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Some thoughts on poly identity

As I write this, I'm visiting my sweetie Eve in Olympia, Washington. Alas, thanks to a signficant user interface misfeature in the program (Caron Copy Cloner) I use to sync my laptop with my desktop, I don't have my laptop with me. I'm posting from an iPad. Which has a keyboard quite poorly suited to typing long bits of text (anyone who has a BlueTooth keyboard you're willing to donate to the cause, see me after class). And I suspect this might get long. In other words, buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

A short time ago, I discovered an essay over on the Boldly Go blog called Why I'm No Longer Poly. It's about seven or eight months old as I type this, but if you haven't read it yet, it's worth the read. It's a critique of the poly community, and there's quite a bit in it I want to respond to. (This blog post started as a comment over there but quickly overran what can reasonaly go into a comment.)

The critique as I read it breaks down into four main points:

  • Poly is a form of privilege. The time, resources, and attention necessary to find and maintain multiple romantic relationships are most available to middle and upper class people; hence, the poly community tends (unsurprisingly) to be very middle-class and very white.

  • The poly community, possibly because of point 1 above, is guilty of a great deal of appropriation. Some poly folks consider themselves 'queer' just based on having non-traditional relationships, which does a disservice to LGBT folks. Gay, bi, and trans* people have been murdered for who they are; to date, that hasn't happened to anyone for being poly (at least not as far as I know; if you've heard of this happening, I'd love to hear about it in the comments). This appropriation is cultural, too, with some poly folk integrating a wishy-washy, Westernized, wildly inaccurate understanding of things like Tantra into the fold of polyamory.

  • The poly community shelters abusers. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the poly community has failed to create a robust culture of compassion and consent. Serial abusers operate with impunity within the organized poly community.

  • People in the poly commmunity tend to see polyamory as a superior alternatve to monogamy, and therefore (accordng to the Transitive Property of Smugness1) polyamorous people as superior to monogamous people.


The author is talking primarily about the UK poly scene, which I do have some familiarity with, though I'm more grounded in the US poly community.

I think this critique of the poly community has some important points, so I'd like to examine it more closely. Ready? Here we go!




Part 1: Poly Is Privileged

This is an easy claim to make. Look around the poly community in a lot of cities and you'll see a whole lot of folks who are econmically and racially homogenous. The essay also makes the point:

I’m wondering if non-monogamy is seriously possible for people who are economically disenfranchised or people who blatantly don’t have the time to devote away from work, children, and other social responsibilities to give to other partners. And I wonder now, as I try and create a balance between work, blogging, writing fiction, working out, and all of the other things I have to do if, when I do decide to adopt children, I’ll have the time to devote to more romantic partners.


For a certain model of polyamory, this is true. Maintaining multiple dating-type relationships requires financial and time resources that a lot of folks don't have. It's also true that polyamory, as much as it may not be mainstream, is still a hell of a lot more accepted than LGB relationships or relationships with or between trans* people. I know poly folks who have lost custody of their children for being poly, but like I said, I've never heard of anyone being killed over it.

But these points, while they are valid, don't tell the whole story.

One thing it's important to remember is the poly community is not the same thing as polyamory. The poly ommunity is largely made up of racially and economically privileged folks, but it's dangerous to infer that polyamory is mostly practiced by that demographic. I've met people who are polyamorous who don't belong to or identify with the organized poly community (particularly when I was living in Florida and Georgia), and there's quite a lot more variety in socioeconomic class than a look 'round the poly community might suggest.

Likewise, the notion that poly requires a certain level of disposable income and time is true for some models of poly, particularly the I'm-dating-a-bunch-of-people flavor of poly, but it doesn't necessarily follow that polyamory is therefore limited to the economically privileged. I've known--and been involved with!--poly folks who are financially quite poorly off, and who discover in a more communal model of polyamory a way to increase their standard of living.

Indeed, many of the folks in my own poly network have a level of income that's perilously close to, or in some cases below, the Federal poverty line. Poly people have discovered something that roommates have known for a long time: two can live almost as cheaply as one, and three can live almost as cheaply as two.

The same calculus works for time. A person who's working two part-time jobs may not have the time to go out on several dates a week, but that's not the only way to do poly! Both long-distance relationships and communal relationships require much less investment in free time to maintain.

Why is the organized polycommunity so homogenous? That question has a complicated answer. Even the simple version is probably outside the scope of this particular blog post. (That's not an attempt to handwave away the question; it's just a really, really complicated subject.) Is the organized poly community a showcase of privilege? You bet. Does that mean polyamory is only for privileged people? Well, that's a tougher argument to make. The organized poly community does not necessarily reflect the diversity of people who practice polyamory, and identifying as polyamorous does not necessarily mean identifying as part of the poly community.




