Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

February 29, 2008

"Internet Pushes Polyamory to Its 'Tipping Point' "

Wired magazine

Those of us who labor in the poly-awareness vineyard sometimes get a sense that big things are actually starting to happen. I'm always wary of wishful thinking (having taken catechism about this from Heinlein's Time Enough for Love in my youth). But now comes Regina Lynn, columnist for Wired magazine, saying that thanks to the internet, poly is breaking out as some kind of Next Big Thing.

Internet Pushes Polyamory to Its 'Tipping Point'

By Regina Lynn

The internet is famous for hooking people up for everything from blind dates to political activism.

For people into polyamory — a way of life in which participants engage in multiple intimate relationships simultaneously, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved — the internet provided a handy label for their lifestyle and a launch pad for injecting the concept into mainstream consciousness.

"Around 1990, we found this nifty name to call ourselves, instead of 'responsible, consensual nonmonogamy,'" says Dr. Kenneth Haslam, a retired anesthesiologist and curator of the Kenneth R. Haslam Collection on Polyamory at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. "About that same time, the internet came along — and it was at exactly the right time. The internet is a tipping point for polyamory."

From its somewhat murky etymological past to 1992's creation of the alt.polyamory Usenet newsgroup, the term has swept to mainstream acceptance.... The Washington Post ran a long feature on the subject for Valentine's Day....

While having multiple committed partners is not a new concept, many polyamorists have told me they felt lost, guilty, alone or freakish until they came across the word polyamory on the internet and for the first time had a context for the way they felt about love.

...Geeks have not traditionally been viewed as relationship experts, yet as a subculture, we are open to alternative ways of life. We immerse ourselves in science fiction and fantasy, imagining other cultures and experiencing relationships not necessarily bound by puritanical traditions.

...Cunning Minx, creator and host of the Polyamory Weekly podcast, says she's seen a significant change in how the mainstream media treats polyamory in just the three years since her first episode. "Poly used to be so alternative you had to adopt this entire different culture [to participate]," she says. "While it's definitely still an emotional and spiritual upheaval for many people to shake off the paradigms of monogamy that are so ingrained in us, now you can meet poly people in a group and talk about it in a safe place."...

Read the whole article (Feb. 29, 2008).

Me, I think it's happening more slowly. I think we'll still be talking about being in tipping-point moments 10 or 20 years from now. I don't think we'll have a really poly-aware and poly-mature culture for 50 or 100 years, but I am convinced that it's coming. (Even then, my hunch is that 90 percent of people will choose monogamy if only because it's simpler, but that's another topic.)

I'm reminded of something that Stanley Kurtz wrote two years ago, when the TV series "Big Love" began, about the nature of social change. Kurtz is an anti-gay-marriage fulminator for top-tier conservative journals and think tanks, and he has us polys squarely in his sights. He wrote:

Collapsing Taboo

It's... important to remember that support for polygamy and polyamory (approval of one is bound to help license the other) cannot be tracked in a simple, linear fashion.... We are dealing, not with an election campaign, but with the possible collapse of a social taboo....

Social taboos may erode gradually over the very long haul, but up close, and especially toward the beginning, you get little collapses — the quick and unexpected falling away of opposition. What used to be hidden emerges with startling rapidity, because much of it was there all along. Polygamy, and especially polyamory, are already widespread on the Internet. Both practices are pushing toward a major public taboo-collapsing moment. We can't know when "critical mass" might be reached....

Three cheers, say I.


And now, a cautionary note.

The people who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move. No longer is it all about grunting and straining from behind to make the bandwagon's wheels move half an inch. If the effort succeeds, the bandwagon eventually starts rolling on its own, faster and faster. And unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions. And then it wrecks itself spectacularly in a ditch, and onlookers nod their heads knowingly and say they saw it coming all along.

Is this what Stanley Kurtz will be writing about polyamory 20 years from now? Will he be right?

Remember what happened to the psychedelic drug movement. It started with tremendous promise among a handful of philosophers and intellectuals in the early 1960s, gained popularity and momentum, careened out of control downmarket, and morphed into a cheapened, degraded "drugs are good" cultural meme for the masses. By the early 1970s the drug-culture bandwagon was so ugly and indiscriminate that people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died from, of all the stupid things, tranquilizers and heroin.

So maybe it's time for us poly activists to pay less attention to pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it.

If we are to save our defining word from serious cheapening, and guide this thing in good directions as it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be taking every opportunity to:

** Stress that successful polyamory requires high standards of ethics, integrity, intention, generosity, and concern for others;

** Emphasize that poly is not for everyone and that monogamy is the best model for many;

** Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";

** Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of poly, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented or even as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends and acquaintances for whom you genuinely wish good things. (And beyond that minimum, there's no limit to how deep it can go.) This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of the magic of romantic love — into something much wider and more powerful than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.

** Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through courage, hard relationship-honesty work, ruthless self-examination, tough personal growth, and a quick readiness to (as the Marine Corp puts it) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong." It can cause catastrophes if you let your personal standards of conduct drop even briefly.

Please — with the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless, trivial, or in any way less than what we know it to be.


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February 27, 2008

Tasmanian big love

Hobart Mercury

On the opposite side of Earth from most of us, folks running PolyOz ("Oz" is Aussie for Australia) got written up in the daily newspaper of Hobart, Tasmania. The occasion was the Big Love series returning to local TV.

When Three's Not A Crowd

By Rebecca Fitzgibbon

...A defining factor of Poly relationships is that everyone involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else’s involvement.

