Stage 13

So, Stoella and I are no longer an item, which leads to two conclusions.

1. Apparently, we were sort of an item, and my claims of being slutty vs being poly were not entirely true
2. This is my first real poly break up

I mean, I have had experiences of relationships ending, or changing type (various encounters with Step 13), but I don’t think any of those people would disagree that those situations weren’t a particularly Big Deal.

Either those people had expiration dates after which they were moving away, or they were definitely casual partners. It, of course, sucks when someone you’re into moves away, but in none of those situations were any of us hurt, nor were we likely to. I doubt anyone could have been, in the way that a capital-R relationship can hurt. This time I got hurt, and in a way that wasn’t going to fix itself, and in a way that was clearly going to repeat.

I don’t think I’m going to go into details. It’s fresh pain right now, about five days old, and I don’t really want to rehash it. I don’t have enough perspective to be fair, also. And I’m not sure I ever want to go into it here; I’m clearly not a private person, but I think this runs up against what I’m willing to drag into public. That’s partly because it’s not fully my story.

I will say that nothing malicious was done on either side. If I admit to being a little angry at what’s gone on, and that when it was brought up we couldn’t fix it, I will also admit to knowing that isn’t really rational. I skipped trivia last week, but I think after taking a little time Stoella and I will be fine friends for the same reasons were excellent lovers. I don’t want her out of my life, and I believe that’s mutual. I just can’t be involved with her as seriously as we were, emotionally.

A large part of me just wants to go “this serious-but-secondary stuff is for the birds, back to slutting it up for me”, but I don’t think we get to make those decisions. I didn’t decide to invest in this pairing any more than I decided I wouldn’t with previous (and concurrent) non-primary relationships. Maybe some people have conscious control over that; I think I don’t. If I do, it’s in deciding whether or not to get invested at all, and not in deciding how much.

This also comes at the (hopeful) nadir of a series of emotional gut punches. I got stood up a couple of weeks ago, by someone I wasn’t sure I was into and wasn’t sure would show up to the date (that she arranged, damn it), but it’s an ego blow regardless. Kevros moved back to Europe for at least the summer, and we couldn’t manage to get together ahead of time due to dueling schedule conflicts. And life in general isn’t going well, with work stress and family health problems in the mix. I know I haven’t been my usual self lately with the folks who’ve seen me, and for that I’m sorry. I’ll get back there.

The dark side of polyamory is that one can have relationship troubles in multiple relationships at once. On the other hand, having partners and lovers in one’s support network is also nice when going through this sort of thing. Carrie is my rock; thank you, my love. The third side of this is that my normal support network isn’t necessarily much help, as complaining to, e.g., my mom about things that are happening with someone who isn’t Carrie is probably not going to go anywhere useful.

In any event, I appear to be for the moment “dual” again. I don’t think I want anyone in that spot in my life for a while, either. This serious-but-secondary stuff is for the birds. Back to slutting it up for me. For now.

Happy Accidents

Pursuant to previous discussions about approaching friends and the difficulty thereof, I appear to have done so at least once.  So I present to you Nick’s Foolproof* Guide to Hitting on the Hot Librarian Friend You’ve Been Eyeing:

  1. Wine
  2. An invitation to crash on the futon
  3. Possible mild sun stroke
  4. An assist from her roommate
  5. Facing the prospect of spending a whole night kicking yourself for not saying anything
  6. Ten to twenty minutes pacing between her kitchen and living room while working up the nerve to say something
  7. Saying something

In any event, said friend was previously known as K here, and will be referred to as Krisaga should she come up again. Krisaga Silvershaper the Baker, neutral good halfling Loremaster.

To be clear, I give people names as they come up, and not as we hook up.  Relatedly to both that and anxieties, my friend Ravaella (Laughshield, neutral gnome arcane trickster) recently apologized to me for having “objectified” me after a discussion that involved my talking about various cases of nerves that I have around dating and sex.  She had apparently thought of me as “hot Nick with all the ladies”, and thus not fully a real person.  For what it’s worth, I felt like she was treating me as people, but I do tend to develop a reputation as a Casanova of some sort with friends who don’t know me well.  And have done when I deserved it less than I have while Ravaella’s known me, for what that’s worth.  It’s been frustrating, but it’s also not impossible that I kind of cultivate that, if not entirely consciously.  It’s something I’ll try to keep an eye on.

