Tag Archives: Words

Savaging Dan: Some Thoughts on Poly as Identity

The inimitable Dan Savage has stirred things up again, this time by saying it’s not possible for polyamory to be an identity:

Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. — Dan Savage, 11/21/12

For the record (although Dan’s actual advice to Polyamorous Polymath isn’t so bad — basically “if you really can’t compromise on this, then do both of you a favor and end the relationship as gracefully and as quickly as possible”), I definitely disagree with his statement around polyamory and identity. I think that you should be able to identify however you damn well please, as well as loving (and/or being sexually attracted to) whomever and however many people works for you (and for them.) I don’t think these are mutually exclusive concepts. (For some more good poly critique of Dan’s original post, check out Anita Wagner Ilig’s post in her Practical Polyamory blog.)

In a thread on the Poly Researchers list, author Meg Barker (Rewriting the Rules) said,

It is different things for different people, and sometimes at different times for the same person.
To which I added:
“…and for the same person with *different people.*”

As an example, I have some partners where the “fundamental harmonic” is kinky, and some for whom it is not. I literally cannot have vanilla sex with one partner, and I never or rarely have kinky sex with another. It’s about the dynamic BETWEEN individuals, not about some static quality of each person. The fact that there’s a “fundamental harmonic” doesn’t mean that other harmonics are less “real” or less “true” for any particular interaction.

By extension, I think it’s possible for people to be somewhere on the mono to poly/open scale, and to be in a fundamentally poly dynamic with one (or more) partner/s, and in a fundamentally mono dynamic with another.  I think they can APPEAR to change over time, much as bisexual people appear to change over time, when really, it’s more that they’re expressing different parts of themselves at different times with different people.  People are complex, after all!

I even referred to this (in a different context) a couple of months back in my blog:

“…I think it’s by far the most common case that polyamory includes sex. In my definition, polyamory most often includes sex, in the exact same way that monogamy most often includes sex, but can be experienced without it; they’re both relationship styles after all. But just as it’s possible to have a celibate or sex-free monogamous relationship,  it’s quite possible that someone might identify as polyamorous but not be having sex or in a sexual relationship.  The presence or absence of  sex is not like a light switch after all. Otherwise, we’d all walk around changing our status whenever we had a sexual encounter (or didn’t): Now polyamorous, now celibate, momentarily monogamous, polyamorous again ….” (http://blog.unchartedlove.com/?p=1594)

Ultimately, I am concluding, I do view polyamory as an orientation — whether a sexual one or “only a relationship one” pretty much doesn’t matter in this case — which might for some of us be/become an identity. As Jessica Burde said on the PLN list, I think it’s possible for poly to be BOTH “something you are” AND “something you do.”  Which, I’ll note, can be true of being “Queer” as well (much as Dan might prefer to skip over that part):  You can certainly engage in same-sex sexual behaviors, without identifying as “queer”; and you can certainly identify as gay, for instance, while not being in any currently sexual relationship whatsoever.

Sarah Taub mentioned in the version of this thread on the PLN list that she views the genesis of this tension (at least in the US, and I’ll add, possibly the driving force behind Dan’s need to exclude polyamory as an orientation or an identity) as being the struggle for rights and freedoms. The GLBT movement leaders largely chose to frame the discussion as a matter of “innate orientation,” saying that people should not be penalized for expressing their true nature (“we can’t help it.”) So therefore same-sex couples and families should not be penalized in terms of marriage rights and tax benefits, for instance, because “they can’t help being who they are.”

(This framework is, not incidentally, problematic for bisexuals (among others), since people who can choose to be in either a heterosexual or a homosexual relationship don’t fit well within an “I can’t help it” framework. This is undoubtedly at least part of why so many bi folk have felt dismissed, denigrated, or just erased by the GLBT rights activists over the years… and why poly folks and bisexuals seem to have found common cause in at least some cases.)

Polyamory banner in the 2005 SF Pride Parade

The polyamory contingent of the SF Pride Parade, on June 26 2005, marching under the registration of the Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN.)

On the other hand, there’s another common framework for the “fairness” discussion that dates back at least to the founding of our country, which is the idea of “free choice.” This is what our doctrine of “freedom of religion” is based upon:  “everyone gets to choose whether and how to worship deity/spirit, without interference from the government” (at least in theory).

As Sarah said, GLBT activists have mostly used the first frame, and poly activists have mostly used the second.  There are some GLBT activists that choose the second frame (e.g., “everyone gets to choose whom they love, and whom they call family”), but by and large the differences in these frames can explain why the conversation comes up over and over again as a point of tension, and why (inexplicably to me, previously), so many GLBT folks seem to view polys as “the enemy” rather than natural allies.

