Tag Archives: kinship

Relational Violence & Glorifying the Vampire

On Daddying Part 2

see Polyamory & Power Part 1

The current cultural trend of glorifying the vampire reflects – and works to construct – the normalisation and justification of a certain type of relational violence.

Power in relationships is not permanent but constantly shifting. In different contexts, different parties have different powers and access to power. Same sex couples often overlook the ways in which there are inequalities in their relationships because they see the sameness of their sex-gender as a level playing field. But there remain other histories, experiences and social inequalities that lead some people into positions of power and others into subordination.

The physical prowess of the vampire can be seen as a metaphor for varying power dynamics in relationships: that one party (always) has power over the other. The abusive potential of this relation is especially evident in the Twilight series, as Bella’s physical inferiority to Edward is not complicated (unlike in other vampire stories in which the female has some kind of super human powers to rival that of the vampire, as in Buffy or, to a lesser extent, True Blood). Here, his violent tendencies – his ability and potential to abuse that power – are justified as a part of ‘who he is;’ because he’s a vampire.

Polyamorous discourse too often fails to account for these factors when rules (often named ‘ethics’) are uncritically asserted, such as [the archetypal example]: ‘everyone is responsible for articulating their needs.’ Things would be significantly less high maintenance if everyone just did what they wanted. But not everyone feels as though they are entitled to what they want, or knows how to ask for it. And when someone has power over you – how do you (re)gain any kind of power except in denying yourself to someone: withdrawing or withholding your affection, your time?

I want to agree with Gauche Sinister that “it’s damaging and wasteful to withhold something you want, in order to punish someone else.” But it’s damaging and painful to be giving something to someone who wants it, when they are constantly denying you what you want. Not least because it takes a toll on one’s self-esteem. It’s not necessarily that someone likes someone else more, but that someone is always more likely to forfeit what they want for the desires of someone else (for a variety of reasons).

The potential for power to be abused is a part of all relationships, but too often (white, middleclass) queers refuse even to recognise that possibility. And that’s really dangerous. In our glorification of the vampire we accept relational inequalities as inherent, unchangeable and justified. Being aware of the ways in which people are likely to be accommodating to others, and taking care with that, is the only responsible way to relate to anyone.

see Polyamory & Power Part 3

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Filed under "Queer Culture", Max Attitude, Screen, What's Queer Here?

Jealousy / Compersion

Community at Stake

When Sexy Galexy told me about all the fights she used to see in Sydney, and how important it was to instil in young people the realities of lesbian (and queer) community (“Of course you’re going to have fucked every fifth person in the room, but we need to give each other a break”), I didn’t realise just how right she was. But, sitting in the gutter one Friday night considering the merits of going home or back into a club that contained a girl I liked making out with my best friend, I remembered. 

The ensuing drama, angst and bitching ripped apart not only the three of us, but our friends and community as well. The need to be prepared for the collision of our friends and lovers is urgent: we’re artists and writers and community organisers and educators. This world needs us: strong and capable, and causing trouble to other people, not each other. 

Strategies polyamorous communities have developed for negotiating multiple relationships, especially in regard to jealousy, provide useful learning tools for lesbian/queer social groups.  Regardless of the mono/poly status of participants, our communities inevitably involve the overlapping of relationships, (often aptly named ‘the web‘). 

While it’s easy to acknowledge that feelings of anger and hatred are not helpful, emotions are rarely rationalised away. But our ability to describe and experience emotions can be enabled or constrained by our cultural vocabulary; the language of partnerships, ‘infidelity’ and ‘jealousy’ makes it difficult to talk and think about building and maintaining relationships outside of the dominant paradigm. ‘Jealousy‘ is a particularly salient example of the mononormativity of language, as it is constructed as a negative emotion as well as the ‘natural’ response to any perceived threat to a relationship. In resistance, polyamorous communities have spent time creating new languages to describe the positive experiences and emotions of engaging in multiple partnerships and relationships. ‘Compersion‘ is one such neologism: the opposite to jealousy, particularly sexual; the feeling of pleasure at the idea or sight of one’s lover/s involved with other people, especially each other. Here, the invention of the word ‘compersion’ helps enable the experience of positive emotions in situations which otherwise could provoke only negative terms/feelings. But the word is only the beginning. The cultural tendency towards jealousy and rivalry, rather than compersion and appreciation, is yet another obstacle in queer sexual lives (one just as valuable and rewarding to overcome as compulsory heterosexuality).

Discourses of ethical polyamory, which focus on openness, honesty, and mutual caring, are useful for broader queer communities: we all need to listen to and respect each other, be honest, and take responsibility for our own feelings and their impact on other people. The intertwining of our relationships should provide platforms for community building, not disintegration. In the end, as Sexy Galexy put so clearly: “we’re all banging on the same fucking door”; we need each other.

With Love and Respect, 

Max xx

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Family?

When you’re the only queer in the family, trekking back to the place where you grew up can get tougher every year. No matter how much you might’ve changed, it always seems like no one else has, and you’re forced back into those same relational dynamics you tried to escape from. I’m lucky my parents don’t expect me to put a dress on or anything, but then, they never did. So I guess I’ve been lucky a long time.

hey hetero! family

The role of the family in socialisation is obviously integral, but it is always expected that parents will automatically fear the gender dysphoric child – the  homosexual child – vehemently. But what if, like me, your parents were totally fine with whatever?

One of my earliest memories is running around outside in the sun when I was 4 years  old and taking my shirt off (which I did often). My (older) sister said to my mother, ‘You can’t let her go out in public like that’ and my mum replied ‘She can do whatever she likes,’ to which I then exclaimed: ‘If boys can do it I can do it!’ And well, not much has changed there.

The point is, family matters. Most of the year, perhaps most of our (adult?) lives, we spend with a chosen family, our childhood family popping in here and there, or not. The queer tendency to conflate community with family harks to the shared intimacy, and often loyalty, of understanding queer sexual lives (whatever that might mean). </spanThe thing is, legal rights, responsibilities and rewards are reserved for biological or legally-bound relatives. Although in the UK, these privileges are offered to pairs of adults in monogamous sexual relationships (and their children), in Australia same sex couples do not have access to legal entitlements and are unable to adopt children.

Here, one may be inclined to question the validity of a (hetero)sexual relationship as the only parameter to acquiring such benefits. Surely consenting adults should be able to decide who they desire/require as legal and financial partners, and that be it. As Judith Butler questions: “how does one oppose the homophobia [of heterosexual marriage entitlements] without embracing the marriage norm as the exclusive or most highly valued social arrangement for queer sexual lives?

What we need is to disassociate the rights and responsibilities currently the privilege of marriage (and, for the most part, civil partnerships), so that ceremonies can still remain a symbolic exercise for those who choose it, but allow the rights and responsibilities of kinship to take any number of other forms.

Happy queer holidaying.

Hey Hetero! is a public art series by Deborah Kelly and Tina Fiveash, Australia, 2001.

 

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