Plantation Blues: Ani DiFranco steps into it … and then out

December 31st, 2013

Ani DiFranco has cancelled her planned Righteous Retreat at the controversial Nottoway Plantation & Resort and issued a statement explaining why she thought the place would be okay in the first place. Because some of the already published summaries of her statement appear to be more interested in merely profiting from the debate’s heat, I would encourage you to read Ani Difranco’s full statement here yourself.

Let me say that while I don’t agree with the why of her position on the plantation site at all, I appreciated reading her decision to cancel and had my “faith” restored.

The Disagreement

As I tweeted to my skin-sister @alphabeta, her and Ani’s assertion is equivalent to this: “this is a graveyard … but isn’t every piece of land, really?” While I agree that, yes, blood has been spilled all over the planet, a graveyard — labeled and commonly understood as one — cannot be so casually redefined without raising confusion, question, and indignation. Buildings and land are, yes, buildings and land, but they are systematically given meaning by the communities that create them, use them, promote them, sell them, destroy them, and restore them.

If folks started laying wreaths in Ani’s backyard and showing up daily for ritual funerals there, she’d get the difference, I think, between “the dead are all around us” and “this is a graveyard” points of view.

Moreover, the plantation people themselves get this (plantation and resort!), so why does Ani feel compelled to dismiss them with this:

i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness.

That’s not what the “plantation resort fun!” sellers are selling at all (google their website, because I won’t be linking to it here) so consider this Ani diss #1 . Indeed, this isn’t just a former plantation and a new site for introspection. It’s a site that has repackaged the slave past and is selling it now to whites as massa-done-good-by-those-darkies plantation fun.

That’s the present day, not the past. Ani’s hope that discussion about that would simply and gently “emerge organically” was naive at best and dismissive at worst.

From her text, I’m going with dismissive (Ani diss #2). See her “rich white dudes with conservative political leanings” comment specifically. She knows; she just doesn’t believe it’s important to distinguish.

The Agreement

Nevertheless, here’s why I said my faith was restored: In her words, I was reminded that she does see herself as a white ally. She recognizes white-skin/ethnic privileges and also asserts her rights to a voice and a role in the anti-racism fight (one that isn’t one of mere skin-based deference to us people of color) .

i believe that even though i am white, i can and must do this work too. if you disagree, i respectfully understand where you’re coming from and your right to disagree. i am not unaware of the mechanism of white privilege or the fact that i need to listen more than talk when it comes to issues of race. if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled.

Not only was she willing to pull the plug on this after the controversy (yay!), she had already committed her time and resources in this event beforehand to anti-racist projects and people. That she reminded us of that here isn’t to be dismissed by our anger as self defense (public diss #2,019). We can stop drinking the haterade now, folks, and get back to tending and mending our bonds. We need everyone in this effort and we need more of that kind of forethought and commitment.

This controversy — in its good, bad, and ugly — continues to drive us toward greater consideration and understanding. I, for one, am glad to see Ani still in it, asserting her righteous babe cred and taking the heat as righteously.

We can disagree on the why, Ani. My faith in the opportunity of anti-racist work is nevertheless restored.

#

UPDATE 3 Jan: Ani has done a bit more “digging” and issued a straight-to-the-point apology via Facebook:

everyone,

it has taken me a few days but i have been thinking and feeling very intensely and i would like to say i am sincerely sorry. it is obvious to me now that you were right – all those who said we can’t in good conscience go to that place and support it or look past for one moment what it deeply represents. i needed a wake up call and you gave it to me.

it was a great oversight on my part to not request a change of venue immediately from the promoter. you tried to tell me about that oversight and i wasn’t available to you. i’m sorry for that too.

know that i am digging deeper.

-ani

On bed death, cheating, and other choices

December 29th, 2013

I was in a bed-death relationship for 5 years. As someone with a strong libido, I was angry with him a lot. I tried the fixes, of course: books, videos, encouraging talk. I asked whether his far lower libido was the result of childhood sexual abuse. I asked if perhaps he was gay. I could work with yesses to either of those. What I couldn’t accept, though, was that he had a wife whose earnest and joyful sexuality he really didn’t want to share in. I resented him for it.

