A Unicorn by Any Other Name

URL

Email

A Unicorn by Any Other Name……

“Unicorn.” One of the first terms of the polyamorous lexicon that I encountered upon entering the non-monogamous world. Generally it is used to describe a single bisexual female willing to become sexually and/or romantically involved with a couple that is usually comprised of a heterosexual man and a bisexual woman. You need not be in the polyamorous community long to become aware that it is a hotly contested term with negative connotations. Just try posting in a polyamory group asking who identifies as a unicorn and you’re in for a bumpy ride. You also need not be in the polyamorous community long to become aware that there are many unicorn horror stories, many women who complain of the predatory-like tactics of “unicorn-hunters” (heterosexual couples looking for a bisexual woman to “complete their union”), many who lament the evils of couple-privilege, closed triads, and being a “third”.

I was initially tasked to write some of those stories. Even had a clever little title for my article. “Tales from the Unicorn Stable”. I posted on my page and in several groups asking if anyone who identifies as a unicorn would be willing to share their experience being such with me. I received quite a few responses from those who wished to participate, all of them being women which didn’t surprise me, but I was struck by a thought. Bisexual women aren’t the only ones with “unicorn” stories to tell and the fact that we don’t hear the stories of the other persons in the polyamorous community having “unicorn” experiences is disappointing.

The reality is that lesbian couples seek single lesbian women to form a triad. Gay men seek other single gay men to form triads. Lesbian couples comprised of two bisexual women often seek a single heterosexual man to join their unit as gay couples comprised of two bisexual men seek single heterosexual women to join them. Couples with a heterosexual woman and a bisexual man also seek a single bisexual man to join them. Couples with gender queer/gender non-conforming/gender non-binary persons who seek other single persons who identify as such to form triads with. Basically, if you can think it, it exists. While these instances aren’t as frequent, bisexual women aren’t the only ones subject to the phenomenon of being sought after by eager couples looking to “add to their relationship”.

I mentioned in a comment on one of my posts that I wished I could find a male “unicorn” to interview and a friend of mine who would be categorized by the classic definition of the term expressed what I perceived as a sort of ownership over the word. She replied that interchanging the word to include other persons besides single bisexual women was confusing. I understand her point but how then are these other people who are having these “unicorn-esque” experiences supposed to share their stories when there is no language for them to do so because the definition of unicorn is so narrow? She also expressed not wishing to be objectified by the term while another woman that I spoke to said that she loved being called a unicorn. To her, it has a mythical, magical quality that she enjoys being associated with herself.

Since I don’t technically fall into the original definition of the term, I am a little hesitant to prescribe this but I think the definition of “unicorn” should be expanded to describe the phenomenon of the two seeking the magical one to form the fully connected three. Many women who are categorized as unicorns balk at the term and being objectified as such but if the term were broadened to define a concept and not a specific type of individual, that objectification would lessen because it would include a variety of examples. I also think that the narrowness of the term allows for other types of couples who don’t fall into the classic description of “unicorn-hunters” to believe that they aren’t carrying out problematic behaviors in their search for their “third” because how can they be “unicorn-hunters” if they aren’t looking for a “unicorn”? They may not be looking for a single bisexual woman but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t committing many of the same faux pas that most unicorn-hunting couples commit like treating the new person as an add-on to the existing relationship, making rules and agreements for the new person before they even enter into the relationship, not allowing for the new partner to develop individual relationships with each party in the couple, wielding couple-privilege all over the place, etc.

As this community expands and evolves, so will its language and words. One of the things I love and loathe about language is its ability to adapt and to change. I think it’s time that we examine some of those terms and ask do they fit us anymore. Triads are not all heterosexual male/bisexual female/bisexual female. They come in many varieties and are made up of a multitude of genders and sexualities. And just like there are many different kinds of horses, I think there are many different kinds of “unicorns”. While the experience of a bisexual male in a couple would I’m sure be different from a bisexual woman’s, I’m also confident that they’d find a lot of commonalities in being the person entering into an already established relationship of two.

To quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and I believe a “unicorn” by any other definition, would still be as magical.

BDSM 101

URL

Email

What is it?
BDSM or Bondage Dominance Sadomasochism. Historically it is a coined phrase from the “fathers of sexual deviance,” as I like to call them, the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. For many people, BDSM is a lifestyle choice that they live 24/7 while others choose to be involved just in the bedroom or when they can make time.

