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Regression towards the mean (a rant) December 13, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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All cultures have traditions, values, means of communication, etc.  All of these, and more, help define meaning and appropriate behavior for the group of people that interact with that culture.  It sets values for moral behavior, words for communication, and expectations to evaluate your decisions and circumstances against.  It gives you a set of standards to compare how well you’re doing in your process of personal growth.  Culture creates a filter through which we define what is good personal growth.  The problem is that sometimes cultures are bad standards for such things.

What do you do when the values, expectations, and even the very language your culture uses seem, well, wrong? Not all of them, necessarily.  Really, it just takes one value or tradition to create this problem, and I am not sure it is a problem which will ever go away.  We may perpetually, as a species, be evolving and progressing our cultures towards various ideals, assuming we don’t kill each other first.  I’m rarely optimistic.  So, given that, it seems rational to assume that those working for social justice, of all flavors, are the people we should be paying more attention to as members of culture.  But we don’t, because the path of least resistance is easier.  It’s totally understandable, right? Well, it’s certainly human. As if that’s sufficient reason to do something in itself.

(Just another reason I’m a misanthropist and not a fan of humanism; I don’t want humanity to be our example or our standard, I want the ubermensch to be the standard.  I want to transcend mere humanity towards something perpetually better, culturally.  No, not a trans-humanistic future of perfect cuber beings or even Cybermen, but a perpetually improving set of cultures.).

Well, in such cases where we find ourselves dissatisfied with our cultural environment, we have little choice but accept it or to (hopefully) find some other people who feel the same way and create your own sub-culture where we will often have to hide some behaviors so that the normals can go around feeling comfortable with their quaint little lives, unchallenged and sometimes even unaware that challenge is even an option.  And if we, rebels and other hooligans, happen to encroach on their territory (which is everywhere, seemingly), we have to apologize and slink back into our little holes, lest they get offended and have feelings they don’t want to deal with.  Examples? Christian privilege in the Christmas wars, for starters, but also the fear that many polyamorous people have in being discovered by employers, family, etc because of the effect of cultural norms on our legal and practical rights.

And, sometimes, you meet one of these friendly normals who seem to think your little hole in the culture is sort of fascinating and interesting.  They sort of like some of what you have to say, or they have a friend who also has a similar hole and they want to be liberal, open-minded, and accepting but they don’t really feel it deep down the way we do so it always feels like they are merely patronizing.  Because they are patronizing, even if it is also partially genuine (I’ll be clear; sometimes it is actually genuine).  They will occasionally visit your little hole, play around for a while in that hole, but they are not prepared to live their.  In some cases, a person might spend time with the weird people because a friend likes the weird thing or because their partner is weird as well, and they feel like they should be supportive even if they don’t really get it.  I mean, sometimes they do get it, but sometimes not.  Either way, they are not invested in your little cultural oddity, and most of their thinking and feeling is still tied to the mainstream culture in which they live most of their lives.

As we grow up, the things that are meaningful to us are tied to the culture in which we live.  And for most people, that is the mainstream culture.  Generations of people have common cultural items to use as stand-ins for more universal human commonalities, and we latch onto those things.  For many people it is the church they went to, but it could also be the love of popular TV shows, music, or hobbies.  And this is all fine.  The problem is when the things we value and have fond associations with are a part of the problem.  I’ll use a personal example.

When I was in graduate school, I made friends with a fellow graduate student who was the member of a fraternity.  He was very active and loved this fraternity, and he spoke well of it.  Through our friendship, I became fascinated with the ideals and the experience of this group of brothers, and because I valued him and the ideals proposed by the fraternity I decided to join.  I had hoped to meet other people who shared certain values with me and to become part of a group that seemed actually worth-while, rather than the ones I had seen elsewhere.  It was against my general nature of not being the type who joined things like this; I never went to church (willingly), I have never been enamored by any particular political party, and I had some prejudices about fraternities.

Upon joining, I slowly but inevitably saw the private, secret rituals of the fraternity as well as how my new ‘brothers’ really were, and things started to sour.  I learned, quickly, that the role of the fraternity was exactly like the role of church for most mainstream and normal people.  While in the ritual times and spaces, people tend to be solemn, respectful, and even reflective.  But as soon as they leave, the ideals (for most of them), go by the wayside.  Then I saw that people were sort of douchebags, just like everywhere else.  On top of that, the ideal that the fraternity upheld were available without the fraternity; just like with religion.  There was no need to join the fraternity, because I could have the ideals without that particular group of people.

One example always sticks with me.  I had some interaction with the prytanis (president) of the chapter at Drexel University a while ago, during my early days as a volunteer, and it was like talking to any self-serving, arrogant, and self-important douchebag I have ever had the displeasure of talking with. The values of the organization do not tend to filter down to the members.  So it is with such things.  This, and other things I learned during my brief activity (you are a brother for life, after all), showed me that no matter how good the ideals of a community, or culture, are, those ideals won’t translate.  You don’t have to be a member to share the ideals, and if you do become a member you won’t necessarily meet better people.  Unfortunately, this truth carries through to all of my experiences with groups of all kinds, including the atheist community.  I have many friends in the atheist community, but it is full of many douchebags as well.  The Polyamorous community is a little better.

So, it’s even worse when even the ideals of a community, group, or culture are not, well, ideal. Take the ideals of love and romance in our culture to start with.  Most people associate love with concepts of possessiveness and jealousy as a positive sign of love being ‘real’.  But those are the ideals of love and romance in our culture in general, whether we like it or not.  It might be changing slowly, but that’s where it seems to be for most people.  Those of us who are polyamorous tend to recognize that those values are broken, and see love as expansive and less limiting (it’s not actually infinite, because nothing is.).  But from the point of view of someone steeped in  mainstream culture, we poly people often look like we’re crazy, or at least playing with fire (which is also fun).  We are, after all, intentionally breaking the expectations of the culture they live in and value.  I mean, it’s one thing to cheat, but at least the normal monogamously-inclined cheater has the ideal of exclusivity, possessiveness, and jealousy…I mean, true love and romance…as a goal.  At least those cheaters are (generally) trying to do things right, but they keep messing it up because they are human.  But to throw away those ideals and love 2 or more people? That’s just nuts.

