Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

January 29, 2010

"Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret "

New York Times

Do open marriages fare better or worse, on average, than closed marriages?

Anecdotes abound on both sides. Scientific data that would answer the question are scarce.

Now, reports the New York Times, a three-year research project is about to announce that among gay couples — where open relationships are more common than in the straight world — open couples do at least as well as closed ones, if not better.

Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret

By SCOTT JAMES | January 28-29, 2010

When Rio and Ray married in 2008, the Bay Area women omitted two words from their wedding vows: fidelity and monogamy.

“I take it as a gift that someone will be that open and honest and sharing with me,” said Rio, using the word “open” to describe their marriage.

Love brought the middle-age couple together — they wed during California’s brief legal window for same-sex marriage. But they knew from the beginning that their bond would be forged on their own terms, including what they call “play” with other women.

As the trial phase of the constitutional battle to overturn the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage concludes in federal court, gay nuptials are portrayed by opponents as an effort to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony. Quietly, outside of the news media and courtroom spotlight, many gay couples are doing just that, according to groundbreaking new research.

A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

...The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.

That consent is key. “With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,” said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, “but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.”

The study also found open gay couples just as happy in their relationships as pairs in sexually exclusive unions, Dr. Hoff said. A different study, published in 1985, concluded that open gay relationships actually lasted longer.

None of this is news in the gay community, but few will speak publicly about it....

...A couple since 2002, they opened their relationship a year ago after concluding that they were not fully meeting each other’s needs. But they have rules: complete disclosure, honesty about all encounters, advance approval of partners, and no sex with strangers — they must both know the other men first. “We check in with each other on this an awful lot,”...

That transparency can make relationships stronger, said Joe Quirk, author of the best-selling relationship book It’s Not You, It’s Biology. “The combination of freedom and mutual understanding can foster a unique level of trust,”...

Read the whole article. Thanks to Sarah Taub for the tip.


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January 28, 2010

Normalization of polyamory continues apace

Houston Belief (Houston Chronicle)

The Houston Chronicle newspaper has a religious section, at least on its website, called "Houston Belief" (slogan: "Believe Out Loud"). In it is an advice column called "On Ethics" by Randy Cohen, picked up from the New York Times news service. (The home base for Cohen's column is the New York Times Sunday Magazine.) So, this is from today's "Houston Belief":

On Ethics: Open the marriage, close the door

By Randy Cohen

Q: My husband and I practice polyamory, aka ethical nonmonogamy. We are open about this to friends but are unsure what to disclose to others. Our housekeeper might have seen me in bed with my boyfriend. Must I explain? When I travel for business, I sometimes take my boyfriend. Must I fill in a co-worker I see only occasionally? I don't want to hide my affection for my boyfriend or make anyone uncomfortable.

— NAME WITHHELD, San Francisco

A: You have no duty to decode your connubial arrangements for mere acquaintances. Nor need you make them feel comfortable or reassure them that their views on marriage and monogamy are universally held.

But if you choose to relieve their consternation, you might be guided by the advice of a polyamorous friend who, speaking of similar situations, told me via e-mail: “I figure the best policy is to behave as if nothing inappropriate is happening. My feeling is that the best way to make other people comfortable is to act as comfortable as possible.” It seems that you are also mindful of your own tranquillity, a reasonable thing but not a matter of ethics, which is something more concerned with the effect of our actions on others.

There are two other people who are strongly affected here: your husband and your boyfriend. Their reputations could be sullied by folks who misconstrue your situation. You should discuss with those two how much they'd like you to disclose.

As to your housekeeper, my friend says, “That's tricky when you think someone may have seen you in bed, because even a monogamous couple might feel a little awkward about that.” Indeed. That's why God created doors. That close. And lock. It is also possible to obtain something called a “calendar” on which you can record the dates when your housekeeper is expected, dates when you can deploy that “door.”

Read the original (Jan 28, 2010). And here it is in the New York Times (Jan. 27, 2010).

Are we getting normalized or what?



January 19, 2010

More advice columns that get it

Memphis Flyer

Here's another forward-looking item of the kind I think we'll be seeing a lot of in coming years. It's an advice column in today's issue of the weekly alternative newspaper of Memphis, Tennessee.

Bianca Knows Best … And Helps a Polyamorous Woman

Dear Bianca,

My husband and I started dating "Jenny" nine years ago, and she's been a central part of our lives since then. Two years ago, she moved in with us, although to all but a few of our closest friends, she's a roommate. She doesn't have any family of her own nearby, so she's been coming to our family holidays as a "friend" since we met. Everyone loves her, and we have been thinking about coming out to them.