Couples involved in the lifestyle enter into the D/s lifestyle (Dominant/submissive) or M/s (Master/slave) lifestyle for several reasons. Those entering into the lifestyle and who desire to live it 24/7 decide to enter into a contract between themselves. By entering into a contract, both the dominant and the submissive are aware of what their responsibilities are. Every contract and dynamic (relationship) is different. Some relationships are lifelong, while others, just like any type of relationship, may last several months or years.

Short term play is called a scene. A scene is role play that has been negotiated between the two people. Another short term arrangement can be a professional who works at a dungeon that been can hired, most commonly known as a Dominatrix (female). There are professional male Dominants, but they are less well known. Professional submissives (male and female) can be hired out as well.

Specific lifestyle philosophies
Most practitioners of BDSM follow two different philosophies:

  • Safe sane and consensual (SSC) which is a term which came from a gay activist organization in the 1970s that revolves around activities that are safe for everyone involved.
  • Risk Aware Consensual Kink or (RACK) which is another practice within the kink community that some people use to ensure all parties involved take individual responsibility for their actions.

 

What It Isn’t
BDSM isn’t abuse. BDSM isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s a very clear distinction between BDSM and sexual abuse. So what are the most common misconceptions about the lifestyle? Some of the most common misconceptions are:

  1. BDSM is only for white people and that only white people do it. That is very far from the truth. There is a very strong community of black and brown kinky people within most major cities: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, to name a few.
  2. It’s all about pain. While there are sadists and masochists who enjoy the pain aspect, not everyone identifies with the need to inflict pain or the desire to receive pain.
  3. It’s all about sex. While sexual contact and sex may be a part of some people’s scenes or what they enjoy when they play, for most people it’s not necessary. For most people, like myself, I got into BDSM not for sex but to figure out certain things about myself. I got into the lifestyle for some semblance of normalcy and structure.

What are the Titles?
There are specific titles and categories that most people like to place themselves in based on how they want to be viewed. The most common and most known are dominants and submissives. In general, dominants can be categorized as Masters, Daddys/Mommys, Sadists, or Tops and they are not gender exclusive. Dominants can be either male or female. Submissives can be baby girls/boys, brats, masochists, slaves or bottoms. Another category is called a switch. A switch is a male or female who posses both dominant and submissive traits and tendencies. Other categories are hedonists, voyeurs, exhibitionists, rope tops, bottoms, riggers, and bunnies.

Activities Within the Community
People within the BDSM community have a variety of options that they can enjoy with others who life the lifestyle as well. Some of the most common are:

  • Munches. Munches are get togethers in a neutral, non-kink setting such as a restaurant or bar. People meet to talk, eat, and communicate with others in the community.
  • Play parties. Play parties are parties involving play at a local dungeon that has BDSM equipment to use. Some are open to the public. Often it is a private, invite-only event. Cost can range from free to $40 depending on membership and if there will be someone teaching a technique or speaking on a particular topic.
  • Classes. Classes can be on history, relationship advice, or certain techniques such as how to use implements like a flogger or single tail whip.
  • Sloshes. Sloshes are munches that involve alcohol. Sloshes are held at a local bar or an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages.
  • Conferences. Often throughout the year, across the country, conferences are held at hotels. These conferences may range from just a day to a whole weekend. These events are more in depth in regards to the classes and topics being discussed.

 

My Personal Story
I decided to join an online fetish community (Fetlife) because at the time my best friend had joined, and she said it seemed interesting. Me being who I am (always curious) I decided to join. It was something new and exciting and I am always up for something new and exciting.

When I joined the site, I thought I was going to have a different experience. I got weird inbox messages from men I didn’t know and didn’t care to know. I felt like they were rude, and they talked to me like they knew me on a personal level. I wasn’t having that, so I deleted my account, feeling slightly upset and defeated. My father had recently passed away, and I needed to take a break from everything.

A year later, I decided to come back and give it a try. Something was nagging away at me deep inside. I felt like I was missing something in my life. On the surface I had everything going on for myself. A good job, a house, and my children were doing good. But something was missing. I felt like my life was chaotic. I had goals and things that I was accomplishing, but I needed more structure and more rules.

