Polyamory and Compulsory Monogamy

x-posted from thinkkinknet blog:

Polyamory still isn’t talked about much in popular media, as is evidenced in this “shocking” revelation in Harper’s Bazaar about Tilda Swinton’s “open marriage.” It sounds from the structure to be rather committed, rather than the loose interpretations open marriage gets.  Of course, the shock is only because we don’t get shown many images of anything but monogamous relationships; any deviation from that is seen as a violation of trust and worthy of violent action at worst or a slutty oddity at best.

However, there are people speaking openly that there is an upside to polyamory(although I’d say there’s far more than one), that someone can live in a relationship that doesn’t include jealousy as a required tenet, and my favorite, an entire critique that closely examines compulsory monogamy.  This last is lengthy, but well worth the time and consideration, especially for people who are curious but not sure about anything outside of monogamy.

The U.S. is still debating whether or not same sex marriages should be made legal, and there are still groups within this country that believe there’s something wrong with same sex couples, opposite sex couples who live together but don’t marry, and single people who don’t wish to marry or live with their sexual partners.  Our media shows us the violence and drama that comes of sharing sexual contact with someone outside of our prescribed relationship, and only recently, on an episode of House, M.D., did I see anyone address the concept of emotional “cheating.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be with someone, and only that person, in a sexual way for the rest of your life.  There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to share yourself with several people in a sexual way for the rest of your life.  The key is consent, but as described in the critique on compulsory marriage, we aren’t even have the discussions necessary to open up a real nation-wide dialogue about alternatives to compulsory monogamy.  It’s not even on the table.

When people hear “polygamy,” they most often imagine a Mormon compound in Utah where women are married off young–really young–to an older man with several wives. Many people in the U.S. don’t understand terms like polygyny, polyandry, or polyamory, and they confuse the meanings of polygamy (a person married to more than one person) and polygyny (a man married to more than one woman).  These are demonized, illegal activities in our nation, although they’re not in other areas of the world.  I could go on about “traditional family values,” but that’s best left for another post, probably elsewhere at that.

My point, and I hope I haven’t run too far afield from it, is that we’re far from a real discussion of relationship structures and the freedom to choose without fear of shame or reprimand.  The issue is, and always should be, about consent, not about moralized ideals of right and wrong, morals that are not shared across all people within this or any country.  I like to think that these small articles, which appear across the board, are the beginnings of a much needed discussion and a shift in perspective that may one day be reflected in our news, sitcoms, dramas, and in our homes.


Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Abandoning Abstinence Only Education

Recent news in headway made toward comprehensive sex education for our nation:

7 Reasons to Take Up the Fight for Comprehensive Sex Education

Ms. Online: Legislation Introduced to End Abstinence-Only Funding

Slowly, but surely, we are making progress toward saner educational plans.  And in case you’d forgotten, today is November 2nd.  Get out and vote!  Your local legislators and the senators and representatives on your ballot matter toward keeping work toward pro-choice, sex education, and human rights issues moving along.  Living in Washington state and being witness to several very close elections between one sane candidate and one who wanted to hand the state over to big corporations and reduce human rights, I can say every vote counts!

Published in: on November 2, 2010 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Whose Rights Are We Protecting?

As someone who has had to terminate a pregnancy, as a mother of a beautiful daughter, as a woman who has miscarried a wanted child, and as a woman who believes that choice is freedom, I always wonder why it is that other people feel the need to attempt to push their morals, their views, and their laws onto individuals who do not share their path. (That was one long run-on sentence, but if you’re still with me . . . )

There are people who do not believe that abortion is the right choice for them, even in situations of rape and incest, teen pregnancy, and medical necessity. Their opinions ought to be respected and honored when it comes to their bodies and their unborn children.

However, like those who proselytize on street corners, at college campuses, and in other public venues, trying to force their religious beliefs down the throats of citizens who do not choose to follow their path, I find the disrespectful nature of the ways they present their side of the abortion debate despicable, ignorant, and lacking in compassion.

Freedom, however, includes the right to speak. Although I do wish there was a very specific language in our constitution that makes it clear that we want freedom “from” religion as much as we want freedom “of” religion. That means that the morals of one faith should not decide the laws of an entire nation of people who do not share even a handful of the same spiritual beliefs.

