Protecting Against STIs: Barrier Method

Updates today include: updated information based on new research/resources, adding information about dental dams, and changing terms for condoms to the inclusive “external” and “internal” condoms. updated March 7, 2018.

 

Person stuff: I want to say thanks again to everyone who donated to help me fund my visit with my kids and to those who sent prayers/good wishes/thoughts our way. A very great time was had by all, including visiting family, hiking trips, museum trips, and catching a carnival.
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Okay, back to our regular programming.

As I mentioned in my last post, the well-known refrain in STI prevention is ‘barrier method’. Barrier method usually means a condom (external or internal), which prevents direct contact between the genitals. For all their problems, condoms are the only effective method for actually stopping several STIs jumping from one person to another. What many people do not realize is that a cervical cap can also be an effective barrier method against certain STIs. Every other method for preventing STIs is basically about making sure no one you are having sex with has currently-infectious STIs. (Exception: PrEP, which is specific to HIV/AIDS and will be covered in another post.)

CONDOMS

Condoms do not protect against all STIs. They do not protect 100% against the STIs they are effective against. However, they are probably the best thing going. External condoms and internal condoms offer different levels of protection against different STIs. The protection offered by external condoms has been more thoroughly studied, so consider the information on internal condoms incomplete pending further research.

External Condoms

External condoms (commonly called ‘male condoms’ or just ‘condoms’) are usually made of latex, though there are non-latex varieties for people with latex allergies. They go on over the penis and trap semen. They also prevent direct contact between the penis or sex toy and the vagina, anus or mouth during intercourse. (Yes, condoms can be used during oral sex as well if there is any chance one of you has an STI. They can also be used on shared sex toys to prevent STI transfer.) Here is a decent step-by-step guide to putting on an external condom.

External condoms provide protection against STIs transmitted through genital fluids, including:

  • HIV
  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhea
  • trichomoniasis
  • HPV

Depending on where the infection is, external condoms may provide protection against:

  • genital herpes
  • syphilis
  • chancroid

The CDC has the following advice for using external condoms:

  • Use a new condom with each sex act (i.e., oral, vaginal, and anal).
  • Carefully handle the condom to avoid damaging it with fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  • Put the condom on after the penis is erect and before any genital, oral, or anal contact with the partner.
  • Use only water-based lubricants (e.g., K-Y Jelly, Astroglide, AquaLube, and glycerin) with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants (e.g., petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil) can weaken latex and should not be used.
  • Ensure adequate lubrication during vaginal and anal sex, which might require the use of exogenous water-based lubricants.
  • To prevent the condom from slipping off, hold the condom firmly against the base of the penis (or sex toy) during withdrawal, and withdraw while the penis is still erect.

Note – natural condoms (those made from natural membranes) are not effective in preventing STIs).

Internal Condoms

Internal condoms (commonly knows as “female condoms”) are made of nitrile and are inserted into the vagina or anus. A ring at the base of the condom is intended to it in place by the cervix. When using internal condoms for anal sex, care needs to taken to keep the condom in place. internal condoms flare at the top, covering part or all of the labia/butt. The best guide I’ve been able to find to using internal condoms is here. If you know of a better one, please let me know. Internal condoms should be used in the same circumstances as external condoms, but internal and external condoms should never be used together – the friction will cause one or both to break.

All the research I have found on internal condoms has been on vaginal use. They are probably just as effective for anal use, but we don’t know for sure.

Current research suggests that internal condoms offer protection against the same STIs that external condoms do. Research into how effective they are is ongoing.

Internal condoms cover a wider area than external condoms, and so may provide better protection against:

  • genital herpes
  • syphilis
  • chancroid

Except for the bit about removing the condom, the guidelines from the CDC above apply equally to internal condoms.

CERVICAL DIAPHRAGMS

Cervical diaphragms are caps that are placed over the cervix, so that semen cannot enter the uterus. Unlike condoms, cervical diaphragms are reusable and can last up to two years. Most information sources will say the diaphragms do not protect against STIs. This is debatable. Diaphragms definitely do not protect against the STIs that most often discussed. Diaphragms MAY protect against some STIs. (Sources: 1, 2, 3) A cervical diaphragm, as the name suggests, can ONLY be used for vaginal intercourse.

