Poly for the Planet
I practice relationship anarchy with both people and places.
Ever since I first came to London as a fresh-faced high school grad, the city felt like home. Sure, it’s a sprawling metropolis, the kind of place where you can disappear into the crowd, but to me, it’s always been an old, familiar friend. The sea of chimney stacks huddled under a blanket of gray, stretching into a skyscraper-punctuated distance. Street markets, city farms, and bustling shops. My ghostly reflection in the darkened half-life of the Underground, set to squealing tracks as ads, places, and people fly by. I’ve been trying to find a way to stay for over a decade, but the culture keeps putting borders between me and the things I love.
After living nomadically for seven months, however, I’ve started to feel a similar pull to other places, those cities where I step off the train and my energy instantly aligns. I’ve built networks across Ireland, Greece, and the U.K. of friendly faces and known quantities: farmer’s markets, cheesemongers, brewers, winemakers, chocolatiers, and artisan bakers; gyms and kundalini studios; circles of friends and strangers that I can melt into and seep out of just as easily. They’re forged in moments of interconnection, made even more meaningful because they don’t pretend to be anything but limited.
Yet I feel this tension, the push-pull to pick a place and settle down, because the capitalist paradigm says we have to choose, demanding allegiance and drawing lines around places and people. It puts boundaries around not only geographic space but our relationships and identities, distorting it all through the dark glass of ownership and scarcity. I can’t put down permanent roots in any of these places, anyway, but the culture whispers in my ear that if I could, maybe then I’d be happy. It promises that there's one person, one place, one product that will make us complete.
Under capitalism, everything is a commodity, and commodities exist in limited supply. Whether love, money, or material possessions, it’s all zero-sum game; in order for one to have, another must not. Who gets what, when, and why is determined by hierarchy, and this process of dividing and distributing based on privilege seeps into our subconscious, impacting our interactions with our environments and other living things.
We learn that places full of people are most important, taking priority over forests and oceans populated by seemingly less sentient beings. People, too, are divided by class, receiving access, opportunities, and resources accordingly, and more worth is attributed to those who own property and have a permanent address. We learn that a spouse is more important than a partner, regardless of relationship length, and any romantic partner is more valuable than a friend. Single people are seen as broken or searching, receiving no financial, legal, or social offerings except pity.
In this framework, love is a commodity like any other, and we rank our relationships in terms of the value they bring, doling out our own affections in kind. That’s why I identify as polyamorous, though I don’t even like that term; it’s so culturally loaded, conjuring images of interlocked bodies and key-filled bowls. It’s been sexualized and sensationalized in popular culture to preserve the heteronormative paradigm, but the concept is one that deeply resonates with most humans: you can love more than one thing at a time, and these connections build a web of safety and belonging.
The word “polyamorous” comes from the Greek and Latin for “many loves,” and no one would argue that you have to choose between loving your partner, parent, friend, and child. Yet few words cause such universal recoil as polyamory, uniting people across the ideological spectrum in resistance to the concept of multiple relationships. As a result, I prefer the terms “relationship anarchy” or “non-hierarchical relationships,” and find them more accurate descriptors. Relationship anarchy means different things to different people, but to me, it’s about much more than partnership or sex—it’s about changing the rules of the game, rejecting hierarchical notions of everything from the means of production to friendships and romance.
I’m polyamorous with places as well as people; I live everywhere in the world, and I have found family in every country where I travel. The heteronormative framework, however, would call me homeless and alone. It relies upon pretending things can last forever, but the reality is much more beautiful: people, places, and experiences are cyclical, seasonal, and exactly what we need at any given time, no less worthy for only existing for a day, an hour, or a year than for a lifetime. The concept of a singular solution for anything is a fallacy, because we’re always changing and so is the world, and the lie keeps us caught in an endless cycle, perpetually pursuing the next salvation and being let down. Enabled by apps, encouraged by the individualist narrative, and accelerated by the pandemic’s forced confinement, we create islands unto ourselves and our immediate networks.
None of this is to say personal identity and individualism aren’t important; they are. We all must individuate from home and family to be health. I’m a proud queer and gender-expansive person, and also identify as “solo-poly,” meaning I will always maintain my personal space and time, regardless of romantic partnering. Besides, I’m an introvert; I don’t want anyone and everyone walking into my space or sharing my bed. But contrary to popular opinion, that’s not what it means to be polyamorous. It doesn’t mean we don't have boundaries that protect our spaces, bodies, and hearts—it means we reject the boundaries of the capitalist paradigm and continually redraw our own, demanding clear communication and determining everything by consent.
Love isn’t a zero-sum game, and I’m growing weary of a world where we prioritize the people in our lives based on the exchange of bodily fluids; the idea that me loving one person in my life means I love another less. After all, none of this is the way it works in nature; the mycelial and arboreal networks rely on thousands of interconnected inputs, because there is always enough to go around.
I couldn’t live without any of my friends, family, and chosen kin, just like I don't have to only live in one place. It’s all part of a symbiotic ecosystem where each gives and takes according to ability, need, and openness, and any environment requires biodiversity to thrive.
I’m poly for the planet, and on Valentine's Day, I hope this kind of love and understanding can spread across the globe.
Image taken at the “Care and Resistance” exhibition at the Manchester Gallery, winter 2021.