Revolution is about love. Love for justice, equality, humanity, all the species and the planet. It follows that revolutionaries are often passionate, open-minded and skilled lovers. But to be truly revolutionary, you must approach your personal relationships with the same determination to fight inequality that you bring to your political causes.
When the revolution comes, oppressive patriarchal norms and social hierarchies will crumble away and love will be free. In the meantime, love is often complicated and even revolutionary lovers can find themselves mirroring dominant and aggressive, or alternately, passive and submissive, behaviours from the society around them.
For this reason, and in response to numerous requests, Sisters of Resistance have created the Revolutionary Lovers Guide, which we hope will prove useful to you in creating healthy foundations for revolutionary romantic relationships.
The Revolutionary Lovers Guide by Sisters of Resistance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You can download the entire guide as a PDF file by right clicking and selecting “Save as” here.
You met at a demonstration, workshop, fundraiser, or a conscious concert. You were drawn to each others’ intelligence, moral integrity, and the ways you practice what you preach. You agreed to embark upon a relationship of equality and mutual respect, and showed evidence of this agreement by having both completed and passed the RDAF. You are now prepared to move on to the next stage in your revolutionary relationship.
Revolutionary and aspiring revolutionary lovers must work to ensure their intimate relationships do not begin with an oppressive dynamic. A fair amount of self-knowledge is required in order to unlearn the behaviours we have been socialised into by the dominant white male heterosexist power structure. Unlearning involves becoming familiar with your own subconscious patterns of domination and personality flaws, acknowledging and openly addressing the ways in which you typically dominate others or allow yourself to be dominated. Accept the challenge to actively deprogram yourself from these negative patterns while learning to replace them with more loving ways of being.
Members of oppressed and marginalised groups, such as (but not limited to) women, people of colour/global majority, LGBTQII and differently abled individuals have all been, in different ways, systematically mistreated. As a result of continual unequal treatment, for many of us, relationships of abuse and domination have become normalised. Radical love demands that we first love ourselves and consider ourselves worthy of love, mutual respect and equal treatment. In the beginning of the relationship, establish standards for how you wish to be treated, and be ready to communicate with your partner when these lines are crossed to avoid enabling abusive behaviour.
Members of groups who have historically held social and political power are accustomed to their privileged and dominant positions. It is therefore harder for them to unlearn these behaviours, to accept their duty to change, and to learn to listen to others. Respect in a revolutionary loving relationship means actively caring about your partner’s feelings and showing consideration for their concerns. Be attentive to their needs and be aware of their different experiences. Ask how your partner is doing and really listen to the answer. Be considerate and thoughtful at all times. Offer to help, if this is necessary, and always come through and keep promises. Be honest about your mistakes and do not repeat them.
You can only respect someone’s opinions and feelings if you really know and understand what they are; both people in the relationship should communicate their feelings honestly and actively listen to their partner. Asking a lover if they are comfortable and happy and trying to understand where they are coming from can assist communication, while acting in a way that is selfish will inhibit it.
Active listening involves understanding and evaluating what is being said to you. A common technique is to reply “What you’re saying is” or “Do you mean…” and then paraphrasing what you think is being communicated. This then allows the speaker to say either “Yea! Exactly…” and provide more details or “Nah, I meant…” and clarify their point. The idea is to avoid becoming defensive and distracted and to concentrate on what is being said rather than your own thoughts and feelings or other barriers.
Lying to your partner will destroy trust and cause pain. There is no such thing as a so-called “white” lie. When you lie you are doing so because you have made the decision that it is easier for you than telling the truth. But lies will eventually be found out. Honesty is always the best policy. It may seem to be the more difficult option, but healthy revolutionary relationships take effort. The rewards of a fully honest relationship are definitely worth it.
Trust grows slowly over time; it needs the fertile soil of honest communication and must be regularly nourished with respect. Lies and insensitivity will uproot trust and repeated dishonest behavior will damage it beyond repair. To establish trust, demonstrate honesty and consistent respect (see above).
Becoming Lovers and Making it Last
Love is a process of growth and transformation. Because of this, you will likely encounter some resistance to the self-improvement necessary to be in a healthy long-term union with another person. Much of this resistance and other potential conflict can be addressed using the above techniques, in addition to compromise, or the settling of differences based upon mutual consent. It is absolutely crucial that revolutionary lovers are aware of who is most often making compromises for the sake of the relationship and attempt to minimise any imbalances. This is an exercise that takes patience but will improve with practice.
Power dynamics influence everything and particularly come into focus when applied to sexual attraction and activity. A revolutionary sex life should be based around honesty, agency, desire, consent and mutual pleasure. Communicate before, during and after sex with words, sounds, or body language, and be open to your partners’ communications.
Practice safe sex as a matter of course. In the event that you and a partner decide that you trust each other enough to establish a fluid bond (no condoms/dams/latex), honestly relay the date and results of your last sexual health checkup and get checked regularly.