Part 2: Poly as Cultural Appropriation

This critique breaks down into a couple of broad categories: poly appropriation of the spiritual beliefs of other cultures, usually in a highly adulterated (and somewhat confused) form; and poly appropriation of LGBT identity. As to the first part, from the essay:

I get sick to death of seeing white people in polyamory communities reference a tribe or a culture outside their own, putting white names to their practices, and using them to validate their relationship style or choice. I get sick and tired of the “Ooh”ing and “Aah”ing over appropriated concepts of tantra, chakras, chi, and whatever I’ve seen white people mix together in a fruit salad of whatever cultures they want to build their ignorant burrito out of to try and make their polyamory practice more “exotic” and “sacred”. You shouldn’t have to justify your relationship choice via bigotry. When you act like your polyamory is valid because it’s made of “tiny bubbles of imperfections as proof that it was crafted by the simple, hard-working, indigenous peoples of wherever” you’re being a colonialist jerk.


This gets no disagreement from me. In fact, the urge to validate having multiple romantic partners by mashing together assorted bits of poorly-understood religious traditions from a number of different cultures and wrapping the whole thing up in a ribbon of chakra-expanding tantric sex is one of the more annoying facets of (part of) the poly community.

In fact, my sweetie Eve has a close friend named Chris who's written an extensive and meticulously-researched history of tantra called Tantra Illuminated, in which he says:

Tantra is now a buzzword in the modern Western world. We see it on the covers of popular magazines and books, usually linked suggestively with the notion of superlative sexual experience. Though almost everyone has heard this word, almost no one—including many people claiming to teach something called tantra—knows anything about the historical development of the Indian spiritual tradition that scholars refer to as Tantra. What these academics study as Tantra bears little resemblance to what is taught under the same name on the workshop circuit of American alternative spirituality.


(Check out the book if you're interested; a second edition is on the way.)

Does this happen? You bet. I don't think blame for this rests on the doorstep of polyamory, though. First, most of the offenders I've personally seen did it before they became polyamory; they started out involved in alternative New Age spirituality and then, when they started exploring polyamory in the mid to late 90s, they brought their garbled mishmash of other cultures' spiritual ideas with them.

At least here in the US. I can't speak for the Tantric/New Age part of the poly community in the UK, because it's not the bit I interacted with, which brings up a second point:

Not all of the poly community does this. In fact, the poly community is quite diverse in this regard. Most of the community I was part of in Florida, for instance, is made up of rationalists and skeptics with about as much interest in New Age tantric appropriation as they have in six-day-old potato salad.

There's a polyamory meetup group in Portland for fundamentalist Christians. There's a group in Vancouver that's essentially entirely secular. The poly community is not monolithic; to accuse it of cultural appropriation is to miss big chunks that aren't spiritual at all. Do some poly people do this? You bet. Do most? Not in my experience.

Which brings up the second kind of appropriation. Again from the essay:

I’m sick to death of “allies” telling me that they have a right to call themselves queer just because they date more than one person, especially when they have lipstick parties in middle class suburbia while queer kids are forced into homelessness, nonconsensual sex work, and death. I’ll feel more sympathy for Poly Patriarch not being able to marry all of his concubines when trans* people can get married without having to worry about going to jail for fraud.


I can definitely understand being pretty fed up with this sort of behavior. I personally am not sick to death of it, because so far I personally have not seen it. I certainly would never consider calling myself "queer" because I'm poly; as a cisgendered straight white guy, that would be profoundly nonsensical of me2.

This might be something that's more common in the UK than the US; I don't know. I do know that the poly communities I've been ppart of have had members who are gay, members who are bi, and members who are trans...all of whm have a reasonable claim to "queerness," but no because they're poly.




Part 3: Abusers In the Poly Community

This is the most head-scratching part of the essay to me.

Yes, the poly community has abusers. I don't see it as a poly problem; I see it as a problem of minority sexual subcultures in general. Ironically, the essay's author still identifies as kinky, whereas I've seen abuse happen a lot more in the BDSM community, as I've written about here (trigger warning: rape), here, and here. But saying it isn't a "poly problem" doesn't mean it's not a problem in the poly community. It absolutely is.

And it pisses me off.

A couple of months ago, my partner zaiah and I hosted the first of what's likely to be a bimonthly poly get-together, whose purpose is to create white papers--papers that an be used by other poly organizers. The very first one? Creating poly communities that are safe and do not shelter abusers. Last month, we hosted the Portland West Side Poy Discussion Group. The topic? Preventing abuse in the poly community.

When I say this is the most head-scratching part of the essay, it's not because I believe the poly community is a beautific assemblage of saints. It's because the claims of abuse sound a bit...strange to me. The essay contains this bit...

