“What I really meant to say…”

We all have our own versions of words. My version of “rhetoric” is not what you mean, what she means, what he means, what they mean, when the word “rhetoric” is used. Neither is a simple word like “compose.” When I say “compose,” do I mean put together? Weave? Make? Invent? Are there connotations of struggle in there? Tones of grace? Is it about genius? Recycling? Dialogue? Does my compose deal with façade? Or is it, instead, about transparency? Openness? Maybe humor?

We all come from different places. So language, of course, refers to the places we’ve been to, and what we’ve seen. Done. Heard.

A colleague/new friend of mine recently asked me to clarify my definition of polyamory. I don’t think he understood what I meant yet. He didn’t quite get my tone. And so let me say more, to him, and to you all, now. What I mean by poly/polyamory is this: What I mean is not against. I am not against monogamy. I am not for non-ness. I am not a non-monogamist. I am not for non-monogamy. To be honest, I cringe when other theorists use the term nonmonogamy. I don’t like it. I am not anti-monogamy. I may sometimes use phrases like “living outside of monogamy” or something such as that. I do that in order to help explain. To help begin the communication process. Because it’s hard to begin to talk about something that’s so out of the norm. So sometimes, yes, I do use the term “monogamy” within my definition of polyamory. It helps to give the hearer a place to start. They know what monogamy is. So I start with that. However, this does not mean that I am trying to set up a dichotomy or a war. There is no poly versus mono debate here. And if I ever unintentionally create that in my writing, then I will surely try to set the record straight.

What I am for is this: options. For the space for people to think, to reflect, to choose. In our U.S. culture, these spaces do not seem to exist as often as they could. When people hear the word marriage, they often think that, of course, the terms “sexual fidelity” and “sexual exclusivity” are synonymous with marriage. So then they go with that, they live their lives that way, without stopping to ask “Is this what I actually want?” However, there are those who don’t go with that. There are those who stop to ask. It might seen odd, but I consider the monogamous people—but those in that group who have stopped to reflect and critically choose that life—to be, in a way, polyamorous. Because, for me, being poly means being open enough to ask the hard and often seemingly weird questions. I guess, at the core, being poly means, for me, stopping to say: “Let’s talk.”

At the core of it, this is what I want my dissertation to inspire: talk. The not-so-simple asking and answering. The questions. And, if the answer is, for a person: “I’d like to compose my relationship style as monogamous”—then, awesome! I don’t pretend that polyamory as a relationship orientation would benefit everyone.

I think we, as a culture, are ready for analyzing the rhetoric and the composition of polyamory, as an idea, as a theory, as a practice, as a movement. These questions. Right now. Now that we’ve moved past the ‘60s-‘70s/sexual revolution days. That period was important; but, there was, mistakenly, a sense that “free love” was easy. We learned that was untrue when AIDS hit. And in other ways and in other moments, we’ve realized that free love isn’t perhaps so free yet. There’s baggage when it comes to sex, thanks of hundreds (thousands?) of years of cultural conditioning. We’ve found out, as a culture, that maybe it’s not as easy as we thought. It’s not as easy as throwing off the hundreds of years (thousands of years?) of training, enculturation. It’s not easy. Being poly is not easy. It’s an orientation that takes work: Not because it’s innately hard, but because it involves swimming upstream in the culture, when many around you are swimming downstream. It involves being seen as a weirdo. Some even view it as criminal.

But…and yet…there’s this knowing in me. This knowing that it’s time. Time to raise the same (or maybe similar) questions, but, this time, to approach them differently. I suppose that’s what I hope my dissertation does. I want to ask questions that have maybe already asked before, but in new ways. Taking into account where we are as a planet…taking into account what we now know about gender and sexuality…taking into account what we know about subjectivity and ethics and quantum physics. Doesn’t it seem like now is a time of kairos (the ancient Greek word which basically meant perfect timing, serendipity)? As you read these words, can’t you sort of feel it? Feel how we’re ready to ask those questions about possibilities within intimacy? Feel how we are ready to ask: What can people do together? To see how we may widen the scope, in terms of relationships/relations? What we can do—and not just do, but openly discuss?

Did you ever notice how, even today, among friends, we still lower our voices ever so slightly when we say the word “sex.” (Well, I don’t…but that’s only because I have trained myself not to!) Pay attention, and you’ll begin to notice it everyday. There’s still this lingering phobia about the body and about sex/sexuality without shame, without guilt. And, yet, it’s time.

What would a culture without shame look like? Seems pretty exciting to me. Like we could start getting a lot more done. Together.

Just as there is now sexual orientation, and just as there is such as thing as heteronormativity (terms which did not even exist decades ago), I hope that there will soon be terms common in the academy—and in the larger public—such as mononormativity or lustphobia. And, in the future, when people talk about these things, I hope that it is not with against-ness. I hope it is with compassion, empathy, curiosity—love.

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About Anya Light

Anya Light, PhD, is an author, life coach, meditation teacher, Reiki master, and poet. Her book, Opening Love, demonstrates how relationships can be a powerful doorway to compassion and freedom.
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