How do you tell someone you’re open?

If you open up your relationship, how do you choose whether to tell any of your friends? How do you tell if a particular friend would worth the risk of sharing this “news”? How do you go about having such a conversation?

This is a great question. Navigating conversations about the style of relationship you’re in can be tricky, especially if you feel awkward gauging what is appropriate. I think the first thing to do is gain a real confidence about your relationship. This can be said for all varieties of relationships. Own the choices that you make and be as confident as one can be that the choices you make are good ones. This will transfer through in conversations that you have about your relationship and may help people understand why you make the choices that you make.

There are a lot of stereotypes about open relationships and when discussing your own open relationship it can be difficult to not feel immediately judged. You should never have to feel like you are justifying your relationship to your friends. For me, that meant choosing who I wanted to tell based on my relationship with them and whether or not the conversation permitted discourse. More simply: Is there time to explain to them what it is and what it means, or are they going to take a small piece of information and make something up because I haven’t provided them with enough context?

As I became more comfortable answering questions and got used to what kinds of questions people had, I started to tell more people. If a friend didn’t “approve” of the relationship, then they didn’t approve of me, and they weren’t a friend. That hasn’t happened. I do have a few friends who are still a little wary on the details and, I think, would rather just not hear about it. That’s okay too. I am not my relationship and we can still be friends and talk about other things as long as they accept me.

More often than not I just won’t bring it up unless I feel particularly inspired to or unless the situation calls for it.

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Why should you care what people think about you and your relationship? That’s the obvious followup question. You shouldn’t care and you shouldn’t feel obligated to explain. But we’re human beings. It feels good to be understood and accepted for you who you are, especially to those closest to you. If you can have this conversation and have it in a way that allows them to understand you and who you are, it can make you feel closer and more open to the people around you. Even if you are indifferent about the acceptance of your peers, a little conversation about the ethics of relationships is a fun way to spend an evening. No? Just me?

How you go about the conversation is up to you, but I think it’s best to just open it up when it feels right.

Example:

Jill: How are you and the boyfriend doing?

You: Well great actually, we opened up our relationship… so that’s been really fun and exciting. 

I am not one to just sit down and say “so, hey, I’m in an open relationship.” I suspect this is for a few reasons. I don’t like talking about myself very much, most of the time. There’s no context for the conversation and it leaves it way too open. And, I think, it presumes that an open relationship needs to be announced with fanfare as though it is particularly interesting or special.

Remember that it’s up to you how this information gets out and that you can share or not share whatever you feel most comfortable with.

Have a question? Click ‘ask’ at the top and I will answer your question on my blog. 

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Bisexuality in The Locker Room

Here’s the rundown:

1. Someone notable came out as being homosexual

2. Someone wrote about their discomfort in locker rooms

I’ve written about this in the past and have gotten some flack for my lack of empathy. This is why: Some people feel uncomfortable being in a dressing room with people who are homosexual. They don’t want to be “looked at” by people who are attracted to them. So while I might not be able to express empathy, let me express some understanding, or sympathy even. I get that it might be uncomfortable to think that there are people in the dressing room looking at you. Dressing rooms can be a breeding ground for insecurity and discomfort. You’re in a place where people are getting naked and taking care of personal things. The feelings that you have are valid. The problem is that we need to look at why we as human beings might feel the way that we feel and how they might invalidate others around us.

Let me make it personal. When someone says “I don’t want to share the ladies locker-room with someone who likes girls” I hear “You’re bisexual and I don’t want you to ogle me.” It presumes that, as someone who is bisexual or homosexual, you can be reduced to your sexuality as someone who simply leers at those they are attracted to. That might not be how someone feels when they are saying things like that, but it could be how it’s interpreted by the people they are talking about.

What is frustrating about it is that people have had these conversations with me unknowing that I am bisexual. They were comfortable with me, but were I to disclose that I was not entirely heterosexual, they would no longer feel comfortable.

