French TV covers America's polys
At last month's Loving More retreat in upstate New York, a TV crew from France was all over the place filming all weekend. They were from an international news-feature program called L'Effet Papillon, "The Butterfly Effect," on the premium cable channel Canal Plus. The show, supposedly, seeks out little-noticed stories worldwide that could come to mean big things.
Loving More director Robyn Trask had decided to let them in after checking the show's bona fides, setting rules, and getting the crew to sign guarantees about respecting attendees' privacy and comfort levels. The crew took hours of film, and the producers condensed it to a few minutes of a 15-minute report on the polyamory movement in America.
The show aired September 26th. It's fast-paced, engaging, pretty flip, but positive. I'll even give them a pass on the one crack about anciens hippies, restés perchés dans les seventies.
To watch the show, go here and click the item on the right labeled "Partie 2" (and wait through the ad).
Here's a partial English translation, mostly by my friend Valerie White, who was a workshop presenter at Loving More and figures prominently in the show.
Welcome to the Polys....
It's the latest obsession of the right in the United States: after gay marriage, already legal in five U.S. states, will come plural marriage!
In the crosshairs of conservative editorialists: the polyamorists: folks who live several love stories at the same time.
In the suburbs of Seattle on the west coast of the United States, welcome to the home of Terisa Greenan, who receives us with Scott and Matt, two of her lovers... but that's not all because this polyamorous community includes other members.
Terisa Greenan: “Over the last year the group has expanded: I go out with Matt, who is married and whose wife Vera also goes out with my other lover, Larry, who's not here today. Matt and Vera live a little farther down the neighborhood, with their son.”
“Sometimes it feels like we live here too, but that’s not the case”
“In all this there are two houses, five adults and one child.”
A little hard to follow? No surprise: the polyamorous live several relationships at the same time, but in full transparency. Ménages à trois or four or five, but without lying or cheating.
“Sixty to seventy percent of men cheat on their wives, and fifty to sixty percent of women cheat on their husbands, but people think it's more acceptable to lie and cheat on the person you say you love than to be honest with her. I'm sure that if I told my monogamous female friends that I'm married but have a secret lover, they'd say, 'You go girl, you've got it!' But when I tell people, 'I have a husband and a lover, and another sweetheart, and everybody knows and everybody agrees,' they think I'm crazy. Is that weird or what?”
Polys folks are almost like everyone else. To get that message out, Teresa has even created a video series on the web. It’s called “Family”. A sitcom which is based on her polyamorous life, packaged on the internet. And which has revealed the phenomenon to the great American public.
These days the polyamorists have won the recognition of the U.S. national press. Newsweek devoted several pages to the phenomenon; the weekly even spoke of “a new sexual revolution”, [saying] there are at least 500,000 people taking part in this lifestyle in the U.S. At the end of September, the MTV network aired a one-hour documentary: a portrait of the young generation of polys.
Here we are in the countryside on the other side of the U.S., in upstate New York. Here the annual conference is being held of the magazine “Loving More”, the bible of the polyamory movement.
This is the core of the community, those who want to organize themselves into a movement. Many aging hippies, still perched in the seventies: lightly clothed, a weekend to share everything... dance, karma, cuddles, and even kisses, for peace and free love. For example:
“A three-way kiss? Okay! Are you ready? Here we go.”
...During the Loving More conference, one learns also about the difficulties of this lifestyle. Valerie White is a lawyer her mission, to alert polys to discrimination they may face in a country still very marked by puritanism.
“If your boss wants to fire you because he doesn’t appreciate your lifestyle, then he can. In the U.S. there are many laws to protect religious minorities, people of color, homosexuals, but polys are not protected. So, if you lose your job after your boss discovers you’re poly, you can’t sue.”
Problems involving custody of children, questions about inheritance and property, delicate relations with families of origin... it’s not always easy being poly.
Loving More has taken on the goal of improving the image of polys with the general public. And apparently they're succeeding: watch a recent British commercial for a famous brand of diapers:
The scenario: A woman presents her new lover to her husband just the way a mother would announce the arrival of a new baby brother [to a jealous older sibling].
Are there more and more polys? No doubt. More and more accepted? Not by everybody. On a conservative American talk show, the presenters gloat: Gay marriage, legalized in five US states, has opened the door to everything, including polyamory.
“I can go to Massachusetts and say to the governor, “Hey, I wanna marry Lenny, and not just Lenny, the squeegee guy too! At this rate, you could marry a turtle.”
“What, one man with one woman is the only possibility? No, there’s also a man with a man, a woman with a woman, so why not a man with a woman and then another and still another! It seems crazy, but it's really not!”
In the America of Obama, the conservative right has to reinvent itself in the field of values. And here the polys fall right in. Robert George [of Princeton University] is a member of the Institute for American Values, which battles for traditional marriage: one man, one woman.
“The erosion of the culture of marriage in the US has dramatic consequences for children. Of course one can imagine that this doesn’t relate to polyamory, because there, a child doesn’t have just two parents but four or why not seven. But is it an illusion.”
At the end of the polyamory conference, Valerie White, the lawyer, has invited us to her home in the Boston suburbs, to meet her poly family.... Their ménage à trois has seven-year-old twins. The children belong equally to all the members of the trio, but is not always simple to explain to the outside world:
“When I'm with Valerie, often people think she's my grandmother.”
“Sometimes I just let it go, because it is too complicated to explain each time, and sometimes I say that I may look like her grandmother but I am in fact one of her parents.”
“At school I tell them that Valerie is one of my mothers but that she didn’t have me.”
It’s obvious there’s no problem with Valerie as co-parent inside the household. With regard to the law, the situation is less clear: Valerie has obtained status as a guardian.
With a half million polyamorists in the US, tens of thousands of children find themselves today in homes with more than two parents. Without going as far as plural marriage, which very few polys are demanding right now, America is going to have to make a place for polyfamilies.