An Alt Lifestyle Blog for and by Our Communities

Summer Personal Training Specials Are Here!

Personal training by Nickey Douglass

Here’s what to do:
1) Contact Nickey Douglass via IG @NickeyStayFit or [email protected]
2) Mention ManhattanAlternative.com
3) Pick your summer special!

  • a deal on 12-pack training sessions, incorporating functional training, body sculpting, weight lifting, or a mix of all 3
  • a special rate for ongoing personal training customized to fit your health and fitness goals

Nickey Douglass is a certified personal trainer with over a decade of experience training bodies of all shapes and sizes in the LGBTQ community. Nickey creates customized fitness and nutrition plans to achieve your goals, whether that’s increased health, strength, and endurance; and/or masculinizing, feminizing, androgynizing, or otherwise transforming and modifying your body to better match your identity.

Read more about Nickey’s training practice here: http://www.manhattanalternative.com/team/nickey-douglass/

Legal Update: Immigrant Rights

What are my rights as an immigrant under Trump’s immigration executive orders?

Guest blog post by Angela Torregoza, founder at LegalEase.us, a boutique law firm providing immigration and small business support. She is a member of the New York City Bar Association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. In her free time, Angela blogs about art and social justice on Instagram as @venusinorbit

In his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump signed 90 Executive Orders, several of them relating to immigration. Protests by immigrants and their advocates ensued, prompting congressional and judicial actions blocking these orders. In this time of uncertainty, the lives of immigrant individuals and families hang at a balance. We’ve provided below some useful information to immigrants and their families regarding immigration or criminal justice contact.

Who is at risk?
The executive orders have broadened immigration enforcement priorities, making those that entered the country without inspection or overstayed a visa, and irrespective of whether or not they have a criminal record deportable. This means that someone who entered the U.S. on a valid tourist visa, for example, and overstayed and arrested for a minor infraction could be deported.

If you’ve been arrested:
Inform your criminal defense attorney or public defender of your immigrant status, especially if you crossed the border or overstayed your visa. Legal permanent residents (LPRs or “green card” holders) may also be deported especially if they have arrests or convictions. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, you should consult with an immigration attorney to find out how you can protect yourself from deportation. A criminal lawyer’s job is to address the criminal issues and may not consider the immigration consequences which can be very severe, especially under this new administration. Do not sign or agree to anything until you have spoken to an immigration lawyer.

If you’ve had prior arrest or convictions:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been pursuing LPRs with prior convictions, even if they did not serve time in jail, the case was from years ago, the case was very minor or a misdemeanor. Even longtime green card holders or those with U.S. Citizen family members have not been spared. ICE has also targeted undocumented people with prior convictions, especially if the case involved DUI, drugs, domestic violence, gun possession or child endangerment. If you are not a U.S. Citizen and have prior arrest or convictions, you should seek the help of an immigration attorney or a nonprofit organization providing legal services.

I’m at risk. How can I protect myself?
Plan with your loved ones in case you are picked up by ICE and investigate in advance the steps to take if a loved one is detained (e.g. which office to contact, who to ask for help). Carefully plan your contact with immigration and speak to an immigration lawyer before any contact. This includes regularly scheduled check-ins with immigration officials. Do not file to change your status, renew your green card or travel outside the U.S. without speaking with a lawyer. Avoid unnecessary risks that can result in interaction with the criminal justice system. For example, if you do not have a license, do not drive, avoid venues where police may interrupt the proceedings, take extra precautions for things that you may not normally have paid much attention to (e.g. littering, traffic violations, drug use, altercations). You should also keep in mind that police share state fingerprints with immigration and some cities and states have agreed to use local police officers to assist with the immigration enforcement.

What are my rights as an immigrant?

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • You have the right to speak to a lawyer.
  • You do not have to share any information about where you were born, your immigration status or your criminal record. Ask to speak to a lawyer instead of answering questions.
  • You do not have to give your consular documents or passport unless they have a warrant from a judge.
  • You do not have to sign anything.

For more information about consequences of criminal convictions and list of free legal service providers, read our previous post, Consequences of Criminal Convictions: Know Your Rights. If you have any questions or would like more information, please email us at [email protected].

Angela Torregoza, founder at LegalEase.us

Gender Inclusive Terms for Sexual Health, Pregnancy, and Birth

Click HERE or on the following link to see the full live Google doc of Gender Inclusive Terms for Pregnancy, Birth, and Sexual Health: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pSq-wQq_gVCw7Px4gexKH1QXY5X9nJCaR-mCXWGvBVM/edit

While there is a notation in this document giving permission to share and repost, the original author is not listed. If you’re reading this and happen to know who the author is, please comment or send me a message so I can update this post. Thank you!   

Hormones & Handcuffs

How many trans or gender nonconforming people are involved in BDSM, nonmonogamy, or other forms of alternate lifestyles?  Actual numbers do not exist, but anecdotal evidence suggests percentages are significantly higher than in cisgender (non-transgender) populations.  Why?

Those of us in the transgender and gender nonconforming community have nontraditional relationships with our bodies.  A large number experience bitter dysphoria pretransition, having spent decades tormented by a conflict between our inner identities and external selves.  So often this clash centers on genitalia, the most prominent markers of gender; we may have an intense disgust and a desperation to rid ourselves of parts that feel so alien. Also, numerous studies have documented higher rates of trauma and abuse in trans populations, and some people are so troubled by their bodies that they shower in the dark, completely unable to view themselves unclothed.

Others do not experience such distress but still choose to live as a gender other than the one they were born into physically. Those of us who feel this way may be running toward futures we believe will be happier rather than away from pasts of suffering, regarding our transitions not as how we have to live, but how we want to live.

