Monogamy vs. Polyamory: Language Neepery

Here’s what I hate about this framework, which comes up a lot –
On one side, we have A View of relationships – monogamy – in which people pair off into singular sexual relationships and, ideally, stay together until one or both of them die.
On the other side, we have every other possible configuration of relationship networks.
And for a long time, I wondered why people kept conflating “polyamory” and “swinging” and “Friends with benefits,” until I realized that America’s binary thought patterns produced a reductive view of “Monogamy is this, and everything else is that.” What does it matter what you call it? Anything that isn’t monogamy is basically “The alternative to monogamy.”
Except the alternative to monogamy is actually a thousand different alternatives – one that ranges from “a staunchly monogamous triad” to all the way to a sexy explosion of relationship anarchy. And while I’m happy to be talking at Beyond the Love this weekend, a great conference on polyamory, I find myself wishing that polyamory as a term reminded people that the alternative to monogamy is not one thing, but a vast and encompassing umbrella that contains all the other loving, non-monogamous relationship configurations that can exist.
And in that moment, I achieved enlightenment. I always felt the move away from straight/gay to straight/gay/trans to straight/QUILTBAG to straight/UNWIELDYACRONYMSTEW was sorta silly. Like, where would it all stop?
But now I realize this ever-increasing list of alternatives is another attempt to shatter that sense that “You can be straight and cis… or you can be this one other thing.”
And I still find QUILTBAG to be inelegant and clumsy from a language perspective – but I don’t know there is an elegant way to combat a binary paradigm. Certainly, I’m not sure how to reterm “polyamory” into something that encompasses the wideness of all the other relationships that can exist, in a way that doesn’t feel a little strained.
But the attempt? The attempt is good. And if I find QUILTBAG and its ilk to be inelegant, then I also find polyamory to be inaccurate in terms of what it presents as to the novice reader.
There are no good solutions, sometimes. All you can do is keep speaking to remind people that yeah, the dominant paradigm is one way, but there’s a thousand other ways that also work. Well, they work for somebody.

At The Geeky Kink Event, Or: How Conventions Create Cultural Micro-Bubbles

Conventions are culture.
Assemble a thousand like-minded people together in an semi-private space,  and it’s fascinating watching how quickly accepted behaviors change.  An hour after the doors open, things that would have been bizarre in the outside world – cosplay, public hacking events, consent negotiations, asking for pronouns – become everyday events, completely unremarkable.
This is why conventions can be addictive.  Sometimes, the outside culture can seem monolithic, unchangeable – and often, it largely is – but conventions are proof that if you can get everyone on the same page, everything can change instantly.  Conventions are a petri dish where the experiment is, “Is culture mutable?” and the answer is, “Under the right circumstances, anything can change dramatically.”
The wave-form collapses at the end of the weekend, of course, leading to a phenomenon called “con-drop,” where you’re sad and tired because you miss this culture you effortlessly code-switched into, and on some level would like to have back.
And when I go to the Geeky Kink Event – or any kink event, really, but GKE is the event I’d recommend most for novices – I’m always struck by how wildly different the culture is.  I don’t think a lot of people on my list have attended a kink convention (though more, doubtlessly, than the regular public), so I wanted to discuss some of the weird ways in which kink convention culture diverges from the norm.

Bruises are a badge of pride, and considered beautiful.
At a kink convention, acquiring pain is often the reason you’re there – this is BDSM, after all – and so most people walk around with skimpy outfits designed to show off the way their back or breasts have been beaten blue.  Particularly extensive marks will get appreciative “oohs.”  If you know someone, and you catch a glimpse of an injury underneath clothing, you can ask to see what happened with about the same cultural mores of asking to see someone’s tattoo.
This leads to an unfortunate side-effect of some people feeling bad about not marking easily, or not being able to endure enough pain to get the pretty bruises.  No culture is perfect, alas.

Breaking consent is one of the worst things you can do at a convention – but it’s not a law so much as an embarrassment.  It’s normal to hear, “Do you hug?”, and people who hug strangers (or even acquaintances) without asking are usually gently corrected at some point.
If you have a good friend who is not currently in a huggable mood and you hug them unasked, it’s awkward.  You know you did something wrong, and they forgive you, but you’ve been impolite and recognize the transgression.
That said, because so much micro-negotiations take place, you often field questions like “Can I kiss you?”  These aren’t spam-requests – that would be rude – but if you’re having a bright and happy conversation with someone, they may just ask to kiss as a goodbye, or a hello, without necessarily the expectation that kissing == makeout.  It took me by surprise the first few times it happened, but some people do kiss quite nicely.

