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In The Name Of Love (For Many)

Polyamory: Millennial Free Love Or Old Cheating With A New Name?

I’ve written about polyamory before though on The Idea-smithy rather than here. Let me start by explaining why I did that. I know running two blogs is no mean feat but the trickiest thing is not the ideation (hah, look at my name!) or content production. It’s deciding what goes where and when. The Idea-smithy was my first blog and is the source of my pen name, now a stage name, a preferred identity and the base of my social and professional world. XX Factor started as an offshoot of The Idea-smithy, a standout character from a cast that also featured some pretty dark poetry, moody home truths, wistful and wishful thinking and just fantasy. My posts about womanhood and about men seemed important – to me and my readers and so I decided they merited a blog of their own. In the 15 years since then, my understanding of my own gender, sex, sexuality and identity have evolved. These come from personal experiences whose accounts rightfully belong in The Idea-smithy since it was and still is a personal journal. But the specific love-sex-dating-relationships-gender incidents as well as how they affect my identity sit with XX Factor. Sometimes it’s hard to draw those distinctions. But all of this works as long as I compartmentalise. It’s very important to me.

So how do I decide where to put a subject like polyamory? Fundamentally it seems to be about love and sex, so yes XXFactor. On the other hand, it is about language, about society’s norms, about our personal politics and how we navigate the world and that makes The Idea-smithy claim it. I guess at the deepest level, I don’t know how I feel about it. So I can’t decide which neat and tidy room in my life to place it in – my emotions or my ideologies.

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I’ve known polyamorous people. I’ve been out with some. I have felt a deep connection, even great affection for a polyamorous person. But I’ve also known a lot of men who use polyamory as license to cheat and humiliate their partners. I’ve known more than I think, my fair share of ways in which men exploit every privilege afforded them by the world to wreck destruction. “You can love multiple people” feels like handing over a loaded gun to a seven year old with non-existent impulse control and a propensity to damage things.

I have known at least three women whose partners have philandered (and I don’t care if that word sounds old-fashioned because it’s still relevant) and caused them long-term damage through public humiliation, gaslighting and financial exploitation, all in the name of loving many. I was the subject (the target) of the attentions of these ‘polyamorous’ men. That they ranged from ‘dangerous conversations’ to ‘sexual harassment’ is semantics. Because the nature of trust and respect is hard to define and words are but warm air until someone decides to assign meaning to sounds. We all do and we place so much faith in them that it’s easy – too easy – to get lost and to get hurt. I’ve seen it all happen.

All my experiences of love and sex that contribute to this blog stem from experiences that challenge me and make me question who I am, at the core. Whether it was wondering how I felt towards people who loved others of the same sex or whether it’s taking a stand on abortion, it always comes down to this. I accept the human condition with all the ways in which other people express it differently from me. Acceptance means bearing witness with respect, not being indifferent or judgemental. It was relatively easy to conclude this for a gay/lesbian person. A little harder (intellectually) to come to this mental place for a trans person. Not even a question when it came to kinks and distinguishing sexual inclinations from tangled emotions. But I still don’t know where I stand on polyamory.

If it’s only about feeling love for a lot of people, what’s new about that? Isn’t that every single human being on the planet and what’s the need for a special label for this? If it’s about non-monogamous sex, Tinder made that the reality of our generation and again, why a label? And then, how are there also marriages and couples within polyamory since those terms define exclusively monogamous relationships (by law too)?  My thoughts are as cliched as those of monogamous people, the overwhelming one being, “It’s hard enough to maintain one romantic relationship, how on earth do people manage multiple ones simultaneously?”. And yet, I detest labels so I chafe at being clubbed in with the monogamous. This doesn’t mean I willingly pledge my troth with the opposite side because polyamory is a label too. It’s easiest for me to be okay with everyone doing their own thing, mainly because I see these as if from the outside.

The hardest thing is being part of the picture and living it with grace. ‘Polyamory’ like so much else reminds me of the horrible past relationship that was systematically strewn with every manner of lying, humiliation and abuse. That he began our relationship with the sentence “I don’t want any of this open relationship shit. Brutal honesty, that’s all.” and meticulously went on to lie and cheat in every textbook way while making me end my friendships with exes and keeping me off the stage – these still loom large and dark in my perceptions, no matter how hard I try and keep perspective.

