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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dyslexic Dichotomy

If you visit here often you know that sometimes things bug me. Usually they are things that most people probably dismiss easily. For some reason I can't. They chew at my brain, and sometimes my morality, mercilessly until somehow they are vented from my consciousness, hopefully in a constructive manner.

Here is the one bugging me a bit right now. . .

I know someone who is poly, let us call her Ethel, who is in a family support group that includes both adults and children. The group is on the alternative side of things so it would theoretically be comprised of more open-minded people. Ethel however has recently found out that might not be the case. Being an overly affectionate and vocal person about her poly (and lifestyle) views, she has drawn some attention to herself, and complaints from group members. Being a sensitive woman, Ethel is deeply hurt by this.

Knowing Ethel personally, I know that she is publicly quite affectionate and indeed, quite vocal. She has even told me directly how a friend of ours was hiding their poly lifestyle from their children and she felt it was her obligation as a parent to take those children aside and explain polyamory to them, against their parents wishes. Yikes! Fortunately she ended up not having the opportunity to do so.

When she expressed her dismay at having someone complain about her public displays of affection, and vocal poly conversations she was having, I gently tried to let her know that some people are sensitive to things to which they, and their children, are exposed. The feedback was not received well and Ethel made it clear she knows how to act appropriately. Umm, okay.

I'm really only telling you these things so you know enough of the story for it to make sense. This next part is where I think it gets interesting.

Ethel decided to get some online feedback about the situation. There were quite a few comments made on the topic. Some suggested she ignore the issues, others that she try to find out who made the complaint. Some suggested she try to work things out, or turn the other cheek. Others suggested the complainer was simply a mean, unhappy person and that Ethel shouldn't change a thing about her behavior.

The overall theme was that Ethel had a right to act the way she was. Most believed that Ethel is a loving, caring person (which I think she is at heart) and it was ridiculous for someone to complain about that. An underlying tone was that Ethel did nothing wrong, shouldn't change, and it was the complainers problem not hers. Essentially, Ethel should be able to talk about whatever she wants, whenever she wants, regardless of the audience.

Here is the sticky part. Those commenting that Ethel should do as she pleases are primarily from the Poly community. They are the same people who scream bloody murder if a monogamous person starts espousing the benefits of monogamy, or God forbid a Christian falls into their pagan laps and is vocal about their religion, and they are the same people who become almost frenzied when exclusivity or discrimination over their Poly lifestyle comes up.

What I got out of the discussion about the problem was this; Do as I say, not as I do.

For some reason a lot of people seem to think it is okay to shout their beliefs from the highest rooftops, beat people senseless with them, convert the opposition, and that they should be legally and morally justified in doing so. But should anyone with an opposing view try to do the same they are the first screaming a breach of morality and begging for legal sanctions.

Ridiculous. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Didn't anyone else learn that one growing up? It isn't a difficult concept really. Have some consideration if other parents don't want their children hearing about your poly lifestyle and multiple partners. Do you have to agree with how they are raising their children? Not at all. But it would be wise to respect their role as parents lest they decide to disrespect yours and educate your children on a subject of which you aren't fond.

Your thoughts?


  1. A question for you -

    Was Ethel bringing up her poly experiences when the topic of relationships naturally came up in conversation or was she injecting it into unrelated discussions in an attempt to get people to agree with her?

    There's a pretty big difference between the two.

    I don't have a problem with talking about general-your life (whether that's your religious or political beliefs, monogamy/polyamory, having/not having kids, etc) when the conversation turns to those topics.

    And of course parents have the right to protect their kids from whatever they don't want little ears to hear about but ultimately maintaining those boundaries are _their_ responsibility. If the parents are that protective of their kids they might have to find a new group of friends (and/or get a sitter.)

    It's unreasonable to expect others to lie about or hide who they are simply because hearing the truth makes general-you uncomfortable. (This is doubly true if the rule only applies one way!) Part of living in a pluralistic society is rubbing shoulders with people from very different walks of life.

    But I do have a serious problem with pushy proselytizers...especially when general-you have been told to back off multiple times. I've ended more than one friendship over that sort of thing. Definitely not cool.

    So I don't know. I don't think anyone is 100% in the right here. Looking forward to some other opinions, though!

  2. The Preacher's Kid,

    I hesitate to try and say what Ethel was doing because a) I wasn't there and b) I only heard her side of things.
    Knowing Ethel the way she is though, here is my guess; I'm betting the group of parents is expecting conversations overheard by the kids to be light and not socially 'challenging' such as talk about alternative lifestyles, sex, abortion, all those naturally controversial topics. Ethel, as I know her, is not a proselytizer but is more than willing to share her opinions without care of who might hear, including children. I don't know if she has been told to quiet it down before or not. With that limited amount of information, I agree with most of your points and even that Ethel should be free to speak her mind if it is topic relevant and there are no objections.

    What surprised me though, was the almost unanimous feedback she got online that she should keep saying whatever she wanted. Mind you, this is in response to her posting that there had been a complaint.

