In my most recent blog on Psychology Today I explore the experiences that polyamorous folks report with prejudice and discrimination.
In my most recent blog on Psychology Today I explore the experiences that polyamorous folks report with prejudice and discrimination.
Good news for anyone who is interested in polyamory but find Cons inaccessible for a variety of reasons. The Accessible Multi-linking and Polyamory Virtual Con, is taking place November 3 – 5 at an Internet-capable screen near you. AMaP is a fully online con designed to be accessible to people who usually can’t make in-person cons.
If you want to, consider submitting a workshop or presentation proposal for the con. The theme this year is Silenced Voices, and organizers are inviting all to participate with a special emphasis on diversity and folks who do not traditionally have access to the cultural megaphone.
As a white liberal – and I mean whiiiiiiiiite some lily white shit white – I never intend to be racist. As a white, lower-middle-class, cis-gendered woman, I have been marinated in white privilege since I was born. Squaring these two opposites – not wanting to be a racist but having white privilege in a decidedly racist society – is challenging. When swimming upstream against cultural conditioning that reinforces colorblind racism and actively works to keep white privilege invisible, knowing what to do and say can be difficult for ordinary white folks.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of room white us white people to offend people of color because we are all too often ignorant of their sub-cultural realities, values, and experiences. White privilege means we don’t have to learn about people of color to survive, at least not in the way that children of color must learn to deal with white society on its terms or be crushed under its boot heel.[i]
Some of the things on this list come from my own personal experience, and some from listening to people of color talk about their experiences with white people who are often well meaning but say or do incredibly stupid racist shit that gets old, especially because it is the same thing all the time. Although I have not made all of the mistakes on this list, I have certainly made some of them. Because I live in Atlanta and hang out with mostly white or Black people, this list emphasizes racism towards Black people a bit more than others. Also, racism towards Black folks has a special kind of uber-virulence that shapes other forms of racism in the US. I hope this list proves useful to you in avoiding these common mistakes.
Yo White People, Avoid Doing This
If you are hanging out with people of color and the music is too loud for you, suck it up. Do not touch the dial. Do not ask for the music to be turned down. You are not the queen or king of this domain to demand that it be changed to suit your needs. You can move away from the speaker and/or just develop some tolerance for louder music. If it really becomes an issue, get some cool earplugs that look like ear buds to wear when you in that situation.
Whitesplaining, according to Maisha Johnson, is a form of privileged explaining (like mansplaining) in which white folks believe that they are “somehow more qualified to speak about a marginalized group than a person who belongs to that group.” Johnson identifies the signs of whitesplaining as “ a condescending tone and paternalistic assumption that a person of color doesn’t know enough to accurately articulate their own experience.“
We white people are not the arbiters of what is racist and what is not racist. If you have whitesplained, most likely you did not mean it as racist, but that does not mean it was not racist in its outcome. If it is racist to a person of color, then it is legit racist whether you meant it to be so or not. All sorts of things that white people do not see as racist have a racist impact on people of color. We are shielded from knowing that by white privilege, which allows us to focus on our intent rather than the impact.
For instance, when my son called my girlfriend-at-the-time/now wife (who is Black) a “big dyke” in jest, I thought I could make it all better by saying “He didn’t mean it that way,” meaning that he did not intend it as racism. While I had the best of intentions to explain that he was raised hippie and we joked about things like that to destigmatize language, the impact was to prioritize what he meant over what she experienced. Saying he doesn’t mean it that way is white privilege saying I want to define the situation, and I say that intent is what really matters. So as long as I don’t mean it to be racist, then it’s not racist. Right? Not really, it is still racist because it lands as racist with POC. To ignore the impact or expect it to simply shift as soon as the person of color comes to understand how you meant it is an expression of white privilege.
Instead – listen to what the other person is saying, ask them questions about how they feel and what they mean, and apologize.
People of color are not obligated to educate us white folks on their ways, thoughts, history, language, music, or traditions. Take it upon yourself to actively broaden your horizons instead of passively expecting POC to interpret for you. See a movie, read a book, attend a lecture – work to expand your understanding of the lives of POC as they experience things. The Internet reigns — use it to educate yourself with search terms like:
White people broke is not the same thing as POC broke, and saying you are broke when you actually have money is obnoxious. It is even worse when you do so in the presence of people who know a whole different level of brokenness.
