Some people have ever only seen and had heteronormative, monogamous relationships. In fact, that’s true for most of the people that I know. When we frame the whole world for people that see hetero and mono as the “reality”, we create a societal dissonance between their world and the true reality of relationships.
This dissonance can manifest homophobia, sex shaming, and hate crimes.
Even the most well-meaning people that have very little exposure to queer or nonmonogamous people in relationships can accidentally dehumanize others by using their own way of life as a point of reference rather than seeing the big picture.
The only way to combat this dehumanizing of people that are not hetero-mono is to remind ourselves the heterosexuality and monogamy are not “the normal way” to be. Being queer is also not “the normal way” and neither is being polyamorous. There is a “normalized” way, which is one cis man and one cis woman ‘till death do you part but that template was actively made normal by religion, laws, economics, and every other controlled social influence.
I am not one of those “everybody is gay and polyamorous” people. I am one of those “every single person has their own gender identity, their own sexual orientation, and their own personal boundaries” people. I am lucky to know so many people with so many ways of being and loving. They have all held me accountable by actively teaching me OR just been themselves with such vibrancy that I learned more about humanity just by knowing them.
But what about the others? The people that were born with a straight mom and dad and live in towns where nobody can be out of the closet? The people who have a really strong relationship with their congregation and haven’t met an out queer person? The people that have been bullied using slurs and brought up in an environment that only teaches about one kind of love?
They often have a very comfortable idea of what relationships and sex are to them. It takes an entire adolescence to get comfortable with it, so I imagine it’s not easy to just let go of with the snap of a finger. From the most hurtful lies about AIDS and hell to the most silent oppressions of not mentioning queerness in history class, we all get taught a similar image of marriage, sex, and romance.
Then, we compare the new stuff (our hip polyamorous, queer friend) to the old stuff (our long history of negative messages about that kind of thing) and we’re left with a summary: So, the people love each other. That’s the same. They commit, they go on dates, they probably kiss… and they have sex. The only difference is that their sex might be different than hetero sex (this is an especially loud assumption for somebody that thinks gender is binary).
Some confusion, some questions, some attention. Why am I thinking about that? Why do I care how they have sex? All of the weird stigma I have about my own genitals? All the pressure I was under when I was most hormonal to get sex right that is burned into my perception forever? Who knows?! This inner dialog of curiosity can be healthy or harmful depending on the person.
But here we are with an opinion: Their sex deviates from my sex.
On its own, saying that our bedroom times look different is not super toxic. I mean, I have sex with women, men, and beyond and I know better than some people that they are not the same in certain areas. So why even worry about comparing everybody to heterosexual, monogamous people if we are only using that comparison to understand more?
Where it Hurts
On a personal level, It hurts to be treated like a subcategory. It hurts to consider anything that isn’t normalized by the Catholic church as a deviation from “sexual norms”. It hurts to feel as if we don’t fit into society simply because we love and make love differently.
It makes us sexual. It puts us in a position to answer for our sexuality when nobody else has to. It makes simple things like holding hands or wearing eyeliner “not appropriate for children”.
Then, those children that get sheltered from us grow up to do the exact same dehumanizing.
The comparison is harmful and shifts our way of life into an “us vs. them” context that we didn’t agree to and nobody really benefits from.
A comparison is easy for people to use and difficult to unlearn, so what is another option? We use our personal experience to help define things and it is totally natural. Though I don’t speak for all of us, I can provide some insight on how to stop dehumanizing me by oversexualizing me.
Understand consent context
If we just met, you do not have my consent to imagine me naked in bed with my girlfriend, for horny reasons or otherwise. End of story. If you’re already thinking about it, that is some social programming. It isn’t appropriate and distracts from my humanity. If the context we’re in isn’t already sexual, try not to make it that way with your thoughts. Social boundaries are an often ignored but highly rewarding tool for connection.
Find similarities, Ignore differences
As I wrote earlier, relationship comparisons do more harm than good. One way to negate that is to find and discuss similarities as small talk or thought exercises. This advice can span many situations, but in a situation in which you’re actively trying not to sexualize a person, it can distract you entirely. When you start to practice looking for and discussing the ways you are the same, your empathy will help wash away the judgments we are taught.
Remember, Sex is weird
Hey, look, we are all dealing with sex stigma. Even those of us playing by the Christian or cooperate rules have a little bit of all the shame, oppression, and hurt in our journey. None of us are getting it exactly right all the time and some of us still think sex is super gross, unsafe, or terrifying. The fact that we bump genitals and have orgasms and get horny and get busy and all that other sex magic is kind of isolated from the rest of the society we live in. If you feel a little weird, I get it. Just be respectful despite it.
Live in the love
The corniest part of people is that we all have a capacity for deep, connective love. We experience heartbreak, bonding, and relationship rollercoasters. We fall deep, we have fun, we experience loss, we enjoy being close. That point of reference is an excellent place to start celebrating people that love and make love differently than you. Instead of thinking of relationships as a woman+man unit with some parts switched out, think of it as a multilayered journey that will come in many different configurations.
Simply reframing the world from a hetero/mono one into a more accepting one is not an overnight task. It takes some unlearning of internalized stigma, rejection of social programming, and self-education. Learn the scientific definition of gender, read a polyamorous blog, listen to a queer a podcast, and rejoice in the world that we are in.
I’ve done a lot of that myself because, even though I’m already queer and polyamorous, there is so much nuance that I didn’t get an education in. I grew up in the south and have been making my own way. I’ve decided that sharing the world with other humans is not optional, it is required. Every active step we take to understand one another makes for a more loving world.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
– Jesus Christ