On relationship and sexual identity
I’ve been toying with this article for a while. Never knowing quite where to start it and finding every time I put fingers to keys I stop. It is difficult to explain. We exist in a world where until relatively recently the idea of a relationship was two heterosexual, gender opposite individuals in a one on one monogamous relationship. And that is still the most common type. Recently we have seen great strides in equal marriage, and a more accepting culture around LGBT issues- though we still have a long way to go. But I have been struggling to find the best way to define who and what I am for quite some time. And one of the main aspects of my orientation has been one I’ve had to think a lot about because I too find it difficult at times to justify it. But then, why should I have to? And yet, here I am attempting to do so.
As we become a more accepting culture, we are starting to understand that for many people (though admittedly not all) things like sexuality and relationship structure are fluid. Now obviously there are some people who are 100% hetero or homo sexual, to ignore this is to shut off our critical thinking portions of our brain. It is nice to think that all sexuality is fluid but it isn’t – some people really do associate 100% one way. But I do think much of it is for many people. Because we still have a lot of bigotry and animosity around the world to people with alternative lifestyles (alternative to the hetero one man one woman most common type) it is going to be decades at least before we are in a situation where we can truly and objectively address our own orientations and see whether or not all sexuality can be fluid or if rigidity is indeed the “norm”. Whilst oppression and bigotry still exist, so does fear and a lack of proper communication.
It is common to think that sexuality is either hetero or homosexual with bisexual sitting in between the two. But for many people there are huge gaps between the three. The Kinsey scale uses 6 numbers ranging from completely hetero to completely homo, and in truth I’m not sure that scale is wide enough to truly encapsulate human sexuality. Recently I came across a phrase I’ve never heard before which just means we have yet more gaps created in this number chart- heteroromantic bisexual. This refers to someone who will only engage in romantic relationships with someone of the opposite gender.
Side note: I accept there are multiple ideas on gender, but for the sake of this blog I’m keeping it simple to just male/ female identifying. Apologies to any genderfluid or other types of gender identification. This isn’t to dismiss anyone, we just for the sake of this blog need to keep it simple because we’re about to get really complicated.
However, the heteroromantic bisexual, though only engaging in relationships with a gender opposite, is open to sexual encounters with those of the same gender. They aren’t entirely bisexual in the sense that they are equally attracted to both genders, nor that they are able to carry on relationships with both genders. Now if we were to add heteroromantic bisexual (HRB from now on!) to our chart, say ranging form 1 – 100 with hetero at 1, homo at 100 and truly bisexual at 50, I’d place HRB at around 25 (with its opposite- homoromantic bisexual at 75). This just creates more gaps. Ever heard the phrase heteroflexible? Usually used to refer to someone who is mostly straight but may have same sex attractions not always acted. Which may be placed at 15 on our chart.
I probably fall somewhere around 20 to 22. Closer to heteroromantic bisexual than heteroflexible, but still a few dozen jumps from bisexual as I can never imagine having a relationship with someone of the same sex.
Can we see now why I have been having a hard time defining who and what I am? I’m not entirely sure what label best applies, and in some regards it really can depend on the situation as I can find myself closer to 10 in some scenarios, closer to 25 in others and even hitting 35 in yet others.
So I don’t define as 100% straight, nor bi sexual, nor 100% heteroromantic, nor 100% heteroflexible. In a society that is so obsessed with labels and sexual identity it makes it difficult to really express my own identity. But wait, we’re about to go even further down the rabbit hole. Alice, are you with me?
See on top of all that I also identify, more strongly and directly, with another orientation. Not a sexual one but a romantic one – I say romantic as this one isn’t about sexual attraction per se.
