Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

May 28, 2009

Poly at a kink/LGBT clinicians' conference

Windy City Times

In Chicago, a gay newspaper reports on the poly presence at a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Institutes conference:

Kink tank: Center hosts sexuality confab

May 27, 2009

A recent conference at the [LGBT community] Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, looked at provocative issues like leather, kink and polyamory. But rather than provide merely scintillating glimpses into our sexual lives, the event sought to present clinical therapists and the public with a range of analytic and practical tools with which to approach what are often termed “alternative” sexual practices.

The 2009 Alternative Sexualities Conference was a one-day national conference organized by the Center's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Institute (SOGI) and the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) based in San Francisco. In his welcoming speech, Conference Director Braden Barkey addressed a packed room at the Hoover-Leppen Theater and spoke about the need for such events, noting that while there were many broadly focused community events about alternative sexual practices, “there's nothing that addresses clinical issues.”

...Richard Sprott of CARAS, who gave the plenary speech, “Polyamory: The Question of Consensual Non-Monogamy,” said that clinicians had to unpack [their own] cultural assumptions and negative perceptions of the practice....

For therapists working with polyamorous clients, Sprott said, it was necessary to clearly understand that concepts like jealousy and intimacy are constantly discussed and negotiated within polyamorous relationships. He added that many people are puzzled by the idea that someone might form intimate and romantic-sexual relationships with more than one person....

Sprott went on to detail the different ways in which people negotiate their polyamorous relationships, and also discussed the thornier issues of childcare (polyamory can become a lightning rod in some child custody cases) and the “impact of prejudice, stigma, and heteronormativity” that can affect the well-being of people in polyamorous relationships. He also said it was important for therapists to make sure that no one in such cases was being coerced, however subtly, into arrangements they might not really want....

Read the whole article.

Sprott and other CARAS speakers have been giving presentations at other alt-sex and polyamory gatherings. At last winter's Poly Living Conference, Rob Bienvenu spoke about "Research on Poly and other Alternative Sexualities: Why it is important and how CARAS is working to promote more and better scholarly research." He asked for poly-community input to help sociologists and other researchers design their projects realistically and productively. And at Poly Living West in San Francisco this weekend, Richard Sprott is doing much the same. From his program description:

Many people who create polyamorous families and circles are often confronted with institutional difficulties and run into interpersonal difficulties due to ignorance, stigma and prejudice. Some of these difficulties arise because there is a lack of scientific facts available to the larger community and the public. To replace ignorance or misunderstanding, research is needed to discover and document the realities of polyamory. Community-based research is a model of doing science where professionals/academics/clinicians partner with community members to design appropriate research, to ensure community benefit, and to increase the quantity and quality of the body of knowledge. CARAS (Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities) is a model of community-based research. The presentation will introduce CARAS as an organization and discuss the strengths of doing community-based research.


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May 23, 2009

"Triads: Mr. and Mrs. and Mrs... or Whatever"

Many Christian media

Charles Colson, of Watergate fame, was the spectacularly thuggish chief counsel for President Richard Nixon1 and graduated from my high school, which was noted for producing preppie prigs. Colson says he became a better man when he found Christ (while awaiting arrest), and after his time in prison he took up the cause of prison reform. Today Colson runs the Prison Fellowship and other evangelical projects, including a daily commentary that claims to be distributed to 2,000 radio stations. Finding religion, however, did not seem to improve his respect for the rest of us and our rights and freedoms.

Yesterday Colson was on about polyamory, bemoaning the slippery slope from gay marriage to triad marriage — echoing Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor several days before:

Earlier this month, Maine became the fifth state — and the fourth in New England — to legalize same-sex “marriage.” Five thousand miles away in Hawaii, Sasha and Janet Lessin are hoping to build on New England’s example.

If they are successful, no one can seriously claim to be surprised.

Writer Abby Ellin described how the Lessins gathered with friends and held what was dubbed a “commitment ceremony.” The “commitment” being celebrated wasn’t a renewal of their marriage vows — it was the incorporation of a third party, “Shivaya,” into their so-called “triad.”

That’s the word the Lessins and other advocates of “polyamory” call a relationship between three people. Unlike bigamy and polygamy, in which one man has multiple wives, in a “triad,” each party is a “spouse” to each of the other parties. In the Lessins’ case, “Shivaya” is both Sasha’s and Janet’s “husband” and vice-versa. Or whatever.

...As courts never fail to tell us, one man’s discomfort is another man’s irrational prejudice. Besides, in a culture like ours, attitudes can change quickly. If I had told you in 1984 that, by 2009, same-sex “marriage” would be legal, would you have believed me?

