Mistress Matisse Is Just Plain Wrong

For the last day and a half I’ve been trying to figure out how to address this adequately, and coming up short, so I’ll just say it like this..

Mistress Matisse fucked this up royally.

A recent Stranger column by Mistress Matisse attempted to tackle the phenomenon of mono folks dating poly folks in order to change them, to rescue them from their wayward ways and live the romantic story of loving someone so hard that they became who they “should” be. I’ve seen of this kind of thing happen. It’s disrespectful at best and damaging to a person’s psyche at worst. It’s something that needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately Matisse did so terribly, and in the process insulted a lot of people.

She starts off describing monogamous “cowboys” who date poly folks to “persuade them to sever existing relationships and embrace monogamy,” but then paints every mono person who dates a poly person as one of those people.

Instead of speaking of cowboys and cowgirls, her language drifts into “monogamist” and “someone who is clearly monogamous” while still attributing the cowboy behavior to them.

She says

Viewed through a monogamist’s gaze, dropping your lasso on a wandering heart is the stuff of songs, literature, and drama.

Not “through a cowboy/girl’s gaze,” which would make sense. She’s now expanded the manipulative behavior to all mono folks. So us poly folks are the fodder for the romantic fantasies of those monos, eh? The reason one of them would be attracted to one of us is because they can save us and teach us the truth about love.

She just defined monogamous ideals across the board as the fairy tale manipulative machinations of a Harlequin romance novel. If you only want to have one relationship at a time, this must be your drive.

She goes on to say:

Why the hell would a poly person get romantically involved with someone who is clearly monogamous in the first place? The honest answer is something like: hormones, misguided optimism and willful self-delusion, more hormones, and a little emotional masochism

And the only reason one of us would want to date one of them is that we’re horny and deluding ourselves. Right. It couldn’t possibly be valuing that person, up to and including the way that they love.

Where Matisse goes wrong in painting mono/poly pairings as cowperson/cow is in the expectation that a person of one relational orientation requires the same of their partner. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes that’s not. In my case, obviously, it’s not. Some folks, in order to be fulfilled, need their partner’s to have the same sort of numerical setup that they have. But how I work and what I need from my partner are two different issues.

Think of it like this. I’m starting a band, and I LOVE Black Sabbath. I bring Sabbath’s influence to my writing and playing. My bandmates find their inspiration in other places, like Black Flag, Bop and Jesus Freaks like Larry Norman. But we’re willing to work together, we’re compatible as writers and musicians, and we find unique, beautiful ways to blend our influences.

My buddy, another Sabbath freak, is trying to start up a band too. He found a couple of guys to play with who really believe that Led Zeppelin started heavy metal. My buddy decides to go ahead and start a band with them, even though he can’t stand Zeppelin. He figures if he just plays them enough Sabbath, and explains why its so wonderful, he can change their minds.

Which one of these is going to make it past 3 practices?

Now, is it the love of Black Sabbath that dooms bands? No. It’s requiring of others what they’re not willing to give, and not being up front about that.

In the same way, monogamy isn’t the problem in the mono-poly relationships. Those can be done really well. The problem is approaching ANY relationship as a means of changing someone to fit one person’s ideals.

It’s obvious Matisse doesn’t think so. After moving away from the cowperson language, as quoted above, she then goes on to say:

I can promise you, if you’re poly and you’re involved with someone who’s not, once the hot sex cools off and reality sets in, every single problem that occurs in the relationship will somehow devolve to: You’re fucking other people.

Suddenly Matisse knows everything there is to know about the workings of every mixed-orientation relationship. She’s just guaranteed us all that every mono person in a relationship with a poly person requires that their partner love and fuck only them. There’s no room for differentiating between two related but different needs. Matisse knows better than Elizabeth does that Elizabeth HATES me fucking other people.

And that is complete and utter bullshit.

I’ve respected Matisse’s advice in the past. I enjoy the podcast she does with Monk. I read her blog. That’s why I’m so waylaid by her sudden lack of nuance. The abruptness of her shift from talking about disrespectful behavior to asserting that behavior exists where it does not makes me angry.

Had she stayed talking about cowfolk, she could have had some useful insights, maybe even helped a few people. That without even seeing it she equated all mono-poly relationships with manipulation and abuse is impossible to overlook and difficult to forgive.

The problem with terrible behavior is the terrible behavior, not the other attributes that the person exhibiting it has.

It turns out, Elizabeth doesn’t need to love Black Sabbath the way I do. She’s just got to love that I love them. She does, and we make beautiful music together.

12 Responses to “Mistress Matisse Is Just Plain Wrong”

  1. Monica (Hisnaughtyangel) Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I admit that I haven’t read her article just yet, but based on the excerpts you’ve included, I can definitely see the potential for making me grit my teeth if I do read it!

    Being the mono in a committed relationship with a man who has sexual relationships outside of ours has not always been easy for me. But never did I, or will I ask him to change.

