Polyamory

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Polyamory, Polyship, Polyfic, Multi
Related: Threesome, GSF, Teamfic, Sedoretu, Triad Verse
See Also: OT3, OT4, OT5 , GSF
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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A polyamorous relationship, also called a polyship or simply poly, is a relationship between three or more characters. Most fans would describe it as being deeper and longer-lasting than a one-time threesome/moresome, but how much deeper is down to an individual fic writer. Much like real-life polyamorous people, polyships in fandom are merely multiple simultaneous relationships with the consent of all involved parties, so all characters need not be dating each other for a ship to be considered poly.[1] Often, fans ship a polyship because they multiship a particular character or because they're simplifying a love triangle.[2]

Fanfic of polyships is often called polyfic.[3][4] Polyfic is often related to teamfic, where all members of a canonical team may be written as romantically/sexually involved. In terms of fandom, its popularity is a relatively new phenomenon that can largely be attributed to the shift of fandom onto the internet. While threesome or poly stories can be found dating back to the 1980s in media fandom, most older stories were conduit fic or treated the idea of a threesome as a sexual kink, probably owing to the fact that pre-internet fanfic was sharply divided into slash, explicit het, and gen zines. Since these zines were the primary way fandom was connected, it left little space for anything outside those bounds and to find their spot early polyfic was often PWP.

For example, Once a Thief aired 10 years before Leverage and while both shows have a similar structure of three young dynamic characters working together in a team setting, Leverage has a noticeable amount of poly-themed stories, vids, art and discussion while Once a Thief was almost exclusively slash. Similarly, White Collar fans started talking about the poly potential of the show after only a few episodes had aired. Modern fandom has also pushed Kirk/Spock/McCoy into being the fourth most popular ship for TOS on AO3[5] and the seventh most popular ship for AOS[6] although fanworks for the pairing (such as Between Friends) existed in early fandom.

In Fandom

Polyships are often treated as a distinct category from het, femslash, and slash ships, at least for the purposes of categorization among fans.[7][8][9][10][11] Common poly relationships within a particular canon may be described as "the OT3/OT4/etc." It's generally understood which characters are involved, but in some canons there's ambiguity in the term among the general fandom even if specific fans have a set meaning.

The shift in thinking from treating threesomes as a kink to pairings in their own right has also led to what constitutes a polyfic shifting. Most modern fans would not consider conduit fic, love triangles or cheating to be polyamory, although there is some discussion about the fact that some writers will insert female characters into slash ships as a means of writing a "gay-lite" pairing. Polyships may appeal to these fans in a different way than the typical fan of polyships, and their interpretation of a polyship is likely to be more in line with a conduit fic. The community guidelines of Share and Share Alike, a community dedicated to polyships, say the following when outlining what content is and is not acceptable in their community:

As far as what to post here, anything goes--fic, art, recs, vids, discussion, ship manifestos, you name it. When it comes to the content, we're looking for fanworks portraying consensual non-monogamy. This includes, as previously mentioned, a wide range of types of relationships. A/B/C are a committed triad? Great! A/B are a couple, and have some fun with C one night? Awesome. A\B/C are in a Vee, B falls in love with D too, and A and C have an orgy with E, F, G, H, and I? Uh, wow. I want to see that. Now. This does not include, however, stories about love triangles that leave one (or more) of the characters out in the cold, or cheating. Your story may contain elements of these, but when posting, consider whether it's really, truly in the spirit of this community and scratching a fandom itch that's...well, not scratched too much.[12]

Stories that start out poly and end in monogamy or stories depicting a couple who occasionally have a casual relationship with a third might be considered polyamory by some fans, but those situations are more personal. A typical polyfic set-up would be either an established relationship or a developing relationship between three characters, such as Harry, Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter. That relationship could be a triad, in which all three characters are dating, or a v (sometimes spelled vee) in which a character is dating two characters but those characters aren't dating each other.[13] In this example, Hermione might be dating both Harry and Ron but Harry and Ron would not be dating each other. In general, fandom seems to prefer triad to v type poly although this varies from pairing to pairing and author to author.

