Queer Youth Radio on Polyamory May 9, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: LGBT, monogamy, polyamory, relationships, Sex education, Youth
I ran into this today:
I saw it on a blog called Youth Media for Building Healthy Commnities, which I just discovered today.
It’s a fairly good, and short introduction to polyamory intended for young people, specifically in the Long Beach, CA area. I’m glad to see that resources for young people are inclusive enough, and aware enough, to include polyamory into it’s programming. The video is pretty low tech, and I don’t know what kind of reach it has, but seeing it’s existence is at least encouraging to me.
I noticed that the video made the claim that polyamory fits under the umbrella of “Queer,” and thus LGBTQ generally, which is an idea which is not universally accepted by all poly people or by all LGBTQ members and allies. That the struggles which poly people endure are comparable to those of the traditional LGBTQ community is a tough sale, even if in some philosophical sense there is an affinity between the two groups. There is a sense that poly people are queer, and perhaps the relationship is more obvious to younger people than it is to me. I’d be interested to hear from younger people about how they think about that relationship.
I believe that the LGBTQ community should be generally informed about polyamory, especially because there is a natural affinity between minority groups who are struggling for understanding, rights, and community. We have things to teach one-another, and projects like this video, and the blog with which it is associated, are good positive steps in the right direction. Also, I would very much like to see a future when comprehensive sex education includes the basic concepts of polyamory as a possibility for people to explore, especially since it will be preferable and more healthy for many people (at least). We need young people, for the sake of our future world to be a more sex-positive place, to have understanding about their sexuality, possibilities for relationships, and all things related to those two.
I also noticed that they said, near the end, that ”monogamy is an equally valid lifestyle choice, just as polyamory is a great fit for others.” Putting polyamory on equal footing with monogamy is an improvement over the usual view that polyamory might merely be right for some people, which seems to imply it’s a weird thing that weird people do (well, it is that often too). I might be willing to go further, and say that polyamory is superior (with the appropriate caveats, of course), but i appreciate the equal footing here.
More of this, please!
Previews of Our America episode next week! February 27, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: Lisa Ling, media, Oprah Winfrey Network, Our America, polyamory, relationships, television
Here is a couple of previews to next week’s episode which includes us here at polyskeptic!
(the embed codes don’t seem to be working with wordpress, sorry)
Atlanta Poly Weekend, March 15-17 2013 November 14, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: #APW2013, Atlanta, polyamory, relationships, St. Patrick's Day
As many readers may know, I lived in Atlanta for a little while a couple of years back. It was where I met Ginny! While living down there, I participated in the polyamorous community down there and made some friends. Some of those people still read this blog, and because of my awesomeness, have invited me to participate in their annual
orgy polyamory-themed event in Atlanta, Atlanta Poly Weekend.
It will be the middle of March of 2013 (you know, because the 2012 Mayan calendar thing is bullshit), winter will be starting to give way, it will be St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and Atlanta will be warming up! Also, lots of smart, sexy, poly people gathering for workshops, presentations, and possibly a few drinks after we solve all the world’s problems with said workshops and presentations.
You can take a look at the list of presenters to get an idea of who will be there, and they look like a fantastic bunch! I am looking forward to meeting them all in March, and I hope to see some of you there as well.
So, the skinny is this:
The What: Atlanta Poly Weekend 2013
The Who (no, not the band!): you, and all your awesome friends (who will be permitted to listen to The Who, if that is your kink. The Kinks will also be acceptable).
The When: March 15-17, 2013
4386 Chamblee Dunwoody Road
The Why: Because it will be awesome!
The How: That is for you to figure out, because I don’t know who you are or where you are coming from. If teleportation doesn’t work, try a car, train, plane, or penny-farthing.
Getting Oriented June 25, 2012Posted by Alex in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: ann tweedy, civil rights, determinism, polyamory, sexual orientation
In the comments section of an earlier post here, I mentioned that I see polyamory as an orientation. Wes exhorted me to elaborate on that concept, so I will attempt to do so now. But first, I should mention that another commenter (Jessica) referred us all to law professor Ann Tweedy’s excellent article on the subject. I’m going to build on several of Tweedy’s ideas in this discussion, and I suggest you read the article in full.
Tweedy points out that the term “sexual orientation” is a modern invention, and that the words, taken separately, seem to suggest a slippery, almost vague concept:
Rather, based on the ordinary meanings of its two constitutive words, the term “sexual orientation” should refer to any type of settled “sense of direction or relationship” or “choice or adjustment of associations, connections, or dispositions” that relates to “libidinal gratification.”
Of course, that’s not exactly how we use the term in our daily lives, but it’s fairly close. One of the problems of thinking of sex and love in terms of orientation (i.e. innate condition, quirk of birth, etc.), however, is that we immediately run into the “problem” of whether to distinguish between who we are and what we do. Can a person be polyamorous and single, for example? That may sound like a deliberately stupid question, but if being polyamorous means “having multiple loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all parties,” a single person may not necessarily qualify. If, instead, one has a polyamorous identity (i.e. a preference for such relationships, even while single), the answer changes.
All people who practice non-normative lovestyles face the dilemma imposed by the who we are vs. what we do distinction. There is debate in the LGBT community, for example, about whether it is acceptable for a gay person to say he/she is gay “by choice.” Earlier this year, actress Cynthia Nixon did just that and was criticized harshly for it. After all, when minority groups fight for civil rights, they often take the position that they’re the same as everyone else (i.e. born a certain way). We all remember 19th century “scientists” who tried to prove that people of African descent were literally a different species as Caucasians. Today, the claim that gay people are different in an essential (and therefore “correctable”) way are used to justify discrimination against them.
The problem, as I see it, with this line of reasoning is that granting civil rights based solely on biological determinism seems to be a dangerous precedent to set. So what if someone is gay by choice? Why should that affect their ability to be protected by anti-discrimination laws, to visit a partner in the hospital, to obtain medical insurance, etc.? If homosexuality (or heterosexuality) is innate, should we test people for it? What, if any, value should we assign to people’s self-identification? Should we require “proof” of sexual orientation? These are all complicated questions, but I tend to advocate a society in which we place as many people, and as many choices as people consensually and nonviolently make, as possible under the umbrella of civil rights.