I don't have the foggiest idea how they'll react. Most of them are religious, but not the arch-conservative type. I'd like to be able to be able to be truthful with my family, but I'm also the type who tends to avoid drama and blow-ups like the plague.

Any advice on how I could ease into this before the next family get-together? Or should we leave a good thing just the way it is?

— Nervous Polyamorous Girl

Dear Nervous,

First, I’d like to congratulate you for making a polyamorous relationship last as long as you have. I’ve had friends who experimented with multiple partners, but I only know of one couple (or should I say triple?) that’s managed to make it work for longer than a few months.

As for your quandary, I’d say if Jenny has been coming to your family gatherings for nine years, she’s probably considered a part of the family by now. And that means your family members will likely be more accepting of her position in your life than if she was a new addition. Not to mention that Jenny’s long-term place in your life must mean you three are pretty serious.

I’d advise coming out slowly, and certainly to do so before the next big family gathering. A Christmas dinner or family reunion is no place for that kind of drama. You could start by telling a few of your more open-minded family members (whom you think can keep a secret). Ask them to help you gauge how other family members might react. For the more conservative members of the family, you may want to break the news in the company of those who are in on your secret. It’s always good to have supporters in these situations.

Polyamory is even less understood than gay relationships, so prepare for a little backlash. In fact, some people may even write you off. But if they love you (and your husband and Jenny), they’ll come around in time.

If after testing the waters with open-minded members of the family, you decide that some family members just won’t get it, it’s okay to keep a secret. Just come out to as many people as you feel you safely can.

Read the original (Jan. 19, 2010). Thanks to David H. for the tip.


While we're at it, here's another advice columnist's take on how to come out as poly to your parents, from Feministing.com. It includes lots of specifics that to my mind are dead-on perfect.

Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Tell My Parents About My Poly Relationship?

Dear Professor Foxy,

I'm currently in a relationship with a man I love dearly, and I have been for nearly 3 years. It's going well, he's marvelous, we get on great. There's just one thing - this is a polyamorous relationship. He also has another girlfriend, who he's been with for a long time. That in itself isn't a problem. I knew about her before I entered into the relationship and I've never had a problem with polyamory, it suits me fine, we take suitable precautions in our sex lives and we're always open and honest with each other about everything. The problem is in explaining this to my parents. My mother noticed that my boyfriend was listed as in a relationship with the other lady on a social networking site, and has the notion that she must be his ex and he just hasn't changed his status....

I want to convey that this relationship is every bit as committed as a monogamous one and just as loving. How do you go about explaining this kind of thing with no knowledge of the response you'll get? What if the response is negative? Please help.


Hi Wavering —

...My first step would be to talk to your boyfriend and let him know that you are going to have this conversation. This will likely change the way your mother interacts with him and he needs to be prepared for that....

Next I would make a list of all of the questions your parents are going to ask and focus on the ones that will annoy you most. I don't know your parents, so I am just going to put out some possibilities:

Honey, do you think you can't get a man who really loves you?

He is getting his cake and eating it too.

Darling, you know you aren't actually OK with that.

In my day, we just called it cheating.

Then you need to think of calm, rational answers. And keep repeating them. Whenever we come out about something, be it our gender identity, our sexual orientation, or our relationship status, we have had time to process and work through it. Others will need that same sort of time. Keep in mind that if your parents have friends on the same site, they may need to end up explaining this to their friends as well.

Answer their questions with patience. I also caution that words like polyamory may not work for the first conversation. Keep it simple. "Mom, I know you keep asking me about the woman who says she is in a relationship with Jack. They are in a relationship. I've always known about it. Jack and I are serious and committed and we see other people. We are open and honest with each other and this works really well for both of us."

If she denigrates the relationship, I would point out ways that he has been great in the past. When he has been at family functions, when he has helped your family, how happy you are together.

And then, and this may be the most difficult part, let it go. It will take time for your mother to understand and accept this (just ask the majority of queer folks who eventually have accepting parents). Keep answering their questions, but also set boundaries. If either of them are rude to your boyfriend or questions his love for you, you can call a stop to that. Your relationship and partner deserves respect.

This is the last and most important part — prove them wrong by actions. Show them that for all of their preconceived notions of what a "real" relationship is, you and your man are happy and love each other. It takes time, but this will be the greatest convincer of all.

