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In response to the Monogamous Bisexual September 24, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I am watching this video put up by Dan Fincke, which is a discussion about bisexuality amoung other things, and I am particularly interested in the point made by Eponymous Fliponymous about being monogamous and bisexual.  When I first saw the post about this issue a few days ago, I was unable to write anything because I was out of state and I subsequently got distracted by other things (ie Guild Wars 2) and forgot about writing about this.

Eponymous Fliponymous (henceforth Patrick) makes some good points, and I don’t think we would disagree too much, but I want to address something he said in the conversation that irked me a little bit.  But first, let’s cover what is being discussed in context.  From the post:

Several of the myths about bisexuality come from the common root that we are defined by our partners.  This misconception is a direct cause of bisexual invisibility, and is frequently compounded into erasure.  The common myths that come directly or indirectly from this include
1) Bisexuals are incapable of monogamy – they will cheat on you with another gender, can’t be satisfied with one partner, aren’t really bisexual if they aren’t polyamorous.

2) Bisexuality is a transitional phase rather than a stable identity – bi now, gay later.

And this is, of course, true.  To be bisexual does not imply that one would have to be polyamorous.  I would guess that many bisexual people are monamorous, if not monogamous, and it is true (as Patrick says) that it is harder to visibly be bisexual when in a relationship with one person; you appear as either heterosexual or homosexual in most circumstances.  Thus, many people would have trouble understanding what it means to be bisexual if you are not doing some sort of non-monogamy, since people do assume that our sexual orientation implies something about who we date, and monogamy certainly does cut out about half the population for bisexual people.  What I want to address, today, is why this question does not make any sense for more than the reasons that Patrick adeptly dealt with.  Because while he is dead on correct that you can be monogamous and be bisexual, I think the question still remains how this is different than asking how anyone can be monogamous even while heterosexual or homosexual.

Before we get to making that point, however, let me acknowledge that Patrick is not dealing with polyamory directly in his post.

Polyamorous bisexuals would seem to be able to make their bisexuality more visible.  This is debatable, because what they make visible by walking down the street tends to be myths about polyamory rather than about bisexuality.  In any case, polyamory isn’t my subject here. I leave that to the polyamorous, who while they certainly represent a significant segment of the LGBT population, don’t by any means represent everybody.

Very well, so here I am.  And while I define myself as heterosexual, I am close with people who are queer, trans, etc and so I know the LGBT community fairly well.  In any case, I am glad to hear that Patrick made an attempt at polyamory, but did not find it suited him.

In those early heady days of blooming sexuality, I experimented with polyamorous options, but quickly found that was not the path that works for me.  On an emotional and romantic level, monogamy suits me best. I’m one of those people who wants the intimacy and mutual trust that I can best develop in a dyadic relationship.

Now, I have some questions about what he means when he says that monogamy suits him emotionally and romantically.  I have an idea that very few people actually desire monogamy per se, but rather don’t prefer to exert the effort it takes to be polyamorous due to constraints of time, inclination, or emotional insecurities (jealousy, for example).  But I will let that go and trust him at his word that he has given this question thought and has made a rational choice.  What I will say is I think it is a myth that a dyadic relationship allows intimacy and mutual trust that a polyamorous arrangement cannot.  Perhaps Patrick (and many others) cannot develop that level of intimacy with two people, but that does not make it inherently impossible.  (I know that was not what he said, but I wanted to address this myth about polyamory).

Again, I’m glad we have more allies out there.

Nothing against polyamory – if it works for you, it works for you, and I’m the last person to judge you for it, whether your polyamory expresses itself as multiple dyads, a triad, a group arrangement with or without in-group exclusivity, gay, straight, or bi, it just doesn’t bother me.  The only reason I bring it up is that while I have (ultimately unsuccessful) polyamory in my history, it doesn’t make me poly.

Agreed.  And the rest of the post is a good assessment of the myths associated with bisexuality.

So where is my issue?

