Love is nothing to be ashamed of.
That’s the thought I finally came to, at the end of my journey of processing the request made of me a few weeks ago, that in order to stay in an online course, I agree to never mention my niche or the word polyamory. I was honestly shocked to get this request; shocked and traumatized, all of my worst fears about being ‘out’ about poly come to life. Here I’d signed on to this course to become more confident in bringing my skills and talents to the world, and to help people understand the joys and challenges of polyamory and other “outside the box” forms of relating (at least as I’ve experienced them and learned over 15 years of intensive study) — and merely mentioning my niche brought down censure on my head. Was she (the course leader) right, that polyamory is “not G-rated” and inherently “squirmy”? Was I the one out of line, to think it would be ok to talk openly about polyamory?
We here in the Uncharted waters have had many a discussion (on lists, in discussion groups, on the web…) about whether sex is an inherent part of the definition of polyamory. I generally don’t think it’s required, though of course I think it’s by far the most common case that polyamory includes sex. In my definition, polyamory most often includes sex, in the exact same way that monogamy most often includes sex, but can be experienced without it; they’re both relationship styles after all. But just as it’s possible to have a celibate or sex-free monogamous relationship, it’s quite possible that someone might identify as polyamorous but not be having sex or in a sexual relationship. The presence or absence of sex is not like a light switch after all. Otherwise, we’d all walk around changing our status whenever we had a sexual encounter (or didn’t): Now polyamorous, now celibate, momentarily monogamous, polyamorous again ….
Yes, of course, that’s a very extreme and somewhat silly example… but is it any more extreme and silly than presuming that because my context is “polyamorous people,” that when I talk about communication tools, they are necessarily about communicating about sex? What exactly makes polyamory “not G-rated”? For that matter, is sex itself automatically R-rated, never mentionable to anyone under 17? And if so, why do they teach about it in middle school?? I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t my mind making polyamory into a 24/7 lurid group-sex encounter. Though I will admit to amusement when viewing this old ad that was going around on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:
Good clean fun at the beach?
No, it seems pretty clear to me that the issue with polyamory being an unfit topic for polite dinner-table conversation was in the mind of that beholder … and unfortunately in a lot of other as-yet uneducated-about-poly minds out there. When she thought about polyamory, she felt “squirmy,” aka uncomfortable, aka shame. One of the pernicious characteristics of shame is that it is “contagious”–it spreads from person to person, often below the level of consciousness. Her shame triggered my shame. It took me days and a lot of processing to get through it. And that’s AFTER working on this stuff for years. Shame is pretty powerful stuff.
At the Open-SF conference in June, the excellent Charlie Glickman presented a wonderful workshop entitled “Love, Sex, and Shame.” In it he talked about the manifestations of shame (e.g., closed posture, averted eyes/face, mumbling or silence, “shifty”/”squirmy”, energetic disconnection), vs. the manifestations of love (e.g., open posture, direct gaze, easy communication, groundedness/ease, energetic connection, etc). Pretty much, actively experiencing love is diametrically opposed to actively experiencing shame. It’s hard to experience both at the same time. Isn’t that interesting?
Unfortunately, much of our culture holds that sex is inherently shameful. By extension, anything that leads to sex (with the possible exception of procreative sex between male and female spouses) is by extension inherently shameful. I think that viewpoint is de facto harmful. Certainly it was harmful to me to hear as a young person that my normal feelings and thoughts were somehow bad and wrong… that *I* was bad and wrong. It’s hard to feel love, and to express it in a healthy way, if at the core you believe yourself to be broken. It took me many years, and a lot of heartache (not to mention a lot of money spent on therapists…), to finally move beyond that toxic frame into the freedom and joy in both love and sex that I now believe to be my birthright (and that of every human being.)
For me, the path of healing wound its way through many places, starting with making a choice to find my own spirituality, and winding up most recently with me refusing to be shamed and silenced for who and how many I love. Each step has involved me finding a bit that has been shamed, and being willing to entertain the notion that it wasn’t ME who was bad and wrong… but instead the unnecessary shame that had been forced on me for no other reason than that who and what I was didn’t fit into the particular box that was on offer at the time.
Understand that I believe that not all boxes are wrong, either. Sometimes boxes (or containers, or marriages–use the word that fits for you…) are places of safety. They’re where we keep our most prized memories. They provide support and boundaries. Sometimes they’re very beautiful; sometimes strong; sometimes fragile. But not all things (nor all creatures, nor all people) fit inside of every box. You know how there’s often that one package at the holidays that just refuses to fit inside the standard boxes, so you end up wrapping a small box with a note in it, or giving them a card, or sticking a million bows on it and hiding it in the back hallway instead? There’s nothing wrong with the gift for not fitting in that box — in fact, it might be THE best gift of them all because of the very thing that makes it not fit in the box! And there’s nothing wrong with the box either, just because that gift didn’t fit inside. It’s just a bad fit between that box, and that gift.
Well, that’s how I feel about polyamory, and about love. Polyamory is a great gift that doesn’t happen to fit the box that we got issued at the Universal Post Office. Polyamory is so chock full of LOVE that it spills out the sides and cannot be contained in the “usual” ways. (And lest you think I’m all sappy and Pollyanna (ha!) about poly, I also think that polyamory is sometimes the gift that proclaims “some assembly required” and for which the directions seem to be written in a foreign language.) Polyamory is bold and beautiful and complicated and drama-filled and a damn AFGO (“Another F-ing Growth Opportunity!”), and the worst thing and the best thing that I’ve ever done, all at once. (No, I take that back. The best thing I’ve ever done is to birth my amazing daughter. But poly is a close second.) When you get right down to it, polyamory is just a whole lotta LOVE all squished into one package (some assembly required).
And love, my friends, is nothing to be ashamed of.
Go sing your own song. Go chart your own ways.
“A Little Bird Told Me”: Sculpture in wood, metal and glorious paint, by artist Robriel Wolf
Love boldly, safely, and well.
PS: If you’re looking for some assistance in singing your own song, you can always drop me a line to ask for your own free 30-minute (or half-price 60 minute) session. I’m always happy to help others in the Uncharted waters (to mix a couple of metaphors!) 🙂
©2012, Dawn M. Davidson