[Bloganuary] Traditions

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Write about a few of your favourite family traditions.

We’ve got a wonderful diversity of family traditions. This by virtue, perhaps, of us being a three-parent family, and so bringing 50% more different traditions and 100% less decisiveness over which to accept than a traditional two-parent family. Or it might reflect our outlook and willingness to evaluate and try new things: to experiment and adopt what works. Or perhaps we just like to be just-barely on this side of the line across the the quirky/eccentric scale1.

Posed sepia photograph of Dan, JTA, Ruth, and their children and dog, dressed in Victorian-era clothing, by a Christmas tree.
Having family photos taken in the style and dress of the Victorian era might be becoming a family tradition: this hangs proudly in our living room in the space formerly occupied by its similar predecessor from some years ago.

But there are plenty of other traditions we’ve inherited or created, such as:

  • Pancake Brunch Sundays sort-of evolved out of a fried Sunday breakfast that used to be a household tradition many years ago. If you come visit us for a weekend you’ll find you’re served pancakes (or possibly waffles) with a mixture of traditional toppings plus, usually, a weekly “feature flavour” around midday on Sunday. For no reason now other than it’s just what we do.
A boy in blue-and-brown striped pyjamas, on a table stacked with plates of waffles, slices into a birthday cake with six candles.
Sunday Brunch stops for nothing, not even birthdays.
  • Family Day is an annual event, marked on or near 3 July each year, with gifts for children and possibly an outing or trip away for everybody to enjoy. It celebrates the fact that we get to be a family together, despite forces outside of our control trying to conspire to prevent it.2
  • Family Film Night takes place most months: in rotation, the five of us take turns to nominate a film or two that we’ll all watch together along with snacks and sweet treats. It might be seen as a continuation of the pre-children tradition of Troma Night from back in the day, except that we don’t go out of our way to deliberately watch terrible films: now that happens just as a result of good or bad fortune! We also periodically schedule a Family Board Games Night, and a Family Videogames Night.
Family members read books in a living room, seen over the top of the pages of an (out of focus) book in the foreground.
Books! Books books books! BOOKS!
  • Christmas Eve Books: a tradition we stole from Iceland is that we give books on Christmas Eve. Adults in our household now don’t really get Christmas gifts, but everybody present is encouraged to exchange books on Christmas eve and then sit up late reading together, often with gingerbread, chocolate, and/or a pan of mulled wine keeping warm on the stove. I find it a fun way to keep my reading list stocked early in the year, plus it encourages the kids to read3
  • Festive meals, while I’m thinking about that end of the year, are pretty-well established. Christmas Eve is all about roast duck pancakes. Christmas Day sees me roast a goose. New Years’ Eve is for fondue. Plus vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) alternatives to the otherwise-unsuitable things, of course.

I’m certain there must be more, but the thing with family traditions is they become part of the everyday tapestry of your life after a while. Eventually traditions become hard to see them because they’re always there. I’m sure there are more “everyday rituals” that we’ve taken on that are noteworthy or interesting to outsiders but which to us are so mundane as to be unworthy of mention!

But every single one of these is something special to us. They’re an element of structure for the kids and a signifier of community to all of us. They’re routines that we’ve taken on and made “ours” as part of our collective identity as a family. And that’s just great.

Footnotes

1 Determining which side of the line I mean is left as an exercise to the reader.

2 It’s been what…? 6½ years…? And I’m still not ready even emotionally to blog about the challenges we faced, so maybe I never will. So if you missed that chapter of our lives, suffice to say: for a while, it looked like we might not get to continue being a family, and over the course of one exceptionally-difficult year it took incredible effort, resolve, sleepless nights, supportive families, and (when it came down to brass tacks) enough money and lawyers to seek justice… in order to ensure that we got to continue to be. About which we’re all amazingly grateful, and so we celebrate it.

3 Not that they need any help with that, little bookworms that they are.

Posed sepia photograph of Dan, JTA, Ruth, and their children and dog, dressed in Victorian-era clothing, by a Christmas tree.× A boy in blue-and-brown striped pyjamas, on a table stacked with plates of waffles, slices into a birthday cake with six candles.× Family members read books in a living room, seen over the top of the pages of an (out of focus) book in the foreground.×

Household Finances Revisited

Almost a decade ago I shared a process that my domestic polyfamily and I had been using (by then, for around four years) to manage our household finances. That post isn’t really accurate any more, so it’s time for an update (there’s a link if you just want the updated spreadsheet):

Dan, wearing a WordPress Pride "rainbow flag on black" t-shirt, sits on a park bench alongside a French Bulldog (with her tongue sticking out) and a young boy (throwing a peace sign, wearing a pink cycle helmet and a blue school uniform).
Our household costs have increased considerably over the last decade, not least because children and pets are expensive (who knew?).

