Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Thursday, September 29, 2011

For the record.

Blog note: First, I need to apologize. Sort of. This post does not really fit in with the usual topics here at Seldon's Gate. It has precious little to do with peak oil, sustainable living, or the politics of collapse. It is, however, part of my story, and one thing I've picked up from social justice blogging is that our stories, as individuals, matter as much in the long run as the sweeping strokes of history. And as I'm coming out today, I'm using every forum, every website, where I have a voice. What I'm about to tell you is part of why I got into this project; you see, protecting and maintaining social progress in the coming storm is deeply, personally relevant to me, and that's why I am here.

For the record:

I am polyamorous.

I seek and maintain close romantic and sexual relationships with multiple people simultaneously.

I am married. I am happy.

I debated for some time about writing this. Not because I feel any shame whatsoever, or even because it involved revealing some great secret in my life; most people who know me me more than casually for more than a couple of weeks figure it out, because I am not circumspect.

Rather, I worried about being ostentatious. I worried that coming out, even adopting that term for it, would be throwing my privilege in the faces of people who have faced and fought far more vicious and focused backlash than I ever have, or really expect to. I worried that this post is unneccessarily flaunting personal information in the view of those whose business it really isn't and whose interest has not been expressed. I didn't want to confront people with something that would make them uncomfortable, or would come across as TMI. I worried that I would be perceived, perhaps even rightly, as being desirous of attention, or worse, being seen as advocating my "lifestyle," of trying to win "converts."

So I sat on it, for a long time, long after I had decided to stop hiding this thing about myself. Because I WAS hiding it, for a while, more out of habit than anything. While polyamorists face much less in the way of direct persecution than LGBTQ folk, or any number of other marginalized groups, "less" does not mean "none." If nothing else, I was worried about my family's reaction to it, although that's all water under the bridge now (you sometimes find support and condemnation where you least expect it). I was also planning on having kids, once upon a time, and raising one's children free of harrassment is very difficult for the openly polyamorous. In many precincts, an encounter with social services is as dangerous for poly folk as queer folk, and given how easy it is to hide being poly (particularly when you live with a single partner, rather than several), I was reticent to lay that landmine in our path. I will admit that when my partner and I decided not to have children, it made the decision to publicly declare my polyamory quite a bit easier.

So why am I finally doing this?

Visibility. Because I am hopeful that social and legal recognition of polyamorous relationships is more likely now than it has ever been. Despite the squealing and gnashing of teeth from the dinosaurs on the American Right, we live in a society where more and more municipalities recognize gay marriage; where increasing numbers of people are eschewing the traditional family model of "marry young, have many children" in favor of lifestyles and relationship modes that actually meet their needs, and those of their partners. More and more people are "backing into" polyamory, as the much dreaded "hook-up culture" of casual and friendly sex leads many to openly question why emotional intimacy cannot be shared as easily as physical. In this environment of questioning and exploration, I think it's of crtical importance that people know that the traditional model of relationships, serial monogamy, is not the only model, nor necessarily the best. It works just fine for many people I know, and that's gravy! Again, I'm not here to win converts. But living in a free society means having choices, and having choices means knowing your alternatives.

So now that the cat is out of the bag, as it were, some of you reading this may have some questions. There are lots and lots of good resources about polyamory on teh intarwebz, but I thought I would address some of the specific questions I've personally received over the years.

1.) What do you mean by "polyamory?" Aren't you basically cheating on your wife?

"Polyamory" means many things to many people, but to me it is essentially a brand of ethical non-monogamy. Practicing it means that people I have relationships with know, explicitly, that they don't have a monopoly on my emotional energies, that I am free to engage in relationships with others, and THEY ARE COOL WITH THIS. The ethical part means that everyone I am involved with knows everything about my romantic life; all of my partners know of each other, and I am explicit and careful in my communications about expectations, whether that's making sure everyone knows that my relationship with Jillian (my "primary" partner) is central to my life and has to take priority sometimes, or that using safer sex practices is not optional with me. Because everyone is fully informed and enthusiastically consenting, no vows or agreements are being broken and thus no cheating is going on.

2.) And Jillian is cool with this?

Yes, she is. She's also enthusiastic about me writing this post, which was really important for me to be sure of because I'm necessarily outing her as a polyamorist, as well. In fact, we met in a polyamorous framework; we were introduced by my girlfriend in 2005, and started dating with her blessing. The idea that I could explore a new and exciting connection with someone, without being forced to abandon an extant relationship that had nothing wrong with it, was revolutionary and game-changing for me. So Jillian and I have been poly from the very beginning.

3.) Is this a sign that your relationship is on the rocks?

