Free Speech and the Value of Social Punishment

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



So, this happened the other day:


The first part was a question by me. The second part was the other guy’s answer. It was part of a discussion about the value of boycotting Barilla pasta. Other Guy was arguing, basically, that people should never be punished for voicing problematic opinions because “free speech.” Needless to say, this is a problem.

Freedom of speech is one of America’s founding principles (no – that does not make it magically a good idea). It is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It has been a stated value of most democratic societies dating back to ancient Greece. It’s an incredibly important bulwark against tyranny. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of a free society, without which democracy cannot function.

But here’s the thing: freedom of speech only applies to the government! The reason it’s important is that if the government can censor the public, the government can get away with anything by suppressing all dissent. It also has tons of exceptions, and is a sophisticated legal doctrine, which incorporates a healthy dose of nuance and weighing of factors. “Freedom of speech” does not, and never did, mean that there are no consequences for saying problematic things.

The suppression of ideas is not always a problem. In any movement to change public opinion on a topic, a big milestone is the point at which advocacy of the offending idea is no longer safe to do in public. The fact that voicing an anti-gay opinion in public is now a liability is kind of a big deal. As few as five years ago, it probably wouldn’t have even been news. Now, not only has it cause a public uproar, competitors are now rushing to express their support for homosexual relationships. Not only is this a sign of progress, but it’s actually helpful to the movement.

Descriptive norms are one of the most powerful ways to change public opinion. Saying “support gay rights” is much less effective than saying “everyone else supports gay rights.” When people see negative reactions to anti-gay sentiment and positive reactions to support for equality, people are much more likely to support equality themselves.

And at the risk of stating the obvious – suppressing ideas through social disapproval, far from being a violation of free speech, is a validation of it. Criticism of speech is also speech. Expressing our collective disapproval of an idea is a form of political speech, which is the most protected form of speech.

Tl;dr: if you’re not talking about government censorship, “freedom of speech” doesn’t apply. If your CEO publicly expresses bigotry, I’m not going to buy your pasta.

The Philadelphia Slut Walk is tomorrow!!

stoprapeI’m a slut.  I know, I know, that’s supposed to be a derogatory term for sexually active women, but frankly I never accepted most of our mainstream hetero/mono-normative lingo anyway.  We here at PolySkeptic are sex-positive, sex-enjoyin’, heathen mofos who support people of all genders, sexual orientations, and levels of kinkiness gettin’ their freak on.  Be the slut you want to be!

And if you happen to be in the Philadelphia area tomorrow (Saturday, September 28th 2013)  you can come out and hang out with a bunch of sluts and help raise awareness about rape culture, slut shaming, and other concerns of sex-positive advocates.

I will be there, at least for some of it (there is a poly party that will draw my attention in the afternoon).  So if you are also a slut, if you think that you might be one deep down inside, or if you just want to show some support for slutty friends, perhaps you might stop by.

There is a facebook page for the group organizing the event, as well as a website (which seems to not have been updated recently).

Here are the details:

What: Slut Walk Philadelphia

When: Saturday, September 28th, 2013.  11:00AM

Where: Love Park (1599 John F. Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia)

Why: Because sluts are awesome.

Who: You.

Whirling, Twirling Towards Sanity

As you saw in Shaun’s most recent post, there’s a lot going on at Polyskeptic Compound in terms of new people appearing on the scene.  It appears everyone has new partners and is excited about them and that is pretty awesome!

Well, not everyone has new people. I don’t…but I have something else: an increased Zoloft dose, a new therapist (soon) and emotional development!  And really, people, isn’t that the BEST partner?

I’m sure it’s easy to read sarcasm into that statement, and sometimes when I am feeling alone in the ginormous emotional task I have presented myself with maybe I feel a little broken and bitter.  But honestly, this time I don’t feel alone.  I feel loved and supported, and despite all the newness around everyone has been there for me.  I feel very cared for, which will make my recovery speedier.

The last few months have been harrowing, to put it gently.  In this time I have: Come clean about the fact that I was raped with those who love me, had terrible experiences with unprofessional and uncaring therapists, made a final attempt at civility with a biological family I already felt abandoned by at the time of the attempt, finally said things in a not-so-civil way so that we could just get this shit over with, ceased communication with said bio family, spiraled deep into depression and anxiety, made an appointment with a therapist my dear friend goes to and thinks will be an excellent match, lost my sense of humor and had panic attacks about my partners replacing me with their new partners and my chosen family falling apart because I am not worthy of them, got a Zoloft dosage increase, got my sense of humor back, and am happy for my family’s new connections.

I cannot say enough good things about antidepressants.  I fought with myself about the dosage increase, calling myself weak and undisciplined.  I was also depressed and depression lies.  When I made the decision, I let everyone in the house know (since adjustment before was really tough).  The first night was awful.  I had been really depressed all day (and all week, which is why I made the call to up my dose) and taking the second pill in the evening threw me for a loop.  Meanwhile, Wes had one of our friends over so I felt inclined to try and hide my anxiety, but that never works very well.  In addition, Shaun was in the process of getting things to work out with his newest partner and was bringing her over.

I was convinced that this was the beginning of the end, that I was obsolete and imminently replaceable.  I envisioned everyone in the house finding families that fit better with them than me.  I was waiting to be told that I am the weakest link and that everyone would be happier if the family I want didn’t exist.  I was absolutely terrified and had the closest thing I have ever had to a full blown panic attack.  Wes came upstairs to comfort me and as I fall deeper into chaos I whispered, “I would die without this family.  I don’t want to live without all of you.”  When I uttered these words, something crystalized for me and I gained a greater level of understanding. Then Wes said, “Me too.”