If I’m dating Tom and Tom is treating his boyfriend Phil like dirt, I can’t possibly tell Tom that I’ll break up with him or I can’t sit by and watch him treating Phil like dirt. Because then I’m being controlling, jealous, and manipulative. I’m stuck in a trap where I have to put up with abusive shit all for the sake of not exercising the dreaded veto. [...] Until poly people stop demonising things like “veto power” and start talking and taking seriously how polyamory can work well for abusers, I have a hard time taking on the label...


...which I find a little odd. I'm not sure I get the connection between "opposing veto" and "sheltering abusers." I am an outspoken opponent of veto3 in poly relationships, because in my experience vetoes are often used as tools of abuse. I almost always see them wielded with indifference of--even contempt for--the needs of the people against whom they are used (people who, most often, are on the short end of a significant power imbalance to begin with).

What I also tend to see in conversations aout veto is a strange sort of either/or, all-or-nothing mentality: if you don't have veto, that means you have no say at all, and you just have to lie down and take whatever your partner does. You can't express an opinion or an objection of any sort; to do so is the same as veto.

And don't psychologists tell us that one of the defining characteristics of many abusers is the fact that they seek to control their partners and particularly control their partners' interactions with others, cutting their victims off from other sources of love and support?

Frankly, I find the discussion of veto with regards to abuse bizarre. If I were dating Sally and I saw her mistreating Bob, telling Sally I'll break up with her if her behavior doesn't improve isn't veto. Telling Sally "I demand that you break up with Bob"--that is veto.

I don't do veto, nor get involveed with those who have it. Yet if I'm dating someone who is treating another partner like dirt, or who is being treated like dirt, I'm going to say so. And if someone says that's "controlling, jealous, and manipulatiive," that says more about that person than it does about me, I reckon.

Conflating "doesn't do veto" with "supports abuse" seems...well, I'm not really sure what's going on there, but in my experience if someone is being abused and won't leave the abusive relationship if you say "hey, this is abuse," they aren't too likely to leave if you say "hey, veto" either.

Just sayin'.




Part 4: Smug

From the essay:

While many poly people acknowledge that “Relationship broke, add people” probably isn’t the best solution, just as many people act like polyamory is the solution for anyone’s relationship problems, or they look down on silly monogamous people who feel things like jealousy and fear (because, you know, non-monogamous people never feel that).


I've met this guy. Once. On a Facebook forum. He was roundly (and loudly) ridiculed.

This may be a regional thing. I totally get that there are folks who act this way, but in my expeience there aren't "just as many" folks who say this as who say exactly the opposite. In fact, the poly groups I've belonged to in Florida, Georgia, and Portland, and the poly folks I've met in Boston and Chicago, actively frown on the notion that polyamory is more evolved, more enlightened, and/or good for what ails those poor Neanderthal mono folks.

If I were to meet a lot of people proclaiming how backward monogamy iis, I suspect it'd get right up my noose, too. So I'm willing to give this critique a pass; it's not my experience, but different poly communities, as I mentioned in art 2 up there, have very different attitudes. Perhaps there's a poly community over across the pond where this idea is prevalent; if so, I can certainly understand opting out of it.

Opting out of a community, though, isn't the same thing as opting out of an identity. I've disassociated myself with the BDSM community, because it has a lot of behaviors and practices I find toxic. I still do BDSM. Distancing myself from others who do some of the same things I do doesn't, at least for me, change my identity. If it did, the way I see it, I'd be letting folks I don't like dictate my identity, and that seems an odd choice to me.




1 The Transitive Property of Smugness is what I call the propensity of some folks to talk about how doing some thing like having multiple partners) or being part of some group (like people who practice BDSM) requires skill at a particular thing, and then to assume that because they do that thing, they have that skill. For example: "It takes good communication to be polyamorous. I am polyamorous. Ergo, I have good communication skills. Yay! Go me!" There are variants of this in almost every subculture I've ever belonged to; its kink equivalent is "Consent is an important part of BDSM. I am part of BDSM culture. Therefore, I am awesome about consent! Woohoo!"

2 Not to mention insensitive. Rude, too. And kinda stupid.

3 Defined here as a right or agreement by which one person can tell another person "I require you to end your relationship with so-and-so" and have an expectation that the other person will break up with so-and-so. I've spoken to some folks who use the term "veto" to mean "I have the right to give you my opinion about whether I like so-and-so." I don't think that's the most common usage of the word "veto," and it's not the one I use here.


Comments

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nomercles
Apr. 25th, 2013 05:35 am (UTC)
You and I have clearly been exposed to drastically different poly communities. I think I'm jealous of your experiences.

Everything you quoted from the original essay rang true to my experience, to one degree or another. Especially the observations of appropriation and smugness. (Though I share your skepticism of abuse being a poly-only issue). Granted, I've not been involved in a lot of poly communities, for any number of reasons, so I don't have a vast exposure to draw from.

