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your emotional burdens are not mine, but i will still listen

I shall state this simply and clearly for those in the back:

Your emotional burdens are not my responsibility.

…nor are my, or anyone else’s, burdens your responsibility. Call me cruel, heartless, unfeeling, but at least I feel I am fair.

Of course, it’s your choice to live this way. I had a friend try to work through the pain and chaos that often accompanies changing a relationship from one style to another– and it worked for her and her partner. I have had others try this same path, and it only caused massive heartbreak for the many involved. I don’t care what you do for yourself, but I’ve seen enough to know that I will not take on another’s emotional burden.

I’ve said before, I will not break up with you for your sake.

In principle, I think most would say you should handle your own problems (with help, if desired, from their support network). Yet in practice we forget. When it comes to non monogamy, in particular, it feels we too often encourage people to handle other people’s problems. We tell people they should break up with their partners “for their sake.”

Something I am glad I often see from experienced poly folk towards people new to poly is “It’s not a metamour problem. It’s a partner problem.” In other words, they encourage the person to not try to fix a supposed problem between their partner and their partner’s partner. But rather to focus on the actual problem between themselves and their partner.

No, I won’t break up with you “for your own good.” I won’t take your autonomy away from you, if I think you’re worth trying to make our relationship work. Maybe I’ll decide to part ways, for myself. But if we share dependents, I will always, always work with you– for their sake. (No, that doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you, you weirdo, what kind of sick freak associates their kids with that part of their life?)

But what if the only thing standing in the way of our happiness is a simple misconception or miscommunication?

Is it worth it for me to help you through a tough time? Absolutely. If I love you, I will give it an effort. Because you never know what might happen if you try. And, personally, I know I’ll live with doubt and guilt if I don’t try. So, yes, I’ll do it.

I’ll share a dirty little secret with you. I think you are amazing, beautiful, smart, and giving, and I want you to be happy. I’ll try my best to find a way to faciliate that happiness.

Though I won’t create that happiness for you. You’ve got to make your own happiness. But I’ll join you in your journey– if you let me.

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how i speak about my past

This is for anyone to use as a template if they have trouble with how people talk to them about their trauma and abuse– and would rather stay silent than deal with second hand trauma from having poor reactions from people who are trying to help, or make it worse.

We speak of victims and abusers as if they are two distinct categories. As if victimhood is a rare experience that we must help the unlucky few overcome. But I’ve found nearly every person I’ve grown close to– and some who just needed someone to listen– has their story.  

The truth is that few of us manage to avoid abuse in our lifetimes.  It wouldn’t hurt if we could learn to speak with each other more effectively about this.  Even better if we could do so in a way that is sensitive to those of us that have already gone through hard times and specific traumas. We need to be heard and supported– and that doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes we need to learn how to hear someone’s words.

I can’t control how others speak to me.  I can only control how I speak to them, and how I respond.  This has helped me:

I share the good, before the bad or the ugly.

I’m not saying you have to do it my way. But this is how I do it– and that doesn’t mean everything about my life is wonderful. It’s just something I’m not ready to talk to you about.

This is about more than not saying, “Hi, I’m ______, my ex so and so did such and such to me.”  Nobody— or at least nobody I know or have heard of— introduces themselvese along with their trauma.  When a survivor speaks of their abusive past, it’s as much to help others avoid the same as it is to gain some kind of self therapy. It’s not bragging rights.

But it also may not be something I bring up for literally years. This is about me needing to build trust with the person before confiding in them (assuming this isn’t something actively happening to me or an urgent matter).  Because I have no right to a stranger’s belief in what happened to me.  I won’t demand their unwavering faith in me, when they barely know me.  I do ask for politeness and respect.          

But because of that, I’ve had people speak to me like perhaps my past wasn’t real or “that bad,” because I wasn’t forthright about it and I “hid” it.                                                                                  

I don’t appreciate and will not tolerate aggressive questioning, but please talk to me! 

I’m not seeking validation or support (although I cannot say I won’t appreciate it, if you’re so kind as to give me that). When I do finally bring it up, I’m trying to do something nice FOR OTHERS. A warning about what happned to me, so it doesn’t happen to someone else.

I might not give every single detail right away, or on an online comment. That doesn’t mean it’s not real, or I want you to immediately hassle me for every single gritty detail. I’m not going to take the chance on sharing my trauma, just to have YOU, a stranger, further assault me emotionally.

However, I’m okay answering questions and talking about it.  If it’s asked politely. It’s okay to ask questions. All I ask in return is that you are kind and polite.  That you don’t merely question me in order to bully me, but that you listen to my answers. If you don’t, I will check out and I won’t hear anything you say.

Anyone can do this for a person. If it turns out that I’m gaslighting you, well, there’s karma. And I believe karma is real. What comes around, goes around. 

Please remember that sometimes my trauma isn’t all my own, but also- or even mostly- that of those I love.

I am hesitant to share details that may not be mine to share. So I might leave out a lot of details.

I can’t help but feel empathetic, even to someone who has hurt me. Or who has hurt someone else. I get inside their head as part of my process in understanding what has happened. Sometimes this might make me appear sympathetic to the abusers’ side– and sometimes I even am sympathetic!

But that doesn’t mean I’m taking their side, that I forgive them, or anything that might lessen my support towards their victim. It’s my way of protecting myself against accidentally siding with an abuser against a victim (abusers will pretend that they are the true victims to further alienate their victims from getting support). Or maybe that’s just how my brain works. I can’t really help it.

It can be especially hard when I say something against someone you like. Someone well liked in your circle, perhaps.  It might be hard for me to tell you anything, knowing I might well be the one blamed.  So I might stumble a bit as I try to get my words out.  On your part, I know it’s hard to hear how someone who has always been good to you might have harmed someone else.  I am grateful that you are even giving me the chance to explain.

But it’s okay, even if you don’t believe me, so long as you listen, because, you see: 

I don’t expect you to believe me, nor will I ever require that.

This is very important. Please read my words carefully; twice, if need be. Because this might sound like I am not sincere about my claims. “If she’s not telling you so you know what happened, why is she telling you at all? Is this just some stupid story or fantasy to her? Some game she’s playing?”

I promise you, that isn’t it at all. It’s merely that the general expectation, it feels like at least, is that you won’t be believed. It’s taught to us when we’re children. We trust the first therapist we’re brought to– and that person merely sits and looks at us as we brave ourselves to tell the truth. Stumbling through our tears. And then tells us we’re making the whole thing up and tells our parents we need medication. Or the first person we tell about the friend that raped us, and the friend calls us a slut who asked for it.

I probably won’t consider that you might believe me, but I would like to have you listen, anyway. Maybe once you are my friend, I’ll trust you to believe me. But again, that takes time. For now, I just need to get the words out. I don’t need you to attack or verbally abuse the other person, either. Just listen for a moment.

Because what if the person who hurt me, one day hurts someone else you know?

Just maybe, you hear my story again. From someone else. And you wonder if maybe it is true. Or maybe you hear a similar story happen to another person, in another circumstance. And something in you compels you to help that person.  Maybe my story helps you believe another victim.  

Don’t think that you could have been fooled by that guy, he was so nice? Don’t think that girl got drunk and assaulted me? She doesn’t seem the type? Okay.

But when your friend hangs out with that girl who just “can’t hold her liquor, but you can’t judge her for it!”, can you at least warn her of what you -heard- happened to this other girl you knew? Help your friend protect herself?

I’m not sharing to gain your belief. I’m sharing to stop it ever happening again. Because I can’t unmake what happened to me, but I can try to stop it from happening again.

For what it’s worth, another reason that it doesn’t matter if you believe if I’m the sort of person to tell the truth is because I trust myself. I don’t lie about important things. Stay around me long enough and you’ll see the veracity of my words yourself. You won’t need me to say another word. I’m just doing this to help protect you, but if you don’t need my protection, that’s fair.

I want to hear your stories, too.

Sometimes it’s easier to share when we can mutually be vulnerable with each other.  I do hope you share your stories with me, however raw or painful. Let’s share our experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Life is hard enough, let’s help each other.  

It’s not a competition.  Maybe you went through worse. Or not nearly what I did. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I share, because it helps me. I hope it helps others. That’s all. I don’t mind you telling me about your pain. If I want you to listen to my story, I should listen to yours.

This is how I deal with speaking about myself and my past.  

If all of this helps you, great.  If it doesn’t, please let others know how you, personally, would like to be spoken to about your past.

Thanks for listening.  

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love isn’t always consensual but it can be ethical

She didn’t agree to me falling in love with him, with HER love. She owns him like she owns her ring, and she sees no need to share on anyone else’s terms.  She allows him to sleep with other women, if she approves of them. In her mind, this is good enough.

In the car,- her car- she asks me if I want her “blessing.” I don’t answer.  Truthfully, I don’t want it.  I don’t want her permission, I don’t want her fucking blessing. I have no idea what she is going on about.  I’m only twenty-five, and, to me, if you are open, you are open.  You don’t get to mail order your partner’s other partners.  I just want her to let me know what’s going on, so I know if I can be a part of it. But she won’t tell me that straight out.

It’s two years after our talk in the car.

She’s left him like a discarded couch in the alleyway, emotionally separated, if not yet physically (that will happen shortly, within a year, but for now, they merely share separate bedrooms, which they have since shortly after I met them. To this day, that is a red flag for me). For some reason, she still resents that I never asked her approval. I don’t understand her, but I know her feelings are real.

I feel a twinge of guilt that I can’t do what will make her happy. But I am not sure anything I do will make her happy, not even abandoning my current life. At least, this way, one of is happy.

It’s three years after we’ve talked.

I tell him that I love him, for the very first time, not knowing how he’ll respond. I just want him to know. It’s not a ploy to get him to call me his girlfriend. I am patient-ish.

One day, he doesn’t respond to my, “I love you,” with a cool, but gracious, “Thank you.”  Instead, he tells me, all on his own, a dark whisper that floats by me as he holds me at night, “I love you.”

I am so glad I found it. Love is a mysterious, magical, wonderful, and very ordinary thing.  

I am sure she would not approve.

It’s almost ten years later.

Today, I wish I could go back and say, I don’t believe anyone consented to your boyfriend.  The oily one that can’t talk about anything but cars and ice cream.  Whom you insist that your kids call family and love, like family.  Forcing them to hug him, because that’s what you expect.  I tell the kids the truth; they don’t have to hug anyone they don’t want to touch; but they say they can’t do that with her.  

It would be nice if every mix of romantic relationships between an interrelated group of people worked harmoniously. But it doesn’t always. Sometimes you have to accept that they love someone you will never like. Sometimes, if it gets bad enough, you may have to question your decision to stay with your partner, rather than their decision to date, say, a racist homophobe. …but you can’t choose the person for them, unless they willingly agree.

My love for him, back then, wasn’t consensual in any shape or form, though today, we’ve both consented to our mutual love.

  1. She didn’t consent to it.  In fact, she hates that it exists.
  2. He didn’t consent to it.  He didn’t ask me to love him, or want it, and he wasn’t shy about the fact.
  3. I didn’t consent to it.  I didn’t want to fall in love, I chose someone with whom I believed love would be impossible.  Stupid, young me.  I thought that was how it worked.

After almost a decade, I think maybe it doesn’t matter, anymore.  That she’s got her life, and we’ve got ours.  That sometimes it’s messy, and that’s okay.  I no longer resent her asking me to get her blessing.  I just don’t care.

…to this day, she still refuses to consent to our love and she still hates it.

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“this seems like an exciting time for you” and other awesome alternatives to “that sounds complicated”

“Your life is complicated.”  

They weren’t telling their friend about a problem or a headache.  Just a simple recounting of latest happenings.  The response?  “Sounds complicated.”

If you don’t get why this is not the best thing to say, I can explain to you personally. Or read this more detailed explanation of why that isn’t something you should say.  That isn’t my focus here.

BUT–I’m not a jerk.

If I don’t want someone to say a certain thing, I should offer an alternative, right?

After all my life IS complicated. That’s not what irritates me.  It’s that all of our lives are complicated in some manner.  Complications beget a fascinating complex existence.  Yes, I have a lot going on.  I have a generous, resourceful, loving support network.  But so do most people, and do you go around telling everyone how complicated their lives are?  If you do, please stop it.

I have never had someone tell me “Sounds complicated” when they were speaking positively about my crazy, awesome life.

Instead they appeared to be trying desperately to find something negative to bring me down to their own meager existence.  I’m sorry your life isn’t as exciting as you want?  If you want me to help you manage your life a little better, I’ll do so gladly.  You don’t need to passive aggresively insult mine.

Anyway.  The next time you’re tempted to tell someone their [insert concept you aren’t familiar with] life is “complicated,” try replacing it with this:

“This seems like a really exciting time for you.”

Someone told me this recently, as I explained my recent life changes in a casual phone conversation.  I know that the other person probably hasn’t experienced most, if any, of what makes up my life. Didn’t really come up.

The point isn’t what they know or don’t know. What matters is those words made me feel good, unlike being told, “Wow, I couldn’t handle that.” Or “Sounds complicated.” Or “Are you okay?” Ugh. I didn’t even know that was what I wanted to hear, but when I heard it I smiled.

Being told that my life is exciting, instead of complicated? Made me feel warm inside. I heard, “It’s possible that I don’t understand you, but I am so happy you are living your life.” I didn’t feel weird or different. I hadn’t been told how I was “special” or “brave,” either. Which is great.  I just want to be able to share what’s happening to me, like anyone else.

I can’t guarantee that everyone will react the same, but at least you’ve tried. 

Because life isn’t a template.   Maybe they’ll still get mad.  Please just don’t use my words as an unthinking, default reponse.

Use your own, hopefully genuine, compliment. “Wow, that is really cool that you are living the life that YOU want, not what other people tell you.” Or “I haven’t experienced that, but I would love you to tell me more about it.”

Please just do not say, “I couldn’t do that.” Nobody cares that you aren’t able to do it. Or worse, “How do your kids handle it?” No. Just no. Maybe once you talk to them longer, once they have more trust in you, ask, “I have kids and I wouldn’t know how to tell them about my new life. Can you give me advice?”

What would YOU like to hear in response to telling a friend about your unconventional life?

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because erasure is fun!

A friend of a friend of a friend commented that she didn’t pay attention to her friends’ sexuality.  How she wouldn’t even think of her friends’ sexualities “for days at a time.”  That’s nice, I thought, because I didn’t feel like confronting her at the time.  But the comment irked me.

Should a business wish to be blind to  sexuality, gender, race, or anything else, I can understand that being a legitimate pursuit.  I won’t go further into that aspect here (But please let me know in the future if you’d like that to be a future topic!)

But a friend is not the same as a business.

And then I realized why it bothered me.

My own, little epiphany?  Until society changes and recognizes all walks of life, please don’t pretend that failing to “see” sexuality, anymore than you wouldn’t pretend not to see race.  It doesn’t make me feel that great.  It makes me feel like you think I’m just like everyone else you know.  Your comments asking me if I have a boyfriend?  Make me think you don’t remember I date women.

I’m not saying it’ll eliminate discrimination and hatred and make the world all sunshine and roses.  To ask me, “Who are you dating now” vs “Are you seeing a guy now?” Or better yet, “You seeing anyone these days?”  It’s a small thing.  But a step in the right direction is better than no movement at all.

Erasure isn’t the same as hating someone.

I don’t think you’re a bad person.  I doubt you even notice when you use dismissive language.  If you truly never talk about sex, relationships, gender, sexuality, etc, I don’t even want you to bring up those subjects.  But if you do talk about sex and gender, I am asking you to do so in an inclusive manner.

Like when you ask, “Oh, are you seeing anyone?”  Or worse, “Got a boyfriend yet?”  or “When are you and Johnny getting married?”  But– you never ask if I’m bisexual or if I’m dating a girlfriend (after you’ve seen me date guys) because “you don’t really think about sexuality.”

Erasure is a quiet frustration.

You are the Little Mermaid.  In your world, under the sea, you can speak freely.  In the outside world, you lose your voice.  Nobody asks you if you are a mermaid, nor do you feel comfortable bringing up the subject.  In case being a mermaid offends them.  Besides, which, you don’t want to make yourself different.  You don’t want to be the only mermaid in a ship full of humans.

I remember my 12 year old self that didn’t know any lesbians.  I thought all gay people were flamboyant and I wasn’t and nobody ever asked me if I liked girls.  They still don’t, and now I am thirty something, but some days I still feel like I’m that 12 year old girl.

That part of me never quite went away.  It’s the part that wonders if I should correct the statement of “how everyone woman just needs to find a good man” with, “…or what about a good woman?” but I don’t because I’m worried people will be offended that I “brought up my sex life.”

Oh, I don’t wish to be identified as Bi, Mixed Race, or Polyamorous.  That isn’t the first thing I want people to know about me.  But if you are not “hidden,” you don’t know how it feels to have yourself recognized for who you are, or who you might be.

It feels like I am Seen.

It’s not about valuing being queer over being straight, or being trans over being cisgender.  I don’t need you to ask me a lot of questions.  It’s about opening these conversations to include more than default, mainstream identities.  It’s about not making assumptions.

If we lived in a different world, I would agree that ignoring certain labels would be a good thing.   Who cares whether we’re gay or not, right?  It’s something I hope we work towards in the future.  In the meantime, when the default is assumed to be straight, monogamous, and cisgender, I think it’s worthwhile to recognize our differences.

And, in the meantime, please do support those of us who actively and openly discuss and educate about alternative lifestyles.  Because until people stop asking queer folk, “How does sex work?”, that education is needed.  (If you’re curious, it works the same as it does for everyone.)

As far as what you can do, on your own?

Here’s some ideas:

#1:  Just say, “So, what’s going on with you?”  instead of, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” or “Are you dating anyone seriously?”

No assumptions of whether I’m into men or women, both or neither.  If I want to share with you that I’m dating a woman, I can.  Or I can decide not to share that.  Or even if I want to date at all.

#2:  Ask “Do you like guys?  I have this cute, available guy friend who I think you might like,” instead of “Can I set you up with this cute guy I know?”

Note the use of “available” and not “single,” that eliminates assumptions of monogamy. And also just asks if they’d like this cute guy, without assuming they would be into that gender.

#3:  Acknowledge people’s differences.

I’m not saying you should announce, “My gay friend, Tiffany thinks—.”   It’s doubtful your gay friend wants to be the token gay person to prove the extent of your social circle’s open mindedness.

However, if you and Tiffany are hanging out and there’s a new person in the crowd, maybe mention, “Oh, Tiffany, how did that date go with that cute girl you met at Napa Valley?” or, when you’re introducing your trans friend make a point of including their preferred gender, “This is Tiffany.  They work at Google as a developer,” and when referring to Tiffany later, if someone calls them “she,” just quietly speak up, “Oh, Tiffany actually goes by ‘they’ and ‘them’.  Not a big deal, just clarifying.”

Oh, and if Tiffany publicly thanks you for being supportive and loving towards her, even though she’s gay, respond with “Thanks!  Course I’m supportive of you, you’re a wonderful person.”  Not, “Oh, I forget you were gay.”  That’s not helpful.

NOTE: Talk to your friend about this BEFORE outing them or ask if there are certain groups of people they need to remain discreet around.  They may face consequences for revealing who they are to certain people.

#4:  If you’re unsure of your friend’s receptiveness to this/your approach, find a moment to talk to them about it.

Maybe they don’t want any attention drawn to their sexuality.  Don’t leave this conversation unsaid.  If they don’t say something, make a point to talk to them about it.  Say, “Hey, I don’t know how comfortable you are about me talking about you dating Jenny, but Joe is the kind of person that will assume you are straight if nobody says anything.  I didn’t want to contribute to erasure in any way.  I can drop it if you like, or I can just bring it up in conversation on occasion.”  Let them take it from there.

#5:  Share this outside of your bubble.

I get that many people reading this already know this stuff.  But, maybe bring this idea to  your friends or family who are less aware of other sexualities and lifestyles.

Thank you for hearing me.