What I Mean When I Say Toxic Non-Monogamy Culture.

This piece is in response to a short list of aspects of monogamous relationships that can be toxic (link is dead, I will try to find it again).  Some of these are mirrors of the points in the list of toxic monogamy cultural norms, and some of them are very different. All of this is in my opinion, and probably has a philosophically anarchistic slant to them. They are accompanied by commentary on why the idea in question is toxic. Enjoy.

What I Mean When I Say Toxic Non-Monogamy Culture

~Jealousy is an indicator of the wrong-doing of the partner of the person feeling jealous

Jealousy is a word often used in non-monogamous discourse as a weapon. It is accusatory, as well as it is shamed. I think jealousy can be a catch-all term for bad feelings we have related to the other relationships close people to us are in, and starts within ourselves as a marker for things we need to think about regarding our personal development and that of our relationship integrity.

~A sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical disagreements over needs, insecurities or other relationships

This is a fallacy. Sometimes, people are incompatible and that just becomes more and more likely the more people are added to the equation. Unless everyone has their shit together, it’s not going to function in a way that supports everyone involved, let alone manage to squeak by without anyone getting really steamrolled.

~Relationships are for getting your needs met, so if you aren’t getting a need met in one relationship, another with whomever will do

People are not need-fulfillment pegs to shove into the holes in your heart, y’all. Trying to find people with your specific “need” (let’s face it, we’re talking about wants) in mind first is not paying homage to the dynamism of human beings.

~Love is limitless, which means that you can have as many relationships as you want

Time is limited, and so is energy. While it is prudent, always, to consider whether the amount of time you have to offer someone lines up with the amount that they would like to have with you, it is also advisable to take a look at the assumption that time spent in each other’s physical company is the be-all-end-all demonstration of care.

~Commitment assumes exclusivity of aspects of relationships

Commitment is in the agreements, not the exclusivity. It is also a bit of a fallacy, as people’s minds can change about what they want to be doing, and then weigh the value of the relationship agreement against the desired change at any time, and it serves us to foster safe renegotiation in order to promote autonomy in our relationships.

~Marriage and children limit how non-monogamous someone is, or what they have available to other people

While children become a top priority in the lives of parents, this does not negate or cancel out the importance of their relationships to them, and how they engage with the people they care about. It can mean some finagling of schedules, but that can be easily managed when everyone is understanding and accepting of children’s needs being of high importance.

~Your insecurities are your partner’s responsibility to tip-toe around and never your responsibility to work on

This is precisely in conflict with why lots of people choose non-monogamy for their lives: the challenge, the growth, and the stretching capacity of their hearts and minds. Without a careful examination of self-motives and self-governance, non-monogamous relationships will crash and burn more often than not. Ignorance of self-work is a disservice to yourself, and to the people you care about. Asking for help with self-work is great, but it is still ultimately your responsibility.

~Your value to a partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is in zero-sum competition with everything else they value in life

As previously mentioned, it is also advisable to take a look at the assumption that time spent in each other’s physical company is the be-all-end-all demonstration of care. This is simply not always true, and can be a showstopper if an inherent need for time, or lack thereof, is mismatched. There are lots of different ways to show care, but they need to be negotiated and desirable for all parties involved.

~Being of value to a partner should always make up a large chunk of how you value yourself

This one has been a trip-wire for me for years, and I am happy to say that I may finally be getting out of some very self-destructive habits around how much my friends and partners experience of me shapes my reality about who I am. While constructively critical feedback from loved ones is a help to anyone’s personal growth, boundaries around how another person defines your behaviour, and how your inherent character can be separate from their perceptions of your behaviour, is so important for self-sustainability.

Dear Chelsey: A Letter to My Previous Self.

Dear Chelsey,

Hello. I know, I’m surprised too. We have read lots of time-travel lo-fantasy, and we always wondered what we would be like when we were older.

Here I am. We made it this far, and we’re aging okay, despite our best efforts to self-destruct. Lucky us. It is a good thing we’ve eaten pretty well over the years, even with all the other toxicity we’ve subjected ourselves to. Hopefully we quit smoking soon enough, and have curbed our inebriation choices to a livable frequency and quantity. I’ll get back on that yoga train soon, I promise. This winter was really tough on us, so we’re being gentle and introducing a self-care regimen slowly.

I am pleased to be able to offer you some insight. I hate to say it, because this may come across as “I’m so glad I’m not you”. But I’m really glad that I am not even a moment younger than I currently am, and look forward to being older and having more experiences to draw from. They really knew what they were talking about when they said, “wait until you’re older”, or “listen to your elders”, or whatever other anecdotal advice some older person tried to give you over the years that you probably took with a grain of salt. Salt is a very important grain to take, but it helps to listen too, and we didn’t know that then, as most younger people overlook. We’re getting a better grip now, thankfully, and finally. It is so hard to listen to advice when we’re young and wilful.

We are going to be thirty-five this year, if you can believe it. That’s a third of a lifetime, done. Half, if we’re feeling not as optimistic. I tend to lean on the optimism end of the spectrum, or I try.

You’ve been through a lot, already, haven’t you? I’m pretty sure you were reeling from the things you had been through by the age of twelve, let alone where I am at thirty-four. I assure you, at each of the junctures I am going to acknowledge you at, you were tired. I think we’ve probably been tired our whole lives, and because we didn’t know any different, we just kept plugging along, kept trying, kept telling ourselves we were lucky it wasn’t worse. Now, I have learned about things like trauma-bonding, codependency, and how bad the things you have been through were. We used to talk ourselves out of that. We laugh when we’re nervous, and when we’re scared, because we want it to not be as bad as it is, or are trying to make light of our own struggle.