When I’m in the locker room I’m not thinking about how cute naked girls are and how I want to go bang one. I’m thinking about my workout, how I smell, what I look like, my training goals. I’m thinking about what the combination for my lock is or where I tucked my second sock. I’m not staring at your breasts because I’m a perverted lesbian, I’m staring off into the distance thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner. I have the common courtesy to give you your privacy and space just as you would expect someone who is heterosexual to do.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a chance that I’m going to see what you look like naked. Anyone in there, gay, straight, or bi is going to see what you look like naked. And perhaps a stolen glance out of passing human curiosity for what-someone-else-looks-like-naked happens. But it’s not about sex, or your sexual orientation. I would suspect that most decent and respectable people would look away when they caught themselves looking.

I’m not saying you can’t feel discomfort thinking about it but I think it’s important to think about the experiences other people have as well and how we might be a little bit demonizing when we talk about this. Is this solution to split up dressing rooms for gay? straight? trans? cis? bisexual? sexually fluid? male? female? how many do we need for everyone to feel properly comfortable? Can we learn to manage our internal conflict and look at human beings as decent or invasive regardless of what their gender and sexual orientation are? That’s what I try to do, and I think it’s a good goal.

How do you deal with locker room discomfort? Do you grab a private room or do you bare it all out in the open?

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Making Monogamy Work

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When I tell people I’m in an open relationship there are a small variable of answers spit back out at me. Generally it’s a combination of “what does that mean?” and “I don’t think I could do that.” I’m wary that anyone recognizes the significance of admitting ignorance and preference in the same sentence, but I don’t blame them. We have to tuck these things into our heads somewhere, and ethical non-monogamy usually gets tucked away with the cast of Big Love and incurable STDs. If that’s what I’m doing, I’m doing it horribly wrong.

I decided to ask some of my monogamous friends if the concept of meeting their life partner tomorrow was more “exciting” or “terrifying.” Most of them said it made them excited, although they wouldn’t necessarily know they were the love of their lives at first-meet. Fair enough.

Having been monogamous for most of my life (serially monogamous, even) I think I have an understanding of how both kinds of relationships work. Thinking about it, I decided that I too could be monogamous again.

“I’d want to be able to hang out with whoever I wanted” – I thought – “and I’d like to be able to be friends with men, and women.” In addition, “I’d like to be able to have intimate friendships.” I didn’t want monogamy to mean that I had to obey by the same strict guidelines I had previously. “I’d want to be able to be alone with someone I felt intimately towards and not have it be a precursor to infidelity.” Basically, I wanted the freedom to have feelings. Even if within the confines of the monogamy I wouldn’t be able to follow them through.

I think there’s a misconception that small bits of freedom cascade into horrendous plane crashes of emotional hellfire. As though a peck on the cheek to someone you find devilishly handsome could snowball into a full-blown cheating scandal. There is also a misconception that telling your partner “hey, don’t do any of these things” is going to prevent infidelity from happening. At the end of the day, each partner has to feel comfortable within the relationship. They have to feel satisfied. They have to be happy. There are a lot of things that get put into that to make it happen. It’s the responsibility of each partner to communicate their needs. If you can’t create a framework where you’re both going to be happy, these little things can and do cascade into something bigger. The difference is this: are you looking for excitement outside of your relationship? Are you trying to fill some gap that isn’t being filled? Or are you letting relationships become stronger and more intimate while still staying within the boundaries of what you and your partner have deemed acceptable?

I don’t believe that allowing more freedom within monogamous relationships leads to catastrophe. I think that sort of freedom can allow for greater respect and trust within your relationship. I think it can allow you to feel a sense of ownership over yourself and your body. I think it can allow more flexibility in your day-to-day interactions. I think that you can have a monogamous relationship that is this way. I don’t think a monogamous relationship has to be something that restricts your freedom or prevents you from having new experiences or limits how close you and a friend can be. I think it is narrow-minded to believe that there is only one model for monogamy.

This isn’t to say that anyone is “doing it wrong” if they feel comfortable with a more strict set of guidelines within their relationships. For some people there is a security in knowing that their partner is so intwined with them that they nearly function as one. There is no reason to negate that experience and I think it can certainly be romantic. But I don’t think that it should necessarily be the standby, either. It doesn’t work for everyone.