Former Tasmanian Shane Jones is administrator of the Australian online network of poly communities, PolyOz. Now living in Victoria, he believes the important goal is encouraging understanding. ‘‘Big Love does actually portray well in that the women are there by their own choosing they join the relationship,’’ he said. ‘‘The important thing is that it’s made clear to people that no one is coerced into it.’’

...After [the show's] success on SBS, [Channel] Nine approached Shane, his two female partners and other PolyOz members with an interview request from 60 Minutes.

They declined the interview, as well as one with Woman’s Day, which offered $3000 each for interviews. Potential sensationalism made them wary, despite their being willing to discuss the reality of polyamorous life.

‘‘Acceptance is the biggest thing,’’ Shane said. ‘‘The challenge that we’re facing today is probably what the gay community was facing in the 70s... and educating the public that we’re not a bunch of child molesters or preying at large, out to get people.’’

...Shane and Michelle met on an internet dating site soon after she ended a 17-year Monogamous marriage.... Shane was Open with Michelle from the start about his relationship with another woman. ‘‘When I met him... I had to do some soulsearching. I looked at the positives and negatives. It ended up being that his [having a] girlfriend wasn’t as big a negative as I thought it would be,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s about being honest with our feelings and saying ‘Yes, I do have another partner that I care for and I still want it to be open’. I found that very refreshing rather than being in a relationship where I was never allowed to tell my partner my feelings and be listened to and respected... Nothing is hidden.’’

Being accommodating of your partner’s emotional needs with other partners is not enough — you have to be supportive as well, she said. ‘‘Polyamory is a journey and a lifestyle evolvement. Definitely for us, it’s not about sex — it’s about having a loving relationship that is valid for all of us.

‘‘Polyamory is a step back to having an extended family, only slightly different. It’s more about having a true relationship with partners, not so much having a segregated family.’’

...Tasmania’s ground-breaking relationship register is leading the nation in recognising the rights of same-sex couples, but it does not presently permit multiple relationship registration.

At present, Australians seem to be more comfortable denying the existence of an intelligent, moral polyamorous community....

Did you think you'd ever see that last line in a Rupert Murdoch rag?

The article seems not to be on the newspaper's website, but you can read the full text here.

Just before the article came out, Shane had this to say about their interview experience:

It all went well. I have read the article before its submission earlier today and it seemed very positive. Rebecca was great to talk to and understanding of relationships that were 'outside the box'. I found her to be a lot more open in discussion of Polyamory than previous journalists and didn't get that feeling that she was out sensationalizing the lifestyle as has been my past experience. After all, we have had both good and bad experiences with the media and this time certainly had that good 'vibe' about it.

P.S.: If you want to see how a poly organization's website ought to be run to keep it fresh and lively, check out the PolyOz site.


February 25, 2008

Tilda Swinton's unusual household

When the Scottish actress Tilda Swinton won an Academy Award on Sunday evening for Best Supporting Actress, further media spotlights turned to her ménage à trois (French for "household of three") with two men (and twin 10-year-olds) in the Scottish Highlands. From Fox News (Feb. 25, 2008):

Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton Addresses Offbeat Love Life

Tilda Swinton, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her icy performance in "Michael Clayton," addressed her offbeat love life Sunday, saying her young lover and the father of her children are "close friends."

The willowy, redheaded actress has twins with Scottish artist and playwright John Byrne, 68, while traveling the world with New Zealand painter Sandro Kopp, 29. The relationships have become fodder for the British press, who have called Swinton's personal love life "a ménage à trois style arrangement."

Swinton, 47, appeared taken aback when one reporter asked her about what he called her "unconventional" love life.

She responded that she was raising her children with Byrne while living with Kopp, her "sweetheart" of three years.

"I think it's extraordinary that we're all really close friends," she said.

The lowbrow Daily Mail in London had already been working this story hard. From its February 14th issue:

Tilda Swinton stormed the Baftas (British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards) with her paramour, 29, at her side. So what happened when she took him home to stay with her partner, 67, and their twins? Welcome to an intriguing ménage à trois.

...At home — a spectacular pile on the banks of the Moray Firth — is Swinton's long-term love John Byrne.... They continue to raise their ten-year-old twins Xavier and Honor together at their whitewashed home, which is in a secluded spot at the end of a tree-lined road.

...The twins, it emerges, were with Swinton and her lover at the Bafta's ceremony, and returned to the family home as a group — including Kopp — on Tuesday afternoon.

They were greeted at the door by Byrne, who helped them with their cases.

The unconventional ménage then retired inside.

Kopp, it seems, is staying over in Scotland for a few days, with the full blessing of Byrne, an eccentrically bewhiskered figure who, aged 67, could almost be cast in the role of grandfather.

...It's no wonder that heads turn in Nairn when they see Swinton, Byrne or, very occasionally, Kopp out shopping in the village.

The locals are kept busy trying to work out what on earth is going on behind the closed doors of the Swinton-Byrne residence.

The truth, according to associates of Swinton, is that she is very deeply in love — with both men.

And far from being a passing phase she is said to hope that it continues indefinitely. "All I can tell you," said a London associate of the actress, "is that Tilda is delightfully, extremely happy."

...What a rum old do. But as we shall see, Tilda is an unsettlingly uncompromising woman. She joined the Communist Party as a student, and said recently that she rejects the "right to pursue happiness" as the heart of the rotten capitalist system.

