Greta Speaking in Colorado, Wisconsin, and South Carolina! – UPDATED

UPDATED: The time, location, and topic of the Colorado State University event at Fort Collins has been announced! It’s on Thursday, March 7 at 7:00 pm, in A103 in Clark Hall on the CSU campus, on the topic “Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?” Free and open to the public. Details below. Hope to see you there!

Hi, all. I have some speaking gigs coming up in a few weeks, and if you’re going to be in the area, I’d love for you to come by, hear my talk, and say Hi! My talks are in Colorado, in Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Fort Collins; at the entirely free Freethought Festival in Madison, Wisconsin; and in Clinton, SC. If you’re in any of these areas, I hope to see you there!

CITY: Colorado Springs, CO (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs)
DATE: Monday, March 4
TIME: 6:30 pm
LOCATION: Room UC 116, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
EVENT/HOSTS: Secular Student Alliance at UCCS
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Boulder, CO (University of Colorado at Boulder)
DATE: Wednesday, March 6
TIME: 6:30 pm
LOCATION: Duane Physics G1B20, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
EVENT/HOSTS: Secular Students and Skeptics Society, University of Colorado at Boulder
TOPIC: Resistance Is Not Futile: Is Arguing About Religion Worth It?
SUMMARY: Many atheists think that trying to persuade people out of religion never works, and simply alienates people. But debating believers about their beliefs can be effective — in changing people’s minds about religion, as well as in achieving other goals of the atheist community. When does it makes sense to debate about religion? How should we go about it? And what should our expectations be for what these debates can accomplish?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Fort Collins, CO (Colorado State University)
DATE: Thursday, March 7
TIME: 7:00 pm
LOCATION: A103 in Clark Hall, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
EVENT/HOSTS: Leaders in Free Thought, Colorado State University
TOPIC: Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. What are some specific, practical, nuts-and-bolts strategies we can use: to come out of the closet, to support each other in coming out, and to make the atheist community a safer place to come out into? What can atheists learn about coming out from the LGBT community and their decades of coming-out experience — and what can we learn from the important differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer?
COST: Free and open to the public

CITY: Madison, WI — Freethought Festival
DATE: Conference is Friday March 8 to Sunday March 10. I’m speaking on Saturday, March 9.
TIME: Conference is Friday 6pm-10pm; Saturday 9am-10pm (not just speakers, there are scheduled breaks and other events); Sunday 10am-6pm. My talk is Saturday March 9, 2pm.
LOCATION: Lowell Center, 610 Langdon St., Madison WI, 53703 (In downtown Madison next to UW-Madison campus)
EVENT/HOSTS: Freethought Festival, hosted by Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics @ UW-Madison
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SUMMARY: The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?
OTHER SPEAKERS: Other speakers at the conference include Eugenie Scott, Dan Barker, Hemant Mehta, Jamila Bey, JT Eberhard, Katherine Stewart, Debbie Goddard, Teresa MacBain, Desiree Schell, Darrel Ray, Amanda Knief, Dale McGowan, and more.
COST: Free! Freethought Festival is a totally free conference. You still should register, though. Open to the public.

CITY: Clinton, SC (Presbyterian College)
DATE: Tuesday, March 12th
TIME: 5:00 pm
LOCATION: Harper Center Theater Lobby
EVENT/HOSTS: Secular Student Alliance at Presbyterian College
TOPIC: Religion/Atheism and Sexuality
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free and open to the public

Why “God Believes in Love” is a Lousy Argument for Same Sex Marriage

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

Even if God did exist, we have no way of telling what he wants. Therefore, “what God wants” is a terrible basis for making law and public policy.

How do we convince religious believers to accept same-sex marriage?

The opposition to LGBT rights in general, and to same-sex marriage in particular, overwhelmingly comes from conservative religion, founded in the religious belief that gay sex makes baby Jesus cry. So if same-sex marriage proponents want to persuade religious believers to support same-sex marriage… how can we do that? Should we keep our argument entirely secular, and stay away from the whole question of religius belief? Or should we try to persuade them that God is on our side?