Read the original (Sept. 5, 2009).


And another, this time on coming out to a new date — by Kamela Dolinova on her always interesting Boston Open Relationships Examiner site:

Open Questions: When do you tell your date that you're poly?

...You meet someone new — at work, through OKCupid, at a party — and he or she is not "in the scene." You really like them, so you ask them out for coffee.... You are polyamorous, and plan to remain so. How soon should you tell them, and more importantly, how should you tell them?

It can be awkward to bring up something like your relationship structure or orientation when you're on a first date; it's a similar issue to talking about sex straightaway. You're just getting to know someone, and this kind of conversation is not only personal, it also can imply deeper expectations than are appropriate for a first date. Imagine if on a first date someone said to you, "I'm really looking to be married within a year," or "Hope you like hot candlewax, 'cause that's what I'm into!"

However, it is very important to reveal the truth of the way you conduct relationships well before you get into a new relationship with someone. And it's important to do it early enough so that the person doesn't feel you've been deceptive. The trick is to do it in a way that will not scare the person away — whether due to of a lack of understanding or a sense of premature seriousness.

First, you need to accept that some people will run away when they hear that you're poly, regardless.... Making sure that they can do so in an informed way, rather than because you're creeping them out, is key.

One of the simplest ways to reveal your polyness is mentioning a partner. Often, when I'm in the midst of flirting with someone, I'll mention my husband or boyfriend. If I mention both in the course of a conversation, that usually gets raised eyebrows if the person I'm talking to isn't familiar with poly. This is a perfect opportunity to say something like, "Oh, my husband and I have an open relationship. We both date other people and are totally honest about it." Getting this information out of the way before you even ask someone out is probably the best way to go about things; this way the person knows up front that you're not being dishonest with your partner simply by showing interest in someone else.

...If you are married, I recommend revealing this fact very early.... A direct approach will probably work best. Something like, "Hey, you're really neat, and I like you a lot, so I wanted to be up front and let you know that I'm polyamorous — which in my case means I'm married but I date other people, too. I know that might sound strange, but I wanted to let you know before we go any further. If that's not a dealbreaker for you, I'm happy to answer any questions you might have." Try not to make it too high-pressure — if they're shocked and don't have any questions right away, they probably just need time to process what you've said. If they run screaming, well, probably they weren't someone you should be dating, anyway.

If you're poly and single, or only currently have casual attachments, you can be a bit more casual about your status — particularly if you're flexible about it and might consider dating only one person at a time. It's still a good idea, though, to reveal it early on. You might use an anecdote as an opener: a story about that triad you know, or a mention of the movie you saw the other night with your friend and her two boyfriends. If you can raise the topic in an unobtrusive matter that will pique interest, you can then talk about poly in a casual way and mention that that's how you've been running your own relationships, when you have them, for a while. In this circumstance you might even save this for a second date, when you're sure that you like each other and there is potential for more. Don't wait longer, though, as this will seem deceitful...,

In short: get it out in the open as fast as you can, and as Dan Savage would say, don't present it as if you're talking about having leukemia. Present it too heavily and you'll freak people out. Wait too long and you'll look like a liar. Be casual and truthful, and you should find out pretty rapidly whether the person is a viable dating partner for you.

Read the original (Oct. 14, 2009).



January 15, 2010

Poly Trio on "The Daily Show"

Jon Stewart was voted most trusted newscaster in America in an unscientific online poll — except he's not a newscaster, he's a comedian. If you were watching "The Daily Show" Thursday night, you saw him host a snarky report on the anti-gay-marriage characters in Texas who want to keep gays from divorcing — and the scene cuts to a traditional MF married couple by contrast, but they turn out to be poly, and end up in bed as a threesome. Watch it here (SFW). (In Canada watch here.) The poly bit begins at 3:10.

Reporter Jason Jones: What is the secret to marriage?

Joy Reagan, wife in traditional-looking couple: The secret to marriage is communication. Being able to tell your partner anything and everything and having total trust.

Jones: And what does your girlfriend think about all this?

Camera pans to include third hand-holder on the couch, who says: I'm completely comfortable with the whole thing. George and Joy have a great marriage, and I'm really happy to just be occasionally a part of that.

The lights go down and by the end we see them in bed, groping and three-way kissing.

