Quare Reactions: On the contentious topic of polyamory, and what to do about it

Image Credit: Ellen Nugent

For this, our last Quare Reactions column, I thought I’d bring yet another contentious topic to the table. Tying in perhaps, with the previous column on exes, and the contentious topic of what to do with them, polyamory or non-monogamy is equally contentious in the divide between hetero- and homosexual.

While non-monogamy (or polyamory - the practice comes in varying shades and names) might cause more contention in the heterosexual world than it does in the queer community, I would wager a bet that the contentious topic might be more of a rallying cry that unites both the Straights and the Queers than we are willing to admit. Whether you consider polyamory a flag of queerness within the community or not, there are certainly plenty of monogamous queer people (many of whom, I’m sure, cannot fathom why anyone would engage in polyamory to begin with). See… we’re not so different after all, the Straights and the Queers. 

As per usual, I’ll start off by adding a little personal experience to the mix. As a person who engages in polyamory myself, I’ve had plenty of time to consider my experiences, and how they might compare to my experiences of monogamy. Similarly, how those experiences of polyamory and monogamy might track onto my experiences in queer and or “hetero” relationships (in referring to these “hetero” relationships, in my case, I’m not implying “straight passing” relationships by any means, but rather relationships where I was not engaging with or in my queer identity, nor was the other person I was relating to). And what I’ve come to note, personally at least, is that a certain degree of non-monogamy is accepted within monogamous relationships, so long as it is not explicitly named as such, “non-monogamy” or “polyamory”. Plenty of monogamous people have relationships that allow for a certain degree of non-monogamy within their dynamic (flirting with strangers, texting someone else, a one night stand or two) once it’s kept under the radar within their specific relationship, rather than as an advertisement of their identity. There are two aspects within this that I’ll discuss now - Firstly, that jealousy and territory-marking are essential elements of a relationship that operates within a heteronormative model, and secondly, that this unwillingness on behalf of some monogamous people to identify with polyamory, and to name their dynamics as such if they fit within those broad definitions, is a similarly unwillingness to that of people’s unwillingness to identity with queerness. 

As was mentioned in the previous column on the contentious topics of exes, and what to do with them, jealousy, in my humble opinion, is a key component of the heterosexual relationship dynamic. Girl meets Boy. Boy is avoidant and slightly dismissive, but supposedly deeply caring underneath it all… Girl interprets avoidance on behalf of Boy as a challenge. Girl wins Boy over. Boy does the bare minimum and occasionally buys Girl flowers, etc. Girl and Boy become an item. Boy likes other girls’ pictures on Instagram. Girl notices this and gets jealous (tick tick tick! Heterosexual monogamous goal achieved!) Boy assures Girl there is nothing to worry about. Girl has Close Male Friend, Boy gets jealous when Girl posts a picture of Close Male Friend on her story with the caption “This guy!!!” Boy and Girl continue to both flirt with other girls on Instagram, and to have codependent “platonic” relationships with Close Male Friends, both parties continually get jealous to assert dominance in the relationship, whilst simultaneously allowing the dynamics to continue. Boy and Girl live happily ever after. We’ve seen it all time and time again. And so I ask the question, is this jealous trait unique to heterosexual relationships? Or to monogamous relationships? Or to both? 

Well, and this goes back to topics we’ve spoken about time and time again in these columns, the queer community is simply smaller than the sprawling world of hetersexuality. And so, even in monogamous queer relationships, there is a closer proximity to people’s exes, etc. and as such a closer proximity to the knowledge that this one person whom you are currently dating has, more than likely, prior to meeting you, not been living a celebate life waiting for you to arrive and show them what true love feels like. So, does this proximity to knowledge regarding partners’ exes quell all and any jealousy? Of course not - but it might provide more helpful templates for navigating that jealousy than a heterosexual relationship and world does. It also, perhaps, gives us a little bit more practice in distress tolerance… 

And so, if we’ve established that both hetero- and homosexuals can be monogamous and non-monogamous too, wherein lies the issue? The difficulty? The resistance? Well, in the way that we exist and operate in a heteronormative society, we are, understandably, bound to a monogamous model of dating, marrying and relating to other people. While there are plenty of relationship dynamics that absolutely do not fit into the criteria that a heteronormative society expects and or wants from a relationship (be it a lack of heterosexuality, a lack of marital status, no children, appropriate age, etc.), there are also plenty of ways to do damage control within your relationship to ensure it conforms as much as possible to those heteronormative criteria. One example of this might be insisting to an external audience that your relationship is monogamous, that you are getting married and that you want to have a traditional “nuclear” family, particularly if you are not a heterosexual couple. And of course, another example of that in a straight relationship dynamic might be to insist on the monogamy of your marriage or relationship, even if you actually have specific rules in place that allow for a certain element of non-monogamy to be catered for with the dynamic. A sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. 

We might truly be more similar than we think… “And I would’ve gotten away with it [monogamous heteronormativity] too! If it hadn’t’ve been for you pesky kids [queers]!”