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Guest Blog: The problem with polynormativity

on Thursday, 14 March 2013. Hits 1167

by Andrea Zanin

Polyamory is getting a lot of airtime in the media these days. It’s quite remarkable, really, and it represents a major shift over the last five to ten years.
The problem—and it’s hardly surprising—is that the form of poly that’s getting by far the most airtime is the one that’s as similar to traditional monogamy as possible, because that’s the least threatening to the dominant social order.
Ten years ago, I think my position was a lot more live-and-let-live. You know, different strokes for different folks. I do poly my way, you do it your way, and we’re all doing something non-monogamous so we can consider ourselves to have something in common that’s different from the norm. We share a certain kind of oppression, in that the world doesn’t appreciate or value non-monogamy. We share relationship concerns, like logistics challenges and time management and jealousy. So we’re all in this together, right?
Today, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have much stronger Feelings about this. I mean Feelings of serious squick, not just of YKINMKBYKIOK*. Feelings of genuine offense, not of comradeship. Fundamentally, I think we’re doing radically different things. The poly movement—if it can even be called that, which is debatable for a number of reasons—is beginning to fracture along precisely the same lines as the gay/lesbian/queer one has. (You could argue it has been fractured along this fault line forever, but it hasn’t always seemed quite as crystal-clear to me as it does right now.)
(*Stands for “your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay,” a common phrase used among perverts to basically say we don’t all have to like doing a thing in order for that thing to be acceptable.)
At its most basic, I’d say some people’s poly looks good to the mainstream, and some people’s doesn’t. The mainstream loves to think of itself as edgy, sexy and cool. The mainstream likes to co-opt whatever fresh trendy thing it can in order to convince itself that it’s doing something new and exciting, because that sells magazines, event tickets, whatever. The mainstream likes to do all this while erecting as many barriers as it can against real, fundamental value shifts that might topple the structure of How the World Works. In this case, that structure is the primacy of the couple.
The media presents a clear set of poly norms, and overwhelmingly showcases people who speak about and practice polyamory within those norms. I’ll refer to this as polynormativity. (I don’t think I’m quite coining a term here, but not far off, as most of the paltry seven hundred-ish Google hits I can find for the term are about obscure legalese I don’t understand. I kinda wish it was already a thing, frankly. So, uh, my gift to you.)
Here are the four norms that make up polynormativity as I see it.
1. Polyamory starts with a couple. The first time I came across the term “poly couple” I laughed out loud. It seemed to me the most evident of oxymorons—jumbo shrimp, friendly fire, firm estimate, poly couple. But lo and behold, it’s really taken root, and nobody seems to be blinking. Polyamory is presented as a thing that a couple does, as opposed to a relationship philosophy and approach that individual people ascribe to, as a result of which they may end up as part of a couple but—because poly!—may just as well be partnered with six people, or part of a triad, or single, or what have you. With this norm, the whole premise of multiple relationships is narrowed down to what sounds, essentially, like a hobby that a traditionally committed pair of people decide to do together, like taking up ballroom dancing or learning to ski. So much for a radical re-thinking of human relationships. So much for anyone who doesn’t come pre-paired.

2. Polyamory is hierarchical. Following from the norm that poly begins (and presumably ends) with two, we must of course impose a hierarchy on whatever else happens. Else, how would we know who the actual real couple is in all this? If you add more people, it might get blurry and confusing! Thus, the idea of primary relationships and secondary relationships emerges. This is what I call hierarchical poly. ...

http://sexgeek.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/theproblemwithpolynormativity/

"Case Raises Questions on Consent to Sadomasochism"

on Sunday, 10 March 2013. Hits 886

ABC News

Can mentally ill people consent to sadomasochistic sex? Can anyone consent to abusive and degrading sexual acts?

Connecticut's highest court has decided to take up those questions in the case of a Greenwich woman suing a man she alleges had an abusive sexual relationship with her daughter, who had multiple mental and physical ailments. Arguments before the state Supreme Court are scheduled for Wednesday.

While sadomasochism was glamorized in the popular 2011 book trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey," the practice has long been on questionable legal ground.

Some lawyers believe people can't consent to being assaulted or abused under common law, while others say established legal principles provide sexual rights to most people, including elderly people in nursing homes and the mentally ill. There are few court rulings, however, dealing directly with BDSM, short for bondage, discipline, dominance/submission and sadomasochism.

