HIV Non-Disclosure

If the title was not trigger warning enough, be aware that this is one of those “alienate the rest of my readers” posts.

Recently, I listened to Episode 643 of the Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage’s situational ethics podcast. One call in particular made me more furious than usual, and I am still trying to understand why. In the spirit of free association I am going to type things out and see whether I can find any clarity.

The call in question was from a transwoman sex worker. She had a sugar daddy who was offering to take her on a trip (a boat cruise?). She had not told the sugar daddy (or presumably her other clients) about her HIV+ status, and wanted Dan’s blessing for this. She claimed to have an undetectable viral load, and since undetectable equals untransmissable, she reasoned (or “reasoned”) that this was none of her sugar daddy’s business, and besides if he knew maybe he would not be her sugar daddy any more. Dan gave the sex worker his blessing on ethical grounds, but cautioned that legally there might be laws (oh so regressive laws!) that mandated disclosure from HIV-positive people to their sex partners. Dan said that if the caller did not want her sugar daddy seeing her pills, she should not go on the trip.

The caller was pretty flippant. She rhetorically asked whether she was the future for not disclosing. She was pretty clear that she was happy not to disclose to her partners, and she was pretty clear that she did not want to lose business on account of her status. Hearing that made me very, very angry. To be fair, I was already angry, but this call made me angrier in ways that other calls (including the previous call, which was also about HIV disclosure) did not. Let’s explore why, starting with the most phobic reasons.

Am I just being HIV-phobic? Sure. There is an element of that at play. Intellectually I know that undetectable is untransmissible. I also know that it is safer for somebody to be on HIV meds than sleeping with somebody whose status is unknown and who is not on PrEP (aka HIV meds). But even though my intellectual comfort with HIV has improved over the years (particularly since 1996), I don’t think that emotional gutpunch will ever go away. Maybe it would if I was in an intimate relationship with somebody who was poz. Maybe not. I have a lot of debilitating and sometimes irrational phobias, and HIV is one of them.

If some hypothetical universe where somebody was willing to sleep with me, I would be pretty ticked off being in that sugar daddy’s position. That is not limited to HIV. If somebody had syphilis or chlamydia or even herpes, I would want to know, so that I could be the one making the decision of sleeping with that person, as opposed to having that decision made for me. I feel very strongly about this, and it is probably a large source of my anger.

So there is an emotional gut-punch of HIV-phobia, but I do not think that explains everything. Let’s turn to the next accusation. Am I just being transphobic? Am I reacting so poorly to this call because the caller is a transwoman?

My answer to this is maybe. Certainly other people (in particular some trans activists) would label me as transphobic, because I do not adhere to every ideological stance taken by (some? most?) trans activists. I do not, however, think that I am more transphobic than the median LGBTQ+ person. I won’t pull the “some of my best friends are trans!” nonsense on you (it is not as if I have friends) but I do know and occasionally interact with at least a dozen trans people through my activities with local LGBTQ+ groups. I am not trans and do not claim to know what being trans is like, but I broadly support the rights of trans people to exist and live with safety. But I am sure it is possible that I reacted poorly because this caller was a transwoman as opposed to a gay man or cis woman sex worker.

Am I just being anti-sex-worker? Maybe. There is definitely an element of my reaction that is related to the caller being a sex worker, but that has more to do with trust and less to do with her profession. I believe that uncoerced prostitution should be legal, but that people should have good choices available to them so they do not have to become sex workers unless they really want to. But overall I do not see that much difference between being a sex worker and being a regular worker. They are both forms of prostitution, in my view.

I think there is more going on here, though. The first thing has to do with what being ethical means. My personal definition (which I am sure I have unconsciously stolen from some famous philosopher) is that ethics is the tension between individual and group benefit. When I do something for my own benefit at the expense of broader society, then I am (usually? always?) acting unethically. In that light, I see two ways in which this caller is clearly acting unethically, and neither has to do with HIV-transmission directly.

The first way in which this seems unethical is the same way in which staying in the closet is unethical. By being out of the closet straight people see us and become more used to having LGBTQ+ people around, and thus they are less likely to be phobic to us or about us. In some sense, we have gay marriage because Lynn Lynne Mary Cheney came out to her dad, and because George W Bush enjoyed watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Having said that, although remaining closeted does some passive harm to our fellow LGBTQ+ people (by not paving the way) it is difficult for me to argue that it does active harm, provided that we are not acting in homophobic ways ourselves to fit in. I consider not coming out a venial sin, not a mortal one.