Watch the segment of this video from about 11:30 to about the 13 minute mark.  There is more relevant discussion beyond that (say, until around minute 16 or so), but that’s the essential part I want to address.

Dan Fincke is asking Patrick about whether there is something missing in being monogamous, in that there is a large segment of the population he’s attracted to which he does not have an outlet for.  He’s essentially being asked if he misses men in his sexual and romantic life.  Patrick’s response is to draw an analogy between hair color and gender.  He basically says that in the same way that his wife has brown hair, and he likes red heads, he isn’t going around lamenting the lack of red heads in his life.  This might seem to be a good point, at first glance, but let me address why I think it fails to make the point I think it sets out to make.

One of the reasons I am polyamorous is because I want to be authentic with the range of my sexuality.  And the simple fact is that I like women of various personalities, physical attributes, etc.  That is, I like red heads and I like brunettes.  As well as black hair.  Not so much blondes, historically.  I like petite curvy women.  I like tallish skinny girls.  I like other body-types as well, but the point is that I am interested in relationships, whether sexual, romantic, or friendships, with people of various kinds.  The point is that I recognize the reality that I am attracted to people, almost always women but sometimes those who gender-bend catch my interest as well, of varying shapes, sizes, and brains.  And I don’t understand why it is considered better to choose one person to be with, since that is the case.

So, Patrick’s analogy not only fell flat for me, but it seems to actually backfire from my perspective.  Patrick being bisexual, at least in the context of this question about polyamory, is equally as relevant as my being attracted to many women, so I am confused how this point he makes is supposed to make any point at all.  The same problem which needs to be addressed by monogamous heterosexual or homosexual people about why they choose monoamory is equally as relevant as with bisexuals.

That is, the issue with polyamory is no more relevant for bisexuals than it is for anyone else, since whether one is bisexual or not, people are actually interested in more than one person sexually and romantically.  (I’ll grant that some very small segment of people may be interested in nobody, and some larger, but also small segment, genuinely interested in only one person, but the overwhelming majority, I’d wager, are potentially polyamorous in inclination at least).  The question, therefore, is not how a bisexual person can be monoamorous and still really be bisexual any more than how any person of any orientation can be monoamorous and really be authentically, fully, sexual.

If (as is the thinking behind the question posed by Dan in the video) a bisexual man, married to a woman, is cutting himself off from part of his sexuality by not being with men, then not only is he also cutting himself off from other women besides his wife, but so is every other heterosexual or bisexual married man in the same situation.  If it’s a problem for bisexuals, then it is a problem for anyone who is attracted, whether romantically and/or sexually, to more than one person.  Because yes, Patrick may desire sex and/or romance with men, but this is no more to the point than a heterosexual person is capable of sexual and romantic interest in two or more people.  Patrick is in the same exact circumstance as any other monoamorous person, in terms of polyamory.  His bisexuality does not make him more relevant to non-monogamy.  The question of if we are cutting off our sexuality is true for all people who do not choose non-monogamy.

So, I agree with Patrick that this myth about bisexuality and non-monogamy is something which needs to be addressed.  I was just somewhat interested in his analogy, since it does not solve the problem so much as it misses another one; why not polyamory?

I know many people are not interested in the work it takes to be successfully polyamorous, but at bottom the same question applies to everyone as it does to bisexual people; if you are attracted to more than one (type of) person (irregardless of their genders), then why wouldn’t you want to do the work to be able to love (or lust openly for) all the people you desire, as you actually desire them, rather than arbitrarily cut yourself off from sex, romance, etc?

I understand if you don’t actually have the time or inclination to do such work, but otherwise why be so conservative sexually and romantically?

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Comments»

1. Lily - September 24, 2012

I don’t think the issue is “Why not polyamory?” but the fact that some people think that bisexuals aren’t capable of monogamy.

As a bisexual it’s not fun having people invalidate me for any form of relationship I might choose to have, including a monogamous one.