In the Connecticut case, Mary Kortner sued fellow Greenwich resident Craig Martise in 2006, saying her daughter could not have consented to sadomasochistic and abusive sex acts with him because of her mental state. A state jury, however, found in favor of Martise in 2009, concluding there was a sadomasochistic relationship but no proof that Kortner's daughter couldn't consent.

"This was a shocker to everybody who was watching it," Kortner said. "All the allegations were true. He was guilty."

Caroline Kendall Kortner, who died in 2010 at age 39 from an undisclosed illness, had been diagnosed with clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, bulimia and anorexia, and she tried to commit suicide twice, according to court documents. She also had a stroke in 2001 that left her partially paralyzed from the waist down and incontinent, court records say. ...

"EU to vote on porn ban, calls for Internet enforcement"

on Saturday, 09 March 2013. Hits 695

In a severe threat to online freedoms in the region, the European Parliament is set to vote in the next week on "a ban on all forms of pornography in the media."

CNet

The European Parliament will vote Tuesday on a proposal that could lead to a blanket ban on pornography in any forms of media with potentially wide-ranging implications for freedom and expression in the 27-member state bloc.

Passage of the proposal, "Eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU," would allow the EU to help secure the rights for those across the gender spectrum, particularly women. While the report states that there is an "increasingly noticeable tendency...to show provocatively dressed women, in sexual poses," it also notes that pornography is becoming mainstream and is "slipping into our everyday lives as an evermore universally accepted, often idealized, cultural element."

But if adopted, the proposal could infringe certain civil liberties in the 500 million strong population.

Christian Engström, member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Pirate Party, said on his blog that the "devil is in the detail," warning that the wording in an older resolution from 1997 could lead to "statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media." ...

"Pastor Terry Jones to protest nightclub's fetish party"

on Saturday, 09 March 2013. Hits 749

Orlando Sentinel

Controversial Gainesville Pastor Terry Jones plans to protest a sexually themed event at a downtown Orlando nightclub, his political organization said in a statement this week.

Firestone Live on North Orange Avenue is hosting a "Pansexuality Fetish Party" on March 16, according to its website.

This week, Jones' "Stand Up America Now" group announced protests to "tell [President Barack] Obama, the liberals, and those seeking to destroy marriages and over-sexualize children... that they aren't going to take it, that those types of things aren't going to fly" in Orlando.

The protest will take place at the corner of Amelia Street and Orange Avenue at 3 p.m. this Saturday and again on March 16. ...

" ‘Our America with Lisa Ling' investigates polyamory on OWN"

on Saturday, 09 March 2013. Hits 754

The Examiner

Tuesday night's episode of "Our America with Lisa Ling," she interviewed the practice of polyamory. Dictionary.com gives the definition of polyamory as participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships for this episode titled, "I Love You & You ... & You." She also went on to further expound on the meaning as, committed non-monogamy, openly loving more than one person at the same time with the consent of everyone involved.

There is an estimated half a million people in America who practice polyamory. She met with Wes, and his wife Gina, married over a year, in the same bed was Wes' girlfriend Jessie. They live with another married-couple Sean and Ginny. Oh, Gina is Sean's girlfriend too. The estimated half a million families who practice polyamory, can put their status on Facebook as; it's complicated. However, there is plenty of love to go around.

Wes told Lisa that it was intentionally creating a community and has little to do with sexual appetite. Many believe that it is perfectly natural. Be it dark and ugly, or inspiring and beautiful; no matter what, it is "Our America." Monogamy does not always work for everyone. Another household headed by Regina, contains two men and her daughter. Every partner must be on board with the situation. Lisa visited Regina, her partner Dave, her husband Russell. The said that families come in various sizes and decorations. Regina could not find herself coming back to monogamy. She grew up in a Christian home with an Evangelical minister as a father. Seven years into her monogamous marriage and pregnant with their child, her husband asked if she would be interested in opening up their relationship; surprisingly, she said yes. Then she met Russell, who was in a monogamous marriage, and she started a relationship with him. Regina finally divorced from her husband and dated Dave and Russell. After the wedding, Dave moved in. Russell and Dave are two platonic friends both in love with the same woman. Regina mostly sleeps with Russell, but has date nights with Dave that are planned. Lisa asked them; why not just swing? Dave would not agree to this; he is not a casual dater. It takes a bit of commitment on the part of all parties involved. Regina sets up a calendar to give time to both men. Although a taboo subject in monogamous America; they do not keep their situation behind closed doors.

