Today in Conservative NYT Columnists Not Getting It

It’s far from the worst thing to be published today, but Ross Douthat in the New York Times (the allegedly super liberal biased paper, ha) said this when talking about the slippery slope from gay marriage to polygamy:

And we also know that “polygamy” is just the uncool, biblical-sounding term of art. Call it polyamory or “ethical nonmonogamy” and suddenly you have a less disreputable demographic interested

Let’s stop and think about what this says about Douthat’s worldview:

1. Polygamy is the same as polyamory, and legalizing one and the other are interchangeable. Apparently things like power dynamics, consent, and potential or frequency of abuse are not legitimate reasons to draw a line between legalizing things, at least not after we’ve legalized gay marriage. Is he implying that we can’t pick and choose what moral propositions to follow- that if we throw out modern Christianity’s bigotry, we have to throw out caring about consent, freedom, and autonomy? Does he just not care about those things to begin with? The charitable interpretation would be that he simply did not do his research before writing.*

2. Calling it “ethical” polyamory doesn’t make it different from polygamy. So either he believes ethical polyamory is a contradiction isn’t really ethical, but didn’t think it was relevant to point that out, or he thinks that polygamy is ethical.

I can’t help but read this and get the overwhelming feeling that Douthat thinks power imbalances and potential abuse are just standard for relationships and not something government should worry about, given that they never once appear in his column. And we wonder why every day it turns out another conservative doesn’t think they need to worry about those things either.

*Which is fine, I barely do any research before writing. But I also spend only a fraction of my time writing, am not a New York Times columnist, and don’t actually expect anyone to read or follow anything I say. It’s mostly just to try and get myself to sit down and actually put thoughts on a piece of paper every week.

The Shape of “Heartless” Love

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out just why the way I feel love doesn’t fit in to the usual social ideas of love. Ace Admiral had a post that got me thinking about this again, and mentioned being interested in people talking about the shapes their love takes, so I figured I’d try to explain. Part of my disconnection with the usual cultural narratives about love is polyamory related- I don’t feel jealousy, and don’t seem to get the possessive aspect of love. But I think it’s worth elaborating on that.

This is partly related to empathy or compersion. My experience with love has been the opposite of the usual models. Typically love is presented as a finite resource- you have a set amount and you run out. I’m the opposite. The more I love any one person, the more I love every person. This creates weird situations where, after I have a moment where I realize I really enjoy someone’s company, I’ll want to tell every person I know how awesome I think they are (I’d even tell them all how much I love them, if it wasn’t weird to use the term love in that way). Likewise, when I find myself disliking a person- I end up disliking everyone more.

Instead, I find love is something that is practiced and built up. You learn to love a person here and there, and try and do that more and more often, and eventually you find yourself strong enough to love the entire world.

Add to this that I tend not to have specific needs that I need fulfilled by specific people, and it starts to create a much more loose form of love.*

But the problem is, this isn’t how things look in the cultural context I live in. Instead, people see my lack of needs from potential partners, and the lack of jealousy that goes with it, as a sign that I don’t care. And to some degree that’s true- I don’t care if a potential partner is a romantic partner, a friend, or so on. But that’s not out of coldness or a lack of caring. It’s because I want them to go do whatever good thing it is they do, and I want them to do it well.

Likewise, when someone tries to push me towards only feeling close connections with one (or a limited) number of people, that also ends up toxic to me. If I try to love one person, I end up loving no one. But the fact I don’t want to limit love is also seen as a sign that I don’t really care, and is yet another way I find that the usual cultural narratives portray the way I feel love as being cold and heartless.

Generally the only time I see this kind of love represented positively, it tends to be in religious contexts. And that doesn’t help- because it is put on a pedestal (and possibly even seen as arrogance to suggest that it’s how you feel)**. Otherwise, the closest I’ve found to discourse that allows for more loose and broad notions of love have been within the polyamorous and occasionally the asexual communities.

*I do have specific needs, and I like specific people, I just don’t have the feeling where I need those to line up in some way.

**Also, I’m an atheist. So that doesn’t help either.

Stories of a Self

My biggest mistake in life- and one I occasionally repeat to this day- was believing other people knew how I felt better than I did.

When I say that, I can hardly believe it- it didn’t feel like that was what I was doing. The first time I know of was when I was 13. At that point in time, I was only just starting to deal with chronic pain- and I wasn’t as prepared as I am now. When I was running for P.E., my knees would slip out of place and my bones would grind together. Naturally, I complained about how painful it was to run. My peers (and, if I recall correctly, my teacher) insisted that exercise is supposed to be painful, and you have to work through the pain. I insisted this didn’t feel right, but they said to man up, and that the pain couldn’t be that bad. After awhile, I began to believe them- the pain couldn’t possibly be that bad. I believed them so much that I started to think the pain was just in my head, and was actually a sign that there was something wrong with me. In fact, I believed my peers knew how much pain I was in better than I did.*

Years later, it was becoming apparent that I didn’t experience sexual attraction. But my peers (some of the same peers, some new ones) insisted that I was either straight or gay. And if I didn’t want to have sex with men, I must want to have sex with women. For awhile, I started to believe them. I was convinced I must really want to have sex with women, and the fact I didn’t know or feel that way must be a sign of how broken and disconnected from myself I must be. I believed, due to some trick of Freudian psychology, that my peers knew my sexual orientation better than I did- to the point where I would try and act like I was straight, in an effort to convince myself as much as them.