It is common to congratulate someone coming out as gay or bi, but how do you respond to someone like me who is an “incidentally heteroflexible polyamorous heteroromantic bisexual”? There aren’t enough letters free to add that to LGBT! I suppose “queer” might be a good description but… I don’t feel I can take that. I’m not close enough to even bisexual to feel comfortable claiming a word that has been used as a word of proud declaration by a much maligned portion of society. Especially as people of all sexual orientation have been known to look down on Polys.
But, what is poly? What do I mean by “relationship orientation”? Okay, this is where it gets tricky.
Polyamory is a bastardisation of Latin and Greek meaning “Many loves” and is an ethical form of non monogamy. It is probably comparable to an open relationship, the difference being that unlike an open relationship that generally means a partnership where the others can engage in sexual activities with those outside of the duo relationship, poly goes a little further in that it allows for full relationships outside of the core one. Sometimes these relationships take the form of hierarchies where the Prime couple will take priority with each other and have seconds that would to all intents and purposes be equal but should any rift occur it is likely to revert to just the original two. Another type is where all partners are equal with no primaries, and sometimes three or more people may all be dating each other, with three this is usually called a triad. I’m not overly keen on the primaries/ secondaries situation but it works for some. If I am dating people they are all equal. Or at least should be- new relationships naturally are not going to be as strong as existing ones.
I’m not selling this very well.
Basically a poly relationship allows for relationships with other people. Now how those relationships take shape is determined by those in the poly situation. Some partnerships consist of one poly and one mono person, where the mono is not threatened by and accepts their partners additional relationships. If this sounds a lot like cheating, or not being happy with your partner, or they’re not enough to you then you are not alone, this is a very common reaction.
It is hard to explain unless you are poly, but being in one single relationship for life isn’t something that can make some people happy entirely. It doesn’t mean their partner doesn’t make them happy, simply that their relationship orientation makes them more content and happy if they can form bonds and relationships with others. Some people say they can’t imagine loving another person outside their partner, but I like to use the example of having children. Having a second child won’t diminish your love for the first and some people have a natural need for multiple children. We don’t call those people greedy or cheaters. We happily accept that some people cannot be completely fulfilled without a second or third child, and that this desire in no way diminishes the love of the previous children.
Some people just feel that certain lifestyles better suit them. Now I could argue that historically speaking we would have not always been mono, and that for most of our evolutionary life we would have been in multiple relationships of varying designs. I could argue that within recorded history it was common for, especially the wealthy, to have extra marital relationships. I could argue both of those points but I won’t as it would be insulting. And irrelevant. Just as meat eaters arguing that we required meat in order to develop somehow negates the vegetarian argument that we no longer need it. Calling back to the past to support Poly makes it seem outdated, and we also can’t escape the fact that most of the historically Poly situations have been male lead and misogynistic at their core. I think the easiest way to address what is and isn’t Poly is to look at some of the criticisms and comments:
Poly is about cheating- it is not. The whole point of ethical non monogamy is that all parties are aware of and supportive of the decision to carry on additional relationships. Cheating can occur- if a couple has an agreement to be honest about things like one night stands and one person isn’t, then that can be cheating or at the very least betraying trust.
Poly is greedy – this is an argument also levelled at bi-sexuals, that somehow it is about wanting to have your cake and eat it. If I could be happy and content in a “normal” relationship I would. It isn’t about being greedy, it is about what feels right for the person/ people involved. Many Polys can go years or decades in one relationship, but knowing there is the freedom there to explore your own sexuality and attractions can make for very happy and content people
Poly is an excuse for lots of sex- Well, some polys also swing, have one night stands and have fuck buddies. But that is not the case for all. Many Polys find their triad of three or maybe a group of four and that’s it. No relationships outside of that, no one night stands, no swinging. In many relationships the same structures and requirements present in mono relationships also exist, and if one member of a triad were to have a one night stand this could be seen as just as big a betrayal as if a member of a mono couple did the same.