Sometimes I'm asked if we opened our relationship to "save" it; read any dating and sex advice column and you'll read letters from people in monogamous relationships who, faced with some fundemental sexual incompatability, consider opening their relationship sexually as a solution. I actually think that can be a pretty bad idea, as changing the fundemental structure of a committed relationship when everyone is under stress rarely ends well. As I said above, Jillian and I have ALWAYS been poly, so far from being a desparate attempt to save a weakening relationship, the fact that we've been together for six years, and married for three, in that context says something about our committment to one another.

4.) Why can't you REALLY commit to each other?

This one is from the family. I'm frequently confronted with the idea that I'm not really committed to my partner at all, since I date and sleep with other people. If I REALLY loved her, the narrative goes, I would save my emotional (and, perhaps most importantly, sexual) energies exclusively for her.


Honestly, I'm a little peeved that main stream culture thinks of "commitment" purely as "not banging other people." I would think more important signs of committment are unwavering emotional support in times of crisis, financial partnership as we seek to attain our goals, and an explicit unity of life plans that will see us living together and striving for the same things for the rest of our lives. I see myself growing old and dying next to this person, and should fortune favor me that is exactly what I intend to do. The constant insinuation that this is negated by my going out dancing and having a bit of a snog with someone else now and again is as ridiculous as it is infuriating. The fact that Jillian and I aren't "faithful" isn't a sign of our lack of regard for each other, but rather our lack of regard for a values system that is meaningless to both of us. I consistently consider my partner's needs before my own, and that is as committed as you get.

5.) So, you're just slutty, then?

Well, I wouldn't say JUST slutty. ahem But no, I'm not. While some of my sexual relationships are less romantically intense than others, the emphasis of polyamory is more emotional than sexual. I take all of my relationships seriously, and even most of my "casual" relationships had a strong emotional component before there was a sexual one, and if it wasn't there before, it developed soon after. I'm no "sluttier" than any single person in our society who dates regularly and has an active social life. Indeed, since I am not limited to a single partner, and am emotionally and sexually fulfilled, I'm probably a bit more cautious and selective in my dating than someone who is looking desparately for a new relationship so they can GET LAID OMG.

Those are the most common questions I hear, but it is by no means a comprehensive list. I want to emphasize that I'm writing this post to answer questions. I'm explicitly trying to raise the profile of polyamory as a valid and legitimate relationship model, so I'm more than happy to talk about it and answer questions about it, anytime it's appropriate to do so. If you're reading this, you know someone who is poly, and look, I only have one head!

It's a start.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What an incredible post, thank you for writing it and sharing it.

    I think posts like this one are perfectly within the purview of this blog, for the reason you mentioned: preparing for future collapse means trying to identify present cultural values worth saving.

    Like in your post on feminism from a few months ago, you've done a fantastic job here of illustrating and advocating a major value that should prevail in any future, post-carbon society. Whatever that society ends up being, it should continue our imperfect, lurching, uncertain evolution toward believing in, and practicing, respect for tolerance and diversity and human dignity. In a future society, people should be even more free than they are now to live without fear of discrimination based on their sexual practices, race, gender, and lots of other things that cause absolutely no harm to anyone else.

    By writing this piece, you've helped bring that future just a little bit closer. Just by being open about who you are, and explaining so clearly and eloquently why polyamory is a perfectly healthy approach to love, sex, commitment, social interaction, and overall emotional well being. I've heard and read a little bit about it over the years, but never seen it all laid out so well. You should try to find a venue with a wider readership for this or a version of this.

    Another thing that struck me. So many of the non-poly, mainstream couple relationships I know about seem unhappy, or at best kind of blah and resigned. The contrast with what you and Jillian have is quite striking. Not that I compiled a large sample size or applied rigorous statistical methods to it, but still.

    My overall impression, over the course of a lifetime, is that romantic relationships in modern societies are most often empty, barren, meaningless wastelands, trapping people like inmates in their own private emotional hell.

    The good life in the U.S. is exemplified by suburbia-exurbia, with its ideal life of well-paying white collar jobs and perfect nuclear families, which all starts with finding an intimate partner. Which most respectable would be middle class and upwardly mobile people do, sometime in their twenties, as they get their degree and set out for a life in office cubicle land. Over time, it seems to me, the early dream of a happy life with someone turns, for most Americans, into bitterness, boredom, resentment, anxiety, various forms of abuse, emotional game playing, corrosive financial worries, and all sorts of unpleasantness stemming from their unquestioning attachment to The Conventional Relationship, and to all it implies economically and socially. Which, in practice, means the emotional equivalent of a living death.

    Such are my half formed rambling thoughts as I head off exhausted, post-studying, to bed. Thank you again for writing this. Hope you guys are well.