Monday, 26 August 2013

Leaving London

Leaving London is similar to living in London. It’s fucking rushed: there are still a couple of drawers we haven’t looked into, and no time to clean up after ourselves.* Strangely enough, today marks ten years since my train first pulled into King’s Cross - it’s a Northern inheritance that my descent into the tube was marked by jolts of fear; based on the stories I had been told, I was certain that I would be mugged before I got across town.

It's hard to summarise ten years of living in this mad place, but I’m sad to leave it. It feels almost incurably sad to leave this place. And the fact that I can’t roll the experience into a tidy sentence and pocket it - well, that just makes it more intense. Sitting on our filthy IKEA sofa yesterday** with a few friends, eating with plastic spoons because most other things had been packed or given away, it was hard not to be overwhelmed. I could not summarise what you lovely people mean to me. Somewhere along this journey, I’ve learnt how to make close friends.

There are two reasons for going to New York. The first is that it fits with the longer-term plans I have with my partner. The second, which I’ve found harder to verbalise, is about a big, red reset button. Because some of my previous exits - and I've had several dashed man-with-a-van journeys across London - have been more rushed than I’d have liked. And I think it might be inevitable when living in such a place, with so many jobs, so many relationships, and so many communities, that you become like the city itself, built in layers, one civilisation upon the next, the pavements now ten feet higher, such that it becomes hard to remember where you started. I’d like a different vantage point.

That is not to say I want to forget. The last time I spent in year in the US, it was 2001 and Boston. Nobody knew me and that was exhilarating as it was so easy to reinvent myself. Now, I don’t particularly want to be around strangers; what's exhilarating is not knowing myself. I don’t know whether I’ll like it in New York. Maybe I lie in Central Park and wish I was home. Or maybe I’ll get some fancy shoes, hit the town with my partner, and bring awesome queers back to bed. Maybe I’ll get onto trains, and write, write, write - the same topics but with a different perspective. Maybe I’ll finally start liking musicals. I don’t know, and I think this is what I need to get into different habits.

There are a few constants. My partner, whom I’m cuddling even tighter at nights now and can pack more into a suitcase than I ever thought possible. Many friends, who I hope will never go away. And the messiness, the changing attentions - the wanting to accumulate wine making equipment or materials for a more obscure hobby, even though it will make moving harder; the wanting to get to know somebody, even though it will make moving harder. I’m pretty happy with the passage of time, even though it hurts to have a clean-out sometimes.***

* We are paying for a professional cleaner. 
** The professional cleaners will love the fact that our landlord gave us white fabric sofas 
*** You'd all better keep in touch  

Monday, 8 April 2013

Poly Means Many: Dealing with bad things and kittens

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at

Jealousy, insecurity and mistrust are Bad Things, but at least they can be helpful. The key, I’ve found, is to name them quickly and prevent them from turning into Very Bad Things, like hurt, trauma, and the feeling you get when good relationships are falling apart at the seams.

When I feel jealous, I want to be able to say that I’m feeling that way and not be judged for it. These feelings are often looked down upon, or considered unacceptable, but they are part of the package and they come with me, from time to time.

Often the best response is to name these feelings, but avoid the temptation to dissect them straightaway. My “bad” feelings are like frightened animals, and they need to be coaxed out slowly. The focus should be on building a safe space where they can be heard.

I’ve noticed that, if one person in a relationship is feeling jealous or insecure, chances are the other person(s) feels terrible too. It can be hard to hear that your partner is jealous about someone else you are seeing, when that other person is making you happy. It’s easy to feel guilty, defensive, or maybe a bit resentful as a result.

Very Bad Things can happen when people ignore each other for too long, and cross boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. But they can also happen when there is too much talking, when one person’s jealousy triggers another person’s defensiveness, in turn making the first person feel more unsafe and more jealous.

So, returning to the analogy, my kitten was frightened and hiding under the sofa. At first, I was worried, so I jammed my head in the gap between sofa and carpet, and tried to speak reassuring words. But it freaked out. So I tried another approach, and put some milk in a bowl in the corner, retreated to the far side of the room and ignored it. The kitten came out immediately and we could talk about what had happened.

