Stef's Poly Post Archive

Poly in a non-poly society

Poly in a non-poly society

[Considerations in coming out]

The "Montana Requires Homosexuals to Register" story that was bouncing around the net yesterday (apparently they backed down) prompted a conversation between me and my partner about the issue of coming out to our parents as poly/queer/kinky/what have you.

My partner's parents live about 25 miles from us. My parents live about 2000 miles away. Politically, both sets of parents are mixtures of socially tolerant and personally conservative. Both sets of parents are sometimes open minded and sometimes easily shocked. His parents seem somewhat more comfortable with the issue of sex and alternative lifestyles than mine. Both sets of parents know we do "pagan" things and neither set seems particularly to mind.

So far we've worked with the parameters that we won't come out to either set of parents because I don't want to come out to my parents and it would feel weird to me for his parents to know something that mine don't know.

The Montana thing scared him, reminding him of pre-Nazi Germany, and he argued that he wanted to be out in his community and family as poly and kinky so that he engage in queer rights activities openly and could get support if it should be needed. He also pointed out that because his parents live nearby, as well as lots of people who know them and him, he has to be constantly vigilant when he's with his other sweeties, so that no one who knows his parents could carry news back to them. He thinks that to allow them to find out from someone other than him would be rudeness of the highest order.

My feeling is that his family's/community's reception to this news might be colder than he expects and might disrupt our lives rather than helping. As for my parents -- my tendency is to engage in "don't ask, don't tell" -- I don't hide whom I know and whom I spend time with, but I don't tell them anything about my sex life. And so far, my relationships with people other than my partner can reasonably be described as friendships, so to come out to my parents as poly/kinky/bi would mean, basically, discussing my sex life with them. I believe that revealing this information would hurt and confuse my parents and harm my relationship with them, which for the first time in years is pretty damn good, and I'd like it to stay that way.

It still makes me uncomfortable to have his parents know things about us that my parents don't, but if he feels strongly about coming out to his parents, my preferred solution would be to let him do so and still not come out to mine. But it worries me because it risks the beans getting spilled at some point in the future.

The other issue concerns what things to bring "out." I can understand most of all bringing polyamory out, because it affects many parts of our lives, and because it's a concept that's important to promote. I can sort of understand bringing out my bisexuality, although it makes me more uncomfortable because it's mine and not ours, so I don't know why he would particularly want to tell his parents about it. I pretty strongly dislike the idea of discussing BDSM with his parents or mine, because it is so easy to misunderstand as violence, and it could conceivably, in this political climate, lead to arrests for abuse or severe lack of trust and possible interference with children in the future (we don't have any but we plan to). But I think he wants to come out about all of it.

[Should we focus more on the sex part of polyamory than the love part? Wouldn't that be more radical?]

It is dangerous to start down a path that makes what society thinks more important than what we think (including what society thinks about sex). But I do not think that focusing on the "love/intimacy" part of polyamory automatically means that.

Romantic love with multiple people is most certainly frowned upon (whether or not it includes sex). OTOH, having sex with multiple people tends to be pardoned more easily than having multiple romantic relationships.

Go to a bookstore and look in the self help section, and you'll see a lot of books about surviving and forgiving your spouse's affair. Now see whether any of those books suggest that it's OK for your spouse to continue in a romantic relationship with that person as long as they're not having sex. None that I've seen.

When I was encountering polyamory for the first time, my difficulty was not in accepting that someone in a primary partnership with me would want sex with other people, but that zie would want and need romantic relationships with other people. Romantic relationships seemed like more of a threat. I think that's why there are so many "Don't ask, don't tell" arrangements. The person asking for that arrangement is saying, in essence, "You can have sex as long as it doesn't mean something important, something you would have to tell me."

To the extent that I am challenging something by doing polyamory, I am challenging the restriction that says "You can have only one adult sexual/romantic relationship at a time."

[How should polyamory be explained to the larger culture?]

I think polyamory is a sexual orientation similar to hetersexual/bisexual/homosexual if you are of the opinion that the latter three changeable in some cases. If one claims that het/bi/gay are fixed in all cases, then I don't think poly is a sexual orientation, because in some cases it is clearly not fixed.