Whatever our motivations, being trans or gender nonconforming demands we spend at least some time occupying the liminal space between “masculinity” and “femininity,” existing in that middle ground where we are neither one nor the other.  This is especially true for those of us who identify as genderqueer, gender nonconforming, genderfluid, bigendered, demigendered, agendered, gender expansive, gender diverse, two spirit, or outside gender binaries altogether.  We defy easy classification.

How do our genitalia interact with other facets of our identities?  What do our genitalia say about our sexuality? Often sexuality is a dialogue between individual and society, so how do we reconcile our identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, or straight if our sex organs don’t necessarily match? What if we don’t identify as either male or female?   Pretransition, how do we make use of organs we may otherwise reject, or relearn our bodies posttransition? How do we negotiate with partners… and, for that matter, how do we have sex? 

We don’t necessarily even use the same language as the rest of you.  Vagina, clit, chest, breasts, penis, certainly… but we also use “girlcock,” “boycunt,” “manhole,” “cockpit,” “lollipop,” “bits,” “strapon/strapless,” “trannyclit,” “dicklet,” “asspussy,” “stock” versus “aftermarket,” and countless others terms1.  We relabel and reinterpret our genitalia so as to align them with the bodies we internally visualize.  Or for fun.

So it is a tiny step from there to “alternate lifestyles,” a world which offers us the opportunity to express fantasies and other aspects of our identities in creative, safe manners.  Why not continue exploring outside boundaries?  Some of us happily pursue monogamous, heterosexual, or “vanilla” lives, but for others, traditional relationships and missionary sex seem to be quaint social constructions. Sensation and impact play (bondage, whips, paddles, crops, clamps, featherdusters, needles, Wartenburg Wheels, ice, wax) allow us to submerge ourselves within an endorphin rush that encompasses the entirety of our bodies.  Roleplay (ageplay, genderplay, fantasy) mirrors our pretransition experience of periodically assuming identities that may not match our daily “realities.”  Through dominance and submission we are provocative around power dynamics in ways that sometimes parallel gender dynamics and other times liberate us of them, while nonmonogamy and leather families offer us the prospect of taking pleasure in the many loves and bonds that were so often denied to us before.  And at times we become empowered by eroticizing the abuse, victimization, and trauma in a manner that can be healing.

Being trans of any variety involves questioning how we relate to our genitalia; those of us who identify as genderqueer or otherwise nonbinary go further by openly confounding normal and destabilizing social convention. Many of us make it our life’s mission to play, to be confrontational, to creatively investigate the body, identity, and sexuality.  Ultimately, for a large number of people in the trans and gender nonconforming community, heteronormative or not, reveling in these nontraditional forms of sexuality and relationships is part of our ongoing examination of the human experience.  

Our bodies are the playgrounds of our fantasies. And there is so much to enjoy.

You can find more about me at: LauraAJacobs.com

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1I refuse to include “junk.”  Genitalia are anything but.

De-stigmatizing Grief

Guest blog post by Kailey Roberts, a clinical psychology PhD candidate at The New School for Social Research and an NIH-supported pre-doctoral research fellow specializing in cancer and bereavement. She has worked as a researcher and clinician for 6 years supporting the psychosocial needs of individuals diagnosed with cancer and their family members.

Originally published on April 30, 2015, republished January 14, 2016.

When I was invited to contribute to this blog because of my professional and personal experiences with grief, I struggled with what to focus on. Grief is in many ways a ubiquitous experience but is also so diverse in the ways and reasons its felt that sometimes it can be seen as an untouchable set of emotions, even by some mental health professionals.  Further, as someone who is actively grieving, I understand that often there is nothing that can be said to help the pain; sometimes it is just about feeling the waves of pain.  However, through my professional experiences studying bereavement, I have picked up a number of important points that inform my own process of grieving as well as how I approach grief counseling that may be helpful to share:

1) Loss comes in many forms.
Grief can be experienced as a result of many different types of losses. While my professional experiences have primarily focused on grief as a result of death, I preface this all with the important acknowledgement that loss comes in many forms, whether it is loss of a limb, loss of a social role, loss of physical health, or loss of a relationship.

2) One loss may be the starting point for a series of losses.
When grieving the loss of an individual, a person may actually be grieving over many losses, not just of the individual. For example, parents who lose a child often not only grieve the loss of their child, but also the loss of what they knew as their role as parent.

3) Meaning reconstruction in the face of loss.
Central aspects of the grief experience can be a loss of meaning, reconnecting with meaning in life, and making sense of the loss itself.  

Loss of worldview assumptions. Death in itself may be a topic that a grieving person has not consciously thought about previously; beliefs about a just world may be challenged, or visions of what a “good death” looks like may be blown away.

Meaning-reconstruction. Grief can often involve feeling disconnected from and/or reconnecting to sources of meaning in life, as well as finding meaning in the deceased person’s life.  For many grieving individuals, finding meaning in life after a devastating loss can seem unthinkable but many find that reconnecting with sources of meaning can be a way of connecting with the deceased individual or with important aspects of one’s identity.

4) Grief is impacted by societal values.
As with any emotional experience, a person’s experience of grief is impacted by familial, cultural and societal beliefs about death and norms for mourning.  For some, these norms may be helpful but for others, these may not only be unhelpful, but detrimental, particularly if they lead to a lack of recognition of someone’s right to grieve or right to grieve in their own way.