God Believes In Love book coverLots of people make the second argument. Bishop Gene Robinson is one of them. And Bishop Robinson is a man to be taken seriously. The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Robinson has been active in progressive political activism for many years: he is a fellow at the Center for American Progress, is co-author of three AIDS education curricula for youth and adults, has done AIDS work in the United States and in Africa, and famously delivered the invocation at President Obama’s opening inaugural ceremonies in 2009. He’s recently written a book, published by Knopf and widely reviewed and well-received: God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. Aimed at religious believers who oppose same-sex marriage or are on the fence about it, the book makes a Christian case for same-sex marriage: “a commonsense, reasoned, religious argument [emphasis in the book description], made by someone who holds the religious text of the Bible to be holy and sacred and the ensuing two millennia of church history to be relevant to the discussion.”

And I think this is a terrible, terrible idea. [Read more…]

Crowdsourcing a BDSM/ Kink Resource Guide

I’m in the final stages of putting together my collection of erotic fiction — currently titled “Bending, and Other Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, and More” — and I could use some help.

I want to include a short resource guide at the end of the book, listing books, websites, forums, and other sources of information on how to do BDSM safely and consensually. But I’m a bit out of the loop these days: it’s not like when I was working at Blowfish and saw every new “how to do SM” book that came off the presses. So I’m crowdsourcing it. If you’re a practitioner of BDSM, or if you’re simply familiar with that world — what are your favorite books, websites, forums, and other sources of information on how to do BDSM safely and consensually? And are there any sources of info that you’d suggest people stay away from?

You can make suggestions in the comments here. Or, if you prefer privacy, you can email them to me, at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com. If you want to say a few words about why you like (or don’t like) a particular source of info, that would be helpful as well. Thanks!

Comedy Does Not Win a Free Pass: Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars

I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s just comedy” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist.

And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social norms — no matter what those norms are, or why they exist — automatically transforms you into a comedic genius.

I thought I didn’t have anything to say about Seth MacFarlane’s performance as Oscar host that Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic didn’t already say. If you haven’t read his piece, read it now. Money quote:

It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a sensible position on this. Everything, including punchlines about the Jews cutting non-Jews out of Hollywood, snickers about women faking the flu to lose weight, and cracks that there’s no need to try to understand what Salma Hayek’s saying because she’s so hot, is “OK.” It’s a free country, etc. But that doesn’t mean those jokes aren’t hurtful, obvious, or dumb. It doesn’t mean they don’t make the world a worse place. Humor, after all, can be an incredible weapon for social progress, but it can also be regressive: The more we pass off old stereotypes, rooted in hate, as normal—as MacFarlane did again and again last night—the longer those stereotypes, and their ability to harm people, will be in place.

But I’m realizing — after linking to Kornhaber’s piece on Facebook and getting into depressingly predictable debates as a result — that I do have something else to say. It’s this:

I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s just comedy” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist. And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social norms automatically transforms you into a comedic genius.

Yes, artistic freedom in comedy depends on the ability to say or do anything, even if it runs counter to social norms. That’s true of any art form. Comedy isn’t special in that regard. And yes, of course, comedians should have the legal right to say whatever they want (within the obvious limits of libel laws and copyright laws and such).

Does this mean that comedians should get a free pass when the things they say and do are screwed-up? Does it mean that comedians — or any artists — should be exempt from criticism when the things they say and do dehumanize, trivialize, shame, reinforce harmful stereotypes, support and rationalize the unequal status quo, and otherwise injure entire groups of people? Especially groups of people who have already been hurt a whole hell of a lot, in this exact same way, for centuries?

Lenny_Bruce_arrestI think there’s a bad logical fallacy that some comedians make. They think that being transgressive and cutting-edge and iconoclastic typically means offending people… and that therefore, if you’re offending people, it somehow automatically makes you transgressive and cutting-edge and iconoclastic. They think that because they’re offending people and making them angry, it means they’re Lenny Bruce.

It doesn’t work that way. To be iconoclastic, you have to destroy icons. To be cutting-edge, you have to push cultural boundaries in a way that moves society forward. To be transgressive — at least, to be transgressive in a meaningful way — you have to cross lines and break rules that deserve to be broken and crossed.

And to be Lenny Bruce, it’s not enough simply to offend people. You also have to be brilliant. To be Lenny Bruce, it’s not enough simply to say things nobody else will say. You have to say things nobody else will say — and which are also the truth.

