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Writing about polyamory in fandom -- a meta post that I am super nervous about posting. - cappuccino in the clouds [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Persephone

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Writing about polyamory in fandom -- a meta post that I am super nervous about posting. [May. 20th, 2010|03:22 pm]
Persephone
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So! In the past couple of weeks I've had a lot of conversations, mostly pretty friendly, about polyamory in fanfic and fandom. One thing I've heard a lot is people admitting that they're trying to do the best they can to write about poly relationships, but they don't have much real-world knowledge of polyamory -- they've never been in a poly relationship, known anyone who was (to their knowledge), etc. So I thought I'd put together a meta post to offer the perspective of a poly person in fandom. This IS NOT meant as criticism of any fic or other fanwork I've encountered; I had the idea to write it based on conversations with other fans. Also I am super nervous and am actually kind of tempted to post this flocked, but! I will be brave and post it public in case it turns out to be of any use to anyone.

DISCLAIMERS: This meta is just, like, my opinion, man. I don't speak for any group or organization. I'm approaching non-monogamy from a US-based cultural context, because that's what I'm familiar with, and I'm not really qualified to talk about other cultures this way. Also, most of the people I know in the poly community fall into the categories of straight people, bisexual people, and lesbians (both cis and trans in all categories). I don't know as many gay men who identify as polyamorous, and it seems to me that they tend to have a somewhat different cultural context, so I'm sure that mileage varies. Basically I'm talking about things from my personal experience, and will try to be as open as I can about the specific POV I'm coming from, so you can be aware of what my biases are.



Polyamory and open relationships can be a very convenient plot device for fanfic writers. If a character is in a canon (or real-life, in the case of RPS) relationship, and you want to write them in a relationship with somebody else, the easiest, least angsty way to do that is often to say that the canon love interest has given their permission, because hey, they're in an open relationship. And if you want to write three characters in a relationship together, well, there you go. :) Or four! Why not?

Of course, polyamory is also a lifestyle practiced by a lot of people in the real world, and some of us are even right here in fandom. There's no one way of doing polyamory "right" -- like monogamous relationships, every poly relationship is different. But there are some general trends and widely recognized guidelines within the poly community, and a vague idea of what is "real" polyamory and what isn't. As one individual polyamorous fangirl, I'd like to take this post to talk about how to write about these lifestyles in fanfic in more-or-less accurate and sensitive ways, and also, maybe paradoxically, to encourage people to write poly fic more or less however they want, because a) poetic license applies, since basically we are writing about attractive fictional people having sexytimes anyway, b) I cannot say this enough, every individual relationship is different, and there is an exception to every rule, and c) honestly it just makes me happy that people know that we exist. :D I don't want to discourage anyone from writing poly stories because they don't think they can "get it right" -- regardless of whether you're poly, poly curious, strictly monogamous or, hell, totally celibate in real life.

Which reminds me, it would probably help to define some terms for the purpose of this meta. All terms are vague and controversial and will be probably argued about at length by any two poly people in a room together:

Polyamory: A system of relationships in which sex, love and romance can exist between more than two people, either in a "v" formation where each partner has separate pair bonds with more than one other person, or a "triangle" (or other shape) where more than two people are all, collectively, romantically bonded with each other -- in fandom-speak, an OT3, OT4, etc. These partners all know about and probably know each other, and are in frequent communication and contact. If my husband and my boyfriend are good friends and play tennis together, and they both know about each others' relationships with me, we're probably polyamorous (or "poly" for short).

Open relationship: Any relationship where the partners are free to have sex with other people. Love and romance may or may not still be reserved for one partner. Various partners may or may not know or know about each other. If my wife permits me to sleep with other women while I'm on business trips, I'm probably in an open relationship.

Swinging: A lifestyle in which partners are paired up as couples, but have sex with other members of the lifestyle at parties and clubs, usually in a casual fashion. I don't know anyone who calls themself a swinger, and have heard it used pejoratively a lot as a negative term for people who engage in casual or unethical non-monogamous behavior. I probably wouldn't call anyone a swinger who hadn't called themselves that first.

ETA: this just in -- At least one self-identified swinger has let me know that for her and her friends and partners, "swinging" means what I think of as an "open relationship," in which sex is shared more casually with friends and community members, but love and romance are reserved for the primary partner.

Non-monogamy -- catch-all term for, um, anything that isn't monogamy. All three of the above categories are non-monogamous lifestyles. Note that "cheating" or infidelity isn't non-monogamy: "cheating" is to monogamy as "crime" is to the law. Outside of that system, the concept doesn't make sense, and without the concept of crime, there can be no system of law. So the existence of infidelity is sort of necessary to the definition of monogamy. Of course, some non-monogamous systems also proscribe infidelity for certain partners, such as the polygamy practiced by fundamentalist Mormons.

Primary relationship -- the most long-term or important relationship in your life. So if you're married, your spouse is probably your primary partner. Not all polyamorous people believe in having one person as a primary partner; some don't believe that any relationship should be privileged over any other relationship.

Secondary relationship -- if you have a primary partner and also other partners, the ones who aren't primary are secondary. It doesn't necessarily mean that you value those relationships less, although you very well might, and that would be okay as long as everyone knows where they stand and is okay with it. For instance, if I had a friend with benefits who himself had a life partner of several years, I would be okay with being less central to that person's life.

Just to lay my own experience and biases on the table: I'm a 25-year-old bisexual woman. My husband and I have been married for three years, and have been poly for just about the same amount of time. We dated monogamously for a couple of years before that. We're actively poly, but not super active -- neither of us is the type to sleep around a whole lot, although we have plenty of friends who do and we think they're awesome. Neither of us even likes being touched by people we don't know very well. My personal preference is for long-term, close relationships, and I rarely have more than two partners at any given time -- my husband, and a girlfriend (or boyfriend, theoretically, but I have terrible luck with boys).

