How To Be An Effective Game Changer

Note: This is an edited version of a previously published article on Postmodern Woman.

People tend to look to non-monogamy for freedom. Freedom that the monogamous world rarely offers. Yet there is such struggle for so many in the beginning. It was difficult for me to understand why this was, at first. I’d had no rocky transition into non-monogamy. I never struggled with jealousy. Hell, I’ve been writing about non-monogamy in all forms for nearly 20 years in variations the polya, solo polya, and RA communities are only now realizing are even possible!
But there still exists this darkness. This oppressive and smothering air that the polya (and related) communities have yet to shake. The deeper I’ve looked into the polyamorous communities at large, the more disappointed I’ve become. These are supposed to be the vanguards of a more ethical way to conduct relationships and yet they’ve barely shaken off the assumptions our abuse culture has left us with. They’ll only go so far and then they’ll seek to normalize their experience rather than truly examining the precepts of their concepts.

Why is it more normal to want to be normal and fit in rather than wanting to the freedom to be yourself?

For those of us who tend to be the game changers (as Veaux dubbed those of us who actually speak up about oppression and other power imbalances) by the nature of our thoughts and very existence – what makes us that way? Why are so many polya people still struggling with issues that we’ve never had? Why are so many people still making it so much harder than it needs to be? To the point of requiring decades of exploiting unpaid emotional and intellectual labor from femmes and women?
My mounting disbelief and disgust weren’t for the polya community, alone, I finally realized. The rampant abuse, racism, and ignorance aren’t inherent to polyamory.
(Read my series on on abuse culture if you need more background on why I’ve been writing about romance, abuse, and non-monogamists’ unsatisfactory attempts to explain it away or actually deal with it.)

Those difficult first days of disastrous relationships and struggles with jealousy have nothing to do with polyamory. The whole idea of romo-centered compersion speaks to how backwards our ideas of love have become.

The community has to spend so much time teaching people how to love in non-damaging, nonabusive ways. We who are game changers can often see the destructive ideas that hold others captive. Myself and many others have had to consider leaving the polya label behind because so much of the community is still barely one step out of monogamy. They still treat their lovers and friends like shit. And they think they’ve actually learned something when they’re finally comfortable with their partner’s other partner.
These are merely symptoms of a deeper cultural issue. What most of these poly people are practicing is not ethical non-monogamy at all. It’s not intersectional, it doesn’t challenge societal norms, and it doesn’t extend past their polycule.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that after the move to more patriarchal-inclined cultures, the notion of ownership seeped into every facet of our lives. I’m saying that even though many countries have outlawed slavery, owning your loved ones is still the norm. The concept of ownership is still so dreadfully common. It is the only instance in which it is considered okay, and even laudable, to exert control over another person’s actions, behaviors, and feelings.
Think about it. People are more likely to try to control their child’s behavior than to teach them a better way in the long-term. Parents are more likely to instill obedience as a virtue rather than integrity. And the biggest reason romance is such a turn-off for me is because it is the epitome of owning your partner. You’re supposed to bind together, merge together, for life. It’s “normal” to sneak into your partner’s phone to check up on them. It’s considered normal to forbid them from having sex with other people, or certain other people. It’s considered normal to feel jealousy over them spending more time with their friends than with you. The whole tradition of taking your spouse’s name is because you now belong to them.
This is why couple privilege is even a thing. Because people think of themselves in units instead of as individuals. They no longer think of themselves or others as humans first and foremost. Their partners are their property. Their children are their property. They force their loved ones to go to plays they hate, they encourage them to lie if they look fat in a dress, they tamp down on watching porn because their partner hates it. They control the other’s finances, travel, and social interactions. One partner belittles and guilt trips the other and the other partner withdraws and becomes passive aggressive.
They end up having ridiculous fights because they live on top of each other constantly, codependent rather than entwined. By trying to merge they only end up brushing against the harsh edges of one another’s realities. And when they finally tire of each other they either divorce, have a child, or open up their marriage. Really toxic situations can end in death, infidelity, or other abusive and destructive outcomes.
This is how we all learn how to live. People ignore the effects of owning your partner and wonder where they went wrong. And then they try polyamory and wonder why they’re having such a difficult time. They’ve never learned to to be free. They’ve learned to treat themselves and others as emotional slaves.
I’ll say it again; ownership is the norm.
Is it any wonder that abuse is still so widespread? 1 in 3 isn’t an anomaly; it’s a disgrace. These abusive ideals are embedded into our cultures and thrust upon us all from such young ages. And many people never shake them off.
No, not even polyamory will save you.
So how do you confront this? How do you shake off the notions of ownership, amatonormativity, heterosexism, ablism, and racism once and for all? How can your non-monogamy truly be transgressive of the norm?
Well, what’s the speed of ignorance and how do we combat it? How do we move beyond this addiction to facts to shine light on the darkness beyond? How do you become a game changer?