Earlier this year I met someone who introduced me to ‘the poly community’. Of course, I remembered thinking, something like this needs a community. For one, it’s a hard idea for the world to accept and there’s strength in numbers. Secondly, by its very definition, polyamory means loving several people, including the people that the ones you love, love. In theory that sounded nice. I always thought I was a 70s hippie flower child born in the wrong time, after all. The idea of a contemporary commune of people expressing love and respect openly, minus social restrictions and free of the pseudo-spiritual drug culture of the time, sounded wonderful. In reality however, it was a dark room (why? there were plenty of lights and in Mumbai, the electricity never goes) with a heavy fog of weed smoke. The conversations ranged from inane to mundane, the kind you’d find in any watering joint in this city on a weekend, among people desperately trying to fill loneliness with intoxication and noise. And finally, it didn’t last longer than a few weeks as Person A’s ‘primary’ Person B moved to another city and Person C (earlier a secondary) decided they preferred Person D, who in turn was great friends with B, and also got along really well with me while their primary ‘knew’ (don’t ask me if that’s in the biblical sense) my ex’s somethingsomething. I couldn’t keep track of primaries, secondaries, tertiaries and whatever comes after that. That last bit did it.

While I’ve been slightly amused by a friend freaking out about Sex Degrees of Separation, this is getting just too connected for comfort. I never want to remember that the monster I was engaged to, inhabits the same universe as me. Of course, he does, but compartmentalisation allows me to keep my sanity and peace of mind and focus on things that matter to me. I don’t want to have any conversations about love or sex or intimacy or anything with anybody even remotely connected to him. Full termination, amputation, whatever you may call it. Even while I don’t like them, boundaries work for me.

Which brings me back to – Polyamorous People. I’ll never judge an idea. It is after all, something magical, something intangible that has the power to shape identities, change lives, transform generations. People though, are much smaller, pettier and more limited than ideas. And this is after all, not about how I feel about polyamory but how I feel about polyamorous people.

That, I think will depend on the person themselves. There are people that I am willing to overlook some of my rules, for. There are others whose seemingly minor infractions are causes to block, unmatch, report, ghost or terminate. There’s no one formulaic reaction to polyamorous people (or their communities) because there’s no one formulaic polyamorous person. This is not judgemental, it’s accepting and respectful while staying true to my nature.

I don’t know what I’d do if I fell in love with a polyamorous person and didn’t want to become one though.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Aziz Ansari And The Missed Cues

Another man joins the ranks of predators and this time it’s a brown, woke man. Here’s a well-written opinion in tweets. And here’s why I don’t agree.

Blindly vilifying the man in a situation is definitely problematic. Justice means every party deserves the benefit of doubt and is innocent unless proven guilty. There’s a reason sexual harassment cases are grey and that’s because they happen behind closed doors. This means nobody knows for sure.

But consent (like assault) is also grey. As a woman I have felt pressured into doing things I didn’t want to, and by ‘nice guys’. I didn’t protest actively because it felt easier to let him go through with it and get away. Disagreeing with men often carries a disproportionately heavy price (slut-shaming, friendzone accusations, acid attacks). It’s exhausting trying to judge the risk in every case and often in such a situation, there isn’t enough time.

Letting someone do something to you that you don’t like, for fear of danger or retribution or punishment magnifies everything. In addition to feeling disgust (at having to do something you didn’t want), one feels violated and imprisoned. Not only did you have to do something unpleasant, you were also not allowed to say you didn’t like it. Imagine being forced to eat a neem cake and being made to smile through it all.

The timing of the allegations feels unfortunate or convenient, depending on how you see this. It’s definitely possible to read it as opportunism, given Aziz Ansari’s success. But also, triggers are a thing. As an abuse survivor, I largely live my life carefully avoiding my gaslighting, abusive ex. But it gets really hard to stay quiet when I see him positing himself as a feminist or decrying violence against women, all while calling me toxic. There is no justice in idolizing a man just for saying he’s feminist while ignoring his history of abuse and violence, especially when every feminist woman is savagely attacked.

#MeToo did more than call out Hollywood’s sexual power/exploitation structure. It forced out conversations about abuse and sexual violence by men against women. I don’t think the Aziz Ansari case is unrelated. Sexual power politics are so intricate, this is part of their unraveling.