All the while, I was very aware that this was my depression lying to me and that these fears I have are deep rooted and persistent as they were taught to me at a very young age.  It is so easy to learn the wrong things, harmful things when you are young and unaware and soaking everything up like a sponge.

While this may sound dire and horrible, it was actually somewhat positive.  For one thing, I wasn’t feeling jealousy.  I was feeling fear of abandonment while also feeling in favor of the new relationship.  I recognized the fear for what it was, and while that did not make it go away, I was able to see a light at the end of it.  Forcing myself to think through what is happening while have an emotional meltdown meant that I clearly saw the problem and that pinpointing it allows me to have well defined, achievable goals for therapy.

The next day I woke up still not doing too well, but I took the next dose anyway and hoped for the best.  By lunchtime I was a different person.  Or, more to the point, I was what I have learned to accept as Normal Gina.  I was talking to people, getting work done, laughing, cracking jokes, and being helpful to coworkers.  Even better was I was observing myself and felt confident and could see, finally, why people would love me and want me around.  This may sound trivial and absurd, but the belief that I am worthless is entrenched and ruthless.

It has been a few days and I am still feeling like myself.  I have a lot of work to do, but I feel capable of doing it and know that I will succeed.  And though I am still feeling some of the stress and fear of new people replacing me (it will take a while and a lot of effort to remove that fear) or of being treated poorly because I am now Old News and Broken, I will trust in my loved ones and let them show me that neither of these things will come to pass.

Don’t get me wrong, antidepressants are not a cure-all.  I am still having a very hard time with life but I can manage and even have fun and have some release.  I was getting to the point where I wanted to be a hermit on a hill somewhere, and the Zoloft brought me back down to the village at the foot of the hill.

So, no, I don’t have anyone new in my life.  But I am working towards something just as exciting: A new me.  A freer me.  A happier, more self-possessed me.  A sexually liberated me.  A me without constant shame and fear.  And then? Maybe new people.  Maybe not.  Who knows what the future holds?

Poly dates

People have all sorts of questions about polyamory.  People hear that I’m polyamorous, and I explain what that means, and they want to know things.  People ask me things like ‘how are you so awesome?’ and ‘what can I do to be just like you?’ a lot* and I can only tell them that this is all quite difficult sometimes to maintain the awesome.

But totally worth it.  I mean, yeah we deal with jealousy, time-management issues, and sheer exhaustion sometimes, but then again I would not want to live any other way.  When it is all working out, I’m happy, my partners are happy, and their partners are happy.  It’s just a happiness clusterfuck.

I met Ginny more than 3-and-a-half years ago (married for more than a year) in a wonderful beer place in Decatur (outside of Atlanta) Georgia.  I’ve been with Gina more than 2 years now as well.  They are both central people in my life, and I enjoy being able to see them almost every day.  But even though they are around most of the time, we still need to set times aside to do things together.  We still need to have dates.

Last night, Ginny and I had dinner at a local great beer place–Eulogy–mostly because it’s closer to us than The Brick Store (the place where we met) and also has a great beer selection.  I love Belgian beers, the Dijon mussels there are amazing, and it gives us some time to talk while not distracted by the internet, bubble wrap**, or other things that we do at home on an average evening.

Also last night Wes and Gina went to Monk’s, which is probably the premier place in Philly for Belgian beer and mussels (although Gina apparently drank wine–heresy!).  so it seems we were all on a similar page last night.  Al the while, Jessie had a date over to watch Doctor Who (because what else would anyone watch?), rounding out the house.  All in all, a not so-rare night around here, where everyone has a date and it’s all natural.  Take that mononormativity!

Pizza Pretzel!
Pizza Pretzel!

And tonight, I have a date with Gina.   So far, Gina has requested I make her some pizza pretzels for dinner (because while driving a date home a few nights ago, I stopped at the late night pretzel factory to pick up some pretzels.  Because that’s a thing that exists here).  I made myself one the other days and took a picture, which compelled her to threaten me with painful death*** if I didn’t make her one.

It will also likely include me mixing some ridiculous drinks at our in-house bar (PolyBar Galactica!) and maybe even watching Babylon 5 (oh, that’s what else people should watch…).  In fact, for a while we would do things like that every Friday night, and it’s always a good time.

Oh, right, Ginny has a date tonight as well.  And for all I know, 6 people may show up and be in the hot tub.  It’s Friday after all.

Then tomorrow (you thought I was done, didn’t you?) there is the slut walk here in Philly.  I will probably catch some of that, perhaps with my newest partner (who will remained unnamed to save her from the indignity of being associated with me), and then we will all be going to a party tomorrow with some poly friends.  Three nights in a row with three different dates.  My life is awesome.

So, people might ask how poly people manage to keep all of this in order.  They may also wonder where we get the energy for it.  Well, the energy part comes in with how awesome I am****, but the time-management has a lot to do with tools such as Google calendar, with its ability to share your calendar and have other people’s events show up on yours.  This way, you know if your partner has plans some night (assuming they update their calendar) and can make time for the people you care about.

i just wanted to share some of our recent daily life, to show you that while this can be hard, it can be highly rewarding.  This works, if you want it to.  And while there are hard days (recently, there have been a few hard days and nights for me), I will keep moving forward.

