In this session, Professor Meow is back to talk about hierarchical polyamory and bdsm.
As a relationship anarchist, I often make a distinction when talking about hierarchical poly. There are hierarchies of obligations: that’s sharing child care, mortgage payments, etcetera; and there are hierarchies of control. For clarity: a hierarchy of obligations can be characterized as prioritization or of special privileges related to those obligations. For example, facilitating vacation time for another parent of one’s own children might take priority over dating that same weekend. That’s more life management and prioritization rather than the other parent demanding you not date at all.
Hierarchy of control is a more grey area and is the realm of exercising power, punishments, cutoff-all-ties-vetos. My experience with power dynamics informs my personal opinion that control hierarchies work best when we hold them suspect, that it’s ideal to ask a lot of questions before they’re set up, while they are ongoing, and even after the fact.
Why do we set them up? What purposes do they serve? Who benefits if anyone? Is it temporary or long term? When is the exact date we revisit this agreement? Who is inconvenienced or hurt if anyone? What would happen if there were less control or more control? Would anything meaningful change? How will this accomplish the underlying goal?
In BDSM, these kinds of reflections are commonplace through a prior negotiation, a series of casual check-ins that happen throughout the relationship, and a series of conversations throughout various aftercare sessions or if you don’t do aftercare, through various follow-up conversations.
For clarity: aftercare is a best practice and I respect some relationships or interactions don’t require it or some people get their needs met in ways that they don’t characterize or describe as aftercare. If you don’t know what aftercare is, it might be worth looking into it as it might improve your relationships if you find a version that works for you.
Control and surrendering of one’s emotional freedom to connect intimately with others is a serious and important thing. The greater the potential consequences, the more I encourage open communication.
Hierarchies of control in my opinion are most safely managed within educated, informed BDSM frameworks – that is to say getting educated and informed on how to manage power and control over others is a best practice of managing power and control over others. At the very least, I recommend recognizing exclusion and rules and checking in to see if they’re still okay from time to time.
There’s no one way to do non monogamy, and there’s no right or wrong way so long as no one is being abused. However abuse is often described as “power over” while normal conflict is described as “power struggle.” If that’s the distinction, are you coming at this from a pre-negotiated place? If so, did you negotiate from a reasonably neutral place? If not, it’s not necessarily a problem, but it’s probably a best practice to check.
Ask who has the power? Is there leverage being used? Do you feel like one person “owes” another? These are especially important in veto relationships or if you feel unhappy about an agreement you made that seemed fair in the past but for some reason doesn’t feel fair today.
The big question is does it feel right to everyone and is it working for all parties including those on the margins: does it feel right to your “secondaries?” If it does, then it does. I’m not trying to undermine anyone’s legitimacy, just reminding people to check in with all stakeholder.
If those red flags are bringing up uncomfortable answers, it’s worth advocating for yourself even if it doesn’t rationally seem to make sense.
Sometimes just describing your fears before a conversation can make it easier. Think of saying, “Hey, I don’t know what’s up for me yet but I’m really struggling with blank. I’d like to talk through it again but first I want to voice what I’m afraid of. I have fears that this conversation will end in blank. I have fears you might respond to my requests with blank. I’m afraid to be seen as blank. I’d rather have my position heard than agreed with. Would you be willing to hear me out?” Again, the book Nonviolent Communication can help a lot here.
I can’t stress enough how strongly I believe that much unintentional suffering of those we love could be avoided through more honest, transparent communication. That is to say: it’s great to have conversations about our expectations, agreements, emotions, and desires where all participants are confident they won’t be punished for being forthcoming, honest, or authentic.
Now, let’s go to the session with Professor Meow on Intimate Interactions.