In the same way, this caller is missing an opportunity to reduce HIV stigma in the world by not coming out as HIV positive. That part is a venial sin. But there is something about her situation that feels more serious. The caller is staying in the HIV-positive closet not only to avoid stigma, but to financially benefit from this lack of disclosure. That seems more serious to me. The caller wants to have as much business as possible, and is unwilling to disclose any information that might reduce that business, regardless of whether those reasons are rational or not.

Say this sugar daddy (or the caller’s other clients) is comfortable with the idea of hiring an HIV-positive sex worker. Then there is no harm done if the caller comes out. Say the sugar daddy is not comfortable with this, and like me feels a gut emotional reaction to HIV. Then what? Then this caller is definitely doing harm to broader society, because when this guy finds out it will affect not only her business, but the business of other sex workers as well.

That brings up trust, which I think is the biggest ethics violation here. The caller is not disclosing her HIV status because she has a financial incentive to hide it. In doing so, she undermines trust in all sex workers. (To be fair, this is a problem with all of capitalism, which is why the smoothest transactions happen between partners that already know and trust each other, and the most frictionful ones happen between strangers.)

But she also undermines her own trust. She knows that her sugar daddy would prefer to be aware of his sugar baby’s HIV status, but she does not want to lose the business. Otherwise she would not have called at all. So she is deceitful for her own benefit. Why should we believe she is trustworthy in every other way? When she says that she is undetectable and therefore untransmissible, why should we believe that? What other things is this caller willing to lie about to secure her business? The flippant way in which she dismisses this deceit makes me want to not trust her at all.

The analogy that comes to mind is when people have affairs (another activity that Dan Savage almost always blesses, on the basis of increasingly flimsy “what-if” scenarios). The damage when someone has an affair is not usually the sex. Usually it is the loss of trust from that person’s spouse. How do you recalibrate to know the ways in which this person is or is not trustworthy?

Maybe I do not like this caller because she is HIV positive, or because she is trans, or because she is a sex-worker. I definitely do not like this caller because she has demonstrated herself to be untrustworthy, and I would feel very very betrayed if I was her client. Maybe that is just my internalized hatred speaking, and this really is about transness or HIV status or career choice. But based on how I have reacted when straight, non-sexworker men of unknown HIV status have ripped me off, I have my doubts.

Corporate Pride

A few days ago I went to the mall. Boy was that a mistake. Not only are impoverished homosexuals prohibited in shopping malls, but now I am going to write the entry that finally at long last will alienate the rest of my readership. What I saw in that mall was supposed to be inspiring, but it made me real angry.

The stores had all decided that this was Rainbow Month. They festooned their displays with full-color posters and platitudes about Diversity! Celebration! Equality! Love being Love! and of course Pride! Pride! Pride!

I was supposed to be heartened by this. I was supposed to be glad that we went from being the enemy to being celebrated by retail outlets. I think the vast majority of these companies don’t care one bit about us. We all know exactly why they turned June into Rainbow Month. Do I need to spell it out for you? Fine. D-I-S-P-O-S-A-B-L-E I-N-C-O-M-E. The companies think that if they represent us they’ll get our pink dollars. And we fall for it again and again. The worst part is that I am no better than anyone else. Put a g-ddamn bear paw on something and I’ll be drooling with consumerist lust. Advertise a product with some woofy spokesperson and I’ll buy whatever is being sold. But just because I am gullible does not make this practice ethical.

Marketing to gullible queers is one thing. Doing so under the pretense of allyship is something else. If some corporation is going to claim that love is love and that it is proud to support diversity, said corporation had better be damn well prepared to back those claims up. In 2019 Lurkistan, the gays are beloved and Pride is cool, so it is the easiest thing in the world to market your allyship — and you appeal to those progressive straights who want to show they love the gays too! Where were you in 1989 Lurkistan, when gays were still dying of AIDS because drug cocktails had not been invented yet? Were you supportive allies then? Were you providing healthcare for your sick employees? Were you tending to their hospice needs? Or were you firing them as soon as you found out they were gay, because you had an image to maintain and a reputation to protect? Where was your pride then?

How about in the early 2000s, when gay marriage had not been legalized yet? Were you providing same-sex health and insurance benefits to the partners of your gay employees? Or were you arguing that offering same-sex benefits were too expensive and too complicated? Were you festooning your stores with rainbows and pride displays? Or were you too apprehensive about scaring off the straights?

