Getting Started: models

•Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 • Comments Off

In most societies, ritualistic formats exist for major life events. In nearly every society that sociology has researched, such rituals exist for birth, for death, and for marriage/partnering. It is that last I wish to focus on here.

The way the thing used to go, in my grandmother’s memory, was that one “went out” or “went around” with various people of the opposite gender for fun, and to get to know them. Eventually, one “went steady with” or “dated” one of these people, a status which indicated one was unavailable for “going around” with anyone else. If one was serious, one proceeded to become engaged to one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, marry them, begin cohabitating with them, and make babies.

This is occasionally the model of doing stuff that people my age use. More often, there are permutations or alterations of the “traditional”[1] model of a relationship tailored to fit the individuals involved. Some people go out with people while going steady with other people. Some girls go around with girls, or boys with boys, or boys with girls and boys and robots. Some folks dislike going out to soppy romantic occasions and prefer to be fuck buddies. Some people cohabitate with people they aren’t married to – a thing my mother calls “shacking up.” Some people co-parent and make babies with people they aren’t married to or aren’t lovers with – and that’s allowed, too. Some people have lots of babies and others don’t want any.

I find it useful to intermittently consider the model of relationship I am currently pursuing, and to clarify with my partner(s) where I think we are and where I believe we are interested in going. It is perfectly fine for you to have whatever set-up meets your needs and desires (and those of your lady/gentleman/etc. callers). However, since so many people are carrying around so many set-ups in their heads, I think it is a good idea for you to verbally clarify this first.

[1] There is no one traditional model, actually, as there is no one culture whose version of partnering is the oldest and most correct. Partly this is because love stories, like many things, aren’t one-size-fits-all.

open thread: hiatus

•Friday, August 19th, 2011 • Comments Off

I stopped updating the blog due to overwhelmed-ness and moving related chaos. Updates will resume when I have the spoons[1], which will likely be Wednesday or so.

Feel free to self-link, share cool stuff you found on the internets, or talk about whatever’s on your mind.

[1] the famous Spoon Theory essay, which you ought to have read already:

Polyamory Graph Theory

•Monday, August 15th, 2011 • Comments Off

In theory, this post is meant to have a diagram to go with it. WordPress most happily uploaded this diagram, and now refuses to embed it in this post. If you are better at WordPress and/or Google than I, some help would be appreciated. In the meantime, dear reader, I give you a handy diagram link:

Graph theory is the study of, well, graphs, and using graphs to model or analyze data. Polyamory, literally “many loves” in Latin, is having multiple simultaneous romantic/sexual relationships (contrasted with monogamy). I have used graph theory as a tool to communicate about polyamorous relationships since before I started having them, because I was introduced to poly by a fellow computer science student and almost all the poly people I know are also geeky people. Obviously people who have studied graph theory (primarily computer scientists and others who work with algorithms) are familiar with this terminology in that context. The dynamics are a bit different when the graphs are sexual, though. For more clarification on graphs in general and more complicated graph theory stuff, I recommend taking a look at Wikipedia. It is more easily understood and better written than some professors on this topic.

I will assume the reader has no knowledge of graph theory whatsoever, and introduce a few new bolded terms in each paragraph. A graph, to start from the beginning, is a diagram of various things with lines showing how they’re interconnected (or not). The linked diagram is a graph. Every graph is made up of nodes (the labelled points or things) and edges (the connections between nodes). Nodes are interchangeably called vertices. In poly graphs as I use them, nodes are people and edges are relationships. So in our diagram, Isabella, Alice, and Frank are nodes, and Harry/Ginny, Alice/Danielle, and Alice/Bob are edges.

Degree is the term for the number of edges a given node has. Alice, for example, is degree four (because she is in relationships with four different people: Bob, Charlie, Danielle, and Eve). Isabella is degree zero, also known as being single. Harry and Ginny are each degree one, because they are only dating each other. If Harry and Ginny have decided that they are not interested in being involved with any more people, and/or if Isabella decides that she would only like to date one person who is in turn only dating her, then they are monogamous. In my personal experience, increasing one’s degree (the number of relationships one is in) past about two or three is a poor idea — unless one’s significant others are casual or otherwise not expecting significant time and emotional investment.

