Everyone asks my polyamorous family how we handle the jealousy. It's easy, because that's not how it works
by Elizabeth Stern
The first question people ask my polyamorous family is “How do you handle the jealousy?” Befuddled, we answer, “What jealousy?”
I am lucky; I live with the two loves of my life. I am smitten with my husband of 16 years, and adore my partner of four. The three of us depend upon and nurture each other; we are a family. When my partner and I hadn’t had a date in a while, my husband encouraged us to take a holiday at the art museum, knowing how the visual connects us. When my husband and I hit an emotional snag in discussing our issues, my partner helped us to sort it out and come together. And when I was picking out Christmas presents, I gave the foodies in my life some bonding time over a Japanese small plates cooking class.
The existing polyamory advice literature pushes individualistic solutions to jealousy. Polyamory gurus such as Dossie Easton (“The Ethical Slut”), Deborah Anapol (“Love Without Limits”) and, more recently, Franklin Veaux (“More Than Two”) advocate personal responsibility as the solution to insecurity. You must “work through” your jealousy, making sure to not “control” your partner, all the while viewing the experience of jealousy through a lens of personal growth. My family has never needed to rely on these individualistic methods because jealousy is a social problem, not an individual one, and so are the solutions.
Prescribing of individualistic methods for management of jealousy is nothing new. It can be traced to the decline of the family economy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Peter N. Stearn’s “Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History” argues that prior to the 18th century in the U.S. and Europe, jealousy was much less of a problem. Living in close-knit social and economic communities with prescribed roles did not leave room for fears of losing one’s significant others to rivals. Husband and wife teams were viewed as units (rather than as two individuals) embedded within a communal structure. Sure, individuals didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of autonomy, but they did have the security of knowing their spousal relationship unit was recognized, supported and held accountable to the community.
With the shift from family- and community-based institutions to wage work in urban environments, middle-class families began functioning within spheres separated by gender (with women being relegated to the home). Spouses overlapped less in daily life, which meant less communal support, monitoring and recognition of relationships. It is widely recognized that the emergence of a capitalist economy caused women to lose economic and social power relative to men. But the emergence of separate spheres also deprived both women and men of the communal support for their relationships, which had once made jealousy a non-issue.
The 20th century saw women’s reentry into the economic sphere, with increased opportunities for women and men to make individual choices about education and occupation. These welcome economic gains for women were accompanied by the increasingly pesky problem of jealousy. Unlike the family economy where spouses worked within the same community, now partners spent their time in separate, mixed-sex education and work institutions, with increased availability of potential alternative partners. And while the increase in the idea of romantic love during this time period dampened jealousy some, it was a poor substitute for the previous complete communal support for relationships.
So, if green eyes grew out of the shift from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, what was our newly individualistic, capitalist society to do? Why, call those peepers into insecurity monsters that could be tamed through self-control.
Quick, guess the time period of the following quotes:
1). “Jealousy is an emotion that arises inside you; no person and no behavior can ‘make’ you jealous. Like it or not, the only person who can make that jealousy hurt less or go away is you.”
2). “Jealousy is almost always a mark of immaturity and insecurity. As we grow confident of love and of our loved one, we are not jealous.”
3). Jealousy is “undesirable, a festering spot in every personality so affected.”
The first is contemporary, taken from the poly bible “The Ethical Slut.” The second is from a mainstream 1950s relationship advice manual, and the third is a commentary from Margaret Mead in the 1930s. Note that only the first quote addresses a non-monogamous audience. Polyamory advice on jealousy is not radical when held up to this light; it is simply part of the larger 20th century context of demonizing jealousy and demanding personal responsibility for its eradication. Instead of locating jealousy within the structural changes of the 19th and 20th centuries, there has been an erroneous tendency to look inward for its causes and cures.
I think back on my life of four years ago as we first formed our polyamorous family. My new boyfriend was surprised that he felt no jealousy of my 14-year relationship with my husband. He felt supported and welcomed into our lives, and longed to make a commitment to us, but the absence of jealousy was perplexing to him. Doesn’t jealousy naturally emerge from a partner having another partner, he wondered? He waited for over a year before he made a commitment, just in case jealousy would emerge. He was waiting for Godot.
