Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

April 25, 2015

*The Guardian*: "The truth about polyamory"

The Guardian in the U.K. is one of the world's leading newspapers, progressive in orientation, and for several years it's been making a major online play in North America. This morning its online editions worldwide are running a 2,600-word feature story about the polyamory trend. It's written in the first person, by a self-professed queer Irish academic in Montreal.

It gets the picture right with no mistakes or misconceptions, IMO, and spans a range: open couples, solo poly, a group family. We come off as rather awesome.

Can someone see if it's in any paper editions?

A tale of two lovers (or three, or four): the truth about polyamory

At 19, Emer O’Toole had a boyfriend and a girlfriend – but no word for the arrangement. Now, like a growing number of people, she does: polyamory. She and her friends reveal what life is like with more than one lover.

‘It’s not always easy to define exactly what polyamory is, but it’s pretty easy to say what it isn’t. Poly isn’t cheating. It isn’t lying. It isn’t a disregard for the agreements you share with the people you love.’
(Photograph: Sobreira/Alamy)

By Emer O'Toole

Last summer, at a friend’s birthday, a man sat next to me, explained that he’d heard I was polyamorous and asked if we could talk about it. He proceeded to explain that he’s a poly person at heart, but that his partner would never go for it: that’s why he cheated on her. I asked if he’d tried communicating about the kind of relationship he really wanted. No. He couldn’t. His partner was too traditional, too closed-minded. I asked how he’d feel if she became romantically involved with someone else. This was a moot point – she would simply never do that. Oh dear.

Polyamory is usually described as ethical non-monogamy – that is, non-monogamy with the consent and knowledge of all involved. But, of course, there are infinitesimal interpretations of that. Whose ethics? Which actions need consent? What exactly do we want or need to know?

It’s not always easy to define exactly what polyamory is, but it’s pretty easy to say what it isn’t. Poly isn’t cheating. It isn’t lying. It isn’t a disregard for the agreements you share with the people you love. And it certainly isn’t positioning monogamous people as more blindly traditional or less emotionally evolved than you.

Despite my interlocutor’s unfortunate attempt to use poly identity as an excuse for shitty treatment of his girlfriend, the conversation did raise an interesting question for me. Are some people “poly at heart” while others are fundamentally monogamous? Is poly something you are, or something you do?

...But, given that monogamy is socially sanctioned, while there’s much suspicion and judgment around polyamory, it’s interesting that people end up “acting” or “being” poly at all. Perhaps, like sexual orientation, there’s a genetic component to poly preferences. Certainly – whether because of life experience, biological drive or a combination of both – some people are more drawn to polyamory than others.

...I had no word for it [as a teen] but, for a while, I was dating two people, who were aware of each other and who seemed content to date me anyway. “Emer’s got a boyfriend and a girlfriend!” my friends teased, remarkably cool about my queer polyness in an Irish town where the majority would have prescribed immediate and urgent exorcism. And, as lucky as it was that I managed to count some of the most supportive people in Galway as my besties, it’s also pretty interesting that I found my way to something resembling polyamory in the first place. After all, there’d been no signposts: I’d never seen poly relationships on TV or in real life.

Looking back, I wish I’d had a word. And more: some stuff to read – a copy of What Does Polyamory Look Like? or a poly web-comic such as Kimchi Cuddles. I lacked the tools I needed to communicate and behave in loving, respectful ways; to do poly right. And, unsurprisingly, I made a balls of everything. Like monogamy, poly needs work. But, perhaps unlike monogamy, it also helps to have some theory. You can’t just imitate the patterns you see around you.

This raises another question: why is polyamory becoming more widespread? If it takes so much communication to get right and if, having achieved something that works for you and the people you love, you have to deal with constant judgment by others, well, why bother?

