Beyond Monogamy

Beyond Monogamy May 4, 2016

First gays were oppressed by being excluded from marriage. Now they are oppressed for being confined to it. In her forthcoming Beyond Monogamy, Tulane’s Mimi Schippers argues that we won’t reach real sexual freedom until monogamy is cast into the dustbin.

Gays and bisexuals and polysexuals of various sorts are still too confined by the givens of heterosexual society: “One of the objects given to us by heterosexual culture is the monogamous couple. In order to live a ‘good life’ of sexual and emotional intimacy, we must turn away from other lovers. Perhaps, then, a queer life would mean reorienting oneself toward other lovers and non-monogamy would constitute a queer life.” Why does sexuality have to be so exclusive? “What if the man who is simultaneously in love with a woman and a man were honest with himself and his lovers, refuses to identify as straight or gay, and insists on being openly polyamorous with both of them, and what if they both agree?” Whatever could be wrong with that?

Other theorists have too often accepted these as givens, and this has supported persistent social, gender, and racial hierarchies: “compulsory and institutionalized monogamy is constitutive of and legitimates the discursive construction and institutionalization of gender as a racialized, hierarchical binary that situates certain forms of masculinity as superior and dominant in relationship to the inferior and subordinate feminine and/or the racialized other.”

As an antidote, Schippers aims to “theorize the monogamous couple as central to white heteromasculine privilege and superiority and to social and cultural regimes of normalcy implicated in power relations and sexual stratification.” She thinks it “imperative that feminist, queer, and critical race theorists take this opportunity to unpack mononormativity, develop an interest in the queer, feminist, and anti-racist potential of polyamory, and advocate and cultivate polyqueer sex and relationships.”

Give Schippers points for consistency. Once we’ve overthrown heteronormativity, why hold on to mononormativity? Schippers underscores the utopianism of the sexual revolution, as if it needed underscoring. Like other queer sociologists, she is at war with all forms of sexual binarism. That is a war against humanity as God created it. She also wants to undo the possibility of jealousy and betrayal, which means the possibility of exclusive one-on-one intimacy. Her dream is of a new humanity that has shed both the confining body and confining psychology of our ancestors.

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