One of the rudest things you can do at a kink event is to improperly manage your bodily fluids.
At the dungeons, yes, sex happens.  (Though at GKE, they had a “no-sex” rule on Friday so asexuals and graysexuals and newbies could feel comfortable.)  It’s not an all-out orgy – I’d say only 30% of any given play involves orgasm –
– but the proper disposal of bodily fluids in public spaces is a hazard.  There are cleanup supplies everywhere – you wipe down your station after using it thoroughly, and there are chucks and condoms and gloves for everything.  Nothing goes into an orifice without being covered, and the Dungeon Monitors are more like concierges – at one point during play, it looked like I might penetrate a partner, and the DM quietly placed a disposal chuck to absorb fluids, a set of gloves, and some lubricant by the side of our playspace.
This is not without good reason.  A squirter may have HSV, or HIV, so they’re vigilant for normal reasons of STI transmission.  But there’s also immunocompromised people there, and someone who’s particularly wet may have a cold they transmit to someone who can’t handle it, and so cleanliness is a major watchword.
A couple at GKE played hard enough that they soaked a mat, and then went to go use the water fountain with bare hands.  Both mat and the fountain had to be quarantined afterwards.  That was a major faux pas.
(Though whatever you do in your room is okay.  Though it’s presumed you’ll negotiate statuses before playing. And that you will heavily tip your maids.)

There’s a stunning amount of nakedness around, but it’s understood that the person possessing the naked gets to control it.   You can watch – that’s often why they dress that way – and even perhaps talk to them, but if you think the GKE is big on hug control, try touching someone’s naked flesh sans permission.

A fluid sexuality is the assumed norm.  There’s nothing wrong with being monogamous and heterosexual, of course, but here you’re likely to be in the minority.
Some monogamous hetero women express frustration in the kink scene, because everyone assumes they’re bisexual and polyamorous.   And naturally, idiotic poly and bisexual people ask them loaded questions like, “Well, have you tried it my way?”
It’s impolite, of course.  But culture doesn’t equal perfection, it merely tells you when someone’s put a foot wrong.

It’s the height of impoliteness to interrupt someone’s scene.  Even DMs, charged with safety, are reticent to barge in and go, “That rope isn’t tethered to a proper hard point” – though they do.
However, scenes get audiences.  If you play interesting enough, you may get twenty people watching you.  I’m generally enough into my scenes that I don’t notice, but if you’re bored, going around the dungeon and seeing who’s doing what is a thrill.
Naturally, some people are more fun to watch than others.  This leads to mini-celebrity bouts – “Have you seen Flicker play?  Oh my God, come see him!” – and some gather for showings of friends who they like to watch.  Gossip spreads about that amazing scene that happened last night, she did what, oh my God did you hear.
…which, in turn, leads to a penchant on some people’s parts for more creative scenes.  A friend of mine went after her lover with a fruit reamer.  There’s splashy stuff, like fire and rope (but not together), that always draws a crowd.
You don’t applaud afterwards.  But you might stop them afterwards to tell them how amazing that was to watch.
They blush.  It’s cute.

I’d like to tell you there aren’t creepers, of course, but there are.  The difference is that I have yet to hear a conversation about creepers where the overenthusiastic person’s overtures were excused.  Immediately the victim is believed, no matter how slight the transgression, and usually the DMs are called.
It’s not an axe-falling transgression to pressure someone – often, the staff will have a firm word that This Is Not How We Do Things Here, to course-correct.  But there is a list of names of people who’ve caused problems, and you will get on that list, and your behavior will be watched.  If you make enough people feel uncomfortable, the convention staff will wisely do some math that says, “We can keep one jerk in the room, or drive three people out,” and you will be escorted out.
That said, you have to work it to have that happen.  Asking generally isn’t considered offensive – maybe clumsy, if you’re asking, “HAY CAN WE HAVE SEX” three minutes after meeting, but some people are into that quickness.  But asking for hugs, and kisses, and sex, are normal.
Pressuring, however, with repeated questions, is rude, rude, rude.

It’s expected you’ll do odd things at conventions.  Experimentation is a high happiness.  If you can try something you’ve not done before, well, that’s significant.  Particularly at GKE, finding a new way to twist an old concept – taking a normal scene and adding GladOS from Portal, for example – is considered very cool.
Some people want their comfort scenes, of course.  And they get them.  But the buzz is always about new, new, new.

If you’ve been to a kink convention, I’ll ask: What was new to you there that you don’t see in the outside world?