Cervical diaphragms may provide some protection against:

  • cervical gonorrhea
  • chlamydia
  • trichomoniasis

Diaphragms may be confused with cervical caps. Cervical caps are smaller than diaphragms, and do not provide protection against STIs.

It is worth noting that diaphragms definitely do NOT provide protection against HIV.

Dental Dams

Dental dams are squares of polyurethane or latex that are placed over the vulva or anus prior to oral sex. Use of a dental dam protects against STIs that can be transmitted through oral sex, including

  • herpes
  • genital warts
  • HIV

Dental dams should only be used once. If you don’t have or don’t have access to dental dams, you can make one out a latex external condom. DO NOT make a dental dam out of a non-latex condom, including all internal condoms, which are made of nitrile. (Saliva is a digestive fluid, it requires different types of barriers than genital fluids.) The CDC has a guide for making a dental dam out of an external condom.

Do you use a barrier method for STI protection? Please leave a comment on how your polycule uses barrier methods and your thoughts/feelings.

More on Polyamory, Safe Sex, and STIs

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Downgrading Polyamory on Purpose to “Hobby”

Hey folks, for the last two years I tried to treat Polyamory on Purpose as a part time job. I put in ~10 hours a week between blog, books, and Patreon, set deadlines, expanded and added, and last fall pushed myself into burn out. At the time I blamed the burn out on new baby and did my best to keep plugging away.

But I’ve decided it’s time to stop and go back to letting Polyamory on Purpose be a hobby. I’m not getting books out fast enough for them to be a significant income source, and while the Patreon is bringing in money, it’s not bringing in enough to cover the time I put in. And I’m still not fully recovered from the burn out.

What this means for you:

I’m going to keep posting twice a week, but I’m not going push myself back to three posts a week, and Michon will be posting when zi has the time and energy, but not every Tuesday. Updates to “How NOT to Save the World” will also continue every other Friday, though I may need to skip some weeks depending on life and shit.

I’m going to go back to trying for one book a year, so Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous will be out in November, just like The Polyamorous Home was. I’ll start the next book, probably still Polyamory and Kink, in November instead of overlapping them.

I won’t be adding additional content to the Resource Library and I’ll probably be letting the newsletter officially lapse (it’s been unofficially dead for a while anyway).

And I’m not going to be linking to Patreon at the bottom of blog posts any more, though I will probably leave the Tip Jar and Patreon link in the side bar in case folks to buy me a cuppa.

So, that’s it, that’s where I’m at. Many thanks to everyone who has supported and encouraged me the past two years and I hope you’ll all continue to read and value my thoughts here.

What Do You Owe Yourself?

This post is going to be a lot more personal and a lot less practical than most here, but I hope folks will find it meaningful.

There is a strong push towards individualism in the polyam community today. And long time readers may have noticed that this push doesn’t always sit well with me. I am a very communal person, especially for a white-privileged American.  Helping and supporting my community is important to me. Which is one of the reasons my nesting partner and I practice tzedakah.

Tzedakah is the Jewish mitzvah or duty to give back to our community. It’s usually translated as charity, but the implications and connotations of charity are all wrong. Yes tzedakah usually involved giving money. That’s all it has in common with what most people mean when they say charity. We give tzedakah not because other people need it (though they do) but because we owe it to ourselves to take care of our community and the people in our community.

So what does this have to do with polyamory?

Last week I wrote about the power of cash and the impact of money privilege on relationships. And I said that we don’t owe our partners money. And I stand by that.

But I also believe we owe it to ourselves to take care of our communities. Which is why a percentage of our household income each month goes to friends and polyam partners in need, to non-profit organizations that make the world a better place, to random calls for help on the internet.

Obviously, not everyone shares this philosophy. But if you haven’t yet–maybe ask yourself sometime what you owe yourself in terms of taking care of the people you love and the community you belong to. Whether you come up with a similar answer to mine or a very different one, it’s worth thinking about.