A discussion broke out on the LiveJournal Polyamory community. "I think there was some humorous poly-exploitation going on," wrote ambiguousex. "I'm just curious if other people found it funny or offensive or both or neither." Replied tantricaquarian, "Perhaps they need to laugh at us before they can accept us." And nonmonogamous wrote, "It pokes fun, but I don't think it's debasing or overtly negative. I'm happy thinking that just that little snippet might have planted the idea of the possibility of consensual nonmonogamy in the head of even just one person who never thought of it before."

Are we getting noticed or what?

See comments by Anita Wagner; by Robyn Trask.

Update! The married poly couple on the show, Joy and George Reagan, tell about their experiences being filmed. See comment #4 below.



January 12, 2010

Young poly news roundup

The last several months have seen new poly-awareness organizing in the college and TNG ("The Next Generation") age groups.

There's the new Modern Poly networking site, whose six energetic leaders are fundraising to travel to February's meeting of the Polyamory Leadership Network in Philadelphia. There was the MTV True Life documentary, which was made to happen by some of its subjects. From grad school at Boston University, Bitsy is building Openly Poly to collect coming-out stories, and these seem like they'll be weighted toward the young by the time the site goes live. Bitsy also used to run the biweekly TNG Munch in the Chesapeake Polyamory Network. A few days ago she posted on Modern Poly, in a discussion titled "Organizing in a multi-generational environment,"

I'm trying to keep a list of all of the under-[age]X groups. If you have any leads, I'd love to know what they are.

Pepper Mint put up a long, thoughtful, and influential critique of the age-difference problem in poly communities: "Age and Polyamory Organizing." He spotlights the need for social/ discussion/ dating groups where young people don't feel overwhelmed by people like their parents:

...I would always feel a bit out of place... even though I do date up to twice my age. Jen tends to relate well only to people within ten years of her age, and she had a much harder time....

The younger people tended to drop out quickly. I think in many cases this was due to the way the discussion went. One group discussion led by an older therapist managed to attract three couples in their twenties that I had not seen before. But apparently they did not like the way the presenter approached the topic of partner abuse, because all three couples left during intermission. In another instance, there was a very cool anarchist threesome that showed up and had some excellent political things to say, but they got hammered by a somewhat traditional older triad whose members had no problem expounding endless circular arguments. The anarchists did not come back.

Jen and I identified what we call “show up once” syndrome....

Meanwhile, here's a roundup of recent articles in college and youth newspapers.

From the University of British Columbia's The Ubyssey:

Polyamorists do it better — and more often

By Kirsty J. M. Cameron | Jan. 4, 2010

“I don’t really believe in monogamy.” I immediately confessed this at the beginning of my latest relationship. It’s best to get things like this out of the way before they start causing problems, like the problems that may arise when I sleep with other people.

My insistence on non-monogamy, polyamory, or what’s commonly known as an open relationship, came after years of trying and failing, with a number of different partners, to be monogamous....

I’ve always been reluctant to subscribe to the idea of the fairy tale Prince/Princess Charming. The concept that there is only one person for me and that I should want to love and have sex with just him/her seems more and more insidious as I get older.... The idea that polyamory is sinful offends me, because at my core, when I’m truly listening to myself and my desires, it feels untrue....

Does this mean I’ve made a clean cut between love and sex? Hell no.

...By allowing myself to be open and honest about my desire and pursuit of other people I get to strengthen our relationship by practicing honesty, talking more, not feeling like I have to hide my desires or affairs. The feelings of freedom and trust, along with the acknowledgement that neither of us owns the other, (possessiveness, jealousy’s conjoined twin diffused) have done nothing but convince me I’m in the most mature relationship of my life lived thus far.

...For me, it’s still early. I have no ideas as to what the implications of choosing to have open relationships will be for the rest of my life.... But, as I began, I cannot end. I refuse to stifle myself sexually for a partner again. No matter how nicely they ask or how much I love them, I know that one partner is not enough to last me the rest of my life. And after all, if you believe, as Easton and Liszt write, that “sex is nice and pleasure is good for you,” sharing this pleasure with only one person seems a little bit selfish, no?

Read the whole article.

From the Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin/ Madison:

Q: My girlfriend and I... are interested in the occasional swap of partners, whether bringing mmf, mff or mfmf combinations together. There isn’t a whole lot of latitude in ways to go about making this happen without awkward conversations, so we are exploring other methods to meeting similarly interested people....

A: Thankfully we live in a great city where a plethora of options are open for couples and singles who want to explore multiple partners. But before we go into the options available, we’d like to define some of the terminology for our readers.