So when those hangers-on, those people who are, intellectually and theoretically, accepting of us rebels and hooligans (you know, because they are open-minded, liberated people); those people who hang around because they have friends who are also weird; those who hang around because the person they are dating wants to be part of it, even if they are unsure about it.  When those people start to really face the hard parts of being an adult and dealing with the real complexities of attraction, jealousy, envy, time-management, trust, etc what do they do? Well, they tend to regress towards the cultural expectations. The average. The ‘mean’.

Monogamy as an expected ideal, as it is in our culture, is not a healthy value to defend and to default towards.  I recognize that some people will be truly happy and fulfilled in monogamous situations, but as a default this ideal is broken when held against the shape of human desires, capabilities, and actual behavior.  When you have millions of people nourished with in a set of values around love, relationships, and sex which imply the expectations of monogamy, their emotions and thus their opinions latch onto those ideals.  Subsequently, due to various cognitive biases and imperfections, they are offended by opposing values which may actually be superior (either generally or for them specifically).  So when some of those people are exposed to polyamory, even if they are willing to accept or even try it, their emotions are still tied to the ideals of love, relationships, and sexuality which make polyamory seem wrong, impractical, or “not for me.”

Let’s use another example, not from myself but based, in part, on someone I have known all of my life.

If someone grows up going to church, loving the music, the community, etc, they will attach emotional significance to much of the tradition and ritual.  They have emotional bonds to the sounds, smells, architecture, etc.  For someone like this, being in their religious space brings to mind good feelings, memories, etc which cannot be replaced, but which are valued by them whether they would choose to value them or not.  If they start to disbelieve in any or all of the doctrines of the church, those feelings don’t go away.  So even if they leave the church, they seek out some sort of substitute, or create atheist churches (*gag*).  And from time to time, they will think about and miss what they left.  Their emotions bond to such sounds, smells, images etc which they formed in those places while they developed as people.  And sometimes, especially if they experience trauma, hard time, etc, they go back.  They regress.

The same thing often  happens to people who are interested in, or try, polyamory.  It gets hard, their emotions–which were tied with ideas about love and security which are antithetical to being polyamorous–pull them towards the cultural norm.  It’s the path of least resistance, after all, to appear normal.  it’s even easier to actually just be normal.  Polyamory is not normal (and it may never be).  The normal alternatives, whether monogamy, serial monogamy, or even swinging (which is, let’s be honest, just couples who like to fuck other people sometimes, and not a real challenge to the fundamental norms of couple-based relationships) requires less personal struggle and work, it’s easier to explain to co-workers and family, and it does not force you to grow.  Growing is hard, fitting in is easier.

And we as sensitive, caring, and mature people, are supposed to sympathize with their struggle when they regress in such ways.  We are supposed to allow them to go the path they want with our blessings and support, because their life is theirs.  Well, sure it is, but that does not mean that the decision to regress towards the norm is not often based on some fear, unwillingness to be challenged, and even cowardice.  That does not mean we have to actually agree with them.  Also, it does not mean we have to respect their decision.  We are supposed to not challenge them when shit gets hard for them because shit is already hard for them, I understand.  We are supposed to be patient (and some patience is fair to ask for, but their must be a limit).  We are supposed to not rock the boat.  We are supposed to behave ourselves. we are supposed to know our place.  Our place is not to question the norm. Most people will defend their norms all day and all night because it is comfortable, and they will do it with a smile and get offended when you find them ridiculous, because they are so conditioned to see it as right even if it might not be.

They are so easily offended, those open-minded, liberated, progressive normal people.  Not to mention the conservatives; they are a whole different problem.  But the liberal-minded mainstream normal people who find us weird people so interesting to hear stories about on NPR or have representative friends to make them seem interesting…. They are very often, to this weird person anyway, quite amusing and interesting.  They are like the Unitarians from the point of view of radical new atheism; not the source of the problem, but not really helping either.  They are just sort of boring, trite, and uninspiring.  They just sort of blend into the background of the culture, which we already (hopefully) agree is not ideal.

And we are supposed to respect them and their lives.

That’s another part of the values of our mainstream culture.  That is the quiet, brilliant lore of mainstream inoffensiveness.  That is what feeds and keeps alive what is wrong with mainstream culture.  Where privilege of all kind lives, it is guarded by the desire to be polite, because being polite is nice and it won’t offend your grandmother or the neighbors.  Where injustice lives, so does the smiling, ubiquitous face of “it’s just how people are” and “live and let live.”  Where cowardice, fear, and conservative tendencies live, so do the values of tradition and “just fitting in”.  And so when shit gets hard, it’s easier to just fall back into the tendencies of the lazy and cowardly culture that we live among and within.  When shit happens, it’s easy to just blend into the background pattern of normal culture, and appear as just another person who feels more evolved and liberated because you had this time in college (or whenever) when you tried that weird thing, but it wasn’t for you.  Or perhaps you have some weird friends who are interesting to invite to parties and amaze the other normals with how many interesting people you know.  Don’t I look all open-minded now? Aren’t I a mature and responsible adult? Aren’t I interesting?

Not necessarily.

So this is where I regress to being (a little) mean.  I don’t respect the majority of our culture or its values.  I don’t want to be nice or to sympathize beyond a reasonable level of time to allow you to get used to the culture shock you have when you run into weird people or radical ideas.  I’m willing to allow you some time to calm from your privilege or parochialistic shock, but then I expect you to actually grow up a little or go away where I don’t have to tolerate the inoffensiveness you reek of.  And, unfortunately, most will go away and regress to their mean.  That’s fine, my world is better without you anyway, but I will be disappointed because this reaction is so common.  I’m not going to be nice to you just because you have some emotional attachments to being normal and unchallenged, and you would rather run away or hide behind wanting to fit in or not offend your co-workers or your family for the sake of something that scares you to think about doing.