There are also trope-specific variations on polyamory. Group marriage is common in Alpha/Beta/Omega fic featuring poly, often with one character of each dynamic for "balance," as well as more harem-style relationships where one alpha may have multiple omegas. Fic featuring BDSM themes, also frequently features poly. As in real life, one Dom can have multiple subs who may or may not know each other and fic may involve these subs meeting each other for scenes or entirely new relationships being formed. A sort of hierarchy can also be established between a dom, a switch, and a sub like in Never Never Never Stop for Anyone by aimmyarrowshigh. Some fic also borrow the concept of sedoretu from Ursula K. Le Guin's "A Fisherman of the Inland Sea," which is an involved sort of group marriage between four people, and troll romance from Homestuck is a popular trope even outside the Homestuck fandom.

"Poly" versus "Polyamory"

Much like the very concept of "polymory" has shifted from being a kink to a valid form of expression, there has been a discussion around the language used to discuss polyamory. This began in 2015, when Tumblr users politely asked if polyamorous people could stop using the tag #poly so it would be easier to find the Pasifika community. The post that was frequently passed around as the "starting point" for this discussion, however, was the following post by actuallypoly:

Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces. Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or “Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.[14]

There was a significant amount of discussion on actuallypoly's post about the history and usage of the term "poly" within the polyamorous community, with resistance to the change from those who are polyamorous.[15] Similarly to the shift from "NB" to "enby" by the nonbinary community at the request of black activisits who use the term as shorthand for NBPOC (non-black people of color),[16] many people have begun to prioritize the term "polyamory" over the abbreviation "poly" at the request of Pasifika people, especially in cases where the shortened form can cause confusion. This has led to both "polyam" and "polya" emerging as alternative shortened forms of polyamory, with polyam seeming to be the preferred term among the wider polyamory community. Within fandom, however, there has not been a similar adoption of "polyamships" over "polyships" although polyamships is in use as a term,[17] but there has been a shift from "poly" to "polyamory."

The discussion continues to evolve, however, as while some Pasifika people have expressed that the word poly should only be used for Polynesian people[18] the majority of people pushing or reminding people to use polyam over poly now are doing so because it has been weaponized by white people[19] in a similar fashion to the way queer has been reposited as a slur by TERFs.[20] This is not to say that not using "poly" in cases where the meaning is confusing is a bad thing, more that saying "reminder to use "polyam" because "poly" is for Polynesians" in unrelated discussion has become performative wokeness and, occasionally, a method to shut down conversations.

Commentary

honestly the reason I usually dislike soulmate!AUs is because they’re mostly quite clearly tailored for monogamous relationships and frankly it’s irritating because it does such a huge disservice to ot3 and polyships,,,also the enforced idea that all soulmates have to be romantic

but like I’m really glad a lot of people are trying to rectify the latter part,,,I love platonic soulmates they’re so valid

it’s tricky to work out the poly point though and imo it only fuels the idea that poly relationships are unnatural and everyone must have only ONE soulmate[21]
theres certain het ships that i want to like because i want to like the female character so bad but ive had so many people treat my sexuality like its regressive and shove polyships with the girl included in my face because i ship something gay that i just cant

and then people get offended by this and i dont know how to be like. look i dont care if you ship that? but im gay. and im just tired and sad about girls being shoved into ships im shipping specifically as gay. it feels pretty fucked up to have this keep happening.

like i just want a gay ship? i just want a ship to reflect me and my sexuality? can you understand and respect this? being forced into situations that accuse me of hating women just because i prefer not to view them in romantic situations with men most of the time is so

i literally have certain ships muted so i dont have to look at them to cultivate My space so why are you trying to shove them at me? like how am i the bad guy for being gay and wanting to consume gay content. why does everything have to be poly to prove u care about women???[22]
I love ot3s but sometimes with m/m/f ones it seems like… certain people actually just want two het relationships without having to think about the gay shit?

When really it’s like dude… If it’s a full triad, where everyone is dating everyone else, that shit is inherently queer, right?

Like instead of actually celebrating polyamory sometimes it feels like there are people trying to just “play it safe” by not having an outright gay ship because ~ew haha~

(Or, they’re fine with including the gay shit, but it gets super fetishized, because that’s the only way they’re ok with seeing an outright gay relationship.)

And obviously this is probably only a minority of fans! And I don’t think your shipping preferences for an ot3 automatically mean there’s something foul afoot, lmao. Sometimes ships are just ships.

