The Power of Cash

I mentioned last week that for some people, entwining finances is less a matter of choice than of necessity. That necessity comes at a cost—the cost of autonomy and the risk someone having power over you.

The Power of Cash

A few days ago, I saw someone comment that they were solo poly because they’d rather struggle to raise their kids on their own with barely enough money to get by, then move in with any partner(s) knowing they could be homeless in an instant if they get kicked out. That this happens, often, is not addressed in general polyam discourse or discussions about money and relationships.

I’ve talked before about social hierarchy in relationships. Well, money can be a huge factor in that hierarchy. (Again, I am not talking about primary/secondary type hierarchy. I’m talking about the social status hierarchy that humans have because we are social animals. It’s a thing.)

In relationships with a large financial disparity—particularly situations where one or more people are financially dependent on their relationship partners, money gives power.

Many people would never use their income to take advantage of others. But in the US (with its almost complete lack of social safety net), you don’t need to take advantage of it. You get the advantage. And social safety nets are not perfect—even in places with a good social safety net, you can have an advantage.

Last year, my girlfriend and Michael and I were talking about her moving out here and all of us moving in together. It’s still an option, though I believe C prefers to move out of the country entirely. But one thing that came up was the huge difference in our incomes. Michael and I together make barely $10,000 a year. C makes multiples of that. In order for us to get a place large enough to live all together, the rent and most utilities and other “costs of living” would be firmly on C.

Now, Michael and I have two kids under 10 years old. Think about this: what do you think we would do to keep C happy if the alternative was being homeless again? Do you think we would let her have her way in a disagreement about how the apartment is set up? That we would avoid talking about things that upset her? That we would change our behavior in ways we didn’t like?

power of cash

You bet your ass we would.

C would never hold it over our heads, “do it my way or else.” She’s not that kind of person. But if Michael or I started seeing signs that she was unhappy with the living situation or our relationships, we would bend over backward to keep her happy.

And if we felt C wasn’t willing to listen and understand why her having money gave her this advantage, C would never know it. (Since C is someone we can talk about this kind of thing, we DID discuss it, explicitly, even while the idea of moving in together was only a hypothetical.)

In the long term, of course, this would be a disaster. Either we’d be emotionally wounded by constantly denying ourselves our needs, or Michael and/or I would start getting more money and start standing up for ourselves more—which would leave C feeling turned-on bc she would have had no idea there was a problem in the first place, or Michael and I would start looking for an escape route and get out, with C never knowing how exactly things got so bad between us.

Of course, it is possible (and desirable) that the relationship would evolve to where it would cease being “Michael and I” and C. But if it did, that wouldn’t change the power balance of ’C can survive without either or both Michael and Jess. Neither Michael nor Jess can survive on their own and they could barely stay afloat together.’

Now, if everyone living together is in a situation where they can barely support themselves, you get a different situation which isn’t as bad but is still not exactly healthy. At “best” you have a mutually assured destruction situation which means everyone is working to keep everyone else happy and looking over their shoulders worrying about “what happens if we fall apart.”

However, other aspects of social dynamics also come into play. If everyone is in the same boat financially, but two of them always support each other, they have an advantage over the other people in the home.

It’s Not All Extreme

I’ve been focusing on the extreme situations both because it happens a lot more often than people with enough money to survive comfortably think and because it’s easier to see the power imbalance when we are talking about the possibility of becoming homeless. But it plays out in other ways too.

Let’s say I start dating someone who lives nearby. We’re not interested in moving in together, just enjoy each other’s company. If I can afford transportation and they can’t, then I (because I have money) have more control over the relationship than they do. I can decide to stop visiting, can decide how often I visit, can decide if I pick them up or pay for a taxi so they can come to my place. If they want to go someplace and I don’t feel like driving that far, we aren’t going.

So, if I want to go someplace that’s a distance we can, if they want to go someplace that’s a distance, they need to get me to do the driving before we can go. Power imbalance.

And just like with the living situation, they are likely to agree to things they might not agree to otherwise to keep me happy—because if I decide that instead of coming over every week I’m only coming 2x a month bc it’s not worth the gas money, they can’t say, “Okay, well how about if you come here 2x a month and I go there 2x a month?” They have no room to negotiate or offer a compromise.

It’s About Consideration and Respect

So what do you do if you have more money than your connections? If you have this power over the relationship that they don’t?

First off, it should be obvious that you don’t owe anyone your money, your time, or a relationship. I’m not saying that you owe it to a broke partner to spend money on them. You don’t.

But like Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In this case, the responsibility to make sure that you aren’t inadvertently hurting other people with your power.

What does that mean?

It means talking with your connections, acknowledging the power imbalance, and making sure that they feel safe talking with you about concerns and problems.

It means not getting resentful when you are the one doing all the driving or paying for the expensive restaurant that you wanted to go to.

It means not pressuring your connection to do expensive activities or making them feel ashamed because they can’t pay for a local Poly Cocktails event.

Perhaps most importantly it means making an effort to be sure that your connections are getting what they want and need in the relationship. They have an incentive to keep you happy that you don’t have—so you need to make an extra effort to be sure that you aren’t coasting.

This Isn’t Universal

Social dynamics are funny things. In my first triad, for several years almost our entire income came from one partner who actually had the least status and power in our relationship. He just got (unintentionally on my part) bowled over by my other partner and myself and didn’t know how to or feel safe asserting himself to us. It never occurred to me that he might take his income and move out (since we had a joint lease he couldn’t kick us out). If he had, my other partner and I would have been screwed. But because I didn’t think of it as a possibility, his power remained potential and not actual.

