"Harmful Myths the Ethically Non-Monogamous Community Needs to Address," and more
Earlier this month, in a roundup of mostly super-sweet stories extolling the poly movement, I promised another side of the picture.
First, here's a bread-and-butter account of standard problems you're likely to face in the best of circumstances: Polyamory is Hard (Aug. 16, 2014), by Russell of Polytripod.
I was talking to my therapist the other day.
Actually, it was couples therapy.
And, actually, I brought this up twice because, in all honesty, I have two sets of therapists: one I see with my partner/girlfriend and the other I see with my wife.
Polyamory is hard. Which, I think, should be pretty obvious in that I'm seeing two therapists but that's not the point.
...There's the routine stuff:
– Constant (endless) communication
– Questioning assumptions that you have about love and relationships
– Calendaring and scheduling
– Expectations management
– Emotional processing — sex, love, jealousy, guilt, regret, etc.
Then there's the long-term, extended stuff:
The legal differentiation between partners (example: a "wife" affords a legal distinction over a "partner"), leading to a whole rat's nest of issues concerning wills/probate, medical care, rights over your assets, etc.
Re-thinking the roles of "husband, wife, partner" — and the promises those titles imply....
Breakups and ending/transitioning relationships that've lasted for years.
Challenges surrounding space, distance, travel, and cohabitation. Not everyone wants to live together; not everyone likes the same kinds of personal space. Those are some tough compromises.
Embracing inequity. Poly's inherently unfair. My wife has made sacrifices that enable me to spend time, energy, and resources on my partner, which often excludes her. Meanwhile, my partner isn't around me as often as my wife, and, doesn't attend family travel, and I'm not always around, which excludes her, creating her own set of sacrifices. Resolving those inequities is a full-time preoccupation.
Retirement and security....
Combining or separating the finances of multiple people, how to communicate and work with cash flow shortages, new financial expectations, etc.
Realizing that you can't ever make everyone happy. Instead, poly is a lifestyle of compromises where everyone doesn't get exactly what they want: there's only so much time, so much space, and so much of you to go around.
...It hurts that I can't give everything to both of my partners and make both of them 100 percent happy at the same time. It's a constant process of compromise, learning, re-tooling my skillets, and managing expectations.
And I think anyone just getting into polyamory should know that it's hard. In fact, just last week, I was at a bar on Mississippi Avenue with a bunch of enthusiastic poly-newcomers. I was kind of a Debbie-downer in that crowd, but I think it's real. Poly looks pretty good on paper, especially if perceived in the context of short-run, but everyone should be prepared for the long-game, and what that means in their lives.
However, I was thinking more of this grimmer piece by Michón Neal on harshness that polys with minority identities face: 5 Harmful Myths the Ethically Non-Monogamous Community Needs to Address. It appeared at Everyday Feminism last November 11th.
...But there’s also a bit of a problem. In my experiences with the polyamorous community, I have encountered very little that strikes me as ethical.
And I’m not alone in this.
I’ve known people and seen articles about people who are so fed up with the lack of ethics in non-monogamy that they no longer identify with it — and I’m tempted to be one of them.
For a community that prides itself on offering healthier solutions regardless of relationship orientation, the practice of it seems to be more of a burden than a blessing when it comes to certain marginalized people, as pointed out by the article linked above.
There are some deeply ingrained myths about non-monogamy that actually exclude many people with varied experiences — especially those of us who have intersecting marginalized identities (minorities of minorities, as I like to call myself).
I am a genderqueer black person who practices relationship anarchy. I have been non-monogamous all my life, even before I knew the terms for it. I am aromantic, pansexual, left-handed, synesthetic, kinky, atheist, and sapiosexual. I have invisible mental and physical illnesses, am neurodiverse, a survivor, poor, and a parent.
...So when I critique make these criticism of the lack of ethics in ethical non-monogamy, I am coming from 27 years of personal experience, education, and intersection.
Having been at the center of assumptions... I’d like to help unpack those that make the non-monogamous community a rather unethical place to be.
