Big excellent poly feature now on CNN.com
|Atlanta Poly Weekend's instigator triad of Billy Holder (left), Jeremy Mullins (right), and Melissa Holder (front) with co-organizer Amy Munowitz (center).|
During Atlanta Poly Weekend 2012 a year and a half ago, writer Emanuella Grinberg from CNN.com was roaming around the convention, attending sessions and interviewing people. Organizers of the con (above) had told the crowd of 150 about her in advance and set ground rules for her about wearing identification, respecting privacy, and so forth. They restricted photography to a room that CNN set up as a studio for people willing to be pictured. I talked with Grinberg for a long time over dinner. She struck me as perceptive and smart and had clearly done a lot of homework (including reading this site).
And then nothing happened. She interviewed more people elsewhere. Three weeks after APW was over, she and a photographer spent six hours at the home of conference organizers PB&J — Pocket (Melissa Holder), Billy Holder, and Jeremy Mullins. Billy said, "We tried to show our everyday (weekend) life — relaxing, doing home-improvement projects, chores and interactions. Overall we had a very positive experience. They have one more local family to profile and are talking about keeping the story going with updates and new stories about our group."
Later she spoke with them further. And she was with them at the 2012 and 2013 Atlanta Pride parades, where Atlanta Polyamory had a float. And still no story appeared.
Now after a year and a half it's finally on CNN.com this morning.
It's every bit as good as everyone hoped. And it's long, a 4,200-word opus. It's featured prominently on CNN's homepage, with the blurb "Understanding the polyamorists next door. Polyamory 'ain't for sissies,' and it's not just for the kinky either, an advocate for open relationships says."
It gets my "The Best" and "Show Your Parents" tags.
Polyamory: When three isn't a crowd
By Emanuella Grinberg
(CNN) -- Revelers in the rainbow-washed crowd smiled and cheered this month as the little blond girl in the parade float pageant-waved to the B-52's "Love Shack."
Next to the float, the girl's father, Billy Holder, handed out fliers to the Atlanta Pride Parade crowd. His wife, Melissa, carried a banner along with Jeremy Mullins, the couple's partner.
"Polyamory: Having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals," read their purple-lettered banner, embellished with an infinity heart.
The "awws" and waves from the crowd gave way to some puzzled looks and snickers.
"What's poly?" a woman asked, looking toward a handwritten sign on the float that read "Atlanta Poly Paradise."
"Multiple partners?" the man next to her guessed.
Sort of. As the concept of open relationships rises in pop culture and political debates, some polyamorous families like the Holders and Mullins see an opportunity to go public and fight stereotypes that polyamory is just swinging, cheating or kinky sex.
It's not just a fling or a phase for them. It's an identity. They want to show that polyamory can be a viable alternative to monogamy, even for middle-class, suburban families with children, jobs and house notes.
"We're not trying to say that monogamy is bad," said Billy Holder, a 36-year-old carpenter who works at a university in Atlanta. "We're trying to promote the fact that everyone has a right to develop a relationship structure that works for them."
For the Holder-Mullins triad, polyamory is three adults living in the same home about 20 miles south of Atlanta. They share bills, housework and childcare for their 9-year-old daughter. They work at the same place, sharing carpooling duties so someone can see their daughter off to school each day....
'Polyamory ain't for sissies'
...For each of the 12 people walking with the Holders-Mullins triad in the Atlanta Pride Parade, polyamory works differently. For example, Mark, a tall, bespectacled computer programmer, has been happily married to his wife, an electrical engineer, for more than a decade. They live alone and have no children, but they've been involved with two other couples with children for the past six years. Mark and his wife spend time with the adults and their children doing family-friendly activities but the adults also go out on dates, cuddle and more.
It's not cheating or swinging, he said, because everyone knows about other partners, whom Mark calls his girlfriends. There is a level of intimacy and emotional attachment that makes them more than friends with benefits or one-night stands, he said.
"I'm more involved in their lives and more aware of their inner thoughts or aspirations; I'm more involved in their long-term happiness," said Mark, who asked not to use his last name out of concern that he and his wife might face backlash from employers.
"It's like having a regular, monogamous relationship but having more than one of them."
It's unclear how many people identify as polyamorous because, like Mark and his wife, the majority aren't open about their relationships. Because of the varied forms these non-monogamous relationships take, it's difficult even to know who to include in such a count, demographer Gary Gates said.