I believe that being poly is as much hardwired into me as being bisexual is; it's part of my personality. I naturally form close emotional bonds with lots of people, and I need all of those relationships to make me really happy and fulfilled. I also feel a lot of anxiety at the thought of trying to fulfill all of the emotional and physical needs of another person; it just seems like too much pressure to me, since my own experience is that no one person can do all of that for me. It is certainly possible to be in a poly relationship or lifestyle without feeling that way -- my husband says that he'd be okay being either monogamous or polyamorous, and a lot of other people in our community also feel that they have adapted polyamory rather than being born that way. It's a matter of personal experience and understanding. You don't have to write a character as always poly or always "mono;" most of us have felt different ways at different points in our lives.

Again, every poly relationship is different, but we do have a few general tendencies. Here are some things to think about when you're writing poly characters:

-- Most of us have poly friends and communities. This just makes sense, logistically -- think about how someone like me, who is married, would go about looking for another partner who would understand what I'm looking for. I'd want to find somebody who is also poly, who knows that I don't want to have an "affair" or hurt my spouse, and who would be okay with not being the only person I'm with. Ideally, I'd want someone who already has another partner of their own, so they don't feel lonely or deprived when I spend time with my spouse. So it makes sense to cultivate relationships with the local poly community, because otherwise every time I wanted to date someone I'd have to explain to them everything that I've just explained to you, and I've been writing for about an hour now. And most people still wouldn't get it or be interested, and a lot of people would have some very unkind words for me! Plus, when you're trying to live a poly life, it can help to have friends to talk to who know what you're going through and have been through similar things themselves. We poly folks are big believers in having a social support network, and a local poly community can be a great way to establish one.

When writing poly characters, think about what kind of poly community they might belong to, and which of their friends support and understand their particular style of relationship. At least in my experience, these groups tend to be largely white and largely middle-class-ish, so characters who don't fit into those categories might have a tougher time or a more complicated relationship with their poly community.

-- Relatedly: most of us have to negotiate a tricky combination of pride and discretion in our relationships. This part is a lot like being gay or bi, which makes sense, since a lot of us are also members of the GLBT community. We want to share our lives with friends and loved ones, but in a lot of situations, we have to be careful not to reveal our poly identities in situations where it could get us in trouble, such as at work or with certain family members. Some poly folks are "out" to their parents and other family members; my husband and I are both "out" to our siblings and certain relatives, but not our parents. Most poly people are not "out" at work, in my experience, although of course it depends on where you work. Characters who work for government agencies, large, conservative corporations, or, of course, religious institutions, are unlikely to have the freedom to talk about their poly relationships at work; someone who works in a tattoo shop, an independent bookstore, or a GLBT organization would be more likely to be "out."

Note that unlike some GLBT identities, poly identity isn't something that's likely to result in violence if revealed. I'm not sure anyone's ever been murdered or attacked for being poly, just subject to long lectures and moral judgments. However, a lot of women in particular are concerned about revealing that they have multiple partners, for obvious reasons: a wide variety of cultures practice various forms of "slut shaming" against women who are seen as promiscuous, and pretty much any real or fabricated evidence of such can be used as a justification for violence, even in the court system. Ultimately, it is the individual's choice whether to reveal or conceal any personal information, and there's nothing wrong with preferring to be "in the closet."

-- Some people are born poly, but nobody's born knowing what "polyamory" means. Think about how your character first learned about polyamory, and how they came to decide that it was right for them. Did they learn from a friend or a partner? From a book? The Ethical Slut is a pretty common vector for knowledge. Did they "convert" their current partner(s), or were they both/all already poly when they met?

-- The highest value of the poly community is honest communication. If you're lying to any of your partners about the nature of your relationship, it's not poly. Not all poly households feel the need to "clear" every new partner or activity with each other, but it's pretty common practice; most of us have pretty regular talks about how our relationships are going and whether we feel okay with them. If you feel jealous or neglected or otherwise angsty in a poly relationship, it's generally considered a good idea to talk about it with your partner right away and try to work out the situation as maturely as possible. A lot of the time just talking about feelings of jealousy can actually go a long way towards exorcising them. Drama sometimes happens, but for the most part we try to avoid it by communicating as openly as we can. A lot of us are really insulted by the use of the word "cheating" to refer to what we do, because "cheating" implies lying and trickery, and that's the opposite of what we're about.

A character who is canonically dishonest, untrustworthy, or un-trusting would have a tough time in a poly relationship. They would have to work at telling the truth even when a lie would be much easier, and at believing that others are telling them the truth as well, even more than in a monogamous relationship.

-- "Veto power" is one of the big controversies among poly people. Basically, in a relationship with "veto power," if my husband said to me "I think I want to go on a date with Jane Doe from the poly bowling team," and I said "I really don't trust that Jane Doe; I don't want you to have a relationship with her," that would be that. Some people think it's necessary for a primary couple to share in each other's decisions, while others feel that it violates individual autonomy and is against the spirit of poly. Of course, nothing is binary, and there are a lot of more moderate positions. My husband and I exercise veto power, but it's less of a unilateral veto and more of a "can we have a conversation about this so I can share my concerns, and see what you think about them?" kind of thing. Some people are concerned that the veto can lead to the breakup of a secondary relationship if the primary partner feels threatened by it, and I think that's a valid thing to be concerned about.