The notion, expressed in Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar performance, that all African-Americans look alike? That Hispanics are hard to understand, but that’s okay as long as they’re attractive to look at? That women are unforgiving in relationships, and never let go of anything? That Hollywood is run by a Jewish cabal that only hires other Jews? That the nudity of female actresses exists primarily for the sexual enjoyment of men?

That’s not breaking icons. It’s reinforcing them. That’s not pushing our culture forward. It’s dragging us backward.

It’s not brilliant.

And it’s not true.

Kika posterWhat’s more: I’m sick to death of the notion that, if you critique something a comedian says or does for being hurtful and fucked up, you need to “lighten up,” “stop taking things so seriously,” and “get a sense of humor.” I remember years ago, Pedro Almodovar responded to feminist critiques of one of his movies (the critiques had to do with rape jokes, if I recall correctly) by saying something along the lines of, “Why are feminists like this? Isn’t it possible to be a feminist and still have a sense of humor?” To which I wanted to respond, “Isn’t it possible to have a sense of humor and still not think your jokes are funny?” This idea that having a sense of humor means giving all comedians a free pass on criticism for anything they say, ever… it’s bullshit. It’s a “Shut up, that’s why” argument. It’s a reflexive attempt to shut down any criticism — artistic as well as political or moral — before it ever starts.

Well, you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say that comedy is an important form of artistic expression, a valuable contribution to our cultural landscape in which artistic freedom is necessary and paramount… and then say that everyone just needs to lighten up, and what comedians say and do isn’t that big a deal, and it’s ridiculous to call them to account for it.

Some social norms are there for a reason. The social pressure to (for instance) not act like a racist asshole — that’s there for a reason. It’s there because racism is bad. It’s there because, as a society, we are in the process of changing our minds about race… and exerting social pressure against racist ideas and behavior is part of how we learn to do that, and teach each other to do it.

And this idea that any violation of social norms automatically makes you courageous and transgressive… it’s childish. It’s adolescent. It’s a cheap, easy way to make yourself feel rebellious and edgy… when you’re actually squarely in the center, reinforcing the very structures you’re pretending to rebel against.

Runway Recap: Sizing It Up

If you’re going to design clothes for a bigger woman, you need to use a bigger dress form. And you need to showcase them on bigger models. Period.

I mostly liked this episode. I think the “teams” concept is working out well, way the hell better than I’d expected. I was worried that when the designers got split into two-person teams, the co-operative love-fest would wither on the vine; but they mostly seem to be getting along and working well together, and it’s paying off — both in the quality of their designs, and in how much fun the show is to watch. The “performance outfit + red carpet look for Miranda Lambert” challenge was a bit limited in terms of creativity — any time you’re designing clothes for one particular person, you’re working in a pretty narrow window, especially when that one person’s aesthetic isn’t all that creative or interesting — but it is the kind of challenge that designers have to face in the real world, and it’s always interesting to see how the PR contestants work their personal visions into someone else’s style. (Or laughably fail to do so.)

So I was trying to put my finger on what it was that was bugging me about this episode… when I read this comment from Qitkat, one of Tom and Lorenzo’s Bitter Kittens commentariat, in a discussion of how the challenge would have worked better if Lambert had done an in-the-workroom consult during the design process:

A consult, absolutely. When a challenge has been *make a dress for Heidi or Nina*, they have always come into the workroom. SJP came to the workroom for a consult for her line; I’m positive there have been other consults. At the least, a video conference.

Along with models who more resembled Miranda’s size.

Emphasis mine.

Along with models who more resembled Miranda’s size.

miranda lambert project runwayMiranda Lambert is a pretty average-sized woman, from what I can tell. Probably smaller than average. But she’s not an average-sized celebrity woman. She’s bigger and curvier than most high-profile actresses/ singers/ models/ celebutantes. And when the designers were given this challenge, they were specifically told that Lambert loves her curves, and embraces them. (The look she had on the PR judging panel was doing her no favors, IMO: but in general, she’s a nice-looking woman who seems to love her body as it is, and seems to have fun with it.)

So why the hell were the designers designing for the same damn rail-thin model size they always do?

