Two Truths and a Lie

Okay, someone started this, and I am never very good at remembering names. I have not used this one in the past as an ice breaker. Think for a moment and come up with three facts about yourself — two that are true and one that is not. Have others guess what is not true. Here are my three:

  • Despite my current life situation I have a PhD in a STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) field.

  • I wasn’t joking; I really do eat out of garbage cans.

  • I have never gotten drunk, even during my underaged teenaged years.

Your guess on what is not true and why in the comments, and try this on your blog.

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Jean Jacket Pervert

It gets worse. Some poor pedestrian was the victim of my lecherous gaze the other day. This pedestrian’s crime? Wearing a Canadian tuxedo.

Those of you who live in civilized countries might be unfamiliar with this term. A Canadian tuxedo consists of denim jeans and a denim jacket. The funny thing is that I am not one of those who is into denim jeans. I don’t even own any denim. But for some reason the combination of denim jacket and denim pants makes me weak at the knees.

This probably explains some of my attraction to classic car aficionados, as detailed in my last confession. I would not be surprised if this was evidence of some larger attraction to those in the working class, even though in real life working-class people tend not to like me very much. Maybe that is the common thread? Am I only attracted to people who dislike me? That would explain a lot. (Hello, lesbians.)

Classic Car Aficionado Pervert

Some loyal readers have expressed doubts that I am unfit to be in any relationship ever. Unfortunately, there are some depravities that should never be exposed to the world. For example, I appear to be a classic car aficionado pervert, by which I mean I have awful sexual attractions to those middle-aged men who are into restoring and maintaining classic cars.

I don’t see such men often, because I do not go to many classic car shows, but every summer there is a classic car exhibition in downtown Lurkville, and then I start drooling. These men are almost always in their fifties, often sport respectable but not beardspirational amounts of facial hair, and are obsessed about old vehicles that will never pass emissions standards. For some reason they tend to be in better shape than corresponding motorcycle enthuiasts, and sport fewer tattoos. They also appear to be uniformly straight, often bringing their (often bored) wives/girlfriends/children to sit in lawn chairs as the boys talk shop and show off their toys. Then they pack their families into their vehicles and drive off, their trusty steeds proudly belching soot and greenhouse gasses for all to enjoy.

The thing is that I am not even into classic cars. I’m not into cars at all, actually. I am too poor to own a car and too irresponsible to have a driver’s license, and I was brainwashed into environmentalism by Ranger Rick magazine as a child, so for years and years I refused to acknowledge that cars even existed. Internal combustion engines make me carsick, so I don’t even accept rides when they are offered to me. What am I doing thinking dirty thoughts about amateur car mechanics, especially car mechanics who in all likelihood despise my existence? They display their “Don’t touch this car unless you are naked!” stickers on their refurbished vehicles, and all I want to do is take them up on their offer.

And yet. Car mechanics are skilled with their fingers. They have big strong arms to lift engine blocks and pump wheeljacks. They know how to listen to that irritating knocking sound and figure out whether to seal a carburetor or swap out a fan belt. They tend to have disposable inome — restoring old cars is not a cheap hobby. They boast endearing, encyclopedic straight-guy knowledge of automotive makes and models and features and lore that would make any historian proud. And of course, they know how to look good. How many hours do they spend stripping paint, hammering out imperfections, buffing exteriors and polishing knobs? Can you blame me for being smitten?

Well, you should. Shocking Disclosure #8 once again reveals how inappropriate my desires are. If there is one rule we should all learn, it is to refrain from sniffing the straight boys, no matter how enticing their aroma of pheromones and motor oil might be. In addition to being independent human beings with hopes and dreams (namely: owning classic cars) and not mere sexual objects subject to unwelcome attention from the male gaze, straight boys will break your heart every time.

Not Cured

Two weeks. I had lasted two whole weeks without engaging in self-abuse, looking at unwholesome pictures online, or any of the other petty sins that have characterized my life since suffering through puberty. Furthermore I felt few inclinations to do so. Finally!, I thought, it’s over. No more cravings for manflesh. No more lamentations around reluctant celibacy. No more disappointing Jesus several mornings a week. Finally, I was free. What would I do with all that spare attention and time? Maybe I could take up knitting, or read more books.

Sadly, I was not free. I was just stressed and sleep-deprived. Once I got a few nights of solid rest, the demonic urges returned. In addition to all the other ways I have been disappointing Jesus, now I was back to sullying myself. I think naughty thoughts about handsome bloggers and people on the street, and Jesus reminds me that I would be better off poking out my eyes than harboring these lustful intentions.

I thought getting old was supposed to deal with this? If I have to deal with all the other indignities of getting old why do I have to put up with a libido? Maybe if I had a sex partner or even a cuddle buddy things these drives would have some value. What good are they to me?

Conveniently Forgotten

Three years ago yesterday a fellow member of our blogosphere killed himself. That ought to be enough of a trigger warning, but it gets worse. You have been warned. (I am just full of uplifting blog posts these days, aren’t I?)

Three years is too soon to be writing about this. I should have waited five years at least, and ten or twenty years would be safer still. But this death has been on my mind since it popped up on my reminders last Friday, and chances are bad that this blog will survive another two years, or that I will survive another seven or seventeen. So let’s reopen the wound and see what happens.

