Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

September 29, 2011

The future of our defining word

I'm disturbed by a troubling trend. As the word "polyamory" spreads into the mainstream, its usage is deflating there to become, sometimes, just another term for old-fashioned screwing around.

Not to be sex-negative or anything, but we've got plenty of terms for that already. We risk losing our defining word, one that refers to something different: the radical subset of non-monogamy that's open to good heart connections among three or more people all around. Even if those connections are merely good will and caring behavior among friendly acquaintances.

There is no other term in the language for this closing of the loop. "Polyamory" is our only brand name. If we lose the brand, we will lose the ability to find each other.

And, we would also lose the ability to refer to the concept without wordy explanations. In 2004, the people carrying the POLYAMORY banner in the San Francisco Pride Parade pictured above knew exactly what it said and why they were marching behind it. In 2020, will the banner (which they still have) be useless because its meaning has become vague and diffuse? A banner that had to be covered with a long, wordy explanation would be unreadable and pathetic.

The problem was recently discussed among the board members of Loving More, and the only solution proposed was to encourage people to be vigorous in correcting misuses of the word when you see them. This really does have an effect. And also, we need to keep getting the closing-the-loop concept out to the public more widely — to keep the meaning spreading along with with the word.

Articles like the one below may seem small, but they're important. With enough of them, our vision will be accurately understood by the mainstream sooner than we may think — while still encompassing the wide range of people and practices that fall under the polyamory umbrella.

In VueWeekly, the alternative paper of Alberta, Canada:

More the merrier

More people are coming out as polyamorous

By Brenda Kerber

...I used to hear about polyamory only in quiet conversations with the occasional person who "confessed" to me that they had a few partners or an open relationship. Now I hear from poly people all the time. Is it becoming more common, or are people just more comfortable being open about it? Kevin Cutting, a member and organizer of Polyamory Edmonton, thinks it's a bit of both.

"Less and less people are relying on the nuclear family as the model of how they shape their relationships. They're taking a 'whatever works' approach, and non-monogamy's growth can be partially attributed to that. On the other hand," he says, "you have more people being open about how they may have always been doing things. As the taboos fall away, open discussion ensues...."

Susan Larcombe, who teaches workshops on polyamory and is poly herself, agrees. "As more people hear about polyamory, I think there are definitely more people exploring it who might not otherwise have done so a decade ago."

...Larcombe has encountered a lot of misconceptions about polyamorists, that it's just cheating with a different name and that you'll sleep with anyone. She says polyamory means that you are open about your multiple relationships and that everyone knows and agrees. "I don't think I've ever gotten the same answer twice as to why people are interested in or practising polyamory. The reasons run the gamut: feminist or anti-oppressive statements against ownership of another person; loving partners with very different social or sexual needs; past histories of being controlled by partners; diverging interests; wanting a more solid family base for raising children; sharing resources... the list goes on."...

Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.

Here's the whole article (Sept. 7, 2011).


At the risk of repeating myself again, I've talked about this before. From my speech at the 2008 Poly Pride Picnic & Rally in New York:

Steering the Bandwagon

For the last three years [I boomed into the mike] I’ve been running a site called Polyamory in the News. It's clear that during just these three years, worldwide interest in ethical polyamory, and the ideas and values behind it, has been growing rapidly.

Also growing are misconceptions about it, and misuses of the term that I think threaten to spiral out of control.

So at this historic moment, I want to deliver a caution, and some advice about our future.

People who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move. No longer is it all about a few devoted people grunting and straining from behind to make the bandwagon’s wheels move half an inch. When the effort begins to succeed, the bandwagon starts rolling on its own, faster and faster.

And unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions. And then it wrecks itself spectacularly in a ditch. Survivors loot the wreckage and disappear, and onlookers nod their heads knowingly and say they saw it coming all along.

Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago....

So maybe it’s time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it.

If we are to save our defining word from serious cheapening in the next few years, and guide this thing in good directions as it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be taking every opportunity to do several things:

1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, ethics, integrity, generosity, and concern for every person affected;

2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many;

3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";

4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or even as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends and acquaintances — perhaps family even — for whom you genuinely wish good things. (And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become.) This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of the magic of romantic love — into something wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.

And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through courage, hard relationship-honesty work, self-examination, tough personal growth, and a readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."

Please — with the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or in any way less than what we know it to be.



