Thursday, May 29, 2008
The mythical "Open Relationship" seems, to most men my age, to combine the best of all worlds: the opportunity for intimacy with someone special, the opportunity to seek sexual gratification from other sources, and the opportunity to decide for yourself how best to strike that balance.
Let me tell you: it's not all it's cracked up to be.
And no, it's not because of jealousy. While we keep the details to ourselves, my girlfriend and I hide nothing from one another. She is, completely and unequivocally, my best friend. Sophie and I were friends long before we became involved, and I began the relationship on the sole condition that it could not, under any circumstances, come at the expense of our friendship.
If jealousy were to become an issue, I should expect it to be more from her side. While our relationship is explicitly open, Sophie does not sleep around. The same is not true for me; and while this is all kosher with Sophie, every time I have sex with another woman, it still feels like cheating.
It's not like I have any moral qualms about sex. As long as it's safe, and nobody is taken advantage of, I think it's a beautiful thing. There's a broad spectrum between the gratuitous fuck and the world-changing feeling of making love. If you're just counting sex, I've had my share. My fraternity's chapter saw fit to vote me the Most Promiscuous Brother of '07/'08, mostly owing to one high-profile (within fraternity circles, that is) threesome last February. I've slept with a few girls, yes.
I've only ever made love to one.
It's a term that sounds so trite until you experience it yourself. The feeling of caring more than about your own sexual pleasure, or even someone else's, but instead about letting down all of your defenses and giving yourself completely to another person. And when it's done, holding each other close and telling all of your secrets without saying a word. My MO with girls has always been "nice guys don't get laid." Sophie is the only person with whom I've ever let myself just be... myself.
I've seen her three times.
Enter the "distance factor," stage left. She lives in Alabama. Goes to school in Boston. After meeting in Toronto over four years ago, we kept in touch over MSN and near-daily phone conversations. The friendship began to take on more intimate overtones a year or two ago, and every once in a while, we would make plans to visit one another, only to see those plans fall through. We would always put the romantic aspect of our friendship on hold whenever one of us was in a relationship with someone back home.
But she was privy to the triumphs and anxieties, the trials and tribulations of every romantic involvement I ever had. We saw one another through more then our fair share of respective first-date jitters, and break-up train wrecks. But there came a point last February when it dawned on me who it was that I wanted to be with.
When reading week started (reading week is the Canadian version of March Break, only - you know - in February), I packed up my bags and set off with my best friend on the long overnight drive to Boston.
Before making the trip, I had ended a no-strings-attached thing I had with a friend I'd been having sex with back home, just in case things got serious with Sophie.
I was only there for one night, but it was easily the best night of my life. She seemed to want - for some unbelievable reason - for her first time to be with me. That may not count for much to some people, but that was a lot of pressure for me. I mean, I'd been the first for a girl before, but never with someone I really, truly cared about. And yet, it was a first for me too. I made love for the first time, and got hooked.
The next month, she came up to Ottawa for a week for her March break. It stands out as probably the best week I ever had. I skipped all of my classes - studious guy that I am - and practically barricaded myself in the room with her. We only had the week together, and we were going to make the most of it. My roommate hated me.
When the week was over, it was unclear when we would see each other again. I don't know how we came to it, but we made the decision that an open relationship was best for us, because we had so little opportunity to be together.
Yet sex had made its inevitable impact on us. Where once we would tell each other everything, I found myself opening up to her less. Despite the open status of our relationship, every time I slept with another woman, it felt, on an intuitive level, like a betrayal not only of her, but of myself.
So I began to spare her the details. Where once I would tell her everything that was going on in my life, now it felt wierd. How could I tell her what another woman was doing with me, while the distance that separated us kept her from doing the same?
Fast forward to two weeks ago.
I had sex with Rachel. She is a close friend of mine, and goes to the same university as me. It wasn't quite planned: it just sort of happened. She's spending the summer in Toronto, and I was there for the weekend. We met up for drinks, and one thing led to another, which led to my place. And now things are a mess.