When you are chatting with someone and ask them where they are from, believe their answer. If they tell you they are from Cleveland and they look like an Asian Pacific Islander, believe them. There are people of Asian descent living in Cleveland, who are from Cleveland in the sense that they live there, grew up there, and might have been born there. Asking where someone is really from implies that they are not to be trusted when they offer their first response and that they do not really belong here, they are not one of “us.”
Under no circumstances can white people use the n word. Not in song titles, not in song lyrics, not in conversation, not in jest, and not in irony. Simply do not say it. Ever.
POC are as diverse and widespread as anyone else, and they are not all members of the same club. While they may all experience various levels of racism, that is where the similarity ends. By assuming that all Black people know each other, you are putting them all in the same box and applying a false homogeneity. This erases that person’s individuality and makes them just a member of a group based on their race.
If you are white and living in the United States, chances are very high that you can choose to spend most of your time with other white people, eating white food, and watching white tv in your white neighborhood in a house that you got because your family was not redlined from that neighborhood. Whiteness is so pervasive in many ways that you have to actively choose to broaden your horizons. Go to new places where you are not in the majority, and see how other people live and how it feels to be a minority in that space.
Be quiet and listen, especially if you are nervous. White privilege makes it seem natural for white people to constantly want to tell other people about their ideas, experiences, perceptions, and values. The thing is, POC have also been marinated in white culture so they know all about us. We white folks are not a mystery to POC, and we need to stop talking so much because it keeps us from listening.
White people are fascinated with the various textures that Black hair can achieve. Asking to touch their hair may seem innocuous or even a sign of interest in attempting to get to know about POC, but it does not come across that way to the majority of Black folks – especially Black women. Instead, it is objectifying and rude. How would you feel if your ears stuck out more than the dominant cultural images, and people you did not even know whose ears were close to their heads constantly asked to touch your ears? Chances are good that you would feel objectified or irritated, and that the constancy of the interaction would reinforce for you just how much you differ from the dominant cultural expectations.
[i] Social class obviously makes a big difference, and rich people always have more choices than poor folks. Even so, wealthy people of color still experience racism, and poor white people still have white privilege.
Dominus Blue and baby j from Black People Kink recently interviewed me for their new podcast. You can check it out at https://www.blackpeoplekink.com/podcast-2/
Do you have something to say about the intersection of sexual freedom and social justice? If so, then please consider submitting a proposal for a panel or workshop at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit scheduled for Washington DC August 3 – 6, 2017. Proposals are due by Monday February 6. For more information click here
As home of a thriving film industry, the Black Glitterati, and the largest gay population between Miami and Washington DC, Atlanta is a city of rich cultural diversity. One of the elements of that diversity shows up in the incredible range of relationship and sexuality related cons to which the lovely city of Atlanta plays host. Listed in chronological order below, these conventions add a smart and sexy strand to the vibrancy of Atlanta.
All of these cons have online registration, meet in large hotels, have social and learning components with panel presentations and gaming rooms, and include vendors rooms with merchants selling everything from jewelry, books, and crafts to corsets, kilts, and sex toys. While the cons usually have blocks of rooms reserved for reduced rates, it can be cheaper to stay in smaller or more modest hotels nearby.
InfinityCon – February
Fresh from its first excellent year, InfintyCon specializes in the kinky side of polyamory. Touting itself as an educational conference with flair, InfinityCon aims to deliver a wide variety of information on polyamory and other forms of ethical non-monogamy. It is a sister con to Atlanta Poly Weekend with a more adult focus to contrast to APW’s family-friendly goals. In addition to their educational tracks, InfinityCon hosts a fun track designed to help folks connect with like-minded people with social time, dancing, and relaxation. InfinityCon is scheduled for February 9 – 12 in 2017.