September 20, 2011

"Suddenly, It Was Everywhere"

The polyamory-awareness movement, such as it is (in the U.S. this means mainly Loving More, the Polyamory Leadership Network [PLN], and a whole raft of independent people and groups) has in the last few years settled pretty firmly on a name for its core purpose: "Relationship Choice."

This is shorthand for telling the world that you can create your own relationship structures, based on how well they work for all concerned. In particular, it's about spreading the revelation that loving, ethical multi-relationships exist, do work, and can be a genuine choice for three or more good-hearted people of integrity. For some, anyway, if they know what they're doing, and if they take care to be good at it. As in communicating, communicating, communicating.

The other side of "relationship choice" is knowing that you can choose monogamy without apology, and declare it a requirement for any partner you seek, as a conscious decision about your own needs and nature. But it should not be an unthinking default that you assume everyone has to do because it's the only thing that works. Nor should you unwarily assume that a partner of yours will also automatically think and feel the same way.

Accordingly, a vision that we discussed at the last PLN summit was bringing about the day when everyone grows up knowing that having open or closed relationships is a choice that you deliberately think about and make, rather than monogamy being the assumed necessity. In this vision, whenever two people start getting serious about each other they'll have the mono-or-poly discussion right alongside the other discussions that are crucial to serious relationships in this day and age, such as whether you want children or expect a partner to share your religion.

Those questions too used to go undiscussed because "yes" was the only right answer.

The poly movement a generation ago tended to be wilder and more utopian. Our founders often saw polyamory as a revelation about the next stage of all human evolution. Thirty years of practical experience (and ruthless snarking) have brought such attitudes more down to earth. Although, I have a hunch that a poly-normative 22nd century will look back on our early radical visionaries more kindly than we sometimes do now.

So, who could object to the ideal of relationship choice? Or the need to discuss your poly or mono proclivities with a new person right off the bat?

Well, life gets complicated. Nowadays there are enough poly-normative communities that the inevitable downsides of a new social norm are starting to be visible.

For instance, a while back I noted a complaint published at York University in Toronto:

Once I was part of a discussion with a pair of female friends bemoaning the increasing number of polyamorous women these days who were "ruining it" for women looking to settle down with one man....

Arguably... the acceptance of polyamory in certain social circles is creating an environment that is increasingly inhospitable for those bent on cultivating a monogamous relationship. This is because there is greater social pressure to accept polyamory.... A thorough critical analysis of polyamory would include an examination of the broader social issues at play if and when such relationships become more mainstream.

Portland, Oregon, is such a place already, at least if you're young. At Reed College in Portland, Lucy Bellwood is a comix artist-in-training who, when she fell hard for a guy, ran right up against the local poly-vs-mono dating culture.

Her beau, like the PLN's model of the good poly person of the future, informed her right away of his relationship beliefs and preferences.

She has just posted an auto-
biographical comic of what came next as she encountered this world. Click for the whole thing full-size (Sept. 13, 2011).

She's good. This is clearly just the start of an unfolding story. I hope she keeps going. Leave a comment on her blog.

(A week later she posted this followup sketch.)

Elsewhere, a monogamist in another very poly setting describes how she navigates:

Alternative Alternative Relationship Models

By Bianca James

Recently I went and saw a workshop presented by Dossie Easton, co-author of The Ethical Slut....Polyamory is wildly popular in the queer and kink communities, to the point that people who prefer monogamy get sometimes funny looks.

I dabbled in polyamory in my youth (when I actually had the time and energy for multiple relationships) and while I respect it as a valid lifestyle for others, it's not a relationship model that works for me at this point....

So what do you do when you're not really up for polyamory but are too unconventional for traditional committed monogamy? You come up with alternatives to alternative relationship models.

Unrequited Polyamory: Although I cannot handle IRL polyamory, I am a champion at unrequited polyamory. This is when you are secretly "in love with" (read: doomed crush) multiple unavailable people.... The difference between unrequited polyamory vs. normal unrequited love is the sincere belief that all twelve of these people could be the love of your life, simultaneously, if they'd just give you a chance.

Casual Monogamy: One of the best parts of being in an ongoing relationship is (hopefully) you are having lots of fantastic sex with someone who gets to know your sexual ins and outs (teehee) well enough to get you off every time. But you know what the best part of monogamy really is? LOTS AND LOTS OF BAREBACKING (assuming you're both STI-free).... Sometimes you can't handle being in a real relationship, but you miss that unlimited sexual freedom to fuck without a condom/ dental dam/ whatever. And that's where casual monogamy comes in.

