Monday, March 31, 2014

STD Talk Is Sexy

Before I became polyamorous, my biggest fear about opening our marriage was compromising our sexual health. I couldn't fathom how I could be a "slut" and sleep around with other slutty people, without putting myself in grave danger of contracting STDs. I had no idea that safer sex is built into the culture of polyamory, so dating poly people surprisingly feels far safer than dating conventionally.

In my experience with monogamous relationships, there is a subtle sense of shame around discussing STDs. People avoid the conversation all-together unless they need to address a particular concern. When we first opened our marriage, I asked some single monogamous men about STD testing and safer sex practices, and they all gave me a similarly uncomfortable vague reply:

"I've been tested before. It doesn't feel as good with condoms, but we can use them if you want."

Wow. Charming. Way to inspire confidence that you're responsible and won't get me sick. No thankyouverymuch.

In contrast, I've asked the same question to numerous poly men, and they've all responded with specific details about their last test date and results, their recent and current partners, their safer sex practices, and a relieved, "I'm so glad you have the same concerns and want to talk about this."

As a result I've developed a strong mistrust of monogamous people who aren't accustomed to having open conversations about safer sex. I feel much safer dating poly people who have the same values and vocabulary around discussing sexual health. I feel even safer if a potential partner has a wife (consenting of course!) at home who he is trying to protect. Safest yet if we all meet each other, so we know the real people we are putting at risk if we don't adhere to our safety agreements.

There is no way to make sex 100% safe. The best you can do is determine your personal acceptable level of risk and practice safer sex to minimize that risk. Some people in open relationships use barriers for all sexual activity but have sex with strangers. Others are less strict about barriers for certain activities but carefully vet all potential partners. There is no single right way to practice safer sex (aside from being totally honest and transparent with all parties). The key is defining safety rules that feel right for you and your poly family, and finding partners with compatible rules.

This is the safety agreement that Jake, Bradley and I drafted:

We only have sex with people who:
  • We know, trust, and have vetted
  • Have a clean, uncompromised STD test from the last 6 months
  • Practice safer sex (with fluid bonding exceptions) and vetting with all partners
  • Don't have STDs or prostitutes in their network
We use barriers:
  • Always for intercourse
  • Unprotected oral sex is OK if the group is comfortable with the partner based on their sexual history, current network, and safer sex practices.

If you think that talking about STDs is unsexy, let me assure you otherwise. It's a turn-on to know that someone has a high level of concern for our mutual health and is mature enough to have the conversation. By the time I get naked with someone, we have reviewed test results, exchanged sexual histories, and agreed upon safer sex rules. So when we get into the bedroom there are no worries about risks or awkward in-the-moment negotiations about safety. Instead, the focus can be all about the pleasure. What could be sexier than that?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Happy-Inspiring Trans Girl Video

If you haven't seen the Barbara Walters interview with 11-year old Jazz, you must check it out! It's inspiring to see supportive parents raising a happy and well-adjusted trans kid:

2020: Transgender at 11

If only all families were so accepting, trans people could avoid childhoods filled with shame and gender dysphoria, and the wreckage that comes from transitioning later in life. I hope these types of high-profile media stories help raise awareness and open minds.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

There Is Nothing Funny About Transition

I thought this blog was going to be funny.

My last personal blog was a humorous reflection on mundane and absurd everyday life experiences. Since I approach my spouse's transition with a sense of joy, I expected this blog would have a similar lighthearted and comical tone, but with more interesting subject matter. I could joke about how my biggest concern when Jake came out as trans was whether we would get to vacation in Thailand for her SRS surgery. I could ponder the ways in which I should have known she was trans (her love of shoes! introducing me to Ani DiFranco!), and the ways in which hormones have changed her (deteriorating parallel parking skills). I would tell our story with love and humor.

But there is nothing funny about transition.

Anything mildly funny I have to share just plays off sexist gender stereotypes. Lord knows there is enough of that BS out there already;  I'm not going to make it my contribution to the dialogue. Anything real I have to share is riddled with pain because transition is fucking hard. It is heart-wrenching to watch the person I love dearest suffer everyday because the world is an unfriendly place to be a trans girl.

This is a typical week for my sweet wife Jake (all these things actually happened over the course of a week; I've just consolidated the timeline):

Monday- Jake's boss, who has known about the transition for months, exclaims out of nowhere, "It's going to take some time to wrap my head around your transition. I just can't picture you as a woman because you have such a guy's body. Except you have breasts!". She then proceeds to grab Jake's boobs. A stunned Jake replies, "Um, you know those are real."

Tuesday- Before Jake can address yesterday's sexual harassment, her boss lets her go via email due to "budgetary constraints." Jake spends hours on the phone trying to navigate my health insurance. The local endocrinologist's office tells her they don't have any doctors who "deal with those issues," and refers her to a hospital 50 miles away. She finds out that my insurance only covers a quarter of her current hormone therapy.

Wednesday- Jake goes to a comedy club with a friend. Jake dresses in guy-mode, because she doesn't know if there will be gender neutral bathrooms, if the comedians will mock her, or if drunk people will beat the shit out of her if she expresses her true gender. Jake is repeatedly called "sir" throughout the evening, and a fellow patron sharing her table says "oh excuse me, I have to shake hands with all the ladies first." Nothing offensive, just the persistent daily reinforcement that she's still perceived as a man.

Thursday- Jake goes on a friendly lunch date with a man who bolts as soon as they're done eating, seemingly out of disappointment that Jake isn't feminine enough. Jake gets ignored by several online dating prospects. A guy I recently started dating proactively sends Jake a rejection email to apologize for flirting because he doesn't want to lead Jake on. Well-intentioned but clumsy, he writes that he's "sadly straight" so it wouldn't go anywhere. Each tiny stinging rejection reminds Jake how far she has to go before she can date as a woman.

Friday- During dinner, my dad asks right in front of Jake, "Why don't you just divorce Jake and marry Bradley if you think you want to start a family together one day?"

Jake tells a lot of jokes. She says it's easier to keep herself laughing; the alternative would be crying. I on the other hand have been brewing with anger and these questions rattling around my brain:

Why does being polite mean publicly gendering everyone in verbal and written communication (sir, ma'am, mr., ms.) and where does that leave people who don't fit neatly into the gender binary?

Why do we care so much about gender anyways? What is the benefit of separating our species into two distinct genders, when it serves little practical application for the majority and causes immense suffering for a minority?

Why is gender the most important thing to know about a human before it's born? Why dictate how their room will look, what they will wear, and who they will be, before they even develop a conscious relationship with the world?

Why are there stringent moral judgments around relationship structures? Why can't people just respect any loving consensual relationship between decent human beings who bring happiness and support to each other's lives?

Why do I need to accept other people's intolerance because I'm living on the fringe? Why shouldn't I expect more from people? Why can't the world just be better? How can I make it better?

How can I help Jake endure when the depression runs so deep, the path to womanhood is so long, the world is so unwelcoming, and the best intentioned people are so hurtful?

Where is the funny in this?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Pervocracy on Sex Positivity

Here's a great read from The Pervocracy (not new, but new to me):

What I Mean When I Say I'm Sex-Positive

The blog's "Cosmocking" series (mocking of Cosmo magazine) is also worth checking out. Snarky and hilarious.