We gaslit ourselves for years because that was the way others taught us to treat ourselves by treating us as such. We know better now, but slip up from time to time and try not to be too hard on ourselves when we do.

It’s okay that the things that happened to us were bad, even if they weren’t as bad as some of the other things other people have suffered. It’s okay to have been hurt, and to have been unlucky in some cases, and to feel that. We are lucky in a lot of ways and have a lot of privileges, but those do not mitigate the hurt we have been subject to, and glossing over those hurts isn’t helping you move through them, so let’s stop that together, okay?

I’m going to go over some things that have happened, and are going to happen to you, and what I think would have helped you if I had known these things when they happened to me. I will refer to your age at the time of the event, or the instance, so we can keep straight what we’re talking about. That should help this be less confusing.

There may be an overarching theme to the information I am going to give you, but we will see if that emerges while I compile this letter. Who knows, this might even narrow down to one succinct piece of advice.

Let’s start early.

When the girls in your early elementary classes are not being kind to you, don’t worry about it. You’re a curious, communicative, amicable being; you want to talk to everyone, and have done since you gained the ability to speak. Your parents let you run wild at parties and other social spaces, and you made friends with everyone. This is not the way school is going to work for you, and it’s not really anyone’s fault. A bunch of kids are mashed together, coming from differences they don’t understand yet, and they can be mean, unfortunately. These girls are only going to be around you for a couple more years, and then you will find different friends that are nicer and much more supportive. They are probably just trying to work out if they have any power, just like you. There are differences between you and them that have to do with things you don’t understand yet, like class privilege. It doesn’t feel okay at the time; the rejection is palpable, and what you don’t yet understand is that you fall in love with girls. Their disinterest is more hurt-filled than you, or they, understand, because all the Disney movies show girls falling in love with boys. Try not to let this silence you. Keep being yourself, and don’t change so they like you. They are not going to like you anyway if they don’t want to, and they are not a representative set of how women can be in your life. Further, stand with the people those girls are mean to besides yourself. Those are your allies, and you will remember them until you’re me.

Your dad is going to go away for a little bit and you’re going to have to move house when you’re still quite young, at seven. It is not your fault, even though your words were an integral part of how this came to pass so suddenly. This is for the best, and he is just doing what he needs to do to be happy. He will be an amazing father because he is a happy man. He met his soulmate; she is going to be a wonderful support system for you later, so trust him. He will be back, and he will be a really solid parent for you, as will she. They will mitigate a lot of the damage done to you by others in your childhood life, and set you up with some of the skills you will need to navigate hardship. Through this, and through their examples of survival, you will learn profound resilience.

Your mum getting sick, diagnosed when you’re ten, is going to impact a lot of things in your life. She doesn’t mean to be angry at everything all the time. She can’t really help it. She wasn’t socialized to be able to deal with how angry she is at her circumstances very well, and is very resentful of how, now, she must rely on others to take care of her quite a lot. The betrayal she feels by your dad is going to go on for a long time, because it’s a tangible thing to blame. Try not to take that personally, or feel the need to defend him. It will just turn her anger on you, and that’s not really all that helpful. She sees him in you, and can’t not see him when she’s really mad. She mixes this up with all her anger about her illness, and it just compounds and fills her with vitriol. She has been dealt a hard hand, and can’t help but lash out at the closest people: her children. She can’t handle the injustice of it all, at times. Her body is failing her and she’s livid about it, but that doesn’t mean she gets to treat you badly.

You can leave, and you will. When you are ready.

Speaking of Mum, she is going to betray you.

Be ready, my dear. This is going to shape parts of your character, and be a shadow within your personality for the rest of your life.

This thing that is going to happen is going to shape a lot of how you engage with people, unfortunately. Let it wash over you; she is not the way all women are. Try not to let that betrayal shape your perspective of women in general, because you will have strong, supportive ones in your life much later, and you will love them very deeply, as they will you. Trust them, even though the first one to influence you was not trustworthy, as it turned out. I know it will be hard, because the imprinting that occurred with this betrayal is going to be a mountain to overcome, but you can do it. Women will be some of the greatest loves of your life, so start climbing that mountain. It will be so worth it.

Now, let us talk about your relationships with men.

Your first sexual experience with a male person should have been much, much later than it was. It’s not your fault; he’s a broken human, and he didn’t know not to touch children, for some reason.

Oh honey, I’m so, so sorry.

You need to be tough, and at the first sign that he may touch you, scream and tell someone immediately. He will start with just an escalation of affection, which feels really weird but you’re eleven, so you don’t know how to process it.

Stop him.

It will get worse, and he will keep going, keep touching you, escalate the sexual nature of the contact until you stop him. This is horrifically unfair, because you are eleven and no child should have to learn how to fight a grown man’s sexual advances off of them at that age, but you will have to fight him off. You will have to snap him out of the drunken haze that has allowed him to think this is acceptable. Tell people who are safe, and you will know who is safe deep in your heart, until someone listens and helps you. Don’t listen to your mum this time; don’t let her silence you. She is internalizing the responsibility of his actions, and she’s afraid of him, and what he will do if she tries to get him to leave. She doesn’t know how to get him to leave, or if she would be okay if he left, so she acts out of fear and tries to shove what happened down and away, tries to make it disappear.

She demands of you that same burial. She demands that you forget it happened, and ignore it.

Don’t erase yourself.

