Daddy Green

POLYAMORY, POWER & POLICING DESIRE

The policing of desire (or ‘not’) is a fairly common polyamorous catch phrase, along with the ‘control of one’s body.’ Usually in the context of ‘I won’t police your desires or control your body’ the implication is: you can do whatever you want [and so can I]. But really, our desires are always policed. And I remain unconvinced that polyamorous discourse effectively overcomes this.

The fact is, someone always likes someone else more. And there is so much power in that. When it comes down to it, the person who most likes the other will forfeit their desires quicker and easier: the terms will always be set by the more nonchalant. And what is interesting and important (and too often ignored) is what the partner ‘in power’ does, how they use that power (ir)responsibly.

Thinking about power through daddying can help elucidate some of the complexities here. The power that a daddy has is surrendered to him (of course, a daddy can be a woman but either way I will use male pronouns) by his boy/orphan/girl. Put in a more general context, the top only has power given to them by the bottom. The way in which this power is respected – reciprocated – is by the daddy only doing what the boy wants. Doing something else, using that (daddying) power against someone who has given it to you; in a way they don’t want, is (always) abusive.

In a poly relationship, saying ‘we [or I] do what we [or I] want’ ignores this transference of power and the ways in which our decisions and actions impact those around us. It’s naïve and perilous. Being clear about what you want helps, but things are more complicated than that. The fact is, mostly you know when someone likes you more than you like them, or when your desires (often so very inappropriately termed ‘needs’) are overriding theirs. Highlighting the way power functions like this in relationships is of desperate necessity.

I don’t want to police anyone else’s desires, and certainly not someone I love. But if our desires differ, which they certainly will in one context or another, someone wins out. Power is always at play. Pretending that we’re autonomous, that our decisions and actions don’t affect others, isn’t helpful. All it does is overwrite and invalidate ways in which power is abused. Being a good daddy means taking care with the ways in which you have power. Please.

Max xx

see Polyamory & Power Part 2 & Part 3

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10 Comments

Filed under "Queer Culture", Max Attitude, What's Queer Here?

10 responses to “Daddy Green

  1. Lia

    FUCK YES. Can I link from everywhere?

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  3. 3p

    I don’t know if I agree that “someone always likes someone else more” — at least, I don’t think that’s always true over the lifespan of a relationship. I think power in a relationship is about more than “who likes who more”.

    I feel that I’m less of a flirt than my partner and less interested in pursuing sex and romance outside our relationship. If an issue comes up to do with what we do with other people, it’s more likely going to be to do with what he does, purely because he’s more likely to be seeing someone else. He has more power to hurt me through what he does outside our relationship, and more scope to dismiss my concerns as “policing his desires”. That gives him more power, in that very specific sense, but I don’t think that means I like him more than he likes me. In other contexts, I have more power to hurt him.

    That said, I’ve definitely seen a lot of poly folk attempt to escape accountability for thoughtless behaviour by saying “don’t police my desire”, and it’s very frustrating.

    On a semi-related note, this is why I prefer the term “open” or “non-monogamous” to “polyamorous” when describing my preferred relationship structure. I prefer relationships that are open for negotiation, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I prefer multiple lovers.

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  5. beat fitzpatrick

    I think it is important to note that someone doesn’t always get left out in the cold in terms of liking the other person more, but I do agree that it is common, and I think you’ve raised a valid point Max in pointing out that people can be careless with each other, and self involved in asserting their rights to essentially do what they want. I don’t think this is restricted to relationships which are polyamorous. I do think however, that sexual dynamics are intensely loaded in our society and so people feel less able to deal with hurt around them and get much more judgemental about it as well.