That’s why advocates of polyamory emphasize their “commitment” to the other members of the “triads.” The more comfortable people become with these kinds of arrangements, the closer people like the Lessins come to their stated goal: that is, in their words, being able to “walk down the street hand in hand in hand in hand” and also enjoying “all those survivor and visitation rights and tax breaks and everything like that . . .”

Of course, many advocates of same-sex “marriage” insist that this can’t happen. But if feelings and commitment define a marriage, what’s to stop “triads” from being the “next frontier of nuptials?”

Read the whole commentary (May 22, 2009).

For all the hysteria that people like this try to raise, they certainly help us one way. They spread the knowledge to millions of people whom we're never going to reach that it is actually possible for three or more people to form deep lovers' commitments successfully and sustainably, to the point that they "walk down the street hand in hand in hand in hand." In denouncing it, they normalize it. The big chunk of America that lives inside the evangelical echo chamber may imagine by now that the whole secular world is full of these groups, walking around happy as birds.

They will remember this if, someday, Cupid happens to shoot multiple arrows their own way.


1 My wife Sparkler comments, "With enemies like this, who needs friends?" Among other things while in the White House, Colson co-ordered the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to get therapy notes with which to smear or blackmail him; sought to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators and break up demonstrations (Nixon's basij force); and proposed firebombing the Brookings Institution and stealing documents while firefighters were in the building. He drew up Nixon's famous enemies list, which was dangerous to be on. A fine spokesman for moral causes. Sources:
John Dean's book Blind Ambition (1976), pp. 35-39
Fred Emery's book Watergate (1995). pp. 47-48; it references Nixon's
memoirs regarding firebombing.


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May 22, 2009

"Polyamory in practice"

Briarpatch Magazine

An old and venerable alternative magazine in Canada ("fighting the war on error") conducts a long discussion with poly authors Tristan Taormino and Jenny Block:

Polyamory in practice

By Mandy Van Deven
March/April 2009

Conversations about polyamory — the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time — are slowly finding their way into public consciousness. Two [recent] books, Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage and Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, reflect an increasingly popular postmodern view of love and relationships led by post-second-wave feminist and queer communities.

In Open, Jenny Block uses personal narrative to shed light on the complex normality of open relationships. Her book nicely complements Tristan Taormino’s “how-to”-style Opening Up, which provides practical advice on making open relationships work....

Briarpatch: Open relationships seem to be making their way into mainstream media of late. Why do you think that is?

Jenny Block: People are becoming more open-minded about all sorts of things. They are also becoming more and more fed up with relationships that never seem to work for them. I believe that, ultimately, all most people really want is to be happy. People have that right, and they are coming to recognize that right....

Tristan Taormino: As long as people have had relationships, some of those relationships have been consensually open. Many things that were once considered taboo — queer sexuality, anal sex, BDSM — gradually gain more visibility and acceptance in the mainstream. Open relationships are part of the shifting dialogue about love and sex in our society.

How do you each define “open relationships”?

Definitions of polyamory usually characterize polyamorous relationships as both sexual and loving, because polyamory involves not just sex, but emotional relationships. But based on my research, “sexual and loving” doesn’t capture the nuances and complexities of polyamorous relationships. Those terms also don’t communicate how polyamory can not only reject mainstream models, but expand ideas about what constitutes a relationship.

I define polyamory as the desire and practice of having multiple significant, intimate relationships simultaneously; the relationships may encompass many elements, including love, friendship, closeness, emotional intimacy, recurring contact, commitment, affection, flirting, romance, desire, erotic contact, sex, and a spiritual connection.

I use “open relationships” as an umbrella term to encompass many different styles of non-monogamous relationships. There has been a lot written about swinging and polyamory, but people who are practicing non-monogamy who don’t identify with those terms... identities and communities have been left out of the discussion. I wanted my book to cover a diverse array of styles of open relationships.

Block: My husband and I are open to change. We are open to new ways of seeing ourselves, of viewing sex, of defining marriage, and of being. We are open to outside partners. But more than anything, we are open to thinking about new ideas and looking at the world in a new way instead of simply saying, “That’s the way it is, so I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be” when it comes to love and sex and marriage and relationships....

What fears do people have about open relationships?

People fear they will be jealous, that their partner will find a “better” partner, that they will be replaced, that their relationship will end. These are pretty deep, intense fears that are intertwined with our feelings of self-worth and security. It takes a lifetime of work for people to work on their self-esteem, but it’s a crucial part of maintaining healthy relationships, whether they’re open or not.

Block: People are always comparing the worst of open relationships to the best of closed ones. I challenge those comparisons by living openly and honestly....

You both suggest that open relationships may be an antidote to the decline of marriage and the prevalence of adultery. Why is that?

