Monday, August 8, 2011

Menage Monday Debut - Xakara

Good morning fans.

Welcome to Michael's where today I have a new segment beginning today called menage Monday with fab author and friend, Xakara.

She'll be posting Biweekly here and I'm really excited to have her input on menage and poly relationships and romance. 

Please enjoy her first post.

Writing From The Middle: Poly Normalcy

Greetings, Kittens!

I’d like to thank Michael for inviting me to become a regular guest on Ménage Mondays. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with all of you twice a month on what it means to be writing from the middle!

Today we’re going to talk about polyamory, in particular what it means to write poly romance. When I began writing my paranormal ménages, I never considered them kinky and I still don’t. That viewpoint has led to some wonderful conversations on the whys and wherefores of how multi-partner romances are promoted and perceived.

The first problem is the terminology. I write poly romance but that’s not an industry category. Anytime you have more than two people in the relationship it’s labeled ménage. Ménage fantasies made their debut in erotica where it was about the novelty of the sex and the taboo of the good girl breaking free and exploring her naughty side with two men. It came with all of the explorations that had only been found in pornography until that moment; voyeurism, anal sex, double penetration, all the taboos that didn’t make it into your mother’s romance books.  

As a subgenre, ménage has grown substantially since making the transition from sex-as-exploration erotica, to sex-for-sex-sake erotica, to happily-ever-after romances, but it’s still in the awkward teen years. There’s a lot of giggling and misinformation and adherence to the concept of the naughtiness beneath it all—especially when there is bisexual content. The problem is that ménage still reads as taboo and taboo still reads as kinky, and much marginalization ensues. Polyamory is not kink at it’s base, it’s just an extra scoop of vanilla. I’m willing to go as far as French Vanilla because it bucks mainstream expectations, but it’s not kink by any means and it shouldn’t be automatically treated as such.

Moving menage from naughty romance to simply poly romance, will take a few more years and the dedication of those authors and readers who want to see it represented on the same spectrum as mainstream het romance. I’ve been in discussions that have come down to the idea that ménage is about the sex and polyamory is about the relationships. That’s good and well, and it’s the reason I use the term poly romance, but since the industry only uses menage, it has to cover both and the terms have to become as interchangeable as they’re currently used.

The above usually leads to the question: “But how can you say that polyamory isn’t kinky?” It’s easy, here, I’ll type it again. Polyamory isn’t kinky. See, not hard at all. Are there some kinky people who are also polyamorous? Of course. Kink is such a broad term that everything you’ve done has a kinky person associated with it, and everyone you’ve met likely has at least on trigger tripped by something that could be considered kinky. This isn’t about kink being bad or wanting to disassociate from it. My Freak Flag flies high and proud and kink is one of the stripes. Feel free to pledge allegiance at will. I’m not trying to dodge the label, I’m saying that the label doesn’t fit.

Let’s look at the word kink for a second. Here’s the definition with the current slang bolded for ease of reference:

1. a twist or curl, as in a thread, rope, wire, or hair, caused by its doubling or bending upon itself.
2. a muscular stiffness or soreness, as in the neck or back.
3. a flaw or imperfection likely to hinder the successful operation of something, as a machine or plan: There are still a few kinks to be worked out of the plan before we start production.
4. a mental twist; notion; whim or crotchet.
5. Slang .
a. bizarre or unconventional sexual preferences or behavior.
b. a person characterized by such preferences or behavior.

Now let’s look at the definition of Polyamory.

Main Entry: Polyamory
Part of Speech: Noun
Definition: Participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships with full consent of all parties involved.

All of us are platonic polyamorist! We’ve all loved multiple people simultaneously from family to friends. Community is about loving multiple people and treating them with the courtesy and respect that they deserve. Our society is based on the idea of many loves and only thrives when it encourages and fulfills that inclination.

Most of us are unrequited sensual or sexual polyamorist, sexually committed to one person while lusting after another or others. Most sex therapist consider these mental affairs to be healthy and stimulating as long as they don’t spill over into emotional and sexual affairs.

Many of us outright practice poly behaviors without poly responsibility, in that we’ve been involved in multiple loving and sexual relationships at once. Unfortunately, most people engaged in several relationships don’t do so in an open and honest manner. They cheat. To be poly, by definition, is to consult and agree to move forward in those relationships that move and fulfill you to the betterment of all parties involved.

To me, sneaking around, lying and deceiving is twisted, bent, flawed and bizarre sexual behavior, so heterosexual cheating is the kinkiest thing going!

Polyamory, on the other hand, is merely removing the artificial sexual boundaries on those emotionally intimate relationships that are otherwise ignored by society at large. As well as a matter of relinquishing the fallacy that one person is meant to be your absolute everything without another person on earth ever fulfilling other needs. Polyamory, done right, is sincerity. It’s living out loud and there shouldn’t be anything unconventional about it!

