An attempt to reframe polyamory and place it in the context of larger social issues in a way that retains all of its power yet makes it culturally acceptable in terms even John Wayne could support.
What Polyamory Isn't, What Polyamory Is
It's a truism that there are as many definitions of polyamory as there are people that do it. Why is that? It has seemed to me for some time that polyamory isn't about how many relationships one has; I know many people who call themselves poly yet who have just one partner, or no partner at all. And it isn't what one does within those relationships; there are as many poly structures as there are people doing them.
So what's left? The way I've expressed it for the last several years is, if you feel without reservation that the person who gets to choose how to structure your relationships is you, then no matter what choice you ultimately make, you're poly. (Choices to be made in open, honest, sex-positive communication with your partner(s), of course, who naturally have the same choice. Every stakeholder gets a say, everyone negotiates, hopefully leading to agreements that meet everyone's needs. Thus, poly is also about finding win-win. But that's an effect, not a cause.) You get to decide how your relationship life looks. Not your mother, not your culture, not your government ... you.
Recently, though, I've come to feel that all this is just a smaller restatement of a wider context, and not something that exists by itself. In these terms polyamory is merely an example, or special case, of the much larger principle of self-determination.
The Evolution Of Self-Determination
Looking back through history, the evolution of self-determination is clear. In earlier days of Western civilization, individuals had far fewer choices regarding behavior and lifestyle options, not just around sexuality but in many other areas as well. More was based on community morals and strictures; fewer choices were in the realm of personal options. For example, who one could socialize with, where one could live or travel to, or what kind or color of clothing was considered appropriate, all these were more tightly regulated by then-current societal norms than they are today.
Over the years, more and more options have shifted away from this model, and today it is natural and accepted that many choices which had previously been dictated by societal rules are now made by individual personal choice. For example, in earlier days, due to social strictures, it was considered scandalous for certain types of people to do something as simple as...