The three of us met at a film club and just seemed to “get” each other instantly. Our small talk consisted of Bourdieu, Navier-Stokes equations, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The fundamental compatibility we had was effortless and we laughed like children together. It was this fundamental understanding of one another that allowed my boyfriend to “see” our marriage in a way that few others could. Having the closeness of our marriage reflected back in such a nuanced and perfect way felt wonderful. Similarly, the depth of my husband’s closeness with me allowed him to recognize the rare comfort and feeling of being at home I felt with my boyfriend. My husband provided one of the few sources of support and recognition that my boyfriend and I had at the time for our budding (but at first, secret) relationship. He was also there for us when we first “came out” to confused family and friends. While many expressed worries that this new relationship would lead to destruction, my husband gave us anniversary cards and told us that we were a rare and special couple. ...
San Francisco's Pride 2014 weekend is now just a memory, but I remember it fondly. I especially cherish being able to yet again march with the Leather Pride Contingent in the parade. The contingent is a microcosm of why it's so great to be a kinkster in the Bay Area. We were a proud gathering of people from all walks of the local leather and kink factions coming together to celebrate and declare our pride in being ourselves alongside many others who were doing the same. The Bay Area is a unique place indeed.
As usual, the contingent included the man and woman selected by vote of the community to be the Leather Marshals leading us down Market Street. This year they were Deborah Hoffman-Wade and Scott Peterson, both people who are quite deserving of the honor.
I am fully aware, however, that many people can't comfortably do what we did. Marching out and proud so comfortably and visibly is not as easy elsewhere. The Bay Area bubble is far more welcoming and accepting of kinksters than are most other parts of the country. As I gazed upon the marchers in our contingent, I realized how lucky we have it and how much I hope that other kinky folk may feel the same freedom and acceptance.
This made me think about some of the national organizations working hard to ensure that kinksters across the country can experience even some semblance of the openness and opportunity we in the Bay Area feel. While there are a plethora of local leather and kink clubs and organizations working hard to make life better for us all (and most such work does need to be done at the local level), there are a handful of national organizations trying to do the same on a broader scale. I don't think the general kinkster population is as aware of these national organizations as they should be. Their work helps us all. Let me point out a few of them.
Founded in 1997 by Susan Wright, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) (www.ncsfreedom.org) is an organization committed to creating a political, legal and social environment in the United States that advances equal rights for consenting adults who engage in alternative sexual and relationship expressions. Their work is done primarily with BDSM, leather, fetish and polyamory issues and encompasses direct services, education, advocacy and outreach.
I asked Ms. Wright why she founded NCSF and why it's an important organization to support.
"When I kept hearing from people who lost their job because they were into leather or had their kids taken away because they were kinky, I knew we needed a group like NCSF," she said. "Nobody else fights for our rights, so we have to do it ourselves. For 17 years, NCSF has worked hard to destigmatize BDSM, but we still have more work to do."
Another organization doing important work on a national scale is the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) (www.carasresearch.org). CARAS is dedicated to the support and promotion of excellence in the study of alternative sexualities and the dissemination of research results to the alternative sexuality communities, the public and the research community. CARAS does this by supporting research that addresses understudied sexual communities, with a current focus on BDSM/leather/kink/fetish sexualities and consensual non-monogamous relationships such as polyamory. Employing a community-based research model, CARAS has assembled a network of academics, clinicians and respected members of these communities who will work directly with researchers to promote scientific and other forms of scholarly research.
One of the original founders of CARAS, along with Robert Bienvenu and David Ortmann, is the current Executive Director and Bay Area local, Richard Sprott. I asked Mr. Sprott why it's important for the leather/kink community to support serious academic research about us
"Research is the 'coin of the realm' for legal and medical concerns in our society," he said. "Courts, criminal proceedings, medical professionals, psychiatrists – and people who make policies and rules in our society about kinky behavior – are more likely to change if we can discuss the reasons why they should change in the language and discourse they understand and use. But beyond our need to destigmatize kink (so we can enjoy it without penalty or punishment or interference), knowing more will increase our ability to play better, to live better, and to increase our health and well-being. That's why we need to support serious academic research about us."
Years ago, my friends Tony DeBlase and Gayle Rubin, along with a few others, were deeply concerned that the history of the leather and kink scene would be lost unless a concerted effort was made to capture and preserve that history. Out of their concerns the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) (www.leatherarchives.org) was born. The LA&M serves the international leather and kink scene by compiling, preserving and maintaining our history, archives and memorabilia for historical, educational and research purposes.
