The future of our defining word
Not to be sex-negative or anything, but we've got plenty of terms for that already. We risk losing our defining word, one that refers to something different: the radical subset of non-monogamy that's open to good heart connections among three or more people all around. Even if those connections are merely good will and caring behavior among friendly acquaintances.
There is no other term in the language for this closing of the loop. "Polyamory" is our only brand name. If we lose the brand, we will lose the ability to find each other.
And, we would also lose the ability to refer to the concept without wordy explanations. In 2004, the people carrying the POLYAMORY banner in the San Francisco Pride Parade pictured above knew exactly what it said and why they were marching behind it. In 2020, will the banner (which they still have) be useless because its meaning has become vague and diffuse? A banner that had to be covered with a long, wordy explanation would be unreadable and pathetic.
The problem was recently discussed among the board members of Loving More, and the only solution proposed was to encourage people to be vigorous in correcting misuses of the word when you see them. This really does have an effect. And also, we need to keep getting the closing-the-loop concept out to the public more widely — to keep the meaning spreading along with with the word.
Articles like the one below may seem small, but they're important. With enough of them, our vision will be accurately understood by the mainstream sooner than we may think — while still encompassing the wide range of people and practices that fall under the polyamory umbrella.
In VueWeekly, the alternative paper of Alberta, Canada:
More the merrier
More people are coming out as polyamorous
By Brenda Kerber
...I used to hear about polyamory only in quiet conversations with the occasional person who "confessed" to me that they had a few partners or an open relationship. Now I hear from poly people all the time. Is it becoming more common, or are people just more comfortable being open about it? Kevin Cutting, a member and organizer of Polyamory Edmonton, thinks it's a bit of both.
"Less and less people are relying on the nuclear family as the model of how they shape their relationships. They're taking a 'whatever works' approach, and non-monogamy's growth can be partially attributed to that. On the other hand," he says, "you have more people being open about how they may have always been doing things. As the taboos fall away, open discussion ensues...."
Susan Larcombe, who teaches workshops on polyamory and is poly herself, agrees. "As more people hear about polyamory, I think there are definitely more people exploring it who might not otherwise have done so a decade ago."
...Larcombe has encountered a lot of misconceptions about polyamorists, that it's just cheating with a different name and that you'll sleep with anyone. She says polyamory means that you are open about your multiple relationships and that everyone knows and agrees. "I don't think I've ever gotten the same answer twice as to why people are interested in or practising polyamory. The reasons run the gamut: feminist or anti-oppressive statements against ownership of another person; loving partners with very different social or sexual needs; past histories of being controlled by partners; diverging interests; wanting a more solid family base for raising children; sharing resources... the list goes on."...
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.
Here's the whole article (Sept. 7, 2011).
At the risk of repeating myself again, I've talked about this before. From my speech at the 2008 Poly Pride Picnic & Rally in New York:
Steering the Bandwagon
For the last three years [I boomed into the mike] I’ve been running a site called Polyamory in the News. It's clear that during just these three years, worldwide interest in ethical polyamory, and the ideas and values behind it, has been growing rapidly.
Also growing are misconceptions about it, and misuses of the term that I think threaten to spiral out of control.
So at this historic moment, I want to deliver a caution, and some advice about our future.
People who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move. No longer is it all about a few devoted people grunting and straining from behind to make the bandwagon’s wheels move half an inch. When the effort begins to succeed, the bandwagon starts rolling on its own, faster and faster.
And unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions. And then it wrecks itself spectacularly in a ditch. Survivors loot the wreckage and disappear, and onlookers nod their heads knowingly and say they saw it coming all along.
Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago....
So maybe it’s time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it.
If we are to save our defining word from serious cheapening in the next few years, and guide this thing in good directions as it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be taking every opportunity to do several things:
1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, ethics, integrity, generosity, and concern for every person affected;
2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many;
3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";
4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or even as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends and acquaintances — perhaps family even — for whom you genuinely wish good things. (And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become.) This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of the magic of romantic love — into something wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.
And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through courage, hard relationship-honesty work, self-examination, tough personal growth, and a readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."
Please — with the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or in any way less than what we know it to be.