Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

June 25, 2011

How queer and poly partnerships can benefit straight marriage

New York Press

Just as New York becomes the newest state to legalize gay marriage, the weekly New York Press looks at the benefits that an alt culture of gay and poly partnerships can bring to conventional marriage — an institution that has been on shaky ground for decades, and that needs to evolve to serve even the most normal people better if it's to regain its footing.

Domestic Bliss?

From gender-role squabbles to non-monogamy: What straight couples can learn from same-sex couples to be happier in their own marriages.

By Seth Michael Donsky

Andrea Reese and Alice Ro have been engaged for just over a year.... One of the ceremony's guests will be Andrea's ex-husband, John. He is, by Andrea's own admission, a "great guy," to whom she was married for four years (they had lived together for five years prior). They ultimately parted because they had lost the feeling of being a romantic couple and had become much more like buddies. "We have maintained a close friendship," says Andrea. "He's a big fan of Alice, and Alice and I are glad to have him at our ceremony."

Maintaining close ties to one's exes is a relationship dynamic fairly common in the LGBTQ community.... But maintaining close ties with former lovers after beginning new, committed romantic relationships, especially marriage, is only one of many unconventional relationship constructs — unconventional for opposite-sex marriages, at any rate — that same-sex couples are likely to import into the institution of marriage. And that's not necessarily such a bad thing.

At least not according to Stephanie Coontz, co-chair and director of public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. Coontz, along with other experts, believes that the ways in which young, opposite-sex couples view marriage have changed substantially over the past several decades. And if the experts are right, then, as ironic as it may seem, it could turn out that these "conventional" couples may just find their best role models for the sorts of marriages they want to construct by looking at those of pioneering same-sex marriages.

...Although gender roles within marriages have been evolving over the last few decades... same-sex relationships come even closer to the egalitarian ideal that Coontz asserts young people strive for, because they are entirely free of any conventions to begin with.

..."Well, of course we structure our relationships and marriages without strict hierarchies and defined gender roles," says Barbara Carrellas, sex educator and author of Urban Tantra Sacred Sex for the 21st Century. "We have to, by default." Carrellas, who identifies as queer herself, believes that what is most interesting about that dynamic is not the actual division of labor but the joint, conscious process through which the relationship is negotiated and co-created. She feels that this is the aspect of LGBTQ relationships most valuable to opposite-sex marriages as a model for loving partnerships.

"People, unmarried people looking to be married, have this idea that they know what marriage is, but they don't. How could they?" she explains. "Most people go into marriage with a view that they have constructed by themselves based on certain goals that society holds out in front of them, and then wonder why they have such a difficult time obtaining those goals or discussing them with their partners."

...To paraphrase Carrellas' point, negotiating outside of society's dictates and standards... allows each person to more clearly express and receive what they want and need in a relationship — so the resulting relationship allows each person to be more truly themselves and satisfied about the things that matter most.

...Varied approaches to sexuality is probably the most taboo of the constructs that same-sex couples may import into marriage, and one that Coontz approaches very delicately. "I want to be very careful about how this is phrased, but there is a prevalence among some same-sex relationships, particularly gay male relationships, to establish long-term commitments while allowing for nonmonogamy," she says. "While this is not for every opposite-sex couple, just as it is not right for every same-sex couple, it is one of the ways that some people may handle the pressures of a world where people want partnerships but live long lives and have frequent opportunities."

It was just such frequent opportunities that led married New Yorkers Kurt Walters and George Karabotsos, both 48, to open up their relationship sexually. They were monogamous for the first three years of their relationship, but finally began to question whether or not it was the right choice for them....

Thirty-nine-year-old New Yorker Mikey Rox [says] "I prefer removing the temptation by allowing my partner and me to explore, provided we are both on the same page about it and have established rules." For Mikey, it lessens the chances that his marriage will dissolve.

But is this a model that same-sex couples should be frightened of? "Quite the contrary," says Manhattan-based psychotherapist Bob Bergeron, author of The Right Side of Forty: The Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond. "Same-sex couples might not necessarily want non-monogamous relationships, but they can learn a great deal from non-monogamous, same-sex couples about how to talk to their partners about sexual desires inside and outside of the relationship." As Bergeron explains, "talking about your desires doesn't mean you act on them, but not talking about them can create more trouble."

"Don't knock it until you've tried it," Carrellas says of non-monogamous marriages.... "An open marriage might not be for you, but perhaps there is some other area in your marriage where you could use, to your benefit, the same tools that some other couple is using to negotiate their sexuality."...

Read the whole article (June 22, 2011).

Incidentally, one of the more endearing things to me about the poly world is people's tendency to be long-term friends with their exes, as in the article's lead (not always possible of course, and often best done after a healthy interval of no contact). If you don't buy into the myth that One Right Person exists who has to be your everything, then you don't have to shun a person you loved as a Totally Evil Mistake if things don't work out. In poly, you don't have to extremify.


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June 23, 2011

Are advice columnists the poly-awareness vanguard?