She has no vanity and has been mistaken — because of her height and androgynous features — for a man ("I should wear more lipstick," she smiles).

When off-duty she proudly sports hairy legs and "gnarled" feet.

She has no television in her house, for fear of making her children "torpid". Instead she prizes joy, creativity and above all intelligence.

She rejoices in her independence and the distance she has travelled from the bourgeois conventionality of her own family....

See the photos of them and read the whole long article.

And here's a lovely bit of commentary in the Guardian.

And a profile from the Daily Express.

And this from the Times of London:

The British are bohemianphiles in every respect, except sex. We love dogs at the table, we appreciate gardening in the nude and a casual approach to heirlooms.... But we have yet to swallow the idea of an open relationship, even one that has lasted 18 years and works well for all involved.

These moments will crop up, now and then, to remind us how confused our standards are. The average Hollywood child has to get used to several “parents” in a lifetime.... Either mum or dad will be in rehab at some point, and in acrimonious litigation with each other sooner or later.... [So] by modern standards, the Swinton set-up is remarkably secure and uncomplicated.

Shall we just admit that a 47-year-old woman stepping out with a man who isn’t quite 30 is a threat to many (though not to Byrne). As long as we don’t think it’s a straightforward issue of morality, because that would make Angelina and Brad a “better” example than Tilda and friends, which would just be depressing.

More? Steve of the Vanpoly group in Vancouver writes, "There's been lots of notice of her open relationship — most of it positive or at least factual, but some of it, well, quite catty actually. I found it odd that none of it mentions polyamory, calling the relationship just about everything else but." He offers some more links:

More Times of London
New York Daily News
Wonderful 2004 interview with Nerve.com
The Daily Mail gets down and dishy with the girlfriend Sandro dumped for Tilda.
The Daily Mail going gaga on Oscar night, with lotsa photos.

Update June 4, 2008: The celebrity press (for instance) now tells us that Swinton's partner, John Byrne, has had another partner for two years now: 42-year-old theatre lighting director Jeanine Davis. Byrne is quoted as saying, “It’s all very relaxed and amicable. We have not hidden away and Jeanine is very much part of my life. Tilda knows all about it and is more than happy with the situation. It’s all very relaxed and amicable. Tilda has Sandro and the arrangement works very well.”

Another quote from Byrne: “There is so much love there, I wish I could explain it.”

Update Nov. 30, 2008: What's Swinton's own take on becoming something of a poly poster girl? In a long article in today's Independent, Jonathan Romney writes:

While Googling her, I found Swinton's name on several 'polyamory' websites, hailed as an inspiring example for the multi-partner lifestyle. Swinton takes this information with wryly exaggerated scepticism. "Rrrrright.... Well, that's good. I'm sure there are red-headed websites that are claiming me, and people above a certain height. It's all fine," she sighs, cheerfully, "I'm friend not foe. One man's polyamory — is that the word? — is another man's being really, really good friends with the co-parent of one's children while we're both in other relationships. I don't think that's so strange. But maybe it is — and that would be really sad."

Update: From a review in the Times of London, March 21, 2010:

The sizzling ménage à trois, alas, turns out to have been more a case of house-sharing than polyamory. She hasn’t been in a couple with Byrne for “many, many years”, while she has been happily involved with Kopp for the past five. “Holders of national prizes like Baftas come under a certain kind of national scrutiny,” she says, quite cool about the salacious speculation. “It was like having my identity papers checked. Actually, I live in a much less exotic situation than people would like.”

Yet more update, December 2010: Tilda Swinton is adamant she doesn't have an open marriage, in ShowbizSpy (Dec. 9, 2010):

“I have never been married. I have two children with John Byrne… and we’ve not been a couple for many years, and we’re very close friends, and we bring up our children together.

“For the last five years, I’ve been in another relationship. It’s very boring and it’s important to rectify, because there’s some fantasy about us all living in a big hut together.

“I think people are so used to the concept of people having children with somebody and then, somehow, ending up estranged from one another, that when people come along who really are there as a family forever… it’s radical and somehow frightening.

“I think many more people live in the way that we do – in a state of real love and support – than newspapers might lead you to believe. I think newspapers love a bit of friction, and we’re a pretty friction-free zone. It’s pretty dull.”


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February 19, 2008

Poly (Greek, "multiple") Amor (Latin, "love")

Alibi (Albuquerque, NM)

A weekly alternative/ arts/ entertainment paper in Albuquerque features polyamory and some of its local practitioners in a long, front-page feature story.

The cover illustration is lovely: three hands atop each other. This is a particularly effective (for me) solution to the perpetual journalistic problem of how to illustrate an article about people who want their privacy.

By Marisa Demarco

“Compersion.” It's a word that describes happiness at seeing a partner get joy from someone else — almost the opposite of jealousy. Monogamous lovers might hesitate to imagine feeling anything aside from anger at the sight of their other half being loved by someone else. But compersion is a kind of fulfillment gained by the polyamorous, those who maintain honest, committed romantic relationships with more than one person.

The word "compersion" is one of many invented or co-opted by polyamorous people to give names to nouns and verbs outside the dominant paradigm of monogamy. Julian Wolf thinks back to a confusing time before she had words for her preferred method of loving. "It took me going to college and finding other strange and fun people that lived differently before I got words for all of the things I had been doing my whole life," Wolf says.

...With straight red hair and conservative business attire, she's eating oatmeal and taking a break from her nine-to-five day job to talk about her "starfish."... Not that long ago, Wolf was dating five people. Her friend Riotgrrlscout came up with a shape for it. Wolf was the center of a starfish whose arms sometimes touched and sometimes didn't.

