Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?

Ginger and I often discuss the feeling that we—both personally and culturally—are at the beginning of something new. Something fundamentally different about how sexuality is viewed. About how the act of following our desires can be reconciled with societal expectations. It is as if we see the potential in a broader awakening for ourselves, and for our friends. It is moving beyond the shallowness of how the culture represents sexuality—which today forces us to disintegrate sexuality and desire from our “normal” life. Like the sexy shops and strip clubs, open conversation among friends (or strangers) about sex is “closed for business” when the sun comes up.

In the course of every day, we go along our merry way assuming certain things about our friends and neighbors, while they have assumptions about us. And knowing what we know about ourselves, we can say that our friends likely have widely wrong assumptions about us. Not only would do we think they’d be shocked at the half of what we’ve done, but they also wouldn’t have even thought of the other half. That’s not to brag, or suggest that we are “slutty,” but simply to reflect that the life and experiences of a non-monogamous couple fall well outside the reality of monogamers (yes, I’m making up a word here to turn monogamy into a noun).

The thing is that during the day, we see things in a certain light. We see friends going through their daily routines without stopping to think much about the broader context of their lives. Back to the light of day metaphor, we may consider that it is the shadow that provides the perspective to really understand an object. So how do we open ourselves to a more complete examination, one that includes sexuality as a factor in our everyday behavior? How do we open conversations with others? Can we provide clues to our ”shadows”? And what do we do if they don’t like the full perspective? You can’t take the shadow away.

Another interesting, and infinitely less esoteric, example is how we typically differentiate friends as being “vanilla." For the uninitiated, it’s the term non-monogamers (aka, swingers or lifestyle friends) assign to monogamers. It implies predictability. Plainness. We’ve heard it extended slightly to “vanilla with sprinkles” to connote a couple that may be monogamous, but is slightly more open to discussing sexuality and sexual interests openly.

We host a number of parties at our home that involve both non-monogamer and vanilla friends. We have always been sure to note to the non-monogamer friends that it is a mixed party. The implication is that those of us who are open sexually must adapt our behavior. The problem is that it is an adaptation to the lowest common denominator. That is, the baseline expectation that sex is an off-limits point of discussion. It’s not that all the “vanilla” friends should be non-monogamous, or interesting sexually (I can only think of one vanilla friend that I would really like to see Ginger sleep with). Instead, I simply observe that it is increasingly difficult to put the lid on topics that I find interesting. Integrated conversations are so much more stimulating. How do you think this transition would go over at one of our mixed events: “So you like to sail. . .can you teach me some knots? Ginger and I really enjoy rope play. . .”?

Our parties have also taken some interesting turns. Like at the last party, some of the vanilla friends started inquiring about how other lifestyle friends met us. Apparently meeting new people as an adult is so unusual to some that it piques vanilla curiosity. On the other hand, it makes me wonder. Are they really vanilla? Or have we inadvertently assumed that they are monogamous? It begs the larger question: Is “vanilla” more a reflection of what we don’t know? That is, are you vanilla until proven otherwise?

(cut to bedroom scene, swingers assembled on bed, in various stages of undress)

“Members of the jury…you’ve heard the evidence in regards to the prospect of inviting the Deckers to one of our parties, but remember that you must conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Tom and Trina are in fact, not-vanilla.”

The problem with feeling like one is on the edge—as exciting as the next sexual revolution will be—is the fear of what’s on the other side. Ginger and I often discuss is the ‘if or when’ we come out. We would prefer letting all of those around us know how we chose to live our lives. And if they are interested, why we’ve chosen this path. And how it has enriched our relationship. Yet, we are also very mindful of the risks. The expectation of sameness—of being vanilla—can be crushing. It can bring consequences personally and professionally. It can affect not only us, but others that we love. In sexuality research, there is the concept of heterosexual privilege. At its core, if one looks het and behaves het, then one is treated in a very different way than others who look and act gay.

In the world of non-monogamy, looking and acting vanilla is a warm and reassuring cover. Throwing away vanilla-privilege may make us feel cold and exposed at times. . .but then again, most times the covers come off, things end up being hot and steamy. And maybe, just maybe, we will be surprised by others we’ve assumed to be vanilla . . .beyond a reasonable doubt.