Dear Prudence
Carolyn Hax
Annie's Mailbox

Mainstream advice columnists, the kind your parents have read in the newspaper since forever, are getting their heads around polyamory and responding well in print.

"Dear Prudence" is based online at Slate.com and is syndicated to some 200 newspapers. Two years ago Prudence (Emily Yoffe) scoffed at the idea of a poly triad, especially around kids. But so many of you wrote her to object (thank you!) that she talked about your letters in an end-of-year wrapup months later; see the Update toward the end of the link above.

And now, in responding to a very similar question, she seems to have come around:

Loving Thy Neighbor

I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?

Dear Prudie,

I am a widower in my mid-50s with three grown children and many grandchildren. My wife died 10 years ago, and three years ago I moved into a new house. I hit it off very quickly with my next door neighbors "Jack" and "Diane," a married couple in their late 30s with a now-7-year-old son. Our relationship soon became sexual and we are a three-member "couple." Their son, whom I love dearly, has his own bedroom at my house and calls me "Uncle."

The problem is my youngest son recently lost his job, is in terrible financial straits, and has asked if he, his wife, and two young children can move in with me! I haven't told any of my children about my unconventional relationship. My wife and I had a happy marriage, and we raised our children in a normal, loving home. Yet when I met the couple I am with, everything seemed to flow so naturally that I didn't give it a second thought until now. Turning away my son in his time of need isn't an option, but breaking off my relationship isn't an option either. Should I keep the whole thing under wraps while my son and his family are here? Jack and Diane think I should be upfront and tell my son, but then everyone would know about this. Most people wouldn't understand, and frankly it would be humiliating!

—Can't Stop This Thing I Started

Dear Can't,

Now that Big Love is off the air, I hope HBO considers the possibilities of a series called Uncle Bob, which tackles both polyamory and the burgeoning social trend of broke adult children returning home. Since you're a loving father who won't turn away his son, you lay out clearly your three options for how to proceed: put your threesome on ice; sneak around; come clean. But since you say you're unwilling to temporarily retire from your trio, that's out. And, frankly, your grown son's financial debacle shouldn't require you to put the kibosh on your romantic life, however odd. Sneaking around may seem like a possible solution, but consider how that's going to work. Announcing, "I'll be staying over the neighbors' for a few nights so that all of you can have the house to yourselves!" is only going to raise suspicions, especially since little Jack Jr. has his own bedroom at your place.

I'm afraid I agree with Jack and Diane: The best course is for you to tell your son. This means explaining that, unlikely as it may be — and no one is more surprised about this than you — you are in a relationship with the couple next door. Obviously, say you aren't going to go into the mechanics of this set-up, and you intend to protect his kids, as you are protecting the couple's child, from the details of your intimacy. (I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you are.) Explain that you are only revealing this aspect of your personal life because privacy is going to be at a premium, but you hope he can discreetly accept your situation. Sure, it will be a shock, but ultimately news of your personal arrangements pales in comparison with being in financial freefall.

How sly of you to choose Jack and Diane as pseudonyms for your friends. John "Cougar" Mellencamp may have sung about a similarly named pair: "Oh yeah life goes on/Long after the thrill of living is gone." But your Jack and Diane have found that a once-lonely grandfather is the way to bring back the thrill.


Read the original (June 23, 2011).


Meanwhile the Washington Post's relationship columnist, Carolyn Hax, had this to say last week in a live Q&A on the newspaper's website:

Q. Ethical Nonmonogamy

Hi Carolyn,

Do you think it is possible to have multiple satisfying, open relationships at the same time? I've noticed that much of your advice (esp. around people moving in together) is premised on a vision of relationships progressing in the direction of marriage. I find this idea problematic in my own life for various reason, and have recently thought that if I pursue relationships openly with a mind to everyone being open and thoughtful, I won't be so anxious about the One Relationship working out. I respect your take very much, and have never seen anything like this expressed in this space. Have you thought about it much?

A. Carolyn Hax:

Actually, this has come up from time to time, and my answer to it is the same as my answer to people who are looking for a life partner, or who are more comfortable with the idea of serial monogamy, or the people who just have no interest in a mate at all. As long as you are true to your words, true to your values and honest with the people in your life, and also careful not to violate any laws or exploit anyone, then you can create an ethical life of just about any configuration. Your success will depend on your ability to find cooperative partners, but that's true of every life path except complete solitude.

See the original (June 17, 2011).


And from Annie's Mailbox:

Dear Annie:

“Ex-Professor Out East” said he was accepting of his wife’s platonic relationship with another man. He should learn the term “polyamory.”

My husband and I are happily married and found polyamory to be a welcome alternative. We both have loving relationships outside the marriage, with the other’s blessing. This type of lifestyle can add new dimensions to an otherwise stale relationship.

—Happily Poly in Ohio

Dear Ohio:

Polyamorous relationships can be platonic or sexual, but the important part is, they are not secret. The spouse knows and accepts. As long as both partners agree, we say to each his (or her) own.

Here's an original appearance (May 31, 2011).

