Mx Ruby-Rouge

"Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free." – Valerie

Month: April, 2013

Rules, guidelines and the code

the Code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules” -Captain Barbossa

Disclaimer: This post is based on my personal experience in polyamory, either directly or talking with other poly folk, and in response to threads I posted asking for input on various poly forums. For privacy reasons I have been unable to reference most of my sources, and naturally because of the places the information was sourced from there is a large kink bias. Therefore please don’t take this as gospel!

Polyamory and non monogamy is supposed to be all about not being bound by the normal relationship structures and restrictions. However, whether you are a monogamous couple just opening up your relationship, or a non-monogamous veteran of many years, rules have probably played some part in your relationships at some point.

Many of us come to polyamory from the perspective of opening up an existing monogamous relationship in some shape or form. This involves lots of talking, research, challenging some fears or insecurities and perhaps because of them, a lot of rules. It may be that approaching  polyamory from monogamy, which has by default a lot of implied rules on acceptable behaviour, means that many couples first opening up tend to have a lot of rules and restrictions as they navigate the unknown world of polyamory.

Those new to poly may not have the skills many of us learn over time, such as  introspection, analysis and open communication of our fears, doubts and feelings. So in the absence of that, many rules are imposed to “protect” people from their worst fears coming true. Maybe we fear that our partner will meet someone, fall madly in love and run off with them, so we impose a one penis policy to try stop that happening. Perhaps we fear that our partner will date someone we despise, so we demand veto rights to end any relationship unpalatable to us. Perhaps we fear the loss of the relationship so much that we demand that prospective partners consider both of us as a package, not individuals.

Try as we might, we cannot deny that when analysed, a lot of these initial rules can look ugly, possessive and controlling. Do we really think the genitals of other partners are relevant in whether a person will run off with them or not? Or how much hurt we would cause a partner to use a veto without good cause? Do our rules actually protect us from these things happening, or do they show we don’t trust our partners?

Rules are often used as a means of control, a way to gloss over someone’s insecurity or fear without actually dealing with the root cause. If you are afraid your partner will leave you for someone else, no amount of rules will change that. You will still be afraid. What you need to do is talk about your fears with your partner, see if there is any assurance they can give you, and most importantly: find some security in yourself. As Goddess Java of The Polyamorous Misanthrope puts it: be your own primary.1

Another important aspect to consider is the difference between a rule and a boundary. What exactly do we mean by a rule? Do we mean an agreement that if broken, will cause us leave the relationship? Or do we mean a strong preference? Are we issuing an ultimatum, or are we expressing our boundaries? Are we sometimes guilty of using rules to attempt to control control instead of simply expressing our own boundaries and preferences? Are rules sometimes used to enforce a relationship hierarchy, and can those rules end up being imposed, unfairly, on others without their involvement, discussion and negotiation?

The majority of polyamorous people I talked to had some form of rule, even if just one or two. For most this was an explicit agreement made between their partners about accepted behaviour. If this agreement was breached, could well constitute a dealbreaker for the relationship and one partner might walk away. Typically these rules related to safer sex arrangements, and in a lot of cases a veto, which I intend to deal with more closely in a future blog post. Other people had specific rules that they considered appropriate to their relationship structure, such as group financial and life decisions in a closed triad, or approval for adding new relationships to a polyfidelitous group. Similarly those with children or D/s tended to have more rules relating to those specific areas of life, which seems perfectly reasonable.

Other people had lots of experience with rules concerning relationship hierarchy, such as those who adopt the primary/secondary model. As many secondary partners will tell you, it can often feel like rules from the primary couple are imposed rather than up for discussion, and are sometimes used to enforce the higher status of the primary couple .2

A small minority of people stated they had no rules, and considered rules a negative thing for a relationship. They felt that having rules is controlling another person’s behaviour, and shows a lack of trust and security. Reassuringly, many people who were not new to poly said that although they had started out with lots of rules, over times they had become more like guidelines and were actually fairly relaxed, bar a few major ones across the board as discussed above. The majority of people also considered that the greatest rule was to treat each other with respect, dignity, honesty and compassion.

