Friday, July 22, 2011

In between the Monoga-monster and Polyamorous superiority

Last weekend, My partner and I were at a party with some very progressive politically minded people. At one point a new friend of mine (who was meeting my partner for the first time) asked my partner if our relationship had succumb to the "monoga-monster". My partner explained some of the parameters of our relationship (we have an open sexual agreement, but we are definitely not polyamorous). My partner, my friend, and another man (who we were all meeting for the first time) chatted a bit about my friend's thoughts on opening up her own relationship. Because it seems an important detail to later part of the story, I want to point out that the conversation started between a white woman (my friend), a white genderqueer (my partner), and a man of color.

Initially my attention was elsewhere and I checked in about mid-way through their conversation, laughing at the term "monoga-monster" and generally confirming my partner's interpretation of our relationship definition (we have discussed our sexual agreements at length). While I laughed at first, and I do think the term "monoga-monster" is kind of cute, I am in no way anti-monogamy on principle. I remember feeling thinking that to myself as the conversation of open relationships took a dreaded turn. A few other near-by folks overheard us talking and joined in the conversation (who am I to judge, I checked in late, too). The conversation quickly turned to individual experiences defending polyamory to other monogamous friends (the tone implied that these monogamous friends were a bit naive to greater good of polyamory) and how the privileging of one primary romantic partner over other relationships was somehow unnatural. If you have spent any time in the San Francisco polyamory scene, it would not surprise you to know that the new contributors were all white women, a few of which openly identified as "dating both men and women."

While I continued to engage with these women about varying ideas about open relationship, both from anecdotal experience and from my work as a researcher on gay couples, the conversation participants shifted. It began clear from these new conversation participants that the superiority of a polyamorous lifestyle was meant to be revered and the honest, open communication and ability to engage in multiple loving relationships simultaneously (even if you weren't choosing to do it at the time) was the ultimate goal. The original conversation participants watched rather silently as this new group hijacked the conversation and riddled it with pro-polyamory sound bytes (for the record, I am aware that I did participate in that conversation take over, even though I didn't have pro-poly sound bytes to contribute). Even as I continued to engage, I found myself being frustrated with the judgements passed on those who somehow hadn't "evolved" to accept a polyamorous lifestyle. I also was quite aware, even as I was participating, that the conversation dominated by cis-gender, white women was silencing the other perspectives right there in that space and time. I wish I had more consciously done something about that.

Another aspect that became clear to me is that I feel like I have had this conversation on multiple occasions. There seems to be a prototype for polyamorous advocate in the bay area that doesn't sit well with me. Even when asking poly people about their community, they acknowledge it's dominant whiteness. I have also noticed an attitude of superiority that seems to stem from the idea that because resisting dominant messages of monogamy is difficult, those who can engage in a polyamorous life are somehow better and/or more self-reflective. I am not saying all (or any) polyamorous people believe this, but there is a feeling of this present in many of the conversations I have had about polyamory. I think it comes down to the fact that I can't help but feel I am being judged and the ways I chose to engage in relationships aren't necessarily right. I, like most folks, hate the feeling of being judged.

I, for one, want a loving, romantic, relationship that is a top priority in my life. All my relationships are not equal, their is a hierarchy in who I care most about and who I invest my time and energy into. It certainly doesn't all go to one person, but it is not distributed equally amongst all people in my life. I value my friends and family and care deeply about them in different ways, but my relationship with my partner is different and special. I am comfortable and happy with the dyad that I have established with my partner and I don't regret having a committed, healthy relationship with one person as a goal. However, I am not polyamorous or monogamous. I don't want to be. That is what is right for me and I don't want advocates of either side trying to nudge me toward their "right" way of doing things. In creating space for different types of relationships, it is important not to re-create and perpetuate a hierarchy of the right way to be together.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Does polyamory perpetuate relationship competition?

This week, I attended a workshop on Practical Non-monogamy. I have been to workshops on non-monogamy before and have experimented with different levels of non-monogamy in my dating life (also I hardly ever do relationships). I have read The Ethical Slut (lets be honest, I read half of it several years ago) and heard of other books to read.

I am currently in a serious, committed relationship relationship that is not monogamous in the traditional sense. We are both open to sexual encounters outside the two-person, couple model. It is something we discuss a lot and our rules and boundaries are under continual negotiation. Our relationship is also queer, so it already exists outside the heterosexual norms.