    Consideration of the situation aside (such as children being around and this being a church group) once a complaint is made, in my opinion, she should probably apply a bit better filter before speaking. I was, and am, amazed that people were urging her to continue being vocal despite the complaint and it left me with the impression that because Ethel was vocalizing about a subject in which they believed it was okay for her to do so.

    Personally I try to be mindful of the setting I'm in. Even if it (whatever 'it' is at the moment) comes up naturally in conversation, if I believe there is someone who will overhear and be offended I try to moderate myself, move the conversation, or come back to the topic later.

    Very good comment and fair opinion on the matter, thanks!


  3. Personally I don't see where Ethel was doing anything wrong in the first place, though if a aren't asked me not to discuss something around their kids, I would respect their request.

    On the hand idea, I've seen the same thing you describe of people who are fanatic about their right to discuss polyamory and yet dogpile anyone who wants to discuss monogamy (or God help me, religious polygamy, a different style of polyamory, swinging . . .) and that kind of thing is entirely hypocritical. I have no problem discussing and debating pretty much anything, and the things I'm not willing to listen to, well I know where the door is.

  4. I hope I say this well here.

    I understand what you are saying and, I too, have found this to be true.

    I've been dealing with something similar with someone lately. All he can do when I try to express I may not agree with him totally is to throw the justifications he has gotten online at me. He won't hear what it is I am actually saying.

    Here's the thing about your story (even though I feel you went out of your way to state it fairly and to be honest about what you do not know.) Any time we seek online help or such like Ethel and my friend we have a tendency to tell the story towards our leanings.

    Ethel simply saying she had had a complaint about her vocalizations of her beliefs doesn't tell the others that she was willing to go against someone's wishes and deliberately tell their children something they weren't ready for them to know. (And if I understand correctly this wasn't even mentioned online I'm just using it as an example.)

    Unless the other side of the story is told we are very likely to "hear" what we want to.

    But, I agree with you. I've seen it too often. Groups get so set on upholding their own rights that I don't believe they realize when they have crossed the line and become what they were complaining about in others to begin with.

    It really does boil down to treat others how you'd like to be treated. I can't tell you how many times I have said that.

  5. Jessica,

    I love the 'dogpile' analogy, I think it fits perfectly and sums up the situation well.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. lovingmorethanone,

    I think you are right that we will never know the whole story. The people giving Ethel advice don't know the whole story either which is why their advice surprised me. It actually saddens me because I think, as you mentioned, some groups do cross the line and become what they dislike, and in the case of poly groups doing so it hurts us all.

    I hope you find a way to get your gentlemen friend to listen to you. Thanks for the comment!


  7. There's a difference between being confidently out/open and behaving in a gratuitously in-your-face manner. This applies to any sort of social, religious, philosophical, and/or political identity--including polyamory. If Ethel has her boyfriend and girlfriend on either side of her in the movie theater and is quietly holding hands with both at the same time, that's one thing. If she's standing in a crowded lobby with her hand down the back of one's jeans and her tongue down the other one's throat, that's something else altogether. At best, a skewed sense of activism; at worst, hardcore attention-whoring.

    While talking about being poly and/or showing (low-key, not "get a room" grade) affection toward multiple partners would not be inappropriate in any setting, taking someone else's children aside and instructing them in the basics of poly crosses a line. That would also be true if the topic of instruction was golf or organic gardening. It's not that it's such a big whoop-de-do (OH NOES!!! TEH SECKSSS!!!), it's that it's not your place, unless invited. They're not your kids.

    That said, people need to stop being so uptight about what kids see and hear with regard to human relationships. They know a lot more than most parents realize and generally adapt very well to things a bit off the beaten path. It's simple, folks. If you're ashamed of whatever you're doing, then you shouldn't be doing it. If you're *not* ashamed, there's no reason to hide it--not even from children.

  8. Serratiasue,

    Good point about 'attention-whoring', which I do think Ethel is guilty of much of the time. I agree with your points but also wonder if I wasn't clear about something in the post.

    The event Ethel was at was a parents group, or family support group, through a fairly open-minded church. It was not a poly or even alternative-lifestyle focused group. I don't believe the issue was folks hiding things from their children so much as it was Ethel speaking openly about a lifestyle contrary to their beliefs.

    That said, I agree with what you said about there not being a reason to hide things from your kids unless you are ashamed, with the caveat that I believe the kids should be mature enough and have enough knowledge to defend their beliefs if questioned.

    Thanks for the thought provoking comment!

  9. Welcome to humanity! Replace poly with absolutely anything and the same would apply. Religion, politics, monogamy, the Middle East, pretty much anything. The stronger one's position is, the less they are likely to entertain differences of opinion. Even a hint of monogamish rhetoric will get you pounced on in any poly group. Ditto with bringing up actual problems in poly beyond jealousy (ranging from it simply doesn't exist to it has no place in polyamoury) or scheduling conflicts. Most poly discussion groups are only interested in discussing the greatness of poly to almost a religious fervor. Questioning the conventional wisdom in poly is about as well received as questioning the historical existence of Jesus in a Catholic discussion group.