The turnaround happened when I stopped blaming him and instead accepted the mantra “my body, my choice” as something that he too could and should claim. That is: He has a right to feel good in his sexual choices, one that matches his desire not some stereotype of what he as a man *should* want. And so do I. When those rights match, great! When it does not, it’s also great because I still have my rights!

Right?!

Yes, yes, the marital contract was broken. But, as I belatedly realized, that was because it was based on a lie: namely, that a spouse/partner is and should be solely responsible for his/her partner’s sexual pleasure. When I realized that, no, my pleasure was ultimately my own responsibility (my body, my choice) and one that I *could* choose to share but *need not*, I came back to what *my* rights were and what I could and should do to fulfill them, whether with him or not.

I did not forgive him because there was nothing to forgive. I stopped blaming him. That was key. It wasn’t his fault that we had *both* been suckered by a lie that’s doomed and duped so many relationships. But, then aware, we had other (better, more realistic) choices for how to proceed.

If he had reached the same conclusion, we would have remained together, celebrating each other’s sexual lives and navigating together the seeming threats that new relationships bring. It’s because he refused to see that the lie was wrong AND couldn’t bear both the responsibility of that premise NOR my fulfillment of my rights without him that we fell apart. Or, rather, that I said “no harm, no foul” and stepped away from that relationship to honor myself again. We are both better people for that hard choice.

Others handle this differently. (See my shout-out to rougedmount below.) Many people cheat because they believe there’s no other way to fulfill their relationship vows and the often-undeclared-and-unacknowledged vows they have had with their own bodies since sexually maturing. (Those vows came first, mind you, and trump all that follow, IMHO.)

You do, in fact, have better choices than to cheat. Choices that let go of blame. Choices that stop belittling. Choices that release you from the web of lies and disguise. Choices that, instead, reframe and reclaim what is possible.

Yes, these are socially harder choices. And choices that continue to challenge. No more assumptions, that’s for sure.

It’s just after 4 in the morning. I woke with a tummy ache from a night of too much drinking and a day of too much walking. My beloved partner is snoring. I can hear him grunt in his sleep. I can also hear the occasional sleep-cough of the woman sleeping at his side. I went to bed early, so offered to sleep on the spare bed so that they could stay up talking and cuddling and fucking in the too-small-for three bed. My husband is out of town visiting his parents for the holidays, mind you. He knows who I am with. So do his parents.

I’ve come a long way since I broke with the old model of living. All three of us have and talked about it this weekend. I know that this model (open, nonmonogamous) doesn’t work for everyone either. I accept that just like I accept that closed and monogamous doesn’t work for many. Having made “my body, my choice” real for myself, however, I feel better. I also accept the whole range of choices — safe, sane, consensual — that people make to feel whole in their bodies.

So my story is a shout-out to rougedmount, whose blog and comments about her own bed-death responses prompted this post. I wish you well.

Gag! Enough with the trademark polyamory already!

October 17th, 2013

First, let me root you in my life. I am 45. Bisexual. Happily married to one man. Blissfully partnered to another. My husband has another steady partner too. As I started writing this, we were all together at a conference organized by the German-language Polyamory Network (PolyAmore Netzwerk). “The Polyamory Handbook,” by Peter J. Benson, was on my table.

I am the happiest that I have been in years, despite all of the hellfire-and-brimstone rhetoric about sex that most of us Americans take as truth. Those Bible-thumping days, long over, have no more hold over my heart than, sorry to say, “The Polyamory Handbook.” In fact, I see this work —and too much of the recent “what is polyamory” articles — as a mere mirror of the same picture that has been shoved in front of my face for years: namely, that long-term romantic love should be the greatest pursuit of my life. As a Christian, just with one husband. As a Polyamorist, with several. One night stands, smutty club sex, affairs, ethically questionable hookups, and even “serial monogamy” are all viewed by the most vocal proponents of both models as the failings of our baser selves.

I don’t buy it. And, like the Not-All-Like-That Christians, I’m taking a public stand to give witness to the lives of us others: The Poly-Bible and its dogmatic leaders do not represent me.