I think ultimately, I’m with Bonefish, commenting on Dan’s blog, who says that whether or not polyamory is a sexual orientation (which arguably it’s not under most current definitions of “sexual orientation”), it most definitely CAN be an “identity.”  The point, ultimately, isn’t “orientation vs. choice.”  The point is actually that regardless of whether polyamory is something innate, or something chosen, it can still be a primary part of one’s identity. And no one — not Dan, not some church, not the government — has a right to tell me (or you!) what and who is important to me. I get to love who I love, and to say that, and I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of it, nor fear consequences for speaking out about it (though this latter is still unfortunately true for many people regarding employment and child custody issues in particular. See Woodhull’s Family Matters Project for more on “rights, recognition and respect for all families.”)

To sum up, I think that with regard to the issue of polyamory as identity, Dan has his loud mouth up his proverbial backside, and people have come out in force to tell him so.  What a shame he can’t recognize polyamorous people as potential allies if you doused us in glowpaint and shone a blacklight on us! I’ll surely be looking forward to seeing the responses he posts in next week’s promised follow up on the original post!  Should be very interesting indeed….

I’d be curious to know, by the way, how you identify. Feel free to fill out this quick checkbox form if you’d like. (You don’t even have to leave your email address for this one [ETA: and I’ve even made the name field optional, too]. 🙂

May you have as much love as you want, need, and deserve (no matter what your orientation is!)

~♥ Dawn

PS: It’s kinda funny, actually, because I said some stuff recently that might be read as agreeing with Dan, that poly is something you do rather than are (here in my most recent Agreements Tip, #6.)  To clarify, though, I see it more as a case of AND rather than OR.  Yes, when making Agreements, it’s a good idea to keep sexual behaviors separate from relationship needs.  That’s more about how Agreements (especially ones around Safer Sex) work, though, and not about the validity of viewing polyamory (or GLBT, or…) as either behavior or orientation.

PPS: And as weird as it feels to say this, I find myself agreeing with Tim Graham (Note: a “right wing nutjob” according to Anita) when he says to Dan:

This seems a little bit arbitrary in the world of Anything Goes, doesn’t it? You may behave however you want sexually in Savage World, but the political dictionary is strictly maintained.
That does seem a bit odd, doesn’t it, for someone like Dan who usually argues that no one else should be allowed to comment on his chosen relationship? So who made him god … er … the editor of the “political dictionary” when it comes to polyamory??

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

The “Fun Factor” in Agreements [Tip #4]

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.

In keeping with my WNFIN / NaNoWriMo  goal (mentioned in yesterday’s post) to finish a draft of my Agreements Workbook, here’s the next installment in the Agreements Workbook, Tip #4:  “Pay Attention to the Cost/Benefit Ratio” (aka The Fun Factor), which  is about creating balance, especially when one or more partners are being asked to give something up whether temporarily, or longer.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about these Agreements Workbook entries, feel free to contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box.

~♥ Dawn

PS: Want to talk more specifically about your own situation? I’ll be happy to do a mini-session for you for free. 🙂 Just drop me a line!

 ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

4) Pay Attention to the Cost/Benefit Ratio

Face it, some things are just more fun than others. And giving up something fun in exchange for doing something less fun, isn’t fun! While fun certainly isn’t the only thing in life, and may not be the best measure of the worth of a particular activity, it is important to consider when making Agreements. It’s especially important if one person is being asked to give up something fun — whether temporarily, or longer-term — in order to support their partner’s (or partners’) comfort or needs. As I discussed above [p. ____], the relationship needs your needs. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try to keep some balance by making sure that the cost/benefit ratio and/or “fun factor” is sufficient to make it possible to keep the Agreement without a lot of stress or a build-up of resentment.


Balancing everyone’s needs can be challenging!

One way to go about this is to substitute something else that’s as much or more fun than the thing you’re doing without. For instance, you might decide that, although wheat gives you a rash and therefore you can’t eat pie or cake, you don’t have problems with chocolate or ice cream, and so you substitute one of those for dessert. Each one is relatively the same amount of “fun” and so you’re unlikely to feel upset at getting one, but not the other. Conversely, substituting a coconut macaroon for a chocolate-chip cookie is not going to work as well if you don’t like or can’t eat coconut. The cost outweighs any potential fun of eating the cookie.  You might decide to forego the cookies altogether, and maybe feel deprived about it, or resentful.

Why is this important?  Because resentment leads to bad feelings, an imbalance in the “Magic Relationship Ratio,” and eventually to the destruction of the relationship, according to John Gottman, a prominent researcher on relationships. [refs] While it’s possible (and in fact necessary) to overcome relationship “glitches” with “repair attempts,” if resentments and deprivations and an overall feeling of “out of balance” persist long enough, they will be toxic to the relationship. Consequently, it’s best to avoid creating the resentments in the first place, if at all possible.

Similarly, it’s best to avoid making Agreements that are difficult to make, or lead to the relationship feeling like a “chore.” This also will lead to an imbalance in the Magic Relationship Ratio, and the eventual erosion of the relationship.