With this workshop, I was hoping for a little refresher and some thought provoking insight on how to negotiate non-monogamy in my life. Initially, I was excited about the workshop because I like to see different trainers and educational models in action but I was unsure of my feelings because I have had weird experiences with non-monogamy trainings in the past. The workshop was led by three trainers, one female who was in relationships with the two male trainers. They did a great job of defining the various types of non-monogamy (polyamory, swinging, open-relationships, and poly-mono relationships), but they spent most of the time talking about their personal experiences with polyamory.

I found their experiences interesting and some of the information they shared about boundaries and trust was very useful. I even gained some insight into how to talk to my partner about my needs. The major message that I took away from it seems like a truth universal to most relationships. Those who manage to engage in polyamorous relationships are those who are truly to committed to it. The trainers were honest about their challenging experiences and didn't paint a easy-going unrealistic picture what poly relationships are like.

They had my buy in until they started talking about coping with jealousy. Now, they did a good job of naming jealousy as a complex reaction that included other emotions. They were even forthright in talking about how jealousy can be illogical and irrational. They lost me on some of their strategies for coping with jealousy. They talked about the self-talk you should use when you are feeling concerned and threatened by another person that your partner is interested in. All of the trainers talked about the nature of self-comparison and repeatedly encouraged us to compare ourselves to that other person until we could pinpoint something we are better at (i.e. looks, smarts, personality, etc.). Their coping suggestions all involved competition and self esteem through cutting down someone else.

Society teaches women this competition as the way that we are supposed relate to each other, it prevents us from creating real community, and helps perpetuate patriarchy. I was put off by this message and felt really frustrated that it was encouraged in a non-monogamy workshop (polyamory is thought to be a way of liberating women from the patriarchal limitations of the origins of monogamous relationships). This suggested competition seems far more detrimental for the progress of female relationship and doesn’t seem to be a healthy way to cope with jealousy. How can we discuss the increased communication, the clearly discussed boundaries, and coping with jealousy without perpetuating the same competitive attitudes that keep women from uniting?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Something Black that Covers the Naughty Parts

Spring is in the air and for those who attend school, that often means Spring Break. I just spent my spring break split between visiting my brother in LA and my parents in San Diego. Southern California spring is much more like summer than most of the rest of the country's spring. The advent of summer in San Diego means blond, tan, beach-going bodies will soon saturate most public spaces and serve as a reminder of how little cloth is needed to actually constitute clothing.

After a successful reintegration to my family's suburban neighborhood, I made the ritual trip to Target Greatland. Floral pattern sundresses (circa the 1970s) and mix and match bathing suits flooded the women's clothing section. While most of them are quite appealing while on the hanger, almost none would actually fit on my body. As a women of a bigger size, probably like women of any size, bathing suit shopping is one of my least favorite activities. I find this ridiculous annual ritual particularly frustrating because of the selection available to me. Most bathing suits that come in "my size" are large floral print, rhinestone studded suits with ridiculously gathered mid sections and atrocious looking skirts meant to cover my hips and ass. Not only do these bathing suits remind me of my grandmother, but they seem to create the opposite affect than intended. I assume that the gathers and the skirt are meant to cover up the parts of the body that we larger women are "uncomfortable" with, but they seem to be the most attention grabbing elements of the suit. I can't imagine anything less neutral and more eye-catching than a curvaceous women sparkling in an brightly colored, over-the-top garden scene, skirt flapping in the summer breeze.

I can't claim to completely love my body and, like many women, I have anxieties about getting into a bathing suit. I wish there were parts that were a little less visible in most bathing suits, but honestly I just want something simple, that stays in place. Just because I am a larger women doesn't mean I want to wear skirts while swimming to cover up my thick hips and bodacious booty. I don't want to look like my grandmother at the beach this summer. Come on, fashion designers, I beg you, pay attention... when looking for a bathing suit I just need something comfortable that fits right, something that doesn't make me feel like a hot air balloon, just something black that covers the naughty parts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I am Fat. It is Not a Secret.

I am a fat woman. No, really, I am. I can’t say I am proud of it, but I certainly acknowledge that it is true. I hate when people tell me I’m not, as if denying it will make it go away. Pretending I am not fat is one step away from pretending I don’t exist. When I say something about my weight or size, don’t patronize me by negating my weight. Don’t think it makes me feel better to hear, “oh no, you’re not fat!” Yes, I am. I am fat and that is real.

