Diversity

     

When this topic popped into my list of topics I cringed a little.  I am, at large, a live and let live human being.  I am also not a fan of buzzwords, and my affinity for the English language gives me a mild seizure when it is abused or exploited.  On top of all that I try not to make apple pies when there are no apples, and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when people whine wolf, especially about things that are important to me or where others actually have, in fact, encountered a wolf.  I also believe that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, even if it conflicts with mine.  This is not a “free speech as long as you agree with me” world, as long as it ends with speech.  That being said, I have been asked to write about discrimination, particularly as a poly family, and have accepted it as a chance to tell a few stories and count a few blessings.
As a person I have made myself a pretty strong target.  I’m a chronically ill, slightly overweight, short, female who happens to identify as pansexual, pagan, and polyamorous.  I’ve always been a bookworm and a bit of a geek, I wear glasses, and at one time I had braces.  I’m not the most socially graceful person, and I can be both a tomboy and a girly girl when the mood strikes.  I’ve grown a pretty thick skin over the years, and I generally choose to ignore the comments unless they’re particularly hurtful or creative, because most of the time I can tell they come from a place of confusion more than hatred.  For the most part I’ve always believed that to let the little things bother you is to give closed-minded all the power.  If I can smile and move on they get nothing from me and I am not affected.  This belief has kept me from  becoming a miserable, jaded person who no one wants to be around.  Besides, I look terrible on a pulpit, and I’m too afraid of heights for a soap box.
I would like to take this opportunity and stop to make a distinction that is not made enough, that between actual discrimination and mere prejudice.  Discrimination, by definition, is treatment derived from prejudice, which is an opinion or feeling formed without knowledge or reason.  The difference here is important, because while negative prejudice can be hurtful it is generally not harmful and can be ignored.  Discrimination, however, is a much more serious circumstance.    I will also point out that neither of these things is inherently negative.  Keep this in mind as we move along.
Prejudice is something I’ve learned to ignore and not take personally.  I am always the chunky white girl getting the side-eye in every dance class I take despite the fact that I have 15 years of experience in dance and theater.  I’ve been told my marriage is a mockery or a fake, I have heard that some of my guests were asked if my wedding dress was black, and I have had those interested in dating me ask if I’m still married.  I have mentioned before the notion that I will sleep with anything not nailed down, and that generally comes with the assumption that I am not concerned with safety.  In fact, I have had people balk when I insist on using protection.  The gay community is quite often hesitant to accept a poly situation, mostly because they’ve had to try so hard to fight their battles and prove that gay and lesbian relationships can be committed, monogamous relationships.  It’s understandable, and not something I take personally. 
Most of the discrimination I have faced as a result of my decision to be polyamorous has been silly and trivial.  For example, Victoria’s Secret won’t let my husband, who has much better fashion sense than I, check me in a dressing room.  They will, however, allow my girlfriend to go with me.  Family events at work generally only allow one guest, so there’s always a question about who to take.  My mother-in-law continuously has “family only” events and forgets about our extended family or uses the rest of the family as an excuse rather than explaining the extra guests, a behaviour we had to finally bring to her attention when it became unacceptable. 
There are a couple of instances in the past few years that have led to a serious issue or change in my life because of discrimination I found serious enough to address.  The first came a couple years ago when I changed gynecologists.  I believe in full disclosure with my health professionals and will never tolerate being spoken to like a child, so when I finished and she gave me a lecture about “risky behaviour” and alluded to the possibility that I could not possibly trust Hubby to always be safe because he has same-sex encounters I gave her an education in acceptable risk, safe practices, and outdated statistics…oh, and trust.  I never went back, and I found a new gynecologist who has never batted an eyelash to my lifestyle.  The second has happened a few times, and it’s always the same.  I make friends with someone who happens to be male.  Honestly, reason would tell you that if I can’t be trusted with male friends I can’t be trusted with the females either, but no one seems to ever bring this up.  In any case, in several cases where these male friends have been married or with a serious girlfriend the friendship has ended because either his significant other demands it or gets so paranoid and irrational that I need to consider changing my phone number or moving.  It’s a shame, but it happens.  I have to add that while I have had a few partners or prospective partners decide to not continue with me because of my poly family, I don’t consider this discrimination any more than any other relationship decision.  Polyamory is a pretty serious change for those who have not lived it, and not one that’s for everyone.  I can understand that.  I might be unhappy about losing someone close to me or how they handle the situation, but that’s not discrimination. 
I have been fairly lucky in my life that much of the actual discrimination I have dealt with in my life has been annoying at best, and almost none of it has been because I’m poly.  I have been questioned about my abilities and had to prove myself a bit more at jobs because of my physical structure and chronic illness, I have had both straight men and gay women decide not to date me because I choose to love both genders, and I have been skipped over for invitations and special events because “it seemed a little girly” for me. While I went to an all-girls Catholic high school I was never isolated for my spirituality or sexuality, and I  have never faced the physical or psychological attacks some of my peers have.  It’s not that I deny that these things happen, or that I am not outraged and willing to offer any support I can when they do, but I am fortunate enough to not have personal experience with this level of hatred. 
That is really my point with this piece.  I have never had my life threatened or impaired because of my lifestyle.  For the most part I am allowed to live as I feel appropriate without too much of a hassle.  I have never been denied life essentials or basic human rights because of my decisions, and for this I count my blessings almost daily.  In another time and place I may not have had this luxury, and while there is still a road to travel before we are universally accepted and approved we are not hiding in fear for our lives.  Would I like my family to have the same rights and privileges as any heterosexual, monogamous family has?  Of course I would, but we have our ways of dealing with and even circumnavigating some of those hurdles.  This is a great time to live in in that respect, and who knows what will happen in the future.  Until then all I can do is live my life the best I can with what I have and remember that this lifestyle is not about laws and public acceptance; it’s about love.
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