The decline of marriage and the prevalence of adultery are two strong indications that traditional monogamous marriage does not work for a majority of people. Cheating is a way that some people identify that they are unhappy or unsatisfied in their relationship, but it’s by no means the most common way people come to choose an open relationship. Some people begin as open, others discover it after many years of monogamy, and some are faced with a significant change that compels them to open their relationship. Open relationships aren’t the only antidote; crafting unique relationships, letting go of the happily-ever-after fairy tale and working hard at your partnerships are really the antidote.

Block: ...Heterosexual, monogamous marriage simply doesn’t work for everyone, but society all but demands that we live in one - or, at the very least, in the illusion of one....

There are currently very few, if any, scripts or models for open relationships. Do you see your book as the beginning of script creation?

I hope so. Society still does not accept or support non-traditional relationships. Many people feel that there is too much at stake - friends, community, parents, custody, employment - for them to come out about being non-monogamous.

Block: Open is an invitation for others to share their stories and experiences. So many people write me and come to see me at readings and say, “Thank you for being visible. Now I feel like I can be visible, too.”...

Read the whole interview.


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May 21, 2009

Poly en Français

The French have always had a reputation for maturity about open relationships. Think of Benjamin Franklin politicking (ahem) among the powerful ladies of Paris as he sought aid for the American Revolution, or former prime minister François Mitterand's calmly acknowledged mistress (his wife invited her to his funeral), or Carla Bruni, wife of current prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy, with her expressed disdain for monogamy.

This is the country that gave us the term ménage à trois (household of three). Before the word "polyamory" was available, I lived in a very poly household run by a wonderful lady in an open marriage; she simply called her way of life "French" (which she actually was, on her mother's side).

So why haven't we seen more poly activism in today's France?

In Paris, Guilain Omont is working to make it happen. He's a co-founder of Polyamour.info and co-hosts meetings and discussions. He writes that a long article about le polyamour appeared last November in Rue89, a large and progressive online newspaper, interviewing "two women who talk about what is polyamory and how they live it." Translated:

Q: Polyamory, what is it?

Anne: It's first of all, about love! To love is not to limit the other, it's to open up new perspectives, to help them grow outside the "we." And at the same time, it's thanks to the "we" and the resources it offers. It's about encouraging each other to discover.

However, not everyone is willing to sacrifice their security to make the other happy and be the same themselves.... But this state of mind is not unreachable by a patient partner.

Françoise Simpère: All the mono solutions — mono-culture, nuclear... — are failures, because life needs to be enriched in diversity. Plural love is being able to love multiply in a way that's emotional, sexual and intellectual, without a priori excluding any of these components, nor with them becoming an obligation....

Q: Are polyamorists faithful?

Françoise Simpère: Yes, I am faithful in the etymological sense, from the Latin fides, fidei: confidence. We have confidence in one another, and we are present and attentive to one another. I'm faithful but not exclusive to the men in my life, some of whom have been with me for over 25 years!

Anne: For me, being faithful to someone, it's first of all respecting him enough to be completely myself with him. It's being faithful to myself and thus not cheating on that which I am....

Q: Can we still speak of a couple when you're in polyamory?

Françoise Simpère: A couple, in my opinion, is based on a life plan and shared values: we can have desire and feelings for many people, but there aren't fifty with whom you want to live long-term.

Furthermore, it would be difficult for me to live with someone who is philosophically or politically opposed to me. Another thing a couple is founded on is children, creating an unbreakable bond.

Anne: I'm in several couples (but also some beautiful adventures that are not). Each couple has its own merits, creates its own bubble, but it does not imprison the people; they can evolve in it. There's really a building of a relationship, an intimacy that remains unique to each couple. There is the complicity, the shared cultural references, the admiration, the unconditional support ... A little like all couples, non?

...Françoise Simpère: Broadly speaking, the polyamoureux are less obsessed with sex than the monogamous are, because they are not in frustration. They know they can have it if they want it, so sex ceases to be a crucial and scary game and can again become delicious play.

Read the whole article (en Français) (Nov. 18, 2008).

Omont writes to us, "Simpère is a writer (of some erotic novels and other kind of novels), and she wrote the book Aimer plusieurs hommes (To Love Several Men) which had quite an important audience. She's also the main character in a 52-minute documentary made in Quebec in 2007 by Martine Asselin called 'La grande amoureuse', The Great Lover" (watch the trailer).

Anne in the interview tells more about herself in a sidebar to the main article:

Anne, a 25-year-old anthropology student, has been in a couple with Thomas for seven years including five of living together, three years with Alban, and a year and a half with Louis. She talks about her entry into polyamory:

«Since I was young, I could never accept being the property of just one person, or that once a romantic relationship with someone has begun, it means that I should change my openness to other people.

When I met Thomas, he had a girlfriend, and I was also involved. We spent a year and a half seeing each other in secret.

