Diversity in Polyamory

Some thoughts on  Progressive Polyamory: Considering Issues of Diversity . (Funny how, even though it’s only been a few days since the passion of research overcame me in regards to polyamory and race, it’s faded just as quickly, and this post feels old and late. I am, however, still reading Is Marriage for White People? and find that there are entirely different things going on there than covered in the specific realm of polyamory.)

First off, Noël had a completely different approach to analyzing issues of diversity in polyamory than I did. I’m not just talking about the fact that she pulled out the books whereas I simply sat down and freewrote – I mean that we came in at completely different angles entirely. Here are my thoughts on her piece.

Noël asks a lot of questions which she does not answer. This bothers me, not because I was always told not to do that in high school (I’m a fan of breaking rules on writing here and there), but because I really, honestly do wonder if she has any answers to the suggestive questions she asks, or at least a way of attempting to answer them. Her argument is basically that, as middle class, white, educated, able-bodied Americans, authors of the few polyamorous texts that exist often use language and make assertions that can be exclusive to others that do not fit their demographic.

Well, firstly, many, many authors are guilty of that. That doesn’t make it right, but I feel the need to point that out, as it is not some isolated evil of polyamorous authors. (Perhaps I’m being defensive, but I guess my concern is that someone will inevitably point the issue out as a negative quality of polyamory when really, it’s a negative quality in society as a whole.) Secondly, and this may be due to my own white, middle-class, educated, able-bodied and American-tinted perspective, but the examples she cites seem a bit weak. She critiques the use of words like “tribe” and “jungle,” and the insinuations that polyamory is based on “non-Western” traditions, and asks, “how might a diversity of readers respond” to these things? Well, I don’t know, Noël. . . perhaps we should get a diversity of readers, sit them down with these books, and find out, eh?

Noël genuinely wants polyamory to be more inclusive; so much so, that it becomes an American norm. Homegirl did her homework, and found a piece by Lisa Duggan entitled “Holy Matrimony!” in which Duggan suggests moving from our marriage-based community plan (each household has a married couple = family = benefits) to a more “‘flexible menu of options’ that redistributes the ‘1,049 automatic federal and additional state protections’ to all persons, not just those who are heterosexually married.” Basically, let adults decide for themselves who and how many people they want to share their familial benefits with, and which benefits to share, whether those people are lovers, best friends, actual blood relatives, etc.

Apparently, in other countries, health care and other benefits are not extended to who you are married to, but who you live with. It’s all about the household: who shares a roof with you and is your “family”? If you’re willing to live with the person, you must like them enough to at least consider sharing benefits with them, right? I thought that was an interesting tidbit, and it’s stuck with me. I can’t help but think about how non-traditional families now outnumber traditional families, and according to Is Marriage For White People?, marriage is surprisingly uncommon in Sweden, where parents generally live together to raise their children, but aren’t “married.”

Interesting. A late review (my apologies), but interesting nonetheless.

Oooh, Shiny!

I joined a friend on a trip to the local bookstore today. (We never did get a Barnes & Noble or Borders here, so our own little Dockside Bookshop has been surviving just fine, and, as always, doing a great job of getting us the books we want and need.) She was looking for a book for her daughter, but I was caught by a book in the display window before I even got through the door:

I asked to look at it as I walked in, and flipped through the first few pages while my friend browsed the children’s section.

Here is part of the description from Amazon:

– – – – –

During the past half century, African Americans have become the most unmarried people in our nation. More than two out of every three black women are unmarried, and they are more than twice as likely as white women never to marry. The racial gap in marriage extends beyond the poor. Affluent and college educated African Americans are also less likely to marry or stay married than their white counterparts. That harms black children and adults, and imperils the growth and stability of the black middle class. 

One reason that marriage has declined is that as black women have advanced economically and educationally, black men have fallen behind. Nearly twice as many black women as black men graduate from college each year.Thus, not only are many college-educated black women unmarried, they are more likely than any other group of women to marry less educated and lower earning men. Half of college-educated black wives are more educated than their husbands.

Yet black women rarely marry men of other races. They are less than half as likely as black men, and only a third as likely as Latinos or Asian Americans, to wed across group lines. Is Marriage for White People? traces the far-reaching consequences of the African American marriage decline. It also explains why black women marry down rather than out. Its provocative conclusion is that black women would benefit both themselves and the black race if they crossed class lines less and race lines more.