When I first moved to Chicago, I spent six months in a non-committed relationship with a much older divorced man I nicknamed my "casual husband."...

Platonic Boyfriend/ Girlfriend/ Genderqueerfriend: This is sort of the inverse of casual monogamy. You are clearly in an ongoing, emotional involved relationship with a person, and you do stuff like cook dinner and go to IKEA together, but sex is off the table....

Read the whole article at the Huffington Post (Sept. 19, 2011).


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September 13, 2011

Some Next Generation voices

A student speaks out for polyamory on the website of the online and print magazine Teen Ink ("reaching millions of teens nationwide"):

Polygamy, Polyamory, and Society

By Anonymous, Nova Scotia, Canada

In my opinion, I have too many friends that are pointlessly heartbroken.

...Most people involved in polyamorous lifestyles don't believe in the same standards of commitment that are idealized by society. Instead, honesty and trust are key factors, which lets each individual experience complete romantic, emotional, and sexual freedom.

I believe in the idea of polyamory, because to me it's completely logical. Think about it for a second. We, as animals, are not programmed to choose one mate and spend the rest of our existence with them, faithfully. It's not realistic. I don't believe you should have to subtract someone you love from your life instead of adding someone to it.

Based on this, I feel that exclusively monogamous relationships are impractical and against nature. You don't have the right to own or rule over another person's life, nor choose their decisions for them.

Sadly, because monogamy has been so normalized in our society, most people are conflicted and critical of the idea of loving more than one person at once.

...I honestly believe the world would be more productive if polyamory and monogamy switched roles. There would be no burden of numerous Twilight books....

Love is not something that should be lost for no reason. Love is not a pie; the more slices there are does not mean each slice contains less.

...It is one of my greatest hopes that polyamory will eventually be accepted in society, and not looked down upon and avoided because of misinformation.

Whole article (Sept. 2011).

Elsewhere, Lynsey of Prescott, Arizona, wrote on CollegeNET:

Polyamory: Lifestyle Choice or Glorified Cheating?

When I turned eighteen, I began hearing a term I'd never heard before: polyamory. I wasn't sure if it was because I moved to the west coast or because it was catching on in society as quickly as bisexuality did, but either way it had me fascinated. How could it possibly work? Why didn't partners get jealous? Was it an appropriate lifestyle choice, or just a glorified excuse for cheating?

I've run into several polyamorous couples now, and they've all left me with a different opinion. For one couple, it worked perfectly. For another, it was the husband's way of getting away with sleeping with other women. For me, it was all far too confusing to figure out.

To clarify, polyamory is not strictly sexual, a common misconception. Those people are called swingers, not polyamorous. Also, having a girlfriend on the side is not being polyamorous. In a relationship involving polyamory, all partners know about each other, as the relationship is a romantic one. The technical term for sleeping with other people behind your partner's back is "cheating."

...Couples I've seen discuss everything together, from the wife's new boyfriend to the husband's new girlfriend. One couple actually both dated the new girlfriend, and had a strange sort of triangle going on. It worked for them, so cool.

...Could you ever partake in a polyamorous relationship? Do you think it's morally wrong to try to love two people at once? If your significant other were to tell you they wanted to try polyamory, how would you respond?...

Whole article (June 24, 2011), with many comments. Enough other readers voted up this and her many other essays to win her a $5,000 scholarship prize from the site's sponsor, CollegeNET, "a privately held company providing web-based on-demand technologies to colleges, universities, and non-profits."

● See too this article on Loving More's blogsite: The Influx of Young People Identifying as Polyamorous (Jan. 22, 2011), and read the many comments.

● Bitsy, a grad student and a member of the Polyamory Leadership Network, has put up a list of TNG (The Next Generation) poly groups. She intends to keep the list up to date permanently if you send her additions, changes, or corrections; mail to bitsy AT openlypoly DOT net.

Now, saving the best for last: at Boston University, Bitsy wrote an article for an underground orientation booklet that incoming freshmen received:

Polyamory, a Design-Your-Own Relationships Kit

...The idea of being open and honest about having multiple partners strikes people as crazy.

Perhaps it is, but it's the best sort of crazy: the kind that allows many people to have happier lives.