Swinging is a term used to describe a kind of open relationship in which the partners may have sexual experiences with other people, but do not have intense loving relationships outside of the primary two-person couple....

Polyamory is beautifully defined at Wikipedia as “the desire, practice or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” There are as many types of polyamorous relationships as there are people participating in them....

...If you and your girlfriend are into a polyamorous relationship, there is a group [in Madison] called PolyOut....

Clearly there are some considerations to keep in mind and discuss before sampling the goods in an open relationship. The first is honesty. Make sure you and your girlfriend are on the same page and happy with opening up the relationship. The next step is setting boundaries. Know ahead of time what you both want and don’t want. Perhaps she doesn’t want you kissing a dude’s toes but really wants to see you sucking his cock. Know what crosses the line for the both of you (and keep in mind that the third party may have some boundaries as well)...

The biggest consideration is safety....

Whole article (Oct. 6, 2009).

The same paper suggests how easily poly situations can develop unplanned in a school environment. (Note the cute signature):

Q: Throughout college I have noticed a strange phenomena within my close group of friends. We all somehow get intertwined with the same guys, and it has really started to get out of hand. Is it possible for a guy to like two girls at the same time?


Two Girlfriends and Cucumber Salad

Whole article (Oct. 27, 2009).

On Coming Out Day at the University of Kansas:

...Polyamory’s prominence in the media is increasing. Even so, it’s still in its baby stages compared to other sexual rights movements.

...Poly families consist of three or more people in a committed relationship — sometimes they all date each other, sometimes someone’s girlfriend has her own girlfriend and so on. Despite the argument about where polyamory fits in with swinging (partner-swapping) and open relationships (a relationship in which lovers can form outside romances), polyamory is a valid form of love, as are the other two....

Whole article (Oct. 12, 2009).

I earlier described a big, glowing San Diego State University story.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the alternative Weekly Alibi with a young readership ran an interview with Dossie Easton:

Q: What do you feel is the most important thing that we can do politically to support lifestyles like polyamory?

A: I think our marriage laws were written to apply to an agrarian society and are basically obsolete. I would love to see us let go of "defining" marriage, as if there were only one way to relate, and move beyond the "one size fits all" approach to relationships. We need a legal and political structure that allows us to make contracts that deal with our legal and financial issues.

I do believe that we would be better off if the financial support of marriage were shifted to support those of us who are actively raising children or supporting other dependents, like our elders, whether or not we are married in any legal sense....

Q: What do you think of the sexual climate in the United States these days? Do you feel that we're making strides forward, falling backwards or stagnating?

A: I think we are actually doing great, despite some of the political back-and-forth about gay marriage and so on. It takes a long time to get the laws to reflect reality, but it gives me hope and courage to see how many young families are starting out to create themselves in new and more open ways.

The whole interview (Dec. 31, 2009). Reader Julian Wolf writes that the Alibi "is also the home to Carnal Conundrums, a sex-positive advice column that addresses polyamory fairly frequently. For Valentine's Day 2008 the feature article was on polyamory and the paper has had a very positive tone on the subject, even regarding articles, stories and blogs that I have nothing to do with. *smile* "

P.S.: With 2009 over, the year's Sex-Positive Journalism Awards ("the Sexies") are open for nominations. I think some poly articles qualified; I just nominated the Newsweek online article from last July. Other ideas? Here's the submission form.


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January 6, 2010

"Not widely accepted yet, but interesting, and who knows what the future may bring?"

Fox-25 TV (Boston)

Following last Sunday's excellent, six-page article in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine (see previous post), the article's author, Sandra Miller, appeared on the Morning News show at Boston's Fox TV affiliate. She was respectfully interviewed for nearly five minutes — and she gave the accurate, level-headed assessment of who we are and what we're about that the mainstream world needs to hear. This is another one you can bookmark to send to your worried mom.

Host: It's a new year, and it seems that more couples, even more than we know, are experimenting with a new lifestyle. For many, loving many seems to be working for them — or as it's officially known, polyamory. But what is it?

Sandra Miller of the Boston Globe magazine wrote about this lifestyle this past weekend and recently joined the FOX25 Morning News to talk more about it.

Miller: ...There's complete disclosure about what's going on — full truth-telling about who's doing what with whom. This is also not just about recreational sex. These are real relationships with the full array of benefits and complexities that that implies. It just so happens there are more than two people in the relationships.

Host: ...So Sandra, tell me, what is the benefit here?