Heterosexual monogamy (1 man + 1 woman=happily ever after) is a model for intimate relationships that is historically normative and perhaps unrealistic, yet it has been enforced by the West since the patriarchal institution of marriage arose to ensure heirs for private property. The misappropriation of female sexuality that ensued from this development has been one of the main ways in which patriarchy has demonised and controlled women, most notably by forcing them to take sole responsibility for childcare and dividing all women into either mother/whore, wifey/sket or ho/housewife stereotypes. Another notable result is the well-known sexual double standard; a man is expected to have many lovers, take pride in his sexual history and will often be congratulated for it, while a woman who has had fewer lovers will often be described as “easy” and “loose”, labeled with sexist terms such as “slut”,“slag”, “slapper” and “jezebel” and will get a “bad reputation”, resulting in further degrading treatment.
Many revolutionary lovers feel that the concept of monogamy encourages feelings of possession and jealousy by trying to contain and control love. They feel that it encourages serial monogamy and the hope that each new partner could be “The One,” which in turn leads to serial disappointment. These revolutionary lovers are often inspired by alternative models which aim to liberate love from its current heteronormative, sexist and monogamist confines, as the boundaries of committed romantic and intimate relationships between consenting adults should not be defined by traditions or institutions such as the state, any mass media, the wedding industry, insurance corporations or tax arrangements, all of which no doubt have an influence on the way we envisage our romantic lives.
Polyamorous lifestyles and open relationships are more fluid models that take into account a wider spectrum of human sexuality, desire and circumstance than is offered by monogamy. They also challenge typical monogamist notions that love is a limited resource and that an individual can and should serve to satisfy all of another’s emotional/sexual/relationship needs. With polyamory, multiple simultaneous long-term commitments are possible, while in open relationships, a primary long-term commitment is maintained.
Yet the models of polyamory and open relationships, like monogamy, still currently exist in a sexist, patriarchal context. Because of this, they can be easily co-opted to give straight men further license to sleep with as many women as possible. This type of appropriation is neither condoned nor promoted in these non-traditional lifestyles, of which honesty, openness, commitment and trust are major components. For a deeper, but less radical, look at polyamory check out The Ethical Slut book (we don’t like the title). We also feel it is important to highlight the difference between these alternative models and cheating — please see our FAQ for further detail.
We are taking suggestions for this area of the guide from revolutionary parents and those with alternative or non-traditional family structures.
Are you saying that monogamy is impossible? Are you working towards the eradication of monogamy as a concept?
Monogamous relationships are not impossible and we are not working towards the eradication of monogamy altogether. It is completely feasible for a couple to meet, mate and, for the duration of their time together, refrain from engaging in romantic physical or emotional relationships with others. However, successful monogamous relationships require an extremely high level of commitment to one’s partner, to communication, and to honest self-critique. Because these characteristics are rarely found in one person and thus even rarer in tandem, we have stated that expectations of monogamy can, in many cases, be unrealistic.
In addition to developing a genuine view of each other as equals, the maintenance of any revolutionary intimate partner relationship, monogamous or not, necessitates a willingness to acknowledge and negotiate the tricky territory of physical and emotional attractions to others, not on your own, but with your partner. We must work on improving our emotional intelligence and communication skills both alone as well as with each other. This requires that we develop a brutal, but freeing, honesty regarding our own feelings, especially in regards to the way we view ourselves, our self-worth, and any deep-seated fears of commitment, loneliness, and abandonment that are often the sources of feelings of mistrust or jealousy. Taking this one step further by aiming for monogamy in revolutionary relationships requires acknowledging, rather than suppressing, the energy resulting from what we see as inevitable attractions outside the relationship and consciously redirecting it towards enhancing your relationship with your partner and your commitment to each other. Once you acknowledge these desires, you must work to actively eliminate sources of temptation from your reach. For example, if you are in a monogamous relationship but find yourself attracted to a person in your workplace, do not allow yourself to imagine sexual scenarios with them, do your best not to be alone with them and do not stay late after work. If you do, it is very likely that you know how it will turn out.
A way you might consider working to maintain your monogamous focus is to document, as often as necessary, how much your partner means to you and how much you value the relationship. In doing so, you are redirecting your energy towards your partner, reinforcing the bond between you and strengthening your commitment to each other. You can do this in private ways, but sharing some of them with your partner will have the added value of bringing more expression of love and commitment to your relationship.
If you are faced with desires you are unable to ignore or redirect towards your partner in a loving way, make the time to discuss them with your partner using the techniques of honesty and active listening described in “The Basics.” If you cheat, or fail to maintain a monogamous commitment, it is your responsibility as a revolutionary lover to inform your partner in a timely manner that is as considerate of their feelings as possible.
What is the difference between polyamory/open relationships and cheating?
There are numerous differences. While non-traditional relationships are based on honesty and mutual understanding, as explained above, a person who is being cheated on has not agreed to it and is being lied to by their lover. The practice of compersion in a non-traditional relationship instead of jealousy is an example of transforming a negative, possessive emotion into a liberating and loving one.
What about class?
As one of the most influential inequalities in our society, class inevitably intersects with interpersonal relationships. In our experience, those from the elite classes of society rarely have long-term meaningful relationships with people from underprivileged economic backgrounds. However, should this occur, as above, revolutionary lovers should engage in the process of unlearning their patterns of dominance in order to work towards a healthy, equal relationship.
What if you’re not revolutionary?