Jan 252013

As I assemble my thoughts and update the outline for my Solo Polyamorist class (which I’ll be teaching at Winter Wickedness), once again life tunes into the Serendipity Station, and starts flooding me with links to various folks and their thoughts on the subject.

Now, there have always been rants about how people are co-opting the term “polyamory” to mean any form of non-monogamy. There have always been rants about people “choosing” polyamory as a fait accompli, an ethical structure they’ll adopt in order to make their existing behavior somehow more acceptable. But lately, there have been an awful lot of rants about how polyamory has become popular and is suffering from the inevitable effects of popularity.

I’m linking to Sex Geek’s rant because it is the one that stirs me up the most, and the one that I’ve spent the longest time sitting with, trying to understand the depth of my response to it. This was my initial response to reading this article:

Felt of rant like to me. A lot of griping without suggesting how to solve any of these issues, or even talking about what “better” looks like. I would rather see articles that lead by example. That show us new paths rather than complain about what everyone else has written. It is easy to bitch. For example, in all this railing against hierarchy, the author barely spent an entire paragraph suggesting alternatives or what their benefits and flaws are.

All well and good, but the more I sit with it, the more I feel like I have left things unsaid. There’s an assumption underlying the anger in this article that polyamory is some kind of activism, that it is some kind of movement rejecting oppression, and that like all other movements, polyamory therefore has an obligation to reject acceptance by the mainstream.

This is not my view. I think of polyamory as an ethical stance taken by an individual — something Sex Geek advocates for as well. But where Sex Geek and I differ is that I don’t feel all that particularly attached to the term itself. I don’t feel like the word has a sacred meaning which I most protect and advocate for.

The more time I spend giving advice on polyamory forums, the more time I spend reading the opinions of polyamorist activists, the more I see polyamory become accepted by the maintstream. Which I think is great, unreservedly, because I have no illusions about how mainsteam acceptance works.

We are pack animals. Herd creatures. Humankind has ever been thus. Always, there have been the fringe elements of our herd, individuals who are uncomfortable being in the center of the pack. Fringe elements, who stray away from the comfortable feeding grounds and seek out new places. When we prove these areas safe, the rest of the herd moves in. It’s societal. It’s evolutionary. It’s what humans do.

Of course the importance and meaning of individual lyrics get lost as bands gain notoriety. Of course important philosophies become trivialized as their wisdom gets broadcast as part of sandwich commercials. I do not rail against this anymore than I would stare at the ocean and wish that it would, for just one stretch of sandy beach, stop crashing against the shore.

On the other hand, I am a fringe creature, and I choose to lead by example. Instead of complaining that people are still using hierarchy terminology, I make a point of discussing my relationships in terms of radar ranges (a metaphor replete with the sense of movement and shifting priorities, of targets and vectors, and different directions we might all be traveling in). When people ask me for advice about their relationships, I answer with questions about the ethics of the individual and the choices you are empowered to make about your own life.

I chose to call myself a polyamory activist because at the time I discovered the word, it felt very accurate to me. But like all intimate arrangements, time moves ever forward, and meanings shift and relationships change. The word “polyamory” no longer means what it meant when I claimed it in 1995.

I think it’s time I let it go.

“But gosh,” says one of my girlfriends (a close-range target that I’ve been tracking for a while). “What will you do without that identity? Are you really going to give up who you are just because you don’t like one article?”

Nonsense. I’m not giving up an identity. I’m not letting go of who I am. I’m just saying goodbye to a word that no longer describes what I am, what I have been, what I intend to be.

What will I call myself instead? I’m not really sure. “I practice a form of ethical non-monogamy that doesn’t have a catchy name,” isn’t very illuminating.

Maybe I’ll be lighthearted about it and tell you that I’m a Protestant Polyamorist, part of a group of doctrines that reject what polyamorism has come to mean today. I can joke about rejecting the pervasive influence of King Xeromag and the Papal proclamations of Cunning Minx.

In more somber moods, I might tell you that I don’t know what I’m calling my ethics yet, because I haven’t bought the domain name yet. And without a pulpit, how could I possibly preach change?

Most likely, what will happen is that I’ll babble these long-winded lectures about how the word has come to focus on a set of espoused beliefs which have very little to do with what I believe in anymore, and that I got close enough to the term to care about distinctions and so I don’t want to be called that anymore, and everyone else of the planet will say, “That Master So’N’So, he’s one of those polyamorists who have opinions about what they do.”

And really, I’m fine with that. Because at least I’m not preaching hate against the latest bunch of humans who have just found out about this cool idea that I like.

  6 Responses to “Poly-volved Poly-vangelism”

  1. I have only been familiar with the label “polyamory” for about 6 years now, and only considered ethical non-monogamy my lifestyle choice in full for half that. So I consider myself a newbie. I sincerely wish I had known about it 20 years ago. I do understand though when you say “giving up a word that no longer describes what I am…”, for I have given up other labels in that manner. I really don’t care whether you call it Protestant Polyamory, Post-Mainstream Ethical Non-monogamy, or some other term. I probably won’t stop using the term poly to describe myself until the griping ranters start to sound genuinely hateful and start getting their own popularity. I am not into division and hate-mongering, but the acknowledgement that I can and do love more than one person in my life.

  2. Imho language is always changing; common understandings of common words shift with decades and generations; words that are generated by a marginalised group as an act of empowerment to try to describe part of their experience will be appropriated and redefined by the primary power group often as an act of disempowerment, and reclaimed and further redefined by the marginalised group etc. No single word is ever going to cover the vast range of experiences of people practicing multiple ethical relationships, I suspect. Even if it did it wouldn’t communicate that rich range to people with no experience of multiple ethical relationships. These days I generally accept however anyone chooses to identify, with the exception of people who call themselves polyamorous who aren’t open and honest all parties about all other parties.

  3. “Maybe I’ll be lighthearted about it and tell you that I’m a Protestant Polyamorist, part of a group of doctrines that reject what polyamorism has come to mean today. I can joke about rejecting the pervasive influence of King Xeromag and the Papal proclamations of Cunning Minx.”

    YES. That. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.

  4. Choose a contrary label to suit your adventure….then step back from the contrary label because you don’t want to be defined by it…..interesting rant……I admire your commitment if you can call it that…..sounds like a nightmare to me but I like the fact your pushing those boundaries. Good luck. :)

  5. Thank you! Much appreciated! <3(Didn't want to be tankig up such a large amount of vertical space in your comments section, since that seemed rude.)BTW, she finally took my comment out of moderation I just checked, and it's up. She never responded (unsurprisingly), but it's at least visible. Here's hoping that people seeking her advice at least read the comments section of her post, and realize that not everyone is using non-monogamy as a relationship band-aid.

  6. If polyamory is a fanasty, I’ve been living one since I was in my mid-teens. Since I’m now middle-aged, yeah, it’s been awhile.As far as the competition for mates thing, friend, I’m not exactly a hot young thang, and I am happy with my own relationships, which at present have been long term and satisfying.And swearing? I considered the choice of those words in that context absolutely appropriate to conveying an emotive message, yes.

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