Who made the polyamorous flag & why does the internet dislike it?

A Polyamory Pride Flag
A Polyamory Pride Flag Photo: Shutterstock

The polyamorous flag has seen its fair share of criticism ever since its first iteration was spread across poly spaces online. Its origins are relatively obscure, and many argue that its meaning and symbolism are even more so. Since then, there have been many attempts at creating a new design but– unlike other groups within the LGBTQ community – there hasn’t been any consensus on which is the official one.

In this article, you’ll learn about the origins and history of the earliest polyamory flag, and the reasons why it looks the way it does. We’ll also go over the common criticisms of its design in terms of symbolism and aesthetics, and how people online have attempted to correct them through their own iterations.

Related: How does ethical non-monogamy work? All your questions answered

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The Origins Of The First Polyamorous Flag

While modern-day polyamory has roots that can be traced back to the 19th century, there haven’t been any known recorded symbols to represent it. This could be because this type of relationship dynamics was generally considered unorthodox or even totally unacceptable by most societal standards. Society views those who practice it as relationship anarchists, and so, using a flag to openly represent it would have posed some risks.

In 1995, Jim Evans decided that he would finally design a flag to represent polyamory pride. Evans had already been practicing this non-traditional lifestyle for much of his adult life, having had many relationships with more than one person at a time.

In a post on his blog, he recounted experiencing “the struggles and celebrations of what is now known as the LGBT community”. He was particularly inspired by the impact of the pride flag, also known as the rainbow flag, as a symbol.

However, ethical non-monogamy was nowhere near as accepted in the ‘90s as it is today. So as not to unwittingly out himself and other polyamorous people, Evans had to create a design that was subtle. Using only Microsoft Paint on Windows 3.1 and a crude understanding of visual art, Evans created the flag that would serve as the very first modern polyamory symbol.

The Symbolism Of Jim Evans’ Polyamorous Flag

Likely due to technological constraints, Evans’ flag is a rather simple design concept that consists of three horizontal stripes with a symbol at its center:

  • At the top, the color blue represents the openness and honesty among all partners in multiple relationships.
  • In the middle, the color bright red represents love, passion, and desire.
  • At the bottom, the black bar represents solidarity between people who have to hide their relationships from the outside world.
  • At the center, the Greek letter for “pi” means two things: first, it represents the first letter of polyamory (p); second, it references the mathematical symbol – an irrational number whose value is known to be infinite. This is an acknowledgment of the infinite relationship possibilities in ethical non-monogamy. The symbol’s gold color emphasizes emotional attachment between partners, whether romantic or platonic, as opposed to merely primarily physical relationships.

Criticism Of The Polyamorous Flag

At the time of its creation, the original polyamorous flag was only used within Evans’ own personal poly network. Many years later and after the invention of the internet, the design made it into various poly spaces online.

Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of poly people online very much disliked the concept. Online users have criticized the harshness of the colors, with its bright blue and stark red – some have even described it as “jarring.”

Beyond critiques on aesthetics, users have commented on its use of the “pi” and its seemingly forced symbolic meaning. ‘Pi’ is generally known as a mathematical symbol, and many thought it was too far removed from something like polyamory. Some blogs have said it was a more appropriate flag for a math or engineering society.

That being said, there was a need for Evans to “hide” the true purpose of the flag through unrelated symbolism due to the stigma against polyamory. Considering that polyamory is much more accepted now, it makes sense that the gold greek lowercase letter would no longer resonate.

New Polyamory Flag Designs

Since Evans’ creation made its rounds across poly spaces online, members of the community have taken it upon themselves to redesign the polyamorous flag. In 2022, there are now so many iterations of the polyamory pride flag that attempt to “correct” the inaccurate or displeasing elements in the original design.

The most common revision is the replacement pi symbol. In many of these new iterations, the notorious Greek letter π has been replaced by what is called the “infinity heart” to avoid symbolic confusion.

The infinity heart looks like an outline of a heart with the infinity symbol looped around it horizontally. This new symbol represents the opportunity for infinite love through polyamory – arguably much more direct than the mathematical symbol.

One common favorite out of all the new interactions was created by Emma (@HECKSCAPER) in 2019. This poly pride flag consists of the ever-celebrated infinity heart symbol at its center instead of the pi symbol. For the backdrop, it shows three stripes in light blue, pink, and dark blue, with the middle stripe being thinner than the rest.

Interestingly, this particular iteration directly attempts to correct the original design without deviating too far. The chosen colors are deliberately similar to Evans’ flag, except Emma softened and muted the colors so as not to appear as harsh as the original flag design.

So Which Is The Actual Polyamory Flag?

In 2021, there was a more organized attempt to settle on a design, spearheaded by PolyAmProud. Composed of a diverse committee, its goal is to narrow down the strongest design contenders and hold a global vote.

The sheer number of and the diversity in flag design have sparked numerous discussions online about what values, beliefs, and expectations best represent ethical non-monogamists. As of Feb 2022, the group is still in the process of collecting designs. It is estimated that the committee will select the final flag by Pride this year.

The Bottom Line

Polyamory communities online have made it clear that the original Jim Evans design has its issues. Despite the criticisms, it remains an important part of the history of polyamory. The fact that he and many others like him needed to hide their lifestyle from the judging eyes of society should not be taken for granted by those lucky enough to experience much more tolerance today.

The symbols we use to identify polyamory have become more complex – a sign that the collective understanding of poly folk is growing. Plus, what polyamory and ethical non-monogamy look like vary from person to person, so it’s no surprise that many people have attempted to recreate the flag using their own personal understanding of polyamory.

Related: Massachusetts city begins legally recognizing polyamorous relationships

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