Speaking as someone who has been many different sizes over the course of her life — hell, someone who’s been many different sizes in the last few years: You cannot — repeat, CANNOT — just design an outfit for a Size 0, and expect it to work on a bigger woman simply by expanding it in all directions. Different cuts and styles look good on different-sized bodies. What looks good on a size 18 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 12; what looks good on a size 12 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 6; what looks good on a size 6 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 0. And you can’t always tell which is which just by picking up a dress and looking at it. At various sizes in my life, there’s been many a time when I’ve picked something off the rack that I thought would be a disaster but that caught my eye as being worth a shot; tried it on; and fell head over heels in love. And of course, the opposite is true: there’s been many a time when I’ve picked something off the rack that I was sure would be hot shit, tried it on, and couldn’t shudder out of it fast enough.

(This principle doesn’t just apply to weight, by the way. Different clothes look good on people of different heights, different body structures, different skin colors, different hair colors, different ages, etc.)

So if you’re designing an outfit for Miranda Lambert, you really need to think about questions like, “What would look good on Miranda Lambert?” Not just, “What is Miranda Lambert’s general sense of style?”: that should be your starting point, of course, but you also need to ask, “What will make Miranda Lambert’s curves look popping and voluptuous and hot, and what will make them look boxy, or cheap, or just out of proportion?” And you bloody well need to showcase it on a model who looks at least vaguely like Miranda Lambert.

So given that we had to look at outfits made for a curvy, voluptuous woman, showcased on standard rail-thin models… how did the designers do with this concept?

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Richard 1

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Richard 2 [Read more…]

Priorities, When Depressed and When Not: Grief/ Cancer/ Depression Diary, 2/21/13

So there’s this thing that’s making it harder to manage my grief over my dad, and my recovery from cancer surgery, and menopause landing on me all at once like a sixteen-ton-weight, and what can only be described as mild PTSD from having all of these things happening within less than a month of each other, and the depressive episode I’ve been having as a result.

When I’m in a depressive stretch of my life, I have to make managing my depression pretty close to my top priority. And among other things, this means that if I have any impulse at all to do something that alleviates the depression, I do it if I possibly can. If I have any impulse at all to go to the gym, to get outside, to socialize, to write, to masturbate, to get a manicure, to read for pleasure… I do it if I can.

This is actually one of the best pieces of advice I ever got about depression management. If I’m having a hard time getting motivated to leave the house and take a walk, and a window opens up where this amotivation lifts… in that moment, my friend told me, I should get the hell up and get out of the house. The self-perpetuating, vicious-circle nature of depression is one of the shittiest things about it: there are all these things you could to do to make the depression better, but the depression is sapping your ability to do them. (And the depression then makes you feel guilty and worthless and lazy for not having the minimal will power it takes to get off the sofa, put some clothes on, and take a walk.. which then makes you feel worse, which then makes it harder to get up.) So if your brain is giving you a reprieve and offering you a window in which you actually do feel motivated to do things that alleviate your depression, you take that window, and you fling yourself through it.

All of which means that my priorities aren’t what they normally would be when I’m not depressed.

For instance: I’m prioritizing going to the gym a lot more than I normally do. I’m prioritizing getting outside more, which means activities that give me an excuse to get outside are getting prioritized as well. (Take a forty-minute walk to go to the bakery and get a loaf of bread? Sure!) I’m prioritizing things that reliably give me pleasure a lot more than I normally do. And if I have the impulse to write anything at all, I write it… whether it’s on a topic that my normal, non-depressed self would consider a priority or not. (Translation: Yes, I’m writing about fashion even more than I normally do. Writing about fashion is fun, and it gets me writing.)

But I feel like this sometimes creates a problem with the people in my life. I worry that people in my life are thinking, “You have time to go to the gym, but you don’t have time to make a lunch date? You have time to get a manicure, but you don’t have time to give me feedback on my book/ video/ blog post? You have time to blog about fashion, but you don’t have time to blog about this important issue I’m letting you know about?”

I feel like I want to scream to the world, “No. I don’t think getting a manicure or blogging about fashion or going to the gym is more important than whatever it is you want me to do. I think that managing my depression is more important than whatever it is you want me to do. I think that keeping myself away from the rim of the event horizon, keeping the black cloud from descending over my head, is more important than whatever it is you want me to do. I’m genuinely sorry that I can’t do as much as I normally can… but managing my depression is what’s going to get me back into a condition where I do have all that energy I used to have. Please bear with me.”

