[Content Note: Polyamory, discussion of homophobia and anti-poly sentiment*]
Over on Role / Reboot, an article said something that got me thinking.
My son told me that as much as he enjoyed it, he did not plan to do multiple partner sex again. He thought it was great as an introduction, but now he wanted to go back to a single heterosexual partner. As I audibly sighed with relief, he reminded me gently, “Mom, poly is the new gay.” If I wanted to keep my cred as a liberal parent I would need to accept it. This set me back for a second. I thought about how quick I was to judge other parents who refused to accept their adult children’s homosexual relationships. Poly is the outpost on the sex positive frontier that my children’s generation has reached.
Poly is the new gay. The similarities are definitely real. The Christian Right believes our “lifestyle choices” are abominations, and would rather us not exist. Poly marriage is as illegal as gay marriage, and has even less popular support. We’re both extremely othered by mainstream culture — gays with archetypes like the gay male pedophile or the scary man-hating lesbian, and poly people with images of philandering jerks and religious cults. I can easily imagine the same battles we’re fighting now over gay rights being repeated 50 years down the road over polyamory, with one key difference.
Polyamory actually is a lifestyle choice. And that’s awesome.
We’re making progress on the gay rights frontier, but that progress has mainly come about by changing how society views homosexuality, and not by changing how society views sex. I’m fine with this. All the same, it does leave much to be desired.
While it’s possible that poly rights will follow a similar route — normalizing polyamory rather than promoting sex positivity, that seems unlikely to me. There is no “born this way” for polyamory; it’s a choice. To win this one, we’re going to have to convince people that poly lifestyles are no better or worse than mono lifestyles; it’s simply a matter of preference. To do that, we’re going to have to convince people that sex is fundamentally private and personal, and that good consent, safety, and honesty are the only issues society has any business regulating or stigmatizing.
Read that last sentence again, because those two propositions are the absolute core of sex positivity. If we win poly rights, we win the culture war, at least about sex. There will be no need to worry about de-stigmatizing (safe, consensual) BDSM, because it will fall under the umbrella ideal of “your sex is not my business.”
I want to live in that future, and applaud those who are making it possible. Keep kicking ass.
*After reading AJ’s recent post and a ton of Shakesville, I decided to personally adopt the Shakesville policy of putting content notes on everything instead of trigger warnings on potentially volatile stuff. I haven’t talked to the other Gadflies about this yet, but if you see them doing it it’s because we’ve agreed to all start doing it.