The day we moved in together, it was implied that we were free to have other relationships. I'd had a few "stories of skin" ("histoires de peau"), which I experienced rather badly. I almost decided not to have any more of these adventures because I felt uncomfortable revealing them to Thomas.

When I met Alban, Thomas helped me to confess to him about it, and exonerate me. This laid the foundation of our explicitly polyamorous relationship. He expressed his joy at seeing me happy, and told me he was not afraid for us.

That's the moment when I discovered the "theory" of polyamory. In living it. Because it was clear that my love for Alban did not vitiate in any way my deep love for Thomas, and even reinforced it.

Today, I have no doubt that the concept of exclusive love is nothing but a relic of old social, state and religious institutions and that it was never in the original nature of man to swear loyalty a single, sole person 'until death do them part.'

The social determinants to which we are inescapably subject, as well as propaganda promoting a sharply defined lifestyle, are difficult to get past. And in truth, faced with a failure of the traditional couple, one is offered nothing more subversive than hookup sites, sex toys, or speed dating....

Polyamory, voilà, see how it upsets all the established conventions!»

Read the whole sidebar (en Français).

Guilain Omont continues: "Thanks to the Rue89 article, there was talk about polyamory on the main news radio in France the next day;" watch a video interview with the outspoken Françoise Simpère. "Since then, we have had several journalists interested in writing or filming.

"Also, every month since November, I and the two other co-founders of polyamour.info run a meeting in my flat in Paris. There was also a meeting in Strasbourg last month. Every time about 20 people met; we talked about polyamory, how we live it, how it is perceived by other people, why we are polyamorous, etc. We can now say that there is a real group for polyamorous people in France, and it is very exciting to see the start of polyamory media attention here in the French-speaking countries :-)

"P.S.: I think you already know about the first International Polyamory Summercamp in Germany; some French-speaking people — including me — will be there." The event is being held July 13-19, 2009, on lakeside premises near Berlin.


Some resources in France:

Polyamour.info: "une communauté de personnes intéressées à divers degrés par le sujet du polyamour et souhaitant développer ensemble les sujets qui s'y rapportent."

Polyamour.fr: "Que vous soyez polyamoureux ou simple curieux, vous trouverez sur ce site toutes les informations nécessaires pour comprendre ce qu'est le polyamour, dans toute sa diversité, ainsi que des témoignages pour vous permettre de partager vos expériences.... Un échantillon des meilleurs sites est présent sur la page de liens."

Polyamour.be: "site belge de qualité proposant émissions de radio, témoignages et nombreux articles."

Blog de Françoise Simpère, "Jouer au monde".

Blog de Noémie sur le polyamour.

Aimer plusieurs hommes by Françoise Simpère (Poche, 2004, 175 pages, out of print).
Guide des amours plurielles: Pour une écologie amoureuse by Françoise Simpère (Poche, May 2009, 213 pages) (Review).

In Québec:

Polyamour Québec: "Groupe de discussion francophone en Ámerique du nord sur le polyamour" (mais y'a aussi des français et des belges qui s'y promènent).


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May 15, 2009

Dan Savage on Dumb Therapists

Savage Love

Many of us came to polyamory because we believe it's a radically good way to be. But when Tristan Taormino collected interviews for her book Opening Up, she found quite a few couples who had settled on open arrangements out of a form of necessity: to preserve a sexually incompatible marriage. One spouse might have a much higher sex drive than the other, or strong needs for something the other can't provide, or sometimes a medical disability gets in the way.

Some clueless marriage counselors think that if the more sexual partner in such a situation can't remain celibate in the relevant ways for life, the couple has to divorce. But what if the marriage is otherwise companionate and good? Many couples have found that allowing sexual relationships with other people can be a workable solution.

Of course it's risky — especially if the couple doesn't communicate freely or doesn't really know what they're doing. That's where a book like Taormino's can be a lifesaver. A good therapist ought to be even better.

Dan Savage blasts marriage counselors who don't recognize this real-world reality in his syndicated advice column, "Savage Love," for May 14, 2009:

Q: Over the past few years, my husband and I have realized that he has needs that I cannot meet. I do not begrudge him these needs, and I would fill them if I could. I want him to be happy and satisfied, not just for him, but for myself as well. We discussed opening our relationship, but our therapist recoiled at the idea.... We can't imagine breaking up, but if we're both unhappy, then I can only assume that we will split eventually. We have been together for over a decade and love each other deeply.... I don't know that I fully trust our therapist, and I would like to hear an informed second opinion.

—Life Decisions

A: Here's an informed second opinion: Fuck your asshole therapist. And here's a better-informed bonus third opinion:

"It's incredibly unfortunate that some therapists either aren't educated about open relationships or buy into common myths about them," says Tristan Taormino, activist, author, pornographer, and author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. Way too many therapists, she says, "pathologize people who want to open their relationships and try to convince them that they have intimacy or commitment issues. The truth is you can be both intimate with and fully committed to more than one partner, or be committed to one partner and have sex with others."