And here are many of my past posts about treatment of poly in various advice columns (the list includes this post; scroll down). Bottom line: lots of them are now getting it.



June 16, 2011

"In Praise of Monogamy" from a poly viewpoint

The Guardian (UK) and elsewhere

Clarisse Thorn ("There she is: a Chicago-based, feminist, pro-BDSM sex-positive activist"; logo at right) must have loads of readers at Feministe, judging by the flood of traffic I've gotten from there since she linked to one of my posts. The link was in her recent article In Praise of Monogamy, written from a poly perspective. She also posted the article on AlterNet.

And now it has been picked up by the website of the Guardian in England, a leading progressive daily newspaper. The Guardian's editor claims that its website is "the largest English-language paper on the web apart from The New York Times." The article appears as part the site's Comment Network, "a selection of the best comment from our partners across the web."

Monogamy's got a lot going for it

From jealousy management to social acceptance, there are many advantages to a monogamous relationship choice.

Clarisse Thorn for Feministe

There are lots of different ways of approaching non-monogamous relationships, such as:

• Polyamory: Usually emphasises developing full-on romantic relationships with more than one partner. Lately I've been pondering and working on a number of tricky questions about implementing polyamory. (I've been researching polyamory since my teens, but only in recent years did I decide to actively pursue it.)

• Swinging: Usually emphasises couples with their own close bond, who have relatively casual sex with other partners. (Another difference between swinging and polyamory is that swingers tend to be more at home in mainstream culture, whereas polyamorists tend to be geeky or otherwise "alternative". Here's a great long piece on poly culture versus swing culture.)

• Cheating: One partner does something with an outside partner that wasn't accepted or understood in advance.... Just in case it needs to be said: I never advocate cheating, ever....

Yet one thing that often gets lost in conversations about all these options is the advantages of monogamy. Of which there are many. Although I don't currently identify as monogamous, I had a very strong monogamous preference for years.... And lately lots of my monogamous friends have been getting married....

A few advantages of monogamy (this is not a complete list).

• Jealousy management

Some people experience jealousy more than, or less than, or differently from other people. Plenty of people in non-monogamous relationships experience jealousy – and handle it just fine, through open-hearted communication. Often, jealousy is managed through very detailed relationship agreements.... [And] there are also plenty of people who appear to lack the "jealousy chip".

And then there are plenty of people who experience so much jealousy, who feel that jealousy is such a big part of their emotional makeup, that the best way to manage it is simply through monogamy....

• Focus

There's an oft-repeated joke among polyamorists that "while love may be infinite, time is not". And sometimes, I've found it a little difficult to "switch gears" to a different partner. New relationship energy can be a little harder to manage in the polyamorous context than it is in serial monogamy....

• Societal acceptance

Straight up, monogamy is the western societal default. In some ways this makes monogamy hard to understand and communicate about – because there are so many assumptions and built-in expectations, and folks don't always agree on those expectations.... Usually, however, being the societal default makes monogamy easier.

...When you're monogamous, you never have to articulate your weird relationship structure to your parents. You rarely have to think outside the box about relationship problems, and you can go to any western advice columnist or therapist and be sure that they'll recognise your relationship as legitimate. (Those of you who like privilege checklists might enjoy this monogamous privilege checklist....)

• Some people just like it better

Occasionally, people will toy with the idea of an "orientational" element to polyamory or monogamy: some folks just plain feel aligned with monogamy or non-monogamy....

Personally, I always think it's really key, during any sex-positive critique, to emphasise from the start that whatever you like is cool as long as the actions you take are consensual. I know people who act all apologetic for being monogamous, usually because they've been overexposed to "polyvangelists" who argue that non-monogamy is "better" or "more evolved". This is silly. Liking monogamy doesn't have to be justified, as long as you don't turn around and claim that non-monogamy is bad and wrong. And liking monogamy is a perfectly awesome reason for preferring monogamy!

Read the whole article (June 15, 2011).

Also well worth a read is her earlier article, My top questions about dealing with multiple lovers:

Polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy in which people have multiple lovers, and are honest with each other about doing so. I have a lot more theoretical exposure to polyamory than personal experience, but I’ve been gaining more personal experience over the last year. It’s often interesting, sometimes painful.

Some recent experiences are making me think I am not nearly as smart or as on top of my emotions as I like to believe I am.... [But] one thing I think I’ve figured out is what I want....

...My preference for polyamory presents some challenges, and questions that I worry about. Such as:

1. What are my responsibilities towards my partners’ other partners? A lot of poly people will tell you that if you get into a relationship with, say, a married polyamorous man, then you must also expect to interact with his spouse.... I’m totally fine with this, but on occasion I’ve felt like I was getting sucked into the couple’s problems....

Yes, it is certainly my responsibility to communicate with my partners’ other partners and to be friendly with them. But I need to set boundaries on that....

2. When is it actually the best time to start talking about polyamory and setting out relationship definitions?

...I feel like I talk to a lot of people who think they want a supposedly “polyamorous” relationship because they see it as a no-strings-attached free-for-all, and that’s definitely not what I want. Or I talk to people who back away from polyamory for the same reason. I see polyamory as being about more commitment to relationship negotiation, not less....