...In spite of being at the center of a starfish, Wolf emphasizes that her relationships are not always sexual. In fact, she often won't have sex with a person until she's known them for years.

...Polyobvious, [Erik] Erhardt calls it: When you have multiple "partners" for any definition of the word partner, "and everyone knows about everyone else." It is vital to the philosophy of polyamory that everyone involved in a relationship knows about everyone else and is comfortable and agrees with the situation.

..."One thing polyamorists are not is beyond feeling jealous," says Erhardt. In fact, that's one issue bubbling to the surface of the discussion group he facilitates regularly. Ethi-Q Slutdom meets odd-week Thursdays to talk about challenges and strategies for polyamorous relationships....

Read the whole article (issue of Feb. 14-20, 2008).

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February 16, 2008

"It's Better with Three"

The Pitch (Kansas City, MO)

In its February 14th "sex edition," amid some pretty gritty stuff, Kansas City's alternative newspaper interviews a local university professor about her research on polyamory and safer-sex practices. The article also profiles two local poly groupings at length.

If a UMKC researcher is right, bringing a third into your bedroom could make you healthier and happier.


...Chell's idea to bring a third person into her [BDSM-heavy] marital bedroom wasn't just about fun. The trio has formed a powerful emotional bond — which is not unusual among polyamorous lovers. "There are things Spawn needs that I can't give him sometimes," Chell says. "I'm a small girl. I understand I can't deal with his needs in every situation."

There's little research on how such relationships work. This is where Terri Conley comes in. A University of Missouri-Kansas City assistant professor of psychology, Conley has begun a yearlong study of about 300 people in polyamorous relationships. She's preparing a questionnaire that will measure risk behavior, satisfaction, emotion and other psychological factors.... Conley believes her research might show that people in polyamorous relationships are safer from STDs — and may know a secret about how to make relationships work.

...Conley has taught a class on human sexuality since she came to UMKC in 2006....

She became interested in polyamorous relationships in California when she saw a mathematical simulation showing it was safer [in terms of HIV] to have sex with 100 partners and use a condom every time than to have sex... with a partner of unknown health status and not use one.

Heads up! Read that again, please! (And for more on this, see Joreth's post in the comments.)

She started wondering about the way monogamy was sold as an answer during the early days of the AIDS crisis.

"There was a surgeon general warning going around about how you should know your partner, but how well you know your partners doesn't really have anything to do with whether they have an STD," Conley says. "And people in a close relationship try to get rid of condoms as early as possible, and they're actually leaving themselves wide-open for something to happen. So those things got me wondering to what extent monogamy really was a good approach to safer-sex issues."

Conley compares the monogamy-only message to adults with abstinence-only sex education for teenagers. The two ideas, she says, cause people who can't live in a monogamous relationship to suffer from guilt and a potentially dangerous habit of cheating. "If it's not serving its health purpose, then we need to scrap the monogamy-only message."

Conley saw that very little research had been done on polyamorous relationships and that most of what was available was years out of date. None of it seemed to focus on health factors.

So Conley, along with Amber Hinton, a graduate student in psychology, is preparing a detailed survey. She hopes the results will answer questions about whether it's safer to be involved with more than one person. The survey will also question whether a relationship is invigorated when one member seeks outside companionship, and if having multiple relationship roles can actually make a person happier.

If polyamorous relationships do tend to include people who are as safe and happy sexually, it'll open new questions about how we deal with complex emotions.

"I do feel somewhat outside of normal researchers," Conley says. "My grad adviser said, 'You don't want to go on the job market as a sexuality researcher. The projects can require an enormous amount of work and patience. It has to be something you really just want to find out.'"

There's the chance that reaction to her latest study could single her out in other ways, if it turns out that people might be healthier with more partners.

"I do sometimes worry what will happen if my hypothesis is supported," she says. "Someone could take it badly, as [if it's an attack on] some religious or moral argument. But it isn't about saying something is moral. It's about presenting the truth."

The article goes on to describe a young couple's difficult transition into open marriage many years ago:

First, [Owen and Louise] had to agree on rules. Neither was allowed to go on a date if the other did not have a date the same night at the same time. Each had veto power over the other's choice of date. Each had to be home by midnight.

Based on what Conley has seen, this is a common arrangement for polyamorous relationships. Establishing ground rules is important to sustain the primary relationship, Conley says. She expects the answers to her survey will help better understand how rules govern polyamorous relationships. It's one area — communication — where polyamorous couples might have monogamous couples beat, she says.

"Monogamy tends to have more general assumptions about what's supposed to happen," Conley says. "If you have to tell your partner what you want sexually, you burst the romantic bubble that they know exactly what you want. If you're in a polyamorous relationship, you're forced to deal with it."

...Louise was able to get a date almost immediately... Owen, meanwhile, decided to go to a swinger's club... Louise and Owen were both home by midnight, honoring their agreement. She didn't know what his reaction would be.

"So, did you have a good time?" Louise asked.

"Yeah. It was really different and really weird. Did you have a good time?"

"Yeah. Are you OK?"

"I am."

That was it.... Now, 27 years into their polyamorous relationship, Louise and Owen have dropped most of the rules. They still have veto power, but only Louise has used it, and only on rare occasions.... The tricky part is meeting people who understand their relationship. In case one of them isn't around to assure the potential date that neither of them is a cheater, they've drawn up what they call "hunting licenses."

