"The complicated couplings of Toronto’s pleasure-seeking polyamorists"
|Photo caption: "Stephane Goulet (middle) and Samantha Fraser (right) at home with one of their girlfriends, Gayle"|
Totally out, public poly spokespeople are all too few. Samantha Fraser in Toronto is one of them, both in the region's media and on her blogsite Not Your Mother's Playground. She's also writing a book, Not Your Mother’s Playground: A realistic guide to honest, happy and healthy open relationships, and swears this is the year she'll finally get it done.
Fraser and her primary partner have a more forthrightly libertine philosophy than some of us. A splashy, 2,300-word article about them just appeared in the glossy city magazine Toronto Life with the title "Sex Without Borders: The complicated couplings of Toronto’s pleasure-seeking polyamorists" (the online title). The article rated a teaser on the magazine's cover, "The rise of the multi-partner marriage", and it leads off the feature section inside.
Stephane and Samantha’s open marriage includes shared girlfriends, bacchanalian house parties and always asking permission before taking on a new lover. A portrait of Toronto’s new generation of polyamorists.
By Courtney Shea
...Seven years later, Stephane [Goulet] and Samantha are Toronto’s best-known advocates for polyamory, the term preferred by people who have turned their open relationships into a lifestyle. Samantha, who is 32, writes a blog about her sex life, offers polyamory life coaching and runs an annual sexuality and relationships conference called Playground (this past fall the three-day event filled a ballroom at the Holiday Inn on Carlton Street). Stephane is 36 and an art director at a video game studio. He is less actively involved with other polyamorists than his wife, though he doesn’t mind her rendering the personal aspects of his sex life (how many lovers they share, their preferred sex toys and so on) into teachable moments for her blog. Stephane and Samantha, in the poly vernacular, are known as a primary couple — a committed partnership in which both parties engage in sexual relationships with additional, lower-ranking lovers. This is the most common set-up, though some polyamorists live family-style in groups of three or more in the same house. Poly individuals are often bisexual (like Samantha), but not always (Stephane is hetero). Some relationships employ the “one penis per party” rule.
...What distinguishes the modern poly movement from the free love ethos and orgies of the ’60s and ’70s is the absence of politics. Hippies rejected monogamy in the same way they rejected haircuts — as symbols of patriarchal society. Today’s polyamorists are more concerned with the pursuit of self-actualization through satisfying relationships and the honest exploration of sexuality. They don’t want to “drop out” any more than they want to grow hemp on a commune [Ed. note: I have plenty of poly friends who'd like to overthrow the patriarchy and grow hemp on a commune.] Besides, their busy work lives and regular-person obligations probably wouldn’t allow it.
Toronto, it turns out, is one of the most poly-friendly places in North America.... In addition to Samantha’s annual conference, a 350-member group called Polyamory Toronto meets monthly at a midtown pub to discuss such issues as coming out as poly to your family, coping with jealousy and explaining polyamory to your kids. Another group called Ethical Lovers convenes monthly at the U of T Centre for Women and Trans People, and monthly #CrushTO dance parties are a melting pot for the various, and often intermingling, “sex-positive” communities....
Polyamorists like Stephane and Samantha want to be accepted by mainstream society in the way that gays and lesbians have been accepted — and they’re making progress on that front. There have been some notable watershed moments. The Oxford English Dictionary first recognized the term in 2006, and last year The Movie Network [in Canada] broadcast a poly reality TV series: Polyamory: Married and Dating.... But there’s no better barometer of the mainstream than a Jennifer Aniston movie. In last year’s middling rom-com Wanderlust, Aniston and Paul Rudd play a monogamous couple who lose their Manhattan jobs and move into a poly commune.
...Samantha, with her black bangs and red pout, reminds me of a live-action Betty Boop. Her features are cherubic, which makes it even funnier when she describes X-rated sex scenes as though she were talking about the weather. Stephane is comparatively reserved, and admits he has a penchant for “fiery women.” He looks like the quintessential dude-who-works-in-a-modern-artistic-discipline—rock T-shirts, funky glasses....
...For all the talk of sexual freedom and liberal attitudes, polyamorous people are exceedingly preoccupied with maintaining rules and boundaries. It’s a delicate dance of seeking consent, managing feelings and not crossing certain lines. Stephane says that being poly has forced him to communicate more. Samantha says their relationship wouldn’t have remained healthy if they hadn’t decided to open up. She describes their pre-poly lives as caring, but boring (“A big weekend used to be a trip to IKEA”). Becoming non-monogamous forced them to look at what they had built together — where the partnership was strong and also where it was lacking. Compared with most monogamous couples I know, there’s a refreshing degree of honesty between Stephane and Samantha.
