lessons from Roving Pack: poly, leather, boundaries and whale legs

It’s interesting for me to think about the different lessons projects unexpectedly teach us about ourselves. I didn’t go into working on Roving Pack thinking that I would walk away with a novel, nor did I certainly think that I would end up learning so much about myself – not only where I come from, but perhaps more importantly where I’m going.

Roving Pack began as a group of short stories that came out of text messages sent between me and an old friend who is sick. We began texting snippets of memoirs, punk houses, spoken word basement shows on stages built with pallets, our mutual ex-Daddy and the scars he left on us both.  As we texted, I couldn’t hold the stories in anymore. They flowed into the note app on my iPhone during subway delays, and started squatting in haphazardly named word files across the desktop of my computer.  The idea that they would become my second book and my debut novel could not have been further from my mind.

This week I put the final polish on the book reviewing the last of the line-edits from my editor saved the book as “RovingPackFINAL” and hit send, now leaving it in the capable hands of the copyeditor.  Writing Roving Pack book came at a really pivotal point in my private life where I have been thinking a lot about what it means to exist in the world in the ways that I do. The last year has been filled with big changes and lots of instances of processing, self-reflection.

A big piece of this, and something that I haven’t been particularly public about has involved a serious reexamination of my boundaries especially around polyamory, what works for me, what doesn’t.  Roving Pack is in some ways about failed boundaries and desperate attempts at connection.  It’s about the way that we hurt ourselves and each other when we are injured and trying to survive in the most basic of levels.  I am in so many ways lifetimes away from the crusty punk trans boi I was, who this novel is based on, and yet over the last year I’ve had to reconcile that some of my boundaries were his, and still were coming from a place of survival.

In our house, we call edgeplaying with boundaries “Whale Legs.”  Let me explain, whales have little  vestigial leg bones hidden in their tales, that are left over from a time when they roamed the earth instead of swimming through the sea. Sometimes there are boundaries I’ve held unexamined for 10 years, holdouts from a place and time where I was a very different person, and sometimes as scary as I imagine it must have been for the little whale to realize that it no longer needed its legs, it’s equally powerful for the whale to realize it can glide through the water no longer inhibited by unnecessary boundaries uh…. Appendages 😉

In the last year while vigorously working on piecing together this novel, I’ve simultaneously been doing intense work in my personal life.  I’ve vanilla dated someone for the first time in years, playing hi-femme to their butch proving again to myself that there is no lasting spark in that relationship structure for me, that I’m regardless of the gender presentation that works well for me, I’m just a funny boy and that without the D/s I’m just bored and uninterested. At my core I’m an edge player and pushed myself to the limits this year challenging one of my oldest and most deeply held boundaries by giving consent for my Daddy to travel half-way around to world to visit someone who had become their long-term girlfriend, and I didn’t break.  Let me repeat, I didn’t break.

Working on Roving Pack gave me this level of healing and closure that I didn’t even know I was looking for. A month ago I sat in tears, the realization washing over me that all these years later my boundaries were still constructed out of fear. I realized in that moment that nearly all of the boundaries that I’d set especially around polyamory were about trying to prevent myself from ever being hurt again in the ways that ex’s had nearly destroyed me. I realized in that moment that my boundaries had always been set in survival mode that they were the boundaries of a young orphaned leather boi whose heart was bruised.  These were boundaries about trying to prevent something bad from happening, to prevent someone from leaving me. It was scary to realize that all these years later I was still working through the scars left by others. I came to a place as I finished Roving Pack where I could say that I don’t want to wield boundaries in an effort to keep myself from getting hurt, it didn’t work back then, despite my fortress of boundaries I was always left and hurt.  I have been my Daddy’s Private Property for nearly eight years now. I know intimately and daily that I am safe, and cherished and cared for, but it’s not because of the boundaries I might set.

Fear is a powerful weapon in my history, and it fucked me up a little to realize that there was this big area where I had subconsciously still been giving it a lot of power in a false effort to keep myself safe.  Working through Roving Pack was a major part of getting me here.  As I laid down the final edits to the book, hit save that final time and sent it to the copyeditor I was left with an overwhelming sense of calm. I get into the most trouble when I attempt to be something that I’m not, or attempt to align myself or my life with someone else’s (even queer folks) perception of what is normal, or good.  This year has been a lot of challenging these norms for myself. It’s been about owning on a deeper level that my life doesn’t look how most queer folks think it should – my primary partnership is built on love and D/s but not sexual attraction, I’m not interested in egalitarian dating folks in my community, and despite the presentation that works well for me “femme” isn’t a community or identity that holds much pull for me, an I was able to reach these places of deep understanding because of my work on Roving Pack.

I’m a little anxious to actually talk about the things that this novel has taught me, and the unexpected transformative quality of writing it. I’m nervous that it will make the novel or my relationship to it seem somehow self-indulgent, but that’s a risk I have to take if I’m going to be honest with myself, my family, and my community about what this book has meant to me. At it’s core my work is about a search for self, home, and community within queerness. If I truly believe that, which I do, then it’s important that I own my own struggles and work towards cutting free from the expectations of how our queer lives should or shouldn’t  look.