Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

April 27, 2007

Liberal Utah Polygamists?

In Utah, some Mormon polygamy advocates are trying to distance themselves from the abusive polygamist cults in the region. (Cult leader Warren Jeffs is in jail facing charges of "rape by accomplice" of a 14-year-old girl. The Jeffs group was dramatized by "the Compound" in the HBO series "Big Love.") From ABC4-TV News in Salt Lake City:

Most of the polygamist families that live in this enclave along the Utah-Arizona border are followers of FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs. But not all.

There are those who have left his church but still practice "the principle." Then there are those who live just across the Highway 59 who have never followed Jeffs and never believed in his version of religion or polygamy. They are called "2nd Warders" and their collection of homes and businesses is called Centennial Park. They say they do not believe in underage marriage. Women are not treated as the property of men.... One of these "2nd Warders" is LeAnne Timpson.... [who] studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "I am a feminist."

Article and TV report.

Meanwhile, the Deseret News, the daily newspaper of the mainstream Mormon (LDS) Church, published an article (April 25, 2007) on the outreach and cross-fertilization going on between pro- and anti-polygamy forces:

Forum focuses on polygamy woes

By Ben Winslow

ST. GEORGE — A town hall meeting brought politicians, polygamists, activists and community members together here to vent and share their feelings about reaching out to victims of abuse in closed polygamous communities.

Hundreds packed the Dixie Center to offer their opinions Tuesday night.

"Why is there a statute of limitations on rape and molestation?" a person identified as "victim" wrote in comments read to the audience. "How can the women and children get justice when the statute exists?"

Others pushed for decriminalization of polygamy. "I am not a lawbreaker, but I am practicing civil disobedience, " said LeAnne Timpson, a member of the fundamentalist community of Centennial Park, Ariz....

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff defended his office's approach to go after abuses within polygamy, noting that men have been prosecuted, resources are being offered to victims and some polygamous societies are working with authorities....

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard apologized again for the notorious 1953 raid on the border community once known as "Short Creek," where polygamists were rounded up by police and put in jail. "We are profoundly sorry that approach was taken ... setting up a situation for tyranny to thrive," he said, referring to Jeffs....

...The event had the feel of a convention, complete with vendor booths. Only those booths featured advocate groups like Mohave County Victim Services, Principle Voices, and the HOPE Organization. The pro-polygamy Centennial Park Action Committee set up a "hospitality room" where it served veggies and cookies and played a DVD featuring members of the community combating negative stereotypes of polygamists.

Earlier in the day, members of polygamous groups, activists and government social workers participated in a training on authoritarian groups and breaking through the isolation.

Read the whole article.

Incidentally, a note on nomenclature: The mainstream Mormon (LDS) Church denies that polygamists can be Mormons, because the LDS Church long ago banned polygamy — revoking founder Joseph Smith's revelation that a man must have three wives to get into Heaven (the "Principle"). However, the term "Mormon" properly refers to anyone who takes Smith's Book of Mormon as holy writ. Thus there are several Mormon branches, of which the LDS Church is only the largest.

Update April 29: These articles are prompting an important discussion in the polyamory world. Longtime poly writer and activist Pepper Mint had this to say on the Loving More Polyactive list (reprinted with permission):

I think we need to get a discussion started on what sort of relationship we want to have between polyamory and the nascent traditional polygamy movement. I've blogged on this a bit (link at the bottom) but I'll repeat my arguments here.

One of the primary things polyamory has going for it is that it is egalitarian. Not only does it give women free access to whatever form of nonmonogamy they desire, but women were significantly involved in polyamory's early history (Morning Glory Ravenheart, Deborah Anapol, Janet Hardy, Dossie Easton), and at least in my circles, women seem to do just as well succeeding at polyamory, however you might want to measure success.

Based on the work I've done introducing polyamory to people, I am fairly certain that the current (surprisingly high) credibility of the polyamory movement is directly dependent on it being egalitarian. People are often quite suspicious until they realize that women are having multiple relationships as well, and this is not just another way to give men access to nonmonogamy. This shows up in our media relations as well: we seem to do very well when a woman with multiple lovers is
profiled, and negative articles tend to profile men with multiple women lovers.

On the other hand, traditional "polygamy" (really polygyny) is blatantly sexist. Sexism is built into its core rule that men can have multiple spouses but women cannot, so this is not a kind of sexism that is going away any time soon. Even worse, traditional polygamy is sexist in a way that modern culture finds repellent: women these days expect and demand to have the same standing in relationships as men. (The traditional polygamy movement realizes this problem, and has been foregrounding women for this reason, and feminist women when they can do it.)