 

(I couldn’t manage a Father’s Day post this year, but wishing the best to all the dad’s out there.)

Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous, Blog Hiatus, and Personal Stuff

I keep saying I’m going to start posting snippets from Safer Sex on my Patreon page. Time to finally get my shit together and do it. For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing sections from Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous 3 times a week. These will be Patron only posts and the snippets won’t be final drafts. So expect typos and such, but they’ve been through first round edits so the general content shouldn’t change much between now and publishing.
I am, as usually, running behind schedule. But if I can keep on my current pace I can be ready to send the manuscript out my sensitivity editor in June, for an early August publication. So I’m not yet at my goal of a book every 6 months, but I’m getting closer.
Re: the blog.
As predicted, custody shit has stirred up all my mental illnesses, so posting went to hell. Rather than scramble to catch up, I’ll be writing/editing posts as I can and holding them to build back the buffer I lost a couple month ago. Once I have a two week buffer again I’ll resume posting on the website.
And since I mentioned custody shit–let me just say that it is going far better (and fast) than I expected. Court in is two weeks, so fingers crossed!

The Polya Bystander: I Just Want to Be Left Alone

Updated version of the article first appearing on Postmodern Woman.

If there’s one thing that helps keep polya people from experiencing discrimination like other minorities, it’s that there’s often some sense of privacy.

For many people, they can practice their non-monogamy in relative peace. They can simply spend less time with any possible family that disapproves. They can’t be picked easily out of a crowd. And even when others discover they have multiple partners, most might simply assume it’s cheating but it’s not like they kill people over it.

Well, only so long as you aren’t already in an oppressed group or surrounded by a culture that closely monitors your sexuality. Polya people like to emphasize that’s it’s not all about the sex but we live on a world in which any sort of intimacy is likely to be sexualized. The vast majority of the world is romantic and sexual in some sense and it’s already difficult enough to understand aromanticism and asexuality.

That doesn’t even begin to cover all of the dynamics that serve to leave the world an extremely unfair place due to the ways we all rank on that arbitrary scale of normality.

In other words, it’s very easy to say you just want to be left alone, and for the most part actually be left alone, the closer to normal you fall. If you already fit into the dominant group and the only not-normal thing about you is that you have more than one sexual or romantic partner without lying or coercing anyone, then you can truly choose whether to be out or not.

There are some who choose to be out. But the only topic they can speak on is their polyamory or other form of non-monogamy. For the most part, they systems of control by normality remain in place. You can see this is in the evolution of the white polyamory movement in the last few decades, where it was (and still is) considered acceptable to exert couple privilege or other forms of hierarchy and controls by default.

Even today, the polya community is overwhelming full of white and well-off voices. There was also that article posted years ago lamenting the lack of diverse voices in what was originally a very queer and colored community (and which does exist, just not within “mainstream spaces”).  The fact that they keep writing stuff like that despite the work myself and others have been doing speaks volumes. I have noticed that many of the online groups, mostly run by white people, are asking about how they can make it a more welcoming space for people of color.

But this question is a red herring. Because the polya community in general – according to many personal stories, and the need for the formation of groups like Intersectional Non-Monogamy and The Creep Shame Hall of Fame – isn’t very welcoming to anyone but straight white men, it seems.

Many women or those who are perceived as female report and complain of creepy guys cruising the polya scene. Anyone can take on the polya label, and without a critical examination or process for ensuring some actual degree of ethical behavior, pretty much everyone is taking a huge risk.

This doesn’t even begin to include further marginalized groups like queer people, intersex people, atheists, and others.

There’s this deep divide between what people think ethical non-monogamy is and what it comes to look like in practice. They may put in the effort to treat their partners well but why should they care about anyone or anything else?

At times, the desire for privacy or for a world away from the world results in the reaction to my experience in an open relationship group over a year ago, where I am told to be quiet because my experience wasn’t “relevant” or was “too political”. Where people wanted to get back to talking about how awesome their polya experience was instead of addressing – or even acknowledging – the discomfort of people like me.