"I can just open up my wallet and say, 'See? My wife's cool with it,'" Owen says.

The relationship has become so successful that they have decided to start teaching other people. Louise gives talks on polyamorous relationships at wicca fairs. A year ago, they began offering a class through Communiversity. (They teach the class under the pseudonyms Louise and Shaggy Man.) They'll start their third class in March. Most of the students are younger, and the classes are split about evenly between men and women. Last semester, Louise made a guest appearance in Conley's classroom to talk about polyamorous relationships. "Condoms, condoms, condoms," Louise said. "That's what I tell everyone who asks about it."

The entire lengthy article (Feb. 14, 2008) is partway through a very long file of several articles chained together. To find it, scroll about a third of the way down.

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February 15, 2008

"When the sum is greater than two"

YES! Weekly

The alternative newspaper of Greensboro, North Carolina, included a long and occasionally interesting ramble on nonmonogamy in its Valentine's week issue.

By Jordan Green
News Editor

...At the outset, he wants to put across this aphorism: "Non-monogamy is wasted on sex."

It would be easy to mistake non-monogamy for sexual infidelity. Take away sex, and what do you have? A rich variety of liberated human experience, my friend suggests. While some people obviously enjoy multiple sexual relationships, my friend says he needs only one. What non-monogamy gives him is the freedom to spend time with other people, to become close to other people, and to not worry about what his partner is doing when they're not together. Rather than mourn or avoid the recognition that no one person can meet all our needs, my friend embraces it.

...."The people who I know that are polyamorous, meaning that they have sex with a lot of people, they spend a whole lot of time taking care of those relationships and themselves," my friend says. "I'd rather be making music. I'd rather be doing community organizing. I'd rather be in my garden.... I'd rather be able to say, 'I want to sleep alone for a week.' That's an example of a desire that's not illicit; it's just a desire to be alone for a week."


...The matron saint of non-monogamy would have to be Emma Goldman.

"Marriage and Love," from Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays, the second revised edition of which was published in 1911, gives no quarter to defenders of monogamy.

"Marriage and love have nothing in common," rings the first salvo. "They are as far apart as the poles; are in fact, antagonistic to each other."...

The grand social ideal of non-monogamy... comes in the finale of Goldman's essay: "Some day men and women will rise, they will reach the mountain peak, they will meet big and strong and free, ready to receive, to partake, and to bask in the golden rays of love. What fancy, what imagination, what poetic genius can foresee even approximately the potentialities of such a force in the life of men and women?"

Read the whole article (Feb. 12, 2008).

February 14, 2008

"There's Always Room for More Love"

Student Life
(Washington University in St. Louis)

A college newspaper presents (in its annual sex issue) an excellent introduction to what polyamory is about:

Imagine this: Melissa and John have been in an intimate relationship for two years. They are perfectly happy. One day, Melissa meets Michael, and begins to develop a deep attachment to him. She brings Michael home to John. All three sit down to talk and by the end all three are content with the outcomes.

Melissa is now in two relationships — one with John and the other with Michael.

Wrong? Unnatural? Plain cheating? Perhaps to some, but for those engaged in such relationships, it is simply the most natural and right way — that is, polyamory, the practice of multiple relationships.

...[Susan] Stiritz [a professor of women's and gender studies] attended a workshop on polyamory as part of a wider sex education conference held in St. Louis. As the only non-polyamorous person at the workshop, she learned a great deal from those around her. "These are very serious people," she said. "They're innovators in exploring how humans can connect.... They have developed their own techniques, insights that would help anybody understand how to give up jealousy. If you want to go to somebody who can work through marital difficulties, go to somebody who is polyamorous."

...Senior Josh Ellman, a member of Safe Zones, said that the group at Washington University held a panel on Tuesday, Feb. 12 that touched on issues including polyamory. The panel was made up of Washington University students and faculty, as well as others from the St. Louis community.

"They [spoke] about their experiences and what polyamory means to them. For Safe Zones, this is definitely something we want to learn more about and be able to educate other students on."...

Read the whole article (Feb. 13, 2008).

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February 13, 2008

The Washington Post covers the Poly Living conference

At Loving More's Poly Living conference outside Philadelphia earlier this month (I was there), a reporter for the Washington Post was busily in attendance. She had been accepted by the Loving More staff after signing an agreement about respecting attendees' privacy and boundaries. She introduced herself to everyone at the opening talk and remained for almost the whole weekend, studiously taking notes.

Today's edition has her very, very long story. Though a touch snarky in places, it is sharply insightful and generally spot-on. The Post does hire the best.

Pairs With Spares
For Polyamorists With a Whole Lotta Love, Three, or More, Is Never a Crowd

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 13, 2008

I have a love whose name is Johnny
He is dating my best friend Bonnie

The audience members at the annual Poly Living convention — think hippies, retired science teachers, a high quotient of male ponytails — are singing, in round, what might be the only song ever written about polyamory. [Ed. note: not so.]

She lives with her sweetheart Jen
And Jen's husband whose name is Glenn

It's a lifestyle that has been alternatively misidentified as Swinging, Wife Swapping and Really Greedy.

Now they raise their kids together
And are happy more than ever.

[Lyrics copyright 2008 by Ben Silver]

Polyamory isn't about sex, polys tell you. It is about love. It is about loving your primary partner enough to love that they have a new secondary partner, even when their New Relationship Energy with that person leaves you, briefly, out in the cold. It's about loving yourself enough to acknowledge that your needs cannot be met by one loving person. It's about loving love enough to embrace it in unexpected form — like maybe in the form of your primary's new secondary! — in which case you may all form a triad and live happily together.

