Wayward Hazard! or: Am I queer?
When the two partners who were living with me at that time and I started to come out as polyamorous in our circle of friends and acquaintances almost eight years ago and we started to live our relationship constellation openly, first of all the two women were confronted with strange reactions almost immediately.
Remarkably, first by the men in our circle of acquaintances, who suddenly established a strangely invisible zone of inexplicable distance (both socially and actually spatially) between themselves and the newly declared non-monogamists – as if they had suddenly been seized by a strange kind of dread…
When asked, the cause of this male reserve revealed itself to be a rather astonishing conception, which is difficult to reproduce vividly in written form: By their commitment to ethical non-monogamy, the women concerned had obviously granted themselves a kind of frowned upon freedom of norms, which now made them appear peculiarly unpredictable, even downright dangerous, as it were.
Not only that these women, although they already were in a relationship with me, had thus invalidated the socially binding 1+1 formula (i.e. the given mononormative model, which provides exactly one female for exactly one male: So how should they be treated at future social events? As half-single?, almost-partnered?? or even as fair game???).
No, by their new lifestyle-philosophy, these women had practically also called attention to their sexual nature in an uncontrollably primal way, since they now constantly pointed directly to it in an almost obscene way with the choice of their relationship model, virtually a lascivious display of female self-efficacy…
Consequently, from now on these women were, so to speak, “ticking time bombs”, or better: treacherous floating mines, which – since they had just professed their own needs in such a frivolous way – behaved downright unpredictably: At any time they might now be willing to arbitrarily expand the circle of their potential partners! And precisely the absence of any mononormative framework that would have normally granted tactful consideration before – like, for example, existing relationships, engagement, or even marriage – would now no longer guarantee protection against such advances. Even more: presumably these polyamorous she-wolves were already shamelessly scouting the surroundings for a thicket and male prey, always ready to drag another mate in this way into the yawning gorge of their opened relationship, perpetually on the hunt, constantly hungry…
And as the men already reacted so unsettled, it was only a small step to the women in our circle of acquaintances, who for their part could no longer risk to leave friends, fiancées or husbands alone in a room with the poly-she-wolves, now that apparently rampant fellow females had openly embraced such a truly questionably unrestrained form of anarchy. For thereby these morally detached hormone bombs had propagated their facultative availability for every man in the room like an all befogging scent mark. And already the vernacular knows that opportunity – which means temptation – makes thieves, therefore nobody in his right mind should leave “her” guy with such seduction unobserved…
The most eye- or rather ear-catching further change in our social environment affected all of us – especially whenever a conversation in our circle of friends turned occasionally into a discussion. Because by our declaration towards ethical non-monogamy, we affected individuals had obviously experienced a strange change in our thinking, our perceptiveness and our perspectives, which from now on presumably made it more difficult for us to think and argue like “normal people”. Probably in order to draw our attention to this “translation problem” that had arisen, our conversation participants from now on remarkably often introduced their contribution to us with the preface “Well, you know, I’m not polyamorous, but…”, which was usually followed by an objection to our opinion and a rectification according to the other person’s point of view. And by no means only when it came to viewpoints on relationships. However, from that time on it seemed important to regularly point out a fundamental incongruence between their own and our possible point of view by previously stating “Well, I’m not polyamorous…”, no matter which topic began to unfold.
I myself “got it” actually with full force not before I went in search of like-minded people on the strange dating planet, a planet that – as I naïf learned only too soon – was administered basically and unswervingly by the hand of the hetero-as well as mononormative empire.
In addition to some, at least in detail explained rejections, which I have already written down in my Entries 40 and 44, I received in a short time brush-offs like “…such a togetherness would scare me…”, “…our relational needs are not alike in any way…”, “…someone like you is beyond dispute for me…”, “…there are surely other women who might be able to handle that…”.
Eventually, I experienced the culmination in the forum of a very elite dating portal, where a discussion participant wrote: “Get out of here, we here have a hard enough time just finding one partner for us at all!”
What a gloomy collection: fear of togetherness, assignment of strange needs (although we all share the same according to Abraham Maslow), assignment of a deviant personality (“like you”), assignment to an odd circle of people – and last but not least: prescribed shortage by the “for-every-pot-there-is-only-just-one-lid”-model.
After some time (ok, it had been two years) it really started to gnaw at me.
What was the common principle behind all these phenomena?
