Recent Work on Non- monogamy and Polyamory (Review

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Summary of Recent Work on Non- monogamy and Polyamory (Review

1 Theorising Multi-partner Relationships and Sexualities – Recent Work on Non- monogamy and Polyamory (Review Article) Jillian Deri, Love’s Refraction. Jealousy and Compersion in Queer Polyamorous Relationships. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. 168pp. ISBN: 9781442628694 (pbk); $21.95 [£ 13.99]; ISBN 9781442637092 (hbk) $50.00 [£ 30.99] Maria Pallotta- Chiarolli. Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Cherrie, 2010. 290pp. ISBN: 978-0-7425-1036-4 (pbk); £29.95 ISBN 978-0-7425-1035-7; (hbk) £65.00 Nathan Rambukkana. Fraught Intimacies. Non/Monogamy in the Public Sphere. Vancouver, Toronto: UBC Press. 229pp. ISBN: 9780774828970 (pbk); $32.95 [£31.00]; ISBN 9780774828963 (hbk) $95.00 [£69.00] Ten years have passed since Sexualities presented a special issue on Polyamory (Haritaworn et al., 2006). In the period from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s, critical in-depth research into the intimacies associated with polyamory gained momentum. Special issues also appeared in the Journal for Lesbian Studies (Munson and Stelboum, 1999) the Journal of Bisexuality (Anderlini-D’Onofrio, 2004) and the bilingual (English and German) Journal für Psychologie (Mattes and Dege, 2014). Barker and Langdridge (2010a) have documented the major developments in the field in a comprehensive review article for Sexualities. Their edited volume Understanding Non-monogamies (2010b), too, has made a lot of novel theorisations of polyamory accessible to a wider readership. A number of international conferences, too, have addressed questions of consensual non-monogamy. The path-breaking International Conference on Polyamory 2 and Monnonormativity took place at the Research Centre for Feminist, Gender and Queer Studies at Hamburg University in November 2005. The first Non-monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference took place first in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2015, and will bring together academics, activists and counsellors for the second Conference at the end of August 2017 in Vienna1. Another regular and even longer-standing event, the International Academic Polyamory Conference (titled International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Non-monogamy) will take place for the 6th time in Berkeley, California in February 20172. The event will also coincide with a political activist meeting3. Research has focused on nuances in identification, discussed overlaps and differences with regard to other forms of non-monogamy and looked at interconnections with (other) marginalised practices of identities, such as BDSM and asexuality. The linguistics, emotional dynamics and politics of polyamory all have been subject to critical inquiry. Research has further looked at power both within and around consensually non- monogamous practice, often deploying intersectional perspectives. Empirical research has been slowly consolidating since the mid-2000s to allow for a better understanding of various dimensions of polyamorous intimacies. Yet many aspects of this alternative approach to love, intimacy, sexuality and family have remained under-theorised. In this review, I will look at three more recent research publications that provide rich and novel conceptualisation of core aspects of polyamorous experiences and the ways they have been represented in the public sphere. These publications were selected for 1 2 See [currently deactivated and awaiting renewal] and and-nonmonogamy 3 3 an in-depth review, because of their innovative approaches and their potential for opening new avenues within polyamory research and the study of intimacy more generally. Some interesting and important publications were not included in this review. Elisabeth Sheff’s (2011) comprehensive research of poly families in the USA has already been discussed in a recent issue of Sexualities by Sophia Boutelier (2015). Mimi Schipper’s (2016) new book Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities was not yet available when I was writing this review. Robin Bauer’s (2014) book Queer BDSM Intimacies. Critical Consent and Pushing the Boundaries contains excellent discussion of polyamory, but the overall research primarily focuses on BDSM practice. Raven Kaldera’s (2010) book Power Circuits. Polyamory in a Power Dynamic has a much tighter focus on the poly/BDSM nexus, but falls within the genre of advice book literature rather than academic research/social theory. Theorising emotions - Love’s Refraction (Jillan Deri) How people can possibly manage jealousy is one of the most frequently asked questions with regard to polyamory. Deri’s (2015) study Love’s Refraction. Jealousy and Compersion in Queer Polyamorous Relationships acknowledges that jealousy is not an unknown phenomenon within poly circles. Like monogamous people, polyamorists, too, are affected by jealousy. Yet in contradistinction to mainstream culture, jealousy is neither demonized nor tabooed within polyamory. Rather, polyamory elaborates a complex ethics and etiquette that is designed to control, modify and channel jealousy in order to stop this complex feeling from interfering with and damaging intimate relationships which are built upon the assumption that in principle it should be okay for 4 partners to get erotically involved with others. Polyamory provides a repertoire of