polyamorous is not a noun

A couple of years ago I had a polyamorous relationship with someone who is just about as geeky as me. We would have long conversations about cocks and sex and polyamory. This was my first poly experience and I had a bit of trouble with it. I continually struggled with the question of whether or not I was jealous of their existing relationship and how I felt about having sex with someone who had just been with their other lover. It was an experiment. After we broke up, I thought that it hadn’t worked because I was a monogamous person.

When I said to a friend that I wanted to talk to her about my relationship because she is a polyamorous person, she said, well, I’m not polyamorous, I prefer to be in polyamorous relationships. Which made me realise that I had been using polyamorous and monogamous as nouns. As though to be polyamorous or monogamous are faits accomplis; something inherent to who you are.

“I find the assumption that someone else knows more about my sexuality than I do offensive”

This idea of polyamorous as something definite and fixed scared me away from exploring poly relationships after our break-up. I assumed that polyamory was just something that some people were, a fixed identity. And how can I challenge that?  This concept of poly as something inherent made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to explore relationships on an individual basis. It made it sound like people have a singular sexuality, relationships have fixed dynamics and this is just how it is. Another opposition for me to deal with. Male/female, straight/queer, polyamorous/monogamous.

I have a bit of a problem with binaries.

As I said in the comments on last week’s post, I have got the very strong impression from fellow queers that my desire to be monogamous means there there is something wrong with me. That I haven’t worked out my issues. Some of the zines and books I have read on poly suggest the same thing; jealousy comes from insecurities and our natural sexual state as humans is to be polyamorous. If you just worked your shit out then you would be happy being poly. And while I acknowledge that some people are happiest being poly, I find the assumption that someone else knows more about my sexuality than I do a little bit offensive. A friend of mine recently said to me, ‘I really want to be in a monogamous relationship but I know that’s because I’ve been brainwashed. I know it’s my problem.’ Actually, no, wanting to be monogamous is not a problem. It doesn’t make you, her or me any less feminist, sane or intelligent. It is a legitimate desire.

“Why would I want to change myself in order to live up to someone else’s sexual standard?”

I have begun to notice that when I meet people they assume things about me. A lot of people think that I will be into BDSM, even though I’ve never had a conversation with them about this. ‘Did I see you at the Easter Conference? Were you at that sex party? Want to come to my bondage class?’ Even as a kinky person who is into BDSM, this assumption jars with me. Because it seems to come from this idea that kinky is the cool thing to be. It equates being queer with being kinky in the same way as some people call poly ‘natural.’ Queers are kinky, queers are poly. In fact, I wonder if my recent exploration of my attraction to hetero cis men comes from an assumption that as straight dudes they will not want to be poly!

I have this problem where I try to please other people, even at the cost of putting my own needs second. I want to fit in with the crowd and I want people to like me. People assume I will want to go to sex parties, that I will be into BDSM and polyamorous. I think that I am most comfortable in monogamous relationships. These are the kinds of relationships that I have always wanted. Why would I want to change myself in order to live up to someone else’s sexual standard? Surely the right to own our sexuality has to include the right to not have sex, the right to be vanilla and the right to be in monogamous relationships. As a group that consciously explores questions around gender, sex and relationships, we queers think a lot about the implications of our sexual behaviour and the relationships we form. And as a feminist and someone who is a little bit obsessed with gender, I find this exciting and important. However, we can’t dictate what is right for other people. My understanding of queer has always been that it is an ‘umbrella’ term that includes various genders and sexualities. Maybe it’s human nature to form group norms, to decide what is and isn’t cool and judge people accordingly. But I would like us to go back to this old school meaning: queer is whatever you want it to be. I don’t want to be cool anymore.

Coming soon: ‘tits and tassles part 2: i’ll show you mine’

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21 thoughts on “polyamorous is not a noun

  1. Pingback: i don’t want to have sex « Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist

  2. Another fantastic piece here 🙂 I don’t agree 100% with everything but hey, that’s the idea.

    First of all, I want to direct you to my article, ‘Polyamorous Ponderings’ published in RAG #5 last year, in case that’s available for you to get somewhere in berlinia. The short story is: I like being poly but I am sick to death of the idea that, for anarchists, feminists and queers, polyamory is ‘the’ radical option, ie, you’re not a ‘true radical’ (whatever that means!) if you’re not poly. And I, as a poly person, am choosing to challenge that idea.

    I largely agree with everything you say, except with the bit about ‘polyamorous’ not being a noun or an identity. I am with you in terms of relationships being fluid, relationship arrangements not needing to be constrained necessarily under a mono/poly binary. Totally! However, some people do identify strongly as polyamorous. I know I do, it’s something that feels right to me in the relationships I have. On the other hand, after being out as poly for a couple of years, last winter I was in a monogamous relationship. It was an all-cards-on-the-table affair, where both me and my then partner knew what the score was.

    I also feel that nobody is, inherently, anything (when people ask me what gender I was assigned at birth, I just respond ‘I came into the world like everyone else, kicking and screaming’). But just using polyamorous as an identity signifier doesn’t necessarily preclude things anymore than identifying as female or a lesbian does. At least, to me.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey Jell O’Fish! I pretty much agree with everything you write here too. This whole poly=radical kudos thing is kinda ridiculous. A friend reported to me that at a talk by this well-known poly leader guy in Berlin, members of the audience asked him what was ‘the most politically correct relationship’ they could have!

      I don’t think I can easily find RAG in Berlinia – wanna email me your article from your, like, digital copy on your computer? It’s so 2011. X

      1. Ach, for the days when we were a bit more on top of things with distribution! I remember seeing a copy of RAG #2 in Kopi in 2008, heh.

        I’ll try and find the article and send it to you.

