Fortunately, there's no Polyamory Board of Directors who decides who makes the cut or not. However, that doesn't prevent many people from worrying about whether or not they can claim a polyamorous identity. On this episode, we discuss identity, gatekeeping, and common questions that we get: "Am I still polyamorous if I still feel jealousy?" "Am I still polyamorous if I only have one partner?" "Am I still polyamorous if I'm not dating at all?"
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Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.
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Jase: On this episode the multiamory podcast, we're talking about the polyamory Board of Directors who review all applications to become polyamorous as well as administer quarterly compliance evaluations. This week we're giving you the top 60 tips for passing your polyamory qualification test
Dedeker: Straight lies. Lots of hogwash. I really appreciate how just straight you were with that Jase.
Emily: Yes, you did well.
Dedeker: You didn't break. It was impressive.
Jase: Thanks. I actually was tempted to just be like, “Can we just improv the whole rest of the episode?"
Dedeker: We would be so angry. Can you even imagine?
Emily: What would be some of the top 60 tips for passing your polyamory qualification test?
Jase: Oh, my gosh. You know what? We will save this for the bonus content where we can talk some more.
Dedeker: Okay, that's an interesting question. No, instead we're going to be talking about all of the ways in which people can be polyamorous even when maybe they feel like," Am I polyamorous? Am I not? Can I even call myself that?" If you were only in a relationship with one person at the moment, or if you have had multiple breakups. If you aren't friends, with your metamours, stuff like that. Even if you opened and closed your relationships at certain times in your lives. We're going to be talking about all of that today, and going through things that we've heard from various people as well as things that we ourselves have experienced.
Emily: I think it's interesting that this question comes up for people a lot. I don't know if it's-- I don't know. I think it's funny because the joke is always about, Millennials hate putting labels on things.
Dedeker: I totally did. Until relatively recently. Yes, guilty as charged.
Emily: The thing is tough, but I think that to a certain extent, Millennials do like having labels. Because I do feel like identity has becomes such an important thing to understand for oneself, and to profess for oneself and to proclaim all over your social media. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I'm not trying to throw shade at having an identity. I do feel like it creates an environment where people feel a little bit pressured to be able to label their identity or to use multiple labels for their identity. I think some people are super into that. Some people are super not but I feel like it's maybe that context and that pressure that leads some people to be like, “Am I allowed to say I'm polyamorous and my Twitter bio?" I don't know.
Dedeker: Yes, if I'm actually not with multiple partners at one point in time. Yes, and surprisingly, maybe not surprisingly, because we do have a lot of people in a lot of different relationship structures on our Patreon multiamory Facebook page. This is, I think, come up from time to time. People asking this question and just even at our live shows, I know that we've had various people come up to us and say, " I call myself polyamorous, but I haven't had a date in a long time in many months or even years. It's been really difficult because you may not have anyone to vouch for you that's already dated you. That you're a great partner or anything along those lines." I get it. I get that all of those things can be really challenging.
Jase: Well, could I start us off with this one particular situation that's definitely happened to me a number of times. Which is where we'll do maybe a live show or I will just meet someone who has listened to the podcast and they'll say to me something along these lines," I really enjoy your podcast. I think it's really interesting. I would like to be polyamorous, but right now, I don't have any partners." Usually my answer to that person is, "You could be polyamorous if you want to, because it's not determined by the number of relationships you have, but by what you expect from those relationships and how you conduct yourself in those relationships." What do you think about that? Is there some truth to, well, I'm not polyamorous yet, but I want to be or can you just be it before you have even tried it?
Emily: Well, I think it calls up that same question of, some-- I'm inclined to, I think people make this comparison a lot. That it's like well, you can be bisexual or Pansexual, but that doesn't mean that you have to be dating people of multiple different gender identities at the same time. Maybe, you just have one partner who identifies in one particular way, but that doesn't change the fact that you still feel attracted to or drawn to or are interested in people with multiple gender identities. Then, of course, the follow up question that it always leads into the debate of well as polyamory a non-monogamy? Is it a sexuality? Is it a sexual orientation? Is it a choice? I don't want to get into that debate because the fact that it's like there is no clear answer to that question. There probably won't be until there's some hardcore research into that. I guess for me, I feel like honestly, I think that if your principles-- I don't know. I think it’s like something more inherent, I suppose. Where it's like, even if you're not dating multiple people at that particular time, or if you're single or for whatever, but if this is what really feels true to you and feels right to you. I think it's okay to proclaim that identity.
Dedeker: Well, both of you discussed principles is like a delineation, I guess, between one or the other between potentially being monogamous or more of that mindset versus a more open or polyamorous mindset. What are some of those principles or thoughts that one would like say, is inherently one versus the other?
Jase: Well, I think what I am talking about when people will come to me with something like that what I'm referring to is yes, you might not have any partners right now. In seeking new partners, in dating people, are you beginning that conversation right away with this is how I think about monogamy and non-monogamy. This is the way that I want to communicate openly about it. I expect the same from you or I'm not going to put these limitations on who you can be with, and I'm not going to put those on myself either. Going in with that, to me that's the distinction. However, I could also make an argument forth saying, "Well, I think I might want to be polyamorous, but I don't know, because I haven't tried it yet." I think that's a little different than, I definitely want to be this but I'm not yet because I don't have partners versus I think I want this but I haven't tried it.
Dedeker: Yes, and I saw an article recently on that thing in general. Just women specifically, in this article were talking about that they had started dating a guy or they had dated multiple men who just used polyamory as an excuse for having sex with multiple women or multiple people. They actually were married or had a girlfriend who had no idea about it, and that they were just calling themselves polyamorous. Obviously, from an ethical standpoint, that's a real problem and not something that one would want to do. I don't think that that person obviously is polyamorous, they're just an asshole. If from that same way, yes. I think that people might worry that they would get lumped into that category if they don't have a partner already.