It wasn’t until this spring, when I watched the American short film “Two Distant Strangers“, which was tied to the Black Lives Matter campaign, that I understood:
It’s all about nothing more and nothing less than discrimination.
More specifically, discrimination against a person on the basis of a single characteristic.
A single characteristic, which for the discriminatory environment overwrites all other characteristics, traits and qualities of a person. And thus dehumanizes this person, his diverse personality, and reduces it to this single aspect.
Compartmentalization and a Reality of Separation in the flesh.
I don’t want to compare my situation to the suffering of black or colored people in the United States. But the resulting movie exemplifies numerous mechanisms of discrimination in a frighteningly knowledgeable and routine manner: Discrimination as experienced by every minority, every non-conformity worldwide.
While I was watching the movie in it’s first minutes, I still thought that the black main character could at least behave a little more moderately, a little more de-escalatory, so as not to draw too much attention to himself.
But the longer the movie ran, the more I understood that this couldn’t be the way: The attributions of the condemning environment are far too arbitrary; far too random, unpredictable and impulsively chosen the looming myriad of issues that others might take offence at.
“I am a human being!” is something I have wanted to exclaim out loud increasingly often over the past two years. “I am a human being with a complex personality. A person who – besides the fact that he is committed to ethical multiple relationships – is also very interesting in other ways and has all kinds of other exciting facets to offer!”
But my ethical multiple relationship was “the one characteristic”. It was the hurdle, the barrier, the wall, around which hardly anybody wanted to look any more once he*she*it took notice of me.
I admit that it is an important characteristic of mine. Yes, even a characteristic that I consider quite descriptive concerning myself. Also one that I tend to bring up quickly because I know it can seem unusual to many people as an approach towards close-knit relationships.
Exactly because of that I sympathise with Carter James, the main protagonist in “Two Different Strangers”: It makes no sense to diminish my characteristic, to hide it, to cover it up, to disguise it, to appease it, to relativize or to moderate it: It is inalienable, immanent, essential, inherent, distinctive – and contributes unmistakably to who and what I am.
Davon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, the two directors of “Two Distant Strangers” thus answered for me in an unforeseen way a question that I had been asking myself for a long time, that many people in the polyamory scene have been asking themselves, and that quite a few people in the field of ethical non-monogamy have been pondering for years:
Am I queer?
For the Oligoamory (at least – and for myself) I answer today: YES.
But not because in the short film the black graphic designer Carter is bullied and victimized by a white police officer. Thereby I would be agreeing with queer writers like Phillip Ayoub¹ or also Mortimer Dora¹, who want the (self-)attribution of “queer” to be understood in such a way that the term should only be used by those who are also oppressed by it.
But by supporting such a resentful justification I feel I wouldn’t do any service to an optimistic philosophy like Oligoamory with it’s positive view on humanity.
For as a multiple-relationship approach, my Oligoamory stands anyway comfortably and dryly under the roof of sexual emancipation as erected by LGBT+ and Queer people since the beginning of the 20th century. Some of these correlations I have already outlined in my series on the history of Oligoamory involving parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4.
Thereby and all at once I completely respect the testimony of these people, who have thus prepared the way for me to be able to write here today about this subject at all.
And that’s why I don’t want to simply leave just another “fancy subject” under that meanwhile most solid and highly conspicuous roof, but earn my place – as small as the Oligoamory might be – in that edifice of courageous deeds and keen thought.
In this regard, as a bLogger and occasional philosopher, I was fascinated by feminist, philosopher, and professor Gudrun Perko‘s perspective on “What is queer?”
According to Gudrun Perko, the term “queer” (which she interprets as “being against the norm”) encompasses the entire spectrum of those who do not conform to hetero- and mono-normative conceptions of sexuality, binary gender, or traditional types of relationships. The common denominator is that the prevailing social stereotypes are questioned and dissolved, and that people should be enabled to live their lives according to a variety of sexual orientations, gender identities, or forms of relationships free of established conventions.
Gudrun Perko developed from this point of view the so-called plural-queer approach, which radically openly includes all people “who do not match the social accepted conformity or do not want to match it”. This kind of plural-queer approach also embraces the stricter U.S.-interpretation of Queerness, which vehemently critiques hetero- and mono-normativity, gender binarity, repressive models of identity, and the exclusion of certain groups of people. At the centre of the plural-queer variant stands the effort to achieve the “greatest possible diversity of human kinds of being and existence in their incompleteness”. ²
By choosing her approach, Gudrun Perko addresses a queer central theme known as “deconstructivism”, which could be roughly summarized as follows: Asking for that which is excluded – and opening up to it by means of inclusion.