https://youtu.be/JTvcpdfGUtQ

What does this have to do with polyamory and ownership? Well, those of us who are game changers live on that liminal horizon between the known and unknown. We are the ones who edge that light further into the shadows, expanding the realm of the known for everyone else. We’re not smarter, per se. It’s not so much a matter of intelligence. It’s about knowing that the darkness is always just out of reach, and that the more we learn, the more we know, the greater the darkness gets.
What we don’t know will always surpass our knowledge. That is the very nature of the universe we live in. I was born existing on that horizon and I live there. It is my home. I cannot help but to challenge what the light shows. It’s why I’m too heavy for most people. And it’s why I cannot let these poisons continue to eat away at polyamory and non-monogamy.
Instead of paying lip service to ethics, metanoia, and growth let’s actually push the boundaries of this limiting envelope.
We will forever be chasing the darkness. If you think you’re okay, if you think you’ve discovered your one, if you think you’ve found the answers simply remember that the circumference of your light will always be less than the darkness around you.

From the edge you have a better vantage point of the knowledge and patterns within as well as a front-row seat of the newly-discovered shapes being uncovered from the darkness. You can the destructive waves coming before anyone else even feels them.
If you wish to navigate that darkness then come along. After all, there’s always more room here at the outer limits than inside the crowd.

Welcome Michon Neal to Polyamory on Purpose!

Hey Folks, for the first time Polaymory on Purpose is going to be a team venture.

Please join me in welcoming Michon Neal to PoP.

For the next three months Michon Neal, of PostModern Woman and The Body Is Not an Apology, will be helping me with the blog. (Michon also writes some awesome fic set in hir original Cuilverse.)

Michon is also spoony so no guarantee we’ll get fully back on schedule. Our hope is that with Michon helping out on the blog I’ll be able to focus on the next book and still keep the blog going for all you awesome folks.

Michon brings a very unique perspective as a black, disabled, intersex, trans individual who has spent years practicing ethical non-monogamy in several different forms.

If the next three months go well, Michon and I may make this a permanent arrangement. So watch for hir posts and updates!

It’s Time to Stop Police Violence: Campaign Zero

Okay,

I don’t usually talk about political stuff or current events on this website. That’s not what this website is for. But police violence is a huge deal that affects a lot of people who are members of the poly community. And even if black men and trans folks and mentally ill people weren’t part of poly (which they are), the shit going down would still be wrong.

Now, if you know me you know I’m not much for theoretical discussion or random whatever (unless it’s Jewish law. I can talk for hours about Jewish law because OMFG have you seen what those old men came up with?!). So, I’m not going to spend an hour writing about the horror of racism in this country or why police violence is wrong. Other people have already done a better job of that than I can. Instead, I’m gonna point you to a possible solution.

Campaign Zero is a group with an actionable plan for how we can reduce or stop police murders. And their plan will reduce many other forms of police violence as well. They propose ten actionable items. Some are city level, some are state level, and some are federal level. They are backing their ideas up with research and are always looking for more input.

If you are an American who is sick of this shit, please check them out.

For steps you can take closer to home, check out Ijeoma Oluo’s awesome facebook post: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10153536974817676&id=616977675&pnref=story

Additional resources/ideas are welcome in the comments.

NEXT WEEK we will finally return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Short Hiatus

Hey folks.

I’m sorry for disappearing recently.

A few weeks ago, my sister was at the location of an terrorist attack in Tel-Aviv (she’s okay). A few days later came the attack on Pulse in Orlando. And my mental health crashed. I’m largely recovered now, but it was a rough couple weeks

Normally what I’d do right now is scramble to get a bunch of blog posts together and catch up on my posting. This time I’m doing something different. I’m going to take the next week or so to come up with a list of blog topics for July and (again) build up a buffer. Depending on my time and sanity levels, I may also take the chance to do some much-needed redesign work on the website. Look for posting to resume July 3rd.

In the meantime, if you haven’t see it yet, enjoy EnchantTV’s new poly drama:

Hey folks,

My daughter was born Mon, Dec 14th at 7:07pm. She is a beautiful baby, and doing well.

