Monday, November 26, 2012

Dan Savage Responds to the Poly-As-Identity/Orientation Controversy

With regard to last week's post about Dan Savage's advice to a polyamorous person trying to cope with a monogamous partner's pressure to be monogamous, it seems that he's been hearing quite a lot from people with all sorts of perspectives.  He references this today in a blog post:
"I said 'no' in last week's Savage Love, kicking off a shitstorm in the comments thread, in my e-mail inbox, and here and there on the interwebs. (Even the right-wing nutjobs have taken notice.) At least one poly person agrees with me:
There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.
Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.
A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.
I'm hearing from lots of poly folks who disagree. I'm going to let them have their say in next week's Savage Love."
Dan provides a link to my and another post on this issue.  I left a comment that I hope comes across as both thoughtful and respectful.   And it's very col that he's going to let people have their say in next week's Savage Love.  Stay tuned for Round 2. 


dave94015 said...

I felt conflicted about how to react to Mr. Savage's remarks to the person who asked his advice. Although I often agree with Savage's views, I think he missed the mark on this issue and I hope he receives many comments from the polyamory side.
I hope Savage will eventually respect the significance of polyamory to those who live this way.

Sabrina Morgan said...

I think it's interesting – and telling – that Savage seems to think of sympathy as a finite resource. Is polyamory a sexual orientation? No. A relationship orientation? Sure. And, much like being introverted vs. extroverted, finding a large percentage of the population leans that way shouldn't really be shocking (even if they don't all pursue those leanings for whatever reason). "It can't be an orientation if it's common" makes no sense. Granted, we're not used to seeing a common orientation culturally stigmatized, but if poly is a spectrum and few folks are 5's...

It makes sense that much like sexual orientation, relationship orientation would operate on a spectrum (with some falling strongly to one side or the other, some firmly in the middle, and many moving along the continuum at various points in life). Perhaps monogamish would be the poly equivalent of a Kinsey 2?

I do agree that some of the poly community's usage of orientation language has come off as co-opting, however. We could be more graceful around that for sure.

Anita Wagner Illig said...

Sabrina, I like the continuum model when referring to polyamory as an identity or orientation and think using a Kinsey-Scale-like numbering system could be quite helpful and useful to those who are new to polyamory and trying to navigate without enough road signs. Sounds like something Franklin Veaux/tacit would do, he's very good at creating visuals and applying them to polyamory.

As to co-opting language, I think people are using language they know. As interest in polyamory grows and the movement expands, we need language that allows us to communicate effectively, and lacking other terms, it seems to make sense to use what already exists and what people already understand, even as an analogy. I wish I had a dollar for every online discussion I've participated in over the last 17 years or so that involved defining X. And here we are, still struggling to define language, this time around polyamory as orientation or identity. I don't think the referenced co-opting is being done with malice, but we do see defensive reactions that deserve to be taken seriously and heard respectfully.