Because even though it wasn't the same as what I have with Sophie, it was, inexorably, more than just a fuck. And striking that balance between intimacy and sex in my relationship with Sophie became a lot more complicated. Even though I'm not in love with Rachel, the sex was intimate. Having "just sex" with someone hadn't really caused any problems with respect to the open relationship. But what do I do when it's not just sex?
Rachel is coming up to Ottawa for the weekend to see me. She knows about my relationship with Sophie, and she surely understands that nothing serious will happen between the two of us. But I'm worried about whether or not I can keep this from getting unmanageably wierd. Rachel's my friend, and I don't want her to feel rejected. But I love Sophie, and need to find a way to make sure not to become romantically intimate with someone else.
That would be something that she could not forgive.
For all you guys who wish you were in my shoes, and love the idea of being able to fuck whoever you want while still being in a relationship, let me pitch in my two cents: be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Everybody, I'm sure, likes to see themselves as the kind of person who will always to the right thing, no matter the cost. For me, doubly so.
But I learned otherwise tonight.
I was leaving one of my favourite downtown Toronto sushi places, where I'd met up with an old high school friend to catch up with one another. On the way out, there was obviously some serious shit going down between several people on the sidewalk along Bloor.
At first, it looked like a fight. This was past Spadina and Bloor, and clubgoers have been known to take it outside every now and again. One guy was yelling and swearing, while another guy was advancing, yelling back, and threatening an ass-kicking.
The first guy was around my age (early 20's) and kind of emo-ish. He was wearing wrist-slitter attire - skinny red jeans and all - but he was decently built, and it looked like he could handle your average fistfight.
The guy moving in on him was pure white trash. You know the type; wannabe gansta-rapper of a caveman, trying to prove something to his trogdolyte posse. Some shrill girl cut in with "Yo, kick his ass!"
And what did I do?
So as the guy in the skinny red jeans vascillates between hurling insults and backing away, the caveman keeps advancing, taunting the guy to "Yo, fight me like a man." It soon became clear that "fight me like a man" really meant "me and my two friends are going to wail on you."
This wasn't some deserted alleyway. This happened on Toronto's Bloor St West, on a strip of several popular Toronto clubs and pubs. This spectacle must have been happening in front of 20 people at least.
What did they do?
And what did I do?
Not a whole lot more. I dialed the police.
When the three guys caught up with skinny-jeans, they made good on their threats. They grabbed him, hit him, threw him down, and hit him some more. Meanwhile, I was heroically speaking on the phone with the dispatcher suggesting that someone get over here right away.
Just a primer on myself: I'm not the type to be afraid to get into a fight. I've covered the back of a friend or two when things have gotten rough. I'm in the Army Reserves. I'm in decent shape. I've got martial arts experience. I can handle a fight. So why was I standing there on the phone while someone else was getting pummeled?
For the same reason that everyone else just stood there and looked on. It wasn't their problem - it wasn't their friend - it wasn't their fight.
When they let up on him, the guy runs across the street to where I am, then continues to shout insults at the three guys. This is fucking ridiculous. Someone else's problem is coming my way, and quickly becoming mine. So I did what every single other person on that street did. I stepped aside, and watched as they came after the guy again.
When I yelled that the police were on their way, the cave-men seemed to keep their distance. Response time would be lightning-fast in this area, and they obviously didn't want the police to arrive to the scene of them kicking the crap out of some guy.
But the victim wasn't going to let things go that easily. He charges at his assailants, and gets beaten down again. Are you fucking kidding me? It was around this time that the police car came into view. The cave-dwellers and their woman run off along Bloor Street, while the emo guy sits against the door of a closed storefront and tried to collect himself. His friend is there making sure he's alright. The same friend that, like myself and everyone else in the crowd, never once came to his defense.