Sample data

For my examples below, assume a three-person family. I’m using unrealistic numbers for easy arithmetic.

  • Alice earns £2,000, Bob earns £1,000, and Chris earns £500, for a total household income of £3,500.
  • Alice spends £1,450, Bob £800, and Chris £250, for a total household expenditure of £2,500.

Model #1: Straight Split

We’ve never done things this way, but for completeness sake I’ll mention it: the simplest way that households can split their costs is by dividing them between the participants equally: if the family make a £60 shopping trip, £20 should be paid by each of Alice, Bob, and Chris.

My example above shows exactly why this might not be a smart choice: this model would have each participant contribute £833.33 over the course of the month, which is more than Chris earned. If this month is representative, then Chris will gradually burn through their savings and go broke, while Alice will put over a grand into her savings account every month!

Photograph of the Statue of Lenin in Independence Square, Minsk: Government House #1 stands behind a large metal statue of Vladimir Lenin, looking to his right.
“Land, Bread, Peace… and Spreadsheets!”

Model #2: Income-Assessed

We’re a bunch of leftie socialist types, and wanted to reflect our political outlook in our household finances, too. So rather than just splitting our costs equally between us, we initially implemented a means-assessment system based on the relative differences between our incomes. The thinking was that somebody that earns twice as much should contribute twice as much towards the costs of running the household.

Using our example family above, here’s how that might look:

  • Alice earned 57% of the household income, so she should have contributed 57% of the household costs: £1,425. She overpaid by £25.
  • Bob earned 29% of the household income, so he should have contributed 29% of the household costs: £725. He overpaid by £75.
  • Chris earned 14% of the household income, so they should have contributed 14% of the household costs: £350. They underpaid by £100.
  • Therefore, at the end of the month Chris should settle up by giving £25 to Alice and £75 to Bob.

By analogy: The “Income-Assessed” model is functionally equivalent to splitting each and every expense according to the participants income – e.g. if a £100 bill landed on their doormat, Alice would pay £57, Bob £29, and Chris £14 of it – but has the convenience that everybody just pays for things “as they go along” and then square everything up when their paycheques come in.

Photograph showing a detached white house clad in scaffolding, under a clear blue sky.
You know what else is surprisingly expensive? Having the roof of your house taken off.

Over time, our expenditures grew and changed and our incomes grew, but they didn’t do so in an entirely simple fashion, and we needed to make some tweaks to our income-assessed model of household finance contributions. For example:

  • Gross vs Net Income: For a while, some of our incomes were split into a mixture of employed income (on which income tax was paid as-we-earned) and self-employed income (for which income tax would be calculated later), making things challenging. We agreed that net income (i.e. take-home pay) was the correct measure for us to use for the income-based part of the calculation, which also helped keep things fair as some of us began to cross into and out of the higher earner tax bracket.
  • Personal Threshold: At times, a subset of us earned a disproportionate portion of the household income (there were short periods where one of us earned over 50% of the household income; at several other times two family members each earned thrice that of the third). Our costs increased too, but this imposed an regressive burden on the lower-earner(s), for whom those costs represented a greater proportion of their total income. To attempt to mitigate this, we introduced a personal threshold somewhat analogous to the income tax “personal allowance” (the policy that means that you don’t pay tax on your first £12,570 of income).

Eventually, we came to see that what we were doing was trying to patch a partially-broken system, and tried something new!

Model #3: Same-Residual

In 2022, we transitioned to a same-residual system that attempts to share out out money in an even-more egalitarian way. Instead of each person contributing in accordance with their income, the model attempts to leave each person with the same average amount of disposable personal income at the end. The difference is most-profound where the relative incomes are most-diverse.

With the example family above, that would mean:

  • The household earned £3,500 and spent £2,500, leaving £1,000. Dividing by 3 tells us that each person should have £333.33 after settling up.
  • Alice earned earned £2,000 and spent £1,450, so she has £550 left. That’s £216.67 too much.
  • Bob earned earned £1,000 and spent £800, so she has £200 left. That’s £133.33 too little.
  • Chris earned earned £500 and spent £250, so she has £250 left. That’s £83.33 too little.
  • Therefore, at the end of the month Alice should settle up by giving £133.33 to Bob and £83.33 to Chris (note there’s a 1p rounding error).