This is a hard thing to communicate in a small dose, though, especially if I’m dealing with someone who has minimal exposure to the concept. On the other hand, having a Serious Conversation about polyamory on the first date is a bit much.

3. Is it a good idea for me to get involved with guys who ultimately want monogamy?...

4. Some people see polyamory as a sign of commitment-phobia.... I feel pretty okay with believing in commitment in the context of polyamory. But my potential partners might not be.

...Some days, I get nervous that the guys who are going to be willing to talk about and process relationships in the depth that I’m looking for, with a degree of acknowledged emotional commitment, are all monogamous. Then I remind myself of how many awesome polyamorous men I know, and also that I’m falling for stereotypes yet again, just by having these fears.

5. Other questions:

How open am I to casual relationships that don’t seem to be going in an emotional direction, given that I don’t have to give up on more serious relationships to have them?

How does being poly change breakup dynamics?

In the absence of monogamy, are there different signifiers that a relationship is serious — or is getting serious? How can I get better at both giving and reading those signifiers?

6. Sigh.... Relationships are hard, and hacking the expected models makes them hopefully more fulfilling … but also so much more complicated....

Read the whole article (April 11, 2011). Many people's comments there expand on these questions.



June 14, 2011

Margaret Cho on her poly life

The Talk (CBS)

On the CBS afternoon show "The Talk," actress/ comedian/ LGBT advocate Margaret Cho comes out poly but calls it an open marriage. (Asks Billy: "Is 'open' the PC way to say you are poly?)

Here 'tis. (3:25) (June 13, 2011).

This is rather a change from some years ago, when Cho called her marriage "very conventional and conservative, I think. I mean we're such weird people that people just can't imagine that we would have a conventional marriage. But, yeah, we are very conventional."

In another recent interview she says,

Being partnered is very important to me. But, being in a polyamorous relationship is just more honest for me. It’s more respectful to my nature.

Update, August 2012. From an interview with Margaret Cho at AfterElton.com:

AE: Margaret, you’ve always had the gays on your side since early in your career. Do you have other groups that follow you that might surprise us?

MC: Well, it’s very racially mixed and, also, I think gender and sexuality and all of these things make up different approaches that people have like people who are polyamorous. That’s something that I think is a really important topic and is an important part of the arena. That sort of includes my sexuality because in the LGBT the B is often silent and that’s what I am so that’s something that I find that I can separate it in my mind that it is thought of as more polyamorous.

Update, August 2013. Article at HuffPost Gay Voices: Margaret Cho Opens Up About Her Open Marriage, Outing John Travolta:

Comedienne Margaret Cho has been in an open marriage for 10 years, and it's working for her.

"I'm married to a man but I'm bisexual so I like both," Cho told the ladies of "The Real" this week about her decade-long marriage to artist Al Ridenour. "We got together because ... we both have this [idea], 'I just don't want to have sex with the same person my whole life. That's just gross.'"

She went on to explain how the partnership works, revealing that her other is with other women and that she doesn't get jealous. While she doesn't usually come home to find other women, she said she has been in the house while he was off with someone else.

"We have a really big house," she said. "It's kind of like if we wanna have that, it's like, 'You can stay on your side or I'll stay on my side.' When I see her, I'll make her dinner. ... Oh yeah. I've definitely been in the house."

The "Real" hosts also broached a popular topic: Why during a stand-up stop in Australia in April did Cho make comments that outed John Travolata as gay?

"Well, 'cause I'm gay," she responded. "I'm bisexual. I always feel like I can sort of say whatever about anybody else. ... I say what I feel and what I do. I just can't decide. I just want to have sex with everybody."

Back in 2011, in a blog for HuffPost Gay Voices, Cho explained why she identifies as "queer." She said she has had sex with a variety of people -- male, female and some in-between genders -- outside of marriage. She chooses "queer" because "it's the most fitting description, short and concise, and really to-the-point," even if people might not understand. She did, however, note that "bisexual" fits as well.

• And more: HuffPost interview with Michaelangelo Signorile: Margaret Cho Interview Discusses Monogamy, Bisexuality, Open Relationships (Aug. 14, 2013).

• And on the Arsenio Hall show for October 1, 2013, she discusses her and her husband's open arrangement for a few minutes (starts at 3:52) and declares "monogamy is gross."

• And in an unusually interesting interview with the Portland Oregon LGBT magazine PQ Monthly (Oct. 17, 2013):

PQ: ...As someone who’s been out for many years as being both bi and poly, how do you find the visibility of your lifestyles has changed over the last decade?

MC: ...Bisexuality and queerness in general for women is a little less shocking to people nowadays — a lot of very famous women have come out as bisexual, and I think it’s because it’s somehow safer for women to be bi than for men. Polyamory is still very hard for folks to understand. I get a lot of practical questions — like, “Where does the sex come in? What do you do when your partner is having sex?” To me, that’s a more prurient curiosity, and it hasn’t gone away.