Jase: Yes, I think that's a very real fear. Especially if you are a male identifying person, like there's-- and for good reason, people might be suspicious of that. I think what makes the difference like we were saying is how you actually conduct yourself on the relationship rather than just choosing to say a label or not and then still being shady and you know what I mean?
Emily: Speaking of shadiness, that brings up I think a number of times we've gotten emails from people who are like,” I’m cheating on my wife but I feel like I'm polyamorous." Because I really legitimately I love my wife and I also really love with this person, this other partner. How do I make this work? What does this mean? How do I get what I want in this situation?" Things like that. Then it brings up the other question of, I don't want to doubt that you feel polyamorous, and maybe this process of having an affair has opened you up to realizing," I am capable of holding love for two people at the same time and I am capable of wanting to maintain two relationships at the same time." It's like, I don't doubt that you're feeling polyamorous but you are not doing polyamory. Then my question is like then does it come-- then is there a distinction between how you feel versus how you practice? That gets held to a different standard? I don't know.
Jase: I think that's a great distinction. I was going to bring that up earlier. I didn't quite get to it. I'm glad you brought that up. The other one here is someone who talks to me and they'll say,” I’ve been polyamorous for seven years but only honestly so for the last two years." I'm like." Then no."
Dedeker: Then you were just cheating before.
Jase: You were just a cheater before.
Emily: Hang on. I'm just going to jump on that really quick. Because honestly, I feel like I would say something like that. Like I felt polyamorous since a really long time ago. I haven't been proactively honestly polyamorous for 10 years. That doesn't mean that I cheated. I didn't cheat on anyone when I was monogamous. It just meant that I fell into the mainstream default of, I feel this way but that's not correct so I'm just going to choose monogamy. I don't think it necessarily--
Dedeker: You and I have dated someone though who did cheat in there like nine polyamorous life, many times and I know a lot of people have done that as well.
Jase: I think Dedeker, you bring up a good point of like it depends on what they mean by that right? Is it just that I had this feeling but didn't know it was something I could do,which sort of goes toward that idea of polyamory being more of an identity for yourself versus well I was just cheating and being secretive about it and only recently after my divorce and my being open with my partner's about it that would fall more into the category of you're talking about the practice of doing it. That's an interesting thing to like identity versus practice.
I actually wanted to bring up something based on what you were saying Dedeker that I think that the bigger distinction of like feeling like you are polyamorous is not that I've realized I'm capable of loving multiple people or wanting to pursue multiple relationships but more realizing that that's something I also want for my other partners to me that's the bigger distinction. We've talked about that before with like monopoly relationships where I'm like, I kind of feel like the monogamous one if they are okay with their partner having other partners, I think they're more the polyamorous one because it's I think it's more about what you hope to limit from your partner rather than just what you want to do yourself and that's also something that people debate.
Emily: People taken great issue with that opinion.
Dedeker: Obviously, if you are not dating anyone for an extended period of time, then you have to in your mind put these practices into place at least in the foreseeable future that you would have a partner and be able to speak to them about these things. Like ideally even if you are single you're coming out any potential relationship with this is who I am. This is what I expect, this is what I hope for you that you would get out of a relationship with me et cetera and that you are still being ethical about everything even though you may not be successfully dating people at that particular moment.
Emily: Well, I mean, I like in a really Ideal World, I feel like everyone would come to a first date with that awareness and knowledge even if there was. I know that's true but well but really though like when you're trying to find a long-term partner, whether that's just one partner or whether that's multiple partners, being able to have a sense shared values is important and I feel like that's why I you know on the show like we try to talk about conscious monogamy.
I think we should be talking about it more because I think that is also part of it is like also having this very conscious awareness of your values and what it is that you want but it is the kind of thing that it's like if you're single and monogamous, I don't hear a lot of people questioning like I'm I still monogamous even though I'm not with a partner right now. Usually someone who wants monogamy is still pretty clear, I'm like no that's what I'm looking for and that's what I want. I guess on that side of things and I guess well, I'm not quite the same debate around is monogamy a sexual orientation or not.
Dedeker: Generally like the precursor to monogamy often as well were dating multiple people and then okay we're going steady is that so then people say earlier where yes, we're not dating anyone else we're exclusive, that's the term that I was looking for.
Jase: Well, okay. What if what if we take this to the next stage now, so this person's been debating polyamorous even if I'm not dating anyone yet and haven't dated that way before or I mean what about a situation where I am in a relationship, but I really don't like my metamours or I feel a lot of jealousy of my partner even though intellectually, I'm like polyamory make sense to me yet I still have these emotional reactions that come up. I'm I maybe not actually polyamorous?
Emily: Dedeker, what would you say to that?
Dedeker: It comes up a lot with clients. You know that question of I feel jealous does that mean I'm not cut out for this or I'm not getting along with my metamour does that mean I'm not cut out with this are for this or this particular relationship just ended does that mean I'm not cut out for this, a lot of those questions and it's a tough one to tease out. I think particularly like I like so often. It's such a common experience for your brain to be like, yes, this totally makes sense and like it's logical to me. Like I totally get this conceptual idea of abundant love and non-possession and both me and a partner having autonomy and freedom like totally get it but like my body is the thing that reacts when I feel jealous that it's often your body that feels nauseous or feels nervous or feel shaky or feel sweaty and then that's often fed by whatever story you may be cooking up in your brain to continue that and in like the thing is like that's okay because it's like your body and your nervous system has been trained basically since birth about what is and isn't okay in relationships you are the product of your environment and your culture and I think a lot of know get into this that a lot of this process is deprogramming rewiring, relearning to be to be very Yoda, relearning what you have learned.