5) Disenfranchised grief.
“Disenfranchised grief” is what the grief counseling world refers to as any experience of grief that is not recognized by the majority or that may be in some way negatively received if talked about.  Whether a person’s grief is “disenfranchised” might depend on the type of loss they experienced, their pre-existing experience(s) of marginalization, their social and workplace environment, or a combination.

a) Disenfranchised grief because of cause of death. Certain causes of death are stigmatized, such as suicide and HIV/AIDS-related deaths.  In the case of suicide, family members may feel they will be stigmatized because of assumptions about suicide and mental distress. 

b) Disenfranchised grief because of relationship to the deceased. Societal norms about what constitutes a meaningful relationship can dictate how bereaved individuals are treated and acknowledgement of grief.  On a policy level this can leave some grieving people without institutional support for their grief, as many institutional bereavement leave policies only acknowledge familial relationships, excluding bereaved friends or unmarried partners.  On a social level, certain losses may be assumed to be more meaningful than others so individuals may not feel supported in speaking about the loss or their grief to their social circle.

6) Talking about grief can be disempowering.
It can be difficult to find spaces where talking about grief is welcomed. Many people find it uncomfortable to hear about grief and death, even if they sincerely want to help. Additionally, though a person may be grieving for months and years after a loss, social norms for how to help generally involve a great deal of attention, practical and emotional support in the wake of the loss but these sources of support may taper off.  This can leave a grieving an individual wondering where and when it is appropriate to talk about their grief and potentially feeling ashamed, saddened, and/or isolated in their grief.

7) Talking about grief can be empowering.
Particularly in the case of disenfranchised experiences of grief, the act of talking about the loss in a safe space can be a way of reclaiming the right to grieve as well as asserting the value of the deceased individual’s life.  In the case of suicide, this can be particularly meaningful if the deceased individual was marginalized in life. While bereaved individuals often express disappointment in finding certain friends or family members are less supportive than they expected, it is also common to discover new sources of support or strengthened relationships.

A list of 7 points relevant to grief certainly does not do justice to the complex, unique, terrible, poignant and fluctuating experience that grief can be. However, it is my hope that in sharing this someone may feel a little less isolated for even a moment and validated in their experience of grief, and that this continues an open dialogue to de-stigmatize grief.

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Please visit and share the following list of resources:

Parachute NYC provides alternatives to hospitalization for people experiencing emotional crises.

The Support Line is a free and confidential phone service operated by peer staff that offers support and referral services to NYC individuals experiencing emotional distress: 646-741-HOPE.

1-800-LIFENET is a free, confidential, multi-lingual, mental health and substance abuse information, referral, and crisis prevention hotline available to anyone at any time.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

The Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a public-private partnership advancing the Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

ManhattanAlternative.com is a network of therapeutic service providers in New York City who are sex-positive, affirmative, and have expertise related to issues that kink, poly, consensually non-monogamous, trans, gender non-conforming, and/or LGBQ-identified individuals face.

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Also see Learning the Language of Grief at DulcineaPitagora.com for an experiential account of a bereavement support group.   

Sword Class NYC: A Safe Place To Be Fierce

Guest blog post by Sara Tunick, social worker and general manager and instructor at Sword Class NYC, where she studies kendo and has achieved 2nd Dan in Siljun Dobup.

Compared to others in my generation, I came out relatively late in life. I grew up doing what I was “supposed to do.” I played sports, did my chores, went to college, and I assumed that I would eventually marry a man and have babies. For as long as I was sexually aware, I’ve known that I’m not straight. I was raised in a very liberal and affirming home, but I was also told that bisexuality was a myth—everyone was either gay or straight. It took several toxic relationships, years of therapy, and an identity crisis or two for me to own my queer identity. By my mid-to-late 20s, I knew who I was attracted to and how I wanted to love them. I had a Masters in Social Work and was working with dually-diagnosed LGBTQ homeless youth in Manhattan. Though I wasn’t out to everyone yet, being queer was the center of my work and personal lives.

CASI_MG_2644

Say hello to Tunick at Sword Class NYC’s Grand Opening Party! 1944 Madison Ave at 125th St, this Sunday 9/20 at 1pm.

While I was in graduate school, a friend of mine began teaching martial arts classes in midtown. He had been studying Siljun Dobup (a Korean sword form that uses the curved katana) and kendo for several years and wanted to open his own school. I signed up for classes because…Well, swords are cool! I never expected to get as hooked on it as I did, and, when I was suffering from unemployment after social work school, I started working for him in exchange for classes. I’ve been managing Sword Class NYC since 2010 and we just opened our very own studio in Harlem. It’s been a long road, but this is a huge and exciting step for us!

I spend a lot of time at the dojo. I train in two forms, teach classes, and have a lot of administrative duties. One of my main responsibilities (and greatest joys!) is creating an enthusiastic and supportive community. I spend a lot of time with students, but rarely disclose much personal information. One evening, I went out with some students (mostly straight cismen) for drinks after class. After a few rounds, one of the guys pointed out a particularly attractive woman at the bar and I immediately concurred. As soon as the words left my mouth, I panicked. Would they judge me? Worse, would I immediately become a fetishized object? Would I lose the respect I had earned, which is no small thing for a female-presenting person in the martial arts world?

No one missed a beat. The conversation moved on. No one has ever brought it up or treated me differently. I have not become a spokesperson or a token. No one has treated me oddly because they’re trying to demonstrate how OK they are with my queerness. My sexual orientation is a non-issue. My role in the school is defined by my ability, my status as an instructor and manager, and by simply who I am. I am so fortunate to be part of a school that affirms and supports me and am so thankful for the opportunity to help create a safe space in a community when gender and sexual orientation are often stigmatized.

