After much deliberation regarding my first post on this blog, I have decided to give a little run down of the relational practice I live by. It is ever changing and evolving as I learn more about myself and the worlds around me. This blog is a place for me to think through these practices and how they form and tie into my research regarding state intrusion into relation, how that plays out in social interaction and expectation and efforts in decolonizing that seek self-determination and respect.
This is not final, static or unchangeable…
Since I first started interrogating my dislike of enforced monogamy (or recognising how ‘bad’ I was at it) and came to change my practice and become involved with polyamory I have changed so much… but I thought I had a grasp on polyamory and where I sat in it.
So I did my BA dissertation on ‘Ethical non-monogamies’… interrogating the distance between much of the mainstream ideas of it and the everyday practices of people I knew.
However, the uncomfortable feelings reared their heads again continued but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew the institutionalisation of monogamy was wrong and saw many of the socio-cultural ways it played out… I then discovered after much reflection that I remained uncomfortable because I could see these continue to play out in the polyamorous communities that I became involved in.
Which brought me to my MRes (which I am in the middle of now)… and I felt I couldn’t sit on the fence any longer. I fundamentally disagreed with the enforced monogamy and began to see it everywhere… everything set in twos: deals, promotions, seats, beds. After so much reading outside those recommended within the polyamory community in U.K. and even more on colonial processes than had been given in my degree I knew where the uncomfortable feelings were coming from.
None of this was ethical… and my proposal became one about the colonial legal policy that continues through State laws now in areas that pretend to be no longer colonial states, in my research I would be looking at Canada.
Then my supervisor sent me a blog post written by Kim TallBear… and so much of what I had been thinking and writing fell into place… and since then I have increasing put into action what I have felt, read and been writing. To say I am ethical is to work constantly against enforced and institutional monogamy… at its’ legal/ state level and the societal expectations and actions it engenders. To find ways to assist others in being able to do the same.
The journey begins again and continues on…
There are so many different categories, names, labels out there to give ourselves but with them come a host of expectations that other people put on to a word. Whilst I will say to people that “I am poly” or “I am solo-poly”, I do not consider that to be an identity and I expect that to mean something very different to me than the person I am speaking to.
There are many debates over what is and is not polyamory. The things is that definitions are individual. We have dictionaries that make it seem as though there is only one answer. Science teaches us the same. However, that simply is not the case. They may be an answer. They may be a guide. In the experience of the people living their reality, they can mean very different and multiple things. There are people that would even argue this point… that may be their reality.
For me, I find it best to put out there what my reality is, what my experience is… so that is what I am doing.
Here is what polyamory means to me at this point in my journey. Each of these will be discussed or analysed in detail in future posts.
Polyamory is not only about ‘romantic’ love.
For many, the idea of polyamory is something that is in direct contra-distinction from monogamy: multiple ‘romantic’ partnerships rather than the one.
(Now, I have issues with the concept of romantic and especially its’ assumed connection to sex and the view of these connections being more important, more significant, than any other form of love or emotional entanglement that should be the aim/ is desired by all people…)
For me, the concept goes far beyond ‘romantic’ love and/ or sexual connections.
Poly-amory literally means multiple-loves. It does not designate what kind of love that is.
Those that I have developed engagement with are partners/ connections/ relations/ friends/ family/ community… they are all these things to varying degrees.
Many of these points, for those that know about different ‘non-monogamous’ types may read my practice as ‘relationship anarchy’. I do not use this term, whether or not much of what I believe and practice is inline with the accepted precepts.
Polyamory is not about sex
When the term ‘sexuality’ gets used I do wish people would be more specific about what it is they are actually talking about. It tends to compound the romantic, sexual and sex (all concepts that in themselves require a lot of unpacking) and suggests a state of permanence, of solidity.
As a relational practice, sex is not an assumed part or an expectation held within polyamory.
Those that are asexual/ grey-sexual/ demi-sexual can and do identify as polyamorists.
You do not have to be having sex with those you develop connections. Romantic or otherwise.
For me, solo-poly is not about living on my own.
I make this specific point because this seems to be something that people focus on when either defining solo-poly, identifying as it themselves, or in their reason to be polyamorous. This is their choice.
I do not live on my own. I live in a shared house with two other people. One is a developed close connection in my life. The other is someone new-ish that has moved in, we share a connection that is through our shared home but our connection has not developed much beyond that at present.
I do not want to live on my own, or separate a tiny unit out and away from wider community ties.
I fundamentally disagree with the precepts of neo-liberal individualism epitomised through the nuclear family.
I am an independent person… I have my own thoughts, wants, needs, desires and I take responsibility to meet those for myself to the extent that I am able, however I recognise my place within communities and consider these responsibilities and commitments in all decisions that I make. I do not seek a separate, solitary life, that prioritises me over the welfare and continuation of my communities.
