My friend Josiah recently wrote a little rant on Facebook about how hypocritical it is when gay people fight against narrowly defining “marriage” as between one man and one woman, but then turn around and are judgmental of their peers in the gay community who choose to have other “non-traditional” relationship arrangements, such as polyamorous (multi-person) or sexually open relationships.
I’ve written before about why people who are overall ethically open-minded can get squeamish when considering “non-mononormative arrangements.” But the real question is: shouldn’t we be actively pushing for people to be more open-minded in their conceptualization of romantic relationships on all fronts?
After all, some straight people are! The Atlantic has a recent feature “Multiple lovers, without jealousy” by Olga Khazan, with in-depth interviews, case studies, survey statistics, neuroscience, and titillating first-hand accounts of polyamorous and open relationships involving everything from cosplay to BDSM to hunting unicorns. (You’ll have to read the article to understand what that is about.)
It is written from a heterosexual perspective—or at least, as heterosexual as you can get when talking about triads, “nesting groups” and communes—but the phenomenon is familiar to many of us in the gay community. Whether you’ve known couples who “play on the side” or been in a full-on committed three-way relationship yourself, whether you and your partner pick up people for a little ménage à trois on the side, or you simply know couples who have a “I won’t ask if you won’t tell” policy when it comes to sexual dalliances, chances are good you have had at least some contact with people who have strayed from the “mono-normative” relationship model.
Although there are places where non-monogamy in the gay community is accepted or even outright celebrated, there are also many places where it is shunned. Many gay people tell themselves and others that they are looking for “the one” even as they troll Grindr for hookups. Especially here in Dallas, Texas, where I live, there is a strong pressure to be the “good, normal” gays. Be monogamous, get married, go to church, and prove to the world that gay people can be just like clean-cut straight people.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be monogamous, or even wanting to be “clean cut”; although I personally wish that our community could move past the assumption that in order to be accepted we need to prove to straight people that we can mimic everything about their morals and their relationships. We’ve spent decades proving to the straight world that we can be “normal”, that we want marriage, and that we aren’t all just lustful cockmonsters.
Maybe it’s time for us to start pushing the envelope a little in the other direction, and talk about the fact that there’s nothing (inherently) wrong with being a lustful cockmonster, either.
Khazan is a straight woman, and she’s already fighting that battle within the heterosexual community. Her article delves deep into the psychology of polyamorous relationships. She talks about one of the biggest sources of tension in such relationships, jealousy, and how different people who participate in a polyamorous lifestyle cope with it. One of her conclusions, based on reading, research and observation, is that people who have successful polyamorous relationships often have more sophisticated ways of thinking about jealousy and self-esteem than monogamous people. Often they are also better at communication, as well.
This isn’t that surprising, right? You’d kind of have to be.
Polyamory is complicated, and it’s not right for everybody. I’m certainly not saying that anyone should aspire to it. But it’s not something we should be demonizing, either. The gay rights movement started out telling the world not to judge anyone based on the relationship model they choose, but has evolved in many places into proving that we can be cookie-cutter normal.
Khazan’s article doesn’t judge straight people who choose polyamory. Can gay people be just as open-minded?