Greeting 2018

Standard

cooltext261511915831684

I love new years. No, not the holiday, though New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite nights for getting wrecked, and New Year’s Day is my favorite morning for trying to solve the mystery of whether I did anything really stupid the night before. I actually mean freshly begun years, years that haven’t had their potential explored yet.

I love taking stock of the year past and applying what I learned to set some way points to guide my way through the rest of the year. I’m not so much into making resolutions, which so often are mostly about denying yourself things that are bad for you or trying to to force yourself to do things you don’t really want to do. Life can be miserable enough without making a vow to make myself more miserable. Knowing clearly what I want, though, always helps me make better decisions throughout the year.  That’s not to say I always make the best decisions, but it’s easier to lean into choices that take you where you want to go if you know where that is.

In 2017, my life was shaken up in a lot of ways. There were a lot of changes and some surprises. Even the good surprises changes the landscape of my life enough that for much of the latter half of the year I wasn’t sure where I was going anymore. I hadn’t planned to stay in New York past the end of 2017, but here I am still here in 2018, no longer having a plan to leave. So it’s time for either a new plan to leave, or a plan to stay. Probably the latter, though I’m holding off committing to that until I make my trip back to Atlanta this month.

I hope 2018 brings good fortune all around for those who aren’t working towards doing harm to others and those that are working towards harming others suffer all the misfortune left over. There was a lot of tearing down in 2017. I hope 2018 is the year we remember how to build better things.

Where Has The Discerning Deviant Been?

Standard

cooltext261511915831684

Obviously, given how long it has been since the last entry into this blog, my life has taken a very different direction than I was anticipating a few months ago.  I don’t want to go into too many details but basically since returning to work as a corporate drone, I’ve lost most of the time and space I’d had for writing and other creative endeavors. It has been a serious problem, one which nearly lead to me taken down this site altogether.

Obviously, the site is still here and here I am updating it, so Discerning Deviant lives on.  It’s just in a state of rehabilitation right now while I work to solve some of the problems that make it difficult to update to my satisfaction. A large part of that is going to be finding a new place to live, as my current situation of couch surfing and mostly living out of a suitcase in a place that doesn’t have internet has not been terribly conducive to getting into my writing zone.

In the meantime, I have something special in the works.  I’ve been conspiring with comic artist D.C. White, with whom I’ve collaborated in the past on such comics as “Hardcore and Lethal” and “Roth & Earl” to create Discerning Deviant’s very own official comic strip, Deviant Life.

I appreciate everyone that has been bearing with me. I can’t make any promises right now, but I hope in the near future that this space will get back to regular updates.

Ugly on the Surface: The Online Polyamory Community vs. Reality

Standard
15346421881_3c0cb93dec_z
Photo by  darkday / CC BY 2.0

The other day, I read a hilariously off the rails opinion piece criticizing the polyamory community for being too inclusive and engaging in identity politics, touting these things as harbingers of doom for polyamory. While I could certainly spend an entire entry ripping apart the notion that it’s a bad thing that there’s too many different people bringing their own ideals of how to be polyamorous and that marginalized groups are trying to get their two cents in is a problem, I can’t remember where I read the article and I’m not going to try to pick it apart from memory.

Instead, I’m going to write about a thought that occurred to me while I was reading the article. That the online polyamory community is not an accurate reflection of what the polyamory community is actually like. It feels like that should be stating the obvious, but there are a few key things that some people seem to miss about being a part of the online polyamory community.

  1. People are much more apt to aggressively soap box for their ideologies online.
  2. Controversial posts and arguments tend to generate a much larger number of comments. Positive posts rarely elicit a great deal of commenting back and forth.
  3. There are people for whom shit stirring online is a hobby.
  4. Facebook’s algorithms are inclined to keep shoving heavily commented on posts into your face via your feed so that you’ll see the same argument a dozen times while a dozen more positive posts will slip right by unseen.
  5. People arguing isn’t always a bad thing. Exchanging ideas is often a good thing, even when people can get a little overly passionate about advocating their point of view or are closed to other people’s points of view. Even when two stubborn assholes are going at it with no chance of either of them actually listening to the other, there’s an audience who that can possibly absorb both sides of the argument more objectively.

No, the polyamory community isn’t ever going to see eye to eye with itself over some things. What group that large does? I’m pretty sure there’s at least three major warring factions among Feminists and they’re still a larger and more powerful cultural force than polyamory can hope to be anytime soon, because ultimately for all the disagreements their goals overlap enough that they can generally come together for the important things. They’re not going away.

