I have a deeply complicated relationship with all the press (especially tabloid press) polyamory has received lately. It’s a necessary and positive step to have Super Wholesome Polyamorous People in articles and on video as Very Happy, with maybe a throwaway line that “jealousy happens but hardly ever anymore and we work through that” is really important to public perception. One of these crappy attempts at a polyamory show like You Me Her (all offense meant, that show was AWFUL) is going to be a little better, take off, and be our Will and Grace, made of all delightfully presented stereotypes, run for too many seasons, and make moms in the midwest who think they’ve never met one of us realize it won’t be so bad when they do. Or, when we come out to them, they won’t panic; they’ve “heard of this.”
“Laura, you might say, that’s all good news. Why on Earth would you have a problem with that?” Well, I’m in the awkward position of having done this long enough to know the formats that are the easiest to understand on tv are the hardest to make work in real life, and I worry about what that does when we don’t meet our stereotypes. Do we still get broader acceptance within 20 years and a couple gritty HBO shows that we like better within 10? (I say, remembering that those also aged badly, but now it doesn’t matter as much, because my gay sister can still get married.)
Or do we get our mothers going “Ugh, you can’t do monogamy right, you can’t do polyamory right, when are you going to find a nice couple and settle down,” once we’re out but single? Do the long-chain-wide-network-polycule types get ignored and forgotten and parallel folks get treated like shit when monogamy+1 and two couples got together to make a quad become acceptable, like out leatherfolk got treated at some city’s pride parades in 2019, because we need to be more family-friendly now? Or is it ok because those networks still have chunks where people are small-polycule-family-units in appearance, and my mother can still hope I’ll find a stepdad or two for my kid and my place as the end of a chain is a phase? There’s no way to know, and those questions bother me both personally and on a grand scale.
Logically, I 100% understand that change is incremental, and that public perception change is the most so. I also understand that I come from the privileged position of 1) being able to be out and stay out and 2) an academic background, making me the asshole who wants to read a dissertation, not watch a 10 min video or a tabloid show. So, when members of my polycule were approached to do a tabloid video a couple years ago, I didn’t say “Oh my gosh, don’t do it!” - I said, “Please include me.” I wanted to show that people can have happy family lives and still have outside partners. It still came out as super wholesome, it still got a bunch of views and media attention, mostly positive, and it seems to have landed as similarly easy to understand, even if there were some problematic editing choices. I think incremental change needs to include those slightly-off-expectation expressions, or there’s going to be a lot of confusion when people try polyamory and realize triads aren’t equilateral every moment of every day and every year; that quads usually aren’t all perfectly bisexual people with perfectly equal feelings for each other; that the unicorn or dragon you’re seeking doesn’t fall into your lap in a meet-cute (or want your couple’s profile on a dating site); and that to a great extent, polyamory is relationships on hard mode, because every relationship takes work and there are more of them.
This is essentially a personal post; I expect opinions to vary, and some of how they vary to be based on what kind of relationship you want for yourself. I’m not here to yuck anybody’s yum, and I’m not here to say you shouldn’t see a closed triad or quad where everyone is emotionally intelligent enough and externally supported enough by friends to maintain that balance as your ideal. But it irks me that because that’s the closest to monogamy, it’s what we need the public to ingest first; because when they find polyamory groups and online community, the first thing someone will do is send a couple the unicorns-r-us link and that will make a lot of them feel like now polyamory is impossible, because someone told them what they want is bad. It’s only bad if they’re rude or unethical or dishonest about it, and that’s the point people are trying to make, but they’ve made it a hundred times now and they’re tired and just send a link; so a wave of “getting people into the idea” with media that says “Oh, equilateral triads are amazing and how this happens” is going to land a lot of people in bad situations that leave them with a bad taste in their mouths, or in a lot of community rejection, which I think is just as bad as having been ignorant about it. Feel free to disagree, because incremental change among people who still will never try it is important to public perception; but I worry about internal community impact, and that’s potentially ugly as a side effect.