For maximum imprudence, I’ll refer to this blogger as J. Those of you who remember him will know exactly to whom I am referring, and (I hope) those of you who don’t will have no clue. I think his blog is offline now, which is just as well, as I would feel uncomfortable linking to it.

I first met J as a mutual commenter on a third blog. I do not remember how or when, but at some point I started following his blog too. I felt some concordance when I learned he was a techie, doing some techie thing for an educational institution. At the time I was also working as a techie, and sometimes I recognised some of the tools he was using. J seemed to be a big, friendly guy who (like many of us) struggled with his weight, but who also gave back to his community in many ways. He was an amateur ham radio enthusiast, and helped organize conventions in the area. He also was involved with a support group for LBGTQ+ youth, which I thought was particularly admirable given he lived in a regressive Southern state. (Apologies to those who live in regressive Southern states.)

J met other bloggers from time to time. His online reputation as a friendly, generous guy seemed to carry through to his offline life.

Then, all of a sudden, things unravelled very fast. J posted an ominous blog post, and then a story about a car accident, and then a suicide note. He talked about being accused of a crime, and about his charges being posted in the local media, and how it was the kind of crime one can’t fight against. And then he committed suicide.

It wasn’t difficult to read between the lines, and snooping online for the news story confirmed my suspicions. The police had raided J’s home and confiscated his computer as evidence for an investigation involving internet crimes against children. His work put him on “administrative leave”. J lasted a few days in despair, and then killed himself.

It is important to note that J was not charged with anything. The police had confiscated his computer for an investigation, but J himself had not been directly accused of anything. But from reading his final blog posts, it was clear that the stigma of being guilty by association loomed large in his mind.

I don’t know the details. The polite thing to do would be to refrain from speculation, but I am not polite. I think it is plausible that J may have had incriminating pornography on his computer. For my own cognitive dissonance, I hope that at worst J had been consuming incriminating pornography and not producing it, but I do not know one way or the other. It could also have been that this confiscation was a total mistake, but in my heart I doubt this.

I do know that J found young men attractive, but I have no sense of how young. J blogged a fair amount about a young man who was also gay and also into ham radio. He repeatedly insisted that nothing sexual was happening between them, but I suspected that J was besotted. The two did a lot of extra-curricular activities together, and J felt lonely when the young man was not around.

If J got himself into trouble, I am angry that J got himself into trouble. If J committed acts that hurt children or adolescents or anybody else, then I am even more angry about that. I take a strong stance against exploitation and abuse, although probably not as strong as those who are parents. But there are other things I am not angry at J about.

In some ways I see J as my mirror image. It is well documented (via Shocking Disclosure 3) that my predilections tend towards middle-aged men and women. J’s predilections tended the other way. Both predilections squick most people out, although I am fortunate in that my predilection (while disgusting) is not illegal. Although I am upset with the possible consequences of J’s predilection, I am not angry that he possessed the attractions he did. Simple statistical variance means that if people are allowed to vary in their predilections at all, some will have predilections above the mean and some will have predilections below.

Let’s face it: there are a lot of gay men attracted to those who appear young. This should come as no surprise; although we frown upon it sociologically, biologically human bodies produce the healthiest babies soon after adolescence, which means that being attracted to 14-17 year olds is evolutionarily advantageous. Maybe gay men ought not to be attracted to reproductive suitability the way their straight counterparts are, but I bet they are. Meanwhile, we classify anybody under 18 as a minor and — for good sociological reasons! — prohibit them from being the targets of sexual attraction. Instead we skirt the line by obsessing over twinks, who might be 18 or 20 or 22 years old, but look younger. But few of us are willing to say this out loud, because we do not want to reinforce the slur that conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, the third rail of homosexuality.

If you are a person who is attracted to children — maybe teenagers, maybe those younger — what the hell are you supposed to do? All the treatments I know of (chemical castration! just don’t think about sex! convert yourself to someone attracted to acceptable people!) sound spectacularly ineffective in exactly the same way those treatments didn’t cure gay men of homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s. Some lucky people find sexual partners who are “of age” but look much younger (hooray for twinks!). That can be a good solution, but it does not work for everybody.

We have no answers, and we would much prefer that these people did not exist. In light of the circumstances surrounding his death, it is so easy to paint everything J was and did in a monstrous light. He worked for an educational institution! He volunteered for LBGTQ+ youth organizations! He harboured a close friendship with a young gay man! He was big and jovial and smiled a lot — just like a child molester! Never mind the nuances of his actions (for example, that he worked as a techie who likely did not have daily interactions with students), or whether he committed any improprieties while engaging in them. As he wrote in his suicide note, the accusation is enough.

I did not know J well, if at all. I do not feel he was a monster, and I think it is a mistake to pretend he was not a part of our community. I have also done monstrous things (although not of the same nature). I have definitely let my sexual predilections influence my actions one way against another, just as you have probably gone out of your way to be helpful to particularly attractive people. That does not mean that we were grooming victims, or that our intentions in doing these things was solely to find bed partners. We all come with mixed motivations, and even when our motivations are impure we can still do good in the world. I sincerely hope J did not harm people. But even if he did, I am reasonably confident that he did not only harm people. It is possible to do bad things and still be a kind and generous person.