So I jumped back on the website and joined a few groups. I joined groups that mainly catered to submissive women. I learned a great deal about what true submission was. It wasn’t just doing what my mate wanted me to do, and it wasn’t just making his dinner. I soon met my first Dominant. The relationship changed me for the better. He taught me so much and also challenged me to learn why I was in the lifestyle and what I ultimately got out of it. Through self discovery and research that he required, I learned that being a submissive required so much strength. I willingly submit to another person’s will. To trust that that the other person has your best interest at heart that is true submission. That relationship ended, but I went on to have other D/s relationships, and they all taught me a little bit more about myself and what I needed. I’m grateful for my journey.

Do you have experience with BDSM? Comment below or send us your story!

Further Reading
Story of O by Pauline Reage
Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman
9 ½ Weeks by Elizabeth McNeil
Exit to Eden by Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelaure
Belinda by Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelaure
Claiming of Sleeping Beauty series by Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelaure
Something Leather by Alasdair
The Wet Forever by David Aaron Clark

Mr. & Misogyny

Email

Although the title is meant to be witty and slightly humorous in the name of starting a conversation, the people I’m describing can be quite the opposite. You know them. Or maybe you ARE them. The forced OPP couple who have deemed it “Unicorn season”. The Hoteps who insist their “secondary” single girlfriends date only them while they themselves are married. The wife who only wants to play pillow princess to, but could never marry or take a relationship serious. Even the LGBTQ couple who fall into heteronormative gender identifications in which the feminine party is viewed as less than, or subservient to the masculine or otherwise dominant one.

For some reason or another polyamorous people are sometimes looked upon as more enlightened and or evolved than the general monogamous population.

Some of us will argue that monogamy is actually the devolution of the natural order of things, but I can agree that the ability to connect to and love more than one person in these times is hella progressive.
But to think that these poly-oriented people don’t each come with a customized set of very human and sometimes downright oppressive belief systems is not a stretch, it’s just incorrect.

I can only speak for my experiences , and those that have been shared with me from other non mono people. I listen to the stories of women and men who try to love these people, only to be treated as less than, or even as some kind of disposable object, here for the entertainment of those who subscribe to these ideals. The worst of these stories end in abuse, self esteem issues and other emotional and psychological damage.

I myself have my own tales to tell, as a masculine leaning androgynous queer person in a largely hetero community, (many woman I date are married to men) I have been made to feel as though my relationships are invalid. As if my presence in a married woman’s life was temporary, a phase she was going through, and not to be taken seriously. And not just by the men in these scenarios.

I’ve seen men and women alike flip out over wives for even wanting sexual encounters with men, but won’t push to meet or otherwise interact with me in the same situation because “men are different”. As if somehow my vagina makes me safe. Or not as bad. Or anything less than capable of doing just as much damage as my male counterparts. How cute, my girl has a girlfriend!

How do we move past misogyny in a society in which rape, domestic abuse and other atrocities are often blamed on the victims? How do you convince a woman her internalized misogyny is toxic to free thinking, womanist or feminist types, and this may be why nobody wants to “inbox her man if they aren’t eating her p*ssy” as one meme I saw suggests?

Here’s an idea; by not entertaining that mess. Say no to the date with the dude that insists you wear heels and know how to cook. Don’t hook up the woman who lets you know she could never go beyond sex with a woman. Let the woman who expects you to pay for the date know, men can be treated too. Call out the LGBT folks who belittle those who don’t fall into their already marginalized hypocrisy. Y’all need to check yourselves. This ain’t the 50’s!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for living your truth unapologetically. We are in a free thinking society in which one can do what they please, and some folks are OK with varying schools of radical thought. This is all good! But instead of forcing these hyper masculinity based belief systems on the rest of us, find each other and be happy. Let Mr. and Misogyny take their forced OPP elsewhere. Let the rest of us poly in peace and equal love.

What’s your take? Share it with us!

Bi, Poly, Slut, and Muslim: Reconciling and Understanding It All

Email

Maya is an Arab-American polyamorist. Here she shares her story of sexuality, mental illness, and the power of family.

I’m a 26 year old woman, and I was born and raised in southern California to first generation Arab-American immigrants. My parents were very religious when I was young, and my siblings and I were taught to pray and fast. We all attended a religious private school at our local mosque for quite some time. At six years old, I asked my mother why I should believe in god if I couldn’t see him. She replied with the standard, “well, that’s what faith is.” I was completely dissatisfied with that. I wanted more, and I realized then and there that religion would never give me more.

