Dialogue on Power and Ethics: the Polyamory and Queer Movements

This is a written conversation between myself and Pepper Mint, over the course of about 6 months, in which we cover the connections between polyamory, ethics, power and the queer movements...

You can find an excerpt here:


Currently, what interests me the most (and since you offered your brains for the picking, so to say ;) ) is the importance of parrhēsia (frankness) in performing polyamory, how parrhēsia is in the core of polyamory (the poly “mantra” is all about parrhēsia), and how, more than anything else, polyamory produces a certain kind of moral (not so much sexual, or even sentimental) subject, through means reminiscent of the ancient Greek practices of the care of the self. It strikes me as deeply interesting how something that is usually seen as a relationship-centered affair (polyamory) is actually something very individual in nature (care of the self), albeit in a good way, and where the Other is never denied its rightful place.

So, indeed, “polyamory isn’t about the sex, except when it is”, but sex is then utilized as a medium to reach a different morality, and it’s interesting to see that several authors, like Gayle Rubin, have specifically said that someday a new moral/ethical posture will arise to deal with contemporary and post-modern sexual and emotional practices. Could poly be an extreme/refined/fringe example of such a new moral positioning?

Does any of this make sense to you?


I am reading “parrhēsia” as “honesty, disclosure, and communication”. I agree that parrhēsia is central to polyamorous ideology and practice, emphasized almost to a fault.

I think it is important to consider the source of this focus on parrhēsia, however. I don’t think it necessarily comes from a desire to have better relationships, except perhaps tangentially. Rather, I think it is a direct response to mono-normativity’s insistence that nonmonogamy must be deceitful, just cheating in another form.

Classic monogamy itself encourages deceit: most people must at least pretend not to be attracted to people other than their partner. Within monogamy, most attempts at having multiple partners tend to involve deceit, namely cheating (because otherwise you get dumped).

But at the same time, mono-normativity sets up cheaters as the Other, creating a false duality of monogamy versus cheating. This tends to give any kind of nonmonogamy an air of deceit, even when it is entirely honest and upfront.

The project of polyamory is to create a third path, something that is not monogamy but also is not cheating. Distinguishing ourselves from monogamy is easy – having multiple partners does that. However, distinguishing ourselves from cheating is extremely difficult due to the mono-normative culture’s insistence that anything other than monogamy must be deceitful.

This not only plays out in ideology but also in practice. Because deceit is worked into our monogamous training, and associated with nonmonogamy, we end up with a lot of cultural encouragement to deceive in nonmonogamous relationship situations, which tends to be fatal to the relationship due to the lack of cultural support.


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