So there are times when the person with the most money ends up having the least power in a relationship. This isn’t a set-in-stone thing. But by-and-large, more money means more social status and more real-world power over a relationship. Especially when the people in a relationship aren’t married and things like alimony and fair division of assets will never come into play.

Remember: Power and Privilege Stack

If you are in a relationship where you benefit from couple privilege AND you have more money than your single or single-presenting partner, that gives more you more power than either money or couples privilege would give you alone. And people who are already getting shit from society—people who are trans, gay, people of color, disabled, mentally ill, etc (and especially multiple of these)—are more likely to be poor. So please, be aware of your power in a relationship. Don’t run roughshod over your partners without realizing it because you have money and they don’t.
This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

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Friday Fiction: The Toughest Battle (Yet)

First entry          Previous entry

The triumphant heroes took their bows and the screen faded to black. Wu shook zir head. “That was…”

“Classic.” Trevor spoke quietly, trying not to wake the child curled up in his lap.

“Not the word I was looking for. And I’m not sure how it got on your ‘Evil Overlord’ list. That trash compactor was never intended as a death trap.”

“Come on, the explosions? The laser beams you could see? The aerodynamic starships? You don’t see vids like this anymore.”

“For which blessing, I will make a large donation to the next artistic fundraiser that hits you up for money.”

“Ha.”

Trevor shifted, preparing to stand.

“Would you like me to take them to bed?”

Trevor shook his head and pushed himself up out of the person-eating couch. Ho’neheso stirred, opening their eyes to look at him a moment before snuggling back into his arms. “You’ve stood in for me too often the last few years. I’m grateful, but Ho’neheso needs me to step up and be their father again.”

Wu followed him as he carried them carefully to their new—and well protected—bedroom. “You never asked them to change their name.”

“No.” Trevor laid his child on their bed and pulled the covers up. “They lost so much already. As long as I could keep them hidden and out of the limelight…”

“And what of you? You no longer need to hide who you are.” They started back down the hallway towards Trevor’s rooms. “Taking an Anglo name made sense when you wanted to move unnoticed in North America. Even with the First Nations reclaiming so much of their land, Anglo is still the ‘norm’ north of Mexico.”

Trevor grunted. Wu only stated the obvious when zi was building towards something big.

“You will be remaking the world in a new image. As you once remade yourself. But is Trevor Frederickson the man who should be remaking the world? Or Ma’evoto?”

“Does it matter? I’m me, whatever I call myself.”

Wu shook zir head. “Deborah has some interesting things to say on the importance and meaning of names. And I believe some of the First Nations have similar beliefs.”

Trevor let himself collapse on his bed. ”Wu… just drop it. I can’t think about this right now.”

Wu said nothing. Trevor’s thoughts circled endlessly. Setting up ‘Trevor’ as a fake identity. The last time his saw his father. The day he read his obituary. The… No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t push the pain and the memories away. A sob caught in his throat.

With hard learned patience, he steadied his breathing. I control nothing if I cannot control myself. Stepped back from the painful memories and watched them. Looking for the meaning that tied them together. The belief behind the pain.

“Ma’evoto is dead,” he finally whispered, “They named him dead and did the rites. I walked away from that name, from that life. I killed him. There is nothing to go back to.”

“We live in an age of magic. Your servant would be honored to find a necromancer to resurrect him.”

“Ha. Ha.”

Wu knelt beside him, hand outstretched. Trevor sat up and rested a hand on Wu’s head. “What would you ask?”

“Only this. Does your soul does bleed for the loss of who you were? Tell your servant it does not and I swear by the heavens I will never speak of it again.”

“I…” Trevor couldn’t say it. “I can’t answer that.”

Wu’s head bowed further, hir hand pulled back to hir heart. “As you will.”

Trevor’s fingers tapped against the bed, quick and discordant. Never before had he refused Wu an answer. It was his right. But he had never…

He pushed himself up and began pacing the room. On his third circuit, Wu stood.
“With permission,” the dragon said, “your servant will retire for the night.”

Pacing wasn’t helping. The buzzing in his head grew worse. “Yes, go.” Another circuit before Wu reached the door. Quickening his steps brought him to the door as Wu opened it. “I’m sorry.”

Wu bowed. “Your servant will do all zi can. But I cannot fight your demons for you.”

“No.” Trevor smiled. “Zi can only precipitate the battle.” He stepped back from the door. “You can go if you want. But I would rather have you with me while I fight them.”

Wu closed the door. “Then I will stay.”

Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?

Changed to be inclusive of a wider variety of relationship styles and less heteronormative. Also fixed some typos. Updated June 7, 2017.

Step-parent, aunt, Jennie, Pop, Ma’am, Mr. Smith . . .

Basic rule of thumb: kids need a label for the adults in their lives. A box to put the adult in so they can know what their relationship with the adult is. Any time your kids ask what to call your SO, what they usually mean is, ‘What is this person to me?’

So before worrying about what your kids should call your SOs, take a minute to think about this: Just what is the relationship between your SOs and your kids? Are you raising you children from birth in a group marriage and all the spice are parents? Are you going to be introducing your teenage son to your girlfriend for the first time?