I crouch down in front of him to see if he is concussed. I can see that the police, pushing their way through the dense Bloor-street traffic, are still a good 45-60 seconds away. He can count my fingers, and he knows what day it is. His name is Caleb. Good. He's feeling dizzy, and a little nauseous. Not so good. It'll take a little while to know whether that's from concussion, adrenaline, or alcohol.
The police are completely useless. Even though the assailants couldn't be more than a block away, they do nothing to pursue them. Once they are sure that Caleb doesn't have concussion, they suggest that since he's not injured, and he doesn't want to go to the hospital, he should go home immediately. I offer him and his friend a ride.
Turns out, they were literally just walking down the street when one of the three guys decided that he didn't like the way Caleb looked, or didn't like the way he looked at them. All he heard was, "Yo! Wanna fucking fight," before getting hit in the face. He took a swing back, and connected with the lead caveman's face. Then the other two cave-dwellers jumped in. Somehow, they disengaged, and Caleb decided that it was wise to make use of the distance he'd managed to place between him and the posse by calling them white trash, and calling the girl their white trash whore. His friend, the entire time, was trying to shut him up. At that point, he was provoking further confrontation, and that was when I stepped out of the restaurant.
While it wasn't immediately clear who was attacking whom, it didn't take long to figure out. Yet the most I ever did was to pick up my phone.
There were over 20 people there, so why didn't a single person intervene?
In retrospect, the answer is simple: nobody helped because there were over 20 people there. Every single person in the crowd was sure that someone would do something, so no one did.
And I feel ashamed to be one of them.
Sure, I called the police. I gave the guy a ride home after. But I did nothing - nothing! - while he was getting his ass kicked. I alone wouldn't have changed the odds much by joining the fight, but by acting, I might have encouraged others to intervene. But when the time for action had come and gone, I was left with words, and a cell phone.
So now I'm forced to question what kind of person I really am. If you had asked me, "would you step in to help a guy who is being attacked," I would have certainly said yes. So would 9 out of 10 guys. So would you.
Yet out of over 20 people standing on Bloor Street watching this man get attacked, not a single one acted.
And it makes me sick.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Luckily for me, I grew up in sensibly secular Canada. Sex education was a mandatory part of Physical Education, which, in the province of Ontario, is a required credit for a high school diploma. Phys Ed was a ninth-grade course, so at the tender age of 14, high school freshmen learn a few things about sex.
The basic mechanics of it were fairly straightforward. By the time we entered high school, most kids my age already knew a fair bit about sex. There were probably a few in the class who were sexually active, but at that age, I would call it a fair bet that most of my classmates were probably sitting firmly at third base, if that.
Still, there was useful information to glean from Sex Ed. We got to see nasty pictures of terrifying diseases. We learned how all the parts work (not that I can honestly still remember what my vas deferens does, but no matter). Most importantly though, we learned about contraception and disease prevention. Abstinence was taught as one of the methods to protect yourself, but it was never implied that taking that route was morally superior. Trained volunteers even demonstrated how to roll a condom onto erotic vegetables.
Did I come out of that class behaving any differently than I had before? Not really. It was still another year or two before I finally got laid. But I did come out with a sense of normalcy about it.
Fast forward one year.
My Jewish youth group (hey, I wasn't born an atheist) had held that year's International Convention in Toronto. Of course, being a hormone-addled 15-year-old, I spent the entire time chatting up every single nice Jewish girl and her chest.
One girl that I had really started to fall for was this stunning blonde cheerleader from Alabama. She's actually one of the smartest people that I've met, but I didn't really know that at the time. Her name wasn't actually Sophie, but since there's a good chance that she'll feature in some more personal stories, she's going to have to remain Sophie as far as you people are concerned.
After she convinced me that she wasn't joking, there actually are Jewish people in Alabama, we actually started to hit it off. While I never worked up the courage to make a move while she was in Toronto, I did get her email address.