But it’s just especially when a m/m/f ot3 is a lot more popular than whatever singular gay ship it contains I start to feel like I have to be on guard ‘cause… Just In Case[23]
It really bugs me when people say that it's out-of-character for a particular character to be poly, unless they've explicitly declared themselves to be monogamous in canon. Like, in "White Collar," my main fandom, the character Neal has a little monologue about how he's proud of being strong enough to be loyal to one person. So you could say that that's canon evidence that he's monogamous (at that point in time -- as I said, people change their minds). But absent something like that, chances are you mean that they're not stereotypically non-monogamous. It's like the anti-slash folks who complain about "writing straight characters as gay," when there's no canon evidence that the characters aren't "at least" bisexual, except that he likes cars and football and doesn't know what mauve is, so he must be straight. Not all polyamorous people are free-love hippies or sex-obsessed perverts or weirdos. Okay, most poly people I've met are on the geeky side in one way or another, but a lot of us aren't even obvious nerds (okay, I am, but not all of us are)! Poly people can be liberal or conservative, professionals or slackers, old or young, and as mentioned above, most of us don't go around shouting it from the rooftops. So you can write pretty much anyone as poly, and nobody can say with any certainty that it's "out of character" for them.[24]

Polyrific Fandoms

Knows What She Wants, fan art by Gnine, depicting the popular White Collar OT3, Peter/Elizabeth/Neal

Spoiler Warning: This article or section may contain spoilers. If this bothers you, proceed with caution.

There are numerous fandoms where certain poly ships are either canonical, or popular with fans:

  • Ace Attorney - Phoenix/Maya/Edgeworth. Apollo/Juniper/Athena isn't as widely popular, but is well-liked among some fans.
  • The Avengers (Comics) - Several configurations of poly ships are common.
  • Bandom - GSF was incredibly common in bandom's heyday, as was shipping a band as a unit. Modern bandom, thanks to some radical shifting of the core bands (namely Panic! at the Disco), leans more towards monogamy but is still poly friendly.
  • BTS - OT7 is relatively common, although harder to track on sites such as AO3 because fans often tag it as "[character]/Everyone." Other threesomes and moresomes are also common.
  • DC Comics - Bart/Kon/Tim, or Impulse/Superboy/Robin, is a common trio in Batverse fanfic. Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman is known as "Trinity." Superhero teams are often the subject of poly fic.
  • DBSK - The members of this boyband are sometimes written as an OT5.
  • Fire Emblem - Geoffrey/Elincia/Lucia and a number of threesomes involving twins Ephraim and Eirika.
    • Hinata/Oboro/Takumi in Fates fandom is being embraced lately, and Niles/Leo/Odin is already quite popular.
    • Echoes fandom embraced the trio of Lukas/Python/Forsyth. Clair/Gray/Tobin and Fernand/Clive/Mathilda are also common.
    • Three Houses has Felix/Ingrid/Sylvain, a trio of childhood friends. Edelgard/Byleth fans also tend to add Hubert to the mix due to his devotion to Edelgard and growing trust in Byleth. Ferdinand/Edelgard/Hubert is popular due to the two men butting heads over how to best advise and serve her, as well as developing a friendship of their own.
  • Haikyuu - Akaashi Keiji/Bokuto Koutarou/Kuroo Tetsurou/Tsukishima Kei is a popular polyship in the Haikyuu fandom. Since the fandom is very open towards multiple ships, polyships are easily formed out of already popular pairings.
  • Harry Potter - Harry/Ron/Hermione is a very popular ship. Other fairly common poly arrangements include Snape/Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny/Draco, and Neville/Luna/Ginny.
  • House, M.D. - Lisa Cuddy/Gregory House/James Wilson is the most popular grouping but others, both slash and mixed are often written.
  • KPop - such as SHINee, EXO, and BTS where all 5 members are shipped as OT5
  • Leverage - The ship Alec Hardison/Parker/Eliot Spencer, also known as the "Leverage OT3", is the most popular ship in the fandom.[25]
  • MCU - A variety of polyamorous ships are popular due to the multitude of shippable characters. This has been true since the early days of Avengers fandom, giving rise to the fandom saying, "Everyone's poly because Avengers."[26][27]
  • Merlin - the OT4/5 relationship that included Arthur/Gwen/Merlin/Morgana and sometimes Lancelot
Morning Cuddles, fan art by LOTOLLE, featuring the MCU triad of Bucky/Steve/Sam

Fanworks With Poly Themes

Fanfiction

For a full list of poly and moresome fanfiction on Fanlore, see Category:Poly Fanfiction

Fan Vids

  • Apple Candy and Imma Be - two vids made by the same vidder, talitha78, explore poly themes in two very different ways. One is a plot focused piece that uses the song and the canon, and adds to it, to create a plausible poly story. The second is a character study, at once a celebration of the characters' individuality, and also an examination of their team dynamic as revealed by the canon and flavoured by the song.