The polyamory community is the same. Some relationship anarchists might not be terribly supportive of the hierarchical polyamorists’ style of relationship on a philosophical level, but that won’t stop them from standing up for a FMF triad who is fighting against moralizing authorities trying to take their children over their relationship dynamic. We may bicker, but in the end we’re still a community and we still look out for each other where it counts, even when we can be judgmental pricks about how much more right our relationship paradigm is than someone else’s.

Most importantly, I can’t think of a single time in the two decades I’ve been proactively a part of any meat world polyamory community that I’ve been witness to any but the most civil of disagreements about ethical non-monogamy. I’ve yet to see people start viciously  ripping into a couple that talk about how they’re looking for a third to complete them. Online, I see so many newcomers to polyamory torn to shreds by people reacting with aggressive hostility towards their naivety, while any face to face gathering of polyamorous people I’ve been a part of has always been friendly and welcoming to people taking their first steps out of the monogamy box.

To have the best experience in the online polyamory community, I think it’s useful to keep the following in mind.

1. Take negative feedback with a grain of salt.

It’s good to consider constructive criticism, even if we ultimately don’t agree with it, but if someone’s riding on a high horse and being an asshole there’s not much point in even paying attention to them, much less getting emotionally invested in an argument with them.  Certainly don’t let such people dominate your experience within the community, because as long as you’re not an asshole yourself you can find plenty of non-asshole polyamorous people to engage in much more pleasant and constructive ways.

2. Be careful about how you give negative feedback.

I’m not going to tell you to never be critical of other people’s ideals, but do avoid being a dick about. It’s not like anyone is going to attribute much value to your opinion if you piss them off while expressing it. If you’re going to say something negative, it’s good to consider whether you’d phrase it in the same way if you were face to face with someone. If not, then you’re probably being an asshole. This measure of course only works if you’re not an asshole in real life too, instead of one of the many people who feel more confident behind a keyboard while simultaneously gaining a level of detachment from the idea that they’re talking to actual people that combines into a particular kind of callousness. It can be hard to maintain empathy for people you’re interacting with through a screen, but for civility’s sake try.

3. Don’t project  your own baggage onto someone else. Something you see a lot of in polyamory discussion groups is people who had an experience with an abusive relationship of a certain sort and they characterize all relationships of that sort as abusive rather than considering that what made the relationship abusive was the people they were involved with and not the style of the relationship.

There’s no such thing as a relationship style immune to potential abuse with the wrong partner, nor are there a lot of consensual relationship styles that don’t have the potential to be healthy and fulfilling with the right partners. So acting as though you can judge people solely by the kind of relationship they’re in or seeking is pretty shitty.

4. Look for well moderated groups. When left to their own devices, polyamory groups tend to be absolutely overrun with posts that are essentially personal ads. One of the most common frustrations in polyamory is finding suitable partners so without anything to rein that in, polyamory groups are among the thirstiest places on the internet. Which of course means that the other half of the posts become about people complaining about all those posts.  If you want to have meaningful conversations with other ethical non-monogamists, it’s best to find groups that have rules in place to prevent personal ads and admins that enforce those rules.

Anyway…

To get back to my original point, despite how ugly the online polyamory community can look on the surface, the polyamory community as a whole is doing just fine. While we can certainly stand to improve, we are thriving and expanding like crazy. Of course there are going to be some growing pains. That’s to be expected. However, I have seen no evidence that there’s anything to be worried about. The occasional online flame war isn’t going to burn the polyamory community to the ground anymore than any other community has been brought to its knees because its members argue online a lot. Sci-fi fandom? Sports enthusiasts? I’m pretty sure if the internet had been around in the 18th century, people would be flaming each other over Mozart.

Hell, there are probably people right now flaming each other over Mozart. Music fans are among the worst for shit talking each others tastes.  Yet music lives on and so will polyamory.

Checking In From New York City

Standard

CameraZOOM-20170430082605558

As foretold in earlier entries, I’ve done the thing and moved to New York City.  Even though it had been in the works for several weeks, I have to admit that it didn’t seem completely real to me until I got off the Greyhound bus in Manhattan with the knowledge that I had no plan for returning to Atlanta. At least not anytime soon. Brooklyn is where I call home now, and for the foreseeable future anywhere else I go is be just a visit.

This month has been extremely challenging for me with all the major changes, but now the biggest foreseeable obstacles are behind me and I’ve been reaping the rewards of breaking out of the routine I’d gotten stuck in back in Atlanta. I’m absolutely in love with Brooklyn. I live with one of my oldest friends whom I love like a brother. I can look across the room as I write this to see a woman I have deep love for. I’ve even found a new favorite bar staggering distance from where I live.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me to achieve my goals, but in this moment I’m just happy appreciating how much better my life is now than it was a little over a year ago. I’m really excited by all the potential this new direction opens for me.  Now that I’m mostly settled in and a new month starts tomorrow, I’m looking forward to digging into my huge pile of mini-goals that I will hopefully put me back on track to have the life I want.