Miller: Many people say one of the benefits is, it allows them to have close intimate relationships with a variety of people. Many of them just completely eschew what we're socialized to believe, which is that there's one person who should fulfill all of our needs, sexual, emotional, spiritual, physical.... So they like the idea of loving many. Sure, there's sexual exploration going on here, but this is really about building intimate relationships with different people.

...I spoke with people who are members of Poly Boston.... These people are very well educated professionals, I spoke with two medical doctors, people who are Yale-educated, MIT-educated, these are not people who are dwelling on the fringes of society....

Host: Not widely accepted yet, but interesting, and who knows what the future may bring?

Watch it here (Jan. 4, 2010).

Do I have a quibble? Only that Miller may give the impression that poly is only about people who are "dating around" with everyone's knowledge and consent. For some, it's about something more radical: full three-way, or n-way, group romances or group marriages. But with the Globe's strict rule of profiling only people willing to be identified by name, she apparently found no such group that she could include more than one of.

Meanwhile, the Poly Boston site has been getting lots of hits, its chat list has sprung to life, and a bunch of new people (I'm told) showed up at the informal weekly hangout last light.

More fallout from the article, on the news aggregator "dscriber":

Gay marriage is so last decade; polyamory is in, newspaper says

By Ginger Q. Lawless | January 6, 2010

This news isn't going to go over well at Focus on the Family: the new way to live the dream, perhaps, is polyamory, which means “many loves.” Those who practice it have multiple lovers and “poly” as it’s also called, has a very full spectrum of possibility. You might have a couple in a primary relationship who then have one or more secondary relationships. There’s also polyfidelity, in which three or more people are mutually exclusive. There are also love circles where the possibilities are endless.

It sounds like a racy topic, but it is mainstream enough to have recently been featured in The Boston Globe.

What makes polyamory different from cheating boils down to the C-word (no, not that one): Consent. Each and every member of a polyamorous chain, whether with three links or thirty, knows about everyone else....

A blogger for the conservative journal American Spectator:

A New Frontier in Marriage Redefinition

By David N. Bass (Jan. 5, 2010)

Same-sex marriage is so last decade. Polyamory, or "responsible non-monogamy," is the wave of the future. At least, that's the gist of a Boston Globe article that explores the confusing intricacies of this "new frontier" of love....

Not content to leave this moral aberration (and chaos) in the private sphere, look for "polyamorists" to begin pushing for legal recognitions similar to those sought by homosexual couples. If society no longer roots marriage in the historical and Christian definition, then it has no basis to deny marriage rights to any "love arrangement" the human brain can devise, no matter how bizarre.

Please, stop the insanity.

Some folks on our side are gamely piling into the comments there, amid rants from the other side such as "Polygamy increases the odds of terrorism." Go join in, but please remember to represent us well; "be a credit to your kink."


P.S.: A couple weeks earlier, as part of a New Year's wrapup, a different part of the Boston Globe illustrated a bunch of science-fictiony things we were supposed to have by 2010. Along with flying cars and the 3-day workweek was "marriage a trois (or more)", with a nice illustration of an MFM wedding triad. "Forty years ago... many believed that by now, there would be a lot more choices on the Western matrimony menu, starting with polygamy." (The longer version in the printed newspaper went on to express skepticism: "There's a lesson here for prospective futurists: Sometimes, when the culture sees the next wave on the horizon, it runs the other way.") Though, as we know, multi-marriage actually is happening more now, a little....


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January 2, 2010

"Love's New Frontier" in the Boston Globe

Boston Globe Sunday Magazine

As the cover story of tomorrow's Sunday magazine, New England's largest and most prestigious newspaper (which I've read for most of my life) presents a 3,400-word article about Poly Boston and some of its most out members. The article is already on the Globe's website. So is a well-produced video, in which people in the article are interviewed.

The article is thoughtful, detailed, and accurate. But I do think it could have given a little more attention to poly models other than those that are basically open marriages, especially in light of its wonderfully sweeping title.

Love's New Frontier

It’s not monogamy. But it’s not cheating or polygamy, either. It’s called polyamory, and with hundreds practicing the lifestyle in and around Boston, is liberal Massachusetts ready to accept it?