I’m sympathetic to emotional difficulty when it’s warranted, but the common emotional attachments to a set of values affixed to a broken and stupid culture are not sufficient warrant after a while.  If you are exposed and given time to adjust to the weird alternative to the norm, and you don’t adjust, then I’m no longer sympathetic.  You have time, especially if you have the time to read blogs like this, to think about the nature of our culture and your relationship with it, so do it already and stop being boring.  If you don’t do that work now, then I hope that if you eventually figure out that the (for example) monogamous marriage which you willingly enter, but later find yourself stuck in, was the result of unrealistic expectations about relationships which you learned from our culture, then you will be willing to do the work.  I also hope that you will then be willing to start re-thinking your values and your attachment to the dominant cultural values.

I hope you figure that out before all of that, and I hope that our experiences and insights as (polyamorous, atheist, social justice activist, etc) people, while not perfect (I’m certainly far from it) might be more than mere interest from afar.  Because for many people out there, the weird stuff around them is just a way to play with ideas while not really questioning your very basic values and assumptions in any meaningful way.  Weird sub-cultures and counter-cultures are a sort of cultural clothing that makes our culture look interesting to those living in it, when it is not interesting in itself.  In short, I’m not impressed by your emotional freak out because you are more comfortable with what is normal than with doing the real work to challenge your cultural conventions and assumptions. I’ll be impressed when the freak out happens when you are genuinely trying to adjust to the fact that the dominant culture inculcated so much crap into you and you are trying to change those ideas for better ones, actively, painfully, and most of the time.

I am no longer impressed by the values, methods of solution, or rules of a culture–any culture–which is fundamentally broken as our mainstream Western culture is.  And if you don’t think this mainstream Western culture is broken in many ways, then you might be part part of the problem.

Why knot – Breaking the Silence of Monogamy (upcoming documentary) December 4, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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I was contacted by Dhruv Dhawan from Film-Real about a documentary entitled Why knot, which has a page at indiegogo, where they are trying to raise funds to complete the project.

As the indiegogo page says,

This film’s objective is not to advocate for or against monogamy, but to break the silence and provoke thoughts on an issue which affects so many relationships and families today.

Our vision is to empower relationships and to encourage communication within, hoping that one day, infidelity and the containment of our desires may only be a remnant of human history.

which I think is a good conversation for humans to be having.  Much like religion, monogamy often gets a free pass in our culture, and it seems that pass is also present in other cultures (being that this is a project originates in India).

From the email:

The director is an acclaimed filmmaker (http://www.film-real.com) who has been researching this film for 5 years and shooting for the past 2. Dhruv completed his BA in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Film Production at the University of British Columbia. Through his latest film, WHYKNOT, Dhruv aims to break the silence on monogamy and question whether we as humans can resolve conflicts between our instincts and our morals.

Why Knot is a journey through the intellectual and emotional landscape of monogamy which features prominent scientists in the field and members from Dhruv’s personal sphere. During the production of the film we had the privilege to interview and research several polyamorous individuals and communities and take into account their insights and opinions. We would love to hear what you think/feel about the film trailer, so do spare us 4 minutes and give it a watch! Go on, Why Knot 🙂

Here is the trailer:

It looks interesting and promising, and I hope it gets fully funded. If you want to and are able to contribute to the project, head on over and do so now.

Just a Friday morning October 11, 2013

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This morning was a little different than most.  But in another way, it was not all that strange, for this house.  Last night, Jess and I had a date which involved her coming over here after work and hanging out with me around the house for the evening.  Jess is the woman I started seeing recently, and despite the fact I’ve only known her for 4 weeks, things are going very well and I see signs of it continuing for some time.  In short, she’s amazing and I’m really glad I met her.

We stayed in, while many others went out for karaoke, and we watched Doctor Who (she’s new to it, and is hooked!).  So, most of the evening was spent in the living room, cuddled up on the couch, but eventually we got tired and we went to bed.  Since we don’t have an extra bedroom, I fixed up the futon in the library (which is really just a part of the living room), so really we went to futon.  When we all win the lottery and we have a huge mansion with a dozen extra bedrooms, that won’t be necessary.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Also, none of us play the lottery.  I guess I’m just going to have to sell a million copies of my book.  But seriously you can get it for free (or whatever you want to pay).  But if you all acquire it for free, my ‘selling’ a million copies is not going to get us that mansion/castle/small island with its own airport and private beaches.  You will totally be invited to our 25-person hot tub.

*sigh*  I’m going to have to continue to work and earn money like everyone else, aren’t I? Oh well….

Most people in the house are early risers, having to get to work and such.  I am working today, but I don’t start until around 3:00 today, and then I will be working until midnight or so (Friday night, w00t!).  But this morning was a day when everyone besides me had work early, and so the morning was a house of bustling, ready-getting people buzzing around me as I watched them all do their morning things.  I’m a very light sleeper, so there was no way I was sleeping through any of this, but rather than go upstairs to our bedroom to go back to sleep for another hour or two, I just watched.  A house full of people, all getting ready for work in an environment that is not completely unlike any other family.  The difference between what I watched this morning and, say, a married couple with a few kids was not big.  Rides to work and train stations were worked out, people were doing coffee, perhaps some breakfast on the go, and I had the three women I am involved with all there, together, talking and saying good morning, kissing me good-bye as they left (they all ended up leaving at the same time), and it was actually quite hart-warming.

For anyone who thinks that polyamory is strange, that this thing we do here at the PolySkeptic compound are unbelievable or somehow wrong even, I dare you to see what I observed this morning.  I dare you to see this group of adults, and how we share space, time, etc and to continue to think of us as doing something weird.  We are doing what most people do.  we are trying to maintain the daily stresses and joys of life with jobs, bills, fun, and self-enrichment .  We are just doing it outside the mononormative narrative, which is very strange to some people.  Those people have strange ideas about the world, or something.

It’s a wonderful life, and I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to be here.  And when I get home late tonight, I may see a bunch of people in the hot tub or I may find that everyone is asleep.  Either way, I am working this weekend, I have beer maturing and fermenting in the kitchen, and I have life to look forward to.  Strange though it may seem to some, I know many readers here understand and I’m glad they are out there being weird too.

