Polyqueer Sexualities

Schippers, Mimi. Polyqueer Sexualities. Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities. NYU Press, 2016.


Schippers portrays different vignettes of polysexual and polyamorous couples, generally involving a "heterosexual" or male and female pairing that has also engaged in romantic of sexual relations outside of the heterosexual norm. She positions these are "potentialities" outside the disgust and possible destruction of the heterosexual ideal. Citing Ahmed's Queer Phenomenology, she questions how polyamory, particularly non-heterosexual polyamory, leads one off the "straight line" and a reorientation towards queer others. The purpose of her book is to explore what effects poly possibilities have not solely on individuals but on broader relationship culture. She questions how more fluid and open poly queerness might be accomplished - what needs to change for it to be available? Further, she argues poly queerness can reorient not just relationships but gender and race relations.

She defines poly as: "committed, emotionally and sometimes sexually intimate relationships involving more than two persons. Polyamory is often distinguishable from “cheating” in that, unlike in monogamous relationships where one partner covertly has sex with someone else, in polyamorous relationships all partners are aware of each other and con-sent to the relationship" (pg. 15). Polyamory is separate from polygamy in that it is not inherently male-dominated, and there is meant to be an emphasis on egalitarianism. Polyamory adopts an "ethic of care" approach which requires an emotional caring and open communication with both one's partner and one's partner's partners (metamour).

The major thesis of the work is to develop a theoretical framework "for identifying how 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 rela-tionship to the inferior and subordinate feminine and/or the racialized other" (pg. 5). Compulsory monogamy, like compuslory heterosexuality, is a set of social beliefs, customs, practices, and institutions that support a heteromasculine monogamy. At the same time, her approach steps away from a radical feminist theory that positions men as inherently oppressive and women as inherently oppressed. Instead, she focuses on how monogamous the white heterosexual couples enact regimes of normalcy.

Normativity, the institutional regimes which privilege and reward specific accepted social values and relationships, reward heterosexual monogamy through marriage and housing law, criminal law, and social protections. Homonormativity, like heteronormativity, also privileges specific moral queerness, which often delegitimizes polyqueerness. Hetero and homonormativity, and queer theory, has largely privileged a white, middle to upperclass queerness. Schippers argues that mononormativity has also been largely missing from queer discussions on normativity. She writes: "there have been very few theoretical interrogations of how monogamy is implicated in and productive of gender, race, and sexual hierarchies or the role of monogamy as an organizing rationale for regimes of normalcy and social structures of inequality" (pg. 10).

She discusses how mononormativity shows up. For example, in the infantialization of hookup culture as a phase for young people, which presupposes that everyone will "grow up" and settle into a "real" relationship. Even small notions, like the "plus one" of weddings, implicate a compulsory monogamy. Laws of marriage, child custody, insurance, healthcare, hospital and prison visitation, inheritence, and employment discrimination privilege monogamy. Those in poly relationships are assumed to be promiscuous and thus are viewed as threatening, and often rejected even by monogamous friends. She argues that there are social and financial benefits for queer poly couples, and queer of color poly couples, that are often only awarded to heterosexual monogamous couples.


Like monogamy, polyamory is often ripe with normative social contructions, ones which often result in gender and racial inequalities. "Polynormativity refers to beliefs, practices, and values within polyamory that reflect and sustain regimes of sexual and relationship normalcy and/or social privi-lege along the lines of class, race, gender, religion, citizenship, and so on" (pg. 18). Some men in empirical studies of polyamory have expressed a desire of power and status in "having" many women, and often refused to allow the presence of other men in the relationship. Women were often expected to commit the emotional labor of caring in relationships, increasing the general emotional labor expected of women. Polynormative movements around marriage equality which position polyamory as "the new gay marriage" often ignore the outright revulsion and violence suffered by queer (cisgender and transgender) people and their relationships. It also does not question the institution of marriage as a whole. Further, polynormativity relies on discourses of normalcy for legitimizing poly relationships. There has also been little discussion around the constraints on making the choice to be in a polyamorous relationship, including race, class, religion, and citizenship which might limit the propensity to make that choice. Heteronormative polyamority privileges much of the same class, race, and gender constructions as heteronormative monogamy. She argues that polyamory must also be critically examined as a site of power.

Theoretical Goals

"My two central theoretical goals in the book, then, are to (1) begin unpacking the links between compulsory and institutionalized monogamy and heteromas-culine privilege and dominance as it intersects with race and sexuality, and (2) develop a theoretical framework for identifying and cultivating what I am calling polyqueer sexualities— sexual and relationship intima-cies that include more than two people and that, through plurality, open up possibilities to “undo” race and gender hierarchies in ways that would not otherwise arise within the context of dyadic sex or monogamy" (pg. 25).

She does not argue that compulsory monogamy or mononormativity are the only or primary source of gender, sexuality, class, or race marginalization. She also does not believe the polyamory would be a fix to these issues, nor that poly relationships are inherently feminist or liberating. Her hope is instead that readers see how mononormativity operate within regimes of gender, sexual, and race domination. She seeks to imagine how polyamory might destroy some harmful systems of domination.