Which brings us back to polyamory as an orientation. I suppose I could claim that I’ve been polyamorous since birth (or at least since adolescence). We’ve all heard stories of people who became polyamorous in high school or college. I like to tell an anecdote from my own life in which I dated two women at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all parties, back when I still considered myself monogamous. Of course, the way we all justified this arrangement was the same way many single, monogamous people justify dating multiple other people: eventually I was going to have to choose one of them, and I was just getting as much information as possible before making my choice. Nonetheless, the fact that I wanted to date them both (and didn’t want to have to choose, though I told myself back then that I would eventually have to), and that it was very important to me that everyone knew what was happening (i.e. no one was cheating on anyone) makes me think that the conceptual framework of polyamory has been part of my way of thinking for a long time. The anecdote happened almost 20 years ago, and I’ve only identified as polyamorous for 4 years.
I’ve talked to many poly people with similar stories of their pre-poly life. So perhaps some of us “naturally” gravitate to this lovestyle and some do not. The problem, however, is that very little of what I’m saying here sounds like the way people usually talk about sexual orientation. If I were only interested in living in triads, or quads, etc.–i.e. if my erotic imagination always, and only, involved more than two people, or always involved people of more than one gender–that would sound more like the way sexual minorities tend to talk about orientation. In many ways, when I say that polyamory as an orientation for me, what I mean is that the philosophy/ideology of non-monogamy makes sense to me in a way that suggests to me that it’s not merely an idea I like but rather that I’m drawn to it constitutionally (or, as Heinlein might say, I “grok” it). This is why I like Canadian sexuality theorist Nathan Patrick Rambukkana’s statement:
“I believe that though my sexual orientation is straight, my ideological and political orientation towards sex is queer.”
For me–all these years later and you still can’t take the Hegelian/Marxist out of me–ideology and what we tend to call personality are inextricably linked. I’m not going to get into the debate here of which comes first–if you’re interested in a very long discussion on this subject I recommend this episode of Reasonable Doubts–but I think that many of the beliefs/philosophies we hold most dear appeal to us both because they make logical sense and because we have an intuitive sense that they’re right. The skeptical thing to do, of course, is to examine whether one’s “intuitive” response to an idea is reasonable, comports with the facts of the world, etc., but nonetheless some studies are now showing us that ways of seeing the world might be more hardwired than we’d originally thought, and I think that’s interesting (if inconclusive so far).
The question of whether any sexual orientation is chosen or if we are “born this way,” then, may be a false dilemma. We may chose it because we were born that way, for instance. Making a distinction only seems useful if we’re fighting for equal civil rights. Of course, that’s an important thing to do, which makes the question relevant in many aspects of our civil life. But it’s also a double-edged sword, as the Cynthia Nixon example demonstrates. I don’t want to have to pass a polyamory “truth” test, and if a polyamorous gene were detected, I wouldn’t line up to be tested. It doesn’t matter very much to me why anyone’s “libidinal gratification” desires (including my own) tend to lead him/her toward one or another “choice or adjustment of associations, connections, or dispositions.” Just don’t try to stop me from associating freely.
Anger Management June 23, 2012Posted by Alex in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: atheism, loss aversion, monogamy, polyamory
I was struck by many things in the “Godless Perverts” panel video Shaun posted yesterday, but one thing in particular that I’ve been meaning to write more about was the idea of the narrative of redemption through suffering (Maggie Mayhem segues into Charlie Glickman discussing it, starting at around 30:25 of Pt. II). I’m going to try to tread very carefully here as I discuss the ways in which I think this concept is relevant to nonmonogamy, so please accept the caveat that I’m trying to make somewhat broad conceptual associations in order to see if they’re fruitful.
When we “come out” as atheists, many of us face the usual types of reactions. Some people accept our decision right away (or don’t really care–i.e. it’s not really their business how we live our lives); some say they knew all along and are genuinely happy for us; some completely reject atheism and, thus, reject us along with the proverbial bathwater. If I think about people as roughly falling into three camps–true believers/theists, nonbelievers, and “weak” believers (i.e. those who may identify as religious but whose religiosity operates more as a cultural identity, or quasi-ethnicity, than as a dominant life philosophy)–all of these reactions make some sense to me. The true believers are likely to want nothing to do with an atheist (except the ones who might think they can “save” us, but that’s another blog post altogether), and may even feel threatened by an atheists’ presence in their lives (because, as everyone knows, we recruit). The nonbelievers will either embrace our newly-announced identity or be indifferent, neither of which harms us much, though the former can certainly help.
The middle group, though, are the ones who tend to respond angrily. Some people seem to get very angry when I share my atheism (or skepticism of almost any kind, honestly) with them, and I’ve spent some time trying to understand why.
(Big assumption alert)
I think the “weak” believers get angry when we decide to live our atheist lives openly and unapologetically because, at least on some level, they’ve bought into the narrative that pious people deserve to be rewarded and wicked people must be punished. Even though they may not go to church every week, or observe all of the holidays, rituals, etc. required by the most devout members of their religious identity group, they still want to believe that their lukewarm belief–and, often, adherence to at least some elements of their religion’s moral/ethical rules–will gain them a reward. In other words, they’ve given up some things in order to convince themselves that they’re a good “insert religious identity here,” and if atheists are living happy, free, unapologetic lives and not being punished for it, the “weak” believers’ entire ideological framework is in danger of crumbling like a house of cards.
The historically religious narrative of asceticism and punishment leading to reward/redemption is so powerful that, I’m arguing, it has become a powerful secular narrative, even in the minds of those who do not strongly identify as religious. Hence, they often can’t articulate why they’re mad at us. Usually they say things like, “why can’t you just keep that to yourself?” or “did you have to shove that down my throat?” when we’ve done no such thing. They feel threatened because our unpunished existence directly contradicts the narrative not only that they want to believe but that has motivated actual life choices they’ve made, and these choices often involve sacrifices that they would not have made were it not for their belief in the reward/redemption at the end of the narrative.
