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Champagne or Sparkling Wine … why do people need to label *your* relationship?

I’ve had a great time talking with folks at InfinityCon, and it’s made me think a lot about how we label relationships. Is “polyamorous” all that different from “open relationship” or “swinger”? That depends on why you want to label your relationship … or more importantly, why someone needs to apply a label to yours.

I was part of the “THE SPECTRUM OF ETHICAL NON-MONOGAMY” panel at InfinityCon 2016,  and we talked a lot about labels. Find a label to fit something you’re feeling can be powerful, because it shows someone else has the same feelings. It’s useful for having a common vocabulary to start a conversation. The problems come up when a label is used to define other people rather than define yourself.

One example comes from the world of fancy wines.

What's in the glass? Depends on who is asking.

What’s in the glass? Depends on who is asking.

The term ‘Champagne’ refers to a specific type of sparkling wine. Not all sparkling wine is Champagne. ‘Champagne’ has to come from a specific region of France. Everything else is just sparkling wine. In the end it’s an exclusive term, not inclusive, designed to protect a specific group of people.

I identify as polyamorous. It’s a term I’m comfortable using. I don’t let others define me as a ‘sinner’ or ‘cheater’. Other people I date may or may not identify as polyamorous, and that doesn’t really matter to me. I let others define how they want to be labeled without letting their words define me … of course I’ve always been the weird kid, so that comes to me more naturally than others.

I have friends who identify as nerds, and I don’t get to define why they use that term. I have friends who used to identify as male and now identify as female, and I don’t get to dictate why they made that change. I am not their gatekeeper, and if I try to do that then they will identify me as an asshole.

It’s cool to have a common vocabulary, but make sure you define ‘you’ on your own terms.

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