Discerning Deviant updates should become more frequent and start having more think pieces again to balance out the personal journey stuff that’s kind of dominated things lately.

(Discerning Deviant is supported entirely through reader sponsorship via the Discerning Deviant Patreon.)

My Frolicon 2017 Experience

Standard

CameraZOOM-20170421100922745

I’m still extremely bogged down in trying to get things sorted out for my pending move from Atlanta to New York City, but I wanted to go ahead and get some general thoughts out about Frolicon 2017.

The question I got most often through the weekend was how the panels I hosted went, to which I typically responded with “Two out of three weren’t complete disasters.” That exceeded my expectations but fell short of my hopes. They could have easily all been disasters under the circumstances. Not only was it my first time trying to overcome my anxiety in order to speak in front of a large group of people for an hour at a time, I was woefully underprepared because I was also struggling with getting ready for moving an unprecedented distance unassisted. Then to really kick myself in the balls, I managed to lose all my notes the day of con.

It was, frankly, a clusterfuck and I knew going into each panel that I would be putting myself through a meat grinder of embarrassment. I stuck it out anyway. As terrifying as it was, I refused to let fear keep me from doing something I wanted to do, so I did the thing anyway. It was quite the learning experience and while I wouldn’t say that any of my panels went well, only one of the three was a complete bomb owing largely to it being the one I was going to be most dependent on my notes for. It also only had a few people show up for it and something I discovered is that it’s actually a lot easier to speak to a large room full of people than 3-5 strangers whose attention is focused on you. So everything about my second panel was the perfect storm of fail.

My first and third panels, however, I stumbled through but was at least able to talk about the things I wanted to talk about and engage with the audience without spending a lot of time locked up and unsure of what to say because my brain was overpowered by anxiety. While I’m sure I still looked a fool to many people gathered, I know some people got something positive out of the panels and that’s enough for me to not count them as losses.

The highlight of the weekend for me was reconnecting with friends from out of town, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years. I’m one of those people who is terrible about staying connected to people who live far away even when I care a great deal about them. So having the opportunity to spend significant time with an assortment of people I have missed was a real delight, even if I didn’t get to spend as much time with some as I would have liked.

The convention itself felt a lot smaller and more subdued than the last Frolicon I attended in 2013. The dealer room felt positively tiny. As far as I could tell there were only two room parties on Friday night and two on Saturday night. They were less party battles than party duels, and I’ve seen walk in closets bigger than some of the spaces these parties were in. I’m not sure if there’s some sort of limitations due to the new hotel that keep the parties limited to smaller spaces (in my previous Frolicon experiences the best parties were in larger suites or connected rooms) or if there just hadn’t been anyone stepping up to

That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of fun to be had. I had a fantastic time. It was just a little harder to find since most of the real partying seemed to be of friends grouping up to drink and debauch in their private rooms. I kind of like this because to me frolicking with ten people that are a mix of really good friends and their friends I haven’t met before in a mostly private space is just about the ideal situation, but I have a feeling that if I hadn’t known the right people I would have ended up being disappointed in the lack of mischief to get up to in the wee hours when the official programming was wound down.

Other than wishing the water coolers had been more abundant and better maintained, I don’t really have anything else critical to say about the convention. It had an excellent assortment of panels, including a lot more polyamory related panels than they have had at Frolicons I’ve attended in the past, which made me happy. The dungeon space was huge and well stocked with a wide variety of equipment. The official programming was solid. The food at the Sheraton restaurant was amazeballs.

That about covers the general overview. If I were to rate Frolicon 2017 and my personal experience of it, I’d give it four out of five stars. Now if you’ll excuse me I just found out that I have to slam my ass into top gear. At least this means that this moving stuff will soon be over and done.

Winter Arcane’s Frolicon 2017 Panels

Standard

17621910_1258565230906547_1441375361947669027_o

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll be making my debut as a presenter on three polyamory related panels at Frolicon 2017. With the recent release of the schedule for the Think Track, I now know when those classes are.

Introduction to Polyamory
Thursday (4/14) / 4:00 PM-5:15 PM / Room GA3

Polyamory is the philosophy of being open to having multiple romantic relationships simultaneously and its popularity is growing rapidly. This class is for all those who are taking their first steps into the world of love without traditional limitations. Learn some of the pros and cons of letting go of romantic and sexual exclusivity in relationships, some of the red flags that give warning that trouble lies ahead, and some of the strategies that can help avoid common pitfalls along the way.

The Jargon of Polyamory
Thursday (4/14) / 7:00 PM-8:15 PM / Room GA 9

Are you and your partner unicorn hunters? Do you feel compersion when you see your partner kiss someone else? Are you friends with your metamour? Well, if you’re new to polyamory and the community that has formed around it you may not even know what the hell those questions are asking. This class is here to help get you acquainted with the unusual words found all over polyamory forums and articles.

