Friday, July 22, 2011

In between the Monoga-monster and Polyamorous superiority

Last weekend, My partner and I were at a party with some very progressive politically minded people. At one point a new friend of mine (who was meeting my partner for the first time) asked my partner if our relationship had succumb to the "monoga-monster". My partner explained some of the parameters of our relationship (we have an open sexual agreement, but we are definitely not polyamorous). My partner, my friend, and another man (who we were all meeting for the first time) chatted a bit about my friend's thoughts on opening up her own relationship. Because it seems an important detail to later part of the story, I want to point out that the conversation started between a white woman (my friend), a white genderqueer (my partner), and a man of color.

Initially my attention was elsewhere and I checked in about mid-way through their conversation, laughing at the term "monoga-monster" and generally confirming my partner's interpretation of our relationship definition (we have discussed our sexual agreements at length). While I laughed at first, and I do think the term "monoga-monster" is kind of cute, I am in no way anti-monogamy on principle. I remember feeling thinking that to myself as the conversation of open relationships took a dreaded turn. A few other near-by folks overheard us talking and joined in the conversation (who am I to judge, I checked in late, too). The conversation quickly turned to individual experiences defending polyamory to other monogamous friends (the tone implied that these monogamous friends were a bit naive to greater good of polyamory) and how the privileging of one primary romantic partner over other relationships was somehow unnatural. If you have spent any time in the San Francisco polyamory scene, it would not surprise you to know that the new contributors were all white women, a few of which openly identified as "dating both men and women."

While I continued to engage with these women about varying ideas about open relationship, both from anecdotal experience and from my work as a researcher on gay couples, the conversation participants shifted. It began clear from these new conversation participants that the superiority of a polyamorous lifestyle was meant to be revered and the honest, open communication and ability to engage in multiple loving relationships simultaneously (even if you weren't choosing to do it at the time) was the ultimate goal. The original conversation participants watched rather silently as this new group hijacked the conversation and riddled it with pro-polyamory sound bytes (for the record, I am aware that I did participate in that conversation take over, even though I didn't have pro-poly sound bytes to contribute). Even as I continued to engage, I found myself being frustrated with the judgements passed on those who somehow hadn't "evolved" to accept a polyamorous lifestyle. I also was quite aware, even as I was participating, that the conversation dominated by cis-gender, white women was silencing the other perspectives right there in that space and time. I wish I had more consciously done something about that.

Another aspect that became clear to me is that I feel like I have had this conversation on multiple occasions. There seems to be a prototype for polyamorous advocate in the bay area that doesn't sit well with me. Even when asking poly people about their community, they acknowledge it's dominant whiteness. I have also noticed an attitude of superiority that seems to stem from the idea that because resisting dominant messages of monogamy is difficult, those who can engage in a polyamorous life are somehow better and/or more self-reflective. I am not saying all (or any) polyamorous people believe this, but there is a feeling of this present in many of the conversations I have had about polyamory. I think it comes down to the fact that I can't help but feel I am being judged and the ways I chose to engage in relationships aren't necessarily right. I, like most folks, hate the feeling of being judged.

I, for one, want a loving, romantic, relationship that is a top priority in my life. All my relationships are not equal, their is a hierarchy in who I care most about and who I invest my time and energy into. It certainly doesn't all go to one person, but it is not distributed equally amongst all people in my life. I value my friends and family and care deeply about them in different ways, but my relationship with my partner is different and special. I am comfortable and happy with the dyad that I have established with my partner and I don't regret having a committed, healthy relationship with one person as a goal. However, I am not polyamorous or monogamous. I don't want to be. That is what is right for me and I don't want advocates of either side trying to nudge me toward their "right" way of doing things. In creating space for different types of relationships, it is important not to re-create and perpetuate a hierarchy of the right way to be together.

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