As I have progressed in my training, I have not only become a stronger martial artist, but I have become a stronger person. Gaining rank, becoming an instructor, and building a dojo have given me a level of pride in myself I have never experienced nor expected. Practicing four days a week has increased my patience, focus, and my physical, mental, and emotional endurance. I finally had the courage to explain my identity to my mother. I no longer fear my identity coming up in casual conversation with students, or with most anyone. This Sunday, we’re holding a grand opening party for the new space. I will be celebrating my teachers, my students, and our new home, but I will also be celebrating myself and how the study of the sword has allowed me to be my truest self, in all respects..

Join Sword Class NYC’s Grand Opening Party on Sunday at 1 PM or drop by the dojo at any time!  For more information, send an email to [email protected].

The Kink-Poly Confluence, part 2

Continued from last week’s The Kink-Poly Confluence, part 1

The Kink-Poly Dynamic in Therapy

Unfortunately, pathologizing attitudes towards kink and poly lifestyles persist among many therapists, therefore individuals with atypical sexualities or lifestyles may tend to avoid going to therapy, which can exacerbate the issues mentioned above1,2,3. When individuals do go to therapy, they may either avoid disclosure of their identifications or lifestyle, or try and suppress their desires in reaction to having been pathologized by a previous therapist1. “Newbies”—people newly aware of having BDSM desires—often come to therapy because of shame and fear around their desires due to socialization or internalized stigmatization, and may ask a therapist to help “cure” them1. However, attempting to “cure” people of their BDSM desires can be seen as analogous to conversion or reparative therapy for LGBTQ-identified individuals, which is no longer considered an appropriate or ethical form of therapeutic treatment, and is in fact harmful, as asserted in a report by the American Psychiatric Association on therapeutic responses to sexual orientation.

It’s important for therapists working with kink-identified individuals to approach the work with caution, and avoid common fallacies that influence the dominant negative discourses their clients may have internalized. These include: “BDSM is all about pain” (in fact, BDSM encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including some that do not involve any sort of physical stimulation); “those who enjoy BDSM come from a history of childhood trauma or abuse” (there is actually no reported evidence that people who enjoy BDSM are any different than those who do not in terms of histories of trauma or abuse); “BDSM is similar to addiction, in that participants will always want to try something more extreme” (there is also no such evidence of this phenomenon, in fact many report reaching a plateau that varies on an individual basis)1.

Kink-poly-identified individuals often come to therapy for issues unrelated to discomfort with their identifications3,4. While it’s not necessary for a therapist to be kink-identified in order to do good work, it’s important to have certain qualities, including the ability to: be affirmative and able to normalize alternative lifestyles; be well-informed about atypical practices and lifestyles; be comfortable discussing atypical behaviors and lifestyles; be self-aware and reflexive about countertransference; and avoid focusing on sexual practices that irrelevant to the treatment1,4,5.

Other clinical issues common to kink and/or poly identified individuals relate to relationship issues among partners with conflicting interests or identifications, or who are struggling with intimate partner violence6. Particularly in the case of abuse, it is crucial that a therapist have a clear understanding of the difference between a consensual kink-poly dynamic and sexual coercion or assault, and, particularly when in treatment with people new to one or both lifestyles, a certain amount of psychoeducation may be helpful6.

While the most common kink-poly-oriented individual seeking therapy is one new to the dynamic1, people in any stage of lifestyle and identity development might face issues that would benefit from bibliotherapy and additional community support3. The kink-poly relationship dynamic requires an understanding of the ongoing work and complex relationship skills involved, which can be made all the more difficult by a lack of relationship structure models available. At the outset of treatment, Labriola7 recommends exploring whether an individual feels more kink- or poly-identified, and whether one of those identifications takes precedence or influences the other. Poly and kink dynamics require honesty, with partners and oneself, which includes deciding whether the kink-poly dynamic is a good fit8.

Taormino9 asserts that BDSM-oriented individuals tend to be more successful at sustaining poly relationships than non-kinky individuals because they tend to: have more clearly delineated roles and expectations for partners; want to articulate their needs and desires; be willing to negotiate, set boundaries, and compromise; and avoid making assumptions about their partners’ desires, needs, or abilities. Those new to the kink-poly dynamic may need assistance with thinking through what areas need strengthening, within themselves and perhaps also their partners. For example, if an individual has issues with insecurity or self-esteem, this should be addressed before expanding any relationship into polyamory9. Transparency and conflict resolution skills should be encouraged, as well as clarification of roles, and how those roles function in relation to different partners9. Those who identify as submissive may have an inherent tendency to want to please, sometimes to their own disadvantage, in which case a focus on clarifying roles and boundaries and improving negotiation skills can be helpful4.

Another common element in kink-poly dynamics is “New Relationship Energy” (or NRE), which can affect the amount of attention that a partner gives to existing relationships because the new relationship feels powerfully distracting9. The power dynamic itself can also be a form of NRE for those who are initially poly-identified and expand into an exploration of kink9. In both cases, self-awareness and mindfulness are crucial in keeping a balance among and avoiding neglect of partners9.

A focus on communication in the kink and poly communities has become so commonly stated that many feel it is stating the obvious; however, stating and restating what seems obvious can be helpful in kink-poly dynamics, as most issues result from ineffective or lacking communication8,9,10. The benefit of consistent and clear communication and negotiation of sex between and among all partners has the added benefit of broadening potential for pleasure in creating a sense of foreplay around inter- and intra-dyadic erotic and/or sexual interactions, which Bauer10 terms “poly voyeurism…an erotic version of compersion” (p. 151).

