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What I Learned At “What I Learned At Straight Camp”

19 Mar

So, a week or two ago I went to an lecture called “What I Learned At Straight Camp”. This guy, amusingly named Ted Cox, decided to infiltrate a Christian gay-to-straight conversion camp to see what they’re all about. What he found was strange and fascinating, and if you haven’t read this article, you really should.

I have no bone to pick with that stuff, I think it’s important and interesting. But a lot of the details of the presentation, and the way the audience responded to it, really niggled at me.

There were a few things that stuck out as especially problematic. For one, there was a strong undercurrent of “men being intimate is totally gay, lololol.” There were several moments where we were talking about men being intimate (emotionally, physically-but-not-sexually, spiritually, etc.), and we were supposed to see this as proof that the men involved were totally gay. While I agree that the men involved probably are totally gay, it’s not cool to conflate intimacy and sex, nor is it cool to perpetuate the destructive cultural norm that stigmatizes male intimacy.

Relatedly, there was a repeated mockery of anything that showed vulnerability in the men involved. There was this “demonstration” (that I was asked to take part in), where we recreated one of the rituals they did at this camp. Several of us guys sat together, laying comforting hands on one particular guy, and singing a song that was meant to be affirming. This was clearly intended to be hilarious in the context of the lecture, and it succeeded. But why is that inherently funny? What’s so amusing about the idea that some men think they need more physical and emotional support, and are finding ways to get it? I mean, I know why it’s funny: it’s funny because it shows a particular form of vulnerability on the part of the men involved, and men aren’t supposed to be vulnerable. But I figure that’s something we should be fighting against, rather than simply accepting and perpetuating, right?

There was, of course, no discussion of whether there could be any benefits of these camps, or whether there might be elements that would be worth preserving in a more healthy context. There was certainly no discussion of whether choosing to forgo your own sexuality could ever be a legitimate life choice. There was only, “They think teh gay can be cured, lololol.” I’m not suggesting we welcome gay conversion camps into the sex-positive movement with open arms, but there was an incredibly strong “us-versus-them” narrative that showed nary a hint of concession or common ground.

In general, I felt that the emphasis was not on actually understanding these people, but simply on discussing how they were wrong, and therefore bad. That, and having a jolly time mocking them. The attitude in that room was at least as judgmental as any church service I’ve ever been to, probably more so. Obviously I agree that marginalization and persecution of homosexuality hurts a lot of people, but that seems like a weak reason to turn around and have celebrations about how dumb and bad and wrong and gay Christians are, especially when that mockery invokes a lot of the prejudices and tropes we really ought to be fighting against.

What do people think? If you went to the presentation, am I wildly misrepresenting it? Even if you haven’t, is this a trend you can see in liberal discussions of this issue, and do you think it’s as big a problem as I do?

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I Have Weird Friends

5 Feb

I was originally going to make several of these separate posts, and I may still expand some of them (especially if people are curious), but for the moment I’m just going to present these as disconnected-but-sorta-related tidbits. Most of them are about my friends, a few of them are about me. Here’s a very partial list of people I know:

 

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A person in love with both halves of a monogamous couple, who would be ecstatic if she got a chance to be in a triad with them.

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A person who is widely known to be very sexually active, who nonetheless doesn’t experience sexual attraction. He enjoys the physical sensation, and likes getting to know people in an intimate way, but doesn’t feel the instinctive sexual attraction most sexuals do.

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A person who tends to stop experiencing sexual attraction during the first couple sexual experiences with a new partner, and thinks that’s a pretty reasonable way to do things.

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Two people who are deeply incapable of understanding the social function of jealousy, to the point of doing things that anyone else could easily have told them would provoke very strong jealous reactions.

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A person who is in something like romantic love with a small, tightknit group of platonic friends.

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A person whose preferred “aftercare” after an intense BDSM scene is to immediately starting intellectually dissecting it.

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A person who fetishizes traditional fancy-restaurant-and-wine dates, in much the same way other people have kinks.

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A person who actively seeks out “emotional one-night-stands”: intimate, personal, flirtatious conversations that last several hours without necessarily leading to anything afterwards.

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Multiple asexual people who are very active in the BDSM community.

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A lesbian in a serious relationship with a man.

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A person who thinks an intense game of chess is amazing foreplay.

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A person who met her current, long-term partner online (not through a dating website), and didn’t meet her in meatspace until after they were in a relationship.

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If I have a point here, it’s the amazing range of experiences and drives people have. The idea that all of these people could be served by the same very specific set of relationship structures and assumptions just seems laughable to me.

The Anatomy of Relationships

16 Jan

In my last post I pointed out some of the flaws I see with the current monogamous culture, and even (to a lesser extent) with mainstream polyamory. But it’s a lot easier to tear down than to build up, and we need to have some way to talk about our relationships. In this post, I’m going to lay out how I’ve started to think about relationships, in hopes that it will help us build a vocabulary that doesn’t buy into mainstream monogamy and the relationship binary.

