“Sympathetic joy refers to the human capability to participate in the joy of others, to feel happy when others feel happy.” (Ferrer, 2008). While reading this quote from the article Beyond Monogamy and Polyamory: A new vision of Intimate Relationships for the Twenty-First Century, I came to the realization that the meaning of sympathetic joy closely relates to the definition of polyamory which is “Polyamory meaning “many” or “several”, and Latin amor, “love” is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” The combination of these two definitions shares the idea that “polyamory” should be considered a type of queer culture, practice, or identity. While the majority of society has been taught that polyamory is in the wrong, evidence proves it to be a true form of the queer culture.
For many, many years in society people were taught that love or marriage is a bond between a man and a woman and no one questioned that. As years have passed, more information on bisexuality, polygamy, polyamory, etc. has come out and has changed the minds of many. With the constant changes in laws on marriage it is only normal to look at the rights of other forms of love too. Stanley Kurtz, a member of the Hoover Institution once said “Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female … Once we say that gay couples have a right to have their commitments recognized by the state, it becomes next to impossible to deny that same right to polygamists, polyamorists, or even cohabiting relatives and friends. And once everyone’s relationship is recognized, marriage is gone, and only a system of flexible relationship contracts is left’” (Ashbee, 2007).
Marriage in today’s society doesn’t necessarily mean the white picket fence, two children, a dog with the dad at work and the mom staying at home. Through the changes in culture, queer cultures have started to become the social norm, which allows room for the practices such as polyamory. To extend the viewpoint of Kurtz on why all forms of couples should have rights, the video “ I love you. And you. And you.” states that in today’s society it is estimated that 60% of couples are having affairs. With such a high percentage rate in affairs, it is interesting to see that fewer people are accepting of the idea of polyamory. Is it because polyamory is considered queer and to some the term queer has a negative connotation? The definition of queer is “strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different.” Does this mean that living a polyamorous lifestyle is queer? Absolutely. At the same time, if being polyamorous were queer because it is unusually different, wouldn’t 60% of couples having affairs also be seen as something that is different than the norm of society?
In the past, terms such as slut, queer, and gay have been considered something to stray from due to the negative context society has created for such words. Few people take the time to consider the true definitions of words and skip straight to what they have been told by society. This is the issue that makes people run in fear when they hear of something being queer or against the social norm. The book The Ethical Slut says it best by writing “Ethical slutdom can be a challenging path: we don’t have a polyamorous Miss Manners telling us how to do our thing courteously and respectfully, so we have to make it up as we go along. However, we’re sure you’ve figured that out by now that to us, being a slut doesn’t mean simply doing whatever you want, whenever you want, with whoever you want.” (Easton, 2009). Contrary to popular belief, polyamory isn’t some disturbing new relationship concept someone came up with. Polyamory is really, and truly about love. If we have the ability to love multiple people in a non-sexual manner, than why shouldn’t we have the ability to also love more than one person in a sexual manner as well? To extend from this question, I reviewed an article that stated “While few challenge the notion that parents are able to love more than one child at a time, Emens draws on Judith Butler to argue that deep anxiety about the social taboos, particularly of incest, influence views of any form of relationship that is challenging to the heteronormative forms of family.” (Calder, 2009). I ask these questions now, because when beginning to learn about the concept of polyamory I had to ask them myself. In order to explain this question, I will explain the beginning of my knowledge and learning of the topic, polyamory.
Talking about intimacy in general for me is private topic, but talking about consensual intimacy with MULTIPLE partners was a whole new world. To be honest, the idea of polyamory was beyond shocking to me. Although I was in shock, my class was able to explore the topic through a variety of texts, films, and speakers to enlighten us on the true meaning of living a polyamorous lifestyle. One of the two documentaries that was shared with the class was “When Two Won’t Do”, which follows the life of Maureen who is in a committed relationship but is looking for something more. Throughout the film it shows their personal struggles with determining how polyamory will work through their relationships and how they will overcome the setbacks.
Watching this documentary gave me the ability to see that polyamory is queer in the way that it is a different type of love than monogamy along with other “queer” types of relationships such as homosexuality or even swingers. In the article Monogamies and non-monogamies: a response to ‘‘the challenge of monogamy: bringing it out of the closet and into the treatment room’’, the author writes “The three most common forms of open non-monogamy in the minority world are swinging, gay open relationships and polyamory. Polyamory differs from the above two forms of relationship because it is considered acceptable to love more than one person as well as be sexual with more than one person. It can therefore be thought of as involving multiple relationships rather than one open relationship.” (Barker, 2011). This quote extends upon the prior statement that polyamory is and should be considered a queer culture, practice or identity because it is different than any other form of love. Through research and an open mind it is no surprise to find that polyamory is truly queer.
Ashbee, E. (2007). Polyamory, Social Conservatism and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate in the US. Political Studies Association, 27, 101-107.
Barker, M. (2011). Monogamies and non-monogamies: a response to ‘‘The challenge of monogamy: bringing it out of the closet and into the treatment room’’. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 26(3), 281-284.
Calder, G. (2009). Penguins and Polyamory: Using Law and Film to Explore the Essence of Marriage in Canadian Family Law. Canadian Journal of Women & the Law, 29, 56-79.
Easton, D., & Hardy, J. W. (2009). The ethical slut: a practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures (2nd ed.). Berkeley, C alif.: Celestial Arts.
Ferrer, J. (2008). Beyond Monogamy and Polyamory: A New Vision of Intimate Relationships for the Twenty-First Century. ReVision, 30, 53-54.
Shanklin, M. (Director). (2012). I Love You and You and You- End of Monogamy [Motion picture]. USA: Firecracker Films.
Marovitch, M. (Director). (2005). When two won’t do [Documentary]. Canada: Picture This Productions.