Group marriages who are raising children together tend to take one of two approaches to what I call ‘parent names’. Sometimes the non-biological parents choose terms that mean “Mother,” “Father” or “Parent” (Mama, Papa, Mad for English variants or use other languages—Ima is Hebrew for mom, Padre or Papa from Spanish, etc). Other times the non-biological parents are Aunt or Uncle or just their names. In these polycules, only the bio parents are called anything related to ‘mother’ or ‘father’.

You don’t need to discuss parent names with kids when you are raising them in a polyam relationship from a young age. The same as you never sit down with your toddler and say “I am your mother and you can call me ‘mom’.” You just walk into the room saying “Hi baby, mommy’s here!” and eventually baby learns that ‘mommy’ means you.

If you are introducing an older child to an SO for the first time, you probably want your kid and your SO to get along, but unless the SO is moving in with you or something, they don’t need to interact. So don’t make it complicated. As long as your SO agrees, you child(ren) can call them by their first name. No reason to make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes a previously unentwined or lightly entwined link becomes highly entwined, such as when moving in together. In these cases, advice given for helping kids adjust to having a new step-parent may be helpful. The short version is: let you kids know you want them and your SO to have a good relationship, but that relationship is up to them. They can start out calling your SO by their first name, and if later they decide they would like to call your SO aunt, uncle, Pop or something else, that is up to them. The message you want to give your child here is that they get to choose the label. The relationship they’ll have with your SO is up to them, and they won’t be forced into a relationship they aren’t comfortable with.

This blog post is past of the Raising Children in a Polyamorous Family blog series.

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Back to the Numbers: Finances and Budgeting for Polyam Folks

After a long break, I am finally ready to start writing new posts again. So moving forward, Sundays will be a new post each week while Thursdays will continue with the updates and revisions of old posts. Michon Neal will continue posting hir thoughts and writings on Tuesdays.

For new posts, I’m going back to an unfinished blog series—Finances and Budgeting.

Something I didn’t address when I started this series is that finance and budgeting needs vary depending on how much money you have. The choice to be financially entwined or not looks different for people with lots of disposable income vs people who can barely afford rent.

I’ve been on both sides of this. I grew up in a family with LOTS of disposable income. The McMansions of the 90s and 00s could have been modeled off the home my parents had custom built. And for nearly 10 years I’ve been keeping my family afloat on less than $10,000 a year. We’ve been homeless, lived without heat, and had our electric shut off more times than I can count.

Financial Advice is Not One-Size-Fits-All

The vast majority of that time, the financial advice I’ve seen was written for people who have more money than they need to survive. Budgeting is a wonderful tool when you have enough money and need to figure out how to stretch it. It is not so useful when you have more bills than income, and your only bills are rent and utilities.

So that is where I am coming from writing this series. Some posts and suggestions will be geared towards people who have disposable income. Others are more for folks who are scraping for rent. Sometimes I will talk about financial entwinement as a choice people make. Sometimes I will talk about it as a survival necessity. Because it can be both, depending on your situation and the situation of your partners.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

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Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous, Blog Hiatus, and Personal Stuff

I keep saying I’m going to start posting snippets from Safer Sex on my Patreon page. Time to finally get my shit together and do it. For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing sections from Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous 3 times a week. These will be Patron only posts and the snippets won’t be final drafts. So expect typos and such, but they’ve been through first round edits so the general content shouldn’t change much between now and publishing.
I am, as usually, running behind schedule. But if I can keep on my current pace I can be ready to send the manuscript out my sensitivity editor in June, for an early August publication. So I’m not yet at my goal of a book every 6 months, but I’m getting closer.
Re: the blog.
As predicted, custody shit has stirred up all my mental illnesses, so posting went to hell. Rather than scramble to catch up, I’ll be writing/editing posts as I can and holding them to build back the buffer I lost a couple month ago. Once I have a two week buffer again I’ll resume posting on the website.
And since I mentioned custody shit–let me just say that it is going far better (and fast) than I expected. Court in is two weeks, so fingers crossed!

5 Reasons Cishet Polya Folks Probably Shouldn’t Claim to Be Queer, Even Though You May Really Want To

Apologies for the late post; it’s been an eventful day! Here is an updated article originally published on Postmodern Woman.

Yay polyamory! Non-Monogamy has been making the rounds lately as the “mainstream” (read straight, USian or British or Canadian, cis, and usually white) discover that love doesn’t have to be as limiting and lonely as we’ve been told. Hell, we’ve finally started discussing abuse culture, how to be more inclusive and less oppressive, and breaking down amatonormative assumptions (primarily around the idea that your partner belongs to you).

More and more people are learning about things like compersion, intimate friendships, and open and honest communication. And that’s an absolutely great thing! Many of the tools and skills that people learn to hone while engaging in polyamory carry over into other aspects of life not remotely related to romance and sex.

There’s a lot of great potential within non-monogamous communities to revolutionize the way people tend to approach intimacy in general. It opens up conversations about the ways in which people meet their needs and can encourage people of any relationship orientation towards healthier behaviors.

But a potentially troublesome trend has come along with all of the attention: many of you cishet people keep claiming a queer identity, rooted in the fact that you are polyamorous.

Here’s why that may not be cool, even if it might seem like you’re doing it out of solidarity.


First of All, It’s Inaccurate

Even though non-monogamy can be an inborn orientation, many of you choose to be non-monogamous. Much like the excitement over the wildly inaccurate 50 Shades of Grey, this discovery of a sexy, potentially exciting venture was likely presented to you through mainstream means. Perhaps you’ve read The Ethical Slut, More Than Two, or other fairly popular books on non-monogamy. Maybe you read about this new trend in a magazine or some HBO show.