That’s a very different result than the Income-Assessed calculation came up with for the same family! Instead of Chris giving money to Alice and Bob, because those two contributed to household costs disproportionately highly for their relative incomes, Alice gives money to Bob and Chris, because their incomes (and expenditures) were much lower. Ignoring any non-household costs, all three would expect to have the same bank balance at the start of the month as at the end, after settlement.

By analogy: The “Same-Residual” model is functionally equivalent to having everybody’s salary paid into a shared bank account, out of which all household expenditures are paid, and at the end of the month everything that’s left in the bank account gets split equally between the participants.

Screenshot showing a sample filled verison of the spreadsheet.
Our version of the spreadsheet has inherited a lot of hacky edges, many for now-unused functionality.

We’ve made tweaks to this model, too, of course. For example: we’ve set a “target” residual and, where we spend little enough in a month that we would each be eligible for more than that, we instead sweep the excess into our family savings account. It’s a nice approach to help build up a savings reserve without feeling a pinch.

I’m sure our model will continue to evolve, as it has for the last decade and a half, but for now it seems stable, fair, and reasonable. Maybe it’ll work for your household too (whether or not you’re also a polyamorous family!): take a look at the spreadsheet in Google Drive and give it a go.

Dan, wearing a WordPress Pride "rainbow flag on black" t-shirt, sits on a park bench alongside a French Bulldog (with her tongue sticking out) and a young boy (throwing a peace sign, wearing a pink cycle helmet and a blue school uniform).× Photograph of the Statue of Lenin in Independence Square, Minsk: Government House #1 stands behind a large metal statue of Vladimir Lenin, looking to his right.× Photograph showing a detached white house clad in scaffolding, under a clear blue sky.× Screenshot showing a sample filled verison of the spreadsheet.×

Normal for Children

Lacking a basis for comparison, children accept their particular upbringing as normal and representative.

Close-up showing tentacles of a sundew plant.
“Feed me, Seymour!”

Kit was telling me about how his daughter considers it absolutely normal to live in a house full of insectivorous plants1, and it got me thinking about our kids, and then about myself:

I remember once overhearing our eldest, then at nursery, talking to her friend. Our kid had mentioned doing something with her “mummy, daddy, and Uncle Dan” and was incredulous that her friend didn’t have an Uncle Dan that they lived with! Isn’t having three parents… just what a family looks like?

Dan, wearing a black jumper, sits on a green chair in a brightly-decorated bedroom. On his chest, a 2-year-old girl has fallen asleep, clutching a woolen yellow blanket and with her thumb in her mouth.
You don’t have an Uncle Dan? Then where do you nap‽

By the time she was at primary school, she’d learned that her family wasn’t the same shape as most other families, and she could code-switch with incredible ease. While picking her up from school, I overheard her talking to a friend about a fair that was coming to town. She told the friend that she’d “ask her dad if she could go”, then turned to me and said “Uncle Dan: can we go to the fair?”; when I replied in the affirmitive, she turned back and said “my dad says it’s okay”. By the age of 5 she was perfectly capable of translating on-the-fly2 in order to simultaneously carry out intelligble conversations with her family and with her friends. Magical.

When I started driving, and in particular my first few times on multi-lane carriageways, something felt “off” and it took me a little while to work out what it was. It turns out that I’d internalised a particular part of the motorway journey experience from years of riding in cars driven by my father, who was an unrepentant3 and perpetual breaker of speed limits.4 I’d come to associate motorway driving with overtaking others, but almost never being overtaken, but that wasn’t what I saw when I drove for myself.5 It took a little thinking before I realised the cause of this false picture of “what driving looks like”.

A boxy 1979 white Ford car, number plate DSS 657T with a badly dented and somewhat corroded front wheel arch on the drivers' side, sits empty and parked at the side of an otherwise empty asphalt strreet. In the background, under grey skies, a city skyline can be made out with houses, tower blocks, and a church steeple, on the other side of an arched river bridge. The leaves are early-autumn coloured: mostly greem, but with some brown appearing and a handful of bare branches exposed.
How my dad ever managed to speed in this old rustbucket I’ll never know.

The thing is: you only ever notice the “this is normal” definitions that you’ve internalised… when they’re challenged!

It follows that there are things you learned from the quirks of your upbringing that you still think of as normal. There might even be things you’ll never un-learn. And you’ll never know how many false-normals you still carry around with you, or whether you’ve ever found them all, exept to say that you probably haven’t yet.