When we come out, and especially when we openly and honestly live our lives, as polyamorous, we tend to get the same spectrum of response. Some people simply can’t accept our choice, or they may feel threatened that we’ll try to “steal” their partners, etc. This is always sad, but I think we can all deal with it. Some people (often the similarly nonmonogamous) embrace our choice and/or take a “it’s not really my business, but I’ll show tepid support” attitude, or (occasionally) express mild disapproval but tolerance. Again, the latter responses are not my favorites, but I don’t worry too much about them. They might be described as falling into the YKINMK camp, and that’s understandable. The angry responses, however, can be tough to grok. Why do other people get so exorcised over our chosen lovestyle?
My answer is that mononormativity operates as a secular form of the historically religious narrative of suffering leading to reward/redemption. Here I’m defining “suffering” extremely broadly. In the case of monogamy, what I mean is that monogamous people deny often themselves the pleasure of multiple intimate relationships (these need not be sexual–remember that many monogamous people believe that even having close friendships with people other than one’s spouse is a form of cheating). This sacrifice has a cost, but it also has a reward. Monogamists feel a kind of secular piety, a sense that they’re doing the right thing. Moreover, they tend to think that the sacrifice is the very thing that gives the monogamous dyad its special status.
I’ve seen this sentiment over and over again in online forums and in conversations with “devoutly” monogamous people. People have told me that I just don’t understand what “true” love is because I’m not giving 100% of myself to each of my relationships (because, you know, it’s mathematically impossible and all that). People seem to feel the strong need to prop up their own lifestyle choices and to devalue mine, even though my being polyamorous doesn’t in any way directly affect their monogamous relationships. So why should they be angry? I think they get angry because they believe that my successful, happy, unapologetic polyamory does threaten their relationships. If they’ve sacrificed to be monogamous, they must be rewarded and, conversely, those who deviate from mononormativity must be punished. Our lack of suffering does not compute.
I’m not suggesting that this is a new phenomenon, or that it’s unique to polyamory. Quite the contrary. Normativity in all of its forms elicits this desire for secular piety on behalf of its adherents. Deviation from the norm is systematically demonized, most notably in popular culture (which is overwhelmingly heteronormative, sex-negative, pro-theist, etc.). If gay/polyamorous/freethinking people live their lives openly and happily, how can “normal” people maintain the fiction that their ways of living are worthy of praise and reward (especially in the absence of something as dramatic as an actual intervention of a deity, the full wrath of a state apparatus, etc.)?
I’m also not saying that people who obey normative rules are bad people. In fact, I think their obedience is largely due to their desire to be good people. And I also believe that they are aware of the sacrifices they make for normativity. Thus, they experience a real sense of loss when non-normative beliefs/practices are shown to be completely benign (or, gasp, rewarding). Studies of loss aversion have shown fairly consistently that humans tend to react much more negatively to losses than they react positively to gains. This is not only true in economic situations but in social ones as well.
Some people surely feel that monogamy involves no sacrifice at all. Given the statistics on infidelity within monogamous relationships (over 50%), I’m not sure we can fairly say that a majority of monogamous people see things that way, but certainly many do. I don’t think they get mad when we say we’re polyamorous and show that we’re happy that way.
However, I believe that most monogamous people are “weak” monogamists. They are monogamous by default, without ever really knowing alternatives exist. I say this, by the way, as someone who for more than 30 years thought exactly the same thing. “Weak” monogamists are aware that closing off a large part of our humanity (love/sexuality) to all but one person for our entire lives causes us suffering. In order for that suffering to be bearable, they must believe that the reward outweighs the sacrifice. This, for me, explains their often visceral reaction to our living (and loving) openly.
Polyamory challenges our culture’s dominant, cultural narrative about love/sexuality because it shows that stable, committed, loving relationships are still possible when all parties involve have other stable, committed, loving relationships. And challenging people’s dominant cultural paradigms, especially when those people haven’t examined those paradigms very deeply (one of the pernicious things about normativity is that it seems, to most members of a society, simply to be “natural,” not culturally constructed and reinforced)–makes people angry.
Opening Up About OpenSF June 14, 2012Posted by Alex in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: activism, anxiety, charlie glickman, cunning minx, dossie easton, joy brooke fairfield, opensf, pepper mint, polyamory, tristan taormino
1 comment so far
Annalisa and I spent the last week in San Francisco. In part, we wanted to have a nice vacation: I had never been west of Chicago and we had not traveled together for any real length of time for a while. But one of the major reasons for going was also to attend OpenSF, a conference on nonmonogamy, open relationships, and polyamory organized by Pepper Mint. The conference (and related events) lasted from Friday until Sunday, and I’d like to take a bit of time to talk about some of the interesting panels I attended and some of the people I met in and around the conference itself.
Friday was essentially a welcome/orientation day. Pepper gave an opening address and initiated an interesting icebreaker activity, for which I am thankful because it forced me to meet some new people right off the bat. One of my goals for the conference was to socialize, but walking into a room of strangers, almost all of whom live in the San Francisco Bay area, was daunting for me. I learned an important lesson this weekend: I am extremely bad at approaching people I don’t know, even for casual, “low stakes” chat/interactions. Once I’ve been introduced to people, or compelled to interact with them, I think I’m actually a fairly gregarious person. But the initial awkwardness of “how do I approach that person, and what do I say?” is a huge anxiety trigger for me.
Luckily, the icebreaker required us to move from table to table, each time beginning with a new group of people and a “prompt” question that we were all asked to answer in front of the group (if we chose to answer: enthusiastic consent was a theme of the con, so anyone could opt out of any activity without judgment). Pepper provided excellent questions (“What do you hope to get out of the con,” “What is one of your wildest or most unusual poly moments,” etc.), and I felt mostly at ease meeting 20-30 new people in 15 minutes or so. It was a fun activity, and I might adapt it for use in the classroom.
After the welcome address, many con guests left to attend an off-site lecture/dance/play party. Sadly, I was unable to register in time for the sold-out event, but a group of other event castaways organized a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, to which I was graciously invited. There I met Dylan of the Life on the Swingset podcast–who had brought a large contingent to the con–and several other people I would see throughout the weekend.
Saturday was a day of panels, beginning with Charlie Glickman’s talk, “Sex, Shame, and Love.” For me, this was a highlight of the convention. Glickman discusses shame as a “tent” or “cloud” of emotions, any of which can disconnect us from people with whom we have relationships. One of his most important points, though, and one on which he disagrees with many writers on the subject (and some of his own psychologist colleagues), is that shame is not always detrimental. For Glickman, feeling shame is an important indicator that we’ve broken a communication/relationship “bridge”–yes, he used a lot of analogies–and need to mend it. Awareness of our feelings of shame is the first step in repairing the relationship (I should probably note here that one of the key relationships we can damage with shame is our relationship with ourself). Glickman elaborates on these concepts here, here, and here (among other places).