Another interesting aspect was how many people (your writer included) considered they had internal rules, i.e rules they imposed on their own behaviour by and for the benefit of themselves. Some examples were not dating people new to poly, or not getting involved with anyone in a DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) setup.

What is clear is that where there are rules, there are consequences, and also an aspect of trusting that people will be honest. No amount of rules can make someone do what you want them do to (or not do). Only they can do so, if they want to. Nor, do I feel, is it moral to use emotional blackmail and ultimatums to get your own way “if you carry on dating her I’ll leave you”.

So if we don’t want to try and impose a rule or behaviour on another, how do we make sure our wishes and boundaries are respected? The short answer is that we can’t, but we can discuss how we feel, explain our boundaries (and any potential consequences if they are breached) and trust that our partner will respect them as far as they possibly can (and tell us if they can’t).

Boundaries are an expression of our own feelings, limits, desires and preferences, in as much as things we may or may not want to happen, things we may struggle with, and things that could make us consider altering or ending a relationship. We all have the right to personal preferences and boundaries, just as much as the next person has the right to ignore them in favour of their own. This could be as simple as “unless it’s an emergency, please don’t call me when I’m on a date with my other partner” to as serious as “if you have unprotected sex with someone, I may discontinue having sex with you until such a time as I am sure you are tested clear”. Neither of those things are expressed in terms of imposing behaviour on another, but they are very clearly explaining your wishes, and if appropriate, the consequences if those wishes are ignored.

Many people said that they consider boundaries to be something they have decided is or isn’t acceptable for them; and beyond conveying that clearly to their partner, there are no expectations of compliance, and no rights. They consider they have the right to not have their life adversely affected by “the crazy” but they also recognise the right of their partner to make that choice for themselves. If a partner does something that breaches a person’s boundary, then as one person put it “they have the right to protect themselves and their boundaries if needs be”, such as by scaling back the relationship or by ending it entirely.

It may be that in course of discussing and negotiating a new relationship, or opening an existing one, boundaries are discussed and correspondences and differences are identified. Where there is a similarity in opinion, an agreement may be reached to class those boundaries as some type of behaviour code for the relationship. On the other hand, where there are differences, compromise or arrangements might be reached that could also be included in the code.

The key to all of this is of course open, honest and clear communication. Without that you have nothing to work with; discussing honestly about fears, worries, concerns, hopes, preferences and boundaries means you and your partners can understand each other absolutely, and reduce the ability for major unintended  transgressions on that basis.

As well as having some form of agreed boundaries, guidelines or a code, many people said instead their relationships were formed on a basis of a few basic principles. Common ones were honesty, integrity, compassion, consideration, respect, equality and ongoing communication.

Many felt that instead of attempting to control by imposing rules on another’s behaviour, or by agreeing on boundaries, good communication was the key to successful polyamory. Rather than setting rules to be broken or obeyed, ongoing discussion and frank exchanges of opinion could deal with matters very easily, without drama or causing friction.

Some of the examples given were small ones, such as being able to ask for more time with your partner if you are feeling a bit neglected, rather than invoking the “date night” rule, or as serious as expressing disapproval of a new partner, that would cause the other to end the relationship, if they felt there was cause. In these scenarios there was a focus on trust; not only to be told the truth but to always tell the truth yourself, and to be dealt with at your word. There is also the basis of trusting your partner to make good decisions for themselves, and to consider the impact anything has on you, rather than to dictate a list of things you do and don’t want.

Most of the people who shared their story with me confirmed they’d had lots of rules in their early days, although over time many of them said those rules had either evolved, changed or disappeared entirely. I personally know many of the rules of my early poly days have long gone, and I find the same rules vexing or baffling when I encounter them in other people new to poly.

It seems the majority of people have a pyramid of rules, boundaries and codes. At the top are the few most important issues, expressed and agreed as rules, and which risk the relationship ending if breached, such as safer sex arrangements or vetos. The next level down is the more wide ranging boundaries, which are personal expressions of what you are prepared to accept and not accept in your relationships. Some of these may be formed into agreements and compromises where your boundaries do not match up. Finally there is the code, the overarching principles of love, honesty, trust, respect, consideration, compassion, communication, integrity and fairness by which we carry on all our relationships, and which can make the first two levels of the pyramid obsolete. If we can live our lives and relationships by this code, we can truly love freely, and without compromise, control or limit.

