This post has little to do with transition but I was thinking of merging this blog with my other more general blog anyway since it is good for people to see trans people blogging about other things too! And also, the further I go, the more I refuse to segment my life. I’m a whole person and this blog, once I have time to integrate my posts from my other blog, will reflect that.
Before proceeding, let me clarify why I put non-monogamy in the title instead of polyamory. I try not to use the two terms interchangeably, although sometimes I do when I’m in a rush. People use the terms differently so here is how I use them. For me, non-monogamy includes a wider range than polyamory.
I refer to any way of relating that is not monogamous, simply put, as non-monogamy. So this would include polyamorous arrangements, where more than one romantic, emotional and/or sexual relationship are accepted, acknowledged and celebrated by all concerned. It could be several people all in love with each other but not necessarily in the same type of love. It could be a couple where each member has other partners of varying intensity, ranging from full-time lovers to deep sexual friendships.
Non-monogamy for me also includes what is often seen as the other extreme: swinging. I know of some poly identified folk who actively try to dissassociate themselves from swingers, who they see as seeking *only* sexual gratification in encounters devoid of real human contact and emotional relating. On the other hand, I have know people who identified as swingers but who form deep, ongoing friendships with the people that they fuck and form circles of people to have encounters with. So it’s all a question of interpretation. Regardless, yes, there are people who seek fleeting sexual encounters just for the sake of sex . . .and that’s ok too, if the people involved know what they are doing and are fulfilled by it somehow.
I identify as non-monogamous, period, because I see myself as existing within they grey area between poly and swinging. I am capable of loving more than one person and see my ideal family as one where I’m surrounded by people that I love. I don’t have to have the same kind of loving relationship with all of them. Heck, they don’t even have to all be sexual. However, I also really enjoy the freedom of that occasional anonymous and fleeting encounter. It’s not something that I thrive on now the way that I used to when I was living as female and needed constant reassurance that I was worthy of sexual attention (mostly from men) to prove that I was a “real” female. [Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always had slutty tendencies and thoughts from age 5-6 onward so I did enjoy it!!] But it’s something that I like to occasionally indulge in. So I’m non-monagamous in that my relationship style is one where I relate polyamorously and sometimes like to “swing”.
SO: I was set off today by a link found on Facebook about a polyamourous family in Seattle. When I started reading it, I was happy because I’m always happy to hear about happy people in whatever context (unless, of course, they’re happy because they are hurting others in non-consentual ways but I digress). Then, when I read the sociologist’s commentary about the unfeasibility of poly and her grand narrative style statements about human nature, I got really ticked off. I posted to my page and started ranting away, then I thought I might as well turn it into a blog post.
First, here is what I wrote in response on my own Facebook post where I linked to the article:
The sociologist here is making gross assumptions about human nature. First, she does not have cross-cultural data to support her claims. In many, many societies, polygamous arrangements have been seen as ideal with *most* people in those societies desiring such an arrangement. They should be interviewing anthropologists, dammit!
Secondly, she omits to add the nuance (unless she did and the person writing this up didn’t include it, which is highly possible in my experience with journalists) that *most* people want monogamy (in the West, presumably) because they are told from all sources from age 0 that monogamy is the only “normal” and “natural” way to relate romantically, emotionally and sexually.
Also, saying that polyamorous arrangements don’t last, implying that they don’t last because of their very nature as poly arrangements, is B.S. No one blames monogamy when monogamous arrangements end. Many relationships end, period, because humans are complicated. People change, people grow and sometimes those growths and changes take them from … Read Moreeach other. Sometimes people are jealous – poly people aren’t immune to jealousy but it is no more common in poly than mono relationships. People fight over money and other material crap, or ideological reasons, or whatever, no matter what their relationship style is. So stop giving me this crap about poly just not being a viable way to relate.
It’s not about people not being capable of it. It’s about bottom lines. What will you accept or not in a relationship?
