A slap on the cheek (to cheek to cheek)?

Last year John Shore published an interview with a polyamorous woman on the blog Unfundamentalist Christians. I thought the interviewee spoke a little too broadly about other polyamorous people and how relationships are named, but I was thrilled to see a relationship like mine presented in a positive light in a Christian space. It’s not something you see too often, especially with fundamentalists crying that if we legalize same-sex marriage then polyamorous marriages will be next, and progressive Christians saying “That’s not true at all.” Whatever issues I had with the particulars, it was one of the few times a Christian talked about polyamory without dismissing it.

Obviously that was too good to last. A couple of days ago, in response to a letter he received from another polyamorous person, John put up another post, this time on his own blog, about polyamory. He states up front that he does not see how polyamory itself is a moral issue, even going so far as to say what’s the big deal if three- (or more) person marriages happen. That’s a lot more than we get from a lot of progressive types.

“I love two people; they both love me; they also love each other. Where is the harm in that?” they ask.

That’s a fair enough question, don’t you think? It’s one that I’m asked all the time—albeit usually by right-wing Christians (always, alas, bitterly) making the point that if gay marriage is legalized, why shouldn’t three-way marriage also be legalized?

Why indeed? I see nothing at all inherently immoral about polyamorous relationships. If three people living in such a relationship say it is working for them, why should anyone argue it? If no one is being hurt, how is it anyone else’s business?

Pretty freakin’ cool, no?

Unfortunately the rest of the post is about how my relationships and others like it are just… not as deep, intimate, or loving as monogamous relationships. In discussing why he and his wife choose monogamy, John says, “I don’t want the power of our intimacy diluted by one-third.” Cat, John’s wife, goes so far as to say “I think being in a polyamorous relationship is a way to avoid emotional intimacy,” and John agrees.

After this John goes on the defensive about how his monogamy doesn’t make him “barbaric or simplistic.” I understand this response, as there are so many polyamorous people who insist that polyamory is better, more ethical, more enlightened and non-possessive than monogamy. I wish this would stop, because we don’t need to tear down other people’s relationships, relationships that are fulfilling and loving, in order to build up our own.

Unfortunately, John feels the need to do just that. He tears down my relationships, decrying them as less intimate, diluted, even a tactic of avoidance, in order to build up his monogamous ideal. Despite couching it in “personal opinions,” he makes general statements about how love, intimacy and romantic relationships work for everyone. Because I love and share my life with both Kristi and Elizabeth, John says I’ll only ever know them half as well as if I had but one partner.

You want intimacy? Put four adults (in my case it’s myself, my two partners and one of my partners’ best friend) in one three bedroom house. Four people with different temperaments, habits, desires, priorities. Now have those four very different people dedicated to one another. Dedicated to being there for and supporting one another. Dedicated to making sure everyone is cared for. Dedicated to being a family, however odd our family may be. You think that doesn’t create intimacy? You think there’s anything in that situation that can be classified as “avoidance?” No, we can’t live like that and avoid much of anything. We have to face everything, including each other, head on.

But even if it were the case that I could only ever know my partners half as much because there are two of them, I’ll take that, because the idea of life without knowing one or the other of them is heartbreaking. There are tears in my eyes just considering that.

Our intimacy may not look like what others have. Our family certainly doesn’t look like what other families look like. But it is deep, it is powerful, it is loving beyond what I ever thought was possible. And until you see what goes into the ways we love one another, kindly keep your opinions about my family to yourself.

Sometimes your kink is NOT okay

Originally posted on Tumblr

Sometimes I think a lot of kinksters just expect everyone to drop whatever critical lens they may have upon entering the public scene. “Your kink is okay” is drilled into people as a way of making room for the wide variety of things that fall under the kink/fetish/BDSM umbrella. It’s a useful thing to remember when you encounter things that squick you, or that just hold no appeal. Just because it’s not your kink doesn’t mean it’s bad.

But what about when you’re pretty sure that someone’s kink is *not* okay? Are we supposed to drop our ethics or our ideologies? Are we supposed to behave like once the leather and latex come out then we’ve entered a critique-free zone? Is BDSM the key to a mythical, objective, ideology-free world? That what some folks seem to think.

“If you don’t like it, then don’t participate,” they’ll say. “It’s not your place to judge.” As if scenes, fetishes, and relationships existed in a void, neither affected by nor affecting anything not directly connected to them.

But sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, misogyny and all the systems of oppression within which we live don’t miraculously disintegrate once you enter the dungeon. We can still engage in problematic behaviors under the guise of BDSM.

That race play scene may have been the best thing ever for the people involved, but it could still bring up very real memories and fears for the people who saw or heard it. And even if race play is your kink, that doesn’t mean that it’s not fair game for analysis, for wondering how actual racism interacts with it.

You may have a fetish for corrupting young girls, but your swooping down on every young woman who is a newcomer still reeks of rape culture.

“Forced bi” activities might get you hard as a rock, but they still interact with, and possibly reinforce, homophobia and biphobia.

Sissification may be where you feel most at peace, but it still plays off of misogyny, transphobia and transmisogyny.

You might buy into a kink fandom built on the idea that women should be submissive and men dominant, but the fact that it’s your kink doesn’t make it not sexist.

