Frangipani

Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

“Kinky” February 19, 2011

Filed under: Definitions,Kink,Sex,Sexuality — Araliya @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have a confession. I’m profoundly uncomfortable with the word ‘kinky’. I’m just not sure what it means. I admit, the word elicits some immediate images: leather, bondage, sharp things, etc., but I also know that they are the result of the media’s representation of the term, as well as what some (but not all) self-identifying kinky people like to do.

The word itself seems to mean ‘twisted’ or ‘perverted’ and though, by extension, that can be taken positively to imply something exciting, I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the word because it sounds pejorative. I realize this in no way bothers the vast numbers of kinky folk out there, and it really shouldn’t. It’s just a label and as such cannot fully encompass every individual’s experience.

My problem is I don’t really get why anything anyone likes to do should be labeled as more or less ‘kinky’.

There are things I personally don’t like or that simply don’t pique my interest, but the fact that someone else likes to do them with other consenting adults doesn’t make that person, to my mind, any weirder than me or anyone else. I personally don’t like eating escargots, but I don’t find people who do like to snack on snails disgusting. People’s palates are different, right? So what’s wrong with having varying tastes when it comes to sex?

A similar problem I have is the concept of sex as something ‘naughty’ or ‘dirty’. There seems to be some sort of social code that requires us to cast things that are perfectly natural as ‘bad’, so that we can ‘protect the children’ or some such nonsense. I think kink falls under the same category. You have to believe that there is such a thing as ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ before you can call yourself – or anyone else – abnormal and I think that’s what I have a problem with. After the kind of life I’ve had, I have a profound mistrust of the idea that some things are ‘normal’ and others aren’t. We’re all ultimately trying to get to the same place, sure, but I don’t think anyone’s way of getting there is any more or less ‘normal’ than anyone else’s.

I’m not, by the way, arguing that there is no such thing as kink. There are clearly demarcated sexual practices that fall into that category. The analogy that works best for me is that kink is the extreme sports of sex. A reasonably large number of people are happy with a jog or a walk in the park, but another lot of people like to throw themselves off tall buildings with varying levels of frequency. I get that.

I guess where I get unsure is not the ‘clearly kink’ stuff but the stuff that one person would find ‘kinky’ and another would take as par for the course.  By the same token, I don’t get ‘vanilla’ either. Again, I get the mechanics of it, but I don’t get the value judgment that seems to go along with it. Depending on the context of the conversation, either kinky or vanilla will be used pejoratively, and that really bugs me.

The more I think – and write – about it, the more I realize that what really bothers me is the concept of shame in all this. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have broken the connection between shame and sex in my head, (I can’t remember when it was ever there, but it would be hard to grow up without some sort of negative association with sex, so I’m assuming it must have been there at some point.) but I live in a world that will either shame you for being kinky or will be open and accepting of all kinks but turn around and shame you for being vanilla instead. In both cases, shaming what you’re not seems to be a very basic way to establish that you belong in one group or the other.

Shaming people for their desires, not to put to fine a point on it, is an incredibly shitty thing to do. It damn near broke my heart when my girlfriend thanked me the other day for not making fun of what she wanted to do in bed. The way she put it, clearly someone had made fun of her and had made her feel horrible for both knowing what she wanted and articulating it. Both of which should get you praise and gratitude, not shame.

So yeah, to sum up this ramble: The word ‘kinky’ (and ‘vanilla’) sits badly with me because of the value judgment it seems to contain, particularly when it’s used as a means of shaming other people. I think that kinky and vanilla are terms that, while useful for organizing interest groups and negotiating partnerships, are best left out of actual sex.

Unless, I suppose, transgression gets you off.

Oh dear.

 

On Labels, Bi-Phobia, And The Importance Of Community – Part II January 31, 2011

This is Part II of an overlong post. Part I is here.

