Sex, Integrity and Truth

When I was invited to participate in a private online conversation about integrity in an open-sexuality community, I was a bit dubious. It’s a charged topic, and I strongly believe healing, connection and insight require a more direct, in-person approach. Online interactions often create more misunderstanding, not less. After mulling it over, though, I decided that it might serve to clarify what issues exist, and to explore some framework for working with them. Perhaps it will start a conversation that leads to more trust. However, I’m convinced that the best recipe for resolution is face to face interactions, not online discussion.

As I consider the several allegations of sexual integrity “issues” I’m aware of in this community, it strikes me that there are three aspects: the personal, the interpersonal, and the communal. I’ll avoid digressing into how I think those aspects are related and interact with each other, and just jump ahead to where I think we’re kind of stuck. Sometimes people engage in behavior that causes antagonisms they are unable or unwilling to resolve, which then start affecting the community at large. Those unwelcome behaviors fall in a gap where there is no agreed upon way of dealing with them. They aren’t literally criminal, which would provide a well-defined (and public) legal framework in which to pursue justice. But they are serious enough to create intense personal trauma and damaged relationships.

In a way, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sexuality is a predominant theme. Not to belabor the obvious, sexuality is deeply connected to many other aspects of our selves, and this community is largely defined by its non-mainstream approach to sexuality. People are experimenting with and practicing various forms of open relationship, and kink, or are involved in sex work, and so on. On the positive side, that creates an opportunity for acceptance and growth; on the negative side, a haven for unhealthy behaviors – exploitation, narcissism and addiction. But let’s not go down the rabbit hole of trying to label behaviors! People have very different interpretations of what is acceptable and what is not; different definitions of “sexual integrity.” It’s enough to note that there is a good deal of ambiguity.

The combination of ambiguity around sexual mores and the lack of structure for dealing with intense interpersonal conflict results in the problematic situations which occur. There is the strong likelihood of both misunderstandings and outright abuse. Without resolution, that can have an ongoing, profoundly negative impact on the individuals involved, as well as the entire community.

There seems to be an insidious meme: that one’s personal sexual gratification trumps all other considerations – including considerations of relational integrity and respect. Particularly problematic in this regard is that people with higher social status can and do engage in egregious abuses of their power with impunity. Why? Because they can. Power needs no justification. I question whether they would willingly subordinate their personal sexual gratification to considerations of integrity and respect. I question whether addressing lapses in sexual integrity is an arena in which to expect leadership from leaders who may be compromised themselves.

In any case, there is a potential social cost to confrontation. A community member may disapprove an objectionable behavior, but still very much value the benefits of being on friendly terms with the abuser. Alienating them by taking a principled position might mean being shut out of some really fun events, or excluded from an important social circle. It’s pretty sure to cause friction. Also, as long as things simmer beneath the surface, it may seem that everyone else is okay with the behavior, so… it must not be that bad, right?

The ability to take advantage of that ethical ambiguity depends on a lack of transparency. As mentioned previously, sexuality is intertwined with many other parts of the psyche, including wounds like fear of rejection, vulnerability, belonging, guilt and shame. Understandably, there is a reluctance to expose those wounds. However, concealing them has the nasty side effect of enabling the perpetrator to continue their behavior, and of course prevents resolution. If you sweep something under the rug that’s where it stays.

It’s inevitable that people will talk, and people will take sides. What happened, and how people feel about it, will leak out, will spread like a virus. The competing narratives are injected into the “gossip channel,” the flow of whispered confidences that, while not exactly public, are nonetheless widely known. There they create distrust and schisms, or simply alienation and ostracization. Not good!

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. And while I do value introspection and dialog, there are times when it’s impossible to avoid some kind of community process – and some public acknowledgement of what exactly happened and how it is being dealt with. I suspect that just the existence of some structure of justice and reconciliation would serve to prevent abuse, since potential abusers might rethink their course of action if they thought they could be called to account. But isn’t seeking a shared understanding of the truth a legitimate and laudable endeavor in its own right?