A small child, sitting on the floor, uses a mobile phone to watch a cartoon of two people struggling to pull a fishing rod. A feminine hand with brown-painted nails and rings on two fingers reaches in to offer the child a minature model of a human brain.
I wanted a stock image that expressed the concept of how children conceptualise ideas in their mind, but I ended up with this picture of a women offering her kid a tiny human brain in exchange for her mobile phone back. That’s a normal thing that all families do, right?

It’s amazing and weird to think that there might be objective truths you’re perpetually unable to see as a restult of how, or where, or by whom you were brought up, or by what your school or community was like, or by the things you’ve witnessed or experienced over your life. I guess that all we can all do is keep questioning everything, and work to help the next generation see what’s unusual and uncommon in their own lives.

Footnotes

1 It’s a whole thing. If you know Kit, you’re probably completely unsurprised, but spare a thought for the poor randoms who sometimes turn up and read my blog.

2 Fully billingual children who typically speak a different language at home than they do at school do this too, and it’s even-more amazing to watch.

3 I can’t recall whether his license was confiscated on two or three separate ocassions, in the end, but it was definitely more than one. Having a six month period where you and your siblings have to help collect the weekly shop from the supermarket by loading up your bikes with shopping bags is a totally normal part of everybody’s upbringing, isn’t it?

4 Virtually all of my experience as a car passenger other than with my dad was in Wales, where narrow windy roads mean that once you get stuck behind something, that’s how you’re going to be spending your day.

5 Unlike my father, I virtually never break the speed limit, to such an extent that when I got a speeding ticket the other year (I’d gone from a 70 into a 50 zone and re-set the speed limiter accordingly, but didn’t bother to apply the brakes and just coasted down to the new speed… when the police snapped their photo!), Ruth and JTA both independently reacted to the news with great skepticism.

Close-up showing tentacles of a sundew plant.× Dan, wearing a black jumper, sits on a green chair in a brightly-decorated bedroom. On his chest, a 2-year-old girl has fallen asleep, clutching a woolen yellow blanket and with her thumb in her mouth.× A boxy 1979 white Ford car, number plate DSS 657T with a badly dented and somewhat corroded front wheel arch on the drivers' side, sits empty and parked at the side of an otherwise empty asphalt strreet. In the background, under grey skies, a city skyline can be made out with houses, tower blocks, and a church steeple, on the other side of an arched river bridge. The leaves are early-autumn coloured: mostly greem, but with some brown appearing and a handful of bare branches exposed.× A small child, sitting on the floor, uses a mobile phone to watch a cartoon of two people struggling to pull a fishing rod. A feminine hand with brown-painted nails and rings on two fingers reaches in to offer the child a minature model of a human brain.×

Polyam Lingo

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Dr. Doe’s latest Sexplanations vlog is on polyamorous language, and despite being – or, perhaps, because I’m – a bit of a long-toothed polyamorist these days, fully a quarter or more of the terms she introduced were new to me! Fascinating!

Hey ONS: This Is Not A Mistake

Hi, ONS! I know we haven’t really spoken since you ghosted me in 2011, but I just wanted to clear something up for you –

This is not a mistake (except for the missing last names):

(Specimen) 2021 census form on which Ruth declares that she cohabits with both a husband AND a partner.
It’s perfectly possible for somebody to live with multiple partners, even if they’re forbidden from marrying more than one.

Back in 2011 you thought it was a mistake, and this prevented my partner, her husband and I from filling out the digital version of the census. I’m sure it’s not common for somebody to have multiple cohabiting romantic relationships (though it’s possibly more common than some other things you track…), but surely an “Are you sure?” would be better than a “No you don’t!”

Clippy says "It looks like you've got a husband AND a partner. Is that right?" with possible answers "Yes, and it's awesome." or "No, but I can dream!"
For all I know, you already fixed it. If not: I mocked-up a UI for you.

We worked around it in 2011 by using the paper forms. Apparently this way you still end up “correcting” our relationship status for us (gee, thanks!) but at least – I gather – the originals are retained. So maybe in a more-enlightened time, future statisticians might be able ask about the demographics of domestic nonmonogamy and have at least some data to work with from the early 21st century.

I know you’re keen for as many people as possible to do the census digitally this year. But unless you’ve fixed your forms then my family and I – and thousands of others like us – will either have to use the paper copies you’re trying to phase out… or else knowingly lie on the digital versions. Which would you prefer?

