“Hierarchical” Polyamory vs. Polyamory “Anarchy”

Non-monogamy map

I recent­ly ran into a thread on one of the polyamory groups I belong to where some­one asked for clar­i­fi­ca­tion as to what “Hier­ar­chi­cal Polyamory” was, and the first answer was to link to this page of Frank Veaux’s polyamory site:

Well, there are some things that Mr. Veaux writes which I think are true, even insight­ful, and oth­er things I dis­agree with, some very strong­ly. What peo­ple miss when some­one like Mr. Veaux writes a book, or authors a site, is that Mr. Veaux is no more of an “author­i­ty” on polyamory than I am… or that Deb­o­rah Taj Anapol was… or that Morn­ing Glo­ry Raven­heart Zell was, or that *ANY* poly per­son is. We each have our own jour­ney, and when we write about our jour­ney, and our per­spec­tive, we’re try­ing to explain a phe­nom­e­non which we are a part of, but which *NONE* of us “owns.” And one of the prob­lems about get­ting an under­stand­ing of “hier­ar­chi­cal” polyamory is that no one I know who prac­tices polyamory who uses labels like “pri­ma­ry”, “sec­ondary”, “ter­tiary”, etc., defines it as a hier­ar­chy or would use the term “hier­ar­chi­cal polyamory” which peo­ple like Mr. Veaux seem to have stuck us with. From my explo­ration of the web­sites being used to explain the phe­nom­e­non, it seems to be pri­mar­i­ly, if not exclu­sive­ly, those peo­ple who have con­struct­ed the term “polyamory anar­chy” who are *APPLYING* that label to peo­ple whose rela­tion­ships they either don’t under­stand, or whose type of rela­tion­ships don’t work for them. That’s about as valid as monog­a­mous peo­ple get­ting to label polyamory as “cheat­ing” or “promis­cu­ity” because they can’t fath­om it, or have tried it and it didn’t work for them.

What peo­ple ignore when they call it “hier­ar­chi­cal” polyamory is that the labels do not imply a hier­ar­chy, because a hier­ar­chy is not estab­lished that implies that some peo­ple are more impor­tant than oth­ers, but sim­ply denotes that some peo­ple in the rela­tion­ship *com­mit* more to a spe­cif­ic “cells” with­in the “pods” (pods is such a good word, but it’s hard to explain when there are group­ings with­in a pod… some­one give me a bet­ter word. Might we use “hearths”?… yes… I’m going to use hearths.) So I’ll amend that to hearths with­in the pod, although peo­ple who see polyamory as rad­i­cal may pre­fer cells.

The way that I, as some­one who has been in a rela­tion­ship that used the term, have always explained the label­ing of “pri­ma­ry”, “sec­ondary”, “ter­tiary”, “satel­lites”, etc. is that the labels indi­cate how con­nect­ed the per­son is to the fam­i­ly. So look­ing at it as a pod, with per­haps mul­ti­ple hearths with­in the pod, the labels indi­cate how con­nect­ed, or com­mit­ted, some­one is to a spe­cif­ic hearth with­in the pod. If one is com­mit­ted to that hearth, i.e., liv­ing in a mar­i­tal type rela­tion­ship, bond­ed per­haps by vows or some oth­er promise, shar­ing resources, etc., *THAT*, that com­mit­ment is what makes them a “pri­ma­ry” with­in the hearth. This is con­sis­tent with how those that I’ve known who have been a part of the poly move­ment since the 60s, before the term was even coined, like the Raven­hearts, have always defined it. And there is, and nev­er was, any­thing which is/was counter to egal­i­tar­i­an­ism in that thinking.

My exam­ple is when I was in a polyan­drous mar­riage, *both* of my hus­bands were “pri­ma­ry” to me. One was “senior” because he’d been there longer, the oth­er was “junior” because he was new­er, but all those labels were was a way to explain to peo­ple some­thing that did­n’t real­ly mat­ter with­in the rela­tion­ship — who was there first.

Sec­on­daries might be peo­ple who did­n’t share resources, but were emo­tion­al­ly com­mit­ted to the hearth. Ter­taries might be peo­ple who had lit­tle com­mit­ment to the hearth, but who were emo­tion­al­ly com­mit­ted to one or more peo­ple with­in the hearth. Satel­lites might be peo­ple who were just erot­ic friends of some­one with­in the hearth. Each fam­i­ly deter­mines their cri­te­ria, but *NONE* of that cri­te­ria has to do with who is more “impor­tant” as a per­son, sim­ply who is more con­nect­ed via the shar­ing of resources, or who is more com­mit­ted to the hearth.

So I dis­like the term “hier­ar­chy” because it implies pow­er, and specif­i­cal­ly pow­er over, which isn’t actu­al­ly accu­rate. What is more accu­rate is that the terms sig­ni­fy lev­els of com­mit­ment to a spe­cif­ic fam­i­ly or hearth with­in a polyamorous pod and per­haps with­in an expan­sive polyamorous network.