For some people, monogamy and the almost inevitable fusing of one’s identity and well-being with that of another works. Good for them. For some of us, it doesn’t. And poly works quite well for those of us who can withstand the challenges of experimenting with alternate ways of being in a society that, in spite of it’s toting of individual rights … Read Moreand liberties, still tries to confine us to boxes. It works for those of us who are OK with working outside of established models and creating our own. Doesn’t mean we want people to stop being monogamous but it does mean that we want the mainstream to stop taking us for freaks just because we are open about our capacities to love and be loved by more than one person.
<Gets off soapbox for now.>
Obviously that didn’t fit all in one box! Also, it was written very steam-of-consciousness style and needs to be refined. I don’t have time or energy to produce a well-written, articulate treatise on the matter but here is some preliminary writing on why non-monogamy works for ME.
First, I’m a complex person, as all people are. What I see as different about myself, and the people that I tend to surround myself with, and many other people is that we accept and celabrate our complexity. I’ve grown up in a society where, from age zero, we’re streamlined into choosing one type of identity for ourselves, often centred on career choices, who we will marry and how many kids we will have. People are taught from childhood to showcase some salient features about themselves and to obscure others. And we’re taught, consequently, to look for “types” of people that we can be involved with. Just as with gender, we put together categories of people with corresponding constellations of traits. For example, there is the ambitious, money oriented type who will go far and own a house or condo or both. Then there is the athletic type. There is also the homey type who wants a simply life in a small town. Etc etc. Divide these types by two to match the “two sexes” and there you go. Fertile grounds for picking who you are and who your mate is.
Thing is, some of us actually want more than one thing. Maybe I live the city AND the woods. Maybe I’m nerdy but also like some physical activity. Maybe I live cold AND hot. Maybe I like rock music AND classical music. And maybe I like more. than. one. “type”. of. person.
Maybe I like to relate to people that are a lot like me in temperament sometimes: mouthy, passionate, politicised, etc. Maybe I also like to relate to people who have a more calm disposition sometimes and who will help me come down a few nothces. Maybe other times I actually like (even though I’ll complain about it) relating to someone who is radically different in temperament and worldview, at the very least because I get to have a heated debate.
And maybe. Just maybe. I can like people of more than one sex. Maybe I don’t want to restrict myself to people of one physical or social gendered category. Maybe I even like to relate to blends, like myself.
And what if I would like to relate romantically, emotionally and sexually to more than one of these people, perhaps from multiple categories? What if I don’t want to limit myself to one “type” of person that will supposedly fit best with who I am? What if I’m willing to accept that short-lived but intense experiences with someone who common wisdom would locate as a mismatch for me can still be learning experiences and that I can take something positive out of it?
Mainstream wisdom tells me this just can’t work. I can’t love more than one person, can I? I would be dividing something in half and wouldn’t have enough to go around. My partners would be jealous of each other. And *gasp* I would be jealous if they wanted other partners too.
Well, in the days when I adhered, or tried to adhere, to this wisdom, I had low self-esteem. Everytime my partner would look at someone else, I felt belittled. Even though I could look at someone who was attractive and it would not diminish my love (or what I thought was love at the time) for my partner, I couldn’t see how they could be attracted to someone else and still be attracted to me. However, now that I’ve opened myself up to the possibility that people can be attracted to and even love more than one, I don’t feel threatened.
I also don’t feel replaceable because I recognise that people get something different out of all their different relationships, whether they be the “loving” kind or the friendshi[p kind. As a complex person who accepts and celebrates complexity, I need the freedom to feed that complexity with more than one complex being. I also recognise and celebrate that these complex beings have those same desires and needs.
And it works for me.
I admit that when I first started exploring non-monogamy back in 2002 or so, it was in a context of an unhappy relationship and a desire to explore sex with women (I was a woman at the time, remember.) After that relationship officially ended in 2004, I went on a dating/fucking frenzy then dropped everything for about a year. Then, slowly, I started dating again. And during this period I also explored my gender identity and, last year, came to the realization that I wanted to live as male. And in that same process, I became a whole person, fully embracing of my complexities and inner contradictions. And, in that same process, I became more able to be non-monogamous in a healthy way, as opposed to the escapism that characterized my early so-called poly explorations.
