Some people describe being poly as an orientation, whereas others feel it is simply a matter of personal choice. To be perfectly honest, when the Poly Means Many bloggers chose this topic for November’s posts, I hadn’t really given the idea much thought. My first instinct was that I already have an orientation and I chose polyamory over monogamy so I thought this was going to be a pretty short post. Then I started wondering whether other people had already given some thought to the concept of polyamory as an orientation, and what I found forced me to sit back and take a longer look at the topic.
In 2010, Ann E. Tweedy of the Hamline University School of Law published a paper in the University of Cincinnati Law Review entitled Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation. The article looked at the possibility of expanding the definition of sexual orientation in employment law ‘to include other disfavored sexual preferences, specifically polyamory’. It’s a pretty big paper, so I have to admit to skipping to the conclusion where Tweedy states that ‘polyamory shares some of the important attributes of sexual orientation as traditionally understood, so it makes conceptual sense for polyamory to be viewed as part of sexual orientation’. As for the legal aspect, well, you’d better read the paper in full because it looks like the whole thing is far more complicated than those of us without legal knowledge could possibly imagine! More recently, Fearless Press published an interesting piece entitled Is Polyamory An Orientation Or A Lifestyle Choice? by Micah Schneider. In that article, Schneider offers up a nice analogy (regular readers of this series will know how much I like those!) where he points out:
If someone identifies as bisexual, and then begins a monogamous relationship with someone of the same sex, are they suddenly homosexual? Or straight, if it’s someone of the opposite sex? I don’t think so, and lots of bisexuals (maybe most) would agree. I believe that poly and mono are orientations, the same way that homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are.
It’s a nice way of putting it, and I am definitely one of those bisexuals who would agree with what he’s saying. Your relationship(s) don’t define you as polyamorous – you do! Hell, even Wikipedia says that ‘the term “polyamorous” can refer to the nature of a relationship at some point in time or to a philosophy or relationship orientation (much like gender or sexual orientation)’. This was all looking pretty convincing so far but, as you might imagine, it isn’t the only point of view I found on the topic. I think it’s always good to read both sides of the story, and so I made sure I had a look for writers who held an opposing view. It was never going to be easy to work this one out, so I’ve no idea why I thought it would be so cut and dried! There were a few posts on PolySkeptic earlier this year about orientation, including Polyamory is Not a Sexual Orientation where wfenza argues that:
There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy […] Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling […] Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.
I don’t agree that polyamory is not a physical desire or feeling, because I am completely sure that I desire open and honest relationships which do not have to be physically or emotionally monogamous. That’s certainly a feeling. So, what conclusion did I come to following my afternoon of research? Well, I have to admit that I’m still feeling a little bit conflicted. On the one hand, I don’t think I can exactly change back to how I was before I ‘found’ polyamory, but I also agree that it’s not a sexual orientation. Something tells me I may not ever get to the bottom of this conundrum.
Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – ALBJ, An Open Book, Delightfully Queer, More Than Nuclear, Rarely Wears Lipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin – will write about their views on one of them.