Apologies for the late post; it’s been an eventful day! Here is an updated article originally published on Postmodern Woman.
Yay polyamory! Non-Monogamy has been making the rounds lately as the “mainstream” (read straight, USian or British or Canadian, cis, and usually white) discover that love doesn’t have to be as limiting and lonely as we’ve been told. Hell, we’ve finally started discussing abuse culture, how to be more inclusive and less oppressive, and breaking down amatonormative assumptions (primarily around the idea that your partner belongs to you).
More and more people are learning about things like compersion, intimate friendships, and open and honest communication. And that’s an absolutely great thing! Many of the tools and skills that people learn to hone while engaging in polyamory carry over into other aspects of life not remotely related to romance and sex.
There’s a lot of great potential within non-monogamous communities to revolutionize the way people tend to approach intimacy in general. It opens up conversations about the ways in which people meet their needs and can encourage people of any relationship orientation towards healthier behaviors.
But a potentially troublesome trend has come along with all of the attention: many of you cishet people keep claiming a queer identity, rooted in the fact that you are polyamorous.
Here’s why that may not be cool, even if it might seem like you’re doing it out of solidarity.
First of All, It’s Inaccurate
Even though non-monogamy can be an inborn orientation, many of you choose to be non-monogamous. Much like the excitement over the wildly inaccurate 50 Shades of Grey, this discovery of a sexy, potentially exciting venture was likely presented to you through mainstream means. Perhaps you’ve read The Ethical Slut, More Than Two, or other fairly popular books on non-monogamy. Maybe you read about this new trend in a magazine or some HBO show.
While it’s great that there’s such an influx of representation of non-monogamous relationships, be wary that it’s still not fully, or even accurately, representative of the diverse populations within non-monogamy. There’s still a huge issue with retention of queer, Black, poor, and disabled polya folk. Even books, fiction, and movies that deal with polyamory present it as a choice that comes after the fact, after trying to be monogamous, or as some way of avoiding commitment.
Think about why that is.
Even if we get to see a sort of happy-ever-after ending, we don’t actually get to see any examples of fully healthy polya relationships, or stories of people who grew up healthily polya, or of those whose relationship orientation is inherent in the way that their sexuality and/or gender is.
More specifically, outside of the cuilverse, diverse, healthy, queer, and poly-as-orientation doesn’t seem to exist in entertainment.
Given that the main representation is already mostly cis and straight and white people who’ve made a clear decision to be non-monogamous, the P for polya doesn’t quite make sense in the queer movement.
Speaking of which,
It Erases Those of Us Who Actually Are Queer
Those of us who are both non-monogamous and queer find ourselves floating around in the background while you folks tend to get the attention. This is a serious problem. It’s not something intentional, we’re sure of it.
It’s just that, in efforts to make non-monogamy more palatable to the masses, it’s much easier to get the idea past filters if the participants are otherwise “normal”. Since media and entertainment work the way they do, it necessarily means that us queers end up with the short end of the stick. Even worse, when you are straight and cis, claiming that your polyamory is queer obfuscates the meaning. It makes people who are queer in every other way less visible. It centers, once again, heteropatriarchal values and experiences.
Being queer and polya is a vastly different experience than being straight and polya.
Did you not realize that our experiences even differ?
Well, keep this in mind…
Much of Cishet Non-Monogamy Has More in Common With Monogamy +
Most straight cis people lead fairly straightforward lives. Or at least, more recognizable lives. You don’t spend your lives fighting against the amatonormative current. Even if you do, there are still many things you’ll never experience as a cis straight person.
For this reason, many of you only have your normative history to draw on. Even if your polyamory is your orientation rather than your choice, your most likely approach often ends up like Frankin Veaux’s in The Game Changer. Years, or even decades of relationships built on the idea of monogamy plus one.
What do I mean by that exactly? Monogamy plus one is the reason the non-monogamous communities even have terms like hierarchy, secondary, tertiary, polyfidelity, etc and the reason particular non-monogamies like Relationship Anarchy, solo polyamory, relationship fluid, and others have appeared as a way to push back against it.
There even exists out there now a “Secondary’s Bill of Relationship Rights”!