While it’s great that there’s such an influx of representation of non-monogamous relationships, be wary that it’s still not fully, or even accurately, representative of the diverse populations within non-monogamy. There’s still a huge issue with retention of queer, Black, poor, and disabled polya folk. Even books, fiction, and movies that deal with polyamory present it as a choice that comes after the fact, after trying to be monogamous, or as some way of avoiding commitment.

Think about why that is.

Even if we get to see a sort of happy-ever-after ending, we don’t actually get to see any examples of fully healthy polya relationships, or stories of people who grew up healthily polya, or of those whose relationship orientation is inherent in the way that their sexuality and/or gender is.

More specifically, outside of the cuilverse, diverse, healthy, queer, and poly-as-orientation doesn’t seem to exist in entertainment.

Given that the main representation is already mostly cis and straight and white people who’ve made a clear decision to be non-monogamous, the P for polya doesn’t quite make sense in the queer movement.

Speaking of which,


It Erases Those of Us Who Actually Are Queer

Those of us who are both non-monogamous and queer find ourselves floating around in the background while you folks tend to get the attention. This is a serious problem. It’s not something intentional, we’re sure of it.

It’s just that, in efforts to make non-monogamy more palatable to the masses, it’s much easier to get the idea past filters if the participants are otherwise “normal”. Since media and entertainment work the way they do, it necessarily means that us queers end up with the short end of the stick. Even worse, when you are straight and cis, claiming that your polyamory is queer obfuscates the meaning. It makes people who are queer in every other way less visible. It centers, once again, heteropatriarchal values and experiences.

Being queer and polya is a vastly different experience than being straight and polya.

Did you not realize that our experiences even differ?

Well, keep this in mind…

Much of Cishet Non-Monogamy Has More in Common With Monogamy +

Most straight cis people lead fairly straightforward lives. Or at least, more recognizable lives. You don’t spend your lives fighting against the amatonormative current. Even if you do, there are still many things you’ll never experience as a cis straight person.

For this reason, many of you only have your normative history to draw on. Even if your polyamory is your orientation rather than your choice, your most likely approach often ends up like Frankin Veaux’s in The Game Changer. Years, or even decades of relationships built on the idea of monogamy plus one.

What do I mean by that exactly? Monogamy plus one is the reason the non-monogamous communities even have terms like hierarchy, secondary, tertiary, polyfidelity, etc and the reason particular non-monogamies like Relationship Anarchy, solo polyamory, relationship fluid, and others have appeared as a way to push back against it.

There even exists out there now a “Secondary’s Bill of Relationship Rights”!

I’m not saying that being a secondary or wanting a polyfidelitous relationship is wrong or worse, just that it took so much pain, anguish, jealousy, guilt, and mistakes to get to the point where the community is finally openly discussing how these attitudes can be abusive, divisive, and harmful.

Because much of straight, cis, well-off mono culture is built upon the amatonormative arm of abuse culture in general (more on that in a later post), straight cis people within polya communities tend to repeat the same mistakes, perpetuate the same imbalances, and tread the same ground as people who are monogamous.

But why would that bother queer polya people so much? It’s not like they invented the modern form of polyamory or anything.


It Is Appropriative for Cishets to Claim Polya as Queerness

Much as Dolezal is given the side-eye for claiming recent Black ancestry, many queer people are wary of cishet people saying they are queer. It’s rude especially when you keep in mind that way before Ethical Slut, there existed polyamory within the U.S.

A polyamory that was queer and Black and anarchic. Queer history is still not really taught widely, so you might not even realize that it was kinky queer weirdos like myself who initially rejected the trappings of the white picket fence, marriage, and kids that culture forces down everyone’s throat. It’s not that none of us want those things, we simply found them on our own terms.
The same went for our love lives. Why should we keep the same attitudes of the society that oppressed us? Before the missionaries arrived (and still do arrive), many other nations and tribes were non-monogamous. That much is known, because the history of Blacks in any country, in addition to isolated peoples, are often cited as examples of why non-monogamy is more “natural” or to justify why it’s okay to practice.

You might not actually know that this is a bit of an insult. Non-Monogamy, like much of culture in general, has now circled so far around that it has to be reintroduced to the types of people who had been doing it all along. I raise my eyebrows at all of it because that’s some next-level Columbusing right there!
But all that aside, if you are cishet and you do understand the history of non-monogamy and are sensitive to your queer friends, can’t you still claim queerness in the name of solidarity? It’s not like with Dolezal, right?
Unlike acting or pretending to be Black, you can absolutely participate in queer acts. And that’s ok. But, there’s still a problem because…


Queer Acts Does Not an Identity Make

While people of any orientation whatsoever can certainly behave queerly, there’s still a distinction. Queer acts aren’t the same as queer identities.

Even if I were to behave as if I’m cis and straight, my identity would always be queer. Just as being with one gender or another doesn’t erase queerness, it also doesn’t validate queerness. It doesn’t even matter if you are non-mono by predilection and not simply by choice.

While my polyamory is my orientation, too, it is based on my queer identity — meaning that by definition and existence, I am not, never will be, and do not seek to be normal! My identities create a unique shape upon which my interactions rest. That’s something that cannot and will never change. My polyamorous nature grows out of my autism, my genderqueerness, my pansexuality, my noetisexuality, my other forms of queerness, and most notably my aromanticism. It is inextricably tied to my many queer identities and experiences.