I do not believe that every unwanted pregnancy should end in abortion, but I do believe that every woman has the right and should continue to have the right, to seek out legal, safe, and compassionate services should the difficult decision face her. There is no black and white, there is no easy path in a situation like that, even if the pregnancy came from a loving, committed relationship, children may not benefit from that relationship if there is no money to support them or if other factors are unstable.

I wish that this was an issue that we could discuss in rational, calm terms, but it tends to devolve into frothing-at-the-mouth epithets. There seems to be little common ground on this issue, even between people who share the same faith. If only we could at least make it clear that the choices of other women’s bodies are their own and no one else’s, perhaps there could be progress.

Abortion Issues in Recent News:

Husband stands up to protestors

Pregnancy “Crisis” Centers

The Shortage of Physicians

Clara Bell Duvall Project

Abortion Training: Hard to Get?

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 6:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Woo-Freaking-Hoo!: Key States Reject Abstinence-Only Funding

This is how voices get heard. When states reject grants that require them to teach abstinence-only sex ed in favor of more comprehensive funding sources, they are speaking out against the known failures of programs often mired in religious bias rather than facts and real-world discussions.

This is news worth celebrating, and it’s a big step in the right direction that I encourage other states to follow.

Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Children’s Acculturation and Gender Identity

I have a friend with two boys, five years apart in age. They are both rather well-adjusted, and completely different in nature. The younger of the two, currently six years old, in times of stress takes on a role rarely permitted to be seen in most homes, and even more rare in school settings where gender roles are reinforced with a multitude of examples where both adults and children guide an individual’s choices toward the “right” one based on their genitals.

This boy, who visits my own home on occasion, comforts himself by nurturing a small baby doll. Though sometimes he refers to his baby as “she,” he has informed me that his baby is a boy. He routinely comforts it, cradles it, and changes its clothes depending on the time of day (pajamas for bed, day clothes for going out). He will give it a pacifier when he thinks it is necessary.

When I agreed to babysit both boys for their parents’ anniversary, I suggested he bring his baby. I knew he had been particularly emotionally raw of late, and had been carrying around my friend’s house for a few days previous. He was delighted, and we even talked about how to make a sling so that if he wanted to carry his baby around hands-free, he could do so without worry. The morning after spending the night, he came down, and I asked him if he’d changed, and he said he had. Then I asked if he’d changed his baby, and he ran upstairs to make certain that the pajamas were exchanged for day clothes.

The level of care and nurturing he takes for his baby is unprecedented to me as a parent who’s visited many preschools, daycares, and elementary schools. Literature on gender roles that assumes that such things are “natural” have never spent time in a daycare for toddlers where the teachers will remove certain toys from a boy’s hands and give them something “more appropriate.”

This is acculturation at work, neither good, nor bad. How else are children to learn societal norms and what is expected of them? However, we as participants in culture-making can choose to make different choices as my friends have.

Then again, our children may decide that our assumptions and culture don’t work for them anymore. Take, for example, this blog post by Babeland about children bending the gender rules of Disney fairies. Children who use the web site circumvented the gender assumptions made by the company that only allowed for the creation of female fairies within the game by making their characters taller, more slender, and giving them shorter hair styles and androgynous names.

The company, recognizing that there was a demand for male characters within the game, created them, but out of some fear of referring to boys as “fairies” calls them “sparrow men,” as though they were a race unto themselves. This not only speaks to an assumption of the roles males “should” play in our society, but also a fear of anything feminine being displayed within young men that might be construed as homosexual in nature. Given the derogatory nature of the word “fairy,” I’m surprised that they did not use this opportunity to return its original meaning to those who wish to use it.

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 3:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Authority and Pregnancy

Who has the authority to decide what is right for a woman and her potential children?

In most of my circles, my friends and colleagues would say the woman. However, we continue to see policies both direct and indirect, local and international, that give us pause.

Two recent articles both dealing with women and pregnancy struck me, both for their injustice, but also for the ways in which the rhetoric surrounding women’s bodies continues to be framed in patriarchal, controlling tones.

I have a very visceral repulsion of the recent use and abuse of tasers by police officers. Where they might hesitate to pull a gun, too often, we see videos and news reports that show people given the authority to protect citizens, often abuses that power to intimidate or simply to get their way. Unfortunately, the courts frequently back up this behavior of the police officers, even when there was no perceived threat by the person on which it was used. A very disturbing example happened recently here in Seattle.