Unfortunately, there were some aspects of the birth that were traumatic for me. My headspace has been bad enough I haven’t been able to check in on the blog, never mind write anything. I had some buffer posts written, but I goofed and forgot to set them to post. It’s just been that kind of month.

At this point, I’m giving myself until the new year to get my head back on straight and focus on baby. New posts will start January 3rd, and there will be double posts and bonus posts through January and February to make up for the posts I’ve missed this month.

Many thanks for your patience, and I hope those of you who celebrate had wonderful holidays.

Jessica Burde

Meeting Other Polyamorous Families

For children in minority families, nothing can be so powerful as meeting others like them. As an adoptee, I remember the first time I met other kids who were adopted. For the first time, there were other people who understood, really understood, what it was like. The questions and uncertainties of having other parents out there…somewhere.

I’ve heard similar experiences from mixed race children, children of LGBT parents, children living with chronic illness, and others. Not being alone is a very powerful thing, and especially powerful for a child, who has very little power over their own lives.

Meeting other polyamorous families can go a long way towards helping your child deal with any discrimination they face, to not feeling alone and misunderstood by all the other kids they know and more. It can give them their own community and peer group. They can talk together about the problems and challenges and joys of growing up in a non-traditional family.

So… meeting other polyamorous families is pretty awesome—but how do you do it? Most of us don’t exactly take out ads in the yellow pages! Actually, it may be easier than you think. Here are a few places you can connect with other poly families.

OKCupid

Yup, the dating site. If you’ve never been on OKCupid, you may not know that they have a search setting for “just friends”–that is, you can use the dating site as a way to connect with people locally for no other reason than to make a friend. OKCupid is also (as of this writing, and I don’t expect it to change soon) the go-to dating site for poly folk.

You can hop on OKC, do a search for folks with “poly” or “polyamory” in their profiles who are looking for friends. And see if anyone mentioned having kids in their profiles. If they do, send a quick message:

Hey, I see you are polyamorous and interested in making friends. We are looking to connect with other poly families in the area. We’d really like for our kids to have a chance to meet other kids growing up in poly families. Would you be interested in getting together sometime? I noticed you like Italian food, I make a mean manicotti.

If you live in a small town or rural region, you may need to search pretty far out. But kids today are real social media savvy. Even if you can’t meet in person, your kids can still connect through Skype, G-chat, or other online platform.

Local Polyamory Groups

There are two ways of meeting other polyamorous families through a local poly group. The first is to go to group meetings and connect with people directly. Some local groups having Family Nights and other kid-friendly gatherings. If your local group doesn’t, you can always suggest they start one or volunteer to host or organize one.

If you can’t make it to the group meetings, you can join the local groups mailing list and connect with other families that way. Let folks know that you can’t make the meetings for whatever reason, but would love to meet other polyamorous families. Would anyone in the group w/ kids who’d be interested in meeting send you a message?

MeetUp and Facebook are both good places to find local poly groups.

Polyamory Conferences

Cons are always a great place to meet people. Some poly cons have activities specifically for kids. When I want to APW a few years ago they had a kids and family room set up. Parents took turns helping out, and volunteers ran kid-friendly activities. Other cons set up informal networks for parents to trade kid-sitting while attending adult-only parts of the con. Parents can also arrange activities together and generally let the kids hang out. You can find a list of poly cons for the next year on Alan’s List of Poly Events.

Be aware—some cons and poly events are 18+ (or local equivalent) ONLY. If you aren’t certain, make sure you check with the con organizers before bringing your kids.

 

My family will be attending Loving Move’s Poly Living 2016 in Philadelphia. We’d love to meet you and your family. If you plan on attending, please get in touch!

 

This post is part of  the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series.

Fucked Up Parts of Mental Illness: Punishing Myself for Having Fun

Okay, once again not the post I was planning on writing. This time I could probably push through and write about home care for mental illness, but I think what’s going on today is kinda relevant to a lot of folks with mental illness.

This week has been awesome for me. Depression has been largely not a thing. Anxiety has been mild. I not only got caught up on all the shit I haven’t been able to do, but I got far enough ahead that I started sorting out the shit I’m going to need to do in the near future. Those of you with moderate to severe mental illness will now how freaking awesome this is.

I found a schedule that worked for me, ways to accommodate my mental hang ups that kept me from getting triggered, and actually had a fucking clean home for the first time in I don’t know how long. I made the goddamn beds, even.