Okay, fine. I am being totally unreasonable. Corporations have gone on a learning journey just like the rest of us, and now they are much more understanding and tolerant of sexual and gender diversity than they once were. Are they supporting their employees as they transition, by funding hormones and surgeries via insurance benefits? For that matter, are they even supporting their trans customers by insisting on gender-neutral bathrooms in those aforementioned malls?

Okay, maybe supporting trans people is too difficult. How about poly people? Does any employer anywhere support benefits for complicated families with several primary partners? If one member of a triad gets sick, can that person depend on the benefits provided by one of their partners’ employer? No? That would be too expensive? Too complicated? Too prone to abuse? Where have I heard those arguments before?

Okay, let’s forget about those weird poly people. How about those regular old gays and lesbians, the kind you are proud to support? How about those gays and lesbians that are persecuted in foreign countries, including some of the foreign countries in which you do business? Aren’t a bunch of those t-shirts you sell manufactured in Bangladesh? As of this writing, LBGTQ+ rights in Bangladesh are not good. How about that wonderfully soft Egyptian cotton? How are gay rights there? Oh, but you couldn’t advocate and pressure local governments on LGBTQ+ issues. That would be colonialist in a way that regulatory capture for your financial interests would not.

Okay, improving the conditions in an entire country seems difficult. You do know that some of those Bangladeshis who sew your fancy t-shirts are themselves gay, right? Are you doing anything to make sure they are safe from persecution? What’s that? They aren’t actual employees of your company? You have no jurisdiction on how they are treated? That’s just too bad.

Funny, isn’t it. Any time supporting gay rights or being an ally would cost you money or require some political courage, you shy away. You have all kinds of nice lip service for the affluent gays who have money to spend, but are you willing to put your principles where your mouth is? Do you even put up your pretty rainbow displays in the Southern United States just as you do in progressive Lurkistan? (The majority of you are multinational, after all.) If you are not willing to do these things, then maybe you really aren’t an ally. Maybe the next time we become stigmatized or unprofitable, you’ll throw us under the bus too.

And that, Virginia, is why impoverished homosexuals are not permitted in shopping malls.

(Of course, dear readers, your favorite shopping establishment is a true ally which does things properly. Right? If you asked these questions of that establishment, surely it would pass with flying colors. Right? Right?)

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


I had a anger flareup this evening. It was not directly related to my sexuality so it probably does not belong on this blog, but oh well.

The short story is that I had plans and was told to abandon them out of consideration for another’s needs. That put me in a position of debt, which made me grumpy. Any relationship in the world is going to have these kinds of conflicts, but my tolerance for them is small. So it is better that I am alone.

Framing this as a control issue is not wrong, but my angry insight this evening is that this was as much about autonomy as it is about control. There are many situations where I am happy to defer to the wishes of others. But I am not willing to have my autonomy limited. I was raised in an emotionally difficult environment. I have been gaslit many times. It won’t happen again.

This makes it difficult to stay in relationship and it makes it difficult to sustain employment. I started a short-term contract recently and have been struggling with the bureaucracy and the institution. Everywhere I look there are rules, rules, rules: no peeing on the floor, no picking my nose in public, and most obnoxiously holding the company line even when I strongly disagree with that line. But thems the tradeoffs. If you don’t follow the rules you don’t get paid.

Toeing the line is difficult enough in the workplace, and I think I have decided that I won’t put up with it in my personal relationships. Thus it is highly likely that I will be alone for the rest of my life, and that’s okay.

If I had one goal in life, it was to avoid ending up like my father. (Gee. That’s original.) He was (and probably still is) an angry, depressive man who — as far as I could tell — had zero friends, and thus put all of the burdens of human relationship onto his spouse. He grew more and more paranoid and got to the point where he could not work any more, but did not believe in psychiatry.

I thought I would be different, but as I age I am becoming more and more like him. (Gee. That’s original too.) I am angry and anxious to the point where it is difficult to hold down a job, and indeed this short-term contract may well be the last employment I ever have. I have few friends and am doing my level best to alienate the ones that remain. I demand control of situations and pretend I want autonomy, then stomp off when other people defy my wishes. I’m too cheap to go into therapy and too stubborn to go on SSRIs. The parallels are striking.

But I never married, and I never had kids. I avoided that much. If nothing else, the cycle ends with me.