..."The scenario you present is not uncommon," she continues. "If both of you really are committed to giving it a go, I'd advise you to find a new therapist, one who has experience with — and not a prejudice against — non-monogamous clients. The right therapist can help you figure out your limits, set boundaries, and make an agreement about this new type of relationship that works for both of you."

You can also check out the stories, advice, and references at Tristan's website www.openingup.net. Good luck, LD.

Read the whole column.

I know — the conventional poly wisdom is to roll your eyes at the suggestion of "Marriage in trouble? Add more people!". For good reason. But (1) that marriage sounded like it wasn't otherwise in trouble, and (2) there are always a few people who break any poly rule you can imagine and still make it work.


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May 13, 2009

Fox News raises group-marriage hysteria; Jenny Block holds her own

Fox News

Fox News hosts have been on a tear about triad marriages in the last few days: not just Bill O'Reilly and Gretchen Carlson (see previous post) but Glenn Beck and Steve Doocy. The thrust of this mini-jihad is that allowing gay marriage will lead to allowing polygamy and then marrying goats (and/or turtles, ducks, and dogs). The whole Fox circus in the last few days is chronicled here on Media Matters.

In the midst of this, Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, went on yesterday against Carlson and a director of Focus on the Family. Jenny held her own, though I wonder about the wisdom of letting herself be used this way. From the May 12th edition of Fox News's "Fox & Friends":

GRETCHEN CARLSON: Now for a very interesting debate: While gay activists continue to fight for same-sex marriage rights, a new group demanding legal recognition. They call themselves polyamorists, and they want the right to marry into a triad, otherwise known as a threesome.

Is this crossing the line, and how far will we take this? Jenny Block is happily married to her husband -- and her girlfriend doesn't mind at all. She's the author of Open: Love and Sex and Life in an Open Marriage. Also with us, Glenn Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family. Good morning to both of you.

...CARLSON: All right, Jenny, so a lot of people are trying to wrap their head around this concept, that the triad concept, I guess in your mind and explanation, this is the new marriage, or is it not?

BLOCK: Well, I think it's one way to do marriage. I mean, I think this conversation is really about honesty and about choice. Marriage as we know it now doesn't have the best success rate, as you know. And so this is just another way of doing this. There are all different kinds of families, and I think that's a good thing.

CARLSON: All right, so help me understand how this works. You are married to your husband. You have a girlfriend on the side. And you want to all be legally recognized together as a triad?

BLOCK: Well, to be honest, in my situation -- I can really only speak to mine -- I'm very happy with being married to my husband and having a girlfriend as well. But a lot of people want the legal protection of having all three people married. And, in my mind, marriage is a civil institution, and so if people want that choice, I feel like they should be allowed that.

CARLSON: Glenn, I know you disagree with this.


CARLSON: Speak from the side of traditional values with regard to marriage and where you think this may be heading as far as a slippery slope.

STANTON: Well, it is a slippery slope. And the idea is, if you think about the argument that these people made for the radical kinds of marriage that they want, they are exactly the same kind of arguments -- justice, equality, things like that -- that the same-sex marriage people have made.

And we have said for a long time that same-sex marriage would open a Pandora's box that would lead us to who knows where. It's not just about triads; it's about four, five, six people. I mean, go on the websites and look at some of these organizations, and you see pictures of five people, six people. So it's not -- I mean, where does this stop?

And it's an amazing thing. And the point is that monogamy is a very, very important social value. We have to understand that cultures that fail to recognize and support the idea of monogamy end up to be cultures where women are things merely to be collected and used and thrown away at the end, not seen --

BLOCK: Gretchen -- Gretchen, I'm sorry. I have to --

STANTON: -- as full citizens. And that's why monogamy --


STANTON: -- that's why monogamy is an important idea, and these people don't like it.

CARLSON: Right, Glenn, and I wish that I had another three hours to discuss this, because it needs it. But Jenny, I'll give you the final word on it.

BLOCK: Well, again, I just don't see any slippery slope. The fact that I could love more than one person does not mean that my neighbor is going to want to marry his dog. I mean, in the end this is about love and choice, and this isn't going anywhere but equality for everyone. And, as far as I'm concerned, equality is a wonderful thing.

CARLSON: All right. No doubt, as I said earlier, people have a variety of opinions on this issue, and it's something that we will continue to revisit.

You can watch the clip here.