(Specimen) 2021 census form on which Ruth declares that she cohabits with both a husband AND a partner.× Clippy says "It looks like you've got a husband AND a partner. Is that right?" with possible answers "Yes, and it's awesome." or "No, but I can dream!"×

The Varieties of Intimate Relationship

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Diagram dividing varieties of intimiate relationships into monogamy, polyamory, celebacy, and a few things in-between.

A slightly tongue-in-cheek (see the “serial monogamy” chain and some of the subtitles!) but moderately-complete diagram of popular varieties of relationship structure. Obviously there’s gaps – relationships are as diverse as their participants – and lots of room for refinement, but the joy of an infographic is making visible the breadth of a field, not in providing encyclopaedic comprehension of that field. I especially like the attention to detail in “connecting” often-related concepts.

Confused.com Confuses Me

It’s that time of year again when I comparison-shop for car insurance, and every time I come across a new set of reasons to hate the developers at Confused.com. How do you confuse me? Let me count the ways.

No means yes

I was planning to enumerate my concerns to them directly, via their contact form, but when I went to do so I spotted this bit of genius, which clinched it and made me write a blog post instead:

Animated GIF showing how clicking on "No" on Confused.com's contact form checks the "Yes" box.
Clicking the word “Yes” means “Yes”. Clicking the word “No” means “Yes” as well.

Turns out that there’s a bit of the old sloppy-paste going on there:

<input type="radio" value="Yes" id="ContactByPhoneYes" name="contactByPhone" />
<label for="ContactByPhoneYes" class="label">Yes</label>
<input type="radio" value="No" id="ContactByPhoneNo" name="contactByPhone" />
<label for="ContactByPhoneYes" class="label">No</label>

I guess nobody had the “consent talk” with Confused.com?

That’s not my name!

Error message "Please enter a name between 2 and 30 letters long..." when Dan enters "Q" as his surname.
Somebody needs to brush up on their falsehoods programmers believe about names.

Honestly, I’m used to my unusual name causing trouble by now and I know how to work around it in the way that breaks the fewest systems (I can even usually get airline tickets without too much difficulty nowadays). But these kinds of (arbitrary) restrictions must frustrate folks like Janice Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele.

I guess their developers didn’t realise that this blog post was parody?

Also, that’s not my title!

This one, though, pisses me off:

Animation showing title selector with options "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", and "More...". Clicking "More..." reveals three more: "Ms", "Dr (Male)" and "Dr (Female)"
As everybody knows, there are only six titles, and two of them are “Dr”.

This is a perfect example of why your forms should ask for what you actually want to know, not for what you think people want to tell you. Just ask!

  1. If you want to know my gender, ask for my gender! (I’m a man, by the way.)
    I don’t understand why you want to know – after all, it’s been illegal since 2012 to risk-assess/price car insurance differently on the grounds of gender – but maybe you’ve got a valid reason. Which hopefully you’ll tell me in a tooltip. Like you’re using it as a (terrible checksum) when you check my driving license details, that’s fine!
  2. If you want to know my title, ask for my title! (I prefer not to use one, but if you must use one I’d prefer Mx.)
    This ought to be an optional field, of course, and ideally you want a free text input or else you’ll always have missed somebody (Lord, Reverend, Prince, Wing Commander…). It’s in your interests because I’m totally going to pick at random otherwise. Today I’m a Ms.

Consistency? Never heard of it.

It’s not a big thing, but if you come up with a user interface paradigm like “clicking More… shows more buttons”, you ought to stick to it.

Animation of marital statuses: clicking "More..." shows a dropdown instead of more buttons.
Maybe their internal style guide says “a More… button with three additional options should use buttons, but four additional options should be a drop-down”. But it seems more-likely that they just don’t have one.

Again, I’m not sure exactly what all of this data is used for, nor why there’s a need to differentiate between married couples and civil partnerships, but let’s just assume this is all necessary and legitimate and just ask ourselves: why are we using drop-downs now for “More…”? We were using buttons just a second ago!

"How many cars are at your home?" has a "More..." box that shows more buttons.
This was just crying out for a type-in field. But I guess the same developer who did the “Title” question did this one too, and wanted to show off the fancy “more buttons” control they’d written. (Imaginary style guide be damned!)

What’s my occupation again?

There’s so much to unpack in the “occupation” part of the form that I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s just pick out a few things:

What type of student are you? List of options, many of which intersect.
I never answered a question this hard even in the exams I did when I was a student. Why do we care where students live… except if they’re postgrads? If I’m a mature student studying a postgraduate course in medicine while living at home with my parents… which of the five possible options should I pick? And, again: what difference could it conceivably make?