Saving Alex

Recently I read Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks. It is well known that I have a short temper, and I can often be heard shouting angrily at podcasts. Usually I am calmer with the written word, if only because books can be closed until I calm down. Not so this time. I cannot remember the last time a book made me so angry.

The long subtitle of the book indicates its subject matter: Alex was a teen growing up in a Mormon household. She caroused more than a good Mormon girl should, and more importantly she fell in love with girls. Then her parents sent her away to an unlicensed “residential treatment program” (aka a home in Utah) where her spirit was broken and she was emotionally and physically abused. Among other things, she is forced to stand against a wall wearing a backpack full of rocks. For multiple weeks.

The people who ran this “treatment program” are monsters. I cannot express how much ill-will I feel towards them. Of course, they get away more-or-less scott free, which just makes me angrier.

This book reminded me of two others. The first was a psychological horror book for teens called The Fog by Caroline B Cooney, which also featured authority figures gaslighting children. The second was James Loney’s memoir Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War, which documents an international incident where he and three other Christian Peacemaker Teams workers were kidnapped and held hostage. At least in the latter case we identified the Iraqis as kidnappers and terrorists. We would never call nice Mormons who psychologically torture troubled kids the same, but in some ways they treated Alex and her housemates worse than the Iraqi kidnappers.

The thing is that this kind of psychological gaslighting is happening to kids all over the world right now, and not just to LGBTQ kids either. I can’t deal with it. It touches some raw psychological wound in me; it reminds me of some of the garbage that was going on in my household when I was a teenager. I cannot express how damaged I feel I am because of those experiences. Intellectually I know that this stuff is going on, but psychologically I just cannot bear to face it. Never again am I willing to feel as helpless as I did back then.

Some people (including Alex Cooper) are using this story as an argument to outlaw reparative therapy. Some people (not including Alex Cooper) are using it as an argument against Mormonism in particular and religion in general. I see why people make these arguments, but my argument is much broader: children are controlled by authority figures, and sometimes those authority figures are abusive in horrific ways. You don’t need to be religious to be an abuser (although certainly religion can be used as a justification for this kind of abuse). You need not be trying to turn the child straight. All you need to do is gaslight them and isolate them so they cannot get help.

I should never have signed out this book. I should have known better. That does not mean it is a bad book. To the contrary: I doubt I would have been so enraged had it been poorly written. But unless you are made of stronger stuff than I, I am not sure I can recommend it.

Grumpy with Google

When I started this commenting gig I used a Gmail address to identify myself with WordPress. The Gmail address was real, but I checked it rarely (much to the chagrin of people who attempted to communicate with me privately). In forsaking all dignity and deciding to blog here, I decided to register my WordPress account with that address. Alas. I could no longer log in. After supplying my username and password, I was led through an increasingly ridiculous series of account recovery questions. By the time I gave up, Google wanted to know the year and month (!) I opened that account. My guess is that either Google decided I had abandoned my account, or that my account was hacked and Google disabled it until I could demonstrate ownership.

I shaved that yak by opening an account with the forwarding service, which forwards email to an address I check regularly. I was able to sign up for WordPress that way, and (in principle) I am notified when you lovely people comment. I started using this alias when commenting on other blogs, which has caused its own share of problems. Now many of the blogs I used to gush on under my old identity hold my comments “for moderation”, and I suspect some of them will never see the light of day.

For the most part I can deal with WordPress, however. I rarely comment in Blogger blogs, because it is such a pain. In addition to leaving a name and a URL, Blogger now makes you fill out ReCAPTCHA entries. A few days ago I tried to leave a comment for somebody and I was forced to work through five separate CAPTCHA rounds before I fooled Google into believing I am not a robot. It is downright irritating to post on Blogger, but I guess I had better get used to it.

Why don’t I just get a Google account and leave myself logged in all the time? Because that is Google’s game plan. It wants you to stay logged in so (according to the terms of agreement you agreed to) the company can track you wherever you go and whatever you do on the Internet. I don’t particularly want Google tracking my whereabouts, especially in this identity. Thus I have to re-register my identity every time I want to comment on something. This is a losing strategy, but “losing strategy” is my middle name.

What I am trying to say is that I am sorry if you are angry that I am not leaving comments on your blog when you expect me to.

While I am at it, I am also sorry if you are angry because I do comment on your blog and don’t shut up even though you have left many hints for me refrain and leave you alone thank you very much. Social cues are not my strong suit.