...PQ: So much queer political work right now has to do with marriage equality. How do you see marriage equality and polyamory interacting?

MC: I think marriage equality is fundamentally about becoming politically equal with heterosexuals — it’s less about the actuality of how we have relationships, and more about how we’re viewed by the government and whether we have equal rights. Polyamory is more about a personal quest in relationship, and that could be heterosexual, homosexual, or both. Marriage equality is a civil rights crusade, and polyamory is a personal revolution. It’s different, but similar.

PQ: Switching gears — you’re performing in Portland soon!...

MC: In terms of openness, it’s a lot more polyamorous and queer a city than most other places I’ve seen. There’s a lot more specificity, too — people enjoying particular pleasures and really going for them.

...PQ: What’s distinctive about your “Mother” tour?

MC: This show is really about the ways we parent in the gay community. Now that I’ve reached the awesome age of being the “Grand Dame” of my friends, I’m referred to as a mother figure by so many gay people! It’s also about my own mother, but centrally it’s about being in that mothering position.…

...PQ: I understand that you’re a former Sunday School teacher and that you still identify as Christian. Can you talk a bit about your relationship with Jesus?

MC: I think Jesus is a very good teacher. Really, he’s such a power bottom! Jesus was all about taking other people’s pain and absorbing it, and making himself stronger because of it — absorbing all the negativity from your persecutors and taking it on for someone else. He is not at all about guilt. A lot of Christianity has been distorted by anti-gay stuff that doesn’t even exist in the Bible at all. I think of Christ, at face value, is very much a power bottom. That’s a really good thing to be!

PQ: On the subject of taking in pain and transforming it, you’re quite the tattoo enthusiast.

MC: I’m over 70 percent covered in tattoos. There is a lot of transformative feeling in tattooing — it’s quite tribal and sacred to get your skin opened. It feels very ritualistic.

PQ: How has that transformed your relationship with pain?

MC: I think you learn that the more that something hurts, the more gratifying it is. That’s something that’s repeated in all manner of places — psychological and emotional transformations. Even BDSM! The way that people go into “sub space,” and discover that the more intense the pain is, the more intense the endorphin high they receive from it is. It’s also in the transformation to becoming an adult — the more painful that the metamorphosis is, the greater the change will be.

Update December 21, 2014: Margaret Cho and Al Ridenour are ending their 11-year open marriage.

Update December 27, 2014: And she says she's about to become "the representative for alternative sexuality, polyamory, sex toys" on TLC's new late-night chat show All About Sex.



June 9, 2011

Happy Pride Month! Poly in the GLBT world

President Obama has declared June as LGBT Pride Month. At Pride parades and festivals around North America, poly groups are joining in. If you're in Boston this Saturday June 11th, come by the Boston Pride Festival at City Hall Plaza (where the parade ends) and visit our "Polyamory!" booth. I'll be there. We've always had a hugely positive reception.


The Bilerico Project claims to be the web's largest LGBTQ group blog. It features a cream-of-the-crop roster of invited contributors in GLBT leadership roles, "offering analysis and opinion on almost every aspect of LGBTQ politics and culture." The Washington Post called it a "must read" that is "rebooting the gay rights movement in a decentralized, spontaneous, bottom-up way."

A guest commentator (not one of the regulars) speaks up there for polyamory, still a contentious topic in parts of the gay community:

A Straightforward (But Complex) Loving Life

By Wintersong Tashlin

I have been sitting in front of my blank computer screen for a solid ten minutes now trying to figure out exactly how to begin this post. No matter how hard I reach for greater eloquence or depth, I keep coming back to a single sentence....

Being polyamorous is pretty damn awesome.

Now for the requisite disclaimers:

I am of course, only speaking for myself, from my own experience. I am not going to say that being poly is always awesome.... Nor am I going to say that polyamory is inherently better than monogamy...

I have a husband. I actually used to have two of them, and hopefully will someday again. What "husband" in this case means is that we live together and share just about every aspect of our lives. My husband Fire and I have been together for about twelve years now and intended to be in a multi-partner marriage from the very start. About two and half years after we got together we entered into a relationship with Evan, which lasted for just over eight years before he chose to divorce us. As the three of us before did, Fire and I share a house, bills, the care and feeding of an adorable dog, and other joys and duties found in traditionally "married" relationships. Even when there were three of us, it was remarkably "normal" by many of the yardsticks by which marriages are measured.

However, outside of our marriage, Fire and I have other intimate relationships that can take many forms. I have a boyfriend I am crazy about, although he lives far away. There are a number of people I care about and in some cases love deeply who I sometimes I play/have sex with. Right now there's also a relationship with another guy in my life that I'm letting evolve where it will....