I don’t know if it’s like that for other queer, disabled, POC polya people. But that’s for them to decide. Not even everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is queer, and there’s even less of an overlap between queer and cis populations.

While you may participate in queer events and acts like kink, non-monogamy, and other things, I guarantee you’ve never (and will never) be oppressed because of it if you otherwise fit into the dominant culture. We queers are still considered dangerous and deviant, and many of us exist at the center of intersecting oppressions based on disability, race, poverty, gender, and neurodivergence.

That’s important to keep in mind. Queer has a very specific definition, it is a very specific perspective, and it has a distinct history. Despite the inclusive ground it covers, it most likely will not ever cover an cishet person, not even a polya one.

Most of you will never be oppressed for being non-monogamous like we are and have been. There’s a reason it’s more acceptable to be non-monogamous now, and that’s mostly because the main stories are those of cishets like you. The queer stories have been washed away, considered too much to take in, and too transgressive.

You’re not doing us any favors by saying you’re one of us, especially if the politics and privilege of your desires have never been fully examined, altered, or decolonized.


But don’t fret. You can certainly still support your queer poly family and friends. Be inclusive of us, acknowledge our history, and don’t participate in Columbusing; we get a lot of that in other areas of our lives already.

You can take your proper place as an ally, or better yet as an accomplice, learning from us instead of leaving us behind. You can appreciate us without obscuring our identity by claiming it. And when you’re ready to extricate yourself fully from the norm, then maybe we’ll reconsider.

Abuse Culture Tips: Questions and Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Updated version of an article originally published on Medium.

When it comes to abuse, there’s much confusion surrounding what to do, who to blame, etc. In polyamory, this can be further complicated by the amount of people involved and how they are involved. But never fear; there are some things to keep in mind no matter what. While they may not prevent abuse, these tips can go a long way to ensuring the victim’s ongoing safety.

  • On abusers and repentance: If you want to “help” someone who’s transgressed, you only need to offer it once. Then move on. They know where to find you if they need to. Like, the problem is their overabundance of options, not lack thereof. Where’s the support and restoration for the people who actually need it? That’s what matters. Be wary of a continued focus on the perpetrator to the victim’s detriment.
  • And we do need to consider context for who to trust and inform and maintain ties with: those who don’t know what was done, those keeping an eye on perpetrators to actively keep them from doing harm, and those who just dgaf.
  • Speaking of harm: I’m thinking of that scene from The Craft: I bind you. I bind you from doing harm against yourself and others. That is basically the goal and requirement for bystanders who need to become anti-abuse agents. The point is massive harm reduction, barring healing (which takes forever, and often never)

Ask Some Questions of Yourself and Others:

1. Is there a power imbalance?

The difference between hurting and abusing is always power (as opposed to responsibility and accountability).

That’s why it occurs nearly everywhere, even within “social justice” and “feminist” spaces. Colonization and evo psych have distorted our thinking to the point where people assume hierarchies, competition, and barbarism are natural, normal, and the default for humanity.

It is absolutely not! But that’s an exploration for another time.

The point is that concentrated power inevitably will draw abusers and will lead to abusive dynamics and systems. It doesn’t matter if you call it democracy or utiliatrianism or communism or socialism; if you are concentrating power, you are building a foundation for an abuse culture to arise.

I’ll discuss ways to avoid that elsewhere.


Abuse is power gained — nonconsensually — at the expense of another. It is not hurting someone’s feelings. It is not merely rudeness; some of the worst abuse is perpetrated via niceness. Abuse is inertia. A limit. A purposeful distortion and delusion imposed upon reality.

It is the opposite of emotional intelligence; it is making other people responsible for your feelings instead of dealing with your own shit. It is projecting your expectations onto human beings and demanding they comply. It is a harmful erasure of reality.

2. Has someone been hurt? If so, is that hurt harmful? Is it ongoing?

Tend to the hurt appropriately. Some hurt is inescapable, some is to be dealt with by the individual (ie, yte guilt, rejection, etc are personal issues and are not matters of abuse).

Harm, on the other hand, is where abuse begins. Harm is senseless, meaningless, petty, unnecessary, and the only goal is to gain the upper hand. That is the bedrock of abuse culture.

3. Can you tell the difference between a trauma response, mental illness (usually a trauma response of a specific kind), neurodivergence, assholery, and abuse?

4. Concentrate on the victim(s). What do they need to feel safe? What do they need to BE safe? (By safe I simply mean having the space to heal and/or recover organically)

If you’re not constantly and consistently keeping the most vulnerable safe (giving them room to exist), then there is no ethical or moral fiber to whatever it is you think you’re doing, whether you call it restorative justice or not.

5. Is the person, idea, or system more based on appearances (reputation or other surface concerns) rather than actual efficiency or effect?

Abusive dynamics are all about control: controlling the narrative, controlling reputations, controlling choices.

Control is not discipline. It is not responsibility. It is not accountability. Control is about power.

A loss of control experienced by someone with mental illness or disability is best dealt with by grounding that person or having them ground themselves. Illness is not abuse; abuse is a choice to take unearned and unagreed upon power by any means necessary (by force). Abuse is not self-defense or maintaining or reclaiming boundaries.