I will keep enjoying life, because there will be a time when I can’t.*****



*almost never.  OK, never.

** Seriously, Ginny loves the stuff.  The other night she was wearing some on her head and was popping it while watching some stupid show.  She does that a lot.

*** No painful death was actually voiced.  But it was heavily implied.  I’m not taking any chances.

**** OK, how awesome we all are.

***** Now this is a 5-star post! Sweet….

The Fat Kid, 1994-2013

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



When I was in 5th grade, I found out that I was fat. I was cast to play Santa Clause in the school Christmas play, Some kid, I don’t remember who, said something to the effect of “heh, you won’t even need any stuffing.” It wasn’t until that moment that I learned to be ashamed of my body. Before then, I didn’t really think about it. But at that moment, it was revealed to me that my body was ugly and unpleasant. That was the moment where I changed from being able to watch “Stand By Me” unaffected to flinching every time Jerry O’Connell got referred to as “the fat kid.” That was the moment where I stopped wanting to take my shirt off at the beach.

Being “the fat kid” makes life difficult in a lot of ways, but none so much as dating. I’ve been interested in girls since first grade, and probably before that. Dating in elementary school is just weird, so I don’t really count that. I even had a girlfriend in 5th grade. It seems like a ridiculous thing, to have a girlfriend in 5th grade. I don’t think we even kissed, but it because very important to me later. She and I didn’t particularly interact after we dated, and I can’t even begin to remember how or why we broke up, but I it meant a lot to me all through middle school that someone was willing to give me that kind of attention.

Middle school (6th-8th grade, in my district) was a near-constant stream of rejection. I watched my classmates form romantic connections and hold hands in the hallways. I would hear stories of experiments with adolescent sexuality. Girls would express interest in my friends. I would look around, and clearly see what all of these people had in common – no fatties. The point was driven home by social rejection in other ways, most notably a regular outpouring of teasing for my weight, my fat ass, my “tits.”

Remember how I said that my 5th grade girlfriend ended up being important to me? That’s this part of the story. That “relationship” was probably the only thing that kept me from feeling like a complete loser throughout middle school. As with most adolescent boys, I was obsessed with girls, not only because I had strange new desires, but also because I wanted to be a person with a girlfriend. Somewhere along the line, I internalized the idea that having a girlfriend was the most important thing a person could do to be worthwhile. The longer I spent single, the more pathetic I felt. The only thing staving off complete despair was the fact that I had a girlfriend and one point in my life, so clearly I wasn’t completely worthless to girls.

Except, really, I always knew I wasn’t completely worthless to girls. Girls liked me. I had a number of female friends, and I tended to get along well with girls in general. There was only one part of me that was worthless to girls – my body. No matter how much of a connection I formed with a girl, she would be repulsed at the idea of touching me on any level beyond a friendly hug. My body was disgusting to girls. Sometimes, they would tell me so. Most of the time, they would give me one of those so-called “polite” rejections, e.g. “I just don’t feel that way about you,” or “I don’t have time to date right now,” or “I’m busy on [every evening you ask me out].” Until Mandy.

met Mandy in 9th grade. Well, back up. I met Mandy in 7th grade and thought she was really cute, but she disappeared over the summer. I next saw her again once I got to high school (turns out she skipped a grade). Mandy changed everything. Mandy liked me. Mandy like-liked me. She was beautiful, and smart, and fun, and soft, and amazing to touch, and she. liked. me. Naturally, I had no idea what to do. We dated for over a month before I would even kiss her. But I did kiss her, and she kissed me, and we didn’t stop kissing each other for two months. I, being 15 years old, made some poor decisions, and Mandy left me in July of that year, but I never believed that it was because of my body.

After Mandy, I didn’t date again for almost six years. Oh, I went out with girls. But they would make it clear that we were not on a “date.” As before, girls still liked me, just not my body. In the latter half of high school, I started developing real, deep feelings for girls. I started getting emotionally close with people, even intimate. But none of that changed the fact that my gross, fat body was undesirable at best and repulsive at worst. And every year, I got fatter.

By 2002, my freshmen year of college, I was 275 pounds, and my body-shame was at an all-time high. I was a 19-year-old virgin and hadn’t kissed a girl since 1997. I would fall in love with any woman who even looked in my direction. My shame was so great that I felt unable to turn away any attention, even if it wasn’t the kind I wanted. I let myself be used as not much more than an emotional sounding board. I had a drunken makeout with someone whose name I didn’t even know at a party and I looked at it like I’d just been awarded a Nobel Prize. Hey! A girl who was near-falling-down drunk could stand to touch me! It was pathetic. By the time I went home for the summer, I was convinced that college was going to be a lot like high school.

The Fat Kid, 2000
The Fat Kid, 2000

Mandy saved me again. She randomly came into the record store where I worked that summer. It had been four years since we dated, but she was as attractive to me as ever, probably moreso, since I was now convinced that nobody else would ever be interested in my stupid, fat body. The situation was a complete mess. She was going to school in Pittsburgh, and she had a boyfriend that she would break up with, and then get back together with in the course of a week. But I didn’t care. I wanted her so badly, and we finally had awkward sex in the front seat of my Oldsmobile 98, ducking to make sure nobody on the not-10-feet-away sidewalk could see us. It didn’t matter to me how awkward it was. It wasn’t the sensation that was important. It was the status. I wasn’t a virgin any longer. I wasn’t a total loser. I wasn’t undesirable. This person desired me. She desired me so much that she was willing to massively complicate her relationship situation to be with me.