Let’s look at an example in negotiating a safer sex Agreement.  It’s possible that, for various reasons, one lover might ask another to forego having intercourse with a new lover, a particular lover, or lovers who are not inside of a “condom compact” or other Agreement. However, the people making the Agreement may have mutually decided that tantra/energy sex, or BDSM/kink activities are allowable with that partner or partners.  Or maybe it’s the reverse, and sex is ok, but only one person ever calls this person “Master.” Whatever the “fun” things are, only those involved with the relationship can decide which things are of more or less equal “fun” value. But if everyone agrees that they are of equal value, and agrees that the substitution is ok, then it’ll make the Agreement easier to follow.

However, if one person tries to dictate to the other/s based on their own “fun” scale, without consulting their partner/s, it’s less likely to work well. It’s important to remember that things aren’t of equal value or fun to each person, and therefore the cost of giving them up may not be the same for any two people, even if it appears on the surface to be “fair.”  For instance, giving up “Penis in Vagina (PIV) intercourse” might be easy if you’re a Kinsey-4 bisexual woman, but much more difficult if you’re a straight male who doesn’t much like oral sex (I’ve heard tell there are some like that! ;). So making a blanket Agreement to have “only oral sex with outside partners” would place a greater burden on the hypothetical straight male, than on the K-4 bisexual woman. His selection of partners might be significantly affected, while hers might not be affected at all, or only slightly. The cost/benefit ratio of this Agreement will not be the same for each person, even though the Agreement otherwise appears to be “fair.”

The 12-Step programs utilize this cost-benefit ratio in some ways.  One way is by substituting going to meetings, instead of engaging in the addictive behavior. For most people in these programs, drinking (for instance) is going to be a lot more fun than going to meetings, on a case-by-case basis. It’s not that the meetings are no fun at all (hanging out with friends can be great, in fact), but relatively speaking, the addiction is likely to seem more fun to most people, especially in the early stages of recovery. However, the “fun” side is not the only factor in the ratio. Over the long term, the cost of drinking (in terms of money, relationship issues, work problems, etc) is going to be far higher than the cost of attending the meetings. So the eventual cost/benefit ratio is favorable enough to many people to make it worth the effort of letting go of the former behavior.[1]

The point of this section is not so much to dictate any particular behaviors or things that “should” or “should not” be in whatever Agreements that you make (that will be as individual as you are), as it is to remind you to keep the cost-benefit ratio in mind when you do make potentially “imbalanced” Agreements.  Sometimes you can work around an unfavorable cost-benefit ratio by “sweetening the pot” (e.g., “I’ll make dinner for you on the day after I have an overnight date”.) Other times you might choose to experiment with a Time-limited Agreement (e.g., “I don’t feel comfortable doing that for a month, but I might be able to do it for 2 weeks, and then we can revisit it.) [See p. ___ on Time-Limited Agreements.]  However you choose to address it, it will be easier to keep the Agreements if you’ve thought about these things in advance, and if the cost-benefit ratio is generally fair, and not skewed against one or more people in the Agreement.


[1] (This is, of course, a gross simplification, and not meant to minimize the effort of quitting an addiction, which is usually a very complex issue, and highly individual.)


 ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.

[Next Entry: Create Clear Ownership of the Agreements (Tip #5)]

[Previous Entry: Making Positive Changes (Agreements Tip #3)]

[Return to the Table of Contents for the Agreements Workbook Series]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

Getting To Win-Win [Agreements Workbook entry]

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.

This is another “orphan” entry in the Agreements Workbook, [UPDATE: purchase the whole workbook here for only $10!] one I skipped earlier, and am returning to now.  It belongs right after the entry on the Continua Worksheet — you can download the Continua Worksheet itself for free — and right before Agreements & Requests: 4 Guidelines to YES!

Honestly, I think that this section might be one of THE most important in the book.  It’s crucially important to understand that without a focus on WIN-WIN-WIN (etc) for the entire relationship as a whole, it’s not possible to make functional and lasting Agreements. This shift to a cooperative, co-creative model of meeting needs — and away from a competitive one — is fundamental to what I mean when I talk about my own orientation toward Love as a spiritual path. For me, being truly IN LOVE with my partners means that their needs are as important to me as my own — not more important, nor less important, but instead equally important. It’s another place where I try to remember to ask “WWLD?” (What Would Love Do? ;^)

Do you have any questions or comments about these Agreements Workbook entries? As always, I’m happy to answer questions or engage in discussion either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box. I’m also happy to create coaching packages to help you create your own set of Agreements tailored to your situation. We can discuss your particular needs in a mini-consultation, if that floats your boat.

May you always love boldly, safely, and well!

~♥ Dawn

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

Getting to Win-Win

“Negotiating” is not a synonym for “giving up”

Some people[1] try to negotiate by just giving in. For whatever reason—perhaps they don’t know what their needs are; don’t think they’re worth having others help to meet them; expect that they can’t get them anyway, etc.—these people don’t bring their needs to the table, don’t state them, or don’t state them clearly. Then they’re puzzled as to why no one ever takes care of them, why they’re always so exhausted, or why they feel resentful down the line. They’ll often say “whatever YOU want dear,” but expect the other person to mind-read, already know what they want/need, or to anticipate their needs and factor them in.