6. Is the focus on soothing hurt feelings or on solving the actual problem?

7. What are the actual consequences for being abusive? What is the ongoing cost to the victim(s)?

8. When considering letting people or systems who’ve been abusive remain or “come back” or whatever: does the power imbalance still exist? Have they been held accountable? Has the victim been compensated and/or restored (which may never happen fully, but should still be aimed for)?

9. Consider the wider context: Are you considering intersectionality and an integrated view of the situation?

Yes, the marginalized and oppressed and disabled, etc, can abuse. Some do. That doesn’t change the overall overarching systemic abuse in the form of oppression that happens. In general, and overall, it is far more likely that someone benefiting from the oppression (macro-level abuse) is abusive.

Yeah, that means cishet yte abled dudes are the most likely to be abusers. That information gained from the sources in power is not reliable. It is what it is.

Hurt people don’t hurt people. That is emotionally unintelligent bullshit. Taking power is always a choice. Feelings are not actions, nor are they reasons to make certain decisions. To be abusive is to decide your comfort/desire/delusion is more important than the other party’s right to informed choice.

Such myths leave the most vulnerable fending for themselves. And what the fuck is the point of talking about justice or human rights or a better world if you blame the victim or kill the messenger?

10. Are you conflating ability to abuse with personality?

It’s not about likeability. It’s not about who the people involved are on an individual level. It is about the tether between them, and whether it lends itself to unfairness, inequality, and harm. The only way to end it is to place and enforce rational boundaries — even up to the point of banishment in egregious circumstances — until the abuse stops!

That means the abuser has to actually stop abusing, folks, before they can be considered nonabusive. Ignoring it just ensures it will continue.

Possible Things To Do:

  1. Speak up. You don’t have to be a jerk but niceness is not required. Don’t accuse; just state what is.
  2. Remember that abuse doesn’t go away on its own. Something has to change; usually this means giving the victim space to recover. Yeah, that means the abuser may have to go away for a bit, or a while, or forever. So what?
  3. The victim owes nothing. They determine the terms because they know what they need. Give space for their agency in the matter because your opinion is not relevant, especially if you haven’t actually survived shit.
  4. The survivor is the expert so defer to their judgment. They were actually on the front lines.
  5. Be vigilant. Work on your own emotional intelligence. Dismantling and stopping abuse is a never-ending active process, not just something that’s done once.
  6. Provide space — if necessary and feasible — for the abuser to reflect and be accountable, but fucking do it AWAY from the victim(s)! Don’t fucking put them in therapy or some other shit together if it’s serial abuse!
  7. If the abuse is just one singular instance, that’s a sign that the person in general is not an abuser but was just abusive. That means they’re more likely to be successfully rehabilitated.
  8. For serial abuse, that person tends to be an actual abuser, and rehabilitation is counterindicated. Rather, harm reduction measures are required. That simply, practically, means limiting their access to those they tend to victimize. Like, don’t fucking put them in charge of the vulnerable populations they abused. Don’t put them in positions of power period.
    Abusers (as opposed to people who’ve been abusive) are opportunists. Recall the above: it’s about power. They will absolutely exploit it.
  9. If you haven’t experienced it, it doesn’t matter how much you study; you don’t know shit. As a bystander, you are a support and your job is to help create, place, and maintain boundaries between the victim and the abuser. Not protecting, but taking direction from.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mean or nice person.

It doesn’t matter if you’re oppressed.

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your intention.

It doesn’t matter what they did to you.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t realize it was abuse until it was too late.

It doesn’t matter if you dress it up as romance or social justice or parenting.

You cannot force anyone to do anything!

No one is entitled to anything. No one is owed anything. No one “deserves” anything.


Agency is what we have to nurture and focus on within any context. Situations and practices that remove or inhibit agency (ie, these are all examples of abuse). This list is nonexhaustive:

  • rape by deception (like that recent shit about amabs pretending to wear condoms)
  • gaslighting (more likely within polyamory due to societal factors, though not inherent to it)
  • bullying
  • hazing
  • assault
  • control of finances/resources
  • delays and interference not contingent upon survival (ie. consistently making someone late for work, blocking access to family, friends, or other support sources, etc)
  • denial
  • lying
  • stalking
  • spying and other invasions of privacy
  • racism (any ism, really, but the current incarnation of abuse culture houses everythin under racism, anyway)
  • belittling
  • nonconsensual spanking (or hitting, biting, etc)
  • manipulation
  • yelling
  • pressuring
  • ongoing negligence
  • artificial selection (not just genetically — yes, I mean the holocausts, eugenics, and breeding — but also actively seeking to limit someone’s choices to things that impact their ability to care for themselves and live)
  • fetishizing
  • dehumanizing
  • rape
  • molestation
  • theft
  • policing
  • brainwashing
  • imposing religious or personal ideas
  • constantly interrupting or speaking over
  • facilitating abuse or abuse by proxy (ie. selling your kid to an abuser)
  • avoiding informed consent
  • unjust and/or discriminatory laws/policies
  • redlining
  • medical abuse/experimentation
  • victim-blaming
  • surveillance
  • negging
  • ‘splaining
  • cruel and unusual punishments
  • declaring anyone “illegal” or treating them as such
  • false reporting
  • harassment
  • tone policing
  • evasive projecting
  • extortion
  • silencing a victim or marginalized perspective
  • demanding unpaid emotional/intellectual labor
  • anything else that interferes with agency and power in a nonrational, unnecessary, controlling manner

Note that self-defense, mental illness, neurodivergence, and/or ongoing stress is often mistaken for abuse. I can’t get into it in more detail here, but there are ways to tell and different processes for dealing with it. Nevertheless, having a disability or mental illness is NEVER sufficient to excuse abuse. Disabled or neurodivergent people can and do abuse, as stated above, but the issue is still the abuse itself and not their disability or neurodivergence.