– – – – –

Yup, definitely wanted it. Unfortunately, I’m currently in a situation where I need to have less stuff, not more, and especially given the store price of $23.99 for the hardcover, I had to accept the fact that I’d be downloading the ebook rather than supporting the bookstore.

I’m over it, though, as I have just downloaded the ebook for $12.99 from Books-A-Million, and have uploaded it to my eReader. I will be reading this baby post haste and getting back to y’all soon, to be sure.

Race and Polyamory

I did do my homework; I did read the research piece I found on Polyamory and Diversity. I wanted to include my personal thoughts and my thoughts on the piece in one entry, but I just can’t do it. My approach of the topic, and the approach of the author of the paper, are much too different to mesh. A review of her piece will be next, but first, my own personal observations, thoughts, and questions.

I once read in the livejournal polyamory community that someone had written somewhere that one could not identify as polyamorous without an internet presence. The polyamory identity was so entrenched in internet newsgroups, blogs, communities, forums, etc. that it was impossible to be polyamorous and not be involved online.

I don’t agree with that sentiment: I believe that someone can most definitely identify as polyamorous without being “plugged in;” though, I have to admit, I think most people discover the word polyamory on the internet, which does make it hard for people who are not on the internet to identify as polyamorous. If you’ve never seen/heard the word, how could you identify with it?

What’s more, having internet access wouldn’t have guaranteed exposure to the word even just a few years ago. Until recently, there were only a few places where people could gather to talk about this “polyamory” thing. Mostly, again, in blogs, newsgroups, forums, and communities. . . you know, where bloggers hang out.

When am I going to get to race? I’m glad you asked.

I don’t think I’d be surprising anyone if I said that I suspect that a majority of active bloggers are white. If that does surprise you, please do let me know, and I’ll try to dig up some research. It might be changing these days (or not), but the formulating years of polyamory coincide pretty darn well with the heydey of blogging, and let me tell you something about blogging conventions: they lacked color. It was more than a little noticeable.

If polyamory is, primarily, an internet movement propelled by bloggers and other online community members and activists, is it really any surprise that polyamory conventions have a suspiciously similar palate to that of blogging conventions?

And so, we have begun the discussion. Now. . . why haven’t we branched out? Sure, there have been issues of visibility until recently, but I do suspect that there may be other things at work here:

1.) There ARE white AND non-white polyamorists out there; they just don’t call it polyamory. They haven’t discovered the word. They’re doing it though, just like people have been doing it for centuries without the word existing. I’ve met them. I’ve talked to people who are in happy, open, “triangles” and “Vees”, as we call them. They called them “relationships.” They say it works for them. They don’t have special words for them, but they are doing. . . it. Polyamory. What’s even funnier? I share the word polyamory with these happy people for funsies, and often, they’re uninterested. “I don’t have the time for that,” they say, “I’ve got a life to live and lovers to spend time with.” Hah!

2.) There is hesitation due to the “representing my race” complex. It’s that whole “white privilege” thing. If a white person gets interviewed as a polyamorist, they will be “judged” by viewers based on what they say about polyamory. If a non-white person gets interviewed as a polyamorist, they will be “judged” by viewers based on what they say about polyamory, AND, in all likelihood, on their race. “Those crazy [insert race here] people; look what they’re up to now!” would be uttered in the privacy of (racist) people’s homes across the country.

3.) But, to be fair, [insert race here] could be [white]. One (nonwhite) friend who I excitedly told about polyamory when I first discovered it said, “Why do white people always got to name stuff? Why do you publicize it on the internet and do news interviews? Why would you want people all up in your business? Just do what makes you happy, and stop over-analyzing everything all the time!” Are we just “crazy white folk?” Is this what we are known for? Most active bloggers are also intelligent and usually have at least some college under their belt – is our love for academia and nerdiness part of what makes this seem like “our thing”?

4.) It’s a white wo/man’s world. I might be stretching with this one, but, the most popular and active blogs are about news and politics (That’s not the stretch part; that’s actually true. Here’s the stretch. . .); news media and politics are still run mostly by white people. It’s not very welcoming. The fact that there was SO much celebration, joy, tears, and overwhelming expression when Obama was elected shows that we still FEEL how hard it is for a non-white person to get “up there.” It doesn’t feel accessible. If that’s the world bloggers and polyamorists are operating in, we’re just doing the same thing that’s been done all these years – remaining exclusive, because we don’t know any differently. It’s, unfortunately, in our culture. (We do need to work to change that, by the way.)