scripts or rules on how to engage with jealousy in a creative fashion. What are the feelings rules around jealousy and love in multiple erotic entanglements? How does poly culture resist and transform mainstream strategies to address the problem of jealousy. These are the questions Deri addresses in her exciting qualitative study on the challenges and contradictions that shape the experiences of queer, lesbian and bisexual polyamorous women in Vancouver, Canada. Apart from in-depth interviews, Deri draws on community sources and popular texts, including journalistic advice columns and blogs. Deri’s study is concerned with emotions and the cultural dynamics and politics around them. Focussing on how queer polyamorous women deal with jealousy in their personal lives allows Deri to describe what is distinctive about polyamory as a style of non-monogamy and a form of love. It also enriches the literature on polyamory (and relationships in general) by touching upon ambiguities, contradictions and challenges within close intimate bonds. It therefore conveys precious knowledge on how to deal with the vicissitudes and the vulnerability implied in opening up to others. Jealousy and love are the key emotions explored in Deri’s book. Deri takes a social constructionist stance that sees emotions as being shaped by cultural values. Jealousy is part of what Ken Plummer (2001) calls an ‘emotion world’, a symbolic universe made up of emotion words, value assumptions and normative response schemes. Theoretically grounded within symbolic interactionism, Deri takes recourse to the concepts narratives and feeling rules. The feeling rules deployed by queer poly women are the fruit of the cultural experiments and negotiations within polyamorous communities. They form an 5 important asset and function as a kind of subcultural capital and as a repository of response strategies for resolving potential conflicts around jealousy. Deri is quite upfront about the contradictions that shape the experience of many poly practitioners. Tongue-in-cheek, many polyamorists use the term ‘polyagony’ to capture the painful moments of poly loving. Yet even if jealousy is not a prerequisite of monogamists, polyamorous people tend to experience it in quite a different context. Within monogamy, desire for or intimate and/or sexual interaction with other people beyond the monogamous partner are considered to be an act of betrayal. Rivalry is the archetype of jealousy-inducing circumstances under the condition of monogamy. Within polyamory, the act of turning to another person with a loving and/or erotic interest is not usually the cause for feeling jealousy. Polyamorous women in Deri’s study experienced jealousy when a new person entered an existing constellation, when partners were distracted by the thrill of what polyamorists call ‘new relationship energy’ (NRE) or when they fell in love ‘big time’, rather than only taking a simply erotic interest. Jealousy also occurred when the new lover was too similar to themselves or when they experienced a lack of confidence or the vanishing of trust or a sense of security in the relationship. At times, however, participants could not name any particular reason for their experience of jealousy whatsoever. Since polyamory endorses consensus and honesty, it may be surprising to read that there is quite a lot of discussion about ‘cheating’ in polyamory circles. However, in polyamory cheating is defined in different ways as lying or breaking agreed-upon rules rather than having sexual encounters with other people (see also Wosick-Correa, 2010). 6 Quite poetically, Deri calls jealousy the ‘shadow of love’. It is a difficult and complex emotion. Jealous responses capture both the mind and the body and many describe it as an intensely physical sensation. Like other emotions, jealousy is not a singular and coherent reaction and it is usually mixed up with other feelings, such as, for example, affection, love, fondness, embarrassment, shame, sadness, bitterness or pride. It is known to cause anxiety, paranoia, stress, withdrawal, forlornness or fits of rage. The ‘green-eyed monster’ of jealousy presents itself in highly personalised cocktails of intense emotions, which may differ depending on the situational and relational context. Deri stresses that the emotional scripts for jealousy adhere to strict binary codes that result in the production of gendered response schemes. Research follows the binary logic by suggesting that men are more likely to deny the feeling in order to avoid a sense of humiliation or to respond to it with anger, while women are more likely to admit to jealousy, but may internalise it silently in a self-blaming habit. The link between jealousy, possessiveness, control and gender-based domestic violence, too, has been extensively discussed by feminists. It is against this backdrop that many research participants described polyamory as distinctively feminist or queer-feminist practice. For example, research participant Coraline stated that ‘feminism is ultimately about self- determination for women. In a nutshell. And poly for me is about a self-determinationist expression of my sexuality’ (Coraline, quoted in Deri, 2015: 75). The role of jealousy as a tool used by men to control women makes the link between jealousy and power obvious. But gender is only one dimension of the complex intersubjective power relations around jealousy. Deri discusses three different lines for investigating the conditionality of power/jealousy, focusing