But complicating this is… well, a few things.

Complicating this is the fact that I don’t have a clear sense of whether anyone in my life is really thinking any of this, or whether this is just the usual critical voices in my head, telling me that whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it wrong. Voices which, inevitably, get amped up when I’m going through a depression. Even at the best of times, it’s hard for me to tell when the people in my life are actually disappointed in me, or whether I’m disappointing my own high expectations of myself and then projecting that disappointment onto other people. I suspect that sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s the other… but I have a hard time telling which is which. And I have a harder time making that distinction when I’m depressed.

Also complicating this is the fact that I think the whole question of personal responsibility and mental illness is incredibly complicated. This is a very large question that I plan to write about in another piece… but the tl;dr is that I don’t think my depression absolves me of all responsibility to other people. It absolves me of some of it, but not all of it. I think I get to cut myself some slack while I’m working on getting better — but I don’t think I get to cut myself infinite slack.

And complicating this is the fact that these are my own priorities we’re talking about here. It’s not just about what other people expect from me. It’s not even just about what I expect from myself. It’s about what I want from myself, and for myself. I don’t actually think that getting a manicure or taking a long walk is more important than blogging about atheism or having lunch with a friend. And while intellectually, and even emotionally, I get that managing my depression has to take pretty much top priority… on a day-to-day level, doing this often feels like I’m making the wrong choices, like I’m dicking around with trivialities, like I’m wasting the one life I have.

Then again: Part of being depressed is that, with a few exceptions, I’m uncomfortable with almost everything I do. When I’m feeling depressed, with a few exceptions, I pretty much always feel restless and twitchy and like I want to move on to the next thing these days. Even when I am doing things that resonate with me deeply and that I think are important. So that feeling that I’m doing the wrong thing and really should be doing something else… right now, it’s not a reliable barometer.

I don’t know. I think I’m going around in circles here. Thoughts?

Compassion for the Religious

“These people bring it on themselves.”
“Their hijinks should be held up as an example.”
“We can’t be soft on these people.”

These are some of the reactions I got when I posted a piece of news on my Facebook page and wrote my commentary about it. The piece of news: someone got stuck in a consensual but dangerous situation involving an unconventional sexual activity, called 9-1-1 for help, and then saw the story spread all over the Internet, including lurid details, their name, and the recording of the emergency call.

The reactions to my post came, as far as I can tell, from atheists. Given the context, they were almost certainly atheists. But their anger and contempt wasn’t directed at the people who had exposed the 9-1-1 caller’s identity. It wasn’t directed at all the people ridiculing him online. It didn’t come from a humanist embrace of consensual human sexuality, and it wasn’t directed at those who were dragging this person’s private sex life all over the Internet and taking gleeful pleasure in mocking it.

It was directed at the person who had placed the 9-1-1 call. Why? Because the person who made the call was a Catholic priest.

That’s right, he was a priest. And therefore, according to these atheists on my Facebook page, he had abdicated any right to call 9-1-1 for help when he was in danger without having his sex life go viral. He was a hypocrite. Actually, we don’t know that for sure—we don’t know much about this priest other than what he said in the emergency call, and we don’t know whether he was in a conservative church that practiced a lot of sexual shaming, or a more inclusive one that cherry-picked out the nasty pits of Catholic sexual shame. But he had perpetuated an institution—the Catholic Church—that’s created pointless sexual guilt for exactly the kinds of activities he was engaging in. So, on at least some level, he was a hypocrite. And the punishment for religious hypocrisy—according to these people on my Facebook page—should be the public shaming of his private sexuality and his call for help, even if the result is that other people with unconventional sexual tendencies are now more afraid to call 9-1-1 for fear that they’ll be exposed and humiliated. That’s a price these folks are willing to pay, if it means we can expose yet another religious sexual hypocrite.

If you think I’m exaggerating, here are some other comments from the same discussion: “I am glad he was humiliated”; “You deserve whatever embarrassment is heaped upon you when your hypocrisy is revealed… I am glad that I live in a world where that dbag was forced to own up to his hypocrisy”; “Priests are terrorists and con men”; and “It’s his and his fellow clergy’s fault that ‘unconventional’ sex is taboo. Fuck him.”

I find this profoundly upsetting.

