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Friday, November 5, 2010

It means what?

A while back Mistress Matisse wrote a piece for "the Stranger" titled "The Great Polyamory vs. Polyfuckery Debate". Find the article here if interested:

Alan of Polyamorous Percolations of course commented on his own blog "I hope she was just having a pissy day. . ." See Alan's related blog post here if interested:

Basically Matisse seemed to be complaining that purist groups have formed who believe there is one true and right way to do Polyamory and anyone not doing it that way is wrong. She seems to be frustrated that using the term Polyamory makes her a target for these purists so instead she will use the term Nonmonogamy. But, she doesn't seem happy with the negative connotations around that word either.

Alan in his post pretty much said he didn't see the problem as Matisse did, and quoted some pretty good resources for his feeling that way.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle with this one. That may sound vanilla but give me a second and you will find I do have a strong opinion.

I have heard the purists and myself have been one at times so I haven't had the same experiences as Alan who doesn't see the "One True Way putdowns" as he says. At the same time I think Matisse (and others) may have helped to create her own problem. (I say "may" because I don't know her personally. Given her psuedonym, I probably don’t care to either).

Here is what I think is going on. There are people out there who believe strongly in Polyamory. Call them purists if you like but what they believe is in the literal meaning of the word; multiple loves. When they see others using the word Polyamory to describe behavior like Swinging, Open Relationships, etc. they stand up and say "No, that isn't Polyamory" and end up looking like the purists mentioned in the quoted articles. What they are doing is trying to protect their lifestyle, and the word Polyamory, from corruption. Personally I don't see anything wrong with that. Think about it for a minute. If there were a lot of people practicing relationship designs with ethics different from the literal meaning of the word Polyamory, but using the word to describe their relationships, the literal meaning of Polyamory would be lost. The word would become commonly associated with a bunch of different relationship models. Not all of those models could be considered ethically or morally less desirable than Polyamory, but then again they could.

Take another look at things. Say gay rights are finally fully realized giving gay people the protections and rights they have always wanted. Gay is (roughly) two men in a relationship or two women in a relationship. Now let us pretend the BDSM community wanted those same rights and began presenting themselves as gay to get them. It wouldn't be right would it? Gay people would probably be up in arms appearing as "purists" and speaking out against the BDSM folks. In some ways, though that was an extreme example, I think that is what a lot of the Poly "purists" are doing. They don't want to end up with a default association to a group that practices an ethically, morally, or completely different type of Polyamory than is commonly practiced and understood to be Polyamory.

Speaking from my own experiences, when I have spoken up and defended Polyamory as a "purist" it hasn't been to promote the lifestyle, it has been to make it clear how I practice Polyamory or to differentiate myself from others. For example the following conversation;
Me "I am Polyamorous".
Her "Oh, so you want to marry a bunch of women".
Me "No hon, that is Polygamy" and then I explain my idea of Polyamory and the difference from Polygamy.

Does that make me a purist? Not by a long shot. I believe there are many forms of Polyamory but Polygamy doesn't fit my definition. That said, there are plenty of folks out there who believe Polygamy falls under the umbrella definition of Polyamory. I'm one of them. But I sure as heck am going to explain to someone I have that conversation with that my Polyamory is different from Polygamy because I don't want to get labeled or grouped in with Polygamists.

Now, at the same time I do believe there is a fine line between defending yourself, correcting misconceptions, and preaching a "One True Way" to do things. I have heard plenty of Polyfolk defend themselves and correct misconceptions but I rarely hear the One True Way types saying there is only one way to practice Polyamory.

Should a basic, common understanding of Polyamory be defended? I think so. I believe it necessary to lend credibility to the lifestyle. Should a one true way be assigned to the word Polyamory? In my mind no, because it invalidates the very word by doing so.

Chime in, what are your thoughts on this one?

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