I think happiness is thin on the ground, so I usually try not to crap on people’s joy. If you like to get naked and roll around in dead toads, I retain my right to be thoroughly squicked, but I’ll usually keep that to myself. Is your dating relationship a vial of nitroglycerin, poised on top of a teetering stack of rocks located deep in earthquake territory? I won’t say anything to disturb the contentness you feel now unless specifically asked, even if I’m pretty sure the resultant explosions will be spectacular and speedy.
And so I think about a falling-out I had with a friend I had over the disgust he had with seeing a certain kind of people at kink events, wherein I kept calling him out for discussing how those people made him feel uncomfortable.
What I said to him, repeatedly, was that speaking about those people in a judgmental way was a bad thing, particularly in a place where many of those same people – who attend many of the same kink events that you do – might feel ashamed of themselves. When they see you, they’ll remember your writings on your revulsion, and feel bad. So while exploring your virulently negative reaction may be something that’s necessary to getting past your personal dislike, which I support, airing this particular dirty laundry in public will make them feel awkward and ugly. Which I still believe.
Yet there I am, picking on the one-penis polyamory, raging against a style of people in a rather popular rant. When those folk see me, they’ll know that I am down on the whole “You can date women, sweetie, but never men,” and they will feel ashamed.
And the difference?
I’m perfectly okay with having those people feel bad.
I think my friend didn’t mean to cause potential offense; he was just trying to explore a set of reactions he was having, and determine whether those gut reactions were fair. Yet in writing about his revulsion, he was inadvertently targeting people for things he admitted might as well have been his problems. The damage was done regardless.
Which is why, before I write a rant, I think: do I mind if these people feel icky when I’m done? Is this just me? Are these people all that bad?
And if after considering all these topics, I believe that these folks are the enemy of the kind of world I want to see happen, then I will fire.
With an audience my size, I try to choose carefully; as the years go by and I’ve gotten some experience in managing a mid-sized audience, I’ve learned more about what hurts people, and have modulated my approach quite a bit to minimize accidental harm. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I regret in picking on the wrong people, mistakes which sting me to this day. So when I fire my tirade-cannon, I try to be certain that it’s never “Oh, it’s not you, it’s me” – no, buddy, I think it’s you.
Now, my essay could have been written better, as several people responded with, “…We’re starting off with one-penis policy as we dip into poly, but my husband acknowledges it’s unfair and is working on it.” And that, to me, is a very different kettle of fish. Yes, it’s an unfair jealousy, but there’s a distinct difference between “You don’t date men because I’m your boyfriend,” and “You don’t date men, because I’m insecure about that, and I’m trying to better myself on that front.” So my torrent hit some folks who are using the one-penis rule as a way to move into alternative fidelities… and that I do feel bad about. I was aiming at a very specific kind of relationship, and was a couple of degrees off on my aim.
(And there’s an interesting comment left by Katranna, who muses over some of the distinctions between men and women and wonders whether men are clingier. Also good food for thought.)
All of that feedback will be taken into account before I rant again. I don’t do it often, or lightly. I care about the opinions of strangers – since as I said, happiness is hard to find and I think people owe it to the world to think carefully before minimizing the joy of others.
But that doesn’t mean that I never take aim.
And if I call someone out, then some people will dislike me for being judgmental, or too angry, or misguided. And I will spread open my arms and drink in their hatred. Because by the time I’ve decided to complain, I’ve already decided they’re not the sort of people I’m going to respect heavily in the first place, and at this stage in my life I’ve thought it through enough that I can accept a negative backlash. Even the bits of negative backlash that are uncomfortably true. I’ll sort through those negative reactions to see what I might have gotten wrong.
And I acknowledge that I might be wrong. I don’t know it all. I’ll make mistakes, and if I do, then I’ll do what I can to clean them up.
That’s how I sleep well at night. I’m comfortable with it.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.