Compersion is a term often used in the polyamory community to refer to the antithesis of jealousy—it is a type of relational empathy in which pleasure is felt when an individual’s partner experiences pleasure with another partner11,12. Jealousy is a common reaction for many unfamiliar with or new to poly practices, and is often motivated by feelings of inferiority or fears of being replaced or losing a partner’s connection or affection; though perhaps easier said than done, learning the art of compersion can be an antidote to jealousy8. Compersion can be particularly difficult to achieve when a relationship is expanded into a poly dynamic before it is ready; for example, if the relationship’s foundation is unstable or unclear, if partners are insecure in the relationship, or if one or more partners suffer from low self-esteem8. Having said that, having a positive self-image does not preclude an individual from experiencing jealousy, which can be deeply rooted due to the internalization of mononormativity10.

Jealousy can be particularly problematic in a kink-poly dynamic due to unexpected relational developments, such as when interactions have been compartmentalized as purely kinky, erotic, or sexual, but become more intimate, or evolve into something else, for example an interaction that begins as a power exchange that leads to an emotional connection7. The most effective way to address these types of relational changes in a kink-poly dynamic is in making continual efforts towards self-improvement, and a desire to support partner(s) in the same effort9. It is generally not the erotic or sexual behavior that is at the root of jealousy, but the communication around the behavior, and the emotions or issues that the behavior triggers9.

As many kink-poly-oriented individuals are aware of and attempting to practice the central tenets of the dynamic—consent, transparency, and communication—mindfulness provides an intuitive therapeutic approach in strengthening these skills. Mindfulness is described as a way of increasing intentionality and compassion, and encouraging a present-focused, non-judgmental state in which individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations13. When conflicts arise, some will fight against distress, but mindfulness offers a means through which to observe and endure pain in order to find productive ways to improve relationships13.

Many kink-poly-identified individuals have internalized stigma around mainstream sexuality, and problems in relationships may arise due to associated feelings of shame and guilt14. Mindfulness allows for a different response to conflict and suffering, and a space to embrace difficulties and engage in self-examination instead of avoidance and defensive behavior, and learn a perspective of interconnectedness and an ongoing process of self-reflection and growth14.

Insight dialogue within the context of mindfulness could be particularly helpful in addressing the issues that surface in the kink-poly dynamic14. The steps of insight dialogue include: slowing down habitual thoughts and responses; relaxing and accepting thoughts and feelings in the present moment; extending awareness beyond the self to the environment and to others; interacting without an agenda and or attempts to force or control interactions; actively listening and committing to learning; and speaking truthfully14.

The take home message from all of the above is that kink-poly-identified individuals may face additional stressors from external sources outside of their relationships, as well as within their relationships. The good news is that many kinky-poly people, simply by virtue of their lifestyle and the people around them, will already be aware of and in the process of strengthening their skills around transparency, communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and self-awareness. The bottom line for kink-poly-identified people (as well as everyone else!) is to keep working on yourself, in whatever way you find works best for you and your partner(s), and to keep up the hard work! Relationships, in whatever form or structure, are an ongoing challenge that can be well worth the effort.

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1 Barker, M., Iantaffi, A., & Gupta, C. (2007). Kinky clients, kinky counselling? The challenges and potentials of BDSM. In L. Moon (Ed.), Feeling Queer or Queer Feelings: Radical Approaches to Counselling Sex, Sexualities and Genders (pp. 106-124). London, UK: Routledge. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/17272/2/4AD665D2.pdf

2 Kolmes, K., Stock, W., & Moser, C. (2006). Investigating bias in psychotherapy with BDSM clients. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2-3), 301-324. doi:10.1300/J082v50n02_15

3 Kleinplatz, P. J. & Diamond, L. M. (2014). Sexual diversity. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology: Vol. 1, Person-Based Approaches (pp. 245-267). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. xxviii, 804. doi:10.1037/14193-009

4 British Psychological Society (2012). Guidelines and literature review for psychologists working therapeutically with sexual and gender minority clients. Retrieved from www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/rep_92.pdf

5 Nichols, M. (2006). Psychotherapeutic issues with “kinky” clients: Clinical problems, yours and theirs. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2-3), 281-300.

6 Ortmann, D. M. & Sprott, R. (2012). Sexual outsiders: Understanding BDSM sexualities and communities. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

7 Labriola, K. (2010). Love in abundance: A counselor’s advice on open relationships. Eugene, OR: Greenery Press.

8 Rinella, J. (2011). Partners in power. Gardena, CA: SCB Distributors. Kindle Edition.

9 Taormino, T. A. (2008). Opening up: A guide to creating and sustaining open relationships. Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

10 Bauer, R. (2010). Non-monogamy in queer BDSM communities: Putting the sex back into alternative relationship practices and discourse. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.), Understanding Non-Monogamies (pp. 142-153). London, UK: Routledge.

11 Klesse, C. (2011). Notions of love in polyamory—Elements in a discourse on multiple loving. Laboratorium, Russian Review of Social Research, 3(2), 4-25.

12 Wosick-Correa, K. (2010). Agreements, rules and agentic fidelity in polyamorous relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, 1(1), 44-61. doi: 10.1080/19419891003634471

13 Boyd-Franklin, N., Cleek, E. N., Wofsy, M., & Mundy, B. (2013). Therapy in the real world: Effective treatments for challenging problems. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Kindle Edition.