It’s not that I am unhappy with long-term relationships. I’m a proponent, really. Whether in work, with friends, or with family, I personally find that long-term relationships strengthen trust, allow us vulnerability, and increase our sense of compassion for all the positives and negatives that make us simple humans. It’s welcome work — and I say work deliberately, because it does involve greater effort than any casual connection ever demands. But it comes with great rewards too, in shared living — the dishes! the trash collecting! the dinner parties that follow with even more dishes and trash collecting! — and in sexual expression. In my long-term sexual life, I have loved becoming an expert in my partners’ bodies, in shedding my newbie anxieties and in relishing each exhalation, each intake, and each physical twist and turn of our shared sexual moments.

As much as I love long-term love, I also love casual connections. I’m a proponent of that too, really. And they can be really good — in the same way that I believe an unexpected and lively exchange with a stranger on the street about a book she has in her hand can be as genuinely pleasurable as spending two hours with a fellow member of my since-1997-founded book group. I have enjoyed mind-blowing sexual experiences with men and women I’d not known before nor seen since. I have gotten quickly intimate (and quickly off) with people who, surprisingly, became more to me for a short while thereafter. I’ve been a mistress and a plaything. Moreover, in being “out” about these experiences, I’ve met plenty of men and women for whom this has also been their real (non religious expectations defined) lives.

I know that I am not alone. But lately, in even poly-defined spaces, I’m frustrated to find the same old frames: it’s long-term or not worth it, it’s completely reliable or a waste of time, it’s true blue or to be avoided, it’s love or the wrong pursuit.

Popular sex columnist and gay-married dad Dan Savage coined the term “monogamish” to describe the tendency/desire for those who, within the outwardly socially acceptable monogamous pair bond, otherwise enjoy extramarital dalliances without the expectation of emotional commitment. (I hope I’m representing you well, Dan.) Poly-Bible thumpers are quick to decry that. It’s about LOVE, all caps, they insist, and, THANK YOU FOR NOT CONFUSING US WITH SWINGERS. ((shudder))

Are we really going to stop there? Are we going to throw off the one-partner-for-life lie for the two-partners-at-a-time other one? Are we going to continue to insist that our unthinking tendency to want sex is an abomination, our sins against God or ethical non-monogamy, rather than our return to nature and the reality of chance? Do we engage, ever so subtly, in a new form of slut-shaming, in which we insist that our desire for deep, meaningful, and honest relationships is morally better than promiscuity?

If, as the science proves, we humans are non-monogamous and happily promiscuous beings, everything else is adhering to the social expectations of our time. I’m down with community and social norming. Totally … provided that the community doesn’t insist that a core expression of my humanity is an aberration.

And I am feeling it these days, in my beloved poly community. But for how long? I’m starting to chafe from the reins. The Poly-Bible thumpers are defining us and they’re writing us narrowly as people who are uniquely communicative, uniquely honest, and uniquely good at stomping out jealousy. We love LOVE, first and foremost, so that makes us special. We are sooooo much better than those married-and-in-denial others.

Goddamn it, I can almost see the halos floating over their smug, noble- and sacred-sex-having selves.

Look, you can have your sacred sex as long as you don’t get all uptight because I’m just happily horny.

I believe strongly that there’s nothing unique about our community … except that we’re out as non-monogamists in a public sphere that still defines that as morally sick and, as one poster insisted about me recently, the evidence of a psychologically ill aversion to commitment. We’re not sick for our non-monogamy. But we’re also no more unique in our ability to love more than one at a time than a father who loves all of his kids, a mother who loves both of her parents, and anyone who has ever maintained more than one friendship at a time. Sexual intimacy doesn’t trump that tendency to connect, connect, connect, it’s an extension of the same.

Poly podcaster Cunning Minx reminds us with each broadcast that it’s not all about the sex. Too true. Not all the time. But it’s also not all about the love. Not all the time. And once we root ourselves back in that — foregoing belief in our specialness, that “polymory is not for everyone” trope, and the polyamory-doesn’t-condone rhethoric — we have room in our big human family for the lovebirds and the players, the married-and-monogamous and the swingers, for the chaste and the sluts, and all the love and lust we can handle.

And, really, on the handle it, YES, WE CAN.