When the desire for privacy and freedom outweighs building a healthier culture or acknowledging the flaws in a system (especially what’s supposed to be a more ethical one), it simply ends up being another way the rest of us are locked out and silenced. In the end, it continues to perpetuate the larger abuse culture and its ills.

It is only recently – some of it from myself and a few others posting about certain issues and some of it from the changing world climate in general – that polya people are starting to realize that maybe it’s not so easy to keep polya a private matter, at least for other people.

Here in the U.S. people are behaving irrationally, spreading hatred, and generally making it an uncomfortable and unsafe place to live for anyone they don’t trust. There are comparisons to Nazi Germany. While I really cannot speak on whether it is or not, there are parallels and Nazis totally learned it from watching us. It is true that witch hunts are explosive and addictive.

There’s that saying that a person didn’t speak up until there were no more groups of people between them and annihilation. It is still true and valid today. You may think that your polyamory has nothing to do with Black people, or with intersex people, or with religious minorities. That’s not true at all.

You can freely practice your non-monogamy because the hounds are busy chasing the rest of us instead. You can live well because of the unpaid labor that my ancestors provided. You can learn about non-monogamy and attend conventions because you’re not trapped in the poverty cycle. You can plan when or if to have children because you aren’t disabled or poor. You can walk down the street holding hands with your loves because you won’t get shot for looking suspicious.

Even when you choose to speak up, you are likely much safer than I am. The more visible I become, the angrier it’ll make those who wished I didn’t exist. And the more likely they’ll respond powerfully (and negatively). I’m already being told that everything that happened to me is my fault, that my aromanticism is the result of shitty experiences, and that I’m exaggerating. How much longer until the threats and physical violence starts rolling in again?

You may think you have nothing to contribute. You may assume that you have nothing in common with us. You may not see the connections just yet.

But if you want to live a more responsible life, if you enjoy loving multiple people, and if you live in relative safety you can do so much to help make that more than a possibility for others.

Listen more. Join Intersectional Non-Monogamy. Check out resources for queer and Black people. Educate yourself.

Even if you fumble, even if you mess up, do your best to step beyond that self-contained bubble keeping you separated from the rest of the world. Your lives may or may not appear to change with the political or social climate. But my life does. And others’ lives do as well.

Be grateful for your privacy. Be in love with your freedom. I only ask that you keep those of us with less of each in mind. And maybe speak up for us and make room for us. And believe us!

Because at the end of the day, I’m sure we all value our freedom and privacy. We all want to be left in peace. Give us that chance.

Marginalized Polya People

Updated version of an article first published on Postmodern Woman.

What does polyamory look like when you’re poor or disabled? How do you maintain autonomy and independence when you require specific care or assistance? How do you have safe, kinky, enjoyable sex when you’re allergic to latex or have a condition that leaves your body racked in pain?

Other than being in the minority categories for my aromanticism, relationship anarchy, kinkiness, genderqueerness, pansexuality, noetisexuality, and being Black, there are other specific ways in which my polyamory does not fit into the norm. There are other considerations to make and reinterpretations of many actions and freedoms that many polya people take for granted.

The average polya person in the limelight (with the exception of Kevin Patterson’s Poly Role Models) is well-off, white or white-adjacent, and normally healthy. Solo polyamorists constantly talk about autonomy, lack of enmeshment, and independence and other polyamorists set up visits with ease. Yet there are huge and gaping holes in the polya and non-monogamous relationship conversation. Very few people know what life is like for those that fall through the cracks. There aren’t many stories of the poor, the marginalized, and the mentally or physically ill and how they navigate healthy, fulfilling multiple relationships. I’ve seen a lot of polya people say that they wouldn’t date someone with a mental disorder.