Jase: I was just having a conversation with someone about exactly that where he was kind of like, so I heard through Eric about you being polyamorous and doing your podcast and stuff but like and he went into kind of the usual questions about but what about jealousy and what's it like and all that, but like the thing I kept kind of coming back to talk to him is just how much of the transition into doing it is deprogramming is exactly that. It's unlearning stuff almost more than it's learning stuff. It's unlearning things.
Dedeker: It is so interesting how even if you have for many years or most of your life felt like I could be polyamorous, I don't have a word for it yet but that seems conceptually like something that completely makes sense but yet that other part of programming from your outside forces and the media and your parents and saying that like monogamy is the thing to do,monogamy is the thing to do that even though your brain and maybe your heart is that too. That's cheesy but that tells you like that polyamory is the right thing for you, that's still all these outside forces are saying know that it can still be really difficult and really hard to go there.
Emily: That reminds me of someone sent me a video of and I'm sorry. I don't remember the name but as some self-help Guru and I don't mean to be like derogatory towards him. I'm sure he's a perfectly wonderful man but some self-help Guru who is very publicly in an open relationship and talks about it a lot and I think also does a little bit of like discussion on that and helping people who are interested in getting into an open relationship but I think his main gig is something else but anyway someone sent me a video of him answering the question about what it's like being an open relationship and you actually said something that really stuck with me and it's kind of like if you get into an open relationship and like you're only goal is to increase pleasure in your life, whether that's the pleasure of more sex partners or the pleasure of falling in love with someone new or the pleasure of just having more attention from different people.
Like if you're only getting into it just for pleasure and nothing else like you're going to be disappointed because there's going to be pain that comes with it, if you're into it to not just have pleasurable experiences but also to like get to know yourself and to deepen your relationships and have better communication and like really learn about the parts of you that need to heal like then it's definitely going to be a success for you in that Pursuit anyway.
Dedeker: Well, just do you think like it's a fake it till you make it situation. I mean, we've talked about this like all of the ways in which people can feel jealous and feel awful about it. Potentially for many years even. Is it just like a continual do programming like that is the thing you can still call yourself polyamorous even if you're having a difficult time, it'll just take time.
Emily: I don't know where I've landed on this idea that it's like if you're going to be in a relationship with a human being you're going to get hurt and you're going to hurt the other person whether that's majorly like huge awful devastating heartbreak or whether it's like tiny minor things that happen on a day-to-day basis that hurt like that's going to happen regardless of if you're monogamous or not and so for me, I'm just kind of like, yes, living this way and practicing this way.
It's brought me a lot of pain and it's also brought me a lot of really amazing things and it seems worth it to me that's how it feels to me now is it feels worth it to me. I also have the suspicion that I feel even if I was monogamous from day one, that I would probably end up with the same trade off of pain to pleasure really.
Dedeker: Some people would not be questioning the monogamy part in the same way that they might be questioning the polyamory of it all. Is this happening just because of the polyamory?
Emily: I suppose so, yes.
Jase: Yes, I just wanted to share a little bit personally, that I found that overall, the experience of transitioning from having monogamous relationships to being polyamorous for me was, one that took some time and has gotten to a place of relative calm. Calmer even than my monogamous days. Possibly because it's a better fit. It more accurately represents, how I think about the world and what makes sense to me but it was still a transition, because of all that unlearning. I know that for me specifically because of whatever about my upbringing in this culture, or my family or my friends or whatever, that something that I think was one of the longest struggles for me to reprogram was my approach to being competitive with other men. Specifically, if I was dating women who were dating other men, feeling like needing to be competitive over things, or being envious or jealous of things that they got, even if I was still getting everything that I needed. Everything should have been good, but that competitiveness was so ingrained that it was even hard to become aware of. I would think it was all these other things as I very slowly chipped away at that. Realize that's there. That doesn't mean that even gone entirely but now it comes up and I'm just like, "Yes, that's that thing. Let's not worry about that so much." That just goes away quickly.
Dedeker: That's an impressive amount of self-evaluation that I honestly just think maybe some people aren't willing to do. Because again, in order to deprogram you have to look at yourself. You have to look at all of the reasons why those things stick with you and why you choose to let them have any, I don't know, any weights in your life. If that's not what you want, if you want to move forward and move past it, and maybe become this different thing, or this thing that you weren't initially but want to be, you have to ask yourself," Why am I keeping with the old ways?" That's impressive Jase. That's good. Even if you don't always do it all the time that you at least know what's happening.
Emily: Well, as I say to a lot of people, and to be totally honest, end up saying to myself, most of the time is the thing that you think is the thing, is probably not the thing. When you have your own shit, and your own trauma, and your own baggage, or your own insecurities, it's so easy for your brain to come up with a reason why you're upset that's not actually the insecurity or the baggage or the trauma.
Dedeker: It creates a problem to fix.
Emily: I think particularly create an external problem to fix. I think it would be so easy to be, "Well, the reason I'm upset is because he texted me 10 minutes later than I thought he was going to be in. We need to have a talk about our texting and when we text each other, and how we communicate with each other. That's what needs to happen. I don't want to discount, if there are issues in your communication, or if they're little hacks that would make your lives easier. Definitely do that, but it does require this really critical eye of understanding that your brain is going to be able to fill in a convenient and safe feeling excuse essentially, for why you're healing should be in a particular moment. Because, I think our brains and our minds don't really want to look at themselves.
Dedeker: We want to give ourselves the Uber benefit of the doubt.