That kind of love.

And so some 100 people, a small fraction of the 15,000 polys on the mailing list of convention sponsor Loving More, have gathered at a Holiday Inn off the Pennsylvania Turnpike for two days of seminars with such titles as "Hap-Poly Ever After: Long-Term Poly Partnership" and "Kids and Poly Relationships: A Human Relations Primer About Melding All Your Loves."

Of course, sex is a part of love. Which is why the pastor leading "Love and Marriage in Bible Times" finds herself talking really loud to combat the noises coming from the tantric sex workshop next door. Which is why another workshop deals with the proper way to navigate a "threesome, foursome, or moresome."...


"One thing I like to say is, polyamory ain't for sissies."

This is Anita Wagner, 54, a legal secretary with a buoyant Tennessee drawl, flowing clothes and cheerful lipstick. She has a comfy mom-ness about her that says: I give amazing hugs. [Ed note: Talk about spot-on.]

...Once the second divorce was over and the daughter was grown, she acknowledged something about herself: "I realized that, being the bighearted person I am, I was denying myself something that we all need."

That was love. Big Love.

"Many of us tried to make monogamy work," Wagner says. But monogamy, she says, often seemed to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Its practitioners would break off "perfectly good relationships" just because of intellectual incompatibility, for example, or because one partner liked ballet and the other liked bowling. Doesn't it make more sense, polys ask, to keep the good parts of a relationship, and find another boyfriend who likes "Swan Lake"?

...Thought: Maybe you can have it all. You just can't get it all from the same person.

It's the thought that illustrates a paradox in polyamory: Its practitioners have astonishing optimism for humans' endless capacity to love, to share, to forgive, to grow, to explore. But that optimism seems rooted in a cynical belief that the monogamous are stuck in a myth, one that leads to cheating, unhappiness or divorce court. They believe, as do some evolutionary biologists, that most humans do not have endless capacity to be faithful to just one person.

There's a vague aura of entitlement to polyamory. The concept that one deserves complete romantic fulfillment seems a decidedly Me Generation concept.

More than one presenter at Poly Living's sessions utters a variation of this statement, which is either an explanation, an excuse or an untruth: We're just doing what everyone else is doing anyway. The difference is that we're not lying about it.


"Your turn!" Nicole says cheerfully to her partner Rebecca. The two women, both in their early 30s, are trying to eat lunch with their other partner, James, but the trio's toddler has chosen this moment to smear cake on his face and sprint toward the hotel restaurant's door. Rebecca hurtles out of her chair, cutting him off before he careens into a waitress. Nicole rolls her eyes toward the ceiling. "I have no idea," she says, "how people do this with just two parents."

Rebecca returns the boy to the table, handing him off to James as Nicole excuses herself to the bathroom. Morning sickness. Ugh.

...Nicole is the toddler's biological mother, though she fondly tells the story of how a classmate at his preschool assumed Rebecca was: They share platinum blond hair and nearly translucent skin, while Nicole and James both have brown hair and dark eyes. All three adults share a similar thick-through-the-middle build. When a reporter asks whether they all share a bed, Nicole bursts out laughing — she has a hearty and well-used laugh — and says, "Not until we lose some weight."

Though Nicole and James had jointly dated other people before, Rebecca, a paramedic with an efficient British accent, is the only one to mesh equally with both. For the triad's first date, James made Rebecca a plate of homemade Jammie Dodgers (one batch with strawberry jam, one with raspberry; he didn't know which she'd prefer). Rebecca brought them a plant. There was, says James, "a lot of courting," and a lot of evenings that ended with him and Nicole pillow-talking about how adorable Rebecca was.

...It's less about them wanting to fulfill personal desires, they say, and more about needing more people to meet the daily requirements of 21st-century life. As in, if it takes two incomes to keep up with the modern mortgage and school fees, then who is going to provide the kids with a stable environment at home? "Five hundred years ago," says James, " 'family' meant mom, dad, grandma, aunt, great-grandma — everyone."

...Nicole, James and Rebecca acknowledge that a group marriage requires work that a monogamous one does not. "At first, I felt interrupted all the time," says Rebecca. "We all have different communication styles."

"Sure, if I'm putting the baby to bed for two hours while they're having hot sex, I get annoyed," says Nicole. "But it's not because they're having sex without me. It's because I'm really tired and I've been putting a baby to bed for two hours."


When you watch people interact at Poly Living, it can seem that we humans have no idea what makes people happy inside relationships, or what arrangements people need to navigate the world....

...[A] couple are sitting on a couch outside a conference room at the convention, waiting for a seminar on improving communication between personality types (he procrastinates; she doesn't). Victoria, who has long, thick hair and perfect, porcelain doll skin, rubs LaVasseur's shoulders. He absent-mindedly kisses her hand.

"It was hard," LaVasseur says. "I'd always identified my self-worth by my relationships. I felt really insecure that I wasn't enough for her."

They developed a system. If Victoria so much as thinks she's interested in someone else, she tells LaVasseur immediately. "Then, later, I'll say, 'I'm thinking about kissing them,' " says Victoria. "And then, 'I'm thinking about getting serious.' "

Ironically, what's helped LaVasseur's jealousy the most was meeting his girlfriend's other partner, with whom she lives. He recognized how different he and the other guy were, and realized that what Victoria got out of that other relationship would not compete with what they had together.

