Faithful Polyamory

Elise Matthesen
June 18, 2000
First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, MN

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Faithful Polyamory (a Unitarian Universalist sermon)

Hello, I'm Elise Matthesen; I'm bisexual, polyamorous, and a member of this congregation.

I hope you'll forgive me if I'm a little worn-out and grumpy -- and maybe tearful -- today, but it's been a big week. I got home on Monday night from a visit with the chosen family of one of my partners, and when my other partner picked us up at the airport, he said, "Your sister says to call her as soon as you can. It's urgent."

It was. The mother of my closest high school friend had died unexpectedly, and my sister wanted to tell me, and to make arrangements with me for getting to the funeral, which was back home in southeastern Wisconsin. I got back last night at Midnight.

I felt it was especially important to be with my friend for this funeral because her father died just a few months ago, after a long, difficult illness. Her mom, as my sister pointed out, was one of the best mothers we knew; she had lots of love for her kids, and enough to share with the numerous friends of her offspring who came through the house. My friend and her husband were in the process of leaving their home and jobs in order to move in with my friend's mother and take care of her and be with her, but it wasn't to be.

One of the other reasons I really wanted to be there was that my friend is a very wonderful, gentle, and loving person. She was one of the people who supported me when I came out as bisexual a quarter-century ago. And when, years afterwards, I went back to tell her, "You know all those years ago in high school? I, um, I think I was in love with you," her response was one of the most thoughtful I've ever heard of. She sat there for a minute, considering, and then she looked me square in the eye and said, "Thank you." Which was perfect -- I wasn't asking her to do anything about it, other than to know how much I cared about her. I didn't tell her way back in high school, because I wasn't ripe to say it yet, although I was able to say that I was bisexual, once I found out there was a word for it.

When I worked the night shift at the canning factory, one of my co-workers was a strong, graceful, young Spanish-speaking migrant worker. One night on break, as we watched the mist rise off the river behind the factory, he asked me, "Do you think it's wrong for a man to.... you know, to go with another man?"

This wasn't small talk. What could I say? The church I was raised in called homosexuality an abomination. I knew they meant me, too -- and I didn't think they'd give me a discount on eternal damnation for being bisexual. (Bashers haven't offered to beat only half of me up, either. Bigots are generous with their abuse; in fact, they're much more inclusive than our allies, sometimes.)

I knew what I was told in church and Christian day school.... and I knew what was in my heart and mind. I had pondered the idea "God is Love" a lot -- especially when the adults around me seemed to be under the impression that God was Shaming and Threatening. But I knew the feelings inside me were good; they were like morning reflecting in raindrops on the phlox in the flowerbed. Like how the mint fields smelled at harvest time. All the places I had been taught to see God's handiwork were places of wonder and intricacy and life. It seemed to me then that God was impossible *not* to love... and by my young logic, following love with integrity and whole-heartedness was a way to get closer *to* God.

I didn't say all this to my co-worker. I said, "Do they treat you good?"

He froze, like a rabbit not sure whether to run yet.

"Are they nice to you?"

He shook his head. I don't remember his words, but I remember the pang when I realized he thought "going with men" and being treated badly were inextricably linked.

"Oh, honey," I said, "I think it's okay to love men, women, whatever, but hang on and wait for the ones who treat you nice, okay? Don't go with the ones who are mean to you."

If God is Love, then love can be a pathway to God -- but you gotta hang on and wait for the ones who treat you nice. And you gotta treat *them* nice, too -- and you've got to follow your pathway with integrity.

If you missed the controversy in the UU magazine, "poly" means several (or many, though one person's many is another person's few); "amory" means "love" -- so, "many loves," or "several loves." As the one I'm married to and I describe it sometimes, "we're very faithful; we're just not monogamous."

I am proudly -- and gratefully -- involved in two long-term partnerships and one relationship which cheerfully defies description. For the statistically-minded, these have lasted fifteen years, eight years, and seven years respectively. I sometimes joke that I'm "an old boring settled poly person," but I'm happiest with long-term relationships. I wouldn't be very good at practices like serial monogamy or trading beloveds like baseball cards.

I have told partners: "The fact that I love you is not negotiable.*How* I love you is always negotiable."

My feelings bloom inside me -- like that delight in the dew on the phlox, or my love for my beloveds, or the big deep joy I called "God." My actions are my choice and my responsibility. I cannot be rude, hurtful or cruel to one beloved and then claim I was "only acting out of love" for another. I believe nobody can build real and lasting happiness at the expense of another -- whether they're monogamous or polyamorous or celibate.

I won't "proselytize for polyamory," bisexuality or anything else. I don't get toasters for signing people up- though I did laugh at the joke that we bisexuals don't get toasters; we get waffle irons. But seriously, I don't value polyamory, ethically and consensually practiced, any more highly than monogamy, ethically and consensually practiced. Or bisexuality over monosexuality. I'm not under some impression I have the One True Way. I don't believe there *is* One True Way. I think there are many paths, and that our path is between each of us, our consciences, our conception of good (or god), and our
beloveds.

I'm glad people are curious about bisexuality and polyamory, but I wonder why so many questions are about sex. Aren't people curious about love? Or is sex the thing we can talk about nowadays, and love the taboo?

Some people think they know what I must mean by "bisexual and polyamorous." They come up and say, "Oh, I get it -- you're bi and poly because no one person can meet all your needs, right?"

Wrong. I don't get up in the morning with a checklist of "relationship needs" and start pushing my cart around doing comparison shopping. Love and relationships are more about giving, about the privilege of building something together, of cheering each other on, or sometimes up. About interdependence -- another word associated with our UU principles.

The last thing I want to say is about polyamory as opposed to cheating. (And the way I practice it, polyamory is very *definitely* opposed to cheating!) Monogamous people who are cheating sometimes pull me aside and say, "I'm telling you this because I know you'll understand." Now, how a person like me, who has gone to a lot of effort to communicate and negotiate early, often, and thoroughly, is supposed to be a kindred spirit to somebody hoodwinking their trusting spouse, I haven't a clue. I feel at those moments like a Unitarian Universalist who's just been told, "Oh, I really admire your ability to throw all that outdated morality, belief, and ethics stuff out the window!"

As Thomas Moore said in his book THE CARE OF THE SOUL about the word "poly" in a different context,

"Some, without investigating the idea deeply enough, have assumed that this means that morally anything goes, that there is no code of ethics, and that whatever happens, happens; but poly means 'several,' not 'any.'"

May you have strength, luck, and grace in all your relationships, of whatever description. Thank you for asking me to speak today. I look forward to continuing conversation.

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Originally presented at FIRST UNIVERSALIST CHURCH of Minneapolis, as part of the Gay Pride Sunday Service on  18-JUN-2000 by Elise Matthesen elise@mango.lioness.net 

[What follows is the text of the personal reflection I gave as part of the Pride Sunday service today.]
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[The preceding is copyright Elise Matthesen, June 2000. Permission to make one copy for personal use is hereby granted to any individual reading this, so long as this copyright notice in its entirety is included in any such copy. Such permission for personal use does *not* cover republishing this post in any form on any media, including posting the material on private or public websites or in newsletters, without written permission from the author and the inclusion of this notice in its entirety; to request permission to reprint in those circumstances, please contact elise@lioness.net . Thank you.]

The more you love, the more you *can* love - and the more intensely you love.  Nor is there any limit on how many you can love.  If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just. 
                                                                              -- Robert A. Heinlein

Used with permission

Reposted with permission of the author
Originally posted at
Pagan Forum

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