Emily: Yes, definitely. Well, I feel like I love these deep philosophical conversations, but I'm going to try to circle back around to what we're talking about. Which is this idea of essentially, what does it take to count as polyamorous? Is there such a thing? Is that a ridiculous question to ask? I think we also get people who come to us and ask about, let's say I have a primary relationship. Let's say I choose to have a primary relationship. We've opened and closed our relationship a couple of times, or sometimes we do it at specific times. Is that, okay? Does that count as polyamory; does that count as some other form of non-monogamy? What do you think about that?
Dedeker: Well, okay. We've talked about this before but Jase and I did this very early on in our polyamorous relationship. Because at the time, I will say, neither of us were dating anyone. We had dated people. I had gone in a lot of dates. Jase had had at least one longer term, three month relationship or something.
Jase: I don't even think it was that long but a month or two.
Dedeker: A couple of months. You would actually have some people that you were dating or that you would successfully gone in some dates with, whereas I was going on a bunch of terrible awful dates, and feeling really not good about things. We did choose to close for a while, and then eventually opened again. I think there's a difference when lives are not being changed.
Jase: I thought you were going to say lives are at stake.
Dedeker: No, when lives are not being changed and hurt and broken. When a secondary, for example, is not being profoundly hurt. Because all of a sudden, the primary is like, “We got to stop this. I'm not feeling good kind of thing." This is an interesting one and I think that the question of extenuating circumstances, due to just life happening and to whether or not that's an okay thing to close or open a relationship. I don't know. What do you guys think?
Emily: I know on other episodes, we've talked, sometimes this gets into a conversation around hierarchy and is strict hierarchy ethical or not? If you're listening to this, you can go listen to those episodes, if you want more of a discussion about that. I think at least where I've landed now, it's just-- and I think, part of ethics is understanding that your actions have impact. They have impact on you, they have impact on other people around you. Just understanding that. It's like really, we made the joke at the beginning of the episode about the polyamory Board of Directors, which doesn't exist. It's like no one is standing there over your shoulder watching what you're doing, like Santa Claus, getting ready to revoke your polyamory card, or put a gold star on it or not.
Dedeker: A gold star.
Emily: It's like that means, no one's really policing you. That means you can do what you want. If you want to close your relationship, you can. It's just, you have to understand that there's impact there. It's about evaluating what that impact is. I would make the argument like there's impact, even if you're not having to break up with other people in order to close your relationship. Even if you've opened, maybe neither of you are dating someone, or maybe neither, you have gone on a date, and you decide to close your relationship. There's still impact there. There's still impact on how you relate to each other. There is still impact on how you communicate with each other. There is still impact in the sense of I guess-- I don't know.
I feel like when you do a lot of the back and forth open close thing, just that there's impact. That it's like it can some-- I think that I often see it resulting in, sometimes people feel a little bit more unstable, people feel a little bit more confused of like," Are we doing this open thing or are we not? Is it safe for me, when we say that we are open? Is it safe for me to date someone or is it not? Because I don't know if we're going to close again. If it's closed, is it going to be safe for me to feel like it's closed? Because I don't know if we're going to open it again. " I think there can still be impact there even if you're not necessarily dating someone or having to break someone's heart or disrupt someone's life to break up with them in order to close the relationship. I think that's where I land is that it's like, I can't necessarily tell you that what you're doing is good or bad or what but just understand that there's impact and it's up to you to be aware of that and know if you're okay making that kind of impact or not. That's my soapbox.
Jase: Well, I was going to take it to a slightly different angle. More of a philosophical angle of identity. Of like, can you consider yourselves-- if this is a couple that's closed and opened again, can you count as polyamorous if that's something that you've done in the past. Say you even did it in a less ethical way. In a way that was really hurtful to people. You did just like, "My partner told me I have to break up with you. Bye." Breaking hearts and practicing the stuff that we talk a lot about on this show being a shitty thing to do and not being ethical. However, it happens sometimes, because we all make decisions and we all either cave to pressures or just weigh the pros and cons and have to make hard decisions that hurt people. That does happen sometimes, even if you're being as ethical as you can be. Sometimes we're not perfect. I think there's actually a lot of value in accepting that and accepting and being able to admit," I've done this badly before where I've made some not great decisions about the ways that I've treated people," but that doesn't mean I can't identify with this thing, or that I can't do better in the future. I feel we're going to see more and more of this as we-- we are in election season now but as we move toward another presidential election, this thing that we do with politicians, where it's "You are not allowed to ever have changed your mind ever about anything as a politician." If you ever have, someone's going to try to catch you up on it and be "See, got you. You're a liar, you're not trustworthy, you flip flop."
I think that if someone's super inconsistent or says they believe one thing and immediately does another thing, yes, that's not being congruous. Yes, that's not being trustworthy or safe. On the other hand, I think there's a ton of value to being able to change our beliefs and to learn things and to keep growing as people instead of being "No, all my beliefs have been fixed and every new thing I believe, I have to relate somehow back to how it's justified by other things I've said that I believed." I think there's this balance there. Anyway, that's my little soapbox. We're trading soapboxes now.
Emily: You are the soapbox Emily?
Dedeker: No, all I know is that-- I said before, things do happen. I've known people who, they may have long term partners, but one partner might want to go on a lot of dates. That's something that they love to do. When they got pregnant, the primary partner said, "Hey, is it okay if during this time we not go on any new dates? Because I'm not feeling great about my body right now, or it's just a challenging time for me because of the pregnancy. I don't feel I want to go on new dates. Maybe together we cannot do that during this nine-month period or during this 18-month period or something when the child is very young. Maybe we don't need to completely take away from the existing relationships but we just don't enter into any new ones." For example, I've seen that happen with people that I know.
