauma do: making excuses for the person, blaming myself, etc. He must have not realized he shoved his cock in the wrong hole. I didn’t tell him to stop. He loved me so he couldn’t have done this. I have been having flashbacks to the day after that incident: I was so terrified that my parents would find out I had been having sex and I spent all of my time trying to prepare to defend my actions. I left myself absolutely no room to feel how I really felt: betrayed, violated, unheard, and hurt.

For some reason, all of my life since that day has just been swimming through me since yesterday, when I had this meltdown. All of the times I haven’t been able to say what I really wanted, how I really wanted it, when I really wanted it, why I really wanted it. Every time with a friend or a partner or a lover or a customer in the club I haven’t been able to speak and hold a boundary of mine. How much I sway to expectation and pressure and history. How often I have put other people before myself.

It’s too overwhelming, frankly.

Somehow, though, after crying on the couch yesterday in the early evening, I managed to get myself showered and dressed and to the club for my shift. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow, I took all of that shit and created this bubble around myself, and I looked at all of the people in the club and just thought: You can’t hurt me. I don’t care what you fucking think. I’m going to have fun, I am going to do my job, and I am going to make the money I came here to make. And it worked. I’m still not sure how, but it did.

I woke up today, though, feeling low, and my mood has only really gone down today. I feel this weight on me, and I don’t know what to do or where to go or who to talk to. Nobody can fix that experience, no one or anything can make it better.

One of my friends, who happens to be a sex worker, maintains that she hates white straight cis men because they haven’t experienced oppression. I get what she means- it’s hard to feel understood by someone who hasn’t directly experienced being oppressed. I don’t hate men. I hate the system that has been created, and while many men (and other people) perpetuate it in many ways, I don’t think individuals are to blame. Especially, and at least, people who are at least aware of the privileges they embody and do their best to mitigate how they operate in the world. I also don’t think someone needs to have an experience themselves in order to to offer genuine support and empathy.

But I also just keep feeling this sense of utter violation, simply because I have this receptive sexual and reproductive system. I can’t penetrate anyone in the way that someone with a penis can penetrate me. I’m suddenly shocked by the deep sense of trust I grant, pretty freely, to male bodied sexual partners to penetrate my body. And how insanely lucky I am that I have had just the one experience that left me feeling totally violated. (And what a fucked up thing that I feel “lucky.” It should be the standard to not be violated.) Just that one experience is now rendering me depressed and numb. And overwhelmed.

The idea of creating feminist relationships also keeps creeping up as I spin in circles about this. How do two or more people create a relationship that truly takes into account the needs and desires of each person, while making sure that boundaries and agreements are equitable and fair? I want to surround myself with people who want to make space for everyone in the room, not just in their hearts but with their body language and the way they talk and the way they offer themselves.

I also want and hope that I continue to use all of this to my advantage when I go to work in the club. This mixture of anger and despair, I hope, can help me to be extra clear about my boundaries: It’s about the money. It’s a job. No, I won’t go on a date with you. No, you can’t have my number. You can’t talk to me about how you hate Black people or gay people or any other oppressed group. Fuck you, with a smile.

My birthday is this week. And I am praying that come Friday, I can get dressed up and have a snazzy fun time at our favorite place, and that come Saturday, I can dance the night away while people pay to see my pussy and tits. And furthermore, I hope that when my people come to see me dance, from my full time work and my school and my friends, they see me as the whole person that I am. Lastly, I hope I can see that myself soon, hurt and healing and all.

Radfems, Harassment, Survival Sex

Links to share this week; most are pretty long, but totally worth it:

What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.

Response: Op-ed: An Open Letter to The New Yorker

Next Time Someone Says Women Aren’t Victims Of Harassment, Show Them This.

You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?

On Surviving Sex Work

Infidelity and The Powerful Juxtaposition

Community v Individual Solutions to Jealousy

This post is inspired by a recent read, Jealous of what? Solving polyamory’s jealousy problem.

Basically, the author argues that all modern polyamory resources offer solutions to jealousy based on an individual’s responsibility for taking care of themselves. In my public health program, we often talked about “portrait” versus “landscape” stories: in a portrait, you see one person. In a landscape, though, you see not only the person but their environment. This framing of stories and the problems within them pushes the reader to understand a specific set of solutions. This is my long-winded way of saying: if you see jealousy as an individual problem, you are likely to see the solution as individually specific.