I think ultimately the best way to present polyamory to the culture at large is as a relationship style issue. A family style issue. People wouldn't attack you if you chose to have your aging parents live with you. They wouldn't attack you if you and your spouse took separate apartments for six months so that you could pursue jobs in different cities. (They might gossip, but I doubt they'd try to mount a legal challenge.) They wouldn't attack you for choosing to have five kids. So why should they attack if you choose to have more than one partner?

[Should polyamorists identify themselves with people of other minority sexual orientations?]

I sort of fundamentally "don't get" your question about groups because I look at individuals rather than groups. I think groups are made up of individuals with particular tendencies, and for any interest, there will be various groups with differing focuses and intensities.

Another somewhat related thought on "the importance of identities": The importance of various aspects of identity seems to change depending on what's going on in one's life. When I first came out as bisexual, I was very caught up in identifying as a bisexual person. These days, it doesn't seem like a big deal -- I just am, that's all. When I first began exploring polyamory, I was very focused on it and where I fit in, and to some extent I am still in that phase, but less so than a year or two ago.

So I think that given any possible "identity," it will be an obsession for some people and reasonably important for others and not particularly important for still others. I think that both can be healthy; if there are some situations in which one is healthier, I think they'd depend on the person and what stage of life / identity exploration they're in.

The problem is not in how someone identifies oneself, but in how one identifies others. It is better in most cases to be able to accept other people who don't happen to have {lifestyle} than to reject them as sinners/oppressors/chauvinists/misguided simply because they don't have {lifestyle}. The problem with some political groups is that they reject out of hand anyone who doesn't fit their narrow identity profile.

[Should poly people work with queer people to improve society's attitude toward alternative relationships?]

I don't see much point in determining who's more persecuted than whom. Poly people want something, queer people want something similar; we work together to make that happen.

I've never liked the "more persecuted than thou" aspect of activism. I find it divisive and I think it encourages feelings of helplessness and victimization.

I guess we agree that "us poor victimized polys" shouldn't be part of our political agenda. :-)

I think whether someone identifies strongly with being poly is up to the individual, and I don't agree with trying to develop an across-the-board rule about it.

[Should people publicly identify as poly?]

Poly-people are not persecuted and harrassed to the point of fearing for their lives *only* because most people have never heard of polyamory. If it became more widely known, you had better believe poly-people would be persecuted and harrassed, especially those who live in family groups.

I think political action groups with similar agendas should cooperate on issues that concern all the groups. Domestic partnership law could benefit if it were extended to multiple partners, for example.

Basically, poly relevant laws are the laws that say who is a family member and who isn't. Who gets custody of kids, who gets to visit in the hospital, who gets benefits, etc. Who gets invited to company parties. Whether there are "Companions fly free" specials on airplanes. Triple-occupancy rates at hotels. Etc.

I think each person can make up zir own mind about how much to identify as poly and how much time to think about it. Someone who is primarily partnered to one person but has friends that they have sex with may not want or need to spend as much time thinking about poly-activism as would a family of several adults and kids who are committed to each other's welfare and want that recognized by society.

[Is polyamory outside the basis for society?]

The "basis of society" upon which polyamory rests is "people live in family groups." The only difference between polyamory and monogamy is how many adults are in the family at one time.

[Ways that the culture subtly discourages people from certain paths.]

Erm. No laws *stopping* [a boy going into parenting, or ballet dancing] perhaps, but there are a lot of subtle and not so subtle discouragements -- parents' disapproval, peers' lack of understanding, and those make it harder for some people.

This is one of the points of feminism that I have always thought was poorly understood: that improving equality of the sexes meant not only making laws to prevent discrimination but also attacking discrimination at a psychological level -- the internal beliefs that hold people back from what they want to do because they think "only {opposite gender} can do that."

If someone strongly wants to do something that's against the unwritten rules, they can. But the more subtle pressure there is not to do it, the harder it is for some people to break through.

this applies to polyamory: lots of people dream about it but never get there because they think their circumstances won't allow it. There are few enforceable laws against it, but there is a mass of public opinion and public ignorance.

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