    I agree Max that the dynamic in top/bottom play is often much more negotiated and therefore consented to explicitly in numerous ways specifically, and that this is definitely a strength. I would argue that it is very difficult in other less well defined contexts of relating to achieve this clarity, so by this i mean most relationships, be they with your family, friends, lovers, work mates etc. The fact that it is difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try however! I often struggle with the ethics surrounding relationships and you’ve raised a point that I’ve argued to myself many times before, almost word for word. I suppose the conclusions I come to include:
    1. relating to people needs to include a concern for their welfare and needs and desires, if you want to put it in a selfish context, in order for me to even have fulfilling relationships I need to care about what is going on for the other person
    2. this care does not mean however that I can not care for others/be attracted to them, and I have a right to my desires
    3. acting on my desires however, needs to be weighed up against point 1. Who, ultimately, do I want to be in the world?
    4. I think that in a lot of ways being in polyamorous relationships is way more overtly demanding and challenging than monogomous ones, simply because as someone who grew up in a world with certain romance discourse, I have a lot of baggage to unpack about love, desire, belonging, self worth that have all been strongly tied to the idea of being in love with one person, and them with you. I think you experience these issues no matter what type of relationship you are in, but they are often very in your face in open relationships!
    5. taking point 4 into consideration, I also believe I have a responsibility to myself, and a power in myself, to own my emotions, to assess whether the situations I am in are working for me, and if their not, to take control of that and either challenge it, negotiate it, or failing this, leave.

    so, if i like someone more than they like me, and they are doing things that hurt me, I have the power to do something about that. I chose to get into it and i can choose to get out of it. I may not have recognised initially in relating to this person that they would behave in these ways, it may surprise and hurt me. Thats ok as long as I can acknowledge it,learn from it, and ultimately make decisions for myself. I can also choose to recognise the fact im more invested and either decide to be ok with that in general, or to be anxious about it and fret over it. As a person who is liked more, I should treat my lover with respect, as I would anyway, and check in with them about how they are feeling about things. I will not necessarily change my desire, deny it or not act on it, but I will do my best to make sure that everyone feels safe as much as is possible, and also as much as is consistent with people having the ability to also look after themselves and not being disempowered by loving me but having choices about how they can go about that (if you are disempowered by loving or caring for someone, it doesn’t really seem like the kind of love you would want in your life does it?).

    As someone who has been very hurt by other people in the past, though these things have been really painful, I do actually believe that I have learnt a lot from these situations, not least how to deal with stress a bit better!!!! A lot of what I have learnt about is about how I talk to myself, what I believe about myself, and what I believe about love. These have been huge lessons (which are totally ongoing), which are almost incidental to the person who I was relating to at the time. They were a catalyst for these internal dialogues (though I did and still do love them as individuals as well).

    Ultimately I dont feel like I have any full stop answers, but I do think talking about this stuff, thinking about it, testing it, is important. I think different relationships work for different people and often also at different times.

  6. Dragon

    I agree with 3p that the “someone always likes someone more” argument is too simplistic. Power operates in complex, interchangeable ways. My experience was not who likes who more, but rather who wants to fuck other people more… But a discussion on power in polyamoury is so very important…

    I really appreciate parts of this blog. I experienced some type of a polyamoury where my needs were totally disregarded and I was utterly disrespected in the face of someone else’s desires (termed needs)…. It was shit, hurtful and selfish.

    I remember reading in a zine once, it went something along these lines… Ace to everyone who is doing monogamy and trying to look at and challenge power dynamics. And ace to everyone who is doing polyamoury and trying to be respectful and caring in doing that… Maybe it could be ACE to everyone who is trying to be aware of and challenge power dynamics, and be respectful and caring in ALL of their relationships. Hell knows our world could do with a lot more of it. X

    • This post was my way of attempting to begin a new discourse around queer relationships – where the main concern is “power” – and where problems of power (and abuse) can be addressed outside of the singular [but-]we’re-poly-and-that’s-subversive ‘defense’.

      This post does have a second part which elaborates and specifies some of the various critiques you’ve made [From Relational Violence]:

      “Same sex couples often overlook the ways in which there are inequalities in their relationships because they see the sameness of their sex-gender as a level playing field. But there remain other histories, experiences and social inequalities that lead some people into positions of power and others into subordination […] It’s not necessarily that someone likes someone else more, but that someone is always more likely to forfeit what they want for the desires of someone else (for a variety of reasons).”

      My main concern with “poly” discourse is that overwhelmingly I continue to see it employed in defense of behaving badly and screwing people around. I do think polyamory is more complex and more work than monogamy, if only because there are more people involved. And I think people (young people especially) are too quick to think they can pull it off without the time, emotional capacity and commitment to (re-)thinking one needs to dedicate in order for it to work (ie, in the least, to not screw people around).

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