Jumbled thoughts on polyamoury

  • Poly advice, worldviews held by poly people, poly communities, etc., tend to have relationship goals opposed to mine – a pithy oversimplified way of putting it is “they see commitment as a means to passion, I see passion as a means to commitment”.
    • I was promised Disney True Love with multiple people, and while no one’s saying to my face that I can’t get it, there are undercurrents of “But why would you?”.
    • And polyamoury as it is practiced, and probably in principle, is less likely to get me that.
  • Given commitment-centric goals (pretend that phrase wasn’t abominably pretentious), there must be times when a short-term temptation must be resisted for long-term relationship good. That can certainly show up in other situations, but it’s not quite as inevitable.
    • When you’re monogamous, it’s usually simple (don’t fuck the person); in poly it’s harder to know your own limits.
    • There are lots of examples for mono people, I can think of very few poly ones.
    • My point is, I’m not just asking “Should I fuck my cute friend?”, I’m asking “What universal maxim would Kant derive from whether I fuck my cute friend?”.
  • I am deeply uncomfortable with any form of hierarchy (see: Disney True Love with multiple people), but given e.g. differing time constraints, relationships will most likely grow at different paces.
  • That desire for stability and seriousness is worse when I’m already in a relationship; I can’t afford the sort of exploration that doesn’t strangle new relationships to death.
  • There’s a bit of a swindle where, if you’re dating one person, people will understand your reluctance to date a second one, but will find your discomfort silly about a third one. This is the same as “If you enjoy this sex act sometimes you will enjoy it with me”. Stop doing that, poly people.
  • People in poly/mono and polyfi relationships don’t talk about all of that very much; is it because I’m really weird, or because these preferences don’t get talked about much so people don’t have the words? Getting it out there might help.

TL;DR: Leo continues to be worst at poly.

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I never MetaMed I didn’t like

Full disclosure: I work for MetaMed.

MetaMed is a personalised medicine company. Personalised medicine is basically what it says on the tin: recommending the best tests and treatments for you-yes-you as opposed to the generic abstracted Platonic form of a patient with your diagnosis. (I don’t understand Platonic forms.)

The cool stuff MetaMed points at and says “We be that.” comes in two kinds:

Miracles. Their go-to example is that one lady who got her fingertip severed, found a doctor working with tissue regeneration, and got it regrown. (Okay, those stakes are kinda low, but as proof-of-concept goes that’s a fine miracle.)

Common sense. Things that have been proven to work, and to be easy to implement, but that doctors just ignore out of habit or because they have something better to do than read papers all day. The big example of that is the mirror box for phantom pain. (Bless them, they keep the Semmelweis references to a minimum.)

Dedicated literature-combing could be done by anyone nerdy enough to seek out and understand papers (and anyone not that nerdy won’t be very interested in MetaMed until we get way good at marketing). Okay, and some clever shopping around for the right doctors, which is admittedly harder for an outsider. So it’s most useful to people who are so filthy rich that they value the time to do that research more than $5k. Hurry up and buy that, rich people.

The cool bits are really, really cool. Pour enough money on enough smart people, and you’ll get a miracle. Sorry, I mean an extensive list and in-depth evaluation of all confirmed and potential miracles and Saint Rita‘s home phone number. And then that gives miracles publicity and lots of people pay for them until everyone can afford them and it saves the world.

And boy are there smart people. Most frighteningly smart people I know work at MetaMed, and quite a few I didn’t use to know. Even the other administrivia monkeys have big brains. MetaMed sounds cool on paper, but that’s not enough to turn me into a raving fanboy; I’m fawning because if a bunch of impressively smart people are, joining them sounds sensible. (Unless a bunch of very smart people write anti-MetaMed articles I guess. That hasn’t happened.)

Also, working for a bunch of evidence-based transhumanists means you never need closets. Except the literal kind, if you have clothes or need to go to Narnia or something. But you know what I mean.

In conclusion, wheeee!

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Exodus 30:17

One of those things about religion that makes me go: “Get this, u guise!”.

(By religion I pretty much mean “Judaism”. Judaism and Christianity are the only two religions I know in enough detail to have a good idea of the aesthetic, and Christianity is butt-ugly. Well, a Puritanish aesthetic works well outside of a religious context, and there are Leah-Libresco-like Catholics doing interesting stuff, but the New Testament itself is a terrible fanfic. There, I think everyone got their share of insults.)

So today’s thing is Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 30:17. It’s about the Lord telling Moses to make a washbasin for the Tabernacle.

How did Moses get enough bronze/copper/pick your favourite translation for that washbasin? Mirrors! Donated by Jewish women.

