That’s great! I want to help. I’m diving into this post assuming you know at least the basics – this is more a 201 post than a 101 post. What this post will do is take a broad look at polyamorous tropes and what to avoid when writing your polycule and what to keep in mind!
At this point, I’m assuming you know who’s dating whom and whether or not they’re open to other relationships, you’ve sketched out the general shape of how they all work together.
Once you have that, now you’re asking yourself “How do I not be a bigoted asshole about this?” and that’s where this post comes in.
Some things about me – I’m polyamorous and queer. I have 3 loving partners. A lot of the examples below are things I’ve read or things I’ve seen in real life. As with all types of representation, having multiple polycules makes it so not everything has to hinge on the one relationship. Spoiler alert: one of my stories I have planned has a super unhealthy polycule in it. It also has six other polycules in it.
What to avoid:
- Polyamory that starts with cheating (a.k.a. John is dating William but kisses/fucks Benjamin without explicitly having opened the relationship first)
- Any sort of coerced polyamory – e.g. we open our relationship up or I break up with you
- A married couple that’s open to occasional sexual relations with others (this is overdone)
- Tragedy causing a pair to be the only ones left alive of the original polycule and them deciding to become monogamous because of it
- A cult being your only polycule.
- Promoting one relationship type as being inherently better or worse than the other
- Using the term polygamy.
- Jokes about being greedy or ‘leaving some for the rest of us’ that aren’t called out by the narrative as being bigoted.
Things to be super careful about:
- Power dynamics especially with an older couple seducing a younger partner – while this can be done it should be done with care and with the knowledge that this isn’t usually a good idea. Your best bet is to tread lightly and to make sure you have other polyamorous groups too
- Religious-based polyamory – do a ton more research and don’t make them your only polyamorous group or your only members of that religion. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you have a) more polyamorous groups and b) monogamous members of that religion.
- The ranking system (i.e. having primary, secondary and tertiary partners). While this is something some people use, and it’s okay to have characters use it, I’m strongly cautioning you away from using it as a plot point or as added drama if you aren’t part of the community. Whether it’s good or bad isn’t something you get to weigh in on.
- Having all of your bisexual characters be polyamorous – or none of them (or really, any sexuality, but especially bi characters). You can have all sorts of sexualities represented, e.g. Jenny’s a lesbian and dating Katherine and Taylor. Taylor is bisexual and dating Timothy, who is queer and is also in a purely sexual relationship with Alex, who is aromantic.
Things to remember:
- If you have multiple polycules, you don’t have to worry about your one relationship carrying the burden of representation!
- We live in a monogamous culture – people will assume you’re cheating if they see you kissing someone who isn’t your partner (or assume you two broke up)
- Everyone is different levels of open about being polyam. This is really important to consider especially in larger polycules. Consider: John is on a date with William, and Benjamin’s parents see them. How out is Benjamin? How out is William? Does the answer change if it’s Benjamin’s sister or boss?
- Keep in mind this should be discussed before anyone goes out and is seen with other partners!
- Make your representation explicit! I love Leverage – it’s an amazing canon triad, but a lot of people deny it (knowingly or not) because it wasn’t explicitly stated that the three of them were dating in the show. (Which… I’d argue, given Elliot’s words in The Long Goodbye Job and everything leading up to that, but that’s neither here nor there.)
- There are a lot of parallels between being polyamorous and being queer with being out and being accepted
- Metamours can and should be friends.
- Jealousy is a thing that happens. If it happens in your story, address it and make sure it’s resolved. Don’t let it fester. But tread carefully.
- Not all relationships are equal and that’s okay. Sometimes you end up moving in with one partner over another because of timing or convenience or whatever and that’s okay.
- You can still cheat when you’re in a polyamorous relationship
- It’s not all about sex – it’s sometimes also about the emotions and feelings, but sometimes it is a purely sexual relationship and that’s okay too, just have some variety.
- Polyamorous relationships can be big and messy or small and contained. But it doesn’t begin and end with the closed triad who is all dating one another, living together and is perfectly open in all contexts.
My representation wishlist:
- Polyamorous but otherwise mostly vanilla groups
- While the polyam and kink scenes often go hand-in-hand, this isn’t necessarily the case
- Young polycules! It’s not all swingers looking for a little excitement once they hit 40.
- Old polycules! Give me the grandparents causing a ruckus in the nursing home trying to get all five of them into a single unit. Speaking of…
- Parents – holy shit, coparenting! Give me the new parents trying to learn how to raise a kid when there are like 5 parents. What’s everyone’s title?
- Two words: PTA Meetings.
- Polyamory being a healthy way of helping cope with a variety of mental illnesses. I know having 3 partners is great for when my anxiety flares up and I need extra reassurance
- Though, as with the religion one, tread carefully.
- Large sprawling polycules that seem to cover half the city and where everyone’s “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”ing it up – or at the very least, give me something a little different than a closed triad where everyone’s dating and living together
Final thoughts: Don’t use this post to attack anyone’s ship, art or story. These are guidelines to help you write accurate, respectful polyamorous representation based on my experiences in life and media consumption. Additionally, this is just one post outlining my thoughts on the subject. YMMV and I highly encourage you to do more research and talk to other polyam people about their experiences.
But most of all: have fun. That’s what writing’s all about after all.
Originally posted to Tumblr.