Some days, I miss the term nonmonogamy. I should dust it off and give it some daylight, because I'm put off by how reductive the definition of the word polyamory has become lately.
I first heard the term polyamory on a Usenet group in the early 1990s. Its appeal was obvious: Saying that one is nonmonogamous implies that monogamy is what's proper and that being nonmonogamous is a deviation, with all the negative baggage that word carries. Also, to say I'm nonmonogamous makes sexual behavior the central issue. But to say I'm polyamorous widens the focus to include both emotional connections and political worldview, something advocates for alternatives to monogamy want. Quite simply, polyamory is better branding than nonmonogamy. So a wide range of people who were nonmonogamous — including me — adopted the word.
However, as the term became more popular, factions developed, and one of them might be called poly literalists. "Polyamory has the word amor in it, which is Latin for love," they say. "So if you don't love the other person, then what you are doing is polyfuckery, not polyamory. You're just using the word polyamory to justify your promiscuous sexual activities. And you're a dirty slut who is tainting my morally pure system of having sex with more than one person."
Okay, they usually don't say the "promiscuous dirty slut" part out loud. But it's clearly implied, along with every other sex-negative shaming strategy in the book. The beauty of this trick is that since you can define the word love any way you like, you can sling the accusation of polyfuckery at anyone: people who reject you, romantic rivals, ex-lovers, and so on.
I dislike transparently opportunistic lechers (of any gender) cocking their finger at me and saying, "Hey, babe: I'm polyamorous," as if the mere phrase were an all-access pass into my pants. But you know what I dislike even more? Purity campaigns. And sexual- minority groups of all kinds have an unfortunate habit of eating their own young. Certain individuals in the group proclaim themselves the protectors of the Right Way, identify some subgroup within the ranks, and say, "Their way of being X isn't pure enough, we must ostracize them!" Bonus points: They then turn to mainstream society and say, "See, we're not like those people. They're bad. We're good, like you."
Right! Because polyamory has so much social support, we really need to keep unworthy people from climbing on the bandwagon. Plus, it's so easy to do polyamory properly, there's no reason to cut anyone any slack here, no siree. Oh wait: that's not true. Well, I'll let you Pure Poly People wrestle with how, exactly, you can restrict the language of polyamory to folks who do it exactly like you. Let me know how that works out. I'll be over here, being nonmonogamous.