Monday, April 18, 2011

Diversity Within Non-Monogamy

There's an uncomfortable normativity that exists within non-monogamy, and it's eerily consistent with the mono-normative culture. Non-Monogamy can project an image consistent with mono-normativity in many ways, with the exception of being non-monogamous (Willey, 2010). This is understanding for the community projecting themselves outward, but the internal dialog within the community exists as surprisingly white, straight or bi, and without distinction for other lifestyle choices (ex. BDSM, religion, etc).
Yet there's a phenomenal range of non-monogamous individuals with, sometimes exceptionally surprising, backgrounds and experiences. Among these are also different individual needs in terms of discrimination (policy issues, community support needs, ideal relationship structures, etc. To touch on a few, there are populations of transgendered polys, who's sexual identity is as fluid as their relationships (Richards, 2010), gay and bisexual Mormon non-monogamists who experience non-monogamy as a strictly sexual and desire-fulfilling behavior (Montenegro, 2010), Queer BDSM non-monogamists, who's interaction with non-monogamy works with their BDSM practices (Bauer, 2010), individuals with disability who are poly, who's disabilities create unique practical and cultural challenges for their lifestyle (Iantaffi, 2010), even asexual polyamorists, who clearly delineate between sexuality and love/intimacy (Scherrer, 2010).
Looking within the non-monogamous community, there's another exceptional level of variation in terms of practice and style. Gay men, who tend to focus more on dyadic coupling with sexual non-monogamous relationships (Adam, 2010), Swingers, who largely consider themselves monogamous despite the non-monogamy sexual interactions they have (McDonald, 2010; Phillips, 2010), San Francisco bay area polyamorists, who basically wrote the manual on totally opening up to non-monogamy (Aviram, 2010; Easton & Hardy, 2009; Anapol, 2010). Even in how young women frame their sexual relationships fits into the non-monogamy framework (Lavie-Ajayi, Jones & Russell, 2010).
Yet none of the unique features of any of these communities is really all that unique, they are just more prevalent. Yet the internal polyamorist dialog is still normative. This is an unfortunate consequence of straddling the dual-culture line. Between an overwhelming mono-normative culture and an upstarting poly-normative culture. There's a strong desire for individual assimilation, especially in cases where children are involved. With children involvement, poly parents have a great concern on how the stigma and discrimination (both individual and cultural) will affect their children, and also their relationship to their children (Sheff, 2010; Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2010). This is extremely understandable considering the power that the current mono-normative culture possesses, fears such as having one's children taken away (Anapol, 2010; Nearing, 2000; Melby, 2007).
However, it seems that the community takes normative assimilation a bit too far in the level of acknowledgement that other variations on polyamory, and non-monogamy in general, face. (Willey). It strikes me rather profoundly that maybe the community is trying a little too hard to conform and fit within the mono-normative culture for acceptance, and may risk loosing not only their identity as non-monogamists, but also risk setting the bar so high on non-monogamy that it will burn us into exhaustion.
References: (Yes I know, I cited a LOT)
Adam, B. D. (2010). Relationship innovation in male couples. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 55-69). New York, NY: Routledge.
Anapol, D. (2010). Polyamory in the 21st century: Love and intimacy with multiple partners. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Aviram, H. (2010). Geeks, goddesses, and green eggs: Political mobilization and the cultural locus of the polyamorous community in the San Francisco bay area. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 87-93). New York, NY: Routledge.
Bauer, R. (2010). Non-monogamy in queer BDSM communities: Putting the sex back into alternative relationship practices and discourse. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 142-153). New York, NY: Routledge.
Easton, D. & Hardy, J. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Iantiaffi, A. (2010). Disability and polyamory: Exploring the edges of inter-dependence, gender and queer issues in non-monogamous relationships. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 160-165). New York, NY: Routledge.
Lavie-Ajayi, M., Jones, C., & Russell, L. (2010). Social sex: Young women and early sexual relationships. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 94-105). New York, NY: Routledge.
McDonald, D. (2010). Swinging: Pushing the boundaries of monogamy?. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 70-81). New York, NY: Routledge.
Melby, T. (2007). Open relationships, open lives. Contemporary Sexuality, 41(1), 1, 4-6.
Montenegro, J. M. (2010). 'Many partners, many friends': Gay and bisexual Mormon men's views of non-monogamous relationships. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 134-141). New York, NY: Routledge.
Nearing, R. (2000) Polyamory demography: The 'loving more magazine' study. Retrieved from
Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2010). 'To pass, border or pollute': Polyfamilies go to school. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 182-187). New York, NY: Routledge.
Phillips, S. (2010). There were three in bed: Discursive desire and the sex lives of swingers. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 82-86). New York, NY: Routledge.
Richards, C. (2010). Trans and non-monogamies. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 121-133). New York, NY: Routledge.
Scherrer, K. S. (2010). Asexual relationships: What does asexuality have to do with polyamory?. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 154-159). New York, NY: Routledge.
Sheff, E. (2010). Strategies in polyamorous parenting. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 169-181). New York, NY: Routledge.
Willey, A. (2010). 'Science says she's gotta have it': Reading for racial resonances in women-centered poly literature. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 34-45). New York, NY: Routledge.

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