Switching gears slightly, I seem to have stumbled into a sort of quad situation.  Stoella’s boyfriend Thoven Taletreader the Scribe, neutral evil  elven cleric of Kani, the god of knowledge and the trickery used to obtain it, came to one of the parties Carrie and I throw not often enough.  He’s fantastic, and I quite like him, and Carrie quite likes him.  She and Thoven hit it off and have been seeing each other, completing the geometry here.  We have formed a trivia team, but have only done middling well because the four of us have some similar blind spots. We’re getting better, though.  One of the four of us needs to start dating someone who knows sports.

* may or may not be foolproof.  Your mileage, social anxiety, and librarian may vary.

Party on

So I’m going to a party this weekend, at which most, if not all, of the guests will be poly or open to some extent.  Some of you know which party I’m talking about, I’m sure. This is, of course, not an unusual occurrence; many of the parties I go to (or throw) are mostly-to-all poly, although less than you might think.  They’re not usually recognizably different than other parties, barring a perhaps elevated chance of spontaneous makeouts between people who are married but not to the people they’re making out with.

In any event, this one has a sex party component (and now the people mentioned earlier know exactly which party I mean).  It’s a regular party until mid-evening, at which point the regular party continues but there will be designated naked areas with rules posted.

Anyway, if this were all normal party, I’d have no problem with it, and if it were all sex party, I’d have no problem with it but wouldn’t go.  Not out of some sort of prudishness, but because I have a tendency to get intensely, neurotically uncomfortable in three situations at a party:

  1. Someone I am not interested in is hitting on me.
  2. Someone I am interested in is hitting on me.
  3. People are clearly hitting on each other and no one is hitting on me.

The logically-minded among you have noticed that at least one of these is guaranteed to happen in this sort of situation.  2 is the least uncomfortable, for what are probably obvious reasons, but despite my relative success with online dating, when offline I’m nigh incapable of responding to (sincere) flirting from someone I haven’t already established mutual interest with.  It just induces an intense anxiety similar to what I feel when something triggers my OCD.  One of the great things about online dating is that we can get that part handled over email, and then in person I’m fine.

I know, everyone is anxious in these situations.  I don’t think that’s what I’m talking about, but then I’m not in your head and can’t tell you what you think.  This is a convoluted analogy, but imagine that you’re an arachnophobe who really likes lollipops.  Feel free to substitute some other irrational fear for the spider if you like.  Now imagine a box on its side in which there is a lollipop in the back but a spider in the front. You just have to reach past the spider.  You know the spider won’t attack you, because they don’t just spontaneously attack people. It’s probably even dead, or fake, or maybe it’s not there and it’s a trick of the light.  You know you should just go for it and nothing will happen except you’ll get to enjoy a lollipop and/or make out with someone you really want to make out with.  But there’s that damn spider, and you have enough lollipops even if that one is new and interesting and thrilling, and there are a bunch of these little spider-trap boxes at every party and bar and event in the world and you’ll figure out how to deal with them someday.  And also you’re looking at this paragraph and unsure if it makes any damn sense and whether it’s kind of objectifying to use a confection as a stand-in for heavy petting with someone you’re into.  Also you’re kind of thirsty and you’re about to go make some tea.

Okay, back now.

A lot of people can’t, or claim they can’t, tell when someone is really interested in them.  I used to make this claim a lot, actually.  What I really meant is “I can tell but the parts of my brain that do witty banter on autopilot have taken over while the rest of it goes into panic mode”.  I suspect I am not the only one who means this when we say we can’t tell when someone is hitting on us.