The Fat Kid, 2001
The Fat Kid, 2001

Unsurprisingly, the situation went to hell within a few months. I visited her in Pittsburgh a few times, and those are some of my fondest memories of that entire time period. She made me feel amazing, and sexy, and she reminded me that not everyone saw my big belly or my fat face as revolting.

Sadly, and to my shame, I didn’t do the same thing for her. While all I wanted was someone to take an interest in my body and my sexuality, she was all-too-familiar with such things. Her life had been a mirror image of mine, and she was convinced that her body and her sexuality were her only assets. While the relationship did wonders for my self-esteem, I suspect it did the opposite for hers. In retrospect, I used her as a self-esteem booster and a status object. I think she just wanted to be valued, and didn’t know how to say “no.” She tried to tell me, and I didn’t listen. Mandy, if you’re reading this, thank you, and I’m sorry.

The Fat Kid, 2002
The Fat Kid, 2002

Around that time, I tried the Atkins diet. It was in vogue at the time, and it was the first time that I tried any kind of rigid diet. It worked amazingly well. I lost 10 pounds in a week. 5 pounds the following week. Another 5 pounds in the next two weeks, for a total of 20 pounds in a month. Eating bacon. I was still 250 pounds, but I felt great. My clothes fit looser, and when I looked in the mirror, I looked thinner! I decided to keep it going, and signed up for Weight Watchers (I figured Atkins would give me a heart attack if I actually kept it up). Over the next year, I lost about 40 more pounds. The need for smaller pants gave me indescribable joy.

Spring 2003 was when I got to know Gina, and fell for her almost immediately. This, also, was a mess. She had a boyfriend at the time, and we were all in a 6-person show together. This was not new to me. By this point, I was used to having unrequited feelings for “taken” women. Even with my new smaller size, I was still “obese” according to my handy BMI calculator, and didn’t harbor any illusions that my body looked good to anyone but me.

It’s a long story, mostly involving me being too desperate to give up and Gina not wanting to admit her feelings. BUT it all worked out, and we’ll be celebrating 10 years together this January.

The Fat Kid, 2005
The Fat Kid, 2005

My body image issues got better after that, but they still weren’t great. I still saw my body as unattractive, but actually having a girlfriend, especially one as great as Gina, was helpful.

Wanting to feel wanted while in a monogamous relationship is a strange thing. Up to that point, I always wanted to be wanted for practical reasons – I hated being single, and I wanted somebody to be with. Now, I was with somebody, and didn’t need to impress anyone but her – but I still wanted to. I still wanted to be wanted, not for any practical reason, just for how it made me feel. Or, more accurately, how not being wanted made me feel. Being wanted by one person was great, but I still didn’t feel attractive, and I still didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

The Fat Kid, 2009
The Fat Kid, 2009

It wasn’t until Gina & I opened our relationship, and I lost another 30 pounds, that I started actually feeling good about my body. My first relationship after opening up was kind of a disaster. I was still feeling vulnerable due to my body issues, and she represented all the girls I couldn’t “get” when I was younger. She was skinny, outgoing, popular, and every guy I knew wanted to be with her. When she kissed me, I felt like the coolest kid in school, like I’d never felt before. She was also self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and within a handful of weeks, her attraction to me waned, and she started seeing a much skinnier guy. Like I said, kind of a disaster, but she meant a lot to me at the time.

The Fat Kid, 2011
The Fat Kid, 2011

In February of 2010, I started dieting again. March 27, 2010, was a big day for me. That morning, I weighed myself, and the scale came out to 201.5 pounds. That number might not mean a lot to you, but it meant everything to me. For my height, weighing less than 202 pounds moved me from “obese” to “overweight” on the BMI scale. I honestly never thought I would get there. It felt great. Over the next year, I lost another 25 pounds, and bottomed out at about 175.

More than the weight loss, my body image was improved by joining okcupid. On okcupid, I could meet women who actually found me attractive, and who were ok (or even enthusiastic) about dating a married man. I stopped being able to count on one hand all of the women I ever knew who found me attractive. I started seeing real evidence that my body and my sexuality were not generally looked at as disgusting and repulsive. Women appreciated my body. I even met women who didn’t seem to like me that much, but were still interested in my body. It was surreal at first.

Since then, things have gotten much better. I’ve gained back about 30 of the pounds I lost. I’m not happy about it, but I no longer believe that I need to be thin in order to be attractive. I’ve also stopped viewing women as status objects that I can use to prove to myself how not-hideous I am. Because my insecurities are under control, I’m able to connect with people on a much deeper level. It still hurts when people tell me that my body holds no value to them, but it’s bearable. I love Gina more than I ever did, and I have an amazing fiancee who can’t get enough of me. I’m performing in a burlesque show (and yes, I take my clothes off).

This week is weight stigma awareness week. This morning, I weighed 208 pounds. I’ve eaten 1,397 calories today. My pants fit a little tight. The buttons on my shirt are pulling a bit. I have a lot of love in my life. So it goes.

The Fat Kid, 2013
The Fat Kid, 2013

Fear is a compelling illusion

If you meet me at a poly meetup, for the sake of Lord Xenu and all the minions of Cthulhu don’t ask me how we deal with jealousy or other such banal questions.  Instead, ask yourself how you would do so.

