Polyamory is often seen as strange, but in my personal experience it’s viewed with the same benign side-eye as veganism, kink, and wicca (this venn-diagram overlaps a whole lot, though that’s perhaps a different essay).
That said, it still fucking sucks to not find the way you love represented in the stories that pervade our world. Human culture has always come down to stories; from ancient myth to YouTube, people have always loved telling them and hearing them. They set cultural norms, teach us how to approach novel experiences, and provide a way to process events too large to handle just by reading the news (at this point the author gestures broadly to the substantial body of American movies about the Vietnam war).
And thus, I would like to draw attention to some recent examples of what I’m calling “low-key poly” in the stories I’m enjoying. These don’t focus on their poly relationships in the way a TV show like You Me Her or a movie like Vicky Christina Barcelona does. They’re more matter of fact, and it’s my favourite thing about them.
In Armando Iannucci’s sci-fi follow up to Veep, the spaceship captain (Hugh Laurie) is in triad marriage with two other partners. It’s not a focus of the show — he’s on a space-cruise and his earthbound partners are seen only on video calls. Instead, it occupies a place somewhere between “blink and you’ll miss it” background detail and side plot (in one episode his partners announce their intent to “thrivorce” him). Nobody bats an eye, presumably because the show is set in 2060, at which point this is all totally mundane. Yay!
The Wachowskis’ ultimate queer-trans-poly-friendly Netflix show never draws attention to its poly relationships. That’s just how life be when you’re telepathically bonded with seven other people from around the world who were born the same day as you.
After two seasons and multiple orgies across every continent (each orgy happens on multiple continents simultaneously… I know. Look, just watch the show), Sense8 doesn’t make a fuss about resolving its long-standing love triangle by simply having everyone involved decide to give a triad a go. It’s just the obvious solution, and I can’t imagine it going any other way.
See also: whatever Lito, Hernando, and Daniela have going on. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but it’s hot as hell.
2020’s been a big year for Mutant-kind. They founded their own country on a sentient island in the South Pacific (Krakoa is a mutant whose mutant power is… being an island) which — between everyone’s powers, some comic-book super-science, and the island straight up growing things they need — is now a literal utopia in which all scarcity has been eliminated, perhaps even… romantic scarcity?
You don’t have to be a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society to know that when it comes to the X-Men, Cyclops loves Jean Grey, Wolverine also loves Jean Grey, and poor Jeanie has gone back and forth more than a couple of times. But why choose, when you can live in post-scarcity paradise with your two lovers in adjoining bedrooms? Which gets to why this perhaps my favourite example: it’s so low-key that it was revealed to readers in an architectural diagram. No comic has taken so much as a page to dwell on it, but in the last few months several panels here and there have made it clear — they’re all together and everyone is super cool with it.
It’s nice to see yourself on TV, or in comic books, but it’s much nicer when you’re not carrying a neon sign that exhibits your divergence from the norm, when you’re not the comic relief, or the moral lesson. I recently watched 1989’s Richard Curtis romcom The Tall Guy, and while Jeff Goldblum’s non-monogamous roommate is never called out in dialogue, nor punished for her social transgressions, the situation is nevertheless used as a repeated source of laughs. Even with more recent, more positive fare like Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which might be the first movie I ever saw to feature a genuinely wholesome representation of poly love… it’s still the whole point of the film.
When I was a kid, gay representation on TV meant Will & Grace and Queer as Folk. In comics it meant Apollo and Midnighter. Not to crap on those groundbreaking works, but today a character is allowed to be gay merely incidentally. That’s a huge improvement, and one I’m really happy to see happening for non-monogamous relationships.