Thursday, June 7, 2007

Identity Poly-tics

I subscribe to a number of polyamory-themed e-mail lists and have done so for many years now. Recently I read where someone said that though they self-identify as polyamorous, they found the term "polyamorist" to be inappropriate and objected to being referred to as such.

To them the term refers to people who have an agenda and wish to influence others' judgment on the subject. A gay polyamory activist I know also urges care in use of the term, believing it could become a tool with which those who oppose us (largely religious extremists and advocates for traditional marriage) can bludgeon us by using the term derisively. This may well be reasonable advice, however, in my experience, the opposition is entirely proficient in finding something to seize upon and use for their purposes no matter what we do.

If we had a better term to refer to people who are polyamorous I'd gladly use it, but we don't. I've been using the term "polyamorist" to simply refer to myself and others who identify themselves as polyfolk, polyamorous, etc., for years. I use it in writing and in poly relationship skills educational programs. I haven't been keeping track of whether and how often other polys use it, but I know they do. I expressly do not use it with any intent to describe people with a common agenda, the poly movement and such, though I'm engaged in polyamory activism on a regular basis and do use the term when talking about polyamorous people in the context of poly activism.

"Polyamorist" is a natural way to refer to we who are not monogamists. "Monogamist" is a very common term, at least in my observation. One reason I prefer the term "polyamorist" is that in terms of polyamory activism, it simplifies and clarifies communication with those who are not aware of polyamory and have no knowledge of what it means. As far as most folks know, everyone is a monogamist. Hence, the use of "polyamorist" as a simple and practical term of reference.


Alan said...

I quit reading the "-ist" thread some time back. It all seemed to be about some people refusing to grasp that an "-ist" can be either a person who advocates something (communist, Bokononist) or a just person who is doing something (motorist, bicyclist).



Tom Paine said...

Some people object to labels as defining who they are. Are C. and I swingers because we don't currently date other people separately? Swingers are also disparaged, not only because of the mainstream derision, but even among polys, who consider swinging as undignified, superficial, or just "not me."

I think that polyamory would be better served if it were inclusive and not so focused on defining terminology that is, ultimately, defeating. Look at how many "queer identified" people have backed away from such labels, often preferring to say "not straight" or "queer identified" when in fact they may be in happy, sexual marriages, but open to relationships with members of their own gender.

The human condition is complex. We need to deal with that fact.

Alan said...

Wups! Make that "just a" person...

Silent-Porn-Star said...

The assumption that one is monogamist is like that of race being white, orientation being straight, and gender being female -- unless other wise noted, that's the dealio.

I don't think it's right; just noting it all. Lumps of commonality, protection from 'other' is part of the human need to categorize. Our survival has long depended upon it, but we need to consider thinking not just reacting or assuming.

Things can (and should) change. Like when your friend says she's pregnant -- are we happy, or are we sad? Are we terrified? It's not always a blessing and making the assumption that it is can really be putting your foot in it. ;)

If one thinks first, the crap can be avoided.