Things shifted dramatically for my family following the September 11 attacks. It was a jolt that we needed, something that underscored a very distinct problem within our religion. My parents did a ton of research, which led to my mother deciding to remove the headscarf. Within our community this was such a dramatic and daring move, I can’t even explain it. With my family shaken but thrust into a period of real digging and exploration, life went on. In middle school, I began having little crushes on other girls in my class. I remember watching a certain Beyonce music video over and over, not really knowing why I liked it so much. I never acted on my feelings and didn’t bother telling anyone, mostly because I knew I was attracted to boys too. So my homosexual tendencies weren’t really at the forefront of my mind.

Once I had finished up high school and began to attend college, I began to struggle. Having been labeled as this bright and happy girl for so long, I crashed when I was left to my own devices because I realized that that wasn’t really me. I had so many unanswered questions, and I was very confused about who I was or where I fit in. I’d always been an emotional eater, so I gained a lot of weight during my first year of college. I also began noticing other women more often, possibly because my self-confidence was near-zero around men. I still wasn’t ready to address my bisexuality.

After finishing up college and successfully coming out to my parents and family with an overwhelmingly positive reaction, I moved away from California for graduate school. This was my first time ever living completely alone. Up until that point, I’d always lived with my siblings or immediate family. I gained a lot of weight once again (60 pounds in one year!) and drank a lot. I did well in school, but that was the only thing in life I was keeping somewhat organized. I was struggling in a very real way. Toward the end of my first year of grad school, I met a woman in my program whom I liked, and I finally had my first kiss at 24 years old. It was sensual, soft, and fulfilling.

That summer, I left to travel overseas and have weight loss surgery. I’m 5’6″ and my highest weight was 236. Since then, I’ve lost over 80 pounds. I returned to complete my second year of graduate school and this is when my period of “heavy dating” began. I went on four or five dates per week. I drank a lot during my dates, even though I wasn’t supposed to be drinking at all right after having surgery. It was reckless and unhealthy. I would fade after seeing someone a few times, because I was afraid of having sex for the first time. I’d never been confident about my naked body. Mental images of perfect, cellulite-free models haunted me and made me feel like shit about myself.

I graduated from my Master’s program and got a job in academia. I began drinking even more. I was seeing someone who I didn’t really care for, and after a long day of drinking and smoking weed, I decided, fuck it! We had sex on July 4th, 2016. My body was on fire; it hurt so much. I was bleeding profusely. We got out of bed afterward and sat outside to watch the fireworks. He began discussing the war in Iraq and made some comments regarding the murder of civilians that still make me shudder. He topped it all off with some xenophobic and racist comments about Arabs and Muslims, knowing full well what my religious background and ethnicity were. I left his house like I was dreaming, in so much physical and emotional pain that I didn’t know what to do. I went to work the next morning and texted him that I didn’t want to see him anymore. I don’t think about him at all.

That same week, I met someone at a bar and had a one night stand. From there, I had roughly fifteen casual sex encounters (thankfully I always used protection) over the next two months. I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted in bed because I didn’t know what I wanted, so I often ended up being used by people just to get off. I was very aware of that.

I began to feel distinctly bored, empty, and unhappy. I’d been going to therapy and taking antidepressants for years because I’d always been anxious and sort of depressed, but combining the alcohol with prescription drugs was not working well for me. I fell into a pit of depression, HARD. I couldn’t focus on work, so I was falling behind. I was calling my parents long distance every day at lunch to cry over the phone. They didn’t know what was going on and I wouldn’t tell them because I was so ashamed that I was drinking and having sex. I switched medications, and that’s when the shit hit the fan. Suicidal thoughts overwhelmed me. What pushed me over the edge was receiving a formal warning at work. I planned to kill myself that afternoon. I picked up a bottle of liquor from the store on my way home and had a Xanax prescription waiting for me at the pharmacy. I was driving to the pharmacy when I unconsciously reached for my phone. Seriously, I don’t even know how or why I did it. I don’t remember.