Men are not taught to listen to women. Even so-called woke men don’t realize respect, consent, equality and feminism have to exist in every minute, not just on Women’s Day and in trending topics. Most of them slip up and often. And being men, socialized to behave badly with zero fear of consequences, they react often in bad ways. Aziz Ansari just reaffirmed the stereotype of the brown man being hypocritical, sleazy and disrespectful of women. Why should I protest it? I’m a victim of this exact kind of human being.

For everyone referencing the fact that he acknowledged it – “Yes, I did it and I’m sorry” does not nullify a wrongdoing. Would you treat a woman equally kindly when she said sorry? Two words. Monica Lewinsky. What happened to Surpanaka from Ramayan (the closest parallel I can draw to consent violation by a woman) when she wooed Lakshman?

Plenty of men are complaining that they worry about every interaction with the opposite sex. Good, I say and welcome to a woman’s life. You are complaining that you can’t be thoughtless, selfish, privileged anymore without facing consequences. Yes, it’s hard to stop being that and learn a new way of being. So what? Get with it.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram

Rape Culture, One Accidental Anal Joke At A Time

I saw a tweet being shared (with a fair bit of bragging about how it went viral on 9GAG).

Earlier that day, I chanced upon this article about anal sex:

The Phenomenon of ‘Accidental Anal’

For those of you who cannot be bothered with reading the article, what I took away from it – it may be possible, in the heat of the moment, to superficially  jab at the wrong hole. But the kind of penetration that causes pain definitely isn’t ‘accidental’.

Anal sex has its takers and those who enjoy it, do so with two vital ingredients – lubrication and consent.

Now look at the above ‘joke’ again. If these were sexual situations (as the ‘joke’ implies), would the women’s expressions be ‘Oh oops, how careless’ or “OH MY GOD THAT HURTS SO BAD!!” I am a woman and I can tell you female pleasure does not look like that. I can see pained resignation, agony, horror and grief, respectively on each woman’s face. Are these the reactions you’d expect from consensual sex or the opposite – dare we say it – RAPE?

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I tweeted asking if the above was a rape joke or not. The originator of the ‘joke’ replied with the following.

Let’s ignore the defensiveness and the unwarranted aggression all garbed under ‘I respect your opinion’ and focus on the reactions each of our tweets got. I’m not surprised. Misogyny is so cool that the vast hordes will rush to defend and support it. On the other hand, here’s what happens to a woman who even questions a man and god forbid, challenges his rape culture.

 

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And finally, this is what happened when I asked for help:

  • Mumbai Police ignored it altogether. Gee thanks, we now have a new case for ‘resting on laurels’.
  • Twitter sent me the following message: “We reviewed the account you reported and have locked it because we found some of the reported Tweets to be in violation of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules. Tweets that were not in violation may still be public. Please note that if the account owner completes our instructions to unlock their account, and complies with our stated policies, the account may be restored.” I checked the offender’s account and it was visible and active, albeit with the above death-wish tweets deleted. Wow, slap-on-the-knuckle for saying ‘You should die’. Funnily enough, ‘You should be raped’ gets some attention but this one doesn’t.
  • Woman 1: Ignore it. I face so many such with all my yada yada blah blah super important work and ignoring is the only thing to do.
  • Man 1:
  • Woman 2: This is not a rape joke. This is not a death threat.

Oh well.

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But this morning, others told me that they agreed that it was a rape joke. Several also expressed outrage about those offensive tweets and confirmed that they considered these death threats. A fair few joined me in reporting that account (which I imagine is the only reason Twitter thought to take some fractional-hearted action).

‘Accidental Anal’ is a violation of consent. Rape will never be funny. Wishing death on somebody is not trivial.

I am glad enough of people realise that if you stand with a rapist, you make it possible for them to be so. Being silent about, ignoring, joking about or agreeing with rape culture IS rape culture. Attackers trying to silence anyone who challenges rape culture, are propagating rape culture. If you support these attackers, either openly or by asking the recipient of their attacks to be silent, you are also propagating rape culture. Every word counts, every moment of silence counts too. Try not be a rapist.