There are many people that I know who are polya and have less than perfect health. A friend of mine was recently diagnosed as autistic and has been experiencing close-mindedness and ignorance in the poly and kink communities. A blogger I follow has borderline personality disorder and writes deeply moving posts about his experiences in relationships from his unique perspective. I’ve been writing stories (and “living the life”) for nearly 20 years about the people you never hear about in the media, the situations that rarely get discussed elsewhere, and the ways that these unique people handle their circumstances.
Being poor or disabled can present their own obstacles for expressing one’s polyamorous leanings. There aren’t as many resources for people like me. But as the more visible polyamorous communities create new resources and expand the social narrative, so it is my hope that more people of color, people allergic to weird things, and those who aren’t the epitome of health can share and create resources to generate understanding, education, and community as well.
Nearly every relationship you have when you’re poor is like a long-distance relationship, or at least that’s been my experience. Unless you live in the same neighborhood regular travel and conferences and outings can become prohibitively expensive. Technology helps if you can afford it or have access to it.

You learn to treasure the moments you can be together all the more. You learn to be okay with being alone most of the time. You definitely learn to appreciate the little things. And you know with absolute certainty that you may not have all of your needs met. It takes a special kind of patience and maturity to deal with the cancelled dates, limits on time, and isolation that come so much more often when you’re poor and/or spoonie. I liken being poor to being in emergency mode more often than not.

Where the executive with a harried day has the opportunity and money to relax and unwind, the poor and disabled person has no access to the typical means with which to relieve their stress. When you don’t have the money or the means you have to get creative. When you’re not healthy you have to accept that there are times when you have to put down your superman cape and allow someone to help you and accept some entwinement, even if others label it enmeshment or dependency. Poor health and the higher possibility of an emergency can make the poor, Black, and unwell seem like high risk partners for other polya people.
Try to imagine the looks you’d get when you say you can’t use the condom your partner has brought because you’re allergic to latex. You either rush around in an effort to find the much less effective (and harder to find) non-latex condoms, call it off, or go through with it without a condom and hope that the STI test results are still accurate. I also have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which leave me subfertile — and less worried about accidental pregnancy — yet simultaneously leave me in pain more often than not.

There are times when, even if I want rougher sex, my partners have to be gentle. There’s nothing wrong with pain when you want it but the pain caused by those conditions is not the fun kind – and I’m not that kind of masochist. My PCOS and PMDD cause anxiety, which can lead to more stress, which can lead to a worsening of my conditions. These kinds of illnesses have no cure and anyone with a long-term illness knows that we have to find alternative and healthy ways to deal with them and lessen their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, the majority of people know nothing about it and when they can’t physically see what’s wrong with you it can breed resentment, disbelief, and dismissal.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. You find out fairly quickly who is dependable and who is not, who is simply there for fun and who’d like to be around for a while, who is actively dedicated to anti-racism, who can healthily deal with stress and who cracks under the slightest pressure. You find support you never expected from the strangest places, you learn not to take anything for given or granted, and it makes effective communication all the more important.
Some people will see these things as obstacles or reasons not to be polya. They don’t exactly fit the “perfect polya” narrative (unless you realize that aros tend to have jealousy and compersion down pat!). But no matter who you are, life is usually only as difficult as you make it.

More Personal Stuff (and some resources)

As with last Thursday’s post, I’m mostly re-posting this one for the resources. CARAS and NCSF aren’t often able to assist polyam folk directly, but they have some good stuff for educating doctors, psychs, and other professionals you may be dealing with. Looking Through Us is sill up, it’s been on hiatus in recent months but I hope to see it become active again soon.  Obviously, I’m still a bit off schedule from March insanity. Hopefully I’ll be back on track by the end of the week. Updated April 2, 2017.

Hey all, sorry for disappearing like that. I got very caught up dealing with the custody case, which is now finished, even if the judge hasn’t given us a decision yet. (I hate waiting.)

I want to thank CARAS and NCSF for all the work they have done educating people about polyamory and alternate sexualities. My children have been seeing a therapist for the stress the custody mess has been causing them, and I had told her about my involvement in polyamory shortly before this mess went to court. She had no issue with the lifestyle, told me that my private choices were just that, and when she was subpoenaed  as a witness she told the judge and court that my ‘multiple relationships’ as the lawyer called it, were not in any way bad for my children.

I don’t know if the therapist learned of polyamory through CARAS or NCFS or not, but having the benefit of a medical professional working with my children who is accepting of polyamory has made me that much more aware of how important the work they do is.