....When I entered my first serious relationship, I told my partner-to-be that I didn't want monogamy. I had active crushes on other people and I knew these feelings weren't about to go away just because I was being lovey with one person.... We've now been dating for nearly ten years. In that time I've learned how many pitfalls forging your own style of relationship can have, found a name for what I do — polyamory — dated a few other people, and been incredibly satisfied with the paths my relationships have taken.

In addition to my long-standing partner, I have another whom I've been dating for about four years. I have lived together with both of them in the same apartment....

Let me add a warning: getting to a place where my relationship worked was difficult and painful.... One of the things polyamory teaches you is to be comfortable with emotional pain, knowing you'll move through it, knowing you have a larger goal. Moving through emotional pain allows you to grow into a better person, to be more in touch with yourself, and better able to deal with life's curveballs. You learn to communicate clearly, directly, and proactively, a skill that's applicable not just to your personal life but to academic and professional pursuits. You'll find that your emotions surprise you: things you think would be problems often aren't, and things that you'd never considered turn out to bother you tremendously....

Even if you think you'll never find yourself in a relationship outside cultural norms, as my partners once thought, I encourage you to read what the polyamory community has to say about dealing with emotions and communication.... Relationship skills are relationship skills, and learning to have a solid poly relationship is really just learning how to have a good relationship....

Read the whole article (September 2010) (7 MB pdf; see pages 25 and 26.)

Three years ago, poly activist Diana Adams (another member of the PLN) declared at a Loving More conference, "This is my poly dream: that every college student in America will know the word polyamory and what it means within five years."

With two years to go, it actually seems to be happening to some extent — more than I remember expecting at the time. Any ideas on how to boost the pace toward Diana's deadline? And to ensure that more of what gets out there gets it right?


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September 7, 2011

A South Carolina governor who hikes the Appalachian Trail... "openly"?

Remember South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford? In 2009 he vanished for nearly a week "hiking the Appalachian Trail", then reappeared from a tryst in Argentina and captivated the nation by crying on camera about having "met my soul mate," while his wife stewed.

Now Sanford is gone, and the new governor of South Carolina is another militant Christian conservative: Nikki Haley (at right, with husband Michael). Who, as came out last year during her campaign, also apparently had lovers not her spouse. First up was Republican political consultant Will Folks, who had worked as a spokesman for Mark Sanford and founded the South Carolina political blog FITSNews ("Unfair. Imbalanced."). Folks publicly admitted to an affair with Haley when, he said, he was faced with phone records, text messages, and other evidence about to go public. Another link. The whole mess got published and you can see it on the web.

Unlike Sanford, Nikki Haley aggressively declared that she had been "100 percent faithful" to her husband, and Michael stuck with her. Then, married Republican lobbyist Larry Marchant confessed that he too had an affair with Haley. He went on TV telling his side of their one-night stand just before reporters were about to break the story.

Later, after she implied that Marchant and Folks had been lying, each of them swore out an affidavit on pain of perjury and challenged Haley to do the same. When it came to putting her apparent denials under oath, she became very quiet. See more followup. She won the governorship anyway.

Today, FITSNews suggests that Haley and her husband have had an open-marriage agreement all along (but notice the weasel-wording):

[Haley's] relationship with her husband is one of the most bizarre things we’ve ever witnessed....

While South Carolinians may not be 100 percent sure that Haley has stepped out on her man in the past, we’re guessing that the “First Man” harbors no illusions about his wife’s extramarital activities.... We’re guessing that Michael Haley knows all too well that those numerous late night phone calls between his wife and our founding editor Will Folks were not about work. And we’re presuming that he did a quick check of the dates of the especially lengthy late night calls — perhaps cross-referencing them with the dates of his “military” training at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas.

Also … we’re presuming that, like our founding editor, Michael Haley knows exactly what sort of underwear his wife prefers.

...What — if anything — did Michael Haley know about his wife’s affairs before they became front-page news? And when did he find out? And most importantly, why is he still doing the whole “cuckold” thing?

Here's the article with links to sordid source material (Sept. 7, 2011).

This comes amid a messy batch of firings, investigations, and alleged affairs among Haley's appointees and officials. Her governorship has been a tempest from the start, a replay of Sarah Palin's in Alaska (Palin campaigned for her) — though she may be a better separated-at-birth match for Michelle Bachmann, whom she has quartered at the governor's mansion.

Haley recently declared again on national TV that she will not accept the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 2012. Even so, Fox News contributor and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer cites her as looking good as a Republican candidate for president in 2016. As in, President of the United States.

Let's be fair, open marriages ought to be for conservatives too.