I understand that this is an unpopular opinion. I strongly suspect that there are other bloggers who (when they think of J at all) are very angry with him and wanted him to face the consequences of his actions. There are other bloggers who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, and may feel very strongly about the circumstances surrounding J’s death. But I stand by my position. Online or off, we are surrounded by broken, complicated people, and demonizing people when they go beyond the bounds of acceptability (or, in J’s case, are accused of doing so) denies that people who do terrible things are people who are much more similar to us than they are different.

Should J have killed himself? As a nihilist who is also fairly likely to die of suicide, I am the wrong person to ask. I don’t blame J for killing himself. His career at his educational institution was over regardless of the outcome. If he had been charged and arrested, he would have spent time in jail at the bottom of the prison pecking order. If he was charged and found guilty of his accusations, he would likely have ended up on sex offender registries and become unemployable. If he was innocent then things might have been worse, because he would still suffer in custody, and then have the stigma of his accusations follow him around for the rest of his life. If I was facing J’s situation I might well make the same choice.

I understand that others do not share the same view. They view suicide as the coward’s way out. They want to see offenders punished for the sake of vengeance. To me that is irrelevant. If I was accused of crimes and there were victims to whom I could offer restitution or with whom I could engage in restorative justice, then maybe there would be some reason to live. Otherwise? Why bother?

What I do feel is that J’s suicide was awfully convenient for the rest of us. Maybe some of J’s close friends and families still grieve his death, but I am confident nearly all of the blogosphere has moved on. I doubt we bloggers think about J anymore; if his death had not popped up in my reminders I would not have either. If J had lived he might well have been charged with something, and then he might have gone to trial, and we as a community of bloggers might have had to face the possibility that one of our own had come to grief by his own actions. That would have been uncomfortable. Although we in the blogosphere read about many sad things, rarely do they carry the stigma that this accusation would have, and because J took his own life we could forget he ever existed, that he was at one time part of our community, or that he brought with him some difficult issues that we don’t know what to do with. As it was, we were sad for a bit, then read the next blog post and moved on.

None of that is to say that I wished J ill, in the past or now. I am grateful for J’s presence and his blog. I hope he did not hurt others, and if he did I hope those others will heal. I am sorry that things ended badly and that he suffered emotional pain.

Chip Delany

I want to write this while Chip Delany is still alive.

Probably I have no right to refer to Samuel L. Delany as “Chip”. My understanding is that this is the name his friends call him; “Samuel” is the name he uses as a published author. But since I am focusing on Delany the person more than Delany the writer, I will use the nickname.

Chip Delany is best known as an author. He is often classified as a science-fiction author, although he has not written science fiction in decades. To be honest I have not read many of his writings, other than an autobiographical piece he published in the anthology Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming-Out Stories, edited by Patrick Merla. His was the first (and chronologically earliest) entry in the series, and it reflected a world I had never known. Consider his etymological explanation of the word “camp”:

Etymologically, of course, “camp” was an apocopation of “camp follower.” Camp followers were the women, frequently prostitutes, who followed the armies across Europe from military camp to military camp. Since the military have always had a special place in homosexual mythology, and presumably because the advent of a large group of young, generally womenless men was as good an excuse as any for cross-dressing among the local male populace inclined, the then-new meaning of the term — “to go out and camp it up”, “to have a mad camp” (and “a mad camp” was the phrase most commonly in use — gained currency in England during World War I and had been brought back to the United States by American soldiers. Calling something “a camp” followed the same linguistic template as calling a funny experience “a riot”. Indeed, the two were often synonymous.

I had never heard of this. I had never heard of a lot of the experiences Delany related in this story. Delany was born in 1942. He lived gay life before Stonewall. He survived the plague of the 1980s. He has seen a lot and lived through a lot. That is enough for him to be admirable. But it is the way he has lived his life, and the ways that he has written about and advocated for that life that makes him remarkable. Since delving deeper into his life story, I think he has become one of my gay heroes, and not just because he is bearish and cute. He has made unconventional life choices and defended them openly, which seems heroic to me.

I should note up front that I don’t think his life choices are for everyone. I highly doubt they would be for me. But I do think he demonstrates that there are many different ways for homosexuals to structure their lives.

What have I found impressive? Let me list the ways:

First, he married a woman, Marilyn Hacker. Maybe that should not be surprising. Many gay men of his era married women. But Delany was open about his sexuality from the beginning with his wife. She later came out as lesbian. They had a daughter together, with whom Delany remains close. To me, it sounds like a significantly different narrative than “gay man forced into closet, decides to make himself straight by marrying, lives life of anguish”. In an interview I listened to on Youtube, Delany credits his wife with shifting the focus of his writing from science fiction to more contemporary alienation. Although his marriage ended, it does not sound as if he regretted being married. Many gay men who marry women appreciate the children but not the marriage; I get the impression that Delany appreciated both.

My understanding is that neither Delany nor Hacker were monogamous (probably Delany was less so). Throughout his life (including into his seventies) Delany continues to enjoy casual sexual encounters. There is no question that he got off lucky; I vaguely remember that he was fortunate in that he did not enjoy anal sex, so he happened to have reduced his risk in the plague years. Having a lot of sex is not particularly admirable or noteworthy; what is noteworthy is that he unapologetically defends this life as something that works for him. I have not read the book, but apparently he documents some of this life in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.