The author offers an alternative: viewing jealousy as a structural and community challenge means we have the opportunity to see structural solutions to managing jealousy.

This article was a complete breath of fresh air to me. And not because I dislike the typical advice offered by poly advice folks, but because it offers a broader lens from which to view jealousy. It reminds me, too, of my brief counseling program experience and learning about the importance of how both people in the dyad shape relationship function. One person can never be 100% responsible for what happens in a relationship; the division of responsibility is inherently divvied up as there are multiple people shaping expectations, communication, “rewards,” and “punishments.” To say that jealousy management is 100% my responsibility has definitely left me feeling overwhelmed, disheartened, and lonely at times. I agree that I am responsible for how I respond to my thoughts and emotions and how I behave, but I appreciate the space this view allows for looking at how and why jealousy manifests in poly relationships.

The author’s thesis that intimate social networks build trust which alleviates jealousy makes a lot of sense to me. The more distance and unknown there is with regards to my partner’s partners breeds doubt, uncertainty, fear (for me, anyway). The more closeness, the more I am able to understand.

Quote of note:

“My hypothesis is that the more shifts that occur within a polyamory network, the more jealousy that occurs, which then requires higher degrees of individualistic emotion management.  In other words, individual freedom in relationships has an evil twin of individual constraint of emotion.

For those for whom individual freedom in relationships is the highest value, it may be worth the individual jealousy management that results from putting love on the free market.   But for those who don’t want to be faced head-on with the green-eyed monster, the advice literature is in denial about which approaches to polyamory lead to a higher or lower probability of jealousy.  There are no tools provided beyond individual emotion work for how to manage jealousy for those who want a communal, less individualistic approach to polyamory. ”

What do you think?

Dancing Anew

I danced at a new place on Thursday night!

I don’t know if it was the extra charm and luck that one experiences at a first night somewhere new, but it was a really fun night. I had several visitors, including J and several sexy and close friends, it was busy much of the night, customers tipped really well, my phone worked all night for playing music, and I did several private dances. I came home with excellent money. I had fun being super awkward on the new stage- well, in honesty, I was really nervous, but by the end of the night I could say I was having more fun than nerves. 🙂 (The stage is super small and the pole spins- I’m used to more space and a stationary pole. So I was twirling a ton and just smiling. Haha. At least my body isn’t super crazy sore today.)

Two interesting things:

One, this place is a no-contact club. I can’t touch any customers. During private dances, I don’t sit, touch, brush up against the customer at all. It’s so strange! It’s weird and cool at the same time that people still want to pay $20 a song for a complete and total tease (especially when they could easily go elsewhere and at least have a dancer sit on their lap). But, cool, whatever! I do wish that dancers could operate under more latitude and decide completely for themselves how much contact to have with a customer. At my regular club, there is some discretion- you can give a no-contact dance or get a little grind-y. Even still, I wish there was somewhere where I could decide between no contact and two-way contact and have the full range be permissible and negotiable.

Two, one of the women I worked with happened to be the bartender that was working when I auditioned… I also happened to run into her during my straight job earlier in the week, while she was working her straight job. It was surreal. I walked into her work, and we both just looked at each other. Hi, we both smiled. I love the secret club. It was great to talk to her more last night and find out that her boss and coworkers all know about her part time job as a dancer and respect that it’s a separate space and life of hers. It’s really encouraging to me to know that other social service agencies, or at least individuals in those agencies, are flexible and open minded.

I’m working there again this next week, and I’m excited to see how it goes. It felt really refreshing to try a new space out and remind myself that I can control where I choose to dance.

More Than Two & Independence

Happy Independence Day! How are you celebrating your freedom today? Do you feel free? How can you if you don’t?

I finally finished Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert’s Book More Than Two. Whew. That was a journey for me. Read on for my quotes of note and other impressions. (And please! Someone else read this soon so I can discuss it with someone!) My favorite quotes are bolded.

The most useful parts of this book for me:

-Distinguishing among boundaries, rules, and agreements. Having a really clear sense of what each of these things are and what they mean is really helpful to me. Boundaries are those things you get to set for yourself: you get to decide how and when others enter your space, mind, heart, and body. Rules are about controlling someone else: rules are about you telling someone else how and when others enter their space, mind, heart, and body. Agreements are broader and more general, and as such, allow you to have flexible and negotiable conversations with a partner. Ready for some examples?

