Some thoughts on Hierarchy vs Couples Privilege

The subject of hierarchy comes up often in poly discussion groups. People generally fall into the camps of “hierarchy is fine” or “hierarchy is evil” and usually those who fall into the former are at the top of the pyramid, and those in the latter have been burned by being at the bottom.

I think where the confusion and/or disagreement about hierarchy sometimes happens is where hierarchy intersects with privilege. When I separate the two concepts from each other, then it’s much easier to point to reasons why hierarchy is bad all around, but privilege is sometimes unavoidable.

But, in that intersection, it’s easy to paint them both as harbingers of relationship toxicity.

There are certain things one might take for granted in a situation where partners have shared homes, resources, offspring, and relationship longevity.  For example, the expectation to for the couple to attend family holiday dinners, or visit family living out of state, or attend family weddings or funerals.

Those are inherent privileges that can be pretty circumstantial depending on how “out” one of the people in the couple is to their family. The social expectations of the mononormative culture, especially at gatherings where the older generations are in attendance, make for some these uncomfortable situations where someone’s partner(s) might have to remain “hidden” without it necessarily be the preference for anybody within the relationship. It just can’t be helped without causing major disruptions in the extended family dynamic (or with employers).

I understand having circumstantial, or unearned privileges that I can’t help having. Like the color of my skin or my parents’ socioeconomic status. The thing is, I’m aware that my experience isn’t the experience of everyone else who does not share these traits with me. I’m aware of my privilege and can therefore take action to feel MORE empathy and show more compassion for those who do not have them. I can take into account that their experiences are different than mine and not make assumptions about how they feel or react to things based on how I would feel or react to them.

The lack of this awareness is where couples’ privilege becomes toxic. When the couple isn’t even aware of how their privilege manifests or how it affects those who DON’T have the automatic +1 to your cousin’s wedding, or who don’t have you around to make us a cup of hot tea when we’re at home with a sore throat.

At the same time, as the non-nested partner, I also don’t have to do the boring and stressful stuff, like spend my limited time with him cleaning the cat box or renewing my DMV registration or paying taxes or vacuuming. Every time we’re together it’s a vacation from responsibilities for him, so I get to be the partner he never gets snippy with nor tunes out with headphones and a podcast.

There are certain privileges I have in my role in his life as well, and being aware of them helps me have empathy for the times when his nested partner might feel like she’s not getting quality time with him, for example.

But all of that is separate from hierarchy, because to me, hierarchy implies rank. She does not outrank any of his other partners, nor we her. She cannot (nor would she attempt to) pull rank and affect either of our plans with him. None of us can (or would). He runs his own relationships, his own calendar, and his own emotions. We’re each responsible for our own.

In our polycule, we’re all child-free, so when it comes to the managing of hierarchy and privilege around children, I draw from a different experience. When my late husband and I got together, he was recently divorced and had an 8 year old daughter, an ex-wife and co-parent who would sometimes pull “rank” when it came to my husband’s time for their daughter’s recitals and open houses.  He also had an aging mother who lived with us. If that wasn’t boot camp for polyamory, I don’t know what is.

But the point is – there was hierarchy. The kid came first. I felt his ex-wife liked to use the kid as a way to position herself above me, but the reality was that it was the KID who had priority, not her.

Even in a monogamous marriage, the kid came first, so I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t hold true in a poly relationship. When my husband’s mom became ill, her needs were elevated as well. We learn to balance all these multiple priorities all the time – at work, with family, and in relationships.

I believe hierarchy in extenuating circumstances, like children or illness or major accident is part of life. I just don’t feel comfortable with it being part of the standard operating procedure when you’re in multiple, committed, romantic relationships.



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Thank you to the folks over at findpoly.com for sponsoring this post! 

Your Kink is Not My Kink, but Your Words Fucking Matter

Imagine if I were to ask if anybody else out there has a kink of “playing poly.”  When asked to explain what I mean by “playing at poly,” I described it as “you know, like when you pretend to sleep with everyone indiscriminately and not give a shit about what your partners think.”

I’ll just wait here for those fumes to settle down.