Once again: legal marriage of more than two would be extraordinarily complicated and would require many new laws and precedents — unlike same-sex marriage, which maps right onto existing marriage law (at least, it has ever since courts started regarding men and women as marriage equals). Complex new legal regimes, when a changing world requires them, generally take decades to evolve, and the discussions I've heard in the poly community quickly run into the impracticalities. As I've said before:

How would the law mandate, for instance, property rights and responsibilities in partial poly divorces? What about the rights and responsibilities of marriages that merge into pre-existing marriages? Setting default laws for multiple inheritance in the absence of a will, allocating Social Security benefits, it goes on.

And because there are many different basic kinds of poly relationships, compared to only one basic kind of couple marriage, each would need its own legal regime — and we know how good the state is at regulating complicated personal matters.

Moreover, unlike couple marriages, poly relationships can change from one kind to another kind while continuing to exist. An equilateral triad can become a vee or vice versa, or something in between. The flexibility to adapt — to "let your relationships be what they are" — is a core value in the poly groups I know. How would the state keep up with your particular situation?

I've also heard it argued that opportunities would abound for unscrupulous people to game the system in ways that the law couldn't easily address: for people to pretend that their poly relationship is a different kind than it really is, or that they're in poly relationships when they're not.

In poly meetings I've been in, the discussion quickly comes around instead to business-partnership models for poly households, such as subchapter-S corporations or family LLCs or LLPs. These are already well developed to handle a wide variety of contractual agreements between several people.

Looking farther ahead: Good law follows reality rather than precedes it. Fifty or 100 years from now when poly households are commonplace and their issues are well understood, I'm sure an appropriate set of law will have grown up organically to handle the issues that arise. At least that's how it works when civil society is allowed to go about its business, free of religious or ideological compulsion.


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May 12, 2009

Why A Duck? Poly and Bestiality on The O'Reilly Factor

Fox News

As Cunning Minx says on her Polyamory Weekly podcast, it always comes down to marrying goats. On Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor," Bill O'Reilly adds turtles and ducks to goats. He got wind of Janet and Sasha Lessin's "World Polyamory Association" (from the Daily Beast article four days earlier that I posted about), and yesterday he brought up triads and other abominations:

O'REILLY: All right, Hoover. I did not know this, but I had said from the jump if you OK gay marriage, then you have to do plural marriage, which is now -- has a name, triads. Three people getting married. There is a group in Maui, Hawaii, called the Lessin's adversary group -- advocacy group, and it's World Polygamy [sic: Polyamory] Association. They're associated with that. And they want to be married....

Too bad O'Reilly's well-meaning foil doesn't draw the line between people and animals either:

O'REILLY: If I walk in to the Massachusetts state house and say, "Hey, Governor Deval Patrick, you've got to marry me and Lenny." All right? Because --

HOOVER: I would love to see that, by the way.

O'REILLY: Not only Lenny, but Squiggy too. All right? Or I walk in with the O'Brien twins from South Boston and say, "Hey, you've got to marry me, because you're allowing gays to get married, and I'm in the Lessin's group, the World Polygamy Association."

HOOVER: You've got to change the law, then. Because the law says it's between two people.

O'REILLY: OK, but --

HOOVER: Not multiple people. By the way, the last time polygamy was on the rise? 1896, when Utah became the 45th state in the union. Not a massive movement going mainstream.


...HOOVER: I don't buy into the slippery slope argument at all.

O'REILLY: You'd let everybody do whatever they want?

HOOVER: That's the slippery slope argument. That's if you allow one thing to happen, then another thing, and another thing.

O'REILLY: Hoover, you would let everybody get married who want to get married. You want to marry a turtle, you can.

HOOVER: Due process. I want to abide by the law. If the law says I can marry a turtle, I'll marry a turtle. Last time I checked, we're a Judeo-Christian culture that doesn't allow me to marry turtles.

O'REILLY: You've got to take a stand. You've got to take a stand, now. You would be for, then, putting the umbrella over all groups.

HOOVER: I am for what the law says. I do not support polygamy.

O'REILLY: That's a copout. Total copout.

HOOVER: No, I don't support polygamy. I support two people, couples, marriages.

O'REILLY: OK, but then you have to explain why two and not three.

CARLSON: And then you don't call it marriage anymore. It's not marriage anymore.

O'REILLY: Explain why two and not three? And you can't.

HOOVER: I think that the crux of our foundation of our culture depends on --

O'REILLY: On two.

HOOVER: -- two people, yes.

Watch the video on Fox (May 11, 2009), or read the whole transcript on Media Matters for America ("fighting conservative misinformation"). The O'Reilly Factor is part of why the upcoming generation voted overwhelmingly against Republicans.

Incidentally, remember that the term "slippery slope" frames everything as all downhill. Accept the term and you've already lost the debate. Reframe it as a "sticky ramp" upward. As Theresa Brennan (of Polycamp Northwest fame) once put it, awkwardly,

Giving blacks the vote, women the vote, contraception — it's all a slippery slope to a place of better social justice and acceptance.