    We have bumbled and tumbled our way through many challenges, hurts, fears, insecurities, boundary issues and anxieties…… and even more love, laughter, reassurances and healings.

    We are now strong and secure in who we are as individuals, and in our relationship with each other. When anxieties or other issues present themselves, we talk, talk and talk some more, and work through them.

    Any changes that have come about in us as individuals, and as a couple, have been positive changes that have made us better, stronger and more secure. The changes were not forced or manipulated. They were embraced wholeheartedly, even when they arrived through painful processes.

    Our life together is amazing, beautiful, loving, supportive, understanding, accepting and so much more. To have someone paint our relationship with some negative generalization based on her own ignorance is arrogant, foolish and seriously misguided.

    Have I mentioned that you two ROCK lately? Because you do! =)

  2. Bailey Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Your writing always hits home, Gabe. Well said.

  3. malakhgabriel» Blog Archive » The Importance of Language Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    […] I’m spiritual., So Anne Rice isn’t a Christian anymore? and, over on Pornocracy, Mistress Matisse Is Just Plain Wrong (that last one being potentially not safe for work) all have a similar focus. They’re all […]

  4. Wendy Blackheart Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    What bothers me about this kind of talk is that it strikes me as reverse jugdiness. Mono people get all uptight and pissed about people being poly because OMFG they’re so wrong and that sucks and they should stop, and Poly people can get just as irritating about mono people – OMFG they’re so wrong and that sucks and they’re unenlightend and it will NEVER WORK.

    So much wank from both sides, when people on both sides sometimes need to chill out a bit and let other people do what works for them.

  5. Lucius Scribbens Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I can see your point, and why I’m careful to use language that is non-inclusive of everyone. Sure, there are stereotypes and certain indisputable truths, however not EVERYONE is like the stereotype.

    Poly-mono relationships can work, however I haven’t experienced it yet. A poly-mono relationship I almost had with a coworker at a part-time job blew-up on me when I wouldn’t convert for her and leave my wife so she filed a sexual harassment claim against me and I lost my job.

    My wife’s partner is a constant source of stress between us because I believe he is manipulative and controlling and is constantly putting pressure on her to fuck only him and I see the stress and confusion and guilt this places upon her as she tries to juggle our marriage with her relationship with him.

    I do think that some monogamous men are drawn to polyamorous women because of the “slut factor”, the ability to have sex with her without committing to a relationship with her. And with many of them jealousy sets in and all goes to hell in a hand basket very quickly.

    Again, this doesn’t represent all poly/mono relationships, but enough that I’ve seen first hand to call it a stereotype or the “norm” for them and the reason for Mistress Matisse’s column.

  6. Polycuriosity Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    What Gabe left out was the part where Mistress Matisse said “It doesn’t really matter whether you think monogamy or polyamory is more natural or evolved. Dismissing people’s stated definitions of their sexuality as something you can make them change is not love. It’s just disrespectful, and it usually ends badly anyway. So put the lasso away, cowpokes, and if someone says, “Don’t fence me in,” believe them.”

    Read the article for yourselves before you judge. If you read it, see offense where there really is none, and want to be offended by it, go ahead. But the article is about people who think they can change their partners into accepting a form of relationship they currently do not.

  7. Gabe Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Polycuriosity – I encourage folks to read it for themselves. Hell, I condemned that behavior in my own writing above, and I said that the cowboy maneuvering needs to be dealt with.

    That doesn’t, however, fix her insulting language, her know-it-all behavior about relationships she’s not a part of, nor her inability to distinguish between how a person works and what they need from their partner(s). Her conclusion and introduction are fine, but that doesn’t change the problems I laid out above.

    If you can show me where she didn’t just tell me the source of every problem in my relationship without knowing anything about it then, then perhaps I’ll be less offended by her asshattery.

  8. Kristi Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Dear PolyCuriousity,

    Let me share my take on it.

    Immediately, in the second paragraph she switches from the terminology of “cowboy/cowgirl” to “monogamist”.

    And I quote. Her ENTIRE paragraph.
    “I understand why people—including those dating the person being courted by the monogamist—view such tactics askance. The number of potential partners is small enough for polyamorous people without the mono crowd rustling them. It’s also no mystery why they try. Viewed through a monogamist’s gaze, dropping your lasso on a wandering heart is the stuff of songs, literature, and drama. But it begs the question: Why the hell would a poly person get romantically involved with someone who is clearly monogamous in the first place?”

    Now. The problem with that paragraph is this: It isn’t a monogamy thing. I promise. As someone who has played monogamy, monopoly, polyamory, and probably a few different relationships styles in between- that’s not how it works. As a monogamist, I would never *REQUIRE* it of someone. Now, I would ask (and if things progressed, require) that they do it in an ethical form- I want to know about it, and I want you to use rubbers, and I reserve the right to request you not sleep with certain people after we discuss my reasons and make sure it’s not just me being insecure but may be an actual problem I have with the person (personality conflicts, a known “cowboy” type, high drama elsewhere, etc.). But I’m not going to try to stop you under most circumstances. IF Matisse wants to keep to the situation she proposed in her introduction, she fails in the first sentence of her second paragraph.

