Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor. They could be your neighbours, friends, your postman. They might live their lives without drama, or publicity. Above all, they don’t call themselves polyamorous. And yet, they are.
As an polyamory activist, I’ve found that having a word to define my unconventional relationships helped in the beginning. It gave others a label, and me a call to authority. But as I approach a decade of honest and consensual non-monogamy, I am starting to find that the word polyamory gives me an unnecessarily isolating position. Because there are many like me, who approach the transitions of relationships from one form to another, honestly, consensually and by exploring the form that suits us all best, but few who are willing to wave the flag for polyamory because it falls under the banner of ‘queer’. I challenge normative thinking, I’m a staunch ally, but I wouldn’t normally be considered part of the queer movement, if it weren’t for my relationship choice. I’m happy to be called queer if it suits, happy to fight under queer, proud to be named queer, but since I’m heterosexual I’ve found that many queer folk would prefer that I be an ally rather than appropriating their hard won identity.
For those who don’t label the form of their non-normative relationship, that their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or partner has other romantic relationships, is something they’ve decided helps solidify their own relationship, or transition to a different style of relationship. It’s part of their human experience and it’s their normal.
“If you hadn’t made it into a cause,” said my boyfriend, “then I think Dad would be able to accept it easier.”
Secret subtext, if only the style of our open triad relationship didn’t seem to be part of our identity, if polyamory wasn’t sold to the world at large as the ‘opposite’ to monogamy, then his Dad would have less of a problem accepting that this was how we chose to live our lives. I don’t agree with that, and for that reason I’ve aligned myself with the queer movement, feeling it better to support rather than to differentiate myself. But recognising difference isn’t necessarily discriminatory.
Calling it polyamory queer, when it associates the relationship form with gender or sexuality as opposed to simply being a descriptor of the freedom to choose to configure your relationships in the way that suits you all, is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it gives some validity. On the other it gives you a predefined identity. Yet polyamory is intersectional. And really has been only visible as a choice within the queer community, until now. Why, I can only hazard a guess. Maybe because when you have already come out once for your non-normative inclination, ‘coming out’ as polyamorous isn’t as big a deal. Yet coming out as polyamorous when I conform to many other ‘norms’ has proved scandalous in my life.
I’m qualified – as the British press like to point out – in business and finance and a mother of two. Mainstream media prefers highlighting a story like this because of what they perceive as situational irony. They find it easier to make a shocking story out of a relatively normative person in an non-normative relationship. I don’t like that this is the case, yet it is reality.
In Sweden – where I live – they’re making a case for attaching the ‘P’ to LGBTQIA. It’s the thin end of the wedge, getting polyamory under the door into ‘queer’ theory and making it part of higher education. But although queer by definition is a critique of normative identity, it is still grounded in gender and sexuality. In truth gender and sexuality might have little to do with whether you conduct loving relationships in parallel. Let’s be honest, there’s very little about me that’s queer and if I’m to include that in my identity it feels like yet another appropriation of the queer struggle.
I want for people to be able to choose how they configure their relationships, I am seeking to help legitimise these choices for all of us, to have them protected within legal, neutral constructs regardless of gender or sexuality. I’m not looking to convert people to my way, only for people to find and be supported in their way of being happy in their relationships. And as many of us have a serial monogamy approach to life, that is, moving from one pair bond to the next, perhaps our job as polyamory activists, is better reframed by helping others rewrite what a relationship means in today’s society, where we live longer, travel extensively, change more. Talking about how it is possible to end or transition a relationship, with less pain and less recrimination. In more honesty, less acrimony. Perhaps in parallel, perhaps for the long term, perhaps not. Because if there’s one thing that polyamorous people acknowledge, it’s that you cannot promise future feelings. I believe that this knowledge alone – and the acceptance of it – would help many.
I’d like to put it out there. Those who like me, believe in freedom of choice. To those who are like me, parents. To those who like me, think that there must be a better way for us to support all those who love several, but for whom infidelity, betrayal and divorce seems to be the only option. Because polyamory is not only about loving in parallel, it’s also about loving more honestly. And that doesn’t have to be queer.