These are conversations that poly people have at great length, over and over, and revise their positions on throughout the years. You might want to think about how your poly characters would feel about these things, and where they would fall on the spectrum between valuing the primary relationship the most, and valuing individual freedom the most.

-- Secondary partners have rights, too. A secondary relationship can become just as intimate, emotional and powerful as a primary one can, and we poly people think a lot about how to nurture those relationships and build trust in them, when it can be kind of scary to fall in love with somebody who's already in love with somebody else. One of the big challenges is how to avoid giving your primary partner an unfair amount of power over your secondary partner's life. For instance, if I've been married to Bob for ten years, and dating Alice for two, of course I'm going to be inclined to give more weight to what Bob says, but I could easily be in love with Alice and care a lot about her, too. I don't want her to feel like our relationship is over the moment Bob gets jealous or annoyed with her. This takes a lot of maintenance, trust and reassurance, and it helps for Alice and Bob to know and like each other, too. If they don't like each other, they have to learn to be nice to each other, or it isn't going to work.

If you're writing a character in love with two different people, you might want to think about the relationship between those two people as well. If they don't like each other at all, you might need to work a little harder to show how the arrangement works.

-- Poly people tend to believe that love is a big concept that covers a lot of ground. You can be in love with two or three people in very different ways, and maybe not be able to say who you love "more" or "most." I might be gentle and cuddly with Joe, and sarcastic with Tim. It's not uncommon for kinky poly folks to be submissive with one partner and dominant with another. When writing a character in multiple relationships, you don't have to use their canon relationships as a template for any other relationships they might have.

Okay. So far, so positive. Now I'll come clean with the stuff that I find a little bit harder to swallow. These are suggestions from one person's perspective -- don't let me stop you! I'm just asking people to think about things from as many perspectives as possible.

-- I don't like when people portray poly folks as sex-obsessed or promiscuous as a rule, more than monogamous people are. I mean, obviously it's fanfic, a lot of it is porn, we're writing about people who are sexually active. But portraying someone who is, in canon, relatively modest and straight-laced as going out and buying a leather miniskirt and dancing on the bar as soon as she enters a poly relationship is basically the equivalent of writing a manly-man character becoming stereotypically effeminate as soon as he starts sleeping with another man. Some poly relationships are all about sex and kink, but I don't think that's the majority by a longshot.

-- Be wary of characters comparing their lovers too much out loud. Of course we talk about each other sometimes, and it's not realistic to have someone who's, for instance, married, never mention his wife when he's with his boyfriend -- if you're comfortable around somebody, you're probably not going to try to ignore such a big part of your life around him. But saying things like "you give better head than my husband does," or "you're the only one I can really talk about this with," is something we usually try to avoid, because it doesn't really foster trust -- it makes you wonder what they're saying about you to their other partners. It's close to the line of complaining about one partner to the other one, which is very risky territory, although we all do it every once in a while.

-- In general, it's harder to make me believe in the poly or open relationship you're depicting if you have characters who have never discussed non-monogamy before suddenly decide to open up their relationship because one of them has just met someone they're incredibly attracted to. That doesn't mean you can never do it, but it leads to a lot of issues -- in particular, it can make it seem like one person is willing to risk their long-term relationship over this new attraction, which doesn't necessarily bode well for the building of a new kind of relationship. I find this more believable in the case of a relatively equal threesome where all parties are attracted to each other -- it would require discussion, but it wouldn't seem as, I guess, potentially insensitive. In general, if you just want to get to the smutty part, I think it works best to devote a couple of sentences to establishing a history of non-monogamy between the canon couple -- maybe they agreed to be poly long ago, but recently have been too busy to act on it much, or just haven't met the right people. If you want to write about a first-time poly relationship, discussion and negotiation and awkwardness pretty much go with the territory.

All of these situations have their pitfalls, but on some level, when I'm reading I'm still going "yay polyamory and fanfiction, two of my favorite things, together!" I'm way more likely to get annoyed by criticisms and negative assumptions that people make about poly fic, so here at the end I'm going to take some time to address them.

-- It really bugs me when people say that it's out-of-character for a particular character to be poly, unless they've explicitly declared themselves to be monogamous in canon. Like, in "White Collar," my main fandom, the character Neal has a little monologue about how he's proud of being strong enough to be loyal to one person. So you could say that that's canon evidence that he's monogamous (at that point in time -- as I said, people change their minds). But absent something like that, chances are you mean that they're not stereotypically non-monogamous. It's like the anti-slash folks who complain about "writing straight characters as gay," when there's no canon evidence that the characters aren't "at least" bisexual, except that he likes cars and football and doesn't know what mauve is, so he must be straight. Not all polyamorous people are free-love hippies or sex-obsessed perverts or weirdos. Okay, most poly people I've met are on the geeky side in one way or another, but a lot of us aren't even obvious nerds (okay, I am, but not all of us are)! Poly people can be liberal or conservative, professionals or slackers, old or young, and as mentioned above, most of us don't go around shouting it from the rooftops. So you can write pretty much anyone as poly, and nobody can say with any certainty that it's "out of character" for them.

-- I don't like when people insist that there has to be a whole lot of exposition around a poly relationship. Sure, it's nice when it's mentioned, and the extensive negotiations and communication can be fun to read and write, but I don't think they're necessary every time. As a woman in a poly marriage, it annoys me a little when people say that a wife who is said in a fic to be okay with the husband's other relationship is being "explained away." I'm not going anywhere, you know! Just because I give my permission doesn't mean that I've been removed from the equation entirely. Just as not every story about a gay relationship has to include the angst of coming out, facing homophobia, worrying about HIV, etc, etc, not every story about polyamory has to include some variant of the "but what if you get jealous!" conversation.