Bonus! Here's a quick promo about triad marriages on Fox and Friends.

Question: Is there such a thing as bad publicity? Before you say "of course," consider that most people have no idea that serious group relationships are possible. Getting it into the culture that people actually do this, even if they're icky, will make the idea thinkable... for those who need to discover that they're not alone.

Update, next day: On MSNBC's "Hardball," David Shuster ridicules O'Reilly's marry-a-turtle argument as "ridiculous," "illogical," "stupid."

Update: Duck-sex mania! CNN covers the Sex With Ducks video parody by Garfunkle and Oates.



May 8, 2009

"Threesome Marriages"

The Daily Beast

A few days ago, writer Abby Ellin went asking around for triads to interview. It didn't take her long. See the piece below. Despite a few false notes it gets the picture overall.

Ellin regularly writes the "Vows" column for the New York Times. The Daily Beast (the news site published by Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker) is moderately prestigious in its own right, and maybe Ellin will find a way to mention the poly option somewhere in the Times' marriage coverage.

First came traditional marriage. Then, gay marriage. Now, there's a movement combining both — simultaneously. Abby Ellin visits the next frontier of nuptials: the "triad."

Less than 18 months ago, Sasha Lessin and Janet Kira Lessin gathered before their friends near their home in Maui, and proclaimed their love for one another. Nothing unusual about that — Sasha, 68, and Janet, 55 — were legally married in 2000. Rather, this public commitment ceremony was designed to also bind them to Shivaya, their new 60-something "husband." Says Sasha: “I want to walk down the street hand in hand in hand in hand and live together openly and proclaim our relationship. But also to have all those survivor and visitation rights and tax breaks and everything like that.”

...Unlike open marriages and the swinger days of the 1960s and 1970s, these unions are not about sex with multiple outside partners. Nor are they relationships where one person is involved with two others, who are not involved with each other, a la actress Tilda Swinton. That's closer to bigamy. Instead, triads — "triangular triads," to use precise polyamorous jargon — demand that all three parties have full relationships, including sexual, with each other. In the Lessins case, that can be varying pairs but, as Sasha, a psychologist, puts it, "Janet loves it when she gets a double decker." In a triad, there would be no doubt in Elizabeth Edwards’ mind whether her husband fathered a baby out of wedlock; she likely would have participated in it....

There are no statistics or studies out there, but according to Robyn Trask, the executive director of Loving More, a nonprofit organization in Loveland (yes, really), Colorado, dedicated to poly-education and support, about 25 percent of the estimated 50,000 self-identified polyamorists in the U.S. live together in semi-wedded bliss. A disproportionate number of them are baby boomers. (Paging Timothy Leary: Janet Lessin claims on her Web site that she's able to travel astrally.)...

...Valerie White, executive director of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, a legal-defense fund for people with alternative sexual expression in Sharon, Massachusetts, says she believes that triads are actually a great way to raise a family. "Years ago, children didn’t get raised in dyads, they got raised with grandparents and aunts and uncles — it was much looser and more village-like," says White. "I think a lot more people are finding that polyamory is a way to recapture that kind of support.”

...Doug Carr, Robert Hill, and Paul Wilson have been a happy threesome for 29 years. The three men, who live outside Austin, Texas, share a bed, a checking account, and joint real-estate properties in each of their names — “a left-handed form of cementing the relationship in a legal context,” says Hill, 69, a retired financier (because of their arrangement, they, too, requested I use pseudonyms).... They held a commitment ceremony in 1984 for 20 friends, and then a reception for 200 in their house, where we “introduced ourselves to the world as a triad,” says Carr....

Read the whole article (May 7, 2009). I've always had a problem with the Lessins calling themselves the "World" Polyamory Association (and pushing ridiculous woo woo), and Ellin could have done a little more reading up in other regards, but these are nitpicks.


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May 2, 2009

Interview with Dossie Easton, Ethical Slut coauthor

The Daily Beast

The long-awaited second edition of The Ethical Slut, the classic poly handbook first published in 1997, finally came out in March. The new edition is 30% bigger (by word count) and rather more polished. And it includes the benefits of 12 more years of the authors' experience living with and counseling the poly and kinky communities. Get it — especially because you've probably loaned out your first edition once too often and lost it.

An interview with co-author Dossie Easton has appeared in The Daily Beast and was picked up by AlterNet:

The Ethical Slut Returns

by Marty Beckerman

Into threesomes? Foursomes? Moresomes? The co-author of a cult classic about open relationships talks sex communes, romantic one-night stands, and offering chicken soup to lovers.

...By “slut,” you don’t mean someone who detaches sex from emotion, or who selfishly takes advantage of others; instead you urge readers to seek love — genuine emotional connections — in “abundance,” rejecting the notion that our affection is a pizza with only so many slices.

