Polynormativity

One of many highlights of Westcoast Bound 2014 was the opportunity to personally thank Andrea Zanin for her amazing blog post the problem with polynormativity. I don’t currently identify as polyamorous, but I did dabble in it for a little while and got pretty badly burned. Andrea Zanin’s post (and interview with Cunning Minx on Polyamory Weekly) were really helpful to me. Finally, someone was saying that the way I was treated was not okay, that even if someone is ‘just a secondary’ they have the right to be treated like a human being.

One particularly interesting thing about that post is that it took over 200 comments before a secondary partner spoke up in favour of the polynormative model of a primary couple having a girlfriend or boyfriend on the side. Over 200 comments! Unfortunately I can’t link directly to that comment, but if you search the post for “Jennifer Storm – April 3, 2013 at 7:01 pm” you’ll find it. Plenty of butthurt couples showed up to talk about what a big meany Andrea Zanin was for saying they should treat their secondaries like people, not toys who can be thrown out when they become inconvenient, but suspiciously few secondaries defended that model. That alone seems like a pretty strong sign something is badly wrong.

Franklin Veaux wrote an excellent post called A Proposed Secondary’s Bill of Rights, and Aggie wrote another great post called Non-primary partners tell: How to treat us well.

On the one hand it’s great to see people saying “Hey, non-primary partners are in fact people and actually do have feelings”, but on the other hand, to heavily rephrase a point Andrea Zanin already made in her post (which you read already, right? It’s awesome, go read it): what the fuck is wrong with us when we have to tell people to treat their non-primary partners with basic goddamn decency? Seriously, what kind of asshole has to be told that “protecting the couple” is not a good enough reason to treat a secondary partner like they’re disposable?

While not all kinky people are polyamorous (although there does seem to be quite a bit of overlap), there are plenty of us who play with people besides our partners and it’s worth thinking about how we treat those people. Not having sex with a play partner doesn’t mean it’s not still an intimate relationship, not so different from a secondary partner.

And if Andrea Zanin’s post makes you feel extremely defensive, then I hate to break it to you, but you just might be an asshole.

6 thoughts on “Polynormativity

  1. Hey, thanks for the pingback! And yes, it’s appalling how many couples treat secondaries like a puppy that they can give back if it turns out he’s too much trouble to take care of. You’re giving me inspiration to set up a Second to NONE! tab on my page with links to secondary resources!

    • Ooh, I love the idea of a Second to NONE! tab. I wish more people knew they could demand better/that there are people out there who do understand that secondaries are people, and that they can and should hold out for one of them.

  2. Hmmm. So I get the impression that a lot of these primary/secondary distinctions happen because the situation started with one couple, of whom one identifies as poly and the other doesn’t. I know I nearly ended up in that situation. And he knew I wasn’t poly, so he kept offering all these boundaries to me. It didn’t work, partly because the third party refused to be in the same room as me even once. But if she hadn’t had bigger issues, we might have gone with the hierarchical route as a compromise between everyone’s needs. It sounds like you think that would have been a mistake?

    The irony is that I told my poly spouse from the beginning he had no idea of the ethical complications we were getting into, because he hadn’t had ANY exposure to the poly world, and everything I’d read at that point was Maymay’s criticisms of poly hierarchy. So I’ll send him your post, and maybe this time he’ll manage to read it. Thank you for making it short and hard-hitting – we really needed a poly ethics post like that.

    • But if she hadn’t had bigger issues, we might have gone with the hierarchical route as a compromise between everyone’s needs. It sounds like you think that would have been a mistake?

      It’s not so much hierarchy that I have a problem with as it is how people lower in the hierarchy get treated. If, say, the secondary partner has a really demanding job or children or elderly parents to look after and they just don’t want the responsibility of being someone’s primary emotional support, then I don’t see a problem with the coupled partner saying ‘hey, sometimes my relationship with my spouse will take up time I would otherwise spend with you’ and the secondary saying ‘hey, sometimes my job/school/other life stuff will take up the time I would otherwise spend with you.’

      On the other hand, what I do have a problem with would be the coupled partner constantly cancelling dates for non-emergency reasons, or trying to press pause in the relationship because their primary partner isn’t comfortable with the relationship but not having the decency to dump the secondary and get it over with (not that I’m bitter), or otherwise taking them for granted and treating them like, as Minx said above, a puppy they can give back.

      Thank you for making it short and hard-hitting – we really needed a poly ethics post like that.

      Thanks, I hope it’s useful. I’ve got another post coming about my particular hate on for vetos, but it’s around twice as long 🙂 One day I might get the hang of expressing myself in under 800 words, but as it is I don’t manage that very often.

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