...Many poly people stay closeted out of fear of discrimination, social alienation or because they simply prefer privacy, sociologist Elisabeth Sheff writes in her forthcoming book "The Polyamorists Next Door."
Sheff based her findings on 15 years of research that began with a partner's request to explore alternatives to monogamy. She continued her research even after her relationship ended, and does not consider herself a polyamorist. But her research led her to believe that polyamory is a "legitimate relationship style that can be tremendously rewarding for adults and provide excellent nurturing for children."
Making it work, she acknowledges, is "time-consuming, and potentially fraught with emotional booby traps," she writes. It can be rewarding for some "and a complete disaster for others."
...Indeed, while many associate polyamory with swingers or kinksters, "there are much easier ways to get laid," said Anita Wagner Illig, founder of online polyamory resource, Practical Polyamory.
Wagner Illig, a self-appointed "poly educator" who gives talks at adult conventions about polyamory, began to identify as poly after her second divorce in the late 1990s. She decided there must be a better way than cheating to have multiple relationships.
Much has changed since then, she said....
"Polyamory," Wagner Illig warns, "ain't for sissies."
...Last year, in a Holiday Inn Select just off the interstate, the Holders led the second Atlanta Poly Weekend, a retreat dedicated exclusively to poly-related issues. It drew people from across the Southeast and as far north as Baltimore.
Some attendees were single or relatively new to polyamory. A couple in their 20s described how they'd been together since their freshman year at Georgia Tech, had married a couple of years earlier, and had opened up their relationship after discussing how they still loved each other, but felt attractions to other people.
"He dates and I flirt but I haven't actively sought out dates. All that matters is that he's coming home to me," said the wife, Michelle, who asked to not use their last name because they haven't told their families.
A few attendees, like the Holder-Mullins triad, were married and dating and had at least one child. While parents attended panels, their children could stay at the "kid con" room in the care of a pair of women in a "closed quad" with their husbands.
"I've always thought it was better to live in a commune-type large family where you get to choose your loved ones," said Ashley Tipton, one of the moms in the quad from Marietta, Georgia. "I came from a broken home where I had to take care of my sisters and alcoholic mother and I wanted something better than that for me and my kids."
Ashley Tipton, middle, and husband, David,
live with another couple in Marietta, Georgia.
In panels with names like "Defining Our Relationships" and "The 5 Love Languages" -- based on Gary Chapman's bestselling book and relationship philosophy -- the discussions revolved around topics that often come up for monogamous couples: Communication, jealousy, time.
Some panels, though, were uniquely poly....
[Billy, Jeremy and Melissa] have learned the need for discretion. They said a family member reported them to Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services, alleging child abuse and prompting a weeks-long investigation. The Holders said it ended with no charges being laid and their daughter remaining in the home. Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.
But the experience also informed some of their desire to change public perceptions of polyamory.
So they march, and organize and raise their daughter the best they can. Their meetup groups continue to grow and they're looking forward bringing in new speakers to 2014's Atlanta Poly Weekend.
After all, the Holders and Mullins say it's not a choice -- polyamory is an inherent part of their sexuality.
"Life would probably be easier if I didn't feel the need to open myself up to loving more than one person," Jeremy said. "But it's part of who I am, and I feel that my life is enriched by it.
"It's up to us to figure out how to make it work."
Read the whole article, not just these excerpts (Oct. 26, 2013). And join the comments. They're piling in by the hundreds, and some are holding up our side.
Billy writes, "Please support the community by sharing and commenting your support. We took a huge risk doing this story."
Jeremy sent in a comment: "We were likewise ecstatic over the quality of the article. It exceeded our expectations. We would very much encourage anyone who is approached by Ms. Grinberg in the future to work with her, as the entire experience was positive from beginning to end. She resisted numerous attempts by her editors to sexualize the story and went out of her way to make sure the proper story was told, and that commitment was reflected in the final article."
I give deep respect to Billy, Jeremy and Pocket and the other people featured for putting themselves out so publicly, in a region where that's not an easy thing to do, in order to tell the world that this way of life is for real.
Update: If you're wondering about the high rate of offensive comments on the CNN site, it may be due not just to the usual trollers but the attention that the article, and the recent ones on Slate, are getting on conservative sites — where the attitudes are a mix of "I told you so" and despair. For instance by columnist Mona Charen (in many outlets), Gay Marriage Makes Just ANY Relationship OK (on Wizbang), and "Loving, committed multiple partner families" (Mirror of Justice).
A vastly better set of comments appeared where Metafilter linked to the article.