This article is based on a public Facebook post I made, and adapted after much animated discussion, for which I am very grateful. You can check out the original post here.
The tl;dr summary: Language is important, and I believe it’s important we, as a polyamorous community, start to get this right if we want to have mainstream understanding and acceptance. “Polyamory” is NOT a born-with orientation, but “Non-Monogamy” might be.
Feeling activated or curious? read on?
So, it’s Pride month, and I see a number of folks in polyamory groups getting excited about Pride. This frustrates me. I want to remind everyone there’s no “P” in LGBTQI+, and that Polyamory is a relationship style and not a sexual orientation.
Polyamory — non-monogamous relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved— is a choice, one of many options for doing non-monogamy, and is not an orientation. Other ways to do non-monogamy could include: swinging, casual sex, open relationships, cheating, seeing a sex worker, BDSM relationships.
It frustrates me to see people in the polyamorous community trying to co-opt Pride for themselves. I know that there’s legal issues and social acceptance issues unique to polyamorous relationships. And yes, I get it, some people who do polyamory consider it to be their orientation— there’s also people who believe the earth is flat, or that Drumpf is the greatest president ever— believing those things doesn’t mean that they are right.
I love that polyamorous communities participate in pride and march in parades. I think that’s GREAT. But please remember to do so as ALLIES to the queer community, and not as a political statement or recruitment opportunity. There’s better times, places, and platforms to push for the rights of those who don’t do monogamy.
Too many people think the only way to do non-monogamy is to cheat. Or they read about polyamory and justify their cheating as being because “This is how I am!” and a partner’s refusal to open up a relationship leads to accusations of oppression. Thinking of polyamory as an orientation is how we get far too many men (usually) on dating sites saying “I’m poly but my wife doesn’t know”.
Like, no dude, just no.
If you do poly and are queer: great, celebrate your queerness!
If you do poly and are trans: amazing, celebrate your transness!
If you do poly and are straight and cis, but have a partner who is part of the LGBTQI+ community, then ask them how you can best support them during Pride!
If you are poly and are straight and cis and only date people who are straight and cis, you can support your friends in the LGBTQI+ world by being their ally. Being an ally means you support them to make more space for queer acceptance in the world, and in your communities. It doesn’t mean you take the spotlight for yourself.
Again, polyamory is one of MANY ways to do non-monogamy, and not an orientation, and isn’t related to gender. I will continue to repeat this at every opportunity. I have seen far too many people use “I’m poly, this is how I was made, you have to let me sleep with other people or you are repressing me” as a means to coerce a partner into ‘being okay’ with opening up the relationship, or to justify cheating. This does not make for healthy relationships.
I do however think that non-monogamy might be something that is hardwired for some of us. Just as Pride includes sexual orientation (eg lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gay, etc), and gender identity (trans, intersex, non-binary, etc) I do think there’s the possibility for a third dynamic, that of relational wiring. Relational wiring might encompass aromatic, asexual/demi-sexual, and include non-monogamy. The Kinsey Institute has only just started publishing research on this stuff and it is early days yet.
So, let us say that non-monogamy is part of a spectrum of relational wiring, and perhaps that’s something that does deserve some space at Pride. Even then, we have a choice about how we do it. We can do it honestly or dishonestly. We can do it with integrity, or we can do it in the shadows. We can do it with the knowledge and consent of all involved, or we can be private and secretive about it. I don’t believe that honesty or ethics are qualities that can be inherently wired in us, I think those are a conscious choice, and polyamory is an ongoing action, rather than a permanent state of being.
I think the polyamorous community has a much better chance to public acceptance if we start to shift the conversation. “Look, I think I’m wired for non-monogamy. I could cheat, or I could do it honestly, and with the full knowledge and enthusastic consent of everyone involved.” is far more likely to be met with compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Not guaranteed to, but more likely, I think.
For me, queer is something that I am. Non-monogamous is also something that I am. Polyamory describes something that I do in my relationships.