The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project

Chris N. Smith recently put out a call of submissions for his new project, The Black American Polyamorous Anthology. Check it out!

The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project

While completing my academic article entitled Open to Love: Polyamory and the Black American (which will be published in The Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships in the winter 2017 edition) I realized that theory, research and the few personal narratives I complied alone are not sufficient to display the eminence of the Black American polyamorous experience. The people themselves need to share their experiences, hearts, minds, and thoughts through essays, poetry, dance, monologues, narratives, biographical stories, text conversations, social media posts, and whatever other avenue comfortable for the individual and/or collective.

The Black American polyamorous experience is a unique history and journey that coalesces beauty, struggle, intersectionality, love, and growth. However, its diverse voices are marginalized; its sagacious lessons are unuttered, and its perspicacious lenses are imperceptible. Suffocated by societal mores, the Black American polyamorous community may have never had an avenue to directly exhibit to the world its truth collectively. No path to show the world its value and express the day to day, year to year, and generation to generation narratives. The people themselves need to be heard…

The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project is an avenue for self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/African Americans/Black Americans to express; through any form written, audio or video; their experiences. To be clear this project is meant to represent ALL self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/African Americans/Black Americans regardless of socio-economic class, age, sex, sexuality, gender, and polyamorous formation.

There is NO limit to what is expressed, this anthology seeks to show the totality of the Black American polyamorous experiences (the good, bad, happy, sad, celebratory, abusive, rehabilitory, cautionary, progressive, troublesome, sexual, nonsexual, affective, discriminatory, comfortable, uncomfortable, racial taboos etc…) and its intersections with our everyday lives (as pastors, clinicians, hostess, waste disposal professionals, CEO’s, accountants, artists, mothers, fathers, military members, it does not matter). The goal is to show a robust and true view of our lives.

The project has two elements:
1. Written anthology to be digitally released
2. Video/Audio anthology to be digitally released and presented at film festivals

The due date for submissions is July 16th, 2017

For more information about and the directions for participation in this project please email Christopher N Smith at tenabilitymovement@gmail.com expressing your interest.

 

About Christopher N Smith:

Christopher N. Smith is researcher focused on consensual non-monogamous relationship trends in current and historical contexts. His prior education includes doctoral studies in Sociology; a Master of Arts in Religious Studies with a concentration in Religion and Society; and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology form Howard University. He is in pursuit of a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration on Minority Serving Institutions. Mr. Smith has extensive experience publishing, working, teaching, presenting and conducting research studies within the education, sociology, human services and criminal justice sectors. Currently he is a Management Analyst for the District of Columbia & in the United States Air Force Reserves. He is an educator, community builder, father, relationship advocate and passionate about increasing awareness of and support for non-monogamous relationships structures in the United States.

Operation Get Michon to Austria to Present Intersectional Non-Monogamy

Hey folks, good news and a call for assistance. Our own Michon Neal had some wonderful news, but needs help to make it happen. Please give hir your support!

The Great News, Everyone!

I was accepted to do a workshop at the Nonmonogamies and Contemporary Intimacies conference in Austria. That’s rare, because people at my loci of intersections are usually erased in these conversations. Here’s my chance to make an impact with people from all over the world that I would never be able to access otherwise due to systemic barriers.

I created and developed the framework for intersectional non-monogamy, integrated feminism, and cocreated the inclusive approach of multi-linking – to say the least; I tend to create a lot. I was chosen to present on Intersectional Non-Monogamy, which would mean so much to me considering that the ill-named and remarkably noninclusive SoloPolyCon sought to discuss it – without crediting me or consulting me and without even grasping the irony of non-Black people handling issues of race. It’s not like they didn’t know that I was working on it, but I digress.

Why I need you

I have been erased, shoved out, and undergone such horrors in the past year, let alone my entire life. Help me help people do better. Give back by granting me bigger platforms so that the vulnerable and left out can actually be heard for once.

The conference is also a rarity for it’s accessibility: both the event and the hotel are kid-inclusive, meaning I don’t have to worry about my kids or leave them behind. They will assist me as best they can to ensure I can attend, but obviously I still need your help as a lifelong impoverished person. I need to get my children passports and need to pray that the TSA doesn’t molest me because I’ll need airfare and the like.

I am risking a lot being a Black queer femme single parent teaching what I teach and travelling to deliver a message no one else can give. You can help mitigate that risk for me. The more funds I raise, the more safety I can buy – because money and reparations can make living under oppression slightly easier.

What I need from you

I need your help to secure visas and passports for the kids (I already have mine), funds for airfare and hotel, and incidentals (because when you’re impoverished everything is an emergency).

Whether it’s your form of doing reparations, paying it forward, because you’ll be there and want to see me speak, or just because you’re a decent human being – I’ll appreciate it. When I say my effect on my corners of the world can be immense, it’s not hyperbole. You can look me up to see all I’ve done in spite of the awful things that have happened.

But, don’t just watch me struggle. I’m a human being. Make space. My dreams are just as worthy as yours. I’m doing my part. But with the world against me, I risk being fully erased. We’ve heard all the usual voices and seem to have learned nothing.