Tell your friends’ mums, or your dad and stepmum, or both. Just don’t be quiet. The silence will eat away at your soul worse than the impact of the assault itself. It will erode your personality, change you permanently, though not irreparably, but that will take years. I know; four years of quiet almost kills you until you are not quiet anymore, and you find support and retribution. You are so brave, and that bravery saves your life, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

She does not understand what the silence, the suppression, and the lack of advocation by her, for you, is going to do to you. Years later, she will say so. She will not verbalize any understanding of what happened for you before she dies. Your peace with her will have to be made within yourself, without her.

Yeah, I know. This world is like, really fucked up sometimes.

Go to counselling. Even when you think you feel better, keep going. The days you think to yourself “I think I’m okay today. I wonder what there is to talk about?” will be the best sessions. Those sessions really get into your emotional process, and what you need to be healthy and safe. Keep going.

When your “friend” offers you that bag of drugs in trade for a money loan, think about what you are doing. This decision will evaporate a year of your life, at least, and turn you into someone you don’t recognize. Those particular drugs are the sort that erode a part of you that determines morality. You need that part, so stop using as soon as you can. You will come out of it okay when you’re ready, and you have the strength to overcome this particular bout of addiction, as you will overcome many, but your dad will age about twenty years watching you do this and he really needs that lifetime bandwidth.

When that charming boy you met in a drug-fuelled, or alcohol-fuelled, haze wants you to go to that party with him, or that bar, or his house in that cab, consider your options. Please, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t care enough about you and he will show it time and time again with his actions. Watch him, don’t listen to his words, and believe what you know in your heart to be true about him from watching his actions. He doesn’t see you. You are merely a shade, subtle, in his hero story. This is not good enough.

This particular piece of advice was offered without age or timeline, because it happens so many times, I cannot count them all.

Your dad is amazing. This means you trust men to support you emotionally and take care of you when you are too wrecked to take care of yourself, and they will not meet that bar more than most of the time. Approaching your relationships with men with some skepticism as to their ability to meet you where you are at is very prudent, and you will be alright regardless. You will survive them all, and you will leave them all on your own volition, because you should and you will know when to get out. They aren’t good enough. Whether they become such later is irrelevant, because the damage they are doing to you in their negligence is not worth it.

In fact, This is a key tenet to be mindful of: watch what people do. Don’t listen to what they say all the time. They will tell you stories with their actions, and those are so much truer than the words they say. Watch for the people who do exactly what they say, and keep those close to you.

Have sex with men if you want to, but be sure to check in with yourself and confirm that you actually want to. Do it for you, not because they want you to, or you think they will like you more if you do. They won’t. They’re taking your life-force from you if you’re not into it, and you need that to survive. You could be reliving past trauma by engaging in sexual situations you don’t one hundred percent want to be doing, and that’s hurting you more than you know. You are sensitive, particularly about sexual things, as a result of your history. Stay on top of using protection, and if they have a problem with that, leave. You will get lucky, but there’s no such thing as too cautious. This will fail once, and particularly devastatingly, but again, you are lucky: you live in a country that has legal and safe abortion access. You catch it early, and it is like it never happened.

Your body needs to carry you through your life; treat it with reverence.

It will take you until the time of this letter being written by me, by future you, for you to realize the trauma you have subjected yourself to by having sex with people you aren’t completely into. This will happen over and over again for years. You will have lots of great sex; you will be very into a lot of the people you are intimate with, but there will be as many, if not more people that you’re not. You are a sex-positive person, and this will conflate with your desire, which will lead to a lot of situations that are more “I guess, because I should be into this” than “fuck yes”. “I guess” isn’t consent. The people you were having sex with should have known based on your body language, your intoxication, your hesitancy prior to their coercion, but they went ahead with it anyway. That’s on them, so don’t beat yourself up about this. You are responsible for yourself, but you are also only fifty percent responsible for the interactions you have with others. You are also a conventionally attractive woman, so people are going to chase you. Your boundaries have been historically shaky, so it’s no wonder that sometimes, particularly manipulative and toxic people get in close with you. You get better and better at dealing with this every single day, and I am hopeful that I will continue into the future to get even better.

Here is something very important about that, something that I wish I had known so much sooner than ago:

People getting close to you and your not seeing their negative impact on you until it’s too late is absolutely not your fault.

How other people push you, push your soft spots to see where the weaknesses are, how they covertly cross boundaries in order to get what they want, how they don’t check in, how they take what they can extract from you, how they steamroll over you: that is entirely on them.

People who prioritize egalitarianism, and who care about you, will not do this to you.

You’re not going to find your people until you are in your thirties. Your social nature, the way you easily get close to people and the way you are always growing and changing will lead to you cycling through a lot of social circles through your teens, twenties, and beyond. You will manage to keep a few people for the duration of those years, but most of them will come and go. In your mid-thirties, you will still see some churn, but there will be a core network that challenges you, and nourishes you. The people who are close then will value everything you are, and you won’t have to change or try to muffle any aspect of yourself with them. You will be valued for your headstrong, intense nature and the depth and ease with how you feel. Let that shine, and they’ll be able to see you in the dark. The people who want to take advantage of you will not even try anymore because you will terrify them. They will back away from your fire, as well they should, because you will incinerate them if they get too close. Too often over the course of your life you have been made small and quiet by others, and not only was that an assault on your state of being and your psyche, it was unjust.

You are valuable, and so are your thoughts and feelings.

A thread seems to have emerged, as we both suspected it might. Alongside that of “watch what people do, and see if it lines up with the words they say”, the other is “don’t let people silence you”.