  • Boundary: I will only have sex with you if we use a condom. I will only date someone once they have met my partner.
  • Rule: My partner is not allowed to spend the night with another partner. My partner is not allowed to have condom-free sex with another partner. * Rules are, according to Franklin and Eve, acceptable if they are time bound and specific and allow you to process yucky emotions before moving on without the rule. An example of this might be: My partner won’t spend the night with his other partner for two weeks. In two weeks we will check about how I am feeling; likely, they will spend the night together at this time. (This looks much less like a rule, and more like compassionate negotiation and agreement setting. But because you are controlling someone else’s behavior, it is still effectively a rule.)
  • Agreement: We will discuss what it would mean for one of us to have condom-free sex with another partner, and agree to get tested before that happens. If one of us wants to date someone, we will let each other know before anything sexual happens.

-Having a reminder that my personal boundaries (or lack of) and who I have given power to, deeply impacts my sense of agency and ability to stay happy, regardless of what is happening in my relationships. This is related to this quote:

“There are many signs of a harmful relationship dynamic, but the most unmistakable one is fear. Why am I so afraid in this relationship when there’s no imminent physical danger? If you find you are asking yourself this question, check your boundaries. Do you know where they are? How much power have you given to others to affect your well-being, you self-esteem, even your desire to live? Remember, when you give someone the power to affect you and to come into your mind, you are only loaning what belongs to you. If you are afraid, you have given too much. When you look forward, do you see choices? Is leaving the relationship a viable option? Is changing the relationship a viable option? Is setting new boundaries an option? What happens if you say no?” p159
-And, for the first time for some reason, being really deeply hit with the idea that my self esteem, confidence, and self efficacy (the belief that one can do something) is what is at the core of my insecurity in my relationship. My BDD has played a large role in this, but so has a generally low self esteem. I have heard that working on one’s self esteem is the number one thing you can do to increase your sense of security within a relationship for a long time, but for some reason, it finally hit me somewhere much deeper. They also hammer home the idea that truly believing that one can “do” polyamory is more than half the battle: do you truly believe you can do it? Because if you do, then you are far more likely to succeed in working through difficult situations while giving your partners space to be them and have the relationships that they want and need, and giving yourself the space to be yourself, too.
Quotes of note:

“Nor is happiness actually a state of being. It is a process, a side effect of doing other things…happiness is something we re-create every day. And it comes more from our outlook than from the things around us.” p9

“Polyamory is not right for everyone. Polyamory is not the next wave in human evolution. Nor is it more enlightened, more spiritual, more progressive or more advanced than monogamy. Polyamorous people are not automatically less jealous, more compassionate or better at communicating than monogamists.” p12
“It’s useful to think of polyamory as an outgrowth of a certain set of relationship ideas. Rather than asking, ‘Am I polyamorous?’ you could ask yourself, ‘Are the tools and ideas of polyamory useful to me?'” p12
“This cookie-cutter way of looking at relationships is so ingrained that we often try to hang onto it even when we discover polyamory” p18
“Above all else trust that you don’t have to control your partner, because your partner, given the freedom to do anything, will want to cherish and support you. And always, always move in the direction of greatest courage, toward the best possible version of yourself” p39
“Minding the gap is being aware of where we are now and striving to move in the direction we want to go. That’s part of living with integrity” p55
“Compassion means coming from a place of understanding that others have needs of their own, which might be different than ours and extending to them the same understanding, the same willingness to appreciate their own struggles, that we would want them to extend to us” p83
“We recognize that the work it takes to become secure and confident is hard. In some situations, rules that are specific, narrow in scope and, most importantly, limited in duration can be valuable tools for problem-solving. If you’ve found that something your partners are doing just absolutely drives you crazy, asking them to temporarily stop doing it can give you the emotional space to process whatever’s underneath” p172
“If we’re setting these rules because we are afraid, deep inside, that we aren’t good enough and out partners might replace us, a self-reinforcing cycle can develop. We feel low self-esteem, so we make rules to feel safe, and then we don’t want to develop self-esteem because if we do that, we won’t need rules anymore, and if we don’t have rules, we won’t feel safe!” p235
“Simply being in a relationship with someone is not a commitment to the traditional relationship escalator. A pattern is not a commitment—and an assumption that it is can lead to a feeling of entitlement on one side and confusion on the other” p263
“…when you understand that time spent with a partner is a gift and not an entitlement, this will help you cultivate a sense of gratitude for it, and gratitude is a powerful shield against jealousy and fear” p287
“If you love someone, set them free. If they fly away, they were never yours to begin with. If they come back, be grateful and sweet and happy they are near you, and recognize that they can fly away any time, so just don’t be an asshole, okay?” ~Edward Martin III p296
“Surely the most ubiquitous misunderstanding of love it ‘love hurts.’ Loving never hurts—it’s wanting others to be different from how they are, and not getting what you want, that we find so painful” ~Christopher Wallis p313
“In an ideal world, we poly folks could be sure that all our partners would always be thrilled with each other and enjoy spending time together. In such a world, leprechauns frolic with unicorns under trees that blossom with cotton candy. The fact is, sometimes people just don’t like each other. Columnist Dan Savage has said that all relationships have a ‘price of admission.’….In the poly world, sometimes a person’s other partner might be that price of admission” p410