Archives

Communities

Multi-fandom

Individual fandoms

Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. ^ Polyamory. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  2. ^ Tumblr post. Posted 21 Aug 2019. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  3. ^ Tweet from @jinprose: "a polyfic where joon owns this shirt skdljfs". Posted 1 Aug 2019. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  4. ^ Tweet from @roundntalented: "Listen, I can't always be feeding myself. And I've already read most polyfic in fandom for ships that i'm into >o<". Posted 4 Nov 2019. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  5. ^ Star Trek: The Original Series tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  6. ^ Star Trek: Alternate Original Series (Movies) tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  7. ^ Pinboard: Tag Bundle /Poly for kinkme_merlin, accessed Sept. 2, 2013.
  8. ^ Azarsuerte: "I should probably give the remark some context: my fanfic output is overwhelmingly het. By which I mean 100+ stories compared to 16 m/m, 8 f/f and 3 poly." Posted Sept. 2, 2013, accessed same day.
  9. ^ Poly Twificrecs (listed as "Polyamory" in the sidebar), accessed Sept. 2, 2013.
  10. ^ Poly-Fic Rec List Mfirefly10: "As the subject suggests, this is that rec list of poly-fic I promised." Posted April 1, 2011. Accessed Sept. 2, 2013.
  11. ^ Polyamorous Avengers "All Avengers ships of more than two people at a time are praised and readily available at this awesome resource." Accessed Sept. 2, 2013.
  12. ^ What To Post...and What Not To Post. Posted 10 Mar 2010. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  13. ^ Polyamory Terms and Concepts, accessed April 2, 2010
  14. ^ Post from actuallypoly. Posted 23 May 2015. Archived 30 Oct 2015.
  15. ^ Post from actuallypoly. Posted 27 May 2015. Archived Nov 8 2015.
  16. ^ Why I use Enby and not NB. Posted 28 Feb 2018. Accessed 4 Feb 2019.
  17. ^ 3 or More: Polyam Ships of the Day. Accessed 4 Feb 2020.
  18. ^ Poly Means Polynesian, Not Polyamorous — Lily Stone. Posted 31 Dec 2016. Archived 10 Jun 2017.
  19. ^ Tweet from @lipanbone. Posted 2 Feb 2020. Accessed 4 Feb 2020.
  20. ^ Ask from asynca. Posted 21 Aug 2017. Accessed 4 Feb 2020.
  21. ^ Thread from @nolongerfloofy. Posted 25 Dec 2019. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  22. ^ Thread from @axroarts. Posted 8 Dec 2019. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  23. ^ Tumblr Post. Posted 6 Jan 2020. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  24. ^ Writing about polyamory in fandom -- a meta post that I am super nervous about posting. Posted 20 May 2010. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  25. ^ As of January 4, 2020, 1376 of the 6606 works in Leverage are Hardison/Parker/Eliot. Snapshot: Leverage works, January 4 2020; Hardison/Parker/Eliot works, January 4 2020.
  26. ^ Everyone Is Poly Because Avengers tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  27. ^ "everyone is poly because avengers" tag on Tumblr. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  28. ^ Teeth*s*Achievement Hunter RPF/works Rooster Teeth/Achievement Hunter RPF tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
  29. ^ The Tags Page on whitecollarfic on February 9, 2020 shows 776 stories tagged Peter/Neal and 592 tagged Elizabeth/Peter/Neal
  30. ^ White Collar tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020. Peter Burke/Neal Caffrey has 1497 works and Elizabeth Burke/Peter Burke/Neal Caffrey has 1096.
  31. ^ You down with OT3? (Yeah, you know me!) by Tafkarfanfic, in the ship manifesto community on LiveJournal, accessed April 2, 2010
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