I could be monogamous if my partner recognized my autonomy and I recognized theirs. I could be monogamous if I felt that the relationship was strengthened in that way. I could be monogamous if the ability to have new experiences together was a possibility. “Monogamish” relationships, as they’re called, can be a fluid alternative to monogamy and polyamory. You’re monogamous spare those occasions you share together.

Mostly I find it depressing that monogamy has been associated with ball-and-chain mentality and non-monogamy has been associated with casual sex. Relationships of any kind should be based on communication and mutual respect. They should grow through trust that develops over time. They should be flexible enough to change if need be. They should focus on bringing two lives together as one, while allowing enough room for each partner to continue growing as individuals.

Whatever you decide to call your relationship, it should share these things.

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Words to Know

Crossdress – When a person dresses in clothing typically associated with a different sex. There is no one reason that someone may enjoying crossdressing. You can be of any gender or sexual orientation to crossdress.

Drag – When a person dresses up in clothing typically associated with a different sex for the purpose of entertainment. Drag is “over the top” or dramatized whereas crossdressing may be done more for the self or personal gratification.

FTM or F2M – Female to male, someone who was assigned female at birth who identifies as male.

Gender Queer – People who identify outside of the binary of male/female.

MSM – Male identified people who have sex with other male identified people. This is more inclusive to include people who may not identify as gay or bisexual, or for men who may not have been identified as male at birth. (Also “WSW”)

Words that are historically derogatory but are by some people being reclaimed: dyke, fag, homo, queer, hermaphrodite, transvestite, tranny, he-she, she-male. It’s not advised to use these words when talking to someone or about someone unless they have already referred to themselves in that way and have signaled that it’s appropriate for you to do so as well. It may also not be appropriate to use these words depending on the environment you’re in, the person you’re talking to, or the way in which you’re talking about them. Ex: You’re so queer vs. look at that queer over there!

If you have anything to add to these definitions, comment box it.

 

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WOTD: Whitewash

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IMG_6636 (Photo credit: Dan Nguyen @ New York City)

In classes about gender and sexuality we learn about “intersectionality” – the intersection of two or more things. For instance if we’re having a conversation about race or racism we may also have to consider the different experiences of a black heterosexual man and a black lesbian woman. A topic that often stems from this conversation, likely due to the issues of race, is “whitewashing.” Wikipedia defines as the biased presentation of data.

This was discussed in one of my classes recently in reference to the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots are often used to represent the visibility of the fight for equality. The moment that “started it all.” The problem is that people who were not present or people whose voices do not accurately represent what happened are speaking for the people who were there or the people who this conversation influences. There are a lot of great articles about this in reference to all the films and documentaries that have come out since Stonewall. I would recommend doing a google search for “whitewashing stonewall” or something similar. It may take a few reads to get the hang of why people are upset.

There came a point in my writing about these things that I realized you have to be careful when you’re talking about things that you 1) Haven’t witnessed or experienced yourself and 2) Could never witness or experience yourself. Are you letting the people speak for themselves or are you speaking for them? What is the intent? How could you let them speak for themselves? How does you speaking help or harm the efforts?

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Strengthening Your Relationship

What would you define as an unhealthy relationship, or what makes a relationship unhealthy?

I don’t think there’s one way – or an easy way – to define an unhealthy relationship. There are all kinds of ways that a relationship can become unhealthy and I would say various levels of unhealthy exist within troubled or abusive relationships. I don’t think you should or could judge “physically abusive” and “unbalanced commitment” on the same scale, for instance. You also have to take into account that each individual relationship is unique and needs to be assessed individually.

I suppose a relationship that was unhealthy relationships could involve distrust, a lack of communication, disrespect, unhealthy decisions about drugs or alcohol that influenced how each partner interacted with one another, different opinions about what kind of relationship you were in or varying levels of availability or emotional awareness.

I also don’t think once a relationship is “unhealthy” that the label that has to stick with the relationship. You can develop patterns in a relationship that are unhealthy and if you’re aware of these things when they come about, you can potentially re-direct your relationship to a more positive path.