By Sandra A. Miller | January 3, 2010

Jay Sekora isn’t actively looking for an additional relationship, but he admits to occasionally checking a dating site to see who’s out there. Sekora’s girlfriend, Mare... said she is not pursuing anyone, either, but is “open and welcoming to what might come along.” In the three-plus years they have been together, a few other people have come along, like the woman whom Sekora, a 43-year-old systems administrator from Quincy, met online and dated briefly until she moved away. There was also a male-male couple that Mare and Sekora, who identifies as bisexual, dated for several months as a couple....

Through the lens of monogamy, this love connection may appear distorted, but that’s not how Sekora and Mare, who is 45, describe their lifestyle. Adherents call it responsible non-monogamy or polyamory, and the nontraditional practice is creeping out of the closet, making gay marriage feel somewhat last decade here in Massachusetts. What literally translates to “loving many,” polyamory (or poly, for short), a term coined around 1990, refers to consensual, romantic love with more than one person. Framing it in broad terms, Sekora, one of the three founders and acting administrator of the 500-person-strong group Poly Boston, says: “There’s monogamy, where two people are exclusive. There’s cheating, in which people are lying about being exclusive. And poly is everything else.”

Everything else with guidelines, that is....

Polyamory has a decidedly feminist, free-spirited flavor, and these are real relationships with the full array of benefits and complexities — plus a few more — as the members of Poly Boston’s hypercommunicative, often erudite, and well-entwined community will explain.

[Says Cambridge sex therapist Gina Ogden,] “Polyamory isn’t a lifestyle for everybody, any more than monogamy is for everybody. Keeping one relationship vital is a lot of work, and if you start adding more relationships, it becomes more work.” Though common descriptors used for monogamy don’t easily apply to polyamory, there is a recognizable spectrum of how open these partnerships may be. On the closed end, you might have a couple in a primary relationship who will then have one or more secondary relationships that are structured to accommodate the primary one. There’s also polyfidelity, in which three or more people are exclusive with one another. On the open end, there might be chains of people where, for example, Sue is dating Bill and Bill is dating Karen and Karen is dating Jack, who is also dating Sue.

“I’m not sure there are as many ways to be poly as there are people who are poly, but it’s close,” says Thomas Amoroso, an emergency room doctor from Somerville and member of Poly Boston.... When a woman he had just begun seeing revealed she was polyamorous, the concept, new to Amoroso, resonated. Amoroso and the woman stayed together for five years, while each sustained additional relationships, including — for her — one with Sekora that drew Sekora and Amoroso together in a close friendship that they still maintain. For Amoroso, being poly is less about sex than the authentic expression of caring for more than one person. “People tend to harp on the sexual component,” he says, “but the relationship component is just as important.”

It’s complicated, as the poly catch phrase goes. It’s also still surprisingly closeted. Nonetheless, Valerie White, executive director of Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund in Sharon, says we are ahead of the curve in Massachusetts, particularly compared with the South, where teachers have lost their jobs and parents have lost their children for being poly. But she notes there is no push in the poly movement to legalize these relationships, largely because there’s no infrastructure for it. “It was easy to legalize gay marriage. All you had to do was change bride and groom to person A and person B. But we don’t know what multi-partnered marriage looks like,” White says.

...“A lot of poly people who feel jealous say it’s a warning sign that your needs aren’t getting met,” says Sekora. He says he’s felt insecure about relationships but not necessarily jealous of his partner’s partners. He recalls a time early in his relationship with Mare, however, when she felt threatened by a woman he had started dating. When the three sat down and talked, the women got along well and Mare’s worries dissipated. “Sensible, mature, self-reliant, and stable partners would be a welcome asset” to their relationship, says Mare....

...“I think you can play the part of a monogamous person without necessarily having to think what it means for you,” [Sekora] says. “There’s a cultural script that we learn from movies, sitcoms, songs on the radio, and watching our parents. Because there isn’t a similar script for poly relationships, you have to think about what you’re doing and decide what you want.”

...It was Biversity Boston, a thriving, well-organized bi community, that helped draw Sekora to Boston in 1992. After a few years, he and two other non-monogamous bisexual friends envisioned a similar organization and separate social space for poly people. Their research revealed that a small, albeit active, polyamorous group called Family Tree had already been in existence locally since 1980.... But the Family Tree meetings usually took place, and still do, in the suburbs, and its members were generally older. Sekora imagined Boston-centered, T-accessible events that could also draw an urban crowd. In December 1994, Sekora and the two others who are no longer active in the community launched Poly Boston as a mailing list of five people. Six months later, it started taking root with new members. Sekora took over the list in 1998, steadily helping it grow to its current 500 members, with an almost equal number of men and women....