Sex/kink parties intrigue me, and if they didn’t I’d still be going to this one because of the people involved and because it’s a party-party as much as a sex party (or, at least, in addition to).  I have previously declined invitations to such parties due to foreknowledge of the kind of anxiety they’ll (probably) induce and the fact that lollipops are available through other, spiderless avenues.  But this is thrown by people I like and trust, and there are other reasons to be there so I won’t feel awkward and like a spoilsport if I get uncomfortable and feel the need to leave early, or if I decide to just continue to hang out in the kitchen all night. I’m looking forward to it.

Order of Operations

I think, before this recent bout of dating (which is to say, the last four years or so), I had a sort of platonic sequence in my head which I’d think one would follow when dating online.  Something like:

  1. Contact someone on a dating site
  2. Exchange a few messages
  3. Learn their real name
  4. Move to another venue, e.g., off-site email or Facebook
  5. Learn their last name
  6. Agree to meet
  7. Exchange phone numbers
  8. Meet in person
  9. Date
  10. Repeat steps 6,8, and 9 until hanky panky occurs
  11. You are now “dating”
  12. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until
  13. You stop seeing each other

I’m realizing lately that this is not at all, in fact, what happens.  E..g., with Stoella, things went more like 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3, 5, 10, 11, and are currently on 12.  We were halfway through what ended up being probably a “date” when I said “Oh, by the way, what’s your name?”.  (NB: Stoella insists that she is actually chaotic neutral, so I’ll be updating the first post where I mentioned her)

With Kevros Glimmergaunt (new character, chaotic neutral elven rogue), it went 1, 3, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12.  We’ve actually skipped a few steps, and this reminds me to ask Kevros’s (real) last name the next time we get together, and I believe the word “dating” would probably cause an allergic reaction.  I know “boyfriend” has.

Zinnaella Homeforger (neutral good gnomish sorceror who I hope isn’t mad at me for deciding she’s a gnome because she’s definitely a gnome) ran through the steps mostly in order, although steps 4 and 5 came toward the end, just before 13*.  Although 13 is a wobbly 13, I think, and there remains the potential for a booty call down the line assuming she’s not upset about the gnome thing.

What I think this means is:

First, I need to let go of (and am letting go of) all a priori opinions about dating. Things just happen as they happen, and the process is individual to the people involved and not nearly as generalizable as I’d thought.  This is good and fine, but does throw something of a wrench into my plans to tell people who don’t know how to start dating.

Second, for some reason I don’t seem to care about surnames in real life.

*Yes, True Believers, I’m now at the stage where I sometimes start seeing someone new, run through the whole fling, and then stop seeing them before I mention it to you.  Which is something of another milestone for me, I guess; I no longer need to obsessively report every small change in my dating life.

Edited to add: I don’t remember the order with Carrie, but it was odd given the distance.  I think we spent a long time on 4ish, and then ran through steps 6 through 12 in about 24 hours.

Protection

I’ve finally moved to purchasing condoms online, just because it expands the options available.  I have particular needs, and the selection isn’t always available in brick-and-mortar stores.  In particular, drug stores tend to have small selections and inflated prices.

Protip: condoms at Target cost a third what they do at other US shops, and there are many more varieties than most.

In any event, I’ve been aware of Rip ‘n’ Roll for a long time, but hadn’t really used them.  The web design is a little irritating, as is the Maxim ad, but they have basic-but-thorough HTML navigation on the left through various brands and varieties.  Ordering twelve condoms gets you a free gift, one selection of which is twelve more condoms, so at ~$10 they’re competitive with Target’s pricing once shipping is added.  I thought I’d received the wrong order, and contacted their support, who explained that the packaging wasn’t quite what I saw online but we confirmed that I’d gotten the right order.  They’re also sending another bonus twelve because I can’t use the first pack.

I occasionally ponder more permanent forms of birth control, but haven’t gone for them yet.  The gel system and the male pill are still unconscionably far off, so my primary option here is a vasectomy, and despite the low risk of complications I’m still sufficiently squeamish about surgery on my junk to want to avoid that.  Condoms it is, and whatever measures my partners are willing to take.  These seem thus far to be sufficient, provided they’re used religiously, which they are.