When I first got involved in my first poly relationship, they were heavily involved in the local poly community. Until that relationship, I openly identified as monogamous in the greater sex-positive community. I was informed, with varying attitudes of pity, scorn, or that creepy predatory attitude that I just need the right threesome to unlock my poly potential, that I was literally unevolved. Everybody was queer, especially the straight white cis men. And every fucking person there was into "tantra" and "worshipping the goddess", which seemed to be code for getting stoned and boinking in public. Needless to say, this was not a positive thing for me.

Actually, I should thank you. Through reading some of your analysis of ethical models of polyamory, I have found polyamory to work for me, in some ways. It's been a good change.
raymondkitten
Apr. 25th, 2013 04:46 pm (UTC)
huh. the original essay seemed completely alien to me, I haven't encountered anything of that sort. the world is a big pace and people are different. :)
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(Anonymous)
Apr. 25th, 2013 08:19 am (UTC)
That linked essay was so bang on the head on so many points for me.

I started typing out more about poly and privilege, but I realised that I was just paraphrasing this essay, which I think is important: http://www.modernpoly.com/article/poly-and-race-poly-and-black

Also, the poly community does shelter abusers in my experience. My local community has seen abusers distort the safe space rules for their benefit. In that "Safe space means that I am admitting to all these horrible things I did in graphic detail and I can't be criticised for it because Safe Space!". One of the safe space rules is that we cannot discuss anything that happens inside poly meetings outside of poly meetings. So people have been kicked out of the community for naming abusers outside of meetings. My local community is very bad at being critical of itself. And I hesitate to use the word poly as a self descriptor because there is so much bullshit in the movement that I do not want associated with me.
tacit
Apr. 25th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks for that link, that's awesome!

In any community, abusers will seek to find ways to use the community's rules to shelter themselves, and the poly community is no exception. Punishing people for 'outing' them is a very common tactic. After a friend of mine was raped by a prominent member of the local BDSM community and talked about her experience on FetLife, FetLife responded by passing a rule forbidding its members from talking about being assaulted by other FetLife members--a rule which clearly protects abusers. (I've stopped using FetLife because of it.)

I can easily see how an abuser would distort the purpose of a rule against talking about the people who showed up at poly meetings--a rule which, presumably, has the purpose of protecting privacy--into a rule that shelters abuse by concealing it from the light of day. I've never personally seen that happen, but I can totally get how it could.

I can also understand becoming so disenchanted by it that you withdraw from the community, I've done that myself with the BDSM community. I'm reluctant to do it with the poly community, though, in part because it's the community I feel most at home in, and I'd like to see it behave better than this.

One of the things zaiah and I are working on is trying to develop a set of tools that help members of a community who witness this kind of abuse stand up to it. This project was inspired by edwardmartiniii, who's also participating, by a series of blog posts he made (particularly the ones here and here) about creating social spaces that are hostile to abusers.

I've given up on the ability of the BDSM community to create a meaningful culture of consent; the abusers are too firmly entrenched. I don't think the poly community has reached that point yet.
acsumama
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:36 pm (UTC)
I saw two additional critiques of poly in the article that you don't mention in your response -- poly as justification for cheating, and poly ableism.

The first one I agree with so hard it hurts: it’s in their true nature to be so, it’s their “orientation”, just like being queer! And that’s why they’ve cheated so much and hurt people when they were monogamous. Instead of holding themselves accountable and realising that a broken commitment is a broken commitment, whether it’s to one person or many, they’ve Calypso-ed their way into a different relationship style that allows them to shrug and say “It Wasn’t Me” to anyone who points out that, actually, breaking someone’s heart is a pretty crap thing to do and just because you find yourself doing it frequently doesn’t necessarily mean that non-monogamy is your orientation, especially when it seems like being an asshole is more likely what your orientation is. ... being a cheater, asshole, or commitment-phobe doesn’t mean you have a poly orientation and the people who seem most adamant about declaring poly as their “orientation” and comparing it constantly to queerness, at least from what I’ve seen, have been doing so to shirk responsibility either for their own privilege or for the crap behaviour towards partners.

I don't really have much to add here -- I'm so tired of seeing people talk about how their past as a cheater was what showed them they should be poly. Being interested in other people while in one relationship is a signpost to poly, but actually acting on that is a deliberate choice you made to break your commitments, and it's not ok no matter how poly you are.

The ableism critique is mentioned just in passing, with the author's comments about their social anxiety and being on the spectrum, but it's expanded in their follow-up post: Enough able bodied privilege to cope with the taxing nature of relationships. No, relationships aren’t a struggle for everyone, but for people who have physical disabilities for whom getting to places is a problem, for people who live in tight knit disabled communities and have limited access based on their carers, for people who have developmental disabilities that impact their communication and perception skills, and people who have mental illnesses that contribute towards general relationship difficulty, they may find it specifically challenging, if not impossible, to practice non-monogamy.