on (a) the structural angle 7 (class, gender, race, ethnicity, age, beauty, quantity of partners, etc.); (b) the institutional axis (relating to mononormativity, heterosexism and sexism); and (c) the question of perception. The latter is important, because how one sees one’s own position vis-á-vis the intersectional regime of power and within an interpersonal dynamic of conflict impacts on how exactly jealousy may feel. Despite her extensive discussion of difficult emotions, Deri is adamant that polyamory does not have to cause jealousy at all. In contradistinction, polyamory can also be a creative way for soothing, mediating and channelling jealousy into more bearable emotional solutions. In contradistinction to the monogamous mainstream, poly culture creates routes towards non-judgemental approaches to jealousy and encourages creative emotional practices to alleviate difficult situations. In mainstream culture, jealousy is tabooed and repressed, due to its link with humiliation and shame and the lack of emotional skills to address the issue in a constructive manner. Polyamory subscribes to an ethics of controlling one’s emotions, of not ‘losing control’ by succumbing to jealousy. ‘According to the polyamorous model, feeling any emotion is appropriate, but acting on that emotion should be tempered with grace’, Deri concludes (2015: 30). Poly culture puts so much emphasis on taking care of jealous partners that some respondents felt an imbalance. All resources and all measures of support tend to flow towards those who suffer from jealousy. The normative expectation that one always has to attend to a partner who struggles with jealousy, some respondents argued, obscures the fact that having a jealous partner, too, may put a person in a very difficult situation. For these respondents, the care ethics of polyamory can be evoked to support a double 8 standard that construes highly sexual (or ‘promiscuous’) partners as ‘baddies’ and those who have fewer partners (and assume a more domestic role) as ‘goodies’. This double standard misconstrues sexually highly active people as straying partners, who put a burden on their partners with less interest in additional outward sexual relations. Some respondents therefore suggested that the aim should be not to equalise or standardise behaviours (through the imposition of rules), but to find ways of making sure that all partners are satisfied and happy in the relationship. Deri’s study shows that not all polyamorists experience jealousy. Many report having no difficulties whatsoever with their partners spending time with – or having sex with – somebody else. Many even talk about a particular feeling of joy in knowing that their partners are loved, cared for and happy. Utilising a word coined by the San Francisco Kerista community (1971-1991), some polyamorists refer to this feeling as compersion. This term modifies the meanings associated with compassion and has been defined as: ‘the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves, especially taking joy in the knowledge that your beloveds are expressing their love for one another’ (Webpage of the Polyamory Society, quoted in Deri, 2015: 32). Compersion is a proactive process and accumulative skill shored up by an experimental culture of rewriting the rules of love. Polyamory is different from romantic love, because it ‘eschews the sexually and emotionally exclusive focus of romantic ideology and yet maintains the importance of love’ (2015: 13). Polyamory does not endorse the idea of a singular, exclusive and everlasting love, Deri argues. It does not nurture the belief that one person should fulfil all the needs of their beloved partner(s). But polyamory does put emphasis on a human 9 need for love and an appreciation of the significance of close emotional connection among sexual partners. With regard to jealousy, compersion and love (and many other emotions linked to multipartnered intimacy), polyamory is a processes of reinventing and rewriting feeling rules (see also Barker, 2013). For Deri, this is a practice of resistance. Polyamory is resistant to mainstream culture for the following reasons: (a) it breaks the taboo and stigma surrounding non-monogamy; (b) it revises the gender stereotypes that men are driven to have multiple partners, whereas women are inclined to monogamy; (c) it debunks the common belief that jealousy is an inevitable and unbearable effect of having multiple partners; (d) it denaturalises monogamy and the feeling rules around jealousy and provides alternative models of multiple loving; (e) it does away with the unhelpful ideas that jealousy is a proof of love and commitment. Polyamory thus increases relationship choices and provides a set of skills and values to handle common relationship problems in a more effective manner. This is why Deri’s subtle study of the emotion worlds of polyamory has significance far beyond the narrow field of consensual non-monogamy and polyamory and provides important insights for the sociology of emotions and intimacy and all those who like to understand better the everyday challenges of vulnerability within intimate relationships. Theorising Intimacies and Sexualities - Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools (Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli) 10 Pallotta-Chiarolli’s (2010) book Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools is an outstanding example of critically engaged scholarship dealing with polyamory, mixed- orientation relationships and