Most people in romantic/sexual minorities face shame at some point in their lives, often daily. I found it refreshing to hear someone talk about shame’s adaptive value and about avoiding a shame “spiral” (i.e. being ashamed of feeling shame, which only leads to more shame). As an anxiety disorder sufferer, I found in Glickman’s philosophy some useful coping mechanisms.
One other session of note on Saturday (they weren’t all gems, though I can’t say I thought any one was particularly terrible) was on “Poly Theory.” Joy Brooke Fairfield, a Stanford graduate student, gave a staggeringly expansive and eloquent talk about establishing a branch of cultural studies called poly theory (in the vein of feminist theory, queer theory, etc.). She also expanded on Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphor of a rhizome to describe polyamorous relationships. Contrasting her conception with the traditional linear (or arboreal) relationship model–we can see the arboreal model in family trees, corporate organizational flow charts, etc.–Joy argued that our relationships more resembled the root system of rhizomes. Rhizomes lack a central or ultimate root but rather expand from node to node in many directions. If we imagine ourselves each as nodes, we can see how we connect to other nodes, and those nodes to still others, in a complex but interconnected system. It is an elegant, non-hierarchical way to look at groups of linked relationships, polyamorous or otherwise.
After Saturday’s sessions, I got to try Poly Speed Dating. It was a lot of fun, if chaotic. I wonder if something like this would work in our area?
After speed dating was a dance party at Love Triangle dance club, a poly-friendly club in San Francisco’s Mission District. I was heartened to learn that the Mission has not one but several clubs that cater to nonmonogamous folks. Again, I wish our city/region did a better job of providing safe spaces for nonmogamous people to gather to socialize. My overriding feeling all weekend long was that this was one of the first times in my life that I’d found a group of people with whom I fit in totally. Even though I met theists, omnivores, and even (gasp!) political moderates, I felt a deep, almost instant common bond. We’d all wrested loose the shackles of monogamy, and that’s a remarkable thing.
The fatigue of late Friday and Saturday parties began to show for most con guests (and even some of the presenters) Sunday, but the day did bring a few highlights.
Tristan Taormino‘s keynote speech was an enthusiastic call to arms. She made several important points, one or two of which I will write about in more depth another time. Briefly, though, she called on the LBGT community not to throw polys under the proverbial bus in their fight for marriage equality. Conceding our opponents’ post hoc and slippery slope arguments hurts both our causes.
In addition, Taormino called on those of us who have the privilege to be “out” as nonmonogamous to live our lives as openly as possible. One of the things that prompted me to start writing for this blog was that I realized that I am fortunate enough to have a job for which I will not be fired for being polyamorous, a supportive and loving family, economic and emotional security, etc. I really must live my life openly, if only to show other people that people like us not only exist but are happy, healthy, and thriving.
I liked a few of the early Sunday panels, but I was really impressed with Cunning Minx‘s afternoon session on creating a non-threatening, attractive online dating profile (i.e. how not to be creepy guy). While her advice was useful, even for those of us who already consider ourselves non-threatening/non-creepy, I was particularly struck by her polished, stimulating, and well-organized presentation. You would be amazed at how many presenters were not particularly well-organized. We’re lucky to have Minx as an advocate/representative/colleague/peer, and I was glad to have met her.
I was also able to meet Dossie Easton, whose inscription in my copy of “The Ethical Slut” left me smiling with fanboy glee.
Monday and Beyond
I’m still processing the experience of OpenSF–and I expect I’ll share some of the fruits of that processing with you in the weeks and months to come–but right now I feel overjoyed to have spent three days among fabulous, non-judgmental, like-minded people. I increased my polyamory vocabulary, something I wasn’t sure was possible nearly four years into my own poly life. And I left San Francisco, and return home, eager to be more of an activist and particularly to advocate for more sex-positive events and safe spaces in our own city. I think we can do it, but I’ll probably need a bit of help. Who’s with me?
Couple flirtation and polyamory April 19, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: cheating, flirting, polyamory, relationships, swinging
I used to be monogamous. Ok, more precisely, I used to try to be monogamous. I sort of slipped and fell a couple of times, to find that my penis had landed in vaginas that were not attached to my girlfriend.
I remember what is was like being a 20-something guy with a girlfriend, having frineds with girlfriends/boyfriends and doing group activities like going out for drinks, grilling at someone’s house, or sitting around playing games and such on a Saturday. The room would tend to be full of young, attractive, sexually hungry people who flirt with each other.
I might find myself having a conversation with a girl who my friend just met recently, and it was obvious that there was some chemistry between us. And the fact that I was “taken” made it safer to make flirty jokes (see what I did there? dirty+flirt=flirty!). It was all just in good fun, and almost always led nowhere.
And then we all get to go home, paired off, and allow the sexual tension that we built up with such interactions with out monogamous partner. Well, except monogamous people don’t tend to admit that this type of flirting contributed to our interest in sex those nights.
That would prove that we are not attracted to our partners anymore, or enough, or even that we never were, right? Anyone with a very insecure partner in their past can tell you stories about those partners, after such evenings, would comment about how they saw you checking that other person out, and how they bet you’d like to ‘hit that’ (or whatever the kids say these days).
So, how often in such situations do couples talk and say things like “hey, so I saw you talking to ____ tonight. Ze is totes into you. I think their significant other is pretty attractive. We should all go out together and, like, fuck each other or something!”
Ok, if THAT conversation happens on the part of both couples, they might be ok. But more likely a less transparent conversation happens after everyone is drunk, one or two people seem really eager about the idea, and everyone else laughs nervously.
I mean, such things like partner swapping does happen. It usually includes alcohol, of course. Often, in such cases, it ends up ugly even if it starts out great. It often does not happen again. Those people later remember their younger, rebellious days where they tried swinging, polyamory, etc and all they really remember is how badly it went.
