Bi & Poly: "Plural Loves"

This originally appeared in BCN issue 75.

Plural Loves: Designs for Bi and Poly Living
Edited by Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio (2004)
New York: Harrington Park Press

(Co-published simultaneously as Journal of Bisexuality Volume 4,
Numbers 3/4 2004).
ISBN 1-56023-293-5 (Paperback) £17.17

Plural Loves brings together historical, theoretical, literary, fictional, and activist writing in an examination of the common ground between bisexuality and polyamory, with the aim of setting out ‘designs for bi and poly living’ for the new millennium.

According to the editor, the willingness of bi and poly people to experiment with alternative models of social organisation is a key area of common ground between the two communities.

Four contributors to the collection provide discussions of their own lifestyles-unfortunately, three of these contributors are involved in group marriages within the same European tantric community (Komaja), so this section of the book doesn’t even begin to address the diversity of bi and poly lifestyles.

Another area of common ground identified by contributors to this collection is that of spirituality, and several chapters discuss the links between bisexual polyamory and pantheistic spirituality.

Alternative communities, argues the editor, are often linked to pantheistic spirituality and an emphasis on global harmony.  Komaja’s group marriages are also tantric circles, while polyamory on premodern Maui with was linked its pre-colonial polytheism.  While these are interesting points, again there’s a lack of acknowledgement of the complexity and diversity of bi and poly approaches to spirituality.

In two interesting articles on masturbation, Betty Dodson and Eric Francis argue that solo-sex can be seen as a bisexual and polyamorous experience, given that it’s a same sex activity, and that most

people are polyamorous in their fantasy lives. They also argue that masturbation can be a spiritual practice, pointing out the role of group masturbation in ancient religious rituals, and arguing that such rituals, which reflect the
increasing interdependence of globalisation, might well constitute ‘the future of sex’.

The representation of bisexuality and polyamory in the arts and the media is another area examined in this collection. Hasan Al-Zubi’s chapter ‘Sweet Dreams’ examines how metaphors of bisexuality and fetishism are employed in two nineteenth century novels, while Wayne M. Bryant discusses the portrayal of polyamorous bisexuality in film since 1968. Sam See, meanwhile, provides a queer reading of three mid-twentieth century British plays.

The strongest contributions to the volume, in my opinion, are those which examine the politics of bisexuality and polyamory.  In a fascinating article on cheating, Pepper Mint discusses how, while monogamy is seen as virtuous, bisexuality and polyamory are often seen as ‘cheating’. Bi and poly people ought to resist being positioned as ‘cheats’, argues Mint, by pointing out that in order to ‘cheat’, you have to be monogamous in the first place.

In a similar vein, Nathan Rambukkana’s contribution discusses the similar coming-out experiences of bi and poly people, who often find themselves stuck between the straight and gay worlds, as well as the pressure on straight polyamorists to identify as bisexual.

There really are some excellent chapters in this
collection, and I’d particularly recommend those by Mint and Rambukkana, but overall Plural Loves makes for a frustrating read.

Firstly, the book is poorly edited – typographical and grammatical errors, plus the occasional clumsy sentence and poor translation, irritate the reader, and, articles on similar topics are scattered throughout the book, making it difficult to follow the line of argument being advanced.  The editor’s own contributions to the book also contain some surprising and distracting elements: for example, she casually remarks, apropos of nothing, that she doesn’t believe HIV is transmitted through sex, but fails to explain this extraordinary statement.

What’s really frustrating about this book, however, is that in their eagerness to establish common ground between bisexuality and polyamory, contributors often confuse the two.  There’s no discussion of the tensions within and between the two communities, such as the debates within bisexuality over non-monogamy, and at times, contributors to the volume are patronisingly dismissive of non-polyamorous bisexuality. Francis, for example, describes monogamous bisexuality as ‘denial…Bisexual means both genders and both genders means more than one person.’ (p.172)

As Rambukkana (p.146) points out, many polyamorous people feel pressured to identify as bisexual. What this book lacks is the acknowledgement that the reverse is also true.

Helen

 

You can buy Plural Loves through Amazon here.