My appreciation for Delany grew further when listening to a somewhat-embarrassing panel discussion led by bell hooks. hooks kept trying to push Delany into a “sex radicalism” box, and Delany was having none of it. My interpretation is that he did not see himself as a sex radical who is radical for the sake of transgression, but that he was doing what was right for his life. A lot of what he said during the panel sounded downright sensible. I do think that Delany is kind of a sex radical (I will never ever read his book Hogg if I can help it) but I don’t get the sense that he is a zealot.

At some point after his divorce Delany established an intimate and non-monogamous relationship with Dennis Rickett, who was at the time homeless and selling books on a street corner. Their relationship is documented in the graphic novel Bread and Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York. The two have been committed to each other for decades, despite not being sexually exclusive. Throughout those years Rickett and Delany have been fighting a civil rights battle of their own; when he became homeless Rickett lost his identification and has become a non-citizen as a result, unable to access government services. Rickett and Delany have spent years trying to get Rickett his ID back, because Delany supported Rickett via his own ID; if Delany died before Rickett got his government ID, he would be thrown into destitution. This is a personal battle for the couple, but as with so many of the themes Delany talks about, it reflects larger struggles going on in the world.

It is gauche of me to say this, but Delany has done all this while being black, and unlike so many others he does not come across as bitter. I am sure that he is bitter sometimes, and I would not blame him for being so, and it is gauche to say this because of course privileged people appreciate oppressed people who are quiet and polite rather than loud and angry. Still, there is something worth mentioning here. When I listen to Delany speak the two adjectives that come to mind are “wise” and “articulate”.

I am glad that Delany survived the plague. I am glad he has made a living as a writer and a professor. I am glad that he has been able to live his life unconventionally and unapologetically. All too often I think we are pressured into cookie-cutter identities — first as party animals seeking endless anonymous sex, and then as picket-fence monogamous married gays who are middle-class and unthreatening. People like Chip Delany remind us that there are other ways to live.

Shagging vs Infidelity

First off: the last thing the world needs is another Going Gently hot-take from me. But I was reading I’ve never wanted to visit Mexico and I am having a difficult time keeping my mouth shut. It is a good thing nobody reads my blog or I could get the hordes banging on my door.

The Going Gently entry is short, so you should read it. The pulchritudinous John Gray was talking with an old (presumably gay) school friend, who had gone on a Mexican cruise with his boyfriend. The friend confided to John that on a cruise one can shag everybody, and that the friend and his partner had proceeded to do so. John then tut-tutted that while it is okay to shag around when one is single, doing so while partnered demonstrates “fickle immaturity”. “But to each their own I guess”, he concludes.

The comments continued this theme. Many repeated the “to each their own” sentiment, and proceeded to harshly judge shagging outside a committed relationship. Some choice comments:

  • “It seems to me that open relationships are a recipe for disaster.”
  • “Maybe some people can do it successfully, but then I would question their level of actual commitment to each other. What happens when they get old and unattractive to other people?”
  • “What kind of commitment do you have when you can play around with anyone? Doesn’t this behavior lead to medical issues?”
  • “I just can’t imagine anyone in a committed and loving relationship with someone that wants to screw around. Well, except maybe my Ex!”
  • “If that’s what people want I say ” go knock yourself out” I am just questioning how well it all works in an open relationship? [T]o me it sounds emotionally too messy”
  • “In recent years the idea of ‘polyamory’ has been introduced and peddled. You know, that ludicrous excuse for fooling around as we are all capable of ‘loving’ more than one person.”
  • “If anyone needs to shag around, then he/she should quit the relationship he/she is in, but perhaps I am too old-fashioned.”
  • “If you give everything to your partner and they give it back, why would you want anything else!”
  • “When a person is tempted to have a taste with someone else than they might as well just be single.”
  • ” It’s absolute bullshit to think that one of a couple can have an open marriage/relationship without it’s inevitable failure. Trust/power/love balance would shift so much.”

I have to be blunt here: people are allowed to hold their opinions, and they are welcome to express those opinions openly. In no way do I advocate censoring these commenters or their views. At the same time, many of these comments made me deeply uncomfortable. They reminded me just how outside the mainstream I am. But there is more to this than my personal discomfort. I have heard all these kinds of criticisms before. They are exactly the same sentiments people used to routinely make about homosexuality fifteen years ago:

  • “Gay people can’t be in real relationships. They will never know the commitment between a man and a woman”
  • “If gay people want to get married they can — just marry people of the opposite sex”
  • “Homosexuality has nothing to do with love. It’s all about sex.”
  • “Doesn’t this behavior lead to medical issues?”
  • “Living the gay lifestyle might seem like fun now, but what happens when you get old? Gay men die unloved and alone.”

… but to each their own, right?

Look. I don’t know whether I am inclined towards monogamy or not. Currently I am non-ogamous, and that is unlikely to change. Maybe I would be wracked with jealousy and be unable to tolerate my partner shagging around. Maybe I would have no inclination to shag around myself. None of that changes how toxic these blanket condemnations of shagging outside committed relationships are.

Some people are not inclined towards monogamy. Forcing these people to choose between monogamous marriage and being single for the rest of their days makes the world worse, not better. Too many of these people choose marriage and then stray, which causes great distress and heartache.

