On the Failure of “do what thou wilt” in Relationship Anarchy

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

— Aleister Crowley, “The Law of Thelema”

I’m an anarchist. This label is overloaded with connotations for a lot of people, frequently conjuring images of the above Law: a society in total chaos yoked by nothing, the individual id unleashed from moral obligation. As it happens, that’s not what my anarchism is, nor is it a particularly common version of anarchy among anarchist scholars and activists. I don’t take the failure of bourgeois democracy to be a failure of the concept of democracy, and my “ideal society” (though I have reservations about labelling it as such) is some mixture of Max Stirner’s theoretical union of egoists and a more typical anarcho-syndicalism, where the means of production are controlled democratically by workers. Nonetheless, in the popular eye, anarchy is frequently seen as teenagers in masks running around with spray paint; a desire to project the angst and rebellion of youth onto the structure of a new society. Correcting this belief is a big part of engaging politically with liberals, and it doesn’t always end fruitfully.

As someone who also strives to practice ethical non-monogamy in a style heavily influenced by relationship anarchy, I’ve noticed that despite the fact that anarchism doesn’t actually entail destructive chaos, practitioners of relationship anarchy end up in situations that suggest it does. Indeed, a lot of people conflate non-hierarchical polyamory with relationship anarchy, and while the two are compatible, they are quite different in definition. My version of relationship anarchy is about not confining partners to implicit expectations, and about specifically making any implicit expectations explicit so they can be discussed and agreed or disagreed upon. Wikipedia says (forgive me):

Relationship anarchy (sometimes abbreviated RA) is the belief that relationships should not be bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree upon.

Here we have a rejection of societal relationship norms and the implicit expectations that follow, and a desire to individualize relationships instead of coercing them to conform. But in no way are explicit expectations disallowed, in fact it follows from this definition that relationships should be bound by what the people involved have mutually agreed upon. This exists because relationships without explicit communication of rules and expectations are actually not healthy. When expectations are not set explicitly, wants and needs go unfulfilled, communication can break down, and decisions can be made that hurt other partners.

Not agreeing to any rules at all, or assuming that all of your partners will fend for themselves as regards the impact of your decisions (about romantic relationships or otherwise), is in my opinion a dysfunctional mode of relationship anarchy that I call the “do what thou wilt” style. Decisions will be made, partners consulted or no, and it is upon everyone involved to either deal with it or break up. I believe that this is not a healthy way to relate to anyone, especially not romantic partners to whom we make such strong emotional commitments. Instead, expectations and rules should be codified and discussed, and big decisions should be vetted not by individual partners through “veto power” but through the rules that have been put in place to deal with them. Even then I would personally take into account emotions and how my partners would feel about making a particular choice, because I want to remember the distinction between can and should. I suggest that a lot of dysfunctional polyamorous relationships have characteristics of the “do what thou wilt” style, and it is upon our community to stand up for better education on ethical non-monogamy and communication skills.


friends don’t kiss

cuddle, well,


arm finding lonely arm.

less lonely loneliness.

but friends,

friends don’t kiss.

is this home?

we hug with heat.

now as friends.

i want to kiss them again.

but friends,

friends don’t kiss.

lip meeting lip

as friends:

you wanted them

to be that.

to you.

just friends!

(…who kiss)

but friends,

friends don’t kiss.

Heavy Rotation 1/26/2018

Apple Music tells me I’ve been listening to these artists a lot recently:

  • Joy Division
  • The Smiths
  • The Strokes
  • Rostam
  • St. Vincent
  • Perfume Genius
  • Alvvays
  • Interpol
  • Radiohead
  • Arcade Fire
  • Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Black Grape
  • Ty Segall

If for some reason you happened to be curious.


i’m going to be off facebook for a while. you can still follow me on twitter or tumblr if you’d like.

music to my years

as for the year’s politics, what can be said that hasn’t already? no, seriously, i’m not kidding. i’ve been spared many of the cruelest and most boringly depraved acts of the year at the hand of the trump administration in exchange for my whiteness and associated complicity in white supremacy, alongside considerable class power. ultimately though, the obsession with trump as a spectacle became too much, and with local politics around Rochester exploding after the Jaeger scandal, i committed myself to doing what i could, where i was, and with what resources i had.

i don’t fear trump. this is probably mostly due to the aforementioned considerable power i hold in our society, despite being a trans woman, but it’s also because i make an effort to channel fear into love and solidarity and i have more fear of people emboldened by him. those creepy men who stare at me if i go in the men’s bathroom, glare at me when i exit the women’s, and direct me which one to use no matter what i do. it’s always men.

i’d never protested before this year, and now i’m beginning to see their purpose and power. i wrote one of many scathing pieces against joel seligman and the UR administration, which was both satisfying and somewhat guilt-inducing, being so non-confrontational normally.

i listened to more music than ever, mostly thanks to my best friend who is a massive music geek and inspired me to seek out new stuff to listen to instead of just pumping “Is This It” on repeat. (though i did a lot of that too, likely more than is healthy) it’s too much to put here, so if you’re interested i suggest checking out my apple music profile @bklebe if you use apple music.

Goofy shit that doesn’t deserve a whole post

estradiol patch downsides: sticky, itchy, falls off in the shower

upsides: estrogen-powered iron(wo)man core

Open wounds and closed-off people

i spend every day
Fucking around
Waiting for the apocalypse
I will die
I live

I put down the window
Into her life
I peer into it too often
“Borrow a cup of sugar?”
—every hour
She always obliges

I say goodnight three times
Before making good on that promise

What cantankerous pantomime of destruction hath clothed me in my own nakedness?

there’s a thin line between gay and lesbian, for me

God is other people

yesterday and forever ago

(note: this was written in the middle of October)
about a week ago i looked down at my sneakers and realized they were looking worn. they were looking about as worn as my last pair, which i had owned for a year or so. i could chalk this up to a decline in build quality but instead i checked my phone to see how much i’ve walked in them. they’re pretty much my only pair so the number is pretty accurate. i’ve walked about 310 miles since the week of august 25, when i returned to school and bought these shoes.

this is about what happens when you carve an adult from a confused teenager’s ego in about eight weeks without anyone else helping you. in fact, you did it to yourself.

twilight of the booksellers

before i came to rochester i went to barnes & noble about every month or so and had been for nearly fifteen years prior because my grandfather worked there. (to clarify: he’s still alive) his presence came to be associated with that place, strange though it may seem, being a large and largely impersonal chain of bookstores. when he wasn’t there, leaning on the second floor balcony, looking down at the entrance, waiting for me to arrive, i knew something was up. his wife and my grandmother died a few days later. he quit that job a few years back and i missed seeing him there for a while but last week when i returned to boston for some lab tests i visited the bookstore again and felt a much more conspicuous and possibly even more depressing absence: the books themselves.

the store is now about sixty percent full of things which are not books, mostly toys for adults (figurines from game of thrones and such). this is not a point of elitism; i have no problem with toys. but it is a painful reminder that the large bookstore of my childhood is slowly breathing its last as an institution and possibly as an idea. my knowledge of computers, my deep faith in the abilities of others, and my love for them were all ignited by books and experiences centered around stores like these. soon there will be no more hours spent memorizing computer magazines in the periodicals section so i wouldn’t have to buy them, no more churning through series after series in the kids section, even the once ponderously large YA section that was installed just as i aged out of the target audience has been compressed down to a few smaller shelves against the wall.