Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Intimacy Scales

I forget how it came up, but somehow Flower Lady noticed that she viewed hand holding as a very intimate, romantic thing, but Hat Guy thought it was just a friendship thing that girls do, and so didn't think it meant that much when she held his hand.

Realization: Different people can process the same action as more or less intimate than others would process that same action.

This makes a lot of sense. It explains why some people, like Flower Lady, are very physical and hug acquaintances, while others, like me, need large personal bubbles and take a long time to get huggy with someone. I had a model that explained that before, which went kind of like a slide rule. On the bottom ruler there was a scale of how well you knew a person, and on the top ruler there was a scale of touch, and different people slid their rulers so that the things lined up differently.

I am aware that this is not what a slide rule looks like.

But that one doesn't work. It doesn't work because it's not just that different peoples' scales line up differently, it's that their scales are actually different. This is one of those things that seems really obvious in retrospect, but surprised us because it had never occurred to us to think about it before. So we set ourselves homework to draw up our own personal scales of intimacy - to rate actions from least to most intimate. The results were...complicated. It turns out that - surprise, surprise - people are really complicated, and the way we think about physical intimacy is all tangled up with other things. I may talk about some of that tangling later, but for now, here are our results stated as simply as possible:

Hat Guy:
Hat Guy organised things in bins of relationship type. He noted that a relationship could be sexual at any point along the spectrum, but that for him it only makes sense to have sexual relationships come further down the line than romantic ones.

Click to enlarge

Flower Lady:
Flower Lady organised things similarly. Hers was a scale of emotional/physical intimacy, right up until the purple physical attraction (by which she meant sexual attraction) category. That one she said was different, because she experiences sexual attraction and emotionality as different things. Not necessarily unrelated things, but different (so not along the same scale).
Click to enlarge

My graph was actually much more complicated because my emotional intimacy and physical intimacy don't map to each other linearly. For the purposes of this post, I've re-done the linear part of mine using something like the colour scheme that Flower Lady and Hat Guy used.
Click to enlarge
Let's tease out some of the differences here. Hat Guy sees making out as a romantic thing, while Flower Lady sees it as a sexual thing. Flower Lady sees resting with physical contact as more intimate than light cuddling, while Hat guy sees it as less. I see holding hands as extremely intimate, while Hat Guy does not.

There are lots of complexities I'm skating over here. The point is, different people think the same physicals acts convey different levels of intimacy.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


In my original post outlining my intended family structure, I left room for myself to have another serious, probably romantic relationship in addition to the base unit of me, Hat Guy, and Flower Lady. I did that because I felt that having such a relationship could enrich my life, and because I wanted the opportunity to develop bonds with people in whatever ways seem appropriate at the time. In other words, I didn't want to be unnecessarily limited by my existing relationships.

That's why I left room for another person. I did not do it because I anticipate having needs or wants that could only be fulfilled by having another relationship. Ideally, the base unit (plus the friend/family network) will be able to fulfill all the needs and wants of everyone in the base unit. This is part of being a functioning, stable unit.

At this point in our conversation, we the unit demonstrated how super useful we are. We went "We're setting the goal of making sure all our needs and wants are addressed somewhere in our relationship structures? Great! Let's map out what each of us needs/wants and where we can get that". And that's what we did.

Vaguely inspired by Morrissey and Cake's physical boundaries checklist, we made a big huge table of things that people do in relationships, or that at least one of us needs/wants to have happen. We put those down the left column, and across the top we put each of our relationships (Hat Guy and me, Hat Guy and Flower Lady, me and Flower lady, and the group). We also put a column for people outside of the base unit, a column for objections, and a column for whether things are allowed to happen in public.

Click to enlarge

This was very much a write-in table, not a check-off table. Specific entries were things like "yes", "ask first", "no problems", and "required". The objections category in particular got wordy, because we were using it for all types of objections, such as how I have to be completely out of earshot when sexy times happen, that Flower Lady should not be allowed to go grocery shopping alone lest she bring home the entire store, and that none of us want to spend time around each other's ex's. This table covers a lot of stuff, and what we got out of it was entirely proportional to the effort we put into filling it out. I have a feeling that this is only the first version of this table.