Then those people talk to me or read a blog post here or elsewhere (although why would anyole want to do that?) and think that its quite adorable how naive I am, or whatever, and go on with their life.
Except, well, they did it wrong.
Because there are more ways to do non-monogamy wrong than to do it right. Doing relationships well is hard, sometimes very hard, and the more people involved the more complicated it gets.
I would like to see a world where 20-somethings could be less monogamous. I would like to think that such people could be honest with their partners enough to not only admit the desire, but mature enough to hear it as well.
It would lower rates of infidelity in such relationships, as well as bring to the surface emotional issues which need to be exercised by people in order to be successful partners.
Will all of them end up polyamorous? No, probably not. Will people get hurt? Yes, probably. Will it fix already weak relationships? Eh, perhaps in some cases, but probably not in most.
Will it be more honest of people, considering what they really want to do? I think that it might. It might teach all sorts of lessons about what we desire, what we can handle, as well as give people invaluable sexual experience which goes far in terms of teaching us about relationships and desires.
And yes, I am aware that many younger people are not taking monogamy as strictly as generations before did, but I still want to see more of it exist transparently.
And I would like to see more people after their 20s keep their relationships from slipping into the default monogamy, especially when those old fires spark up.
This post is not completely fueled by the fact that some monogamous couples I know are totally doable.
But seriously, people, stop being so sexy and monogamous!
Smugness and arrogance in polyamory? April 16, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: arrogance, monogamy, polyamory, privilege, relationships, smugness
I have been following a blog about polyamory for a little while now called polytical. I try and keep up with a few poly blogs, twitter feeds, etc in order to keep my finger on the pulse of the community. I am not really a part of that community, even less than I am an insider the atheist community, but I have been listening for some time and know a fair bit about the issues, people, etc.
So, earlier today this post went up on polytical entitled I’m Poly ‘Cause I’m Better (which was a follow-up and partial change in views from a previous post entitled I’m Better ‘Cause I’m Poly). I had not read the earlier post previously (it went up before I started following the blog), but read it today for further context. I will say that I pretty much agreed with the older post. I have some reservations about the one from today.
Let’s just say I have some questions. Concerns even.
Lola O starts by saying how ze, after more presence in the poly community, has started to see the smugness of some polyamorous people; smugness about polyamory being better than monogamy and so forth. I have seen a little bit of that myself. I think that some of that smugness, that arrogance, can be justified. Not all of it, surely, but some of it. I’ll get to that.
So, let’s start with where Lola thinks the problem originates.
I feel it’s important to address this. Not because I enjoy being a naysayer, but I can see why the community alienates people. The smugness comes in two forms – a lack of acknowledgement of intersectional issues, and unchecked blatant privilege.
Oh boy, have we skeptics and atheists been over this ground in the last year! The debacle that was Elevatorgate, The ‘Amazing’ Atheist, and even Penn Jillette will remind us skeptics (the rest of you can use your Google machine) of what I am referring to (and of course there are many more examples). Alienating people, especially women and non-white people, from meetups, conventions, etc has been a huge issue in the skeptical/atheist world in recent years, and it exploded last year in a way that educated many people, including myself.
I still have not had a chance to thank Rebecca Watson, personally, for much of that unfortunately.
Once again, there are a lot of things that the polyamory community has to learn from the skeptic community, as well as the other way around. I know there is some overlap, but I don’t see a tremendous amount of discussion that deals with the intersection and how their trajectories might resemble one-another. Except, of course, for here at polyskeptic.com!
In any case, let’s get back to Lola. Ze thinks that there are two issues that are at the foundation of the problem in the poly community.
- a lack of acknowledgment of intersectional issues
- unchecked blatant privilege.
Intersectionality is a relatively new idea to me, although I certainly sympathize with the phenomenon as an atheist, polyamorous, skeptic. Privilege…well, that is not as new to me, but the debacles listed above must have increased the Google hits for that term by a significant degree last year, and I wrote a bit about it myself. But I don’t want to deal with these issues naked, I want to allow Lola to dress them up, give them shape, so that we can follow her reasoning.
People who say they’re polyamorous and critical of the assumption that we’re biologically suited to monogamy do not seem to bat an eyelash at gender stereotypes, and are more than willing to glue themselves to biological imperatives of the way “males” and “females” behave.
Yep, I’ve seen this. The nature of privilege (or am I getting ahead of myself) is that you don’t see it when you have it. I am in agreement with this statement, although I don’t know how common this actually is, having seen it rarely myself. As a point of comparison, I’ll add this; having seen how many atheists, who tend to be good at seeing past religious privilege, are blind to their own privileges has taught me that suffering the blunt end of privilege does not imply that you are incapable of having another form of privilege.
I find myself (and I’m not exaggerating) constantly having to remind fellow poly people that not only do intersex and gender variant people exist, but sometimes even that bisexual individuals exist. And when I bring up how sexism probably impacts the way people interact with others; the way people find partners; how comfortable, for example, those who identify as female may feel in situations where being poly means they are sexually available, I’m told that I’m pissing in everyone’s Cheerios or being too negative.
I have not seen this much myself. From my non-scientific sample, from my experience, this is pretty rare. Of course, most of my experience with the poly community IRL comes from being in Philadelphia; a very LGBTQ, intersex, etc friendly area of the world. I also attended an extremely liberal school where most of my friends were also extremely liberal. Just another privilege of mine.
It may be that the level of awareness, comfort, and overlap between the polyamorous community and the intersex/gender variant community varies from region to region or even group to group within a region, and Lola and I live in different parts of the world and may travel in different kinds of circles. Perhaps if I traveled around more I would find similar experiences as Lola did in recent months.
At one poly event, when a friend of mine brought up the struggles of women & gender variant individuals, and how – as poly activists, we need to mention and address these issues, she was condescended to by a fellow “poly activist” who told her that those people need to fight their own battles while we need to focus on poly struggles and poly issues.
I am in complete disagreement with this “poly activist” which Lola paraphrases here. This type of statement is another example of where the poly community needs to learn lessons from the gay community. I learned it through the atheist community, in a talk given by Greta Christina, where she talks about how the atheist community needs to learn from the mistakes of the gay community. (watch it, but perhaps after reading):
This larger fight for rights, recognition, etc for all of us weird, and even the not-so-wierd, people is the same fight. I stand for gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, cis, feminist, men’s (but no so much MRAs), atheist, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Pastafarian, polyamorous, monogamous, asexual, etc rights. I stand for human rights. Anyone who thinks that we are all fighting separate fights doesn’t see the larger picture, and ends up segregating and tribalizing us all.
