Rare Bird by Via | Psycherotica

Poly is Political
Choosing the freedom to choose

By Eric Francis
Planet Waves Digital Media
Originally in the Televisoinary Oracle
at the former RealAstrology.com

"We are equal beings and the universe is our relationships with each other."
--Thaddeus Golas, The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment

"The obstacle was not in Jacqueline, it lay deep within O herself, its roots deeper than anything she had ever before encountered. It was because René was leaving her free, and she loathed her freedom. Her freedom was worse than any chains."
--Pauline Réage, Story of O

........For an entire generation or more, right-wing political movements have hit us on the head with "the return to family values" as a top-shelf intoxicant in their political agenda. Visionaries of regressive social movements see the decline of society reflected in the supposed breakdown of the nuclear family, and view the repair of society as starting with what they feel is its most basic cellular element, a fantasy consisting of Mom, Dad and the Kidz contained in a neat package, a centrally-air conditioned, mortgaged suburban home.

.........Yet equally political is the personal choice to exist in different kinds of family, or what some people call "love-style," which includes the choice to have more than one lover or life-partner as a natural state of being. It is called "polyamory" or "panfidelity," and the basic idea is in having committed, long-term relationships with more than one person. This is different than the polygamy of the Mormons or the Jews of the Old Testament because such families generally consisted of one man and a harem of wives. In many polygamous situations across the cultures, a man can have as many wives as he can afford to support.

.........Polyamorous situations, on the contrary, usually are extended families or networks of men and women who are striving for a more honest, egalitarian way of life. Polyamory distinguishes itself from "swinging," which is a lifestyle generally involving weekend sex-play among married couples. Though couples involved in swinging often have long-term friendships, the essential nature of the marriages is usually quite traditional, with the couples frequently practicing what they term "emotional monogamy." That is, it's OK to have sex with other people, but it's not OK to be emotionally bonded or in love with them.

.........Polyamory is kind of like the organic food movement's answer to sexuality and relationships. Yet just like natural foods threatens agribusiness, openly having more than one life-partner turns out to be pretty controversial. Everyone understands if you're secretly having an amorous affair with your boss or your secretary, but few people understand if you invite your boyfriend over for dinner with your live-in lover every Thursday night and everyone has a good time. It is considered normal to lie, it's normal to have competition among lovers, but something must be wrong if everyone gets along.

.........Yet even though many people sharing lives with multiple partners find it necessary to keep a low profile within their community and workplace about their choices, I believe that relatively few have made the connection that the personal choice to be polyamorous is essentially political in nature. It occasionally becomes a little more obvious when the political system itself gets involved. In Tennessee last year, a judge ruled that the three-year old child of April Divilbiss must be put into foster care because April was living with two men in a polyamorous family. Loving More magazine in Boulder, CO, the central information exchange for polyamorous people in the U.S., has been working on the case and said that its main goal has been to get the child back to April.

........."For this to occur," the magazine wrote recently on its web page, "Chris (the second 'husband') had to leave the house and April has to attend parenting classes. In other words, the state busted up the family under threat of taking the child permanently." Expert testimony that the household was healthy and a good place for the child was ignored by the court, according to Loving More. The judge ruled in open court that April "could not have her cake and eat it too."

........."With the judge's ruling that all alternative lifestyles are unfit for children, we have sort of an emergency that should be causing anyone who loves freedom and/or lives a non-mainstream lifestyle serious concern," Loving More's editors wrote, aware that many of their readers are raising children in polyamorous situations. "The ruling must be overturned or any court in Tennessee that decides it doesn't like your lifestyle can require your family and/or lovers to leave, or take your children away. This [ruling] is so broadly given that an alternative lifestyle could be judged to be anything at all that doesn't suit the court."

.........Polyamory rarely makes it into court, but many monogamous people consider the fact of polyamory to be a threat. One basis of the threat is economic. Even in our supposedly enlightened times, it's presumed that women need men for economic support. It remains true that women make 63 cents for every dollar men make (at the current rate of equalization, it will be the year 3888 before women make a full dollar). This economic inequality builds in dependency, and serves to give women powerful incentives to get married and stay married, which can further entrench women's' economic disadvantage if they choose not to pursue careers during the marriage, which is frequently the case.

.........Meanwhile, although all property attained by the man in the course of the marriage is technically joint property, there are many cases in which highly-successful men hide their assets from their wives, making divorce more difficult and less economically attractive than staying in an unhappy relationship. The economics of polyamorous families are often very different than of conventionally married families, with a group of people inter-dependent on one another for support, and nobody being at the direct mercy of someone else, emotionally or financially.

.........But polyamory provides other reasons for getting into relationships besides safety, dependency, and being economically distressed, primarily, the desire for emotional bonding all by itself. And that forces us to make choices based on much more sensitive issues, and therefore to exist as whole people responsible for our own lives. It requires us to be much more self-possessed within our relationships.