This one could arguably be subsumed as another aspect of #1, but it is important to recognize how the standard practice of poly (in terms of preferred relationship structures, ways of handling conflict, ways of meeting partners, etc) presumes certain normative bodily and mental functionings (which just happen to be the same normative bodily and mental functionings privileged by society as a whole).
luminescnece
Apr. 25th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
I feel like the talk of privilege is valid. I initially had a very privileged response in mind but it doesn't fly and I have to acknowledge that.

The privilege of poly doesn't make it better or worse, and I feel like the accusation of privilege is often weighed against something in order to prove that it is invalid in one way or another. And that really bothers me. Possibly because my personal perception of privilege is more complex than the idea of privilege I see slung about.

There are aspects of me that are broken and twisted from years of systemic abuse in my past. I am not privileged in every way and no person can be. I do have the privilege to work on those broken things about me however, and not many people are given that and even fewer give themselves that.

I think a personal exploration of poly, what it means to the individual considering it and knowing the things about yourself that poly teaches you... what you are ok with, what you expect from people, what you are prepared to give people who have expectations of you, can be deeply beneficial to any person.

And I think it is much more ableist to say that those who have mental or physical differences are limited in their poly expression, as if there is a specific 'expression of poly' that must be fulfilled regardless of whether they are actually beneficial for a person. The comments on ableism seem highly informed by the idea that poly is inflexible and requires flexibility from its participants that differently abled participants 'can't do poly'.

If I were dating someone who had a brain injury, that person would have a different set of needs than the person I was dating who was in a wheel chair, who would have a different set of needs than the needs *I* have that I expect filled by my lovers... as I suffer from depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. For me. Poly is about meeting needs and having needs met. Nothing more, nothing less. If I love someone that is deeply involved in a small community of people, I want to be a part of their life and will fit into their life however I may.

I do not agree that poly is ableist. Many people practicing poly might be ableist by continually failing to meet the needs of differently abled people, but poly is a practice and an identity. Ability privilege yes, but ability privilege seeps through all of our culture. I don't feel it is specific to poly.

I have different needs than a person who doesn't suffer from depression and anxiety and PTSD. I have found poly to be immensely useful in combating my issues and healing myself. Becoming better functioning as a person is a result for me from my interest in poly. The idea that because poly is more challenging for me because it forces me to confront the idea that people aren't plotting against me, are telling the truth when they say they love me/like being around me and that I am /enough/ as I am... that it isn't a good thing? This is a good thing.

When my paranoia gets out of control, I have people I can call. Actually lots of them. My support circle is huge. I have poly to thank for that.

It seems that it is ableism at work that I have the privilege to work at making this for myself, but I'm not understanding this all completely. I don't understand the issue in general and that could just be intense privilege at work. I have never been able to understand the line beyond which the accusation of "ableism" becomes "it is harder for some people, thus those people can't". I feel deeply offended at the idea that because it is harder for me to confront my bullshit and heal myself that somehow this is a problem with poly.

All I feel is deeply enabled to grow and love.
(no subject) - acsumama - Apr. 25th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Vonn New
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:12 pm (UTC)
(Posting from the U.S.)

Appropriation: As a queer person, I know that the LGBTQ umbrella is pretty big and I don't mind of otherwise straight poly folk want to come in under it. Especially if it means they become better allies when responding to discrimination. I have found however that being poly is not a ticket for acceptance into lgbtq circles. I'm a lesbian, and being poly has not been any more accepted within that community than it is anywhere else.

As far as the New Age cultural appropriation in poly communities... I have sometimes rolled my eyes so hard I thought I was going to injure myself. So, yes, I've encountered it a LOT.

Smugness: Over the top. Mostly I have found this with new poly groups and with individuals who are new to poly. Still, it has been so prevalent that it feels just exhausting to be a part of the poly communities. Maybe it is because I did it myself before I got kicked around enough to laugh hysterically at my relationship hubris, but now I find my tolerance for it is much lower than the existence of it in the poly circles I've encountered lately.



awfulhorrid
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
I tend to bring in the idea that the LGBTQ(etc) community has changed a lot over the years - I still remember quite well when it was (more or less) just the "LG" community and the community as a whole largely didn't want anything to do with trans* people, nor those horrible bisexuals such as myself. The question becomes one of what do we want to accomplish by having a community in the first place? Our experiences as individuals is going to vary so much - my life as a pansexual male is going to show significant differences from that of a lesbian - that playing the game of "those people aren't as endangered as I am" seems a really bad idea. I think we're better off looking for common ground and trying to be allies for one another.

To tie this to the critique posted by Tacit, I'll note that quite a few of those criticisms have been leveled at the LGBTQ community in some form of another. Certainly the idea that the majority of the community is white and middle class is a fairly common one, but there are even accusations of appropriation: again, refer to the idea of bisexuals (or trans* folk) "riding" on the coattails of the gay rights movements. The idea that "we" are more enlightened than "them" is pretty much universal to some members of virtually *every* community, of course!