-- And for that matter, why is it assumed that a couple is monogamous unless otherwise designated? I guess that encompasses the previous two points, as well. But it kind of bothers me when somebody doesn't mention the nature of a relationship in a fic, and just has Tony, who is married to Annie, having PWP sex with Joe, and people just assume that he's "cheating on her" and react with indignation. It reminds me of how in RL I have to be careful about who I hold hands with in front of whom, because people will assume that I'm cheating on my spouse when in fact that's our girlfriend and we just had a threesome this morning. Or something.

It's a kind of privilege, a minor kind, but it still is -- you never have to take the time to explain that somebody's monogamous, right? You're not expected to include a thousand words about how they discussed it and decided that monogamy was best for them, and that sometimes it makes one or the other of them sad because they'd really like to sleep with someone else, but it's what works for them and they're sticking with it. So it annoys me that I'm expected to go through the whole "this is a difficult and complicated thing!" speech every time.

My point of view is that all relationships are difficult, and all relationships are complicated. I don't know anyone in a long-term relationship who doesn't sometimes make compromises or have difficult conversations or rely on a very personal set of rules and understandings. In a long, serious relationship fic, whether it's about poly or monogamous people, it's great to talk about that stuff. In a PWP or a fluff fic, I don't think anyone ought to feel obliged to.

Um. Got a little ranty there. I meant for this to be a positive meta, and on the whole, I hope that it still is. I am really happy to be quite a few fandoms where poly fic and OT3s are popular and celebrated, and honestly one of the reasons I love fandom is because polyamory is so much more widely accepted here than it is in the mainstream media. I mean, what do I have on TV, "Big Love"? Yeah, no. So generally, please, keep doing what you're doing. Share the love, as it were.



Comments -- bring 'em on! :) I have been sitting on and editing this post for a few days now while I waited to have enough time to field comments thoughtfully, and now seems like a good time. Questions, disagreements, etc are welcome. If I've made any glaring mistakes, omissions, etc, let me know and I'll strikethrough and edit as necessary. I reserve the right to not answer questions that are highly personal, but I won't be offended if you ask them, via comment or PM.

Comments that are negative or skeptical about polyamory are okay with me, as long as they are from a place of wanting to understand, not judging or lecturing.
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[User Picture]From: photoash
2010-05-20 07:44 pm (UTC)
It was really interesting to read your views on this. I have a good friend who has been into this type of lifestyle a long time so I've heard a lot about it from the IRL perspective.

It's sort of like how we write all these BDSM fics that have the characters acting alone when many people in that lifestyle are involved in communities and are friends with other people who enjoy it but that never translates well into fic (I've seen it written before in House fandom and it came off hokey :/ though I applauded the author for trying!)

Thanks for posting this :)

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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 08:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it can be awkward to try to include that sense of community, because you end up having to either write a bunch of OCs, or shoving other canon characters into weirdly close positions.

I like in White Collar fandom when people have Mozzie know about the Neal/Elizabeth/Peter OT3, because I can see him as a good confidant even if he grumbles or makes fun of Neal over it... or is secretly jealous... I also could see June as a confidant. I don't think they'd tell Jones, Diana etc, because work is work, and it is the FBI.
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[User Picture]From: elrhiarhodan
2010-05-20 07:52 pm (UTC)
Don't be nervous...this is incredible.

Since I'm probably one of the people who sparked your desire to write this, I'd like to be the first to say thank you. After my own idiot comments the other day, I've done a lot of on-line research, all of which has been butressed by your meta -- and it's made me a smarter, wiser person.

Thank you...I'll probably come to you with a few questions, not personal, in a PM. You've given me a lot to think about.
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 08:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :)

Your comments were not idiotic, but I really appreciate you doing your research. Ask me anything you want, and I'll try to give a helpful answer and not ramble on for thousands of words like I just did. :D
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[User Picture]From: coeli
2010-05-20 08:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing this. I've picked up some of this information here and there over the years, but I appreciate having it organized in one place. I'm not poly myself (I think I'm simply wired monogamous), but I acknowledge that other people are and I certainly respect anybody who puts effort into having ethical, communicative, and emotionally fair relationships of any sort.
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 08:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :) I appreciate that. Friends, allies and confidants are always needed.
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[User Picture]From: danniisupernova
2010-05-20 08:20 pm (UTC)
You have intrigued me! I didn't know much about the poly lifestyle and the drive behind it before. I really enjoyed reading this, feel much more informed and slightly inspired to write OT3 and 4 fic!
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 09:01 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it! I'd love to see what OT3s, 4s, etc you come up with. :D
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[User Picture]From: etrangere
2010-05-20 08:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. I'm find myself like OT3s more and more in fandom, so I hope it'll encourage people to write them :)
I find it interesting how you describe polyamory as as essential a part of your sexuality as your orientation, because that's also how I feel about my interest in BDSM (actually I'd say I'm even more certain and have been aware of it for a longer time than being bisexual).
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 08:57 pm (UTC)
I've heard a lot of people say that about BDSM, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

It's tricky because I don't want to act like, oppression-olympics-style, being poly or kinky is OMG JUST LIKE being GLBT -- the historical record just doesn't compare, and I have seen white straight poly and kinky men making total assfaces of themselves trying to argue that it does. >_> But there are strong cognitive links for me between all three. They're all things that you know about yourself, in a private and internal way, regardless of what others expect or demand you to conform to.
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[User Picture]From: rubynye
2010-05-20 08:33 pm (UTC)
Hey, look, it's the essay I always wanted to write about polyamory, only better!