Polys can’t commit – well we need to start here with realising that to the majority of people “commit” means exclusivity between two people. The idea that you can commit to multiple people seems to destroy the meaning of the word, yet commit simply means “pledge or bind to a certain course or policy” according to a quick Google definition. We like our definitions, and we also like our definitions to mean what we want them to mean and once we have that idea set it is difficult to waver. But committing to more than one person is possible (see the children argument again) it simply means that the way in which Polys commit is seen differently. Committing to one person is not the same as committing in a general sense and Polys can commit, maybe they agree to certain rules in the relationship (as monos do) and this commitment restricts to one additional partner, maybe the commitment is to a romantic relationship with their primary but purely sexual elsewhere- though that isn’t strictly speaking poly, more a wider definition of ethical non monogamy.
Polys need to grow up – Actually Poly relationships require a high level of maturity, to be able to treat two people equally in a mature adult relationship takes work and time and communication. If you just want casual sex then there is swinging and one night stands.
I couldn’t do it- well I couldn’t be in a serious relationship with a man, but so what?
But that means you must want to sleep with me – Another one I know bis get. But no. I’m not jumping into bed with you just because I’m poly.
Even now I am still finding it hard to properly explain all of this. Basically, you know how you feel that a mono relationship is right and makes you content and happy? I feel that way about Poly. But now we must come to a very important part, and one that has some ties with the LGBT community (don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we amend it to LGBTP… well, not yet anyway).
Discrimination and choice.
No Poly can truly understand the fear and abuse that a homo or bi sexual person experiences. Polys aren’t at risk of being beaten to a bloody pulp, in fact I can’t find any examples of Poly related violence. There are however some links between them. Although Polys don’t face the same level of stigma, it does still exist. Many bisexuals report being criticised by both hetero and homo sexuals and ostracised. Within the gay and straight communities bisexuals are still seen by many as wrong and greedy, or people who are secretly gay and won’t admit it. Polys have also faced such derision. This is because it is not a sexual orientation but a romantic one. I am not here to start crying about how the orientation I align with is some trodden upon underclass but we still do risk backlash.
Do you think I want the backlash? Just look at the comments in this article about the entertainer Mo’Nique “allowing” her husband to “cheat” and see the comments such as:
Monique has low self esteem, she figures he’s the best man she can get so she’ll do whatever she has to do to keep him.
That marriage won’t last.
This is disappointing, there is no perfect person and there will never be a perfect marriage, why cant people learn to appreciate what they have instead of covet what they don’t, why did you get marriage in the first place if you didn’t want to live a content happy life with one person smh..
I see a lot of people saying using the term “marriage” when it’s really just an “arrangement”…the marriage ended at the time they decided to make this arrangement.
Its not a marriage if ur not committed to the person u share vows with. The whole purpose of marriage & any real commitment is good with bad , better or for worse. If u invest in anythin accept the role & responsability cheating shows no integrity. The world today sad …
Low self esteem… its not a real relationship… disappointing…no integrity… won’t last… and here is a Reddit discussion on whether it is “just a phase”. Does any of this sound familiar? But let’s go deeper.
Polys can also face discrimination by risking:
- Losing their jobs (here are several personal accounts and heres another)
- Losing their children (1, 2 [Even in the best custody cases, polyparents facing a monogamous ex have the scales weighted against them.])
- Losing their family (here, and worrying about rifts here)
A lot of the times this might not come to pass, and these are of course extremes, but the fear that it might happen is genuine and there are examples. Grandparents threatening to take away children because of a poly lifestyle is a real fear for some. However many of the Poly discrimination stories I read are in private Facebook forums and the stories are frequent- lost family, lost work, threats about having kids removed. Join a forum if you can and read through the stories. They are alarming.
Again I am not wanting to say Polys have it as bad as those who are gay or bi (I really, really want to hammer that home and avoid any gay or bi people thinking I am trying to steal their struggle- though I feel uncomfortable constantly apologising seeing as the discrimination does exist even if not to the same level) , but there is discrimination out there and we aren’t playing oppression Olympics here- these are people’s lives and no one should face abuse or risk losing jobs and family members over their orientation be it sexual or relationship. Just look at this list of Google results for a snap shot.