I don't think I can begin to comment on the New Age ... um ... leanings of some people in the poly community. (I'm trying to be polite here!) I can absolutely say that it is not universal and tend to change the subject if someone starts talking about it.
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naath
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:31 pm (UTC)
Conflating "doesn't do veto" with "supports abuse" seems...well, I'm not really sure what's going on there

I think what's "going on there" is a difference of opinion about the meaning of the word "veto".

For instance I think that if I'm dating Bob and I find out that Bob is abusing Alice then I will say "fuck you Bob, I don't date abusers and you can fuck right off". Now, I think some people would say "that is a veto" because I have made "continuing a relationship with Bob" contingent on Bob's behaviour with Alice. I guess you would say that that is "not a veto".
naath
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:32 pm (UTC)
Oh and I see a lot of people using GSRM - gender, sexual, and relationship minorities - to include a wider range of people than "queer" does.
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(Anonymous)
Apr. 25th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
Many of the distinctions you make apply to the whole human experience. People as a whole tend to gather and share their identities and preferences, some more honestly than others. What appears to be a familiar group from a distance becomes unfamiliar in close proximity when you discover that either you're not in agreement with the values they hold, or not interested in the direction they're heading.
Defining yourself as this or that often detaches you from being that or this, groups like to work on their unity and build power through being homogeneous. Groups can become puritanical and exclusive, often accelerated by competition. A garden club who rejects nutrients from your compost box, or the Sailing Club that looks down on those who use their motors in a storm.
Most folks aren't well traveled, so sharing your broad adventures with folks that have never left their area could also seem a bit elitist. Although your using your experiences to teach and share you have to know after writing about the economic conditions of some, that your life has been privileged in ways they may never understand.

I have found a lot of emotionally damaged people in the poly world, and at times it takes time to discover that your involved with someone who is not really poly but afraid of commitment. They play poly while trying to work out their trust issues. They play poly on the run from bad relationships. Rich or poor what defines certainty is most often the capacity to be honest and introspective.

james_the_evil1
Apr. 26th, 2013 04:24 am (UTC)
I find most PEOPLE are "emotionally damaged."
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luminescnece
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:40 pm (UTC)
I think much of the problems described with polyamory relate to problems with the English language. Our language is so value laden and smug as it is.

But think about it in terms of any subculture. I was a vegan for a few years until I started being stupid about it (that's personal and entirely beyond the point). When I was vegan, I did go through a hardcore 'veganism is better' phase, but after that... all I was doing was not eating animal products. When asked about it, I would explain respectfully and often got accused of being smug, acting like my choices were better, and what have you.

There are vegans that do this. I wasn't one of them.

Eventually, after the accusations started getting to me, I realized that there are people who think that because you're not doing what they are doing you think what you are doing is better (actually this makes perfect sense yes). But they immediately draw the secondary conclusion that you think what they are doing is wrong. Because the only reason they would do something different is if /they/ thought it was wrong.

As for identity.... identity is a powerful thing. Largely we are not in control of our identities, but rather they form through our experience. Our identity is unique, special, and can help or hinder us as we move through life. Comprised of a number of things we can and cannot change about ourselves, muddied and confused by the things which we are able to hide about ourselves but perhaps should not change, identity politics is a powerful tool and has been a powerful tool in fostering change and furthering discourse.

My poly identity is the way I want to interact with the world, make connections and meet people. Every interaction and relationship I share with the world and it's inhabitants reflects this. I don't know why I'm like this exactly (I have clues) but I'm not too interested in finding out. I like the way I am and would enjoy for others to like the way I am.

My poly identity is different from Tacit's, different from those commenting and different from even my own even just months ago. But I have found it fits within polyamory, other poly people and the actions poly is comprised of. But I'm new at this, we'll see what I'm saying in a few years.

I love identity politics. As I have said, it has been immensely useful in social movements. It has also been vaguely destructive. Now that movements are tied to identity, a lot of people feel personally insulted when their personal identity appears to be insulted, diminished or threatened in any way by the actions of any other group. What does that kind of fear and intolerance remind me of... oh wait. I remember. All the doughy white dudes insisting that their identity should be the only identity.

Identity politics has made rigid something that cannot be rigid. Identities can be rigid, but that makes us rigid as people. People who can't be flexible aren't very fun to discuss things with. How often do you see people that say things like "I just can't have a reasonable discussion with conservatives."? I hear comments like that a lot. Reasonable discussions are two way streets, and usually I feel like the burden of communicating and maintaining reason in a discussion lies with the more enlightened party (whoever thinks they are the more enlightened party).