Lola then addresses the issue of whether polyamory should be included in with the “Queer” umbrella, and even whether we should add a “P” to the LGBTQ “alphabet soup.” In some ways, I think that there are good arguments for this addition, but only because I have seen good overlap between the LGBT community and polyamory. But if what Lola is identifying here is true, then I think that the following is very well said.
And when I voice my concerns as a queer person, that adding “P” to an acronym built on backs and blood of beaten, raped, tortured, and slain individuals is insulting when, while polyamory is misunderstood, it has yet to be a death sentence – I’m told by individuals who have no concept of being queer that I’m being divisive and discriminatory. What sort of welcoming do queer people find in a community that tells them to keep their issues to themselves, unless of course heterosexuals want to co-opt their struggle?
This is a fantastic point. I don’t know the extent of the real distance between the poly community as a whole from the LGBTQ struggles, but if it tends towards being as far as Lola is claiming here, even if not everywhere, then I think that the poly community should back off trying to add a “P” here, at least until this issue is rectified.
So, thus far in the post I am in agreement with Lola. I think that ze has some wonderful things to say about some problems in the poly community, and while I hope her experiences are the rare exceptions, my more cynical nature doubts that it is. We poly people have work to do, surely.
So I keep reading. When Lola turns to race relations, I don’t expect to find this sentence;
To put it bluntly, being polyamorous may cause one to endure all manner of ignorant comments and may even threaten the custody or family lives of a few, but practicing polyamory is overwhelmingly a privilege.
Upon reading this, something pops in my brain. ‘huh?’ my inner-voice says. ‘did I just read that correctly?’ it continues. Now, I have never thought of polyamory as a position of privilege. To me, it seems that monogamy has the position of privilege, and polyamory is struggling against that privilege. But being aware that privileged people are blind, I keep reading.
Loving more than one person is a capability I believe all human beings have. But having the time, energy, and resources for more than one relationship is, without doubt, a privilege.
Ah! I see. This makes a bit of sense. I see where the argument is headed. The immediate point following this, then, is not surprising.
I see a lot of poly people online and offline wax poetic about polyamory being the next stage of human evolution, degrade and devalue monogamous people for their silly triflings; all the while ignoring that a working single mother barely has enough time for herself, let alone dating.
This is an interesting point. And no doubt the observation is largely true, but consider this. A common response to polyamory, from monogamous people, is that they simply don’t have the time or energy for another relationship. This is basically the same point, and I think it falls apart for similar reasons. Let me address it in two ways.
First, what I think is overlooked here is that some ways to approach polyamory may actually help this problem, rather than exacerbate it. I think the assumption here may be that the single mother (or father) may not have time for two relationships, let alone one. Sure, this is a problem. But what if that single mother/father found an existing couple, family, etc? What if they found themselves a support network which could make the work of raising a child a bit easier? That is one of the major strengths of polyamory, IMO.
Granted, this is an idealized solution to a tough situation, and the logistical problems in finding said support group is a challenge in itself. I was raised by a single mother, until I was eight or so, myself. And while my mother didn’t find a poly tribe, she found a support structure despite the hardship. Finding a poly support structure, if that is what she had been after, may not have been impossible or even very difficult (especially now that the internet exists) for a single mother.
The second point is that this argument is no more a problem for polyamory than it is for relationships in general. It’s like my mother (who apparently has a lot to do with this post) talking to me about why I, as a poly person, should not get married. All of her arguments turn into arguments against marriage itself, rather than arguments against me getting married while polyamorous.
The essential point here is that when one argues that polyamory is a privilege because doing it is hard, one might as well be arguing against having relationships at all. Having a tough life does not stop people from finding what they need and want, so if they are open to and prefer polyamory, they can find that as well as any monogamous single parent could.
These discussions about how advanced polyamory is and how much better we are at relationships and life come off to me as incredibly ignorant of the realities many face. There’s a difference between being happy in and of ourselves for what we have, and being arrogant and ignorant. I have the economic privilege and free time to date more than one person, but I haven’t always had that. And people who have to spend most of their time working to keep their head economically above the water may have little time for conventions and long discussions about compersion. Love is infinite. Time is not.
When I met my soon-to-be wife, I was unemployed, nearly homeless, recently abandoned in a city I barely knew (Atlanta), and emotionally wrecked. I was already pre-disposed to polyamory due to previous experiences, introspection, etc. My being polyamorous was not about going out on nice dates, spending tons of time with many people with whom I had long-term relationships, or even actually having any partners at all.
My being polyamorous was about not creating arbitrary and absurd rules, when starting or solidifying relationships, about being exclusive. It was merely about recognizing that my ability to love is not limited, and that anyone who will love me has to know that about me because I will not lie to myself by artificially being exclusive for the sake of some silly fears and insecurities. Being polyamorous is about being authentic to my actual desires and tendencies, not living la vita loca with wining and dining potential partners.
It was a declaration of true maturity, skepticism, and self-knowledge, not a declaration of wealth of time and money to do the dating game with two or more people.
Polyamory is not about doing what the hetero-normative, middle class, educated world does, but just more of it transparently. It’s about recognizing that we actually do love more than one person, and this happens whether we are dirt poor, middle class, or of the 1%. For me, it is a part of a larger project to be a better person than I was, than most people are, and who I would be if I hadn’t challenged myself to be better.
I am not better because I am polyamorous, but rather I am polyamorous, like Lola said, ’cause I’m better. Not better in the sense of having more money, time, or people in my life, but because I have done the real, hard, tedious work of improving my ability to be a better person, including when I didn’t have the privileged economic means, and for me that means being polyamorous.
In my view, polyamory is actually better, unless you accidentally become monogamous, than what the world tends to do with relationships. Am I smug? Damned right! Am I arrogant? I don’t think this pride is unwarranted, I think it’s earned.