Of course people will differ, but the last few years have taught me to put my analytical brain on hold when bad things are happening, and talk less. No-one wants to feel that a happy relationship is being taken over by drama related to something external. So chill out and agree to talk about something else for a while. Go to the cinema or do whatever else makes you feel good.

Eventually, with luck, you can start talking about what happened in a comfortable and easy way.

None of this is rocket science, and it’s not unique to poly. But I think sometimes we make it extra hard on ourselves. It can be really hard to admit that you’re jealous and insecure, when surrounded by people who seem to be doing poly just fabulously.

Part of the problem (I think) is that, as a community, we don’t talk about bad things enough. But it’s understandable why we don’t - when there are multiple relationships, many people can be affected by difficult feelings like jealousy.

The flip side of the coin is that, sometimes, we are not patient enough with partners who are feeling jealous or insecure. New relationships are exciting, and it can be hard to go slowly, put them on hold or even stop them, because an existing partner is feeling wobbly or, worse, acting out.

As another one of these blogs argues, we can fall into the trap of thinking that, when one person is having a hard time, it’s “their responsibility to work through their issues.” If you’re in a serious relationship with that person, you’re in it together. These things are difficult, so be nice to each other.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Poly Means Many: Inching towards what’s right for you

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at

When it comes to relationships, people have a lot of options. Confronted by the dazzling array of styles (open relationships, sexual non-exclusivity, polyamory, solo polyamory, polyfidelity, monogamy, the list goes on), how do you know which is right for you?

If I tried to answer that question a few years ago, I’d probably have said that it depended on the circumstances, as well as the people involved, their characteristics and limits. And the pragmatist in me would still agree with that. In fact, the bumps that came with learning to be polyamorous have shown me the importance of staying grounded in reality. For example, everybody needs to be genuinely happy with a relationship structure. If a new structure makes someone uncomfortable, you enter it at your peril.

Also, I have a theory that many people have a blueprint in their head for what an ideal structure might look like. This is not like the plan for a house; it’s flexible; it changes; and sometimes, it’s even a bit unrealistic. It can start as a daydream. Someone told me recently that they weren’t sure what being poly would be like, but one thing’s for sure, there would be a big group of friends, and they would all sleep with one another. Someone else grew up imagining that, when they grew up, they would live with both a husband and a wife.

I think it can be helpful to remember our earliest ideas about what the ideal relationship option would be like. I don’t mean our earliest ideas about relationships, I’m talking about when we first learned there was a choice. The gradual dawning that, damn, I could actually live in a big house with chosen family. Or I could actually have all the sex that I want, in the way that I want it.

My blueprint was cheesy, like all blueprints are. It wasn’t very developed, there wasn’t an image - it was just a phrase, and it wasn’t even very clear. It was something like I could be surrounded by love. And that’s how  I felt, when I first found myself with two girlfriends, coming home from a date with a wonderful person to someone else who I also loved. I felt very lucky to have that amount of love.

A second theory I have: these blueprints tell us a lot more about ourselves than might be apparent at first. It’s obvious to me now that my blueprint was really about security. I grew up in a very safe environment, with parents whose relationship was kept almost artificially stable, in a small town. My world consisted of the school down the road, the sweet shop around the corner, the countryside, my home, and a small number of people who weren’t going anywhere. Other people might trace their blueprint back to a different origin.

I think it’s very hard for people to go against what is right for them, even if at the same time we are allowing ourselves freedom to experiment. For example, I’ve been wondering recently why I don’t seem to do casual sex. I mean, I live in a very permissive culture - it feels like all my friends are doing it! Wouldn’t I be more uninhibited, more free, more happy, if I joined in? But this goes against my blueprint. Sex usually means a relationship for me, and relationships need to be enduring if I’m going to flourish.

Another example: around half of my metamours have been people I’ve found it easy to be around. They are people who can see me when I’m not my best, who I can spend time with in silence, who I can be in the same room with and ignore, just like my family. The other half I’ve respected hugely, but for some reason that can be hard to pin down, I just haven’t been at ease with them. And I’ve found it very hard to make those situations work, because it’s not in my blueprint. My partner’s relationships need to make me feel safe, just like my own need to.