I know.  Life is scary.  You saw your boyfriend check out that cute girl at the bar.  Your boyfriend is currently making out with that saucy minx in the hot tub.  You think that maybe your partner is having a good time, without you, on their date right now.  Maybe in a bedroom somewhere.  Hell, you might just be worried that the person you are in the current process of sexually pleasuring might prefer the way another person does it.  They might be thinking about the flirtatious sex bot at the party you just came from.  You know, the one that triggered your insecurities about your own imperfections.

All of that shit is in your head.

And it’s in my head too.  I worry whether I do enough to keep my partners happy.  I worry about all sorts of things related to insecurity and fear.  But I realize, even while suffering emotional throws of uncertainty, that it’s all an illusion.  It’s all stupid, terrible, lies told by a madman who pulls the levers of fear in my head.  I hate that madman sometimes.  But that madman is me.  And I don’t want to hate myself. So, instead it tell that madman to cut that shit out, because it isn’t helping.

He doesn’t usually listen to me, though.

I understand why people create boundaries, rules, and restrictions in relationships.  I understand the impulse to want to stake a claim of ownership, or at least of permission, around your lovers so that this madman inside your head does not go crazy and start making you feel terrible and afraid.  Monogamy, and polyamory with restrictive rules around things like sleeping over with another partner, not getting too emotionally attached, or something as simple as no sexual intercourse, makes sense from the point of view of accommodating this madman.

But those restrictions don’t solve the problem because that madman is, well, unreasonable.

Your partner really wanting to have sex with someone, but only being “allowed” to make out, touch, and get worked up with them while not doing what they want does not make you feel better.  That’s an illusion.  If your partner come back home from a date, does it matter exactly how much sexual contact they had with some other person (or people?) Isn’t the exact point of pain there either at the desire itself or your own fear? What does it really matter if they did what you were afraid of? Is the act itself the problem?

No.  That’s all bullshit.  When I’m feeling uncertain or jealous about what my wife or other partner is doing with someone else, the problem is not what “base” they got to (oh man, how stupid is that shit?), but my own fear of inadequacy.  And my concern with what parts of their date was touching what part of them is not the location of the problem.  And no matter how much it hurts, how many emotions flare up and demand to be attended to, the problem is illusory and stupid.

Whether a matter of social training about the possessiveness of relationships, an evolutionary/genetic set of dispositions, or something else, it’s all an illusion.  The emotions are real, but the emotions are lying to you about the source of the pain.  It’s a cognitive sleight of hand (and a good one, I’ll admit!), and even us poly people are susceptible to it.  It’s very similar to “religious experience;” the experience really happened, but the experience is lying about its sources. It’s all in your head.

Fear is the mind killer.  Emotions are powerful, and sometimes exist for legitimate reasons, but it is what we choose to do with those feelings that matters.  Jealousy might make you want to punch the guy hitting on your partner, but that guy is not the source of the pain and fear.  A sense of injustice might make you want to rant and rave against a clueless person (whether racist or not), but that person is not the source of the injustice.  In those (and many other) cases, emotion can take us off the path of being the best people we can be.  Fear, like depression, lies.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating any sort of Vulcan-esque repression of emotion or even a complete distrust of our feelings.  Emotions are wonderful, powerful, and useful parts of out human experience (when used well).  I just want us to realize that there is a thing called rationalization, illusion, and a set of cognitive red herrings which compel belief in untruths.  Emotions can convince us we are being reasonable when we are not.  So whether it is possessiveness, righteous indignation, or many other forms of emotion which may compel action, we need to keep in mind that we might be being lied to, by our own brain.

Anger, fear, jealousy, and all the other emotions that are often called “bad” sometimes exist for good reasons.  I will not tell anyone they cannot be angry, annoyed, etc.  I will say that they should be careful with how they use those weapons.  if you are not well trained in the use of a weapon, you are likely to hurt yourself or a loved ones with it.

The First of Likely Several Angry Tirades about Feelings

Writing about what is going on with me these days is difficult to do coherently and concisely.  In the coming weeks, I will likely only be able to muster fragments that will perhaps give you insight into my head and my process.  I am unpacking 25 years or so of consciousness and pain and scars.  Hopefully, brighter days are coming.

I am angry about the emptiness of words.

Or rather, I am angry about the empty way people throw around words and phrases that should be packed with truth and meaning.  We’re taught this early on in our lives.  When you say hello, ask how someone is.  It’s the polite thing to do.  You don’t have to care or even want to know, but the other person should believe that you would like to know.

And then you hear people whine about if you ask a particular person how they are, “They will tell you EVERYTHING.  Jeez, I didn’t actually want to know.  What an annoying jerk!” Why do you ask if you have no actual desire to know anything about how that person is doing?

But there are countless other examples of this.  Take, for example, the sentence, “I am here for you”.

Some people mean this when they say it.  I am lucky enough to have 5 people in my life who mean that.  How do I know they mean it?  They show me.  They swoop in when I am sinking and do their best to lift me, to help me work through the feelings, whatever is needed.  They sometimes ask how they can help, but mostly they know me so well that they know what I need or what would help without me telling them.  It can be as simple as wrapping their arms around me and helping me ride out the badness.

But many people say this because it’s what you’re supposed to say when people confide difficult things.  They say it, but they don’t know what it really means.  When they say it, it translates to, “See? I am a good friend/family member!” But if it is not followed by any action, any actual effort to be present and to help lighten the load that the afflicted is bearing, then it is empty and ultimately hurtful, because you likely won’t follow through with anything.