Some people are concerned that the veto can lead to the breakup of a secondary relationship if the primary partner feels threatened by it, and I think that's a valid thing to be concerned about.

This happened to me once. I'll tell you the story over a beverage sometime. Or maybe write it into a fic. :D
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 08:44 pm (UTC)
*hug* Thank you, bb!

We really do need to get together and swap stories sometime.
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[User Picture]From: petronelle
2010-05-20 08:35 pm (UTC)
I can understand the "We don't need to reinvent the wheel every time someone wants to write a story where A and B are in a long-term poly relationship and B wants to start something with C" point of view. On the other hand, when I read it in White Collar, it often feels to me like the author is sidelining Elizabeth rather than dealing with her as a character.

I would have a much less knee-jerk relationship to something that went:

Neal stared at Elizabeth from an inch away, yearning to kiss her again, his hand just above her shoulder. "But--"

She shook her head slightly and grinned at him. "Peter and I have an open relationship."

"Oh." He blinked twice. "Oh. Well, then," and he kissed her again.


... than I do when it's "Oh, El doesn't care who I kiss, Caffrey. Strip." Ah, the intersection of misogynistic fannish trends and "Yes, but we have had that conversation already."
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 08:43 pm (UTC)
I can see where people get that from a feminist perspective. And IDK if the second quote is from a real fic, but if that's the only mention of El in the fic, it does come off as dismissive.

It's a complicated thing discussing any kind of trend in fandom, because discussing the individual fic intersects with discussing the larger trend. For me, I feel like there are enough Peter/Elizabeth/Neal and Peter/Elizabeth and Neal/Elizabeth and gen fics featuring Elizabeth that I don't really think she needs to be a featured character in a Peter/Neal fic (now, threesome fics that neglect one character are a whole other issue, one that I suspect is compounded by how damn hard it is to write a threesome sex scene).

And that's coming from the perspective of me not being a "featured character" in my husband's other relationships -- we've laid down a lot of groundwork for the purpose of letting relationships happen without a lot of angst and uncertainty. The angst is to be avoided if possible, and most of the time it is.

The first example you use starts to veer into angst territory, but then comes off as fun and sexy, which I like and would be happy seeing more of.

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[User Picture]From: arcane_lark
2010-05-20 08:51 pm (UTC)
Followed rubynye's link here, and I'm so glad I did.

I've just ended a nearly two year relationship because I have come to the realization that I am nonmonogamous by nature, whereas my boyfriend can't handle nonmonogamy. The bit about the difference between nonmonogamy and cheating really hit home, because that's what has upset me most about this whole painful debacle.

So thanks for writing this. I needed to read it.

Edited at 2010-05-20 08:52 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 09:09 pm (UTC)
*hugs*

So sorry about your breakup. It sounds really hard, and God, it hurts to be accused of cheating or wanting to cheat when you're trying to be fair and honest and the opposite of a cheater. Just from your comment, it sounds like you did the right thing, and I really believe that knowing yourself is a really big and important positive step, so congratulations on that amid all the other suckiness.

Best of luck in the future. <3
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[User Picture]From: syredronning
2010-05-20 08:58 pm (UTC)
Great meta :)

We're a kinky, more-or-less bisexual, not-really-mono "straight" couple. We do have veto rights and it's very important for our happiness and peace of mind as we're not really fully poly.

(I put it like that: when I love more than one person, I always feel like I've got a cake that I need to split up. My poly friends just add a new cake for each lover.)

OTOH, we couldn't be classic monogamous, because that's an extremely limiting situation in our opinion. Being kinky, playing with others is a wide field of sex/relationship/friendship-with-benefits anyway...

It's a kind of privilege, a minor kind, but it still is -- you never have to take the time to explain that somebody's monogamous, right?

Very true. I think there are quite a few people who think I cheated on my husband on a con when I hung out with the woman we'd talked about before... (and she had a hard time to believe he was okay with it). It can get annoying to explain it.

Thanks again, and (plug) I have a long poly series going on called "Draws", if you ever feel like reading Pike/Kirk/McCoy/OFC :)
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 09:15 pm (UTC)
just add a new cake.

That's so great! I want it on a t-shirt.

You guys would be another data point on the "every relationship is different" map. :) Congratulations on figuring out what works for you and not following anybody's pre-fabricated instructions.

And I've been meaning to start reading "Draws" for a while now -- I always try to leave myself some time with long series because I tend to not want to stop in the middle. :D This sounds like a good time!
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-20 09:12 pm (UTC)
Awesome! The best thing I could hear is that I inspired you to give yourself another chance. :D Never underestimate what people, in general, can build together when we really want to.

Also I already said this in emi's post, but you're an awesome artist! I hadn't seen your work before today, and my mind was blown. <3
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[User Picture]From: augustbird
2010-05-20 09:21 pm (UTC)
this is a super fascinating read--a ton of stuff that i didn't know before. thank you so much for compiling <333
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-23 06:51 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad you found it helpful! It surprises me how many poly folks I meet who are scientists -- I think you guys have the right kind of brains for tracking complicated situations. :D
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[User Picture]From: affectingly
2010-05-20 09:28 pm (UTC)
This is excellent! Thank you so much for sharing it. It had lots of great suggestions and things to think on. I hope lots of people in fandom get a chance to read it! <3
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-23 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad it gave you some stuff to think about. <3
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[User Picture]From: cordelianne
2010-05-20 09:52 pm (UTC)
This is an awesome post! Thanks so much for writing it and sharing your knowledge! I've been thinking about this subject a lot and been wanting to write a post called "Hello! Non-monogamy and polyamory exist now, they are not some tenuous futurist concept!" I've been tentative to do so because I only have very limited personal experience with polyamory, although I do exist in a community (LGBTQ) in which monogamy is not the assumed norm. Oh, so I loved you saying this:
And for that matter, why is it assumed that a couple is monogamous unless otherwise designated?
It's sort of like the old 'gay until proven straight' thing.