We kept in touch after she went home, talking on MSN nearly every night. It was only a matter of time before a conversation turned to sex. Funny how that happens when you're 15 and thinking about it constantly, eh? When I told her about my school's Sex Education sub-course the previous year, she was absolutely floored.
"Your teacher actually advocated condom use? If that happened here, they'd be fired so fast!"
I was stunned. To me, Abstinence-only sex education was something you read about, a policy that mythical fundamentalists in a far-off land taught their spawn. Yet while my classmates were learning how to play safe when the clothes came off, her classmates were instead taking a class-wide abstinence pledge.
She was as appalled as I was. She could barely believe that we Canadians, who I had always considered to be a fairly middle-of-the-pack bunch, were amazing enough to adopt such a progressive policy as teaching young adults how to safely do something that they're going to do anyway.
I was going to try and conclude with something profound and thought-provoking, but it's past 5:30am, and I'm fucking tired. Just roll that around in your head for a minute. Having your education determined by religious doctrine isn't something that happens to someone else. It happened to Sophie.
Update: Hours after writing this, I find this article in the Schenectady Gazette, via Salon.com. Turns out, there's a classroom's worth of parents who are outraged by the way their grade 7/8 snowflakes are being taught Sex Ed. They're mobilizing the suburban mommy militia, and taking torch and pitchfork to the school district administration.
The crime? While teaching students the facts about sex, the curriculum actually acknowledged the fact that we have body parts that can give pleasurable feelings. Masturbation was even mentioned!
When will school administrators realize? If we don't tell them that it can feel good, they're not going to find out! It's that simple. A doctor said so:
Dr. Michael Rochet, a physician, said the school district should search for alternatives for Planned Parenthood programming because he believes the instruction will facilitate curiosity among students. [emphasis mine]
“It will lead to more sexual activity,” he said.
Rochet said he wants parents and educators to get together and work on a program for the coming school year that can be molded to the community’s needs, as opposed to taking on programming of an organization that’s already developed.
“We don’t have to follow everybody else. Let’s lead the pack,” Rochet said.
In an effort to ensure parents would have a say in their children’s participation, the district issued forms so that parents could decide to have their children excluded from the instruction.
Here's why they should not have this option: their children will have sex. If not now - they are in middle school - then in a few years. It's a fact. Especially in Montgomery County, where the teen birth rate is the second-highest of any in New York state.
Teen birth is a greater policy issue, but it's not the reason the course should be obligatory. Disease is. If teens have a baby, their life is ruined. If someone passes on a sexually-transmitted disease, it has endangered the health and well-being of everyone within six degrees of sexual separation. For the same reason that schools can mandate vaccinations against Polio and Co,
it has a duty to mandate Sex Ed as an innoculation against stupidity. A student with Polio would be a danger to the school at large; so too, the student who might be imbued with the wond'rous gift of herpes.
Teach them when they're young, so when they start, they won't be idiots.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
...On May 1st, three undergraduate students in Ottawa moved gleefully out of uni residence and into their first leased house.
Having spent 19 years counting the minutes till I could move out of my parents' homes, and the following two semesters resenting the confining rules of dorms, the move felt like pure freedom.
No ban on beer bottles. No roommate to kick out of the double when a girl comes back you your place. And university security didn't seem to like it much when I tried to get a barbeque going in the quad.
The place is ours. Ours. After spending the better part of a week moving in and getting our respective shit in order, I drive off to Toronto for the weekend. Against my better judgement, a weekend gets railroaded into a week and a half.
Fast forward to last night. I get back to Ottawa just shy of 3am, and it's lord of the fucking flies. No clean dished left; nargila sitting in the back room for anyone to see; and the garbage clearly hasn't been emptied since we moved in.
I think I'm going to have to engrave a few commandments half an inch into the drywall.