For instance, I am currently dealing with some major Emotions about my biological family.  Recent communications have resulted in my making the decision to not speak to them anymore, at least for quite a long while.  Why? Well, there are a bunch of reasons, but there are too many to enumerate here and it’s painful to speak about them at length on here.  But it was revealed that none of them knew how depressed I have been for years, and all of them suspected that they have been “losing me for a while now” and my recent communications served as a “final blow” to my relationships with them. Everyone ignored my rather obvious depression and watched as I drifted away and chose to do nothing, because doing would require effort and possible discomfort on their part.

But they claim they are there for me and always have been.

In addition, they have gaslighted me about my experience growing up and in recent years and have made statements about my being selfish and inconsiderate.  I am the black sheep.  I am the bad one.

But…they are here for me.  Every message has contained this sentiment.  Well, I call bullshit.

Another loaded but often meaningless thing people say is, “I love you”.  All of the communications claim this as well, but I think that people say this without knowing what that really means.

People tell each other that they love each other because we’re supposed to love our family.  We’re supposed to love our partners. But I think it loses its meaning when there’s nothing there to back it up.  How do I know I love my people? Because when they are happy, I am happy, even if what they are happy about scares me (new relationships, being far away).  Because I try to be as available as possible for them for when they might need me, and if I fail in knowing what they need, I take the criticism and learn from it so that I can offer better care the next time.  Because envisioning my life without them is a bleak and desolate landscape that I want no part of.  This is because my life with them is bright and full of potential.  It is full of potential for long term happiness and continued blossoming into the people we want to and can be.  I love them because their presence, the people that they are adds to the person that I am.  To say that you love someone when it is conditional or simply a sentiment that requires no action or growth on your part is meaningless and ultimately hurtful.

What I’m saying is that lies hurt, even the vague societally approved lies of everyday language.  Happiness, I think, has a lot to do with trusting the people close to you because trust in the people around you results in feeling safe and we cannot flourish unless we feel safe in our intimate lives.  Trust cannot be attained with the use of empty words.  A thin veil of care does nothing but give way immediately when pressure is applied, and the person needing care will fall fast, this time knowing that you were not prepared to follow through with your claims of love and presence.

I’m going to go look at pictures of otters now.

Time to communicate: when shit gets real

So, anyone who tells you that polyamory is always easy is lying.  I mean, the rewards, when it works out, are amaze-balls, but it requires a lot of work.  And sometimes that work is really really hard.  And scary.  And utterly terrifying and real.

But, you know what makes it harder? Feelings. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t say “feels”? Yeah, well too bad because I said it anyway).  I mean, all the warm fuzzies and sexy feelings from meeting someone new and awesome are great, and I love meeting awesome people that I like.  Seeing your partners happy is a really nice thing as well, and seeing the people in my life continue to grow, mature, and learn about themselves is a wonderful thing (go us!).  There are aspects of relationships, poly or not, which are wonderful.  I would never not maintain relationships because it’s hard to do so.

I’m capable of allowing my partners to pursue what they want and need, and am doing so.  The happiness that they get from their other relationships are not negotiable; they are part of those people, and I could not love them as they are (that is, authentically) if they were not also with those other partners.  The rewards are being with those people I love, no matter who else they love.

But then there are things like anxiety and other fun things that come up when shit gets complicated.  You know, like when the woman you are really into has a boyfriend who is new to and unsure about polyamory, and you feel like a total shit for making him feel terrible for fucking their shit up.  That, coupled with the fact that the woman you are totes into is totes into you and doesn’t think she can go back to just being exclusive with her long term partner, largely because she has never really wanted monogamy.  And then the time you meet is, perhaps, not the most ideal and it leads to shit getting real.

I don’t try to proselytize polyamory by meeting awesome women in monogamous/monogamish relationships,, or really at all.  In this case, it just happened that way due to a random set of circumstances that lined up the right way (or wrong way, perhaps, from another point of view).  I’ve never dealt with this type of situation before.  I’ve met monogamously inclined single women that I liked (that didn’t work out), but not polyamorously inclined women in a relationship with a monogamously-inclined partner.  I’m sure I’m not the first, but it’s new to me so I am trying to tread carefully.

After long conversations late into the wee hours of the night, it became clear that there is no clean way out of this situation.  Sometimes, we can’t go just back to the way things were.  Sometimes, to go forward involves changing everything, whether in good or bad ways.  If circumstances were a little different, I might just walk away and let them repair their relationship, but I’m not sure that’s possible anyway.  So I’m not just walking away, because I like her too much, and she likes me too much.  At this point, the damage has been done, so it’s a matter of how we are going to re-build the boundaries.  And it might mean that I might have to not be part of it, which I don’t prefer but have to accept as a reality.

This is where communication is most important.  There are people hurt right now, and it’s partially (largely) my fault, but it cannot simply be ignored.  Communication will be awkward, terrifying, and nerves will be raw.  But it must be done.  As I write this, I’m starting lines of communication with the boyfriend.  I don’t know where it will lead, if it will be awful or fine, and I am all kinds of nervous.  I’m nervous to not come across as threatening, aggressive, or flippant.  I am also impressed that he’s willing to talk, despite his obvious discomfort.  But it must be done.

For the sake of the woman in question (who will still remain unnamed), so that she does not have to keep mediating all of the conversation, we have to be adults and talk this out.  It  probably will not be fun, but it is necessary.