This is a very bad strategy. At the very least, it often leads this person to be perpetually waiting for other people to fulfill needs that they’ve never stated (see the “Grandmother” joke on p. __.) In its most pernicious form, it’s flat-out passive-aggressive, confusing, maddening, and will eventually erode the relationship from neither party getting what they really need.

The relationship needs your needs

It’s important for both/all parties to honor that both people’s needs are important, and need to be met.  Why is this? It’s because the relationship needs your needs.

“Say what? That makes no sense!” I can hear some of you saying.

I’ll say it again: The relationship needs your needs.

One way to think about the dynamics of a relationship is to realize that to some degree, the relationship itself is one of the players in the negotiation game. The idea behind negotiation is to get to a win-win-win scenario, where no one feels taken advantage of, and everyone gets what they need, and even some or most of what they want. On the flip side of what I just discussed — passive-aggressive behavior — each party can end up feeling in competition with the other/s for scarce resources. (This is a really great recipe for jealousy, by the way; see Fig. __[Kathy Labriola‘s 4-Part Jealousy Model, which is available on the backside of the Jealousy Diagnosis sheet, also available as a free download].)

In Fig.___ below, I’ve included a very small matrix (a table) of a relationship between two people, with Person A along the top, and Person B along the side. [Sorry for the crappy formatting here; consider it a little incentive to buy the book once I get it out! ;)]

Person A:











Fig. __: Matrix of Win vs. Lose for Person A, Person B, and the Relationship as a whole


Of course, many polyamorous or non-exclusive relationships have more than two people in them.  However, if you break things down, it rapidly becomes apparent that one way to look at multiple relationships is as a series of dyads, or pairs, in addition to another entity, the relationship as a whole (see Appendix A for a more detailed explanation.)

So if we accept for the purpose of this example that the ideal in any interaction between two people in relationship is to end up supporting the relationship (otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for an Agreement…), then there is only one way in which that can happen in the scenario in Fig. ___. Only if both Person A and Person B feel like they’ve “won” does the relationship win. If either one feels like they’ve lost, then the relationship as a whole has lost.  If the relationship loses enough times—and especially if one of the partners loses all or most of the time—then eventually, there will be no relationship.

Please note that for the relationship to win, it’s not possible for one or both of the people to capitulate, “cave in,” or otherwise give up their needs completely. That also will lead the relationship to lose, and as we discussed above, eventually that leads to no relationship. Remember: the relationship needs your needs!

So somehow, you’ll need to get to a point where everyone’s needs are being addressed, and the relationship as a whole is “winning.” That’s where negotiation comes in, which I’ll cover in the next section.

[1] True confessions time: In this section, you can assume that when I say “they,” I really mean “I.” Not only have I gone there more than once, I’ve got a season pass, so to speak. I speak from personal experience!

 ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.

[Next Entry: Have Clear Consequences (Agreements Tip #2c) ]

[Previous Entry: Resources: More Relationship & Safer Agreements Info]

[Return to the Table of Contents for the Agreements Workbook Series]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

[UPDATE: purchase the whole workbook here for only $10!]

Definitions of poly/open relationships for therapists (and others)

There’s a (relatively) new article out about doing therapy with clients who are in various forms of open relationships, by Kevin J. Zimmerman, published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy. (NB: It’s written for an academic therapist audience, so non-therapists may not find it easy reading. Also, the link is to the publisher, where you can buy the article should you choose. I’m sorry, but I’m not at liberty to distribute a free link to the full article on this blog.)

I’ve barely begun it myself, but one thing that struck me is the excellent definition of terms at the outset of the article. Please note that these terms and definitions are the author’s for the purpose of the article– they’re not mine, nor are they meant to be considered to be “the only right way” to define these terms — but I found these descriptions of various subsets of the larger community to be succinct and quite useful, and thought I’d share.  I find them particularly interesting, given the ongoing discussions within the community/communities about the definitions of these words.  Enjoy!

[From p. 273 of the article: Kevin J. Zimmerman (2012): Clients in Sexually Open Relationships: Considerations for Therapists, Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 24:3, 272-289]

“Open relationship is an umbrella term that encompasses any relationship structure that is not monogamous. It is useful at the start to define some common relationship patterns that nonmonogamous clients may bring up in therapy. Partnered nonmonogamy refers to a committed couple that allows for extradyadic sex. Swinging is nonmonogamy in a social context, also referred to as “the lifestyle.” Polyamory allows for partners to have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving, and emotional. Solo Polyamory defines nonmonogamous individuals who do not want a primary partner. Polyfidelity refers to three or more people who have made a commitment to be in a primary relationship together. A monogamous/nonmonogamous partnership is one in which one person is monogamous and the other is not. Open relationships are different from infidelity or cheating because partners agree on the sexual boundaries of the relationship and there is no deception about sex. In this respect, successful open relationships typically involve individuals who privilege authenticity over conformity in their relationships.”