There is thoughtfulness, mindfulness, that goes into each one of their interactions. (A favorite poly joke: "Swingers have sex. Polys have conversations.")

...Later that night, Victoria and LaVasseur have signed up to be facilitators at a cuddle party — a nonsexual outlet for people of all ages to spoon, tickle, pat and snuggle each other. It requires facilitators because cuddle parties come with 40 minutes' worth of rules on how to snuggle respectfully.

The two of them aren't sitting anywhere near each other; in fact, LaVasseur is demonstrating proper cuddle etiquette with another woman, one old enough to be his mother.

Victoria looks on contentedly; she catches his eye and they smile.

They seem ridiculously in love.

Read the whole article. And here's the print-friendly text in a single long file. (If the story disappears from the newspaper's site, you can read the text here.)

My only real beef with the story is that she did not get into the serious attention that the poly community gives (by and large) to STDs and safer sex. This will be, quite correctly, one of the first questions that readers have.

But overall, Wow, say I.

P.S.: Anita Wagner, featured in the article, blogs about her experience working with the reporter here.

Update, same day: Already the right wing is up in arms about this article. "In what can only be described as a Valentine to immorality and provocative behavior," writes Kristen Fyfe in the NewsBusters blog, "the Post ran a 2554-word feature on polyamory that describes a practice most readers — even the liberal fans of the Post — would find disturbing."

God help us that a newspaper would print something disturbing. Even worse: "The fact that this feature ran in the same section as the KidsPost (the page the Post dedicates to younger readers) was also irresponsible."

Update: A shortened version of the article appears in the Feb. 21st Toronto Star.


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February 8, 2008

"Poliamor, otra forma de amar"

Informativos Telecinco 5 (Spain)

"Our triad and another couple did a TV interview in Spain this week," writes the enthusiastic Juliette Siegfried (a.k.a. Ktylove). "Here's a translation of the accompanying article."

Is it conceivable to love various people at a time and be able to sincerely tell your partner? That's what polyamorous people do. They have emotional and sexual relationships with more than one person, and don't hide it. They maintain that the difference between their relationship and those of the rest of the world is that in their relationships there are no deceptions, lies, or betrayals.

Polyamory arose as a concept in California in the 60's. In Anglosaxon countries it's much more common than in our country, where for religious and cultural reasons, it is not as socially accepted.

However we've found various couples in Spain that have no problem introducing themselves as polyamorous: they have nothing, they say, to hide. They simply have another way of relating, more open, they explain, more honest, and as respectable as any.

Roland is British and 40 years old, and he has lived for 10 years with his wife Juliette, an American of the same age who is his "primary partner." He also goes out with Laurel, also American, and 8 years younger. She is his "secondary partner". Juliette and Laurel are free to have relationships with other men, and in fact, they both have.

Between Laurel and Juliette there is friendship and respect. They make decisions together, and, as surprising as it seems, both assure us that they do not feel jealous. Jealousy, they say, is a product of fear.

Polyamory puts no limits on the number of partners nor in their sexual orientation. In fact, the other couple we introduce here are two bisexuals: Kimberly and Sergio. In their case, it is she that has various loves, although in the case of one of them he might like Sergio too, and they are open to sharing.

Polyamory is not partner-swapping, nor is it casual sex, which doesn't interest them. It has to do with finding compatibilities with various people and maintaining them, allowing for feelings and not putting up barriers. All with the full knowledge and approval of all the members of the relationship.

The only conditions of polyamory are defined by the group: honesty, sincerity, love, passion, and solidarity. It is another way of loving.

Read the article in Spanish and watch the video.

And if your Spanish is good, add to the article comments.

What wonderful people they all look and sound like. Words are one thing, but for impressing skeptics, there's nothing like seeing for believing.

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February 7, 2008

"Poly Pad": Toronto hip-hop journalist profiled


Toronto's hip city magazine Eye Weekly (owned by the mainstream Toronto Star) profiles Addi “Mindbender” Stewart, a local journalist-historian of rap and hip-hop.

“[Will] you really put ‘polyamorous lover’? I would love that,” cracks an unsure Stewart about the label making it into EYE WEEKLY.... Further prodding on the matter has Stewart elaborate on what makes a three-year-long open relationship work: “Freedom goes both ways. It’s a lot of honesty and we have certain rules in the house. Besides that, tell the truth and open your heart. Respect each other is basically the bottom line.”

Read the whole article.


February 5, 2008

"How the polyamorous celebrate Valentine's Day"

San Francisco Bay Guardian

In San Francisco's major alternative newspaper, a columnist takes a few quizzical snarks at poly holiday predicaments. Aside from the heartfelt quote by Dossie Easton, not so much here about sharing the love.

G-Spot: U R Mine... and So Are U

How the polyamorous celebrate Valentine's Day

By Erikka Innes

Whether you're single or attached, Valentine's Day can be rough: either you're planning that perfect date, which can't possibly meet your special someone's expectations, or you're lamenting the fact that you don't have a special someone to disappoint. Either way, it's nothing compared to what the polyamorous have to deal with.

...Valentine's Day is not a simple affair for many members of the nonmonog community. The holiday, like the year-round polyamorous lifestyle, requires patience, tact, and one hell of a good scheduling system.

In fact, nature photographer and polyamorist Joe Decker says many of his peers call PalmPilots "PolyPilots." "You certainly hear a lot of jokes about it," Decker says.