2. shaunphilly - September 24, 2012

@Lily,

I know. My point was that the assumptions behind that idea are equally valid for any person, so the idea falls flat as a question posed to bisexual people per se.

The point is that the very basis for thinking a bisexual person could not be monogamous are actually the same for any person. Bisexual people are attracted to more than one type of person, so monogamy can’t fit them (is the idea). But the fact is that everyone has this issue, but people don’t see that being attracted to two (types of) women (or men) is the same problem for monogamous hetero/homosexuals.

It was an attempt to expose hidden assumptions about the nature of attraction and monogamy by showing that the problem of bisexuality in terms of monogamy is equally true for non-bisexual (or pansexual) people as well.

3. fliponymous - September 24, 2012

Hi shaunphilly! I’m glad you took the time to address this. I agree that my analogy may have seemed weak when looked at in a broader context of polyamory.

As a fundamentally monogamous person who is happiest in a lockstepped, exclusive, intense romantic and erotic relationship with one other person, I find I am more qualified to address the specific myth that all bisexuals are poly rather than examine the larger issue of monogamy/polyamory. In my own case, I found out the hard way that if I am involved in multiple romantic/erotic relationships, everyone gets hurt, including me, and my life is complex enough as it is without increasing the number of intimate relationships I have to manage. It is as difficult for me to explain why monogamy works so well for me as it would be to explain why some polyamorous people are comfortable with groups while others restrict their relationships to multiple separate couples or a stable triad or quartet.

There may be a large number of people who are not only potentially but actually polyamorous. There are also a large number of people who for one reason or another have made an internal commitment to only One other (in actuality — fantasy is another matter entirely), and many of them are bisexual.

Suggestions for a better analogy would certainly be welcome — my answer to Dan was a bit of a canned answer, one I use in Bi 101 presentations, as it wasn’t a question I had prepared to deal with at that time.

I don’t believe monogamy is superior to polyamory, or vice versa. You could potentially make a case that monogamy is simply a special case of polyamory — especially serial monogamy, as this isn’t my first relationship! — but in the end, even polyamorous people exercise selectivity in their partners. For my relationship with my wife, the boundaries that we are comfortable with were clearly negotiated in the early days of our relationship, and it happened that we’re both more comfortable lockstepped.

4. shaunphilly - September 24, 2012

@fliponymous,

Well, thanks for stopping in and clarifying a bit. As I assumed, we agree pretty much completely. And I will add that I fully agree that monoamory is a sub-set of polyamory (I wrote a whole post about that once).

I’m always curious what happens when people try polyamory and then end up monogamous. In some cases, it seems like it’s a matter of people conflating a failed relationship with a failed relationship style, but your brief description leads me to believe that your situation is not so simple as that.

In any case, I’m always glad to have allies out there. Pleasure meeting you, even if it’s only in cyberspace.

5. tlcoles - October 2, 2012

Since we’re dispelling myths, I’d like to address the big one here: it doesn’t take any more special powers to successfully negotiate two relationships than it does to negotiate one. Are people with several friends seen as having special powers of communication because they have more than one best friend? Nope. And why? Because anyone who behaves like they can have only one friend in the world — just one to whom they should devote all their loving friendship, admiration, and expectations — would be considered bat-shit crazy and ready for a long-term relationship with a therapist regarding their co-dependent “issues.”

You’re naturally poly, not naturally mono, dear humans. That includes you, freaked out bisexual who’s afraid of appearing naturally unfaithful. You are. Congratulations!

Get this through your queer or straight brains: Your success in managing love, friendship, and kinship can be readily learned as soon as you let go of “the crazy” that says you couldn’t possibly have a heart big enough to manage it. You’ll be as successful (or as poor at it) as you are at loving two parents, loving four grandparents, loving five kids, loving your dog AND your cat AND your parakeets, and your nieces, nephews, and their parents, grandparents, kids, and pets.

Welcome to the human family.


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