The student thing is just the beginning, though. You can declare up to two jobs, but if the first one is “house person/parent” you can’t have a second one. If you’re self-employed, that has to be your first job even though the guidance says that the one you spend most time on must be the first one (this kind of thing infuriated me when I used to spend 60% of my work time employed, 20% self-employed, and 20% studying).

I’m not saying it’s easy to make a form like this. I know from experience that it’s not. I am saying that Confused.com make it look a lot harder than it is.

Tooltip reading "Please choose the employment status that reflects the majority of the work you do. For example if you are a house person and have a part time job of 5 hours a week, you should select 'House person/parent' as your primary job.
Well that clears everything up. Also, I think you mean “houseperson”, unless you’re referring to somebody who is half-house/half-person, like some kind of architectural werewolf.

What do you mean, you live with your partner?

At a glance, this sounds like a “poly world problem”, but hear me out:

Relationship to policy holder: Living together (couple) results in the error "The driver's marital status must be Living With Partner" if their relationship to the proposer is Living Together (Couple)".
What you’re seeing here is a reference-identity error. I can’t possibly be living together with somebody as a couple if their marital status isn’t “Living With Partner”.

I put Ruth‘s martial status as married, because she’s married to JTA. But then when it asked how she was related to me, it wouldn’t accept “Living together (couple)”.

Relationship to proposer question with 'spouse' option but not 'living with partner'.
If I put Ruth as the primary policyholder (proposer) though, I don’t even get the option of “living together (couple)” to describe her relationship with me. ‘Cos it’s physically impossible to have a partner and be married, right?

Even if you don’t think it’s odd that they hide “living with partner” button as an option to describe a married person’s relationship to somebody other than their spouse… you’ve still got to agree that it’s a little bit odd that they don’t hide the “spouse” button. In other words, this user interface is more-okay with you having multiple spouses than it is with you having a spouse and an unmarried partner!

And of course this isn’t just about polyamorous folks: there are perfectly “normal” reasons that a person might end up confused by this interface, too. For example a separated (but not yet divorced) couple, one of whom has a new partner (it’s not even inconceivable that such a pair might share custody of a car). Also interesting is the fact that the form doesn’t care about the gender of your spouse (it doesn’t ask for “husband” or “wife”) but does care about the gender of your parent, child, or sibling. What gives?

Half a dozen easy fixes. Go for it, Confused.com.

Given that their entire marketing plan for most of the last two decades has been that they reduce customer confusion, Confused.com’s user interface leaves a lot to be desired. As I’ve mentioned before – and speaking as a web developer that’s been in the game for longer than their company has – it’s not necessarily easy to get this kind of thing right. But you can improve a form like this, a little at a time. And every little win counts for something: a more-satisfied returning customer, perhaps, or a new word-of-mouth recommendation.

Or you can just let it languish and continue to have the kind of form that people mock on the public Internet.

It’ll be a year until I expect to comparison-shop for car insurance again: let’s see how they get on, shall we?

Update (21 January 2021): Confused.com Respond!

I didn’t expect to receive any response to this post: most organisations don’t when I call-out the problems with their websites (not least because I’m more than a little bit sarcastic about it!). I never heard back from the Digital Climate Strike folks, for example, when I pointed out that their website was a great example of exactly the kind of problem they were protesting. But Confused.com passed on my thoughts to Product Manager Gareth who took a look at them and gave me a £20 Amazon gift card by way of thanks. Nice one, Confused.com!

Animated GIF showing how clicking on "No" on Confused.com's contact form checks the "Yes" box.× Error message "Please enter a name between 2 and 30 letters long..." when Dan enters "Q" as his surname.× Animation showing title selector with options "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", and "More...". Clicking "More..." reveals three more: "Ms", "Dr (Male)" and "Dr (Female)"× Animation of marital statuses: clicking "More..." shows a dropdown instead of more buttons.× "How many cars are at your home?" has a "More..." box that shows more buttons.× What type of student are you? List of options, many of which intersect.× Tooltip reading "Please choose the employment status that reflects the majority of the work you do. For example if you are a house person and have a part time job of 5 hours a week, you should select 'House person/parent' as your primary job.× Relationship to policy holder: Living together (couple) results in the error "The driver's marital status must be Living With Partner" if their relationship to the proposer is Living Together (Couple)".× Relationship to proposer question with 'spouse' option but not 'living with partner'.×

Having Kids In Our Poly Triad by Sara Valta

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Having Kids In Our Poly Triad by Sara Valta title showing picture of two men and a woman hugging the outline of a baby

Sara’s back! You might remember a couple of years ago she’d shared with us a comic on her first year in a polyamory! We’re happy to have her back with a slice of life and a frank n’ real conversation about having kids in her Poly Triad relationship.