In addition to the difficulties inherent in scheduling, Decker says, the way he chooses to celebrate Valentine's Day can sometimes result in unintended tension between him and people who are unfamiliar with the polyamorous community. For example, one year he ordered flowers for two girlfriends and his wife — all at the same time. "There was nervous laughter on the other end of the phone. The teleflorist dealt with it pretty gracefully," Decker says.

But not all polys feel that holidays need to be complicated. According to [Dossie] Easton, who has practiced polyamory since 1969, celebrating Valentine's Day is not that hard. "What you should do for Valentine's Day is have a big party with a very large box of chocolates. Everybody can wear red — I love it — and practice openheartedness," she says. She points out that in a polyamorous relationship structure, there isn't necessarily a need to choose whom to revel with. "There's no reason why a dozen people can't get together and celebrate Valentine's Day," she says. "There's no reason why you choose. Are we going to tell the kindergartners they can only give one Valentine's Day card because they can only have one friend?"

...While talking with these people, I was struck by a couple of things. First of all, holidays for the polyamorous must get pretty expensive, if, for instance, Decker's buying three bouquets for V Day is anything like a widespread practice.... And second, as someone who can barely manage her sock drawer, I don't think I could handle the level of organization needed to maintain several relationships. And without the organization, says another anonymous polyamorist, B, jealousy problems (the biggest obstacles in poly relationships) are more likely to arise. I'm not sure I want to add day planner to the list of things I think of — candles, flowers, scented oils — when I imagine romance.

Read the whole article (Feb. 5, 2008).

How does your poly group celebrate Valentine's Day? In response to this article, Anita Wagner (who runs the Practical Polyamory blog) asks people to share their ideas, experiences, and traditions here on the Chesapeake Polyamory Network yahoo group.


February 3, 2008

"An Open and Shut Marriage"

New York Times

A writer in the Fashion & Style section of the Sunday New York Times tells how she got scared off from opening her marriage. From her story, it seems like the two of them were unaware of anything more than the rudiments of how to proceed wisely. In particular, it never seems to have occurred to them to get information from the community of people who, over the years, have worked out a lot about how to do this successfully. Instead they tried to reinvent, all by themselves, this (often difficult) wheel:


Published: February 3, 2008

Despite my general attitude of acceptance when it comes to people questioning their most troubling emotions, I’ve learned to tread carefully on the conjoined subjects of fidelity and monogamy. My experience tells me that it’s a minefield and that no one except Dr. Phil-inspired talk-show exhibitionists and the admittedly polyamorous are ready to talk openly about it.

...Several years into our marriage, when a good friend of mine told me that she had a crush on my husband, I knew that all of our theorizing about what makes a successful life partnership was about to face its first real-life application.

I didn’t feel particularly threatened by this friend. I trusted her, and I never imagined her to be a woman for whom my husband would leave me. In fact, I never thought he would leave, period.... And if I were to give the two of them permission to “explore their feelings,” it would also give me a chance to dawdle in the feelings I’d developed for a colleague at work. We’d all take baby steps — nothing dramatic — and see how it went.

But we immediately faced logistical concerns. If my husband was out with her, what should I be doing? Did I need to plan my time with my colleague to coincide with the time he spent with her? Did my husband and I need to tell each other whenever we planned to spend time with the other person?

A few solid rules would have been helpful, but without knowing how either relationship might progress, we didn’t know how to set them....

We knew lying was not an option. We had agreed that lying is what made it “cheating,” leading to hurt and distrust and causing the real damage to the relationship. But how much truth could we realistically handle? I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to know....

...Meanwhile, my good friend and my husband [a photographer] were continuing to have good times taking pictures and going back to her apartment to develop them and continue their mild flirtation. Then one night, when it had gotten too late for my comfort zone, he called to say our Volvo wagon wouldn’t start. I knew the car to be unreliable, but I couldn’t deny a nagging doubt: Could he be lying about the car just to spend the night with her?

That, for me, was the breaking point. It didn’t matter if he was telling the truth. I doubted him anyway, so the result was the same.

...Several arguments and 10 therapy sessions later, we thanked each other for allowing that kind of creative romantic safari into our lives but vowed never to do it again.

Read the whole article.

(Warning, rant zone.) Apparently these people were too sophisticated to think it might be a good idea to look for information when trying something new. Or to tap the resources of the community who've been there, made it work (often not on the first try), and have accumulated lots of practical wisdom and navigational aids. (For instance.)

Certainly polyamory is not for everyone, not for most. And this couple did have the sense to back off before a trainwreck. But hell, if they'd decided to take up sailing, wouldn't it have occurred to them first to learn a bit about sailing from people who know how — rather than get into a sailboat by themselves, get blown around helplessly for a few hundred yards, and then write an article for the New York Times that sailing is nuts?

To push the metaphor: were they even wearing life jackets? If, in their lack of knowledge, they'd tipped the sailboat over, did they know how to swim or how to right the boat? Their only idea of safety was to thrash back to shore and swear off sailboats. And they thought this was sophisticated wisdom to display.

If it sounds like I'm speaking from a high horse here, maybe it's because I'm hastily typing these words before breakfast at the Poly Living conference, sponsored by Loving More. Over 100 people here have been spending the weekend in powerful and informative workshops about many aspects of poly life and how to make it work. If you're not here with us taking sailing lessons, okay. But for pity's sake, this is the internet era, read up on sailing before trying it?

(Update: The article was also reprinted in the Charlotte (NC) Observer for February 15th. You can comment or send a letter.)


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