If that sounds complicated, it is because it is. Whenever people tell me that I'm poly because it is "easier" than monogamy I have to laugh. Friends of mine who are in a four-person polyamorous marriage, and have a new baby, have to balance their schedules as carefully as generals plan amphibious invasions involving multiple chains of command. Ensuring that people don't end up feeling neglected or on the reverse, like they never have time to themselves, is a perpetual challenge in polyamory. Keeping lines of communication flowing between two people can be a task; doing it with a husband, a boyfriend or two, and several lovers can feel downright Sisyphean at times.

But then, at the same time it's damn awesome when things click together right.

A few weeks ago I attended my boyfriend's wedding. If this were a Hollywood film, that sentence would likely be filled with depressive angst about watching the man I love marry someone else.... What probably wouldn't leap to mind is me walking him proudly down the aisle and handing him off to his radiant bride while her father stood teary eyed beside her.

...My heart is directed outwards, not locked in a box that only one other person has the key to....

Polyamorous people, especially queer ones, are boogymen at the moment. Every time the anti-gay right brings us out as part of the "slippery slope" argument against same-sex-marriage, the representatives from Gay Inc are quick to take offense and clarify that we LGBTs are just as against that sort of thing as they are.... I have to say that I am growing tired of my family being demonized from both sides.... I think it is important for us to make our voices heard once in a while. Not to demand legal recognition or a place at the table, but simply to say "This is how we love, and you know what, it's pretty damn awesome. So maybe lay off a little."

Read the whole article (May 16, 2011).


Elsewhere in the gay world, Kiki Christie, a mover and shaker in the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, got a good say at the podium of a GLBT event in Vancouver. From Xtra/ Vancouver:

Over 400 attend anti-homophobia breakfast

A 400-plus crowd at an annual anti-homophobia breakfast gave a rousing ovation to a delegation of Burnaby students who are fighting to introduce a gay-friendly policy in their district's schools....

The day was also honoured at city hall with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson declaring May 17, 2011, "International Day Against Homophobia" in Vancouver.

While the original theme of the breakfast was same-sex marriage, the event's organizers decided in the end to embrace a broader concept of queer relationships.

...Kiki Christie, founder of Victoria Poly 101, challenged the audience to reconsider the heteronormative ideas that dominate society's view of partnerships. She highlighted social networking site Facebook and its limited relationship option tags as a prime example of how "couple normative" ideas permeate society and limit the choices of those who might identify differently.

"As open relationships become increasingly public and politicized, we are in need of a new cultural relationship model that is distinct from monogamy [and] that still demonstrates the values of love, commitment, and security that are important to all of us," she added....

Read the whole article (May 17, 2011).

Update: Some more poly LGBT items:

Poly as a hip queer-female thing: "All the Cute Girls Have (Multiple) Girlfriends: Polyamory And Queer Women.

The recent book Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, by gay psychatrist Loren A. Olson, treats poly in a chapter on sex outside of a committed relationship.

At The New Gay: "I, Non-Monogamist".

A while back in Metro Weekly of Washington, DC: "Two For One: A magic number for some, "3" brings a world of challenges in a triad relationship".

Here are many of my past LGBT posts (including this one; scroll down).


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June 6, 2011

Marriage Confidential: "Options for your mediocre marriage" opens new thinking

CNN, USA Today, Washington Post, many others

More and more people are saying that traditional marriage is a poor fit to today's realities and has dwindling relevance to modern life. Piles of statistics back this up — from the trend toward ever later first marriages, to the fact that 40% of American children are now born out of wedlock, to the continuing 40%–50% divorce rate, to the shockingly low number of surviving marriages that people describe as more than minimally okay (though surveys vary). I'm sure this is partly the reason for the strange credibility of polyamory in the mainstream media, compared to how the media treat (or ignore) other forms of alt/radical life.

Riding this wave of marriage discontent is a new book just out June 1st: Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses and Rebel Couples who are Rewriting the Rules. Author Pamela Haag is a Yale PhD historian who says she "wanted to take stock of how marriage had changed over the last 50 years."

A review in the Huffington Post has a TL;DR title: Don't Want to Divorce? Indulge Your Polyamory or Asexuality, Have Your Affairs, Live Apart.

From the Washington Post's review:

Pamela Haag’s ‘Marriage Confidential’: Pearls of wisdom about matrimony

By Carolyn See

Don’t be put off by the dorky title. Somehow or other, a flock of well-meaning marketers must have thought this sterling book wouldn’t sell on its own merits, so they’ve tricked it out with cheesy bells and whistles. “Marriage Confidential” is so rare, such a pleasantly charming pearl of great price, that they probably couldn’t see what they had before them. [Ed. note: maybe that's because it's published by HarperCollins, a Rupert Murdoch company.]

Imagine — if you’re old enough — that David Riesman had finished working on his monumental “The Lonely Crowd,” kicked off his expensive loafers, poured himself a double martini and spent a few hours telling you — and only you — how America had somehow divided itself into inner-directed and other-directed members of society, how for some reason, they often felt dead-to-the-bone and often fell in love just so they could prove to themselves that they were still alive. That’s essentially what Pamela Haag has done with her subject. You learn something, but you hardly notice because you’re having such a good time....

