How coronogamy (coronavirus-induced monogamy) reshaped my sex life

Jinghua Qian, ‘How coronogamy (coronavirus-induced monogamy) has changed my sex life‘, MTV, 24 June 2020. Edited by Alice Griffin.

I’ve been polyamorous for nearly 20 years. Non-monogamy is all I’ve known, and normally I don’t like to define things in a hierarchy, with a primary partner and secondary partners. To me, part of the point of having open relationships is that you leave the paddock unfenced. Things go how they go.

But I live with my girlfriend and no one else, so once the lockdown started in Victoria, we found ourselves in social isolation together. At first, I found it confronting to be thrust into what felt like forced monogamy. ‘Coronogamy,’ I called it – coronavirus-induced monogamy.

Before lockdown, I was seeing a few people but all quite sporadically. I figured if I wasn’t even going to spend time with my fam, then it didn’t make sense to get together with relative strangers. My girlfriend has an ongoing lover who she normally sees pretty often but they also stopped meeting up in iso.

For sure, I missed the specific thrill of these encounters, of foreign bodies in orbit all fresh and keen. But it wasn’t just that. There have been other times in my life when I’ve happily been dating just one person, but it was never under the stricture of monogamy. This felt different and inorganic. Though ultimately, we decided ourselves that we wouldn’t see other people for a bit, I resented feeling like the state had steered me into precisely the kind of relationship hierarchy I’d spent so long trying to avoid.

There’s a lot of advice out there for people who are ‘opening up’ their relationship – not so much, it seems, for what to do if you’re ‘closing down’.

One of the reasons I had decided to be polyamorous as a precocious and overly online 15-year-old was because I felt my friendships weren’t less important, or even categorically different, from my romantic relationships. Monogamy seemed like a false and arbitrary way to classify attraction, intimacy and commitment. But now we’re asked to divvy our entire worlds into the essential and inessential. That’s fair but still uncomfortable.

I’ve been feverishly following news about the pandemic since January, reading story after tragic story, so I take the health precautions very seriously. I’m not in any doubt about the severity of this situation. But nonetheless, as a queer person of colour who relies on a lot of different people for care and support, I winced at how government responses reinforced the nuclear family as the primary organising unit of society. It made me think of that poster by Deborah Kelly and Tina Fiveash that depicts a retro family eating sandwiches: ‘Hey hetero, when they say family, they mean you!’ Very quickly, we saw how lockdown laws targeted communities that are already overpoliced while wealthy white neighbourhoods received few fines.

It feels very much like some ways of looking after each other are more acceptable than others. So that’s the awkward context in which I am effectively experiencing monogamy for the first time. There’s a lot of advice out there for people who are ‘opening up’ their relationship – not so much, it seems, for what to do if you’re ‘closing down’.

For me it was important to be conscious of how the lockdown was affecting my emotions and our dynamic. As well as having little contact with other people, isolation meant that my girlfriend and I were spending a lot more time together because she was working from home. I need hefty doses of solitude, both as a writer and just as a person, so I had to remember to set aside alone time. Organising mini-dates at home helped us be more deliberate about the time we were spending together and created a sense of occasion within the amorphous sludge of isolation.

There are definitely times where I’ve relied on a variety of lovers and others to anchor me to my body. That’s not possible now.

While time was disintegrating, space was also warped. Everywhere outside my flat seemed more or less equidistant, so I took that as a sign that I should put more effort into my neglected transnational friendships. I also started sexting friends and strangers, turning off the geolocator in apps because it didn’t matter anymore whether someone was in Manila or Milan.

I’m not really a sender of nudes (though I happily receive them) but I found a lot of pleasure and intrigue in text-based flirting. It felt like a wormhole into the way I used the internet when I was a teenager in the early 2000s – anonymous, disembodied, and intensely intimate. I’m often nostalgic for that kind of Livejournal-era sentimentality so that was really appealing. As a genderfluid person, I relished how cybersex let me build my body in words, and I discovered that the lockdown could be weaponised in all sorts of fun and kinky scenarios. It’s a good time for anyone who gets off on withholding.

But quarantine can also trigger its own special brand of dissociation and dysphoria. When everything is unreal and endlessly deferred, it’s all too easy to ghost on yourself. Some days I seem to just disappear. The boundary between my body and the internet is dissolving more with each day and despite this situation originating in a virus, it seems that if I stay in my room, there’s nothing that will force me to confront being flesh.

My friend and fellow polyam queer, the comedian Lisa-Skye, broke up with a lover of 7 years during the lockdown. “It’s a weird fucking thing because you can’t do that stuff, healthy or otherwise, that you might normally do,” she told me. “You can’t go on a few inconsequential dates or bang a random. You have to sit with the decision.”

There are definitely times where I’ve relied on a variety of lovers and others to anchor me to my body. That’s not possible now. The best and hardest part of this has been having all the time in the world to work out how to be my own primary.

Playlist: Music of the Sinosphere

My second playlist for Peril magazine’s You Don’t Sound Asian project explores music from around the Sinosphere: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond.

