Thursday, May 10, 2012

Scholars Overcome Bigotry...In the Popular Areas at Least



                I am above all a writer but secondarily an academic and activist (althought lately I’m thinking the latter is always there when I’m writing).  As such, I have experience with academics and activists in this country and I can tell you one thing we’re good at:  diagnosing and picking apart cases of prejudice, privilege, and power relations when it comes to well-established versions of them: racism, heterocentrism, sexism, ablism, etc. (This is true for my field of , at least.  I’ve known plenty of clueless Political Science and Science professors in this arena). 
                I can also tell you one thing we’re bad at:  doing the same thing with not so well-established versions of them.  We were good at deconstructing racism far before we were good at homophobia.  We were good at deconstructing classism far before we got any good at sexism.  Where is one field where we are behind?  Nonmonogamy.  To scholars and activists of 2050, we’re going to look as stupid as the homophobes of the 1950s look to us now.  We don’t even have to try hard anymore to acknowledge the rights of same-sex couples, but the rights of same-sex triples or quads, let alone heterosexual ones?  Rarely. 
                Let me give you an example from the conference I just returned from.   The conference theme was revolution, and a very smart professor was lecturing about revolution in the Middle East.  As a committed revolutionary myself, I found her entire talk to be politically and intellectually resonant with my own commitments.  She challenged Western pundits who give too much credit to social media for what the people themselves are doing, fetishizing western-made (and profited-from) technology.  She talked interesting strategies for teaching revolution to liberal-democratic, apathetic spoiled U.S.American students.  She talked of the importance of women to the revolution, and the necessity of ending sexist judgments about the way female protestors dress or comport themselves if the revolution is to be successful. 
Then she said something so jarringly counterrevolutionary to me I sat blinking for minutes.  In a list of Bad Things Men and Politicians Do in the region, she cited a political official in Libya stating that he intends to make polygamy not illegal.  Apparently we were supposed to think that was horrible.  In my book making any form of marriage not illegal is a good thing, as long as they are adults.  I said so.  What was the response in the room full of academics and people interested in revolution?  Indigance at me.  One said:  “You have to understand that since it’s not equal, and a women can’t have multiple spouses, it’s an institution of sexist repression.”  “Then make it equal,” I said.  “Don’t outlaw half of our rights because the other half has yet to catch up.”  Also, in a room full of people trained to dissect words carefully no one seemed to notice the official had said he wanted to make it not illegal, and were talking as if he had said: “everyone must be polygamous”.  When scholars are that sloppy you know they are thinking only with their prejudices.  The professor herself complicated her original statement by telling me something downright bigoted “no woman wants to share her partner with someone else.”  I was astounded that such an ignorant and bigoted statement towards the millions of polygamous and polyamorous people in the world was met with no resistance.   Imagine if someone had said “no woman wants another woman for a partner”.  Astounding. 
Of course there are deeper problems here, such as the commitment to using the law to deal with moral judgments about people’s private lives.  It’s amazing how often this society thinks we can just outlaw whatever we don’t agree with in the household, from gay marriage to plural marriage to drug use to prostitution, despite overwhelming evidence that criminalization never works to curb practices human beings historically want and always will want.  Polygamy (which means multiple spouses, be they male or female), and to a lesser degree polyamory, have a massive presence throughout the history of humankind.  Some argue there have been more poly people on the planet than monogamous.  But in a room full of fifty scholars on this pleasant spring day in Ann Arbor most of them embarrassed themselves to future generations of scholars and activists, in addition to offending at least three poly people in the room I later spoke with.  Another of these deeper problems is the same old reformist ‘art of the possible’, whereby true liberation seems too difficult so we vehemently get behind mezzo-liberation or even repression (as long as its equal repression for all!).  Thus since it seems so impossible to convince countries in that region to allow women to have multiple spouses or partners as well, let’s just outlaw poly altogether.  What a visionary approach to human rights.
                Let nonmonogamy be a warning and let us ask ourselves—where else are we 30 years behind other struggles?  Where else do we arrogantly, as U.S.Americans tend to do, ask the law to enforce our bigotry?

10 comments:

Vanessa said...

It truly boggles the mind how much people assume monogamy is not only the most common but the BEST way to live. And how righteous they feel in assuming everyone agrees. And how poorly they see the overlap between feminism and the fight for poly-rights. this is going to be a long journey.

Cristofani, linz said...

I think we should only remove laws from now on. And by we, I mean te human race. No more criminalization. We don't need any more laws. And, funny. He didn't make it not illegal: nice euphemism for making a new law.

Charlotte Moore said...

This is going to be a long Journey... But writing like this will make it a little smoother. Thank you.

I laughed out loud when I read “no woman wants to share her partner with someone else.” because I not only want it - but I LIKE it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anthony,

I'm a condescending someone who watched your show recently. I have to say I did not take to everything I saw, but most of that was because I felt the other half of the show was inauthentic. As in, not honest with themselves. But your half felt true, and there was something there I thought was very beautiful.

You and I would not see eye to eye on many issues. I might think you should have your relationship and fight to have it recognized, but I don't think I'll ever understand why you'd want any more partners than just you three, or if you actually have anything in common with others who consider themselves 'poly'.

That said, I want to say that I thought I saw things that have nothing to do with your relationship that worried me a little. Certainly it is none of my business, but if I'm right...

Consider doing something some day, maybe. Sit Vanessa and Lindsay down individually, one and then the other, and say: "It was not your fault".

'It', if I'm right, has nothing to do with you, or them with one another. And 'it' was certainly not their fault. They are blameless, always were. Let them know they're always going to be loved and that nobody is going to leave them. That, God forbid they should ever get into trouble, that you'd be -- well, prepared to die for either of them. Not that you don't already say these things, but it's one thing to hear something and another to believe it about yourself.