14 Barker, M. (2013). Mindful counselling and psychotherapy: Practicing mindfully across approaches and issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

The Kink-Poly Confluence, part 1

While there is very little academic literature that’s been published on the intersection of polyamorous- and kink-identified individuals, there are numerous mentions of people who identify as both kinky and poly in research on one or the other of the two communities. The overlap of kink and poly tend to be acknowledged, accepted, and depathologized in both communities, and consensual nonmonogamy (CNM1) or polyamory are sometimes considered the norm in certain kink subcultures2,3. 

Following is an overview of this common confluence of identifications, and a discussion of approaches in therapy specific to the kink-poly dynamic.  For clarity’s sake, I’ll be referring to “kink-identified individuals” in terms of to those who self-identify as kinky or BDSM-oriented, and engage in BDSM as their main form of erotic and/or sexual expression; those who may or may not identify as kinky, enjoy vanilla sex, but also incorporate BDSM into their erotic and/or sexual interactions; and those who identify as being in a BDSM-oriented relationship that extends the relational power dynamic beyond erotic and sexual interactions into lifestyle4,5,6,7. “Poly-identified individuals” will refer to those who self-identify as polyamorous, and self-define their intimate, romantic, erotic, and/or sexual relationships as being or having the potential to be consensually nonmonogamous with the awareness and agreement of all partners involved6,8,9. 

Also in the interest of clarity, it’s important to note that polyamory falls under the umbrella term of CNM, though polyamorous individuals self-define their relationship structures in a variety of ways, and can closely resemble other styles of CNM such as open relationships or swinging1,10. Kink-identified individuals who are also poly-identified likewise self-determine their relationship structures, though because the emphasis in successful kink-poly relationships is often on transparency and connection, their focus might tend to be on cultivating deeper emotional intimacy, whether those interactions are frequent or infrequent, consistent or inconsistent, and/or short- or long-term7,9.

There are common themes in the academic literature that notes an overlap in the kink and poly communities, including: 1) the central tenets of transparency, negotiation, and communication; 2) a greater openness to sexual and gender diversity and other non-mainstream identifications; and 3) a willingness to challenge social norms2,8,11. The literature emphasizes consent as a defining characteristic of both poly and BDSM lifestyles—it’s what distinguishes BDSM interactions from abuse, and polyamory from infidelity10,12. That’s not to say that abuse never occurs in kinky relationships and that infidelity cannot occur in a polyamorous relationship, but unless action is taken, the persistence of these behaviors indicates the potential disintegration of a functional kinky and/or poly dynamic.

The literature also references common motivational themes in kink-poly-identified individuals. As noted above, communication, transparency, negotiation, and consent are central tenets of both the poly and kink communities; therefore, individuals who practice BDSM tend to have cultivated a set of ethics and skills that dovetail well with the practice of polyamory, and vice versa2. Other avenues for crossover can be described in terms of direction. For example, in the direction of poly expanding into kink, many poly-identified individuals decide to do so because they want to avoid constraining their capacity for love or eroticism9, and this relationship structure provides the ideal context in which to explore erotic or sexual interests that cannot be met within their current relationship2,7,11,13. In the direction of kink expanding into poly, during BDSM scene negotiations, a discussion around shared common interests, hard limits, and logistics might organically, and in some cases necessarily, include how many individuals and who will be involved2. BDSM interactions are designed to challenge conventional sexual norms, therefore the challenging of conventional relationship structure norms, or mono-normativity2, often seems a logical progression8,14.

Research indicates that polyamory is more common in the kink community than BDSM behaviors are in the poly community2,3,13, and is common to the point of being a cultural norm in non-straight subsections of the BDSM community2,3. For example, in leatherdyke and dyke + (i.e., self-identified dykes, queers, and trans individuals) BDSM communities, an individual who identifies as monogamous might have difficulty in finding another monogamous partner2,3. This, combined with an abundance of role models in an environment of depathologization, might strongly influence a historically monogamous individual to entertain polyamory as viable and perhaps necessary2,3.

Another common motivator for the expansion of a monogamous relationship into a kink-poly-oriented relationship relates to the vastness of sexual diversity—individuals may find themselves in an otherwise highly functional partnership that cannot incorporate important aspects of their sexuality, such as in the case of partners who have unshared BDSM interests or conflicting sexual identities or power role orientations2,13. Examples of such relationship configurations might include a kinky and a non-kinky member; two dominant- or submissive-identified individuals; a dominant- or submissive-identified individual and one who is a switch, i.e. fluid in their power role preference5; or a partner who identifies as monosexual (i.e., exclusively hetero- or homosexual), and one who identifies as bisexual, pansexual, or queer7,11. Additionally, a relationship might have a partner who remains monogamous while another partner is nonmonogamous7. For example, because there tends to be more submissive- than dominant-identified individuals in the kink community, a kink-poly-oriented relationship might consist of a nonmonogamous dominant with multiple monogamous submissive partners3,7. Alternately, in the kinky/non-kinky relationship, the non-kinky partner may choose to remain monogamous, while the kinky partner is nonmonogamous, and seeks out other relationships only to satisfy their BDSM desires7.

Some kink-poly-identified individuals prefer hierarchical relationships, whereas some prefer more egalitarian relationships among partners2,4,15. Hierarchies can be expressed in terms of more intimate or emotional connections taking precedence over purely sexual or erotic ones, or in terms of power role orientations3,7. In kink-poly-oriented relationships that incorporate BDSM into lifestyle, the hierarchical prioritizing structure of primary/secondary/tertiary/ancillary partnership structure is common, with prioritization based on a variety of factors, including chronological seniority, legality (i.e., marriage), and/or emotional connection7. Incorporating hierarchy into relationships doesn’t necessarily translate into a devaluation of non-primary partners; the way that kink-poly-oriented relationships are defined is specific to the individuals involved, and might also fluctuate7.