Take that, rainy day! You aren’t gettin’ me down.

Slate talks around polyamory June 30, 2013

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double XI’m short on time, so I will link to this article about non-monogamy in the gay community, which I found because of this podcast episode at double x about monogamish (I hate that term) gay couple and how it relates to changing how we (they mean straight people) see marriage.

While listening to this podcast, I wanted to throw things.  They asked questions like can we (straight married people) learn something from these monogamish gay couples? And made the point that gay people do non-monogamy but straight couples just cheat.

I don’t have time to dissecct the discussion, because I have work soon, but I urge you to listen to this for yourself if you are interested.  There is so much wrong with this conversation.

How the hell do these people have this conversation with no awareness of the existence of polyamory? I looked in the comments, and no mention of it there either.  I mean, I do go on about how the mainstream is very unaware of polyamory (they should at least know it exists), but to see it so blatantly and ignorantly gabbed about (they call the podcast a “gabfest,” so I am not being flippant) in this way is really frustrating.

I will try later tonight or tomorrow, probably, to contact the people who run this podcast to see if maybe some dialog and perhaps some education could be in order.  For now, I will leave this as is.

The Musicality of Love June 27, 2013

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4e6c6fb2Several weeks ago I acquired Daft Punk’s new Album, Random Access Memories.  I had heard a review, and part of a couple of songs, on NPR (because that’s what I listen to if I’m not listening to Daft Punk).  One of the songs (Doin’ it Right) got into my head (the NPR piece had used it as a bump after the review–good choice, NPR production!) and so I had to get the album to satiate the insanity of this song playing in my head.  So, upon acquiring it and adding it to my playlist on my player (I use Foobar), I started playing it and listened to I while I played some Starcraft 2 (yes, I’m that kind of nerd).  Let’s just say that I loved it.  I mean, the kind of love where after the album was done, I re-started it, and listened to it again (I had finished my Starcraft playing at that point).  And then, after that second listening, I listened to it again.

Soon enough, I burned a disc so that I could play it in the car (not having a fancy mp3 compatible player in the car).  And so for the next couple of weeks or so, whether I was in the car, had my iPod on, or at my computer I was likely listening to that album.  The more I listened, the more I liked it.  I would have different songs running through my head while not listening to it, and just had to hear them when I was able to do so.  The album took over my life for about 2 weeks.  It was love at first hearing.

I have a number of favorite albums and songs from various genres and time-periods, including Collective Soul’s Dosage, Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, Beethoven’s 5th and 7th Symphonies (well, the first 2 movements of the latter), Pink Floyd’s Meddle (among others), T Rex’s Electric Warrior, Green Day’s Dookie, R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Nas’ Illmatic, Miles’ Davis’ Kind of Blue, quite a few Phish albums (to name a favorite would be too hard), The Beatles (mostly their later work), The Clash’s London Calling, much of The Talking Heads (and David Byrne’s later solo work too),  Ween’s White Pepper, ….

I could go on, but I won’t.

There is some music which simply found its way into my brain and I love listening to them, especially in certain moods.  And as I reflected on this, I started to think about how, at least for me, certain songs, albums, or even musicians have a relationship with me in much the same way as people have.  That is, there are analogous relationships between my history with music and with people.  And in many cases, certain music will always remind me of certain people, and sometimes whole albums are associated with specific people.  Sort of the way that the line “with fingernails that shine like justice” will always remind me of Ginny (as she intended).

The last few weeks, in other words, have been akin to a torrid love affair where I could not get enough of, well, an album.  It’s worn off, mostly, now.  Now I can hear or think about a song from that album without having to listen to the entire thing, but I still love the album and will continue to listen to it in the future.  This experience is not unlike some relationships I’ve had in the past.  You know, with people.  And while the analogy can only go so far, I started to realize, as I thought about it, that I feel the same way about a lot of those people as I do about some music.

counting-crows-august-and-everything-after-delanteraLet’s start with one of my longest-loved albums, for example.  Counting Crows released August and Everything After in 1993, when I was in high school (the beginning of my sophomore year, in fact).  I have a vague but emotionally powerful memory of driving away from a vacation, with my parents, the following summer listening to that album.  I had met a girl, Nikki, who I liked considerably.  I was 17, hormonal, and the mere few days I spent with her was one of the earlier experiences I had of really getting to know and like somebody in a sexual and romantic way.  Having to say good-bye to her, get in the car, and drive away knowing that I would likely not see her again (we were in Hot Springs Arkansas–my parents choice of location of course–and I was going back to Philadelphia, Nikki back to Ohio) was emotionally devastating for me.  And listening to Round Here on my discman (you remember those?), a song which is emotionally crippling in many ways already, just made the feeling surge in ways I could hardly contain (if I had only known then what Borderline Personality Disorder was, the heart-wrenching pain would have made more sense to me then).  There is a piece of that still every time I gear the first few notes of that song.  I never did see her again, and sometimes I wonder what she’s up to now,  19 years after those few days spent with her.

Ever since then, I associate that song, and much of that album, with that summer and that vacation.   I love that albums still, and I think I always will.  Listening to it now, remembering that summer, thinking about how Nikki made me feel with her skin against mine all bring me the same cocktail of emotions.  Later associations of that album, as well as their second album (Recovering the Satellites, which was not nearly as good) with a relationship of 2 years while in college with a woman named Erin, many of the same feelings arise within me .  That album feels like young and naive love, the kind that incited deep feeling, stinging pain, and nostalgia for being young and being able to give of myself freely, without fear.  It feels beautiful and alien to the man who still is capable of love, but perhaps who will always be tainted by cynicism and fear when it comes to allowing that level of openness. I feel almost the same way about that album as I do about those 2 early relationships in my life, and I still have wonderful feelings about both of those women, even knowing that many years have gone by and neither of them is likely anything like who they were then.

And I could, if I chose, recount the many associations I have with specific music, friends, and lovers from my past.  I won’t do that because it is not all of the specific events of my personal life that I want to emphasize today (plus you probably don’t want to read that).  What I want to emphasize today is that, for some of us anyway, our relationships with music is, in many ways, akin to our relationships with people.  Music is, of course, an object so the analogy falls apart because people are, well, people and thus subjects of their own.  But in my experience, how I feel about things like music is similar enough to how I feel about people to make the analogy useful.