I called my mom, who lives in a timezone twelve hours ahead and was asleep. She woke up and picked up the phone. I was sobbing so hard I thought I would never stop. My heart was broken and I had to finally ask for help. I did. My mom, a very mild-mannered and soft-spoken woman, is the strongest person I know. She asked me to promise her that I wouldn’t hurt myself. She asked if I would throw out the bottle of liquor and just go home and rest for the day. She told me that she was going to support me no matter what. That my whole family was standing behind me if I would let them. We agreed that it would be best for me to quit my job and move back to California to figure things out. I hung up the phone, and the time was 5:02pm. The pharmacy had closed at 5.

At 6am the next morning, I received a phone call. It was my brother, and he was in front of my apartment building. He had taken a flight across the country with two layovers so that he could get to me as soon as possible. Still dazed and feeling worn out from the day before, I fell apart when I saw him. We were headed back to California within a week.

I was not myself for a while after that. My parents came to visit me a couple of weeks later, and I could tell they were shocked when they saw me. I was on a heavy dose of benzodiazepines; I wasn’t eating at all; I was smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee around the clock. I’m sure I must have looked dead behind the eyes. I was having lots of sex, still sort of meaningless and unsatisfying, but I had a lot of time on my hands and I was restless. I jumped into bed on the first date pretty consistently, and I could never really figure out why I still had so much energy when I was being so active with so many partners. Now I know that it’s because the sex didn’t hit me on any emotional level, so while it was physically draining, it didn’t affect me mentally. I was always overthinking, not at peace, and generally unhappy.

Strangely, and I think this is important to mention because of this post’s topic, I have never felt guilty about having pre-marital sex. On the contrary, I’ve always been pretty opposed to the idea of getting married and settling down, so this just seems to be the only viable way to live my life.

I had my first meaningful sexual relationship around October of last year. I was still fragile and recovering. I hadn’t had a drink since mid-August, before my breakdown. I was being weaned off my medications and doing okay. That’s when my partner brought up the question of exclusivity: did I want it? My knee-jerk reaction, much to my surprise, was no. I enjoyed our relationship but I saw no need to restrict myself from seeing other people. He was definitely monogamous, and the breakup was drawn-out and unhappy.

Since then, I’ve learned to be selective about taking on partners. I’ve learned to ask for what I want in bed. I’ve learned to be a good lover and a mature partner. I identify as solopoly because I need a lot of time to myself, and the pressure of a primary relationship feels like too much at this point in my life. That being said, my experiences have been fantastic. I’m assertive, mostly dominant, and I have found some remarkable people who like to play with boundaries and explore some crazy fun things with me. It feels insanely good to be giving in bed, to be kind to someone in some small way, like gently stroking their neck or giving them a kiss when they least expect it. The intimacy that comes along with sexual contact is something I struggle with, because I went without it for so long. I am learning to open up and let my guard down with partners.

It mostly happened during the unhappiest time of my life, but there you go. My story. And maybe my point in spilling all this is to say that we can all rise up and that each one of us can break free and find a place of comfort, of satisfaction. I found mine in polyamory. I can never completely reconcile my cultural identity with my sexual identity, but I can definitely find some peace in specific places that I’ve created for myself.

Have you struggled with faith, mental illness, and sexuality? Share your story!

Meeting Her

URL

Email

Take a sneak peak into the BDSM lifestyle in this sample of the posts available to our Patreon subscribers. This post contains adult content and language.

I’m preoccupied today. I have a ton of shit to do but the only thing that I can think about is my Sir.  The TV is off and the portable heater is making a whirring noise in the living room. The two smoke detectors beep back and forth off and on every few minutes like they are sending imaginary signals to each other.  I turn the pages of the magazine that I’m reading out of boredom, anxious to receive a text from him. I’m waiting for a reply back that he acknowledges what I’ve said. Why is this man such a mystery? I wonder. I pick up my cell phone from off of its charger to see if he’s even sent me a message back. I do this several times over a few minutes. I throw down the cell phone, feeling frustrated.

Stupid phone, I want to say out loud, but it’s not the phone that I’m mad at I guess, it’s him. I wonder to myself should I call or just wait for him to text me back. I stare at the phone again. The light is flashing green and that could mean a Facebook message or a text. I pick up the phone and realize it’s not a text, just a status update on Facebook. “Ugh,” I say and throw the cell phone back on the couch. I’m annoyed that he hasn’t texted me back. I know that he’s out and most likely hasn’t even seen the message or is too busy to reply back.