1. If you cook yourself a meal, do the fucking dishes.
2. If someone takes over the cooking duties for the night, do the fucking dishes.
3. If you drink an entire case of my beer, don't replace it with an American import. That's just uncalled for.
4. If you have sex on furniture or surfaces in common areas of the house, have the courtesy not to tell me about it. I never told Ross about the time I hooked up on his bed while he was at a midterm. Keep it to yourself, it's a matter of respect.
5. When a girl refuses to come over because of how horrible the house is, it's time to kick into crisis mode.
6. When all else fails, the most important rule of all: don't fuck with me. The fuse box is in my room. I'm not afraid to use it.
...Long story short, I can see this going one of two possible ways...
Either we pull together, and strike a balance between personal space and shared responsibility, or we dig in our heels, and the house devolves into a petulant orgy of bitter pranks, retributions, and recriminations.
There's one subset of those that I'd like to address.
When DK and I moved those bibles, it was done less as a political statement or some opening salvo in a campaign of petty bookstore terrorism, but more for sheer shits and giggles. We'd just come out of Harold and Kumar 2, and were in an insolent sort of mood.
There are some, however, who feel that there's another subtopic which is more systematically misplaced in bookstores. Many comments on Pharyngula suggested that Science shelves should be bereft of such gems as Michael Behe's intelligent-design manifestos, or any any book on new-age pseudoscience.
It's with this that I must take issue. When, in my email to Dr Myers, I referred to the democratic marketplace of ideas, I was not paying lip service. It is a fundamental tenet of western democratic society that as long as nobody is literally hurt, every opinion has a right to be heard. I'm not saying that every opinion is worth the paper it's written on, just that anyone has every right to make their case. This is especially the case in the rigours of the scientific process, where any theory - new or old - is continually vetted by a process of peer review and critique.
In the case of Behe's ID idiocy and New-Age acupressure guides, they belong squarely in the science section. The questions that they address (Who are we? How did we get here? How can the flow of Chi affect my basement grow-op?) are fundamentally scientific ones. Just because a particular author's answer to a real scientific question is completely insipid does not mean that it does not belong on the Science shelf.
Call me Naïve, but I truly want to believe that in the great marketplace of ideas, theories will ultimately rise and fall on their own merits.
If you want to rid your local science section of wastes of wood-pulp like Behe's books on Intelligent Design, here's how to do it.
Let his opinion be heard.
There is only one appropriate response to a ridiculous proposition, and that response is thorough ridicule. Give Behe and his ilk a seat at the table. Engage him. Expose his ideas for the unscrupulous shams that they are. I'm not advocating that anyone treat fools with kid gloves - far from it. All I'm saying is, give these people just enough intellectual rope to hang themselves with, then help them build their gallows.
In slightly more interesting news, I have a confession to make. Those of you who frequent Pharyngula or Tall Penguin - both phenomenal blogs - may have noticed the story of a Toronto-area Indigo bookstore that found its entire Bibles and Bible Study section relocated to relevant shelves around the store. That was me and DK [full name withheld to protect the guilty] on Saturday afternoon.
For those barbarians who don't frequent either blog, here's where it gets interesting:
Dr. P. Z. Myers is a professor of biology in Minnesota (I think), and author of the extremely high-profile blog "Pharyngula." He's an ardent atheist and a friend of Richard Dawkins, who wrote "The God Delusion." They were both actually interviewed (under a false flag) in Ben Stein's intelligent-design schlockumentary "Expelled."
But I digress.
Assuming Dr. Myers to be the kind of person who would get a chuckle out of the absurdity of the whole thing, I sent off an email:
Bookstore Mischief in the Frozen Northlands
PR. [redacted] <[redacted]@gmail.com> Tue, May 20, 2008 at 3:51 AM
And that, I'd expected, was the end of it. I probably should have known better. En route to Ottawa tonight, I got a call from DK. I hadn't mentioned to him that I'd sent the email, and he was calling to tell me that we were - and I quote - "in the fucking news!"