I’m told there is such a thing as a “dental dam”, but I have never seen one in the wild.

Edit: I promise I’m not being paid by Rip ‘n’ Roll.

Edit2: I have been informed that at least one friend does use dental dams, so apparently they exist if he is to be trusted.

How to craft a message on OkCupid

I wrote this as a comment on reddit in response to someone’s asking, and thought it might be useful here.  I don’t use this (or any) formula every time, but for someone who looks at a blank text-entry box and can’t come up with something, here’s an outline:

First, find something in the profile that is a mutual interest. If there is nothing, then don’t write to that person because you don’t actually want to date them, you just think they’re hot. Also, try to pick something that isn’t normal geek fare, because the fact that you’re both into Star Wars means nothing. Everyone is into Star Wars because Star Wars is good, if you pretend episodes I-III didn’t happen.

Now, write a paragraph and no more about the mutual interest. Describe why and how it’s an interest for you, and mention something specific about it. Maybe you like Michael Pollan’s writing but think he’s kind of a douche, or you’re into robotics specifically because you competed in a robotics competition in high school.

Consider repeating the above for a second mutual interest, but no more than that.

Now, ask a question about something interesting the other person said but didn’t expand on. Like, if they say they want to be a Mythbuster, ask what myth they’d bust first. Responding to this gives them an opening to reply and saves them from having to compose a message from nothing.

Now, proofread, and send.

Do not, in the first message:

  • compliment their appearance
  • give any off site contact info
  • suggest a meeting
  • make any sexual remarks whatsoever

Then and now

A few years ago, at parties with people I didn’t know well:

I, uh, so you know, I’m in an open relationship, right? Um.  Okay, so… well, my, uh, girlfriend, I guess? Was over, and…

Now, at parties with people I don’t know well:

Yeah, I found out that Providence’s overnight parking list isn’t for people who live in town when I was dating a Brown student.

A few years ago, when asked if I was poly:

Well, I don’t really like the word, per se, but I’m in an open relationship or two. “Polyamory” just has so much baggage associated with it. I don’t really care that it’s heteroradical, though, which seems to be most complaints about it.

Now, when asked if I’m poly:

Yeah, basically.

A few years ago, pondering dating:

I wonder if this will work out. I know people can manage open relationship, I just don’t know if I can manage it.

Today, pondering dating:

I wonder how I’m going to find the time for all these people.

A few years ago, writing to people on OkCupid:

ARGH this is like DYING

Today, writing to people on OkCupid:

And… send.

A few years ago, how I flirted with someone I was interested in in person:

Today:

 

What about STDs/STIs?

This was the question that I got asked the most when I solicited, and it comes up a lot when talking to monogamous folks. I put most of this down to internalized sex-negativity, honestly. Concurrent partners aren’t a greater risk than successive partners, and whether sex is protected or unprotected is a much greater risk factor, and all of my sex is protected.  Another important risk factor is the infection status of partners, and whether that’s known, and all of my partners get regular testing.

In fact, Carrie and I have all of two hard-and-fast rules for getting together with new people:

  • Always use a condom
  • Ask about STI health and testing

These two, very basic, rules are also in play in most of the other poly/open relationships whose rulesets I’m aware of.  Frankly, a monogamous person who doesn’t check with partners and isn’t strict about protection is at a much greater risk of infection than I am. When I was single, I was at greater risk, because I would have a similar number of partners in a year but wouldn’t check with them about their testing regimens (I still always used protection).  I would be at theoretically lower risk in a monogamous relationship only provided that it was a multi-year relationship.  I have approximately the third-lowest risk profile possible, only slightly above long term strict monogamy, which is slightly above, you know, virgin.