Then my thoughts turn to “maybe he’s busy with her. The “her” that I’m referring to is my new sub sister or his new “slave bitch” as he jokingly refers to her. I feel no jealousy because I know I’m an alpha sub and his bottom bitch. I was there from the beginning and I will remain there. Like he tells me all the time, this is bigger than marriage and we’re in this shit for the long haul. I also promised him that I would never leave him ever again. I’ve left him and our relationship before in its beginning stages. More often than not, I felt unfulfilled in our dynamic because I was so new to the BDSM lifestyle itself. I also wanted and needed more attention than he was giving me at the time.

Am I an attention seeking little brat? I would ask myself. Yes, I am, I finally admitted.  My cell is set on vibrate, so once I feel it vibrate and the message light is on, I’m all smiles. “Finally,” I say out loud to myself. The house is empty except for my sleeping teenage son in his bedroom. The message button lights up. There are three letters that I’ve used to refer to him from the beginning and they are SIR.  Anytime a text comes through or I get a phone call from him, my heart starts to pound and I get excited. I’m excited because I’m in his thoughts enough to know that he has reached out to me. During the day he’s busy hustling, as he calls it, so he’s away from the house for up to ten hours at a time.

The message is clear and to the point. It says, Are you ready to meet my other sub? I responded back to the text defiantly, Is she ready to meet me, that’s the question. Yes it was a smartass remark, and he would probably smack me later for it, but I didn’t care.  Previously he told me that I needed to get my jealousy together before I met his other sub. He uses the term sub and slave interchangeably at times, but it doesn’t confuse me because I know most of the terminology even though I’ve been in the lifestyle just a little while. I’m slowly turning from being a submissive to being his slave. These are two totally different things and I want to maintain some control over myself and my life, and by being his slave I can’t do that. It’s called a total power exchange, and basically it means giving up total control to your dominant.

 

What happens next? Our adult content is available to Patreon subscribers. You can read the rest of the story for just $1!

Relationship Anarchy and Common Misconceptions

Email

What exactly is relationship anarchy, and why is it so hard to define?

Wikipedia states “Relationship Anarchy (abbreviated RA) is the practice of forming relationships that are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on.”

The term is credited to Sweden native Andie Nordgren in 2006, and was used to describe a completely radical approach to traditional and untraditional lovestyles. Relationships formed by RA identifying people are usually not distinguished between platonic or romantic, sexual or asexual. All relationships are given equal equity. At least in theory.

That last concept, for me has been the most challenging to explain to people who may not subscribe to these ideals. Very few people could grasp the concept of my “platonic wife”, an almost 15 year relationship that has transcended best friendship but has never crossed sexual boundaries. That isn’t to say we aren’t extremely close; we may cuddle, kiss, and show affection but for many reasons the relationship hasn’t and likely won’t escalate into what some may consider a “real relationship”.  Even fewer can grasp the concept that she is no less important to me than my fiancée was, or that depending on the situation, her needs may take priority over any relationship I may be engaged in. And that that priority can and does shift to others.

Before I had even become conscious of the label, I was always very anarchistic about love and relationships. I believe I was born non-mono, and at an early age could not subscribe to the boundaries, real or imagined, placed upon traditional romantic concepts. I connect with people on various levels, and though my time may be divided in a way that become heirarchal, my mental playing ground remains one level. They are all royalty in my eyes.

If you were to ask 8 different RA folks what it meant to them, you’re likely to receive 8 completely different answers, with some intersecting ideals sprinkled throughout. This is as to be expected from a group of anarchist, as the term itself implies no central leadership or school of thought. This may be the reason so many misconceptions are applied to the topic. The similarities are mostly centered around maintaining autonomy against all odds. Here are some I’ve encountered and disputed. Keep in mind, another RA may completely disagree, and they would be right as well!

  1. RA ARE SCARED OF COMMITMENT

I have a (half) joke response to this : “We want to commit to everyone. Equally.” In my experience, it’s not the commitment I shy away from but what that commitment might mean for my boundaries. Why is this label important to you? Will you want me to check in with you daily? Am I expected to conform? Which of my coveted freedoms are you not comfortable with, and are likely to impede upon once I do? I have some concerns! Because a label to an RA is likely just descriptive, they aren’t as consequential or even needed to have a fulfilling relationship with an RA. Once you’re in, you’re in.