If there is a take away from this post, it is this.  Make the effort to talk about the problems which exist as early as you can.  Relationships are hard, and you should communicate all of your preferences, desires, fears, etc.  Communication may not lead to the solution you want, but it will avoid the worst case scenarios that come about by ignoring the problems.

So, here’s to being adults!

Off I go….

Monogamy and meeting someone new

Way back in the 20th century I discovered polyamory while in college.

First, there was Erin.  We met early in our freshman year, had instant chemistry, but she had a boyfriend.  But our intense chemistry did not slow us down much, and eventually her and her boyfriend went their separate ways, and Erin and I dated through sophomore year.

When junior year came around I met another girl, Lauren while Erin and I were still going strong.  These two women complimented each other for me in many ways, and as I started to spend more and more time with Lauren, Erin started to worry.  Eventually I (stupidly) broke up with Erin and dated Lauren.

And then I started dating Erin again, this time while not breaking up with Lauren.  They both were friends, they knew that I was dating both of them, and they were comfortable enough such that the 3 of us spent a lot of time together.  Then I discovered the term ‘polyamory.’  To make a long story short, all that ended badly, due to being young, immature, and not having the experience that could have made it turn out better.

I bring this up today because it is a pattern that is familiar to many people, including monogamous people, and because there is a variation on this theme that comes up with polyamorous people a lot; meeting a polyamorous someone while monogamous.

Now, I have not had this happen to me in my own life, but it happens.  And, as a polyamorous person, I see the other side of this frequently.  Just recently, I’m seeing the other side of this in my own life.  Just recently, someone who has been monogamous with someone for a few years met me.

Over the weekend, at the PA State Atheist Conference, I met a lot of people.  I got a chance to hang out with some fellow atheist bloggers, old friends from the community I have not seen in a while, and made some new friends.  There were a number of intelligent and attractive women there, and because I like attractive and intelligent women I flirted with some of them (because yes, that is still allowed…) and got some flirting back.  In the end, I met someone fantastic.

So, as the conference was ending and people were leaving, I found myself sitting with a woman who I had noticed checking me out, and decided to just go for it.  I asked her out.  She smiled and said some words that told me that she was monogamous; “I have a boyfriend.”  Because, see, a polyamorous person saying this would not be a no to the date, it would just be information about them.  But the fact that this was the answer to being asked out, I figured that this was the end of that line of conversation.

As we kept talking (because a no to a dating proposition is not necessarily the end to a conversation, especially since I tend to ask people out I like and I am able to have attractive female friends), the sense of flirtation never quite left but I figured this was an example of how monogamous people are still attracted to other people, even if they may not do anything about it.  Then I mentioned my girlfriend, and she gave me a confused look.

Oh, I never told her I am polyamorous, I thought.  We had talked some, but it hadn’t come up because we were at an atheist conference and other things were going on.

And then the conversation changed a little. I explained polyamory (she already new what it was), and she expressed some interest in attending the Doctor Who burlesque that most of us here at polyskeptic were putting on that night.  It turned out there was one extra ticket, and she showed up!

And then the real flirting started, after the show that night.  There was real sexual and personality chemistry between us, but she still had a boyfriend.   I knew that at some critical stage that attraction would become too difficult to manage, so rather than suppress it I made sure she knew exactly how I was feeling, what I wanted, etc.  She knew I was into her, she told me she was into me, and I knew where it was going if we didn’t get off that train.  She showed up, again, after the third show two nights later, and we talked more.  I knew we were in trouble, and it was crystal clear when we kissed.

All this time, she had been in open communication with her boyfriend, who is out of town with family business.  None of this was completely surreptitious.  Had she been hiding her flirtation and interest in me from him, I would have not continued (despite my attraction) because that is a terrible way to start a relationship.  I could not trust a person who was lying about me to their partner(s).

Being caught up in all of this whirlwind of the genesis of a potential new relationship, having new feelings for someone I just met, has taken me back to those early college days when I was first falling in love with Erin while having to navigate the right things to do, what to say, etc to try and respect an existing relationship while not pretending that I’m not burning up inside with desire.  The difference here as compared to then is that then I saw no alternative to replacing the boyfriend, and this time I find myself wanting to make sure that the boyfriend does not see me as a threat.  I don’t want to replace anyone.  I just want to love who I love, how I love them, and understand that they want to do the same.

I want to add to, not subtract from, the life of this woman with whom I’m sharing this whirlwind.  I don’t want to have her boyfriend see this as a threat, I want him to see that polyamory has the potential to have our horizons broadened, our ability to love enhanced and strengthened, and to break down the walls of social expectations around love, ownership, and exclusivity.  A Brave New World indeed!

But from his point of view this is all scary, sudden, and confusing. I have not talked to him so far, but I know this is causing stress to both of them, and all I want to do is make it better.  There is not much I can do, however, and so I find myself struggling with wanting to see her again (and again) but knowing that the more time we spend together, the harder it will be to not look threatening to him.  Also, the more time I spend with her, the harder the potential end to this ride will be.  I would be hurt if it had to end as things are, and so I find myself trying my patience in order to make sure it doesn’t have to.  But it’s difficult.

I have to balance the desires that the two of us have with the struggle that her boyfriend is going through, and it is not an ideal situation for any of us.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.  I know that this woman (who I will not name because I have not asked her if she would mind my doing so) is the kind of person I could stay with long term, potentially.  I know she loves her boyfriend and does not want to hurt him (neither do I).  I know I want her in my life, and that includes all of the sexy feelings we have for each other.  Being just friends would be painful, inauthentic, and would ultimately fail in the long run. (I’ve been through a similar situation in the past, and that did not end well.  I want this situation to end well).