Deida’s New-Age Misogyny

Here is a post from a fb friend, quoting David Deida. My response follows. It’s not just about David Deida, though, it’s all the talk about “the masculine” and “the feminine.” He just happens to the be one of the primary proponents of this way of thinking. There were a number of other comments, but I just included my own.

“You have probably met a woman who seemed fantastic, only to discover she has some emotional weirdness that you don’t really want to deal with. She seemed incredibly sexy, but also a bit “bonkers”, saying one thing one moment and another the next. You have probably also met some very reasonable and trustworthy women who don’t seem to constantly change their mind and, in fact, with whom you could have good conversations that don’t end up frustrating you. Although you may love these women and enjoy spending time with them, they don’t arouse your passion as much as the women whose words you wouldn’t trust to remain true for an afternoon, but who move their body in a way that drives you wild.

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” many men have wondered. But, of course, it is precisely those ways in which a woman is least like a man that most attract you sexually, if you have a masculine sexual essence. A woman’s feminine shine, the energy that moves her body, her utterly refreshing spontaneity and mystery, not to mention her delightful smile, are what attract you. And the more feminine a woman is at her core, the less she is likely to evidence strong masculine traits, such as speaking clearly and unequivocally about thoughts and desires, rather than primarily expressing her feelings of the moment.

A woman with a more feminine sexual essence will say she loves you one moment, and then, when you have done something you are not even aware of, she will say she hates you. This is the beauty of the feminine; to her, the masculine grid of words and events is less relevant than the fluidity of relationship and feeling. Thank God for such women, who make no apologies for their oceanic depth and riptides of emotion.

When a woman is encouraged to be at home with her feminine essence she is at home with energy, be it sexual or spiritual. For such a woman, there is no disconnection between sex and spirit. Her sexual surrender, if she is with a worthy man, is the same as her devotional or spiritual surrender. She opens from head to toe, receiving divine love-force deep throughout her body, so that she is rippled, arched, and undulated by its boundless flow.

You will only be happy in intimacy if you choose a woman who is your sexual reciprocal as a partner (if you have a masculine sexual essence that would be a woman with a deep feminine essence). And, you will only be able to survive such an intimacy if her dark and light sides are equally embraceable to you. It takes time to develop such skill and strength, but in doing so you learn to provide your woman, as well as the world, with a man whose gifts are uncompromised by fear of feminine power and chaos.”

— David Deida
The Way of the Superior Man

Well, I did read Way of the Superior Man. Or, at least 3/4 of it, before I chucked it across the room. This quote is a good representation of what is contained in the book. As [a previous post] has already pointed out, Deida blithely conflates gender-irrelevant character traits and behaviors with abstract concepts of masculine and feminine. According to Deida “Speaking clearly about thoughts and desires” is a “masculine” trait — apparently one we should not expect to find in a woman, especially not an “incredibly sexy” one. To me that seems blazingly misogynistic.

“A woman with a more feminine sexual essence will say she loves you one moment, and then, when you have done something you are not even aware of, she will say she hates you. This is the beauty of the feminine…” Sorry, no. That is not the beauty of the “feminine.” That is simply childish, immature behavior from a woman with no self-awareness.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re not insulted by the quote above, you really haven’t understood what Deida is saying. It’s patronizing. And the problem permeates all of Deida’s work, not just this quote.

Yet, he is inexplicably popular in certain circles. What to make of that?
There is much work to be done for all of us in being more compassionate people and better communicators, that’s for sure. That work is hard work, because it challenges us to grow, which entails some growing pains. It forces us to look at ourselves, to deal with ambiguity. If we want more peace, love and understanding between the sexes then that’s what we need to do.

Deida wraps his essentially reactionary message in new-age jargon and appropriated tantrik language, allowing his followers to sink back into the comforting familiarity of the dysfunctional status quo.
If temper tantrums and fickleness are passed off as simply “being in your feminine energy” then that lets you off the hook in terms of examining your behavior and how it affects those around you. That’s the appeal — you don’t have to do the hard work of personal growth, you can continue with your “emotional weirdness” (his term) and feel perfectly self-righteous about your deplorable behavior. The message for men is no better. The net effect is not a brave step into enlightenment, but a cowardly slide back to 50’s-era sex roles, albeit with a glitzy new-age-tantrik facade.