2. YOU CANT BE RA AND BE MARRIED OR OTHERWISE ANCHORED

While I might cringe at words like “Primary” “Secondary” and “Heirarchy” I do acknowledge the existence of these things and understand they form based on time/resources spent etc. There was a time that I wouldn’t label or title any relationship except for descriptive purposes, but as I get older I seek more stability within my connections. I seek family structure, more children, and economical community building. This is quite hard to achieve without some form of anchoring or another. As my needs grow so do my ideas of how my RA looks. It’s not over for you once you say “I do”.  Again, it’s more about what that partnership does to your autonomy that might change your RA status. You are what you feel you are. How you connect doesn’t change once you actually connect.

3. RA ARE SHORT TERM LOVERS

Because in my mind there is no distinction between friend, lover, and ex, this is probably the most offensive of the misconceptions I’ve encountered. Things simply transition! Many of my relationships, platonic or otherwise, are pushing 10 years or better. We don’t have to be a titled item to be loves. We may move across the complete relationship spectrum within a month, or never make it past first base after years, it’s all about what works for us. Some people aren’t fully aware or knowledgeable of what RA is, and may be turned off once they experience just how free we can be! Some of us as RA aren’t aware enough to understand our own needs and figure this out once we are in titled relationships. Whatever the case, I don’t believe someone being RA makes them any more choosy then say, your average serial dater!

I know I’ll have to update and revisit this list, as the conversation always brings up different opinions and viewpoints!

Do you identify with or have experience with Relationship Anarchy? What are some misconceptions you’ve encountered?

How Representation Works…or Doesn’t

Email

How Representation Works…or Doesn’t
A Follow Up

In the early afternoon of Thursday May 11th, I got an email from a colleague. First, she congratulated me on my upcoming book about the intersection of race and polyamory, then she congratulated me on my appearance in the New York Times. The piece, Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?, had just been published that morning. The congrats were both a friendly greeting and a way to lead into the real content of the email while also saying, “I see you there, Kev. Doing big things.”

The true purpose of the email was to ask if I’d be interested in taking part in a round table about family and parenting. Eventually, I would respond that I was indeed interested. But before I had a chance to even read that email, I received a second one from the same colleague. Delivered only eleven minutes after the first, it simply read “Oh my gosh, Kevin! I just read the article. You must be upset. I’m so sorry!” While this wasn’t the way my day started, it pretty much encapsulated how the whole day went. Boundless excitement followed quickly by frustrating disappointment.

My wife and I contributed to Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? because our names were thrown into consideration by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, the authors of Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships. Mark and Patricia are familiar with the impact nonmonogamy has on our family and our work regarding race and polyamory. Logically, they thought we’d offer some insightful perspective to such a piece. And what a mainstream piece! I’d be lying if I said that hadn’t factored into my decision to participate. My Poly Role Models blog, while a fairly popular free resource, couldn’t hope to hit the broadcast range of even the lowliest New York Times article. An increased readership could help countless people find their way to and through ethical non-monogamy. Unfortunately, any perspective I could add or range I could reach is buried beneath a sad story of floundering marriages. To be clear, the sad story of floundering marriages are both valid and valuable. My work definitely covers that as well. But it covers more than that…and therein lies the problem.

Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? is predominantly the story of a married couple, Elizabeth and Daniel, who have grown dissatisfied in their lives together. Their mismatched libidos create an unbearable strain on what was otherwise a happy union. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you understand. Sexual incompatibility is such a weighty factor that it can severely hamper strong relationships; even if it’s the sole stressor. In response to the growing displeasure, Daniel researched ethical non-monogamy and discussed it with his wife. What followed was not ethical non-monogamy.

Elizabeth shot the idea down. Only to find romance with a new fellow anyway. First, behind her husband’s back, then to his face without his willful participation…despite his pain. The guy Elizabeth took up with? He was also unhappily married and cheating on his spouse. He didn’t even have the benefit of an unresolved conversation about the vague possibility of opening his marriage to use as a justification. Look, I’m not judging. Unreasonable expectations of exclusivity, in the face of incompatible sex drives, need to be discussed.  Partners that come to ethical non-monogamy by way of infidelity needs to be discussed. These are already being discussed. In fact, the idea that ethical and consensual non-monogamy are just the product of unhappy marriages is already the predominant narrative. We’ve heard these stories before. They get pushed out to mainstream media every few months and frankly it’s gotten boring.