The current Executive Director of the LA&M is Rick Storer. I asked him why he think it's important for leather and kink folks to support their work....
BDSM Writers Con August 21-24 in NYC is for everyone interested in writing about or exploring the world of Dominance & submission.
With 30 workshops & Live Demos, a BDSM Private Party, Author & Reader Mix and Mingles, and a BDSM Book Fair & Erotic Reading.
Hang out with NY Times & USA Today best selling authors & BDSM experts including Joey W. Hill, Laura Antoniou, Eric Pride,
Kallypso Masters, Dr. Charley Ferrer, Bo Blaze and Susan Wright from NCSF just to name a few.
Receive a $100 discount off conference as subscribers of NCSF (Discount Code -- NCSF)
Stay with us at the Roosevelt Hotel at discount rate of $219 a night between August 19-26; (discount code: writers Con)
For those unable to share all 4-days with us, we offer two different Day Passes:
Day-Pass workshops only (choose your day) $99
Saturday Live Demos & BDSM Party $150.
Joining us Saturday, consider spending the night at the Roosevelt Hotel, sleep in late after the BDSM Party, then join us at noon on Sunday for our BDSM Book Fair & Between the Sheets Erotica Reading Series.
CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Kristin Wilkerson described in court Thursday how her roommate, Shirley Beck, was hung up, gagged and continuously beaten for four hours, sustaining multiple kicks, punches and strikes with a metal pole, a rod and whip-like devices at the hands of three other roommates.
Clarksville Police found Beck, 39, dead in the back room of her home at 108 Wilson Court on June 26, and police have charged four of her six roommates with criminal homicide.
Thursday afternoon, preliminary hearings were held for Derek M. Vicchitto, 36, Matthew Lee Reynolds, 27, Cynthia Dianne Skipper, 46, and Alphonso Jay Richardson II, 24.
Skipper entered the courtroom in a wheelchair and was hooked up to an oxygen tank. The four sat with their attorneys during the almost three-hour hearing.
The biggest question was whether Beck was murdered during a BDSM session (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) that went too far, or if she was brutally beaten to death and murdered in cold blood at the hands of the people she’d shared a home with for only one month.
Robert Nash, assistant district attorney, called numerous law enforcement agents to testify, but Wilkerson, an eyewitness, offered a good deal of insight into what led to Beck’s death.
Wilkerson, who lived in the home for a year and a half, said Beck was known to be a “house slave.” She desired to get into the BDSM lifestyle, which Vicchitto and Skipper were involved in together.
Beck called Skipper her “mistress” and was tasked with cleaning the kitchen, taking out trash and walking the dogs. Beck was called “Tuna” by Vicchitto and Skipper.
Lead Detective Eric Ewing said during his investigation he learned that Beck was involved in BDSM to an extent and had previously been another woman’s house slave.
Reynolds and Beck had moved into the house a month prior to the her death, and Wilkerson said she had, on several occasions, seen Beck “punished” and “disciplined” by the couple and complying in a submissive manner. At other times, she’d seen Beck defend herself.
Beck was beaten on June 25 by her roommates, but on June 26 the motives were different, according to testimony.
Detective Ewing testified that Richardson admitted to him that he went into a rage after he suspected Beck was trying to kill him and his girlfriend.
“He described the victim as the house slave, and Cynthia (Skipper) was charged with punishing the victim,” Ewing said. “This particular night, Cynthia had charged him with watching over the victim during kitchen and dishes duty. He said he checked one of his cups and it had boric acid on it. He checked another one of his cups and another one.
“He said he snapped. His fiancee, Ashley, was blind, and he felt that the victim was trying to poison Ashley. He said it made him very angry and he snapped. He screamed and woke up the house. He was screaming, ‘Are you a trying to kill me?’ He told me he had anger issues and he had beaten the victim. He told me started hitting her with his hand.”
Richardson also described hitting Beck with his fist and a bamboo rod, and hitting her on the buttocks with a metal pole. ...
Steven Zelich allegedly told a Walworth County Sheriff’s detective that he accidentally killed the two women who were found in suitcases on North Como Road during a BDSM session.
Zelich said that he met both women on an online chat site for those with BDSM interests. BDSM stands for bondage, domination and sadomasochism. Zelich had been previously linked to a sadomasochism forum in which his user name is Mr. Handcuff.
Zelich, a 52-year-old former police officer from West Allis, has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County.