And as with gay relationships and children there is criticism, we can even find examples of both children of gay parents and children of poly parents saying it is horrible for them such as this one, however these stories, as with the linked one, tend to be more about societies attitude and bigotry toward alternative lifestyles affecting the kid rather than the type of relationship being the issue. And of course there are arguments, as with gay parents, that poly parenting is bad for kids. But Poly as a mainstream thing is still probably too new to adequately answer that.
Finally there is the discussion about choice. Most people accept that being gay is not a choice, but an ingrained character trait. Is that so with Poly? Is poly simply a choice or is it ingrained? I would argue the latter for many, and at least for me. I could force myself to maintain a mono relationship for life but I would feel unhappy not having the ability to truly embrace my feelings and attitudes to relationships. I can’t switch it off, and suddenly be happy living in a “normal” style relationship. There is a lot of discussion on this topic, and this quote from this article is an interesting one:
Meanwhile, there are some people whose innate personality traits make it very difficult to live happily in a monogamous relationship but relatively easy to be happy in an open one. Given the persecution heaped on gays in most of the world in recent generations, and the relative difficulty of “passing,” there are probably few people who would choose that identity unless they could not find happiness in straight life. So, sure, there may be a larger fraction of non-monogamists for whom their unconventional relationship is “optional” or “a choice.” But there are almost certainly also some “obligate” non-monogamists who would never feel emotionally satisfied and healthy in a monogamous relationship, any more than a gay man would be satisfied and healthy in a straight marriage.
But ultimately does it matter? If being gay were a choice, should that mean gay people should be facing discrimination? Should poly people? Some polys may be able to switch it off which of course muddies the water. I hate comparing being poly to being gay, the struggles are not the same but there is some overlap. Basically, unless you are cis, in a monogamous relationship and straight you are going to face some discrimination because right now “cis straight mono” is the default and those of us who blur the lines and exist outside the “normal” frame work will face different problems. Trans people will face different bigotry to gay people, gay people will face different bigotry to bi people and yes Poly people will face their own bigotry and even then there will be overlaps to lesser or greater degress. Unless you tick all the right boxes of living a “normal” default lifestyle you will face some form of bigotry. Even atheists face losing jobs and friends (so we can probably throw “religious” into the default setting for some parts of the world).
And when you do identify as poly, good look finding even one relationship never mind multiple- with mono being the default, not many people are willing to partner someone who they may not see as faithful.
Our sexual, relationship, and philosophical identities are vital to our make up, and to dismiss them because they do not fit the default, because you fear retaliation, is something no one should face. I as a poly probably don’t face the risk of assault, but as discussed at the start of the article, poly is not the only thing I identify as. I cannot in good faith identify purely as 100% heterosexual, in fact the rather long winded “Incidentally heteroflexible polyamorous heteroromantic bisexual” (Christ, I’m really starting to think “queer” might have to do) pretty much sums me up. Admitting to that does worry me as some parts of that “label” certainly would leave me open to physical abuse which is one reason I don’t too openly discuss it – except here. Maybe we all, to some degree struggle with our identity, and as we start to open up more and as the internet is bringing diverse people together it is enabling us to find more and more varied types of people and orientations, in doing so it makes things like the Kinsey scale seem antiquated. My suggestion of increasing the scale from 1-6 to 1-100 is really just for this article, but already it is clear that although “cis hetero mono” is the default, it is shrinking as we become further aware of our own identities and open ourselves up to different ways of thinking and different styles of relationship and sexuality. The world is changing, people will still face discrimination and people will still not “get” others lifestyles. I guess ultimately this blog is more for me than for you. And I must scratch my head because I am not sure I am any closer to understanding “who I am” than I was when I first started typing.