Then also obviously I've seen it on the other end of the spectrum where people completely just can't handle polyamory. One partner can't and say, it’s monogamy robust. That obviously yes, from an ethical standpoint that can be challenging and yes, I agree with you that pros and cons have to be weighed and potentially somebody has to make the decision," I want to stay in this relationship," or "I want to be polyamorous." That's the thing that matters to me. That it's the person's decision of course but yes, being ethical about it is incredibly important.
Emily: I feel a lot of people end up in a bind. Let's say in that situation where it's maybe I really jive with being non-monogamous put my partner is having a really hard time and I feel we need to close the relationship or else this person is going to leave me or it seems they're really getting hurt by this. Of course, we end up in this ethical bind. It's this idea of it feels unethical to be doing something that my partner feels harmed by or upset by. Again, I'll just come back to the same thing of, it’s okay to make the decision that feels right to you. That feels-- I don't know. It's the best choice for you in that particular moment. I think that some people fall into some mistake in thinking of, “If I've made a choice, that means I'm supporting my primary partnership, or I'm protecting my primary partner. That means it's 100% an ethical choice. Any harm that I caused is cancelled out.” I think sometimes people fall into thought of this idea of," Well, I've chosen to."
Dedeker: That trumps everything else, for lack of a better word.
Emily: Yes, that comes from everything else. The thing is the same thing where it's-- I don't know. Americans, we love a black and white, don't we? We love being able to try if this is right.
Jase: We try for it so hard.
Emily: This is wrong but it does come down to Shades of Grey, essentially. I don't know. It is just that. It's just evaluating what the impact is. I think that just because you made a choice to protect your marriage or to protect your relationship, maybe that's a good thing, but it doesn't mean that you didn't cause any harm.
Dedeker: For sure, absolutely. Well, that's a lot of fun things that we talked about. I think overall, with these things that we just discussed, the takeaway that I have is, if you're doing things in an ethical manner with a lot of thought and a lot of introspection behind them, then generally if you call yourself polyamorous, then you are. You just need to be doing things in an ethical manner and be having the forethought to be," Okay, if I'm not in a relationship now the relationships that I will have in the future are going to look X, Y and Z."
Emily: Some intentionality.
Dedeker: Yes, intentionality behind it exactly.
Jase: Well, I don't know Emily. I don't know if you get to count yourself as polyamorous just for believing that. Because you do it different than me. I don't think you get to be in this club.
Emily: I see you're getting, what Jase is doing here.
Dedeker: Are you about to gate keep what we're going to talk about in a little bit?
Emily: Yes, I was going to say Jase is gate keeping and I almost called him gaze. He's gaze keeping.
Jase: Gaze keeping. Yes, I am.
Emily: He's, gaze keeping.
Dedeker: That's weird.
Emily: We are going to talk about gate keeping but before we get on to that, we're going to take a quick break to talk about some exciting things. The first one being our Patreon community. Some of this conversation that we're having today was motivated by a conversation that we had in our monthly Patreon video discussion group. Where some people did express," Hey, my life looks this right now or I don't have any partners right now. I'm not even interested in dating right now. Can I still identify this way?" That was really inspiring to us and there was some interesting conversation going on about that. Anyway, we have these awesome video discussion groups every single month. If you want to become a part of that, you can go to patreon.com/multiamory. Specifically, that's at the $9 a month level that you get access to our monthly video discussion groups as well as to our private Facebook discussion group and discourse forum and discord chat as well. Which has been this really fantastic place where people feel safe since it's all private and locked down and no one can see that you're in this group.
People feel safe to come forward, share what's going on in their lives, share the questions that they have or recently share silly pictures of them dressed up in Halloween costumes with all their partners and stuff like that. We get another great community. You can even access just the online community for as little as $5 a month that our Patreon. Again, if you want to join, take part in that. Take part in these discussions which often help inform our episodes. Again, go to patreon.com/multiamory.
Jase: Another thing that is incredibly helpful and also helps the world at large is to take a couple minutes to go to iTunes or Stitcher and write a review about this show. Let people know what it is that you like about this show. What's the value that you get out of listening to multiamory. Because there are other people out there just you looking for the same things, who haven't found it yet. Maybe they stumble across this show and they're like," I don't know if this is what I'm looking for." Then they read your review and see oh, they talked about this particular thing that was meaningful to them. I can relate to that. Maybe I'll give this a try. Maybe this will be something that can help me too. The way that this helps the world at large is that the more people are thinking about these things and being courageous enough to look at themselves and really examine the way they're doing things and how they're treating people, the more great people there are out there for you to have relationships with. For all of us, and it just keeps growing into a better world. Take a couple minutes, write a review on ITunes and Stitcher and save the world.
Emily: It's really evolved over time that at the first we were like, "It'll help us feel good." Now you're like, “You’re going to save the world by leaving an iTunes review."
Dedeker: Yes. Good news. Alright, well you all do that. Finally, our sponsor for this week is audible. We've talked about it before but Dedeker Winston recently got an audio book for her book, The Smart Girls guide to polyamory. We're going to shout it out again because why the heck not. If you go to audibletrial.com/multiamory, you can get a free 30-day trial of audible in addition to getting a free audio book. We all suggest you go and get Dedeker's book. Even if you decide not to keep with the audible trial, but we're sure that you will, it gives the kickback to us. Then you also get to keep the free audio book. Do it like a hobby.
Jase: If you've already read Dedeker's book, I did have another recommendation.
Dedeker: Please, yes.
Jase: Which is a book called the Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. The sequel to it I think just came out, or is coming out in a week or something. I'm almost finished with the audio book of the first one in the series. It's really cool if you're into Sci-fi political intrigue.
Emily: What is it called again?
Jase: The Collapsing Empire.
Emily: The Collapsing Empire.