The "news" that he was referring to was Dr Myers's blog, Pharyngula, which posted a bemused half-chastisement for the world to see. (the actual chastising was in the form of a short "While I don't condone this..." before going on to extol how the whole stunt was, in fact, kind of funny.)
A couple of college students in Toronto (what is it with those ferocious godless heathens coming out of that city?) took offense at the patent absurdity of the "Bible and Bible Studies" section of a large bookstore at Yonge and Eglinton, and decided to help organize the shelves by filing their contents more appropriately. They quietly moved the contents to other places in the bookstore, like Fiction, Humour, Sexuality, Erotica, Cuisine, Parenting, Mental Disorder, Parapsychology and the Occult. Then they sent me a photo of the end result.
That's Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation sitting all alone there.
I can't really condone this kind of behavior — think of the poor clerks who have to look everywhere to find and restore the bibles to their little ghetto — but it is funny. It's also godless Canada, so maybe nobody noticed for a few weeks or months. Maybe nobody cared.
Here's the other side of the story.
...For the record, this blog receives an average of 57 000 page views per day. This posting alone received about 150 comments from readers, ranging from acclaim to irritation. The one comment that stood out, the "other side of the story," was a comment from a girl who actually works at that Indigo:
I work in that bookstore and I was the one who came upon those shelves just after it happened. I blogged about it and one of my readers just sent me the link to this site. My manager wasn't really impressed and although the scavenger hunt was fun, it ate up a lot of our time on a busy Saturday afternoon.
To the culprits: By the time I reached the shelves, the copy of "Letter to a Christian Nation" was gone. They were just empty, so your prank looked more like the work of fundamentalists. Not sure it accomplished your goal.
Posted by: tall penguin | May 20, 2008 12:13 PMWhile it was a bit of an inconvenience to undo the havoc we'd wrought, she was clearly amused enough to post about it on her own blog, Tall Penguin:
Sunday, May 18, 2008
In my bookstore job, I walk the floor for hours, helping customers find books. As I walk through my department I tidy up the shelves and clean up the messes the dear customers leave behind. As I was walking through the Religion department late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that two whole shelves of Bibles were missing. I immediately called my manager to see if perhaps they'd been moved or someone was working on this; unlikely considering it was a Saturday and we do nothing but sell on a Saturday. He said that it seemed likely they were stolen.
Loss Prevention was alerted and the three of us surveyed the empty shelves, wondering how someone could walk off with 40 bibles without our noticing. We each went back to our respective jobs, feeling a little dismayed that this theft had happened. And Bibles even. Granted, it is the most stolen book.
So, I'm walking through the Cooking department, and there on the shelf where the books on cocktails and alcoholic beverages are, are 3 Bibles. I smile. I tell loss prevention and the scavenger hunt begins. I put on my fundie thinking cap and set out to all the areas in the store that a Bible-thumper would think were in need of the Good Word. And sure enough, there they were. Bibles were found in Sexuality, Erotica, the Teen section, War and Sci Fi/Fantasy.
My manager was happy that we'd recovered the merchandise but was understandably a little peeved at someone's thinking that they were doing a good thing. Whether this was a fundie Christian or just someone out to play a little game, we'll never know. But it made for a very interesting night.
While she doesn't seem too upset about it, I think I might send an apology to her. She was clearly an innocent bystander, and I do feel a twinge of guilt for putting the peace and quiet of her afternoon shift in the crossfire.
....And that's all for now. I'd been thinking about starting a blog for a while (God knows I've definitely got the talent to put out something that people would enjoy reading when they should be doing something productive with their time). Being peripherally involved in a blogosphere maelstrom might be a good way to springboard into that.
All the best,
As an afterthought, I'm kind of glad that Dr. Myers had the discretion not to post our names in his blog, or the photo with me and DK standing triumphantly in front of the vandalised bookshelf.