My thighs rub together and create holes in my pants. My arms stretch out the sleeves of t-shirts. When I sit down my belly rolls over the edge of my pants stretching out my clothes and contorting my torso into non-angular, non-geometric shapes. When I look in the mirror, I am hopelessly aware of the extra chin that exists on my face and my round rosy cheeks. My back is far from flat and bras dig in to make hilly curves that are apparent even through my T-shirt. My pear shaped hips are full of dimples and dips. My skin is soft and bulges in places that I constantly aware of. The only thing hard about me is my attitude. My soft curves are real.

I am not ashamed of my body. You shouldn’t be either. Just because I am fat, don’t expect me behave like I am grateful when you want to have sex with me. I like sex, but don’t expect me to be your secret lover because you are too ashamed to let the world know that you sleep with fat girls. Don’t you dare think that I am lucky just to find somebody who isn’t disgusted by my body. I deserve the same respect that all women deserve, not just the skinny ones. My curves don’t negate my right to healthy, egalitarian relationships and love from people who are proud of me. My sexuality is real.

I am fat and funny, but I am not your comic relief. I am not just like your little sister. My body doesn’t make it easier to hear the “let’s just be friends” line. I don’t want to be your token chubby friend. I don’t speak for fat girls, just because I happen to be one. Don’t tell me how impressive it is that I don’t care what people think of me. I do care. I just don’t conform to what you think I am supposed to look like.

Since when did fat and sexy become opposites in common discourse? I am hot shit and I am fat and that is real.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cultivating Sexuality

I have been doing a lot of reading lately about self-improvement. I am not talking self-help books, but memoirs and novels with the theme of finding yourself, Zen peacefulness, your true calling, or happiness all in a neatly captured 200 pages. In the search for balance, that is inevitably the protagonists’ goal, there consistently seems to be a missing element: sex. I am not claiming that these story lines are sex-free, but sex seems to be a side plot or an afterthought. It seems that in developing their spirituality, these characters have neglected the development of their sexuality. I see a similar trend among my friends, particularly the females.

I am so tired of the notion that sex and sexuality is some secondary primal urge that we are to resist and hide rather than develop and cultivate. If we are seeking wholeness, than we are incomplete with out exploring our own sexuality. I think that sex and sexuality are intrinsically linked to our spiritual selves. I refuse to let archaic, repressed, (and quite often sexist) notions about female sexuality divide my sexual exploration from my spiritual growth.

It saddens me to think that even my progressive feminist female friends still feel the need to push their sexuality aside in order to dig deeper into self-improvement. How can we improve our whole selves when we subjugate parts of ourselves? What messages is society sending that makes us believe that sexuality and spirituality are mutually exclusive? How can I counter that exclusivity in myself, let alone help others discover that intersectionality?

I want my spiritual path to include sexual exploration. I want to know my sexual desires as deeply as I want to know my spiritual ones. This means I must think about, act out, and reflect on aspects of my sexual being with as much intentionality as I would on steps in a spiritual search. In fact I think that exploring sex is a step in a spiritual search. I seek guidance from the divine within in me on all matters of my life. Sexuality doesn’t tip the scale in the direction of shallow urges, it provides much needed balance in our search for self betterment and guides us on our path to enlightenment.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Got a (Wo)Man?

I am 27 years old and single. I sometimes find that my relationship status can make me a feel like a social leper. So many activities in San Diego, especially in the summer time, seem to be designed for couples. The romantic element imbedded in so much of the entertainment marketing just scream out, “Got a (wo)man? Why not?”

Even as the time changes and the weather turns a bit chill (for southern California anyway) I look back on some things I wanted to do this summer but didn’t because I was partner-less: moonlit kayaking on mission bay, a movie at cinema under the stars, even new restaurants and wine-tasting seems a little silly alone. It isn’t that I can’t be independent and do things on my own, or even that I don’t have friends who would enjoy these activities. It just seems they enjoy them with their respective partners. The thought of watching the infinite amount of cuddly couples (who would inevitably surround me at these events) while I sit alone just eliminates most of the appeal.

Halloween reminded me of my single-ness with its plethora of “couple” costumes. At the Halloween night party I attended, I was the only one who was not part of a couple. Even though I am pretty sociable and outgoing at parties, those odds are pretty intimidating. I don’t feel obligated to couple to hang out with my friends at parties but I am keenly aware that I am different.

What is with this subtle, yet pervasive anti-singleness? Is it my age? Does my proximity to 30 mean that I am part of a dwindling pool of singles who are sharing my experience? Is it just my friends? Is it San Diego? I just wonder how many woman have succumbed to the barrage of couples marketing and found themselves a lover almost solely out of the desire to avoid being alone.

Monday, July 21, 2008