...One obvious way to answer the question “Why poly?” is that it offers benefits that monogamy doesn’t (just as mono offers benefits that poly doesn’t). There’s something about the dedication to honesty and emotional work involved in poly that fosters self-knowledge, trust and compersion (poly-speak for happiness in your partner’s romantic happiness). I’m not saying that similar kinds of intimacy can’t be achieved in monogamous relationships; just that lots of poly people find the emphasis on honest, non-judgmental emotional communication a marked change from their previous experiences.

Illustration: Demetrios Psillos
Another way to answer the question “Why poly?” is to look away from individuals’ choices and towards wider social structures. If you take the Marxist line that capitalism requires the nuclear family, because the logic of accumulating private property only really works if wealth is hereditary, then it’s interesting that we’re living in a time when the family is diversifying so rapidly. We have stepfamilies; gay families; single parent families; and – less common than any of these, but certainly on the rise – poly families. Perhaps these are not just the result of individuals’ choices, but a sign that the economic underpinnings of our society are in flux....

Perhaps we’re in (or approaching) a period of late capitalism, and poly is one of the signs of this.


...I moved to Montreal, Canada: a city bursting with queer polyamorous anarcho-artivist yoga-vegans, where I am – at long last – the least out-there person at any party. Montreal offered me real-life models of poly relationships: of things working, not working and being worked on.

At the risk of sounding disgustingly smitten, my love life is pretty dreamy right now. I’m moving in with a partner for the first time ever, something I’d never seriously considered before. Love. It’s real! Even better, I could build this love without ending another very important relationship. Instead of feeling as though I’m living within a restrictive set of rules, guiltily desiring secret things, I feel as though we’re writing the rules together.

But that’s just me and I’m just one person. And since there are as many types of poly as there are poly people, I asked five friends if they would let me share their stories, too....

Some pullquotes accompanying the article:

"Instead of living within a restrictive set of rules, guiltily desiring secret things, we’re writing the rules together"

"Though we knew we wanted to spend our lives together, romantic and sexual fidelity was just not that important to us"

"I’ve always had crushes on everyone. I used to feel guilty about it"

"It’s really nice to be in a place where I sincerely care about my partner’s partner"

"My poly relationship is less co-dependent than past relationships – we both have our own friends and social lives"

Read the whole piece (April 25, 2015).

Update June 12: The author, Emer O'Toole, is interviewed on "The Last Word with Matt Cooper" on TodayFM.com: It's far from polyamory I was reared (June 12, 2015).


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Blogger pepomint said...

The article itself was quite nice and about as good as poly coverage gets, but I have a red flag to raise about the author, Emer O'Toole.

Just a couple months ago she wrote an anti-BDSM piece in the Guardian.

The essay is complex and more nuanced than most anti-BDSM pieces, and so may be hard for folks to recognize as a hit piece, but it is very clearly an anti-BDSM attack to me at least. A couple of things stand out:

1) She hits the old "BDSM is a result of violence, and leads to violence" canard as her main point. Along with "wow you kinksters really need to examine your desires". Both have been used extensively in discrediting kinky people (especially kinky women) in the past. Entire generations of kinky women have grown up with a lot of self-loathing because they heard these arguments early on, often in a college women's studies class.

2) She resurrects the anti-kink second wave feminists in her final paragraph, and facetiously calls for a dialogue. A "dialogue" has been happening alright, but it would better be described as a running war of words (not to mention community ostracism and legislation, all in one direction) between second wave anti-kink feminists and sex-positive feminists, and it has been going on ever since the advent of second wave feminism back in the 70's.

3) She presents herself as a BDSM insider but her own position in the piece makes her an outsider. It's about the same as hearing critiques on homosexuality from someone who has been through an ex-gay conversion therapy program.

Context is also really important here. She's writing in a UK paper. The anti-BDSM strain of radical feminism she references is very strong in the UK, and poses a real danger to kinky UK communities. For example, it's not a coincidence that the UK recently passed an anti-BDSM-porn law.

So, I have very mixed feelings about this poly article. It's a good article, but anything that gives the author credit is going to result in problems for kinky people down the road when she next decides to go on the attack.

April 25, 2015 2:16 PM  

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