I also want to give a shout out to Poly Anna of Looking Through.Us. I was very flattered by the review of this blog that she posted a few weeks ago (one of your favorites? Really?! – I don’t squee, but if I did, I would have). Poly Anna has an ‘Ask PolyAnna’ column on Looking Through.Us, a kind of ‘Dear Abby’ for poly and non-monogamy. She doesn’t get questions often, but when she does she tends to have good advice, and takes the time to go in depth in her answers.

I should be back (mostly) to my regular posting schedule starting on Thursday. I’m afraid the webcomic needs to go on hiatus for a while, because I lost the pen from the drawing tablet, and as bad as my artwork is with the tablet, it is absolutely atrocious using a mouse. As I am in the middle of a massive cleaning spree, I’m hopeful of finding the pen in the next few weeks and getting the comic going again.

(Originally posted December 2011)

Yay Life Insanity! (And Canadian Court Cases)

Most of this “not posting this week” posts I’ll end up deleting rather than editing and updating, because, well, a post saying “I won’t be posting today” 5+ years ago isn’t exactly relevant now, ya know? But this one also contains my immediate reaction to the big court case in Canada that challenged Canada’s anti-polygamy laws. At the time I wrote this I hadn’t yet dug into the details of the court’s decision. It was unfortunately the same tired, old reasoning that “we need laws against polygamy so we can stop child abusers” which has been trotted out time and again. As if we didn’t already have laws on the books against child abusers or something, ya know?

Also, fuck Thanksgiving. Seriously. I’m embarrassed how long it took me to realize how shitty that holiday is, and if you haven’t realized it yet, stop and think about what it means to Native Americans to celebrate the arrival of Europeans on this continent. Or to black folks to celebrate the origin of a colonial empire that kidnapped, raped, and murdered their ancestors by the millions. Lovely thing to have a party about. Not.

The webcomic I referenced here is sadly (thankfully) defunct. I love webcomics and was really frustrated with the lack of polyam-related webcomics. So I decided to create my own. But I can’t draw for shit… Reposted with commentary March 30, 2017.

PS. Comments about how “I celebrate thanksgiving as a time to be with family” yada yada will be deleted. You want to celebrate family togetherness, great, how about creating a new holiday that isn’t steeped in colonialism and genocide?

So life really got away from me this week, sorry all. I’ll be posting a late update to the webcomic sometime today or tomorrow. Hope to be fully back on track next week.

I will be skipping the normal Polyamory and Children post today because of the holiday, and I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving/Turkey Day. (Even if you don’t celebrate, you can still have a good day, right?)

On the subject of things to be thankful for, the Canadian Anti-Polygamy case ruling was released yesterday. I know there is a huge mixed reaction to the ruling (the short version for anyone who hasn’t heard is that having multiple marriages remains illegal, but the judge clarified that multiple relationships, including living together/common law relationships are not illegal as long as there is no ceremony to formalize the relationships). While it is not the outcome many polyam folk and polyam-supporters were hoping for, it is indeed a step in the right direction. So let’s be thankful for small steps, even as we keep working for more progress.

(originally posted November 2011)

Polya Relationship Expectations: Nothing for Granted

Updated version of a previously published article on Postmodern Woman.