It’s clear that Susan Dominus has a specific story that she is trying to tell. But I question who that really serves. The non-monogamous newcomers, who don’t fit this couple-centric view, won’t find any love here. In this article, they are either outsiders or at the whim of a shaky marriage that views them as a crutch. Even those who do fit in the coupled model, on display here, don’t have much to look forward to. The stable and happy couples featured are virtually voiceless in this article. What little speech we’re given is limited to seemingly reluctant acceptance of the situation we’ve found ourselves in.

The name of the article challenges the traditional views on marriage with the idea of a happier alternative. So, where was that? I know you’re not supposed to read the comments section, but I did. What I found was dozens of people remarking about how unhappy people are in open marriages… how easy it is to spot which partner is into it and which is just going along with it… how it’s all just about finding excuses to cheat. That’s the story these readers came into this article believing. With all of it’s sad photos and stories of even sadder partnerships, those readers are left with a pretty solid confirmation of their pre-established attitudes. For those with lived experience inside of ethical non-monogamy, we are left with yet another narrowed view on a life we know to be both varied and vibrant.

As someone who provides a platform for dozens of true accounts of ethical non-monogamy, I’ve learned that each one resonates with those who need to find themselves and their experiences validated. Obviously, you can’t tell every story in a single article but then why gather a wealth of resources that serve to expand the perspective? Authors like Eve Rickert, Franklin Veaux, Patricia Johnson, and Mark Michaels were all consulted and left out. Twelve thousand words are a lot of space to flesh out an idea. Especially with tons of time and energy spent on taking photos of the whole shebang. With the bulk of the content focused on unphotographed people using aliases, why were our names and faces used… only to ignore our observations?

Now, I’m not flat out saying that my wife and I are only included as token people of color. I am challenging anyone to show me what the difference would be if we were. Our voices are mostly unused, but our faces are pretty prominent in a photo that shocked the people in our lives. One friend said it is the saddest they’ve ever seen either of us look. Another said that, without context, they would’ve believed all of the photos to be from a story about divorce. A visual storyline to match the narrative of non-exclusive but unsatisfying marriages.

In the case of sexuality, the article is almost devoid of mentions… except in regard to the single gay couple, Logan and Robert. Though there was valuable insight in the bit of text dedicated to their perspective, their voices were mostly left out as well. In an article that read as extremely heteronormative, there were no occurrences of the words “lesbian”, “bisexual”, “pansexual”, “queer”, or “trans”. There were six mentions of the word “gay”. Five in a single paragraph containing a reference to gay advice columnist Dan Savage and the two sentences from one of that couple’s husbands. The sixth “gay” is some dude’s name. Again, maybe Logan and Robert are not included as token LGBT representation. But how would it have looked differently otherwise?

What we’re missing is proper representation. Better representation. At least better than having our identities used as a prop to tell a story that doesn’t see us or accurately reflect us. At least better than an edgy title that doesn’t even bother to get out of it’s own way. By which I mean, letting a story write itself with the pieces you put together. A great example of which would be Daniel Krieger’s Polyamorous People feature for Narratively’s People of Interest series. In which, Krieger trusted his subjects to be both interesting and honest without trying to force either. The results are a much wider set of experiences, along a broader range of personal identities, done in roughly a quarter of the word count.

The ideal solution to any of our image problems is simply to tell our own stories. Non-monogamy already bucks convention by its very nature. We come from all walks of life and practice our lifestyles in countlessly diverse ways. We don’t need to be made into a compelling story. We already are. The story isn’t how we exist, it’s that we exist. All we need to do is open our mouths to speak our own truths. When someone on the outside of us attempts to speak for us, regardless of the platform, they carry in their preconceived notions…and worse they carry their desire to shoehorn us into those notions. While I thank and appreciate the New York Times for trying, what they gave us was not nearly what was promised or expected or needed.

But, hey… I guess it could be worse. At least there weren’t any stock photos of three pairs of white feet sticking out from under a white duvet.

Kevin Patterson blogs at Poly Role Models.