Safety, Semantics, and Other S-Words

Welcome to March 20-freaking-16, everyone! I can hardly believe we’re already into month three of the new year. Tempus fugit and all that.

Our theme this month – yes, shut up, we’ve got themes. We’re nerds, that’s just what we do. Ahem – is safety. STI screening and prevention are important topics in poly spaces for obvious reasons. Even if you look at the mere common cold, it’s clear to see that poly communities make excellent breeding grounds for pathogens. STIs proliferate even when the majority of us are doing all the right things: safer sex practices, regular screenings, etc., which makes it all the more important for all of us to be mindful of safety.

In my relatively short time in the poly community, I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation for being particularly stringent about safety measures. I’m not sure the reality quite lives up to my image – I’ve had my share of slip-ups and made silly mistakes, just like everyone else – but I do aim to be as cautious as people seem to think I am. I don’t know about you, but I don’t practice safer sex simply to protect myself; I’m doing my part to keep an entire network of people safe.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. There will be plenty of time over the coming weeks for  long-winded ranting  self-aggrandizing mental masturbation  opining on the topic of safety.

I also don’t want to work on part 2 of that last post, because it’s been giving me Problems. I like to ignore my Problems and pretend that if I do, they’ll kindly go away all on their own. No, it generally doesn’t work out for me, but I believe in myself. I’ll make it work.

Instead, I want to talk about something I recently remembered from the halcyon days of my youth (by which I mean a few months ago, obviously) which I thought might make a somewhat interesting blog post.

When I first started exploring the idea that I might be polyamorous (the greater part of a year ago now, wow) it was in tandem with my involvement in the kink community, so a lot of my early reading on the subject was in the form of opinion pieces written on fetlife.

I came across a glorified semantics argument in which the author claimed not to want to make statements like “You’re not poly if…” and then proceeded to do just that. And then, not content with mere hypocrisy, he decided to have wrong opinions all over my internet.

He opined that in order to “really” be poly, one needed to either have or be actively seeking a primary-style relationship; otherwise one was “just a slut.” I remember being irritated for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate at the time, so I let it lie, with just a quick comment on the writing to make my disagreement known.

Let me just take a moment to clarify that the author was very specifically not using the derogatory form of the word “slut.”  In both kinky and poly spaces, that particular s-word has been reclaimed and stripped of its misogynistic, shame-based connotations. The author wasn’t insulting people by calling them names, he was drawing a (false) distinction between “true” polyamory and all those fakey fakers like me – the solo-polyamorists, the relationship anarchists, etc. – by saying that the latter are just people who, according to The Ethical Slut, “lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.”

Let me also take a moment to clarify that I’m not going to spend this blog post arguing with that author or “debunking” what he wrote. That would mean having to dig it up from the bowels of my fetlife activity history and link to it and formulate cohesive arguments about how and why he’s wrong and that’s just way too much work. I’d much rather you take my word for it that there are people out there who hold this wrong opinion and just let me beat up my straw-man in peace. Can we do that? Awesome! Thanks.

What? He looked at me funny.

Solo Poly vs “Just a Slut”

I don’t remember all of what the dude wrote. I remember him specifying which version of “slut” he was talking about, and I remember the crux of his argument, which was that if you’re not currently or don’t want to one day be in at least a “primary-like” relationship, then you’re not really poly. Because apparently you can’t love people unless you want to be entwined in matters of finance, living space, and/or personal responsibility with at least one of them.

Because apparently there’s only one way to love multiple people, and that’s by picking one (or more than one) to ride the relationship escalator with, and then having less enmeshed relationships with the rest.

Because apparently you can’t have significant, loving romantic relationships with multiple people and still live life as a single person: on your own terms, accountable primarily to yourself.

It’s easy for me to understand how a monogamous person might think that way about solo-polyamorous folks. Monogamous people who subscribe to the relationship escalator idea of romantic relationships might find it pretty difficult to imagine being functionally single and mutually in love with someone at the same time. They might (and, in my experience, often do) have trouble separating interdependence from romantic love. For that opinion to come from a polyamorous person, though… that surprised me.

The author of that piece wasn’t just making himself the arbiter of all things poly and telling people how they should or shouldn’t identify; he was also saying that, unless you want a certain kind of relationship (one dictated by his personal perception of what a relationship “should be,” of course) with at least one of your partners, then any love you feel for any of your partners isn’t really love. You’re not polyamorous, you’re just a slut: you don’t actually love those people, you just want to fuck them.

Unfortunately, I can’t talk much from a personal standpoint about experiencing romantic love as a solo-poly person. I’m still not really sure what “romantic love” even means to me, or if it has any meaningful distinction from the “regular” sort of love I’m used to. I don’t know that I’ve ever been “in love” with anyone. I don’t know if I’m in love now, or falling in love, or if I will be in love or fall in love in the future.

What I know is that I do love and I have loved, sometimes deeply – and yet I’ve never wanted to stitch my life together with anyone else’s.

I have imagined myself growing old with partners – living in separate houses, but still visiting each other, spending time together, supporting each other.

I’ve imagined celebrating with my partners as they attach themselves to other people who love and cherish them, or when they reaffirm those bonds of long-term togetherness. Much as I hate the idea of such attachments for myself, I know that others want and need them, and I’m happy for the people I love when they find other people who share those values.

I don’t want children of my own, but I’ve imagined being an auntie to the children my partners might have: loving them, helping to watch and care for them, acting as part of the village it takes to raise a child.

I know that I have a great capacity for love. I have a lot to give, and I’ve never been shy about sharing it when I know it to be present. There is potential for it in many of the relationships I’ve formed in the past 8 months: I’ve had the great fortune to meet a group of truly wonderful people and, given time, consistency, and continued nurturing and care, any number of those relationships might well blossom.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: I’m definitely a slut, but there’s no “just” about it. So I don’t want the type of relationships that certain shortsighted authors on Fetlife think of as prerequisites for entrance into their little private poly club. They can just go on being wrong on the internet, because I know who I am.

It’s not all about sex. My love is valid. I do belong here. I’m polyamorous.

(So there, random internet stranger who once made me feel vaguely irritated! Take that!)


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