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

July 8, 2009

Gay poly roundup

I spent a fun day helping staff the “Polyamory!” booth at Boston's Pride Festival last month. We seemed to fit right in — weirdness is as weirdness does, Forrest Gump might say... except maybe for the harried, suburban MF couple behind the table who were constantly chasing after their excited young kids like any couple at the Nebraska State Fair. They stood out a bit in the present surroundings, where "normal" meant sights like the elderly men marching down the midway in full leather horse gear with bits in their mouths, being directed by a horse driver tugging their reins.

We talked with loads of people and gave out flyers for Poly Boston, Family Tree, the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, Loving More's East Coast Conference/Retreat, the Network for New Culture Summer Camp, Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness, and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. We displayed books and infinity-heart pins. I directed a sweet Quaker lady to the PolyQuakers yahoo group. The booth next to us was recruiting for a welcoming mixed-race Presbyterian church; the kids had a grand time helping the church people mass-produce pinwheels to give out; we talked church management (my wife used to be president of our UU church), and the Presbyterians seemed to come away with a very good impression of us.

So where does polyamory stand in the gay world?

Open, consensual nonmonogamy is certainly much more discussed, understood, and practiced among gays than straights. But my impression is that gay culture is so well developed at this point — while poly culture is still in its infancy — that gaydom easily fills up a person's entire queerness identity. That is, if a gay person is nonmonogamous, it's usually just viewed as an aspect of being gay. At least among men. The lesbians who stopped by our table seemed more intrigued with polyamory as a radical life in and of itself.

Or so it seemed to me. Full disclosure: I'm straight. Opinions?


Anyway, it's past time for a roundup of gay poly media items.

1. In the online version of Chicago's Windy City Times, the gay therapist who writes the "Couples Connecting" column says, "I've probably spent over 100,000 hours over the last 19 years listening and speaking with lesbians and gay men about love and relationships." Last fall he described the nonmonogamy debate:

Can gay men be monogamous?

By Bruce Koff, LCSW
Oct. 10, 2008

Of the many questions gay men face in forming romantic relationships, two are most prominent: “Can gay men be monogamous?” and “Should they be?” If you want to stir it up at a gathering of friends, go ahead and touch this “third rail” of gay male discourse and watch the sparks fly....

The open relationship argument goes something like this. Gay men, being men, are by nature inclined toward sex with multiple partners. It's not only natural, but is a vital component of urban gay male culture and offers a sexually charged counterpoint to heterosexual norms. Open relationships, it's argued, challenge traditional beliefs that equate relationship with ownership; that is, the exclusive control of one person's body by another. When men give each other permission to have sex with others, they are expressing an unselfish love that strengthens the relationship and enhances their sexual chemistry.

The monogamy side, in contrast, views a closed relationship as a more stable one in which the bonds of love are expressed and reinforced through fidelity, restraint and moderation. Some would add that monogamous relationships are more secure, that men in monogamous relationships are happier, and that monogamy fosters psychological health and inhibits the spread of HIV. Proponents of monogamy often view non-monogamy as a visceral reaction to our history of having been criminalized and stigmatized. Sex with multiple partners is a deeply ingrained response to oppression in which the gay man declares: “No one, not even a partner or spouse, can tell me what I can and can't do sexually.” While that response is understandable, the monogamist might argue that it is irrelevant to the modern gay male relationship....

Read the whole article.

Later Koff did a followup:

Non-Monogamy: Does It Work?

By Bruce Koff, LCSW
Feb. 25, 2009

...Most of the gay men I've known who've had any success with open relationships emphasize the deep level of honesty required. I have also observed several other factors that, taken together, create a set of guidelines that can work. I list them here....

— The decision to open the relationship should be a function of the strength of the relationship, not of its weakness....

— The decision to open the relationship must be mutual. Partners should have equal power in the relationship.... If you're doing this because you think you have to, don't.

— Any agreement to open the relationship should contain within it elements that recognize that the relationship comes first; that's why it's called a primary relationship. I've encountered a range of such elements....

— Any agreement should be time-limited and subject to periodic, routine discussion and review....

— Partners should agree to do nothing that could expose each other to danger or harm, such as sexually transmitted diseases, drug use or interpersonal violence....

— Most important, both partners should have already established a high level of trust in each other. The relationship should have a proven capacity to foster honesty and to deal with conflict, jealousy, competitiveness, hurt, or other types of vulnerability....

Read the whole article.


2. In The Gay and Lesbian Times this week, psychotherapist Michael Kimmel offers GLBT folks advice on how to choose whether to open or close a relationship:

A guide to infinite sexual possibilities

...Although [The Ethical Slut's] “infinite sexual possibilities” sounds great, how do you pull it off with grace and sanity?

...Let’s say you and your partner want to remain emotionally faithful but want to sexually open up your relationship. This is likely to bring major changes to all its aspects. So it’s important that you both sit down and figure out what you each mean by “emotionally faithful” and how sexually opening up your relationship is likely to change it. Ask yourselves:

• What is your intention for your relationship? Why are you still together? Is it to have fun, share great sex, deepen an emotional connection, see if you can be life partners?

• What would be the purpose of either an open relationship or of monogamy? What are the pros and cons of each?...

• What does “emotional monogamy” mean to you and your partner? If this is important to you, how can you remain emotionally committed to each other while having sex with other people?