If I were to have asked that question in earnest, then I imagine that the fumes would still not have settled down.  I imagine this because yesterday, someone asked the question regarding “playing at monogamy” and when asked to clarify what they meant by that, they said, “You know, like, when you pretend to get really jealous over a text your partner receives and then have a big fight and then great make up sex.”

Now, I get it. I get that in dominant culture, polyamory is put down, oppressed, and those who practice any form of ethical non-monogamy are frequently met with disdain and derision (unless they’re Hugh Hefner, then they get a TV deal).

So I do get that when you’re in a closed group of mostly people who, like you, practice some form of ethical non-monogamy, it’s really easy to point fingers and laugh at those unenlightened monogamists.  Those poor, pitiful, one-on-one relationship having neanderthals.

Yeah. Except some of us are in relationships with some of y’all.

And even if we weren’t, the implication that “monogamy” is interchangeable with the concepts of jealousy and toxicity in a relationship is about as insulting and offensive as the implication that anybody who identifies as polyamorous is into selfish promiscuity.

But you know what?  It’s not so much that someone asked this question in an offensive manner that really bothered me. I mean, it bothered me, but I probably could have just rolled my eyes and let it go as the myopic word-vomit of an insignificant person.  In fact, many of the other group members, including those who are actively polyamorous, stepped in and made comments supporting the premise that the choice of the word “monogamy” to describe what amounted to a “cheating” fetish was problematic.

(Nobody was questioning the validity of the fetish itself, just the language used to describe it).

What *really* bothered me is that the group admins allowed it, and continues to allow that language to stand. They agreed that the OP was flippant, dismissive, and condescending to those of us who questioned their word choice, but made no request for OP to modify their post. What *really* bothered me is that the third rule in this group’s list of rules includes language against “Comments that deride any relationship structure, including monogamy or polygamy.”

I waited 24 hours, fuming, before I made the decision to leave that group.   I kept hoping the admins would step in and address the issue, to (as I’d seen them do in many posts with problematic language) request that the OP modify their question to remove the implication that monogamy equals jealousy and fighting.

But instead, they defended it.

And so, they won’t see me there any longer.

The Monocorn Sanctuary

Over on Facebook, I created an alt profile that’s attached to my scene-name so I could join special groups that talk about kinky shit without outing my “real life” details to people I don’t know that well. It had the added benefit of making it possible for me to join a bunch of polyamory discussion groups without being outed to my extended family and coworkers on my regular facebook account, including one specifically for mono + poly couples. I was ecstatic! I was gonna find my people!

Only, the polyfolk are the most active in the mono + poly group and there’s a lot of #polysplaining that happens where they are trying to address a struggling monoperson’s issues from their polyamorous perspective, and the monogamuggles get kind of turned off by it.

Then I found a group that was for the mono people ONLY, and I was ecstatic again! I found my people!

Only….these were not my people.

That turned out to be a group largely made up of mono people who were bitter about their partners’ polyamory. They’d spend all day talking shit about poly, blaming it for ruining lives, and going full mean-girl on the things that were discussed in other groups.

So I bailed. That is not what I wanted.

I started to think that I was some sort of wacky anomaly again. The polyfolk talk about “unicorns” and “unicorn hunters” ….maybe I was some sort of new breed: a Monocorn. A monoamorous person who is accepting of polyamory and actively works toward having a harmonious relationship with a polyamorous partner.

Recently, another poly person posted in the mono + poly group on behalf of her boyfriend, who was looking to connect with other mono people who were not bitter and angry about their partners being polyamorous.

We started talking about starting a group.

A couple of other monocorns commented that they might be interested in joining a group like that. All I’m waiting on now is for one of them to accept my friend request so I can get it started. (Facebook makes you invite at least one friend to start a group, and all my friends are polyamorous.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve drafted as the group description and guidelines. I’m anxious to get it started….so if there are any other monocorns out there that’d like to join, let me know!

Monocorn Sanctuary

What’s a monocorn? It’s the monoamorous person that is happy (or working toward happiness) in a polyamorous relationship. Some of us take to poly-style relationships more easily than others, but the bottom line is – we don’t hate the concept of polyamory. We just don’t wanna be poly ourselves.

Still, every once in a while we need a place of support from other people like us. Our families think its a phase, our friends don’t understand it, and our partners sometimes don’t understand us either. When we attend poly events, we feel a little out of place ’cause everyone assumes we’re like them; but, we don’t quite fit in with the standard-issue monofolk either.