Another overlap in kink and poly communities is the concept of “family” or ongoing group connections. These configurations might be called a poly or leather family, and may include partners who share connections that are emotional, erotic, and/or sexual, as well as include partners who engage solely on an emotional, erotic, or sexual level8,15. Both poly and leather families are “chosen families,” though leather families may or may not consider themselves to be polyamorous, and vice versa. Leather families are more often hierarchical than poly families tend to be, and are based on protocols and traditions originating around the 1950s from “Leather Culture”15.

Converging Kink-Poly Histories

There is evidence in the literature noting the existence of BDSM behaviors long before the adoption of the terms “sadism” and “masochism” by Krafft-Ebing in 1886, though nearly a century passed before BDSM communities began forming in the early 1970s16. Similarly, references to non-monogamy have appeared throughout much of recorded history3 and specific references to polyamory as a descriptive term are said to have begun circulating in the 1920s. Polyamory as a self-identification and community did not come into popular use until around 1990, and was finally entered into the Oxford English dictionary in 20068,12. 

A historical overlap between the BDSM and consensual nonmonogamy communities can be traced to progressive political movements in the 1960s, when activism around these and other unconventional lifestyles and belief systems gained momentum9. Though stereotypical beliefs around the kink and poly communities assume a male-dominant/female-submissive structure, it is much less common in both communities (relative to the general population) to incorporate this type of relationship structure, and both kink and poly communities are more likely to be profeminist14,17. Similarly, egalitarian relationships not only exist in the kink community, but in some cases are intentionally enacted to allow for power play that takes place solely within heavily rule-bound, time-delimited scenes8. McClintock’s19 exploration of the intersection between fetishism and gender power asserts that the parameters of a BDSM scene provide a safe space where any gender can adopt any power role, challenging the constraints of stereotypical gender expression.

An unfortunate historical overlap is the tendency for kink-poly-identified individuals to experience stigma and discrimination2,11,19. Individuals who practice BDSM behaviors and lifestyles have been pathologized since prior to the coining of the term sadomasochism by Freud in 1905. Pathologization and stigmatization continues today, recursively reinforced by socialization, media representation, and clinical and educational inertia. Though polyamory has not been pathologized in the literature to the extent that BDSM has been, academic, political, and popular discourses have historically presented essentialist mononormativity as the only morally correct relationship structure, and considerations for consensual non-monogamy are rare within mainstream psychology and therapy practices10. Those who are out (or outed) about their lifestyles might face consequences such as the loss of employment, housing, and custody of children, as well as rejection by friends and family11.

Born this way, or personal lifestyle choice?

Essentialist theories of identity assert that there are true essences in humans originating internally from or before birth20. Conversely, social constructionists argue that identifications such as gender and sexuality originate externally through the social construction of reality20. Because there is extraordinary diversity and fluidity in sexual expression within society, subcultures, and the individual, it follows that a wide variety of choices can be made in self-defining and expressing one’s kink-poly-orientation. This notion of self-defined identifications could be seen to conflict with the essentialist suggestion that these identifications might instead be inherent19,20. A study exploring BDSM participants’ initial awareness of their BDSM interests found more essentialist than constructionist narratives, and some noting an interactive effect, in that they believed their identification was inherent, but noted the influence of socialization prior to discovering an interest in kink19. The researchers note that these proportions—more essentialist than constructionist, and a smaller combined proportion—is common in research pertaining to atypical sexualities19.

In DeLamater and Hyde’s20 literature review of essentialist and constructionist theories of sexual identity, the authors suggest that the possibility of a combined effect is unlikely. In contrast, Ryan and Jethá’s21 book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality asserts that the truth behind genetically versus socially determined behavior lies somewhere in the confluence of these theories. Dynamical systems account for those who feel that their sexuality is innate and fixed, as well as those who feel their sexuality is more fluid and influenced by interpersonal relationships19. The authors of Sex at Dawn assert that Wilson’s introduction of the theory of evolutionary psychology in 1975 did not make absolute statements about the influence of genetics on psychological phenomena, the controversy that it spurred served to polarize scientific and academic absolutist beliefs21.

Regardless of how an individual’s atypical identification is formed, those with atypical identifications face difficulties that those with typical identifications do not. For example, because kink-poly-identified individuals have the ability to pass and are therefore often assumed by those outside the communities to be non-kinky and mononormative, they may suffer effects associated with having a concealable stigmatized identity due to anticipated stigma (i.e., the fear their sexual interests will be revealed) and cultural stigma (i.e., the risk of social devaluation), which have been found to contribute to increased risk of depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms22,23. Fortunately these symptoms can be mitigated by a strong social support network, which exists for kink-poly-identified individuals in kink and poly communities. Social support can also exist within a kink-poly-oriented relationship, in that when the relationship is successful, it allows for and perhaps forces personal growth by virtue of the high level of communication skills and self-awareness that such relationships require. Therapy can also be helpful when kink-poly-identified individuals experience problems associated with negative external influences, as well as in dealing with relational struggles within the kink-poly dynamic.

Read more: The Kink-Poly Confluence, part 2

_____________

1 Rubin, J. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., Ziegler, A., & Conley, T. D. (2014). On the margins: Considering diversity among consensually non-monogamous relationships. Journal für Psychologie, 22(1), 1-23. Retrieved from http://www.journal-fuer-psychologie.de/index.php/jfp/article/view/324/355

2 Bauer, R. (2010). Non-monogamy in queer BDSM communities: Putting the sex back into alternative relationship practices and discourse. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.), Understanding Non-Monogamies (pp. 142-153). London, UK: Routledge.