As I said, I think much of the hemming and hawwing about STD risk these days comes down to internalized sex negativity.  STDs come in two flavors, risk-wise (in the US, at least); there are your HPVs and Herpes simplexes, which if you’re at all sexually active you’ve almost certainly been exposed to regardless of your number of partners, and then there are STIs that show up in less than 1% of the population.  Aside from people who have unprotected sex with strangers–and if you do that, fucking quit it, because you’re raising the risk for all of us–STI risk is either essentially universal or wildly overblown.  Some studies show that the number of partners is almost irrelevant, and that rather it’s the number of unprotected sex acts that governs STI risk, although the marginal risk per partner is not well studied.

If you’re having sex, be it monogamously or not, you should be using protection and checking with your partners about their health.  Aside from abstinence or long term monogamy, those are the only ways to reduce your risk.

A followup

I want to follow up on this post a bit.  Trigger warnings again.  This post discusses rape and sexual assault.  It also discusses auto theft, for what it’s worth.  It possibly takes others’ experiences and uses them to make a point, but I do feel that the point needs to be made.  These are not my burdens, though, and never will be.

The first thing I want to address, for me, is that some people didn’t catch that it was satire.  Even those that did catch it usually needed to get through a few paragraphs before it became obvious.  Even people  who are very close to me weren’t immediately aware that I was not drawing an actual equivalency between rape and accusations of rape.  It’s a testament to how deeply rape culture and misogyny run that even people who know and love me couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t suddenly revealing a previously unknown and disgusting attitude until they got to the end of that post. A friend likened it to A Modest Proposal, saying that eating babies is also an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but tellingly no one ever believed for a second that Swift was actually proposing cannibalism. We live in a world wherein the idea that someone could suddenly reveal a rape apologist living in their head is far from absurd. And those close-to-me people who read this generally had a sick-to-their-stomach feeling that I think I didn’t need to put them through to make my point.

And here is my point: as far as I can see, we can have two scenarios when someone is accused of sexual assault or rape:

  1. We can have a strong presumption of innocence, as we do now, and we can effectively protect abusers and rapists at the expense of their victims, with the trade-off that very few people will be negatively impacted by false accusations
  2. We can have a strong presumption of guilt, and in return protect victims over their abusers,  but at the same time run the risk of persecuting some number of innocent people.

When this comes up, especially when I talk about my belief that, at least socially if not legally, we ought to operate under scenario number 2, someone nearly always claims that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty” and thereby claims that we should discard these accusations without absolute proof.  But we don’t actually operate that way, certainly not socially and generally not even legally.  The actual legal burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt; I put it to you that if you know two people had sexual contact, and one says that contact was non-consensual, it is unreasonable to doubt.

If I call the police and tell them that someone has stolen my car, and they find that person with my car, I am not required to prove that I didn’t lend it to them.  I’m not required to prove that I don’t have a history of lending my car out, nor that I haven’t let that person drive my car in the past.  And yet these are all things that are commonly required of victims of sexual assault and rape, which are much more serious than auto theft, lest anyone think I mean to draw an equivalence here.

Even if the cops couldn’t prove that someone stole my car, my friends wouldn’t take sides in the process.  No one would shun me for having my car stolen.  None of my friends and family would continue to associate with the car thief.  And this is all true even if I did give the car to the person I’ve accused.  But of course, faking a car theft is an incredibly rare event and so we quite reasonably assume that, absent other evidence, a theft accusation is true.

This is what we ought to be doing with accusations of sexual assault, which I put to you are almost certainly just as often true.  I don’t, nor could I, cite statistics for you, given the current difficulty in reporting and prosecuting these crimes and the commensurate low report rate. However, given that actually being assaulted is far worse than being accused of assault, we should be operating in a way that discourages assault over discouraging accusations regardless of the relative rates.

We are instead, as a society (perhaps not you and I, dear reader, who are of course enlightened and caring beings) protecting the criminals over the concerns of their victims.  We require a much higher bar for a victim of rape or sexual assault.  We put them through a great ordeal if they come forward, and then we ask them to prove for certain that a thing happened that is almost unprovable and which almost certainly actually happened.