Probably, “blueprint” isn’t the best choice of word. Our brains are very plastic, and we can change ourselves radically. We can learn new things and head in new directions. In fact, we can will ourselves to change, if we have the time to do it. But there are some things that change slowly, or which we don’t want to alter - basic needs that we have that need to be attended to. Very often, I think, the exciting thing about polyamory (or whatever structure you choose) is that it can mean those basic needs can be met more fully and in abundance.

Sometimes we have to adapt. We grow up and realise that we are still not allowed to marry more than one person. Or our attitudes towards gender and sexuality and relationships change, so that our initial daydreams seem less relevant, or we get new ones. I’m not suggesting that we should be stuck in the past. But, if we are not careful, the daily negotiations and challenges that are a part of making relationships work can mean we forget what we were originally aiming for in the first place. Worse still, they leave us feeling jaded. Being surrounded by can easily become being surrounded.

It is such as shame to feel like things are not possible, because there are so many options. Poly communities are full of people changing the world in the places where they have most power to affect - their own lives. There’s an art in making it work, and it involves being realistic about where you are now, respecting boundaries, and inching forward towards the place you want to be. It’s an art of the possible. It takes time to make work properly, fully. But it helps to remember the day dreams you had in the first place.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Poly Means Many: How we communicate - D/s protocol

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at

My partner and I are in a D/s relationship, which means they have ownership over some parts of me, and gets to direct me some of the time. Needless to say, this takes a lot of communication.

One way we do it is to have a D/s contract, which describes some of the things that we each expect the other to do. Some of these are requirements on me -- for example, if they tell me to make them tea, I will do it! Others are things that we’ve agreed they need to do -- for example, to be mindful of my needs.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was thinking through how D/s might work alongside other important relationships. We’re both poly, and I expect to get into other relationships (or to play with friends) sometimes. We wanted to make sure our dynamic could continue to thrive alongside anything else.

We chose to add some points to the contract about this. The way it works is that I need my owner's permission to play with other people. The permission needs to be an explicit, enthusiastic, consensual ‘yes’.

I see the contract as a good thing: in poly relationships, all changes should be talked about openly and mechanisms to ensure that should be encouraged. A great thing about protocol is that it reduces need for miscommunication because it’s written down. In this way, it’s not that different from any other agreement that it’s in place in a poly relationship (written or not).

The way our contract is set up (with me as the submissive) puts an important focus on my dominant’s needs. At the end of the day, they make the decisions, so I wouldn’t be able to start playing with someone unless she wanted. This really works for me, especially since in my experience it can be hard for poly folk to say “no, I’m not happy about this” when a new relationship is put on the table.

Ideally, I want any change in my life to be a positive one for my partner. Relationships with metamours can be big deals, so I like knowing that my partner wouldn’t acquire one without really wanting to.

It’s interesting that I’ve never felt that being submissive means I’m on a weaker footing when it comes to negotiation, because the process of revising the contract encourages so much openness. Contracts encourage adult conversation because they are direct - there is no passive aggressive, sulky behaviour in sight.

But, although a D/s contract might be novel, it’s not really what makes communication work for us.

One thing to realise is that, although protocols and contracts seem quite rule based, at their heart, they’re not. D/s is about play, and protocol is a bit like a game - agreements can be adapted at any time to suit the needs of both players.

The current rule has come about because we both want it that way. The hard work about constantly talking and refining our views still happens underneath. Contract review sessions offer one more opportunity to do that, but it’s pretty much a constant process anyway.

Really, the secret to communication is simple - you need to put in effort. A lot of it. Our D/s contract only covers a small proportion of the things we need to talk about, but it makes those things fun and explicit, so works for us.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Silence, discomfort and rope

A couple of days ago, I found myself on the way to the seaside, hot, sweaty and nervous. It was the first day of a bank holiday weekend, and time for a first play date. Even though the weekend has since finished and lots of things have happened, one of my clearest memories is sitting in that crowded carriage overlooking the fields and fretting about the trip. On some levels, I wasn't sure it was a good idea.

I wasn't fretting about the play, but something more basic: what we were going to talk about. Shyness has played an unusually large part in the story of our friendship. For years she and I have sat in the corner of parties and talked about nothing except our shyness. Friends have noticed and commented as, bit by bit, we've overcome that shyness together, but I was worried that there might be more awkward moments.