5.) Is time constraint an issue? Another friend suggested that, historically, middle-class white females have often had the time to spearhead movements that non-whites didn’t have, since non-whites generally made (and still make) less money and had to work harder. I haven’t looked into this deeply enough, and something about it makes me feel. . . iffy, but I thought it was worth putting here. I do think back to the friends from my first point, but I think that’s a time thing mixed with a lack of interest for the reading, writing, researching, and debating that is part and parcel of the blogosphere. (What are the numbers these days on race demographics among college grads, anyway?)

And now, I am forced to ask myself and the polyamory community in general: Why did we name this thing, anyway? I know that it’s so we could talk about it, but honestly, I wonder if we should have to. Couldn’t we just do it, like everyone else who isn’t calling it polyamory is doing?

It’s a scary thought for me; if the word hadn’t existed in 2007, I wouldn’t have found the polyamory communities that helped me on my path of self-discovery, but perhaps what the world should really be talking more about is actually being true to ourselves, and allowing those around us to be true to themselves, and giving people permission to feel what it is they want without being told what they want.

There are actually times where I hesitate to use the word “polyamory,” because I know that I’m in company that will never have heard it, and it’s a label that I have to explain, and honestly, I’d much rather just say, “oh, well, yes, I’m dating this person, but that doesn’t mean you and I can’t date. No, it’s okay, I’ll let him know that you’re picking me up Friday at seven. Awesome!” Why use the word “polyamory,” when I can just. . . do it?

Best part of this post: I’m doing exactly what I’m writing about. Creatures of habit, we are, we are.

Characterization, Polyamory, and Race

Chapter 2 is “re”-written; whoo!

Honestly, there are no marked “chapters” in the NaNoWriMo rough draft. There are sections separated by a “—“, but those sections aren’t necessarily chapters. Realistically, each section should be a few chapters.

I’ve motivated myself to do this re-write by telling myself that each day, I am not allowed to post in this blog until I’ve done some rewriting. It’s working well so far, but I can see that the problem is going to come in with feeling that I’ve done enough rewriting for the day to reward myself with blogging. For example, I’ve re-written the first 1,000 words of the rough draft, and now have 1,700 words. It should be a LOT more, but I’ve decided to relocate some character descriptions and, well, should I have rewritten those character descriptions before coming here to blog today, or am I cool here?

Only I know, I guess, and therein lies the danger.

I choose "DANCE" every time.

I had polyamory and race on my mind last night, because of my character descriptions yesterday. While I was rewriting, I found myself feeling like I had to slap some appearances on my characters, and me, desiring a “diverse” cast, started describing the various skin tones, hair colors and types, eye shapes, etc. of Mikhail’s family. It felt very, very forced and ingenuine, and it bothered me, and I ended the chapter shortly after pecking the descriptions out.

Part of my discomfort, I believe, stems from my firm belief that appearances really shouldn’t matter. I understand in fiction that appearance is simply a part of characterization, and it helps readers “get to know” your characters. However, I’ve always been pretty uncomfortable with relying on readers’ stereotypes and prejudices to characterize my characters. I don’t like feeling like I’m validating or perpetuating those stereotypes and prejudices by allowing them to be a part of my characterization. As someone who constantly reminds others to “not judge a book by its cover,” I just can’t comfortably do it.

What? No goth friends? Psh, diversity my bum.

I had to shake my head at myself when I realized that, when I thought “diverse” cast, I had automatically assumed that I needed diverse appearances to get the idea across. There are many things besides race and appearances which make groups of people diverse, though, and I’ve finally come to a decision:

I’m not going to use any physical descriptions of characters in my book. There’s just no need for it. The story is about what these people think and feel, not what they look like. So, it doesn’t matter what they look like. They can be an alien race or talking penguins, for all I care. Forcing race into the story not only is, well, forced, but it also makes me uncomfortable because I’m asking my readers to visualize these people, and perhaps expecting some of my very own stereotypes and prejudices to be upheld as part of defining who these people are.

The Rare Polyamorous Penguin Breed

So, physical descriptions deleted, more personality traits and habits inserted. Much better.

Of course, me being the nerd that I am, I continued to think about and even research polyamory and race long after finding this solution to my personal problem. It’s been long noted that the polyamory movement has been one composed of mostly white, middle-class, educated Americans. I’ve written down (in my personal journal) my thoughts on that and possible reasons why, and my homework tonight is to read Progressive Polyamory: Considering Issues of Diversity in order to compare my thoughts to some research, before posting another entry here on what I’ve learned and discovered.

Whew! I think that’s about it, y’all. I’ll see you again soon after Chapter 3 and some research.