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Queer polyamory

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Dreaming the road to freedom

Among the many ways to do relationships, polyamory stands out in many people’s minds as an ideal version of perhaps unattainable freedom. But for polyamorous people, it’s a practical kind of freedom that exists in a context of deep intimacy.

Most polyamorous people stress the importance of communication, knowing limits and needs, and hashing out a relationship that fulfills the deeper desires of all involved. Openness and accountability are values most aspire to.

And while some see poly as their orientation, others use it to describe how they structure their relationships.

The thing most polyamorous relationships have in common is their capacity for multiple honest loves.

There are other kinds of non-monogamy: open relationships, swinging, polygamy and, of course, cheating, but these are distinct. While some open relationships overlap with poly, “open” is often used to describe sexual activity outside a couple.

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Bram Singleton and Anlina Sheng are each involved in polyamorous relationships.

 

Why polyamory?

“I first learned the word [polyamory] seven years ago, and it was kind of a revelation because there was finally a label for this stuff that I was already doing,” says Sheng, who is 33 and the founder of PolyWinnipeg, a local group that holds monthly talks and events. “I’ve been doing non-monogamy pretty much my entire dating life.”

Sheng’s style of poly involves separate relationships that can be described as “Vs.” The relationships are called this because one person is linked to two or more other partners, but those partners aren’t linked romantically with each another.

“I like it when everyone can be comfortable with each other and spend time with each other, but it’s not particularly important to me to do the big happy family style of poly,” they say.

For the most part, they’ve considered themselves a solo poly person, highly valuing their independence and autonomy.

While this is one form of polyamory, there are more closely knit relationship scenarios that others—like Kyle, a 24-year-old Winnipegger—aspire to. Kyle’s polyamorous roots began about a year ago when he entered a triad relationship, joining an existing couple. Although it didn’t work out, he learned a lot.

“What I found from that was, as a person who identifies as bisexual, having a male and a female in the same relationship with me really allowed me to pursue both halves of myself.”

He describes it as feeling complete and is looking for a three-person relationship in the future. “It’s kind of like a monogamous relationship except that it has a requirement for one more person,” he says.

Kyle’s also open to being part of a quad—a four-person unit—and the idea of a poly family appeals immensely. He sees the benefits as being an abundance of support and intimacy.

I first learned the word [polyamory] seven years ago, and it was kind of a revelation…

He describes watching a movie with his boyfriend at home while their girlfriend went on a date. She’d come home and tell them how it went, and if it wasn’t good, they’d support her. “We’d give her a big hug, and we’d make some more popcorn, and we’d start another movie,” he says. “It felt good to encourage my partners to go out and find more people.” He felt a sense of both liberation and comfort in this safety net.

Mitra, who helps run a polyamory group in Edmonton, has identified as poly for more than five years, since she was 25. And she didn’t get into polyamory on purpose. “I had actually thought that I would choose monogamy,” she says. But when she fell in love with a poly man, she began to ask herself some questions. She realized poly seemed more difficult to do in the world, but the inconvenience didn’t outweigh the emotional benefits.

“My life partner and I have a very open approach where we don’t give each other permission to do anything. We are free to do whatever we wish,” she says. With a foundation of open communication, respect and consideration, Mitra has the freedom to allow whatever develops romantically and sexually with anyone else. She also avoids the use of terms like “primary partner” because it implies other relationships would be secondary. Her life partner lives with his wife, and they’re Mitra’s neighbours. Mitra also has other partners.

Part of polyamory’s beauty is its insistence upon openness regarding desires. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the skill set polyamorous people need to develop to be successful can benefit any relationship. Communication, learning the specifics of your own needs, desires and boundaries, and hearing those of a partner deeply are skills that cultivate intimacy. Learning to negotiate agreements and create realistic expectations are useful for anyone. Understanding jealousy triggers is good work as well. All of these are necessary for good poly relationships, and too often in default monogamy, the work to build these connecting skills is left undone.