Up front and honest. Heard and understood. Let’s both (all) be right. No either-or thinking. Surface vs. Substance. No expectations. Humanity (individuality) first. No defaults.
In all things, my values came (and still come) first. I didn’t grow up with stability or honesty or respect. More often than not I was the wall at which everyone decided to throw their shit. I grew up seeing humanity’s worst. Yet, instead of giving into it, instead of becoming a statistic, I chose another path. I’m addicted to discovering new things. If I don’t consider at least five different perspectives on something before settling on the most rational one then I haven’t done my job. As the world fell apart into nonsense around me I sought knowledge about anything and everything. I incorporated that knowledge into my writing, into my books. I’m especially partial to philosophy and the way that brains and minds work.
Being on the outside of the world’s typical human experiences allowed me to come to certain conclusions more quickly. I was (and am) living proof of an extreme intersection of categories that shouldn’t even seem possible to most. Much of the world can’t conceive of a person like me existing, rendering me effectively invisible by default. People tend to search for the familiar. This phenomenon does serve to leave me alone more often than not. I learned to love my own company very early on.
These experiences made it easier for me to put my values into practice; they made it easier to clearly define what was truly important to me. They allowed me to see through the layers of bullshit societies build up around things like family, romance, sex, education, and so much more. I literally cannot take anything for granted. There are no defaults in my life save change (and perhaps pain, if my physical ailments are any indication). My bedrock has always been a shifting, amorphous blob. So I learned to dance. Buddhists meditate for years to learn how to remain unattached from outcomes, people, and things. People try for years to be comfortable being alone (being single). People hurt one another so much before they realize that you must treat people as people.
Many polya people (or people in general) have disastrous relationships because they are embedded into common cultural narratives that separate human beings into categories. Most of us grow up learning to see people by their attributes first. Using those categorical lenses serves to help us miss one another on a most basic level. I couldn’t understand why labels were so important to others, why people built tribes along arbitrary lines, why they couldn’t conceive of a person being both or neither instead of always either-or, why they only extended logic bit by bit to each facet of their life instead of universally.
It’s because I’m such a weirdo. Most people don’t experience the world like I do. I have several forms of synesthesia, I’m left-handed, an atheist, Aspie, and noetisexual. I’m many other very queer things that are normally listed on the fringes of every scale. I cannot afford to take anything for granted. I can’t rely on heuristics to run my life. I don’t have defaults to fall back on to build the illusion of safety around me.
Going back to that list at the beginning, those are my only “rules” for dealing with reality. How much heartache would be avoided if people dealt with humans first and foremost instead of labels? Most people don’t have that sort of focus, that self-awareness, that desire for autonomy and that willingness to see reality as it is. We learn to view ourselves as empty halves needing to be filled. We expect others to fix us. We open ourselves up to abuse because we don’t even see ourselves as human first. There’s a reason people learn to dehumanize the enemy. You can do anything to a non-human. The more human someone becomes, the less likely you are to want to hurt them.
I find a lot of people tend to run aw`ay from me. I’m much too honest, and perhaps too serious, from the start. I value my time and others’. Because there are so many things about me that I know many might have issues with I’ve taken the up front and honest route. I’d rather have people in my life that truly want to be there than to take their time and have them feel I’d tricked them later. I have no expectations for how things need to shape up. Knowing what others expect allows us to discover what actually works, even if that means saying goodbye. I don’t dump everything on a person at the first meeting, obviously, unless it naturally comes up. But I do make certain to state my intentions and to inform them I’m not anything close to normal as soon as possible. Informed decision-making all around!
The purpose of heard and understood is to communicate diametrically-opposed ideas without devolving into an argument. My longest-term partner (and my deceased partner) and I have never yelled at one another. I can count on my fingers the number of times that I’ve yelled at him (and I can be a very, very, angry person). We keep in mind that the goal of communication is to understand one another. And even if we don’t agree, we search for a “let’s both be right” solution. That goes right along with the “no either-or thinking”. It’s not us against each other; it’s us both searching for the truth. Meaning, if we come to an impasse about something we go out and do our research before making our own decisions. Heard and understood also works well for sharing thoughts that may be difficult to hear, fears that could eat us alive, and experiences we’d rather forget. We’ve learned things about each other people don’t even write down in their diaries. It may be that most people are fine knowing much less about their significant others but my partner(s) and I do tend to be a bit nosy. And our trust was (and is) built gradually and actively.
Having no expectations requires you to be active and vigilant when dealing with other people (or ideas and other things). For instance, the ideas of romance and marriage were always suspect to me. I see people as individuals; couples (or other configurations) don’t matter to me. I’m a person first and foremost; my relationship configurations aren’t relevant to how I define myself or how I feel about myself. Knowing the history of marriage, I never saw a reason to tie the knot. I thought it was odd that two people being in love was such a big deal that it needed to be flaunted in public and then shared with friends and family with a ceremony.
I knew it was mathematically impossible for “the one” to exist. I knew that “safety and security” were illusions. I knew that love didn’t mean availability, longevity, stability, or compatibility. I knew that most people are hurt by their own expectations rather than by others’ actions. I knew that most people will naturally leave your life; that everyone is walking along their own unique paths and, though your lives might entwine for a while, inevitably you are the only one following your path to completion.
I know that every second, every breath, every step is a moment full of awe and worship of life. I know that substance (reality) trumps surface (illusion). I know that endless possibilities echo in every moment. I know that life is short. I know I’ll spend mine in appreciation, wonder, and awareness. I take nothing for granted. I never get comfortable (which he always playfully complains about). I never default. There’s so much to learn and see, after all.