I'm posting about this craziness because it may hold a lesson for non-monogamous pols: If you're a conservative and your spouse is okay with it, conservative voters and party bigshots may be too. Or at least they may bend their eyes far, far away to avoid seeing anything.

This runs counter to the widespread poly observation that conservative people tend to be more upset by seeing an open relationship than by seeing old-fashioned cheating.

This circus isn't over.

Update Nov. 4, 2011: Nope, it isn't! "Gov. Nikki Haley allegedly has a secret “love nest” in Washington, D.C., too," says FITSnews today.

...Not only that, she and her husband – S.C. First Gentleman Michael Haley – are said to have an “open marriage” in which they are free to have sexual relations with other partners.

Want more? We’re told that members of South Carolina’s mainstream media have nailed down both stories – yet have been sitting on them for weeks.

...A third man – S.C. Rep. Thad Viers – was also alleged to have had a one-night stand with Haley at a 2006 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in San Francisco....

Over the last few months, the “open” nature of Haleys’ marriage has been confirmed to us by multiple sources including, but not limited to … our mole in the governor’s office, a pair of state lawmakers from Lexington, a former Haley staffer, a member of the governor’s security detail, two exotic dancers at Heartbreakers (the strip club frequented by Haley’s husband) and three residents of the Governor’s Grant neighborhood where the Haleys continue to maintain a private residence....

...“The impression I got was that this was a very confused, conflicted woman,” Folks said, adding that this was one of the reasons he broke off the affair with Haley....

Read the whole story (Nov. 4, 2011). And remember, if Charles Krauthammer is right, you may be voting in 2016 on whether she'll be the next President of the United States.


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September 1, 2011

Germany: Culture evolution via mainstream talk show

ZDF (German TV)

At ages 68 and 67, Erika Hohndorf and Justus Rumpf are the oldest polyfolks I've seen going on television to explain and analyze their multi-loving way of life. They're German; you may recognize them from their heartwarming appearance in a German public TV documentary three weeks ago. Last night they ventured into a different setting: one of Germany's best-known TV talk shows (hosted by Markus Lanz).

According to our Berlin correspondent Viktor Leberecht, they held their own very well with the host, the other guests, and the audience. They were the focus for the first 30 minutes of a 74-minute show. Audiences over there must have longer attention spans.

Watch it here (Aug. 31, 2011).

On the English version of his website, Leberecht writes:

When a talk show host discusses polyamory there is quite a risk that it will be mediocre and that the whole theme will get drowned in prejudice and stereotypes.... The Markus Lanz show managed to avoid these pitfalls and to correct some prejudices about polyamory.

Of course there was much talk about sex, but that was good, because sex is an important part of a relationship. The polyamorous couple, Justus Rumpf and Erika Hohndorf, who had the courage to appear on the show, did amazingly well, by talking in a natural way about how important love and sex with multiple partners can be....

Apart from some critical remarks by actress Dagmar Koller, who rejected polyamory altogether, all other participants, even if they ruled out polyamory for themselves, expressed only positive opinions about the polyamorous couple's obvious harmony. The host and the other guests also defended the two against the criticisms of Ms. Koller. We heard things like, "If something is so obviously in good shape" (referring to the couple´s relationship) "then you need not criticize it."... And even Ms. Koller later in the show spoke very positively about how the two were so open, in particular that they so openly talked about sex in old age....

I admire their courage to appear before such a large audience. They themselves reported that in their circle of friends, who also live polyamorously, nobody else was willing to appear, because all had worries what the neighbors, colleagues or superiors would think.

I can well understand this concern. I myself for a long time was reluctant to be open, and cautious who I spoke to about my way of life. But I can say — and this is valid just for me and my situation — that since I started to be open, I feel much better. I’m relaxed, I’m not all that worried anymore.

I see the Polyamorous People in my native Germany in a similar situation to homosexuals in Germany 25 years ago. Homosexuality was not a crime anymore, at least for adults. But to confess to homosexuality was not normal. And nobody would have thought that Germany would have many openly gay politicians, including its current Foreign Minister, Mr. Westerwelle. The many gay coming-outs helped, in that people realized that many homosexuals lived among them, were their neighbours, their colleagues, their friends, and that homosexuals are respectable people. We need the same thing to happen for polyamory.

I think, appearances like this one will contribute to that recognition.

Read his whole post (Sept. 1, 2011). Or see his German site.


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