Sunday, April 10, 2011

Naturalistic Arguments in Polyamory

As Willey (2010) points out, there's a danger in the naturalness argument that polyamory is taking to legitimize non-monogamous behavior. Though I can completely agree with Willey that the specific approach does create normative issues, by trying to integrate polyamory into the cultural norms rather than taking a more appropriate nuanced approach, I would argue that the real problem of the biological argument stems from the lack of discursive analysis that a biological argument brings.
This is similar to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-gendered) community in that one of the strongest arguments LGBT's have used is they they are 'born' homosexual, or that there's a some sort of biological imperative in being as such. As this removes being homosexual from the realm of choice, it limits dialog to just stopping after the question 'are you or aren't you?'
If being homosexual is a matter of choice, then there is nuance to understanding what motivates an individual to make that choice. There's a much wider field of possibility in understanding homosexuality than a simple biological binary. Thankfully this biological binary doesn't prevent such discourse from happening (ex. Kinsey scale), but it doesn't allow for the discourse to exist in a legal sense. Without that discourse there is no true legitimizing force for homosexuality.
The same ends up being true of polyamory. With myself as an example: I am polyamorous. If I am polyamorous by design (biology) then being polyamorous simply becomes a matter of me being 'who I am'. This would be held in stark contrast to a philosophy, where people can ascribe to different philosophical attitudes because of matching values, method, similarity to other beliefs, or other rational (or irrational) methods of agreeing with a philosophical belief.
In contrast, if I were to be polyamorous as a choice (which is actually the case) then I am now allowed to have a discursive analysis of being polyamorous in the same way I can of having a philosophical stance. I can draw from ethical, philosophical, historical, cultural, sociological and other arguments that would contribute to the discussion legitimizing polyamory, instead of stop it at 'oh, you're just born that way.'
I'm not dismissing the biological or anthropological evidence, such as pre-agrarian humans and our relation to bonobos (Ryan & Jetha, 2010), as I do believe there is a legitimate part of the discourse to be included from those areas. I see the problem as using that discourse as the penultimate argument for accepting polyamory.
Simply put, I chose to be polyamorous, I wasn't born that way.
Ryan, C. & Jetha, C. (2010). Sex at dawn: The prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Willey, A. (2010). 'Science says she's gotta have it': Reading from racial resonances in woman-centered poly literature. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 34-45). New York, NY: Routledge.

1 comment:

  1. I think with both sexuality and the concept of mono or poly it can vary. For me, I feel that I was always polyamorous. I had to come out to myself. I hated myself for it because of societal norms around monogamy, things that many gay people talk about in there coming out stories. I also feel I was pansexual for as long as I had an awareness of attraction. I was 13 when I put the word bisexual on it (not knowing the word pansexual or the concept of other, non-binary genders yet) but I have always had feelings for a variety of people and multiple.
    Of course, some people chose to be poly and some people experiment and come out as hetero-flexible or homo-flexible. Either way is totally valid.

    I think there is a problem in trying to figure out whether it's a choice but only because people focus on "Well why not choose normal then?" (by that they are referring to social norms of course) Even when you do choose, it's not that simple in many cases and it, quite honestly, doesn't matter. To me the underlying issue is societal - that need to ostracize what isn't the social norm.

    I also find the biological argument for non-monogamy to be inherently furthering the dislike of non-monogamy when speaking to monogamous people because it's claiming they are not normal. Personally, I don't care about normal, I care about consenting adults. The rest is all about trying to gain understanding, which is important, so it's best not to claim "more normal" with biological arguments in my opinion.

    Side-note - the word "trans-gendered" in this post should probably be transgender. Some people do say transgendered as well but it's generally not considered the right word/grammatically correct. Not to be nit-picky but to spread info as someone in the trans* community. :)