The flavor of the group reflects the city in general, with a fair amount of students as well as people who came here to study and then stayed on. But, demographically, it is more bisexual than the city at large.... Information technology, academia, and biotech are well represented among the professions, but, though the group is somewhat skewed toward the sciences, plenty of Poly Boston people work in the humanities or the service industry, according to Sekora. The most obvious common feature beyond their lifestyle may be a love of intellectual ferment.

She got that right. I'm a regular at the Poly Boston dinners; a recent one featured excited discussions of conspiracy-theory culture in Serbia, on-air radio pranks people have engineered, verb forms and numerology in Latin vs. Greek vs. Aramaic, championship chess, Tesla coils we have known, how to get on shortwave radio, the Pope and the split in the Anglican Church, plans to start a wingnut internet meme that the city of Indianapolis does not exist, recent discoveries among extrasolar planets, and points of Unitarian theology.

“It certainly seems to be a group of people who are, by and large, interested in the discussion of ideas,” Sekora says.

...Poly Boston members Alan and Michelle Wexelblat of Burlington [Ed. note: he's not me; I'm the other Alan, Alan M.] take turns attending the cafe gatherings. As the parents of two boys, 6 and 9, the poly couple find that the get-togethers — though child-friendly — conflict with homework and dinnertime. “There’s nothing that having kids didn’t affect in our lives, including how we date,” says Alan. That would be dating each other as well as other people outside of their stable 10-year marriage. Both Alan and Michelle identified as non-monogamous when they met and hit it off 15 years ago at a science-fiction convention in Philadelphia. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, whose stories often feature nontraditional marriages, are frequently credited with the striking overlap of poly people and science-fiction fans....

...How long has it been since Michelle has dated anyone? “Long enough to be annoying,” says Alan, who would like to see his wife find a boyfriend.

Michelle, who calls herself a romantic, says she gets wistful rather than jealous when her husband goes out on dates, and while she would welcome having someone new in her life, it also has to be the right person. There’s compatibility to consider but also schedules, goals, and, of course, the feelings of other partners....

...In 2006, Elisabeth Sheff, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University who had been collecting data on poly families since 1996, launched the first long-term study of children raised in such families. While her findings are not yet conclusive, Sheff says her initial generalization is that kids raised in poly families have access to many resources, such as help with homework, rides when needed, and the additional emotional support and attention that comes from having other, nonparental adults in their lives. Sheff adds, however, that “kids in poly families also sometimes feel extremely upset when their parents’ partners leave, if it means the end of the relationship between the kid and the ex-partner.” She says that poly families often pass as mundane, blended families from divorce and remarriage and therefore easily fly below the radar.

Many poly people don’t necessarily want to stand out, but quietly seek acceptance for a lifestyle that they say is challenging, often time-consuming, and yet rewarding....

Read the whole article (January 3, 2010). Click on the graphic there for the video. Send comments to magazine@globe.com .

The article was many months in the making, in part because Globe editors insisted that people profiled have public identities and real names. This constraint made the article hard for the writer to assemble and ruled out some of the most interesting people she approached, including two thriving, living-together triads with young kids.

One reason why I think the poly movement is poised for a major cultural breakout is because there are so many great people who, for one reason or another, still feel it's best for them to remain private. (Frustratingly, me included.) For gays, the great sea change began when people grew sick and tired of life in the closet and the dam against coming out finally burst. We're not quite there yet.

Partly, I think, this is because compared to gays, we have it easy. Polys are not assaulted by thugs on the streets. We're not dying of a dread disease. For at least six years, high-end leaders of the right wing have tried to whip up hysteria against us as the next great threat to Western civilization, but they've gained no traction beyond their immediate followers and seem to have given up.



Update: Kamela Dolinova, in her smart Boston Open Relationships Examiner blog, reviews the article:

The Boston Globe tackles the issue of polyamory in the Boston area with sensitivity and aplomb....

...It is my sincere hope that the publication of this article marks the start of a new era in journalism around polyamory and related lifestyles; for too long our story has been relegated to page 19 at best, and often rife with misunderstandings and sensationalism. The Globe story points out how closeted poly people still tend to be, given the dangers of losing kids and jobs over the practice in some states. Perhaps a true outing is finally in the works.

Read her whole post.

In fact this "new era in journalism" about poly has been building for several years. Here is my pick of the best.

Update: Two weeks later the Globe Sunday Magazine printed several letters about the article, most of them hostile.


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