Straight up thanks: What happens when people who have relationship privilege stand up for those who lack it1
November 14, 2012 by aggiesez
On this week’s Savage Love podcast, sex columnist Dan Savage gave a hearty and much-deserved round of thanks to all the straight people who actively advocated and volunteered for marriage equality — which voters recently approved in the states of Colorado and Washington, and Maine. Also, Minnesota voters defeater a ballot measure which would have banned same-sex marriage.
Savage emphasized a key point: These victories in the struggle to achieve fairness toward, recognition of, and support for relationships that don’t match the heterosexual social norm would not have happened if straight people didn’t join the fight.
That’s right: The efforts of many, many straight people committed to the cause of marriage equality is making a huge positive difference. Because ending discrimination helps everyone — both people who hold social or legal privilege, and those who lack it.
Savage encouraged his listeners to check out Straight Up Thanks — a new crowdsourced Tumblr blog where LGBT people offer personal thanks to straight allies who played an active role in supporting marriage equality in this year’s elections. It’s really moving. Worth a look. Contribute if you’re so inspired.
Savage’s gratitude has broader meaning that extends to the poly community — and especially to non-primary partners. As I’ve been demonstrating in this blog for the past few months, the couple privilege that is so predominant in society at large is also a big issue in the community of people who have polyamorous or otherwise open or nonmonogamous relationships.
Yeah, couple privilege: The presumption that the most valid or important type of relationship is a primary couple (a spouse-like, life-partner, two-person relationship usually involving sharing a home, finances, kids, etc.). Primary couples tend to get lots of social, economic, legal, and other perks that people in other relationships tend not to get.
This often gets to be a big problem for people who are non-primary partners to poly/open people who are in a primary couple. We often get treated inconsiderately, disposably, suspiciously, or like a secret by the very people who profess to love and respect us most. It’s rather jarring.
What’s also discouraging is that, as I’ve been speaking up more in the poly community and in poly forums to voice the perspective of nonprimary partners, to raise the issue of couple privilege, and to advocate for fairness toward nonprimary partners, I’ve gotten a fair amount of pushback from people who are in poly primary couples who resent the notion that they might be wielding couple privilege — or even who believe that couple privilege is appropriate and not a problem.
I’ll write more about that kind of defensive pushback later. But for now, suffice it to say that most people who have privilege won’t surrender it willingly — and one of the easiest ways to avoid surrendering privilege is to deny that it exists, or that it’s a problem, or that people with privilege can choose to act differently.
Anyway, as I wrote earlier, there are a lot of reasons why poly couples should care about couple privilege. Because caring about couple privilege, speaking up about it, and taking steps to undo it in their own community and nonprimary relationships helps everyone — including them!
It’s not that different from straight people advocating for marriage equality. Or when white people started joining black people in civil rights protests. Or when men started speaking out against rape and other violence toward women. Initially, all of these privileged allies faced criticism and pushback. They hung in there, and they helped. Because those efforts made it harder for their similarly privileged friends, colleagues, family, and peers to ignore or rationalize privilege and the problems it causes.
I’d love it if more poly primary couples would start thinking about, and talking about, couple privilege. Among themselves, in the poly community, and with their nonprimary partners. While nonprimary partners and solo poly people can (and should) stand up for fairness and respect, we can’t realize that goal without support from people in primary couples.
This certainly isn’t on the scale of the battle for marriage equality. (I’m not keen on legal marriage at all, but if we’re going to have it, it should not be discriminatory.) But this particular struggle for fairness does matter.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for how to get more poly primary couples constructively involved with undoing couple privilege in the poly community. This isn’t about making primary partnership “wrong” — it’s just about treating people well in the name of love. Please comment below with your ideas.