*****

Humanist magazine coverThus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, Compassion for the Religious. To read more about why I think anger at religion needs to be tempered with compassion for the religious, and why anger at religion needs to be distinguished from hatred, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Welcome Eric MacDonald at Choice in Dying to Freethought Blogs!

Eric MacDonald at Choice in Dying has just joined the Freethought Blogs network! Here’s his bio:

Eric MacDonald, a Canadian schooled in India, has been variously, a sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy, a high school teacher, a university lecturer in philosophy, and an Anglican Priest. He was married to Elizabeth Lawrence, his one true love, who died with assistance in Zurich, Switzerland, with the help of Dignitas. She can be seen in the accompanying last picture taken of her and Eric in 2007 shortly before her death. No longer able to support the church or accept the terms of faith, he now, in retirement, spends much of his time opposing religion and its depredations, especially as this pertains to assisted dying. Choice in dying supports legalised assisted dying, and opposes religion as a cult of death and misery which opposes the right of people to receive help to die when they believe that suffering is intolerable.

And here’s his first post for the network, This Blog is really all about Elizabeth, where he talks about how and why he came to be doing the work he’s doing. Check it out, and welcome him to the network!

Runway Recap: What a Difference a Day Makes

Damn. Day-um. This season of Project Runway is like a rollercoaster. Last week’s episode had me kvetching about how it was a perfect example of everything that’s gone wrong with the show. This week’s episode was a perfect example of everything I love about the show: what makes it fun, what makes it compelling, what keeps me coming back week after week, hoping for its glory days to return. I’d thought that the “unconventional materials” challenges were a bit played out at this point… but the looks this week were fun, imaginative, well-crafted, exuberant, and in many cases surprisingly elegant considering they were made from flowers and hardware. There were a few mis-steps, but on the whole, I am totally with the judges on this one: This was the best overall runway show they’ve had in a long time. And that includes finales/ final collections.

What made the difference?

The extra day.

The designers had two days to complete their looks, not just one. They had time to fix problems; to re-think ideas; to start over if their first ideas didn’t pan out; to sleep on it and come back fresh; to lend each other a hand. Since this was a team challenge, they had time to consult on a coherent concept for their collections, which helped all the designs look stronger. (For the team that actually came up with a coherent concept, anyway, as opposed to the team that faked one after the fact.) And very importantly, they had time to execute more ambitious visions. With a one-day challenge, pretty much all you have time for is a pretty sheath dress or a pretty gown. With two days, you have time to go big — and to fix it, or start again, if your big idea doesn’t pan out.

So memo to PR producers: More two-day challenges, please! Your core audience is not that interested in hysterical drama. Your core audience is bored to pieces with slight variations on sheath dresses. Your core audience wants to see beautiful innovative fashion, and wants to watch the process that goes into creating it. More, please. kthxbye

Now, to the designs!

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 4 Samantha [Read more…]

On Monogamy and Non-Monogamy As a Continuum

Are monogamy and non-monogamy an either/or choice? Or is it more of a continuum?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about monogamy and non-monogamy: mostly because of a recent post I wrote about it, and the subsequent comment conversation about that post. And I had an idea I wanted to toss out there. It’s probably not original to me, I may well be re-inventing the wheel here: but I haven’t seen it talked about a ton, and I think it could be useful.

The idea is this: Monogamy and non-monogamy are not an either/or choice. They’re more of a continuum.

I think many of us tend to think of it more as either/or. We tend to think of people, and relationships, as either (a) monogamous or (b) non-monogamous. And we tend to see these as fundamentally different approaches to relationships, with fundamentally different philosophies behind them, and with a fairly sharp divide between them

But people who call themselves monogamous, who are on the more monogamous end of the spectrum, will often have very different agreements about what does and doesn’t fit into their definition of “monogamy.” Does having cybersex fall within their monogamy agreement? What about going to a strip club? Enjoying the entertainment of a stripper at a bachelor or bachelorette party? If watching a stripper is okay… what about getting a lap dance? Is it okay to do these things alone, or just together as a couple? Is it okay to have threesomes? Some couples who see themselves as basically monogamous are fine with enjoying any or all of these activities. (I’ve even heard of couples who call themselves basically monogamous, who agree that if one of them is traveling, sex on the road “doesn’t count.”) Other couples consider some or all of these activities to be off-limits. Still others are so far on the monogamous end of this spectrum that they consider flirting with other people, watching porn, even masturbating, to be cheating.