I was feeling positive about myself and the future, I still didn’t have a buffer for my blogs and shit (obviously) and catching up on my book writing was going to take a while, but still…

I got caught out in the rain running errands yesterday. A mile walk in the rain is not most peope’s idea of a good time, but I used to got out in the first rainstorm of the summer and dance in the puddles. In my then-frame of mind, the rain wasn’t a bad thing, but a chance to revel in just being alive and able to enjoy it.

For most of a mile, I laughed and grinned as the rain soaked through my clothing to the point I had to hold my skirt up to keep it from falling off. Even walking in slippery leather sandals couldn’t steal my fun. I jut took my sandals off and walked barefoot through the puddles.

Eventually the rain tapered off. And a dagger slammed into my side. Pain. Pain pain painpainpainpainpain. I gasped for breath. I blinked back tears. I bit back a scream.

When I was younger, I would have thought I was sick. Something was wrong. Maybe I had appendicitis. No. For whatever reason, for me, emotional pain manifests as this feeling of being stabbed right in the viscera. I sure actually being stabbed hurts worse, but the mind-body connection is real enough to send people to the hospital thinking they were having a hear attack. I know this main. I walk through it, the rest of the way home.

I try to review what might have set me off. My mind diverts me into thoughts about my children. The aftershocks of my custody case (I STILL don’t even have regular phone calls)  are always guaranteed to be painful to think on. But there is nothing new there. Nothing to cause this sudden pain, nothing but old and familiar aches.

My mind was tricking me, but I let it.

The rest of the day did not go well. It wasn’t a complete loss, but the smooth productively I had been enjoying was gone. Doing anything was a struggle. I blamed the way my computer was stuck in unending updates, the date who canceled dinner b/c he decided to try getting back together with his ex. I tried not to think about that stabbing pain, which had quickly faded anyway as my mind successfully diverted me from thinking about whatever had caused it.

 

Then I woke up this morning and couldn’t think. It took me an hour to get breakfast for my kid, because I couldn’t get up off of the couch. I couldn’t begin to try to stuck to my schedule. Trying to finish my half-completed blog post that was already late wasn’t even a possibility.

And I didn’t know what happened. Nothing that happened yesterday was bad enough to explain this crash. After the way the afternoon went, I might have expected a rough day, some trouble focusing, not this complete break down to the point I could manage the most basic tasks.

I finally got myself moving, and with momentum, came a small amount of clear headedness. “Why?” I asked myself. I probed my head using everything I learned in 2 decades of working to explore and understand my mind and my mental illnesses. My mind tried to divert me again, but this time I wasn’t willing to let it. Painful or not, I HAD to know what was going on.

And I remembered that walk in the rain. I remembered the fun. And I finally “heard” the evil thought that had been attacking me from my subconscious. I had enjoyed myself yesterday. not just enjoyed myself, not just taken pleasure in getting stuff done. I had had FUN. Simple, joyous, fun unshadowed by any fears or worries or self recrimination. I’m not allowed to have fun. I’m broken, pathetic, mentally ill. I’m  healthy or normal or capable. I don’t deserve anything as pure and simple as enjoying a walk in the rain.

My mind was punishing me, attacking me, destroying me, because as a mentally ill, broken, shattered, pathetic wreck of a person, I don’t deserve to have fun.

God, the mind is a fucked up thing sometimes.

If you grew up in the US in the 80s or eary 90s you probably remember the old GI Joe cartoons that ended with a ittle moral sermon. The kid would say “Now I know.” And Sgt. Slaughter always replied with “And knowing is half the battle.”

It’s surprisingly true in dealing with mental illness. Once I identified this vicious thought pattern, it became a lot easier to function. Not easy. This is still going to be a fucked up painful day. But fucked up and painful is a huge improvement over shut down and broken to pieces. I can pick up my schedule now. Go back o getting my work done. I’ll slide a bit. but I’ll be able to keep going. Just pacing myself, like always, while this knew and strange psychic wound heals. Because I know those thoughts are lies. And now I can deal with them like any attacks from someone I love. Does it hurt when someone I love attacks me? Yes, but as long as I know what they say isn’t true, it doesn’t destroy me.

That’s what 20 years of healing has given me. The ability to recognize that these destructive thoughts are lies. That I completely and totally deserve my awesome walk in the rain, and many more like it. But it wasn’t always that way.

I used to believe those destructive thoughts, and then I helped my illness destroy me, adding my own actually self hatred to the fake hatred of my sickness. If I was still in that place now, I would be in desperate need of professional help right now. Because it is that kind of destructive thought, backed by the power of true belief, that can lead people to pick up a knife, a gun, a rope.

