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Shifting the Paradigm and Couple’s Privilege

22 Jun

Couple’s Privilege was the topic of the hour in my poly community a while back. This makes sense to me on a certain front. I have definitely seen examples of couples holding unreasonable expectations of their other partners. I’ve seen couples not really consider the needs of their other partner and expect that partner to fit in seamlessly into their existing framework and rules. I’ve also seen real-life examples of how privilege impacts the lives of singles. Like the time I was looking for an apartment with a roommate (who I lived with for three years) and the apartments kept going to couples because we were seen as less reliable. So yah, the privileging of couples over singles is a real thing that can influence the way that couples interact with their other partners. But I wonder how many people give thought to how the label “couple’s privilege” gets tossed around and applied indiscriminately.

Over my eight or so years of being poly, I have definitely seen and heard some ideas that gave me pause. Like the many times I have heard people say that being in a primary relationship isn’t radical enough. Or the times people have said they feel guilt for wanting a deep committed relationship because they felt they were buying into the monogamous framework. I think these people missed the boat. The goal should be that we all can make informed decisions about what we want, not that we should all bow out of anything resembling a life-long partnership for fear of being influenced by our socialization. There has been a similar trend within the feminist movement where some people thought to achieve equality women must give up all that is associated with the feminine like make-up or being a stay-at-home mom. Again, I say the goal is agency and choice not outright rejection. Being feminine is fine just as being monogamous is fine or being poly and having life-partners is fine. It’s all okay so long as people recognize they have choice and think critically about those choices as well as other’s right to make choices.

The perception of choice and the recognition of agency seem to me to be the point at which people falter. From what I’ve observed, when people fail to see choice or recognize other’s agency they tend to throw around the label “couple’s privilege.” It seems to me that this tendency goes hand in hand with people reacting negatively to the term “primary partners.” This tendency is what led me to question the mechanism at work. I started questioning it because I saw that the dialogue around these subject was quite divisive in the community but also because I noticed that some of the people dated my partner actually made a lot of assumptions and treated me quite poorly. So I set to pondering in a “what the fuck?!” type manner and came up with some theories.

I’ve had experience being poly while being in a more casual set up with a boyfriend who I did not live with but whom I was quite committed to. I have also had experience with being poly while married, which is where I am at now. When I was “just dating” my previous partner, my metamours approached me as an equal, had regular contact with me, didn’t assume I had value over them and didn’t assume I had access to anything they didn’t. As a married person, I have experienced quite the opposite. I have had people tell me that I should be the one to lead contact with my metamours because I am married, as though my commitment to my partner puts me in a power position and therefore I should be the one to put myself out there and take all of the ownership for the metamour relationship. People have assumed that I am in a hierarchical position to them and I have even had a metamour send me an article on couple’s privilege and school me on my hierarchical relationship style before even asking if I had a hierarchical relationship model. These metamours were all acting on their own assumptions. When it comes to being “radical enough” and shirking the status quo being married and non-hierarchical feels a whole lot more radical than being solo-poly and making assumptions about anyone who is not.

That’s right, I said married and non-hierarchical. I married my partner because he’s fucking awesome and I wanted to make a public declaration of my commitment to him while at the same time asking my community to support that relationship and uphold it. In fact, for me marriage wasn’t even a remote possibility before I knew about polyamory. It was becoming poly that removed emotional and intellectual barriers and allowed me to see marriage as an option. Our wedding vows included commitment to community as well as a commitment to supporting each other in our poly endeavors. This relationship has never been monogamous.

We are married and we are open to whatever relationships develop alongside that marriage. If we find other partner(s) that we want to commit to in a major way, that’s great. If we happen to find someone that is so compatible that we all want to live together, great! If we find people that we click with in a causal way, great! In short, we have no parameters around what else might develop. Our parameters / rules do include things like making sure our metamours feel free to ask for anything they need, being truthful and forthcoming about our agreements and letting them know that those agreements are open to negotiation should our other partners need that. Part of our relationship agreement is that we do not impose that agreement on others and that we always remain open to re-negotiation. Yet, no matter how much we have tried to express that openness we are pretty consistently met with assumptions and judgments, which can be painful to endure.