And implying that shagging outside the confines of marriage necessarily means that relationships are doomed is objectively wrong. Mr Peenee and his late partner R-Man were decidedly non-monogamous, but they stayed committed to each other until R-Man’s untimely death. Doesn’t that mean that they “won” marriage? Chip Delany and his partner Dennis Rickett have been together for over 25 years, and they are not monogamous.

Okay. So maybe only gay men can have success with open relationships? Then how come Ferrett Steinmetz and his wife have been together for decades, despite (or because of) their polyamory?

I am choosing these examples because I am familiar with them, but there are many other cases like this. Shagging outside one’s marriage does not necessarily mean that one’s relationship is doomed.

But let us address the elephants in this room. What about disease? What about complexity? What about the many people in the comments who were hurt because their spouses wanted non-monogamy and they didn’t? Doesn’t having sex with one person mean you don’t love your partner any more? Isn’t sex special and sacred and should be reserved for the marriage bond?

Disease

Yes, disease is a factor. Multiple concurrent relationships (particularly with unfamiliar sex partners) increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections. People who engage in shagging outside a committed relationship need to be more careful than those who don’t.

If disease was your primary consideration then you wouldn’t shag at all, because even if you think you are in a committed monogamous relationship your partner might have other opinions. Furthermore, as Dan Savage says a lot of fun activities come with additional risks. He brings up the example of snowboarding, where you have a higher risk of breaking your leg. I’ll mention travel. When people travel they are at a higher risk of bringing bedbugs home from hotels and airports. They are at higher risk of contracting weird foreign diseases that can affect them for life (which has happened to at least one person I know). When the next superflu hits, it will be the travellers who spread it across continents. Travel is downright dangerous. And yet we are not morally judgemental of people who travel the world. We admire them despite their carbon footprints. People who have multiple concurrent sex partners can’t eliminate the risks of sexually-transmitted infections, but they can do a lot to reduce them.

But maybe there will be another plague? Sure. There might be another plague. I am deeply fearful that there will be. But I am also deeply fearful of the superflu.

Complexity

What about complexity? Sure. Complexity is a real consideration, and lots of open relationships fail because people cannot handle the additional emotional entanglements and communication involved. But again, if you want to avoid complexity you should be pathetic like me and have no sexual or romantic partners at all. I can do what I want, move where I want, live how I want. I have to accomodate the wishes of my housemates, but my relationships are much more simple than they would be if I was partnered. So why don’t we ban people having romantic partners altogether?

The reality is that doing non-monogamy correctly requires lots of communication, and it requires making implicit assumptions explicit. People who don’t want to deal with that complexity shouldn’t be in non-monogamous relationships, but that does not mean that the additional complexity overwhelms the benefit of shagging around. The couple on the Mexican cruise seemed to have a shared understanding of the parameters of their relationship. Does that mean their relationship was doomed? Certainly that is the implication from many of the comments.

And yes, sometimes people fall in and out of love, and develop deeper emotional entanglements with people outside their primary relationship than their partner. Are you going to tell me that never happens outside the confines of monogamous relationships?

The advantage that non-monogamous people in relationships have over those who are monogamous by default is that non-monogamous people quickly learn that in order to be successful they need to negotiate their non-monogamy. Monogamous people think they can cruise by on default assumptions, and I think that is deeply harmful.

Infidelity

This, I think, is the crux of the matter. In the comments some people tried to make distinctions between shagging and intimacy, claiming that intimacy can only be experienced within the confines of a committed (monogamous) relationship. But I think that is the wrong distinction.

I agree that infidelity is a huge problem in marriage. But what does infidelity mean? It does not necessarily mean shagging outside marriage. It means violating trust. Don’t conflate the two.

If somebody has promised to be monogamous and then is non-monogamous, then that is probably infidelity. Many of the commenters who experienced suffering through non-monogamy dealt with that. There are some deeper problems here, however.

First, I would be willing to bet that the assumption of monogamy was implicit, and not explicitly discussed until it was too late.

Secondly, because of this toxic assumption that non-monogamy means you cannot be committed to your primary relationship, expressing interest in non-monogamy is seen as the first step towards breakup or divorce. If we could break that toxic assumption, people would be a lot healthier.

The third problem is that all too often “opening one’s relationship” really is code for “I want to break up, but I am too chicken to say that out loud.” This is the same phenomenon that has convinced the world that male bisexuality doesn’t exist: a lot of young gay men come out as bisexual before coming out as gay, so everybody thinks that whenever anybody claims bisexuality it is “just a phase”. That is not so good for actual bisexuals (assuming they exist).

People in polyamorous relationships can still be cheated on. It is very rare that “anything goes”, and the rules around what constitutes infidelity get weird. I remember Ferrett writing about movie nights as components of infidelity.

We need to be more explicit about what infidelity means. We really really have to break this conflation of non-monogamy and non-commitment to a relationship. But we also have to accept that people change as they age, and what worked when somebody was twenty may not work any more. If we can hold those contradictions without jumping to the conclusion that they mean one’s marriage or primary relationship is over, then we will be better off. People who are in committed monogamous marriages have to negotiate these kinds of changes all the time, but for some reason we have huge hangups when these conversations are about sex.

Exclusivity

Does having a sex partner outside a committed relationship mean that you are less committed to your primary partner? It can be, but this is not necessarily the case. This argument always blows my mind because there are clear analogies that everybody accepts as counterexamples.