We change how we feel about music over the years the same way we change how we feel about music.   There is music I used to like, for example, but do not like as much anymore.  There is music I didn’t like at first, but now love.  And there is music that I always loved and always will love, but perhaps in different ways than I did before.  Our apprehension of music is not static, after all.  Our experiences of life change us, so how we will feel about other people (who will also change) and how we feel about music is dependent upon the function of that change.

GinnyGinaMeI genuinely miss, and often still have good (if not complicated) feelings about, some ex girlfriends.  There are some I don’t talk to anymore, whether because I don’t want to or they don’t want me to, and there are some I do still talk to (too varying degrees).  And of course, there are Ginny and Gina, who I am still with (and hope to always be with), as well as others who I have other kinds of relationships with.  When I met Ginny, I was into her immediately and immensely, much like my relationship with that Daft Punk Album.  I just wanted to be around her all the time and could not get enough of being with her.  Granted, I was in a bad place in my life and did need emotional support (which she gave), but when I was able to be calm, sane, and forget about that I realize I just wanted her around most of the time, and hopefully she will be around for many years to come, with her fingernails shining like justice.

When I first met Gina, on the other hand, I was not sure how much I would like her at first.  Granted, I first met her when she was in a crappy mood, and we didn’t have much time to actually interact directly for some time, but she was around enough that I got a chance to get to know her a little.  I knew I was attracted to her, but I didn’t know whether we would click together well and so I never took the opportunity to pursue conversation or flirtation of any kind.  But like many of my favorite albums, I didn’t really start to love her until I stopped what I was doing and just listened to her.  It was not until I stopped just having her around, as part of the background of my activities, and started giving her some attention that I realized that she is complex, hilarious, talented, and awesome.  In fact, now that I think about it, it’s not unlike how I see David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (an album which Gina loves).  It’s an album I had heard, at least in part, before but I had not really listened to as an album.  But once I took the time to really listen to it, I picked out qualities that a casual or background listen would miss.  Just like with Gina.  I had to have other people apparently leave us alone while at some Steam Punk event about 2 years ago to really talk with her and discover that we had very compatible senses of humor and knew that I wanted to be with her.  I went from liking her, to really liking her, to loving her in a short time because I paid some attention to her.  It makes me wonder how much great music, and people, in the world I’m missing by not paying more attention to them.  I know, first world problems.

And now I’m listening to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as I write this.  Thanks Gina….

Then there are the non-favorite songs, but the ones you really just have to hear occasionally.  I mean, I cannot prevent myself from singing along to Ice, Ice Baby or Baby Got Back, but under no circumstances would I label either song as good, or songs I must have on my iPod nano (neither is, BTW).  Also, there are songs I like, but not in context of their albums.  The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony is a song I really like to hear occasionally, for example (that song is on my iPod, but not the rest of the album), but it’s not from a great album or a favorite band of mine.  I just really want to hear it occasionally.

And so this is the point where I, unsurprisingly, make the transition to argue that polyamory is superior to monogamy.

I’m sure that many of you saw it coming.  If you didn’t, you have not been reading this blog long enough.  I could do the surface-level argument and say that just like we all love many albums, genres, etc of music, and are not expected to (and should not have to) choose between them in some exclusive way, neither should we be expected to choose who we love, or at least what kind of love we should have with whom.  And while that is true, and ultimately that is what my argument is,  I think that there is some deeper utility to the analogy than that surface point.

PFJust like one might love albums from high school or college years after those times are over, people can still have fond feelings for exes or for people who are not your current partner.  I mean, not always; sometimes there is no good feelings left after a relationship ends or with people you just don’t like.  Personally, I still have good feelings and memories about ex partners who hurt me and who I generally would generally prefer to never see again.  I mean, the relationship existed for reasons, and those reasons do not always evaporate when the relationship ends.  Just like my love of Pink Floyd did not affect my love of Daft Punk or Collective Soul’s Dosage when I discovered them, neither does any residual feelings I have for someone I am not dating anymore, or even someone else I’d like to date in the future, have to affect how I feel about a current partner.  There is a trope in our culture that talking about, liking, or thinking about exes or other potential partners is doing it wrong.  Somehow, if we chose someone, we cannot continue to, effectively, choose someone else.

And then there is that fact that we might not love certain music, but really like it, like it occasionally, or only at certain times.  Similarly, there are people we know who we don’t feel the need to interact with day to day, or to dedicate our lives to, but with whom we share similar interests, desires, etc and can establish a less committed relationship.  I am not sure how often this happens, but imagine two people who spend time together a couple time a month or so, perhaps even a sexual relationship, but who recognize that they are not good partners for one-another.  They enjoy their time together, but they have other things going on in their lives.  So, in our monogamy-oriented culture, if either, or both of them find a better partner match, this relationship may be expected to end (especially if it’s sexual in nature).  But why?

It’s obvious that the relationship is not a threat to some other more committed relationship (remember, commitment does not imply exclusivity), so why should it have to end? Wouldn’t it be better to allow such relationships to continue or end on their own terms, and not the terms of another relationship? I mean, I don’t want to listen to The Verve all the time, but my life would be (slightly, but noticeably) diminished if I could never hear Bittersweet Symphony again.  For rational reasons or not, that song contributes to my feeling happy (but in a bittersweet way…sorry…), so why, just because I like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories a lot more, should I not continue to enjoy another song or album?

I’m not trying to be flippant here.  The social and cultural rules about monogamy really do seem as absurd as having to choose one album, or favorite food for that matter, over all others.  Why would we deny the variety of potential valuable relationships there is in the world for the sake of your (perhaps) favorite partner? I mean yes, if I had never met Gina and was married to Ginny and was only with her for the rest of my life, she would be a great partner for me and I would be very lucky to have her.  And if Gina and I had met under different circumstances and were exclusive, we could be happy as well.  So yes, I could be content (in the way that many monogamous people are “content”) with one partner, but the simple fact is that I have existing, and potential, relationships with other people who have things to offer that neither of them can offer on their own (and there are other people they could have relationships with–and do– whom offer things I cannot).  So why would any of us choose sexual and romantic exclusivity?  It’s simply as absurd, from my perspective, as having to choose one song, one album, one artist, or even one genre of music to listen to.

