Polyamorous people face discrimination
People across the political spectrum scoff at polyamorous people claiming to be marginalized or discriminated against.
In “social justice” culture where people make a sport of collecting marginalized identity points, it’s been made very clear that being poly is not an example of being marginalized or oppressed. This debate has often played out through the question of whether or not poly people fall under the “queer” umbrella because they have a marginalized sexuality too. The consensus is a clear no: straight poly people are not queer. Which, sure, I agree with. But even outside of that discussion, any attempt by poly people to claim marginalization is pretty much always scoffed at. People roll their eyes and insist that polyamorous people are definitely not oppressed, and act as if poly people complaining about the discrimination they face is just privileged people try to claim oppression points.
Leftists who oppose and make fun of “social justice” culture love to make fun of polyamorous people, seeing them as annoying examples of the excesses of “social justice” culture. Obviously conservatives don’t approve of poly people. And while some type of nonmonogamy is common enough to even be normative in certain queer and “social justice” subcultures, the larger culture remains committed to monogamy as the standard, normal, legal, and only acceptable way to organize romantic love.
I am queer. I have sexual and romantic relationships with women and have for many years. I experience homophobia and compulsory heteronormativity, and they have both had a negative impact on my life. But, in the 22 years or so that I’ve been out of the closest, I have witnessed major gains in the cultural acceptance of queer relationships, and homophobia has become increasingly less acceptable. That work isn’t done, but we’ve come a long way.
I have been poly for more than 6 years and am not going to stop. The discrimination against polyamory impacts my life more pervasively and concretely than homophobia does. The legal definition of romantic partners, either through marriage or common law, cannot recognize my relationships. Common law risks nonconsensually defining one of my relationships as the ‘real’ one if I decide to live with one of my partners. There is no way for me to answer bureaucratic questions about my relationship status honestly, so at this point I just say ‘single.’ But this will get more complicated when I become a mom, and if I decide to cohabitate with a partner. There are so many legal rights that are extended to family only and romantic partners are only defined as family in a monogamous context.
Beyond this concrete and material discrimination, there is a pervasive societal othering. I know polyamorous people who are out at work as queer but pretend that the ‘partner’ they refer to is one single person when in reality it is not. The constant refrain of “I could never do that” when talking about my romantic life is honestly exhausting. I was not asking the other person if they could ever be poly. I was talking about my life. And even in subcultural contexts where nonmonogamy is normative, it usually follows the “open relationship” or “primary/secondary” model. It is rare for me to be in a social situation where my romantic life is not unusual. There is still very little representation of polyamory in media. There is not much in our culture that recognizes or affirms the way I love. The way we love and who we love is of fundamental importance to who we are and the way we structure our lives. Constantly having to navigate being othered in this regard is painful and difficult.
“Social justice” culture can’t imagine why a group would want the discrimination and marginalization they face recognized beyond the collection of “identity points.” I literally do not care about identity points. I am not trying to leverage polyamory to gain more legitimacy, demand deference or support, or protect myself from weird identitarian attacks. I don’t care about any of that and have entirely stepped outside of that dysfunctional way of relating.
I want discrimination against poly people recognized for two reasons. The first, and most important, is that I want the same legal rights and protections afforded to traditional families. This is an important political goal, and not just for poly people. Many, many families are structured in ways that don’t look like the monogamous nuclear family. These families deserve the same rights and protections as monogamous nuclear families. The second is that I want to know and be known. I want to be seen for who I am. In the same way that my heart falls from the repeated assumptions put forth by compulsory heteronormativity, my hearts falls from the repeated assumptions of compulsory mononormativity. I want the way I love and the people I love to be recognized in the world at the level of importance they actually hold.
For the leftists who like to make fun of polyamory — I encourage you to consider for a second that I am not being a special snowflake. While it may be difficult to imagine from where you are standing, this is sincerely who I am, and I have the right to be that way. I have the right to live in a world that can recognize my relationships, just like you do. In a pluralistic society, we must accept that the rights of others to self determination and self expression are as important as our own rights to these things, even if other people are quite different from ourselves. In the same way that I defend the rights of deeply religious people who structure their lives in profoundly different ways from me, I want my right to structure my life in the way that makes sense to me to be defended.
Monogamy is not more natural, normal, or right that nonmonogamy. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that human beings as a species are not naturally monogamous. That doesn’t mean I’m going to demand that you be nonmonogamous or ridicule your monogamy — absolutely not. But I am tired of the insistence that monogamy is natural when that actually does not seem to be the case. No other highly social primate species are monogamous.
Freedom to love how we want to love and who we want to love is fundamental. Freedom to structure and define our relationships in the ways that work for us is fundamental. Rights for polyamorous people and social acceptance of polyamory are important political goals, not fringe subcultural nonsense.
I don’t this polyamorous people are ‘queer’ but the work of queer liberation is not done until its final goal is realized: all people should be able to love who and how they love. There is no better way to be a sexual or loving person, just the endless diversity of human beings.
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Clementine Morrigan is a writer and public intellectual based in Montréal, Canada. She writes popular and controversial essays about culture, politics, ethics, relationships, sexuality, and trauma. A passionate believer in independent media, she’s been making zines since the year 2000 and is the author of several books. She’s known for her iconic white-text-on-a-black-background mini-essays on Instagram. One of the leading voices on the Canadian Left and one half of the Fucking Cancelled podcast, Clementine is an outspoken critic of cancel culture and a proponent of building solidarity across difference. She is a socialist, a feminist, and a vegan for the animals and the earth.