Distance is the term for the number of edges between a node and another node. A node is always distance zero from itself, and distance infinity from any node that cannot be reached by that node. For example, Eve is distance zero from herself and distance one from Alice. Since there are two edges between Eve and Alice’s partners, Eve is distance two from Bob, Charlie, and Danielle. Thus, Eve is distance three from Frank and Mal, distance four from Juliet, and distance infinity from Ginny, Harry, and Isabella. Distance two interactions (between two people who have a shared love interest/partner/romance plot) can be prone to dramas, and so I prefer to know the people I am distance two from personally. Not everybody does – some folks would rather act as if the people they’re distance two from don’t exist.

A subgraph is a part of a graph. A disconnected graph is one in which not all the nodes are linked to one another by edges. The graph in the diagram is disconnected because Harry and Ginny aren’t connected to anyone else, and neither is Isabella. However, the subgraph containing Alice, Bob, Charlie, Danielle, Eve, Frank, Juliet, and Mal is a connected graph: one where every node has a finite distance from every other node. I have yet to encounter a social circle/group of friends who spend a lot of time together that is also a connected graph, I suspect because the things that make for a great friendship and the things that make for an excellent sexual connection are often distinct.

Graph connectivity is complicated, and includes a few other related concepts. A node that is connected to a graph by more edges is said to be more strongly connected, while a node that is connected by fewer edges is weakly connected. One type of weakly connected node is a leaf - a degree one node in a graph, or a person who is dating only one person, and whose partner is dating multiple people. In the handy diagram, Alice and Bob are strongly connected, while Charlie and Juliet are leaves and Danielle is more weakly connected than Bob.

While graphs often indicate things like rail lines, computer networks, or other circumstances where more edges mean more strength and reliability (hence the terms strong and weak), very strongly connected graphs can be less durable or explosive in polyamory. The more tightly bound together everyone’s dating lives are, the more people’s dating lives will crumple more intensely if something goes seriously wrong in any involved relationship. Fewer connections and more distance can be insulation from other people’s couple problems. Physical distance can serve this role as well as graph distance, of course.

It is possible, and possibly amusing, to attempt to draw as complete a graph of one’s relationship history as possible, starting with the present and working one’s way back to when one began seeing people this way. Due to the exponential number of people that everyone one’s ever been involved with have themselves been involved with, this can be a good way to pass the time provided one has rather large sheets of paper, a good memory, and a lot of time. My “relationship graph since the beginning of college freshman year” got frighteningly unwieldy by the end of sophomore year. Granted, some of that was a fondness for gossip and thus the inclusion of everyone the flirtatious and charismatic folks I dated had dated (the record to my knowledge among my exes is degree six at one time). Obviously there are huge confidentiality/disclosure issues involved in passing on other people’s graph data, mostly because not everyone treats it as a big light-hearted game. Some of my ability to treat past relationships as cheery memories is probably a function of the few people I’ve dated and failed to remain friends with, and the fewer relationships I regret having.

Also, dear people who think dating lots of people makes one less ethical/less respectable/less worthwhile as a person than dating fewer people: you are incorrect and slut-shaming. It is perfectly fine to have lots of sexual activity, or none at all, or however much one and one’s partners enthusiastically consent to.

Open Thread, Moving Edition

•Friday, August 12th, 2011 • 1 Comment

This is an open thread, titled for my big move this week.  Self-linking and randomness are welcome.  ^_^

Barnacle Bill at The Pervocracy:

The Girl Who Waited: Why I Hate Amy Pond at Tiger Beatdown:

Gender Gap in Science and Tech Jobs at Sociological Images:

Women’s Health-Nazi Plan clip at The Colbert Report: (the Flesh Thirsty Young Sluts bit)

An It Gets Better message from Severus Snape (Spoilers through the end of Book 7):

EYD: Being Less

•Thursday, August 11th, 2011 • Comments Off

[tw: kink]

A while ago, I had a conversation with Blee about blindfolds, blindness, and the idea of “being made less” by one’s partner in a kinky context. This sort of crystallized some things I’d already thought about power, service, and “unpleasant” activities.

