Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.
UPDATE: Dan Savage quotes me in Slog
From the latest Savage Love:
Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. There’s no such thing as a person who is “a poly,” just as there’s no such thing as a person who is “a monogamous.” Polyamorous and monogamous are adjectives, not nouns. There are only people—gay, straight, bi—and some people are in monogamous relationships, some are in open relationships, some are in polyamorous relationships, some are in monogamish relationships, some are in four-star-general relationships. These are relationship models, PP, not sexual identities.
As I’ve been saying for a while, polyamory is not a sexual orientation:
There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.
Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.
A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.
Sounds like at least one high-profile member of the GLBT community doesn’t like the comparison any more than I do.
15 thoughts on “Dan Savage Agrees With Me!”
I agree too. The wide variety of human experience should not be polarized as a set group of identies. Monogamy is simply just one of many ways to approach them.
I agree that poly is not a sexual orientation, for all the reasons outlined above. However, I think that Savage goes too far when he implies that poly is not an identity. I am a polyamorous gay man; both “polyamorous” and “gay” describe my identity. It’s for this reason that, while I don’t like the false equivalency between relationship orientation and sexual orientation, I still see it as an orientation.
I’ll put it this way. I’m wired to think and behave in a polyamorous fashion. I’m also wired to think and behave in a homosexual fashion. These exist on totally separate spectra, but both are parts of my identity.
I’m with Dave- being polyamorous is as important to my identity as being queer and being kinky. I was monogamous for over a decade and it was a terrible fit for me- becoming poly felt as right and as important as when I (finally) admitted I was bi and came out. Sexuality, love, intimacy, they’re fucking complicated; saying that being poly is “something you do” is incomplete and overly simplistic. I’m still queer even if I don’t have my fingers inside someone else’s vagina, I’m still poly even though I’m currently totally single (which is weird, but that’s another story), I’m still a sub even though it’s been FAR too long since I’ve played. For some people sex, sexuality, gender identity, romantic behavior, relationship status and related “stuff” is an important part of their identity, for others it isn’t. I love me some Dan Savage, but sometimes he really misses the mark- for me this is one of those times.
Hmmm. I don’t care about the word “orientation”, but the fact is some people are incapable of being happy without being polyamorous. For instance, perhaps rejecting a potential new relationship because of a prior “exclusivity agreement” is just something they cannot live with.
And I think that’s what the opposition to Dan Savage’s statement is about. “Orientation” and “identity” are being used as a shorthand for “I can’t change this, this is a fundamental part of my being, denying this will ruin my life.” And if that’s what’s meant by it — then for some peope, it’s an orientation or an identity. There are, shall I say, people who are “obligate poly”; some people are “optionally poly” but others are *not*.
Anything can be part of an identity. “Blogger” could be part of my identity if I so chose. It still indicates something that I do. If I stop blogging, I cease to be a blogger, no matter what my self-conception is. To the extent Savage indicated otherwise (though I don’t necessarily think he did), I disagree. Yes, some people’s only route to happiness is through polyamory. They still have to choose to do it.
Some people can only be happy if they are acting in plays and movies. Those people do not have a career or lifestyle orientation. They have a thing that they need to do. We don’t use the word “orientation” to describe something that someone needs to be happy. We use the word “need” for that. In a sex & relationship context, the only thing that people use the word “orientation” for is to indicate a sexual orientation. People who call polyamory a “relationship orientation” or some other half-term are only doing so to attempt to draw parallels between polyamory and a sexual orientation, which, for the reasons stated above, I think is bullshit.
If you want to say that you were born poly, and you can’t be happy unless you’re poly, just say that. Don’t try to draw a false equivalence between your relationship style and other people’s sexual orientation. It’s not the same thing.
So by your logic, if a person who identifies/has a self-conception as poly is single, is that person still poly? (Actual question, not meant to be snarky although it probably sounds like I am.)
Sure! I said in the original post that I favor a definition of polyamorous that includes “a single person who intends to have only polyamorous relationships in the future.”
But the question I keep asking myself is *why* isn’t it the same thing? Is it good to have sexuality be something that gets special treatment and gets to exist outside of the box? Groups being marginalized for their consensual desires should be able to identify with that need or they shouldn’t. I get that there are some unique issues with gay rights, but as they become mainstreamed into our culture, what’s the advantage of closing the door to others?
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