 

I don’t know how common it is to believe we don’t deserve the good things in life. I do know that when we internalize the idea that being mentally ill makes us less deserving, less worthy, less HUMAN, than the people around us, we are on course for our own destruction.

This can manifest in ways that vary from seeking out destructive and unhealthy relationships, to creating drama in the relationships we have, to, in a similar case to my own, attacking and hating ourselves for daring to take joy in our loved ones. NRE can be a particularly bad time for this, as every burst of joy t losing ourselves in a new partner is countered by a flare of self hatred that we have dared to embrace love and life.

If you or your mentally ill partner often find yourself taking a bad turn after something great happens, whether its as simple as jut being happy walking in the rain, or as big as a commitment ceremony within your polycule, you might want to ask if maybe you might be punishing yourself for the good things that happen to you.

Don’t. You deserve every bit of it.

And poly partners, don’t be afraid to tell your loved one this. As loudly and longly as you need to.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.



Schedule Change

Hey folks. For the time being I’ll be posting on Sunday and Thursday instead of Sunday and Wednesday. I have work due for a client every Wednesday, and thanks to various issues pacing myself is important right now. Thanks for your patience, and I’ll be back with more tomorrow.

A Rant: “I Know I am Being Irrational Right Now”

Some 7 years ago (give or take) I was sitting in a room with three other people in my poly network. My PTSD and anxiety had been severely triggered, I was not thinking clearly, I was feeling jealous and persecuted. Long experience with my own mental illnesses allowed me to recognize that what I was feeling and experiencing in no way matched up with reality.

“I know I am not being rational right now, but this is the way I am feeling…”

I needed their help. I needed their support. Most of all, I needed them to understand what I was going through and why my reactions were so out of sync with reality.

What I got was long lecturing responses about how it was completely unreasonable for me to feel the way I was, how everything I was saying was wrong, how I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about and X, Y, and Z proved it.

I took a deep breath and tried again. “I know that what I am feeling doesn’t make sense, I’m not saying anyone has done anything wrong. I just want to tell you how I am feeling and why I am feeling this way. I feel like…”

Cue more protestations of innocence, how I was completely off base to accuse them of…, how I was being irrational and unreasonable and the reality was that everyone had been going out of their way to be supportive and what can they do to make me understand that the things I am saying are completely wrong and unrealistic.

We went through 2 or 3 more variations on this before I gave up and walked out.

 

Let me state the obvious:

When someone is coming to you in a mental health or emotional crisis to trying to explain how they are feeling and why, telling them all the reasons they are wrong to feel they do doesn’t fucking help.

If you missed it, please check the fifth heading on Facts About Mental Illness for Poly Partners:

Mental Illness Is Out Of Our Control

This actually applies to any strong emotions, whether related to mental illness or not. Emotions are irrational, unreasonable and not under our control.

Exception: Super-human Zen Masters, Buddhas who have achieved Enlightenment and other masters of esoteric traditions may have gained level 20 skills in emotional control. I’ve never met one, but I’ve heard legends.

Not being a legendary uber-human, your mentally ill poly partners will feel things that are completely unreasonable. If they have reached the point of being able to tell when their feelings are irrational and unreasonable while feeling them, that is great! That is 300 level of mental illness management. Recognize this. Celebrate it with them. Help them figure out what they need to find their emotional balance and get past the irrational feelings. Sometimes it will be as simple as “I understand why you feel that why. Can I hold you for a while so you know you are not alone?” Other times it will be a lot more complicated. Sometimes there won’t be anything you can do except let them know you understand and are there for them.

But by all that is fucking holy, if someone in an emotional or mental health crisis comes to you saying “I know my feelings aren’t real, but I need you to know this is what I am feeling” or any variation on that theme do not attack them, do not get defensive, do not waste time and spoons trying to convince them that what they are feeling is irrational. Just listen, and let them tell you what they need/want.

Please, for the love of little green apples.

Next week we’ll start reviewing some common problems in poly relationships and how they can impact (or be impacted by) mental illness.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

In Memory: Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart 1948-2014

Morning glories have always been my favorite flowers. They spread beauty and asked nothing more than to be allowed their time in the sun. Unlike the tulips or daffodils or roses my father planted, each flower lasted only a short time, fragile and precious. Yet each morning new flowers bloomed.

I never met Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. Never read her books, saw her speak at a conference, or even exchanged emails with her. But the beauty and love she spread touched my life in many ways.

A single, fragile blossom has left this world. But she left the seeds and buds of many more blossoms behind her.

A pink morning glory in full bloom, purple petals of another blossom peak out from behind it.
Thank you for being part of our world.