And you’re right. People who have problems with these things don’t have to play with those people. It’s true. But the effects of the prejudices that are interwoven with these kinks don’t dissipate just because they happen to turn someone on. They still work to create an environment that’s often not welcoming to the people most affected by types of oppressions that inform the kinks. And as long as that’s happening, then “Don’t judge. It’s just not your kink,” doesn’t cut it for me. I will critique. I will criticize. I will bring my full self, ethics, ideology, and all, to any situation. I may take my glasses off to fuck, but my critical lens stays in place.

And maybe you don’t like that. Maybe you think I’m harshing your mellow judgment free zone. And that’s fine. But critique is my kink. And my kink is okay, right?

Why I can’t say I don’t contribute to another’s oppression

The other day on twitter I said:

A friend responded to that last tweet, asking if I could expand on that, perhaps in a blog post, so here I am trying to do that. Those few short sentences, though, reflect something that’s so fundamental to my understanding of, well, understanding itself that it may be tough.

Why can’t a white person (like, for example, me) say, “I’m not racist”?

Well, mainly because, as white people, we’re not on the receiving end of racism. We don’t experience its reality day in and day out. I’m not talking about individual prejudice here, either. Racism is much bigger than some yokel saying “I don’t like black people.” It’s an entire system that others, disparages, discards and devalues anyone who is not white. When you’re white, you don’t experience it in full. You may see instances of it. You may recognize its effects, but it’s not a force pointed at you, so you don’t really know it.

Moreover, it’s so interwoven in your entire society, in your upbringing, your history, your schooling, your media, your stories, that it’s right there in your head.

Racism isn’t about individual attitudes and actions. They’re just one part of it. Sure, we can all point at the KKK, at the horrible things that one coworker said, at obvious manifestations of prejudice, but if we limit our definition of racism to those sorts of things, then we’re refusing to see how deep racism really goes. Yeah, I’ll be repenting the rest of my life for helping my dad campaign for David Duke when I was a teenager, but that’s not what I was thinking about when I wrote My name is Gabe and… I’m racist.

See, our whole culture is shot through with racism. It was in the air I breathed as a child. It was in the stories I read, the shows I watched, the behaviors of those all around me, and now it’s in me. It’s one of my own little demons, one of my own original sins, inside me for as long as I’ve had consciousness.

I’m part of the system that creates and perpetuates white privilege and white supremacy, simply by virtue of being a white person in this world, and especially being a white person in the US. I don’t get to decide when I am not racist because I’m not the one that racism is pointed toward. If someone said “What you said/did was racist,” I don’t get to respond, “No it’s not, because I’m not prejudiced.” It’s not about me. It’s not about my intent. It’s about something I did that plays into, reinforces and upholds the racist forces that shape our society (societies?). I can’t even speak from a place of authority on this, because I’m white. Hell, by being a white person telling other white people about racism, I’m probably playing into that systemic racism, elevating my voice above the voices of people of color.

It’s similar to, but not the same as, when straight people say “I’m not homophobic.” Homophobia isn’t about some individual hating or fearing gay people. It’s about a systemic devaluing of non-straight people and sexualities. Just because a straight person doesn’t have any problems with gay people, just because they’re a professed ally, doesn’t mean that they don’t play into the systemic nature of homophobia.

When you’re not part of an oppressed class, you’re not an expert on their oppression. It’s like what Grace said about intersectionality:

To say, as a white person, “I’m not racist,” or as a straight person, “I’m not homophobic,” or as a cis person, “I’m not transphobic,” what you’re doing is privileging your own understanding of other people’s experience over their understanding of their own experience. You’re taking yourself out of the societal forces that shape you and everything around you, defining yourself in some mythical neutral space. Doing so is a refusal to recognize the agency of people to know and understand their own experience. It’s to put your voice above theirs.

So maybe we white folks oughta say, “I’m probably racist, but I’m trying to work against that.” Straight folks oughta say, “Homophobia is endemic to the culture in which I grew up, but I’m trying to lessen its presence around me.” Cis folks oughta say, “I was shaped by a world hostile to trans* people, but I’m trying to work against that hostility in my own life.”

But more than all of that, more than making it about us by saying “I’m not [insert form of societal prejudice here],” we oughta just be quiet and listen to the people who are experts on all of this, because it’s really not about the members of the privileged class. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, all oppressions, they’re not about any individual’s intent. They’re about the impact those things have on the lives of those against whom they’re directed.

God bless MLK. God damn MLK Day.

Today I’m off work for the MLK Holiday, and I’m thankful for that. I can use the rest. I’m also dismayed by the day.

Rev. King was killed in Memphis while he was there supporting the sanitation workers who were striking. I walked out my front door today to see the rows of emptied trash bins, evidence that while I was sleeping in, the sanitation workers in my town were up long before dawn, working. People are at work right now, making nowhere near a living wage at WalMart, Burger King, gas stations, coffee shops, hotels, janitorial services and nearly every retail or service industry job, while a handful of us rest. Or worse, shop.

The president is being sworn in today with his hands on Dr. King’s Bible. Dr. Cornel West expresses everything that is wrong with that, and does it far better than I can.

So we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by letting a privileged few off work while those who labor and still make poverty wages are ignored. We celebrate King’s agitation for peace by having the leader of the world’s largest killing force, a man who murders by order and by robot, falsely associate himself with King’s vision and King’s faith by placing his hands on the Rev. King’s Bible.

We do nothing to stop war. We do nothing to end poverty. We ignore the basic humanity of people near and far. Yet we can feel good about ourselves, because there’s a day on the calendar to honor a man who did all the work that we refuse to.

God bless Martin Luther King, Jr. May his legacy never die and his words never fall silent. God damn the empty holiday that bears his name.