People really like symbols, and poly people are no different from other people in this regard, as well as others. Symbols are a shorthand way of communicating a complex concept at a glance. Symbols are a way to bring people together and make them feel included in something. In much the same way that polyamory is as varied and different as the people who practice it, there is no single poly symbol to reflect the myriad people who claim the label as their own. There are several symbols, all of which speak to or are meant to represent different people.
The poly pride flag is, possibly, the first symbol created for the poly community and was created by Jim Evans and released into the public domain. The color blue represents the openness and honesty that is so prized among the poly community. Red is the color of love and passion, which is what drives so many people into polyamory in the first place. Black was chosen to represent solidarity with all others who have to hide their relationships due to social pressure. The symbol in the middle is a gold lowercase Greek letter called "pi" (π), which translates just to "p" - as in the first letter of "polyamory". The gold color represents the value that poly people place on emotional attachment to others.
The PAARC ribbon adapted the poly flag for use in the Polyamory Awareness and Acceptance Ribbon Campaign, taking a cue from all the other awareness campaigns use of folded ribbons. The intention was to create a virtual ribbon that could be placed on websites as a symbol of those who supported polyamory as a legitimate relationship choice, whether the website owner himself was polyamorous or not, in order to raise awareness.
The Infinite Love in Infinite Combinations (ILIC) is a reference to Star Trek, in which one of the main characters, Spock, wore a philosophical symbol called the Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations as part of his dress uniform. It uses Jim Evan's flag as its inspiration and rearranges some of the elements from the original IDIC. In addition to the three colors from the flag (blue, red, and black), and the golden π symbol, the ILIC also adds a golden infinity symbol, which has become popular among polyamorists for it's implications of infinite love (as we'll see below in the infinity-heart symbols).
The Parrot Club Mascot was created in 1997 by Ray Dillinger for the public domain. The symbol was partly a play on the phrase "polly wanna cracker?" because of the habit of shortening "polyamory" to just "poly", and partly ironically because of the monogamous image of parrots. Many early poly discussion groups would place a stuffed parrot on the table in the restaurant or other venue, so that people attending the meeting would recognize them without drawing undue attention from the general public.
In 1998, Kathryn McDanial of Triad Ventures came up with the parrot made out of the letters "p" "o" "l" and "y". Unfortunately, their website is no longer available, along with their story and the history behind the image. In fact, this version of the parrot is becoming increasingly more difficult to find even in use by other people, and one day this website may be the only copy of it. This text-based variation of the parrot seemed incredibly popular for several years after it was created, but seems to have fallen out of favor as the next symbol grew in popularity. For those who have trouble seeing the letters in the image, the parrot head is made out of the "p", the wing is the "o", the breast and foot of the parrot is the "l", and the branch it is sitting on is the "y".
The most commonly used symbol is the heart and infinty. This is the original version of the symbol, but since it has been released into the common domain, it has been altered to reflect personalities and tastes of those who have adopted the symbol for their own. Shortly after the original was published, a modified version was created that closed the infinity symbol. Then, a "3D" version was offered, followed by a pendant offered by Abzu Emporium, and then a simple single-color copyrighted version was created exclusively for Poly Tees. Several versions of the infinity-heart are shown below, with links to the creators if known:
Eventually, poly people started getting creative. First, someone made the infinity-heart out of 2 parrots. That person's website is no longer available, so the story behind it is now lost. Then, a man by the name of Michael Guminski came up with an idea of replacing the parrots with dragons, since he didn't much care for the parrot symbol. He eventually settled on a tribal version of dragons (which have nothing to do with polyamory, they just look cool), and gave that copyright to Villain Tees who offered the original version with uncrossed tails as a t-shirt design. A few years later, the copyright was also offered to Poly Tees, who could provide the graphic on a wider variety of apparel, but who did not compete with Villain Tees directly by not offering that graphic on the black t-shirt that Villain Tees did. About a year or so after that, Poly Tees adapted the graphic to show the dragons with crossed tails and currently holds the copyright for that design. It is not a public domain graphic, unlike most of the other images listed here. Posting it without permission is a copyright violation, as is using the Poly Tees version of the infinity-heart (the black and white one at the end above).
About the same time people started modifying the infinity-heart symbol, others were coming up with more abstract symbols on the same themes.
Variations on circular linked hearts became exceedingly popular, especially when the hearts were rainbow colored. There are several variations, including with and without infinity symbols, hearts that look hand-drawn, hearts that have a cleaner, computer-generated look, different styles of hearts, different numbers of hearts, etc. The two on the far right were created by Franklin Veaux for the now-defunct Florida Polyamory Retreat.
And after that, the poly community got really abstract. This one appears to be a play on the BDSM symbol, the "triskelion", and has been used by the poly community to either symbolize a combination of polyamory & BDSM, or to symbolize triads specifically (often by those who are unaware of the BDSM connection).
Eventually, a group of community leaders and organizers got together to coordinate awareness and organization efforts, and began calling themselves the Poly Leadership Network. One of the topics discussed was what kind of symbol to use for the group, and that led to a discussion about poly symbols in general. A brainstorming session resulted in two major symbols being created for the poly community. One of them was the "Love Outside The Box" symbol, which was intended to be more inclusive of all kinds of alternative love styles.
The other was the Purple Mobius, created by your own host, Joreth. This symbol uses the point-down triangle shape in solidarity with all the other alternative sexuality communities and their various triangles of different colors. It is purple as both a nod to the LGBT community with their frequent use of purple, and to the poly community, which seemed to also favor the color purple. The triangle itself is made of a Mobius Strip to reference the infinity symbol, which is one kind of Mobius Strip. This symbol was released into the public domain and is free to use. The Purple Mobius has been seen added to other images for poly discussion group logos, poly bookclubs, and even cross-over groups like poly atheists.
There may be more symbols, and there are most certainly more variations on the existing symbols, but these are the most common symbols currently in use. If you know of any others and would like it listed here, please contact The InnKeeper.
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