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Relationship Choices Grow

by Race Bannon
Sunday Aug 20, 2017

A friend of mine recently told me a story about his first date with his husband. During that date, my friend's future husband said to him during their date conversation, "Tell me about your constellation of intimates."

This is the most succinct and gentle way I had heard yet on how to ask someone you might be interested in dating or seeing regularly in a sexual or intimate way about their current relationship configuration.

The question was even more wonderful because it shunned the default societal assumption that someone must necessarily either be single or have a maximum of one intimate partner. The question opened the door to an array of options from the start.

Historically, this column has aimed for an audience of mostly LGBTQ leather and kink folk and that's still usually its focus. But sometimes trends I see happening in the kink world are a microcosm of what's beginning to percolate in the greater overall population.

One such trend is the more pervasive embracing of the multitude of alternative relationship configuration options. Yes, those have and do exist in all types of non-kink communities too, but I've noticed that leather and kink folk seem to have been on the cutting edge of this trend, or maybe that's just the group on which I was focused. Regardless, it's certainly been something I've observed among kinky people for a long time that I now see transpiring among an increasing number of non-kinky friends and acquaintances.

For many years, our kink scene has fostered the concept of the "leather family" or some variation which I contend is our own unique variation on polyamory. There are other such kink manifestations of this concept. For example, pup-identified guys might consider themselves part of a bonded pack.

Let me say up front that I am not making a case for any particular form of relationship. Options. Choices. Freedom. Those are what we need in life and that goes for relationships too. Whether one chooses to remain single, be monogamous, or be a radical polyamorist, it's all good. The only criteria by which we should judge relationships is do they work for us. Period.

Imagine not that long ago when being gay or lesbian was not an option. The only choices you were given in society were to be heterosexual or endure endless hate, violence or even death. In some parts of the world, that's sadly still the case. But elsewhere, as our options, choices and freedoms have grown, so has our level of happiness and self-acceptance. It's the same for our ability to choose relationships that also make us happy.

Polyamory is one way of doing relationships nestled among a range of choices such as strict monogamy, highly managed non-monogamy, free open relationships, managed loving and romantic relationships with more than one person, and a more free and self-determined choice of how many people one loves.

I don't have the space here define each of these. Truthfully, even the experts on these relationship categories don't all seem to agree on common definitions. But if you imagine a relationship spectrum from classic monogamy to relationships entirely defined by the individuals in them with no social pressures to conform, all the options are there somewhere along that spectrum, as is the quite valid choice to operate as an entirely single person.

I contend that there is no one correct way to do relationships. I think society is finally starting to wrestle with this notion. The standard for a long time might have been two-person, monogamous relationships, but that standard is quickly changing from a standard to one of many choices. If diversity is such a worshiped concept, as it should be, then why shouldn't diversity in relationships be as readily accepted?

Do I think the masses of LGBTQ people, kinky or otherwise, are going to flock to multi-person relationships? No. At least not immediately. But the trend toward more open or polyamorous relationships is clearly evident and I expect the explorations of these choices to continue to grow.

For those who choose to be single or in a monogamous relationship, I hope for an environment in which those are seen as conscious choices that make the parties involved happiest and not simply a default to which they felt compelled to adopt.

If you're wondering where you fit into the relationship spectrum because you don't fit some definition, you're not alone. Even among many polyamorists there is a trend to resist becoming trapped by rigid definitions and more conventional relationship cultural habits and dictates.

This was clearly highlighted when I recently overheard Ryan "Wry" Mantione make a comment during a polyamory panel presentation he was leading and of which I was a panel member. Wry runs a series of such workshops nationally and his work can be followed at polytalks.com.

As we five panelists talked to the room of 50-60 people, Wry, who has his finger on the pulse of the national sentiment regarding polyamory more than most people, made a comment that sort of surprised me. He said lots of younger polyamorists have begun to move toward what's referred to in poly circles as "relationship anarchy" (often called 'RA'). Think of RA as relationships not bound by rules to the extreme except for those agreed upon by each individual and everyone involved. While RA can be hard to define specifically, I think of it as an approach to polyamory that leans heavily in the self-determination direction.

Wry had this to say about RA.

"The growing rift in the non-monogamy community really got kicked into high gear after 'More Than Two' was published in 2014. Some vilify hierarchy as inherently flawed, while non-hierarchical styles obviously appeal to the growing number of heartbroken secondaries. Thus, the conscious choice to move toward Relationship Anarchy as a Utopian ideal has been accelerating. Personally, I still see chosen, descriptive hierarchy as unavoidable, even in RA."

That's quite a mouthful and a lot to wrap one's head around, but Wry's comment highlights that even among those who are embracing non-monogamy and polyamory, they don't all agree on how to approach it. And that's exactly how it's supposed to be because the only person who can decide if a relationship style is right for you is you. That's the era of relationship freedom I hope we're heading toward, where everyone decides what works best for them and their constellation of intimates. I want the constructions of social conventions to give way to a focus on individual happiness.

Yeah, I know we're not there yet, but I can dream.


Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him on his website, www.bannon.com

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com


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