What do you think about the author’s definitions and statements here? I’m largely in agreement with him, though I have some small quibbles (e.g., I think “solo polyamory” could easily apply to people who do not have a primary partner, as well as those who don’t want one.)  I was particularly happy with his clear distinction between Polyamory/Open Relationships and Cheating, and with his definition of Polyamory:

Polyamory allows for partners to have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving, and emotional.

Seems like it hits the high points, though I think the concept of “honest” is important enough to include in the definition, if one is quoting it without the rest of the paragraph for context.  Here’s my own previously posted definition as one comparison point:

Polyamory is the belief in and/or practice of multiple loving relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of those involved.

So what does “polyamory” mean to you? Do you agree that “Open relationship is an umbrella term that encompasses any relationship structure that is not monogamous”? Or does “open” have a slightly different meaning to you, as it does to me? (See my blog article I’m Poly AND Open for more details.) Do you have any other comments or observations about how being open/poly/etc works for you, or what sort of things YOU think a therapist should know in working with you? How does the therapist’s understanding of these terms influence your comfort in the session/s?  Are these terms you’d find useful in discussing your own relationships/s with others?

As always, I’m happy talk about this stuff either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box. And if you’d like to go into greater depth about your own situation, I’m also happy to set up a private session with you (either a half-hour for free, or longer sessions on a sliding scale.)

May you always love boldly, safely, and well!

~♥ Dawn

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]


Coming out about Love

Today is National Coming Out Day. Being someone myself who tends toward a “big tent” version of sexual and relationship orientation, I’m inclined to include poly as something one might wish to “come out” about, though there’s definitely room for debate there. Alan of Poly In the News covered (a couple of years back) some of the discussion of whether polyamory is something that should be included in this observance; if you’re interested in reading more poly coming-out stories, check Bitsy’s page Openly Poly.

That said, today’s musings are stretching the boundaries of that tent even further, since they aren’t even on the topic of me coming out as poly. That would be pretty redundant, after all! I’m not even writing about coming out as bisexual or queer (though I could, and it’s worth some time on another day.) Today, however, I’m sharing something that I wrote in connection with my recent ministerial (re-)Ordination, which, in essence, is me coming (further) out about my own spiritual path — the path of Love.


 ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

Meditations on Love as a spiritual path

“God is love.”

I heard that phrase over and over again as a child, sitting in (and out) of church. At the time, it seemed fairly straightforward to me. Love meant candy hearts, crooked valentines, and getting to go to the ice cream shop with my grandmother. I was also told that God (like Santa Claus) was everywhere and knew everything (even what I was thinking!), so my young mind easily transferred the concept of God to those tangible things: This meant God was a super-awesome Valentine sundae (how appropriate!) with candy hearts on top, and he loved me like my grandma. What’s not to like about that?

I felt one with God all the time. I sang with friends, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” and made gods-eyes in Vacation Bible School. The idea of His eyes on me was comforting, not frightening. Easter meant palm fronds (and shoes that pinched), hot cross buns, and jelly beans left by the mysterious Easter Bunny (who was connected to Jesus and the cross in some arcane way I assumed I’d understand when I was older.)

When I was young, I didn’t always understand people, but I always understood God. I found Him everywhere: in the lilacs and the crocuses, in the bright flash of redwing birds, and in my favorite “safe space,” the top of a neighbor’s tree, surrounded by green and bathed in sunlight. God was good, God was great, and God was Love. Simple, really.

Things got a little more complicated as I got older. Forced public confessions of my unworthiness; illogical conclusions from iffy translations of questionable doctrine; revelations of abuse, shenanigans, and hypocrisy in supposedly “Godly” examples on earth — all of these served to separate me from the spirit I’d felt when I was younger. How could I be told He loved me in one breath, and then told I was going to hell in the next? Why was I shamed and belittled for using the brain He had supposedly given me? How could God countenance such things as war and poverty and oil spills? Why was I bullied and shamed — and then also punished for either fleeing or for defending myself against my abusers? How was a loving God supposed to have anything to do with all of this? It didn’t make any sense, and as a young adult, I turned away from Christianity, disappointed, and disillusioned.

Years later, I reflected on these thoughts, as I sat in meditation on the eve of my (re-)Ordination the other day. Asked by the Temple through which I was Ordaining to dedicate to three particular Goddesses (of my choice), I struggled, because the way I’d dealt with the spiritual damage in my younger years was to flee from anything resembling a box or a structure or someone else’s idea of God/god/goddess/deity/spirit. How could I comply with their request, without dishonoring my own spirit?

Gradually I realized that I am following Love as a spiritual path. Not a particular personification of Love (like Aphrodite, Venus, Parvati, Freya, Jesus, or others), but Love itself: Love, the motivating force; Love, that keeps us together; Love, that’s all you (or I) need.

The more I reflected, the more I realized that my personal journey through relationships, marriage, parenthood, community and even paganism have all centered, in one way or another, around Love (or things relating to Love, like communicating with loved ones.) The more I’ve experienced Love — through things like Tantra and energy-sex — the more I believe that Love is a manifestation of spirit, present in all things, if we only are able to pay attention, and open ourselves to a level of knowing beyond our day-to-day existence.