In another blended family, Lisa visited a rural community in central Colorado. There she met Robin and her boyfriend Jesus, nicknamed Chuy. Robin has multiple partners and feels differently towards each one. She has always been polyamorous and founded a website called LovingMore.com and met Chuy at a conference she held for polyamorous people. She has lovers around the world, but now has found another who lives locally. John is a first-timer to the community, after three unsuccessful monogamous marriages. After a fire hit Robin's farm, John helped transport their livestock.

It was Chuy who suggested John as an addition to the relationship. To agree to this, one must experience compersion; an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy. Chuy just loves the glow Robin has after a date with John. ...

"Firefighter found guilty in girlfriend’s death by asphyxiation"

on Wednesday, 06 March 2013. Hits 625

Montreal Gazette

A firefighter who left his girlfriend tied up as part of an elaborate role-playing sex game has been found guilty in her asphyxiation death.

A judge in Longueuil found Patrick Deschatelets guilty of criminal negligence on Thursday in the death of his girlfriend in 2008.

The 39-year-old woman’s identity is guarded by a publication ban.

Earlier, Deschatelets had been charged with murder but the charge was dropped to involuntary manslaughter. He was hoping for an acquittal and argued that the procedure, her being tied up with a collar around her neck, was consensual, and the death an accident.

He went to the store to buy some pasta for a meal they were going to share together and left her tied to the ceiling and told the court that when he came back she wasn’t breathing.

He said he tried to revive her. Paramedics took the woman to hospital where she died 16 hours later. ...

"Pain Can Be Pleasurable When Discomfort Is Less Than Expected, MRI Scans Show"

on Wednesday, 06 March 2013. Hits 965

Huffington Post

Pain isn't always a pain. Sometimes it can actually feel good.

People experience pleasure during a painful stimulus if the stimulus turns out to be less bad than they were expecting, new research suggests.

"It is not hard to understand that pain can be interpreted as less severe when an individual is aware that it could have been much more painful," said study co-author Siri Leknes, a psychologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, in a statement. "Less expected, however, is the discovery that pain may be experienced as pleasant if something worse has been avoided."

The findings were published in the March issue of the journal Pain.

Too hot

To see how people perceived pain, Leknes and her colleagues hooked 16 participants up to a device that applied a variable level of painful heat to their arms. At the same time, the researchers measured their brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

In the first setting, participants experienced a series of either a slightly painful stimulus — about as painful as grasping a slightly too hot cup of coffee — or no pain.

In a second setup, the participants experienced a series of either moderate or intense pain. On a screen, the participants could see what type of pain was coming up next in the series.

In the first scenario, the participants rated the moderate pain as unpleasant.

What a relief

But interestingly, participants rated the moderate pain as actually pleasurable in the second setup, when the alternative was the intense pain. During the moderate stimulus in the second setup, participants' brain activity also showed less activation in the pain region of the brain (the brain stem) and more activation in a region in the middle of the frontal lobes that's associated with pain relief and pleasure than during the same stimulus in the first setup. ...

"It’s No Longer Taboo, But Was BDSM Always This Nerdy?"

on Friday, 01 March 2013. Hits 1131

NY Magazine

You can probably predict most of what’s written in today’s New York Times story on the mainstreaming of kink. Fifty Shades of Grey made it so that everyone and their mom (especially their mom) could feel safe owning up to their desire to tie one another up, which makes the BDSM old-timers a little territorial, but mostly excited, because maybe our widespread enthusiasm will make their unjustly pathologized lifestyle more socially acceptable. (It would be nice if they couldn't lose child custody over it, for one.)

But what the Times story does reveal — though it never explicitly states it — is how fundamentally geeky BDSM is. Or rather, that the lifestyle shares many attributes of other nerd subcultures. Even safe words are kind of dorky, if you think about it — a word so silly you would never say it in the course of regular sex. One of the Times sources, “Deb,” is a lifelong Mets fan, so hers is “Yankees Rule,” because “she could only utter it under extreme duress.” It's enough to make you wonder if BDSM is just being DTF for the LARPing set. ...

There’s some actual overlap with science fiction and fantasy.
Susan Wright, a community manager for bondage site FetLife and spokeswoman for kink awareness group National Coalition for Sexual Freedom quoted by the Times, is also the author of nine Star Trek novels. And let’s not forget that Fifty Shades began as Twilight fan fiction! ...


Latest Reader Comments

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    Mistress Black Diamond

    30. April, 2015 |

  • I followed the link to read the full article. As expected in that sort of venue the ideal of BDSM is being promoted, not the reality. I...

    TammyJo Eckhart, PhD

    30. April, 2015 |

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