Rx

Footnotes and Links

1:  http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2005/01/08/whos-your-primary/

2. http://solopoly.net/2012/12/03/couple-privilege-your-thoughts/

http://www.morethantwo.com/polyamorywithoutrules.html

http://greyweirdo.livejournal.com/3172252.html

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Fat is my shield

Trigger warning: rape, mental health, sexism, misogyny, fattism

This is one of the hardest blogs I have ever written for public viewing, and it something I’ve pondered over doing for a long time. But sometimes you need to be brave and show the world your scars and insecurities, to be able to grow, to repair, to move on. As a side note, if you are going to be a dick about anything you read in this blog, I reserve the right to remove your comments/block you/disembowel you when I next see you.

The first thing you should know about my story is that I’m rape survivor. Saying that sounds really dramatic, corny and very difficult to actually say. But I am a survivor. Not because I survived the attack, the knife at my throat or running into my attacker many years later when he tried to drag me into a waiting car. Because I’m still here. Because I continue to live, breathe and be.

Shortly after my 13th birthday, I was raped by the boy I was currently dating. Despite my mind’s best efforts to protect myself, I am painfully aware of what happened on that day, yet to some extent, even now I’m still realising the impact it has on me. What actually happened in somewhat irrelevant, the key is the transgression of trust between two people, and lack of consent ignored, violently, and in an intimate way.

Clearly such an attack has a significant impact on a person. I withdrew, refusing to do anything other than attend school, and locked myself in my bedroom where I was safe. I told no-one. I avoided flirting and sexual interaction until I met my future husband at 16. The idea of sex both intrigued me and terrified me, I found it both erotic and disgusting in turns. It is also around this time that I struggled to imagine what consensual sex looked like, instead imagining an aggressor, and a victim.

The rape affected me in ways I’m only now beginning to comprehend. It made me shrink away from the world, and shut people out. It made me hold people at arms length, and to stop trusting. I suspected everyone of treachery, and kept my own counsel. I did not engage in physical contact, hugging or cuddles, and put up literal barriers, either physically, or verbally by being nasty to everyone around me. I hated the world, and everything in it, and I let them know. I also put on a lot of weight, and hid in oversized jumpers, baggy dresses, jeans. My weight became a physical and mental protection – a safety net, a way of creating distance. I wanted to appear attractive (and hence at that time, femme) yet the attention this garnered frightened me. I retreated into the safe guise of a chunky goth teenager.

Fast forward many years, and mid-divorce from my abusive ex husband, I attempted suicide. With lots of foot stomping I managed to get the therapy I desperately needed. Over time I managed to knock down some of my barriers, to let go of some anger, and to open up. I also lost a lot of weight, and ended up a size 10-12. Suddenly I was getting stopped in the street by men asking for my number, my inbox on dating sites was full, and for once, I felt attractive. I also felt vulnerable, and afraid. I realised that being fat and unattractive had been my shield, keeping me unnoticed and the unlikely target for predatory people.

During this slim and attractive phase of my life, I experienced more sexual harassment and inappropriate touching than ever before. I had men shout things after me in the street. I had people touch me as I walked past in a club. I got lots of things for free in bars. What did all this unwanted and unsolicited attention do? Made me scared, and when I get scared… I fight, not flee. The young man in Corporation who decided to touch my ass as I walked past with EGB was very surprised when I pull punched him, and the guy on the train suddenly backed off and left me alone when I put my hair back in a ponytail and told him to fuck off or I’d deck him. With sadness I realised my default reaction to feeling sexually intimidated was to fight, because I wished I had fought all those years ago. I’ve put myself in danger for other people, where I saw them being harassed or intimidated.