I do not engage in hierarchy.
Hierarchy is a very Western notion, our entire language is formed around the concept of more and less, better and worse, good and evil, etc. Down to the ideas ‘progress’, ‘civilisation’, ‘human’ and even ‘time’.
In polyamory you will find a lot of discussion about the ethics of ‘hierarchical-poly’ i.e. having a primary/ nesting/ anchor partner that fulfils the societal expectation and security that institutional monogamy holds up to be of social good and has trained into us.
These relationships can include things like veto powers and/or rules about boundaries put onto others rather than for the self.
This prioritises the romantic and sexual relation, which I have said I do not engage with, at the very least it continues to prioritise the one relationship over all others.
It also prioritises the human world, society.
When I say no hierarchy I mean across the board. No hierarchy between human and other human, animal, plant, planet, reality, experience.
This has been hard to begin to unlearn, it is an ongoing journey but one I feel is essential to undo a lot of the damage that has been done to everything around us.
I am for mutually agreed connection and respect.
This probably sounds fairly obvious as you always here “communication, communication, communication!” in non-monogamous writings, though it can be very nuanced.
If relation is sought between peoples of vastly differing backgrounds of any description it can come to be that understanding may not be as mutual as you think, this is even the case between people that appear to be similar with similar upbringings.
As with the description of polyamory, people hold different conceptual grounds for understanding, different desires, expectations, boundaries and goals for life. Even different ideas of what constitutes respect, etc.
To connect well with others we must be open to interrogating our concepts and open ourselves up to others to find and maintain connections that are mutually beneficial and agreed in full knowledge.
I am indebted to Kim TallBear & Donna Haraway’s here (and previous point on hierarchy) for their work that has helped me think and work through the uncomfortable feelings I have been unable to express up until this point around effective communication, relation and the kind of expectations I have experienced in recent years. The work to articulate my experience and feelings is ongoing.
No to legal marriage
Marriage is another form of hierarchy that holds one relation at highest social importance but also…
Linguistically, I have always had an issue with the words ‘monogamy’ and ‘non-monogamy’… by extension ‘polygamy’, ‘polyandry’ & ‘polygyny’ because of the inherent connection and expectation of marriage. The suffix to each of there words meaning ‘spouse’ in various gendered ways.
Legal marriage controlled by the state is exclusive, exclusionary, othering… it increases, rewards and valorises inequality. It supports the state and has been used throughout the colonial period and the tool of control and destruction of others.
Celebrating a commitment, whatever that commitment is, is between the people involved and nothing to do with the state. Nor should it give people access to benefits that others are excluded from.
The goal is not happiness
This may sounds strange… we have been trained and convinced that happiness is the goal of all people. That progress and the height of civilisation is to have an entirely (or predominantly) happy society. That feelings and experiences designated as ‘positive’ are of the utmost importance and ‘negative’ things are to be avoided or worked through with the aim of happiness.
It always seemed obvious to me that happiness means nothing if you do not experience contrast. That the abundance of different feelings, sensations, experiences are there because they are possible though the impact and meaning of them have been socially trained into us.
This is one of the reasons I have started to have second thoughts about the entire concept of ‘cheating’ as something that is the worst of the worst violations of romantic/ sexual connection… as something that continues to privilege that connection over others. Thinking… thinking…
My goal is to live, to experience, to connect, to have impact.
Once again I am indebted to Sara Ahmed for the ability to coalesce these thoughts and give them more context in wider social structure and state craft.
Anyway, I think this first post is probably long enough… and I am sure it will never really be complete.
These are some things that come central in how I conceptualise my way of being in the social world around me, how I seek out those that I can call community and develop relation.
Over the course of this blog these will be interrogated, unpacked as far as I see possible and much more that intersect.
Nothing is separate, isolated. It is all interconnected across kinship, politics, economics, art, music, literature, science, state-craft, business.
But it does all come down to relation and how the West has used relation to dominate and subjugate.
I hope this journey will teach me much and have impact and benefit for others.
Ahmed, S. (2010). The Promise of Happiness. London: Duke University Press.
Haraway, D.J. (2018). Making Kin in the Chthulucene: Reproducing Multispecies Justice. In. Clarke A.E. & Haraway, D.J. Making Kin not population. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
TallBear, K. (2018). Making Love and Relations Beyond Settler Sex and Family. In. Clarke, A.E. & Haraway, D.J. Making Kin not Population. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
TallBear, K. (2018). Yes, Your Pleasure! Yes, Self-love! And don’t forget settler sex is a structure*. [Blog]. Critical Polyamorist. http://www.criticalpolyamorist.com/homeblog/archives/04-2018