Deri, J. (2015). Love’s refraction: Jealousy and compersion in queer women’s polyamorous relationships. Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. Kindle Edition.

4 Green, R. (2007). Total power exchange in a modern family: A personal perspective. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 292-296). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

5 Moser, C. & Kleinplatz, P. J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 35-54). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

6 Ortmann, D. M. & Sprott, R. (2012). Sexual outsiders: Understanding BDSM sexualities and communities. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

7 Taormino, T. A. (2008). Opening up: A guide to creating and sustaining open relationships. Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

8 Klesse, C. (2011). Notions of love in polyamory—Elements in a discourse on multiple loving. Laboratorium, Russian Review of Social Research, 3(2), 4-25.

9 Sheff, E. & Hammers, C. (2014). The privilege of perversities: Race, class, and education among polyamorists and kinksters. Psychology & Sexuality, 2(3), 198-223. doi:10.1080/19419899.2010.537674

10 Barker, M. & Langdridge, D. (2010). Whatever happened to non-monogamies? Critical reflections on recent research and theory. Sexualities, 13(6), 748-772. doi:10. 1177/1363460710384645

11 Sheff, E. (2013). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

12 Pitagora, D. (2013) Consent vs. coercion: BDSM interactions highlight a fine but immutable line. New School Psychology Bulletin, 10(1), 27-36.

13 Labriola, K. (2010). Love in abundance: A counselor’s advice on open relationships. Eugene, OR: Greenery Press.

14 Barker, M. (2005). On tops, bottoms and ethical sluts: The place of BDSM and polyamory in lesbian and gay psychology. Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review, 6(2), 124-129. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/17267/2/5470E82F.pdf

15 Rinella, J. (2011). Partners in power. Gardena, CA: SCB Distributors. Kindle Edition.

16 Sisson, K. (2007). The cultural formation of S/M: History and analysis. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 10-34). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

17 Kleinplatz, P. J. & Diamond, L. M. (2014). Sexual diversity. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology: Vol. 1, Person-Based Approaches (pp. 245-267). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. xxviii, 804. doi:10.1037/14193-009

18 McClintock, A. (1993). Maid to order: Commercial fetishism and gender power. Social Text, 37, 87-116.

19 Yost, M. R. & Hunter, L. E. (2012). BDSM practitioners’ understandings of their initial attraction to BDSM sexuality: Essentialist and constructionist narratives. Sexualities, 3(3), 244-259. doi:10.1080/19419899.2012.700028

20 DeLamater, J. D. & Hyde, J. S. (1998). Essentialism vs. social constructionism in the study of human sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research, 35(1), 10-18.

21 Ryan, C. & Jethá, C. (2012). Sex at dawn: How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

22 British Psychological Society (2012). Guidelines and literature review for psychologists working therapeutically with sexual and gender minority clients. Retrieved from www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/rep_92.pdf

23 Quinn, D. M. & Chaudoir, S. R. (2009). Living with a concealable stigmatized identity: The impact of anticipated stigma, centrality, salience, and cultural stigma on psychological distress and health. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 97(4), 634-651. doi:10.1037/a0015815

All Oppression Is Connected

All Oppression Is Connected

Staceyann Chin’s poetry inspired Jim Chuchu to create this gorgeous poster for you to download and disseminate at will, “as long as you don’t – you know – sell them, or use them to vandalize places.”

Neurotypical Privilege

Guest post by Mike Blejer, a comedian living in New York with a degree in philosophy and 98 degrees in his mouth. He has worked as a humor consultant for the Air Force and Microsoft, two institutions known for their urbane ribaldry.

by Christine Denewith for Everyday Feminism (click the image to read the full cartoon)

I totally agree with the content of the cartoon in this article, but something about the use of the word privilege in the headline rubs me the wrong way. Currently trying to figure out if there’s any good reason for that or if I’m being silly.

On the one hand, of course it is a privilege to not experience the kinds of mental anguish and cultural stigmatization that people with schizophrenia experience.

On the other hand, the use of the word privilege as a suffix for every identifier you could put in front of someone’s name seems a bit overwhelming, and to paint all these subjects in the same light. The kind of privilege I experience as a male seems really different to me than the kind of privilege I experience as a white person, and this is doubly so for the “privileges” of having two legs, or a neurotypical experience of the world. It also seems weird to me to use the same word to group say blacks and people with schizophrenia. One makes you suffer as the result of a societal disease (racism), the other actually is a disease, and I assume that most of the people who experience it don’t want to have it whereas I don’t think most black people are wishing they could be white, I think they wish that the world would stop being so shitty to them, but it’s the world they want to change, not themselves—not that schizophrenic people don’t want the world to stop being shitty to them, but I gotta think that’s 2nd on the list after “wish I didn’t have schizophrenia. I mean I’m not schizophrenic, but I have experienced some mental health stuff in the past and I had a broken arm for four years as a kid as a result of a hollow bone and became obese for a time, but while I did hate the way people were shitty to me, I actually also wanted to not suffer from the things I had. It seems weird to me to use that same language then for things like race or gender. Women, to my knowledge usually want men to stop being such shits to them, they don’t just want to not be women. If they want to not be women, then they can not be women and deal with a whole different privilege situation.

I dunno. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I’m not articulating what rubs me the wrong way about the use of the word privilege. But if anyone has any elucidating thoughts that don’t involve being needlessly shitty to either me or to people with mental health issues, I’d be happy to hear them.