So what can we as poly people do about this? Check yourself. It’s as simple as that. When you think about a married couple, don’t engage the monogamous paradigm and start making a bunch of assumptions. If you find yourself making assumptions, stop and ask questions and find out what the couple is really about. They may be fully indoctrinated into the monogamous paradigm, they may be absolutely monogamous but have made that decision with their eyes wide open, they may be poly with couple’s privilege and lack of awareness or they may be non-hierarchical despite having made a commitment to each other. In fact, try to stop making assumptions about any person’s commitments.

Labels are starting points for dialogue not definitions. This is life and it doesn’t fit neatly in the boxes so take the time to ask before you assume. This is truly radical. The very act of asking someone to further clarify their relationship model(s) is radical, this act of questioning usurps the status quo. This is a way to educate each other and help inform the world that there are options aside from monogamy and a way to make space for difference. Furthermore, asking for clarification can help shine the light on privilege where it does exist. It’s a win-win. Either you get clarification and things are golden or worked through or you dodge a bullet while helping raise peoples awareness of their privilege.

There are other behaviors and thought patterns to watch for as well.

  • Do you assume that your metamour has rights in their relationship that you do not?
  • When someone uses a label such as married or primary to describe their relationship, do you assume you know exactly what they mean or that you have the full picture?
  • Do you believe someone when they say they are open to a myriad of relationship options when they are already committed?
  • Do you avoid asking for what you want because you fear or believe that your partner’s other relationship excludes your needs?
  • Do you assume that someone is hierarchical based on whether they live with, are married to or consider themselves primary with their other partner(s)?
  • Do you think that the only way to have your needs met is to date someone who is not already committed?
  • Do you assume that your partner cannot really “be there” for you because they have another committed relationship?
  • Do you assume that if someone has a primary / lives with someone / is married that they are only open to secondary or tertiary partners?
  • Do you assume that someone can only offer a small amount of time / money / energy / love because of their other relationships?
  • Do you see a couple as two different people with whom you have two separate relationships or do you treat them as a single unit?

The assumptions above are all examples of how the monogamous paradigm can inform our thinking. I can tell you from experience that people operating under those assumptions will often also act out in harmful and destructive ways. If we really want our relationship styles to be revolutionary, we must first revolutionize our thinking. Shedding the shackles of monogamy doesn’t just mean being non-monogamous, it also means not thinking or operating from inside the monogamous paradigm.

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Food for Thought

22 Jun

There seem to be two different gluten free diets. The type that people do because they have gluten intolerance or celiac and the type people do because everyone else is singing the praises of a gluten free diet. But like other fads, there are pitfalls and critical thinking is essential.

I do not want to discourage people who would benefit from a gluten free diet from doing one. I do want to encourage folks to think critically about their food choices. Read labels! Did you hear that?! I said, READ LABELS! Yes, it’s really that important. When I shop, my thinking goes something like this, “Would I have eaten something with this nutritional profile before I was gluten free?” If the answer is no, then I think hard about why I want to buy it. Am I buying it because it’s the only option? If yes, then do I actually need it? If yes (i.e. I am not willing to stop eating x all together), then I will go home and use Mr. Google to find a recipe and learn how to make it myself without the bad stuff, and using better grain choices. What I’ve written below is part awareness raising and part encouragement toward critical thinking. I’ve written this because I do not want my website to be just another cog in the wheel encouraging people to buy into a fad.

Going gluten free because “it’s healthier”? That’ s a rather blanket statement and depending on what you’re stating it’s healthier than, quite possibly inaccurate.  Yes, it’s healthier for people with actual medical issues but what do we even mean by “healthier”? What makes it healthier? Is it the lack of wheat and associated GMO? Then why not eat organic ancient grains?  Is it the idea of replacing white bread with something healthier? Many gluten free items contain starches that have no nutritional value but are necessary to mimic gluten in baking. Is that actually “healthier” than white bread? Store bought gluten free products are often dense in carbs and calories and low in nutrition. Here’s an example: the organic, yeast free, sugar free, wheat free, whole grain spelt bread I used to eat was “healthier” than most gluten free alternatives that had corn syrup, corn starch, tapioca starch, sugar, white rice flour. The spelt bread just wasn’t healthier for me. It’s really not that dire though, there are nutritionally dense products out there, they just tend to be even more expensive. You have to be willing to do your research and not just blindly throw products in the cart thinking gluten free = healthy.