Jase: Anyway, one of the things that's actually really neat about this book is it's-- in its world building creates this totally different world that is a thousands of years from now where it's like the government is set up in such a way that it's a religious government and yet there's basically, no gender or sexuality restrictions on anyone, that men and women, both can be equally sexually forthcoming without getting shamed for that. People will sometimes lament to themselves about not being more fluid sexually, because they wish they could have a sexual relationship with this person. It's just that. It's this really interesting world while still being somewhat religious and very capitalist. It's like bits and pieces of our world went through without other parts.
Jase: Which I think is really cool compared to a lot of other fantasy and sci-fi where it's like, "Oh, we have all this technology and there's no religion anymore," but yet somehow everyone still adheres to the super traditional gender roles and there's still damsels in distress. You know what I mean? Anyway, I've really been enjoying it. Go check that out if you've already read Dedeker's book. You probably have.
Emily: Everyone has read Dedeker's book. It's that good.
Dedeker: Far from it, there could still be more people who could stand to read it.
Emily: Well, all right. Go read it.
Jase: Go read it.
Bradford: Hey there, this is Bradford.
Angela: This is Angela. We are the Atoms of Love.
Bradford: We are the hosts of By the Bi. A raw and honest weekly podcast weeding bisexuality, with swinging, kink, polyamory and marriage, into a happy and healthy relationship.
Angela: We discuss topics such as jealousy, communication, and oh yes, adventurous sex.
Bradford: Occasionally, a beatboxing Yoda. It's worse than what you're imagining.
Angela: It is. For us, nothing is off limits as we subscribe to the try everything twice philosophy.
Bradford: We're always excited to share our experiences and advice with our listeners.
Angela: Swing on by swingset.fm, or wherever you subscribe to your favorite podcasts.
Emily: All right, and with that, we're going to get into gatekeeping. What is gatekeeping?
Jase: You tell us.
Dedeker: Got to keep those gates. Don't let them get away.
Emily: Exactly. Well, for those of you who don't know, the Oxford English Dictionary has a definition and here it is. It is the activity of controlling and usually limiting general access to something. Why do we want to talk about this gatekeeping?
Dedeker: Well, this gatekeeping as a term comes up in a lot of circles, and I think in a lot of online communities, because it often manifests as the act of barring some individual from entering into a space or participating in a discussion that they are otherwise entitled to. It is often done by an authoritative figure. What this looks like in real world terms is something like trans-exclusive radical feminists. Where it's, no, trans-women are not allowed in the discussion around women's rights, or women's bodily autonomy or beauty standards or things like that.
Or things, again in feminist spaces, like preventing black woman from being able to talk about how race plays into their experience of misogyny. Preventing black woman from being able to talk about misogyny or as it is.
I think that I've seen it pop up definitely in non-monogamy. Friendly spaces or polyamory friendly spaces, because it can be very easy to, again, start getting down to brass tacks around like, "Well, what you're practicing is polyamory but what you over there are practicing is not polyamory, so you don't have a voice in this discussion or you can't enter into this space or we don't want you here." I think that's when it tends to usually come up.
Jase: Another place that I know this comes up is with bisexuals in the gay community. That sometimes there's this like," Sorry, you can't be a part of the leadership of the queer youth department at this university because you're bisexual. You're not really gay."
Dedeker: Well, that brings up another interesting point is that gatekeeping, it can come from within a community. Using polyamory as an example, people who identify as polyamorous calling out other people who are also wanting to identify as polyamorous for not being poly enough, essentially. It can come from within a community. It can come from outside a community.
An example is like women who are geeky and play video games for a long time, there's been this sense of gatekeeping of like, "No, you're not a real geek." Sometimes it does boil down, you're not a real geek, just because you're a woman. Or, "No, you're not a real gamer because you don't play MOBAs. Or, "No, you are not a real gamer, because you don't play these games."
Jase: Well, and this came up in a very political and press related way with all of this stuff with Riot Games.
Dedeker: It was very much that culture there.
Jase: Where they tried to back-pedal on how they defined being a real gamer, because they were doing some of that stuff specifically to try and exclude women.
Dedeker: I think that when we get into these discussions around, what counts as polyamory or not, I think that gatekeeping often comes to the forefront. Because the fact that I think people get really upset by the idea of, well, you have to have some standards, right? Because you can't just let anyone identify as polyamorous because then you get again, those people who are just assholes who are using polyamory as a label to hide behind when they're not actually being ethical, or honest or communicating.
I think people struggle with this idea of what is just making a distinction? What is protecting a community? What is gatekeeping? What are your thoughts?
Jase: I think you've just hit on the heart of the whole challenge. I think that to go back to what we were saying before, is that we, especially as Americans, are so desperate for a black and white. It's like, "Just give me the rubric. Give me the rules by which I can decide if I'm gatekeeping or not."
That you'll end up with people all across the spectrum on where they land on that decision, but they're trying to put it in axioms or little definitions or a little like, "I can just check this box or these couple boxes and know that this is okay or if it checks these couple boxes, I know it isn't okay. It's bad gatekeeping."
I think the truth of it, though, is that it is very situational and that it is something that we have to constantly be examining why we're doing these things and what are the impacts of it? How is it impacting people?
Emily: Well, it just reminds me of this episode of Transparent when that show was still happening on Amazon. Where, it was Jeffrey Tambor's character, went with, I think, his two daughters to this big retreat that was a women's retreat. They basically threw them out of the women's retreat. Threw her out of the women's retreat, because they said, "Well, you're trans, and therefore, you shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be allowed to be here." I've definitely heard that from some very feminist friends of mine, like, "Well, people who are trans cannot have a discussion on the pain of being a woman or the things that have occurred and the prejudice women have faced in their lives because they were potentially once gendered as male."