I recently had a conversation with a lesbian-identified bisexual who pretty much embodied the bi-phobia I’ve encountered in lesbian circles before. This woman chooses the label lesbian because, even though she has the occasional male partner, she is married to a woman and came into her own in the lesbian community. Based on her interactions with women on a dating website who called themselves ‘bisexual’, she announced to me – after declaring the existence of a bisexual community support group ridiculous – that (female) bisexuals were clearly only sex maniacs who were looking for a woman to add to threesomes with their boyfriends and that ‘bisexual’ just meant basically duplicitous and untrustworthy fakers.

I managed to stay calm during this exchange. It had been a pleasant conversation up until that point and the statements she made were said mildly – she was simply stating her position. For my part, at the end of her little speech, I pointed out that attitudes like that were precisely why we needed both bisexual activists and bisexual community support groups in the first place. She shut up. We moved on.

But the more I thought about it after the fact, the angrier I got.  Who the hell was this woman to define bisexuals like that in the first place and then tar us all with the same brush? Hell, if I used her method of data-collection (i.e., base my opinion purely on the lesbians I’ve spoken to online) I’d have to conclude that lesbians were all bi-phobic bigoted flakes who couldn’t spell. Here I was bending over backwards trying to understand the attitude I was getting and arguing that it was understandable even if it wasn’t fair, blah, blah, blah, while this horrible creature felt entitled to blithely shit all over what she knew to be my identity. Oh yes. This wasn’t a ‘just among us lesbians’ type of discussion. She knows I am bisexual and that I belong to a bisexual community. She just doesn’t think it’s ‘real’ enough to deserve any respect.

I think one of the things that irritated me most about the whole encounter was that, fundamentally, her sexuality and mine are so similar, ie, we both consider ourselves lesbians who are occasionally interested in men. I suppose I thought that should have served as common ground for the tentative friendship we’ve been thrown into (this is purely platonic. Various events in our lives have thrown us together, but I have no sexual interest in this woman.). But the difference between us is that I am married to a man and, when I came out, I found support and acceptance in the bisexual community. Not only that, but I was outright rejected by the lesbian community and only found the bisexual community because one of the bi-phobes posted a rant about how bisexuals should all fuck off to this bisexual community and leave the ‘proper’ lesbians alone. The only reason I have any contact with lesbians now is because the poly community functions as a sort of bridge.

I think I also realized, in the days that followed that conversation, why the  label ‘bisexual’ is one I want to hold on to despite how I feel about men and women.

She spoke of the lesbian community as hers in a way that I know it will never be mine, and that made me sad. But then I realized that the reason her attitude towards the bisexual community made me so angry was that it was MY community she was talking about – not just mine in the abstract but mine as in the way the lesbian community is hers. When I was struggling with my sexuality and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do about it, it was the bisexual community that took me in. It was the bisexual community that introduced me to the poly community and it was in the overlap between the bi and poly communities that I found my partners and my friends. Not all the polys are bi and not all the bis are poly, but I can move through both communities with equal confidence and without being questioned. I prefer women and I have a preference for long-term relationships over casual affairs or sex-only relationships, but not once has anybody in either community ever accused me of not being bisexual enough or poly enough. And not only are my personal interpretations of bisexuality and polyamory accepted, H, who is not bisexual nor actively polyamorous has been embraced by the community as well. That, I think, seals the deal. When a community is not only willing to take you as you are but also take in the people you love, no questions asked, you know you’ve struck gold.

Despite how my orientation develops, I cannot turn my back on the bisexual community and I cannot relinquish the label. Instead, to the extent possible, I want to support the community and work towards better bisexual visibility and representation. Every community comes complete with assholes and while the bisexual community is certainly not free of them, it took meeting one from the lesbian community to make me realize which I’d rather put up with.

 

On Labels, Bi-phobia, and the importance of community – part I

This post was getting ridiculously long so I decided to split it into two, slightly more reader-friendly posts. This is Part I. Part II is here.

