Is Polyamory “Polytical?”

I had an interesting discussion with someone at BiCon (sadly I cannot remember their name, if you’re reading and feel like identifying yourself, please feel free!) They pointed out that, just by existing, my relationship is a political statement. That by merely practising it, acknowledging it and talking about it, I’m an activist by definition.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, and have been musing about it in my head ever since, and now I feel coherent enough to discuss here my thoughts on this subject.

I did not, to be clear, become polyamorous as a by-product of any deeply-held ideology or political identity. I didn’t set out to rebel against a patriarchal, heteronormative culture or to overturn the institution of marriage. I simply fell in love, and figured out the best ways to express that love, and then fell in love again. And again. I’m poly because, if there’s one thing in the world I am good at, it is falling in love. Quickly, deeply and repeatedly.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that – while it was not my intention – being polyamorous does, to an extent, do these things by default. (Well, maybe not the “overturning the institution of marriage” bit, but apparently the gays are doing pretty well with that!) (</immense sarcasm.>) By choosing a different path and an alternative lovestyle, one automatically rebels against patriarchy, against heteronormativity, against mononormativity… heck, against Western cultural normativity of any kind. This is particularly true if you choose to speak out publicly in defence of your choices (in which I include things like being open with your friends and family, not just appearing in newspapers or on national television!) It creates a level of visibility for practices that many people don’t even know exist. It offers an alternative option. It says, hey, guess what? The Disney-style hetero mono one-person-forever-and-ever-or-you-failed that our society feeds us isn’t the only choice!

I think choosing to do anything, particularly something as personal as your relationships, primarily for the statement it makes is unlikely to make you happy. It’s like trying to choose to be gay (or straight, or whatever) to make a point… it’s not going to work, because you are you who are. But you know what? In the culture we presently live in, simply having the courage to come out and say this is who we are, and we will not apologise is a massively important statement. Simply living a life apart from the roles we’re forcibly pushed into almost from the day we’re born is an act of incredible significance. The personal is political in this sense, and the smallest bits of activism can make all the difference.

Think about it. To you, living your lovestyle openly and honestly might seem like the most natural thing in the world. To somebody else, unhappy in these narrowly prescribed roles society gives us, but afraid to rebel against them, seeing you doing so joyfully and unapologetically might be all the push they need to realise there are other choices available to them.

And how cool is that?

10 thoughts on “Is Polyamory “Polytical?”

  1. Purplelibertine says:

    Thank you for such a well thought-out post. I realised I was both a Bi and Poly activist simply by virtue of living my life and the things I would do and stand up for anyway. I suppose that line from the Crux Shadows song ‘Sophia’ about sums it up for me ‘Stand up when no one else is willing.’ I have lived my life unashamed of who I am or how I love with no other thought than what I learned from my school days, which was that if I was rejected and victimised when I tried to conform, I may as well please myself anyway. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I was told by anyone that I had made a positive impact on them.

    Anyway, an excellent entry, I look forward to reading more in future.

  2. kerran says:

    Hmm. Interesting.

    While note actually falling under any of those headings, I do as part of my job have to educate children about potential lifestyle choices, both as their tutor and as part of SRE.

    When I do that, I make damn sure to hammer into them that they can make their own choices about whatever makes them happy and that the last thing they should do is buy into the pre-judgmental “Monomarriage is the one true way to happiness” myth. (actually when I think about it, an awful lot of SRE involves lining up a lot of “common myths” and systematically tearing them to pieces)

    Technically that would make me sort of an activist, although I probably shouldn’t think about it too politically as teachers in the UK are supposed to avoid promoting specific political views.

    Good thing I don’t think of it as a political stance I guess.

  3. David F says:

    I remember having this very conversation with someone at BiCon but I didn’t think it was with you? In any case I very much agree. This is one of the reasons I am open about being poly in all areas of my life.

  4. Serina D says:

    Great post!

    Oddly enough, I came down on the side that I *don’t* consider myself an activist, because I really don’t dedicate any actual time or energy to it. Someone pointed out that I’d done the appearing-on-National-TV, and running-poly-workshops, and being-in-a-national-newspaper-picture, and being-entirely-open-to-family-and-friends-and-workplace things. I’ve always somehow ended up bumbling into doing things that other people might consider activism without aiming to be an activist – and I guess that’s why I don’t feel like I’m eligible for that title. Shouldn’t there be more intention involved in this?

    And yet your argument makes total sense to me. Looking at myself from the outside, and seeing some of the stuff I do, I would consider a stranger in that place to be an activist, or at least a mildly prominent representative.

    But I don’t consider myself an activist, or even particularly well-known in the community.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, in short, is: You can be an activist without intending to be, totally agree with you on that, but just living your life *shouldn’t* be enough to be considered one. There should be a certain amount of intentionality involved. Unfortunately, I suspect the world is not going to be so amiable to that.

  5. XenitH says:

    I am an activist through and through, and it also was not a conscious decision for me. I just wanted to be authentic and honest to myself and others. Thanks for the great post.

  6. polyleigh says:

    “I did not, to be clear, become polyamorous as a by-product of any deeply-held ideology or political identity. I didn’t set out to rebel against a patriarchal, heteronormative culture or to overturn the institution of marriage. I simply fell in love, and figured out the best ways to express that love, and then fell in love again. And again. I’m poly because, if there’s one thing in the world I am good at, it is falling in love. Quickly, deeply and repeatedly.”