To me, none of that makes sense. That's all really mind boggling to me that someone would go there or think that. I think it's challenging, with this topic of polyamory. Inclusivity versus trying to push people out. That doesn't seem right to me. If somebody is interested in polyamory, genuinely and ethically, then to me, they should be allowed to be doing it or calling themselves that regardless of maybe the way in which their polyamory looks.
Dedeker: Well, I think it's hard because I think that often what motivates it, like that instance with the women's retreat. I know it's a fictional instance, but there's definitely been similar things that have happened in real life for sure, constantly. From the perspective of the person who is an authority there and is making this call or who is leading this community, I think for some people it can come from ignorance for sure. Is it ignorance layered on top of coming from an intention to protect the community or to improve the community or to make the community be taken seriously from a mainstream viewpoint?
Emily: That's an interesting distinction there, like it matters about mainstream.
Dedeker: Yes. Well, but that's where it starts getting tricky. Because I think that we saw not long after gay marriage was legalized in the States, there was this really interesting swell of voices in the queer community and also voices of the press. Really sometimes unintentionally I think bashing on the idea of non-monogamous relationships because there was the standing argument of like, "Well, if you legalize gay marriage then what's to stop us from legalizing bestiality or legalizing bigamy or polygamy or whatever?" There were all these articles coming out being like, "See, gay marriage is fine. Don't worry, there's no way non-monogamous marriages would ever work out. We don't need to worry about that."
I think there were also voices in the queer community being like, "Hey, all you weirdos over there practicing non-monogamy, please don't make this worse for us. We just won these rights to have traditional marriage. You need to stay over there and stop making us look bad." I see it coming. That's where the mainstream values thing comes in. Is that we understand from a mainstream viewpoint, having multiple partners is weird, but having just one partner is okay. If I can sell you on the idea of, "I'm gay, but I have just this with one partner, and my marriage looks exactly like yours." That's an easier sell.
Anyway, that was a really long-winded way of getting around to the fact that I think from the side of the person doing the gatekeeping, I think it's often motivated by that fear of, "We can't just let anyone into this community. We need to protect this community. We need to hang on to what it is that we already have." Then the impact of that is often creating more divided communities within already vulnerable communities and breeding a lot of infighting and stuff like that, which I think is obviously not great for everybody.
Emily: Well, yes, because we've even had our own group at some points. I definitely see it in the Inspired Women of LA group. My goodness, people just go really angry at one another in that group. I think that it does become maybe not so much gatekeeping in there, but just, "My way of thinking is best and yours is not okay," kind of thing.
I understand that if people are obviously being disrespectful or racist, bigots or any of those types of things, obviously that needs to be addressed. Where is the line crossed at even just conversations surrounding polyamory, or anything? Where is the line crossed on like, this is okay but this isn't? I guess, in our own group, obviously, we have guidelines, and one needs to adhere to those guidelines.
Jase: The reason why we made guidelines instead of rules is because we understand that there is context specific stuff there. That it isn't something that you can just set in advance.
Emily: Say like, this will do everything for every single circumstance that ever happens, of course.
Jase: To bring this into a non-relationship, non-gender related field, in law, that's something that's actually a big difference between the way contracts are written up in different countries. That there's some countries like ours, like America who tries to do that. We're going to spell out every single possible thing we think could ever happen. Then have controls for the things that don't quite fit those. Then we argue over those and that's how we approach the law.
Whereas, there's other countries who will have much shorter contracts. The way that they would explain it is,” Well, we go into the contract, knowing that we can't anticipate everything that's going to happen." If there's a dispute, it's going to have to get resolved. The way to do that is through making the intention of the contract clear, rather than every single little condition and thing that could possibly maybe happen in the future.
Dedeker: Because we love the black and white and the letter of the law.
Jase: We do.
Jase: Even as you were just talking, Emily, you were talking about, "Well, these things obviously crossed the line." I'm like, “Well, that's obvious to you maybe," but that might not be--
Emily: Obvious to someone else.
Jase: Even if they said they have the same obvious line, where that line is might be different.
Emily: Yes. No, you're absolutely right. It's so challenging on the internet also.
Jase: Well, the internet's a terrible place. That's black and white. That's a terrible. No, I'm just kidding. It's not because there's wonderful places like our communities.
Emily: Yes, exactly.
Jase: I was going to bring up just an interesting-- Did you guys ever watch The L Word? I know you did because we watched the first season together.
Dedeker: I watched a little bit of it.
Emily: Katherine Moenning. I can't.
Jase: In the first season, there was this guy, he presented as male, identifies as male, but identifies as a lesbian. Do you remember this character who, the women who are part of the core group, were all hanging out and he was talking about, "Well, as lesbians, we experience this or we feel this way.”? He walks away and one of the other women's like," What is he talking about?"
He's a man who dates women, but identifies as a lesbian. I bring this up, because I think it's an interesting. I could definitely see an argument for either side about, should this man be able to be included in a lesbian discussion group or community or something like that? I think that's why they had it on the show is to bring up the fact that that is a difficult thing. You see what I mean?
I feel like no matter where you try to lay down your rules about who can identify as polyamorous or who can identify with whatever gender, there's other things where it's like, "Oh shit. We didn't account for that. He's not saying he's a woman, but he's saying he's a lesbian. How does that fit into our rules?" I don't know. Again, I think we get in to problems when we try to make things black and white.
Emily: Account for absolutely everything, yes.
Dedeker: All right. I do feel like it's important to at least give some air time to the idea that I don't want anyone to come away from this thinking that it's anything that remotely looks like gatekeeping is bad. All of your communities, and all of your spaces and all of your discussion should be open to literally anyone and whoever. Because someone who's actually not part of a particular community or identity doesn't mean that they're automatically entitled to access any space or participate in any discussion.
