Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pro strategy

Hats is still closeted to her family, and one of her big worries is that they'll somehow find out about her being trans (or at least hear that she's 'going around in drag' [*wince*]) from some source other than her, and that one day she'll just go to visit the grandparents and it'll be "SO, I heard an interesting thing about you", at which point the world would end. She didn't seem to have any game plan for this scenario beyond being absolutely devastated, so I suggested one:

Print out a big stack of business cards all bearing some short message along the lines of "You weren't supposed to find out like this!" and possibly also "I'm female!" and just carry them around all the time. Then if a relative springs it on her, she can throw the whole lot of them into the air like a smoke bomb and flee before the relatives know what's hit 'em. Hats endorses this plan.

I have designed the cards. Aren't they lovely?

After I designed the cards, the website proceeded to suggest numerous other items with my "company name" on them. Including this:

Random person: "Excuse me, sir, do you know the way to the beach?"
Hats: "I do. Can I see your hand?"
Random: "Sure, why-" KACHUNK

Surely this is the most gentle, tactful, and subtle way to correct people on your gender.


It would be cool if lightly headbutting people in the shoulder was a more widely acknowledged form of expressing affection.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Content Warnings

A quick word on the usefulness of trigger/content warnings, even for people without triggers.
(CW: mentions of suicide)

I'm not a big fan of drama as a genre, but I do like to have drama in my stories. What I mean by that is I like the way the extreme nature of the circumstances in stories pushes people into situations I don't experience in my everyday life. It lets me vicariously experience all the heightened emotions they do, and wonder what I would do in that situation. It's catharsis in its old Greek-tragedy meaning.

It used to be that suicide was one of those dramatic devices that was interesting and entertaining for me. It pushed all the right buttons of letting me slip into a scenario and play with it a little. It was never comfortable, because it always ended up with me thinking about how I would feel if someone I loved killed themselves, but it was stimulating and cathartic, as intended.

Then Flowers tried to kill themself. To everyone's unending relief they did not succeed, and are doing much better now, but suicide is no longer a topic I can brush by or have fun with. It's way too real. When I see it in play or in a movie, it's no longer idle catharsis or "I wonder how I'd react to that", it's "It could have gone that way. That could have been us." and it's "That could still happen to us one day." Thinking about people you care for killing themselves is never comfortable, but it's a very different kind of uncomfortable when it's an actual founded concern that you worry about. Way too real.

I definitely wouldn't say I'm triggered by suicide scenes, but it's no longer something I can encounter lightly in my media. It instantly trips the switch from "oh the tragedy, how delicious" to "this isn't fun anymore". I don't go out of my way to avoid it - in fact it can sometimes be useful for me to read about it and think about - but I like to know it's there. I don't like having it sprung on me when I'm trying to enjoy myself. That's why content warnings are useful to me.

"Being" vs. "Doing"

Lately I've been thinking about the difference between being x, and doing x. Take being gay. The way it's usually modeled now, homosexual is a thing that you are, an inborn quality that cannot be changed. But it wasn't always that way. It used to be modeled as something that you did. Anyone could do a 'homosexual act', but it didn't mean that they were anything.*

Both of these models have upsides and downsides. One set that I see is when homosexuality is seen as a bad thing. If it's modeled as something people do, then anti-homosexuality says that people shouldn't do the bad thing and people who do it should be punished. If it's modeled as something people are, then anti-homosexuality says that those people are bad people and bad things should happen to them. That may not seem like much of a difference in practice, but I think it's a very fundamental one with subtle effects only some of which I can unpack on my own. This is something I can only see from a distance, so to speak, so I'd be very interested to hear other perspectives.

Another place where I see both models of being x and of doing x is polyamory. People argue over whether poly is an orientation - something innate that you're born with, or a relationship philosophy,lifestyle etc, and it just strikes me as really silly. To me at least, it's obvious that they're each true for different people. Some people are innately driven to have multiple intimate relationships at once. Flowers is like that. They're very happy with Hats, but they actively want to have additional partners. I'd say they they are poly. Hats and I, on the other hand, just sort of ended up in a relationship set that was poly through happenstance. I'd say we do poly. In the abstract I'd be fine having just one partner, it's just that that's totally not how my life is shaping up right now.

