Where does polyamory begin? Is it an orientation? Is it something you pick? Micah Schneider shares his experience and tries to answer this complex question.
Polyamory is loosely defined as “many loves”. While defining it is easy, understanding it is not. I’m not just talking about how to “do it”, or make it work in your life. I’m talking on every level, starting with the most basic. Why are some people polyamorous and others aren’t? Is polyamory something that you do, or is it something that you are?
My answer is simple. Yes.
The longer answer is not so simple.
In an old saying I’m shamelessly stealing and modifying, ask ten polys a question, you’ll get eleven answers. This question, whether or not polyamory is an orientation, is definitely one of those questions. I’m very lucky in that I live in a part of the world where there are enough poly people that I can genuinely say that the majority of my friends are also poly. And most of them would probably agree with me that being poly is just as much a part of their identity as any other sexual orientation. I know because this is a fun argument to have at poly social gatherings, and it comes up fairly regularly.
Think about it this way. If you consider yourself heterosexual, are you suddenly not anymore if you don’t currently have an opposite sex partner in your life? You can ask the same question of every other sexual orientation you can think of, including heterosexuality and monogamy. Is a straight white girl suddenly not anymore if she’s single?
Of course not. And it’s the same way for the rest of us.
But that’s where it gets a little complicated. Someone can be poly by orientation, meaning that they prefer, even need, to be involved in multiple loving relationships, but monogamous by circumstances or choice. In the previous century, I was legally married. My ex-wife and I were polyamorous, but we went long stretches of our marriage where it was just the two of us. That didn’t mean that we weren’t poly anymore, we just didn’t have a large dating pool to fish in at the time. I’ve heard of plenty of poly folks that choose to be monogamous with one partner, because the other person is not poly and doesn’t want to share. There’s nothing wrong with them negotiating those limits. That’s their choice to make. Some of those people stopped identifying as poly, but just as many didn’t.
It works the other way, too. I know more than one poly couple where only one half is functionally poly. The other is mono by nature, and negotiated a poly relationship with their poly partner so that partner can express their orientation. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this arrangement; it’s their business. And some of the mono partners identify as poly, but some don’t.
Again, think about it this way. If someone identifies as bisexual, and then begins a monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex, are they suddenly homosexual? Or straight, if it’s someone of the opposite sex? I don’t think so, and lots of bisexuals (maybe most) would agree.
I believe that poly and mono are orientations, the same way that homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are. I also think that pansexuality, asexuality, kink and a whole host of other alternative sexualities are also orientations. But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks about them the same way I do.
I’m a gender and queer activist, and in those circles, I’ve often described myself as a poly, kinky, bisexual pro-feminist male. Since I was being specific, I should have said I was cis male, but that’s not the point. Those things are not what I do, they are what I am. Who I am. They define me and how I look at the world. If I was suddenly single (Gods forbid!), I wouldn’t change that description to monogamous, vanilla, straight pro-feminist cis-male. Who I am is much more than how, who and how many people I like to fuck or happen to be fucking at any given time.
Photo credit: Flickr / malias