Communicating with different identities is much more difficult now. We have pillars of dogmatic thought in our movements, and I think that polyamory is not immune, just a young enough identity/movement that we seem to have many at once.

When communicating with someone who has a drastically different identity than your own, you not only have to be aware of what you are saying as the person will perceive it, but you have to be aware of how you are perceiving what they are saying.

Identity is the filter through which all information is processed. It is more than just our ideology, though that is a filter through which information passes on it's way through our identity filter. It is our childhood, our perception of parental teachings, our adult life to the point the information is processed.
luminescnece
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:40 pm (UTC)
When we speak, we chose our words based on our understanding, we intend to make our point based on our perception of what we want to explain. We leave it there in front of us.
When our dialogue companion hears us, they hear what they perceive we have said. They inform our words through their life experience the same way we do for their words with our own.
They formulate a response based on their perception of our perception of what we want to explain. They leave it there in front of them.
We perceive that perception of our perception and go from there.

All of this is influenced by our language, whether we actually have the words, awareness and literacy and articulation to express exactly what we want. Is it any wonder, in a world where we pay for education, believe that identities are dogmatic and rigid that we can communicate at all?

Tl;Dr, in addition to running out of characters... I got distracted from my point because I took a class on the sociology of identities and find it to be the most interesting thing ever. Don't know what the point is now. Take what you will. ._.
(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Apr. 25th, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - luminescnece - Apr. 25th, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Apr. 25th, 2013 09:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Apr. 26th, 2013 10:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
sezjasaneh
Apr. 25th, 2013 04:19 pm (UTC)
I think the author's alluding to veto/abuse is off, and you make a good point that if they felt that way a veto would be just as useless. You make some good points.

However, I wish I had your poly experience in communities! Like you I've stepped back from both bdsm and poly communities, because I got overly exhausted by all the 'holier than thou' attitudes (I'm in US), even though they werent directed at me. I mean, some people are best at monogamy, and love vanilla behavior. Ok...great! What the hell happened to 'everyone gets to have their own flavor of love' that we in poly-ness are constantly touting? Yet so often I found myself defending monogamous couples because they must somehow be defective, or incapable and imperfect. such bull poo!
terryo
Apr. 25th, 2013 07:17 pm (UTC)
Many of these issues can have a basis in 'herd mentality', where, in groups of people, behavior can be driven by 'us vs them' and accentuating some characteristics which can serve to 'define' the 'herd'.
khall
Apr. 25th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't get the 'poly is privilege' thing. I've known a lot of people who have no money or no job and are poly. It's a logical inconsistency. I mean, these are cultural barriers, not 'real' ones. Being bound by cultural barriers isn't exactly the same as being underprivileged. It might shake out the same, in the end. But at a certain point, you bear responsibility for letting yourself be bound by your culture. If you're raised in a republican household, in the bible belt, you could be excused for having discriminatory views of homosexuality for a while. At a certain point, you intentionally choose to cling to that and decide that's what you believe/are/etc. I see the same thing here. That said 'gatherings' or munches or whatever and that whole culture...definitely emblematic of privilege.

K.
naraba
Apr. 26th, 2013 04:03 pm (UTC)
I made note of typos as I went through. ""maade up of racially", "demgraphic", " leel of disposable income", "invlved", "not an attemt", "papers thaat an be used", "I get th connection", "them weilded", "they ae used", "nvolveed", "Yet f", "iis", "not my exerience", "soome group", "coommunication", "evry subculture", "iits", "I require you to en your relationship". (This isn't me trying to be an ass, I just starting keeping track after the first two).

I unfortunately don't have much commentary, as I'm not really part of any poly communities aside from the general internet rabble. It makes sense that poly communities would vary largely by location, and are probably somewhat reinforcing once established (aka a christian poly person not wanting to hang out with the local establishment of atheist poly people). Is this bad? Probably for people who are deliberately joining a local poly scene, and possibly for the scene itself as it slowly heads towards a monoculture that has little to do with the local community of poly people.

Idle speculation!
tacit
Apr. 29th, 2013 04:42 am (UTC)
Thanks! The typos are fixed, now that I'm back in front of a real computer. :)
fallingupthesky
Apr. 26th, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
When I was younger I made an observation along the lines of "poor people don't choose their lifestyles - they make the best they can with whatever is forced upon them". That's probably a bit of an exaggeration - my childhood and some periods during my 20s were about a constant, desperate struggle to stay off the streets - but it seems like even for the more typical poor, this still holds true to some extent. The first "alternative" community I joined was the nudist/naturist community; the group local to me at the time appeared to be composed almost entirely of people who were and always had been middle class. At least some of them appeared to be utterly baffled by just how much poverty can restrict one's options, much like today's stereotypes of a rich person who just "doesn't get it". There wasn't much common ground between us - my experiences were just too far removed from theirs, and vice versa.