I love many kinds of music.  I don’t often go out of my way to discover new music, or new people for that matter, but I love that both music and people exist in my life.  I love different kinds of music for different reasons, appreciate them for different moods, and listen to music in different contexts and with different frequency.  I approach music on its own terms, like it for its own terms, and enjoy it irregardless of what I think about other music.  It would be silly to say that I can only like this or that genre, artist, or album.  Let me re-phrase that in case you missed the important part of that statement; it would be silly to create a rule which stated that I had to only like one kind of music, and not enjoy other music.  It would be silly because we cannot choose what music we like, just like we cannot really choose what people we like.  Insofar as we can make choices, we can only choose what we do, not what we like.  And just like we choose to listen to a variety of music because we like a variety of music, we should allow ourselves to have the relationships that we want, as we want them.

Some people, and some music, will be pleasant to have around, in the background of our lives.  Our passing acquaintances with people and music can give depth to our lives.  And while we only have so much time and space to truly and intimately appreciate music and people, that limitation should not be defined by the monogamous expectations of our culture.  I can appreciate Beethoven and Green Day, in different moods, times, and spaces.  In that case, I am willing to say I appreciate Beethoven more than Green Day, but if you were to ask me if I preferred the 5th symphony to the 7th…I don’t know.  I don’t know if it matters.  And so with people.  It is clear that I care more for Ginny than an acquaintance who I see from time to time, but beyond that we should not have to sort and rank people into hierarchies and choose one to be our romantic and sexual partner for life, or even just one at a time for weeks or months.

No, we should allow the beautiful musicality of love to add value to our lives as it does naturally, unconstrained by silly social conventions.

That said, anyone have any music that you really love and you think I should listen to?

Also, any awesome people I should meet?

Queer Youth Radio on Polyamory May 9, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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I ran into this today:

I saw it on a blog called Youth Media for Building Healthy Commnities, which I just discovered today.

It’s a fairly good, and short introduction to polyamory intended for young people, specifically in the Long Beach, CA area.  I’m glad to see that resources for young people are inclusive enough, and aware enough, to include polyamory into it’s programming.  The video is pretty low tech, and I don’t know what kind of reach it has, but seeing it’s existence is at least encouraging to me.

I noticed that the video made the claim that polyamory fits under the umbrella of “Queer,” and thus LGBTQ generally, which is an idea which is not universally accepted by all poly people or by all LGBTQ members and allies.  That the struggles which poly people  endure are comparable to those of the traditional LGBTQ community is a tough sale, even if in some philosophical sense there is an affinity between the two groups.  There is a sense that poly people are queer, and perhaps the relationship is more obvious to younger people than it is to me.  I’d be interested to hear from younger people about how they think about that relationship.

I believe that the LGBTQ community should be generally informed about polyamory, especially because there is a natural affinity between minority groups who are struggling for understanding, rights, and community.  We have things to teach one-another, and projects like this video, and the blog with which it is associated, are good positive steps in the right direction.  Also, I would very much like to see a future when comprehensive sex education includes the basic concepts of polyamory as a possibility for people to explore, especially since it will be preferable and more healthy for many people (at least).  We need young people, for the sake of our future world to be a more sex-positive place, to have understanding about their sexuality, possibilities for relationships, and all things related to those two.

I also noticed that they said, near the end, that “monogamy is  an equally valid lifestyle choice, just as polyamory is a great fit for others.”  Putting polyamory on equal footing with monogamy is an improvement over the usual view that polyamory might merely be right for some people, which seems to imply it’s a weird thing that weird people do (well, it is that often too).  I might be willing to go further, and say that polyamory is superior (with the appropriate caveats, of course), but i appreciate the equal footing here.

More of this, please!

Previews of Our America episode next week! February 27, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Here is a couple of previews to next week’s episode which includes us here at polyskeptic!




(the embed codes don’t seem to be working with wordpress, sorry)

Atlanta Poly Weekend, March 15-17 2013 November 14, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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As many readers may know, I lived in Atlanta for a little while a couple of years back.  It was where I met Ginny! While living down there, I participated in the polyamorous community down there and made some friends.  Some of those people still read this blog, and because of my awesomeness, have invited me to participate in their annual orgy polyamory-themed event in Atlanta, Atlanta Poly Weekend.

Know that I had the option of putting a picture of a sexy woman here dressed for St. Paddy’s day.

It will be the middle of March of 2013 (you know, because the 2012 Mayan calendar thing is bullshit), winter will be starting to give way, it will be St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and Atlanta will be warming up! Also, lots of smart, sexy, poly people gathering for workshops, presentations, and possibly a few drinks after we solve all the world’s problems with said workshops and presentations.

You can take a look at the list of presenters to get an idea of who will be there, and they look like a fantastic bunch! I am looking forward to meeting them all in March, and I hope to see some of you there as well.

So, the skinny is this:

The What: Atlanta Poly Weekend 2013

The Who (no, not the band!): you, and all your awesome friends (who will be permitted to listen to The Who, if that is your kink.  The Kinks will also be acceptable).

The When: March 15-17, 2013

The Where: 

Holiday Inn Select Atlanta- Perimeter/Dunwoody
4386 Chamblee Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, GA 30341
(770) 457-6363
(770) 458-5282 (Fax)

The Why: Because it will be awesome!

The How: That is for you to figure out, because I don’t know who you are or where you are coming from.  If teleportation doesn’t work, try a car, train, plane, or penny-farthing.

Getting Oriented June 25, 2012

Posted by Alex Bove in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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In the comments section of an earlier post here, I mentioned that I see polyamory as an orientation. Wes exhorted me to elaborate on that concept, so I will attempt to do so now. But first, I should mention that another commenter (Jessica) referred us all to law professor Ann Tweedy’s excellent article on the subject. I’m going to build on several of Tweedy’s ideas in this discussion, and I suggest you read the article in full.