A Personal Digression: Custody Case

I’ve fixed a few typos here and changed one instance of “polies” to “polyam folk.” Otherwise this is exactly as I posted it in the fall of 2011, including signed with a name I no longer use. My ex’s lawyer did in fact print this post out and ask me, while on the witness stand, to read my letter to the judge. Sadly, the judge was exactly as bigoted as I was afraid, and, well, the case ended badly. Though some long term good did come of it. Re-posted (but NOT revised) March 1, 2017.

I have nothing to say about pregnancy today. I’m having a bit of trouble focusing on much of anything at the moment.

You see, the fact that I write this blog is being used against me in a custody case. Posts from this blog have been printed out and brought into hearings to prove that I engage in polyamory and am therefore an unfit parent.

In a few weeks, I will be going into court for the custody trial. A court that will not care about all the research proving that polyamory is a healthy and ethical lifestyle, the published studies by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, Dr. Geri Weitzman, and so many others. A court that will have no interest in the paper by law professor Ann Tweedy the Michigan University College of Law examining polyamory and its possible status as a sexual orientation and/or embedded personality trait (ie not a choice but a part of a person). A court that will be prejudging me – the root word of prejudice – based on nothing other then an assumption that anything other then monogamy is wrong, even though there is no evidence, no basis, no reason, other then knee-jerk ‘that’s not the way things are supposed to be’ emotional reaction behind the judging.

My saving grace is that for over a year I have only been in a relationship with my fiance, Michael. That I have previously written, on this blog, that that is the only relationship I am in.

Part of me is disgusted at my cowardice. That I am willing to hide behind that fact and not stand up in court and openly denounce their prejudice and hypocrisy. That I am not willing to fight for a lifestyle that is in no way unsafe or dangerous for my children.

But I can’t risk my children. And if the court demands that I live monogamously from now on I will do so.

Because I am judged guilty without benefit of trial.

I’ve seen the arguments in the community about whether polyam folk should push for legal rights, become politically active. So many say that ‘we shouldn’t rock the boat’, that ‘as long as keep our heads down we will be fine’, that ‘there is no point in exposing ourselves’.

Well, the courts will not educate themselves. The laws will not change themselves. And until other people stand up and say this is wrong, the attacks that are being made on me will keep happening to other people.

And what the hell, since I know people are printing out my blog to show the judge:

Your Honor,

If you should happen to read this, I will say here that to allow polyamory to be used against me in court, without knowledge of the nature of the lifestyle, or research which has been done on it is wrong. That there is no basis or reason to believe that polyamory is dangerous to my children, and that regardless of anything else, if I did choose to have other relationships when my children are with their father it would not affect them at all and should be nobody’s business but my own and my fiance’s.

Maybe this post will be used against me as well. Will you judge on my beliefs, your Honor? Does my willingness to say openly that there is nothing wrong with alternative lifestyles automatically make me an unfit parent, whether I engage in those lifestyles or not?

I will continue writing this blog, your Honor. I will continue to support everyone’s right to pursuit of happiness and freedom of expression – those grand words that are so often trampled in the cry of ‘shame! immoral! shame!’ with no basis other than the righteous indignation of those who think there is only one right way.

I just wish I was brave enough to stand up in court and say all this there.

Sincerely,
Jessica Burde