What didn’t I like about this book?

I kept getting the sense that the authors see “good”, ethical polyamory operating in one way. I felt defensive reading a lot of the book, and I know it’s from experiences I have been through in which I didn’t behave in ways that I liked. So I’m not sure if it’s just me feeling defensive, or if there really was this theme that there’s “one right way” to do polyamory. For instance, the authors are pretty anti-hierarchical polyamory. I totally understand that it is disempowering to say to another party, “Look, you don’t get any say because you’re a secondary partner. If my wife wants to veto our relationship, we have to break up.” I get that that sucks… and I also would like to think that hierarchical polyamory can work well for all partners involved, as long as it is done in a compassionate, transparent way. But I don’t know.

Check in if you’ve read this one! I’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s really thought-provoking, clear, and directed in its approach, and I definitely recommend it to folks exploring multiple intimate relationships.

Ginger at atheist, polyamorous skeptics just recently reviewed the book as well, and she clearly didn’t have the same, strong emotional reactions as I did- so it’s definitely worth reading her in-depth and lovely post here.

Attachment & Sex

How do you limit attachment to other people that you form intimate sexual relationships with?

I think this question comes with an assumption: that one wants to limit attachment to other sexual partners. I don’t necessarily operate that way in my relationship with other people. If I want to explore other connections with a sexual partner, whether that be emotional or social or spiritual, I would consider it, depending on how such a connection fits in with my current relationship(s) and other life stuff.

But, if you are operating from a foundation that says you should or want to limit those attachments and connections, these are my (philosophical, perhaps not super helpful) thoughts:

-Investigate your feelings toward what sex, love, and lust all mean to you. If you know that you are highly unlikely to enjoy casual sex, or that having sex at all with someone leads to deep feelings for someone else, and you’re trying to stay away from such feelings, perhaps casual sex isn’t your best route for connection with others. Perhaps, though, making  boundaries for yourself around what those different things mean will make a difference in your ability to stay clear about how your experiences impact you.

-Similarly, being able to parse out your emotions clearly will help in compartmentalizing your sexual experiences from your romantic-sexual ones. If you can identify your feelings of lust and know that those are different than the feelings of love for a long term romantic partner, that may help in giving yourself a reality check on what your emotions are telling you.

-If you are already in new relationship energy (NRE) bliss, then it might also be a good time for a reality check: think the relationship and connection through. It’s hard to do when you are over the moon about someone and their energy, but as best you can, try to keep a level head and put the connection in perspective to the rest of your life.

-Define what “intimate” sex versus “casual” sex is for you. Perhaps try reframing some of your sexual experiences one way or another to see how it makes a difference in the attachments you feel.

-Define your boundaries. Boundaries are the things YOU get to set for yourself. Who gets access to your space, mind, heart, and body? When? Why? How? If you don’t want to let someone into your emotional world, you don’t have to. You can still be kind, but you don’t have to grant anyone and everyone access to your heart, including sexual partners.

-Think about why forming attachments to sexual partners is an undesirable consequence of the relationship. Forming an attachment doesn’t necessarily mean you owe that partner a commitment of some kind (except for those you have discussed and negotiated). Sure, it can hurt to have someone we are attached to leave or hurt us, but that is a risk we take through forming relationships, being vulnerable, and becoming attached to others.

-Conversely (or perhaps not), consider the Buddhist teaching that attachment leads to suffering. How can you love deeply, connect authentically, and yet also free yourself from expectations that a relationship look, act, or be a certain way? (I find the work of Byron Katie to be extremely helpful here)

Does anyone else have any other suggestions, insights, etc.?