  3. Yes, and this is the other thing! Many mono folks that have never tried poly seem to have the idea that it is this fixed thing. It’s not! There are many many configurations.

    On the other hand, many of the ‘the only way to be radical is to be poly’ folk work on the VERY erroneous assumption that all monogamous relationships are inherently oppressive. I understand that being a reaction to compulsory monogamy, to heteronormative standards trying to make people into a specific mould, but a bit of NUANCE in people that are politically active in gender and sexuality issues would be welcome!

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      I agree, and on a side note, I find the use of the word ‘mono’ as a short version of monogamy hilarious. For North Americans mono is glandular fever.

  4. ponderer

    out of interest, jell o’fish, and i hope with clear respect : when you were in the monogamous relationship you refer to, did you still identify as a poly person? there is not reason why you shouldn’t have, but i am curious how that worked for you.

  5. well, I’ll just come out with it, I am the geeky lover mentioned 8) From my perspective, i did describe myself as polyamourous at that time, and yes there was a sense of groundedness or fixity to that, but I this was, i feel, to do more with the fact that I had a relationship commitment to someone else at the time- i identified, in a fixed way, *with my relationship with the other person* and the commitments I had to them, rather than with my seeing myself as poly or mono in a fixed way, which I think is what your post is about. Now that I am single everything has been shaken up in the air, and while its quite likely that I will want to be poly next time round, I think, it could be a different configuration of poly— because there are many types of poly, too!

  6. Another awesome piece of writing by you – I like! 🙂

    For me, it’s still difficult whether I’d identify as poly or not. My first real relationship was a ménage à trois which just happened to evolve. It was great but didn’t last long as we all moved away after a very short time… so I could never tell if it could have *really* worked out (we’ve been together less than 4 months).

    Still, this is where I heard the word “polyamorous” for the first time, and it kinda hit me that this is how I’ve always felt: I *always* am in love with more than one person at once, be it a little crush or something heavier that won’t let me sleep at night (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen so frequently). But I usually don’t act on it, due to being shy/self-conscious, not really interested in sex anyway and also not keen on having a full-time relationship right now. So I’ve been wondering if I can actually call myself “polyamorous” (if you use it as an adjective, that is).

    I’ve called myself poly so far, but since I’ve been reading up on it a lot lately I’ve become quite squirmish about it. I’d like to have a better word that hasn’t been so “politicized”; or maybe I don’t even need a word at all, but sometimes my friends have a hard time understanding when I switch from talking about “this awesome guy” to “this lovely girl” in under a minute – and back again. Or why my boyfriend and I don’t see each other every day and why I gave him “permission” to sleep with other people as long as he will always tell me (and be safe). Sure I feel jealousy, quite hard even, but I also love him without being willing to sleep with him every time we meet. It’s so effing complicated. 😦

    Anyway: yes to EVERYTHING else you said!! I have to think about it a bit more, too.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey Paula, I’m just reading this post again. I really love that phrase, ‘the politicisation of poly’. I want to think about this more and write more. Do you have a blog? Thanks for having such lovely, intelligent things to say!

  7. Pingback: Is this feminine enough for you? … and thank you « Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist

  8. I love this piece (as well as many of your others). I have had poly, non-poly and non-monogamous relationships alongside random, fluid and loose connections. The older I get the more I find myself wondering that in life the main issue I have had with all of them was that I hadn’t found a dynamic whereby I could honestly say I had met my ideal primary partner.

    So many beautiful qualities about the people I was involved with but there would be an inevitable ‘but’ or reason that prevented a deeper connection that I would typically associate with a primary partner and that I would want.

    For these reasons it has made me not have a strong opinion on either formation of relationships.

    I don’t like hearing people be rude about poly relationships, yet at the same time poly snobbery can also be frustrating as well. I say this because on being with someone where we were open and then came the decision mutually not to be open I felt rather insulted when people saw it as us trying to be “heteronormative” and another went as far as saying that my idea of sexuality was “less evolved”.

    With the greatest respect to anyone’s relationship(s) I think one thing that can’t be forgotten here is what makes an individual happy and what works best for them. Being rude or dismissive about other people’s choice of type of relationship isn’t going to unite people but keep them more segregated.

    I do find that sometimes in very queer circles there is a consensus not to be positive about monogamous relationships, even if they aren’t labeled as such. I feel this sometimes creates an unnecessary tension when being queer is thought to be something that people can express in their own way.

  9. Pingback: Queers are Slutty, Lesbians are Boring « Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist

  10. First, a minor quibble: even if you never use these words as nouns, the connotation of combining the adjective ‘polyamorous’ with a noun like ‘person’ is exactly the same.

    Also, I don’t think the whole ‘you are probably kinky’ is exclusivity a queer thing. Its also a het-kink thing. My kinky het friends are sort of like that too. I think that if kinky people spend enough of their time around other kinky people, they tend to presume that everyone around them is kinky.

    And while I agree that poly is probably not right for every relationship, jealousy is far from the only reason for this. And IMHO everyone could benefit from working on jealousy issues, whether they’re interested in pursuing non-monog relationships or not.

    And I still think that a nonmanog/manog identity is a useful one for some people, though it is obviously a counterproductive one for others. There are folks who feel horribly stifled unless they’re allowed to have sex/ fall in love at will, and this does not necessarily change from one relationship to another. And there are folks who, for various other reasons, find nonmanog to be just as undoable. For lots of folks, these are sexual preferences. Unless that is, we’ve all been so brainwashed by society that we don’t even know what our preferences are 😉

  11. Pingback: Are You Kinky? The Anniversary Edition « Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist

  12. Pingback: Is the Queer Community too sexual? | Unquiet Slumber for the Sleepers

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