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Monoganormativity: An Opening Salvo

two people embracing on a sofa, with one person holding hands with a third behind the second's back

credit: Getty Images

People in meatspace keep looking at me funny when I use the term “monoganormativity,” so I guess it’s time to talk about it.

For a long time, I’ve noticed similarities between queerness and polyamory when it comes to the trajectory of each movement and the focus on more normative versions of a given identity. In queer-land, this is the tendency of large LG(B)((T)) organizations to focus on same-sex marriage, adoption, and other priorities and messaging that support a “just like you” framework. We call these tactics, as well as relationships that default to assumptions about how relationships work that come from the straight world, “heteronormative.” Monoganormativity is the same idea, just a corollary that springs up in poly-land.

monoganormativity: culture, practices, and behaviors that mimic those considered “normal” among monogamous people within the context of a polyamorous culture or relationship.

For example, when the default focus in conversations around polyamory is jealousy or relationship hierarchy, I consider that focus monoganormative because it’s aligned with the monogamous culture norm that partners should be jealous of and need to be more important than others, despite the fact that the context is polyamory. I’d also call the tendency of a lot of (but certainly not all) newly poly folks to focus on one couple as a foundation and write relationship rules springing from this baseline, rather than rethinking possible relationship styles, monoganormative–and the same goes for media coverage that focuses only on triads and couple-plus structures when discussing polyamory.

This isn’t intended to be an indictment. Most of us grow up in a context where monogamy is the norm. Even typing “monogamous culture” felt funny to me, probably because like white culture, it’s unnamed and pervasive. No one ever asks “when did you decide to practice monogamy?” just like no one ever asks “when did you realize you were straight?” It takes time to defeat internalized monoganormativity, no matter how proudly poly you are. I’ve heard so many folks who practice radical, non-hierarchical poly express guilt when they realize they “just want to be the most important!” in a situation, despite their fundamental commitment to egalitarianism.

So I don’t want to condem anyone who feels these feelings (myself included), but I do want to suggest an awareness of monoganormativity both in culture and in how we conduct intimate relationships. It’s okay to be jealous, it’s okay to practice consensual relationship hierarchy, it’s okay to have moments when you want to be the only one. It’s also okay to be monogamous. Let’s just stop pretending that monoganormativity doesn’t exist.