This idea started way back in the communal era in 1969 when I was in Haight-Ashbury. I said, “If I want to change my world in terms of how relationships are, and be non-monogamous forever in my own personal life, it should be about warmth and affection.” One of the very first things I learned was how to be affectionate toward many lovers, which is very hard to do coming from New York where things are very cool and detached.

There was no precedent but it worked; I could love them, be there for them, care for them — if someone was sick I’d bring them chicken soup — and be loyal in a new way that fit for a lot of people, including other women and single mothers. We were the love generation, and we were very new to sexual freedom. There was a lot of idealism. Very quickly I had a community of people excited about raising our children. We created the proverbial village long before It Takes a Village.

Young people in the 21st century seem much more utilitarian about hooking up, whereas emotions are reserved for relationships, so it’s bizarre to think of one night stands as romantic.

My primary partner is of your generation, actually. People who prefer polyamory are very into the notion that these relationships can be connected and full. I have a whole bunch of lovers whom I have dates with once per year. We’re dear, dear friends. . . I have a primary partner — my life partner — whom I live with, and a secondary lover, and some playmates locally. Essentially what you are creating is a very complicated, interconnected family. It’s a community, and if someone has an illness or a breakup, everyone is there to offer support. I can’t go around in the Bay Area though because I’ve ceded it to my clients; I’ve ruled out sharing sex with my therapy clients....

Liberal states famously have fewer divorces and out-of-wedlock births than conservative states. Why is that?

...The more you attempt to stifle sexuality the more likely it is to be done without thought.

...An orgy is a great way to get over stage fright?

It is! It is! And bad body image.

Read the whole article (April 24, 2009). Here it is on Alternet. Comments are piling up in both places.

Update: The kinky YouTubers Mayhem and Trouble do a pleasant little 10-minute interview with co-authors Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.


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May 1, 2009

"Rules of Engagement for Polyamory Relationships"

Creative Loafing

On Florida's west coast, a very sex-positive college student devotes her latest online column for an alternative weekly newspaper to poly rules that she and her boyfriend live by.

Some people think it’s impossible to cheat in a polyamory relationship, but it doesn’t work that way. The following are four rules that my boyfriend, The Puppy, and I have:

1) No starting a new relationship without telling your partner.

...You may be thinking that you’re fine with a V (Sally and Susan are dating Timmy, but not each other) or a triad (Susan, Sally, and Timmy date each other) relationship. Your partner may want a closed triad... or maybe you were expecting to have a hierarchical relationship where your starting partner would be your primary.... Things like this should be talked over before either party brings home someone new.

2) No dating someone your partner doesn’t approve of.

...There was once this guy that I was interested in for curiosity’s sake. Mr. Chaotic (my former long-distance boyfriend) didn’t care if I went for it because he had been dealing with the fact that other men were tapping what he couldn’t for a while. But, the Puppy had a problem with it. At first he would only say that he found the idea of me sleeping with the new guy stomach turning.... On top of that, he didn’t think that the other guy could handle being third fiddle....

On the reverse end of that, one of my conditions with The Puppy is that anyone he dates has to understand that I’m part of the deal. They don’t have to date me. Hell, they don’t even have to like me, but they do have to be civil....

3) No bare backing or fluid bonding with someone without talking it over with your partner(s).

STI/STDs are a major concern for any relationship that involves sex. A cold sore, a yeasty, sex that involves going from one orifice to another without cleaning in between — all could lead to horrible results.... Then there’s pregnancy....

4) None of the usual stuff that would count as cheating in a monogamous relationship.

...Non-monogamy rises and falls on the back of communication, honesty, and trust. Without those, the network crumbles. For the Puppy and I, this can be tricky because our boundaries go a bit further than others....

For example: Last summer, I attended a friend’s party without The Puppy. At one point during the night, an acquaintance that has seen me topless before asked if another friend (also female) and I would take off our tops and let him take a picture of us hugging. There were about five other people in the room. One of them was the host (who has also seen me topless). I text messaged the Puppy.

Puppy to Camile: If you know them and are comfortable with it, then go ahead. Did you really have to ask?

Read the whole article (April 30, 2009). Here are all her columns for Creative Loafing.

Here's more about Camile. She has written to us:

I first began to think that it was okay to be more open about being poly both because of sites like this [Polyamory in the News] and the LiveJournal Polyamory group. I became even more comfortable when I saw authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and Emma Holly present (mostly positive) examples of non-monogamous relationships in their work. Most of the open relationships I had seen before then were always either two siblings deciding to share a third person, or a couple having a brief fling before deciding that monogamy was the way to be.

I'm hoping that with my own contributions to Creative Loafing's Sex&Love site and my fiction writing (I will get over this writer's block), I can do my little part as well.


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