1. Not Everyone Transitions into Non-Monogamy
I very strongly believe polyamory is inherent to my nature.... Yet, to this day, pretty much all of the community’s stories focus on romantic, white, cis people who’ve transitioned into non-monogamy.
Instead of feeling like I’m part of the community, I ended up feeling more alien than ever.
...When I recently stated that, due to several men in the poly community explicitly ignoring my gender, sexual preferences, and desire for friendship by immediately asking for sex or to explore their fetish with me (and in one case actually being raped by one of these men — who then claimed it couldn’t be rape since I was poly), I would pretty much avoid cis and straight men, I was told that my experiences were too political to be shared in that group.
It exploded as others who’d been fetishized empathized and the rest simply wanted to return to talking about how awesome it was to feel compersion for the first time....
2. Disastrous First Relationships Are Considered Normal, But Aren’t
...Many popular poly stories and guides, like More Than Two, The Game Changer, The Husband Swap — reference at least one non-monogamous experience that either ended in disaster or was extremely unhealthy. This is usually regarded as a problem arising from non-monogamy rather than the influence of monogamous and romantic culture on our practices, as well as arising from the transition.
Even Franklin [Veaux], who has always been non-monogamous, felt so guilty about his needs and desires that he allowed many of his relationships to end prematurely due to insecurities, veto power, and couple privilege. He remained with his wife far too long in an attempt to cater to her desires and it wasn’t until decades later that his relationships were able to be built on a healthier foundation.
Actual ethics starts at the root and that is where we should begin. These problems need to be addressed before deciding to be non-monogamous instead of afterwards....
3. The Reality Behind the Statistic
Most people in the polyamorous community may only be familiar with other minorities via statistics rather than actually listening to us.
People like me seem to only exist as shadows or impossibilities in the community. The thought leaders like Franklin Veaux, Aggie Sez, and Elizabeth Sheff can really only give information based on broad generalizations....
...The books in The Cuil Effect Project, my writings on Postmodern Woman, the site Queer Black Voices, and the site Polyamory on Purpose are good places to start if you want to get a feel for the actual experiences of intersectional marginalized identities, emotional intelligence, and healthy relationships versus toxic ones....
4. ‘Drama-Free’ Polyamory Excludes Me
And speaking of health and options: I’d be considered one of those “drama-filled” people polyamorous folks try to avoid, not because I cause drama, but because I encounter so much trouble by nature of my marginalized identities. Being with me requires one to deal with heavy issues every single day.
I’m not the fun type of polyamorous and so am usually avoided.
In practice, “drama free” polyamory ends up meaning that the new person doesn’t come between the established couple, it means they don’t rock the boat, and it usually means parents, differently-abled, and other races are off limits....
5. There’s Community Support Unless You’re Invisible
Those I’ve talked to who feel that they were born polyamorous or who are in minority categories often feel they have nowhere to turn to for advice or information on their experiences....
...And if our partners are abusive, it’s much harder to leave because we have fewer resources.
...Polyamorous people say it’s not about the sex and that polyamorous people don’t face discrimination, but that’s just not true if you’re not white and straight. Those of us most likely to face legal or dire situations are also those least likely to receive help.
6. Abuse Isn’t a Personal Problem — It’s an Epidemic....
Go read the whole article (November 11, 2015). She has a Patreon campaign to support her queer and poly fiction writing.
From a different place, counselor and popular YouTube advice-giver JP Sears delivers a warning about the potential of an open relationship to wreck a couple (16:05). I have obvious answers to some of his assumptions, but he's often on target, and he's representative of much opinion that's out there. Short version: "You have to be a master at your first relationship"; it needs be rock solid before opening it, and he's never seen one that is.
Here he falls into into the dumb therapist's mistake — therapists who were gazing out the window during the class about sample bias — by assuming his clients represent everybody. In reality, all of his clients showed up because they had a problem serious enough for them to seek paid help.
Labels: polys of color