I am told that sometimes straight people reproduce. Some straight people report having deep, intense love for their children. Does this mean that they don’t love their spouses any more? Furthermore, straight people sometimes reproduce multiple times. Sometimes the older children feel threatened by their younger siblings, and worry that their parents won’t love them as much because they have to compete for their parents’ affection. Is this true? Are all these reassurances we give to those older siblings lies?

I have no doubt that some people love certain children more than others, and I have no doubt that some people love their children more than they love their spouses. I think it is more common for the love to be spread around. Does that mean every child is “loved equally”, whatever that means? I don’t think so. I think parents love their different children in different ways, but they love them all.

Some of you might be squicked out by the comparison between spousal love and the love for one’s children. I am referring to emotional connection: the underlying claim against non-monogamy is that if you shag somebody outside your marriage you have lost the emotional bond to your primary partner. This may be the case sometimes, but I do not think it is universal.

If we accept that people are somehow capable of loving their spouse and their children, or that they are capable of loving multiple children simultaneously, why is it so outlandish to think that emotional connection is exclusive to a single sexual partner?

Sex as Sacred

Years ago I read a blog post by a Livejournaler named paulintoronto (whose blog, alas, has been expunged from the Internet). This blog post contained a sex manifesto that shocked and upset me. Here are some excerpts:

Without getting too detailed, since I want this to be a public, not a screened, entry on my blog, I’ll say that there are certain kinds of sexual acts — some might say “fetishes” — that I enjoy and that Bob does not.  It wouldn’t kill me to refrain from such acts, of course; and it wouldn’t kill Bob to engage in them.  But I don’t want to refrain, and he doesn’t want to engage.  So, just as I go elsewhere to practice speaking German, I go elsewhere to practice certain sex acts.  This does nothing to harm our relationship.  On the contrary, I thi[n]k it makes our relationship stronger.

In short, I take the position that having sex is just one of many enjoyable human activities.  If Bob were to have sex with someone other than me, I would consider it in no way different than if he were to go out for dinner with someone other than me, or discuss a play with someone other than me, or buy a present for someone other than me.

As I have aged I have grown more and more in concordance with this view. We have such huge hang-ups about sex that we put it in a special category, but those hang-ups are unnecessary and actively harmful.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that people see sex as special. But it doesn’t have to be special. As paulintoronto writes:

I do not consider sexual activity to be a special category of behaviour that is essentially and importantly different from all other forms of interpersonal contact.  Yes, physical intimacy can embody an emotional connection between two people, and enhance a deep romantic bond.  But sex can also be a source of amical pleasure between two friends who find each other attractive, or who share the same sexual tastes.  And it can be a relatively impersonal exchange with a stranger or near-stranger for mutual satisfaction.  In short, it can be extremely meaningful, or it can be absolutely meaningless, depending on the context and the attitudes of the participants.

I feel a lot of our hang-ups around sex come from the intersection of procreation, complexity, and the concept of humans as property. If somebody has many sexual partners, and they get pregnant, then whose baby is it? Who has the property rights over this new being? Who is responsible for raising this creature until it leaves for college and only visits on holidays?

Fortunately, pregnancy and paternity are not the same threats they used to be: we have homosexuality now. Furthermore, I am told that even straight people have techniques they can use to have sex without babies. Maybe it is time to re-examine the pedestal upon which we have placed sex and put it in the context of other activities.

Moreover, I have written before that two-parent households are a crime against humanity, and I stand by that. Two parents are not enough, especially as the number of children grows. Polyamory is one mechanism for building the support networks kids need to thrive and parents need to get some sleep once in a while.

Different Strokes

In the Going Gently comments, there was one defence of shagging outside marriage that spoke to me (albeit a muted one):

The same could be said for relationships and recreation. You have to find what fits you and just enjoy it. Different strokes for different folks. Variety and Diversity makes the world wonderful and exciting.

I agree strongly with this. I would go even farther.

I am not trying to say that non-monogamy is for everybody. Dan Savage thinks that most people are inherently non-monogamous, but I do not agree. I think that monogamy works “well-enough” for many people, even those who would benefit from non-monogamy if it is was an option for them. I am also not trying to push the tired cliche that polyamorous people are somehow “more evolved” than monogamous people are. If monogamy works for you — and you actively know this, as opposed to falling into the default assumption — then great. But I would ask you to show a little more compassion for those people who have better lives because they shag other people outside their committed relationship.

What I do feel — strongly — is that this insistence on monogamy-by-default hurts a lot of people, and the harsh blanket judgements that non-monogomy is a “recipe for disaster” are not warranted.

Again, there are parallels to homosexuality here. A lot of gay pegs were forced through straight holes (so to speak). This caused a lot of distress — not only for the gay people who married straight people and were unhappy, but also for their spouses. (A footnote here: I also believe that many of these gay men in straight marriages appreciated having children, so the record is somewhat mixed. But I still think there was a lot of heartbreak.) It is true that there are a lot of gay people who are unhappy with the homosexual lifestyle, but there are also a lot of gay people who found stable, happy relationships with people they were actually attracted to.

I think the same is true of non-monogamy. If we accepted monogamy as a spectrum, and accepted that some people are non-monogamous, then there will still be a lot of heartbreak and unhappiness with the non-monogamous lifestyle. But there will also be a lot of people who will find stable, happy lives that are more in concordance with what they want and what is good for them. I know this because people are building those kinds of relationships now, despite the stigma and social judgement. I long for the day when more people (especially more straight people) will be open about these things and serve as positive examples for the rest of us.