I think the most important thing is being present and aware so you can say “this isn’t something I want to continue doing with you – I want to do it better” and challenging that unhealthy narrative in your relationship. That’s not always possible, especially when it may be dangerous for one partner to do so. Some partners may not want to change their ways and may bring their significant other “down” by being unable to communicate or open up on the same level.

I would recommend relationship counseling as a sort of “step one” for anyone who is looking for healthier ways of communicating with their partner, especially if they are wavering on whether or not their relationship is unhealthy or becoming unhealthy. For domestic abuse or other issues of abuse I would recommend looking up resources in your area and finding someone to talk to who can further help you.

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what the heck is a pronoun?

Today I had my training for volunteer work with sexual minority youth. It’s the second such training I’ve had – the first being in 2009. No matter how basic the information we learn is, I feel like there is always some new information to take in, or some new perspective to look at something from. I was glad to be there and to have the opportunity to learn more or to refresh information that I’d already known.

The age ranges that I’ll be interacting with are around the ages of 12-24ish and often times are youth at risk. The training lasted for four hours and was, for the most part, gut-wrenching. We first learned what at-risk youth were. Examples could be at risk for: poverty, isolation, stds, self-harm, pregnancy, and homelessness. For all of the categories we listed, GLBTQ youth were more likely to be at risk. The woman leading the training noted that we don’t know a single area in which GLBTQ aren’t more at risk.

There was so much to take in, but one really special thing about GSA (gay straight alliance) or QRC (queer resource centers) is being able to be in a space where you can begin to feel comfortable expressing your identity safely. For some people they may not be able to come out, express their gender, or be open and honest about their fears or sense-of-self anywhere else. Places like this haven’t always existed. Kids are coming out and talking about these things much younger now than they used to.

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At the beginning of this (and my last) training session we talked about gender specific pronouns. In my college courses we’ve started introducing ourselves with our pronoun preferences. For instance, during roll, I would say “My name is Lorelei and I go by female pronouns” or “My name is Lorelei and I go by she and her.”

Pronouns are something really important to know because you can really alienate someone if you call them “he” when they identify as “she.” It’s also hard because we do have those snap judgements and want to quickly categorize someone in our minds. We may be curious to ask how someone identifies if we can’t quickly snap judge them into a category. Someone who is trans* or gender queer or androgynous, for instance, may not be as easy to “read” in a traditional sense. We talked about what that means and how people may use gender to identify themselves. We talked about how you can ask someone how they identify, if you are unsure of how to refer to them in conversation.

Preference varies – so we were told that generally it’s safe to call people by their name or go the gender neutral route by using “they.” This is an intentional act of being respectful of someone. Of course you don’t know what someone has gone through or how sensitive they are going to be. We came to the conclusion that it is okay to ask someone what gender pronoun they prefer, if it’s appropriate for the conversation. Instead of saying “are you a guy or a girl?” you could introduce yourself first “My name is Lorelei and I go by female pronouns, what’s your name?” This allows you to say “This is who I am so you don’t misread me, who are you so I don’t misread you?” Some people may prefer to be pulled aside. You also have to keep in mind that not everyone is “out” and so a gender pronoun that they prefer in a safe space might not be what they use at home or around family. There is a lot of variance and everyone is different.

Being respectful and listening to people talk and trying not to make too many assumptions is a great way to go.

If anyone has anything to add – please do.

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How to get someone to text you

We’ve all been there. It’s late. You’re thinking about that person. You know the one. You’re thinking about their face. That nice thing they did. Naked. Naked. Naked. Naked. Genitals. So nice. Tingle tingle. Shiver. Naked. Okay, fuck. I should text them. But I texted them last time. How long has it been since I texted them? Can I text them now? I should probably wait. I don’t want to be too eager. But maybe I should text them. Why haven’t they texted me yet? Maybe they’re waiting for me to text them. How can I get them to text me first? Why aren’t we talking? Are they busy? They’re probably busy. I should probably not text them. I’ll talk to them later. Maybe I’ll just wait. I’ll just wait. They’ll text me when they’re free.

Best way to handle this situation: If you want to talk to someone, talk to them.

Doop de doop.