From Monogamish to Relationship Anarchy: The Many Flavors of Ethical Non-monogamy
Friday (4/15) / 10:00 AM-11:15 AM / Room GA 9

For most people who practice Ethical Non-Monogamy, Polyamory is an adequate umbrella under which to come together as a community. However, there are many styles of Ethical Non-Monogamy out there. In this class we’ll discuss the various labels floating around the Polyamory community (as well as some types of Ethical Non-Monogamy that exist outside of the Polyamory umbrella) and their varied interpretations.

(Discerning Deviant is supported entirely through reader sponsorship via the Discerning Deviant Patreon.)

 

The Freedom Of Commitment

Standard

1780841_459011520892995_1790862994_n

“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Someone once posted this quote in a polyamory related group and someone commented “Love in such a way that YOU feel free”.

This came right after I had been in another discussion in which I had been commenting on conflating commitment with control. It’s one of the most common misconceptions about ethical non-monogamy that being polyamorous means being chronically unable to commit. While that’s not widely true in my experience, there are clearly some individuals for whom that is the case. They strongly connect the idea of commitment to loss of freedom.

This got me to thinking about the dichotomy of how I’m one of the most doggedly committed people you’ll ever meet in terms of honoring my relationship agreements, yet I have never felt anything other than completely free in my relationships. This has remained true no matter how many partners I have any given time. Just because I never agree to complete sexual or romantic exclusivity in my relationships doesn’t mean it’s not important to me to honor the agreements I do make.

A lot of that, I know, has to do with my propensity for being very clear in negotiating relationship terms. What would you like to be able to expect from me? What can I expect from you? I try not to leave anything to assumptions when making the transition from friend to committed relationship. Therefore, I avoid most of the bullshit that many relationships step into just because the people involved had a different idea of what being in a relationship meant.

I think more importantly, though, is that I have a strong sense of who I am and who I want to be, and a central part of my self-identity is loyalty. So, to me resisting temptation is an act of strength, not weakness. Because I see it as staying true to the choices that I made. Like when someone decides they are morally opposed to the meat industry, even though they really love bacon. They don’t see the limitation of their diet as something to be shameful of. If anything, vegans are infamous for often developing an obnoxious sense of pride about their dietary limitations. I could be fairly accused of having an equally obnoxious sense of pride about the fact that unlike many people I am not so controlled by desire that I’m willing to compromise my values just to get my dick wet.

The one time I did was when I was 18 and I cheated on my fiancé. As appealing as it might have been at the time to justify the cheating, I knew it to be an act of weakness even as I did it. My only act of strength had been to recognize it and do the best I could to set it right by immediately telling my fiancé and taking full responsibility for my actions. There was no “I wouldn’t have been so sexually frustrated if you’d have sex before marriage…it’s not like you’re a virgin. I was having sex non-stop with my last partner. What did you expect?” It was more along the lines “I know you trusted me not to do this and I failed you. I’ve wronged you, and you have every right to be angry with me. I can’t change what I did, but I am deeply sorry for it. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ll understand if you don’t.”

I believe because I accepted that responsibility…because I was appropriately ashamed of my choice…that it made it easy to resist subsequent temptation, and that is strength, not weakness. Part of being strong is doing what’s right (in terms of your own value system) even when it’s not the most immediately satisfying thing to do. We don’t call someone who has been going to Alcoholics Anonymous because they’re trying to stop drinking empowered when they accept a beer someone offers them because they’re really craving that drink. No, we regard them as free when they are able to stand by their choice not to drink, despite how much part of them may really want it.

Being free is choosing your own values and having the strength to stick to them even when it’s not immediately rewarding. Choosing for yourself is meaningless if you cannot consistently stand by your choices. Otherwise, your path is controlled for you by the series of temptations that present themselves to you.

That’s not to say that anyone should stay in a situation that’s miserable for them. Nobody is perfect. Some choices just don’t work out. While we should consider our exit strategies while making those choices and factor them in, it’s normal in one’s enthusiasm to not consider all possibilities. There’s no power in not being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake or even that things have changed in a way that couldn’t be foreseen. Taking ownership of our failures instead of denying them or avoiding responsibility for them is one of the important parts of getting better at making choices.

To me, commitment isn’t a matter of giving control to someone else. It’s having control over myself and being true to the obligations I choose in the name of reaching my own goals and staying true to my own values. Nobody else owns me. I own my decisions and can (almost always with rare exceptions) be proud of them. What is more liberating than that?

(Discerning Deviant is supported entirely through reader sponsorship via the Discerning Deviant Patreon.)