By Michelle Talsma Everson, November 2019 Issue.
Together more than a decade, Chris Deaton and Elisha Thompson are ASU employees by day and educators on a variety of topics related to polyamory, kink, and BDSM on nights and weekends. While their classes often focus on sexuality as a whole, both Chris — who identifies as cis-gendered and heterosexual — and Elisha — who identifies as cis-gendered and bisexual — place an emphasis on making sure their topics are inclusive of everyone.
“Our educational focus is primarily for people that identify as non-monogamist in some fashion. This could be polyamorous, swingers, play partners, or any form of multiple partner relationship,” Chris explains. “Some LBGTQ+ members are non-monogamist in some fashion, so we do have some attendees that identify as such. However, our classes on relationship skills, such as emotional intelligence or creating and maintain trust through vulnerability, apply to anyone who would like to have more successful, better negotiated, and more fulfilling relationships.”
“We also teach really basic level classes related to polyamory 101, kink 101, and sex health such as sexually transmitted infections and diseases,” he continues. “I am always amazed how many adults aren’t well informed about the things that impact their body, or their partner’s body, and are afraid to ask about. We try to provide a safe space to allow those questions to be answered and discussed.”
Oftentimes, the duo’s courses are available at monthly public events, or in adult spaces, such as Arizona Power Exchange in Phoenix or Desert Dominion in Tucson. They have also taught across the state and country at various kink and poly-centric conferences.
“We were new to poly and kink at one time and having a community of experienced folks to talk to and learn from was crucial to our survival and success,” Elisha says. “We have learned a great deal from others who followed similar paths and believe that we would not have made it without them. So, we do what we do because we want to give back to the communities who gave so much to us.”
The past couple of years have been busy for them both: they’re working on master’s degrees, won a local M/s title, and are launching a nonprofit called Truly Beloved to serve as a publishing house to their own books, including Elisha’s Yoga for Kink.
“I would say that being bisexual allows me to have a broader perspective,” Elisha shares about her journey. “It helps give me a little bit of insight into others’ experiences.”
“What’s the importance of being an ally? What is the other choice? Bystander? Not my thing. Enemy? Definitely not my thing,” Chris shares. “I try to set the right example for my children and for others whose paths I cross. I believe we are all here to help and support each other while we share this life on this planet and we should always try and perform each action, every day, with that in mind. Of course, we all slip from time to time, but we are all taking part in this human experiment together and the more people that share in our journey, the more diversity we throw in this big giant melting pot, the greater chance we have for successful, positive outcomes.”
“We want to provide a safe place for people to get educated about all the relationship type things they are afraid to ask in traditional spaces,” Chris says. “We want to provide a safe space where education and experience can flow freely; a place where people can work on themselves, have some self-discovery, and hopefully, work toward becoming their authentic self.”
Echo: With all the work you do in both the poly and kink communities, it seems like a major emphasis is on education. Why do you believe that’s so important in both of those realms?
Chris: Not to sound cliché, but knowledge is power, right? We didn’t feel we had very many places to go for support. Those that were there for us we are still close to, but we wanted to give back. I needed to give back. I didn’t want others to go through what we did without having access to others with experience. We wanted to provide access to the failures and successes and to build a sense of community from that. Being able to provide people with proven tools to help take some of the emotions out of their decision making, to help them make better decisions, and to provide the perspectives and experiences of others to help drive successful outcomes is what feeds my soul.
Can you tell us more about what exactly True Beloved is? What are your hopes for it as people find out more about it?
Chris: The primary purpose of Truly Beloved is as a publisher and distributer of books and other things we are both working on. However, it is also the next step, the next growth we wanted for our relationship and ourselves as it applies to giving back to the community.
Elisha and I have been managing the state chapter of Loving More for the last couple of years. Loving More is a national nonprofit, 501c3, based in Denver, that is dedicated to the education and support of polyamory. I believe this is their 25th year in operation. We found Loving More earlier in our journey and it has been a beneficial relationship, but as we have grown so has our message and our mission. We both identify as polyamorous and plan to continue our support of the community and Loving More for many years to come, but we also felt a bit restricted. Creating Truly Beloved allows us more flexibility to reach a larger audience in the kink and consensual non-monogamy crowds.
What have you accomplished in the past 1 to 2 years that you are most proud of?
Elisha: In September 2018, Chris and I won the Arizona Master/slave contest. We were driven to run for this contest by our passions to share the message, “There is no ‘one’ way to structure power exchange relationships.” We had heard from others that we weren’t doing M/s right and we didn’t buy it. Our relationship is healthy and happy because we structure it based upon our shared desires and goals. We felt like the Arizona M/s title would help to spread our message farther.
