Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

December 31, 2011

"Compersion Version"

Now (Toronto)

I've expressed concern that the word polyamory could lose its meaning as it spreads into careless general use. Here, an advice columnist corrects the same thing happening to compersion, another word that used to be in-group jargon but is becoming more widely known and employed.

"Sasha" is a sex-advice columnist for Toronto's big news-and-entertainment weekly Now. She has been writing her column for 17 years.

Compersion Version

Readers weigh in on the complexities of poly relationships

Dear Sasha,

I was quite disconcerted with your reply to Desperate Puppy, so much so that I feel compelled to respond....

Fantasizing about one’s spouse having sex with someone else is not just a guy thing. A few years ago you replied to a woman who, while having sex, continually imagined watching her man having sex with another woman. I believe she said it was the only way she could reach orgasm. It sort of changed my life....

There’s a relevant term that my wife and I came across while further exploring this particular fantasy, “compersion,” which we found in Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up. Yes, there could be an element of selfishness to it, but I assure you it’s not a macho thing. You might want to research it.


Dear Chris,

...As I understand it, compersion is not the same as fantasizing about your partner fucking someone else and wanting all the gory details to expedite your own fantasies.

Compersion is often defined by polyamorists as the opposite of jealousy. One of the distinguishing qualities of compersion might be the profound relief you feel that you’re actually not exploding with jealousy at the idea of your partner having sex with someone else. While you may very well be happy for your partner, you’re also happy that you aren’t feeling like you want to collapse from heartache. It’s the wondrous sensation of a truth being revealed to you that defies the one you’ve been told all your life.

And it’s extra-awesome because you sought that truth out on your own, despite some pretty intense obstacles.

What Desperate Puppy’s boyfriend wants seems more along the lines of using his boyfriend as a lightning rod for a fantasy he has about watching him fuck someone else. He doesn’t want to be happy that his boyfriend is fucking other men. He wants to be
horny that his boyfriend is fucking other people. He wants his boyfriend to fuck other people primarily for his [own] pleasure, not [boyfriend's] pleasure.

Read the whole column (Dec. 31, 2011). It also appeared in Winnipeg's Uptown (Jan. 5, 2012).



December 28, 2011

Next Generation roundup of unusually good stuff

Two days ago I put up a bunch of student-newspaper articles about polyamory. Continuing the theme, here are some more Next Generation items I thought were especially interesting. This is nowhere near complete.

1. Laci Green, "secular humanist and sex-positive hostess of YouTube's weekly webshow Sex+" (and an ex-Mormon) explicates poly in 4½ minutes. Click above.

This went up 18 days ago and has had 50,000 views. This and more like it are the answer to Diana's deadline in my previous post.


2. A young freethought activist — and great writer — describes his amazing newbie introduction to poly in a piece that's gone viral:

Adventures in Polyamory

By JT Eberhard

...I’m still pretty much a kid trying to figure things out (while trying to be responsible at the same time). I try new things and I make mistakes, and I have no problem telling people about it because I hope that nudges others to be more shameless about who they are.

...So, today I’m going to try and demonstrate what I find to be admirable behavior by being honest, sharing a story that changed my mind about something, and saying to hell with the consequences. I’m going to tell you about having sex with a married woman.

At Skepticon last year I met a woman, Christina, who would go on to become one of my closest friends thanks to the magic of the internet. Christina and I had quite a great deal in common and a lot of the same curiosities about life. I felt very fortunate to have made her acquaintance.

I knew she was married and soon found out her marriage was polyamorous — i.e., both Christina and her husband had sex with other people.... Sex was not a taboo subject for Christina. She spoke about sex as casually as discussing what to have for dinner, which at first made me slightly uncomfortable. Not in an “oh my gosh that’s wrong” way, but in a way where I thought “ok, if that’s what fills your sails, but it’s not for me.”

Sex is a magical topic. It’s so interesting that with the proper approach its introduction can save almost any boring conversation. And, as two fairly open-minded people, our conversations eventually turned to what we liked in bed. We both were meticulous in our avoidance of diseases, but there were some stark differences between us. I liked giving back rubs. Christina liked having meat hooks pierced through her back and being suspended by wires. I wanted to be in a threesome one day. Christina had lost count of how many she’d been in. She began to call me naive, a charge to which I almost immediately pled guilty (by comparison to Christina, what choice did I have?). She then told me we should have sex.

I laughed. Christina didn’t.

Now, I’m not a prude.... But Christina was married.... “What about your husband?” I asked.

“We’re polyamorous. You know that,” she responded....

“Is your husband really ok with this?”

“Do you want to ask him?” she asked.

...The whole thing just felt odd. I tried to put my finger on it, but I couldn’t....

...And like that we were walking into her house. Within seconds Chris, her husband, came over to give me a hug. He seemed genuinely excited to see me. He didn’t seem awkward at all!.... I sat down in the kitchen and Christina and Chris went about making dinner. As nonchalant as a man ordering a cheeseburger he asked me how I was. I’m a fan of honesty almost all the time, so I decided to come out with it.

