Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review 7a: Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools, Chapter 4 (Passing)

Author's Note:

Chapter 4 is so dense with material that I'm breaking it up into four separate sections, an assessment of poly families passing, bordering and polluting, and then a summary of the chapter as a whole.

To give an idea, of the material density increase: the 85 pages of  chapter 3 translated to two pages of notes in my book. 23 pages of material in chapter 4 is an entire page in my notebook, with the bulk of it  (2/3rds of a page) being pages 173-184. That's a big jump!

Review 7a:
Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2010). Border sexualities, border families in schools. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Fourth Chapter: "Messing up the Couples Cabinet": Multisexual and Polyamorous Families in Schools. (subsection: passing) Pp. 173-184.

Focusing on polyfamilies adopting a passing method, there's a lot of interesting data that comes up here. I'm going to divide this into a drawbacks/benefits list for passing, then go into a more general assessment of passing for polyfamilies in general.


  • There's a role multiplicity that exists for passers, where there's often one approach for presenting it within the family, and another approach for presenting it to the outside world, possibly even multiple approaches (I'm expecting more on that in bordering). A recurring concern that comes up for poly parents seems to be the potential harm of asking their children to either a) (if they tell the children about being poly) asking their children to lead double-lives, to be honest and open within the family, but to be evasive and deceptive outside of the family; or b) (if they don't tell the child) the impact that being polyamorous will have on their children if they find out that their parents are poly.
  • There's an idea hinted at in here that I really want to flush out more, that the lack of a normative discusrive framework of polyamory molds the fears of children. I'd love to see more work on this...
  • The psychological impacts and tugs on the family can be pretty extreme using a passing model. One teacher in the study avoided work-related social functions because of fears of being outed. This has me wondering how much avoidance is created for parents. I can rationalize that a passing model would encourage the 'non-registered' parents to avoid similar functions, such as their child's sports activities, volunteering at the school, school parent social events, etc. This wasn't really touched on (though another perspective was examined, which I will get into later), so I really have to wonder, how much does the passing model detach parents from their kids, and potentially also, partners from each other? Does a passing model serve as a hindrance for intimacy development? I'm thinking from a Reiss Wheel Theory perspective here. Something to examine...
  • Both in regards to actual consequences to being 'outed' from a passing approach, and the psychological impact of always being on guard in a passing approach. There's the expected slew of concerns around job loss and child custody. 
  • There's a degree of agency that passers have, to function within society, but still be polyamorous. The family spaces that poly's create can be a phenomenal space to allow personal and family agency to have a large degree of latitude.
  • Related to this agency, is the capacity of appropriating normative labels to re-define the family with. In a way, this allows the family to both 'pass' as normal, and 'be' normal. This is exceptionally helpful if the only normative deviation of the family is being non-monogamous.
  • Expanding on the label appropriation, there are methods to, proverbially, 'work the system' to get benefits of the system without the same scrutiny. The example in the book is families who give their schools clearance for their other partners to be 'co-parents', or 'emergency contacts' or who O.K. their other partners to pick up the children from school. This offers not only a normative appropriation, but allows them some level of formal validation to their legitimacy in being involved in the child's life, as seen through the normative cultural lens.
I'm harsh on passing, both personally and because I do see some nasty psychological drawbacks, for parents and children, in taking this avenue. It's not without it's benefits, the personal agency, and normative appropriation are huge benefits. Specifically with normative appropriation, it has policy benefits, as just exampled. The question comes up, what kind of passing-related appropriation does existing policy encourage?

Thinking about this in more detail is a policy analysis framework (yay!): From the root question of 'how does policy influence polyfamily's decisions on passing, bordering and polluting?', looking at policy from the angle of 'how would polyfamilies appropriate the labels/identifiers/categories/etc. in this policy?' can give indications about how, and to what extent, a policy would encourage a polyfamily to take a passing approach in regards to that policy area.

There's a key aspect to this framework though: The necessity for the existing labels/identifiers/categories/etc. to *not* include a direct reference to the lifestyle. These are labels that are 'passed as', and don't actually include a distinction or criteria for those who are passing under them. An example would be the marital status labels. There's not a marital status label that fits for a non-monogamous family, even though non-monogamous families can and do appropriate the labeling status of married/divorced/single/etc.

This hits back to one of the overall common themes amongst passing, which is the overarching sense of always being observed and scrutinized by the criteria of the normative labels. without individuals, or a family, feeling like they are in some way 'faking it' with the labels, and there is a sense of punishment from being 'discovered' for not conforming to the labels, there's no motivation to pass.

This creates an important component for policy analysis using this method. Not only do the labels need to A) not identify non-monogamy as a conceivable option, B) the policies need to be contained within a framework that's bound to those labels, and ties a reward/punishment system to them.

I really feel like I need an example to hep explain this with, but I can't come up with a good one. Either way, I'm very pleased to have that framework now. It actually helps smooth out my personal criticisms to passing behaviors too (-:

- Jason

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