So here's the danger. To the extent that polyamory is associated with traditional polygamy, it will hurt our movement. It will hurt our rising credibility in the media and in mainstream circles. It will prevent women from joining our community, and possibly men too. (Particularly queer women, who loathe any kind of system that privileges men.) It will piss off people already in the community.

For this reason, I am opposed to any kind of alliance between polyamory and traditional polygamy. I have zero interest in helping out the traditional polygamy movement. The informal information-sharing that has been happening so far has been fine (since our movements actually do impact one another, due to legal overlaps), but that's as far as it should go. I know that people generally support "strange bedfellows" political alliances, but this is one we cannot afford. In a very real way, polyamory is directly opposed to traditional polygamy.

Furthermore, I think that any polyamory activist who discussed traditional polygamy should start with a statement that points out the sexism of traditional polygamy. "Polyamory and traditional polygamy are very different because polyamory is nonmonogamy for both men and women, while traditional polygamy only allows men to have multiple spouses." So far, even when media sources have listed both in the same article, they have clearly distinguished between them. Let's keep it that way.

Here's my blog post of a month ago that addresses this question:


That post prompted vigorous pro-and-con discussion. How we decide to define ourselves to the world now will indeed affect what happens to the polyamory movement in the future, as awareness of it spreads among the general public.


April 20, 2007

"Root for the Home Team"

The Stranger (Seattle)

Here's another wise, succinct poly column from Mistress Matisse, a regular in one of Seattle's alternative newsweeklies.

As I approach the three-year anniversary of my relationship with Monk, and the eight-year anniversary of my relationship with Max, I'm quite happy about how smoothly my poly love life is functioning. After 15 years of practice, it's nice to be getting it (mostly) right. But I don't take all the credit — that has to go to the people I'm doing poly with. There's a key to successfully conducting multiple love relationships: You all have to root for each other.

...In my poly universe, Monk really wants my relationship with Max to be happy and good. Max's other partner Puck smiles when she sees Max and I being all kissy-face with each other. And I regularly remark to Monk — and everyone else — how awesome his wife Tammy is, and how glad I am he has her. And we don't just say the words — we all make sure we're acting in ways that support our lovers' lovers.

That may sound unbelievably altruistic to you, but there's some of what I call "enlightened self-interest" on everyone's part....

Read the whole column.


April 17, 2007

"Three in a Bed: Hidden Lives"

Channel 5 TV (Great Britain)

On April 16, 2007, British TV Channel 5 aired a one-hour documentary on poly triad households. If you can deal with BitTorrents (good luck), you can download the show from the link at the end of this post.

The following blurb is from throng, "UK's TV watching community."

Monday, 21.00–22.00

How would you feel if your wife got herself a new boyfriend, had his baby and moved him into the house you share? Most people would balk at the idea — but not everyone. This week, Five’s sensational documentary strand gets acquainted with some of the most unusual relationships in Britain — threesomes.

There is a family in South Wales which is markedly different to most homes in the area. As well as four kids, two cats, a bulldog and five ferrets, there are three adults — John, Shanea and Noel. Shanea explains: “I love John. I love Noel. Noel loves me. John loves me.”

John and Shanea married in 1994 and had three children soon after. It was then that Shanea and John decided to have an open marriage, after which Shanea met Noel and fell in love with him. Shanea told husband John all about him and soon after, the two men met. Noel was surprised at how well he and John got on. “We had a drink and hit it off. It’s been like that ever since,” Noel explains. The vast majority of men would not have welcomed another man into their marriages, but John was different — even after Noel got Shanea pregnant. Soon after, Noel and the new arrival Mercy moved into the family home for good. But how does John really feel about sharing his wife with Noel? “He makes her happy,” he says. “Anyone who makes her happy isn’t all that bad.”

Although their lives sound like a bohemian erotic fantasy, the reality is far more humdrum. With four kids to bring up, their lives are hectic and the couples have sparse opportunity to spend ‘quality time’ together. The trio sleep in the same bed, but Noel and John are both heterosexual — the threesome’s first and last drunken experiment together ended in disaster. “It’s not something either of the lads felt comfortable with,” says Shanea. However, she seems perfectly happy with their unorthodox sleeping arrangements. “I love it when they both fall asleep on me,” she enthuses. “I feel so totally at peace.”