Why is this useful?
In general, because none of us are mind readers. No matter how well we know someone, we can't know what they want and don't want unless they tell us. Yes, there's body language and stuff, but words are really the clearest, most straight-forward way to do it. Unfortunately, telling someone that you want them to change what they're doing is not always easy. For me and my unit, charts make it easier to communicate. Clearly laying everything out in a very utilitarian way opens up lines of communication, which allows us to be frank about what we need/want. This in turn allows us to get what we need/want. Useful.

In the case of multiple relationships (those could be romantic, family, friend, or something else), there's more than one person available to fulfill your needs/wants. That makes things easier, because you don't have to rely on just one person to do everything for you, but it also makes things more complicated, because you have more options of people to go to, and more people relying on you. It can be tricky finding the right balances. By mapping out what everyone needs, you can start intentionally matching those needs together. The goal is to make sure everyone gets the attentions they desire, and don't feel pressured to give more than they wish to. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wait a minute, this is stupid.

So I was chopping vegetables the other day, and suddenly it struck me: The Kinsey scale is kinda dumb. Why? Because it measures two entirely unrelated variables (attraction to people of your gender and attraction to people of the opposite gender) along the same axis.

That's really dumb! It's like graphing how much people like bananas and melons using the same axis. If you don't see what's wrong with this, imagine that you don't like melons or bananas. Or that you hate melons and like bananas, but don't like bananas as much as everyone else who's all the way over on the not-melon side. There's no way to express those ideas on this scale, because the only way to like melons less is to like bananas more. This is stupid because how much you like bananas is not related to how much you like melons.

To bring it back to sexuality, being less attracted to one gender does not mean that you have to be more attracted to the other gender. Those variables are independent. What the heck are they doing on the same axis? Really the graph should look like more like this: 

What a nice-looking graph. ...Except then this happens:

Dang it, gender binary, things are so much easier to graph if I can just pretend you exist! (But I can't.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cheat Sheet #1: Orientation Terms

I've been poking around these parts of the internet for years, so I've picked up a lot of jargon (and there is a lot of jargon around here) and forgotten I haven't always known it. This was fine until I started talking to people who haven't been reading about orientation for years. Jargon can be overwhelming at first, especially if you haven't seen enough of it to notice the patterns, so I'm making a series of cheat sheets to help out folks just arriving to the party who need a jump on the vocab.

The first sheet covers orientation terms. I tried to keep it clean and concise while being reasonably comprehensive. If there are things that I missed, misrepresented, or otherwise could have done better, please let me know in the comments.

Future sheets will include Gender Terms, and Attraction/Intimacy/Relationship Terms. (That one may end up being more than one sheet.) The most recent versions of all the terminology cheat sheets will be available in the glossary. If there are any other areas you'd like to see a cheat sheet for, let me know!

Click to enlarge, or right click and open in a new tab/window for a zoomable version.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Variable Separation (or, Asexuality 102 and Why Sexuals Should Hear it As Well)

One of the things I’m most excited to do on this blog is talk about separating variables. What do I mean by that? Let’s use attraction as an easy (Hah, jokes!) example. I am (somewhere on the) asexual (spectrum). What this means is I do not experience primary sexual attraction. I do, however, experience romantic attraction. I've been thinking of sexual and romantic attraction as separate things for years now, so it seems very natural to me, but I remember a time when, like mostly everyone in our society, I assumed that the two could or should only be experienced together. Figuring out that they were actually separable variables was one of the most important mental adjustments I've ever made. Right up there with object permanence. It can be very valuable to be able to pull complicated things apart into their component bits.

I really like metaphors, and in particular food metaphors, so I will now explain variable separation in terms of coleslaw. Imagine for a moment that you are an orphan who has grown up on pre-plated food and have only ever seen cabbage, carrots, and dressing tossed together in the form of coleslaw.

Please sir, I want some more.

Since you've never seen a cabbage on its own, it would be perfectly reasonable for you to think that all cabbage is part of coleslaw, or even to not realize that cabbage is a thing – you could just see coleslaw and not think about the different bits that make it up at all.

This is what most people do. They look at things – attraction, in our example – and either don't see that the things are made up of smaller parts, or assume that, since they've never seen the component parts individually, those parts must always go together. But I can have cabbage without having carrots or dressing, and I can have romantic attraction without having sexual attraction. Getting people to understand this is not always easy.

