Grown Geeks: Nonmonogamy and Polyamory in the Minnesota Geek Community

Black and white photo of a light skinned hand with a heart drawn on the palm, and in the center of the heart are the words "Open source love".

Open source your love!

Geeks, in general, seem to be largely accepting of alternative identities, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a large overlap between the nonmonogamous community and the geek community (like this article on openingup.net, for instance). Recently nonmonogamous relationship structures have been gaining more discussion in mainstream discourses, and the discovery of this overlap between geek communities and nonmonogamous/poly communities is one that I find very interesting and feel compelled to learn more about.

First, some terminology. Nonmonogamy is a term that encompasses any kind of  sexual and/or romantic relationship with more than two people involved (e.g., polyamory, swinging, polyfidelity, play partners). Polyamory is a specific type of nonmonogamy and refers to a relationship structure of more than two people that is based in both love and intimacy.

For more information on the breakdown of nonmonogamy and where polyamory fits in, check out this informative graphic from tumblr user bipolyamorist.

Venn Diagram showing relationship types

Graphic via bipolyamorist.tumblr.com

And this the cool graphic from Poly Pipeline.

graph showing relationship difference

Graphic via PolyPipeline.com

There are many theories attempting to explain the correlation between nonmonogamy and geekdom, but with few studies on either, we need firsthand accounts of folks living these identities to get an honest look at what it means to be both nonmonogamous and geeky. So, for this post, I spoke directly with folks who occupy both nonmonogamous/poly and geeky spaces in order to gain those much-needed personal accounts of this intersecting intersectionality.

One of the first questions I asked people was what kind of experiences they’d had as a nonmonogamous or poly person in the geek community: welcoming, hostile, exclusive? The general consensus was that it depended on the geek space. One person I interviewed, a local geek and FetLife user who identifies himself as Brenden, said that everyone he knows who is a geek has been “very accepting of that portion of [his] life.”  Another, a tumblr user who goes by NotAllBloodMages, said that she didn’t feel her poly identity and geek identity crossed much directly but that many of her geeky friends are also poly—and that she met her boyfriend, and another person she is interested in, through geeky interests and events. Miss Macrame, from FetLife, attributes this to some basic foundations of geek culture, such as being outside what is seen as normal and owning your differences. “Geek culture is accepting of people outside the norm because it is, by definition, fringe itself,” she states. “In order to be out-as-geek, you need to have an attitude that what you want to do is okay, and that what others want to do is okay, too.”

“In order to be out-as-geek, you need to have an attitude that what you want to do is okay, and that what others want to do is okay, too.”

—Miss Macrame

The Problem of Exclusion

Navigating a nonmonogamous identity in geek spaces isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. One person, a geeky FetLife user who identifies himself as Bel, noted that he didn’t have much luck connecting in geek spaces at all because his fandom was broad and, though he knew a lot about a wide variety of geeky things, he wasn’t a “master” in any of them and was constantly having his geekiness questioned by others. This is more of an issue of geek spaces being treated as exclusive in general, rather than being negative towards nonmonogamy/polyamory, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for anyone when diverse identities are cast aside because they aren’t seen as authentic.

Bel also shared an experience he had with a group from the MN Geeks and Nerds FetLife group in which he was invited to an event, but turned away at the door because he was told that he “wouldn’t fit in.” He said, “My partner says it was probably some other reason, [like] unwanted competition, but I usually go into spaces to meet people, not feeling it is a meat-market environment.” He went on to state that he went to more events later and had no trouble there.

Exclusion unfortunately exists in just about every community, but it can be particularly detrimental on an individual and community scale when it happens in a marginalized group like the geek and poly communities. On an individual level, folks who are just coming into their identity can have difficulty finding solidarity or a sense of belonging, as well as difficulty gaining their footing when it comes to dating in these communities, because of the problem of exclusion. For communities as a whole, it can mean a lack of growth—exclusion means fewer members, fewer new ideas and new connections, and even a lack of diversity. I don’t think speculating about the scale of this exclusion problem will do either community any favors, however; exclusion at any rate is always a problem. When we stand up for and embrace one another within our communities, we grow and strengthen both as people and as groups.

Looking for Nonmonogamy in Geek Media

When speaking on exclusion, it is difficult not to bring up the exclusion of poly lifestyles from the mainstream geek culture, primarily geek media. A common sentiment among folks interviewed for this story was that although geek media has become more accepting and diverse in terms of race and sexualities, such as gay and lesbian identities (slowly—trans and bi identities have yet to see much inclusion in geek media), it has failed to incorporate themes, plot lines, and characters that challenge mononormativity, or the idea that monogamy is the “normal” and default identity.

Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman action figures in an intimate embrace

This “Trinity” is not canon.

The primary place polyamory is seen in geek culture, as mentioned among folks I had interviewed, is at conventions where there are panels specifically discussing polyamory and/or other marginalized sexual identities and relationship structures, such as same-sex relationships or kink culture (marginalized identities frequently occupy the same, or similar, spaces). When talking about which of their favorite characters from geeky media they’d like to see in poly relationships, almost everyone’s response was based on reading into plot subtext and seeing an unstated or unexplored poly theme beneath the surface rather than referencing characters who are actually depicted as nonmonogamous.

The first example of this is Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood. One member of the poly/geek community, FireGirl, noted that a poly lifestyle is alluded to in relation to his character in Torchwood because of his “longtime relationships with Yango, while playing the field with men and women along the way.” Another person, Brenden, referred back to a favorite webcomic, Questionable Content: “I want all the main characters in [Questionable Content] to be polyamorous. They have all practically dated and slept with each other already! Jeph Jacques is so close to having poly relationships in [the comic]! He just needs to make the jump!” Another interesting idea presented was that of Wash, Mal, and Zoë in Firefly having a poly dynamic. Bels mentioned in his interview that “Mal and Inara have an interesting relationship with her being open” and that “when Wash and Mal were captured and [Mal] mentioned Zoë, it made me wonder if they could have a poly pod dynamic going.” While the romantic tension between Mal and Inara is very clear in the plot of the show, as is her open and nonmonogamous sexuality with her profession as a companion, the relationship dynamic—both platonic and romantic or sexual—is very subtle and understated when it comes to Wash, Mal, and Zoë, something that can certainly leave room for a poly or other nonmonogamous interpretation.

Misconceptions

As I talked more with people in the poly and geeky community, another challenge to navigating geek spaces I heard a lot about was the stereotyping of poly folks. One stereotype I have heard on more than a few occasions is the generalization of polyamory being couples looking for a third person as a marital aid or to spice things up. No, that is called a threesome—it isn’t the same thing as polyamory. There is a different word sometimes used to describe couples like this, who look for a third (generally bisexual female) partner to fit into their relationship dynamic however is convenient to them: “unicorn hunters.” Most people see this as a slur, in part because it is judgmental of couples who prefer this kind of arrangement—and hey, if it’s all consensual, then it’s really no one’s place to judge—and also because it’s frequently used to describe and generalize poly folks, especially those who approach poly from an existing relationship. These kinds of misconceptions erase other, very common, kinds of relationship structures, like cellular families (where three or more people are all in a committed relationship together, cohabiting, and considering one another to be family), and Vees, where one person is dating two people separately. (For more information on terminology, here’s a great glossary from the folks at Morethantwo.com)

A diagrame of a polycule (a relationship structure of more than two people) showing how a three person relationship intersects with a "v" shaped relationship, etcetera.

Not every poly relationship is a triangle. Photo by by Flickr User Robert Ashworth

Another stereotype is described by Miss Macrame as follows: “Poly exists because people cannot control themselves or are unsatisfied with their primary partners.” Of that idea, she says, “I’m sure this is the case for a small number of people, but in general, poly is as natural as monogamy. Everyone’s different!”

Everyone is, indeed, different. That sentiment, above all else, needs to be remembered and respected. If there is one thing you take away from this piece, let it be this: While some people might be more nonmongamous in a casual-sex or swinging sort of way, some prefer an intimate relationship structure with multiple partners, and others are geared more toward a two-person-only monogamous style of relationship. All of these choices are okay (as long as everyone is consenting, obviously—consent is always necessary). Also, let’s try to remember, before we go around making assumptions about things we have no firsthand experience with, to take a step back and maybe even ask a question or two to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes. With as much intersecting as identities do, chances are, if we hurt one community—whether it’s the nonmonogamous community, the queer community, the geek community, or any other group—we are probably also hurting our own.

Further Reading

Are you interested in learning more about nonmonogamy and polyamory? Here are some cool resources!

There are also numerous forums and web communities for nonmonogamous and poly folks on sites such as FetLife.com, OkCupid.com, and MoreThanTwo.com (the last of which is basically just one giant blog/forum about polyamory). Please note that some of these forums may not be suitable for work place browsing, which is why I’m not including direct links.

Lastly, thank you times infinity to the wonderful nonmonogamous and poly folks who contributed to this post with their experiences, knowledge, and resources. You are all magnificent!

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