I'm sorry if I'm talking down to you. Consider me an ex-revolutionary of a different sort who came to appreciate that revolutions eat their own. Just the three of you love one another. Ultimately everything else is a distraction from that.

One last thing. If the three of you continue to have partners outside the triad you might do to consider the following. A much wiser man than me wrote it, and it might do to consider if there's any truth to it:

"What shall we use to fill the empty spaces,
Where waves of hunger gnaw?
Shall we set out upon this sea of faces,
In search of more and more applause?"

Anonymous said...

just curious... have you always agreed or known that you were polyamorous and were going to be in your marriage? or was this something you both or all three agreed upon overtime?

Mike said...

I agree with you completely. I relate this to a recent battle I've been facing. Crossdressing. Here is a perfect example of something that is not illegal (like polyamory in the US) but is not socially accepted either.

At what point do we draw lines in the sand and say "this acceptable and this is not?" At what point is a piece of clothing male or female? The color, the cut, the department you purchase it from? While there are biological differences between male and female bodies, does there necessarily need to be a difference in style? Men and women come in all shapes and sizes, some men look better in certain female clothing than some women and vice versa.

It seems arbitrary to draw such lines. To call a guy gay or a female a lesbian if they wear something or enjoy a certain style. I would prefer a future where there are no mens and womens departments, just clothing. You buy and wear what you like. But this is something I brought up to several friends of mine and they just can't seem to accept it.

It's silly to me in much the same way you feel about monogamy being the only choice people can have.

To have a revolution means to truly shift the paradigm. Where people can just be themselves. gay, straight, bi, trans, monogamous, poly(whatever), asexual, theist, atheist, agnostic, liberal, conservative, anarcho-capitalist, creative, boring,, white, black, yellow, red, mixed, interracial, without ageism in whatever they like to wear or do so long as they are not harming others. A truly open humanity.

There will always be judgement and envy and other things. But if we can at least raise the baseline to the point where all of the above is accepted as normal, we'll be in a better spot as a human race.

Anonymous said...

This could use a good edit. Work on your Writing. So much oppression has plagued People from the sleepy, affluent community of Los Gatos. I weep for you.

Anonymous said...

There is a type in your bio. Please, M. Lautrec would like some respect. You may do whatever you like with your personal life, but please take your writing seriously. As it stands, it's shockingly bad.

Anthony Cristofani said...

Haha, hard to take a snarky comment seriously from someone who doesn't have the balls to put their name in their comment, mr. Anonymous. But I will indeed admit to having little interest in spending copious amounts of time editing. I get more writing done that way, and people get my point and are moved by what I write, judging from the reactions I get, so no foul. When I write for publication I do take more time, but even there, less than most.
In answer to less trendily snarky Anonymous (why do you need to be anon to ask me such an innocent question?!), Vanessa and I have always known monogamy wasn't for us, but it took a long time to figure out that we weren't just unique freaks (my perception) or bad sluts (hers), and that there is a massive community of people like us across the world. Linz figured out early on, too. We were all naturally drawn towards open relationships, and that experimentation was organic for us. Linz and I have been open the whole ten years, with various 'breaks' when we felt we needed to focus on each other more, tend to the bond. Vanessa, living apart from us and with no role models to that end, just cheated, miserably. We didn't discover or even hear about polyamory, as in actually loving and committing to more than one person, until it just HAPPENED to us. Linz and Ness slept together. Shortly thereafter Ness and I did. After a short period of mere sensuality, we began falling in love. At first we were scared, because by default we're taught in mainstream society it's impossible to love two, but then we simply used our powers of observation to note that it was indeed possible, because we were in love with two people! It helped when out of curiosity we browsed the internet and found poly websites and meetup groups--hark! We're not alone! There are so many like us! So I'd say about a year in we grew fully comfortable with identifying as poly, and began to theorize it as an important intervention into patriarchy, neoliberalism, property obsession, and other insidious tendencies and structuring norms. Hope that helps.

Anthony Cristofani said...

Mike,

Thanks for sharing your related experience. The greatest possibility for change vis-a-vis the oppression of minorities comes when various minorities realize they're in the same struggle and bind together. This is so important because sometimes the opposite happens. I've met queer rights activists who want to dissociate from poly and our claim to marital rights, because they think homosexuality is a big enough hurdle for the mainstream, and they don't want to weigh down the cause with another unaccepted 'lifestyle'. This is selfish, to me, and shoots each cause in the foot, since our whole point is acceptance (think of the gay rights slogan "marriage for all"--obviously that should include those who want multiple partners!)

Thus I'm glad to see you find affinity in your cross-dressing, and I share your vision for the future.

As far as this baseline where all that you list are considered 'normal', I feel that shortest route to such acceptance is actual revolution, because its in the interests of the rich powers that be in our oligarchy/plutocracy disguised as democracy to make sure people don't bind together too much, and to keep us distracted from the obvious class/economic exploitation they are perpetrating by having us at each other's throats over abortion, race, cross-dressing, poly, queer, religion, etc. It was smart of them not to design our cities with piazzas like Europe and South America...
This strategy has worked well for the Republicans, whose polices are so destructive to the poor, that virtually noone would vote for them if they didn't exploit our intolerances of queer, atheist, poly, immigrant, chicano/latino, etc. people. It's hard to say which way it can happen: overcome these differences, so that we can bind together and overthrow the 1%, or must it happen in reverse--overthrow first, otherwise the system will ensure our never thinking and living communally, collaboratively, without the bigotry in your list above.

The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon

The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed.  That could get us committed (to an asylum).  That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do.  We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism.  If you want in, you're in.  If you want out, don't worry--you already are.