I don’t know who coined the term ‘relationshipqueer’, but on hearing it the concept simply made sense. We are already graced with terms such as genderqueer and neuroqueer, expanding the range of queerness away from sexuality into gender and neurology. Relationshipqueer takes its place amongst these terms to label a way of doing relationships that is outside societal norms. In this way relationship queerness is, in part, a response to heteronormativity, homonormativity, polynormativity and the categorisation of relationships based on their sexual or romantic content. Fundamentally, relationshipqueerness challenges cultural conceptions of how relationships are constructed and what relationships ‘count’. You might be monogamous and relationshipqueer, or you might be consensually non-monogamous. For me, it is about how you ‘do’ relationships, not just how many, how sexual or how long term those relationships are.
So, what is relationshipqueer (or relationshipqueerness or relationshipsqueering)?
Like neuroqueer, there can’t really be an authoritative definition of what relationshipqueer is. Nevertheless, I am going to attempt to give a flavour of my own views, with a smattering of inputs from my nearest and dearest. Relationshipqueer is both an identity and a practice, or rather a set of inter-related practices. So, someone can ‘be’ relationshipqueer (just like they can be bisexual, lesbian, white, disabled, trans etc) and someone can engage in relationshipqueering.
Relationshipqueer as an identity describes a person who has been shaped in some way by their engagement in relationshipqueering.
How do you ‘do’ relationshipqueering?
There are lots of excellent sources of information about queer relationships, and ‘queering’ heterosexual relationships (thought whether you agree this can be done is a matter of some debate). In some ways this appears to be a literature that offers tidbits rather than some belief about the ways you might choose to renegotiate what you want outside what is generally accepted practice. Nevertheless they provide a useful starting point underlying these I think there are a number of key themes that make up the ideas around relationshipqueering. I think it consists of:
- Approaching relationships and connections with others queerly, and understanding them within the framework of queer theory or activism.
- Being interested and engaged in understanding the ways that queerness and relationship structure intersect and interact to shape connections.
- Engaging in practices and explorations intended to reduce the influence of cultural conditioning which shapes how you understand and prioritise relationships with the aim of reclaiming agency to more consciously engage in the relationship structures and types that you choose.
- Creating conscious relationships with others that challenge dominant relationship norms around sexuality, exclusivity, hierarchy, duration, escalating expectations etc. (See Off the Escalator and Rewriting the Rules to expand this list).
- Working to create spaces and communities that support and encourage people to choose their own relationships and where relationships and relationship practices outside culturally defined norms are understood, accepted and celebrated.
These practices may be inter-related, and some may not be present at all. As I said, there is no definitive definition. The relationshipqueer police are not going to arrive at your door and say you are doing it ‘wrong’. Rather the list is a set of indicative practices and ways of thinking and being that are linked to relationshipqueerness. I’m sure many more will occur to other people, and I hope to update this post to include some of them. In the meantime, happy relationshipqueering!
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