There’s obviously a threshold for this.  I’m not arguing that if someone says to you “Bill Clinton raped me” and you have no reason to believe that they’ve even met Bill Clinton, you should take that super seriously.  But if someone says “X did Y to me without my consent” then so long as you have reason to believe that X actually did Y, requiring someone to prove the “without my consent” part is completely unreasonable and not something that we ask of victims of any crime that is not sexually violent in nature.  Naturally, if X can prove consent, then we can let X off the hook, much the way that if I sell someone my car they’d better get the title from me, or else trust the hell out of me that I’m not going to report it stolen.

And, as indicated in A Nightmare Scenario, this would shift the burden of care.  Men, who benefit from the current paradigm, would suddenly have to have some care with whom they had sexual encounters.  We’d have to vet those people more carefully.  We’d have to trust the people we’re sleeping with, and not just want them.  If we didn’t, we’d be taking our reputation and potentially a chunk of our lives into our hands, each and every time. Just the way women who sleep with men do now, just the way men who sleep with men do now, just the way that trans folk who sleep with cis men must, just the way that people of color who sleep with white people do now, just the way that anyone who is drawn to someone more privileged than they are must do.  The current effective assumption that all accusations of rape are lies without overwhelming proof magnifies and exacerbates a difference of power that doesn’t need any help.

And make no mistake: when you silence victims, you are assuming that they are lying.  When you block them from making “criminal accusations”, the way the Fetlife admins do, you are treating all accusations as lies.  When you ask a victim to be absolutely sure that they didn’t consent, you are treating them as liars.  When we, this society, treat rape and sexual assault as if they required 100% proof, as if without video tape or clear signs of violence they can’t be prosecuted, things we do with no other crime, we are treating victims as liars.

The BDSM/fetish community has a serious problem with this, and its problem sparked this discussion, but it’s one which mirrors the superculture’s obsession with protecting men from harmful accusations of sexual assault.  Yes, if we were to make these assumptions, we would get laid less.  The buzz would be harshed.  That happy invulnerability, that ability to have sex with no consideration of the consequences, that would be dented.  Straight men would get laid less.  I would get laid less.  That is not a reasonable objection.  It is not worth protecting rapists over their victims in order to make sex easier.

Genderiffic

I’m going to riff on something which is only peripherally related to the “mission” of this blog, but I’m sure no one minds.  Right?  Right.

One of the major topics of conversation last night was gender and the expression thereof, and the ways that both of us have dealt with that. For my part, I’ve been mulling these things over a lot lately, in particular since a recent Mass Effect playthrough as a female character (FemShep, in the parlance) pulled front-and-center certain internal assumptions I had about my own gender expression which I was previously not consciously aware of.

We don’t need to have a debate about the value of video games for cultural expression and self-examination, right?  Right.

I’m not a man who is comfortable with traditional masculinity.  This surprises no one, least of all myself.  But I’m still a fairly masculine-presenting, cis man, male.  For a long time, I hadn’t thought about that at all, largely because I don’t need to.  The world is built on the assumption that someone is male, and it’s easy to miss the ways in which one is “default”.  Instead, the focus tends to be on the differences from expectation, but, ultimately, for me, the differences aren’t as great as the similarities.

This isn’t something I’m terribly comfortable with, though.  I have always associated “masculinity” with negative traits–violence, bullying,gender policing, homophobia, tribalism, jingoism, etc.  I was a small boy, and boys are awful to other boys–myself included. I’m still not nearly as comfortable with men as women, and most of my friends remain women.

But the fact of the matter is that I am, and am obviously, male and masculine.  I don’t have to address it, because the world is designed not to throw it in my face, unlike other folks, but it’s there.  I’m making a choice in how to present even if I am merely accepting the default options.  And I’m not doing it because I feel pushed into it; I rapidly and vehemently rebel against those bits that don’t fit right into my identity.  I am this way because I want to be, because it feels right.

What there isn’t, for masculinity, is any sense of choice.  Any way to do it consciously (as opposed to self-consciously), and in an examined manner.  Any way to accept what works while ejecting what’s toxic.  Almost any other gender expression can be done in a subversive way, as an announcement of both the gender itself and also one’s politics associated with it.