This sort of wholesome loving chat is just the thing we need for the start of 2021.

Start your year with a delightful comic about the author negotiating possible future children in a queer polyamorous triad, published via Oh Joy Sex Toy. Sara previously published a great polyamory-themed comic via OJST too, which is also worth a look.

New Blood Donation Rules Better, I Suppose

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

So the NHS blood donation rules are changing again. And while they’re certainly getting closer, they’re still not quite hitting the bullseye yet.

That’s great. Prior to 2011 men who’d ever had sex with men, as well as women who’d had sex with such a man within the last 6 months, were banned from donating blood. That rule clearly spun out of the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s and generally entrenched homophobia. It probably did little to protect the recipients of blood, and certainly did a lot to increase the stigma experienced by non-straight men.

A shooting target with a great many holes.
You throw enough policies at a problem, eventually one will get close-enough, right?

The 2011 change permitted donation by men who’d previously had sex with men… so long as they hadn’t done so within the last year. Which opened the doors to donation by a lot of men: e.g. bisexual men who’d been in relationships exclusively with women, gay men who’d been celibate for a period, etc. It still wasn’t great, but it was a step in the right direction.

So when I saw that the rules were changing to better target only risky behaviours, rather than behaviours that are so broad-brush as to target identities, I was initially delighted. Evidence-based medicine, you say? For the win.

A nurse wearing gloves uses a hyperdermic needle to take a blood sample from a patients' arm, as seen from over the patient's shoulder.
Go on! Stick it in me! I’ll still be able to give blood, right?

But… it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The new rules prohibit blood donation regardless of gender by people who’ve had sex with more than one person in the last three months.

Diagram showing a relationship between Andre and Brandon (married), and between Carlos and Brandon (partners). Andre and Carlos are now allowed to give blood, but Brandon still can't.
Sorry Brandon, we only want Andre and Carlos’ blood.

So if for example if there’s a V-shaped relationship consisting of three men, who only have sex within their thruple… two of them are now allowed to give blood but the third isn’t? (This isn’t a contrived example. I know such a thruple.)

Stranger still: if you swap Brandon in the diagram above for a woman then you get a polycule that’s a lot like mine, but the woman in the middle used to be allowed to give blood… and now can’t! My partner Ruth is in exactly the position: her situation hasn’t changed, but because she’s been in a long-term relationship with exactly two people she’s now not allowed to give blood. Wot?

On the whole, this rule change is an improvement. We’re getting closer to a perfect answer. But it’s amusing to see where the policy misses again and excludes donors who would otherwise be perfectly viable.

Update: as this is attracting a lot of attention I just wanted to remind people that the whole discussion is, of course, a lot more complicated than can be summarised in a single, short, opinionated blog post. Take a look at the FAIR steering group’s recommendations and compare to the government’s press release.

Update #2: justifying choice of words – “AIDS hysteria” refers specifically to the media (and to a lesser extent the policy) reactions to the (very real, very devastating) pandemic. For a while there it was perfectly normal to see (often misguided, sometimes homophobic) scaremongering news coverage suggesting that everybody was at enormous risk from HIV.

A shooting target with a great many holes.× A nurse wearing gloves uses a hyperdermic needle to take a blood sample from a patients' arm, as seen from over the patient's shoulder.× Diagram showing a relationship between Andre and Brandon (married), and between Carlos and Brandon (partners). Andre and Carlos are now allowed to give blood, but Brandon still can't.×

Human Tapestry – Episode 1

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

For the first episode of the Human Tapestry, I talked to Dan, a bisexual man who lives in Oxford, England, with his partner and her husband in what he describes as a “polyamorous V-shaped thingy”. Listen as we talk about relationships, identities, the “bi-cycle”, and various forms of vegetarianism.

Fellow Automattician Mike has just launched his new podcast, exploring the diversity of human experience of relationships, sexuality, attraction, identity, gender, and all that jazz. Earlier this year, I volunteered myself as an interviewee, but I had no idea that I’d feature in the opening episode! If hearing people in your ears is something you like to do, and you’re interested in my journey so-far of polyamory and bisexuality, have a listen. And if you’re not: it might still be worth bookmarking the show for a listen later on – it could be an interesting ride.