Click to enlarge
Attraction is the category I have the best model for. Here is a list of attraction variables which I, and a nontrivial number of other people, believe to be independent. Make no mistake, they can and often are closely linked for many or most people, but I don’t believe that they have to be.

Kinky Attraction

For a more detailed essay on these types of attraction, I highly recommend this post over at Intimacy Cartography, a blog I envy for its excellent name.

Types of attraction get talked about a lot in the asexual community because they need to be, but I think that they could have real value to sexuals as well. My clearest example of people who could benefit from this model is queer folks. Some people wake up at the age of seven and go “Yep, I’m gay,” and that’s great. It is by far the most direct path. But many queer people go through a lengthy and painful period of introspection, often in middle or high school, where they’re trying to figure out what their orientation is. This can be very confusing. Go to any teen advice website (or Queer Secrets) and you’ll find a slew of anguished questions something along the lines of “Am I in love with my best friend? The other day she slept over and we had this really sensual massage session and I enjoyed it – does that mean I’m gay?”, or “I get butterflies in my stomach when I think about this boy, but I’m not [sexually] attracted to guys! What’s going on?”, and so on.

It seems to me it would be a lot easier to figure out your sexual orientation if you had a model of attraction that didn't mash all the types together, particularly because sexual orientation is based only on sexual attraction. Separating the variables would give people the tools to go “ahah, I am romantically, but not sexually attracted to this guy, but since I only get sexually attracted to girls I must be straight”. Trying to figure out your sexual orientation with "attraction" being one unified category is like trying to tell someone whether your coleslaw is made with green or purple cabbage if you're an orphan who's never seen cabbage outside of coleslaw. You can probably do it, because it tends to tint the entire dish, but some things may not line up. Like orange carrots. What the heck?

Being able to make those distinctions between different flavors of attraction could be enormously helpful to people of any orientation. Think of the drama that could be avoided if people had the tools to think “I have a romance-like friendship with my best guy friend and that’s very important to me, but I don’t want to get physical at all, even just hugging”, or “I find this person very sexually attractive, but I’m not romantically attracted to them, so I shouldn't accept their offer of a romantic relationship structure”, or "I find this person very aesthetically attractive, but I don't want to interact with him". Better yet, imagine that people could communicate their feelings clearly to others using widely agreed-upon vocabulary. Amazing!

That’s what all this dissection in the asexual community is all about. That’s why I have an obsession with variable separation. It’s all so that people can have frameworks to think about themselves in ways that make sense, and vocabulary to talk about it with others. I'm talking about models of attraction here, but variable separation is incredibly useful in almost any category. I'll tackle some others in future posts.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Love Garden

Since our initial realization that we should totally live together, Hat Guy, Flower Lady, and I have been doing a lot of thinking and talking about how we want this to work. We established early on that the goal here is to have a function family unit.

What that means for us is this:

The green is a stand-in colour, since we're not sure what that relationship will look like.

Within our family unit there are four relationships. There's a relationship between each pair of people, and then one for the whole group. Each of these must be happy, loving, supportive, communicative, and fulfilling for all involved parties. If any one of these relationships is faltering, the whole system is sad.

Right now, we have something that looks kind of like this:

Clearly there's some work to do. In particular, Flower Lady and I need to build a more-than-surface relationship together. We all have some ideas about what that relationship should be, but there's also a large element of natural and unpredictable growth which has to happen. My analogy here is a love garden.

You can make a box for a love garden, and water it (spend time getting to know each other), and weed it (talk a whole bunch to nudge things in useful directions, or at least away from bad directions), but in the end you just have to wait and see what grows in it.

Relationships can bloom without such attentions - that's what happened with me and Hat Guy. We just had this box of random plants that happened because we knew each other, and one day we turned around and went "Hey, look, flower buds! We should probably water those." What Flower Lady and I are doing is intentionally constructing a box, sitting down with our watering cans and our gardening gloves, and going "Okay, I want a plant with flowers. Go." And hopefully something suitable will appear.