I admit to having been amused when I've seen people in fandom talking about polyamory and having trouble imagining men who sleep with men being polymorous, because then I think that they must have very little contact with any men who sleep with men! I work in a very gay office (more so in terms of gay men) and the products I work on are about men cruising for men and sex. My sense of how gay men's approach to polymory agrees with this:
I don't know as many gay men who identify as polyamorous, and it seems to me that they tend to have a somewhat different cultural context, so I'm sure that mileage varies.
Based on my time immersed in gay culture, I'd say that there is more of a focus on sex amongst gay men (and also men who sleep with men but don't identify as gay) and less of an interest on identifying as poly. This doesn't mean that gay men aren't in longterm loving relationships, it just means that that doesn't preclude them going to the bathhouse or the cruising site without their partner/husband - and both of them are okay with it. All the guys I know in longterm relationships normally say they're in open relationships or non-monogamous. I've noticed it tends to be described and approached differently than my other friends in poly relationships (who tend to fall into the categories you describe your experience in).

Yes, I absolutely agree with this:
My point of view is that all relationships are difficult, and all relationships are complicated. I don't know anyone in a long-term relationship who doesn't sometimes make compromises or have difficult conversations or rely on a very personal set of rules and understandings. In a long, serious relationship fic, whether it's about poly or monogamous people, it's great to talk about that stuff.

Thanks for the great post!! :D I think this may inspire me to work on a Kirk/Sulu/Chekov fic!
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-23 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the impression I get is that because gay men have such a strong subculture/community with deep historical roots, and non-monogamy has been accepted in that community for so long, non-monogamous gay men don't have to interact as much with the dedicated poly community in order to find non-monogamous partners. I think? IDK. But yeah, a lot of fanfic tends to impose very hetero-normative and mono-normative (totally a word because I say it is!) standards on gay male relationships... not that there aren't gay men IRL who are very happy to be monogamous and "traditional," of course.

Your work sounds really interesting!

I'm glad it inspired you. Especially because Kirk/Sulu/Chekov is my favorite thing. Team Gold ftw!
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[User Picture]From: savoytruffle
2010-05-20 09:53 pm (UTC)
Really enjoyed this meta and I think you did a fabulous job of keeping the tone very positive overall. (And, hey, everyone needs to rant a little sometimes.)

Though I myself am in a mono relationship, I have been thinking about these issues a ton since I started in Reboot fandom because, for reasons I cannot really explain, I am utterly convinced that Jim and Bones are non-monogamous.

One thing I've noticed with this conviction is the tendency to assume monogamy that you were talking about. Because while I have written stories that specifically thematize the non-monogamy in some way, sometimes I just write stories that are only supposed to be about the two of them at a particular moment and so I don't feel a specific statement of non-monogamy fits naturally into the narrative. And this typically leaves me slightly frustrated, knowing that many/most readers will assume (since I didn't manage to specifically state otherwise) that they are monogamous.

I also get extremely frustrated by the assumption that non-monogamy has to do with a weakness of will and/or failure to 'love enough' on the part of one or more of the partners. Or when people think that there's like the 'sluttish' partner and then the long-suffering partner who tolerates the 'sluttishness' because that's the only way to be with the 'sluttish' person. (Hmm, this is possibly turning into a rant...)

Anyway, back to being positive, I've been thinking about a story where Jim and Bones are together on the Enterprise and in a non-monogamous relationship where sex with people outside the relationship has typically been restricted non-emotional/casual/one-time stuff. And Bones sees Jim and Spock becoming friends and thinks that sooner or later something is going to happen there and that it won't be casual and it worries him a little, but he figures they'll cross that bridge when they come to it and work something out. But Jim says, 'No, really, we're just friends,' and this turns out to be true. In fact, it's Bones who finds himself developing something more than a friendship with Spock and then they all have to figure out how that's going to work, specifically in light of the fact that Jim and Spock do not, in fact, want to be sexually involved with each other. Basically, I'm hoping it's a premise within which there can be a serious, nuanced discussion about non-monogamy/polyamory without it seeming shoehorned in.

Anyway, ramble, ramble... I'm done now. In short: Great post! Thank you so much for making it!
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[User Picture]From: nancybrown
2010-05-20 10:19 pm (UTC)
I also get extremely frustrated by the assumption that non-monogamy has to do with a weakness of will and/or failure to 'love enough' on the part of one or more of the partners. Or when people think that there's like the 'sluttish' partner and then the long-suffering partner who tolerates the 'sluttishness' because that's the only way to be with the 'sluttish' person. (Hmm, this is possibly turning into a rant...)

THIS. I'm over in Torchwood fandom rather than Trek, and this trope pops up a lot, and it bothers me every time.
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[User Picture]From: hoosierbitch
2010-05-20 09:57 pm (UTC)
I <3 you.

I was actually in HS when I realized I was poly, and it was awkward and hilarious and utterly, utterly wonderful. But I very distinctly remember the first time I was talking to someone and they realized I was dating two different people, and they went: "do they know?" I was flabbergasted.

This person was a close friend, someone I respected a lot, and the fact that their first reaction was to think that I was cheating on my partners - that they thought that I was the kind of person who would be okay with that - shocked me. And I am much better about that kind of thing now, and know that it's not maliciousness but ignorance, but it was my first realization that being poly was so much more complicated than just the relationships themselves.