‘Unlike the pandemic, the playlist doesn’t have a case definition or an epicentre. It’s just an endless filament of sound, the connections between the tracks both tenuous and elemental. It’s as open-ended as Chineseness could be.’

Have a listen – and check out my other playlist, Teacup in a Storm, as well.

Border violence as settler nativism

Jinghua Qian, ‘Border violence as settler nativism’, The Platform, 26 July 2014.

Asked to contemplate what a cross-border politics in Australia could look like today, I want to stress that for me, a movement beyond borders is not a movement of no nations or against nationhood. In fact one of the earliest interactions I had with the Beyond Borders Collective when it first formed was to question a photo on the group’s Facebook page at the time which showed a banner stating ‘no borders, no nations’.

I believe supporting Indigenous sovereignty is essential to cross-border politics, and indeed no contradiction, if a cross-border politics understands that all people have the right to determine their law and the future of their land, though no nation has the right to refuse entry to vulnerable peoples. This is no contradiction unless the only way you can conceive of a country is as private property – which unfortunately seems to be not only a popular metaphor but the dominant interpretation driving government policy.

As Lorenzo Veracini wrote recently in Arena magazine (No. 125, Aug/Sep 2013):

global condemnation of Australia’s stance in 2001 was met with ‘No one can tell me what to do’, ‘Nobody understands us’, and ‘I didn’t do it’ responses (that is, they threw the children overboard), and a Prime Minister who was extraordinarily in touch with public sentiment was speaking about entry to the country as if he was sixteen and talking about his room: ‘We will determine who comes to this country and under what circumstances’.

We shouldn’t accept this metaphor, this myth that a nation is dependent on border policing, and that a country is analogous to private property.

Another question this panel was asked was how can we break from the language that defines the discussion around borders now? This is imperative because a lot of pro-refugee rhetoric doesn’t challenge the problematic ways the discussion has been framed by the right. We need to resist phrases like ‘genuine refugees’ or ‘economic migrants’ or ‘the lucky country’ when it’s only ever been lucky for some, or language that feeds the lie of terra nullius by suggesting Australia is ‘young’, ‘free’ and full of empty space. We need to refuse to make these constant ongoing reassurances that only a small, manageable number of refugees will arrive, that they will be harmless and grateful and assimilate, that they will contribute labour and consumable diversity but nothing disconcerting or transformative. We need to reject this rhetoric not only because it legitimates a claims process that is traumatising, invasive and victimising, but also because it legitimates the Australian government’s right to decide.

The perceived threat of people crossing borders is only part of what motivates Australian policy, so assuaging this anxiety is only part of challenging border violence. Operation Sovereign Borders is very explicitly and obviously about the colonial state performing sovereignty, as are earlier iterations of border control. This tactic has been part of Australian history since the start of colonial occupation. The Colony of Victoria passed the Chinese Act limiting the number of Chinese immigrants on 11 June 1855, before even the first Constitution Bill passed the Victorian House of Commons. And of course, the Immigration Restriction Act was quite famously one of the first major pieces of legislation passed after Federation in 1901. Aboriginal people have been subject to numerous controls on movement in their own countries throughout Australia’s history as well as forced eviction from their lands. This includes an exemption certificate system through which one could access rights otherwise denied to Aboriginal people at the time, such as the right to own land or open a bank account, but in exchange had to seek state permission before visiting family on reserves.

Border violence is central to colonial governments in Australia establishing and legitimating themselves, not least by promoting the notion of Australia as a single country and presenting the border as a natural geographic feature, formed by oceans and waters as Suvendrini Perera discusses. And in fact Australia’s colonial past is brought up quite often in relation to border violence, for example in images of the First Fleet as ‘boat people’. This imagery is important because the fear of invasion as retribution is a powerful motif in white Australian imagination, a motif that Meaghan Morris calls ‘the chain of displacement’. Border violence is part of projecting the invader as outside and other, and functions as a concealment of European invasion.

But bringing up the colonial past can also normalise or nativise settler colonization, and erase Indigenous subjectivity and sovereignty in slogans like ‘we are all boat people’. A focus on the moment of invasion or on the colonial past positions colonisation as history, as a done deal, to which the only sensible responses are regret and apology, or pride and forgetfulness. But Australia has a colonial present. The border is not a natural or inevitable thing and neither is colonisation.

Understanding colonisation as an ongoing and always incomplete process suggests a future that’s open to change. It shifts the onus of explanation to those who want to create and maintain borders rather than those who want to question them. It challenges the myth that refugees are a breach in an otherwise secure border. And it reaches through to a space where white Australia is and can only ever be a fiction that is made material through violence.

This article, published in Anarchist Affinity’s print magazine The Platform in 2014, is adapted from Jinghua’s speech for the Movement Beyond Borders public forum held on Wurundjeri land at the Victorian Trades Hall on Saturday 30 November 2013. The forum was organised by the Beyond Borders Collective, with speakers Kaneez Raza, Angela Mitropoulos, Dawood, Ruben Blake and Jinghua Qian sharing their perspectives, followed by questions and discussion with the audience. You can watch the video of the forum here (1 hour 54 minutes).