Frolicon – April
Known among locals as DragonCon’s slutty little sister, Frolicon is a chance to “join all your favorite deviants for a fun filled weekend of debauchery and decadence.” A kink and think con for the “naughty side of paradise,” Frolicon features fun for thinkers, artists, and kinksters. Think tracks include those for writers, LGBT+, costuming, and polyamory, The kink track has classes on techniques, theories, and relationships, and the sync track helps frolickers make connections through meetups, speed dating, and mingles. For the kinksters, there is an incredibly well-equipped dungeon (configured by Sadistic Engineering) that fills the hotel’s largest ballroom and hosts open play as well as theme parties. Partiers will enjoy the Saturday night Party Battles in which groups of people try to outdo each other with making their party the most fun. Frolicon happens in the spring, when it is time to frolic, and is scheduled for April 13-16 in 2017.
Atlanta Poly Weekend – June
Having just completed its sixth year, Atlanta Poly Weekend is the only child-friendly con that features a kid track and pg-13 programming during the day, with the NC-17 programming scheduled after 9pm. Established by the Relationship Equality Foundation, APW offers polyamorous or poly curious folks the opportunity to meet and mingle, learn new skills, get advice, make family connections with other polys with kids (or without kids :), and learn about the wide world of communication, negotiation, and honesty among multiple partners. Atlanta Poly Weekend is scheduled for June 2 – 4 in 2017.
South East Leather Fest SELF – June
In addition to lots of classes and opportunities to learn everything from An Introduction to Biting or Conflict Resolution Within a Master/slave Framework to Erotic Shaving or BDSM and the Law, SELF also hosts a range of competitions. Titles include Master/slave, Ms. SELF, SELF Boy/Boi, Mr. SELF, Southeast Bootblack and Southeast Person of Leather. SELF also hosts a huge dungeon with some very sophisticated scenes – dedicated to a much more serious version of kink than Frolicon, which also has a giant dungeon but is focused more on play and less on protocol. This next SELF is scheduled for June 22-25 2017.
DragonCon – September
While not officially a sexualities-related convention, DragonCon is the kind of sci fi geek paradise that appeals to the kinksters, queers, polys, and cosplayers. Founded in 1987 and now in its 30th year, DragonCon touts itself as the largest muilti-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe. It hosts one of the most impressive parades I have ever seen and brings media figures from Sarah Gellar to William Shatner who speak to adoring throngs. The many fan tracks focus on everything from alternate history, animation, and armory to paranormal, puppetry, and robotics or urban fantasy, video gaming, and young adult literature. My personal favorites are the science and skeptic tracks. The mingling of thousands of imaginative people in sexy cosplay (with a decent dose of alcohol) leads to sexual exploration and fantasy play. DragonCon is a great place to get your geek on, and your freak on. It is scheduled for September 1-4 in 2017.
Sex Down South – October
Organized by a cadre of smart young queers, Sex Down South focuses on the intersections of sexuality, race, class, gender, ability, religion, social justice, and pleasure. In 2015, the first year of this excellent con dedicated to diversity and sexual liberation for everyone, speakers included psychologist Dr. Rachel Kieran, writer Fiona Zedde, sexy disability activist Robin Wilson Beattie, Velvet Lips founder and sex educator extraordinaire Marla Stewart, performance artist Ignacio Rivera (aka Papi Coxxx), minister Aldalphie Johnson, and author, podcaster, and cliterati Tristian Taormino. Sex Down South is scheduled for October 13 – 15 in 2016 and includes an impressive line-up including Tyomi Morgan, Sinclair Sexsmith, Orpheus Black, Ken Melvoin-Berg, Sunny Megatron, and yours truly (Elisabeth Sheff). SDS is coming right up — October 13-15 2016 at the Hilton in downtown Atlanta.
Do you know of any relationship or sexuality cons in Atlanta that did not make the list? Let me know by emailing me at email@example.com and I will be sure to add them.
Written by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff
Marriage and monogamy are not what they used to be, and today many couples are opting to start families before getting married, or deciding not to get married at all. At the same time, gay couples in states that recognize same-sex marriage are getting married in droves. Some people prefer non-monogamy and have relationships that include swinging and polyamory. The landscape of American marriage and relationships is changing, and a variety of family systems are developing and becoming more common.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is the author of The Polyamorists Next Door, a blog featured on Psychology Today.
Using empirical information based in academic research, this blog explores the issues facing polyamorous relationships and families. It covers topics as diverse as sexuality to parenting, jealousy to coming out to families of origin, and employment and housing discrimination to online dating.