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5 [things] your partner wants to hear

1. I appreciate you

Everyone wants to be appreciated, but sometimes it can be hard to remember exactly how to show someone that you appreciate them. Everyone shows appreciation in different ways and everyone interprets appreciation in different ways. Do you tell someone how you feel? Do you show them with gifts? Do you do something for them? Do invite them further into your life? Sometimes it can feel like you are being very upfront and honest about your feelings, but your partner isn’t getting the kind of validation that they’re looking for or need. Integrating these various methods of showing appreciation can make sure that your partner knows you’re there.

2. You contribute to my life

In addition, make sure your partner knows how important they are to you. How do they contribute to your life? How do they make you happy? Is it something you share together? Is it a conversation that you had that really influenced how you see the world? Is it that sexy technique they thought you that forever changed how you view sex? Let them know how their presence contributes to your life. Let them know why they’re important people.

3. Yes and No

Indecision can be weighted in the inability to communicate how we really feel, or the insecurity in owning how we really feel. Give it to yourself, and your partner, the strength to say how you really feel. Yes. No. I like that. I don’t like that. This is what I want to do tonight. I don’t feel like doing that tonight. Learn to communicate how you really feel to one another, and find a groove where you can be honest and open.

4. I am attracted to you

In short or long term relationships it’s important to tell your partner how much you enjoy being around them. Whether that is physical attraction or intellectual attraction or just those emotions that you have when you’re around them. NRE (new relationship energy) is that tingly honeymoon period at the start of a relationship where you’re so new to each other that these things are hard to forget. The longer you’re together the easier it becomes to just assume you know those things already and you don’t need to say them. Don’t pass up opportunities to make your partner feel like you’ve just started seeing each other again. Smack them on the bum, kiss them on the neck, whisper something in their ear, whatever your thing is. This is a style of appreciation, I think, and reminds your partner “I’m still falling for you.”

5. What they need to hear

There’s no right or wrong way to have a consensual relationship between two or more people. As you get to know someone, you’ll learn the kinds of things that work for that particular relationship. Do you know that they really like surprises? That they really like to be told they’re beautiful? That they really enjoy to be appreciated in ___ way? Do they need reassurance? Do they need encouragement? Do they need support? What do these things look like? Sometimes it’s about telling your partner what you know they need to hear, and being aware of when you’re going to need to say those things. Being attentive will take you far, and going out of your way to say something because you know it makes your partner happy can contribute to the success of your relationship. Don’t lie, don’t be facetious, be honest and giving and pay attention. Listen to what your partner needs and tell them what you need and try as hard as you can to remember these small things because they can be easy to forget.

While many of these things may be more or less applicable depending on the style of relationship you’re in, I think a basic sense of appreciation is important in any relationship. Take the time to tell someone how you feel about them and don’t forget to keep telling them.

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the longest post of intimacy

Like so many other people who consider opening their relationships, I had one firm rule. No other intimate relationships. Friends were great, sex was great, but I didn’t want anything beyond that. It was one of those conditions that made me feel more secure. If we keep emotions out of it, all that’s left is fun. Listening to other people open their relationships I hear the same things I used to say. It’s just about sex, or, we’re just keeping the feelings out of it. 

Through my experiences I learned that there is a different kind of intimacy that you can experience with someone outside of your relationship. It doesn’t threaten your relationship. It doesn’t feel like too much. It can exist within a second relationship or within a friendship or within casual sex. I think what this intimacy I was experience was the ability to have emotional feelings for more than one person. I think it’s still developing.

I just finished reading The Giver. Do you remember that book? Midway through Jonas starts to see colors, but he doesn’t know what they are because he’s never seen them before. The more information he collects about the world around him the more this picture clear. That is what this feels like. It’s not something you can take on all at once. It’s a process.

It’s easy to be afraid of loving someone besides your partner. Probably even more frightening to think about your partner loving someone besides you. What does that mean in our society? It can be easy to think that if your partner loves someone else that they will leave you, start a relationship with them, and be happier. After all: If they fell for someone else, doesn’t that mean they love you less? I am not talking about this all encompassing true love, and whatever that entails. I’m talking about a simple kind of love. When you think about your best friend and you realize you care how they are feeling when you ask “How are you doing?” or when you go a week without seeing someone and you want to check in. It can manifest itself in all kinds of ways.