    I have to say a resounding and unequivocal DITTO!!!!

    I’d love for you to check out my blog. It’s about polyamory and my experiences with it. I am really looking forward to reading your blog!

  7. tesskitteh says:

    “lovestyle” I like that. Did you come up with that? Might have to steal it.

    The phrase “live the change you want to see in the world” springs to mind after reading this post.

  8. Dragonmamma says:

    Not sure that you are an “activist” exactly as that (in my book) would imply intent, but your phrase “joyfully and unapologetically” when talking about your lovestyle is part of what makes you a good advert for it.
    The fact that you and your amours – and the other group with which I am obviously more familiar – DO live a successful life of caring and sharing is the best example of a genuine alternative to monogamy/heteronormal. And I am glad that in spite of my years I have learned from you all that there are different ways of living that are equally valid.

  9. Nomad says:

    You already know my thoughts about this one, hon. I feel that, in certain communities, the word “activist” has become overused and the bar has been set so low as to make the word somewhat meaningless. I do not feel that one becomes an activist, simply by virtue of living one’s life. Similarly, organizing a social event does not make one an activist. Nor does talking about your lifestyle and choices, unless you are actively deciding that you want to do outreach work. In that case, it may indeed be activism if you have undertaken a deliberate effort to do outreach to those who do not know about polyamory.

    It seems like the word “activist” has been fetishized in some communities and that, correspondingly, the standards applied to it have become so low as to render “activism” a useless term. After all, using the definitions that some people seem comfortable with, how many flavours of “activist” am I? Let’s see: According to said criteria, I am a “Pagan activist”, as I am an repeat organizer for a Pagan event. I am a “Physics activist”, as I do quite a bit of physics outreach (indeed, in giving invited talks, I do more structured “outreach” about physics than people who simply chat about their lives do for polyamory or whatnot). With the standards that some have discussed, I am also a “Campanological activist”, as I talk about change bell ringing to people who would not have ever known it existed otherwise. And, similarly, I would be an “Anarchist activist”, simply being living my life by Anarchist principles. My goodness! What an active activist I must be!

    As you know, I utterly reject this debased notion of “activism”. In Anarchism, I have come across a distinction that proves useful here. There is a term — “lifestyle Anarchist” — that describes people who live according to Anarchist principles, but are not activists or “social Anarchists”. They are not active in rising up against capitalism and government oppression; they just go about their lives making personal choices according to their Anarchism.

    To be quite clear, the term “lifestyle Anarchist” has had a pejorative connotation from the proverbial get-go. It is used as a derogatory poke from those who would style themselves “real” Anarchists. (Don’t get me started on sectarianism amongst Anarchist — whole ‘nother topic!) However, I actually see use for this term and do not think that it has to be applied as in inherently negative appellation. At uni, I had a friend who proudly described herself as a “lifestyle Anarchist”. She saw nothing wrong with this and pointed out that if everyone became a “lifestyle Anarchist”, then we would have won everything that we want to see in terms of social change.

    I have been an Anarchist for the entirety of my adult life, which started in 1993. For most of that time, I have been a lifestyle Anarchist. In 2001, for various reasons, that changed, and I became an Anarchist activist. I remained one for five or six years, but since 2007 I have definitely been a lifestyle Anarchist once again. During the years that I was a “social Anarchist”, my activism took many forms. I went to mass protests and was a political prisoner, which are the items that always get the most attention because they carry the greatest risk. However, that was only a fraction of my activism. I participated in food and clothing re-distributions, I helped found a Copwatch group that went on patrol to monitor and prevent police brutality, I did political prisoner support, I did outreach work, I walked picked lines, I joined a Books To Prisoners collective. That — all of that — was activism. It wasn’t all spent on the front lines, facing down riot police; such is not a necessary prerequisite for activism. However, it was something that involved large time commitments… which makes sense — activism keeps you ACTIVE. What I do now, living my live according to Anarchist principles and talking to people about my life and my choices? That is NOT activism.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. There is nothing wrong with living one’s life as polyamory (or whatever alternative lifestyle suits you) and talking about it with others. That isn’t morally wrong… but it isn’t activism, either. To call it so merely leaves the word devoid of value.

    Thanks for posting, hon! Love you lots!! xxx

  10. Nice post. It’s certainly a view I’ve come across.

    However, in my view, and activist is someone who *takes action* specifically to either promote or oppose a political or moral view. I would consider just getting on and living your life to make you (unwittingly) an ‘example’, but not an activist.

    By the definition suggested pretty much everyone in the world is an activist, as most people do *something* that is not sociologically exactly the norm.

    That would make me an activist in terms of ‘fighting’ for poly, fetish, vegetarianism, zetetic agnosticism, independence in music, acceptance of alternative fashions, self employment, the sex industry, libertarianism, anti-censorship, animal rights etc etc etc.

    I don’t think I have the energy to be an activist in every aspect of my life, yet very little of it is socially normative.

    I tend to maybe do a little bit politically in each of those, and act as an example (good or bad) in all, but I think it would be insulting to people who actually dedicate their lives to a struggle for acceptance in any of those scenarios to consider myself an actual activist in more than a couple (independence in music and anti-censorship mainly).

    If I’m to be considered a poly activist I’m certainly a pretty slack one.

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