So as a person, and as a Minister/Priestess, how do I manifest this spirit of Love into the world I live in every day? Being a polyamorous person, I’m fortunate to have an incredible amount of love in my life. So many of the good things I’ve learned in the past couple of decades have been about Love: how to get it, how to maintain it, how to communicate it, how to do it safely, speaking out in support of others’ (and my own) right to love in any way we choose. I try to bring this into my life on all levels. When I’m faced with challenging situations, I try to ask myself “What would Love do? In this moment right now, what brings me more in harmony with the universe, and with spirit?” I’m not always good at it (being human, and not made of 100% Love… yet, anyway), but to the degree I’m able to contemplate it and act in alignment with this principle, my life works a little better.

The more I think about it, the more I think that think maybe what I was taught as a child is a bit backwards. It’s not that God is love… it’s that Love is “God”: Love itself is the spirit that binds us together, that motivates us, that allows us to connect with ourselves, everyone around us, and outward into the universe.

How does Love manifest itself in your world? Do you align with a particular spiritual path, or do you find sacredness everywhere… or nowhere? Is God/dess Love, or the other way around? How does Love move you, change you, support you… or does it? I’d be particularly interested to know if being polyamorous influences your experience of Love. As always, feel free to write me back, or converse with me in Facebook, or in my blog.

May you always love boldly, safely and well,

~♥ Dawn


∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Woodhull’s “Family Matters Project” launched

September 22, 2012
Jeffrey Montgomery
(313) 680-4061
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance

The much-anticipated launch of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance’s Family Matters Project took place at the opening plenary of this weekend’s Sexual Freedom Summit in Washington, DC. Ricci Levy, Woodhull’s Executive Director, announced the launch of the project during her opening remarks.

“Woodhull launched Family Matters to project the fundamental human right to family by eliminating discrimination based on family structure and relationship choices. In 2010, while more than half of all households counted by the US Census were family households, only 20% were what we consider traditional nuclear family households made up of a husband, a wife, and their own children. The Family Matters project will work to expand rights, respect and recognition for all families.” 

The Family Matters project will work along three strategic lines. 1) It will raise public awareness of family diversity through the sharing of stories and research and through a range of social media campaigns. 2) It will provide education about human rights at conferences and other public events. And 3) it will facilitate collaboration with human rights and social justice organizations to draft and promote model policies and legislation preventing discrimination based on family structure.

“The slogan for this project says it all,” Levy continued: “Rights, respect and recognition for every family. We focus on rights because all families deserve the same political social and economic rights regardless of their structure. We focus on respect because no family should face bullying, violence or stigmatization because of their relationship choices. We focus on recognition, because all families deserve to be recognized and taken into account, whether by the US Census Bureau, the IRS, or their neighbors and community members.”

Woodhull invites the participation of all families in kicking off this ambitious project by sharing family stories at  Family Matters Project.org

Woodhull is dedicated to sexual freedom and can be found at:  http://www.woodhullalliance.org/     This project will bring into focus all those various family structures in addition to Mom and Dad, Bob and Sis, Spot and Fluff, and the traditional white picket fence.

[thanks to Ken Haslam and others in e-mail]


How does this project affect YOUR family? What does your family look like?  How might it feel different to see your family represented?  How about just seeing another family that looks like yours? I for one am very excited about this human rights approach to family diversity. I think it allows us to side-step a lot of unnecessary discussion about religion.  Family DOES matter, and it’s a HUMAN right.

May you — and your family! — love boldly, safely, and well.

~♥ Dawn

PS: want to talk about your family, and why it matters? Feel free to drop me a line to ask for your own free 30-minute (or half-price 60 minute) session. I’m always happy to help other relationship explorers.



©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

Line drawing of box with lid opening out into a heart which surrounds the box

Love Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Love Outside the Box: Line drawing of box with lid opening out into a heart which surrounds the box

Love is nothing to be ashamed of.

That’s the thought I finally came to, at the end of my journey of processing the request made of me a few weeks ago, that in order to stay in an online course, I agree to never mention my niche or the word polyamory. I was honestly shocked to get this request; shocked and traumatized, all of my worst fears about being ‘out’ about poly come to life. Here I’d signed on to this course to become more confident in bringing my skills and talents to the world, and to help people understand the joys and challenges of polyamory and other “outside the box” forms of relating (at least as I’ve experienced them and learned over 15 years of intensive study) — and merely mentioning my niche brought down censure on my head. Was she (the course leader) right, that polyamory is “not G-rated” and inherently “squirmy”? Was I the one out of line, to think it would be ok to talk openly about polyamory?

We here in the Uncharted waters have had many a discussion (on lists, in discussion groups, on the web…) about whether sex is an inherent part of the definition of polyamory. I generally don’t think it’s required, though of course I think it’s by far the most common case that polyamory includes sex. In my definition, polyamory most often includes sex, in the exact same way that monogamy most often includes sex, but can be experienced without it; they’re both relationship styles after all. But just as it’s possible to have a celibate or sex-free monogamous relationship,  it’s quite possible that someone might identify as polyamorous but not be having sex or in a sexual relationship.  The presence or absence of  sex is not like a light switch after all. Otherwise, we’d all walk around changing our status whenever we had a sexual encounter (or didn’t): Now polyamorous, now celibate, momentarily monogamous, polyamorous again ….