I do worry that we will eventually accept non-monogamy in the same way as we accept homosexuality, but only for the most heteronormative expressions of such. Just as we disapprove of any homosexual that does not want stable monogamous marriage to one partner, we will continue to disapprove of any non-monogamous person who does not seek a stable set of long-term partners that mirrors the nuclear family except for having more adults shagging each other. This is a mistake. Some people are polyamorous and want to form long-term connections with a small set of people. Some people want to go on gay cruises and shag all the passengers. I agree that one option is risky and potentially more complicated than the other, but I disagree that one is morally superior.

As you might have guessed, a lot of my perspective comes from listening to too much Dan Savage, and my observations from reading the blogs of gay men. This does not mean that I believe gay men have the mix right. Quite the contrary, in fact. As I have written before I feel that gay male sexual culture is polarized: either endless meaningless hookups on Grindr, or the white picket fence of monogamous, socially-approved gay marriage. I think a lot of guys are deeply unhappy because they are tired of the meaningless sex, but don’t really want monogamous marriage either, and they don’t see anything in between. I want there to be lots in between, and I want it to be socially acceptable for people to be out and proud about the diverse ways they make their lives work without ignorant, toxic social judgement.

Data Analysis for John Gray

A few days ago pulchritudinous blogger John Gray asked his readership some demographic questions. His mysterious friend Mr. A had made some predictions about Mr. Gray’s Going Gently readership:

  • that the readership is 80% female
  • that the readership is of a more mature demographic
  • that most of John’s male followers were LGBT
  • that he had no followers under 25 years of age (to which John insisted he had at least five)

Mr. Gray then conducted a survey to assess these demographics. He also asked about whether his followers had sex these days.

As I am of no other use to Mr Gray (too incompetent to leave comments, too emotionally frigid to offer comfort during his difficult times, too ugly to sleep with, plus I wear cheap shoes) I decided to crunch the numbers.

I went through the comments and coded them into a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • The age of the commenter (which was sometimes a range)
  • The stated sex of the commenter
  • Whether the commenter explicitly identified as LGBTQ+
  • Whether the commenter claimed to be having sex these days
  • Whether the commenter regretted or was relieved to not be having sex, for those who did not have sex

In several cases commenters did not answer all the questions. In a few places I supplemented the comments with data I knew (for example, I identified at least one of his male commenters as gay) but I did not throroughly try to clean data. In total I counted 141 people identified in the survey as answering at least one question. The majority were comments, but some were people reporting that their loved ones (eg grandchildren) read Going Gently.

Sexual Identity

Of the 141 participants, 117 (83%) identified as female, 19 (13%) identified as male, 4 did not specify and one identified as gender neutral. So it appears that Mr. A’s estimation of 80% female readership was fairly accurate.

Going Gently's Readers by Sex

Age

136 out of 141 participants identified their age within a 10 year frame. One respondent identified a wider range.

A large majority (113 of 136, or 83%) of Going Gently‘s readership identified as being older than or equal to 55 years old. There is a large demographic bulge for those older than 55 and less than or equal to 74 years of age. The youngest respondent was identified as 12, and the oldest at 96.

Do these numbers qualify as a “more mature” demographic? I think many of the participants would respectfully disagree, but I will let you be the judge.

Going Gently's readers by age, split into five year buckets

Note that in the graph the labels are not right. The labels are the upper range of the bar, so the label “35” means the number of people older than or equal to 35 and less than 40. Also I used buckets of five year intervals, and some people specified their age in ten year buckets “I am in my sixties”.

In total there were exactly five reports of Going Gently readers aged 25 or younger. Only one of them was self reported, and that person was anonymous. The others were all reported by other commenters.

Sexual Activity

72 out of 141 participants (51%) were reported as “still having sex”, 42 (30%) of participants reported as not, and 19% either declined to answer, gave a joke answer (which was always the same joke answer), or did not specify one way or the other.

Whether Going Gently readers have sex these days, in broad categories

What was interesting is that people who did not have sex these days were split as to whether they regretted this decision. 10 out of 42 (24%) expressed regret, another 10 expressed relief, and the rest did not say one way or the other.

Whether Going Gently readers have sex these days, broken down by regrets and by reasons answer is unspecified

Male Readership

Out of the 19 readers reported as being male, 9 (47%) identified as being LGBT, and most of the rest did not specify. In at least one case a male who was openly gay did not report, so I expect there may be a few additional gay or bisexual men in the respondents. But at this point there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that “most” of John Gray’s male followers are LGBTQ+.

Are most of John Gray's male readers LGBTQ+?

Data

If you want to play with the data yourself, I have uploaded the spreadsheet I used to generate the numbers. Because I am pathetic, I used LibreOffice Calc as my spreadsheet, but WordPress is stupid and would not let me upload it directly. Instead I converted to XLSX format, which probably messed up the charts. You should be able to read enough of the data to get the first sheet, and then use this data to generate your own charts.

john-gray-research.xlsx

40 Days and 40 Nights

Heads up: this is a self-indulgent entry, as if the rest of my entries aren’t. Reader discretion is advised.