I have no doubt these weren’t the only times that this has happened; they are simply some of the few memories or stories I still have**. I also have no doubt I still make this mistake. To this day I still catch myself wondering if my body really is in pain- even as I lay down and assess every joint. When a friend asked how my joint pain was doing, I finally gave him a truly honest answer- I have no idea. I spent so many years doubting myself, and constructing fake identities to match what other people thought I should feel, that it’s become difficult for me to conceptualize the pain in my body as being “mine”.***

This creates an interesting dynamic. The fact I spent so much time believing that other people knew how I felt better than I did had the effect of disconnecting me from myself. In a way, it was self fulfilling- by falling for that trick, I ended up not knowing the “real” me. And as long as I believed there was a “real” me that I needed to find, I would believe other people who told me what the “real” me would or should feel.

The solution to this hasn’t been to dig through history or memories to try and figure out who I was or would have been- that’s a hopeless cause, as much as it fascinates me. Instead, it’s been to abandon the past and try to create something new- to accept there is no “real” me out there, somewhere, waiting to be found, and that instead a self is something I have to choose and construct.

*It may be worth noting that my parents and doctors believed me.

**I’m torn as to whether or not it would be proper to say I “remember” these events. I remember the stories, I don’t remember the events (my memory doesn’t go back that far).

***In a weird way, I feel like my asexuality thankfully doesn’t have this problem, since it’s defined by an absence of something instead of a presence. On the other hand, it does sometimes seem weird to call myself asexual when I know I could sort of “convince” myself I’m anything else if I wanted, and play out those roles.

Scene from lunch

The couple sat down at the table next to me, frantically looking through disheveled bags and dirty clothes. “We need that list to eat”. His voice was intimidating. She apologized, afraid. “We’ve sold or thrown away a lot the past couple days. It must have been lost…”. Her voice trailed off and her eyes looked away. Anger, fear, and insecurity wash over me, second hand, like rainwater overflowing from a gutter. She felt useless, he blamed her to avoid realizing his own weakness. To admit weakness would be to question his masculinity, to question his status and his power. He couldn’t do that. She bears the scars of his insecurity instead.

In glances I assess the couple. Recently homeless. Probably abusive. It showed in the fear, in the desperation.

“How will we eat?” “How will we survive?”. Fear, anger, and desperation leads them to catastrophic thinking. They begin to argue, if they weren’t already. She attempts to placate him by admitting she’s worthless- as if a human being could be worthless. She believes it nonetheless. Terror is in her eyes. I stop glancing, push in my headphones, and try not to start shaking with her terror.

I open my fortune cookie. “Keep your plans secret for now.” What kind of fortune is that. I get up, with a plate of food still left. I’ve lost my appetite. I slide my plate towards them and immediately leave, afraid to look back. Their fear, their rage, their need haunts me as I walk out the door.

I feel afraid. Did they realize I was leaving my plate for them? Why do I try to hide any attempt to help people? What am I afraid of?

I feel useless, wondering why I didn’t buy them a full meal. Why I didn’t find a better solution. My actions don’t help. Half a plate of food for a starving couple is nothing. Hopelessness- but not theirs. They had that on me, no matter how naive hope may be in their situation. Maybe it will help them. I didn’t. I tell myself one day we’ll find a way. As a species, we can save everyone, we can find a better way. I don’t know if I believe it. I question what it says about us when the rest of the world is more broken than I am- and what that says about my lack of hope. There has to be a better way.

Polyamory, Jealousy, and Relationship Norms

Monogamous people often dismiss the possibility of being polyamorous by saying “I couldn’t do that; I’m too jealous of a person”. While I have no idea how or why all of the people who say that experience jealousy, in my experience, that is a meaningless statement- the same as saying “I’m not leaving this room, because I’m sitting right here”.

To explain this better, consider what jealousy in these situations is often about: it’s a fear of a partner leaving for someone else. The fear, here, is that once a partner finds someone else they will leave you behind. In other words, it’s a fear that your partner is operating under the rules of monogamy- they are dating multiple people, but eventually they will have to chose “the one” to stick with, and they can’t possibly remain connected to everyone. In other words, I believe that it’s not necessarily fair to say jealousy holds someone back from being polyamorous. Instead, holding on to monogamous norms holds someone back from being polyamorous, by creating reasons for jealousy.

This puts the statement in a different light. What someone may really be saying when they say they are too jealous for polyamory is that they are too monogamous for polyamory. Which ultimately is just stating the obvious . But this is an important distinction, because I don’t think the difference here is feeling or not feeling jealousy- it’s a matter of what norms someone expects their partners to operate under.

Blog Background

So, just a bit of background about this blog: originally I was on tumblr, writing about asexuality. However, since tumblr is a terrible format and I’ve basically stopped using it, I figured I might try my hand at using wordpress instead. Secondly, unlike what I used to try on tumblr, I don’t intend this blog to be focused on any one subject- it’s probably just going to involve a broad range of issues, from asexuality to polyamory to philosophy to politics. This is, first and foremost, a personal blog.