When I started this blog, I called myself bisexual and basically figured I was as attracted to men as I was to women*. Over the years I have come to realize that my orientation isn’t as 50-50 as I thought. Today, I think a more accurate description of me would be that I am a lesbian who occasionally fancies men. Most of the time, however, men outright repulse me. Or rather, they’re lovely to be friends with, but the concept of having sex with them repulses me (except, of course, when it doesn’t). I don’t have an explanation for it. This is just where my sexuality seems to have settled, at least for the time being. I can’t say for sure that this is exactly where I’ll be in a couple of years, but as I get older I feel like these shifts signify a growing-into rather than the exploration of even a few years ago.

I am, however, still married to a man and I have no intention of changing that. What can I say? I picked a keeper.

Needless to say, this complicates my status. When I said earlier that I am more accurately described as a lesbian, I meant that my orientation for pretty much everything is primarily towards women. Life, love, sex – everything is just easier with women. And by easier, I don’t mean less complicated, but simply something I feel like giving my energy to. Whether I am at home or out in public with my girlfriend, I feel like I’ve just let go a long-held breath. When someone in the street obviously thinks I’m gay, I feel no need to correct them, unlike when they think I’m straight. Being assumed to be heterosexual feels like being backed into a corner and suffocated. Being assumed to be homosexual gives me this incredible sense of relief.

But then I run headlong into the minefield that is the lesbian community. To be fair, I should state up front that I have met and in some cases had relationships with polyamorous lesbians who didn’t have a problem with bisexuality, or at least with my being married to a man, so clearly they do exist. However, the overwhelming majority have been bi-phobic, and some very aggressively so.

Now, I do get that since being ‘bisexual’ was deemed cool by whoever it is who decides such things, lesbians have been repeatedly approached by women claiming to be bisexual who were in it only to get their boyfriends off, who were just fooling around or experimenting, who were only marking time till they could have a ‘real’ relationship with a man, and so on. Basically, lesbians have been jerked around and women calling themselves ‘bisexual’ have often been the cause. I understand how that can lead to a general wariness around women who purport to be bisexual – once bitten and all that.

But at the same time I have to wonder – do lesbians never jerk each other around? Has a lesbian never left a lesbian for another lesbian? Has a lesbian never entered into a just-for-now relationship that the other partner though was for keeps? Given the healthy balance of exes the lesbians I know seem to have, I’m going to assume that lesbians can and do do all of the above to each other. So why blame bisexuals?

I think the problem lies in heterosexual privilege. Out lesbians have committed to a lifetime of potential if not actual discrimination. In most countries, they can’t marry their partners, have little to no protection under the law, and have to deal with the social stigma attached to being gay. They don’t have a choice in the matter. I think the hostility towards bisexuals comes in part from the fact that we can, at any point, retreat into heterosexual privilege. I am married to a man. That affords me a certain amount of social protection, whether I like it or not. Even if I shouted my bisexuality from the rooftops, the fact that I am in a straight relationship means that my queerness can be ignored wholesale. I can ‘feel’ as lesbian as I like – socially, I have a kind of protection that no out, exclusively homosexual person does.  And even if I wasn’t married to a man, the fact of my bisexuality represents a sort of escape route if things get too dicey over in lesbian-land – an escape most lesbians do not have and could not access without denying who they are.

Part of me wants to give up the label ‘bisexual’ and embrace ‘lesbian’ for all of those reasons. That my marriage to H prevents me from doing so frustrates me no end and I wish there was a solution that did not involve divorce, because that ain’t happening.

But then I run into self-righteous, bi-phobic lesbians and I remember why my community means so much to me.

Continued here

*I am for the moment leaving aside the valid criticism of the assumption that there are only two sexes and that a bisexual person is one attracted to ‘both’ sexes. There are interesting discussions on that topic that I will write about later.

 

No Big Deal May 8, 2008

Filed under: Definitions,Lust,Polyamory,Sex — Araliya @ 9:35 pm
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Another post by Greta Christina on the Blowfish Blog. This one’s about the importance and effect of non-monogamy in relationships, even if said non-monogamy is mostly theoretical. A quick quote.

Which brings me to the best thing about non-monogamy. For me, anyway. When you’re not monogamous, you realize that not every single person you’re attracted to is someone you’d seriously like to fuck if given the opportunity.

