Friday, June 22, 2012

Dear Stranger: More Nuance less Sensationalism

This morning when I opened the Stranger's website I was initially delighted to see they had a pull out feature specifically highlighting queer voices on the issue of marriageI got a tingly hopeful feeling in my belly. I read through them in the order listed. I felt increasingly disappointed with each one (that's a bit of an exaggeration there were a few I liked). I definitely do grok the value of folks sharing their stories and experiences surrounding marriage. But man did I find this series lacking and problematic.

I was disappointed that the Stranger's marriage articles failed to mention legal benefits in any significant way. Marriage benefits were mentioned briefly in a few of the articles but with very little detail or critique and more as a gimmicks or features. There was no reference to the fact that the reason this step toward marriage equality (and yes same sex marriage is only one step in a long journey) is important might be because our government specifically offers legal benefits to certain types of family structures (straight, cisgendered, monogamous) and excludes others with divergent familial configurations (gay, lesbian, genderqueer, non-monogamous, poly). At best in my mind marriage is the ultimate validation of chosen family. And I think everyone deserves to choose who they call family (and receive equal fucking benefits!).

I find nothing inherently romantic about marriage. I see marriage (and really any sort of commitment stated formally or otherwise) as a container for romance and companionship. It sets the stage for love & companionship to happen. It is scaffolding for repeated and sustainable feelings and acts of love and care. Marriage is not love. Just as a stage is not a play. Historically love and marriage were combined in cultural narratives (fairytales) to sugarcoat the financial, status-driven approach to marriage which was the norm in so many cultures worldwide.
The conflation of love and marriage is old and broken. It uses the individually defined (and socially undefined) mantle of "love" to mask the very real legal and societal benefits being married affords certain citizens.

In a addition to the scant mention actual marriage benefits, I also found this series awash in an overabundance of party/drinking/drug culture. The first three articles listed in the pull out directly describe, and even encourage drinking specifically. I'm not opposed to drinking. But it's not something I want to fly up immediately in the minds of straight folks (and yes TONS of straight folks read the Stranger) when they hear the word "queer". I'm not saying that the Stranger is consciously contributing to this misconception of LGBTQ folks, but seriously, fronting this series with boozy articles is not helping.

Two activities described in these boozy articles are particularly out of line with what I'd consider to be ethical/consensual behavior. In one article there is a lack of communication about the author's intent for inviting "everyone we found attractive" to a party that included donut eating; an activity which the author clearly alludes to as sexually arousing. This is using and objectifying folks without their consent or knowledge. Which is pretty fucking shitty. In another article the author describes being flanked and consequently ogled and felt up by a heterosexual couple. Yes non monogamous couples do this. It's rude and even looked down upon in most poly communities (srsly just google the term unicorn hunters).

The article that turned my stomach the most portrayed folks in open relationships so stereotypically I had to put in eyedrops after reading it. Oh the onslaught of eye rolls it inspired. Publicizing partying/orgies as poly culture is old, needlessly sensational news. The article describes not one but two women in open marriages as "very sexual". Folks in open relationships are represented in these articles as doing nothing more than fucking (or wanting to fuck) more than one partner. Now, I have nothing against promiscuity (& I use this term in sex-positively to mean fucking lots of people), far from it in fact. I think it's super that folks with high sex drives, diverse appetites and the capacity to fuck many and often can peruse their desires, but honestly that's just not me! And it's not most of the poly folks I know and love in my community. There are many motivations for having an open/poly relationship. Sex is one among those many. And quite frankly, I don't want folks to think "orgy" or to think I'm always on the prowl when I tell them I'm poly.

Whenever I come out to a friend as polyamorous I have to work against the sensationalized images portrayed in articles like these. I have to make space to give a small lecture about communication, dates, commitment, balance etc.... I then invite what I hope to be a continuous Q&A about poly ("If you have questions about my relationships you are welcome to ask now or at any time!"). I keep this lecture as dry, sexless, and logistical as possible. When people hear words like "polyamory" and "open relationship" they almost always think about polyfidelity (having sex with multiple people which the articles portray fantastically). While this is part how I run of my romantic relationships it is not the most important and especially not what I want to be the most visible aspect of my relationships. I consider my sex life more private than my romantic life. Which is why I find myself resenting it when folks have (or rather think they have) a representative idea of what my sex life looks like before I've even had a chance to talk about what my relationships actually look like. When I tell you I'm polyamorous it does not mean I am telling you about my wild, wasted sexcapades (trust me, you'll know when I'm telling you about those!) I am telling you about my relationships.

PS: This conversation about polygamous marriage fails to address any concerns or wishes polyamorous/non-monogamous folks actually have about wanting to mary multiple people. (link suggestions?)

PPS: Yes, for folks wondering, I am aware that these articles are meant to show how fucked up "traditional" marriage already is. But is that (backward) approach to supporting same-sex marriage REALLY productive? It's both cynical and childish in a "yeah but your shit's fucked up too" kinda way. This is not dialogue or effective critique of "traditional" marriage. It's sensationalism inviting the judgement of the readers.

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