Don’t snuff yourself out your fire. Do not be quiet. Deafen them all with the sound of your voice. Do it to protect yourself and to support people who are struggling in your community.

Be as emphatic as you love, with all of your heart.

Much love to you,

Chelsey

Dating Tips for Men* from a Sex Positive, Queer Woman.

Nice to see you here. Please make yourself comfortable. This is going to be a bit rambling, but also sharp; probably a little pointy and niggling in the parts of you that feel self-important or sure. It is probably going to be helpful, but also a bit cringe-worthy during the moments we both know are complete truth-bombs. I hope there is something in here for everyone, even though I am addressing it mostly to men*. I used the word “dating” in the title of this piece and throughout because that is what is universally understood as engaging with another person with a romantic and/or sexual slant or aspiration injected into the interaction. I typically don’t really like the word because I find it to be loaded full of expectations of some sort of escalation of seriousness after a certain amount of time. I am a huge advocate for casual love, and feel that not all romance or sexual relationship need exhibit continuity to be fulfilling, or meaningful, or downright soul-quaking. But, since I have now explained that, I will use the word “dating” to describe that engagement or interaction of a romantic and/or sexual nature.

I have an actual laundry list of things that have happened in my life that I have learned from when it comes to dating. I am going to offer up some of these understandings, as a gift, so the world can be full of happier, healthier, sexually and emotionally sated people. I have a lot of theories about emotional and sexual depravity and the impact it has on our capitalistic, very comfortable North American existence. Suffice it to say that I think if a lot more people were sexually and emotionally fulfilled and free, they might not be such assholes to one another.

I will start by telling you a little about myself as your “consultant”.

I am in my mid-thirties. I identify as queer, bisexual/pansexual, cis female/femme, sex positive and non-monogamous. I am coming at this as a person who is literally down to hang out with, and maybe consensually try to sex at, any human anywhere on the gender spectrum, just because it might be fun, provided they meet some (of what I consider to be) light requirements. I am in several relationships of varying length and seriousness, all over the romantic/sexual/neither spectrum. My friendships and my romantic partnerships have equal significance potential for me. I think and talk about this a lot, to the chagrin (I suspect) of some people; I identify as something of a love nerd. I think about my politics and how I inject them into my interpersonal relationships. I am not a dating/relationship expert; this is an opinion piece. Expert status is for people who have done their homework; I have done some homework, but not all of it.

Homework is lifelong.

I’m white; I have a lot of privilege because of this despite being female and queer. I try to think about that and be inclusive, and am actively attempting to learn how to be better every single day.

Now, a little bit of information about you (or what I assume about anyone reading this).

You are most likely here and reading because you saw the title of the essay and thought to yourself, “you know, I would totally like to date a sex positive queer woman. That seems like a pretty good idea”. Or maybe you were like, “actually, I think a sex positive queer woman would have a thing or two to tell me about what dating people is about, and how to do it without being a jerk”. Further, you might also be reading this out of spite: “what the fuck could a sex positive queer woman possibly have to say that speaks to my already extensive knowledge of people and how to date them. I am, after all, a totally hot commodity so like, I bet I could teach her a thing or two”.

If the latter is you, I’m so sorry to hear of your complete lack of self awareness, or alternatively your closed mind. There are a metric ton of great therapists in this city and probably also in yours.

Go see one.

Seriously, go to a therapist. Get your shit together.

To the rest of you: If you’d be so kind as to actually listen to me. I’m speaking from a place of ample experience attempting to date people just like you, or just not like you and like someone completely different, and everything in between. I have come to some conclusions about what might help you be more “successful”. That being said, I am going to define “successful” in this instance as “not having treated someone like shit, or been a shithead to someone”. This can also be defined as leaving people better off than when you found them.

I don’t support anyone being a shithead, or taking away from people for personal gain. To quote a dear friend in a particularly thorough outline of how to love more than one person at a time, “Don’t treat people like things”.

I am going to write this in reference to the phases a typical dating scenario goes, and what I think about it.

To start, we meet.

Oh hey; we’ve now met and you’ve established that you think I’m attractive. Thank you, I appreciate that, but not in the ways that you might think.

This first contact is not the be all, end all to your interaction with me. Stop with the “first impressions mean everything” trope. It’s old, and I am not an idiot. I know you’re a dynamic, multifaceted person that cannot be summed up in the first 5 minutes. In fact, I suspect that whatever I am first impressed with about you is more about me and my interpretations of people than about you. So, let this go and do not worry. I hope you’ll be able to do the same. Any assumptions you’ve made about me based on what you have seen in the first five minutes are probably more about you than they are about me.

Once mutual attraction has been realized, usually through clearly confirming with your words (use your words; they’re magical tools when used clearly), we can talk about what sort of interaction is mutually desired, or what we want to do together.

This is actually where things can crossroad to positive or negative. This is the turning point.

Right here.

Telling me that you think I’m hot/cute/pretty/whatever way you want to compliment my physicality isn’t going to help you out of the gate. In fact, any kind of basic flattery is going to provoke me to think that that is what you think is important about me, which is not what I think at all. I am also a dynamic, multifaceted person that cannot be summed up based on my physical presentation. Further, I have medium self-esteem issues, which I think is pretty common but not talked about enough as a systemic problem with the ways that femme-presenting women are viewed. Your compliments are going to fall a bit flat and I will, in some weird way, think you’re lying in the back of my mind.

This will put me on guard.

It gives me the impression that you want something from me, and don’t know how to ask for it, so you’re going to try to get me to like you by flattering me. Stop trying to manipulate the outcome of our interactions and just interact with me. Be yourself.

