The Stigma of Different

In the middle of finishing up my final year of medical school, I’m traveling around the country interviewing for my next 4 to 5 year commitment, my medical internship and residency. Recently I was excited to see just how strange and weird a particular program was, and whether they’re really as odd as everyone talks them up to be (spoiler: they weren’t).

It hit home just how much people exaggerate differences, especially when there usually isn’t a lot of variation. When everyone else is doing more or less the same thing, being the one that does things differently, even just a bit, really sticks out. Some people take it in stride, “Oh, yeah, that program’s kinda weird,” but other people seem almost offended. As though by doing things differently, that program is judging everyone else and saying “You guys are doing it wrong. We’re right! We’re better than you!” And in a way, they are saying that. They wouldn’t be different if they didn’t think that their way works well, works better.

I see the same thing happen often with polyamory. A lot of the negative comments people post online have to do with thinking that polyamory is immature, immoral, having your cake and eating it too, an abusive and ungodly setting to raise children in, impossible to sustain, against civilized nature, etc. Basically, a lot of it is knee jerk “That’s not how you do things!” reactions. What’s wrong with monogamy? Why can’t you just be like everyone else? I think that part of the aggression towards polyamory comes from a defensive place.

Most polyamorous people I know don’t believe that polyamory is better than monogamy. They might believe that it is better for them, as individuals, but they don’t think that it’s the way everyone should live. Now, most of them would also say that there’s a lot wrong with how relationship communication and expectations are generally managed in society, but I think that’s separate from the basic idea of two people deciding to be romantically and sexually involved with only each other.

I worry a lot about other people noticing that I’m different, because I like to blend in, only being recognized when I choose to be. I hate being the center of attention, and I have terrible stage fright. I like being behind the scenes so much that I sometimes embrace thankless roles, because I don’t mind missing out on the attention of appreciation.

So the two things that concern me most about being polyamorous/practicing polyamory, are 1) being obviously different in a nonstandard way and 2) the various violent/drastic ways in which people react to this difference. I could very easily get used to #1 if not for #2. Obviously, this is not an unbearable concern, because I’m still in very serious relationships with two men, but I spend a lot of time wondering how I can minimize the effect of #2 on my life. Other people shake off the negativity and vitriol pretty easily, and I guess there’s always going to be someone out there who hates you for some¬†benign¬†label you fit under, isn’t there?

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