Now let’s bring it back to poly romance and the inevitable commentary of: “But I don’t get polyamory! One relationship is hard enough, I just can’t see two relationships working.”

Okay, I understand where this originates, but there are two flaws in this approach to looking at poly romance. The first is the belief that not getting something must mean it doesn’t work. None of the people I talked to were astrophysicist or in related fields, but their lack of understanding the math behind it didn’t make astrophysics suddenly poof into non-existence. I don’t get hard-right conservatives and yet they continue to go about doing their hard-right conservative things. It happens, the world is bigger than what we get on a given subject.

Second, polyamory, in particular, polyfidelity, is one relationship with multiple dynamics. It’s like any family where you have the unit relationship and then the individual dynamics between each person. No one stops to wonder: “how can you have two children, one is hard enough, I don’t see how it can work out.” That’s because we understand that in a family, you juggle everyone’s needs and the longer you’re together the easier this becomes as you get to know each other. Sometimes it works out and families are close, sometimes it doesn’t and holiday and birthday cards would be a set up. It’s about the family not about the numbers. Poly families are FAMILIES, regardless of their individual relationship dynamics and approaching the idea as such relieves most of the confusion involved and shows just how normal it is.

Are poly relationships hard work? Of course they are, all relationships are hard work depending on where you are in understanding yourself and each other. But romances aren’t about the hard work, they’re about an ideal version of relationships or relationship resolution—no matter how many people are involved. I don’t expect anyone to take the smooth poly relationship dynamics in my stories as gospel, any more than I expect them to take the shape-shifters as such. I’m realistic for the culture and characters I’m bringing together, but no ménage is meant to be a relationship guide to polyamory.

Ménage romance author write exactly what non-ménage romance authors write, an idealized version of love the way it should be and could be. We leave the way it most often is, to the non-fiction self-help shelves and the daytime talk shows. Readers want the happily ever after because it helps to reminds us that we can make our own happily ever afters in our lives. I write poly romance because poly readers deserve that reminder of hope just like monogamous readers do. They deserve to see what it can look like when allowed to be all it can be and there are too few examples out in mainstream entertainment. Although there are a few stealth stories out there.

I just watched the last installment of the Harry Potter series and I’ve been astounded by the amount of emotion displayed in myself and others as it all came to an end. I was a young adult in my twenties when the phenomena hit, so where I didn’t “grow up” with Harry Potter, I “grew into myself” over the course of the books and movies. My combination of youth and age gave an interesting viewpoint on the story arc as a whole. It was about coming of age, about facing down destiny, about good triumphing over evil, about connection and about courage. But ultimately, Harry Potter was a love story.

It touched on the love of self as Harry embraced his destiny, Hermione embraced her limitations and Ron embraced his ordinariness, each finding that they were so much more than the those parts of themselves. It touched on the love of friends as the three of them faced down death time and again without ever wavering, (save for a horcrux induced issue or three), from their task in support of each other. It touched on the love of family as the Weasleys open their home to Harry and Hermione, making them honorary Weasleys in the face of both celebration and strife, until in the end they become true children and siblings of the redheaded clan. It touched on love of community, beautifully portrayed in the movie during the final showdown at Hogwarts as nearly the entire school and more came together.

None of the ultimate outcomes to Harry’s adventures could have been accomplished without the vast network of loved ones who threw in together to see it done. And Harry himself would have never survived without both of his best friends at his side every step of the way. It took three of them to make it work, so in the end Harry Potter is not only a love story, it’s a poly love story. One of the most sweeping poly stories in YA fiction and the fact that no one calls it that shows just how natural the concept of love in multiple making us stronger truly is.

One day, another story will crop up, perhaps in time for my grandchildren to grow up reading the whirlwind saga of three best friends defeating darkness. But in the epilogue to that story, as they stand together sending their children off in the world, those three characters will end up together. A family as strong as their adventures. When that day comes, polyamory will have become poly normalcy. On that day I’ll know it was worth all the questions, confusions and criticisms that come, with writing from the middle.

Poly Normalcy Ramble ~ Done!

So what do you think about the normalcy of polyamory, even if it’s not for you?


Xakara is an openly bisexual, poly author. Her works include GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST (PsiCorps Book 1), and DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT (PsiCorps Book 2), out with Liquid Silver Books. SHIFTING PASSONS ( A Therian World Novella), out with Samhain Publishing. A WAY TO A DRAGON’S HEART (A Therian World Novel) coming October 2011 by Liquid Silver Books. BLOODSPRITE (A Therian World Novel) coming 2012.


Jean Marie Ward said...