I know I’m nervous and anxious about this.  I know that he must be terrified.  But I want him, and any other person in this type of situation, to know that I am not here to hurt anyone or break up any relationships.  Poly people (ideally) do not end other people’s relationships; they add to them.

I just want to love who I love, as I love them, and understand that they will want to do the same.  I am not a threat, even if the situation seems threatening.  That is so hard to understand from a monogamous point of view, and it is a reality that much of our culture still has to learn.

So, here’s to monogamous culture adjusting to a growing polyamorous world.  And to all of us loving who we love, how we want to love them, and understanding that they will all do the same.

Adventures in Therapy: PICK UP THE PHONE

Life is…life. No, let me not be so cynical.  Life right now has a lot of good going on, despite the anger/sadness/anxiety party going on in my head here and there. Our burlesque show opened and has been going wonderfully well, and generally dancing around in awesome costumes and allowing myself great vulnerability amongst happy patrons has been exactly what I need at the end of the day.  I often feel this way about Arcati Crisis shows.  I have spent many a show getting my stress out with the power of rock.

I think I would have become “certifiably crazy” years ago if I didn’t have a very healthy and eclectic sense of humor and multiple artistic outlets.  I have very bad days where I can’t seem to laugh at anything and I have zero inspiration for creative endeavors.  Those days are the bleakest.  But most days are at least peppered with moments where I laugh a lot to myself or out loud and where I have ideas for projects I want to do.  Thank goodness.

The show yesterday was absolutely awesome (a blend of no technical problems and fun and appreciative energy from a fab audience).  My final piece takes a lot out of me, as it is about peeling away the artificial layers in order to reveal the true version of myself…yes, I’m such a fucking artist.  Stop rolling your eyes.  Anyway, it is emotional and I haven’t been getting enough sleep.  Long story short, I cried hysterically all the way home out of a sense of loneliness and loss and it was great.  (Note: it was not great)

I have a lot going on and am in the process of making some difficult and life changing decisions to finally rise above the much and mire of my teens (I know…I probably should have done this, you know, in my teens, but whatever…better late than never).  I’m also still dealing with that whole sexual assault thang and in the process of learning to think about myself as important and worthy of considering.

As you might imagine, this is not easy.  So, you know, a competent therapist would be hella sweet right about now, but…GUESS WHAT? Apparently, therapists don’t check their voicemail for days at a time.  And if they do, it doesn’t matter because they have no time for me, but they totally have some names of other therapists I can call and wait around for!  Aren’t they helpful?!?

Dear therapists, I know you are busy because a lot of people need help and I am really happy that some of the stigma is lifting and people are coming to you for the help you need.  But…I really don’t understand why it’s this hard to just get a call back from people.  I know that my experience thus far is not a reflection of the profession as a whole, but what exactly am I supposed to think?  Has therapy really been reduced to an “I know a guy” industry?  I feel like my experience in finding a therapist has been similar to the search for a non-awful/cheating/unethical mechanic.

Look, all I’m saying is if you are going to insist that people call you and leave messages (because for some reason you don’t want people to email you), CHECK YOUR VOICEMAIL AND RESPOND TO PEOPLE IN A TIMELY GODDAMN MANNER.  It’s not hard.  But you know what is hard? Calling a hundred therapists and being treated like you’re just calling to shoot the shit or something.

I cannot say this enough: The process of coming to terms with the fact that you would greatly benefit from professional therapy is a hard one.  If you’re like me, you think that you can do everything on your own and that you should leave the doctors and the therapists and the flu vaccinations and everything else to the people who had it the absolute worst.  I am strong and can take the hit, so if you need this resource please don’t let me take it from you.  This is me giving too much credit to my own privilege and ignoring how much I am hurting and all the stupid shit I believe.  Does that sound easy to you?  It shouldn’t and you should be pretty happy that I have gotten that far without you calling me or respecting me.  But the process of actually finding a therapist should not be this hard.  Picking up the phone is hard, but you shouldn’t have to keep worrying after you get the nerve to do that.

So yeah, I’m aggravated.  I thank all the people who gave me recommendations.  Perhaps it’s me or something though…because people either cannot see me or don’t want to talk to me (apparently).  What I’m really good at finding are useless therapists who do more harm than good!  So if anyone is looking for one of them, hit me up.

I know, I know, I’m sounding cynical again.  Let me assure you that despite the fact that I am developing a general distaste for the therapy industry, I am actually making a lot of progress on my own (well, not strictly on my own…I have some pretty amazing people helping me on a daily basis and I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am for their presence in my life now and for years to come).  I am a different person than I was even a month ago and things that were hard for me to do before are getting easier and I am learning quickly how to be my own person in a way that others can see.  I knew after my ridiculous therapy appointment a couple of weeks ago that this whole finding not-a-douchebag was going to be long and arduous, so I couldn’t wait around to start the work.  So I’m getting there and I’m functioning well, even if I still have some meltdowns.  It’s ok to have meltdowns.  Things are upsetting right now but I’m living with it and showing it whose boss.  Or something.

Soon I will write a great feminist triumph story that was a light in my life recently.  So there’s that!  But if you have a therapist you love and you are local, ask them if they have evening or weekend hours available and I’ll give them a call.  I will keep calling.  I will keep trying.

Keep moving forward.