I’ve spent the last two years writing and producing a new book, Yoga for Kink. I had been practicing yoga for about four years when Chris and I entered the kink/BDSM community. I immediately noticed similarities between the experiences of yoga and sadomasochism, such as, altered states of consciousness, connection to the self, improved body image, and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Even more, as I watched people prepare for bondage, they were doing stretches similar, and sometimes, identical to yoga. It was these realizations that inspired me to write my book. We are - I have a wonderful team of people working with me, including Chris - currently in the process of taking and editing photos to the book and I expect it to be ready for sales in February. Just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Chris: Definitely the winning of the Arizona Master/slave contest title was huge. But, finding and being accepted in the local and national kink community was more important to my overall personal growth and confidence. I was starting to have some issue of belonging. As I learned more about myself and started to be more open and transparent with my friends and family, I lost a bunch of them. We have several sayings around what “chosen” family means to many of us and that really impacted me. The idea that you don’t have to keep up relationships with people you find to be toxic just because you always have or because there is some shared blood between you was revolutionary to my life. I still have some super close biological family, but our chosen leather, poly, and kinky family – with all the LGBTQ+ aunts, uncles, and cousins – has been instrumental to our success and our growth. Finding that family has allowed me to be more confident on other areas and has helped me be successful in reestablishing my relationship with my youngest son and the awesome growth Elisha and I have made as a couple. I am still working on my oldest, but the strength I get from our community provides me with the patience and perseverance to continually work toward a better future.
What are some of the misconceptions you’ve both come across as poly and kink educators?
Elisha: One common misconception we have come across is that, when we are not dating people often ask, “Are you really poly?” For us, poly is an identity, not just something that we do. We are picky about who we date and spend our valuable free time with. Thus, we don’t date often. However, not dating does not mean we are no longer poly.
Chris: Yes, that one. Do you ask single people if they are still monogamous if they aren’t dating? Is a bisexual woman considered heterosexual because she isn’t dating another woman? Or because she is solely dating a man at the current time? I feel it really can be such an offensive assumption, but this speaks to why we educated and why we share our stories.
The other big ones: poly = sex and sex = love. Or any version of BDSM/kink/power exchange = abuse. The first one is hard. Western culture and religion have perverted the act of sex in so many ways that it is hard for us to accept that it is just a physical act that may or may not have an emotional commitment behind it. Adding to that, emotional commitment has thousands of degrees of relevance that we each define personally. But sex can be nothing more than an act, a physical activity, a sport, like soccer. So, when you tell people you have multiple relationships, they assume that they are all sexual. When I list my poly relationships these days, I list two: Elisha and my children. I would say that I have a couple of male friends that come close and in the scheme of things it really is a fine line. Emotionally connected and committed relationships do not have to be sexual in nature or ever include sex at all.
I lost a close male friend recently. I am sure he would have loved to hear me say that he had become a poly partner very much in my head. I think he knew, but I wish I had told him that. Polyamory relationships come in many forms.
What are your hopes for the future of Truly Beloved and your own educational journeys and projects?
Elisha: We hope to see Truly Beloved continue to grow! We each have a couple of books that we want to publish. In addition to Yoga for Kink, I am writing a memoir about my journey from near suicide to discovering yoga and then BDSM. My discovery of those two practices, and the communities that came along with those practices, changed my world dramatically. My memoir will dive into the similar experiences between yoga and BDSM that I mentioned earlier and how those experiences influenced my personal growth and path to happiness.
Chris: I have started to work on some erotica. Polyamorous, power exchange, science fiction … something fun, something in the vein of John Norman’s Tales of Gor with less repetitive passages, I hope. I am also working on a postmodern take on master/slave or power exchange relationships. We both need to complete our academic programs. She is down to the last year on her interdisciplinary graduate degree that is related to her memoir. I recently completed the same master’s program while looking at hierarchy and power exchange in long term polyamorous relationships, but I jumped right back into another, because education is an addiction with me apparently. I am still trying to find my academic place in all of this. I am hoping to move into a doctoral program over the next year or so and either take a closer look at consent issues in our community and how we can help inform the greater world or to take a deeper dive into the impact and outcomes of well negotiated power exchange, or authority imbalance dynamics. People don’t realize it, but liberal and sometimes radical feminism, has really redefined how many of us perceive these more diversified relationship structures and have allowed women in controlling positions within those dynamics. The feminist movement and its influence in creating the modern polyamory movement and impact to power exchange relationships fascinates me. There is a lot more I want to delve into there also.