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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Word Up!


I love talking to people since I always, always learn something. Sometimes they make me think about things from a different perspective I hadn't previously realized. Other times I simply find that my view of things may not align with common social perceptions of a topic.

This is where the disclaimer is presented. I'm going to use some language here that may be offensive. I don't intend it to be but by default current social connotations may cause offense. The language I will use is purely for example and not intended to offend anyone.

I recently found myself in a conversation about the history of polyamory. There was general agreement that polyamory has existed for quite some time though it wasn't defined as polyamory. The word Polyamory is generally believed to have been created sometime in the late 60's or early 70's though there are plenty of disagreements about that.

One fine gentleman expressed the opinion that although polyamory as a concept has existed for a long time, validity of the lifestyle came about with the creation of the word and definition; Polyamory. His reasoning seemed to be that prior to the word being created the lifestyle was undefined and often grouped in with open relationships, swinging and even more fringe styles incorporating GLBT elements. With the word and definition the time for Polyamory has come!

This was where I started to disagree. I do believe that defining the lifestyle to exclude elements of swinging, open relationships, etc. with the word Polyamory has lent some credibility to the lifestyle. By default, this has eliminated part of the social stigma associated with Polyamory. But I don't agree that creation and definition of the word itself has driven social acceptance. I believe that although Polyamory has gained a lot of credibility and acceptance in recent years it may still not be accepted into mainstream social psychology as an acceptable relationship design.

Here is the basis for my reasoning which is also where some may be offended.

At one time it was acceptable to call colored people 'negro'. At some point that word got mixed with 'nigger' which was obviously offensive. Though I don't have the history down, the words 'Black' and 'Colored' were also acceptable then became somewhat less acceptable. I believe the term now is 'African American' (unless it changed again while I was writing this article).

Likewise the homosexual lifestyle has had its share of labels; Gay, Fag, and Homo. Each one being at one point acceptable, then becoming offensive, and a new word taking over.

My point is that being African American is not new. Being homosexual is not new. And the creation of new words to define those groups of people are not what validated their existence. The groups existed and have struggled for a long time to gain acceptance. What I believe has happened is this; when a group of people are not being accepted into mainstream society the word used to define that group acquires a certain negative social stigma. In an attempt to break that stigma and better define themselves the group will over time acquire a new word and definition. I think that cycle continues until social acceptance is achieved at which time whatever word is currently being used is the one that sticks.

I don't believe that cycle with polyamory has ended yet. I don't believe polyamory has been socially accepted to the point that Polyamory will be the last word used. I think because it isn't yet widely accepted that negative social stigma will slowly attach to the word Polyamory, at some point necessitating a new word and definition.

Another reason I say that is because of the definition of Polyamory. As the joke goes, "Ask 10 poly's their definition of Polyamory and you will get 10 different answers". If a word is so loosely defined within the community that uses that word to define themselves I have a hard time seeing the word survive over time.

I do like the word Polyamory and I sincerely hope I am wrong. Not just because I like the word but because I hope the time for acceptance is here.

Only time will tell.

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