Tweedy points out that the term “sexual orientation” is a modern invention, and that the words, taken separately, seem to suggest a slippery, almost vague concept:

Rather, based on the ordinary meanings of its two constitutive words, the term “sexual orientation” should refer to any type of settled “sense of direction or relationship” or “choice or adjustment of associations, connections, or dispositions” that relates to “libidinal gratification.”

Of course, that’s not exactly how we use the term in our daily lives, but it’s fairly close. One of the problems of thinking of sex and love in terms of orientation (i.e. innate condition, quirk of birth, etc.), however, is that we immediately run into the “problem” of whether to distinguish between who we are and what we do. Can a person be polyamorous and single, for example? That may sound like a deliberately stupid question, but if being polyamorous means “having multiple loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all parties,” a single person may not necessarily qualify. If, instead, one has a polyamorous identity (i.e. a preference for such relationships, even while single), the answer changes.

All people who practice non-normative lovestyles face the dilemma imposed by the who we are vs. what we do distinction. There is debate in the LGBT community, for example, about whether it is acceptable for a gay person to say he/she is gay “by choice.” Earlier this year, actress Cynthia Nixon did just that and was criticized harshly for it. After all, when minority groups fight for civil rights, they often take the position that they’re the same as everyone else (i.e. born a certain way). We all remember 19th century “scientists” who tried to prove that people of African descent were literally a different species as Caucasians. Today, the claim that gay people are different in an essential (and therefore “correctable”) way are used to justify discrimination against them.

The problem, as I see it, with this line of reasoning is that granting civil rights based solely on biological determinism seems to be a dangerous precedent to set. So what if someone is gay by choice? Why should that affect their ability to be protected by anti-discrimination laws, to visit a partner in the hospital, to obtain medical insurance, etc.? If homosexuality (or heterosexuality) is innate, should we test people for it? What, if any, value should we assign to people’s self-identification? Should we require “proof” of sexual orientation? These are all complicated questions, but I tend to advocate a society in which we place as many people, and as many choices as people consensually and nonviolently make, as possible under the umbrella of civil rights.

Which brings us back to polyamory as an orientation. I suppose I could claim that I’ve been polyamorous since birth (or at least since adolescence). We’ve all heard stories of people who became polyamorous in high school or college. I like to tell an anecdote from my own life in which I dated two women at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all parties, back when I still considered myself monogamous. Of course, the way we all justified this arrangement was the same way many single, monogamous people justify dating multiple other people: eventually I was going to have to choose one of them, and I was just getting as much information as possible before making my choice. Nonetheless, the fact that I wanted to date them both (and didn’t want to have to choose, though I told myself back then that I would eventually have to), and that it was very important to me that everyone knew what was happening (i.e. no one was cheating on anyone) makes me think that the conceptual framework of polyamory has been part of my way of thinking for a long time. The anecdote happened almost 20 years ago, and I’ve only identified as polyamorous for 4 years.

I’ve talked to many poly people with similar stories of their pre-poly life. So perhaps some of us “naturally” gravitate to this lovestyle and some do not. The problem, however, is that very little of what I’m saying here sounds like the way people usually talk about sexual orientation. If I were only interested in living in triads, or quads, etc.–i.e. if my erotic imagination always, and only, involved more than two people, or always involved people of more than one gender–that would sound more like the way sexual minorities tend to talk about orientation. In many ways, when I say that polyamory as an orientation for me, what I mean is that the philosophy/ideology of non-monogamy makes sense to me in a way that suggests to me that it’s not merely an idea I like but rather that I’m drawn to it constitutionally (or, as Heinlein might say, I “grok” it). This is why I like Canadian sexuality theorist Nathan Patrick Rambukkana’s statement:

“I believe that though my sexual orientation is straight, my ideological and political orientation towards sex is queer.”

For me–all these years later and you still can’t take the Hegelian/Marxist out of me–ideology and what we tend to call personality are inextricably linked. I’m not going to get into the debate here of which comes first–if you’re interested in a very long discussion on this subject I recommend this episode of Reasonable Doubts–but I think that many of the beliefs/philosophies we hold most dear appeal to us both because they make logical sense and because we have an intuitive sense that they’re right. The skeptical thing to do, of course, is to examine whether one’s “intuitive” response to an idea is reasonable, comports with the facts of the world, etc., but nonetheless some studies are now showing us that ways of seeing the world might be more hardwired than we’d originally thought, and I think that’s interesting (if inconclusive so far).

The question of whether any sexual orientation is chosen or if we are “born this way,” then, may be a false dilemma. We may chose it because we were born that way, for instance. Making a distinction only seems useful if we’re fighting for equal civil rights. Of course, that’s an important thing to do, which makes the question relevant in many aspects of our civil life. But it’s also a double-edged sword, as the Cynthia Nixon example demonstrates. I don’t want to have to pass a polyamory “truth” test, and if a polyamorous gene were detected, I wouldn’t line up to be tested. It doesn’t matter very much to me why anyone’s “libidinal gratification” desires (including my own) tend to lead him/her toward one or another “choice or adjustment of associations, connections, or dispositions.” Just don’t try to stop me from associating freely.

Anger Management June 23, 2012

Posted by Alex Bove in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I was struck by many things in the “Godless Perverts” panel video Shaun posted yesterday, but one thing in particular that I’ve been meaning to write more about was the idea of the narrative of redemption through suffering (Maggie Mayhem segues into Charlie Glickman discussing it, starting at around 30:25 of Pt. II). I’m going to try to tread very carefully here as I discuss the ways in which I think this concept is relevant to nonmonogamy, so please accept the caveat that I’m trying to make somewhat broad conceptual associations in order to see if they’re fruitful.

