Of course, it should come as no surprise to find out from a dear friend that my coming out has caused quite a stir. And it should also come as little shock that this stir has been going on entirely behind my back. Apparently, my recent boldness has riled up vicious gossip and mean-spirited judgment and false character accusations. Yes, sure: somewhere in the deep of my conscious, I did know, I did predict, that this dissertation topic choice, as well as my calculated “coming out” to various audiences (people I hoped would be “sympathetic audiences”), would cause a backlash. I just couldn’t have predicted when. And I couldn’t have predicted how painful it would feel.
Yesterday, when the wind carried the fateful information to my ears, I immediately began obsessing over these huge philosophical questions, such as: Why is the world still a place where we can’t be different? Where difference is scary and not celebrated? Where difference is perceived to be immoral or threatening? Why do people not tell me to my face if they take issue with my actions or discourse (or my partners’ actions or discourse), and why don’t people ask questions rather than jumping to snarky conclusions?
All I can do, as a human, as a scholar, as a friend, as a spouse, as a lover, as a sister, as a daughter, as whatever role I’m in, is to continue spending time seriously and strategically considering my standard of ethics that I build and uphold, daily, myself. I will continue to ask myself complex questions that have bearing on my daily life: I will ask and answer: Are my actions and is my discourse causing harm to myself or to others? Is honesty being maintained—and when might silence be appropriate in certain overly-dangerous situations? How can I myself not participate in gossip and maintain only strict support of my friends and colleagues? In what ways should I make my life and my discourse even more of an open book to certain people in my life? And in what ways might my discourse have been premature toward some who may have interpreted my “coming out” as a mission of conversion?
Truly, it is absolutely not my mission to convert anyone to the polyamorous identity. Do I want to gain members in the movement toward a more ethically sound, more emotionally-honest world? Yes. Absolutely. Do I want people to help join in in the polyamory movement (this does not involve being poly—just like there are straight allies in the gay movement)? Of course. A world in which sexuality is more rationally discussed, out in the open, and grappled with in more and more complex ways is a world that benefits everyone.
Let me also make it clear that my faculty preliminary exam/dissertation committee have been nothing but supportive and helpful to me thus far. I have only love and thanks for my faculty mentors. The situation I speak of is not academic and rather in the personal/friendship realm.
I see a similarity to the moment of now with the mid 1990s, where gays/lesbians were finally getting some visibility and getting some rights but were also undergoing tremendous backlash from antigay groups/individuals. I think now of Harriet Malinowitz, in her influential and ground-breaking (at the time, in 1995) Textual Orientations: Lesbian and Gay Students and the Making of Discourse Communities, as I grope for some answers to my current quandaries. When I think of her text, I think about how I must realize that this process of bringing polyamory and mononormativity (the currently nearly-invisible standard that the monogamous dyad is the only ethical kind of romantisexual relationship in our society) to the attention of my field of rhetoric and composition, as well as the academy at large, is going to evoke extremely emotional processes, much like the processes of the mid 1990s regarding the gay rights movement at the time (not to say that the movement is over—sadly, homophobia as a cultural ill is not even close to being resolved). Thus, if we insert the word “polyamorous” for the words “lesbian and gay” in the following quotation by Malinowitz, we can start to imagine how bumpy this ride toward revealing mononormativity is going to be, especially in the academic realm: “Creating an academic environment in which the complexities of lesbian and gay subjectivity can enter public discourse will, first of all, entail ‘outing’ realms of experience, fear, feeling, and prejudice that have not been substantively dealt with in our classes and departments before. Of course, this won’t be easy, or it would have been done already” (7).
As I think more about this, as I think about my own current hurt, I can draw strength from Malinowitz. Surely there are many parallels that can be drawn, as her book is a revised version of her dissertation. She wrote about the radical topic of gay and lesbian students in the composition classroom at a time when that was a very dangerous thing to do—and she did this as a graduate student! I too now am low on the academic hierarchy, and I write about something that is sure to arouse anger, annoyance, and other negative emotions from others…even from those who smile to my face but who say disparaging remarks behind my back. I suppose that this is just how it should be. It is what needs to happen, to make me even the more resolved. This is, simply, the life of the person who purposely steps outside the bounds of the normal, within a current world that does not accept, let alone appreciate or celebrate, difference.