Is 'This' the New 'That'?
A brief pondering as to whether Poly is the "New Gay"
By Julie Gillis,
9:35AM, Thu. Dec. 9, 2010
Fashion says it all the time: "Plaid/chartreuse/aquamarine is the new black!" This phrase is trotted out year after year to highlight the season, a new designer, or just to give the other damn colors a chance to shine against that all-perfect look, basic black.
I'm fine with being poked and prodded by fashion magazines telling me to spruce up my look by buying, say spruce, instead of charcoal. I do, however, start to cringe a bit when that "This Is The New That" phrase is applied to people and politics.
We've seen this in the recent past with the civil rights fight for Marriage Equality. Gay is the new black? The Advocate asked that question, as did Tyra. Does this phrasing help align LGBT rights with the civil rights movement, or does it just sound like a PR move?
I'm of two minds, because I see the similarity, the fight for human rights as all one thing, but I dislike the "spin" of it all. I worry that the phrase cheapens things, makes a bit of fluff of the work going on doggedly behind the scenes.
It's not just limited to past civil rights issues and the LGBT community. I came across a new version of the phrase, while doing an Internet link-following-link-down-the-rabbit-hole path which led me to this article by Linda Kirkman, "Poly Is the New Gay."
Polyamory, for any of you who don't know, is the practice of ethical non-monogamy.
Can this be the new that? Can quippy phrases be applied effectively to civil rights movements? Is it simply indicative of an idea that as one group is more accepted, the mantle of "the new x/y/z" is passed on so work can be done there? Are we to be satisfied with saying, "OK! That social justice issue is fixed! On to the next one, now in style." I believe the human rights struggle is all connected and is continuously happening in phases and circles and cycles.
I don't think poly is the new gay in that poly people aren't dying from hate crimes as the LGBT community has, or living lies to keep their sexuality undercover for physical safety as the LGBT has historically been forced to do. I do agree that there has been a veil of anonymity to other sexual/relational communities, an in-the-closetness that applies, since there aren't currently many protections in place for non-traditional family structures.
As to whether poly and other alternative relational forms are biologically determined or choice (thus the "new gay") is not something I have the academic chops to suss out. But I believe that will be part of the ongoing debate and study. I'm not entirely sure it matters and here's why:
Poly might very well be "the new queer" in the political sense, in that it is "next" in the figuring out of a current cultural puzzle. This puzzle is tied to human sexuality (like sex workers rights, sex ed in the schools, feminism, and more), but also to human relationships – to the reality that we are driven to form connections and communities and are increasingly dissatisfied with the old, standard model of Man+Woman+Marriage+Child = House and Two-Car Garage.
Kirkman's final statement, "I look forward to a society where any loving family, irrespective of how many people it includes or what sex they are, feels safe to be open about who they are," resonates.
Much like a classic, well-made little black dress, supporting all humans in all their beautiful forms and celebrating our ability to love and be loved should be something that never goes out of fashion. Ever.