I’m not saying that being a secondary or wanting a polyfidelitous relationship is wrong or worse, just that it took so much pain, anguish, jealousy, guilt, and mistakes to get to the point where the community is finally openly discussing how these attitudes can be abusive, divisive, and harmful.
Because much of straight, cis, well-off mono culture is built upon the amatonormative arm of abuse culture in general (more on that in a later post), straight cis people within polya communities tend to repeat the same mistakes, perpetuate the same imbalances, and tread the same ground as people who are monogamous.
But why would that bother queer polya people so much? It’s not like they invented the modern form of polyamory or anything.
It Is Appropriative for Cishets to Claim Polya as Queerness
Much as Dolezal is given the side-eye for claiming recent Black ancestry, many queer people are wary of cishet people saying they are queer. It’s rude especially when you keep in mind that way before Ethical Slut, there existed polyamory within the U.S.
A polyamory that was queer and Black and anarchic. Queer history is still not really taught widely, so you might not even realize that it was kinky queer weirdos like myself who initially rejected the trappings of the white picket fence, marriage, and kids that culture forces down everyone’s throat. It’s not that none of us want those things, we simply found them on our own terms.
The same went for our love lives. Why should we keep the same attitudes of the society that oppressed us? Before the missionaries arrived (and still do arrive), many other nations and tribes were non-monogamous. That much is known, because the history of Blacks in any country, in addition to isolated peoples, are often cited as examples of why non-monogamy is more “natural” or to justify why it’s okay to practice.
You might not actually know that this is a bit of an insult. Non-Monogamy, like much of culture in general, has now circled so far around that it has to be reintroduced to the types of people who had been doing it all along. I raise my eyebrows at all of it because that’s some next-level Columbusing right there!
But all that aside, if you are cishet and you do understand the history of non-monogamy and are sensitive to your queer friends, can’t you still claim queerness in the name of solidarity? It’s not like with Dolezal, right?
Unlike acting or pretending to be Black, you can absolutely participate in queer acts. And that’s ok. But, there’s still a problem because…
Queer Acts Does Not an Identity Make
While people of any orientation whatsoever can certainly behave queerly, there’s still a distinction. Queer acts aren’t the same as queer identities.
Even if I were to behave as if I’m cis and straight, my identity would always be queer. Just as being with one gender or another doesn’t erase queerness, it also doesn’t validate queerness. It doesn’t even matter if you are non-mono by predilection and not simply by choice.
While my polyamory is my orientation, too, it is based on my queer identity — meaning that by definition and existence, I am not, never will be, and do not seek to be normal! My identities create a unique shape upon which my interactions rest. That’s something that cannot and will never change. My polyamorous nature grows out of my autism, my genderqueerness, my pansexuality, my noetisexuality, my other forms of queerness, and most notably my aromanticism. It is inextricably tied to my many queer identities and experiences.
I don’t know if it’s like that for other queer, disabled, POC polya people. But that’s for them to decide. Not even everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is queer, and there’s even less of an overlap between queer and cis populations.
While you may participate in queer events and acts like kink, non-monogamy, and other things, I guarantee you’ve never (and will never) be oppressed because of it if you otherwise fit into the dominant culture. We queers are still considered dangerous and deviant, and many of us exist at the center of intersecting oppressions based on disability, race, poverty, gender, and neurodivergence.
That’s important to keep in mind. Queer has a very specific definition, it is a very specific perspective, and it has a distinct history. Despite the inclusive ground it covers, it most likely will not ever cover an cishet person, not even a polya one.
Most of you will never be oppressed for being non-monogamous like we are and have been. There’s a reason it’s more acceptable to be non-monogamous now, and that’s mostly because the main stories are those of cishets like you. The queer stories have been washed away, considered too much to take in, and too transgressive.
You’re not doing us any favors by saying you’re one of us, especially if the politics and privilege of your desires have never been fully examined, altered, or decolonized.
But don’t fret. You can certainly still support your queer poly family and friends. Be inclusive of us, acknowledge our history, and don’t participate in Columbusing; we get a lot of that in other areas of our lives already.
You can take your proper place as an ally, or better yet as an accomplice, learning from us instead of leaving us behind. You can appreciate us without obscuring our identity by claiming it. And when you’re ready to extricate yourself fully from the norm, then maybe we’ll reconsider.