Also, check out Greta Christina’s blog for her other writing, particularly her stuff on atheism.

 

Jenny’s Open Book April 23, 2008

Writer and journalist (and wonderfully supportive, positive person) Jenny Block has a new book coming out in June called Open: Love, Sex & Life in an Open Marriage (Seal Press, 2008). According to her website, in her book,

Block explores the nature of the open relationship, why it works for her, why it makes sense for her and her husband, and why it makes so many people uncomfortable. This is not a memoir of cheating and regret, nor is it a glorification or cure-all. It’s a frank discussion of a practice that’s more common and popular than most people are willing to acknowledge. Open also touches upon swinging (which Block doesn’t do), polyamory (she is currently in a polyamorous situation with her existing relationships), and the various ways in which open marriage works for different couples.

One of the quotes on her website also points out that Jenny is part of only a minuscule group of women who write about their sexuality under their own names. While it is sad that so many of us even in the blogging world (myself included) find it necessary to shield ourselves behind pseudonyms, I am glad that there are people like Jenny out there who have the guts (and the freedom) to lay claim to their own stories, good or bad.

The first chapter of the book is available as a PDF here. I read it recently and had to stop halfway through to go tell Jenny how spot-on I thought she was in her analysis of the conflicting messages imparted to girls. The way she does it is wonderful as well. She uses her own story extensively – the book is, after all, about her own experience – but she relates it to the larger experience of growing up female in a certain strata of society (in global terms). In doing that, she nevertheless avoids solipsism and turns out what I think will prove to be an extremely relevant exploration of a subject that, as her website points out, everyone seems to think about but nobody actually addresses head on. I, for one, am glad she’s stepped up to the challenge and I look forward to reading her book as soon as it comes out.

 

Freaksexual March 25, 2008

Freaksexual is a wonderful blog I found (via Bitchy Jones) in which Pepper deals intelligently and accessibly with issues surrounding polyamory and sexuality. The entries are more essays than posts but please don’t let their length put you off. They’re excellent reading regardless of how well acquainted you are with polyamory, but they’re particularly valuable if, like me, you’re just starting out with this whole non-monogamy thing. You could start with the latest post or start at the beginning or however you do it, but I’d recommend you make reading “Polyamory is not about the sex, except when it is” a priority either way.

 

And while we’re talking female sexuality March 20, 2008

Filed under: Definitions,Sexuality — Araliya @ 10:59 pm
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I love Bitchy Jones, and not just because she knows how to use apostrophes properly. Her latest post, On Being Straight, talks about the routine subordination of female sexuality to male sexuality. Nobody’s going out of their way here: it’s just a given that women are not sexual except in relation to men and what gets the latter off.

I’m crosser even than usual, because this statement – viewed as a kind of meta – just it feels like such a perfect encapsulation of the way female sexuality is viewed by everyone from Freud up. The vagina accommodates what’s offered! Yeah, right. Female sexuality will basically adjust itself to meet the needs of whatever is being asked of it.

‘Cause as we all know female sexuality is all fluid and undefined.

Thus a sexually liberated woman will simply be open to anything. Any sexual experience at all. Being whatever is convenient. In a way that men are simply not expected to be.

In fact, it often feels like if you are a woman who is sex positive you are required to be an adventuress, constantly searching for new things that might turn you on. You are required not to rule anything out or you’re not really playing the game. And ruling out the sex with women? How lame.

….

And it’s even worse if you’re poly too. The poly default is that it is about the woman in the obligatory couple exploring her bisectshuality. Hence the eternal quest for the hot bi babe to make the triangle complete. But you don’t have to be a bi woman to be a poly woman. It can just be about getting more dick.

She then speaks specifically about the BDSM subculture and while I’m not personally involved in it, I find everything she says relevant and applicable to wider sexual practices.

Oh and I also love Bitchy Jones because she says things like this:

If crashing waves really did feel like orgasms we’d all be at the beach.