And now it works for me because I can love and be loved without those old feelings of inadequacy. Obviously, my transition has affected that because my self-confidence and self-esteem have improved exponentially. But accepting this new way of loving has helped my self-esteem too because surrounding myself with people who get it has helped me see that I’m not a freak like I thought I was the first time I fell in love with someone other than my main partner.
Back then, in 1998, during anthropological fieldwork in a Canadian Native reserve, I fell in love with a man almost twice my age while my partner was back home in southern Quebec. It was straight out of a Harlequin romance: the first furtive glances, the attempts at avoidance and final giving in to sexual impulses in the woods, then the ensuing anger at myself and at him, further lessenings of resolve, etc, leading up to an anti-climatic farewell and months and months of feelings of loss after my return home.
Much of this internal drama was based in my worldview that said that I could only love one person. I felt so guilty that I had feelings for someone else. I felt even more guilty that I had “cheated.”
Years later, other developments have ensued with my northerner and, in the end, I decided I love myself more and had to give up on the possibility of a life with him to be able to pursue my desire to transition and to be me to the full extent. Yes, it’s sad sometimes.
But being non-monogamous helps. Why? Because I can have one or more relationships down here with people who will accept that I love this man and always will and who don’t feel threatened by it. If by some miracle he accepted to have a relationship with me, as a guy, it wouldn’t cause a problem for my other relationships. First of all, I only have relationships with poly people. Second of all, he is a firm believer in non-monogamy and is the one who lit the first flame of questionning in my head to start with, even though at the time I struggled against it.
So, concretely, what is my non-mono situation now? It might sound like I have tons of lovers. I could. As a more confident person, I know that I’m attractive to more people that I was. But the weird thing is that I’m not out there looking. I just let things happen. But at this time, I have one girlfriend who actually lives with her primary partner and I’m OK with that.
We talk about each other’s crushes, we try to help each other hook up with others, even. I am friends with her partner and we joke about our similarities and differences, sometimes to her dismay. Sometimes, we hang out without her because she doesn’t like Clint Eastwood and we want to have a “Squinty fest”, in which case she gets stoned in another room with his other girlfriend and they come out and giggle about us two guys cuddled on the couch with a blanket watching a movie. This works for me.
I have a “sort of” relationship in another town with a woman who is a natural Dominant and who makes me want to serve her in all kinds of ways. We don’t see each other often but we try to get together when we can. She has other people in her life too. Everyone knows about everyone’s situation and it’s all OK. I can take off for a weekend with her and not have to hide out of fear that my lover will find out. I don’t have to cheat to follow my impulses. This works for me.
I can go to a party with my lover and we can each flirt with other people without worrying that the other will be jealous. Heck, we’ll even goad each other into flirting. I can go to a sex party with my lover and we could, feasibly, have sex with other people in front of each other or even with each other and neither would be jealous. A mix of love and sexual experimentation. This works for me.
I could meet someone new who is non-monogamous, fall in love with them, marry them, whatever and my existing relationship would not have to end. This works for me.
I can have relationships that don’t last very long in addition to relationships that are longer term and have someone who loves me to share the disappointment with. A relationship can end without me feeling worthless because my identity and well-being are not bound up in one, monolithic relationship. I’ll be sad but my life will go on. This works for me.
But most of all, it all works for me because I can surround myself with people who get me and I can grow because of their complexities. I can learn to love different kinds of people that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to have relationships with because they are in relationships with someone that I love. I get to form a network of people that I enjoy spending time with and that I can count on to be supportive and who will also accept my support.
It all works for me very well and, unlike what the sociologist in the article said, I and many others do NOT want monogamy. We want what seems to be coming naturally to us when we detach ourselves from the dominant relationship model. And once we get over the hurdles of social acceptance, we wind up feeling like this is all very normal and natural, thank you very much.