Going gluten free to loose weight? This is also a bit of a tricky one. As a blanket statement, “a gluten free diet will help me lose weight” is a bit silly. Yet, some people will lose weight and lots of it.  People will fill up the void created by cutting gluten with healthy or unhealthy choices. Some people will end up cutting almost all grains, increase veggies and fruit, switch to whole (gluten free) grains rather than their previous white flour goods, or just eat a more balanced diet generally as a result of cutting gluten. Other people will run to the frozen isle, find the gluten free section, and stockpile breads, muffins, donuts, cinnamon buns and replace their old carbs with carbs that possibly worse. Perhaps going gluten free would help you lose weight but if your only goal is to lose weight, a better focus might be to increase exercise, water and veggie intake or just take a really good look at your habits and see if there is room for improvement. Or perhaps, just perhaps, your body is actually really happy where it is and doesn’t want to go on a fad diet.

Going gluten free to feel better? It makes sense to eliminate foods to see what might make you feel better provided you’re actually not feeling well, or if you suffer from illnesses related to digestion. Sometimes, we can attain a grater level of health. The question that’s really important to ask yourself when doing elimination diets is, what else shifted when you cut gluten. Did your meat and cheese sandwich go the way of the Dodo and now suddenly you’re a salad with hard boiled egg kinda person? Did you suddenly give up grains for root vegetables?  Were baked goods also the only source of eggs in your diet? My encouragement here is pay attention. Perhaps it’s better balance, less processed food, less sugar, no eggs, more vegetables, that is making a difference. But then again, perhaps it is cutting gluten that makes you feel better.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help too. My healthcare practitioners really helped me feel empowered and gain knowledge. There is so much information out there and I really believe that for most people the only way to really “get it” is to actually study it and continue to study. Since not all of us want to become doctors, nutritionists, etc. why not ask those who know what they’re doing for help? If you suspect you may be Celiac then get your hiney to a doctor. There are some pretty serious implications with Celiac disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Cutting gluten will help you avoid further injury to your body. However, you may also need to heal damage that the previous gluten has caused. My Naturopathic Doctor helped me with the healing process and for that, I am grateful beyond words.

I really want to encourage people to think about their diet within the context of the bigger picture. Gluten free information is everywhere, products are popping up all over the place, there are advertisements in health magazines and so on. This is really permeating our thinking and I’m not sure that’s entirely good. What is good is that there are options for people who cannot eat gluten. Yippee! What isn’t good is that manufacturers seems to be using this awareness as a tool to sell us crap food at exorbitant prices.

It was my realization of how non-nutritious many of the GF choices were and the associated ridiculous cost that led me to start developing my own recipes. Finding the best, healthiest way possible to be gluten free without giving up too much of my favorite things is important to me. It’s all about balance. Some of my recipes are for unhealthy things like cakes, and cookies. In my family, we call those “good, delicious and non-nutritious.” Those aren’t great food choices but food is social and we have birthday parties, holidays etc. Gluten free people shouldn’t have to stand on the sidelines while people enjoy their cake. I’ve tried to find ways to increase the nutritional profile of the recipes I’ve made. I’ve used pseudo-grains, avoided common allergens when possible (nuts, soy, pea flower, for example) and tried to decrease the starches I use (a work in progress). My recipes should be used with the same critical thinking skills I encourage above. These are tasty substitutes for their gluten containing counterparts. But it’s really not a good idea to eat chocolate cake every day, gluten free or not. So please, enjoy the recipes, use them, and by all means improve them and make them part of your balanced diet!