Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Polyamory is the wrong word.
Recently I have had or witnessed more than a few discussions about what the word Polyamory or other Poly related terms mean. I've noticed something of an interesting trend which is that Poly people generally seem to dislike labels, are accepting of other lifestyles, and tend to avoid trying to place a specific definition on the word Polyamory. At the same time many are frustrated when they encounter others presenting themselves as Polyamorous but then find their lifestyle isn't what they consider Polyamorous.
A specific comment I saw was Deborah Anapol asking if she should discontinue use of the term Polyamory in favor of the term Responsible Non-Monogamy. My response to that comment was:
To me, lumping Polyamory under the Responsible Non-Monogamy umbrella assumes a static definition of the word Polyamory that defines something of a moral standard. Unfortunately I see plenty of people applying the Polyamory label to themselves that live a lifestyle that could hardly be considered “Responsible”.
It also seems that any definition of Polyamory that relies on the term “Monogamy” implies that Monogamy is the norm and Polyamory is an alternative or variation which could be considered of lesser value or subordinate to Monogamy.
If the problem is that Polyamory isn’t descriptive enough maybe that is because the word is being used casually by many people to define a large variety of lifestyles causing the word to have lost a defined meaning? Rather than finding a new word maybe the solution is to stop accepting the inappropriate application of the word Polyamory and cause it to once again have a defined and valuable definition.
Not long after this discussion I became involved in another discussion about the word Primary. Comments like "Someone can have multiple Primaries" or "Primary doesn't mean First" abounded to which my response was to quote the dictionary definition that basically states a Primary is first in order. You would have thought I dropped a fire-bomb on a group of kindergartners singing "We are the World". Basically I was told that creating a static definition for the word Primary was unfair, people should be allowed to define it for themselves. Not to mention the word Primary doesn't address the possibility of two people being in "first position", nor did the dictionary definition take into account Polyamory.
The same people who are struggling to find a descriptive word that accurately reflects the design of their lifestyle are the same people screaming that it is unfair to create a static definition for a word and everyone should be able to define it for themselves.
I think there is a logic problem there folks. If you refuse to allow the definition of the word Primary (or any other word) because it may exclude some folks, and want to find a new word to use, how exactly will that help?
Let's try an example. We don't want to use the word Primary anymore to describe the "main" relationship someone has. The person they are married to, joined with, or otherwise have a strong relationship with that may involve kids, mortgages, and take higher priority than other relationships. Instead we are now going to use the word Plob. But wait, Plob to you means the equivalent of a traditionally defined Primary but it doesn't to me. In my Poly world everyone I have a relationship with is a Plob!! And since creating a static definition for Plob would be unfair and we need to let everyone define it for themselves, my new definition of Plob is as valid as yours.
Now we are back to the same problem we had with the word Primary originally.
Instead of changing the word, maybe we need to change how the word is used. Using it appropriately, within a well established definition, would make the word useful again. Think about any simple conversation you have with another person. You can only have a conversation that makes sense if you are both using words that are generally understood the same way by both people and used within that understanding in a logical manner. Without that you might as well be speaking different unknown languages. Even reading this article would be impossible if I defined every word I used here in a different way than you do.
What are your thoughts about this one?