Yes, of course, that’s a very extreme and somewhat silly example… but is it any more extreme and silly than presuming that because my context is “polyamorous people,” that when I talk about communication tools, they are necessarily about communicating about sex? What exactly makes polyamory “not G-rated”? For that matter, is sex itself automatically R-rated, never mentionable to anyone under 17? And if so, why do they teach about it in middle school?? I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t my mind making polyamory into a 24/7 lurid group-sex encounter. Though I will admit to amusement when viewing this old ad that was going around on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:

Hanky Panky at the Beach?

Good clean fun at the beach?

No, it seems pretty clear to me that the issue with polyamory being an unfit topic for polite dinner-table conversation was in the mind of that beholder … and unfortunately in a lot of other as-yet uneducated-about-poly minds out there. When she thought about polyamory, she felt “squirmy,” aka uncomfortable, aka shame. One of the pernicious characteristics of shame is that it is “contagious”–it spreads from person to person, often below the level of consciousness.  Her shame triggered my shame. It took me days and a lot of processing to get through it. And that’s AFTER working on this stuff for years. Shame is pretty powerful stuff.

At the Open-SF conference in June, the excellent Charlie Glickman presented a wonderful workshop entitled “Love, Sex, and Shame.” In it he talked about the manifestations of shame (e.g., closed posture, averted eyes/face, mumbling or silence, “shifty”/”squirmy”, energetic disconnection), vs. the manifestations of love (e.g., open posture, direct gaze, easy communication, groundedness/ease, energetic connection, etc). Pretty much, actively experiencing love is diametrically opposed to actively experiencing shame. It’s hard to experience both at the same time.  Isn’t that interesting?

Unfortunately, much of our culture holds that sex is inherently shameful. By extension, anything that leads to sex (with the possible exception of procreative sex between male and female spouses) is by extension inherently shameful. I think that viewpoint is de facto harmful. Certainly it was harmful to me to hear as a young person that my normal feelings and thoughts were somehow bad and wrong… that *I* was bad and wrong. It’s hard to feel love, and to express it in a healthy way, if at the core you believe yourself to be broken. It took me many years, and a lot of heartache (not to mention a lot of money spent on therapists…), to finally move beyond that toxic frame into the freedom and joy in both love and sex that I now believe to be my birthright (and that of every human being.)

For me, the path of healing wound its way through many places, starting with making a choice to find my own spirituality, and winding up most recently with me refusing to be shamed and silenced for who and how many I love. Each step has involved me finding a bit that has been shamed, and being willing to entertain the notion that it wasn’t ME who was bad and wrong… but instead the unnecessary shame that had been forced on me for no other reason than that who and what I was didn’t fit into the particular box that was on offer at the time.

Understand that I believe that not all boxes are wrong, either. Sometimes boxes (or containers, or marriages–use the word that fits for you…) are places of safety. They’re where we keep our most prized memories. They provide support and boundaries. Sometimes they’re very beautiful; sometimes strong; sometimes fragile. But not all things (nor all creatures, nor all people) fit inside of every box. You know how there’s often that one package at the holidays that just refuses to fit inside the standard boxes, so you end up wrapping a small box with a note in it, or giving them a card, or sticking a million bows on it and hiding it in the back hallway instead?  There’s nothing wrong with the gift for not fitting in that box — in fact, it might be THE best gift of them all because of the very thing that makes it not fit in the box! And there’s nothing wrong with the box either, just because that gift didn’t fit inside. It’s just a bad fit between that box, and that gift.

Well, that’s how I feel about polyamory, and about love. Polyamory is a great gift that doesn’t happen to fit the box that we got issued at the Universal Post Office. Polyamory is so chock full of LOVE that it spills out the sides and cannot be contained in the “usual” ways. (And lest you think I’m all sappy and Pollyanna (ha!) about poly, I also think that polyamory is sometimes the gift that proclaims “some assembly required” and for which the directions seem to be written in a foreign language.)  Polyamory is bold and beautiful and complicated and drama-filled and a damn AFGO (“Another F-ing Growth Opportunity!”), and the worst thing and the best thing that I’ve ever done, all at once. (No, I take that back. The best thing I’ve ever done is to birth my amazing daughter. But poly is a close second.) When you get right down to it, polyamory is just a whole lotta LOVE all squished into one package (some assembly required).

And love, my friends, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Go sing your own song. Go chart your own ways.

Bird Sculpture by Robriel Wolf, archangel.robriel@gmail.com

“A Little Bird Told Me”: Sculpture in wood, metal and glorious paint, by artist Robriel Wolf

Love boldly, safely, and well.