Over the years I’ve lived a happy life with my husband and other partners, I’ve developed some joint injuries and I’ve put on weight. I’m now plus sized. I’m not happy about it, my self esteem suffers and physically it’s not great for my injuries. But there’s an element of the weight that isn’t just about not exercising, or liking too many cakes. It’s a shield, that protects me from the world and it’s attention. Most people don’t glance at me twice, even dolled up, wearing a dress and DMs. The majority of the world finds plus sized people unattractive, and in that is my greatest safety net.

My sex life and relationships have also been dramatically affected by the rape. I’m a mostly dominant switch. What has happened to me makes me a very cautious bottom, feeling much safer and empowered as a top, despite my desires for  (consensual) physical overpowerment and violence. I live in a world where consent, respect and open communication is key. Everything I do with my partners is with their agreement. Consent is sexy. So is playing the role-play of a mean abductor who holds a knife to your throat and threatens to gut you if you scream. I’ve found safety and comfort in a world where ignoring someone’s wishes is a most heinous crime, and where my appearance or presentation is less important than what is between my ears.

Last weekend I was going on a date with a lovely chap I met on OKC. In a rare fit of femmery, I decided to wear a pencil skirt and heels. Nothing outlandish, and considering I’m plus-sized, you’d think that I’d go fairly unnoticed. Hair and makeup my usual going out style, I set off. Unfortunately there was a football match on a mile or so from my house, and as I stood waiting for my tram, I was kerb crawled by every pathetic slimeball in a car. Some of them just looked, some nearly broke their necks trying to see my face, and some actually shouted things at me.

Sexual harassment of anyone by anyone is unacceptable to me. It is totally out of order to make anyone feel objectified on grounds of their presentation, appearance, orientation or gender. Sexual harassment of women seems to be an everyday, accepted thing – just read the posts on https://twitter.com/EverydaySexism to see examples of that. I’m not saying sexual harassment of other genders doesn’t exist, it certainly does, just that femme sexual harassment by males is possibly the most prevalent.

So what’s the point of this post? To share my story, in the hope that somewhere, someone will read this and it will help them in a struggle they may have. I hope that writing this will help me in my struggles; help me to drop my fat shield yet still fight misogyny and harassment whenever I encounter it, but also to stop me sometimes pushing people away if they get too close, to not be afraid to feel and be attached, and to not treat people with suspicion. To be confident about my body, whatever shape it is, because it is mine, and I am strong. To be sexual without guilt, fear or repression. To truly feel that beauty is not dependent on what size label is in my clothes, and that loosing weight is about health, and nothing more.

Most importantly I hope that you, dear reader, will think about sexual harassment and yourself. Have you ever wolf whistled someone? Or been wolf whistled? Have you ever slowed your car down to gawp at a hot person on the street, or had it done to you? Have you ever touched someone inappropriately, without their consent? Have you ever heard a rape apologist talk about what someone was wearing as some kind of defence, or claim a partner can’t be raped? Ever stared at two lesbians walking down the street, or felt grossed out by two gay men kissing? Whether you’ve ever fallen foul of these behaviours, or suffered them yourself, I hope you will think carefully about what that says about you and our society.

We currently live in a world that objectifies and sexualises people, and this is seen as acceptable, a bit of fun, or excused on the basis of being drunk. This is not acceptable. Don’t do it yourself, and if you see it being done to others, stop that shit. Tell that dickhead to stop hollering at the young lady walking down the street by herself. Tell your idiot friend to stop gawping at the gardener with his shirt off, or at least have the guts to go talk to him directly. Until we have a society where the stupid Diet Coke adverts objectifying men, and builders wolf whistles are a thing of the past, we will always have sexual harassment, and terrified people either fleeing, or fighting, or hiding behind some form of shield. Sexual harassment is just a short step away from rape, so lets give a clear message that none of this is what we want or expect in an apparently civilised society as ours. Let’s stop it. Let’s stop it now. Let’s build a world based on dignity, respect and consent for everyone. Let’s value people for their qualities, rather than their appearance. Let’s have a world where sexism, rape, misogyny and misandry are a thing of the past. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.

R

For anyone suffering from the issues raised here, or wanting further help or advice, here are some useful links:

http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/

http://www.samaritans.org/

Or see your GP to access local NHS mental health services