“Whoa there”, saith Moses. “They used those mirrors to make themselves pretty. Not okay to make sacred stuff from!” Saith the Lord: “Take a chill pill, Moses, the mirrors are cool.”

Now if you’ve got Christianity in your Judaism you’d probably expect a moral like “Turning away from vanity to holiness is awesomesauce, let’s embrace and praise those women, prodigal son, repenting sinner, yadda yadda”. Nope! Turns out the mirrors are acceptable because the women were using them to look hot – to their husbands, to have babies, because what with the constant genocide they needed repopulating. Noble purpose.

So the moral is that nothing is inherently good or bad. Even if you grant that sluttiness is bad (don’t grant that), “I wanna look hot and get laid!” is not inherently slutty; that depends on whether the motivation is “Our people needs more kids.” or “Sex is fun.”.

A close cousin is those stories about charitable interpretation, like “Don’t blame him for buying pork on Yom Kippur, maybe he has a pregnant wife who was craving it.”. Those ideas, combined with building fences around the Torah and distancing yourself from sin and all that, give you Postel superpowers.

My point is mostly “Neat, huh?”, but as a side note: That’s another reason why deontology sucks. If you’re a consequentialist, you care whether using those mirrors leads to more kids. If you’re a virtue ethicist (apparently the Lord is), you care whether they were motivated by vanity. Only a deontologist could get hung up on the mirrors themselves (doppelgangers notwithstanding). Zing.

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Sometimes I’m a terrible person

So my boyfriend (did I mention I have a boyfriend?) was supposed to be one of the three people I know who have a decent family. But apparently people who have been decent for decades can just decide to be terrible after all.

Of course that’s really awful and I’m sad for him and glad he’s safe now and I should be supportive which is why I’m blogging about it instead of saying that to his face.

But in an extremely messed-up way I’m kinda jealous, and kinda using it as wish fulfillment. That he’s all hurt and angry about it, rather than used to it. That he immediately thought of to the police, rather than having long ago lost the expectation of help from authorities. That it was something clear-cut enough to go to the police in the first place, rather than “He called you names and that’s what you’re making such a fuss for?”. That he can get rid of or get away from nasty people, instead of depending on them in all the ways a child does.

I’m not jealous of people with decent families, anymore than I’m jealous of superheroes. It’s ability to fight back that I bitterly wish I’d had.

I know it’s not about me, okay? He’s not unsafe in his own home at me. So I write a whiny blog post and move the heck on.

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D’aww, part 1 of what I fear is many

The most adorable thing in the world is a three-year-old rooting around on my bookshelves, asking me to name the characters on the covers, and repeating “Mello” with all the painstaking care the discovery of new knowledge warrants. And then she demands cheese and I cannot refuse.

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Masculinity, part 2 of 2: Nonviolent Communication is totally gay

In part 1 I talked about what’s scary about not being man enough. In this part, I’ll explain why having feelings is for sissies.

“Patriarchy hurts men too” types tend to focus on expressing emotions. And it’s true that enforcement and learning target mostly expression. Stop crying, stop whining, don’t wanna look bad in front of them, stiff upper lip.

Part of it is appearance, of course. Everyone hides weakness, and members of the boys club worry about getting kicked out.

So there are norms about expressing emotions. If you’re sad, you’re supposed to get listless and curt and to drink, and to cry a little if it’s something like a funeral, not to curl up and bawl. (Or laugh.) If you’re happy, you’re supposed to grin and cheer, not to giggle and jump around. (Or flap your hands.) If you’re afraid, you’re supposed to sweat and swear and grit your teeth, not to squeal and shake. (Or freeze completely.) If you’re angry, you’re supposed to get violent, not passive-aggressive. (Or hurt yourself.) Norms like that are enforced for everyone, but sexism influences them. (As does ableism.)

But there’s a deeper component of masculinity (and masculinity alone), that explains why men traditionally express emotions rarely, express only a narrow range of emotions, don’t talk about feelings or emotional needs or mental health, or make gestures just to show them:

Men aren’t supposed to introspect.

Feelings aren’t things you, um, feel, then choose to act upon. They’re labels for categories of symptoms. The somatic reactions, the drives to act, and in which contexts they pop up.

That’s why they’re not discussed or shown. John won’t say or do anything about how attached he is to Sherlock, but he will cross half the country and take a few bullets because of it.

That’s why they get bottled up. Either keep a stiff upper lip (which is nearly the same as not feeling anything in the first place), or crack and do something as dramatic as the situation warrants.

That’s why labels are extremely vague and broad. If you introspect carefully there are chasms between joy and cheer and mirth and merriment and happiness and fulfillment and contentment, but if all you know is that you’re smiling you’ll make do with “happy”.