Oh my goodness, just please be yourself.

It’s 2017. Women are woke, and we see you. We see your attempts to cloud our perception. We see right through any sort of mask you are wearing. We hear our inner voices, and they’re telling us you’re putting it on. If I think you’re being at all disingenuous, we’re not going to get anywhere. Guardedness does not foster trust the way that vulnerability and authenticity does. We have learned through years of our own experiences, and those of our mothers, those of our grandmothers. Their experiences are imbedded in our genes, much like our own will be imbedded in those of our daughters. The voice in our gut telling us something isn’t safe is bang on every time.

Every. Fucking. Time.

We’re not talking ourselves out of our intuition anymore. That time has past.

I feel, sometimes, the impulse to apologize for that passing, but I will not. I am grateful for it. I’m glad that I get to be a part of a revolution in which women are using the tools we’ve been socialized to have for our own greater good, our own personal wellbeing. The benefit to us is hugely redeeming in light of what has been historically true: we needed these skills to mitigate the harm done to us. We needed to do this in covert, in shadows, subtly. We used to be emotional ninjas; now we are loud. We respond quickly to our own alarm systems.

We are battle-crying warriors.

I will not be sorry for my strength and learning how to wield it.

Now, since this is likely to happen, I’ll outline what is to be expected if I decide that this thing we’re doing together isn’t working for me.

The inevitability factor isn’t because I don’t think you’re a perfectly lovely person, or something, but more because the end of a relationship is certain unless we stay connected until one or both of us dies, and that just simply isn’t that likely. The other thing that is relatively unlikely is your coming to the conclusion that you’re not interested in seeing me anymore and doing something about it directly before I do.

I mean, if I had data to support this as more likely, I’d reflect that here.

But I don’t. You’ll probably ghost if anything, and I don’t judge you for that. It’s fine.

Because I might even ghost too, if I’m too tired to do anything else.

If you think the reason i am not continuing to be interested in seeing you is because of the thing I told you about, you’re right. I probably said something a while ago, maybe even twice, and didn’t get a response or attention paid to the thing that gave me reassurance that you care about my wellbeing within your treatment of me. So the thing that changed my mind and caused me to withdraw could have been tiny, but only because that was the straw. The rest of the things were subtle, ongoing, and didn’t seem worth mentioning until there were too many and i was done. Sometimes straws are a lack of gratitude, or not asking me a thing that shows interest in my lived experience, or some offhand comment like “i wish those women had come forward sooner” that shows me something about you, and your lack of thought process about people’s experiences besides your own lived one, and especially your perspective on those with less privilege than yours.

That is a sticking point for me.

The privilege one.

Because herein lies the final thing for this particular document.

You probably don’t see me.

You probably see someone who is nice (they say), conventionally attractive (I’m told), and have no actual idea who I am because you haven’t asked.

Ask. Be willing to learn about me. Look at me, witness, integrate what you see and understand, ask more questions, be willing to rewrite your narratives.

See me. I am dynamic. I change.

Keep up.

This, alongside some basic self-maintenance: having seen the inside of a counsellor’s office because you care about your mental health.

I need you to be thinking about what you say, why you’re about to say it, before you say it. Self-awareness is hot.

Being curious and open to learn, is all I actually need. I will probably never want to stop knowing you, or talking to you, if you can meet me with these few requirements.

The sexiest thing is a sense of responsibility for yourself in an encounter with me.

That is total panty-remover, as it were, if a sexual situation is mutually sought. Love potion, if the romantic is our reciprocal cup of tea.

Flowers are boring and probably unethically sourced, anyway.

*When I use the term “men” in this context, I am referring to people socialized as men, and are still wading through the weight and complications of what that means.

An Open Letter to My Next New Sex Partner.

Dearest Future Lover,

I do not know if we have met yet. You could be a total stranger. Maybe I walked by you in the street a couple of times before eventually smiling and stopping to chat briefly. Maybe I met you on the internet, using some sort of dating website, and have read your whole profile and combed through all the questions you answered to glean some sense of you who you are. Maybe you paid for my coffee because you were in line before me and wanted to do something little to get my attention. Maybe you were listening to something I recognized because your headphones were cranked up so loud I could hear it while sitting next to you on public transit, so I asked you what else you like to listen to. Maybe we both got stuck at an intersection with our bikes as traffic got redirected, and started talking. Maybe you are completely unknown to me currently.

You could be a friend. We perhaps have known each other for some time and there’s always been a bit of flirting or sexual tension between us, but we think our friendship is more important than attempting to be sexual, so we waited a while, joking around sometimes about how funny it would be if we hooked up, all the while each of us wondering what the other look like naked. Or maybe it is more deliberate than that, and when we became friends it was because we made out once and it was okay but we decided not to pursue it for some reason, until we did. You could be someone I have already been spending some time with in that sort of way that suggests that one day, we might kiss or something. You could be a person who is in my social network, and that I know will simply enjoys casual sex, as I do, so after a while of circling each other a bit socially, we decide to give it a shot. You could be a close friend to me, historically platonic, but then something shifts.

You could be working right now, in which case you should probably read this later, because it may distract you. You could be at the park with your dog. You could be playing video games, curled up on your couch in pyjamas. You could be at the airport eating a sandwich while waiting on your flight that has been delayed. You could be just getting to the good part in a book that has been dragging for a little while, but you must finish it because books are supposed to be read completely. You could be sitting at a coffee shop listening to a podcast over an espresso. You could be driving.

