Interview with Andrea Zanin – Queer poly gender-fluid perv. Writer, speaker

You hold several Non-Monogamy and Relationship Skills workshops;

Dominance and Submission; BDSM Play; BDSM Community; Sex Skills; We’re Here, We’re Queer!

How is it important and essential to keep researching about the BDSM existence in our society, BDSM practices, non-monogamic relationships, sexual abilities and about being queer? What can we learn and which obstacles and faculties do you intend to overcome?

The classic approach to the study of sexuality has been to focus on the idea of deviance, and to ask the question of why people deviate from the norm. And this question has not classically been asked in a friendly way the aim has been to pathologize, punish or “treat,” as though difference were a sickness. The norm itself has often evaded study or question. It’s like taking a vice squad approach to studies of sexuality. The key paradigm has been a normative vs deviant model, as opposed to a model that includes questions of coercion vs consent, or happiness and wellness, or even a harm reduction model.

It is heartening to see that in the last number of years, research has begun to take new directions, toward more of a benign intellectual curiosity. New research is asking much more interesting questions about “deviant” or marginalized sexualities questions such as, what valuable lessons can the mainstream learn from those on the margins? How do people on the sexual and relationship margins understand themselves, how do they learn and teach, how do their identities form, what are their communities’ norms and standards of behaviour, what language do they use for themselves, and what are their cultures and histories like? How do society’s institutions – marriage, the law, culture more broadly – enforce normative notions of sexuality, and how can those be shifted toward greater inclusivity?

As well, new research and theorizing has begun to turn the lens of analysis in the other direction, and to look critically at the norm itself. As such, we are seeing studies of heterosexuality as one orientation among many, as opposed to based on the assumption that it’s the only valid one; we are seeing theory and history work that questions how heterosexuality came to exist, how it operates and what its problems are. These questions are also being asked about monogamy. We’re still only at the very beginnings of seeing this approach applied to kink and BDSM, or rather, to vanilla sexuality, probably because the dividing line between “normal” and “deviant” here is a lot murkier than it is even for queer sexuality and non-monogamy; but I believe it will happen there too, or that the approach will at least be attempted. I think all of these are very promising trends, and I hope they continue to evolve so that we can get a clearer picture of human sexuality in all its complexity. We all stand to benefit, even those with less marginalized experiences.

For me, my academic work, blogging, teaching, activism and community organizing all combine. They are all ways in which I try to press forward with this progressive approach to alternative sexualities. I think practitioner perspectives are valid and worth listening to; I think that we, as communities, are able to think critically and analytically about what we do, are able to research our own histories and proclivities, and that we have an appetite for this self-understanding. I think we have been forced to waste a lot of our energy defending ourselves against people and institutions that have judged without learning about us from the source. I welcome the culture shifts we have slowly brought about, shifts which have carved out enough space that we can now devote more of our energy to this deeper and less embattled work. There is still, of course, a long way to go.

How is it to live in a polyamory relationship?

You write, research and teach. For the lady who experienced polyamory relationships and who is an expert and researcher on the theme, how is it to teach, discuss and write about this subject, yet to be more meaningful and approached?

Polyamorous and other non-monogamous relationships are radically different for each person or group doing them. Really, knowing that someone is non-monogamous tells you very little about what they actually do or desire – all it tells you is that it’s about more than a couple. For me, non-monogamy has taken many different forms over time, and I suspect they will continue to. That has included being unpartnered but dating many people; being partnered with two people in a triad for many years; being one end of a V; and these days, being partnered with only one person, but open to possibilities. The important thing, in my experience, is not to be attached to a specific form of non-monogamy, but to live it as an ethical value system that permits many possible arrangements.

I do want to clarify, though: I don’t research non-monogamy. It’s not my area of academic focus. My research is on BDSM. I have certainly done some academic reading on non-monogamy, but my writing and teaching on the topic come mostly from my personal and community experience and critical thinking, not from scholarly study.

We live in a highly monogamic world, ruled mostly by religious influence and its guidelines. How can we open our mind to polyamory, end the prejudice about LGBT, BDSM and even sexuality?

I wish I had an easy answer to this! I think it is a struggle on many fronts at once, some of them massive and others very, very small. Macro and micro. We need to change laws and policies that make our lives needlessly difficult, in every country in the world. We need to research, write and educate, to produce readily available and well-founded data about the truths of our lives, which can be used to counter myths, stereotypes and baseless fears. We need to work on language, on finding the right words to express what we are doing in all its diversity, and on getting that language out into the wider world so that we are spoken about accurately. We need to build and sustain communities and friendships with one another both within and across our differences, so that we can support each other as we live our lives and do this work. And we need to work toward changing people’s minds through individual human connections. We have already made great strides in this work, and I expect I will see much more in my lifetime.

You have been working for a few years on LGBT, BDSM, sexology, sexuality, queer and so on. How is it for you to talk, teach, discuss these ideas wether in articles, lectures or interviews? What have you learnt and how have you shared this knowledge? You have walked a long way in the teaching of these subjects. How do you perceive the evolution of these ideas, what is there left to do and how can we evolve in our sexuality and in the BDSM, LGBT way of life?

I started teaching more than 15 years ago, and it amazes me how the longer I do this work, the more there is for me still to learn. I think the conversations within our various communities have evolved greatly over time, thanks to research and writing and slow political change; we keep developing new language and greater nuance in how we understand ourselves and learn about each other. From a historical perspective, different groups have achieved different things in different places. It would be impossible to summarize briefly, and there’s a great deal of discrepancy between various groups. But suffice to say, I think the space we have carved out for ourselves as people who live our relationships and sexualities in non-normative ways in the world has, by and large, gotten bigger over time.