The job was supposed to be easy: surf the Internet and monitor some blogs, monitoring them for infractions of the American Psychiatric Association’s blogging guidelines. Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity, especially given that I read blogs all the time anyways?

The job was supposed to be easy, but I screwed it up. I got emotionally involved. First I took a genuine interest in the erudite and witty blog entries. Then one day I left a comment. Then I started commenting regularly. By the time I was let go from the contract I was checking my blogs several times a day, hoping to receive some intermittent reward for whatever idiot dictum I happened to leave on someone’s blog that day. Sometimes I would check a blog ten or twenty times a day, even though I knew full well the blogger in question had a real job and would not respond to comments until the evening.

And then things fell apart. A combination of unemployment and exhaustion and certain stressors I shall not document here hurtled me into a boring existential crisis. Is my life worth living? (Not really) Do I make anything better for anybody, even a little bit? (Nice qualifier there, bud) Is this balanced out by all the bad stuff I do? (Not a chance) Am I willing to do anything to improve the situation? (Nope) Am I willing to do anything to terminate the situation? (Not yet, apparently, but maybe I am getting closer) Blah, blah, blah. Those of you who have been there know what I am talking about, and those of you who haven’t likely don’t get it at all. All I know is that checking blogs compulsively was not helping, and also the comments I was leaving were getting snarkier and more passive-aggressive and more controlling. So I took a break.

The original intention was to take a break from blogs altogether. That lasted four days. The next intention was to refrain from commenting. I didn’t know how much of a break would be appropriate until I remembered Internet rumours that it takes 21 days to break a habit. I settled on keeping my big yapper shut for 40 days and 40 nights. That was long enough for God to cleanse the world of sinners (Noah and his family excepted) and for Jesus to wander the desert, so it ought to be long enough for me.

Forty days came and forty days went. I did find myself checking blogs less frequently, which was a relief. I wish I could say that I became more productive, but I didn’t. I was also relieved to note that life went on. Few people missed me and fewer people cared. The blogs I followed kept pumping out entries and for the most part people kept leaving good comments. Once again I was reminded people were better off without me than with me. That is a comfort.

I was tempted to break the silence on several occasions. Once in a while I thought of something clever to write. Often I fought the urge to tell people they were being wrong on the Internet. Those urges were irritating but I was better off for resisting them. The few times I felt genuinely bad were when people were suffering. In particular, CB’s cat Phoebe died and I did not say anything. I almost said something, but then my web browser ate my comment instead of posting it. I interpreted that as a sign and kept my silence. I still feel bad about that. Other bad things have happened too. Erik got gay-bashed. RJ lost some friends. John Gray is going through some mysterious marital troubles that feel like a punch in the gut.

I broke my silence on Dr Spo’s blog yesterday. It was a dumb throwaway comment. I should have kept my mouth shut. I don’t know what happens next. The fast worked; posting daily comments feels less compelling now. Maintaining silence would be golden, but I doubt it will happen. Maybe I go back to leaving unwelcome commentary just as I did before.

It is summertime in Lurkistan now. I would prefer being outside to being on my computer. Local elections are coming up in Lurkville, and I have stupidly promised to get involved with them. At some point I will need to earn money again. It would be better to put blogs on hold for a while. I won’t, but I should.

Being on the Internet has taught me that you can stomp off in a huff once. Do it a second time and people stop taking you seriously. I have used up my chance. But sooner or later, it is inevitable that I will disappear again — maybe temporarily, maybe permanently, but probably without warning. I am nothing if not unreliable.

Sex and Vaginas

In a recent comment on his blog, poor Steven expressed confusion about the relationship between vaginas and sex. To be specific, he asked: “ewwww what do vaginas have to do with sex?”

Although I am saddened by poor Steven’s ignorance, I can’t say I am surprised. He grew up in a socialist country, and I can only imagine that comprehensive sex education was not high on the agenda. For all I know the poor fellow fell into homosexuality because he was taught that it is an effective form of birth control. As responsible bloggers and wannabe sex educators, it is our duty to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. Thus, here is an explanation of how vaginas relate to sex:

Sometimes when a man and a woman love each other very much or have too much to drink, they rub their bodies together in a special dance. While they are dancing the man often puts his penis in the woman’s vagina (that is, he puts his wee-wee in her hoo-haw) and rubs it around a lot. Just as the Bible tells us, the man spurts his seeds into the fertile fields of the woman’s womb. Then the man and woman become a Mommy and Daddy, because a little baby grows in the woman and is born. Yes, that’s correct — it’s very much like when you planted sunflower seeds in the garden last year and they grew into flowers, or the time you accidentally ate watermelon pips and watermelon plants sprouted out your nose.

Sometimes the Mommy and Daddy love each other enough to do more special dances, which is how brothers and sisters are made. But then Mommy decides she doesn’t love Daddy anymore, and thanks to the crooked lawyers and crooked judges who think fathers do not deserve any rights to their own g-ddamn children, Daddy gets to spend over half his salary in alimony and child support for the next two decades while getting to visit his own g-ddamn children once every other weekend. So is it any surprise Daddy is drinking wine out of a box in his windowless basement apartment, finding himself on the Internet looking at pictures of other Daddies and wondering if there might be something wrong with him? No, I didn’t think so.

So that, Steven, is where babies come from, and also how sex relates to vaginas.