Assembling Your Polyamorous Justice League

There was a time when I didn’t think much about who I dated; it was largely a question of she likes me I like her let’s go go go! And that amorphous process led to me dating pretty much any smoochable body on the chance that it might lead to something cool.
It often did not lead to cool things at all.
If all I got was just the occasional bad date, then I’d have laughed it off. But these “Why not?” experiences led to me taking chance on people who were prooooobably not that great for me, but how could I tell for sure until I popped that seal?
What happened was that “Let’s see how it turns out” led me to date lots of folks who could be shaped into a good partner for me with six months of constant and careful effort. I dated people who didn’t quite get my sense of humor, people who got offended when I got insecure, people who couldn’t express their needs clearly enough to get through to me consistently.
Sometimes they worked out, but more often they just burned energy. I’d be spending time clarifying expectations with them – time I could have spent with my wife.
And as my dance card filled up, the cost of a bad relationship swelled – I’d go away to spend a precious weekend with someone who I recognized, on some level, I could never make happy. And when I had two other sweeties and a beautiful wife to spend time with, why was I wasting time here?
That dating paradigm of “Sure, why not?” applied when I had nothing to lose except time. But with each additional lover I dated, that time became infinitely more valuable.
This weekend, I realized what I was doing wrong. As a busy polyamorous man, I should not be dating people.
I should be assembling my Justice League of perfect lovers.
That sounds super-egotistic – but that’s the love and admiration I have for existing partners. I mean God, I’m blessed to have them in my life. My wife is my Wonder Woman, the strongest warrior in all the stars. My girlfriend of seven years is my Batman, as she’s inevitably right about polyamorous strategies and packs a mean right hook.
(My other partners, well, I’ve got one who’s asked to be Green Lantern, but I’m pretty sure the metaphor breaks down from there.)
Point is, you can’t just take a shot on putting heroes into the Justice League. You just don’t throw any old hero into an adventure with Batman and Wonder Woman and hope they keep up! It’ll be Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit all over again. The Justice League isn’t where you train heroes to be the best – it’s where the best congregate.
As someone raised on comics, that metaphor is potent to me. I might shrug at my own talents – and do – but if I look at myself as a member of an amazing team, then I’m much more discerning. That allows me to recognize I’m doing a disservice to my existing lovers whenever I date someone who I’m like, “Eh, who knows? Maybe it could work…”
That’s not the superhero spirit I need in my life. I need people who get the spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish off the bat, because there are too many exciting adventures to be had to spend whole issues mired in explaining backstory and motivation.
So when I’m dating these days – and I’m doing increasingly less of that – I’m thinking, “I’ve got some fantastic fucking people in my life already. Is this person another world-class superhero? Or are they someone I’m just kind of following around to see what’ll happen?”
Because the truth is, the people I’m dating right now are all JLA all-stars. And if I keep adding new members, eventually I’ll have to put an Aquaman on the roster.
Nobody fucking wants to date Aquaman.

The Flux: How To Get A Signed Copy, How To Help My New Book Out

Last week, I put up a static page on my site called How To Get A Signed Copy Of My Book, but I don’t think I put up a blog entry to mention it – which means if you’re on LiveJournal or just missed the new link at the side of my site, you missed it.
So, uh, here’s how you get a signed copy of my book.  I’ll happily sign but the process takes a couple of weeks – so if you’d like to get a signed copy of either Flex or The Flux for Christmas, I’d start ASAP.  (As it is, I went down to Loganberry to sign my pile and there were three people who hadn’t paid yet.  They wouldn’t let me sign ’em.)
Also, The Flux – being a sequel – is getting a lot less PR-love than Flex, which is a shame because I think it’s a better novel.  But the industry focuses in on newness, and getting the word out for Book #2 is exactly as hard as I’d heard.
So as a reminder, if you liked The Flux and want to help it out, then you can do the thing that helps literally every author with their book:
Leave a review.
Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads seem to work best, but B&N also helps.  Doesn’t have to be a huge review; two sentences and a star rating help every book you adored.  And they even help the books you hated!  (In this age of computerized recommendations, keeping a loathed book out of the hands of People Like You is indeed a valuable service!)
(And if you wanted to take a moment to leave two or three reviews for other authors you liked, that would be good karma all around.  Which reminds me, I have to finish up my review for Michelle Belanger’s A Conspiracy of Angels, but in the meantime you should probably check it out.)
Anyway, so that’s enough author-tweedling.  I’m prepping to go to the Geeky Kink Event this weekend, so if you’re there, you’ll see the awesome Flex-themed cookies I’ve got planned!  If not, then hey, I’ll catch you around.

I'm Glad It's Easy For You!