I find instances of this being x vs. doing x distinction all around gender and sexuality, but the concept is even further generalizable. I do art. I'm not an artist. Artists express themselves through their medium; I just make stuff that looks nice. Sometimes my work is meaningful, but usually not. I still see myself as a crafter, or, better and more generally, a maker than an artist.

* I'm playing fast and loose with history here. I'm making it sound simple and linear which it wasn't (isn't), but for the sake of my point the loose version will do.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


"All models are wrong, but some are useful."
George E. P. Box

I do a lot of modeling of complicated and muddy emotions and stuff, but I think it's very important to remember that what I'm doing is just that - modeling - and that each and every one of my models, while useful, is flawed, misleading, and wrong. I'm building a web of models to help me understand the world, but I must take care to not become too attached to my models and convictions, lest I miss something else just as important and valid. My current ways of thinking must not blind me to new information and new ways of thinking. I must also guard against the idea that my definitions and ways of looking at concepts are the 'right' ones. They work for me, and for many of the people I'm trying to communicate with, but to expect them to definitively describe all human experience would be a pinnacle of hubris.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jealousy is Useful

The first pass at jealousy goes like this: It's a negative emotion and we shouldn't have it. Jealousy will ruin our relationships, so we should try not to be jealous ever.

The second pass goes like this: Jealousy is an emotional reaction to something that's going on. Like anger and disappointment, it's an emotional indication that not all is right, and one that's common in relationships of all sorts. If we can figure out the root cause of it, we can address the problem and fix the symptom and all will be well again. We don't have to be afraid of being jealous on occasion as long as we deal with it and don't let it be a caustic thing, or handle it badly if/when it comes up. Denying that we feel jealousy if we do could be very destructive, because it would put off addressing the underlying issue(s).

This second pass is what I see around polyamory websites, and I find it very valuable. Me being me, I have a third pass, which pulls jealousy apart into two sub-categories.

One kind of jealousy I see is "That is mine and you can't have it.", or alternately "I don't have that and you do and I wish to take it from you (so I have it and you don't)". It's what could be called possessive jealousy. It's the kid on the playground lusting after the toy his brother is playing with. It's seeing your partner holding hands with someone and being consumed by possessive green envy. It is "this should be mine and only mine."

Possessive Jealousy

The second kind is gentler, though not necessarily any less intense. It's "I see that you have this and I want it too". It's the kid on the playground seeing other kids with ice cream and begging his mother to get him some too. It's seeing your partner holding hands with someone and going "wow, can she do that with me sometime?" The key difference is that with this kind of jealousy, you want to have something, but you don't need everyone else to stop having it so you can. I'm going to call this suggestive jealousy.

Suggestive Jealousy

Both of these responses are natural and useful. Possessive jealousy is good for pointing out problems that need to be addressed. This site explains that very well, so I'll leave you with that link and move on. What I really want to talk about is suggestive jealousy, and how useful I've been finding it.

Suggestive jealousy is useful because it shows me what I want. I've had this problem where I want something, but I don't know exactly what it is that I want. Specifically, I want physical intimacy with Hats (and, to a lesser and fluctuating extent, Flowers), but I don't know what specific actions will satisfy that desire and also be comfortable for us and our relationship. This isn't a case of not knowing if it would be okay to do a particular thing, it's a case of having a nebulous craving and not knowing which particular things will fulfill it.

What does this feel like? Say that you've never heard of cookies, but you want something sweet to eat. Candy? No, you want something baked. Pie? No, that's too mushy. Cake? No, you really want something chewy that you can hold in your hand and take bites out of. Like Candy?, you guess cake is really what you want, even though it's kinda big and messy. So you have a piece of cake and try to convince yourself that that's what you wanted, because its the thing that fits your criteria the best. You couldn't say 'No, I want cookies' because you'd never heard of cookies. But if you saw a cookie, you would immediately realize that that's exactly what you wanted to eat.