The threesome function as a family quite happily, with their older kids fully aware of the situation. As for toddler Mercy, Shanea says: “She refers to John as Dad and Noel as Daddy. That’s the way it will stay.” The threesome are well aware that their set-up is far from regular, and that compared to their peers, their kids have a unusual homelife. They feel, however, that their children are blessed with more love and support than most families are able to offer.

Far away from the provincial environs of the Welsh valleys, another threesome are putting the ‘swinging’ back into London. Twentysomething Aussie librarian Davina married Dean, but on the discovery that she was bisexual, invited fellow librarian Jen into their marriage. And unlike Noel, John and Shanea, this threesome do a lot more than just sleep in their shared bed. All three profess to be having a wonderful time, without any jealousy or insecurity. “I feel we all love each other the same amount and in the same way, so there’s nothing to be jealous about,” says Dean. And how does he feel when the girls exclude him from certain activities? “I get to watch,” smiles Dean. Although life is sweet at the moment for Dean and his two girls, how will his mother feel when she finds out about her son’s triangular love life? Watch as he makes the call home...

Also in Monday’s programme, we see the darker side of threesomes, and meet married couple Sarah and Ben from Southampton, whose marriage did not survive polyamory.

You can leave a comment at this story's site.

See Promo photo. The show was produced by Landmark Films in Oxford, which seems to specialize in human and animal oddities.

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April 14, 2007

"Loving More Than One"

Psychology Today online

Psychology Today online (April 3, 2007) has a short interview with Dossie Easton, coauthor of The Ethical Slut, who explains some of the ideas behind poly very nicely.

By Moses Ma

What is polyamory?

We live in a culture that works very hard to enforce a "one size fits all" definition of how intimate relationships should be conducted. But there are many ways to love, and many formats for creating wonderful and fulfilling relationships — from having more than one sexual partner to group marriage. The title, The Ethical Slut... says it all. A slut is a person who celebrates an adventurous sexual lifestyle, but while honoring the feelings and boundaries of all persons involved, even those who may not be in the room at the time you're being adventurous.

Do you need rules to ensure fairness — such as who sleeps with whom on which nights?

I don't believe that there are really any fixed rules except to respect and honor the feelings and boundaries of every individual involved in poly relationships. Having too many rules is like trying to squish round pegs into square holes, and I believe that people are infinitely creative. So why not let that creativity flow into how we configure relationships?

She goes on to talk about the benefits of raising kids in poly families, and understanding the nature of jealousy as a tool for personal growth. Read the whole article. (If it disappears from that site, try here.)

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April 12, 2007

"I live with my husband and my boyfriend in one big happy family"

Daily Mail (London)

The Daily Mail, distributed throughout the U.K., is a conservative lowbrowish newspaper, so you can guess what it makes of polyamory (remember its story last December?). This time, however, the quality of the poly family that it profiles shines through all the shocked editorializing.


...For the past 18 months, Shanea, a 35-year-old full-time mum, has shared her home with her husband John, an electrician, and her lover — 30-year-old Noel, a teacher.... While she has sexual relations with each man — requiring some serious diary-shuffling, as we shall discover — the two men are not romantically involved with each other.

Their off beat — some would say highly dysfunctional — domestic set up surely makes them one of the most unconventional families in the country.

Shanea is in fact, the woman with two "husbands". But is she the luckiest woman in Britain, or the most insane? And how on earth did she ever agree to get two men to share her — never mind the household chores?

She laughs. "I'm in love with two men, simple as that. I love Noel and John, and they both love me. They, on the other hand like each other — in a kind of sibling way.

"We didn't set out to have this sort of family, but it works for us. I'm very happy."

Clearly. What is more shocking perhaps is that her husband John, 36, also professes to be content — unbelievable when you consider how this menage a trois came about....

"When I actually met Noel it was weird," [John] recalls. "The second I opened the front door we politely shook hands and I asked how he was. We decided to go to the pub, where we talked about work and general stuff. But we steered away from the whole topic of Shanea. In a way, the meeting wasn't about Shanea — it was him and me.

"The evening finished with us having a few drinks. I actually liked him. More importantly, I could see that he made Shanea happy. Anyone who makes Shanea happy can't be all that bad in my book."

Few men would display such tolerance. Was he mad? Naive? Or so desperate not to lose his wife that he was prepared to share her with another?

[After Shanea later got pregnant by Noel], John threw himself into his role in the next chapter of this saga.

Both he and Noel were present for the birth of baby Mercy — which caused raised eyebrows in the maternity suite.

"I remember the midwife saying only the baby's daddy could come in," recalls Shanea. "I told her that they should both stay. 'He's the Dad,' I said, pointing to John. 'He's the Daddy,' I said, indicating Noel."