Please only request to join if you are the MONOAMOROUS or MONOGAMOUS part of an ethically non-monogamous, open, or polyamorous relationship. Also welcome:

  • Asexual folk in poly relationships who are not romantically involved with multiple partners
  • Monogamish folk who have outside play partners, but are romantically and/or sexually connected to only one partner
  • Monoamorous people who are currently single or unattached, but are open to or interested in dating a polyamorous person.

This is a safe space to ask questions, process difficulties, share wins, and help others navigate the wacky world of mono-poly relationships. Your partners aren’t here. There won’t be any polysplaining.

In the event two monogamous metamours who are dating the same polyperson join the group, please be respectful of one another. Be aware that you can edit visibility on your posts so that certain group members can’t see them. Utilize this function if you feel like it will help keep the peace.

There also won’t be any polyHATING. It’s not okay to paint polyamory as an absolute evil that ruins lives. Remember that people define polyamory differently, so before you tell someone “that’s not poly” make sure you understand how they define it or be clear that it’s not poly per YOUR personal definition.

Except cheating. Cheating is not polyamory. Cheating is cheating.

Also, this is a sex-positive atmosphere. No slut-shaming, no kink-shaming, and please make every attempt to address your fellow monocorns with their appropriate pronouns. (Trans monocorns, please feel free to correct anybody who misgenders you. Everyone, please accept the correction without getting defensive.)

Even when venting, please do not attack polyamory as a concept. This group is for those who are accepting of our partners’ polyamorous natures, or at least actively working toward acceptance. It’s okay to vent and be frustrated and to question whether or not this is for you, but if you already know it’s not for you and you’re angry or bitter about it, then this isn’t your lily pad.

Oh…and if at some point down the line you find yourself leaning toward trying polyamory out for yourself, please voluntarily step away from the group. If or when you change your mind, you can come back. Promise.

If you’re unsure if this group is the right fit for you, please feel free to contact an admin. We’re nice people. At least I am.

Need a place to vent all your frustrations without the kum-ba-ya poly-accepting atmosphere? There is a group for that. Message the admins for details.


Edit: Yay! I got the requisite friend. The group now exists.

The thing about not feeling “enough”

The most frequent statement I read from people trying to transition into polyamorous relationships for their partner is the sense that they feel like they are “not enough.”

Whenever I see that line, my heart sort of aches for them. I understand that feeling and where it comes from, but somehow it doesn’t affect me and I had a difficult time articulating why.

And I finally figured out the answer:

The trick is in realizing that not being “everything” is still enough.

Derwood

Chatting with my partner the other day about TV shows, as we do – and I mentioned Bewitched. He crinkled up his nose. He didn’t care for it much. I thought about it. I generally love shows about kick-ass supernatural stuff. If its got magic or time travel – I’m in! Especially with a female heroine.

But he was right on with the nose crinkling. There was something about Bewitched that always did rub me the wrong way…

…and that was Darren.

Darren knew Samantha was a witch when he married her. He forces her to suppress who she is – to the point of being ANGRY with her whenever she uses her magic. Now, the idea of not wanting people to find out I can understand. Major Nelson and Major Healey over on I Dream of Jeannie didn’t want Jeannie to expose her magic to the other muggles, but I don’t recall they ever forbade her from using it when nobody was watching.

But Darren…he was actively witch-shaming his own wife, AND THEN HIS DAUGHTER!

Jackhole.

Guess what? It’s time for a SURPRISE METAPHOR!

I see a lot of folk over on the polyamory discussion forums (not here, elsewhere) complain that their partners struggle with them being poly. Now, when it’s the case of a previously monogamous couple opening up, I get it. That’s a transition that I can’t even imagine taking on.

But I’m seeing it from folk who were openly polyamorous BEFORE they get into these relationships – and then the people that they’re dating start asking them to change.

DON’T BE A DARREN. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

Of course, unless you’re old enough to have watched Bewitched either in its first run or on re-runs on Nick at Night, you haven’t the foggiest clue what I’m talking about.

But that’s okay. If you’re that young, then there’s time for you to figure all this shit out later.