Monogamy vs. Polyamory: Language Neepery

Here’s what I hate about this framework, which comes up a lot –

On one side, we have A View of relationships – monogamy – in which people pair off into singular sexual relationships and, ideally, stay together until one or both of them die.

On the other side, we have every other possible configuration of relationship networks.

And for a long time, I wondered why people kept conflating “polyamory” and “swinging” and “Friends with benefits,” until I realized that America’s binary thought patterns produced a reductive view of “Monogamy is this, and everything else is that.” What does it matter what you call it? Anything that isn’t monogamy is basically “The alternative to monogamy.”

Except the alternative to monogamy is actually a thousand different alternatives – one that ranges from “a staunchly monogamous triad” to all the way to a sexy explosion of relationship anarchy. And while I’m happy to be talking at Beyond the Love this weekend, a great conference on polyamory, I find myself wishing that polyamory as a term reminded people that the alternative to monogamy is not one thing, but a vast and encompassing umbrella that contains all the other loving, non-monogamous relationship configurations that can exist.

And in that moment, I achieved enlightenment. I always felt the move away from straight/gay to straight/gay/trans to straight/QUILTBAG to straight/UNWIELDYACRONYMSTEW was sorta silly. Like, where would it all stop?

But now I realize this ever-increasing list of alternatives is another attempt to shatter that sense that “You can be straight and cis… or you can be this one other thing.”

And I still find QUILTBAG to be inelegant and clumsy from a language perspective – but I don’t know there is an elegant way to combat a binary paradigm. Certainly, I’m not sure how to reterm “polyamory” into something that encompasses the wideness of all the other relationships that can exist, in a way that doesn’t feel a little strained.

But the attempt? The attempt is good. And if I find QUILTBAG and its ilk to be inelegant, then I also find polyamory to be inaccurate in terms of what it presents as to the novice reader.

There are no good solutions, sometimes. All you can do is keep speaking to remind people that yeah, the dominant paradigm is one way, but there’s a thousand other ways that also work. Well, they work for somebody.

1 Comment

  1. G.
    Nov 15, 2015

    I have actually used polyamory’s quality of being huge quickmire of grey-zone rather than a single term as a litmus test when considering a new partner. Any partner who says “I have done poly before, I know what it means, you don’t have to explain anything to me” rather than “This is what poly means to *me*, how compatible is it with what it means to *you*?” is right out.

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