There are a variety of things topping people[1] temporarily impose upon their partners that some other people live with all the time.  These include the performance of femininity, accomplishment of domestic service/forced labor/”maid” type tasks, restriction of mobility, and inability to see.  I’ve done some of these in sexual contexts, and I do not believe they are unethical.

Much of the eroticism of some types of submission/”slavery”/bottoming has to do with “being made” to do things one would not do for their own sakes.  We, as a society, have a long and grand tradition of valuing martyrdom and describing the willingness to suffer for a partner’s sake as romantic and/or sexy.  It is possible, and abusive, to push one’s partner to do things they truly don’t enjoy and find miserable.  Within a kinky context, though, many people find it incredibly hot to be asked to do things they don’t want to do to make their topping person happy – without considering or commenting on the value of these things in the broader world.  In one scene, Blee required me to remain clothed despite my reluctance.

I don’t think it is inherently degrading, shameful, uncomfortable, or in any way negative to wear clothing in most contexts, but like virtually everything attire can be a tool of kink/power exchange.  So, too, for the sense that I am “less” and feel vulnerable when blindfolded or restrained.  I don’t think there’s anything less about being clothed, blind, or unable to move freely.  Rather, I think it is hot for a topping person to limit or change the states/conditions of their partner temporarily, to consensually humiliate, torture, make vulnerable, or otherwise express power over.

Things get a little grayer when the players involved rhetorically bind together a state’s use in-scene and its essentialist “nature.”  An Imperial fuckton of opposite-sex BDSM porns do this: implying or stating outright that this is the sort of treatment all male or female people deserve or need from their female or male betters, to keep them line.   I consider this stupidhead talk.  If you think this is how gender works or ought to work, you are incorrect, full stop.  This gets even weirder in some of the the heterosexual BDSM porns with male subs whose female topping persons require the men to wear feminine things or behave in feminine ways to humiliate them or cause them to suffer.  “I am a woman, expressing how much power I have over my boyslut.  I know, I’ll make him act LIKE A WOMAN!  That’s totally shameful and gross in and of itself, right?  I’m not internalizing or perpetuating anything uncomfortable about my gender by treating femme clothing/behaviors/etc. as The Worst Thing, right?”

On the other hand, I like playing with androgyny and gender ambiguity.  I would like to play with “making” people perform service tasks or femininity, but not as commentary on the value of people who do these things in themselves.  Rather, “bleh, this isn’t my cup of tea, but my topping person asks it of me so I shall oblige” being applied to acts that are relatively easy to stage sounds like a good time.  I have an apartment that could usually do with more organizing/cleaning[2] and a decent quantity of femme/cutesy things I don’t need terribly badly or wear terribly often.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a confused and awkward fashion, is that I don’t have a problem with people who use a lot of potentially problematic content in individual/private play around inferiority.  I have a bit of a problem with people who link inferiority to various things in essentialist ways, but as that line is blurry and blurred further by differences in intent, fantasy/reality boundaries, and various other messy things it is hard to articulate outside one’s own head.  I just don’t like the porns that are sexy until they start asserting that all the female or male people ever are naughty slaves who totally ought to have hardcore porny kinky things done to them, because that is false and icky.[3]

[1] This makes me think of sadism sprinkles and mistress chocolate syrup, which is why I like the term.   Have I mentioned yet that I’m a geek with unnatural fondness for absurdity and footnotes, and my primary is also such a geek?

[2] This is extra true now, as I’m moving across state lines the day after this is scheduled to post.  ASDF why do I have so many things?  How do I put them in a truck?

[3] Sorry, not going to cite sources.  Google your own Googles here.


•Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 • 3 Comments

(vaguely spoilery for Season Three of Doctor Who)

There’s a person in this television show who tells a protagonist that he is not alone.  We (the kinky, the queer, the geeky, the otherwise peculiar and marginalized young people) hear this line a lot.  “College is where you start making friends that are actually like you,” was a piece of not-actually-advice my mother doled out about middle and high school friendships.  Waiting to become a person is miserable, as is fighting the gnawing fear that one will, actually, be alone in one’s peculiarities forever.  This is part of why I love Kink For All,[1] about which I intend to post more more later.

Later on in that television show, this protagonist meets a person who shares a trait with him that he’d believed he was the only living person with.  That incident gets referred to in fandom as YANA (You Are Not Alone).  It is that moment, extrapolated autobiographically, that I want to discuss here.

Merlin[2] was the first boy I knew who really believed in magic, and the first bisexual person I knew in offline life, and the first guy to run a roleplaying game I was in.  I’m still loyal to him and awed by him, in a way, and I think some of that is YANA powers.

Sort of similarly, actually, part of my awe and fascination with Maymay[3] when I was reading his blog in high school was his /realness/, his self-doubt and programmer tendencies and ethical humanity combined with his openness about his sexual practices.  I…think I wasn’t a completely awkward sketchy fangirl when I met him[4],  but I’m not convinced.  I could go on (the first BDSM partner I had, the first girl I kissed, my first poly experiences), but suffice it to say I’m incredibly grateful for these people and the effects they’ve had on my life by being open about their own have been fantastic.

I’ve also been this person more than once now: the first Jew, the first tabletop gamer, the first madgirl[5], and just this month the first semi-out kinky girl.  Sometimes that’s been weirdly disorienting (you mean you don’t know any others? really?), but it has mostly been an incredibly rewarding thing.  When  one is out, one gets asked to act as counselor/educator for everybody who can’t/won’t yet come out and/or who is merely curious.

That rush of recognition, empathy, and connection can be incredibly valuable, and my identification with this moment from the show as one of the stories of my life[6] motivated me to craft and carry a fobwatch of the kind from Doctor Who for a while.  The watch has since broken, but part of why I made it was the number of “oh damn how do I be one of these?” conversations I’ve had with other folks about my identities.  Everyone: “it gets better” is trite and not necessarily true.  “It sucks to be you right now, I’m sorry about that, we should try to build a world where fewer of these things suck for fewer people” more accurately sums up my stance.

I’m a big, big believer in the acquaintance effect[7] as one of the great side-effects of cities and ways of demolishing intolerance.  This was one of the things that motivated me to come out as queer, and that is motivating me to strongly consider being more fully out as kinky.

Of course, one may also get described as the freak show.  I know a girl in middle school, Killjoy[8], who wears dark eyeliner, argues against homophobia, is tall and solidly built (a bit more so than I was at that age), and loves loud, angry music.  As a result of these, one of her best friends’ sisters insists that Killjoy is terrifying and “probably going to rob a bank.”[9]  One of the things I’ve told Killjoy about the stares and uncertain/hesitant interactions people tend to do with her, and the weird tones of voice folks use to say her name, is that not all of that is the belief that she is a proto-felon.

Honey, some of those “preps[10]” just wish to Goddess they had half your gonads half as often as you do.  Being really out there, and un-apologetically yourself, and morally internally consistent, and  doing what you like without giving any fucks what they think is gloriously liberating and fun as much as it can be scary.  Some of the attention we get from less odd people is about jealous admiration for the way we live our lives.


[2] So pseudonymed from your role in the school play and your wisdom.  We meet towards the end of my freshman year of high school, and hardly ever talk now.


[4]  You gave me a Free Bradley Manning sticker that I still wear proudly on my laptop, I was the one with the yellow car at KFAPVD2 this spring.

[5] This word is in the Terms section of this blog, which has been recently updated, as is the rest of the jargon/slang I use that you, dear reader, may not have heard before.

[6] YANA is a recurrent motif.  The main theme seems to be “and then it got weirder.”

