Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Preserving Bliss is a Community Effort

I've been meaning to write a bit about current events and the recent shift in both media attention and political power focusing on increasingly frightening conservative rhetoric. Now more than ever, I'm hearing communities with intersectional interests calling to band together to resist infringement and attacks on our freedom. Feminist, LGBTQ2 and racial minority groups are realizing it's time to unite our considerable multitude of voices to support, protect and nourish each other. The poly community is also a part of this liberal bulwark and, as such, needs to join in standing behind and supporting the guiding principles of community building, as we have professed to do from the beginning of our small movement. So as a reminder to myself and anyone else who wants a bit of inspiration and wonders what to do in your own small corner of the world, perhaps in your own family, here's my list of guiding principles behind responsible community:

1) A mutual respect for the autonomy of everyone;
2) A sincere wish for the well-being of others;
3) A genuine desire to share prosperity with others;
4) Empathy for the hardships and challenges others face.

To to this, we need only ask what is needed, listen to their answers and then help as best we can.

I discovered in polyamory a way to share love abundantly, and I don't intend to stop because things are getting scary. Love on, everyone, and please keep each other safe so we can all have the the privilege to explore, learn and blossom.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cultivating caring poly community: is it time to shift the discussion?

Recently I attended a day of workshops sponsored by one of my local queer health-centered groups about taking care of oneself and others in our diversely queer community. It was a day of healing, learning, meeting new people and, above all else, engaged and passionate discussion about who we are and what we most need to heal and care for everyone in our community. It felt real and vulnerable in a way I've not encountered in many years within the context of my poly community, and I had to stop and ask myself why.

In the last few years, I admit I've been feeling a bit anxious about the lack of commitment, compassion, engagement and, well, caring-ness within what we loosely call poly community. True, I have a small group of friends and lovers who I know care about me; they know I care about them. Still, when I attend a poly discussion, either in person or online, much of that discussion still seems to center around one of two things: (1) protecting existing relationships from too much change (i.e. "damage") from outside influences (i.e. new partners), and (2) pushing beyond current models of poly relationships into the territory of solo poly or relationship anarchy, which, in my understanding, often creates in practice an individual-first relationship paradigm that exists in uneasy tension with the very concept of any community at all.

While I understand that fears about change are hard to handle and that it's important to discuss and work through our feelings about them, I do feel that focusing excessively on the challenges of poly relationships can set up a combative or competitive mindset, which has led to less connection in our poly relationships overall. It has also created a great deal of community dialogue and practice (if not actual rules) around "how to do poly" -- what some have called polynormativity. The fact that a practice is common and accepted creates the feeling that this behaviour must be normal and even correct.

This new idea of poly normativity also encourages, in many people, a desire to push back against the perceived rules and create a new paradigm. Hence, we have relationship anarchy and solo poly models that openly denounce any relationship model as the ideal one and embrace a sort of "design your own relationship" without hierarchies, escalators and formalized romantic connections. I admit that I find the idea of throwing out all relationship ideas to chart new waters both exciting and somewhat confusing.  In the end, I feel a bit fuzzy about the principles of what is and isn't relationship anarchy. I also don't consider myself single simply because my partner can choose to have other relationships besides the one she has with me and because we don't embrace traditional relationship timelines or landmark relationship achievements.

But my own romantic relationship labels aside, what I have observed in the larger poly community is an increasing shift towards more emphasis on taking care of oneself as an individual and a shifting away from the desire to care for others in our circle -- poly acquaintances, metamours and often even our own partners. The interesting thing is that I didn't notice what I was feeling a lack of until I stepped outside my poly community and into the circle of another community -- in this case, queer community -- and experienced a completely different conversation centered around caring for everyone present, regardless of who we're dating, for how long and in what fashion.

The queer community has a longer history that poly community, and within that history is an established habit of stepping up to care for members who don't have families, friends or relationships to care for them in times of need. I have been stunned on hearing that the poly community I'd felt nurtured by for so many years was being perceived by outsiders as elitist and selfish.  After my workshop experience, I was equally stunned to find myself agreeing with at least some of these observations.

I asked myself these questions:

- How can I find the heart of poly community that I know is there and have experienced as caring, inclusive and tolerant of all loving relationship structures?
- What needs to happen between poly couples and polycules, solo polys, and relationship anarchists -- and for that matter, the happily monogamous -- to be able to comfortably occupy the same space and acknowledge that we all experience human fears and hurts and joys?
- How can we move from a place where we're creating our own relationships in a backlash against people who embrace labels we're not personally comfy with to a place where we can speak our truth securely within a community that cares about us as individuals no matter how we style ourselves?
- How can we teach ourselves to distinguish between practices that we don't care for and the real live human beings who choose to engage in those practices?

