Posted on August 25, 2009

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This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series The defunct'ness of the polyamory movement

Series Disclaimer: This series is the result of conversations that I’ve had with fellow poly leaders, mixed with my own thoughts, experiences, and observations. While it seems that a lot of us have similar experiences and thoughts, these writings do not represent the beliefs of poly leaders as a whole.  These writings are not meant to target specific individuals or organizations, but instead show how “the system” is defunct and needs a lot of TLC and fixing.

As I just mentioned, there’s 3 changes on the legal front that could aid poly people.  These changes could allow us to better maintain households that are emotionally and financially stable:

  • Providing households with the ability to bestow certain legal rights and protections upon multiple partners, should they choose
  • Preventing a household’s choice of ethical nonmonogamy from being used against them in matters of child custody.
  • Preventing an individual’s choice of ethical nonmonogamy from being used as a reason to fire them or deny them a job offer or promotion

There’s a lot that needs to be done to bring about these types of legislative changes.  To bring us towards this goal, we need to develop a culture where simultaneously loving multiple people is an accepted and welcome choice.  This means getting rid of the baggage that comes with the current cultural perception of polyamory.

The nature of stereotypes

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information.  Rather than try to analyze and categorize each specific piece of data, humans have created a system of generalizations which label things based on commonality. In addition, we’ve developed a system to teach these generalizations to future generations, so that our descendants don’t have to re-create the wheel each time around.

I’m assuming most of my readers know what a fish is.  We didn’t individually go out into the world, see the moving thing in the water, attempt to classify it on our own, and go “Aha, I found this amazing creature, I will call it ‘fish’!” Instead, our predecessors passed on the collectively agreed upon knowledge of what a fish is, and what traits a fish possesses.

In addition to objective data, we  (in the group sense) have the tendency to assign additional labels to other groups or objects – traits that apply a certain value (positive or negative).  We all generalize and stereotype, to a point. Think about the following occupations and what sort traits you’d attribute to a person in that position:

  • Police officer
  • Lawyer
  • High profile actress
  • Doctor
  • Teacher

As you went through this, you probably noted some objective traits about the types of people that perform the above occupations – the typical type of “uniform” they wear to work, the type of education they have. You probably considered a few other traits based on either your own experiences, or what you’ve learned through society (friends and family, media, or the internet).

While generalizations can help us understand things quickly, they are best used as a “high level” version of gathering information until we have the time and resources to examine things with greater scrutiny.  Some of these assumptions can hold some truth to them. Others (the ones that are a bit more extreme on the positive or negative side) tend to be extremely distorted views.  When we apply inaccurate generalizations across a broader group, we are subjecting them to stereotyping.

View from the outside

Generally, the active members of the polyamory community-at-large are willing to address the negative perceptions and stereotypes that others place upon us for being polyamorous, and how to over come them. If you want to see examples, check out some of the comments to the Newsweek article about polyamory. To give some examples:

  • Polyamory = promiscuity, defined with seemingly sex-negative labels like “slut”
  • Polyamory (ethical non-monogamy) = “immoral” behavior… how?
  • Polyamory is the gateway to bestiality and inter-species marriage

These are the type of stereotypes that we as poly people need to overcome by educating the public about what polyamory is (and what it is not).

Internal stereotyping and culture linking, and the problems thereof

Before I delve deeper into this topic, I want to bring up something from the Newsweek article that I mentioned. In the article, the writer alluded to opposition from two institutional forces:  the religious right and conservatives.

Among the comments was this lone statement:

I’m failing to understand why it is that people are saying that conservatives are against this type of lifestyle. I am a conservative and while im not a Polyamory, yet, I am a swinger. I am sure that my LONG TIMES committed partner would be completely ok about ending up in this type of relationship. We already have about 10 couples and 2 single females that we see on a constant basis. Yes this lifestyle might be a choice, but you cant always help who you fall in love with.

No one responded to the commenter to clarify why conservatives in general were viewed as an antagonistic force. Further through the comments, there were a couple of generalizations made about conservatives, and a couple of people even used the word “conservative” in a pejorative manner when confronting those that demonstrated intolerance.

We as a community at large need to get rid of our own baggage when it comes to perceptions about polyamory. This means accepting people that are poly but don’t belong to our own respective sub-cultures.  For some people, it’s hard to imagine poly people who self-identify politically or religiously, or philosophically with systems that we consider mainstream’ish.  I got someone to gasp in surprise when I mentioned knowing two people that are polyamorous and Republican. I wonder how they would’ve reacted if I came out about my own political views…

An institution doesn’t always represent the original teachings on which it was founded.  Not everyone that self-identifies with that movement (political, religious, or otherwise) 100% supports of the actions of the institution that carries the same name as their beliefs.  They may fully support the original teachings and philosophies on which the movement was developed, but disapprove of the current leaders within the movement are acting.

Poly people that have more “mainstream” traits (generally) have been able to take advantage of different societal privileges due age, religion, political affiliation, education status, economic background of our parents, etc.  Theoretically, those that are able to take advantage of various privileges are able to accumulate more resources (knowledge, money, personal networks, etc.)  than their non-privileged counterparts.  These resources can be tapped for the betterment of our communities and to try and bring about social change quickly and more effectively. We (poly people with social privilege) also have more skin in the game – they have more to lose through the status-quo, and more to gain if we bring about social acceptance of polyamory.

As an example, in my most recent interview with Miss Polyamory, I explained my own motivations for pushing for change on a larger, societal level.  I want to be able to eventually raise a family without the fear that my (future) children will be harassed because of our family dynamic.   I am also very driven when it comes to my career, and want to be able to break the glass barrier on the corporate-side.  Both goals may be difficult to accomplish in our current environment. By pushing for greater societal acceptance of polyamory, I’m helping myself as well as others. I also realize that because of my upbringing as well various other circumstances and opportunities, I’m not only in a position where I could take steps towards starting to bring about social change, but I can empower others (through teaching or other resources) to be able to do the same.

To summarize – while we as a collective may have different ideas with regards to spirituality, government, society, and the purpose of the individual within the world, we need to be willing to put those feelings (and prejudices towards those that “aren’t like us”) aside if we intend to bring the polyamory movement to the next level.

I explained why we need to bring about social and legislative change in order to protect the rights and well-being of poly people.  I also showed that we not only need to bring about greater acceptance of polyamory through breaking down stereotypes about our lifestyle, but we as a collective need to be more accepting of those whose beliefs don’t mesh with the other subcultures (or countercultures) that we take part in.

Tomorrow I will start my deeper examination into polyamory organizations and the dynamics therein.

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My Current Tweet-Status:

  • Done with series. Final post appearing in an hour. Final word count: 9165 O.o 7 hrs ago
  • A WoW quote has crept into my writings... beware... 9 hrs ago
  • @nympsam - And that's totally cool. I think that once the motivated/active people accept that, there'll be less stress & more focus in reply to nympsam 10 hrs ago
  • 2 types of polyamorous people: Those that are motivated to actively build "poly" on a local or larger level, and those that aren't. 11 hrs ago
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