One of the many things that I enjoy about my new college is that when I come out as poly the response I get is rarely one of discomfort or a blank lost stare. Instead I’m far more likely to receive a blase “That’s cool” and then them asking if I’ve read The Ethical Slut. The answer I give is that I haven’t read it yet at which point it’s assumed that I have some major moral/philosophical/ideological beef with its authors. In all honesty I have nothing against Dossie Easton or Catherine A. Liszt, I just don’t have a strong desire to read it.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Here’s a quick overview. (For you queer and/or poly people who hang with other queer and/or poly people you probably know plenty about this book and you should feel free to skip this paragraph.) The Ethical Slut has kinda become the de facto bible for poly communities since it was published in 1997. Billing itself as “a guide for infinite sexual possibilities” it is the main how-to book for poly/open/non-traditional/etc. relationships. Its cultural weight is so big that even when I was a teenager up in rural, no where, isolated northern Vermont I was familiar that this book existed. (I didn’t really know what “polyamory” was but I did know about this relationship book for open relationships.) In short it’s the book that every poly seems to expect every other poly has read.
Like I said earlier, I’ve got nothing in particular against T.E.S. but reading it just isn’t high on my list of things to-do.
The big thing is that if I want to know what the book says I can just ask one of my fifty billion friends who has read it. Seriously I’ve got friends who can probably quote from that thing like a nun can quote from the Holy Scripture or I can quote from The Uncommon Reader (the number of times I’ve read and re-read that novella is actually so high that I’m embarrassed to share.) What’s the point in reading it when I could read something I know nothing about?
For all my glibness in this post there is a kinda serious reason I’ve delayed picking up T.E.S. For better or for worse I’ve kinda connected it in my mind to a particular form of polyamory that I’m just not a fan of.
Over the past year I’ve begun to feel that there’s a dominant type of polyamory that I’m just not into. Do I have a clear example of this? Well no but I can give my impressions. It feels white; queer but the sort of queer that doesn’t view transwomen as, you know, women; privileged and like it’s actively trying to show the monogamous world that we’re just like them! I guess it feels like Dan Savage…
This dominant type of polyamory is the one that seems to be putting pressure on me for my polyamorous relationships to be a certain type of polyamorous relationships. I feel as though I’m expected to have a “primary” and then date on the side. There’s also the nice cozy triad model with optional dating on the side but I’m not allowed to form long term relationships with the people outside of my triad. Hey monogamous people, we’re not that different after all! Accept us!
My relationships need to be nice and clean and something that the New York Times can easily write a piece on. My relationships need to be stable and it would be great if I could live in Brooklyn or in the Bay Area and eat organic produce because I can totally afford it. Whenever I enter into any sort of new relationship it needs to start with a formal meeting about limits and boundaries and we need to have this written up in contracts and also it would be great if this took place in a carbon-neutral, vegan, free-trade coffee shop. Also I need to talk about the T.E.S. whenever I talk about being poly.
So yeah, I’ve got nothing against T.E.S. but in my head I’ve linked it to the poly communities that I am actively trying to avoid. I’m sure that it’s a lovely book but I spend enough of my polylife trying to push back against expectations put on me by a dominant poly narrative that in my free time I try to avoid any contact with anything I associate with this narrative. At some point I’m going to read The Ethical Slut and when I do I bet there will be parts I agree with and parts I strongly disagree with in how they relate to my own poly identity. Until that time comes I’m just gonna keep answering,”Have you read The Ethical Slut?” with a smile, a shrug and a vague “It’s on my to-read list but you know how long that it is!”