So, from the day she was born, Mercy has shared two dads and has both their surnames — so she can choose one day.

...From Shanea's perspective, though, there must also be something quite exhausting about having to keep two relationships alive. Since she seemed to struggle when she had one husband — how does she cope with two?

The answer is that mainstay of modern family life — the meticulously planned diary.

"Sometimes John works a few nights away or takes all four girls to see his parents, and Noel will do the same. Otherwise I book weekends in nice hotels for either John or Noel and me to be alone without the pressures of family life.

"It sometimes feels as if I have more pressure because I have to keep two men happy instead of one. I have to maintain the stable position, and think about the kids too."

Oh yes, the kids. Mercy is too young to know that her family life is in any way "different", but it is telling that the older girls do not inform many people that their mother actually has two partners.

Yet Shanea refuses to accept that they might be adversely affected.

"There's no doubt about it, we are a weird family from the outside," she says. "But when you see us at home — with the washing up, the cleaning, cooking, ironing — we're the same as anyone else."

Until bedtime comes, of course, then even the children must be aware that something is different.

Their mother seems blissfully unconcerned about that. Most nights, it seems, she is too busy thanking her own lucky stars to worry about what confusion might be reigning down the landing.

"Every night, I realise how lucky I am," she admits. "I'm adored by two men and I'm in love with two men. I feel so totally and utterly at peace."

• John, Shanea and Noel feature in Hidden Lives, on [Channel] Five, Monday, April 16.

Read the whole article (April 7, 2002). Here's the photo. And you can leave a comment on the newspaper's site.

Note the announcement that the family will appear on Great Britain's Channel 5 on April 16. According to the promo, they'll be one of two poly families featured in a one-hour documentary titled "Three in a Bed", part of Channel 5's "Hidden Lives" series. (Update: See April 17 post about the TV show.)

Update: The Daily Mail article was rewritten under a different author's name, and minus the shocked editorializing, in Wales on Sunday for April 22. Read it online, and leave a comment on the newspaper's site.

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April 5, 2007

Advice Column Roundup

Advice columnists see so much anguished mail from the betrayed and cheated-upon that, well, you can guess where their brains jump on parsing out the word "polyamory." (For instance.) But some of them are learning — in no small part because of the letters you have been sending them.

In Toronto's arts-and-entertainment Eye Weekly (published by the mainstream Toronto Star), "Love Bites" columnist Sasha is very poly-friendly, as when answering this recent request:

"We're looking for a therapist that has a positive disposition towards open relationships and polyamory and we're wondering if you could provide some names or places to look because we're clueless."

She responds with contacts for two local therapists, one of whom writes,

Working with folks communicating about poly really isn't any different from working with folks who are communicating badly about whether to have a baby, or figure out what to do about conflicting emotional needs — or it shouldn't be. The longer I work with these issues, the more commonality I find between them and other issues. I also find that that is a very helpful framework for clients, the idea that they can discuss sexual issues like other issues, drawing on their strengths and skills and experience in other areas and making use of them here.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the oldest alternative newspapers, recently re-ran a column by its alt-sex columnist Andrea Nemerson, who grasps poly but is well known as a skeptic about it:

When last we visited Polyland, I was congratulating myself for doing a necessary public service: warning would-be polyamorists they would fail unless they happened to belong to that select group born with not only the desire but the ability to share. If I gave short shrift to the fact that polyamory takes hard work on top of natural inclination, plus the luck to find similarly inclined partners, I apologize.

She got a lot of mail from polys telling how it works fine for them even if they had a rocky start, and she prints some of it. One correspondent in particular has thought-provoking points:

I come down somewhere between your position and that of Happypoly on the question of who is well-suited to a poly life. I agree that the majority of poly people experience significant challenges in their relationships, especially at first. Of course, this doesn't mean that their relationships ultimately fail. In my experience and observation, the following factors most positively influence the odds for success:

1. General attitude of goodwill and a generosity of spirit

2. Willingness to be honest, especially when the news is likely to hurt

3. Independent spirit

4. Strong personal desire for a poly life

5. Reasonably good emotional intelligence and self-esteem

6. Reading poly literature and discussing it with partners

Likely the poly relationships that you've seen crash and burn were insufficiently supplied with one or more of these components.

—Poly Out East

So what do you think? In your experience, which of the above is the most important? The least? What would you add?

(P.S.: "Poly Out East" is actually Anita Wagner; she gave the paper permission to print her name, but they told her it's their policy not to.)

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