Jan. 27th, 2013

vixenesque93: (alot)
I was asked to address my thoughts on this article. Since Facebook doesn't lend itself to long post or responses on articles, I brought it here instead.

I can't post about this stuff on Facebook, I have relatives on there!

Start: the for "norms" of polyamory (and my experiences thereof)

1. Polyamory starts with a couple.

Yes, this is the most common relationship model in Western society. However, my first poly relationship started when I was a single woman dating a married man. Yes, there was a coupling present, but I was only dating the husband, not the husband and wife together.

I don't know how common that is. It seems like more often there is an established couple (culturally recognized as such, doing the whole monogamy thing and either married or long-term shacked up) who decide to explore polyamory together (for better or for worse).

2. Polyamory is hierarchical.

Admittedly, I used to think in these terms. I live with [livejournal.com profile] glitch25, we share bills and a household and responsibility for two cats. To mainstream society, we are as good as hitched. So on the surface it would appear that we are, in fact, primary partners.

But in reality, we don't operate that way. Our respective relationships with [livejournal.com profile] solcita and [livejournal.com profile] milo93 (yes, K is on Livejournal now!) are not "secondary". No, we don't live together currently, but that doesn't make any of us less important to the other.

3. Polyamory requires a lot of rules.

It can. Seeing as [livejournal.com profile] glitch25 and I are only dating one other person each, the rules are not really...excessive? At least I don't think so. There's safer-sex rules present but I think of that as a sort of 'given'. Pregnancy isn't a concern but we all get tested regularly--as someone who grew up with AIDS being an ever-present fear (let alone any other number of diseases out there) it doesn't even seem weird to me to get tested every year. Being turned away from blood donation was a new experience though...

Push comes to shove, though, there aren't a whole lot of rules involved in my life. I'm good with that--too many rules is just...well, it's a problem for me.

To quote the article, "Rules have an inverse relationship to trust. They are intended to bind someone to someone else’s preferences. They are aimed at constraint. I will limit you, and you will limit me, and then we’ll both be safe.

When two people are well matched in their values, and have strong mutual trust, they don’t need a rule to know how they’ll each behave.

So, if I'm interested in someone and they have a ridiculous number of rules with their primary about how the relationship can operate...it's a bit concerning.

4. Polyamory is heterosexual(-ish). Also, cute and young and white. Also new and exciting and sexy!

Because heterosexuality is still the 'norm'. Yes, let me finish rolling my eyes here.

I identify as bisexual, however my partners are all currently male-born and male-identified. I'm good with this. Polyamory isn't all horny men and hot bi babes engaged in passionate threesomes (sorry to disappoint).

As for the others...cute? Some would say so. Not everyone is into chubby chicks though.

Young? Er...I said goodbye to my 20's awhile ago. [livejournal.com profile] milo93 and [livejournal.com profile] solcita have also said goodbye to those years. [livejournal.com profile] glitch25 welcomed in 40 not too long ago. Youth is a relative thing.

White? Yeah. So much so I burn to a crisp in the summer if I'm not careful.

New, exciting, and sexy? I've been poly for...well, I started my first poly relationship nearly ten years ago. Exciting? Eh, maybe. Sexy? Well, I like to think any romantic relationship would be if you're doing it right.


In short--yes, the media portrays polyamory in rather...mainstream standards. I don't agree with it, since the mainstream monogamous model is not one that applies to how I live. But I understand why people use mainstream models for comparison: it's what we can relate to. It's the cultural norm and it makes it easier to understand that which falls out of the norm. Still, it bugs me. It's like when people used to ask gay couples "so, which of you is the 'man' and which is the 'woman'?". Never mind that there's SO much wrong with that statement--it's a way for people to try to understand an unfamiliar relationship structure.

Still...this brings us to the problems with that structure.

First problem: the polynormative model is kinda sucky.
Perhaps it might work well, maayyybe, for some people—I won’t go so far as to say it never does. But it comes with a host of problems for everyone involved, most notably for those who are in the least empowered place within the relationship structure, but also in more subtle and insidious ways for those who are in the more privileged place within the structure.

Yeah...this kind of goes without saying. The structure is okay if you're part of the primary couple, but if you're a secondary who hasn't put her foot down it can leave you short if you don't speak up for yourself. Not that I speak from experience or anything ;).

Second problem: The media presents these poly norms as, well, norms. As The Way to Do Poly.
At best, there’s a brief mention that some people do some other sorts of poly, over there, and we don’t really understand them, or maybe those forms are way too complicated for us to summarize in a 1,000-word article. (Triads! Quads! Families! Ws and Xs and Greek alphabets and constellations and ecosystems! It’s all so scary. Also, math is hard.)

But most of the time, “other” (ooh, look at that construction!) kinds of poly aren’t mentioned at all. There is this one way, and here it is! Isn’t it grand? So brave! So unusual! Really quite cutting-edge, don’t you think? … Well, whether intentionally or otherwise, this approach ends up flattening the picture of poly, depicting it in its simplest, most dumbed-down terms. It’s no coincidence that this version of poly is the one that most closely resembles the one-man, one-woman, marriage-based, nuclear-family kind of relationship we’re all told we’re supposed to aspire to. All we’ve done is relax the rules around sex a bit, and unlike (but not that unlike) swingers’ ethics, we’re also “allowing” the emotional end of things to actually exist, in the sense that we have relationships and are not “just” schtupping. But not the kind of relationships that actually “threaten” (?!) the “primary” couple. Not with people who, God forbid, make demands on one or both of us, or challenge us, or want to have a say in how things go. Then, well, they get the boot, because primary comes first! We can all agree on that, can’t we? Of course. That’s the essence of primary relationships. It’s pretty clear in the terminology. One person comes first, the others do not. This is why the mainstream can wrap its head around poly at all: because understood this way, it’s really not that fundamentally different from monogamy.

I like to think that any media coverage is good media coverage. But this couldn't be further from the truth, and besides my own relationship structure doesn't really have a great deal of media support. So, does this mean I'm Doing Poly Wrong? Well, fuck. And here I thought I was just trying to be happy for a change.

The primary/secondary model works for people who are trying to blend into a monogamy-embracing society. If it works for those people, great. However, for those of us who cannot honestly embrace this structure there exists an additional barrier to social acceptance.

Third problem: This whole state of affairs screws over the newbies.

Not only the newbies, but those of us who aren't out yet and have no idea how to go about the coming-out process.


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