As a little girl, I was taught that humans are by nature monogamous, we were supposed to commit sexually and more often than not emotionally to one. The opposite to monogamy was promiscuity, a graveyard for fuck-ups characterized by an inability to commit. It was a sign of a weak character and a perversion. There was no Kinsey monogamy scale and few socially accepted constructs for those who preferred non-monogamy.
As an adult I found another option which suited me better: ethical, consensual non-monogamy. Some called it polyamory, and I discovered that it was practiced across a global community. But I was not born polyamorous. I choose to live in a polyamorous relationship and have had to fight hard against my own gut instincts on many occasions.
That I believe I’ve chosen this option is something I constantly have to justify to my monogamous peers. Some push backs I’ve received for living a polyamorous life tend to be on religious grounds or moral grounds. But due to articles where I enumerate instances of rape, abuse and a difficult childhood there is a significant proportion who dismiss my right to choose how I live my life, on the grounds that I am perverted in the clinical, as well as the sexual, sense. Deviant, fucked up and well, mostly beyond redemption. They think a solid bout of therapy would bring me to my [monogamous] senses. If only I could resolve my issues, I would be ‘normal’.
When I discovered the polyamorous community, I expected that I would be sharing war-stories for support and advice. I was surprised to discover that I might have to justify my choice within the community, and that the very idea of justifying polyamory as a choice may even be controversial.
For many polyamorous folk, they were “born this way”. They can remember polyamorous attitudes from young age; but that’s not the case for me. Considering the success of the US LGBTQ movement in the last years, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at how important this poly-by-nature idea is. It offers a tantalizing reward, the immediate validation of our way of life using the same legal arguments as prior civil-rights movements.
So, just as often as I have to justify myself to monogamous folk, I have found that I have had to justify myself to my polyamorous friends. Just the other day, even one of my boyfriends thought he was calling me out:
‘You’re not really polyamorous, you’re just fucked up.’
Fighting for my right to choose is in some ways a more complicated fight because it doesn’t allow me to use the argument ‘I was born this way.’ I think there is a fear that if polyamory becomes associated with “choice”, it will not make a strong enough case for our civil rights. I disagree.
Whilst biological predisposition might make a strong case for some human rights, fighting for acceptance of polyamory on this basis is also what makes it more easily dismissed. At the TED presentation of their Sex at Dawn findings, the TED host asks Dr. Chris Ryan whether a change from polyamorous tribes to monogamous cityfolk wasn’t a sign of cultural evolution – the implication being that some biological predispositions are meant to be overcome by our civilized selves.
Science is currently exploring genetic dispositions towards sexual inclinations like pedophilia and bestiality. I don’t know many people who care about what any evidence science will produce: the problem with pedophilia isn’t whether its biological or not, it’s that there are insurmountable issues about consent, if a pedophiliac inclination is expressed through child molestation.
To my mind, biological disposition is therefore a weak premise for legitimizing sexual autonomy. Choice of sexual expression and the form it takes between consenting adults, makes a stronger foundation for establishing the civil rights we so badly need to protect us all against discrimination and unjustifiable action. I claim that polyamory as a relationship choice deserves to be protected. I claim that it is not detrimental to the moral fabric of our society or to our characters, but can on the contrary be highly beneficial.
I love polyamory as a philosophy. Many loves. An ethical, joyful alternative to cheating. A sex-positive adult community which carefully considers consent, abuse and gender identity. I enjoy and contribute to these discussions educating myself as I go, but all those reasons are corollaries. Because there has been a lot of conflict in my life and this is a large part of what motivates my choice.
There have been a lot of lies in my life both hidden and overt. There has also been a lot of anxiety. Lies breed anxiety due to cognitive dissonance. That’s a fact. Some are good at lying. I am. But lying also compounded my propensity towards anxiety until I realized that it was far better for my psychological well-being, not to lie. I also avoid unnecessary drama if I can help it, for the same reason.
So one of the things about polyamory which is good for me is that it espouses a commitment to honesty. When you commit to honesty there is a greater risk of conflict, of drama. But I have found that honesty, true honesty, is a two way street. You can only expect honesty from someone else, if you do not judge them afterwards for their honesty. If you recognize and address the drama before it escalates into full blown conflict. Otherwise they will eventually lie to you to avoid your harsh judgement and the ensuing drama – that’s human nature. My life is full of honest and open discussion about difficult topics. Attraction. Jealousy. Resentment. We talk about it all, owning our individual shit, calling out drama as it occurs and before it escalates, trying our best to accept each other and often laughing as we talk.
You don’t of course have to be polyamorous in order to be honest. But with this level of honesty also comes the freedom to be exactly who you are. Even if the person you are, might not be a paragon of what society defines as virtue. What kind of person am I? As one commenter on my blog nastily put it,
‘You just can’t keep it in your pants.’
By it, I assume (s)he was talking about my genitals. That’s not true. I can keep them in my pants, but I prefer to get it out when I connect with someone so intimately that sex is a natural next step. I like sexual connection, especially when it follows mind connection. I like to be able to love several. I want that freedom (even if I exercise my right sparingly). Why is it so important?
Freedom, I would venture a guess, is important to many. It is valuable in and of itself. But for me it is important because as a child I had none. I was strictly groomed into what I should be, first by parents, then by society and then by an abusive man. When you’ve been subject to an excessive amount of control, you become sensitive to it. I want freedom not only sexually, but in all areas of my life, to be the happiest I can be. If I ever work in the nine-to-five, it is as a contractor. As a journalist, I write freely about my opinions. I choose to live in a liberal culture. Those who question my choices obsess about my sexual choices instead of my career path though because whilst escaping the nine-to-five is laudable, apparently my genitals don’t deserve the same freedom.
You could say therefore, that I am ethically non-monogamous because I hate lying and I want relationship freedom for me and my partners. It’s true; I do. You could also say I identify as polyamorous because I adore the idea of community living and love several. That’s true, too. I live happily with others like me who believe they are either born polyamorous or have chosen polyamory as a way of life. Love, honesty and freedom between consenting adults who choose the relationship configuration which works best for all involved, are our core drivers and they are not issues to be ‘fixed’ in a therapist’s office. It’s why I support relationship choice – the right to choose to live polyamorously or indeed monogamously – independent of genetic predisposition.