A woman seven months pregnant was pulled over for speeding in a school zone. She refused to sign the ticket, because she did not wish to admit guilt. Normally, as many commenters pointed out, this would lead to her being cited, sent a summons, and they would battle it out in court. However, the officer decided that her belligerence, within her vehicle, and with no threat of harm or any sign of a weapon, warranted Tasering. The threat to her unborn child, something that many people seem is a life sacrosanct at conception, a fetus now nearing its development in utero, wanted, and intended to be kept, was threatened because someone with a badge wanted to prove they were mighty.

I cannot imagine the horror she must have gone through at such an experience wondering if her child was harmed in such a way. There are no studies to show what effects Tasering has in the long-term on adults, let alone what it does to developing fetuses. Though reports say she gave birth to a healthy child, the mother is permanently scarred, and there is no way to be certain that long-term damage has yet to be seen within the child as it grows. For a non-lethal weapon, Tasering has a growing list of deaths associated with its use, and reports of abuses are piling up fast.

What does this have to do with policy, rhetoric, and pregnancy? I find it odd that in a country where people scream obscenities at women who choose to terminate pregnancies that more respect and consideration of the dangers acts like the one mentioned above would be sanctioned in a court of law. What does this say about our nation? Are we a schizophrenic people? Is it all hypocrisy? For some it must be a difficult case to process, especially if they happen to both adamantly support the right and authority of police to utilize whatever force they deem necessary, yet on the other hand vehemently oppose any danger or threat posed toward a fetus. I would ask that those who feel strongly toward both to please give insight how one deals with such a moral position. Was it right for the police officer to tase her? Or was doing so violating the duty to the protection of an unborn child?

In Turkey, a larger debate is taking place that leads those of us who are outside to wonder whether we have a right to interfere in the policies of a culture not our own. Women in Turkey are banned from seeking artificial insemination abroad, for the practice violates the country’s laws. For a people who, as I understand it, value human life and increasing the chance of children, it seems a schism between policy and… something else, to imprison women should they seek to increase their chance at conceiving. Clearly, as the rest of the article would indicate, this is tied intrinsically into a deeper power play within the political arena of modern day Turkey; something to which I am woefully ignorant. However, this obsession with assuring that women bear children, but the right children seems far outside the realm of rationalization. For certainly, if there are women to prosecute for becoming inseminated, this means that there are Turkish citizens who think they should have the right to practice this form of conception.

But Pinar Ilkkaracan, a prominent women’s rights campaigner in Turkey, said it would be a misinterpretation of a law intended to protect the inheritance rights of children.
“This is completely against the philosophy of the reformed penal code,” she told the BBC.
“We spent years fighting to improve the law so that it would properly protect women’s autonomy over their bodies and sexuality.
“This government has slipped this regulation in without any debate in parliament.”

For now, I shall be grateful that there are women like Ilkkaracan in Turkey fighting for the rights of women within the context of their own culture, but what if her voice and those like hers are silenced? Do women from the outside, especially we privileged women in the U.S. have any right to step in and fight on behalf of them? At what point does legislation of women’s bodies cease to be something that governments continue to take authority over?

Certainly our own government continues to struggle with these issues to this day. Just look at the types of women’s rights slippage introduced into the recent healthcare bill! I do not wish to say that all women are the same in every culture, the blanket feminism applied by Western scholars over the world’s women has proved disastrous time and again, but I do wish to recognize that on some level, we are all fighting for similar goals; most notably to be treated as human beings. Everything else is details, and to that, I would say that we should support the culturally coherent goals of those fighting within their own societies for the rights they deem are appropriate to them. Just as I hope that should women within the U.S. ever find ourselves silenced, those outside our borders would support us in reclaiming our agency.

That being said, I must wonder, who is already silenced within our nation? As this blog has already proven, I have a few ideas thus far…

Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Overblown Charges

(Click the picture to see full size in a new window.)

At a time in our nation when it’s ok for strangers to view you naked at the airport without your consent (and I find a 74% positive response suspect; what were the questions? How random was this sample of the population?), and includes scanning of and photographs of nude children in the name of “national security” (I know I feel more secure that they can see me naked), we continue to swing just as widely to the extreme when it comes to children and any form of sexualization.