I used to follow The Good Man project (no, no link), hoping that it would be, or lead to, a discussion of how to be masculine in the world as it changes.  It didn’t, and (like all of these sorts of discussions) it was quickly co-opted by men who wanted to whinge about their “emasculation” in today’s society, or complain that feminism has “gone too far”, or to lionize those things that are most awful about what’s expected of men. Business as usual.

Guys, dudes, my brothers, look: we are not being left behind. We started out so far ahead.  Other people may be moving faster than we are, but that’s because they have to to catch up.  And it’s no one else’s responsibility to make space for us.  If we want to be allies, or even relevant, we need to be willing to give up a privileged position.  It’s not “emasculating”; no one else can emasculate you.

I like this identity.  I don’t like some of the things that I associate with it, but I don’t have to do those things.  But unlike other possible identities, there isn’t anything to reclaim here, except from my own negative image of masculinity.  So it’s been unnecessary to do it consciously, and in an examined manner.  I haven’t had to decide how to identify, I just have an identity.  I’m starting to think, though, that it doesn’t have to be that way, that maybe there’s a value in the performance.

There are certainly things that are “masculine” that are worth preserving.  Not bullshit about chivalry, or refusing to cry.  Not simple virtues, like “courage” or “steadfastness”, because to claim those belong to masculinity is to claim that they can’t belong to the immasculine (for that matter, I think it’s essentially false to ascribe things like “being nurturing” and “talking about feelings” to femininity).  Not merely biologically male tendencies, like height and musculature.  Not sexuality.  Not even sex or gender, because there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a reason that anyone can’t take on this image.  But the outward presentation of masculinity, things like:

  • Suits
  • Facial hair
  • Swagger
  • Rolled-up, long sleeve, button-down shirts
  • Leading in social dance
  • Ties
  • Big watches

Anyway, these elements of outward presentation, which I think still have great value that it took me a long time to cotton to.  Take ties, for example: I’ve long claimed to hate them.  Partly, this is because I have a huge neck and the shirts that otherwise fit me don’t easily button to the top.  Mostly, though, in honesty, it’s because I’ve associated them with a bullshit corporate culture that I hate.  But I don’t have to do that. And if I don’t, it’ll be rapidly obvious, and I don’t need outward signals to demonstrate that.

A corollary to the conscious choice here is that all other choices are equally valid.  It’s important, in being both masculine and enlightened, to have looked at all the other choices.  It’s important to recognize the value of those choices, and it’s important to make the decision for oneself without making a value judgment on people who make a different choice.

Done right, I think this belongs in a similar category with various sorts of gender bending.  Pi radians, 180 degrees, is still an angle, and mathematics doesn’t distinguish it in any special way; it’s just one angle of infinitely many.  The phrase that keeps rolling around in my head to describe this is “hard dapper”, and I think a couple of people out there already close to epitomize what I’m going for.  Check out Nick Wooster:

Or Phillip Crangi:

However, I don’t know anything about these guys’ personal philosophies.  I think the key elements here for me, for this “hard dapper” thing, are:

  • Masculinity as a conscious choice of outward presentation, as opposed to a default
  • A recognition that this is not the same as “manliness” or “maleness”. These are not the things that a man “should be” or “should wear”.  These aren’t things that anyone of another gender shouldn’t wear.  In fact, folks of other genders make this sort of conscious choice all the time.  It’s just an understanding that so can I.
  • A recognition that this is a selection from a spectrum, and not only is it only one choice of many, it is many separate choices.  I can mix and match whatever I want, even if I settle on one theme.
  • A recognition that I can jettison the things that I don’t want.  A tie isn’t homophobia.  A suit jacket isn’t bullying men who are smaller than me. Leading my partner in a tango isn’t gender oppression.

I’m not sure where this is going, but it’s a new era of self-examination and I’m looking forward to the journey.  I think I’m going to have some of my shirts tailored and buy some ties.