I see three ways to go from this situation. First is the lazy option. You eat the cake and try to convince yourself that you're satisfied, because that's the thing that's closest to what you wanted, right? But as anyone who's ever had a food craving knows, that may work some of the time, but it's not the most satisfying solution.

Second is the very effort-intensive option. You bust out the apron and bake batch after batch of sugary messes, trying to invent a cookie without knowing what it looks like or how its done. Eventually, if you are persistent, you will emerge triumphant with your new creation, and that will be pretty awesome, but that takes a lot of work and a LOT of failed batches of cookies which you must scrape sheepishly into the compost, or force yourself to eat even though they are really sub-par.

The third option is a middle ground between laziness and effort. You take tours of bakeries, peering at all the shelves and sniffing the air until one day you spot in the back corner a rack of cookies and go 'AHAH! That's what I want!'. This is what I am trying to do with touch. There are a lot of ways to be physically intimate out there. Just in my everyday life and in my chosen media, I see dozens of examples of affectionate/intimate touch. This is me wandering around the bakery. So how do I pick out the things I like? Suggestive jealousy. It would take an enormous amount of thought-energy and reflective patience to carefully analyze each instance of physical affection to determine whether it's something I want. Fortunately, suggestive jealousy is the feelings equivalent of a big flashing neon sign in a bakery, pointing at a plate of cookies and mouthing 'over here'. It makes me perk up and go 'yes, that!'.

So when I watch Hats kiss the top of Flowers' head, or see the two of them cuddle in a new configuration, I am jealous, but it's not that I want them to stop doing that, or that seeing those actions makes me feel bad. It makes me feel good, both because they're happy, and because it points out to me something that I want, which I can then articulate, which I can (probably) then get. It's actively useful to me. They're happy, I'm happy, and I don't have to do all the work of figuring out intimacy from scratch. Everybody wins.

Note: I originally wrote this post when I was living near Hats and Flowers and seeing them very often. I tweaked it a tiny bit for tenses and to use the new names, but nothing more. This active process of figuring out touch is on hold while I'm away at school and out of touch-range, but the suggestive jealousy has turned up in a different light. Now it serves as a good measure of how touch-starved I am. I've found that I miss touch quite a lot when I'm away at school, and how much I miss it varies depending on my stress level, how long it's been since I visited Hats and Flowers or talked to them, the weather, and so on. Watching how jealous I am when other people hug each other is a good way to keep track of it.

Internet haunts

Today I have a brief grumble about polyamorous blogging. When we started discussing having a multi-person partnership, I started poking around some polyamorous corners of the internet, with varying degrees of success. I keep running into one of three problems:
1.  The site is crusty and old and full of broken links (Has nobody talked about polyamory on the internet since 2000?) 
2.  The content and/or advertising is highly sex-oriented (Yes, I want to learn about alternative relationship structures. No, I do not want to purchase sex toys.) 
3.  The site/people talk almost exclusively about couples 'opening up' their relationship and bringing in someone new (Not at all my situation.)
I've also found the topics of conversation to be more limited than in ace circles. There doesn't seem to be as much interest in deconstructing assumptions, which is my specialty and fascination.
My perception. I'd like to think it's wrong, but...well....
On the one hand, I'm a bit disappointed by my findings. I strongly suspect that I'm just looking in the wrong places. Anyone have good site recommendations?

On the other hand, asexual blogs/AVEN are rockin' places to discuss sexuality, relationships, gender, and so on. Flowers has enjoyed the new wealth of vocabulary and concepts they've discovered here. I think the asexual community has a lot to offer (to anyone, not just asexuals) because of how much careful dissection we've done. It's not that often that you find a place to talk about sexuality where critical thinking is the norm.