If you're heading up any communities, or any discussion groups, or things like that, that's on you to make those calls. To bring mindfulness and awareness to that of knowing what's gatekeeping versus what is actually protecting a community or maintaining the integrity of the community.
I think also, Jase, something you brought up is the idea that, trying to avoid the bad form of gatekeeping for a community is different from gatekeeping your personal life. I think that's just boundaries, right?
Jase: Well, yes, we hadn't gotten to that yet. It’s here in the notes. I didn't want to make that distinction. Like with polyamory, to bring it back to where we started this discussion, if I'm going to say, "Well, in this community, or who can be involved in this discussion." I'm not going to put stipulations in place of like,"You can only be in this discussion if you have X number of partners, or if you practice polyamory a certain way. “I wouldn't want to eliminate those people from being able to participate in that discussion and to find a safe place to be able to talk about it and process it as they're on that journey.
However, that doesn't mean that just because I think someone can be in that space means that I think they're safe to date or that they're an honest person to date or that there's someone who I would recommend anyone else to date. I find this with relationship anarchy too. I feel like sometimes people find it and think, "Aha, now I finally found the thing, that if someone's this, then they're definitely going to be ethical and not any of these bad things that I found I don't like."
Jase: The truth is, none of these labels guarantees someone's a safe person.
Dedeker: Definitely not.
Jase: I think that's a worthwhile distinction to make. That just because you let someone use a label or be in a group doesn't mean they instantly have a pass on everything.
Dedeker: Well, I think to build off of that, it's also okay if you go on a date with someone, and maybe they do identify as polyamorous or relationship anarchist or non-monogamous or whatever, and you jive with that, but the way they practice is not something you're really interested in. That's okay too. I don't count that as gatekeeping. I count that as like just boundaries and what you feel is going to keep you safe. I feel like we've had some discussions about that in the Patreon group recently. That if the way that someone practices in their relationship to the way they practice communication sets off red flags for you, even if you're both technically on the same "team" of both identifying as polyamorous, it doesn't mean that you have to date them or have to feel like it's safe to date them or have to put up with it.
I think, unfortunately sometimes that's a symptom of if people feel like they don't have great access to community or great access to people to date who also identify as polyamorous that I think sometimes people end up in a situation where they feel like, "Well, I really don't like that this person I just met practices this weird strict hierarchy with a veto and communicates, or let's their partners see our private text messages and stuff like that. I don't like that, but they are the only person I've met so far who is okay with non-monogamy. I feel like I have to go with this person."
I think sometimes that's a symptom of people feeling like they don't have the options to be picky about who they're okay connecting to or not.
Jase: They don't have the option to have boundaries, to phrase it another way. That's a really interesting point.
Dedeker: Yes, which is sad. I would hope to empower people to feel like they always have the option to have boundaries even if I know it's hard sometimes.
Jase: That's much easier said than done for sure.
Dedeker: Of course. Yes, definitely.
Jase: It reminds me of a discussion we had just recently where we were talking with someone about the different labels like consensual non-monogamy, and ethical non-monogamy, and other ways that are bigger umbrellas than just the term polyamory, for example. He brought up an interesting point of consensual non-monogamy is a more clearly defined thing. That it's consensual means people are consenting to it and it's not monogamous. That's kind of a yes or no. It either is or it isn't that. Obviously, there's still a little bit of grey, but less grey than ethical non-monogamy. Which is like well, ethics, rules--
Emily: What does that mean? Where are we at there?
Jase: Right. I think that's actually something worth pointing out that, I feel like with pretty much any other sexual identity or relationship style, that no one seems to imply that that means ethics all by itself. I don't think most people would associate like, "Oh, you're bisexual so you're more ethical than someone who's straight or gay."
Emily: Probably some people would conflate like, "You're monogamous, therefore you're more ethical."
Jase: Okay, that's true.
Emily: Some people, but obviously, there's a lot of monogamous people who are not ethical at all. Even not ethical in their monogamy. In the way in which they do monogamy.
Jase: Right, I guess that's what I'm saying is that just because someone is monogamous, that would be absurd to say that that means they would be ethical and if they're not ethical they can't be called monogamous. The same thing goes true for polyamory.
Emily: There's a lot of unethical polyamorists.
Jase: Yes, of course, because they're still people. I think it's interesting to think about that distinction between consensual non-monogamy, unethical non-monogamy, and ethical non-monogamy could be something that we strive for and that our show could be about exploring and helping people to do that as well as they can. Whereas consensual non-monogamy could be more of a like, "This is what I'm doing," just factually.
Jase: Anyway, that's just an interesting thought I had just while you were bringing it home there.
Dedeker: I feel like we need to have a TR episode on just ethics.
Emily: I think we should sometime. Let's do it.
Jase: Let's do it. We'll do a week-long retreat where people can come and we'll all just talk about ethics.
Emily: Just talk about ethics and philosophy.
Dedeker: If you all have any ethicists, that's what they call them, right? Ethicists? Is that a job title? Is that a thing someone can be, ethicist?
Emily: It's a great name if it is.
Jase: Sign me up, I want to learn.
Emily: I am an ethicist. [mumbles]
Jase: I'm an apprentice ethicist.
Emily: That's one mouthful. One hell of a mouthful.
Dedeker: All right, you all. Let us know your thoughts on all of this. Let us know how is it that you label. Have you been in a community before where you've seen an instance of gatekeeping? Have you been on the negative side of gatekeeping in an instance? We definitely love to hear from you, love to hear what experiences are.
The best place to share your thoughts with other listeners is on this episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook or Discourse forums. You can get access to these groups and you can join our exclusive community by going to Patreon.com/multiamory.
In addition, you can share with us publicly on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can leave us a voicemail at 678-M-U-L-T-I-05. You can also leave us a voice message on Facebook.