The Appropriation of Relationship Anarchy by Non-Anarchists

Louisa Leontiades Epic Relationships, Relationship Anarchy, Unfenced Relationships

I stand accused of appropriation… and I am startled, yet I confess also exhilarated. Because being accused of something like this, gives me a great opportunity for self-examination. As a cis-gendered heteroflexible British white woman, it is difficult to avoid doing or saying the ‘wrong’ thing. I am careful. I constantly try to check my privilege yet can never really be aware of it. Being aware of privilege is really, really hard when you live in a peaceful pre-dominantly white, predominantly hetero-, easy going, affluent village in an extremely liberal country like Sweden.

Given that my social circles are fairly homogenous, much of my thirst for education is sated by a myriad of conflicting articles on the web plus a smattering of tumblr-feed and Facebook comments (which I read with a heavy dose of salt). But sometimes it seems the more I learn, the less I know. I haven’t pretended to be a race I am not, nor have I worn jewellery with spiritual significance I don’t believe in, nor exploited indigenous knowledge for my own commercial gain–of that I am pretty confident. What I have done is to define myself as a Relationship Anarchist.

And the anarchists reply,

Anarchy as a term belongs to the international mass movement of millions of theorists, militants and followers who toiled over close to 200 years to define it as a theory and a practice. I find this usage appropriative.

I think I agree with them. The term has been appropriated–long before I got around to using it. But whether in this instance it’s wrong? My internal jury’s still out. Creating new words to otherwise describe my approach to relationships just because I’m not an Anarchist, even though Relationship Anarchy perfectly describes the way I have grown to conduct my relationships, seems unreasonable.

At some point or other if you self define as a Relationship Anarchist you might be challenged as to whether you are Anarchist enough to use the term. As with so many other conversations about possession and ownership of language, my opinion is that every language in the world has merged, evolved and changed over time. Words gain additional usages whilst others fall into disuse. The Oxford English Dictionary for example, changed it definition of marriage last year to include same sex couples (hurrah). Relationship Anarchy might have been coined by anarchists but is no longer ‘relationships by anarchists’; it is ‘relationships reinterpreted with anarchistic principles’ (See Andie Nordgren’s The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy from 2006).

Relationship Anarchy, is a relationship style characterised most often by a rejection of rules, expectations and entitlement around personal relationships.

Relationship Anarchists are reticent to label their relationships according to normative expression (boyfriend, girlfriend etc.) believing these labels to be inherently hierarchical but rather look at the content of the individual relationships allowing their fluidity to evolve naturally under the guiding principles of love, respect, freedom and trust.

Relationship Anarchy does not predefine sexual inclination, gender identity or relationship orientation.

Relationship Anarchy is apolitical in most of the defining literature I have found. The manifesto for Relationship Anarchy itself carries no inherent politics. Yet the situation today is that the term is often used without reference to the anarchist ideology–clearly because it is fulfilling an important role in discussions about the future of relationships. The question then is, whether this is clumsy exercise of privilege, or a desirable evolution of an idea through broader usage.

Relationship Anarchy describes my current philosophy. I have a fluid network of unique relationships which involve varying degrees of commitment and intimacy. Some relationships were started with many expectations, that have been disbanded over time and I work constantly to identify and discard those that remain. I have embraced the fact that my network will change over time, as life happens. Change is often painful but welcome, love is around the corner, and I have come to trust myself and my ability to grow and learn. Relationship Anarchy can be seen as an aspirational set of values and certainly accommodates my choice of expression for my relationship orientation. 

A recent peer article Relationship Anarchy is not Post-Polyamory, noted that Relationship Anarchy was often misrepresented as non-hierarchical polyamory. Whilst I disagree with the author that you must use relationship anarchy as a political statement, I do agree that the difference between Relationship Anarchy and non-hierarchical polyamory is “not laying down explicit rules and expectations for any of the interpersonal relationships in your life.” 

This single defining characteristic is what makes Relationship Anarchy both so rewarding and so difficult. We are all riddled with expectations, even going so far as to define a person’s moral standing on whether we can depend on them to meet certain expectations and/or commitments. It limits their capacity for change, and in a very real sense their freedom to do so. But the reward is huge, when you understand that every person around you is there because they actively choose in the present moment, to be near you. And you appreciate their continued presence with a poignancy usually unknown in structurally bound relationships, because at any moment they are capable of using exercising that freedom to leave. 

So if anarchist theory and practice helped to develop the concept of Relationship Anarchy, then I am so, so grateful to the theorists, militants and thinkers who built the foundation. And I look forward to exploring further both the question of appropriation as well as what implications I miss by not identifying with the political roots of the term…

Discussion to be continued.