Do you think polyamory is queer? I’m just curious because I’ve been reading a lot of different opinions about it and wanted to know your views on the argument.
Okay, this is a really hard one because there are so many perspectives and I recognize the validity of all of them. I realized that this answer went really long, so I tried to break it up into sections.
How I feel & experience it
On the one hand, I personally feel that my polyamory makes me “queer” in the sense that “queer” is defined as a gender and/or sexual identity beyond the mainstream cis, het, monogamous one. But this is my personal feeling and the question is complex enough that I would never claim my opinion reflects a truth that everyone else is obligated to agree with.
A lot of people who are queer in other ways have taken issue with me claiming this identity. I have been told that I have no place in queer communities and spaces. In a way, I do understand where those people are coming from. It makes me feel alienated and lonely, but if my presence in a space makes someone else feel unsafe, I try to defer to them.
A person at my college who was visibly nonbinary and - I genuinely don’t know how to say this in the way they would prefer, but I will try - dated people who mainly identified as the same gender that this person was assigned at birth. So to onlookers, this person was visibly “queer,” whether with a partner or not.
This person told me that I was not welcome in queer spaces/events on campus because I present as a woman and date men, so I’m not at risk for homophobic or transphobic violence or other hate crimes. They said that I had “passing privilege” and had not experienced the social isolation that many LGBT people had, so I had no right to claim queerness or try to make use of the support and resources available for queer people. That was how this person understood queerness and how they believed one accessed queer solidarity and community.
Queer as a target of discrimination
Like my college classmate, some people defining “queer” in terms of discrimination - if your identity puts you at risk, you are queer; if you have not experienced hatred or discrimination, you are not. I personally don’t like the concept of framing my identity as “a potential target for hate,” and I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to define “queer.”
On the other hand, sometimes it does feel like an easy way to make the distinction. I feel like one major way in which polyamory “counts” as “queer” is that poly people do face hurdles: when it comes to legal marriage, adoption, health insurance, hospital visitation rights, employment law, etc. we still face discrimination. This is less of a visible issue than it is for LGBT people right now, but it definitely affects people who are polyamorous. Yes, if I am out walking with one of my partners, I am not an immediate target for violence or hate speech - but I personally don’t think that’s the single qualifying criteria for queerness.
Queer as a slur
Then there is the fact that “queer” has historically been a slur used against a variety of communities and identities, none of which have ever been poly people. Some say that poly people have no right to “reclaim” a slur that has never been used against us. Again, I very much see the logic in that and recognize that people feel hurt by the word being appropriated by other communities. On the other hand, once “queer” became an umbrella term for a variety of “non-mainstream” sexual and gender identities, does it still retain its quality of being closed to everyone except people who have historically been called that?
Is the queer label available to “chosen” identities?
Then there is the question of whether polyamory is a choice or an innate identity. Where people come down on that question often influences whether they feel polyamory belongs under the “queer” label. People may worry that if polyamory can be both a choice and a “queer” way of being/being in relationships, that creates a “slippery slope” for things like BDSM to be considered “queer,” which many people have strong opinions about and personal stakes in.
So what is the truth?
I think this issue is really, really delicate. It is true that many - though not all - polyamorous people are privileged in other ways. We have to recognize that for someone who was kicked out of their home, disowned by their family, fired from a job, etc. for being who they are may feel that their struggles are cheapened when people who have not had those experiences try to claim the same identity as them. It is also true that “plural marriage” was often used as a scary slippery-slope argument against marriage equality for gays and lesbians, so us trying to crowd under the same umbrella can seem threatening. So while it feels unfair and exclusive, I think poly people do need to be patient and check our privilege and not demand that other people make room for us in their spaces.
That said, I personally think that there is a place for poly people in the queer community, and other people’s discomfort doesn’t mean we need to resign ourselves to never having a place at the table. There’s a lot we can learn from the established queer community about fighting for our rights and building support networks. As polyamory becomes more widely known, we may face more open hostility. Solidarity and siblinghood are always better than being fractured and alone. We just need to find a way to have that dialogue in a healthy and respectful way, to recognize that for a while we may feel like guests in someone else’s home, and to advocate for our own needs without trampling on those of others.
Note to all readers: Please recognize that I have been made to feel unwelcome at a variety of queer spaces and communities, and that I have been made to feel unwelcome at plenty of straight/heteronormative spaces and communities as well, including my family and place of worship. I often feel very alone and unsupported as a poly person, having no true home on either “side.”
Sharing my opinions on this makes me feel really vulnerable, because I know there are lots of strong feelings about this, and tumblr is a space where “you’re wrong” is often framed as a personal or moral failing. In fact, this fear almost prevented me from answering this one. You are absolutely free to disagree with my points, but please try to frame your thoughts in a way that doesn’t contribute to alienation or isolation on anyone’s part. <3