Try mine for a change.

The Polya Bystander: I Just Want to Be Left Alone

Updated version of the article first appearing on Postmodern Woman.

If there’s one thing that helps keep polya people from experiencing discrimination like other minorities, it’s that there’s often some sense of privacy.

For many people, they can practice their non-monogamy in relative peace. They can simply spend less time with any possible family that disapproves. They can’t be picked easily out of a crowd. And even when others discover they have multiple partners, most might simply assume it’s cheating but it’s not like they kill people over it.

Well, only so long as you aren’t already in an oppressed group or surrounded by a culture that closely monitors your sexuality. Polya people like to emphasize that’s it’s not all about the sex but we live on a world in which any sort of intimacy is likely to be sexualized. The vast majority of the world is romantic and sexual in some sense and it’s already difficult enough to understand aromanticism and asexuality.

That doesn’t even begin to cover all of the dynamics that serve to leave the world an extremely unfair place due to the ways we all rank on that arbitrary scale of normality.

In other words, it’s very easy to say you just want to be left alone, and for the most part actually be left alone, the closer to normal you fall. If you already fit into the dominant group and the only not-normal thing about you is that you have more than one sexual or romantic partner without lying or coercing anyone, then you can truly choose whether to be out or not.

There are some who choose to be out. But the only topic they can speak on is their polyamory or other form of non-monogamy. For the most part, they systems of control by normality remain in place. You can see this is in the evolution of the white polyamory movement in the last few decades, where it was (and still is) considered acceptable to exert couple privilege or other forms of hierarchy and controls by default.

Even today, the polya community is overwhelming full of white and well-off voices. There was also that article posted years ago lamenting the lack of diverse voices in what was originally a very queer and colored community (and which does exist, just not within “mainstream spaces”).  The fact that they keep writing stuff like that despite the work myself and others have been doing speaks volumes. I have noticed that many of the online groups, mostly run by white people, are asking about how they can make it a more welcoming space for people of color.

But this question is a red herring. Because the polya community in general – according to many personal stories, and the need for the formation of groups like Intersectional Non-Monogamy and The Creep Shame Hall of Fame – isn’t very welcoming to anyone but straight white men, it seems.

Many women or those who are perceived as female report and complain of creepy guys cruising the polya scene. Anyone can take on the polya label, and without a critical examination or process for ensuring some actual degree of ethical behavior, pretty much everyone is taking a huge risk.

This doesn’t even begin to include further marginalized groups like queer people, intersex people, atheists, and others.

There’s this deep divide between what people think ethical non-monogamy is and what it comes to look like in practice. They may put in the effort to treat their partners well but why should they care about anyone or anything else?

At times, the desire for privacy or for a world away from the world results in the reaction to my experience in an open relationship group over a year ago, where I am told to be quiet because my experience wasn’t “relevant” or was “too political”. Where people wanted to get back to talking about how awesome their polya experience was instead of addressing – or even acknowledging – the discomfort of people like me.

When the desire for privacy and freedom outweighs building a healthier culture or acknowledging the flaws in a system (especially what’s supposed to be a more ethical one), it simply ends up being another way the rest of us are locked out and silenced. In the end, it continues to perpetuate the larger abuse culture and its ills.

It is only recently – some of it from myself and a few others posting about certain issues and some of it from the changing world climate in general – that polya people are starting to realize that maybe it’s not so easy to keep polya a private matter, at least for other people.

Here in the U.S. people are behaving irrationally, spreading hatred, and generally making it an uncomfortable and unsafe place to live for anyone they don’t trust. There are comparisons to Nazi Germany. While I really cannot speak on whether it is or not, there are parallels and Nazis totally learned it from watching us. It is true that witch hunts are explosive and addictive.

There’s that saying that a person didn’t speak up until there were no more groups of people between them and annihilation. It is still true and valid today. You may think that your polyamory has nothing to do with Black people, or with intersex people, or with religious minorities. That’s not true at all.

You can freely practice your non-monogamy because the hounds are busy chasing the rest of us instead. You can live well because of the unpaid labor that my ancestors provided. You can learn about non-monogamy and attend conventions because you’re not trapped in the poverty cycle. You can plan when or if to have children because you aren’t disabled or poor. You can walk down the street holding hands with your loves because you won’t get shot for looking suspicious.

Even when you choose to speak up, you are likely much safer than I am. The more visible I become, the angrier it’ll make those who wished I didn’t exist. And the more likely they’ll respond powerfully (and negatively). I’m already being told that everything that happened to me is my fault, that my aromanticism is the result of shitty experiences, and that I’m exaggerating. How much longer until the threats and physical violence starts rolling in again?

You may think you have nothing to contribute. You may assume that you have nothing in common with us. You may not see the connections just yet.

But if you want to live a more responsible life, if you enjoy loving multiple people, and if you live in relative safety you can do so much to help make that more than a possibility for others.

Listen more. Join Intersectional Non-Monogamy. Check out resources for queer and Black people. Educate yourself.

Even if you fumble, even if you mess up, do your best to step beyond that self-contained bubble keeping you separated from the rest of the world. Your lives may or may not appear to change with the political or social climate. But my life does. And others’ lives do as well.

Be grateful for your privacy. Be in love with your freedom. I only ask that you keep those of us with less of each in mind. And maybe speak up for us and make room for us. And believe us!

Because at the end of the day, I’m sure we all value our freedom and privacy. We all want to be left in peace. Give us that chance.