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

July 15, 2008

Ménage Your Time; "Why is this stuff so hot right now?"

Style (Richmond, VA)

"Greater Richmond's alternative newsweekly," located in Jenny Block's old hometown, reviews her new open-relationship book and also Tristan Taormino's:

Ménage Your Time

By Valley Haggard

At one time a band of gold was the fashion choice for monogamists everywhere, but for a growing number of people, that ring has gone out of style: For them, polyamory is the new monogamy.

Increasingly, it seems, people in committed relationships are choosing to let the neighbors in on their richer, their poorer, their sickness and their health. The new CBS series “Swingtown” and HBO’s “Big Love” present alternate bedroom realities. And now two smart, unsmarmy books about polyamory are on the shelves, all of which begs the question: Why is this stuff so hot right now?

The writer never tries to answer that.

...“I think we’ve gotten sex and love really tangled up,” Block says. “We’ve gotten really possessive; marriage has become all about sexual ownership, but there’s not necessarily emotional support. That’s not to say I have a problem with monogamy. If it’s a conscious choice, hey, more power to you.”

...“Open” is a memoir, but at times it reads like a critical analysis of evolving lifestyle choices. (It even has footnotes.) “I started out writing more pure memoir, but my editor thought it would be too indulgent and racy,” Block says. So she approached her writing in a more intellectual way, supporting her thesis with the details of her life....


“We haven’t seen a good book about non-monogamy since ‘The Ethical Slut’ in 1997,” says Tristan Taormino, a Village Voice columnist and author of the newly released “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.”

“The more I look around, the more I see two things,” she says. “People seem to be struggling with traditional monogamy — in the news every day, there’s a sports figure or politician struggling with monogamy. Some of the most successful relationships I know in my community are not monogamous. People seem to be willing to go off the beaten path to create relationships that work for them.”

Taormino, 37, has been in an open relationship with her partner, Colten (a transgender person, born a woman, who has not undergone any type of surgery but who prefers male pronouns), for eight years. “Like any relationship, it’s been very dynamic,” Taormino says. “It started as polyamorous, and now it’s partnered non-monogomy [meaning a central committed couple who have casual sex with other people]. Marriage is a point of negotiation. The landscape is constantly shifting in terms of what’s legal and what’s not.”

...Is there any demographic more likely than another to be open? Can you look for an “O” crocheted to the lapels of nontraditionally partnered Americans?

“Oh God, no, not at all,” Taormino says. “In terms of age, race, gender, class and geography, it’s all over the board. I interviewed an enlisted member of the Army, a pastor in a mainline Christian church, phone sex operators, elementary school teachers, lawyers, doctors. And a whole bunch were from Virginia.”

But if non-monogamy is happening successfully in so many ZIP codes, why do so many people find the arrangement threatening?

“I think it’s because we have collectively been told this fairy tale about our one true love, our Prince Charming, our soulmate — and it’s been reinforced in the media and every part of society. And whenever you challenge such a prominent institution, it’s terrifying,” she says. “But on the flip side, it’s courageous to say, ‘You know what? This isn’t working for me.’”

Read the whole article (July 16, 2008). You can send a letter-to-the-editor to letters@styleweekly.com.

Here are my own reviews of the books.


> Why is this stuff so hot right now?

Okay... deep breath... here's my take:

1. It's been building slowly for 20+ years — ever since Ryam Nearing, Deborah Anapol, and others created the modern poly movement from the ashes of the 1960s and 70s — and now the momentum is finally reaching a tipping point.

2. The invention of the word "polyamory" in 1990-1992 gave it a name. I remember when there was no name — when it was called all sorts of unsatisfactory, un-memorable mouthfuls: ethical nonmonogamy, multilateral marriage, utopian swinging, polymorphous perversity (per Sigmund Freud), polyfidelity, "the Harrad Experiment lifestyle," synergamy, waterbrotherhood.... Only when a movement gets a clear name can it take hold.

3. The internet is letting people find each other and form communities as never before.

4. In the last three years, Loving More has done a lot of media outreach — and when one newspaper or TV show does something others copy it (see "herd journalism"). This matters, because media coverage has become more effective for movement-building in the era of Google. All it takes is one mention of the concept and the word, and an interested person can discover the whole poly scene.

5. A lot of today's polys are well-educated writers and communicators. A survey by Loving More of about 1,000 of its members a few years ago found that 40% had post-graduate degrees, compared to 8% of the general population (see the survey data, page 424). Such people are good at spreading new ideas and memes. Quotable quote here: "There were only a few thousand people in all Europe who brought about the Renaissance." —Paul Tillich.

Other thoughts?

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Anonymous Regina Lynn said...

I think you're spot-on with all of your reasons. To add a bit to the herd journalism thing ... media, especially old media like newspapers and TV, is desperate for "sex" content it can include without violating its pretense at being "family-appropriate."

Polyamory is perfect fodder because it's wild! crazy! kinky! fringe! but it's not explicit. The coverage can focus on time management, jealousy management, the stories of how people discovered they were poly, raising children, and all the other relationship factors without having to mention sex directly (although it's always implied).

That in turn leads to more coverage, because it's new! trendy! everyone else is doing it!, and that coverage reaches people who might otherwise not have stumbled across the word 'polyamory' or met anyone who practices it.

July 18, 2008 12:52 PM  

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