You probably think it’s a terrible way to do things, and I’m inclined to agree. For one thing it requires narrow enough cultural norms that you can read other people’s feelings without resorting to telepathy. (Did anyone say rape culture?) For another, it has little to offer against mental problems but alcohol and violence.

Norms stemming from this one stand alone; I’m obsessed with emotional taxonomy and I still swear like a sailor every time the meds make me cry. So there’s some hope of making introspection more acceptable to masculine men, without forcing them to abandon masculinity as a whole.

Some interventions are needed – making mental illness less shameful, teaching people to work across personal and cultural gaps. But, as usual, I recommend caution in attempting to dismantle a way of life that’s suboptimal according to your personal philosophy, bro.

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Masculinity, part 1 of 2: Who’s afraid of the penis bandits?

Traditional (in Western cultures) masculinity is not very popular, often for good reason, among people who blog about things like traditional masculinity.

  • Men are emotionally repressed.
  • Men aren’t allowed to express any emotions but anger.
  • We need to talk.
  • Why do you never show me you care?
  • Just ask for directions already!
  • Why won’t suicidal men see a doctor?
  • Our culture glorifies male violence.
  • …dick-measuring contest…

I don’t think they get it.

Masculinity, for people who say “We should communicate more about boundaries” with a straight face, is somewhere between a personality trait and a silly point of pride. They do what they like and think is best, and if it happens to be masculine that must make them a masculine person. Or they deliberately act masculine or unmasculine to prove a point: yes, a woman can be a tough biker; yes, real men wear pink.

For most men, it’s more than that. We don’t go around thinking “Mwahaha, I’m a stupid sexist idiot, so I’m going to make myself miserable adhering to an impossibly narrow standard.”; we’re genuinely scared of the penis bandits.

Real Men (which includes women who are “one of the guys”) are basically the people you can have status fights with. You can befriend and love and be loyal to women, and flamboyant sissies, and very young children, but interaction with other people in your club is always flavored by this hierarchy. Friends and relatives are also allies and rivals.

You can’t half walk out on that. The feather boa is not just a garment; it means forfeit. You’re no longer in the race, you’re no one’s ally or enemy or friendly rival or superior or threatening inferior; you’re out of the club, with the literal and metaphorical pussies.

If you want something unmasculine, there are only two options. You can defy the local norm of masculinity. “Yes, I’m secure enough to do this and still be a real man. You got a problem with that?” Or you can decide that masculinity is a scam and you should go and be yourself, that there’s no shame in it and if it’s unsafe the problem isn’t on your end. Neither is easy.

So that’s why people are so terrified of not being man enough. In part 2 I’ll talk about what masculinity implies for emotions and communication; it’s not as simple as “boys don’t cry”.

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Review: Bobby

Bobby, short story by copycatgirl (2169 words)

Trans people are usually desperate for any kind of portrayal. (Seriously, Birdo?) What’s even rarer is portrayal of closeted transfolk. That place where you know who you are, but telling anybody else your own name is trusting them with your life, and you keep waiting for it all to crash down. It’s kind of a sad life, so this is kind of a sad story.

Bobby is the story of a young trans girl who lives as a boy at home and as a girl with her best friend. Bobby’s characterization is one of the best I’ve seen, and the grey, gloomy tone matching her mood makes her feel even more like a real person. Yet everything she does, says, or thinks hits right home as trans experience. Forget the transformation montages and the magical surgery, this is what being trans feels like.

Go read this thing.

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On individualistic ideologies

There’s a certain brand of feminist thinking, archetypically Captain Awkward, whose highest value is free choice. Whence a number of positions:

  • Consent is paramount, not just for sex but for any kind of interaction. “I didn’t want to come but they dragged me along.” is worrying at best and evil at worst.
  • In particular, you can’t help people who didn’t ask. You can’t tell your anorexic friend “I cooked a meal for you and you will eat it.”.
  • Relationships (of any kind, not just romantic ones) are based on wanting, not needing. The second you want out, it’s over. Dependent children are about the only exception.
  • Traditions and groups have no inherent worth. Do what you want for yourself when you want it.
  • Boundaries are absolute. In practice there’s some room for compromise, but if John cares about hygiene and Sherlock wants to keep body parts in the fridge, there’s no way they can live together without one of them being evil.

Those are clearly reactions to various bad things. Consent is essential in anything in the same ballpark as sex, and there are excellent reasons (like 12% of the US population having been raped) to be very loud about that. Many supporters of such ideologies have been abused, which makes walking away and standing up for oneself very good ideas. (Though saying what you want out loud and sticking to it is impossible for many abuse victims, so that approach doesn’t always help.) Many have gotten into trouble for harmless but locally abnormal behavior (queerness is the go-to example), which shatters trust in traditions and groups.

Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with these norms. If you follow them you’re guaranteed not to be an abuser. There should be at least one large (sub)culture based on them.

But… you really got all that from “rape and abuse and prejudice are bad”? There are some justifications based on that. Treating consent as important everywhere (“consent culture”) makes it carry over to sex. More generally, many of the norms draw clear lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, which makes the difference obvious to outsiders. They’re also good ways to detect abuse early. These are ways to distance yourself from sin, though, with no inherent value.

It seems to me, though I’m not sure about that, that such an ideology has no consistent reply to “I don’t want that much freedom.”, except possibly “Yes you do, you’re just brainwashed.”.

And I don’t want that much freedom. I want friends who make me get up and go for a walk when I’m down. I want friends who tell me when I’ve had enough to drink. I want people who nag me until I see the play I’m sure will bore me but that they know I’ll love. I want family I can’t just cut off because they keep complaining about whatever special snowflake I’m being this week. I want a complete weirdo to waltz into my life and make me their sidekick before I know it. I want to stick to people through thick and thin until they turn back into someone I can love or stop needing me. I want to love people so badly that I’d put up with daily panic attacks just to be around them, and so deeply that years after we fall out of touch I still have a gaping hole in my chest. I want to come home to a life partner scraping exploded jellyfish off the ceiling or announcing we now have refugees hiding in the attic. And while I wouldn’t trust myself to do most of these things, I want some people in my life who trust me to sometimes know that I should.

While this is a bit more… open to weirdness than most people would want, I don’t think this is uncommon. It’s easier to find fiction where something like that happens and is portrayed positively than the reverse. Do you sometimes read an old story and cringe at the casual racism/sexism/classism/etc.? Imposing those norms would do that to nearly every work already produced. A change that big needs more support than “I’m personally happier living like this.” and “This removes some of the excuses for rape and abuse.”.

Kick controlling pests out of your life, by all means. But don’t shame them out of mine.

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Getting off the couch after depression

Depression makes you lazy. You wouldn’t expect that; when you’re depressed, you can’t afford the tiniest bit of laziness, or you die. But it teaches you to do the bare minimum to survive; that doing things is hard and unpleasant; that none of your dreams more ambitious than going to the movies are achievable, so you might as well give up; that the best state is a very slightly good mood and rest; and that you could be comfortable and entertained forever in this state, because there are so many great books. This isn’t quite learned helplessness; it’s not about relearning you can do things, it’s about relearning their worth.

Addiction seems like a good model; what Natalie Reed writes about staying off heroin hits home, even though there’s no comparison between shooting up and reading Sherlock fanfiction.

But the part that became most meaningful about it was how simple the rhythms became. In the depths of heroin addiction, I only ever had to be really concerned with exactly one problem, and for that or anything else at all there was only ever exactly one solution. For most of us, our lives are cluttered with worries and concerns and anxieties and responsibilities and desires and needs and hopes and dreams and identities. […] But in heroin, all of that, all of those things that terrified me and filled me with anxiety and that I had such a hard time investing with a sense of meaning, all of it could fade to nothing but a more or less dismissable, nagging whisper in the background.

I was lucky, picking something as safe and easy to kick as reading. (It was luck; it came close to being alcohol.) But that’s apparently something any coping mechanism does, pushing aside worries about work and rent and when you’ll eat next, and easing down into something delicious and comfortable.

Dieting is probably a better model; the scale and stakes are closer to commensurable, safe use is not only possible but the norm, and you want to cut down rather than kick. I’m looking at addiction because 12-step programs and cultural images of recovering addicts are actually usable, whereas dieting is full of fads and awful norms and silly pressure and gender stereotypes.

The point is that there is a model at all that you can follow. It’s way overkill and it was designed by and for people with completely different problems, but it’s applicable, and you can tinker with it. If you’ve spent your depressive episodes thinking “That’s all well and good, but I am not physically capable of following your advice“, it can be a little shock. So it’s not very hard; you just need some courage to overcome the learned helplessness, and some willpower to keep going. It’s also a little complicated to tell learned laziness apart from backslides into depression; as usual, the acid test is whether you can do things by trying.

What you lack is perspective: remembering that things outside your narrow focus matter and can get better, before it’s too late and they come down on your head. Until it comes back, you have to stick to a painful system with no visible purpose. But if you’ve made it through depression you must be used to that, right?

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Obligatory intro post

Hello, world! This blog hosts my rambling, navel-gazing, gushing, ranting, and occasional good idea in one convenient place. I might edit this later to add some links.

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