Uh, but now that I have rambled inappropriately about myself, I would like to say: thank you so much for writing this post. Because not only did I learn a lot from it, but I know that the way I write poly relationships is going to improve because of what I learned from reading this. You've stated things clearly, sensitively, and intelligently.

If I have ever written anything that has tweaked you as being 'off' in my OT3 (or Neal/Peter+El) fics, please, please PM me and let me know. You're a wonderful lady, and if I've got misconceptions about being poly, or accidentally portray it in an inaccurate/negative light, I would like to know so that I can fix it.

THANK YOU, YOU WONDERFUL PERSON!
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 05:56 pm (UTC)

<3

Oh god! I hate the things people say sometimes. :( "Do they know?" FFS.

Thank you for sharing your personal experience! It makes me feel like less of a creeper for doing so myself, in addition to adding a lot to the discussion.

I'm really glad you found this post helpful, and thanks so much for linking to it.
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[User Picture]From: nancybrown
2010-05-20 10:28 pm (UTC)
(Came in via rubynye as well.) Thank you for writing this. I've been working on a long series that's currently an OT3, but will be moving into a situation with a primary pair who have a well-communicated open relationship. One of my goals has been to treat the fictional relationship and the characters fairly, not least because people in actual poly relationships could be reading. Meta like this helps immensely with perspective and food for thought. So again, thanks. :D
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 05:57 pm (UTC)
Your series sounds really interesting!

Thank you for being a thoughtful writer and considering the implications of what you write. That's awesome. I'm really glad if I could help at all!
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[User Picture]From: daria234
2010-05-20 11:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for sharing this! It's interesting and really informative, and you're awesome for writing it.
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 05:58 pm (UTC)
No, thank you! :D I'm really glad you found it interesting. Your Leverage OT3 stories are some of my favorite feel-good poly fic.
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[User Picture]From: sageness
2010-05-20 11:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this! Your post and some of the comments touch on a bunch of the things I have issues with in my fic reading. When I'm writing fic, I feel so protective of my poly characters and their various dynamics. And like petronelle said a few weeks ago in her pacifi_cant meta essay on OT3's, an OT3 has four relationships in it, not just three: there's A-B, B-C, A-C, and A-B-C. The dynamics of each one work differently, and even differently under different circumstances. A fully poly relationship (instead of open/swinging) is so nuanced and complex -- as a writer, I feel like I need to write three or four times the page count of a two-person relationship to cover the same ground for an OT3.

Semi-related, several weeks ago I went through my AOOO account and created a polyamory tag. It was so enlightening to me! Turns out I've written way more poly fic than I thought I had (in way more fandoms than I thought I had, too). It's interesting for me to think back on it with the definitions you give above in mind. I mean, a lot of it *is* porn, and some of it is open/swinging, but in general, the stories are about the different sorts of give-and-take that happen in different kinds of relationships among different sorts of people. It's amazing what a difference characters' varying expectations make. I seem to be endlessly fascinated by it. *g*

Anyway, I love that you posted this and I hope very much that writers will give more thought to how their characters arrive at the OT3/OT4/primary+1/whatever and how that relationship works (or fails to).

Have you considered doing (or done) a recs post of poly fic that works for you? I think it would be cool to see a set of positive examples.
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 06:02 pm (UTC)
It's so interesting to see things in your own tags that you hadn't realized about yourself.

I agree that the dynamics in a poly story can be so delicate and take a lot of words to really portray. It takes a lot of care and love for the characters, I think. :)

I'm glad you found this post helpful!

It would be awesome to do a rec list. I rarely post recs just because my way of doing fandom is super social and I consider most of my favorite fan writers to be friends, and then I get into all these questions of "am I just reccing my friends? am I FORGETTING any of my friends, and will they feel hurt?" and basically I am too neurotic to do recs most of the time. :D But maybe there should be like a delicious or an AO3 collection or something for poly fic?
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[User Picture]From: scottopic
2010-05-20 11:30 pm (UTC)
In general, it's harder to make me believe in the poly or open relationship you're depicting if you have characters who have never discussed non-monogamy before suddenly decide to open up their relationship because one of them has just met someone they're incredibly attracted to.

Yeah, this sounds like almost every non-monogamous trainwreck I've witnessed firsthand :)
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 06:02 pm (UTC)
Those can be seriously ugly, yeah.
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[User Picture]From: apple_pi
2010-05-20 11:45 pm (UTC)
ETA: this just in -- At least one self-identified swinger has let me know that for her and her friends and partners, "swinging" means what I think of as an "open relationship," in which sex is shared more casually with friends and community members, but love and romance are reserved for the primary partner.

I was happy to see this. :-)

And this:

Poly people can be liberal or conservative, professionals or slackers, old or young

is so true! This is a great, upbeat, thoughtful and smart post. Thank you! :-)
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 06:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!

I'm always happy to edit when necessary. :D I believe in collaboration and teamwork in all things.
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[User Picture]From: joyshine
2010-05-20 11:54 pm (UTC)
There is so much I love about this post. I could try to detail it, but I think my head might explode.
Thank you. :-D

*kiss* (in the spirit of the post...)
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 06:04 pm (UTC)
*kiss*

I'm so glad you liked this! That means a lot to me.
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[User Picture]From: gelishan
2010-05-21 12:45 am (UTC)
I... I am not in your fandoms! But I read this anyway! All of it! And I learned things about you that I did not know! Neat things!

