By Sam Ehlert, Guest Writer
I don’t usually write for the Michigan Journal. However, after reading Jason Singer’s opinion piece on open relationships and polyamory in his column “Indecent Exposure,” I felt I had to chime in. Singer’s article crossed the line and, rather than giving his opinion, he put forth harmful stereotypes about polyamorous people. These myths aren’t funny – they’re incredibly hurtful.
Let’s talk about what polyamory actually is. First and foremost, it is not the same as swinging, nor are all folks in an open relationship also polyamorous (Google is your friend here). Therefore, these terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
Polyamory is the practice of having multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships at the same time or an openness to it. All partners are consenting adults, and practice open communication to ensure that everyone involved has their needs and desires met.
These needs include protection – within the poly community, an emphasis on safe and consensual sex is the norm, not the exception.
Here’s what polyamorous people are not: they are not “slutty” or dirty; they are not undignified; they are not dysfunctional; they are not incapable of intimacy; they are not afraid of commitment; they are not incompetent; they are not “weird” or freaks; they are not universally unsafe – no more than monogamous folks are.
The Polyamory Society (yes, there’s even a society!) defines it as “the non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously.”* Nowhere in this definition is recklessness, dysfunction, or, as Singer wrote, “dressing up as Genghis Khan.”
Yet Singer’s ill-researched opinion piece in the Michigan Journal made sweeping, offensive generalizations about polyamory and open relationships, at the expense of an already highly stigmatized community. Poly people are often closeted and shamed, but it’s no surprise. Negative attitudes about polyamory are incredibly pervasive in this culture.
The polyamorous people in my life have loving, intimate relationships. They are afraid to share their happiness with family and friends, however, due to a paralyzing fear of judgment. They are accused of having STIs and being selfish, simply because they opt out of monogamy. They’re assumed to lack the ability to fully love another person, or are believed to have experienced some psychological trauma that makes them incapable of “real” relationships. They are portrayed as immoral and even disgusting.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are countless poly and open people that I know who are happy, fulfilled, married, and even raising families – they’re living life on their own terms, and I personally think that’s awesome. Quite frankly, I’m pretty jealous of the level of trust and affection many open and poly people have for one another.
Everything that Singer said in his article is something a poly person has both heard and been hurt by before. Although Singer’s piece was intended as satire, he misses the mark, because the statements he makes are not absurd beyond recognition – rather, he simply repeats the same exhausted stereotypes that have been said a thousand times before.
To boot, the piece also shames people with STIs, as if they are less than human and less deserving of love and respect. Many students have said the article reads as biphobic, and that the accompanying image is racist and trivializes rape.
In other words, Singer’s piece did not succeed in being satire for many people who read it. This article didn’t just offend a few – it actively attacked marginalized groups on this campus and beyond. I share the opinion of many when I say that the article came across as distasteful and offensive, no matter what Singer’s original intent might have been.
I’ve been asked why this issue matters to me, and why I would invest energy into writing a response. I care because I believe that this university should be a safe space for ALL students, regardless of their sexual preferences or relationships. I believe in the same ideals that this university aspires toward – inclusivity, and respect for our differences.
And “inclusivity” on this campus should not just be a buzz word we use to make ourselves feel good – it should be something each member in our community works for. Often times, a college campus can be the only place where a student feels safe. That’s not something we should take lightly.
I don’t believe that publishing an article that shames polyamorous people, or anyone else for that matter, is in line with our values at this institution. Jason Singer certainly has the freedom to state his opinion, but I believe that when an opinion harms an entire community, it becomes irresponsible journalism.Had this article been talking about any other identity – be it ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, etc. – I strongly believe that this article would never have made it to print.
Singer may not agree with this “lifestyle” or understand it, but shaming an entire community for who they love has no place in credible journalism, nor does it have a place on this campus. It is easy to attack a less visible community like the polyamorous community, but this doesn’t make it right. We need to stop hiding behind the veil of “just kidding” and realize that our words have a real impact, especially when given a platform like this.
Each one of us, as students who are ultimately represented by this publication, should expect better. It starts with speaking out. With an open and respectful dialogue, we teach one another about issues we otherwise would never consider. And that’s what real journalism and higher education are all about.