Please don’t read this while driving.

Your gender is not certain. Your physical appearance is a mystery. Your intent is not yet known. That being said, I would like to tell you a few things, and ask for some as well. I hope you are okay with hearing this, and that it is welcome information. The ease with which you read this may be indicative of whether we are well suited for each other. Or maybe it will be extremely hard to read, but that doesn’t bother you because you like challenges and doing the hard things, like I do. If it doesn’t make me a bit uncomfortable, or teach me a little lesson about myself or the world or you, or spark some reflection or some introspection, it won’t have my attention for long, if history is to tell us anything.

If you are reading this, we have decided to do some sort of sex thing with each other.

Sex is so subjective. I see it as any act that the individual considers sexual. Yes, I know: it’s a really broad definition. That is intentional. Sex can be a solo act, or an act with another person, or multiple other people, if it’s been consented to.

Consent is a big deal.

Trying to sex at another person without their consent is, categorically, rape.

Every single time.

Which brings me to my first request of you, new lover. I know this is probably implied, but I can’t help but put it to words anyway, for clarity and so later, if there is a misunderstanding, we can start with this as a basic Hard Rule.

Do not rape me.

If we can manage to get through this and the rest of our sexual interactions without a rape occurrence, I’m sure we will be able to sort out any other misunderstandings or miscommunications. I know it seems a bit excessively overt to put in such stark terms. Forgive me for starting at the very bottom and placing solid, blatant foundations of this metaphorical house I would like to build with you. This piece of the structure has been overlooked too many times for me to skip it, assuming we both know. If we are not so explicit, the chances of violations occurring grow.

It is not personal.

Which brings me to my next request.

Please, if you can try not to take this personally. Sexual interaction is very personal; that is not being overlooked here. By personally, I mean that if I’m being a way, remember that it’s not about you necessarily.

The curve is getting steeper, I know.

I have been having sex with people for years. There have been a lot of good moments and a lot of bad ones. Many moments of fear, and some joyful ones as well. I have felt embarrassed, appreciated, bored, inspired, depressed, ecstatic, disappointed, satisfied, anxious, relieved, grief, elation, underwhelmed, overwhelmed, empty, full, restrained, autonomous, and every other high or low. I have laughed until my abs hurt and there are tears in the corners of my eyes. I have cried a lot. I have laid there, dissociated, wishing it was over, and also wanted it to go on forever. All these things occurred before I met you, and before I started to think about sex with you. I assure you, the things that have happened to me and how I am now because of those experiences combined with who I am as a person and my character are why I am behaving the way that I do. The ways I respond to you and your desires or the thing you’re into have nothing to do with you as a person, or your character. I showed up with like, thirty-four years of baggage to this sexual exploration party, and I am asking you to rummage through the suitcases with me. I’ll show you mine; I hope you will show me yours?

Which brings me to my subsequent ask.

This is a big one.

It is big for me personally, and it is huge for most people who are socialized as women. We are sometimes, a lot of times, fed lines about how whatever we need emotionally and communicatively is too much, unreasonable, overbearing, or high maintenance practically as soon as we can understand language. We hesitate to “burden” people with our processes because oftentimes, we are met with an eye roll, a glazed look or a dismissive gesture. I have experienced this so many times, named it, and now recognize it starting so sharply that I recoil. If I am going to engage the person once I’ve seen it, there takes a very special combination of rest, a good mood, maybe a full stomach, hydration, and perhaps also the right time of the month for me to feel compelled to confront in the moment of occurrence. That is to say, the stars have to align and I have to be up for the task, because if every there was a thing I am activated by, it is this.

I usually don’t.

I retreat. I withdraw into myself and quietly ghost away from the person’s rejection, sometimes so smoothly that no one notices my exit. I retreat from conversations, from parties, from emotional space, from the lives of some, even, if it is extreme.

So, this big ask really has to do with my emotional wellbeing alongside my sanity; my continued presence is hinging upon your accordance.

Do not gaslight me.

We are probably going to miscommunicate. That is totally okay, and I encourage you to ask me questions about what I meant. That way, we can talk about it and figure out what we both want, and how those wants overlap and can be met. Ask me about what I’m thinking and feeling, please. I will try my best to also ask lots of questions to make sure that the things I perceive line up as close as possible with the things you intend. That being said, sometimes we’re going to read a thing completely differently. We may even not be able to agree on what happened.

That’s okay.

No, really.

I’m begging you, please, allow me to have my experience that is different from yours. Both of our experiences can coexist. No one has to be wrong. We can accept that one person saw the thing a way, and the other one saw the thing another way, and we can talk our way past that, and learn more about each other in the process.

It will build rapport and trust.

It will be amazing.

We will both open to each other and be able to see each other’s imperfect perfectness; the cracks in the pavement we have been padding along, barefoot, and stepping carefully around. The curled edges of our story book pages that are fingerprinted and torn a little from thumbing too quickly to get to the next chapter. The pieces of ourselves that we have haphazardly glued back together after smashing; a beautiful, uniquely shaped and coloured glass that slipped out of our hands as we were making an attempt at washing it; so slippery, but really we just didn’t have a good grip on it.

I have smashed so much of myself to pieces and glued me back together.

I want to be gentle with the parts of me that are still drying after some ongoing repairs. I hope to be kind if you have some pieces that are still waiting to set, too.

I hope we can reciprocate that.

Thank you for your consideration.

On Bi Clarity.

“Cradling the softest, warmest part of you in my hands.”