    Not every monogamist is a “cowboy/cowgirl”. So why use a term that encompasses a MUCH larger group of people, that, unfortunately, also encompasses the people who purport the horrendous and heartbreakingly atrocious behavior of the “cowboy/cowgirl”?

    If one is going to put it out there for what is known to be a large audience to read, one must be so very specific with the chosen words, chosen meanings, and define all things as clearly as possible, so that things ARE NOT mistaken. She did a WONDERFUL job, in the first paragraph, of giving us the label “cowboy” and defining what they are known for- what their behaviors are.

    Then, she went from using a term SHE chose and SHE introduced and SHE defined, to using a term that has a meaning much larger, much broader, and much more inclusive than the singular, smaller group of people described in the first paragraph.

    As the column progresses, she continues to use the term mono or monogamist. She may have *meant* to say cowboy. But she didn’t say that. She said monogamist or mono. That involves a lot more people than just the “cowboys/cowgirls” of the world. SO much more.

    So if she *meant* to say cowboy, she would have said it. She proved in the first paragraph she is capable of typing the word. She is experienced enough a columnist to ensure congruent word choice. And if she isn’t, she should not be posting to such a public blogspace. But until she writes something to the effect of “I’m sorry I hurt those who identify as monogamist by making the extremely public mistake of stating that EVERY SINGLE ONE of them who are in a relationship with a polyamorous person are in the relationship in order to “change” the polyamorous person, and subject them to horrendous and unimaginable emotional and mental stressors”, I don’t and won’t believe that.

    Say what you mean. Mean what you say.

    And if you have NO first hand, personal insight into healthy, meaningful, functional relationships of ALL natures, keep your fucking “stereotypes” out of it. Don’t tell me it can’t happen, when I have quite a few examples showing that it can.

    I don’t know many stereotypes that come from a functional and healthy place. All you do is hurt those of us who strive and work and bend over backwards to be those people who break stereotypes for the good, who offer ourselves and accept our loved ones for who they are, what they are, and would NEVER seek to change that about them. If you don’t know about it, don’t write about it as a matter of absolute fact, because it obviously is not.


    I’m done. For now.

  9. Kristi Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Another thing.

    I meant to add it in, but got wayyyy to involved and forgot.

    The reasoning displayed by this article is the same that is displayed by fundamentalists, many psychiatrists, and other closeminded people about BDSM.

    (Insert name of known serial killer) was diagnosed as a sexual sadist. He got off on hurting people and then, he KILLED THEM. Therefore, everyone who gets sexual satisfaction from sadistic acts must be a sociopath/psychopath/potential serial killer. YOU CANNOT GET INVOLVED WITH A SADIST, THEY WILL KILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL YOU. Maybe not today, but one day! They are cold, heartless bastards!

    Now, read it this way.

    (Insert name of known serial killer) is known in the community as a “cowboy”. He got involved with XYZ, who is polyamorous, and then he tried to manipulate her into MONOGAMY. Therefore, every monogamous person who gets involved with a polyamourous person must be that way! YOU CANNOT GET INVOLVED WITH A MONOGAMIST, THEY WILL TRY TO CONVERT YOUUUUU. Maybe not today, but one day! They are cold, heartless bastards!

  10. Callaigh Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Oh boy. My comment got REALLY LONG, so I’ve posted it as a public post over at my LiveJournal here.

    Please respond to it here, though; I’m sure it will be a lot less confusing to have the discussion happen all in one place.

  11. Kristi Says:
    August 1st, 2010 at 8:29 am

    I would like to point out, Calleigh, that she doesn’t *actually* use monogamist/mono and “cowboy” interchangably in the article. That is something that when I was looking closer for my response, I noticed.

    She introduces the term in the first paragraph. She switches to “monogamist” in the first sentence of the second paragraph. She does not RETURN to the “cowboy/cowgirl/cowpoke” reference, until the very last sentence of the piece.

    That’s not using it interchangably, in my book. If she were going back and forth between the two terms when making her descriptions, I would have an easier time, actually, believing that she didn’t believe this about all monogamist. But the deliberate choice to use the terms on three times in the entire article- 1st para, 1st sentence; 1st para, 2nd sentence; last para, last sentence… to me says a lot.

  12. Callaigh Says:
    August 1st, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Kristi, very true — she does not switch back and forth between the terms, so I suppose the word “interchange” would be inappropriate. I intended to communicate that she is using them as synonyms — i.e., that all cowboys are monogamists, and all monogamists are cowboys — and I apologize if that was unclear.

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