When we “come out” as atheists, many of us face the usual types of reactions. Some people accept our decision right away (or don’t really care–i.e. it’s not really their business how we live our lives); some say they knew all along and are genuinely happy for us; some completely reject atheism and, thus, reject us along with the proverbial bathwater. If I think about people as roughly falling into three camps–true believers/theists, nonbelievers, and “weak” believers (i.e. those who may identify as religious but whose religiosity operates more as a cultural identity, or quasi-ethnicity, than as a dominant life philosophy)–all of these reactions make some sense to me. The true believers are likely to want nothing to do with an atheist (except the ones who might think they can “save” us, but that’s another blog post altogether), and may even feel threatened by an atheists’ presence in their lives (because, as everyone knows, we recruit). The nonbelievers will either embrace our newly-announced identity or be indifferent, neither of which harms us much, though the former can certainly help.

The middle group, though, are the ones who tend to respond angrily. Some people seem to get very angry when I share my atheism (or skepticism of almost any kind, honestly) with them, and I’ve spent some time trying to understand why.

(Big assumption alert)

I think the “weak” believers get angry when we decide to live our atheist lives openly and unapologetically because, at least on some level, they’ve bought into the narrative that pious people deserve to be rewarded and wicked people must be punished. Even though they may not go to church every week, or observe all of the holidays, rituals, etc. required by the most devout members of their religious identity group, they still want to believe that their lukewarm belief–and, often, adherence to at least some elements of their religion’s moral/ethical rules–will gain them a reward. In other words, they’ve given up some things in order to convince themselves that they’re a good “insert religious identity here,” and if atheists are living happy, free, unapologetic lives and not being punished for it, the “weak” believers’ entire ideological framework is in danger of crumbling like a house of cards.

The historically religious narrative of asceticism and punishment leading to reward/redemption is so powerful that, I’m arguing, it has become a powerful secular narrative, even in the minds of those who do not strongly identify as religious. Hence, they often can’t articulate why they’re mad at us. Usually they say things like, “why can’t you just keep that to yourself?” or “did you have to shove that down my throat?” when we’ve done no such thing. They feel threatened because our unpunished existence directly contradicts the narrative not only that they want to believe but that has motivated actual life choices they’ve made, and these choices often involve sacrifices that they would not have made were it not for their belief in the reward/redemption at the end of the narrative.

When we come out, and especially when we openly and honestly live our lives, as polyamorous, we tend to get the same spectrum of response. Some people simply can’t accept our choice, or they may feel threatened that we’ll try to “steal” their partners, etc. This is always sad, but I think we can all deal with it. Some people (often the similarly nonmonogamous) embrace our choice and/or take a “it’s not really my business, but I’ll show tepid support” attitude, or (occasionally) express mild disapproval but tolerance. Again, the latter responses are not my favorites, but I don’t worry too much about them. They might be described as falling into the YKINMK camp, and that’s understandable. The angry responses, however, can be tough to grok. Why do other people get so exorcised over our chosen lovestyle?

My answer is that mononormativity operates as a secular form of the historically religious narrative of suffering leading to reward/redemption. Here I’m defining “suffering” extremely broadly. In the case of monogamy, what I mean is that monogamous people deny often themselves the pleasure of multiple intimate relationships (these need not be sexual–remember that many monogamous people believe that even having close friendships with people other than one’s spouse is a form of cheating). This sacrifice has a cost, but it also has a reward. Monogamists feel a kind of secular piety, a sense that they’re doing the right thing. Moreover, they tend to think that the sacrifice is the very thing that gives the monogamous dyad its special status.

I’ve seen this sentiment over and over again in online forums and in conversations with “devoutly” monogamous people. People have told me that I just don’t understand what “true” love is because I’m not giving 100% of myself to each of my relationships (because, you know, it’s mathematically impossible and all that). People seem to feel the strong need to prop up their own lifestyle choices and to devalue mine, even though my being polyamorous doesn’t in any way directly affect their monogamous relationships. So why should they be angry? I think they get angry because they believe that my successful, happy, unapologetic polyamory does threaten their relationships. If they’ve sacrificed to be monogamous, they must be rewarded and, conversely, those who deviate from mononormativity must be punished. Our lack of suffering does not compute.

I’m not suggesting that this is a new phenomenon, or that it’s unique to polyamory. Quite the contrary. Normativity in all of its forms elicits this desire for secular piety on behalf of its adherents. Deviation from the norm is systematically demonized, most notably in popular culture (which is overwhelmingly heteronormative, sex-negative, pro-theist, etc.). If gay/polyamorous/freethinking people live their lives openly and happily, how can “normal” people maintain the fiction that their ways of living are worthy of praise and reward (especially in the absence of something as dramatic as an actual intervention of a deity, the full wrath of a state apparatus, etc.)?

I’m also not saying that people who obey normative rules are bad people. In fact, I think their obedience is largely due to their desire to be good people. And I also believe that they are aware of the sacrifices they make for normativity. Thus, they experience a real sense of loss when non-normative beliefs/practices are shown to be completely benign (or, gasp, rewarding). Studies of loss aversion have shown fairly consistently that humans tend to react much more negatively to losses than they react positively to gains. This is not only true in economic situations but in social ones as well.

Some people surely feel that monogamy involves no sacrifice at all. Given the statistics on infidelity within monogamous relationships (over 50%), I’m not sure we can fairly say that a majority of monogamous people see things that way, but certainly many do. I don’t think they get mad when we say we’re polyamorous and show that we’re happy that way.

However, I believe that most monogamous people are “weak” monogamists. They are monogamous by default, without ever really knowing alternatives exist. I say this, by the way, as someone who for more than 30 years thought exactly the same thing. “Weak” monogamists are aware that closing off a large part of our humanity (love/sexuality) to all but one person for our entire lives causes us suffering. In order for that suffering to be bearable, they must believe that the reward outweighs the sacrifice. This, for me, explains their often visceral reaction to our living (and loving) openly.

Polyamory challenges our culture’s dominant, cultural narrative about love/sexuality because it shows that stable, committed, loving relationships are still possible when all parties involve have other stable, committed, loving relationships. And challenging people’s dominant cultural paradigms, especially when those people haven’t examined those paradigms very deeply (one of the pernicious things about normativity is that it seems, to most members of a society, simply to be “natural,” not culturally constructed and reinforced)–makes people angry.