.........Fort Lauderdale, Fl.-based psychotherapist and author Joan Mazza says that the nature of monogamous relationship is revealed in popular culture. "It's about 'You belong to me,' just like in all the old rock 'n' roll songs," she says. "It's worse than codependency, since it's often about total loss of self. More than men, women are [sometimes] suicidal after breakups because they think they don't have a self.

........."The key is about ownership versus freedom," she adds. "To be in a relationship and still be free is too scary. It's about everybody being in charge of their lives and making their own contracts individually with people. Instead of the contract being predesigned, you make it each time you enter into a relationship, and it's different with different people.

........."It's threatening because it means that one's partner has choices," she continues. "Polyamory introduces lots of other things into reality that are scary, such as the idea of variety, group sex, and bisexuality, depending on how you define polyamory. It also threatens the security of knowing who the father of a child is. Polyamory brings all of this into the light. And it also uncovers what is in our more lustful nature, and that scares people. There is a sense that if I let loose, I will be totally out of control. In the same way people are afraid to express anger--that if they get in touch with their anger, they will become murderers--they think that if they really get in touch with their sexuality, they will become perverts. This threatens the whole fabric of society, because when people have more choices, when they are not in a strict rule-based system, it upsets the equilibrium, the status quo."

.........And just what is that status quo? Polyamory is a direct answer to structures of relationship that have their roots in men possessing women as legal property. Our ideas of monogamous relationships are based, with rare exceptions, on what I call "the marriage model." Whether or not monogamous couples actually marry, the basis of the relationship is often the idea of marriage, which in its supposedly ideal state includes a shared household, consolidated finances and therefore a higher standard of living, and the partners' ability to closely monitor one another's lives with the presumption of a lifelong commitment; marriage is an allegedly lifelong bond.

.........But historically, this bond has extended in one direction. Until frighteningly recently, men throughout our culture have had exclusive domain over women, and were presumed to have the right to make all choices for them, from medical decisions to voting decisions, from whether they would have children and how many, to what level of education those children would be allowed to attain. This is still true in many traditional households. Possession of women takes a variety of other forms. I have consulted women who were afraid to leave their husbands fearing that the man would kill them if they did, apparently not such a rare situation. Many courts would consider it a "crime of passion" rather than murder if a man spontaneously kills the lover of his wife. I am not sure whether this is applied equally to women who kill the lovers of their husbands, but since far more men commit homicide than women, then there is a built-in bias against women; the crime of passion exception mainly benefits men.

.........Looking a little more closely at the tradition of marriage, it consists of a ritual in which the woman is "given away" by the father to the groom. This property right is evidenced by many women not only taking on the name of the man after marriage (it is rare that women take their mother's surname, or that a woman's name is given to her child) but in many cases surrendering their entire name upon marriage, becoming "Mrs. Jim Smith" after being, say, Eleanor Fiodora Redmond. The loss of a woman's identity in marriage is called civil death, a form of bureaucratic execution that the state reserves also for convicted felons, who are legally non-people.

.........According to author and polyamorous activist C.T. Butler, many locales still have extant archaic matrimonial laws defining marriage as a form of direct possession. One such example is found on the books in the state of Vermont, which Butler says defines marriage as the man and woman being as one, with the "one" being the man.

.........In many states, including New York (perhaps erroneously considered a liberal bastion), it is a crime for a married person to have sex with an unmarried person, and both the married partner and the unmarried partner face potential criminal prosecution. Adultery can still be raised as the grounds for divorce. Therefore, the very fact of marriage legally forecloses all other choices of partners, and by extension, emotional companions, unless the relationship is conducted secretly.

.........No matter how much we tinker and tweak the monogamous marriage model, unless we start from a whole new basis of relationship, we will end up drawing on the same roots of men possessing women. That new basis consists in having the freedom to choose, both one's partners and one's way of life, and that freedom must be based on maturity and self-awareness. It must also be based on the idea that we are going to allow our partners the right to choose whether they want to be with us, and to live the way they want despite being with us. This requires sharing the truth about how we feel with our partners, which is one of the most fundamental conditions of authentic polyamory. It is easy to cheat on your partner in secrecy, but this conceals the larger reality that cheating means denying your partner information that would allow them to make a decision about whether they want to be with you or not.

.........This freedom to choose, the freedom to leave, and the freedom (particularly for women raising children as a full-time job) to have economic options outside the primary relationship, would affect large numbers of people if word got around that the option is available.

.........Polyamory takes the issue of human equality and makes it real. It raises the issue of gender equality and makes it tangible. It takes the issue of relinquishing possession and control over others, which supposedly went out with slavery, and brings it to life. It is walking the talk of freedom. Freedom is political. If you are not free to love the way you really want to love, then you're not really free.++

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