“I’m good. I admit though, I’m a little uneasy about this. I’ve never…um…y’know…been physical with a married person before.”...

We proceeded to talk over dinner about polyamory, about Chris’s girlfriend, and about physical fitness. It was actually very pleasant. Chris and Christina hugged and kissed – they were a perfectly adorable couple. Finally, it came time for Christina and I to excuse ourselves....

...And we cuddled all night afterward.

In the morning we got up and made breakfast. Christina kissed Chris, and this whole fucked up situation finally resonated with me as closer to normalcy.

Over the course of the day Christina told both Chris and me that she loved us. I later asked her how that was possible, and she told me that love is not like a bathtub; somebody doesn’t need to get out to make room for someone else. I had honestly never thought about it that way.... There are really people who can love freely — and I don’t just mean sex. I mean honest, genuine love. And I think that’s beautiful....

We’re a funny lot, Americans. We use sex to sell everything in sight, but we want to act like prudes when it comes to the actual subject and treat sex like it’s something to be ashamed of or cannot be used as a means to entertainment....

...Love is not a bathtub. I’ve learned a lot from Christina and Chris, but chief among them is that I am polyamorous and would have been much sooner if not for a bunch of wonky societal myths. And so I write blog posts like this, because that’s why we come out. We come out to normalize something we think are awesome in order to dispel those myths....

Read his whole article (Nov. 17, 2011).

This piece has been spreading so widely (such as by Andrew Sullivan's blog on The Daily Beast) that a writer for The American Conservative used it as the basis of an article, The Mainstreaming of Polyamory (Nov. 22, 2011), in which he warns darkly:

We’re going to be seeing a lot of this, I bet. People who have nonjudgmental attitudes about sex deciding that the only thing keeping them from violating taboos is fear. And when that is conquered…

Conservatives' biggest fear often seems to be that other people will overcome their fear. Maybe that's because conservatives' brains tend to have overgrown amygdalas, although biologist P. Z. Myers disagrees ("I really resent the foolish categorization of the functions of these brain regions").


3. At a 21-year-old's blog Love Is Infinite:

...At 21, I’m still the youngest poly I personally know. The gap is narrowing, but it’s still there and was even more noticeable when I first started moving in poly circles at the age of 19.

So what does this mean?

A lot of the time, absolutely nothing.... I have many wonderful friends of all ages, and the ages of the people I’m currently involved with on any level span a range of about 20 years. It doesn’t matter.... The same is not true for how other people feel, unfortunately — I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been informed that my beloved Nomad is ‘taking advantage of me’ purely because of the 15-year gap in our ages, or that I have been ‘brainwashed’ in my youthful innocence to believe that something as out-there as polyamory is actually okay. As though I need rescuing from my own choices.

...The problem is that being young means essentially that everything I do tends to be written off as a phase.... I can virtually see people wondering when I’m going to grow out of it. Well, I wonder instead how old one has to be before one’s life-choices are not written off as ‘a silly phase?’

Because I’m sure many things about me will change as I get older. But being bi and poly are facets of who I am, and I am increasingly sure they will not change.

Whatever people might think, though, I am truly happy that I discovered this lifestyle, the kind of life that suits me, when I was young....

Read the whole post (Oct. 21, 2011).

Me, I discovered what's now called poly at 17 and felt pretty sure my life had changed forever, though I knew I wasn't in a position to convince others of this or even myself. Now that I'm 60 I can say yep, I was right.


4. In the New York Times:

The Freedom To Choose Your Pronoun

...“These teens are fighting the idea that your equipment defines what it means for you to be a boy or girl. They are saying: ‘You don’t know me by looking at me. Assume nothing.’ ”

Dr. [Ritch C.] Savin-Williams [director of the Cornell University Sex and Gender Lab], who is also the author of the book The New Gay Teenager, went on to list some of the new adjectives young people use to describe themselves: “bi-curious,” “heteroflexible,” “polyamorous” and even “wiggly.”...

Read the whole article (Oct. 2, 2011).


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December 26, 2011

College newspaper roundup

Golden Gate Express (San Francisco State)
Q Magazine at Yale
The College Voice (Connecticut College)
The Campus (Bishop's University)
The Mancunion (Univ. of Manchester, U.K.)
The Daily Kansan (Univ. of Kansas)

"This is my poly dream: that every college student in America will know the word polyamory and what it means within five years." So declared Diana Adams at a Loving More conference 3¼ years ago.

More progress has happened in this direction than I expected at the time. As the poly universe grows, its average age definitely seems to be trending down. For instance, the fastest-growing poly site on the internet right now (as far as I know) is reddit/r/polyamory, with 4,800+ members and another thousand every few months. Reddit is mostly twentysomethings.

Here are some recent college newspapers picking up the topic.

1. In the Golden Gate Express at San Francisco State University:

First dates usually start with conversations about music preferences, living situations and work.

Most people won’t declare “Just so you know, I’m not monogamous,” as SF State senior Emily Irving, 21, does.