Invoked in me are teenage feelings, almost a manic kind of emotional state where everything is just raw, unabashed, and new. Ani Difranco, particularly the older albums, has that effect on me. I listened exclusively to her for years in high school before i moved on to darker, harder things. She spoke to me with her poetry, her gender identity, her sexuality. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings at that time, they were so all-encompassing. I knew I liked women. I knew it in my heart of hearts and I didn’t know if it was okay. It was much easier to like boys. It was expected to like boys. But when I stopped trying to ignore that I also liked girls, I was stunned and pacified. And then I would turn around and notice that yes, I still liked boys. It made sitting in a room full of people I could be attracted to very overwhelming; once that perception settles in, it’s hard to turn away. That was before the binary of gender dissolved in my brain.

The opening to “hat shaped hat” is drums starting faint, and gradually increasing until your mind is swimming in them and they are all that can be heard: deafening drums. This represents for me the feeling of discovering attraction. It is faint, and builds until it is all that can be felt.

I am a walking, talking, gesturing nerve-ending.

“The problem of heaven is solved.”

I told my mother once.

When I said I was bisexual out loud and it mattered, I was almost done with teenaged years. I am sure I had said it before then. I had thought about it enough to have surely spoken the words, had I not? Could I have made it that far, in the circles I spent time in, without the words passing my lips out into the world? I suppose it is possible.

When I was eighteen, I was working for a massage place: the kind that gives happy endings that no one really talks about but everyone jokes about. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and an easy way to make money. My politics around sex work were as they are now: reduce the harm.

I was laying, sprawled out and staring at the ceiling, on the floor in the living room of the apartment we were working out of. The carpets were soft and beige, like the walls. My boss hadn’t bothered with wall hangings, or much furniture, hence why I was lounging on the carpet; there were a lot of plants around, vines and ferns in larger pots, and a few orchids on counters where the kitchen met the living room. I said to her, over the phone, “I don’t think I’m straight, Mom. I don’t think I’m gay, either,” and she spit words back at me like bullets. “That is ridiculous; I didn’t raise you that way.” I told her I had to go, and hung up. I laid there on the floor a few feet from the glass door to the balcony, looking out into the sky. I was numb. The balcony was small but I had a clear view through the bars of the railing, like a cage I had not escaped from with that phone call. I felt beige like the soft carpet under my shoulder blades and the walls around me. There were the green leaves and blue skies to break the monotony of that moment and that room. My thoughts dwelled on whether I had done the right thing in saying something to her for a moment, and passed quickly. She had never been a source of solace for me, or a protector, and to think I was going to get any positive response from her about anything that I felt was important had been a grave oversight. Silly, I thought to myself, to hope.

I didn’t speak to my mother again for months, but I did go back underground. I hadn’t even kissed a girl at that point.

I stayed in the proverbial closet, buried, for over a decade.

“There’s no escape, there’s no excuse. Just suck up and be nice.”

When I was going to hairdressing school, and maybe nineteen, one of the girls I went to school with took me home to her husband, and fed me wine until I willingly put my mouth on her clit while he took it upon himself to fuck me. I don’t consider that to be my first time. I think of it as something someone else did, some other person who was so drunk she didn’t even know what it meant.

“but for the purposes of this song, let’s just say I’m doing fine.”

The first time was when I was twenty nine and yet another woman brought me home to a man, but this time I was falling in love with her.

“You are zesty! Faboo,” she said to me in that first message through an online dating platform. She wrote me long letters over email before we even met; our dialogue just got longer and more elaborate. We met for breakfast at a small cafe that is notoriously without queues on the weekends, and I still think of her every time I go there. I didn’t know what to expect from him at all. I had asked nothing. I just assumed he was attractive because I thought she was breathtaking. Sevens go with sevens, nines go with nines, don’t they say? I walked in and she lit up with a smile, leaping out of her seat and pulling out a chair for me. They had brought me flowers. He sat with one ankle over the opposite knee, leaning back casually. His glasses made him look so intelligent. He was a stockier build with dark hair and eyes, just the right kind of goatee. She beamed at me as I looked at him and smiled. She thought I was so brave to just trust that he was safe, because I trusted she was safe, and to not even ask to see a photo of him. I trusted her with everything after that first message, if I’m being honest.

Sometimes you just know.

“I’ve got the memory, your warm skin in my hands.”

We had a really lovely meal, and talked about everything from books to politics to non-monogamy, to what it was they wanted and what I wanted. He had an event to go to, so she and I went for a walk and settled into big comfortable seats at a coffee shop. We talked incessantly for another two hours. I couldn’t get enough of watching her mouth form words, her lips shaping vowels and the corners turning up and a slight dimple when she cringed, smiled or laughed. She had tucked herself cozily into the larger-than-necessary cafe chair with her feet underneath her, thumbs were skirting the edge of her cup. I memorized it all.

When we parted ways, she drove me to the train station, and we agreed I would go to their home at the outskirts of the city for an overnight in a couple of weeks. I was dying. Fourteen days were not ever going to pass.

“This is only a possibility in a world of possibilities.”

I borrowed my dad’s car and drove the couple of hours journey. The space they occupied was beautifully decorated with art he had done himself: paintings and sculptures peppered the living quarters and gave it a very grown up feeling. I felt like a teenager who had yet to get her shit together enough for this; I was in completely over my head, but I was giving it a shot anyway.

