by Michael Love
If there is a recurring theme in our community, it’s our loathing of “labels”. Labels can be restrictive and binding… They force us to categorize people into neat little compartments that none of us wish to be shoved into.
Ten years ago, if you asked someone how they would describe themselves they would tell you, “I’m a swinger” or “I’m poly” or “I’m bisexual” etc… Isn’t it interesting how nowadays that same question gets people all bristly? Even in this day and age of “declare your pronoun” people still get all sketchy when you ask them how they identify themselves.
In my interview with Shrista Tyree… who is a lovely and lively young woman, she got very uncomfortable with pinning herself down with a label. We want to live free of being put into compartments and nice tidy little boxes… I get it.
Honestly… I’m the same way. I don’t like to identify as poly… because I’ve met a lot of poly people, who just don’t think the same way I do. I love my relationships, and some of them are very serious and long term. I also love to step out in the club and play casually too… believe it or not, I’ve been told that because I enjoy casual play I CANNOT be poly… true story… and more than once too. I’m also not comfortable with identifying as a swinger because of the images it conjures up in my head. I love casual play, but I prefer something with more connection… it’s a conundrum I tell you. So, I choose to identify as Ethically Non-monogamous with Relationship Anarchist tendencies… but damn… I have to wrap that label around me twice to wear it! Not to mention the explanation of RA… I swear I have to carry a user’s guide with me at all times for potential play partners.
I think that labels are also important so that we can communicate ourselves properly. Someone I know recently got into a relationship with someone she’d had a crush on for a very long time. He’s a single guy who had bounced from monogamous relationship to monogamous relationship (this is called serial monogamy)… Then one day he tells her, he’s broken up with his girlfriend and he is ready to give this “poly” thing a shot with her. She was super excited… this person she was interested in for a long time was finally giving her a chance, and not just for sex… he was exploring POLY!!! She’s not had a lot of great experiences with poly relationships and was excited to pursue something with this person who she already had feelings for. Their relationship started off hot and heavy… the sex was everything she hoped it would be, she could feel herself falling for him, but he always felt just out of reach. As she fell harder and harder for him she eventually realized… it wasn’t a poly relationship he wanted at all. He just wanted to be able to fool around and not be accountable. (quite the opposite of poly actually) They were not just on different pages, they were in different chapters altogether, and eventually it led to the demise of the relationship. She was crushed when the relationship ended… and all of the hurt could have been avoided if the appropriate terminology had been used from the beginning. Sadly… a lot of people use the term “poly” to be synonymous with “swinging” and casual sex… it is a gross misuse of the word.
I think our hatred of labels comes from when people put them on us. If I say.. “I’m a swinger” with a smile on face and it’s something I’m proud of.. It carries an entirely different stigma than if someone comes up to me and asks me, “Are you the guy who runs that swingers group?” Somehow it feels different when I identify myself, than if someone draws an assumption… probably because they get all of those images without really knowing me.
So we avoid labels, turn our noses up at them, but it doesn’t stop people from putting them on us, and really only creates situations where confusion, pain, and miscommunication comes into play.
I would encourage you, to learn what a term means before you put that label on anyone (including yourself). Don’t misappropriate a term simply because you feel like it paints a prettier picture than the correct term. Sure… “poly” is a prettier label, and carries less stigma than “swinger” but it also means something entirely different. It’s important to use the terms that best describe your situation, your needs and your wants. It’s ok to use labels and terms to describe yourself to people, it gives them ideas on how to relate to you. In that way, my Ethically Non-Monogamous person with RA tendencies label is perfect… because people go… “huh?” Which then opens the door for me to explain to them who I really am.