...One of her virtues (not as easy to practice as it sounds) is to focus on stuff that’s been simmering along right under our noses for at least a couple of decades....

...Maybe because adultery is more fun than anything else, Haag develops an inordinate interest in the vagaries of that subject....

Read the whole article (May 26, 2011).

Here's an interview with Haag in the Detroit Free Press. Links to more coverage are at the book's site. Or google up more.

CNN presents an article by Haag herself, where she dwells on different forms of non-monogamy:

Options for your mediocre marriage

By Pamela Haag

You've tried marriage therapy. You've tried date night. You've tried attitude adjustment, and tricking yourself into ignoring the discontent ("Just suck it up.... Everyone feels mediocre about their marriages.... Stop being selfish and whiny").

...There's a part of your soul that isn't nourished in marriage, and it's too big a part to live without. You've tried, but you fear that you're in the wrong marriage, however wonderful your spouse may be.

You're in the group of "low-conflict," amiable but less than fulfilling marriages. Marriage researchers estimate that they contribute the lion's share to divorce court each year -- anywhere from 55% to 65%.

...If you're in an unhappy but low-conflict marriage, is there any alternative to divorce or glumly sticking it out?

Yes. Change the marriage instead. Take a fresh look. Maybe the problem is not you. Maybe it's not your spouse. Maybe it's marriage, and how we "do" marriage that's the issue.

There are thousands of books to tell you how to fit yourself, the square peg of a discontented spouse, into the round hole of the institution of marriage. But there are few if any that flip the question, and consider how to change marriage so that it fits us.

Here are some ways, modest and monumental, that 21st century marriages have carved out a third path between a semi-happy marriage and divorce:

...Update and rewrite your vows to reflect reality. What if you rewrote your marriage vows, and contract, every few years to reflect concrete, tangible stages in your marriage?...

...Could you practice "the new monogamy"? What about the perhaps most audacious idea, but one that is working right now for some marriages: Would you have a conversation with your spouse about the possibility of other attachments, of open, "ethical nonmonogamy" as an alternative to divorce?

Most say it "never works," but the fact is that there are happy, secure couples right now who do it in some form or another. If you're at a gathering with 20 married couples, chances are at least one or two fit the bill, or 5%, but estimates vary.

A sex educator for adults told me this was "free love, version 2.0." Most likely, these new monogamists are in the closet with their improvised arrangement. Sometimes, a happy marriage "opens up" because they want to do something more, or different. But in other cases, they do it because they want to maintain a functioning but emotionally inert marriage from the grips of divorce.

Still others reconcile the semi-happy marriage with a happy-happy life by having a more agnostic view of the romantic deal breaker of infidelity. They let extramarital affairs nick the consciousness of marriage, but don't discuss anything. They just decide to let the monogamy imperative drift.

These alternatives aren't for everyone, certainly. But it's worth trying to be imaginative if you want an alternative to divorce, and these are all arrangements that you'll find among couples today, however traditional they may appear....

Read the whole article (June 2, 2011), and add your comments. (Late comments are important, because they stay in view longer.)

A discussion broke out among members of the Polyamory Leadership Network. Randy R. in Ireland wrote,

Eew, I don't know.

Being viewed in terms of 'alternative to divorce' is not terribly flattering. Makes [polyamory] sound like putting one of those silly looking and underperforming space-saver spare tires on your car when you get a blowout from a 'real' one.

While it's not a negative [treatment], I think it has a long way to go in terms of positivity.

And yeah, hello, it's NOT monogamy in any way! Please stop using that word to describe polyamory, media people!

To which Michael Rios responds,

Actually, I think the article is great. This is exactly how to get a new idea across to a resistant mainstream population. You simply tell them that it is really the same thing as what they already know, but with an extra accessory that they hadn't known about before.

If we can get the mainstream society to think of monogamy as inclusive of multiple sexualoving relationships, we're there. I could care less what they call it, as long as it incorporates all the elements I care about.

The mainstream society already accepts multiple sexual partners for singles — they call it "dating around". If they can accept multiple sexual partners for marrieds, then there's not much ground left uncovered. :-)

And once their definitions are expanded that way, other variations will hardly raise a ripple.

...This kind of cultural gradualism has consistently been the most powerful social change mechanism throughout history. Even the Civil Rights movement in the US, which may have seemed cataclysmic, was actually a process that evolved continuously over more than 100 years.

At last month's discussion group of Family Tree, my local poly group, a particular benefit of polyamory to married couples came up. From the discussion notes:

A man who attended early Loving More conferences remembers couples extolling the good effects of the mere knowledge of their freedom, even if they never used it. "They also said this kept them on their toes about taking each other seriously, making an extra effort in their marriage," rather than letting the marriage go flat like so many. A woman chimed in: "That in itself is worth the price of admission."

P. S.: Anyone who's interested in alternatives to marriage should check out the Alternatives to Marriage Project.

Updates: Pamela Haag writes in her blog about Marriage Confidential's one or two chapters dealing with polyamory, and she describes her (not very well informed, I think) understanding of what it is.