I’ve seen many longterm emotionally monogamous relationships that are sexually “open” or periodically go through “open” periods to refresh sex that has become predictable. Depending on the value that the partners place on sex, this may or may not be a problem. Some people like consistency (e.g., I know what you like and you know what turns me on), while others thrive on change and creativity....

And... nothing is irreversible. You can always change your minds!

Read the whole article (July 2, 2009).


3. "Noah's Arc," the all-black gay drama/comedy on Canada's OutTV, is reviewed at length (with nonmonogamy mentioned) as this week's cover story in the Vancouver edition of Canada's Xtra:

“You interrupted my four-guy for this?” a more than exasperated Ricky protests as his best buds Noah, Alex and Chance summon him to a conference call....

...What “The Cosby Show” did for heightening the visibility of straight black middle-class America in the 1980s, “Noah’s Arc” does for black gay maledom.

It’s a celebratory vehicle that makes the lives and sexuality of black gay men visible to mainstream North America in general, and to African-Americans and the broader queer community in particular.

...Shortcomings aside, Noah’s Arc manages to treat several issues almost never addressed through the vehicle of black skin in the media: colourism, body image, phobia of effeminate men (cleverly dubbed effemina-phobia in the show), gaybashing, HIV/AIDS, monogamy, non-monogamy and being on the down low.

Read the whole article (July 2, 2009).


4. Dan Savage speaks. Here's a video of the gay advice columnist (of "Savage Love" fame) answering a question about poly at a recent lecture event:

I've been to poly weddings, a couple. I've never been to a poly third anniversary party? I know that's an asshole thing to say (laughs). But it's true.... I haven't seen it done successfully often.

Savage, who is proud of his own 15-year pairing, argues that even a couple-relationship has so many moving parts that it often spins out of control, so the odds are stacked against relationships that are even more complicated. Comments Mus Q. Rat, "I think he needs to get out more." Watch and leave a comment. Interestingly, Savage mentions that all his poly friends are straight.


5. Kathryn Martini (RecoveringStraightGirl.com) describes her ethical nonmonogamy for JustOut, a gay paper in Portland, Oregon, and wonders "if forbidden fruit isn’t forbidden, it may not taste as sweet."

Faithful Only Unto You?

I don’t value monogamy; I value honesty. I recently told this to my hair stylist during a coloring session. She looked at me in the mirror with a perplexed expression and didn’t know quite what to say. Her reaction was not unusual. When the subject of monogamy comes up and I answer this way, the typical response is, “You’re more evolved than I am,” followed by, “I could never do that.”

And then I ask, “Why?”

Monogamous relationships are not necessarily biologically natural, yet we as a society place an incredible amount of value on them.... Unfortunately, most people are too afraid to have an honest conversation about it with their partner.

...My wife and I have a 3,000-mile clause. If we’re more than 3,000 miles away from each other, we are free to explore anything we like, no questions asked....

More than anything, it has taken the taboo out of cheating. I know that if I wanted to be with someone else, my partner would most likely allow me to do so as long as I was up front and honest with her. This makes the idea of it almost not as interesting. People are more likely to want something they know is forbidden than something that is not — this is proven repeatedly in many different situations....

Read the whole article (April 3, 2009).


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Blogger Unknown said...

My own experience has been that sexually open relationships are more common than polyamorous relationships in gay culture. Sex being percieved as less threatening to what is essentially a monogamous relationship of two people than having other relationships.

Most of the articles cited here appear to be dealing with that: relationships whose members would describe as themselves as monogamous with agreements around sex with others outside the relationship.

Is there much happening in the various gay cultures around multiple relationships?

July 08, 2009 10:35 PM  
Blogger liminalD said...

My experience has been that gay men are, on the whole, complete hypocrites around nonmonogamy. Now hear me out... I'm not saying that gay men in relationships are all cheating on each other, although there certainly is a lot of that. What I am saying is that the gay media on the one hand promotes 'traditional' monogamous marital fidelity, albeit between two people of the same sex, and on the other glamorizes promiscuity; gay men are supposed to want both and yet are offered no responsible medium, the choices are either happily married or rampant slut, and if you're going to work out something in between you damn well better keep it to yourself. Furthermore, nonmonogamy is only acceptable if you're 'hot,' if you're not you're basically condemned, however responsible you're being. I've just about lost patience with and walked away from the gay community for what I see as its enduring hypocrisy.

July 09, 2009 8:47 AM  
Blogger spinkpup said...

Mike, I agree. The collection of articles are focused on open relationships. When it comes to relationships I say, "let it all be complex!"

There are men out there that want a differing relationship model from mom and pop. A relationship between men that is unique and better than the "open" non-monogamy into which we've evolved and advanced.

It's just been difficult getting the right words and jargon in to use that pulls away from the open relationship memes out there. And it's apparently not easy to organizing and deploy a national and international movement. duh

How about the gay/bi/straight queer men have Poly-fidelity polyandrous relationships and the world can keep it's -gamy's!?

I wanted to drop this link to a social networking Polyandry site I'm helping to develop in an effort to get more like-minded men together so that we can form our packs, develop collective wisdom, and create a world tribe of men who are seeking the same kind of love. I hope to get the support of the polyamory community whom I am deeply fond of, please check us out and offer your wisdom.

July 30, 2009 1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poly does not mean open and thats the problem. I am a "poly"gay male and in my relationship we are loyal to the "group". Meaning we are all committed to one another.

June 24, 2011 9:34 AM  

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