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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.

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

Why I Returned To Tinder After Being Burnt

Jab Tinder And I First Met

I first got onto Tinder in early 2014, when it was new to India. So little was known about it then that I didn’t even realise its reputation as a hookup app. You see, I’m one of those few people that keeps up to date on what’s cutting edge in India, not what was fashionable last month in Los Angeles or London.

It was a horrendous experience. Two people I met, acted as if sex was an agreed upon deliverable and like I was a defaulting small business owner. Yes, exactly as businesslike as that. They were both MBAs from top universities and their behaviour was the kind we usually attribute to ‘low education, underdeveloped social conditions, poor exposure, regressive social customs’. There was talk about no strings attached sex and open relationships but no notion of consent or respect. These were the two I met.

Then there were the married men. Men I knew to be in committed relationships, but who had no compulsions hitting on me when they saw me on Tinder. There were rabid messages. The guy who asked, “What kind of a woman is on Tinder anyway?” The ‘wanna sex’, ‘send nudes’ messages that are practically memes now but were new to me then. Shaken, I added one line to my bio that I wasn’t looking for hookups. The matches dried up instantly. Then a friend found my profile and demanded to know what ‘use’ I was to the platform if I wasn’t offering up sex. He poured an onslaught of hate messages at me till I blocked him. And then I deleted the app and swore off.

This is the Indian man I’ve encountered and learnt to be wary of.

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*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Life Since TinderBurn

I’ve given Tinder a wide berth since then. But I’ve dabbled with some of the other upcoming dating and match apps. Most of them see very little activity. I struggle to connect with the few people I do see there. And it’s frankly depressing to think that men my age are so devoid of looks, language, social skills, hobbies or literally ANYTHING that could hold my interest. The

Then it occurred to me that I was looking in the wrong places. Any kind of matching activity is a game of statistics – the greater the base size, the higher the chance of finding something of interest, if not value.

A recent revelation was that Shaadi.com (and similar matrimonial sites) were no different. I say revelation, because back in the early 2000s, I was on those sites as well, a combination of a ‘marriageble age’ and a very techno-savvy family. I met quite a few people. No one really clicked but we either stayed friends or just moved on in not unpleasant ways. It’s a strange feeling to discover that a space that you were an early entrant into, has turned into a cesspool. Well, I can’t complain, that’s true of Twitter as well.

Getting With The Hookup Generation

Maybe the problem is not Tinder or any one platform. Maybe it is a behavioural trend across our generation. I guess ‘the hookup culture’ is a real thing, not just what decripit old people say about the younger generation. But I don’t think our generation necessarily enjoys it either.

I’m coming to believe that most of us have very simple needs. We all want to find someone that feels comfortable and comforting. We want to be with someone that likes us and who we like too. While many of us are distracted by the glitzy allure of variety, anyone who has actually lived this life will attest to how tiring it is. Human beings are exhausting. Who has the energy to keep drawing boundaries? This is the channel-surfing of relationships and it’s just as unsatisfactory with people as it is with TV programs.

Yet, we do it because we can’t remember how not to. We’ve bought into the belief that somehow this keeps us safe from the (admittedly horrible) danger of heartbreak. When the problem is a generational one, shutting it out means shutting out the whole world.

Strike A Match, Swipe Right

I’ve been hearing slightly better things about Tinder, from both male and female friends. I figured that this where the numbers were going. And Tinder’s mutual match access might be some sort of protective measure. So over two years and much dithering later, I signed up again.

I had forgotten how good Tinder is for a woman’s ego. Everyone I swiped right on, matched with me almost instantly. 😊 Some of them were even Super Like (which in all fairne2016-09-13-17-43-29ss may just mean there are still way fewer women than men here). I also saw more than one man’s profile that categorically stated ‘not looking for hookups’. The cynic in me thinks that’s just a lot of men’s way to get women to swipe right. Even if that’s so, it indicates an acknowledgement of what a woman may want and that’s the start of consent.

And finally, Tinder is the first and only place so far where it’s possible to reject a man. In real life, say NO and men get defensive, nasty and frankly scary. Everywhere else on the internet, displeasing a man (even by saying ‘No thank you’) means a woman can expect a disproportionate amount of hate. But on Tinder it’s as easy as swiping left and hopefully one never has to think about it again because the men don’t know.

Twenty-four hours in, I will say that it feels a lot like Turbo Speed Dating. Swipe left, right, chat up, unmatch, juggle – these require a degree of concentrated energy that I may not be able to sustain for long. But that’s okay. Socialising is high octane energy and I’m fine as long as there’s a protective shield.

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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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