As soon as you enter into a poly relationship, the entire rulebook goes straight out the door

Tips to a happy poly life

“I think the one thing that people should remember is not to make any assumptions,” says Mitra. Because polyamory is so different from other social norms, you can’t assume what the other person thinks, believes or wants. She warns that even if people think they’re not making assumptions, they probably are. That’s something to be conscious of.

Kyle has a similar tip. “It’s all about communication. As soon as you enter into a poly relationship, the entire rulebook goes straight out the door. There are no rules because we didn’t grow up with any kind of media to guide us through this kind of process. So if you’re really not comfortable with hashing out exactly how you feel about everything, then it’s going to end badly. Talking, talking, talking about everything is vitally important. There’s a lot more risk involved, but there’s a lot more reward too. Poly relationships can be explosively fun, but they can also explode.”

Kyle suggests defining the power structure of a relationship from the get-go: is it equal partners, primary/secondary, or something else?

Sheng advises knowing your own needs and desires, being able to set boundaries, and understanding what you can control and what’s not appropriate to control. It’s also important to remember that polyamorous people are not more enlightened or superior. That assumption is untrue and obnoxious.

What to watch out for

A bad first experience with poly doesn’t mean polyamory isn’t for you, says Sheng, although it’s OK if it isn’t. They recommend learning from other’s mistakes and remembering to do what feels right. “Don’t let anyone tell you there is one true way to do polyamory,” they say.

Sheng’s seen people put up with things they would never tolerate in monogamous relationships and advises new polyamorists-to-be to keep themselves safe. “I see a lot of particularly young bisexual women who are targeted by couples who are looking to date as a triad, and who get treated horrendously badly,” Sheng says. Don’t put up with anything that ignores your instincts and invalidates your experiences. If you feel there’s something wrong, there probably is. Polyamory does not equate to finding a way to accept being unhappy. Abuse can come in any relationship and it can be confusing for a new poly person to untangle and navigate the forms that abusive manipulation can take.

Resources

Whether new to polyamory or not, having a support network of other polyamorous people can be valuable.

The PolyWinnipeg group has a Facebook page that lists events and other items of interest for local poly folk. The group holds regular PolyTalks as well as social events like potlucks and games nights. There’s a high representation of queer and trans people, and events are usually free and held in queer and trans-friendly locations, says Sheng.

The Winnipeg Polyamory Discussion Group on Yahoo!Groups is devoted to discussing the emotional, social and political issues related to being involved in mature, ethical, non-monogamous relationships. Its emphasis is on the Winnipeg community, and the group is inclusive of all styles of poly, all genders and all sexual orientations.

Seeing deep, heartfelt desires materialize because we are able to express them should be something anyone can do. Whether that looks like polyamory, monogamy, or something else, the lessons from polyamory can lead us all deeper into our own personal versions of freedom.


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Eight Things I Wish I’d Known about Polyamory: Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up, by Cunning Minx

Minx also hosts the popular Polyamory Weekly podcast, which is kink-positive and pansexual, and can be found at www.polyweekly.com.

 


 

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Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino

Part advice and part interviews with polyamorous couples, this book covers several styles of non-monogamy, including polyamory, swinging and poly for single people. There’s a companion blog at www.openingup.net.

 


 

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The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.

The authors dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle.

 


 

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More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.

Veaux also runs www.morethantwo.com, with links to many excellent resources.

 


 

First published in OutWords Magazine, Oct 2014

http://outwords.ca/2015/issue-winter-2015/queer-polyamory/


 

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance writer living and working in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice.

 

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Violence: Domestic abuse in the queer community

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http://www.outwords.ca/content/violence-domestic-abuse-queer-community

An issue beginning to come to light, domestic violence in queer relationships, is misunderstood by many. With rates comparable to violence in straight relationships, yet mired in a homophobic culture, queer people of all stripes who are living with abuse find themselves with fewer resources to draw upon, and fewer people on their side.

Services available for cisgender women are typically well-known, though not always welcoming to queer women. And services for men and trans people are less well-known and sometimes just don’t exist.  The issues facing the queer community revolve around police misunderstanding and minimizing same-sex relationship violence, making it difficult for queer people to get help.

Providing the only shelter of its kind in Canada, Winnipeg’s Men’s Resource Centre caters to all men regardless of orientation or gender history. According to Steve Sutherland, therapist and administrator at the centre, it can house men as they leave an abusive relationship and help them get back on their feet.

Dan, who will be identified by his first name only, was a client of the centre earlier this year. After being closeted in an abusive relationship for a number of years, married to a wife he was financially controlled by due to his immigrant status and who he felt he had to marry, Dan made his escape. “I would not have been able to do it without the Men’s Resource Centre.” The centre signed Dan up for unemployment insurance. It also helped him find low-income housing and spruce up his resumé.

“I didn’t have a place to go because of how isolated I had been,” he said. “I didn’t really know anyone well enough that I could ask them to crash on their couch. The biggest help was [that] they provided shelter.” While waiting for his first cheque to arrive, the centre provided meals. And Dan found emotional support. “They made it very easy,” he said. “Even as I was dealing emotionally with what I was going through and wasn’t able to think straight.”

Though resources available for women are more common, they aren’t available to all women. The situation for trans women seeking shelter in Winnipeg could be described as dire. Bradley Tyler-West, LGBT* program facilitator at Winnipeg’s Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC), said, “I have heard of individual experiences of trans women who have gone into shelter and some have had a good experience there getting access to support and services, and some did not – and I think that’s really based on their ability to pass or be stealth.” He’s heard the problems have come from residents at shelters rather than staff. And the trans women he knows of who have gotten help have been in mixed-gender relationships, with violence coming at the hands of male partners. He noted that falls into the heteronormative pattern assumed of domestic violence.

Sutherland refers trans women to Sage House. “They’re very LGBT friendly,” he said. “But that would be the only shelter I know in Winnipeg that would be providing services to that segment of the population.”

Sage House could not be reached for confirmation.

There are resources available for women in lesbian relationships. Yet if shelter is needed, sometimes a lack of sensitivity can limit access. Glenda Dean, executive director of Winnipeg’s Alpha House, said she sees a “real gap” in lesbian and bisexual women utilizing shelters. Although she said she doesn’t know why that gap exists, she said perhaps shelters have not reached out enough to the community.

According to a workshop for service providers presented by Saskatoon’s The Avenue Community Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity Inc., lesbians often experience a lack of understanding about the seriousness of abuse when violent incidents are reported to therapists, police or doctors. Because of homophobia, queer relationships are sometimes seen to be inherently unstable or unhealthy.

When abuse happens, police will sometimes be called to domestic violence scenes. Both Tyler-West and Sutherland have heard in their work with men about police incidents where violence was minimized or male victims of abuse were even mocked. Myths such as that abuse doesn’t happen to men, or for men in relationships with women that it can’t happen because the man is bigger or women aren’t aggressive, lead police to sometimes misunderstand abusive situations, said Sutherland. He said discrimination can be especially bad in First Nations communities.

But he added that police are making steps, and so is the Province of Manitoba. A GLBTQ* domestic violence working group was launched in November 2012 and began distributing posters and brochures addressing the issue of queer domestic violence last month. Part of the group’s mandate is to provide GLBTQ*-sensitivity training to staff at service organizations. According to Beth Ulrich, executive director of Manitoba’s Status of Women, who the group is hosted by, shelters are working on some of their issues.

“That’s a commitment where I think some shelters are probably more ahead of others perhaps. I think that there’s a willingness and an awareness now that ‘OK, we need to make sure we’re being respectful’,” she said.

The Rainbow Resource Centre is another place victims of abuse can receive counselling and support. Located at 170 Scott St., the centre has pamphlets for those who are wondering if their relationship might be abusive and has counsellors trained in helping fill out protection orders. Tyler-West said, “We are hearing more conversations… so that is encouraging—a small light at the end of the very dark tunnel. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but it is definitely better than it was, say, four or five years ago.”


– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist from Vancouver, B.C. He’s an LGBTI contributing editor with rabble.ca, the former host of a queer-issues radio show called Gaydio, and loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Published in Outwords, December 2013, Volume 206

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