bisexuality. Due to its outstanding achievements in exploring novel areas and perspectives, it won the Lambda Literary Award, 2011. Pallotta-Chiarolli’s study is based at the intersection of education studies, gender studies, sexuality studies and cultural studies. The book presents the argument that most educators and pedagogues lack adequate understanding of family diversity and that school and university curricula fail to provide meaningful teaching and safe environments to students with non-mainstream sexual identities and pupils raised within alternative families. Pallotta-Chiarolli, who has in the in the past extensively worked on the educational concerns of lesbian and gay youth and (lesbian and gay) same-sex coupled families, looks in this book specifically at the ‘marginalised-among- the- marginalised’, i.e. bisexual students (or students with a ‘fluid’ sexuality), multisexual families, i.e. ‘parents and other family members of varying sexual identities, (…) who may also consider themselves to be in mixed-orientation marriages/relationships’ (2010: 2) and polyamorous and multipartnered families, i.e. ‘family members who are in openly negotiated loving/intimate/sexual relationships with more than one person’ (2010: 2). Pallotta-Chiarolli refers to these groups as ‘border sexualities’ and ‘border families’. While at least rudimentary knowledge on lesbian and gay youth and families has seeped into educational institutions through anti-discrimination and equality schemes, the school continues to be ‘a site of absence, silence, and isolation for children from multisexual and polyamorous/multipartnered families’ (2010: 9). Pallotta-Chiarolli addresses both bisexual students and polyfamilies in the same research, because she is convinced that both groups can be theorised in similar ways by 11 drawing on a mix of queer and borderland theories. She further points to the potential overlaps between these groups (e.g. some bi students may be poly now or in the future and some poly parents may be bisexual or in relationships of complex gender constellations). Her decision to acknowledge the potential proximity between these groups is reflective of her opposition to a ‘politics of positive images’ and of assimilationist attempts at inclusion. She is adamant that the problems faced by border families and pupils and students with fluid sexualities are rooted outside of themselves, namely discrimination, poverty and the lack of adequate support and services. At the same time, she is wary of contributing to a common discourse of vicitimisation and stresses the research participants’ agency, pleasure and creativity. Parts of the book discuss policy suggestions and advice put forward by the research participants. The text is a good example of what Game and Metcalf (1996) call ‘passionate sociology’, an approach Pallotta-Chiarolli found very inspirational for her own work. Pallotta-Chiarolli deploys a mixture of interviews, ethnographic participation, survey analysis, and internet research methods, and includes data from several independent research projects conducted from the early 2000s onwards. There are also some powerful autoethnographic vignettes based on memory work or research notes. Pallotta-Chiarolli’s empirical discussion is embedded in extensive reviews of existing research, activist writings and works from within popular culture on border sexualities and families. The personal experience stories of the border dwellers that participated in her research deploy either one or a mixture of the following strategies to deal with hostile reactions and environments: (a) passing – through, for example, normalisation, assimilation, silence, erasure and absence in educational settings; (b) bordering (through 12 negotiation and acts of careful balancing of contradictory values that structure public [school and neighbourhood] and private [peer and family] sets of values; and (c) polluting (i.e. acts of non-compliance, active claims to undecidability and strangeness and the strategic politicisation of school environments by flaunting or ‘clothes-lining’ bisexual or poly existence). Because Pallotta-Chiarolli wants to challenge reductionist binaries and oppressive labelling and to attend to conditions of intermixture and multiplicity, she adopts the theoretical perspectives on border zones and mestizaje developed by scholars such as Cherrie Moraga (2015), Gloria Anzaldúa (1987, 1990), Maria Molina (1994) and Maria Lugones (1990, 1994). Further inspiration comes from Homi K. Bhabha’s (1994) work on hybridity. ‘Mestizaje theory argues for the need to consider the reality of a third space, a mettisage borderland space, in which identity is multiple, plural, shifting, with multiple parallel processes of definition and dissection’ (2010: 33). (For more recent scholarship working along these lines, see Callis, 2014). I was at first a bit worried that the application of mesitzaje theory used by Chicana authors to explore the intersections between race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, culture and politics to bisexuality and polyamory could result in flattening (or decomplexifying) these concepts, narrowing the focus by considering sexuality and relational practice only. While race/ethnicity has never been the sole issue of concern for the anti-racist feminists that developed these concepts, it has certainly been a core focus of mesitzaje theory. However, Pallotta-Chiarolli, who has worked on multiculturalism, ethnicity and intercultural dynamics