During a preliminary hearing on Thursday morning, Detective Jeffrey Recknagel testified that he questioned Zelich on June 25 about the two suitcases and the two women who were inside of them.
On a chat forum, Zelich met then 19-year-old Jenny Gamez of Cottage Grove, Ore. The two met in person in late 2012 or early 2013 at a hotel in Kenosha County, according to the criminal complaint.
Recknagel testified that Zelich told him he and Gamez spent several days at the hotel.
“On a Sunday, they participated in a BDSM session,” Recknagel said. “During that session he ultimately took her life.”
After Gamez died, Zelich told Recknagel he transported Gamez back to his apartment in the suitcase.
Zelich told Recknagel that he also met Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn., on a BDSM chat site, and in person at a hotel in Rochester, Minn.
At the hotel, the two participated in BDSM activities, and on a Sunday, during their last day at the hotel, they participated in a final BDSM session.
After killing Simonson, Zelich placed her body in a suitcase and transported it to West Allis. ...
Police are investigating the death of a woman over the weekend and have seized recording devices and materials related to sadomasochism from the home where she was found.
Officers went to the condo in the city's Newtown section just before 9 a.m. Sunday, after the woman's fiance called 911, according to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Circuit Court.
They found her dead on the living room floor with bruising on her face. The woman's fiance told police she had been drinking at a bar, and while there, the two had an argument. Once home, he said, she took the drug clozapine and asked him not to call 911 but instead engage in sexual-bondage relations with her when she passed out, according to the affidavit.
Clozapine is used to treat schizophrenia, according to a National Institutes of Health website.
The fiance, who had bite marks and scratches on his body, gave inconsistent statements to police, the affidavit said.
A police spokesman said officers are still investigating. According to the search warrant, items seized included a "fetish box," a camera, a towel, a pink dog leash, tape and a plastic gun. ...
Make your own fireworks this holiday at the 2nd Annual Touch of Flavor kink conference, July 4-7 in Baltimore. Headed by kink instructor and sexpert Madam Cassie, the conference offers more than 55 educational seminars and courses, live demonstrations and interactive play events like the Dungeon Gala. Whether you’re dabbling into "Shades of Grey" scenarios or are a hard-core S/M enthusiast, this conference has something for every level.
"I had worked within the BDSM community, which is very tight knit, and spread education amongst small groups, but with the push of ’Pink’ and "50 Shades’ and Rihanna’s new S/M song, we felt that trying to get this education to the mainstream was very important," said Madam Cassie in a recent interview. "It’s important to be fun and exciting, but we want to make sure it’s safe. So we decided to market it to the mainstream so that people would be able to get this education."
The conference features a wide array of 101 classes to introduce people to basic safety issues, plus interactive classes on topics ranging from kink, female ejaculation, strap-on play, piercing, flogging, electrical play, tantric sex, polyamory and basic dominance/submission.
Madam Cassie is no ingenue; she is a professional who has been teaching kink education and sexual techniques since 2008. She currently leads a non-profit social group for kinksters in the Mid-Atlantic region, and is a prominent voice in other organizations throughout the area. She will lead many workshops, and has tapped other seasoned educators to share their expertise.
"We have a lot of starter classes and introductions to things," said Cassie. "They’re not necessarily ’vanilla,’ but we make sure that they’re a good place for people to start, so that someone with no knowledge could leave here feeling like they learned something, and not like they’re in over their head."
She recommends that newcomers take the Kink 101 class, the only one which runs multiple times over the course of the weekend. It covers basic safety stuff, the terminology and protocols, what you should do at a BDSM party and basic negotiations with a partner.
"People are really bad negotiators, so we go over how to negotiate a scene with a partner to make sure everyone’s desire and safety is negotiated correctly," said Cassie. "We teach terminology so that you know the words, for example, dominant and submissive are not the same as top verses bottom."
In the vein of negotiating your best match is the course "Dating Your Species," in which you will learn how to get started finding a person who meets your desire and is a good match for you, because as Cassie notes, "dogs and cats shouldn’t be dating."
Other highlights include a class about African Americans within the BDSM community, an introduction to polyamory for those thinking of opening up their relationships, flogging and caning for beginners, five different classes just on rope, and Tantric sex for the pragmatic, which Cassie explains as being "about the connection during sex, without the spirituality behind it. It’s a good starter class for anyone interested in the Kama Sutra."...