These are questions I'm going to be asking myself and others in my poly community in the coming weeks, as I attend poly events and discussions. I'm going to try to hold in my mind what I learned at that workshop about putting caring above definitions, who's partnered with who, and how we can protect ourselves from feeling scared and getting hurt without ostracizing others in our community.

Simply caring more for our whole, diverse, messily-defined and ever-changing poly community -- how would that feel? Have we lost the thread of our hearts and how to simply love and trust in the maze of poly relationship alternatives presented to us? And even if we have, what's the harm in shifting the conversation towards letting in more love and away from slicing up relationships into sections where love only exists within the model we each think is best? Does carving create community, or does caring do a better job in the end?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Last spring, I was interviewed along with two other poly community leaders in Victoria, BC, by Zoomer magazine (EverythingZoomer). While the article did put some emphasis on sex (and hey,what's not to like about sex?) it also provided a thoughtful and balanced overview of some of the challenges and benefits of polyamory to those of us who are over the age of 40 -- women in particular.

The article also mentions More Than Two, Rickert and Veaux's groundbreaking manual on polyamory that was published last year.

One quote of mine I was especially happy to have included sums up what I always tell anyone who asks me "How does polyamory work for you?":

“It all starts from the premise that everybody has the right to make their own choices about their relationship,” says [Kiki]. “To do that, you have to be honest with your partners and your partners have to be honest with you. It’s an agreement, like monogamy is an agreement, and it’s based on openness and honesty.”

Thank you, Zoomer!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Voices From the Margins: Consent and Poly Community

Last week I had the privilege to attend the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Consent Summit in Seattle, WA.   What I learned there literally opened my eyes about how little I, at age 50, know about consent. It also made me realize why I, as a bisexual, white, middle-class, polyamorous cis woman, am very poorly qualified to teach others about consent.

The summit featured panels and workshops of legal professionals, writers, activists, social workers, sex worker, bloggers, and included trans-identified individuals, women of colour, as well as an overwhelming majority of white men and women. I'd like to say it was diverse, but in reality it may have only seemed so to me, since diversity isn't something I experience to a large degree in my own community (my local poly community included). Let's just say I tried my best to shut up and listen to what everyone who looked different from me had to say.

What I learned was that consent is a lens, and if I look through that lens at every interaction I have with others, every interaction I see others having, I can see a lot of details about individuals' motives, needs, beliefs and desires that I had not perceived before. Mine included.

I also learned that the people most qualified to teach others about consent are not -- surprise -- the ones who have experienced the least consent violations. That would include myself, since my poly community is largely composed of individuals who are a lot like me. I have been privileged to have a loud voice in my community, and now this lens of consent has me trying to figure out how best to use that privilege.

Since the poly community began to grow online and in local communities in the last two decades, the voices of white, middle-class, cis women (many of them bisexual, which means they often passed well in heteronormative circles) have been a pillar of polyamory philosophy and practice. While this may seem better than mononormative society as a whole, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white, middle- and upper-class cis men, it's really not that inclusive when you think about how many marginalized people of colour, differently abled people, trans, two-spirited and non-binary identified people have been attending our poly meets, quietly sitting on the margins hoping that their voices might be heard in a less judgmental and, above all, safer environment. I feel, sadly, that their expectations of the poly community as a whole have been largely disappointed in that regard.

This last weekend for me was not only an eye-opener, but a call to advocacy for the rights of those individuals in my poly community who do have plentiful experiences of marginalization, who have had a lack of access to events and forums for their viewpoint and need to be heard, and above all, who have many more experiences of having had their consent stripped away from them. They are the ones who will have genuine answers to what feels like restorative justice as opposed to what looks fair from an outside point of view.

In other words: consent is easy if you listen to those who are best qualified to teach it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

When You Fall In Love

When you fall in love with someone, you fall in love with many people. You fall in love with all the people your love has been, is now, and perhaps even the people they will become. You fall in love with your many selves that speak to you every day, sometimes in joy, sometimes in fear or insecurity, and sometimes in confusion. You fall in love with the people your lover cares about, the ones who have, do and will make them the person they are, which is a person who loves you madly and truly. When you fall in love with someone, you open your heart to possibilities and pain, to courage and to hope. Because to love that many people, you need to trust so much more that you will be taken care of, remembered, loved in return. When you fall in love with someone, you have the opportunity to fall in love with the best person you can be, which is a person who cares as much about others as you care about yourself. Is this poly? I don't know, but I know it sounds like an amazing way to love.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why daring greatly is particularly valuable in polyamory

Recently I've been attending a poly book club in my community, and it has offered an opportunity for deep thought, discussion and inspiration about different aspects of being in open relationships. We've read non-fiction how-to books, books with a spiritual tone, and currently we're reading a popular science fiction work that deals with polyamory as an important theme. I've always been enthusiastic about finding out how polyamory -- and the affinities and skills needed to have happy poly relationships -- intertwines with the culture surrounding us. So whether we approach polyamory from a practical angle, a spiritual one or one that's far out and totally creative and unique, it's all part of how we, as humans, learn how to navigate our world of complex interrelating.