And no, not everyone will be polyamorous, nor will all people have the capability to be so. Also, not everyone will be a skeptic, an atheist, a PhD, an expert, or even famous. This does not mean that we do not respect, fight for, and care for those who cannot climb such mountains, but it means that in some way we have achieved something that others cannot, or have not yet, achieved. We can encourage others to follow, but will not expect all to do so.
My privileges (and I have many; I’m white, educated, middle class in a very wealthy country, male, and certainly some others that I’m not thinking of right now) are not what make it possible for me to be polyamorous, but they do allow me to do polyamory in a more privileged way. This is the distinction that, I think, Lola is missing. It’s not that polyamory is a privilege, but doing polyamory in a certain way is a privilege.
But this privileged way of doing polyamory is no different than doing any type of relationship in a privileged way. Again, this line of reasoning does not point exclusively to polyamory, but also to any type of relationship which exists in a privileged world. There is a logical error of confusing a privileged way of doing polyamory with polyamory per se. Polyamory does not require a privilege to mount, it only requires an open and honest mind about how we love people, what we want, and how we communicate between those two things.
Finally, I want to deal with what Lola talks about near the end of the post. The discussion here is things like mental health, ableism, etc. Lola says:
Discussions that centre around shaming jealousy, or the assumption that security is a realistic goal for all, or that you need it in order to be “good at poly,” create an environment that encourages people with mental illness (and people without) to not only misjudge red flags and pangs they experience as jealousy but also encourage them to ignore those feelings for fear of being the “green eyed monster”. There’s little to no discussion around these assumptions unless it’s pointed out that insecurity could stem from mental illness, and no advice or acknowledgement on how exactly folks with mental illnesses are supposed to navigate poly situations.
I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder. If there are any MH issues which would be problematic with emotions, including jealousy and insecurity, BPD would be among the toughest to deal with.
I acknowledge that many people may not be able to do poly, for reasons of trauma, mental health issues, etc. Where “jealousy-shaming” actually exists, it needs to be confronted and eliminated. Jealousy is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to work through because it is unhealthy. We must be up-front with our personal struggles, and not be ashamed of them.
I think that Lola might be missing the distinction between shame and the frustration that comes with having to deal with something unwanted and pernicious, like jealousy (or faith, credulity, etc), which can cause emotional reactions such as shame. I have not seen much “jealousy-shaming,” but I have seen people bluntly proclaim that jealousy is an unhealthy attribute which we need to confront towards the goal of managing it maturely, honestly, and with aplomb. This is not shaming; this is asking people to deal with a difficult problem with things like maturity, courage, and lots of communication.
The experience of shame in response to such things is part of the problem, and it makes me wonder if the intent of people is always to shame, or if many times it is the interpretation of people who struggle with jealousy and are confronted about this. Shame, a Christian concept if ever there were one, is anti-human and festers beneath the psyche of many of us in the West due to the perpetuation of theologies which feed off of such unpleasant experiences. We need to be aware of that.
Jealousy, like faith, needs to be outgrown by our species for us to thrive in a future where we transcend the teenage years of our history. Not through shame, but by compassion, patience, and very good listening skills will we achieve such goals. We need to allow the love (the ‘-amory) to massage jealousy away a day, a word, or a touch at a time and encourage the best scientific methods to deal with the exacerbation of that problem for those with particular mental health struggles, just as people do in the monogamous world.
We don’t, after all, say that since many people struggle with violent tendencies we should, therefore, not confront and try to deal with people who have mental health issues which exacerbate those impulses because it causes shame. I know, from personal experience, that causing physical harm to people through violence brings shame, but that this response was mostly my responsibility.
I’m glad I realized that it was not shame, but motivation to be more healthy, was the intention of those confronting me. Otherwise, I might still be ashamed, rather than more healthy.
Near the end, Lola begins to sum up thoughts:
So, I have found the smug poly people. But it’s more than smugness. To me, smugness implies at the very least that there is something to be proud of, and you’re going the extra mile beyond being proud to being boastfully arrogant. This isn’t boastful arrogance, this is unchecked ignorance – and that is nothing, as a community, to be proud of. I see this problem in many communities, and I’m hoping that this is something that will change.
Well, maybe the community does not have anything to be proud of. Frankly, the community I have seen is small, unorganized, and struggles with all sorts of issues that differ from group to group. But this statement above goes further than I am willing to go. This, above, sounds like an attempt to shame.
I do hope that the polyamory community will continue to grow, evolve, and improve. But I think that many poly people have much to be proud of. I am proud of my accomplishments as a poly person, of our little group, and the thoughts that we have collected here at polyskeptic (we’re still quite young as a blogging group).
To sum up my own thoughts here which have gone long and long), I agree that issues with intersectionality need to be dealt with where they are a problem. I believe that education about what it means and how it affects us all are part of that solution. But I don’t agree that polyamory is privileged any more than any relationship is potentially privileged. I believe that Lola has committed a logical fallacy in arguing that poly is privileged because to do it in a privileged way is not possible for everyone. There are non-privileged ways to do polyamory, and many people are doing just that.
The Monogamy Delusion? March 29, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: atheism, atheist movement, Greta Christina, polyamory, relationships, religion
So, I just finished reading Greta Christina’s new book Why Are You Atheists So Angry: 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless (Kindle version), right after having met her after the Reason Rally, and I will briefly say that I recommend it as a great resource for both believer and heathen alike. It is a great read for anyone who does not quite understand why we get so fired up about religion and faith.
I use this as a premise for talking about goals of social movements, a question that Greta addresses in her book concerning the goals of the atheist movement specifically, and what this might have to teach the polyamory community. After watching the atheist movement grow and mature over the last 10 years or so, and given that I am usually thinking about polyamory, I inevitably will ask whether there will ever be a large, organized, coherent polyamory social movement.
And if there were, what would it look like?
As Greta talks about in her book, there are fundamental problems which the larger atheist community addresses through various means. There are the basic issues of confronting stereotypes, discrimination, and hatred of atheists. Such things range from moral, legal, and to philosophical issues and are fought for by both theists and atheists. There is also the front of the atheist community which actively responds to theistic claims, both to truth and socio-political access of levers of power (in the US, this is usually through Christian privilege), with counter arguments of varying levels of intensity. On the farther end is the ultimate goal of ridding the world—through persuasion—of religion. Greta and I share that goal.
With that in mind, what types of issues could a polyamory social movement address?