So I tried the whole emotionless sex for a while, and it was fun. You kiss a friend now and then and you don’t feel tangled up about it. Sometimes, though, you find someone you like. You get along with them. You click. Maybe she likes your mind and body and you like her mind and body and when you hang out it’s comfortable and you get each other. And so you could go out and find someone else and have that quick affair, or you could see them again and get exactly what you know you like.

Dating is exhausting. I feel pretty lucky that I can “date” within a relationship. I have someone there at the end of the day who I can share my experiences with and feel close to. If every single date I ever had was with a different person, I would feel like exhausted. There are only so many people that you can connect with. That like what you like. That you can feel intellectually and sexually stimulated by. This is not to say that it’s somehow wrong to date a different string of people, but there is something to be said for not feeling ashamed for finding someone you like, either.

I found that when I saw someone for a second date, or a third date, I was more comfortable with them, which made the sex better. It also made me more comfortable because they knew what my relationship was about, so I didn’t have to constantly explain it to them.

But what if the intimacy keeps developing, and they want a relationship? This is part of my evolving feelings on love. All the people that I “date” or “see” or have “friendships” are people that I’m in relationships with. They are different relationships, but they are still relationships. They thrive in different ways, but they’re relationships all the same. My best friend from preschool is someone I’m in a relationship with. That guy from OkCupid I see once a month is someone I’m in a relationship with. I care about them in different ways and appreciate them in different ways.

If someone wanted a type of relationship that I wasn’t willing or ready to give, we would have that conversation then. I’m always upfront about what I’m looking for from the beginning, but people change and evolve and so you have to keep checking in if things change. As I’ve mentioned in the past on my blog, I don’t really want to have other girlfriends or boyfriends. I do really enjoy having people in my life that I can build intimacy with and share big conversations with. I enjoy letting those relationships grow into something that is both friendly and intimate.

Each open relationship develops with everyones own individual needs in mind. I am certain (and have seen) other open relationships that have several individuals involved, lots of partners, or many more casual encounters. They’re all different and everyone is looking for something unique.

So theres this different kind of intimacy and it builds within relationships between two or more people if you allow yourself to not be afraid. If you’re afraid that the intimacy is going to take you away and change you and change your relationship, you’re not going to be able to experience those great moments will all the great people. You won’t be able to experience this specific connection with someone (which I feel comes from building trust, and experience, and shared interests.)

There are a few people in my life that I can say that I have “loving feelings for” and if I were to say “I love you” or “I care about you” it wouldn’t mean the same thing as it did if I told it to my boyfriend. There is no relationship of any kind that could replace him or his place in my life and I’d like to think the same of him. I care about other people because I have slowly – and continue to – open myself up to the possibility that the people in my life are going to care for me if I care for them.

I think the struggle of figuring out how to love more than one person, even in little small ways, can be incredibly useful in learning about ourselves and how we care for one another. It can be incredibly useful in learning how we develop and sustain our relationships.

I apologize for the back and forth use of love/intimacy. I feel like all of these words are really heavily weighted with expectation. At the end of it all, what I’m really trying to say is that showing feelings for people who aren’t your boyfriend/girlfriend is not a kill switch. We do not have a limited amount of love to give. We have an infinite amount. And we’re keeping too much of it inside ourselves because we’re afraid. Maybe that it won’t be given back to us. That it will be lost, or misinterpreted.

Lastly – and I promise this is it – there are a lot of great quotes about love. One that I’ve really liked lately is about how we love. It was something about the people who we care about shows us more about who our friends are then who cares about us. It basically was referencing the fact that when we do things for other people to show that we care about them, that fosters more of a connection then them doing good things for us. It’s hard not to butcher such a big concept, if anyone can phrase it better, let me know.

I have seen this in my own experiences. When I find someone that I enjoy being around, I tell them. In that, there is this strange moment of intimacy. It’s small, but not really too small. It’s pretty big, actually.

You like me, you really like me?

We all just wanted to be appreciated, after all.

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