In my view, no two relationships are identical. It’s not ultimately helpful to talk about whether “friends” or “partners” should come first, or whatever, because both terms are under-defined. More useful, in my opinion, is to talk about the specific features of the relationship, which can differ along many axes. Sitting in bio class, I jotted down a partial list of potential factors to consider:

  • Sexuality. Is the relationship sexual or not? How “far” does it go, and how often? Are there particular sexual elements that are emphasized or de-emphasized?
  • Touch. Is touch an important part of the relationship? What forms of touch are expected/acceptable/unacceptable? What purposes do each form of touch serve?
  • Limerence. This is the “in love” feeling I was calling “romance” in this post. Does either person feel limerence toward the other? Do both? How strong is it, and how long has it lasted? If limerence is not present, was it present in the past?
  • Emotional Vulnerability. Do either or both people feel comfortable being emotionally vulnerable with the other? Do they feel comfortable crying in front of the other? Is emotional vulnerability an occasional or frequent part of the relationship?
  • Thought-Sharing. How much does each person know about the other? To what extent is it expected that new thoughts will be shared with the other person, and how does that differ based on the topic? To what extent is it acceptable to have secrets from each other, and how does that differ based on the topic?
  • Resource Sharing. Are the practical matters of life intertwined? Do they share living spaces, finances, clothing, etc? To what extent is borrowing without asking acceptable?
  • Commitment. Have promises been made about the permanence of the relationship? Can the relationship be dropped if either person becomes busy or interested in something else? What actions are required to end the relationship?
  • Prioritization. Do they have an obligation to put each other’s needs ahead of their own needs or the needs of “outside” people? How far does this obligation extend? Does it differ based on the type of need?
  • Time. How much time do the people in the relationship spend with each other? How much of that time is one-on-one, and how much of it is in groups? How much of that is “accidental” and how much does each person actively seek out time with the other?
  • Common Interests. What activities or interests do the people in the relationship have in common? How much of the relationship is based on those activities or interests? How would the relationship change if either or both people lost interest in those topics or activities?
  • Group Membership. Is there a shared social group? How much of the relationship is based on that group membership? How would the relationship change if either or both people left the group?
  • Exclusivity. Are certain activities reserved for the relationship? (This can be sex, but it needn’t be. My relationship with J was exclusive with regards to watching new episodes of Dr. Who.) Must this activity be one-on-one, or can it be done in a group setting? Are there non-exclusive activities where it’s nonetheless expected to invite the other person?
  • Negotiation. Have conversations about “the future of this relationship” happened? Are the expectations of the relationship explicit or implicit?

This is just a partial list, although I think it hits many of the crucial points. What other factors can you guys come up with?

This model has a lot of potential uses. Looking at this list, it becomes increasingly clear how many different things get lumped together by culturally enforced monogamy. A “romantic relationship” (which you’re only supposed to have one of) is supposed to have high levels of each of these factors, with the potential exception of Group Membership and (unfortunately) Negotiation. A “friendship”, especially between people of different genders, is not expected to have high levels of anything besides Common Interests and Group Membership, although Sexuality and Limerence are the ones that are most vigorously policed. (Same-gender relationships, especially between women, occasionally get designated “best friends” and have a bit more leeway with other factors.)

Modern Polyamory does much better, and there are many more acceptable combinations. However, there are still holdovers from monogamy. Many of these factors are expected to happen together. In particular, high levels of Sexuality are expected to accompany high levels of anything besides Group Membership and Common Interests. (Metamours are a weird case. There need not be high levels of Sexuality between metamours, but the relationship is defined by each having high levels of sexuality with a third person.) This is the stuff I was talking about last post, just translated into this new model.

Another use of the model is as an introspection tool. What factors do you need most in your life? Are there any two or more factors that need to be a package deal for you? Are there any factors you don’t care about?

For me, I need a ton of Emotional Vulnerability and Thought-Sharing in my life, and think almost all of my relationships are better when those are increased. I also need a lot of Sexuality, but don’t need all of my relationships to include it (so long as there is at least one person, preferably two or three people, with whom I have a high level of Sexuality). I don’t care about Limerence at all (in fact, the other person feeling it often makes me actively uncomfortable). Moderate-to-high levels of Time and Prioritization are greatly appreciated, and a good way to encourage me to invest a lot of energy into the relationship, but they’re not crucial once a relationship has been established (and very high levels make me uncomfortable).

Finally, this model offers us new possibilities for building new relationships that work for us. As long as they fulfill the needs of the people involved, any combination of these  factors is potentially valuable. Rather than sticking to the culturally accepted relationship scripts, we can find the best equilibrium for our unique relationships of all sorts.