Ethical Slut book coverAnd people who call themselves non-monogamous (or polyamorous, or poly, or open, or some other term — I’m using “non-monogamous” here to contrast it with “monogamous”), people who are on the more non-monogamous end of the spectrum, also often have very different ideas about what does and doesn’t fit into their non-monogamy agreements. That’s especially true for poly people in a primary or core relationship, with secondary or peripheral relationships outside it. Are certain kinds of sex off-limits outside the core relationship — such as penetration, or kink? Are there limits on how often you have sex with outside partners? Is it okay to have pretty much any kind of sex outside the core relationship, but not okay to spend the night? Is it okay to have outside sexual relationships, but not romantic ones? Outside romantic relationships, but not Capital-R Relationships? I’ve known lots and lots of non-monogamous folks in my day, and the ones who are in couples or other committed relationships have almost universally had some sort of agreements about what is and isn’t okay outside the partnership. There may be poly couples and committed partnerships where everything goes and all bets are off… but if there are, I haven’t met them.

In other words… well, I guess I’m just going to re-state the thesis here. Monogamy and non-monogamy are not an either/or choice. They’re more of a continuum.

I think looking at it this way would help in a lot of ways. I think it would help monogamous couples — or rather, couples on the more monogamous end of the spectrum — to negotiate limits in their relationships. Most people still see monogamy as the default choice… and as is often the case with default choices, that choice tends to go unquestioned. I think if we saw monogamy/ non-monogamy as a continuum rather than an either/or choice, more couples would be more likely to consider non-monogamy as an option. And if they do decide to be on the monogamous end of the spectrum, they’d be more likely to openly discuss and negotiate where exactly on that spectrum they’d like to be. When people reflexively assume that of course they’re going to be monogamous, and therefore don’t discuss that choice, they often assume that “monogamy” means the same thing to both of them — and this can have bad, sad consequences.

I also think this “spectrum” view would help monogamous people be more understanding and accepting of poly people. I think they’d be less inclined to see poly folks and poly relationships as radically different: as slutty, selfish, greedy, unable to commit, etc. I think they’d be more inclined to see us as people who just draw the lines about their relationships in a different place.

And I think this “spectrum” view would help many poly people — or rather, people on the more poly end of the spectrum — be more understanding and accepting of monogamous people as well. I’ve heard more than one poly person argue that polyamory is superior, that monogamy is unnatural and unhealthy, that jealousy is irrational, and so on. And I’ve heard more than one poly person give lip service to the idea that monogamy is a valid choice, while being obviously judgmental of people who make that choice. This isn’t universal, but it’s all too common. And I think seeing monogamy and non-monogamy as a continuum rather than a sharp divide could alleviate this. Again, I think it might make poly people less likely to see monogamy as radically different, and more inclined to see monogamists as people who just draw the line in a different place. After all, if you and your partner have a “no kink outside the relationship” agreement, or a “no sleeping over outside the relationship” agreement… is that really so much more obviously rational and healthy than a “no sex outside the relationship” agreement?

opening up book coverI don’t think we need to completely replace our language about this with “more on the monogamous end of the spectrum” or “more on poly end of the spectrum.” (Which, admittedly, is pretty cumbersome.) I don’t think we need to entirely get rid of identifying ourselves and our relationships as “monogamous” or “non-monogamous/ polyamorous/ open/ etc.” After all, sexual identity is a continuum too, and we still (mostly) accept people calling themselves gay or straight, even if they’re not on the absolute far ends of the Kinsey scale. And I think a case could be made that the far ends of this spectrum actually are pretty different: that having an open relationship with almost nothing that’s off-limits is pretty damn different than a relationship where even flirting with other people is verboten. The way that, for many people, being overwhelmingly gay or overwhelmingly straight feel pretty significantly different.

I just think that… okay, restating the thesis again. Monogamy and non-monogamy are not an either/or choice. They’re more of a continuum. And I think looking at it this way could be helpful. I think it could help people discuss their agreements about their own relationships more openly, and make decisions that are more uniquely tailored to work better for them. And I think it could help monogamous and poly people be less judgmental of each other.