...At times, Stephane and Samantha have each experienced “new relationship energy,” a poly term that describes the sometimes all-consuming honeymoon period with a new love interest. An established, long-standing union can’t compete with the fresh passion and exhilaration of a new romance, a fact that successful polyamorists don’t try to deny. Instead, a couple like Stephane and Samantha expect the heat will subside and their primary relationship will remain....
...Part of the reason for [a trip to Mexico] was to attend Stephane’s cousin’s wedding. During the beach ceremony, the officiant quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, who wrote that “love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” Stephane and Samantha, sitting in the audience, agreed that they couldn’t have put it better.
Read the whole article (February 2013 issue). And join the comments.
Update: Fraser has blogged about her experience being so out, especially since the Toronto Life article appeared:
Sex Without Borders: Public Response
Every time I agree to a new very public appearance about my personal life I have to question my sanity. With the recent Toronto Life article... I’m re-evaluating my position on a few things related to my now — even more public — persona.
I am sort of a poster child.
I’ve hated this term because I don’t want to be seen as some sort of leader or ideal when it comes to polyamory. Everybody’s relationship is different, with its own set-up, rules, issues and ideals; why should mine be the example we look to? There’s plenty of people who are “more successful” in areas of poly that I/ Steph/ we fail at sometimes/always, but... I’m ok with this role now....
I don’t know how else to be.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; while everyone is telling me that it’s amazing/ brave/ crazy to put our personal lives so very in the public eye, I really just don’t know how to not do that. “Oh, but the hate mail!” — Ok... There will always be people in an uproar about how I live my life, but how does that matter to me?
I’ve already lost jobs (hearsay only) based on my “lifestyle”, so I’ve dealt with that fate and frankly, I’m better off for it. I have people saying that I’m a heathen occasionally. Even some poly people disagree with how Steph and I run our lives together. Haters are always going to hate, that’s life.... I put myself out there because my life, and how I run it, is perfectly normal to me and I am not ashamed. Besides, like I’ve always felt about acknowledging the fact that I’m fat before others do, I’m out there telling people that my husband and I see other people. How can you use it against me when I’m telling you first that it’s true?
Sometimes, we get lucky.
This recent article in Toronto Life is probably the best press experience we’ve had. Courtney Shea was wonderful to work with.... We spent hours on the phone with the fact checkers, and I’m thrilled to see that they really listened to what we were saying.
Sure, it’s still nerve-wracking to put our personal lives in the hands of journalists. We never know how our words are going to get twisted... but it’s also exciting. It’s thrilling to be able to be a voice for people who still have to hide in the shadows for their own personal reasons. It’s rewarding to know that I’m doing my small thing in the world to make other people feel less alone....
Read her whole post (Jan. 16, 2013).
Comment from me:
> We never know how our words are going to get twisted...
Two things to do with print journalists:
1) Ask for the chance to verify your quotes before they are printed. You'll get a yes surprisingly often.
2) Record the interview — ask and then put the recorder in view on the table, or make a point of getting permission to record on the phone and then say, "OK, (pause) now we're recording, go ahead." This keeps the journalist more careful about quoting you accurately. I know — I've been on both sides of recorded interviews throughout my career. Confession: I have lied to journalists and said I'm recording a phone interview when I'm not.
Of course, if you say careless things, it's not the journalist's fault for quoting them accurately! Plan your key messages in advance, rehearse your sound bites, and find a way to work them in regardless of the questions asked.1
1. Further coaching, the kind that important people pay high-priced trainers for, may be available to you for free from volunteers at the Polyamory Media Association. If you're going to deal with the media regarding poly or anything else, you should learn the basic tricks for presenting yourself and your message effectively and making things go your way.
At last year's Atlanta Poly Weekend, Joreth, the PMA's founder and mainstay, gave a talk on this. From my very incomplete summary:
Joreth explained how the PMA can help you pick your agenda, craft your media persona “using your best aspects to get your message across,” develop your message goal, and create the necessary sound bites to have on tap for this goal. She emphasized the need to decide your boundaries between your public and private spheres and to enforce them. You need to choose to keep focus on communicating what you intend to (“you must look and seem like your target audience”) and not what you don’t (“de-emphasize those aspects [of yourself] that will distract your audience”).
The PMA also helps members of the poly community examine media inquiries for their agendas and possible warning flags. It can provide advice in negotiating with writers and TV producers. Joreth focused mainly on TV, since that's the medium where your details matter the most.