We ate snack things for dinner, which was to become a bit of a tradition. Those big green olives I love, fancy and strong cheeses, hummus, rice crackers, paté, red pepper marmalade, that sort of thing, all arranged beautifully on a platter. We drank gin and tonics (she had asked me what my favourite drink was and purchased the ingredients specially) and talked about relationships and love, their past exploits and mine. I did not share a bed with them that first night. I stayed in their guest room, a kiss stolen from me lightly (i had wanted her to, to be clear) before we went to our separate sleeping quarters. Her hand lightly traced my jaw and eyebrows as she softly put her lips to mine. My fingers instinctually went to the edges of her hairline at the back of her neck. I barely slept that night for the charge of excitement I felt.

“are you ready now. are you gonna glow in the dark.”

Communication continued as a few more weeks passed before we met again. They came into the city having rented a hotel room for the occasion; we went to a beautiful restaurant with middle eastern tapas, our eyes lit up with the excitement of what would come. She sat close to me and would touch me in subtle ways while I chatted away with him about growing up in this city and punk culture in the late 90’s. I felt her watch me as I spoke, quaking slightly under her gaze. It wasn’t unwelcome, of course: I was completely craving her attention. I could feel her eyes and it made me want to reach over and put an arm around her, or let my fingers rest on her knee, or some other slight gesture of “I know you’re right there”.

We retired to the room early. I was so nervous. I remember not knowing what to do or say, what to do with my hands besides fidget, whether to take off my clothes, when. I diverted for a few minutes by taking a shower when we got back to the room. I spent that time in the steamy heat trying to gather some gumption. All the initiative I needed to take was walking out of the bathroom in a towel.

It was enough.

I have hazy recollection now of how the sheets felt. How skin and touching, feeling weight on me, inside of me, felt. I remember dizzying orgasms and heart-stopping moments of intimacy. I remember the colours flecked in her irises.

“there was always the possibility of something becoming what it is.”

I remember the day after as a strange exercise in trying not to run into furniture, snapping out of preoccupation and pinching myself to check if I was awake. She said to me, in a slightly maternal way, that threesomes were particularly draining, and to be sure to be nice to myself for a couple of days. I was fuzzy-headed and blissed out for a week at least. My retention of conversation slowed to a crawl. I daydreamed more. I got very little in the way of work done.

He and I had an easy friendship. We seemed to emote the same, which meant we were able to talk with little inhibition. Quickly, he seemed to misunderstand how exactly to fit into my life. I thought that was strange. We were intimate friends, no? Wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t that actually really perfect, considering the potential for complication in the dynamic? Two is hard. Three is nearly never going to be equitable. I thought this was the best anyone could do.

“so wipe that smile off your face, baby, and try to be cool.”

I had other lovers at the time, one with which there was psychological damage to be repaired when I came out the other side, or escaped, even. She steadily watched me persevere through that, and the fallout. When I think of her custodial watching over the train wreck I found myself in, I think of her sitting next to me on her couch, legs crossed, back against the soft microfibre and very straight, shoulders back. One hand is below and the other is above mine, enclosing it. I think of her calm, steady eyes on me, and the love that they are filled with as she watches me in a state of anguish, tearfully not understanding what I was doing or being at the time. She didn’t speak much in those moments, she just sat with me and held my hand, sometimes my heart, as I wept or questioned, raged at the injustice or laid still with my head on her knee and her fingers on the slope of my neck. Periodically she would reach up with light fingers and brush my hair away from my eyes, or wipe a tear away with a tissue. She sat with me as I clutched my abdomen where the baby used to be that was put inside me, that I had surgically removed as if it were some kind of parasite.

“i’m cradling the hardest, heaviest part of me in my hand.”

Things between the three of us continued in a few different contexts for a few months before they started to become unsteady.

She and I were in a constant dialogue. The beauty of technology these days is that one can be in one ongoing conversation with someone that continues on for days unless their phone dies or some other impossible thing. The strings of text messages went on for ages. We talked about everything, and a lot of that time it settled on her relationship struggles.

The web was spinning.

“i guess that push has come to this, so i guess this must be shove.”

Before too long, she sent me a flurry of texts expressing sadness and frustration, and asking for my patience while they closed down their relationship to outside parties, so they could get their house in order. I, of course, supported their decision; they could not pursue outside relationships while their foundation was crumbling. Do what you need, love.

After a couple of months, she and I resumed spending time together as friends. We went out for New Year’s together, stayed in a hotel, had a lovely night. That time it was short lived.

Off again we went as her primary relationship imploded, leaving the wreckage of dishonesty, distrust and mismatched ideals.

“life is just a boring chore, and I’m living proof.”

I have space in my heart for a lot of people. She took up residence in there, and remains to this day. She will always be the first woman I really fell in love with, and I will always love her because of that, as well as because of who she is. There have been a few iterations of our relationship over the years: friends, lovers, barely speaking, back to friends. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have as my first.

There was a cementing for me that occurred around my sexuality with that relationship. I proved a lot of things to myself with her. It all became real. In the face of bi-erasure within my family, myself, as well as on the greater scale of society, I self-actualized as queer and as bisexual, or pansexual. I didn’t use the term “queer” for a long time because I thought that since I could hide, I didn’t get to use the word. I present as quite femme, which means that I’m not seen for that most of the time. I have privilege in that I can blend in, if I like. I don’t want to blend in, usually, and think it is actually pretty important that I try to not, because blending in is an easy out. I am grateful for the people I have particularly close to me who do see me and know that part of me.

“outside the glass the whole world is magnified, and it’s half an inch from here to the other side.”

My mother didn’t live past my 20th year, so she never knew, really.

Ani Difranco songs mentioned: Swan Dive, Hat-Shaped Hat, Pixie, Deep Dish, Angel Food, Glass House.