in gender and sexual politics since the 1990s, avoids any reductionist analogies. Even if race/ethnicity is not the main focus in this publication, the 13 book contains powerful discussions of intersections between bisexuality and polyamory with (minoritised) experiences of race, ethnicity or indigeneity. Many of the research findings are quite shocking. For example, the research reveals the quasi-total absence of references to bisexuality at schools (even within anti- discrimination programmes), the prevalence of heteronormativity of the curricula, the reign of bullying, the panopticonic effects of pressures to remain in the closet and the vital significance of queer community among peers for survival. It documents the common fear among poly parents to be out at school (or even to be out towards their own children), their struggle to protect their children from discrimination and bullying, and the widespread ignorance within schools regarding polyamory or indigenous, Muslim or African polygamies. All this has damaging impacts on the well-being of bi, poly and queer youths and puts pressure on multipartnered family lives. However, the research also documents the defiant reactions of young people and parents to assert the legitimacy of their sexualities or family practices and their attempts to contest ignorance and bigotry in educational environments. Bisexuality and non-monogamy have become more visible in popular culture and they form integral parts of youth cultures, but they remain tabooed in in school and university education. This leads Pallotta-Chiarolli to demand that ‘[t]he realities of bisexuality and nonmonogamy in youth cultures and in families in all their positive and problematic possibilities, need to be articulated and included within school policy, curriculum, pedagogy, and student-welfare programmes’ (2010: 226). Research participants come up with manifold practical suggestions and direct attention towards useful resources from within popular culture (children’s books, novels for 14 adolescents, cinema and TV, music and web-based resources). Specific and inclusive resources and learning activities play an important role for the validation of family and sexual diversity. Yet there is also need for focused institutional programmes, diversity training for teaching staff through professional development schemes, and the implementation of effective antidiscrimination and antiharassment policies. Pallotta-Chiarolli’s book achieves something quite exceptional in the current world of sexuality research: she presents thoughtful and nuanced analysis of marginalised sexualities and families that avoids stereotyping and generalisation. She pushes boundaries within education studies and advances an agenda for policy change with a high level of theoretical sophistication. For this reason, the book is an important resource for educational professionals and sexuality, family, relationship and sexuality researchers alike. Theorising Discourses and the Public Sphere - Fraught Intimacies (Nathan Rambukkana) Rambukkana’s book Fraught Intimacies. Non/Monogamy in the Public Sphere explores the position of non/monogamy in the space of discourse. Rambukkana’s analysis highlights the rapid change of public debates on different forms of non-monogamy and engages in a radical historicisation of non/monogamy discourses. Myriads of cultural products, such as journalistic coverage of polygamy and adultery court cases, novels, cinema films, TV series and reality shows work through the emotional stuff bound up with cheating, affairs and multipartner bondings such as polygamy and polyamory. Popular psychology guidebooks provide food for the soul and stimulate reflection 15 whereas science fiction novels spur the imagination. Non-monogamy is a hot issue in digital networks and the social media. All this chattering discourse across different public spheres accumulates to a cacophony of symbolisation, or – in the words of Michael Warner (2002) – a form of ‘poetic world-making’. Yet despite the strong presence of non-monogamy in the public sphere, the majority’s moral judgment regarding these way of life remains shaped by ambivalence, if not rejection. Attributions of respect depend upon a public commitment to monogamy, the desirability of which is rarely questioned within mainstream media formats. Rambukkana is particularly interested in how social privilege is tied to different discursive framings of the non/monogamy nexus. Rambukkana presents different non- monogamies (such as polyamory, polygamy and adultery) as networked phenomena that can only be fully understood if considered in relation towards each other. Access to privilege is distributed unevenly across the monogamy/non-monogamy divide and is always mediated by the intertextual context and the situational impact of social divisions around as race, class and gender. Rambukkana draws on a broad repertoire of concepts derived from cultural studies and queer theory to understand specific moments of the articulation of non-monogamy in the public sphere. While one chapter is dedicated to an in-depth theorisation of privilege, other chapters deal with selected case studies regarding the framing of adultery, polygamy and polyamory. Rambukkana thinks about the public sphere as a spatial phenomenon, a space that is both real and virtual at the same time. Hakim Bey’s notion of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (T.A.Z.), Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia and Gill Deleuze