And it is precisely in this rationale that I see the active application of Scott Peck‘s integrative phrase “Is there any reason why xyz shouldn’t be allowed to participate?” (Instead of: “What’s the reason why xyz should be allowed to participate?”, see Entry 33), which constitutes every positive group formation- and community-building-process.
In that spirit, I wish that this deconstructionist “Why not ?” is hopefully also a hallmark of Oligoamory.
At this point, it is also easy to see that, as a result, the struggle against intersectionality (intersectionality = simultaneity of different types of discrimination against one person) has always been part of the queer DNA. As I have already briefly indicated in Entry 50, “being political” is thus queer key business par excellence: Linking topics and initiatives with issues such as ethnicity, culture, origin, and people without a collective concept of identity, but also, e.g., feminism, religious persecution, ableism or ageism, is imperative if the house cited above should endure for future generations.
In Entry 50, I cited that “politics is the constant struggle between changing or preserving existing conditions”. With my Oligoamory I wish to contribute at least to a diversification, if not a change, of these “existing conditions”. And in that mindset, I feel comfortable under the queer roof, standing thankfully on the shoulders of those who have been advocating and standing up for it over decades.
Queer theory, by the way, has brought me yet another surprise through the authors Heinz-Jürgen Voß and Salih Alexander Wolter, since they critically ask whether such queer openness and incompleteness could not all too easily be a characteristic of neoliberalist tendencies through the back door – where it should be considered whether this could be at all desirable and supportive for the basic idea?³.
From within my Oligoamory I say, “Yes, indeed, if it is done in a Shaftesburyian sense! (see previous Entry).” For as early as the beginning of the 18th century, the philosopher Shaftesbury defined neoliberalism in terms of his concept regarding freedom and autonomy as “a basic cosmopolitan attitude without supreme, centrally controlled institutions and as an expression of a multipolar world of sovereign, voluntarily cooperating elements”.
To my mind, I recognize both anti-oppressionistic and anti-capitalist thinking, which was fed by Shaftesbury’s faith in humankind as conscious, discerning and therefore (socially) responsible beings.
Consequently, to be oligoamorous means to be queer – “against the norm” – consciously transgressing, deliberately contrary.
To be oligoamorous means to be unconventional due to a peculiarity, to stand out and potentially to irritate somebody just because of it.
Oligoamor means to remain humanly inclusive and therefore to remain aware towards society.
To be oligoamorous means to be this from the inside out: Not as a label, as a fashion, as a phase; fad or performance, but as a rainbow-colored unicorn zebra among many black and white ones, which wears its multicolored fur with conviction because it neither can nor wants to get out of its skin.
In his book “Dignity: What makes us strong – as individuals and as a society” (published 2019), the author and neuroscientist Gerald Hüther points out that, in his view, Article 1 of the German Basic Law and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (“Human dignity is inviolable”) poses the problem that this sentence is often perceived by many people as unspecific and somehow empty, precisely because most of them cannot (yet) comprehend their own dignity in everyday life.
I believe that exactly this is different in the world of non- and antinormativity, in the world of minorities: Because they put their colorful otherness and distinct divergence on the line each single day, the people in these circles are usually highly conscious of their value and their indefeasible dignity that goes with it.
It was and is therefore the contribution of queer communities as well as individuals to keep our society awake and attentive to the fact that human dignity is not an elusive, already trivial good without any actual value, but a basic prerequisite for a more humane world, which is not yet an implicitness – not even in our most private circles.
¹ Phillip Ayoub; David Paternotte (28 October 2014). LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe: A Rainbow Europe?. Palgrave Macmillan.
Mortimer, Dora (9 Feb 2016). „Can Straight People Be Queer? – An increasing number of young celebrities are labeling themselves ‚queer.‘ But what does this mean for the queer community?“
² Gudrun Perko: Queer-Theorien: Ethische, politische und logische Dimensionen plural-queeren Denkens. PapyRossa, Köln 2005
³ Heinz-Jürgen Voß, Salih Alexander Wolter: Queer and (Anti-)Capitalism. Schmetterling Verlag, Stuttgart 2013