Probably due to the proliferation of the internet, in this and other alt communities which I have been at least somewhat involved in, there's been less of that in more recent years. But I do notice that poorer people tend to be either not part of those communities or less involved with them, and less able to integrate their identities into their daily lives. I've also noted that generally the poorer someone is, the more reliant they are on their family, friends, and other people around them just to get by, and the less likely they are to do things that at least some of those people would not approve of. Or at least not openly, and when you're not very independent hiding things can be rather difficult.
sleepyduck5
Apr. 27th, 2013 04:18 pm (UTC)
I have actually encountered a lot of straight, cisgendered poly people who claim to be queer. It drives me crazy.
deedeebythebay
Apr. 27th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
Through roundabout ways I happenstanced upon this post, and am glad I did.

We were actively poly for about 15 years before we pulled back and stepped out of the community" and for many of the reasons mentioned here.

Please keep in mind that the following are definitely generalizations, and I am aware of this

Privileged or not: I've seen and been on both sides of that coin. My experience was that those with more time and money got to date more and so often had more "partners". If you don't have the time and energy, it is difficult to create authentic relationship.

Veto: Early on when dealing with jealousy, I needed that veto power in it's truest sense. I learned, for myself, was that veto power meant, "I'm feeling insecure so you can't see that person" and it was a crappy way to deal with things. Since we had been married for quite some time what we agreed on for ourselves was "veto power" could only apply if a new partners actions were undermining our relationship or the safety and/or development of our children. I never had a problem speaking up if I saw abuse, probably because I was abused as a child and just won't put up with that crap.

"Just evolve" or smugness: The first and only time my husband came home and told me, in those exact words, that he and his new girlfriend felt I "just needed to evolve" was about the end of him. We worked that out but we both encountered it constantly and really came to despise the attitude. We both experienced the "More Enlightened than Thou" crowd, often pagans who had been practicing some form of poly/swinging supposedly longer than everyone else (or those who had been though a few levels of HAI or Sacred Sexuality) and just grew more and more irritated with their attitudes and inconsistencies.

New Age WooWoo: I have to be careful here in a sense because for a long time I did, and in a sense still do, considered myself a Christo-Pagan...except I just wasn't following the norm there. I still get headaches from the eye-rolling I've done. This is my relationship-style, that is yours. I'm sorry you don't like it, that's your problem. The God/dess didn't tell me so and I don't need one to do so. Sheesh!

More than any of that DRAMA and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY are what made us walk away; our own and that of others. When we first moved to the SF Bay Area we were like kids in a candy shop and were trying everything after leaving the evangelical churches behind and we emulated a lot of what we saw. We began to see it didn't jive with our sense of being personally responsible and for minimizing the drama in our lives. There was a lot of maturity in several relationships, but there was also a LOT of middle-school going on and a lot of rationalization for "bad behavior". Not doing it!

Interestingly enough, part of walking away from that was so our children weren't seeing that as "the norm". Not poly, but the relationship dysfunction. One of ours believes zie is poly but declines to act on that because their partner of choice is not or is not ready. Two years into their relationship, they are definitely "functional". The other is definitely poly, amazes us with zir relationship skills, and zie attributes it to watching that community and seeing what did and did not work. Zie is definitely drama-averse. And they are both still teens! Brave New World!

Will we ever try again? I'd like to think so. Maybe we aren't as "evolved" as our kids. Really, our lives are very full of getting them off to college, our jobs, and our music, I don't see how we have the luxury of the time to do so. But I also think the "area" would make us hesitant. But we have thought of moving home to Portland or Eugene so you never know.
deedeebythebay
Apr. 27th, 2013 05:49 pm (UTC)
I should be very clear that I'm not saying we didn't or even still don't have our own issues. We just needed to take steps to minimize what we perceived to be outside negative elements in our own lives.
lifemovingfwd
Apr. 27th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
Typing by phone so sorry for errors.</p>

1.  I've been poly for just over 20 yrs.  First with my (now ex) husband.  He was a fast food manager, I stayed at home with our 3 small children.  We barely made enough to stay housed.  My boyfriend was a college student from Canada, my girlfriend worked minimum wage and my husband's girlfriends also worked minimum wage.  Currently I made a decent income though boyfriend and his wife are in lower income brackets.  So much for poly = middle class.

2.  I've never been in an abusive poly relationship, only abusive monogamous relationships.

3.  I've known poly people of all ages, income levels and races.

4. I am bi.  I was never made homeless or jobless for it.  I have deep compassion for those who face that pain, but it is not a requirement that one must be in suffering to be bi, or gay, or anything else.  I am not claiming to be bi to please someone else, just for the record.  I can and do claim being poly and bi.

It sounds to me like the OP has some personal issues to address and she had a bad experience with her local community.  I would tell her to start the community she wants and stop trying to define the people around her just because sge didn't feel like she fit in.

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