Here's a long interview with Haag on the website of The Atlantic: The Role Non-Monogamy Will Play in the Future of Marriage (Oct. 3, 2011).


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June 1, 2011

Polyamorists claim spotlight in Mormon country

City Weekly (Salt Lake City, UT)

City Weekly cover
Salt Lake City is the capital of the Mormon Church (LDS), so it's no surprise that members of the Utah Polyamory Society say they're always having to explain that no, they're not about patriarchal religious polygamy. They even have to explain this at their annual Pride Day booth.

This week's City Weekly, Salt Lake City's alternative newspaper, presents a long cover story about polyamory and the UPS that ought to make their job a little easier from now on. The article was written by one of the society's own members.

Bigger Love: For Utah’s polyamorists, one romantic partner is not enough.

By Jim Catano

The house looks typical enough — an attractive split-level in an established Salt Lake County neighborhood — but the family living here is far from conventional. While Utahns are familiar with polygamy, another form of “non-monogamy” is both more commonly practiced and lesser known. We’re about to visit the household of the Smiths/Joneses (not their real names) — two wives, two kids and two husbands....

...Utah’s polyamorists come in all sexual orientations — straight, same-sex, bisexual — and their sexual practices span the spectrum: one-on-one or “vanilla” (probably the majority), group, kink. The Smiths/Joneses form what’s known in the poly community as a “quad” — two couples with each individual able to share some sexual intimacy with any of the others....

The Smith/Jones quad is also “open,” meaning partners can have additional outside lovers, if desired. Other polyamorists practice “polyfidelity,” where sexual intimacy occurs exclusively within the group. Others may be “fluid bonded” — using condoms or other safer sex practices [only] with outsiders.

...How did they vault the cultural fence and become polyamorists? Celine reports, “I was raised pagan, so being strange was never a big deal, but my big problem when I was young was that I fell in love with all my friends.”

...One reason they formed an extended household was simple practicality and green economics. Liz explains, “My ideal is living in a communal situation. It’s wasteful for two people to live in an isolated box and try to raise children.”... Joe adds, “We now have more buying power.”

...“We all have different things we specialize in and different ways of doing things we all respect,” Celine says, and points to a set of 20 cards that make up a homemade mobile hanging from the ceiling, each card containing one of the jointly drafted family values and their child-rearing philosophy. She explains that “in parenting situations, we defer to the birth parent for the most part, but anyone has input and can take control of a situation with a child.”

...The Smiths/Joneses drafted documents with an attorney for the transfer of property and guardianship in the event of a death, since they want the children to stay in the home they’ve created rather than be placed with extended family. They report, however, that it was tough to find willing legal professionals.

One who does assist society’s fringe types is Midvale attorney Andrew McCullough, who believes polyamorists enjoy broad protections stemming from the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas. “It basically tells government to stay out of our bedrooms,” says McCullough, who opines that if kids aren’t subjected to behavior any more salacious than what they’d see in the typical home, “it shouldn’t matter how many ‘parents’ they have.”

For peer support, the Smiths/Joneses are involved with the Utah Polyamory Society, which maintains a Listserv at groups.yahoo.com/group/UtahPolyamorySociety/ for more than 500 subscribers. The society holds meetings twice a month and occasional socials for 10 to 100 attendees, geared to Utahns seeking encouragement and advice in creating successful polyamorous unions.

...My own polyamorous journey began seven years ago....

...Vanessa is open about her bisexuality, but Anna is leery of too much exposure and public displays of affection with others. She’s not shy, however, about listing the benefits she’s accrued on her polyamorous journey: “Coming into who I really am while breaking out of what my parents and my bishop thought I should be, and doing what moves me, has been awesome. I love loving how I love. I love being how I am. I think I’m one of the luckiest women in the world, and I’m surrounded by intelligent, spiritual, loving people.”

All are hopeful that society will continue to become more accepting of unconventional lifestyles. Jake philosophizes, “I think the day will come when everybody will be living their dreams full-on, all the time, and without reservation.”...

Read the whole article (June 1, 2011). It profiles a number of other people and their experiences, including an awful one. One sidebar lists "resources for exploring the polyamory path" (including Polyamory in the News!), and another discusses the anthropological basis of poly, drawing on Sex at Dawn.


P. S: Why do so many gentiles still think of polygamy when they think of Mormonism, more than 120 years after the LDS church left polygamy behind? In 1890 the church officially renounced its doctrine that a Mormon man needs three wives to please God and get top treatment in the afterlife, and outlawed the practice, in what amounted to a deal to get the federal government to accept Utah as a state.

Part of the reason the church hasn't been able to shake the polygamy tag is that it abandoned polygamy only in this life. Three wives remain the expectation for good Mormon men in the afterlife. Even though the church doesn't publicize this, indications of it may show.

Then there are the breakaway Mormon sects, with a few tens of thousands of followers, who hold to the original doctrine of "celestial marriage." They claim, with some justification, that they're the real Mormons and the mainstream LDS church is the breakaway, because its leaders abandoned God's revelation for secular gain.