The nervousness that comes with several years of failed small talk probably explains why, when she asked me whether I wanted to spend more time on the beach or go to her flat to play, I chose the latter. She surprised me by how clearly she took the lead in what followed: asking how many clothes I'd like to be wearing, and whether I prefer to be comfortable or uncomfortable when tied up. She asked the questions about diabetes and epilepsy that are important for safety reasons without any awkwardness at all. I let her lead and tried to be a good partner: concentrating on her actions and the feel of the rope, being present, and not directing what she was doing at all. I was trusting that we'd connect.

We played quietly and smiled at each other a lot. She understood why I like discomfort and found positions that it was difficult for me to keep. When I admitted that I was making my life easier by propping myself up on a finger (rather than relying on my abs to keep my torso from falling backwards), she tied up the finger. She wasn't ordering me to sustain anything, but giving me the opportunity to push myself, and letting me know that she liked to watch me struggle. When I was bound on the floor she asked if I was able to get to my knees. For a long time it seemed impossible, however much I rolled around, but then she asked whether she could use a misery stick on me, and promised to keep on using it until I'd managed it. The solution I discovered involved wriggling out of some ropes around my feet. She said it would be okay for me to do that.

We played with rope for a long time, and I fell into a submissive head space slowly and easily. She picked my head up from the ground and the moment of panic that she could drop me onto the hard floor was soon overcome by an awareness of the trust that I'd placed in her. I felt safe. Afterwards we stretched out side by side, a little distance apart, and talked.

In retrospect, there really wasn't any reason to worry at all. Perhaps shyness has left a good legacy. For one thing, we seem comfortable with silence: we've had practice! I'd like more quiet times with her. Also, I'm realising that a lot of the assumptions that I had made about her during our disconnected conversations were wrong. Perhaps this is the chance to get to know someone from scratch.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

About being male and submissive

I'm the oldest of three brothers, but it wasn't always that way. My mum told me that she was pregnant for the third time as she was walking me across the town square on the way to Boots and then to the old sweet shop. My only other brother at the time was with us, and far from being happy, he almost cried when mum broke the news. He had always wanted to be the smallest one, and he was no longer going to be. I remember my eight year-old self thinking how stupid he was. I had gotten used to not being the smallest, and so should he. It had taken him years to let go of his pushchair and dummy, and now was the time for him to finally start behaving as a grown up.

In the Polish version of "Britain's Got Talent", a would-be pop star walked out from behind the curtain and on to the stage, only to be immediately booed by the crowds. He was wearing jewellery, and he happened to be male. The judges told the crowds to be quiet, but still they insisted that he remove the "women's wear" before auditioning. I go to Poland fairly often and I know that the culture is, on the whole but with very important exceptions, conservative. But I was shocked to see this on national television.

This blog is going to be about being submissive and about being male. Of the two, being submissive is going to be easier for me to write about. I've been fortunate to have had wonderful play partners and my experiences with kink have been fun and positive. I only have good things to say about consensual BDSM play. I can't wait to start discussing things like queer sex, collaboration, the body, what I mean by spiritual kink, and more.

In comparison, my history as a male has been more challenging. Of course, I was male before I started being submissive and the history is that much longer. Like my younger brother, I encountered my own problems growing up and I did not always want to behave in the way that was expected of me. It's not an unfamiliar story, and it's not a sad one either, since each year I've found my possibilities increase. London offers many more options for how a male can behave than the small market town of my childhood and I have found partners and friends who love and accept me. But even today I still think that that the number of options available to most people is too limited.

I wanted to use this first post to mention an idea which seems fairly obvious to me now, but which did not occur to me until a few years ago when I started exploring kink and read The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and others. Very simply it's that each of us can decide for ourselves what we want our gender and sexuality to look like, which traits we want to pick up and use, and what images and ideas are useful to us. I can't explain this any better than Holly, who is one of my heroes and talks about a gender smörgåsbord on her blog, The Pervocracy.

The trick is to find an environment where we can be the way that we want, safely. Kinky play offers one space to experiment with a lot of emotions and identities. Even in London I would face prejudice if I wore jewellery in some places, but I've had some very lovely scenes when I've been a father or son or girl or slave - lots of things. It's an example that simplifies a lot, because not all submission is about role-play, and also progress at building a more tolerant society has to happen outside of particular communities. But I hope it gives an idea for why I wanted to talk about submission and maleness together in the posts that follow.