Conservatives shifting their aim to polyamory
|Emblem by Angi Becker Stevens.|
As poly becomes widely known and recognized, we're becoming a bugbear in our own right, rather than just an incidental debating point in the fight against gay marriage. However, conservatives still often mix us up with polygamy, probably a tactical error. That term calls up images of cults in the desert dressing for the 19th century, hardly a serious moral challenge to mainstream assumptions. A more immediate challenge are the modern, successful, highly educated and connected "polyamorists next door," to use the title of sociologist Elisabeth Sheff's great new book just out.
Last week the shift seemed especially clear, when an unusual number of conservative websites and media picked up on the ABC Nightline segment featuring Kamala Devi, Michael and Rachel, and the Dear Prudence advice column that addressed the etiquette of poly-family Christmas invitations.
For instance, here is Rod Dreher at The American Conservative following up on Dear Prudence. I highlight this one because Dreher is thoughtful and worth reading to know what his side is thinking. So are many of his commenters; they're more civilized, or maybe more heavily moderated, than ABC's. It's a mistake to imagine that these people are all hateful loons (though some are), any more than to think that liberals are all clueless airheads (though some are).
Have A Poly, Jolly Christmas
By Rod Dreher
[Following the Dear Prudence column] ...some American Idol graduate whose career is going nowhere needs to write a holiday anthem to encourage polyamorists who are sadly marginalized and excluded from family Christmases. Why not? ....If the Bowersox “holiday anthem” (her phrase) about coming out to one’s family by bringing one’s same-sex partner home to Christmas is something to be celebrated, what in principle would be wrong with a holiday anthem about coming out to one’s family as a polyamorist by bringing one’s poly partner(s) home to Christmas? Serious question.
(Sounds like a fun idea to me. Anyone?)
Actually, these Christmas song questions highlight how confused and confusing our response to the radically changing American sexual and social scene often is. I think relatively few people are entirely consistent on the matter. Would I welcome my adult child’s same-sex partner to the Christmas table? I would, no matter what I thought about the moral status of their relationship. But I would not welcome my child’s polygamous partner(s) to the Christmas table, and would not even consider it.
...Why is one tolerable to me, but the other not? I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer. I think they are equally sinful, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, and incapable of being squared with the will of God. Yet in the case of the gay family member, I honestly have no problem socializing in good faith, any more than I would have a problem socializing in good faith with straight family members who happened to be living without benefit of clergy with their partners. Why is this acceptable, but polygamy at the Christmas table is absolutely not?
Obviously because polygamy still has about it a strong taboo.... Homosexuality, for better or for worse, has lost that taboo for most people, including people like me, who hold to the standard Christian position on marriage and sexuality. It’s just not worth alienating the affection of my family over.... This is why gay rights have won: when conservatives like me don’t think defending our principles is worth enforcing a taboo that would alienate the affection of those we love, the battle is over.
So why is the anti-polygamy taboo worth drawing a line against?... The thing that leaves me very uneasy is the language and logic used to justify the legitimacy of homosexuality and gay marriage — the language of liberty, liberation, and personal autonomy — leaves us in a weak position against which to resist polygamy....
The only people in this matter who are fully consistent are those who would accept everybody, and those who would refuse all but one-male-one-female pairings. My guess is that most of us are neither. This is messy.
Well, life is messy. Or rather it's "complex and ever-evolving," more precisely "a nonlinear system," just like the rest of nature. Get used to it.
Read his whole article (Dec. 5, 2013).
I actually think this conservative attention is good for us, for several reasons:
1) It spreads the word that successful poly relationships even exist, to a big audience that we can't reach directly. The more people who simply hear about the polyamorous possibility, the more who will know that is exists for them too, if the time ever comes. As Sheff says, we are presenting a striking new concept that once known, cannot be un-known.
2) Even direct opposition tends to normalize a new thing, which is what conservatives seem to fear the most. Think of how the early debates over homosexual relationships 40 or 50 years ago normalized homosexuality as an actual serious topic. They spread the knowledge that real gay relationships exist among decent people.
3) Engaging with the opposition strengthens our skills and develops the quality of our ideas. If you stay in your thought bubble unchallenged, your ideas get all flabby and you may indeed end up a clueless airhead.
So bring it on. Those of you who are positioned to, challenge the other side. Seek debates (in fair forums; a hostile TV show may edit you down to nothing, but live talk radio is great). Pick a fight. Join the comments. For ideas, you might start with Tristan Taormino's stirring Poly Pride speech a while back, especially her third from last paragraph; the suggested poly talking points at the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom; and Sheff's research in her new book.
Labels: critics of poly