- are there fundamental cultural, legal, or philosophical problems which polyamory addresses?
- is there any real and significant discrimination against polyamorous people in the world? If so, is it primarily cultural or legal in nature?
- Would such a movement be essentially a struggle for equal rights or would it also include questions of truth, such as whether polyamory is the best model for relationships that all people should emulate? (I a thinking about that last point in terms of Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape)
I don’t have any definitive conclusions to these questions right now, nor do I think anyone does. I ask these questions to tease out some stark differences in the types of problems that the atheist community is dealing with from what the polyamory community has to deal with, whether it will become a larger social movement or not.
Will there ever be a poly equivalent to accommodationists?
In the atheist community, there are those whom like to argue that religion is worthy of respect, should not be criticized, and that there is much about religion that we should perpetuate, learn from, etc. I have addressed this question numerous times over the last few years, and will not say more than I disagree with this view. Strongly.
On the other side are people, like myself, who believe that religion is more harmful than not, untrue, and perpetuates the worst parts of our humanity; specifically faith. I will resist urge to rant about that here. Resistance is not always futile.
(In other words, urges to rant about faith can be countered with Star Trek references)
So, the question is whether this pattern holds for the polyamory community? Are there people who will argue that, for example, monogamy is more damaging than not? That monogamy cannot be a healthy relationship structure? Will people argue that polyamory is objectively better than non-polyamory? Will there, in short, be anti-monogamists? Not merely people who prefer polyamory, think it a better way to live given more options, but actually against the practice of monogamy as an irrational and delusional lifestyle? Will someone write a book called “The Monogamy Delusion”?
Again, not mere amonogamy–the lack of monogamy–but the active social activism against (through persuasion) the continuation of monogamy as a cultural practice.
(Some of you are thinking about Brave New World. Or, if you are uber-literate, you are thinking of WE.)
Now, I don’t doubt that there are a few people out there who might try to make such an argument. I’m sure that a rare poly bird out there, or a few, will argue that monogamy is fundamentally wrong, irrational, and possibly a bowing to the worst instincts of humanity; things like jealousy, social conformity, and living against one’s true desires (living inauthentically).
And on some points, I will agree with such people. I might, in fact, agree with many of the points they will make, and make some of those points myself. But despite this affinity for such arguments, I am not, at least not right now, one of those people who will make such an argument. And I want to explain why.
Theism v. monogamy
Theism is a hypothesis about the world, specifically the existence of some supernatural being commonly referred to as a deity, god, etc. It makes a specific claim which is either testable or untestable. If it is testable, it has not survived skeptical/scientific analysis so far, and does not appear as f it will ever pass such a standard. If it is not testable, it is a worthless hypothesis and should be thrown out on those merits alone. Atheism is the lack of that hypothesis, whether made out of ignorance or through informed analysis, and the arguments it makes are in response to a proposition of how the world is.
Monogamy is a relationship style based upon sexual (and usually romantic) exclusivity between two people. It is the lifestyle of having one lover, sometimes a spouse, at least at a time but possibly life-long. It is not a hypothesis about the world, but it is a…choice? (is it really always a choice, given how many people are not even aware of alternatives? A question for another post!). In any case, monogamy is a structure of one’s relationship, rather than a claim about reality.
What is the significance of this distinction? Essentially, it is the fact that polyamory is not a reaction to monogamy in the same way that atheism is a reaction to theism. A polyamorous advocate could say something like “this is a better lifestyle for my wants and needs, and it may be better for you” and not “your lifestyle is objectively unproven to be best, true, and so your lifestyle is objectively wrong and you should give it up.” Polyamory is not a reaction against a claim to objective truth, as atheism is. Polyamory has a relationship, and not always an antagonistic one, to a traditional cultural ideal of monogamy (traditional in much of the world, but certainly not all of it) that feels unnatural to many people.
To clarify the distinction between these two issues, let me ask two questions:
- Is it reasonable to consider all of the arguments for and against theism and rationally come out a theist?
- Is it reasonable to consider all of the arguments for and against monogamy and rationally come out monogamous?
In terms of (1), there are no good arguments for any gods’ existence, so any skeptic should become an atheist if they properly apply their skepticism to the question of gods. As for (2), there are people who will, upon honest reflection, discussion, and consideration with their partner, find that they both are actually quite happy, satisfied, and feel no desire to be with other people sexually/romantically. Those people will be what I call “accidentally monogamous.” They have seriously considered whether they would want other people in their sexual/romantic life and have concluded that they need no rule about exclusivity but will end up living a monogamous lifestyle, for all practical purposes.
And before anyone thinks to point this out, I admit having argued that a true skeptic should be polyamorous, but I have also argued that monogamy is legitimately rational as a needs-securing lifestyle for at least some people. To be clear, my view is that polyamory (not having an exclusivity rule) should be the starting position for all relationships, and monogamy is subsequently only fully rational if, and only if (iff), that is what both people actually, authentically, want with each other. Which means that they would need no rule arguing for exclusivity, because doing so would be redundant because neither is actually interested in pursuing other people.
Wes would probably say that this lack of a need for an exclusivity rule is coterminous with polyamory, and I tend to agree. But I think there is room for debate here about the definition of polyamory, so I am allowing that room in my analysis here. My views may change in the future, in that I may completely adopt his definition as being sufficient for polyamory. The consequence of this would be that I might then conclude that all monogamy, unless it is reached “accidentally,” would be irrational and possibly harmful.
I’m not there right now.
The conclusion from all of this, as I see it, is that any movement to advance polyamory culturally, socially, or politically will probably be limited to providing information, legal and philosophical challenges, and the decreasing of any discrimination which polyamorous people experience or are legitimately worried about.
I don’t see a strong argument, parallel to atheism’s arguments against theism, religion, and faith, against monogamy. I see arguments for being polyamorous, but that is not precisely the same thing as being against all monogamy.
There will be people who want to get rid of monogamy, and I will want to hear their arguments why they think we should strive for that (as I would hope atheist accommodationists should want to actually read new/gnu atheist arguments. I’m looking at you, Julian Baggini!). But for now, I don’t see much room for a “new/gnu poly” movement. But I suppose only time will tell.
If anyone feels I am being to accommodating to monogamy, I’m open to arguments.