(I think I am a pieces of cake rather than adding another cake type. I like that analogy, commenter who I do not know.)
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[User Picture]From: chaya
2010-05-21 09:30 pm (UTC)
(I just fucking love cake.)
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From: themkshrine
2010-05-21 01:29 am (UTC)
I read this whenever I needed a break from my paper, so for that alone, THANK YOU!!!! I'm also thrilled and impressed that you took the time and loving energy to write all this! *bows* :-)

My poly experience was of that almost far-fetched nature wherein no one had been poly or wanted to be before; my partner just feel in love with me while married to a great guy who she still wanted to be married to. I wanted her enough to try it, and he fell for me and loved us both and is just a totally easy-going guy. LOL! We worked with it for three years, but not being naturally poly, I think that was all we could do. My jealousy couldn't be assuaged by any amount of communication, unfortunately.

Although, I don't really think on it as unfortunate. I think we were all meant to come together because, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Satina and Dave *were* growing apart (in a loving way), and it was our transition time into my relationship with Satina. We all kind of came away with that realization in hindsight.

Because we weren't poly but just IN a poly situation, it was harder than I think it is for most polys. I won't ever write a poly relationship like the one we had, actually. Because though there was no secondary relationship, I couldn't ever get over feeling like I was second. I was actually given MORE attention the whole three years, but I'm a greedy bitch who wanted it all. And I always wondered who was "the best".

I realize now that I would have done much better in a out-of-home poly arrangement, but that I would have had to be the primary relationship. That just wasn't the situation we had. I think we had what we did because it was best for our spiritual growth as people, even though it was son-of-a-bitchin' HARD! ;-)

I really like everything you have to say. I want to add a couple things. About having to explain. I think we're stuck with that for now. People do assume monogamy, like they assume heterosexuality, although that seems to be changing. I've only had one friend on Facebook ask me how I met "my guy", and to my pleasant surprise, I was stunned by the question because I hadn't gotten it in so long! LOL! My hope is that same thing will happen with poly. But right now, I think explaining it is where we're at.

On writing smutty threesomes. Ours was far from smutty. I think we were all three in on it...like three times in three years? But yeah, I can see the draw to smut up the poly in fic, because hey, we smut up the monogamy, too. We seem, as porn writers, to be equal-opportunity slutifiers.

That said, I agree that the realism of such a scene goes way down for me. But that's because of my own experience for the most part and also realizing from awesome people like you that even when there's not insane jealousy, just being in a three-or-moresome doesn't make one more prone to arousal. ;-) And it doesn't mean one partner is going to be turned on watching the other two. (People tend to think of bisexuals as insatiable sluts, too, I suppose.)

For us, the joy of being in a poly relationship wasn't the sex. That was the hard, awful part actually! The joy was having another being to share life's burdens with and celebrate with, too. It was having a third parent! It was two of us liking this TV show when the other one doesn't and would rather be reading. It was more help with chores and more laughs at the funny parts in movies. It was a shoulder to cry on when there was a fight with the other one. It was feeling safer and not alone.

Anyway, thanks so much for your insightful and respectful and SUPER INTELLIGENT post!!!!!!! You ROCK! I bow once again.

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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 06:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience! I think what you have to say is really good. I'm sorry that your experience was difficult, but it sounds like you have a really good attitude and perspective about it.

Yeah, the sex can be fun, but for me the best part is definitely the support network, and knowing that the people I love have multiple people they can trust and lean on when they have to.

I'm really glad you liked this post! <3 Thanks for the compliments.
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[User Picture]From: sequinedfairy
2010-05-21 02:22 am (UTC)
thank you so, so much for writing this. my default solution to any canon love triangle is often a threesome (they solve many problems! and are fun! and awesome! and i like them!), so it's really helpful to have a post that has indepth, personal experiences with being poly, so i can avoid some pitfalls that will make me offend people. because that is really the last thing i want to do.

also, this makes me really excited for my wc bb. yayyy awesome healthy threesomes!
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-24 06:34 pm (UTC)
I'm excited for your BB too! Sounds like fun. :D

I'm so glad that you found this post helpful and interesting. I do the same thing with love triangles a lot of the time -- or with ship wars between canon het pairings and non-canon slash pairings.
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2010-05-21 02:24 am (UTC)

I like!

I like this post a lot (hat-tip to rubynye for the pointer). I'm not poly, but my icon tells you.

A question about terms, though. Some I knew already from my poly friends, like "primary" and "secondary". My daughter has clarified to me some that I didn't know, like "RPS". But there's some confusion here about "OT3" and "OT4" (and possibly beyond). Your definition --
or a "triangle" (or other shape) where more than two people are all, collectively, romantically bonded with each other -- in fandom-speak, an OT3, OT4, etc. These partners all know about and probably know each other, and are in frequent communication and contact.
-- is clearly meant to be able to apply to real people and relationships. She found this strange, because she knows the terms only as "One True (Pairing/[Triad]/[Tetrad])" etc., referring to The One Grouping that a particular fan finds really appealing among a particular set of fictional characters. Looks to me like the construction has become somewhat broader in meaning than its original use... which happens all the time in language.

Dr. Whom, Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoëpist, and Philological Busybody
(and interested friendly outside observer to all sorts of things)
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[User Picture]From: asimaiyat
2010-05-21 02:48 am (UTC)

Re: I like!

I wasn't being super-precise with fandom terms -- a lot of people in my fandoms use "OT3" or "OT4" just to mean "it's a threesome or foursome, and I like it!", with the implication being that everyone is involved with everyone. IME those terms are also used to distinguish a long-term plural relationship from, say, one night of kinky group sex.

It's awesome that you and your daughter talk about these things! My mom barely knows about my fandom involvement, let alone the poly stuff.
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