(Click the picture to see full size in a new window.)

In March, a couple in Utah were arrested for sexual abuse of their infant son when pictures were processed at a local drug store revealing the father kissing the nude baby all over, which based on established, cultural norms is a sign of pride and affection from a father to a son. The store employee who processed the photographs overreacted to the photos out of context and contacted authorities. However, even as the charges of abuse were dropped, the couple remained in custody as illegal aliens.

(Click the picture to see full size in a new window.)

And in other over-the-top charges, Andrew Buck, a 27 year old middle school teacher and a golf coach at a high school, was arrested for having sexual contact with an 18 year old girl. Faced with a class D felony with up to 5 years in prison… and for what? Sex with a legal adult? The reporters haven’t said much about this case since, but not one mentioned any contact between Buck and the alleged victim before she reached age of consent. The only concern is that she is a student at the high school where he coached golf. Not one mention was made as to whether he was in a position of authority over her, his full-time teaching status was at the local middle school.

Even if, somehow, their relationship crossed the bounds of his contract with the school, suspension or resignation would make more sense than five years in prison for screwing an 18 year old. Now this man will be marked a sexual predator for the rest of his life, serve hard time, and likely be unable to ever gain employment in any profession for which he was trained. For having sex with an adult. Whom is this protecting? Whom do these laws serve to protect?

Recent cases of true concern include the following:

Although it concerns me that authorities would consider prosecuting the underage teens as well, a 19 year old man brought underage girls and their friends over to his house to have sex while he watched through a hole. This is one of those times when one must consider the poor judgment and lack of warnings given to those crossing over the threshold into “adulthood” who still may be socially involved with (and find easy to seduce), those younger than them. Clearly, though, as a legal adult, the 19 year old should be tried, however, the grey area comes when we discuss those who engaged in sex between the ages of 11-14. When we have taken away the legal right and ability of those under 18 to consent, how can we then speak to any of them consenting to have sex with one another? Let us hope, though, that should these activities have been through some form of willing experimentation, none of the minors are permanently labeled criminals for their curiosity.

While the reports are coming in decades too late, at least those former singers of the Vienna Boys’ Choir are now coming forward to speak out against those priests who abused their positions of power over them. Despite my distaste for the overzealous use of sex abuse laws where they are not needed, the awareness of such crimes, and the clear path for discourse has allowed many people to step forward and shed light on similar abuses. As for comments by Merkel and the Pope… Perhaps I shall let my politics lie here for the moment, and be grateful to the agency that final is giving voice to survivors of real abuse.

Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 5:06 am  Leave a Comment  

The House of Beautiful Flowers

CNN reports on the investigative reporting done by independent media outlet VICE or VBS.TV regarding a retirement home for sex workers in Tepito, Mexico. The women are not required to stop working to live there, and they feel safer there whether they continue sex work or not. The house itself does not function as a brothel–clients are not permitted–yet each woman has a different story to tell, a different perspective on their work and the nature of the house itself. It is inspiring to see what a permissive, open community effort to give a place for these women to go without stigma can do for them as a whole.

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Quick Links for Future Reference

Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s list of juvenile civil justice.

The Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center, which includes residential treatment programs for both survivors of and perpetrators of sexual assault.

HB 1473, a bill currently in the Washington state legislature that would require additional information be given to students receiving sex education to understand the laws surrounding adolescent sexuality and the potential consequences should they be caught breaking those laws.

Invisible Children blog provides a modest proposal for the end of criminalization of children in all forms, and seeks to create a dialogue about assisting and supporting our youth rather than impoverishing and punishing them. Also on that blog is a call for civil justice along the same lines. (Links found through one of my LinkedIn groups.)

Blogger Greta Christina writes about sex and the off-label use of our bodies, arguing for a different perspective on the non-procreative sex acts that humans engage in across the world. While the whole of her entry is inspiring and eloquent, the heart of it lies here:

Off-label uses of body parts and biological functions aren’t just acceptable and morally neutral. They are some of the most beautiful, honorable, and deeply treasured parts of the human experience.

Human beings took our animal need for palatable food . . . and turned it into chocolate souffles with salted caramel cream. We took our ability to co-operate as a social species . . . and turned it into craft circles and bowling leagues and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We took our capacity to make and use tools . . . and turned it into the Apollo moon landing. We took our uniquely precise ability to communicate through language . . . and turned it into King Lear.

