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11 May, 2009

The Cleanup Crew

(Semi-set off by a thread of commentary at SM-F.)

A number of years ago I was working the local polyamory group's table on Pride Day. Just talking to people, being visible, that sort of thing. I bought a t-shirt (I think it was the one with 'Sharing is a family value' on the back), changed into it in the freedom of the clothing-semioptionality on the Common that day, and just chatted with people.

At one point I went for a walk through the crowds, possibly looking for a drink, as it was reasonably hot; possibly wanting to browse through the vendors. I wound up snagged for conversation by a woman who spotted the shirt and wanted to demand an explanation.

It's been long enough that I don't remember the details of her story precisely and have quite likely replaced them with archetype, but the truth of the matter is that this happens often enough for me to have an archetype to substitute for lost details.

She was a lesbian who had been, briefly, in a relationship with a married bisexual woman. She had been told that the woman's husband expected to be involved in their relationship as a matter of course, at least as a jacking-off observer, and, further, that if said husband was unhappy with the way their relationship was going, she would be dumped without a second thought. She found the interaction understandably disappointing and frustrating, and because she had been told that that was a perfectly normal way of conducting polyamory, widely accepted within the community, was more than a little pissy about the entire thing and, I rather suspect, wanted to know why the assholes were invading her Pride event.

About half the resulting conversation consisted of me assuring her that no, it didn't have to work that way. That everything they'd said about how that's what polyamory means was a lie, in fact, by the simple fact that plenty of people don't do that sort of thing. Much of the rest was talking about what I do, in matter of fact terms, peppered with more assurances: no, I don't expect everyone else to do it that way. No, I don't think that I'm a better person because of this. No, my way isn't What Polyamory Means either, it's just what I do. No, it doesn't bother me that she wants a monogamous relationship, I think that people should have the sorts of relationships that work for them.

I think, though I'm not sure, that we parted with her somewhat baffled by the weirdness of humanity, but at least familiar with the fact that the poly community consists of more than entitled bisexual women and the creepy voyeurs they're married to.

Another time I got into a throw-down fight that I don't think escaped beyond the bottle of the poly community with someone who wanted to create an organisation claiming to speak for the interests of polyamorous people - that was not actually about polyamory at all, but about a certain left-anarchist set of politics that he assumed was the reason people were poly, because who would have multiple relationships who wasn't interested in Breaking Down The System and proving the superiority of their liberationist worldview? I hammered on consent, that he did not speak for me unless I gave him permission and I explicitly denied him permission, and that no, I was not interested in subscribing to his newsletter until he snarled about evil reactionaries who had destroyed his happy fluffy vision of what Polyamory Was All About and were just there to subvert Teh Movement and probably didn't have more than one partner anyway and finally, blissfully, shut the fuck up. I hope he took his sooper-speshulness somewhere pleasant so he could be superior in a more congenial environment.

I get aggravated by the whole thing. I write about pretty much this thing when I wrote about the word 'lifestyle', pointing out that some people hook into Gor Is The Way What I Want Is Okay and try to universalise it, as well as, from the flip side of that particular kink perspective, the people who have an ideology of universal female superiority and abuse any woman who doesn't agree. Hell, I explicitly drew attention to someone making up just-so stories about an anti-BDSMer once upon a time, because someone claiming to be on my side being a fucking hypocrite does me no favors.

And this is the thing. My polyamory, my kink, my religion, my whatever else, these do not make me sooper-speshul. To the extent that I may be sooper-speshul, it's because sooper-speshulness is my birthright as a human being, and expecting everyone to bow down before it is unrealistic; if we were all bobbing and genuflecting to the sooper-speshul all the time we'd never get anything done 'cos there just isn't the time. Yeah yeah yeah namaste but the onions still need hoeing.

A couple of weekends ago I got into a long conversation about sex and power and individual choice and similar matters, and among the things that came up was using kinkspace to recreate and reprogram a trauma. And there was a story of someone who did this on a second date, which horrified all of the kinksters (and everyone else for that matter) in the room, even (perhaps especially) those of us who had done some sort of work of that sort in a controlled environment with trusted partners. There were discussions with people who had been interested in BDSM until they ran into someone who used it abusively, who wanted assurance that their perspectives on the existence of abuse was justified. There was exploration of what it meant to do power exchange sex in the context of an ethic that does not tolerate the bending of the head to accept shackles from the outside. (And I did not talk about the time, in a similar context, that I said I refused to submit my life-force to an ethic that required me not to do d/s, that I was too settled and secure in my power to put up with being lesser like that.)

There are no cure-alls and panaceas; there are only people working out what works for them. I can scream my story into the void all I want, but I have to take care to not drown out the stories of others, the people who do it differently. Monocultures die in plagues.

I've spent too long cleaning up spaces that have been damaged by people selling their social and sexual snake oil. "Take this, and your problems will be solved!" "This is the way the best people do it!" "This is just the way things are!"

In the memory of that confused and hurt woman at Pride, who went away maybe a bit more confused but also maybe a bit less hurt, I will always strive to be part of the cleanup crew.

3 comments:

Trinity said...

Would you be willing to crosspost this to SM-F? It's an excellent post.

SnowdropExplodes said...

That opening story was shockingly familiar to me, from a very different setting, but the basic storyline I do recognise.

It seems I have done more of this clean-up work than I realised. Since I know it was my comment at SM-F that set this off, I feel like a complete fool right now (huh - what's new? I'm used to this sensation now).

Amber Rhea said...

"Yeah yeah yeah namaste but the onions still need hoeing."

QOTD!