That sounds pretty lofty, so I'll give you an example. I was recently talking with a friend, who is new to poly, about some heartache they've been having with a new relationship involving a couple, and I started thinking about my own painful experiences with this. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that even if your new partners "have been doing poly for years," they may well have fallen into habits of inattentiveness, as all humans do when we get into a comfortable groove over a period of time.

I dated several couples who were delighted to begin a relationship with me only to find that once the shiny excitement wore off, I was a real person with needs that they weren't always comfortable accommodating within their existing relationship habits. What happened several times was that I tried to be flexible, they got more demanding and made more rules that didn't take my needs into account, and finally I left, feeling like I had somehow "failed" at being a good poly partner.

I was fortunate enough, several years into my poly journey, to meet a couple who embraced the goal of paying attention to people and their changing needs rather than putting their existing relationship on a pedestal, requiring that all new relationships conform to a rigid standard that was set in stone before new partners even came into the picture. In their excellent poly guide book, More Than Two, Rickert and Veaux explain this as treating relationships as more important than the people in the relationships, which is a way of treating people as things rather than as human beings. 

Now, this sounds like great, sensible advice for anyone -- at work, in parenting, with friends -- and that's correct. These are the skills of compassion and respect that I find attractive in Buddhist teaching as well. But while many of us can get by pretty well in monogamous relationships by focusing on the few, near and dear folks that we give the majority of our attention and loyalty to, you absolutely cannot do this in polyamory and expect to have success. In fact, the idea of closing off parts of yourself to certain people is death to genuinely happy poly relationships. So it's important to recognize that being poly requires a special kind of courage, which is the courage to open up to more people, more frequently, and to stay open to them -- and to the change that inevitably comes with this.

How do we do this really tough thing, and why would we even want to? In talking with my newly poly friend and helping them understand the valuable lesson contained within their hurt feelings, I remembered the best book I read this year -- which I'm going to recommend to my poly book club even though it was not intended as being a poly relationship guide! The book is Daring Greatly, by BrenĂ© Brown, and it gives the best explanation of how being vulnerable by daring to look silly and make mistakes and by being open to the uncertainty of change is the most valuable tool to build intimacy and trust you will ever have.

When I think about my friend and their pain over being excluded from asking to have their needs met, or when I think about my own pain at having been shut out of my partner's life because they felt they needed to "protect" their older relationship, I think of Brown's simple advice about how much happier we all could have been -- partners old and new -- if the couples we were relating to had dared to be a bit more vulnerable and challenged themselves to open up to new experiences, and probably a bit of discomfort, in return for greater intimacy all around.

To quote from Brown's book:
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture's version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we've been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we're angry and scared and at each other's throats.” 

There are many ways in which we can close up and close off, and in poly relationships, when there are a lot more people up close and in your business -- several partners, their partners, their families and friends -- it's only natural sometimes to feel like you need to carve out your space and your autonomy. In fact, that is a gift of polyamory, because when we embrace all of it, all the complexity it offers, we discover a balance where being fully, authentically oneself goes beautifully with being open, vulnerable and intimate with other people. So I urge you to take a look at Brown's Daring Greatly and to think about the ways in which you can risk a bit more in order to overcome habits of inattention that, left unexamined and unchallenged, can cause much pain to the people you love.

“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” 
― BrenĂ© BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Don't forget to add compassion to the mix.

It's common in poly -- and useful -- to remind people that they're not responsible for "fixing" the feelings of others, whether that means "making someone happy" or "fixing someone's jealousy or insecurity." And this makes a lot of sense because, after all, it's presumptuous of us to try and manage another person's feelings, no matter how much that might benefit ourselves. It's also actually pretty impossible to manage another person's feelings. But... sometimes this directive can be taken a bit too far, and the result is that partners feel their feelings aren't even being listened to or acknowledged as valid.

This is where compassion comes in, in the form of holding space to listen to someone else's painful feelings, even if it may make you uncomfortable to do so. It means trying our best to help someone work through those feelings by being there to reassure them, hold them or give them time with other people to help them process. It means being present in the relationship even while we sometimes need to step back from "managing" the relationship. Compassion involves engagement and work on ourselves rather than working on someone else.

A friend of mine recently wrote a thoughtful blog post on her thoughts about this topic, with some interesting and, I think, useful examples of engagement and non-engagement both with and without compassion. You can read it here.