Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
A big part of this blog is helping folx outside the LGBTQIA+ community understand the various ways gender, orientation, attraction, and other identities interact to help everyone write more respectful and authentic queer-identified characters. In keeping with that mission, this week I wanted to go just a little bit out of my comfort zone to talk about writing polyamory.
Some forms of polyamory are inherently queer, and polyamory is far more common in queer circles. That means that some of your queer characters may have interactions with poly individuals, or even be poly themselves. So, if you’re going to be writing polyamory, you should definitely know how to do so respectfully.
What is Polyamory?
Like non-binary, the polyamory is an umbrella term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Polyamory is defined as “the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved .” The most important part of this definition is “informed consent.” The entire idea behind polyamorous relationship models is that everyone involved is kept aware of what is happening. Each polyamorous relationship is unique to the individuals involved, and should always involve open dialogue and trust between partners. If you’re writing polyamory, remember that those involved are all aware of the situation. If they aren’t, that isn’t polyamory.
Is Polyamory Even Queer?
This question is complicated, to say the least, and my feelings on the matter are likewise a bit complicated. As someone who is in an ethically non-monogamous relationship, my honest opinion is that polyamory is queer if you want it to be.
Just as some intersex individuals may choose to identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, polyamory is not inherently queer, but I think anyone who is polyamorous and wants to identify as queer should be welcome into the community.
My reasoning for this is threefold.
First, polyamory is more common among queer people. Gay men are currently among the most likely to be in poly relationships, and I’ve personally observed a large overlap between the gender expansive and polyamorous communities. If these queer people feel that their polyamory is an important part of their queer identities , then that polyamory is queer. Self-identifying is an important aspect of the queer community, and the last thing we want to do is gatekeep that away.
Second, polyamory — at least in the Western, Christian-dominant culture I was raised in — is not a widely accepted relationship model. A lot of polyamorous folx are quiet or subtle about their polyamory for fear of social retribution, or else suppress that aspect of their identity to better fit into the world around them.
Third, polyamorous relationships are illicit in our society — “polygamy” is a crime in 49 of the 50 U.S. states (and a civil charge in Utah) , and that limits the availability of legal recognition for polyamorous relationships. This means that even if all members of a polyamorous relationship are held in equal esteem, only two of them can get the legal protections, rights, and privileges afforded to married individuals.
All three of these resonate with me as a queer person. I personally believe that if someone has interrogated the relationship dynamics of our society, found them wanting, and forged a new path for themselves, they can go ahead and call themself queer if they’d like.
Understanding the reasons folx disagree that polyamory is queer at all, of course, is also important for writing polyamory. Some argue that polyamory is not an inherent aspect of identity, but a choice in how to pursue relationships. Therefore, polyamorous people are not oppressed based on an inherent aspect of their identity, and if the going gets rough a polyamorous person can simply choose not to be polyamorous.
As a trans woman I’m skeptical of this argument, to say the least, but I’ve heard it from polyamorous people, so clearly it resonates with some folx.
If you want a more detailed and nuanced take on this question from a polyamorous person, check out this article.
Writing polyamory is not an easy feat, as there are precious few examples to be found in media that aren’t flawed or which don’t ultimately portray polyamorous relationships as doomed from the start. When writing polyamory, I have two important pieces of advice.
First, consider what kind of relationship you’re writing.
Each polyamorous relationship is ultimately unique, and dependent on the comfort and boundaries of those in the relationship. There are, however, some general terms for the more common ways that polyamory can look.
Triads or throuples are most common in fiction, wherein three individuals are each in a relationship with the other. These relationships do not inherently have to be romantic/sexual — you can find examples of this in N.K. Jeminsin’s The Fifth Season and Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet. This can actually be expanded to any number of individuals, but three is the most commonly portrayed in fiction.
Relationship Anarchy is a term for those who do not consider any one relationship in their life to be more important than any other — they consider friends, lovers, and romantic partners to be on equal footing, though they may have certain individuals who are more involved in their lives.
Ethical Non-Monogamy is a catch-all term for pretty much anyone who does not consider their relationship to be monogamous, and has had an involved conversation with their partner(s) to determine boundaries, comfort zones, and consent. “Open” relationships often fit this descriptor.
Second, remember that trust is the most important aspect of any polyamorous relationship.
Respecting boundaries and having open communication is key to making any relationship work, but they are especially notable in polyamorous relationships because those in poly relationships are eschewing the form-standard boundaries that society has put before them. That requires a LOT of communication between partners, so make sure you’re considering how everyone involved in a polyamorous relationship feels!
That’s it for this week! If you want more info on polyamory as a concept, I recommend checking out the Multiamory podcast. I’ll be back next week with another post about polyamory, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!