Possibly SFW, depending on your work. Specific warnings:

  • Some swearing, including use of a homophobic slur (while describing the experience of being a victim of homophobia)
  • Frank discussion of my relationship history (although with greater anonymity than appears elsewhere on this blog)
  • Annoying squeaky chair sounds in the background (I’ve replaced that chair, now)
  • Skimming-over-the-details of specific events, resulting in an incomplete picture (with apologies to anybody misrepresented as a result)

Caveats aside, I think it came out moderately well; Mike’s an experienced interviewer with a good focus on potentially interesting details. He’s also looking for more guests, if you’d like to join him. He says it best, perhaps, with his very broad description of what the show’s about:

If you have a gender, have attractions (or non-attractions) to certain humans (or all humans), or have certain practices (or non-practices) in the bedroom (or elsewhere), we’d love to talk to you!

Go listen over there or right here.

‘There’s zero evidence that it’s worse for children’

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

“Even at a young age, I was able to grasp the concept that my mum and dad could love more than one person,” he says. “The only thing I’ve found challenging about having three adults in my family is getting away with things, because it means more people to check up on you, to make sure you did your chores. But I also have more people around to give me lifts here and there, to help with homework and to come to my lacrosse games. The saying ‘raised by a village’ definitely applies to me. I feel like a completely normal teenager, just with polyamorous parents.”

Yet another article providing evidence to support the fact that – except for the bigotry of other people – there are no downsides to being a child of polyamorous parents. Nicely-written; I’ve sent a copy of Alan for the Poly In The Media blog.

We’re moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3 polyamory

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At last week’s Rocky Mountain Poly Living conference in Denver, Leanna Wolfe — a poly anthropologist and sexologist active in the movement almost since its birth in the 1980s — spoke on what she called the three historical stages of polyamory in Western culture.

Her Stage 1 was mostly male-centric (my paraphrase). She described it as running through the Oneida Colony and other utopian communities of the 19th century through the free-love beliefs and attitudes that exploded in the 1960s.

Stage 2 has been what we call the modern poly movement: strongly feminist in its origins and growth, born in the mid-1980s and running until more or less now. Its founders, organizers, media spokespeople, bloggers, podcasters, book authors and opinion leaders have been mostly women (the ratio by my count is about 3 to 1). Its ideology has been gender-egalitarian, communication-centric, and consent-based since before consent culture was a thing. Like Stage 1, Stage 2 has been something of a counterculture that sees itself apart from mainstream society.

The current Stage 3 is the mainstreaming of consensual non-monogamy (CNM) in its many forms, including polyamory, into the general culture. This shift is well under way and bodes to take over the conversation in coming years — for better and for worse, as I’ve been speechifying about since 2008.

Does this make those of us who’ve been doing polyamory for ages “poly hipsters”?

“You Me Her” Season 4 premiers, and other polyamory on TV

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

The “polyromantic comedy” series You Me Her opens its fourth season tonight (Tuesday April 9) at 10 on AT&T’s Audience Network. There is no other show like it on television.

Season 1 was about a troubled couple who, independently, fell for the same third person by way of comic flukes: a novelty gimmick. But creator/producer John Scott Shepherd soon realized that the show was onto something bigger. Season 2 began straight off with the three together in a serious, all-around polyamorous relationship, and things have grown from there.

Life, of course, hasn’t been easy for them. Tonight’s opening of Season 4 is titled “Triangular Peg, Meet Round World.” Season 5 is already scheduled for 2020.

Joy! I loved the first three seasons of You Me Her, admittedly while – during the first couple of seasons at least – simultaneously bemoaning how long it took the characters to learn lessons that my polycule(s) solved in far shorter order. I was originally watching it with Ruth and JTA but they lagged and I ran ahead, and I really enjoyed this first episode of season 4 too.

Bald Eagle Trio Seen Taking Turns Caring For Eggs In Illinois Refuge

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Eagle1 webcam showing Starr with Valor I and Valor II

So… two eagles, Valor I (male) and Hope (female) raised some chicks in a nest. Then Valor II (another male) came along and tried to displace Valor I, but he wouldn’t go, so the pair of them both ultimately cooperated in raising Hope’s chicks, even after Hope was driven away by some other eagles. Later, another female, Starr, turned up and Valor I and Valor II are collectively incubating three eggs of hers in the nest.

I’ve known (human) polyamorous networks with origin stories less-complicated than this.