~♥ Dawn

PS: If you’re looking for some assistance in singing your own song, you can always drop me a line to ask for your own free 30-minute (or half-price 60 minute) session. I’m always happy to help others in the Uncharted waters (to mix a couple of metaphors!) 🙂



©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

Bird Sculpture by Robriel Wolf, archangel.robriel@gmail.com

A little bird told me: Be yourself

Bird Sculpture by Robriel Wolf, archangel.robriel@gmail.com

“A Little Bird Told Me”: Sculpture in wood, metal and glorious paint, by artist Robriel Wolf

In response to a conversation yesterday, I’ve been struggling with being authentically myself, doing so with joy, and without fear or shame. In short, I’ve been asked to “tone down” who I am, in order to stay in an online course — I can say “alternative relationships” but not “polyamory” for instance, in order not to cause others in the course to “feel squirmy,” and to ensure that everyone there finds what I talk about “G-rated” at all times. This has engendered a lot of soul-searching, as you might imagine, and has left me feeling both triggered and unsure of my path.

Then this morning the following subject line appeared in my inbox: “Listen to the birds and they will tell you.” Penned by guest blogger Gwendolyn Morgan in Patrica Pearce’s wonderful blog, she goes on to say

Often I take time to listen deeply, and encourage others I am working with to do so as well throughout the day – to listen deeply to our bodies, our breathing, our hearts, our intuition, as well as to the clouds, animals and birds, the plants and trees, all sentient beings.

I took a moment to listen to the birds outside of my office window. What are they saying to me today?

Yes, I realized: the birds sing. They do so as a matter of being, as an expression of who they are. No one asks a songbird to sing a different song, nor do they shame them or tell them that they’re wrong for being a bluebird instead of a robin. Their message is their message. People will either listen to it and enjoy it… or not. Those that are meant to hear the song, will hear it. Those who find it shrill or discordant (or can’t hear it at all) will pass on by. Either way, the bird is still the bird, singing their song, in joy and truth.

Whoever you are, and whatever you’re doing — whether you’re a bluebird, or a robin… or a parrot! *laugh* — I hope you’re singing your authentic song today.

Singing my song of joy and love,

~♥ Dawn



©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

Poly Hate Speech?

This video came across my virtual desktop today:

The person who brought it to my attention called it “hate speech,”  and another poster from that same PLN list agreed, saying:

… imagine viewing it as someone who is sexually conservative (but perhaps still kind of hip, so would still watch it) and who thinks poly is something that dirty diseased slutty women do.  It’s a very different video from that angle.

Matthew Bobbu in the same community disagreed: http://polytical.org/2012/05/sex-censorship-rock-roll/

He said (among other things!)

…“yeah, there are some poly people out there who do bad things – just like there are in every group. They are not representative of poly people at large, and we try our best to deal with them as a community.” Open discussion and debate is the only way we can deal with negative presentation or criticism, and the only way we can hope to change minds.


What do YOU think?  Is this the sort of thing we just need to tolerate as part of polyamory becoming more widely known?  Or is it pernicious, and something we as a community should address?  If so, how?

As always, feel free to comment here, or in my Facebook, LoveOTB. 🙂

~♥ Dawn

PS:  It’s still not too late to hear Sam & Wes’s FREE intro teleseminar for their Write Right Now training. The course hasn’t started yet, so you might want to hop over and sign up for the on-demand recording.  If you want to sign up for the whole course, it’ll cost money (and I’ll get a bonus, as one of Sam’s Really Big Fans 🙂 but honestly, I got so much great info out of just the free teleseminar, I think it’s worth your time to take a listen: http://bit.ly/JHTwNt. And besides which, she mentioned me on today’s free call. How awesome is that??

PPS: Remember, if you want to discuss this, or other issues related to polyamory and open relationships with someone who’s been doing this stuff for a while, then feel free to contact me to set up a time for a free intro session!



©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

Communication Fail! (Why handshakes are good in poly, as well as computing)

Shall We Try That Again?

So a couple of weeks ago I announced (sort of…) my nifty new (and still in progress) website, www.blog.loveoutsidethebox.com. The website has on it a Relationship Continua Worksheet, which I invited you all to download. Earlier this week, I found out that the links were not all properly installed, so those of you who tried to use that form to get that worksheet were likely frustrated in your attempts!


I THINK I have this fixed now. Of course, I’m never quite sure, because coding–or even using drag and drop builders, and the like–is NOT my area of expertise. So this is me, red-faced, asking you to PLEASE let me know (unchartedlove@gmail.com) if you try to down load the worksheet and either get nothing, or two copies, or some other thing that doesn’t look right to you. I’d really appreciate your assistance while I sort this out, and your forbearance if you clicked the link a dozen times and got nothing (which I know at least one person did!). I sincerely apologize, and hope that it’s all fixed now.

Handshake Communications

In the meantime, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about the concept of “handshakes” in communication. It’s a concept I learned from my far more tech-savvy partners, many of whom are computer programmers for a living. See, in any communication there are actually several steps that need to happen before the communication is actually delivered and both sides know that fact. Continue reading