"Why People Are Fighting to Get Polyamory Recognized as a Sexual Orientation"
The latest in Vice's long run of poly articles, out today, looks at the community's debate over whether poly is an innate orientation or a deliberately chosen way of relationships. The article is a surprisingly good overview to get you up to speed on the discussion. Excerpts:
Why People Are Fighting to Get Polyamory Recognized as a Sexual Orientation
A hand-tinted postcard from c.1910.
By Neil McArthur
Melissa Marie Legge always knew she was different — she just felt it, even before she knew how to talk about that feeling. "Wherever this part of me came from, it has certainly always been there, even before I had words to describe or explain it," she told VICE. "Consensual non-monogamy gives me the freedom to involve people in my life on my own terms, and to negotiate relationships individually and contextually without having to follow a social script. It's something that I value highly, and that I would say is a big part of my sexual identity overall."
That's how Marie Legge describes being polyamorous, and somewhat controversially, identity is the precise word she uses. ...
"Consensually non-monogamous clients more often than not tell me this is how they've felt their whole life," Professor Markie Twist, program coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Stout's sex therapy program and licensed family therapist, told VICE. "When they were children, they totally felt that way. It was only when they got older that they were told you're not allowed to like more than one person at the same time."
Not everyone is on board with the drive to recognize polyamory as an orientation. In 2012, popular sex columnist Dan Savage declared that polyamory is "not a sexual orientation. It's not something you are, it's something you do." His comment touched off, in his own words, a "shitstorm." ... On her Practical Polyamory blog, poly advocate Anita Wagner wrote in response to the Savage brouhaha that by recognizing polyamory as such, non-monogamous persons can acquire a sense of identity that "becomes the bedrock upon which we can build a life that will withstand the external cultural challenges we sometimes encounter." ...
Ann Tweedy, a lawyer who has researched polyamory and the law, argued in a 2010 paper for the University of Cincinnati Law Review that if society accepted non-monogamy as an orientation, the possible legal implications could be significant. ...
Not all non-monogamists agree that reclassifying the practice as an orientation would help the community. "People have divided minds about it within polyamory communities," Christian Klesse, a senior lecturer in sociology at the UK's Manchester Metropolitan University who has researched polyamory, told VICE. "Many are attracted to the whole idea of polyamory because it does not provide fixed modes for living," or a "rigid script" for conceiving of sexual identity, he said. He thinks that "the language of sexual orientation closes down the potential of polyamory to trouble our ideas about gender, sexual attraction, and love."...
The movement for recognition also co-opts the language of LGBTQ liberation, and not everyone within that community is comfortable with this. ... Even within the LBGTQ community, consensus around the idea that sexual orientation is innate and immutable has never existed. ... Professor Lisa Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, has done extensive research documenting the extent to which sexual orientation is fluid; though polyamory has been less studied, it stands to reason that relationship orientation may be at least as malleable.
Relationship orientation very likely has one important parallel with sexual orientation: It forms a continuum, with some of us on either extreme, but most somewhere along a spectrum. As LGBTQ people begin to feel secure in their legal and social status, they may find that rigid ideas about innate orientation — be they about one's sexuality, gender, or, yes, their relationship orientation — are less important in their struggle for equal rights. ...
Neil McArthur is the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at University of Manitoba, where his work focuses on sexual ethics and the philosophy of sexuality. Follow him on Twitter.
Read the whole article (August 17, 2016).
● Here's Klesse's paper on the subject referred to above: Polyamory: Intimate practice, identity or sexual orientation? by Christian Klesse (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK), in the journal Sexualities (January 2014; vol. 17 no. 1-2; doi:10.1177/1363460713511096). The full paper is behind a paywall — get it through a library with academic access — but here's the abstract:
Polyamory means different things to different people. While some consider polyamory to be nothing more than a convenient label for their current relationship constellations or a handy tool for communicating their willingness to enter more than one relationship at a time, others claim it as one of their core identities. Essentialist identity narratives have sustained recent arguments that polyamory is best understood as a sexual orientation and is as such comparable with homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality. Such a move would render polyamory intelligible within dominant political and legal frameworks of sexual diversity. The article surveys academic and activist discussions on sexual orientation and traces contradictory voices in current debates on polyamory. The author draws on poststructuralist ideas to show the shortcomings of sexual orientation discourses and highlights the losses which are likely to follow from pragmatic definitions of polyamory as sexual orientation.
● Some past articles and roundups of mine about poly-as-orientation news and debate.
Labels: poly as orientation