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram

My #MeToo Checklist

1. Fondled by music teacher and made to touch him – CHECK
2. Breasts mauled by tailor while friend watched and apologised to him for having to leave his shop early – CHECK
3. Had to sit through ‘non-veg jokes’ by MBA college professor for fear of being thrown out – CHECK
4. Groped at Bandra station – CHECK
5. Tolerated inappropriate comments by senior manager because reporting is a joke – CHECK
6. Non-consensual touch by partner and on protesting, being told I was ugly and black and should be grateful – CHECK
7. Abused for writing powerful female characters and called “not a real woman but deranged, good you got beaten up” within a community I run – CHECK
8. Beaten up by a partner for pointing out dowry demands – CHECK
9. Attacked at a space I perform and being called a manhater for protesting it – CHECK
10. Been told I should ‘be positive’, ‘not all men’ and ‘Why does this happen to you only?’ – CHECK

#MeToo

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram

Sometimes Does Yes Means No?

Our population figures tell us that Indians are having at least as much sex as the rest of the world. Not all extramarital pregnancies are the result of rape. And from a purely scientific point of view, if there are so many conceptions, the number of sexual intercourse occasions has to be at least the same, if not higher. Let’s just face the fact that India has sex and needs to deal with all the issues and questions that come up with it.

I’ve generally steered away from getting too close into the bedroom in my writing and so sue me, I’m Indian, it’s ingrained in me to never publicly acknowledge sex. But we are in the utterly ridiculous state of gangrapes, burgeoning population rates, teenage pregnancies and child abuse so I think it’s time I stopped being coy. I’m talking about this.

I recently read a post on TheFrisky by a guy who was left confused by an almost-hookup with a girl who didn’t say no but didn’t exactly seem amenable either.

Flashing as flirty a smile as I could muster, I asked,

“Is everything okay? Are you cool with this?”

Her response wasn’t quite what I expected:

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just do what you need to do.”

This particular statement wasn’t spoken with annoyance or frustration or impatience. It also wasn’t spoken with any enthusiasm whatsoever. It was the most matter-of-fact, emotionless comment I had ever heard from someone I was in the midst of undress with.

Awhile ago, I also heard about an incident between two people I know. There was alcohol consumed and some hooking-up done. Later though, the accounts varied. The girl says that she was taken advantage of. The guy says that she was perfectly conscious and never once stopped him or said no. The girl says a combination of inebriation and shock worked against her.

And a few years ago, I was in a steady relationship with someone who wanted to go much farther and faster than I was comfortable. It caused a lot of problems for us. From the outside, it’s easy to say, “He was a jerk. You should have left him then.” But what makes it so difficult is that these moments don’t occur all the time. In a relationship, there are good moments of shared intimacy, laughter, fun and even love. And bedroom conflicts tend to get categorized with all other things that couples argue about. In this case, I gave in a lot of the times just to keep the peace. Those were the times when my Okays were really Nos.

In a more recent relationship, I was shocked to hear my partner tell me, that he felt he couldn’t always say No to me. It was a conversation that changed our relationship. I never felt comfortable around him again, always worrying that I might be unknowingly transgressing into predatory behavior that men are usually accused of. It opened a whole new dimension to an already complex issue. What about those times when a guy wants to say No? Is this solely a female prerogative?

Interestingly, the same morning that I read TheFrisky article that got me thinking, also brought me this other study by PsychCentral that talks about how people routinely keep up small deceptions in relationships. Ordinarily, much of these gets written off as compromises that one makes in a relationship. When there’s tension and bad blood, you can bet it infects everything in the relationship. Routine adjustments that we make everyday suddenly seem like severe compromises. And since sex isn’t something you can separate from the rest of the relationship, the murky depths suddenly fall into focus. The already grey area of relationship interactions is further complicated by the extreme intimacy and thus awkwardness, shyness and silence that couples and individuals maintain over sex.

And finally, as Indians I think we’re already experiencing the consequences of being caught between the devil and the deep sea. On one side, a repressive social structure that doesn’t allow us to even think about these things. On the other, an increasingly bigger-better-faster-more global village where we’ve access to ideas, actions, social systems and behaviors that require us to be prepared with these notions.

I carried a fair bit of guilt for a long time simply over being physically intimate, a fact that I think the guy used against me when he told me that this was  road of no return. Even today, a lot of Indians believe in virginity, rape victim blame and condemning the sexually active as ‘promiscuous’.

All the above mentioned relationships ended and on sour notes, ranging from acrimonious break-ups to a loss of job in one case. It’s serious enough for us to need to talk about this. I don’t really have an answer. Realistically, how do we protect ourselves, first from unwelcome encounters and second from falling victim to misunderstood intentions?

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