As such, we are seeing another wave of yet further marginalized groups begin to find their voice and create community: asexuals; genderqueer, gender-fluid and other non-binary-gendered people; queer kids and elders; intersex people; specialized groups that gather around specific kinks; the voices of people of colour and people with disabilities within kink, queer and poly communities; and other valuable voices and perspectives. I hope that, going forward, the perspectives continue to multiply and diversify, and also that we find as much common ground as we can to move our struggles forward and learn from each other.

I think we will increasingly find ways to join forces on specific projects in our given contexts that may benefit each other in a way that cuts across identities. For instance, as I understand it, there’s a great deal of conceptual overlap between ideas that are key to the asexual community and those that are fundamental to polyamory and non-monogamy. If, taking our cue from the asexual community, we stop insisting that sexual attraction is the factor that should define our intimate relationships and living situations, then suddenly monogamy becomes of less central importance. That, in turn, can help us discover (or rediscover) ways to build families and communities beyond the heterosexual nuclear family – ways that benefit everyone, including heterosexual monogamous vanilla people! Against the backdrop of rising housing costs and cost of living, and the increased prevalence of blended post-divorce families even in the hetero/monogamous world, we all need to find ways to collaborate and share resources in order to survive, as many peoples and cultures have done before us and continue to do today. I predict that in the coming twenty or thirty years, we’ll see a lot more large, non-nuclear, constantly evolving families with multiple adults and kids that rely on friendship, resource-sharing, co-housing and group commitments, and that include or leave space for the adults to have individual romantic and sexual connections, including BDSM and queer relationships. Last week I saw an ad for a financial group that has been pioneering the idea of group mortgages so that more than two adults can buy a home together. Of course that’s directly useful for some poly people, but it’s the sort of social change that can benefit everyone – queers forming chosen family, friends sharing resources, and also hetero nuclear families!

You write and are connected to feminism in a time when there is still so much inequality between men and women and where, in some places, women have no freedom, where the power over their sexuality is stolen from them, where genital organs are still cut away from them. How is it fundamental for you to approach and being there in the fight for woman rights, for an equal and satisfying sexuality?

It is complicated to articulate, but I feel like I’m part of the second wave and third wave of feminism at once. So for instance, I absolutely agree that women still have a long way to go in terms of dismantling the patriarchy and achieving equality; those challenges look different in different parts of the world, but it’s true everywhere. Meanwhile I also challenge the category of “woman,” and understand it as a social construct that can sometimes be used in ways that harm: gender essentialism, transphobia, homophobia, racism and more. And I try take an intersectional approach, which tries to de-centre white straight Western cisgender able-bodied people and look at issues from a wider range of perspectives, particularly from the points where lived realities meet, such as the struggles of Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour, people with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities and more.

And of course my position is that bodily self-determination is key to all of these things working together. That means respecting individuals’ choices about what to do with their own bodies. If your idea of feminism includes telling some women that they are suffering from false consciousness or are hampering the movement because they wear lipstick, do sex work, have kids, have abortions, are dykes, get married, wear a hijab, do BDSM, choose to be homemakers, make porn, smoke weed or whatever else, then even if you’re doing good work in some respects, you’re still lending your energy to the forces that are keeping other women down, and other people in general. I’m way less interested in policing women, or policing the boundaries of who counts as a woman, and way more interested in pushing for change toward greater respect for everybody’s self-determination. Bodily self-determination is intricately tied up with the idea of consent; consent is basic to respectful sexuality. The people whose consent is most egregiously disrespected most often in a patriarchal society are women and anyone who doesn’t conform to rigid norms of gender and sexuality. But men’s consent and bodily self-determination are also violated, often by other men. If the patriarchy crumbles, everybody gets a better deal. And better sex!

You have written several erotic tales, about many polyamory, BDSM and LGBT topics. What have you learnt and how fundamental have these works been for your learning and for a better teaching?

I write erotica because it’s fun and sexy. My erotica is also political, but I don’t write erotic stories primarily in order to convey a political message; I write them when a character drops into my brain and says “Hi, I have a story to tell!” and then I just write down what they show me as quickly as I can. I suppose in a way my fiction writing relates to my teaching, in that I certainly try to write about sexual acts and sexual thinking in a way that’s realistic and that reflects the way real bodies work and real people think. But I don’t write erotica for the purpose of teaching.

I often find that erotic storytelling that’s too focused on the teaching aspect can end up reading awkwardly; the characters don’t feel real, they end up being mouthpieces for the author instead of fully developed and well-rounded voices. Which is funny, because I know a lot of people don’t think that any of this is important in porn in the first place! But I do. I like erotica that makes me cry, that takes me so deeply into a character that I am emotionally invested, and where there’s a story arc that’s about more than rubbing body parts together and having an orgasm. A story that uses language, voice and tone in a way that feels authentic to the characters, that gives me a sense of place and time. All of this can be done, even in a short story. And because erotica is a written story, not a picture or a film, I really value good writing, even more than I value whether or not it’s sexually exciting to me. The story’s believability and readability comes first, and that includes accuracy about sexual details; turn-on comes second, and is more subjective; intellectual and political messaging comes third. As such, I don’t read erotica to learn from it, either, other than to learn how to write it better; a story shouldn’t read like an instruction manual.

Thanks for your time, and all the best wishes for your work.

Project Let’s Talk About Sexuality

Interview: Pedro Marques

Translation and Correction and: Joana Correia


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