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Some Thoughts on Polyfic

by Melusina




The most frequent criticisms leveled at polyfic, (fanfic about  polyamorous relationships) are that it's implausible, or that the way it's written is unrealistic.  Oddly enough, these are the same criticisms that are most frequently used against slash.  In general, I don't find well-done polyfic any more or less believable than slash, and I don't find slash any more or less believable than non-canon het pairings.  This is probably because I think most people tend toward bisexual, even if they've primarily been involved with the opposite sex, and that many people could, under the right circumstances, be poly.  Obviously there are characters who are vehemently straight (although even those characters often get slashed under the theory that people who make a big deal out of being straight are actually sublimating their homosexual urges), but for the most part, we assume that a character is straight because his or her canon relationships have been heterosexual, and we assume that characters are monogamous because their canon interactions have been monogamous (although this often breaks down if you start to examine it, given the serial monogamy and overlapping relationships that occur so frequently in tv shows/movies/novels).  Depending on the characters, you might have to do more or less work to set up slash or poly, but I think it's do-able and believable in many, if not most cases.

Objections to both slash and poly often focus on how improbable it is.  The argument goes that it's unlikely, especially in a fairly small group of people, that there would be multiple characters who appear straight/monogamous but are actually gay/poly.  This assumption is predicated on the idea that everyone who is gay/bi or poly is very open about it, and so we can accurately assess what percentage of people are queer or poly (and because that number appears to be very small, it's unrealistic to have multiple characters who fall into that camp).  But because of taboos against homosexuality and polyamory, the public world is resolutely straight and monogamous.  (This is changing in regard to homosexuality, but look at the number of people who still swear that no one they know is gay.)  Because of this, it's difficult to accurately guess how many people are truly straight or monogamous vs. how many people are simply being discreet about their sexuality. If, as I suspect, more people are bisexual and open to poly than you'd guess from watching tv and talking to your neighbors, then neither slash nor poly is improbable. (And even if the numbers are fairly small, romances are often about coincidences - it's a given in a romance that the principles will be attracted to each other. If that requires them to be gay/bi or poly, it's no more ridiculous than some of the set-ups I've seen for het romances between characters who appeared to have nothing in common or to actively despise one another.)

Another frequent objection is that the depiction of poly is unrealistic, because it so often depicts characters in happy relationships and doesn't address the problems and difficulties that may occur in poly relationships.  This is true of all romances - het romances gloss over potential problems as do slash stories.  Most readers of romance (and a large percentage of fanfic is romance of one kind or another, as evidenced by the categorization of it by pairing) want happy endings.  It's unfair to expect writers of polyfic to always use their stories as PSA's in which they address jealousy and conflict.  Also, this complaint assumes that poly relationships are somehow more difficult than monogamous ones, and inherently less stable.  While they are more complex, because they involve more people, I don't believe they are necessarily more difficult for everyone.  For some people it's much easier to be in a polyamorous relationship than to be faithful to one partner.  Personally, I love to read about relationship negotation in any kind of romance, so I like stories that address potential difficulties (which is why it took me 25,000 words to get Jack, Will and Elizabeth together in "Triangulation" ), but I don't think that every romance should be required to deal with every potential problem in the 'ship.

Like everything, so much depends on your frame of reference.  If you like slash, you're less likely to spend a lot of time nitpicking about whether character X would really have sex with a guy.  If you like polyfic, you're less likely to question whether these characters would really have a poly relationship.  That doesn't mean that you shouldn't consider canon - the best slash addresses canon, and shows how these specific characters, who are products of a specific cultural mindset and have these specific sexual histories, come to be attracted to one another.  The best poly does the same.  In both cases, depending on the characters, you may need to show how they arrived at a place where a homosexual/poly relationship was possible, but that's never the only question, or even the most interesting one.


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