None of these things are necessary for survival and reproduction. That is exactly what makes them so splendid. When we take our basic evolutionary wiring and transform it into something far beyond any prosaic matters of survival and reproduction . . . that’s when humanity is at its best. That’s when we show ourselves to be capable of creating meaning and joy, for ourselves and for one another. That’s when we’re most uniquely human.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

More Sensationalism – Reading the Language of the Anonymous Masses

CBS recently featured an article entitled Outrage Growing Over Repeat Sex Offenders, and I must wonder whether this headline itself doesn’t fuel that type of mentality. In the article, Ben Tracy feeds fuel to the fire of fear by including the following paragraphs:

Experts say there are not enough parole officers to monitor the more than 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. At least 100,000 may not even be living where they say they are.

“The sex offender registry provides this false sense of security we are monitoring and doing something with the sex offenders out there,” said Robin Sax, a former Los Angeles county prosecutor.

And monitoring doesn’t always work. Even with home inspections, Phillip Garrido was still able to hide Jaycee Dugard in his backyard for 18 years. Last November in Cleveland, 11 bodies were found in the house of another registered sex offender being monitored by police.

Not only does this heighten the “growing outrage” of the U.S. public, it gives further incentive to doubt the systems that have been put in place to help track, monitor, and prevent further attacks by sex offenders without providing a discussion of why there are not enough officers or why these systems may be insufficient. At no point does the author suggest any links between the blanket laws designed to prosecute and punish varying degrees of sexual activity as if they are the all the same crime. As one of the commenters, Fatesrider, stated rather eloquently:

The trouble with the term “sex offender” is that it paints a guy who has consensual sex with his 17 year old girlfriend on the night he turns 18 with the same brush as a violent child sex predator. In the eyes of the law – being convicted of a sex crime – the two are EQUAL.

We need to properly identify those who ARE violent, who ARE predators, who ARE worthy of being monitored. With draconian “you can’t live here” laws being passed everywhere, and with so few actual predators worthy of being monitored, we are knee-jerking ourselves into a corner with respect to our ability to try to keep our communities safer. There are just too many to oversee and many of THEM are falling off the radar because no one knows where they are.

We have to focus in on those individuals likely to re-offend and see to it they never do again. And we have to cut those convicted of consensual sex acts some slack and not necessarily automatically brand them with the same scarlet letter. So rather than some other knee-jerk, draconian, idiotic ploy that doesn’t work, how about applying some of that alleged intelligence humans have for fixing a problem and find a solution instead of a band-aid?

This comes back to the issues we face as a society that prosecutes children and teens for experimental sexuality, and for consensual sex between teens crossing the arbitrary border of consent from “child” to “adult” with little allowance for the recognition of stages of maturation with the same level of severity as that of habitual rapists, molesters, and murderers. Where is the justice? Where is the discussion of reform?

I don’t care for most major networks that sensationalize news and focus on tragedy without true depth of investigation. However, I did create an account with the CBS web site in order to comment to Fatesrider who had already said much of what I wished to bring to bear.

Thank you. As someone who is both a survivor of childhood sexual abuse AND as a person seeking to reform our sex offender laws, these frothing-at-the-mouth hell-and-damnation reactions do not allow us to discuss the real issues behind overcrowding and lack of efficient monitoring of real offenders. When we criminalize children with the same laws intended to protect them, we’re not helping anyone. We end up stigmatizing and marginalizing youth engaged in natural, exploratory behavior, and we flood the system with so-called “sex offenders” of every degree, and monitor them equally as monsters. We need to start a dialogue of reform, and discuss with our legislators the difference between truly malicious and harmful individuals in our society, and those who fall outside such categories that get caught up in the language of the law. *Then* we can better address what ways to handle those who, like Gardner, who are the true criminals.

Sadly, my words were not as eloquent as the original commenter, but after reading the majority of comments that appealed to either a particular Christian standard of morals that includes violence and calls for extreme forms of punishment for all “sex offenders” without addressing the problematic labeling, I wanted to add to the discourse on reform. These articles are currently vehicles for delivering fear and to gain immediate, extreme responses from their audience. It is our responsibility as citizens to adapt this divisive, inflammatory language into a vehicle for discourse of reform and as opportunities for education and outreach.

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment