Relationship anarchy, solo poly, and power exchange

I’m not really sure how to reconcile the radical autonomy inherent in my version of poly with my want to be an a full-blown power exchange relationship.

Drawing from relationship anarchy and solo poly relationship paradigms, I’m really digging the no rules*, no restrictions, no expectations version of poly. For the first time I don’t feel weird (i.e. being socialized that such behavior is unethical) about exploring possibilities with several people at once. In earlier non-monogamous arrangements, I struggled to the point of failure with this. I now can focus on myself first (“I’m my own primary”), and open up enough to allow safe people in a bit at a time – keeping an ever watchful eye on yours truly, keeping him upright (he talks about himself in the third person, deal with it).

Of course, this type of structure (or lack thereof) is at odds with wanting a D/s relationship, which are by nature full of rules, restrictions, and expectations. Is it possible to have both? Is it actually what I want? Some part of me fears I just want to avoid any real commitments, but that just may be a lingering side effect of being raised in a monogamous world.

I know at least a handful of people who do non-hierarchical poly with power exchange. Some have even explained it to me, but to no avail – it’s still difficult to wrap my head around it. I mean, I get the physical rules/negotiations business and how it can work, but not the emotional side of it. The D/s (M/s) I seek is (eventually) all-in. Perhaps it’s finding a dominant who I trust I can go all-in with who will still allow me the ability to have other partners. But what then, if they revoke that decision? If I had others partners at that time, that certainly wouldn’t fair (and, in my opinion, unethical) to them. I don’t see a way to merge the two relationship styles and be ethical about it.

The other thought is that if I really am avoiding the commitments, than current paradigm’s goal is to find the perfect partner (pro tip: they don’t exist). I can leave myself open to finding this mythical creature while still having meaningful connections with others. Though, if I concede the ‘perfect’ D/s partner doesn’t exist, then should I even bother having this concern in the first place? Maybe solo poly isn’t my ideal, but it’s certainly more realistic and has bore more fruit than chasing the alternative.

Head meet desk.

 

* Besides the basics of communication, no lying, informed consent, etc.

Pups, bears, and boots, oh my!

May was hella busy. In addition to the normal hustle and bustle, I attended two weekend events. The first was International Mr. Leather in Chicago and the following weekend was the Power Exchange Summit in Columbus. Both events differed from the kink events I am used to but for different reasons.

Perhaps the biggest thing I noticed at IML was that the energy was completely different than pansexual kink parties. Gay male energy is a very different beast than I was used too and definitely in a good way. Though there were plenty of other genders and sexualities in attendance, I felt more comfortable in those spaces than I usually do at kink events. I felt more myself, was more relaxed, felt more attractive, and I’m pretty sure of why: lack of cishet male dominants (for the most part). Heteronormative masculinity just really isn’t my thing as is usually out in force at pansexual kink parties. Despite having several cishet maledom friends, I still have the socialized male competitiveness at a core level, making it difficult for me to be emotionally vulnerable in their presence for fear of being negatively judged (gotta love that patriarchy!).

I did not participate in a lot of the crazy partying that is rampant at IML but the contest itself was quite a fantastic production. The speeches were eye-opening, vulnerable, important, funny, and almost made the ticket price worth it by themselves. In particular, one contestant, Jefferson Tugger, was in heels for the whole contest and took pride in his femininity. While his speech was one of the most well received, there were some naysayers in the crowd and on Facebook, who did not believe such a thing was appropriate for the IML stage. I was glad to see overwhelming support for Tugger’s style at the event and on social media. 

And let’s not forget the boot blacks, lest our leather go uncared for. I cannot fathom the amount of energy it took for the six competitors to black for countless hours over two days. Unfortunately I missed a lot of their competition but did get my combat boots done by the man who would become the runner up and he did a superb job.

Also, pups are adorable. 

This past weekend, I went the Power Exchange Summit which was mostly an educational event with over a dozen classes packed in a weekend. Differing from any other kink event I’ve been to, PXS did not have any playspace. While all other Midwest events that I attend have both classes and playspace, by not having the latter there didn’t need to be on focus on filling one’s dance card. This allowed me to focus a lot of energy internally and over the weekend I accomplished a lot of self reflection. Notably, it reinvigorated my submissive side and I really came to terms with where my interests lie and why I’m drawn to power exchange in general and submission specifically. More on that in another post.

Not being satisfied enough with all of that business, I am signed up for a nine month Dominant Mentorship Program that is being run by my local club. It is the second year it’s being run and last year’s graduates (all switches, interestingly), had nothing but good things to say about it. The first few months are focused on “dominant dominate thyself”, which I suspect will be useful regardless of what role(s) I end up in in the future. And as a Top, the skill portion in the latter part of the class will surely come in handy and allow for more intimate instruction than the large classes I am used to.

If 2013 was the year of discovery, 2014 the year of exploration, than 2015 is turning out to be the year of refinement. 

In the basement of a gay bar

I was really drunk. College freshman levels of wasted. I don’t remember cashing out. I do remember asking Jay (my best friend and the bartender) how much I tipped him. $2.18 on a $40+ tab. I gave him the last $20 bill in my wallet.

Guys on the prowl at a gay bar are as creepy as I imagine guys on the prowl are at a straight bar. They trap you in conversation, separate you from your friends, and attempt to physically block you from shifting to an exit route. One transitioned from complaining about younger guys taking financial advantage of him to buying me a drink. Hmm…

Being my first and only ‘free’ day in May, I was taking full advantage of the night off, though my friends slowly filtered out, with stories of work and commitments and other silliness abound. At least I knew I had a ride home with Jay.

I don’t remember where this guy came from. I didn’t recognize him nor was he part of the extended kink and Leather crowd – just one of the bar’s vanilla patrons out on a Friday night.

I remember making out at the bar for some time before being led to the basement. Earlier in the night the room had been filled with shirtless men watching a flogging demo, but by this late hour the lights were all but off and only a handful of eyes peered out from the dark. Heavy petting ensued.

Soon a third joined, but only briefly before the original stopped everything and led me back upstairs.

I don’t remember much else besides passing out on a couch for an hour or more waiting for Jay to finish closing down the bar and driving me home.

It’s hard to say whether the experience was a good one or not, overall. For the sake of exploration and trying new things, it was good.

Getting drunk and allowing myself to be taken advantage of well past my ability to consent, however, is not something I care to do again and was reminiscent of past abuse.

I actually felt sexually attractive for once and maybe the only time in my life and I enjoyed the attention, but at what cost?

(Re)starting my engines

Good evening dearest readers. It’s been some time since I last posted and I figured it was time for a quick update.

I’ve had a pretty loaded few months and already have April and May pretty much booked up, but the time and energy and focus is going to go through a huge shift. Because I’m finally graduating at the end of April. This week is the last week of classes in my undergrad career. It’s been a long seven years of much frustrating but I managed to see it through to the end.

With school wrapped up, I can start to refocus my energy on enjoying life, having fun, and figuring out the next phase of my life. I’ve signed a lease and will be moving into an apartment May 1, which will be closer to work and much of my social life. The following weekend I am adopting pair of one-year-old cats, calico sisters. I’ve been able to visit them several times at their foster home and just need to get settled in my new place before bringing them home. Weekend number 3, I will be taking a basic rider safety course to get my motorcycle endorsement and, hopefully, my first bike. And, for Memorial Day weekend, I will be joining some friends new and old to Chicago for International Mr. Leather 2015. I suspect large numbers of jockstraps in my near future.

In the kink world, I continue to co-host a power exchange focused discussion munch monthly, which has proven successful and led to some great discussion and, for me, personal growth. I also continue to volunteer for a kinky non-profit and, with my best friend, a regular fetish party at a local bar.

Relationship-wise, it’s been relatively quiet. I haven’t been actively searching for the last few months, but have had a couple of maybe, sorta, nah probably not, back-and-forths, but not so much as a date. What has been particularly helpful is simply putting zero expectations on anything or anyone. This has also helped in other aspects of life too. By actively choosing to not be disappointed, I remove an incredible amount of anxiety.

 I did reopen my OkCupid profile this past week, mostly to see what comes my way while I wrap up school and such, but I haven’t nor plan to put much effort in till I’m settled in my new place.

I’ve also found that the label “submissive” is too constraining for me at this time. Whether or not I end up in a D/s dynamic has taken a backseat to simply finding people I enjoy spending time with. I’ll let each of those wax and wane and develop as they may without worrying about the relationship structure.

I’ve also been off my psychiatric meds for a couple of weeks now. The short story is my former psychiatrist is basically a fuckwit. But, despite that, I feel much more like myself, less apathetic, and more tuned in to life. While the bouts of depression are obviously worse, I’ve been looking towards meditation to help control it so that my “highs” are higher.

Y’all better watch out, ’cause here I come.

Triggers

Sharing an emotional trigger with a friend or partner can be one of the most difficult things to. The amount of power it gives them is incredible. I liken it to handing someone a loaded gun and trusting that, no matter what happens now and in the future, they will never pull the trigger.

Often it practical or even necessary to share these things with those we play with. They need to know lest they hit one on accident. These may be framed as hard limits or a general “don’t do this thing,” without description.

However, I often feel uncomfortable sharing triggers not because of trust but because I don’t want the knowledge to affect others in unforeseen ways. This is especially true if trigger is not something others can reasonably avoid. An example of this case: a friend of mine shares a name with an abuser in my past. This has nothing to do with this friend, but every time we talk, every time I see them post online, and anytime they are referenced by others, I think first of the abuser. While this is not really fair to my friend, it’s not something I have control over and has, unfortunately, prevented a closer bond in many cases.

While that is a specific issue, others exist as well. And, because my kink and my take on D/s are heavily rooted in trust, I struggle with when it’s appropriate to share someone for the sake of trust (and the closeness that trust can bring) versus holding back part of myself, my history, and experiences in order to stem what may be an otherwise unsolvable conflict. (If, for instance said friend decides to cut contact for fear of triggering me).

Winter Wickedness

Those that follow me on Twitter know that I attended Winter Wickedness this past weekend. I was pretty apprehensive going into the weekend, due to my slow fade from the local kink community in the last few months. Event-wise, I’ve really only been attending my own munches (out of a sense of obligation as much as anything). I had not played since August, and did not really have much figured out ahead of time as others did.

All of that said, I had a great time. I managed three scenes (two as bottom and one as Top) over the two days, though, it was the daytime classes on Saturday that I enjoyed the most.

As with any conference of this size, one must pick and choose which of many classes to attend and it was unfortunate that many of the classes I was interested in were running at the same time – I made it to three.

As is my MO, the classes I choose to attend were more theory-based than technique based. It’s not that technique is not important, but more often than not, I bottom, and I feel that I have the resources and connections to learn any specific skills I want to outside of a class environment.

The first class was titled Ethical Slavery. Despite the name, I think that the core of this class applies far and beyond slaves or even kink in general. At the top of the list of core values was ‘trust,’ which I have already written about extensively and am sure will again.

Second was 10 Rules for Happy Non-Monogamy, a class SexGeek formed around the most popular post on her blog. While I have not blogged about polyamory much, it has been on my mind and in the the pages of recent books a lot. I am still trying to figure out where I fit in this little corner of the relationship universe, but it’s clear that poly isn’t going anywhere in my life. Both by choice and by acceptance all of my relationships in the last couple years have been non-monogamous to some degree. I’m still trying to work out how my want for a 24/7 power exchange relationship as a submissive can be reconciled with non-monogamy and views on personal autonomy. More on this in a future post.

Finally, attended Finding Your Feet: Foot and Footwear Play. This one was definitely the most academically interesting. There was a lot of class discussion on theories behind foot and shoe fetishes and the biggest idea I gleaned from the class was the idea of ‘system pleasure.’ By definition, a fetish equates to sexual pleasure. However, my voyeurism of high heeled shoes has never been, on it’s own, sexual in nature – but there has always been something there more than a normal ‘that look’s nice.’ Now I have a term for it – system pleasure. The discussion also got into the gender realm, where I think a lot of kinksters get uncomfortable. Being able to discuss kink as part of a larger cultural narrative is something I don’t get to do nearly enough.

Overall, the event renewed my interest in kink but it remains to be seen how that plays out in the short term.

Lack

I feel more that I’m lacking something, as a person. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps a personality trait. Or a habit. A change in demeanor. Something is missing. Or a part not able to express itself.

Objectively, I have a pretty good life, but it seems that I am sad more often than not. Why is this? I reach out into the abyss hoping my hand finds purchase on the last puzzle piece. Something to bring happiness (even when I have plenty to be happy about).

It seems silly how often my logic (everything is pretty darn good) and my emotions (the end of the world is upon us) are at odds.

Manipulation

One of my biggest failings is trying to be the gatekeeper of bad feelings – both my own, and, worse, others’. This has led to situations where I’ve kept something from someone I care about – sometimes outright lie – to protect them and their feelings.

The most obvious of these moments are with my parents. For instance, several years ago they were on vacation for the first time in forever. I was in a bad place, bad enough that I went to the ER. I didn’t tell them. I called a friend and his parents, who picked me up. Even after their pleading, I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t want to call them. I didn’t want to ruin their vacation.

Later I found out they were on their way home early anyway, due to a family friend’s death. I’m not sure if this knowledge would changed my mind then.

Of course the hospital bill came sometime later and I was forced to explain all, anyway. It was worse to delay the inevitable.

But I didn’t want my emotional state (especially with the knowledge of my mental illness) to effect their actions (i.e. coming home early). It felt manipulative.

In school, if I have a problem getting an assignment done on time to paralyzing anxiety, it feels manipulative to explain this while asking for an extension. Would they give me an extension if I just asked? Does my anxiety lend weight to the request? If it does, is that bad? Certainly I don’t deserve an extension, illness or not (the latter thought being a symptom of unconsented-self-emotional-masochism).

This ‘protection’ has occurred with others as well. Friends, partners, classmates, and teachers. I am constantly afraid of altering others’ behavior by expressing emotion. In the simplest form, I don’t want to be a burden. My thought process is something like this: If I tell them I’m sad, they put aside other engagements to comfort me. While comfort would be nice, I should be able to handle these feelings myself without bothering my friends. I will have manipulated their actions by expressing myself. Or at least that my reasoning. I’ll note too that this is hypocritical of me, as I don’t feel bothered nor burdened when a friend asks for help or comfort.

But fuck all that.

Who am I really protecting?

Myself.

I fear what they will think of me. I fear that my own emotions will go into a tailspin. I am protecting myself from further hurt. Or from an argument I don’t want to have. Or a lesson I don’t want to hear. Or a scolding I already know. Or even simply admitting to myself that I am fallible, and human, and make mistakes. And while I do need to look after myself, I cannot do so at the expense of others. The reality is, I cannot control others actions and emotions, and without knowledge of all relevant information (to them), I am preventing them from having the agency to make decisions. This isn’t to say that my emotions and feelings don’t matter. They do, but I already have the power to make decisions and act accordingly, because I have full knowledge of them. By depriving the same to those my emotions effect, I have lied.

And I hate lying.

It’s not that simple though. There is a time and place for everything. And how I express myself to others is just as important (and just as often confusing for me). Knowing where the line between withholding and sharing is something I continue to struggle with. But I hope with this new-found insight, I can manage it better, communicate better, and thus be a better friend and partner. At the very least I have developed better tools for my internal dissection process.

2014 in review

Wow. What. A. Year.

A whirlwind of activity. Of change. Of growth. Of introspection.

Of mistakes. (Oh, so many mistakes). Of road bumps. Of hiccups. Of stumbles. Of bruises (both the good and bad kinds).

I suppose I should step back and look at the positives first before moving on to what I want to work on. First off, my biggest accomplishment would have to be related to my mental health. I feel like I’ve finally found a good balance between drugs and therapy that I am mostly happy with. Curiously, I love going to my therapist but it doesn’t *feel* like therapy, nor do we ever get particularly deep (deeper stuff gets discussed with various confidants), but somehow it helps. On the same note, I have not been to the hospital this year for mental health reasons (or at all), which is a change from earlier years. In fact, in the general scheme of things, I feel like my life is finally going somewhere and progressing after a few years of stagnancy.

Which brings me to the job situation. I fucking love my job, I really do. I’ve worked exclusively for start-ups since I was 16 and this is the first one where I feel relatively secure. I get paid what I’m worth. I get paid on time. I’m not constantly worried about running out of work to do, or praying that the next investor meeting doesn’t have me or my co-workers out of a job. Perhaps what’s most important is that this job has allowed my to become confidant in my ability and skill as a professional in my line of work. My previous two work-from-home contract gigs often felt like a farce, like I shouldn’t be there. This is no longer an issue, and even if my company folds tomorrow, I have the skill set, confidence, and industry knowledge to be back to work almost immediately. I’m in high demand and I know it.

Then there’s school. I have struggled with school, a lot. This is for various reasons. Reasons that really don’t matter (anymore). What I do know is I finished the fall semester with straight A’s and will be graduating at the end of the upcoming winter semester. This in turn will free me from a tremendous amount of stress and the feeling of being locked down to my current area. I had always intended to move out-of-state after graduating, for professional reasons more than anything. But if my current company continues to grow as I expect it too, I will have little reason to and have the very real chance of being a key member and part owner as we continue to break ground and innovate in an industry where innovation can be difficult. I love the challenge.

I’ve left the biggest for last. Relationships. What complicated, rewarding, sometimes terrible, interesting things. My regular readers know, of course, that I spent the first half of the year or so with GeekDomme. We both learned a lot about ourselves and each other. I finally had the chance to experience sexual intimacy, which was fantastic and has only left me wanting for more. It was also my first real chance at in-person D/s. There were certainly some road bumps, but overall they served as moments of growth and introspection and I’m glad to be able to have shared them with her. I also had some dates and some not-dates with a handful of others in the latter part of the year. These, of course, were experiences in their own right. And while nothing stuck, they provided joy and opportunity for introspection, which are always positives.

On the platonic front, 2014 has brought me a new best friend. A spot held since middle school has a new occupant. It’s not that I lost my previous best friend, but as I have continued to grow and move forward in my life, he has not. It has become difficult to have meaningful conversations with him and, due to some political differences, it has become hard to engage him even on basic current events. And while he is in a unique situation due to health concerns, making it difficult for him to move forward with life, I feel like it is a constantly one-sided relationship. This is energy draining and difficult to keep up.

Fortunately others have stepped up to fill the void and I have gained several new friends and continued to strengthen other already existing friendships. Thank you all.

Going forward into 2015, what are my goals then? The simple ones first: graduate, move out (which now means an apartment a few miles south), continue to save and invest for a financially stable future. I will continue my ever going struggle to get to a healthy weight. Compounding positives will continue to make this easier. Less stress from school means less stress eating. Less stress eating means less depression from overeating, which means it’s easier to stay the course, and thus easier to lose weight. Wins all around.

The real focus is going to be on happiness. I know I mope a lot on this blog about not finding the relationships that I want. While it’s good to save a safe space to vent, I need to focus on enjoying life for me. The last few months have had me reading a handful of books on relationships, meditation, and mindfulness, and the one constant is that it is critical to be able to create and take responsibility for your own happiness without partners. Further, I am no longer going to concern myself for looking for a very specific niche style of relationship. Looking back over the last two years as a member of the kink community, there are a handful of potential enjoyable relationships that have slipped by because of my need to stick to a rigid set of labels. Going forward, I am gong to focus on building and nurturing any and all positive relationships that come into my life and see where they go. Instead of trying to look for some idealized relationship, I will take each as an individual and new relationship, and, more importantly, treat the people involved as people and work from there. I have the power and agency to build a variety of fulfilling styles of relationships and I should focus on the people and not on the relationship.

On a final note, I need to stop being so goddamn hard on myself. I’m the first to remind people that they are indeed human and prone to mistakes, yet am hypocritical in that I don’t want to heed the same advice. This may be the hardest challenge of them all.