[7] Google’s failing me, but I know I’ve read this on psychology blogs before, curse it.  Essentially, the more minority (i.e. Muslim) people one knows as acquaintances or people one interacts with in ordinary life, the less likely one is to hold stereotyped or nasty beliefs about all people with that minority identity.

[8] Pseudonymed thus in reference to her bandom.

[9] This is an actual quote.  Do note also that Killjoy is white, affluent, twelve, and relatively pacifist.

[10] I try to avoid negative terminology for less odd people, hence my preference for “not kinky” over “vanilla” and “non-LARPer” over “mundane.”  This is Killjoy’s label, not mine.

Examine Your Desires

•Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 • 3 Comments

I’m a fan of critically examining why one wants what one wants, where those interests might have come from, and how those desires have shifted with time.  I recognize a few major pros and cons to this approach that I’m going to go through in this post.  Future introspective/”why I like what it is that I do” sorts of posts will be marked EYD, so that you may avoid them if you like.

Pro: recognizing stuff that I’ve picked up from the non-vacuum I live in.  It is tempting to assume that one is unique and true to oneself alone all of the time, but this is false.  Advertising is a multimillion-dollar industry because it works, at least to some extent.  I find it fascinating to make myself more consciously aware of the origins of my ideas – to trace the thoughts and perspectives that I tend to assume to thinkers who may have existed more than a thousand years ago.  Not everyone is the sort of sociology geek who loves documenting what bits of themselves were absorbed from which external elements, but I find it shiny.

Pro: articulating how I feel and why I feel the ways I do in ways that clarify such things in others.  Reading these sorts of posts, especially Ren’s stuff about rough/violent sex and some of the things at SM Feminist about the thought processes of BDSM was tremendously enlightening for me and helped me to figure out who I was and what I wanted enough to start telling other people about it, and eventually enough to get what it was I wanted as well.  Other folks’ metacognition has been a positive impact on my own.

Con: ruminating about the extent to which I’m infested with toxic social narratives, and feeling guilty about how I navigate them.  For example, being more aware of the ways that idealizing non-existent or fine/invisible body hair on women is unfair and underscores White, pale, young standards of beauty as the norm did not help me.  Rather, I still felt uncomfortable with my thick, dark “gross hairy Jewish lady” (as my mother says) body hair, I just felt guilty about wanting to shave on top of feeling self-conscious.  Most things that people have feelings about are wholly or partly socially constructed – gender, race, religion, and language among them.  Knowing that something is defined by lots of people and by culture, rather than by physical or bio-chemical norms, doesn’t change the (possibly rather complicated and icky) ways one feels about it most of the time.

Con: upholding social norms about what desires are and aren’t warpable.  Often, the assumption that some things people want come from external forces like culture and advertising is paired with the assumption that some other things people want are natural and standard.  This is arguably true for, say, diet Coke versus water.  Often, though, that argument just stems from the invisibility and widespread ignorance of quite ordinary parts of the world – homosexual acts, for instance.  I do think that what sorts of sexual beings we are and how we express that is culturally defined, but I recognize that sort of belief gets applied to studying why people are terrible perverts rather than why people are heterosexual, monogamous, sexually unadventurous and gender-conforming sorts.  I think we should be spending as much or more time analyzing why some of us think we’re cisgender as we do analyzing, or asking for more explanation of, why some people are transgender and where their self-perceptions come from.  That said, I’m going to speak for my own experiences, which means mostly examining polyamorous and kinky interpersonal dynamics and desires.

Con: reinforcing anxieties about not fitting in.  I was more uncomfortable with works that analyzed kink in a critical way when I hadn’t fully accepted that part of myself, and there are ways of discussing gender-variant and non-monogamous people and why they want what they want that seem to me to reinforce the idea that such people are freakish and awful.  (See also: that one garbage therapist’s assertion that my polyamory and possibly my non-heterosexuality stem from my irresponsibility and immaturity.  That was the end of that relationship.)

I am confident that there’s more to this than I’m thinking of right now, and I welcome people to provide more input.


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