It's important to note that there aren't any seed stores in this metaphor. We can have great ideas about what we want to be to each other, but in reality a relationship cannot be forced, and just as we can't plant seeds in the garden, we can't make ourselves have feelings. And that's scary, because what if nothing grows? But it's also okay. Because a love garden is a lot more exciting and interesting and, ultimately, fulfilling than a love lego sculpture. That's because a lego sculpture doesn't have room for pleasant surprises, but a garden does.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Family (Part 2 - Mine)

In my last post I talked about family. In summary, a parental family is the family one grows up in. One then goes out into the world, finds one or more people to love and live with, and makes a new, chosen family with them. This post will talk about a particular case.

This is the family I grew up with:
Parental Family
I am at an age when I’m mostly still living with them, but I’m also living away a lot of the time (at school) and have found a person I love and want to live with.

So... I should live with him. Right?

No. Our relationship is not the hearts and wedding rings kind of relationship. It’s the playing Scrabble and finding snails on the beach and curling up with cups of tea in the winter kind of relationship. Most people don’t have a word for it. Some people would call it ‘queerplatonic’, but we think that’s a dumb word and besides, why do we need a word anyway?

 Our relationship is very important to both of us, but for hat guy, it is not everything he needs in his personal life. He also needs a hearts and wedding rings kind of relationship.

 Fortunately, he has that!
 So…they’re going to go live together and I will be sad and lonely?

Sad? :(
 Nope. Because flower lady is AWESOME...

 …and not only is totally cool with me being around, but wants me to live with them.

We are going to be a family. The three of us. They will be a couple, and hat guy and I will love each other (But in the pink way, not the red way. It’s a different colour, see?), and flower lady and I will have the most awesome picnics on the front lawn. We’ll have a big house so that we’ll all have room to live in, and hat guy and flower lady can have adorable child(ren) (and I can be the cool aunt), and people whose families aren’t working out can come stay with us for as long as they want. As life goes on, I might find a wedding rings kind of relationship with someone, and that would be pretty cool. There’s plenty of room in the house and the family.  

Family (Part 1 - General Case)


This is a family. The mother is part of the family, the father is part of the family, and the children are part of the family. (The dog may be too, depending on who you ask.) All of these people will (hopefully) always be a part of this family, even though they will probably not always live together. When the children reach a certain age, they will be expected to go out into the world, find people they like, and make new families of their own.  They’ll still be part of this family, but in addition they will have families that they chose for themselves. I will call the original family the ‘parental family’. I will call the children’s new families their ‘chosen families’. 

Society thinks that that a chosen family looks like this:
Chosen Family
If you’re hip to the new social reasonableness, you may think that a chosen family can look like this:

Two women and their child being a family
 …or this:
Two men and their child being a family
 But I think a whole lot of other things can be families as well. I think that any group of people that joins together with love for the purpose of taking care of each other on a long-term basis can be a chosen family.

Family (with or without child[ren])
 I even think that this is a family, because even though this person isn’t living with other people, they’ve formed a self-sufficient unit that they’re happy with, and which is independent of their parental family:
 These groups are all different, but they all serve a similar purpose, and they can all be chosen families. Chosen families are like food. Chinese food is very different from Mexican food, which is very different from other food, but they all serve the basic function of making you not starve.

 Different people like to eat different kinds of foods...

 … and different people like to have different kinds of families. Some people want kids. Some people want to live with a woman, or with a man, or with someone who’s kinda in between, or neither, or several of those. None of these options make the resulting group any more or less of a family, just like different ingredients don’t make a food item any more or less of a food.

But sometimes food goes bad.
 Sometimes this can be fixed...

 …but sometimes it cannot. When that happens, most of us stop considering the food to be food anymore, and almost all of us think you should get rid of it. The same is true of families. I’m being careful to say that a group of people can be a family, but aren’t automatically so, because not all people can group together well, and not all groups that start out well continue well. A family is a loving, caring group, not just a bunch of people under a roof. This is an example of a group of people which is not a family:

Group of people =/= family
This is also not a family:

“Wait a minute, that’s the same graphic you said was a family!” Yes. The difference is, in this picture the person is living alone because they haven’t found somebody to love and live with yet. They do not want to live alone. This person can’t be their own family by themself. The other one could.

So. A parental family is the family one grows up in. One then goes out into the world, finds one or more people they love and want to live with, and makes a new, chosen family with them. In the next post I'll tell you about my families.