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

Is it possible to be ace/sex repulsed and polyamorous at the same time? I feel like I can love a lot of people, but sex isn’t enjoyable for me.
Is it unreasonable to want a closed poly relationship? Like. Just me and my two significant others, and no one else? I know a LOT of polyamorous people are very open and thats like part of the “culture” or whatever but. It makes me kinda hurt when my girlfriend shows interest in others even though we’re in a poly relationship
There is such thing as a queerplatonic poly relationship, right? (sorry, I’m kinda new to all this)

To all three: yes, yes, and yes. There is no one right way to be poly, and there is no standard somewhere that poly-identified people are measured against. You can identify as poly even if you don’t have sex, because polyamory is about more than sex, it’s about relationships. You can identify as poly if the only relationship structure you want is a closed triad. You can identify as poly if you are in queerplatonic relationships.

Some people might not recognize the validity of your chosen terms. The stamp of an online advice blogger cannot, unfortunately, prevent jerks from arguing with you about whether you fulfill the appropriate criteria to identify yourself or label your relationships a certain way. But you don’t need their approval. Use language as a tool to help you articulate your needs and live a fulfilling life as your best self, not as some external measurement. 

I grouped these three questions together because they all fall into a FAQ that I have a page for. You can read more about this issue here!

If someone is in both a romantic relationship with one person and a queerplatonic relationship with an other, is it considered as polyamory?

I’m not the official arbiter of what counts as polyamory, and neither is anyone else! If identifying as polyamorous (or identifying your relationships as poly ones) helps you find the language and the skills to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled, then go for it! If not, then don’t worry about it!

Be you. Be your best selves. Be kind and loving and grow together. Find labels and words and language that help you do that. Shed any that don’t. And if anyone tries to tell you that you have to identify as poly, or that you’re not allowed to identify as poly, ask yourself whether that is a person whose opinion of your relationships really matters. 

I’m currently having a huge argument with the few people im out to. Is polyamory a choice or sexuality? They all say its a choice as you can choose to be mono (?), however for me I couldn’t happy long term with one person, so its a sexuality?

Are you born poly? Or is it a relationship choice?

I get this question often, and it sort of breaks my heart that this is a point of contention in the community. We have to have each other’s backs, friends. Is this the hill any of us want to die on?

Anyway, my answer to this question is here, and you can find more of my thoughts on this under the orientation tag.

can I still be poly if I want to have a couple of intimate (kissing etc but no sex because I’m asexual) friend-/relationships without them being a real relationship with commitment and stuff?

Sure, you can still identify as poly. You’re the final arbiter of your own identity. 

It’s important to remember that identity terminology isn’t a secret password into some exclusive club, nor is it some black-or-white deterministic label. 

It’s more important that you have healthy, fulfilling relationships than that you find all the right collections of syllables to describe how you prefer to have relationships. The point of identity terms is to help you better communicate to yourself and your partners how to cultivate healthy, fulfilling relationships. So words are only “accurate” inasmuch as they are useful to you when building a healthy, meaningful life and community. 

Go forth and identify!

I thought poly was just a relationship style/ behavior. But a lot of poly people seem to refer to it like an orientation? So does *ability* to love multiple people = poly, even if you’re not in a relationship?

For some people, it’s a relationship style/behavior, a choice to be made. Others experience it as an orientation, something they are rather than something they do.

Sometimes, people who experience one or the other generalize and insist that polyamory is absolutely only a behavior or absolutely only an orientation. This can cause disagreements and frustration, because this is both a very personal and very political issue.

I experience polyamory as an orientation, a way of being. So if I was not in a relationship, or only dating one person because I hadn’t found other partners, I’d still consider myself poly. But what’s true for me doesn’t need to be true for you - as long as we make space for each other, there are lots of ways to “be” or “do” poly. 

Re: Is it an orientation or a preference: It matters because of rights. ie; if Polyamory is an orientation it could legally be required to allow poly marriages. If it’s a preference there’s no such protection.

From my original post:

We’ve spent so much time digging our heels into the idea that an “identity” is more valid if it’s not a “choice” - that if something is genetic, or chemical, or whatever, it’s somehow more real or less subject to judgment.

People often insist that discrimination against a certain identity is not okay because it’s not a choice, or is okay because it is a choice. Our pride anthems sing “born this way.” But where does all that come from? I think it’s worth investigating this strange value system we’ve set up.

So I already addressed that idea, for one. It’s true that we have this value system in America that something should be legally protected if it’s a “born this way” orientation, but we don’t think “preferences” qualify for certain rights. My question is: why?

Maybe if we spent some of the energy that’s currently going to bickering about whether polyamory is a way of being vs way of doing, and instead questioned the value system that has us convinced that this is a super important issue, we could change the discourse around how the government polices relationships and how we understand a diversity of identities, rather than fracturing an already small and misunderstood community. 

Also, it’s not exactly true, in America at least, that “preferences” aren’t legally protected. American voters and politicians, especially those on the right wing who argue the loudest that being gay is a “choice” and shouldn’t be legally protected, are pretty quick to defend their right to buy the size of soda they prefer, educate their kids in the way they prefer, own the weapons they prefer, have the doctor (or lack thereof) that they prefer. Owning guns, homeschooling your kids, buying big sodas, and wanting to not have Obamacare are not orientations - they’re preferences - and yet plenty of Americans want to classify them as “rights.”

So while you’re not exactly wrong, you’re not exactly right, either. The point I’m making is that yes, we live in a world that says we have to claim an “orientation” in order to argue that we should be able to visit our loved ones in the hospital, share child custody rights, etc. - and I think that’s kind of screwed up. And I’m more interested in looking at how this weird value system tricks us into turning on people who could be our allies than arguing about whether my experience of polyamory as an orientation is more valid than someone else’s experience of polyamory as a preference.

This might be a question you get often but is polyamory an orientation?

I do get this question often, and I have to wonder why. Why does it matter so much to people? We’ve spent so much time digging our heels into the idea that an “identity” is more valid if it’s not a “choice” - that if something is genetic, or chemical, or whatever, it’s somehow more real or less subject to judgment. 

People often insist that discrimination against a certain identity is not okay because it’s not a choice, or is okay because it is a choice. Our pride anthems sing “born this way.” But where does all that come from? I think it’s worth investigating this strange value system we’ve set up. If being in the world and doing things a certain way is the healthiest, happiest, most fulfilling choice for another person, and they aren’t hurting anyone else, why does it matter how we define it?

Is polyamory an orientation? Why do we care? Why are we so caught up in whether the way we love other people is a way of being or a way of doing? Why do I get this question so often, and why are we all so invested in the answer?

If you experience your polyamory as an innate part of your self, as something you are rather than something you do, great. It’s part of your orientation. We can split semantic hairs and say it’s a “relationship orientation” as opposed to a “sexual orientation.” Some people don’t experience it that way, and that’s fine too.

What’s not fine is if we start fighting about it and make it some big political or identity-political issue within the poly community. Because you know what? The rest of the world doesn’t care nearly as much about the nuances of our definitions. They’re prepared to deny us health insurance, child custody, media representation, hospital visitation, and plenty else regardless of whether we sort this out amongst ourselves. If we start turning on each other, there’s no one to have our backs.