Polyamory and Social Change
Intimate relationships are the foundation of family, community and of society as a whole. When we deconstruct pre-programmed ideas of how we relate to each other on an intimate level, eventually we change the way we feel and act towards everyone we relate to.
Polyamory -- the practice of openly and honestly loving more than one person -- poses challenges for personal growth and communication that can also create an ideal background for challenging traditional relationship structures and set the stage for sex positive culture and social change.
Those who choose polyamory as a relationship style are not the only people who experience discontinuity, cultural bias or prejudice within our larger environment of heteronormative cultural assumptions. For example:
It took me only moments of online research to come up with this response to Facebook's relationship status choices and its inherent biases towards couple-centric values. This is from Onely.org (a blog about celebrating and advocating the choice of being single):
By forcing users to choose one “relationship” from a narrow range of options centering around marital status and sexual habits, Facebook perpetuates our society’s entrenched mate-mania, which over-worships the sexual-couple-unit, and marriage in particular. This bias devalues other important relationships. It devalues platonic friends and non-spousal family members. And it devalues people for whom conventional coupling/marriage is either not appealing or not an option. . .
Also from the Onely blog was a good definition of "heteronormative", and it's the one I will also be using today:
We use "heteronormative" to mean the hegemonic perspective that normalizes coupled relationships. "Heteronormative" historically refers to a perspective that fails to recognize “alternative” gender and sexual identities.
To come back to polyamory:
As open relationships become increasingly public and politicized, we are in need of a new cultural relationship model that is distinct from monogamy but that still demonstrates the values of love, commitment and security that are important to all human beings. Through practicing polyamory while being conscious of how we speak about and act towards everyone we relate to, it is possible to bring this model into public awareness in a way that both celebrates the unique aspects of poly while demonstrating skills that are of value to everyone.
Here are some basic aspects of polyamory which reflect and encourage social change:
- equality in relationship roles (here is where it's important to distinguish between polyamory as a choice rather than patriarchial or religious multi-partner structures, such as the polygamy practiced in Bountiful, BC).
- allowing those we love to fulfil their potential without the contraints of social expectation created by romantic or couple-centric assumptions
- embracing the fluidity of uncertainty and change within relationships, which encourages personal courage and awareness as well as good communication skills
- allowing individuals the creative ability to choose the relationship structures that work best for them
- creating new concepts and language to describe our relationships
- raising the importance of friendship to a level equal to that of "partners", creating new opportunities for social interaction and increasing value of individual qualities often overlooked in our culture (ie. loyalty, respect, honesty, simple warmth, to name a few )
Here are some ways in which we can consciously use our practice of polyamory to effect social change:
First level: Individual Action
- exploring our own feelings and realizing where our boundaries are in relation to other people's -- in other words, know the difference between your stuff and someone else's
- cultivate respect for yourself and those you relate to
- read and learn as much as possible about polyamory (online, books, media... )
- demonstrate your values through your careful choice of language
Second Level: Group Action
- organize and attend group events that are either poly focused or poly-inclusive
- bring family members and friends into contact with your poly relationships and ideas so they can become comfortable with them
- seek support groups can help with the process of "coming out" if that is a difficulty
**This is where queer community organizations can help polyamorous groups by sharing their experience of alternative parenting, community building, legal battles and personal experiences such as "coming out" stories.
The model of heterosexual couples who want to swing with another couple, or to find one bisexual person to play with, is certainly an option in the poly model, but they are by no means the only or the most common options.
Queer community is coming to recognize that poly groups are becoming another haven for people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, transgendered and exploratory in terms of gender and sexual orientation.
Just as many queers embrace polyamory as heterosexuals, and there are single people who choose to date, when they do, in an open relationship structure. Poly structures can truly span gender and sexual orientation labels and include a diverse community who are united in their desire to step outside of the heteronormative box of cultural assumptions and bias.
Third Level: Global Action
- plan and host poly conferences and events
- talk to the media about polyamory
- create your own poly media (films, books, blogs, newsgroups... )
- bring poly into the political arena
- lobby for legal change in the areas of child custody, financial rights of multiple partners, contract law as pertaining to marriage and partnerships AND the decriminalization of multi-partner marital status (which is the goal of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association)
There is an obvious connection between individual growth and social change. Polyamory provides a rich opportunity for both, as it presents both a personal challenge and a public one. It reaches people on many levels: emotional, spiritual, ethical, legal, political, economic... and in this way, it becomes a paradigm for how we can consciously change the way we think and act socially that starts on the smallest scale -- within ourselves -- and blossoms outwards to touch others through the simplest of connection: those of love and mutual respect.