Thankfully, Deida is simply wrong. There exist women who are reasonable and trustworthy — and also drop dead sexy. In fact, those are exactly the kind I personally find sexy. There are also men who are sensitive, vulnerable and who like to “ripple, arch and undulate.” LOL
It’s not because the women have masculine traits, or the men have feminine traits. It’s just because those are human traits that are available to anyone, regardless of their sex. It is in all of our best interests to de-sexualize these traits — and Deida, in reinforcing and validating the idea that there are masculine and feminine traits, is doing exactly the opposite. I think Deida’s philosophy is actively harmful to relations between the sexes.

I’m pretty sure he denies that this is what he’s doing, but after reading some of his work and seeing him in person, that’s my opinion.

Newt Gingrich: Poster Boy for Polyamory?

Newt Gingrich seems like an unusual poster boy for polyamory.
Of course, he was quick to distance himself from the allegations by his ex-wife that he had asked her for an “open relationship.” What else could he do, embroiled as he is in a contest to be the least disliked Republican candidate? When asked about the issue in a recent debate he attacked the moderator with a premeditated fury, apparently gaining the audience’s approbation. But if you listen to him and you listen to his ex-wife — I mean, who you gonna believe?

There’s something funny because the more vehemently he denies it, the more I believe his wife. Regardless of whom you believe, it’s a bit startling to hear the allegation about him. Really? Newt Gingrich and “open relationship” in the same sentence? His denials are incredible, of course, and reek of hypocrisy — a scent that must be so omnipresent as to be undetectable.

And yet. There’s something genuinely poignant about him asking his wife for an open relationship. I don’t know why he asked her for that instead of for a divorce. However, I do know of the many reasons other people make that request. Generally it boils down to wanting to hold onto what is valuable in one relationship while exploring what there is to be learned in a new one. It’s a human experience. How we choose to answer that question is an individual matter, but most of us have had to grapple with it at some time in our lives.

Here is a BBC article with a sympathetic take on polyamory sparked by the Gingrich incident.

On the other hand, maybe Gingrich was just another liar trying to make the best out of a bad situation. When you get caught cheating you’ve got to think fast! Another divorce probably didn’t look good for a man with presidential aspirations in a party that extols “family values.” That’s the thing that gets me — by cheating he screwed up his “monogamous” relationship, and also of course screwed up any possibility there might have been for an open relationship. (And if you’re going to ask your partner for an open relationship, here’s a hint, you might want to do it in person, not on the phone after you’ve been caught cheating!)

So now Newt and open relationship are the linked topics of scandal, and prompting some interesting conversations. He’s done us a service by broaching the topic, however inadvertently, and in such a public way. Gingrich’s divorce and attempt at open relationship is probably a personal tragedy for him. For the rest of us: an invitation to a conversation that touches on honesty and love and respect and the role they play in the many permutations of partnership.

Full Disclosure and a Lonely Democrat

On the return flight from Nicaragua I saw a great, short, indie film! I liked it so much, I downloaded it from iTunes. (Only $1.99. I don’t usually buy stuff with DRM, or recommend stuff that costs money, but this was worth it!) Synopsis:

Tired of wasting time on relationships that break up when one person discovers something they can't stand about the other, Everett decides to reveal all his terrible habits, attitudes, and hang-ups on the first date.
Shockingly, women don't respond as he expects... until he meets Brinn, who's willing to play his game and try for Full Disclosure.

Reminds me of me! Especially fun for you Radical Honesty types. Check it out:
http://www.fulldisclosurethemovie.com/synopsis.htm

Here’s a tongue in cheek takeoff on YouTube’s LonelyGirl15 — LonelyDem07:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-FcX0tVf7E&eurl=
Hey, it’s raining subpoenas! It’s about time!

Oh, and the impeachment flash mob was apparently a success with over 1200 participants. I couldn’t make it, but someone sent me this link showing aerial photos:
http://www.beachimpeach.com/photos.shtml

Best,
Liam

P.S. If you missed the photos from my trip to Nicaragua, here they are:
http://liam.numenet.com/gallery/Nicaragua