You make a passionate advocate, Xakara--which is entirely appropriate to the occasion. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jean Marie! I take that as a great compliment and it's heartwarming to know that my passion and advocacy shine through!


Nichelle Gregory said...

Fascinating and brilliant post, Xakara! I love your down-to-earth/honest explanation about poly romance. Most of the menage stories I've read throw in the third person as an added thrill, it's rare to see three committed lovers trying to make the relationship work as a whole past the bedroom between the pages of a book.

Loved your comparison to Harry Potter and the bond between those three too!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Nichelle! You touch on the exact reason I wrote this post, and why others on this topic will follow. I don't begrudge the heightened erotic nature of menage romances, but there's so much more relationship potential that goes unexplored.

Everyone deserves to see a positive reflection of their relationships and poly readers have waited too long!

So glad you appreciated the Harry Potter comparison! :)


...Star... said...

Very informative! And to answer your question, I personally can't wait for poly to become more normal and mainstream! I can imagine poly versions of reality shows and a whole aisle of books for the poly romance genre at book stores! Poly drama on soap operas! The possibilities are endless!

And thinking of Harry Potter as a poly love story is refreshing. I didn't think of it that way outside of fanfiction, to which I'm sure there are fanfictions where there is a network of Ginny/Harry/Hermoine/Ron as a happy quad, or even just the golden trio Harry/Hermoine/Ron as a triad. And of course there are the Drarry and Dramoine shippers, so if you wanna poly it up for them, you'd have Draco/Harry/Hermoine.

But yeah, I enjoyed this interview/blog a lot, good read! I probably was one of those people that thought of poly and kinky as sort of the same mostly because of the overlap with me, there are a lot of poly people that are also kinky so I just started treating poly as a fetish, which now I know is wrong. ^_^

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to have illuminated you on the poly/kink issue. *smile* I do understand why it is so often treated as one-in-the-same, but I think the distinction is incredibly important. To equate polyamory with kink is to make it about the sex when it's about the relationships. Once mainstream American and the world as a whole can embrace that, it will change the way polyamory is treated as a whole.


Beverly Rae said...

You've really enlightened me, Xakara. I'm printing this out for a keeper.

A. Catherine Noon said...

Thank you for writing such a clear and logical account. As a poly person, I get so sick and tired of people acting like I'm doing something completely out of the realm of normal. The human nature is not monogamous. Any other species that mate for life do so in all iterations of that species that we've been able to observe - wolves are the first example that come immediately to mind. Wolves in Montana and wolves in Russia mate for life. Humans, on the other hand, have proven themselves in all sorts of places that they are NOT naturally (i.e. biologically) monogamous - therefore, monogamy is a cultural construct, and not a natural state.

The poly community is simply about embracing that state in an open, consensual manner with responsible, consenting adults. One of the books on the subject takes as its subtitle, "Responsible Non-Monogamy."

I agree, too, that poly isn't kink. I've been in poly relationships where my partners weren't into what would be generally considered kink (of course, the "general" idea of kink is pretty misinformed as well). I've been in a monogamous kink relationship, where poly wasn't part of it. The two aren't related.

I am grateful that you took the time to break down the issues and the societal attitudes as well; I'd like to have your essay with me when I get questions so I can just say "here, read this." In fact, I'm sad to say I've gone quite underground on the subject since I got married, because we are currently monogamous. I've actually had people ask me, well, if you're not living with a poly partner, isn't that betraying your nature? Say, huh? It's a choice. Right now, this is what I choose. Choosing to live with a monogamous partner doesn't somehow mean I'm living in denial, it means that we are choosing, in an open and communicative manner, the structure of our intimate relationships with ourselves and others. That, at its heart at least for me, is what poly is about - the open and clear self-communication about relationship preference, coupled with the implementation of one's relationship choices with others.

Thanks, Xakara. More than you know.

Anonymous said...

@Beverly, I'm happy to help and I'm delighted to know it resonated so strongly with you!

@A.Catherine, you're very welcome! I feel more than anything that we need poly voices in our fiction, especially our romance, to represent the myriad variations of love that are out there. The more voices speaking to as many aspects as possible, the more understanding we have as a result.

I do agree that polyamory is a choice just like monogamy, but I also think that through nurture, some things get hardwired. They don't cease to be a choice but they certainly become a preference.

I was raised by extended family so a multi-adult home is my normal. Two adults don't feel like a complete family unit to me. Since I don't have siblings and I was never close to the cousins I grew up with, I don't have the extended family option I had as a child. I knew to get the three or more adults it would have to be a relationship. That understanding inclined me to polyamory well before I knew such a thing had a word. So I very much believe I'm hardwired for it, but I have happily been monogamous these last several years.

It's all about our nature, our nurturing, our experiences, our free will and how we choose to put it all together. :)

Thanks for commenting,