I started reading at the age of two and a half when my parents lied to me about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Now, what you don’t understand is that I invented the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I must have, because they were all I ate as a young boy. (Smooth peanut butter, grape jelly, GTFO you heretic if you want strawberry.) Morning, noon, and night, I ate PB&Js.
One day, my parents took me to a restaurant. “PEANA BUTTER!” I yelled.
“They don’t have those here,” Mom lied, placing the napkin over her smoldering lap so as to obscure the fact that her pants were on fire.
“They do!” I pointed to the menu. “Right under the grilled cheese! Peanut butter and jelly!”
There was a full stop.
They made me read the rest of the menu.
And then, for the next year, at the age of two-and-a-half, tiny Ferrett went on a reading tour where people would hand me newspapers and I would read people stories about Richard Nixon. It was astounding.
I never thought much of it. People just learned to read at the age of two and a half. After all, I did! And I had no brothers or sisters to show me another experience, so in my mind, all children read newspapers before they were three.
At around four, I started to think my godchild was a little dim.
“Why isn’t she polishing off the copy of Goodnight Moon I bought?” I asked.
“She doesn’t read yet.”
“Nonsense,” I said officiously. “She’s at least reading words at four. That’s how children work.”
They told me children didn’t, really. Five to six was the average age.
“Yeah, whatever. Have you tried yet? My parents read bedtime stories to me every night. I know you’re reading her stories now, but maybe step it up a notch. Hold the book closer to her face. She’s behind schedule.”
Took me a startlingly long time to realize that this reading was, in fact, a real strength of mine. I went to a speed reading class with my dad, and outread several of the graduates in my initial test. My brain’s just wired for reading. It’s a quirk. I didn’t do much to deserve this, but here it is.
Yet for years, I was completely unaware of my superpower. Oh, I knew I read fast, but I assumed that anyone who put the time in could be as good as I was. And if a parent couldn’t get their kid to read by, say, three and a half, they just weren’t trying hard enough.
I was kiiiiind of a douche.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that I read well! The error is going, “Well, I’m good at this, so if *you’re* not good at this, it must be because you don’t want to be good.”
Aaaaand no. Some people are just better at other things than others.
I’m a depressive. I’ve worked hard to learn how to function while I’m depressed.  But occasionally people tell me, “Well, if you really wanted to be cured, you’d have fixed that by now!  Look at me!  I’m fixed, and now I never get depressed!”
I wonder whether it’s ever occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, they cured a much lighter depression than I have, or have different strengths to cure their depression that I lack.
Maybe they’re me yelling at a two-year-old to get his shit together, baby!
Know what else I’m really good at? Patrolling my own boundaries. I don’t do things out of guilt. I’m largely immune to social pressure. As a result, I don’t have many asshole friends or relatives – if you bug me too much, I’ll stop hanging around you.
But again, I understand that this was a natural gift – I didn’t wake up one morning and go, “I’ll work on strengthening my self-confidence!” No, it just bugs me when people do that, so – shrug – fuck ’em.
Yet with all of that, I can understand that this is a strength of mine, and other people don’t necessarily have it. And I can suggest ways that they can improve their ability to self-protect without sneering, “Well, if you’re letting your layabout uncle mooch off of you, you just don’t care as much as I do about these things!”
Truth is, I don’t care. It’s sort of instinctual, like a lot of strengths. I know a lot of people who are in fabulous shape who get runners’ highs and feel good after exercising – and I never have, despite years of running 5 and 10ks. I know a lot of people who have no problems making friends, but they’ve never felt any anxiety about meeting people ever.
Lots of people have strengths they don’t even recognize because it doesn’t occur to them there’s any other way to be. I’ve always read peanut butter and jelly. Jane’s always felt better running a 5k than eating a cake. Harry’s always looked forward to parties full of strangers.
If they’re not careful, they assume it’s that way for everyone.
And then they become douches.
Fortunately, one of my other strengths is “recognizing that my strengths aren’t shared by everyone.” Which means that I don’t use my positive aspects to bludgeon other people into feeling worse.
Yeah, some people put way more effort into reading than I ever will and won’t be as good at it. That doesn’t make them lazy, or not caring. It means they’re not naturally gifted in the lottery that I won, and I’d be a gigantic dick if I just said to them, “Well, have you really tried?”
Some of them haven’t, of course. There are, despite what folks tell you, lazy people out there. But I can start from the kinder attitude that maybe they are trying, because if they’re expressing frustration then it’s probably a big deal to them, and not using my superiority as an excuse to deepen their feelings of inadequacy.
That’s not a natural strength, by the way. I obviously worked for that one.