Irving is in a polyamorous relationship with Philip Russo, 36, who introduced her to the lifestyle. They have been together for three years. [They pose in the center of the photo above.]

...“I really liked him and I thought that, maybe if I didn’t understand the idea of it at first, a few dates couldn’t hurt me,” Irving said. “I went out with him and we talked about it more and I really liked the idea of being that unrestricted and un-smothered in a relationship.”

Irving then entered a serious relationship with Russo, who at the time was already seeing two other women. She then began living with Russo and one of the women, which she described as a challenge.

...“It’s very much about trust. It’s not like monogamy where I trust you not to go falling in love and sleeping with other people,” Irving said. “But that I trust you to be an individual and do whatever you like to do because I know you trust me just the same.”

...“The main point is that it’s not so much about sex but it’s about falling in love with people. In monogamy, you can’t tell someone if you’re attracted to someone because that’s not what you’re supposed to do,” Russo said. “We talk about it. Polyamory is about openness, trust and communication.”...

Read the whole article (Oct. 25, 2011).


2. In Q Magazine at Yale, "Yale University’s only LGBTQ-interest publication":

Lowdown: Polyamory

...The essence of polyamory [stands in opposition to] what has been called a “starvation economy” of love. For econ majors, this might make sense. If I have an apple, and I give it to someone, I no longer have an apple. I can’t give it to anyone else. This makes sense with finite physical resources, and it underlies the practice of monogamy. If I love my partner, I love ONLY my partner. The problem is that love is not finite. Polys (as practicers of polyamory tend to identify themselves) generally believe giving and receiving love only increases the stores of love to go around. The same way that making a new friend does not necessarily decrease the quality of your old friendships, polys explore multiple loving relationships with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

...While there is no “typical” practice of polyamory, a local practitioner describes his love life as an example of one of the many ways to be polyamorous. Nick, the founder of an online support group for polys, is a heteroflexible man in his mid-twenties.... Everybody involved knows as much as they wish to know about everyone else. In fact, Nick gets along well with the other boyfriend. For this group, polyamory has been fulfilling everyone’s needs well so far.

...You might be thinking, “That sounds awesome, why doesn’t everyone do this? Where can I sign up?” Or, you might be scoffing, “That could never work. People get jealous. It’s too complicated.” Either reaction has some truth to it....

...[T]he cardinal rule of polyamory: communication. Every single person involved needs to be explicitly aware of the expectations. Not every relationship within a network has to follow the same rules, but each individual must simultaneously follow the rules of all of their own relationships....

Another major concern related to communication has more tangible effects – nonmonogamous relationships hold a higher risk of STI transmission. Frequent and frank discussions about test results, consistency of barrier protection, and risk factors are vital....

Read the whole article (Dec. 18, 2011).


3. In The College Voice at Connecticut College:

Right Said Fred! Fred Discusses the Social Stigma Surrounding Polyamory

By Frederick McNulty

...While many people consider non-monogamy to be limited to religious extremists and misogynists, the fact of the matter is that polyamory is a growing trend all over the world.

As long as you are open and honest with all involved individuals, then I do not see the problem. All three of you seem to be extremely comfortable with a polyamorous relationship. The only concern that seems to be holding you back is the social stigma that surrounds non-monogamy. In my view, that should not keep you from being happy. Be warned that you will be fighting an uphill battle: from the inability to be recognized in a Facebook relationship to other forms of discrimination, we do not live in a society that accepts polyamory as a valid form of a relationship....

Read the whole article (Dec. 12, 2011).


4. A pro-con debate on polyamory at Bishop's University in Quebec:

One love or big love?

By Lara Henerson

One of the first lessons I learned as a naive first year student, was that boys here don’t like to be tied down.... And contrary to gender stereotypes, there are a ton of girls out there who would rather play the field than settle down with one partner. But is this really a bad thing? Does our society attach negative stigmas to people who seek multiple lovers? The answer is yes, undeniably so.

That’s why the debate held on October 18th in the Gait attracted such a large audience. The debate, organised and mediated by Dr. Jessica Riddell, was centered on this controversial statement: “Polyamory is a more responsible, honest approach to relationships in the twenty-first century.” Upon entry, all audience members were given definition flyers, clarifying the meanings of the terms polyamory, polygamy, monogamy, and monoamory. (To sum up; terms ending in -amory relate to non-marital relationships, and terms ending in -gamy relate to marriage). Dr. Michele Murray of the religion department and student Chris Carmichael argued for polyamory. On the other side, Dr. Bruce Gilbert of Liberal Arts and Philosophy and student Adria Midea argued for monogamy.

Midea kicked off the debate with what threatened at first to be a typical puritanical moral argument. However, things became more interesting with the implication that traditionally polygamous relationships have been in-egalitarian and harmful to the self-esteems of women. On the other side, Dr. Murray clarified that polyamory was not to be confused with “cheating,” since all parties involved are aware of each relationship. Her argument stressed that polyamory should be an option for those who wish to “explore different behaviours,” not that it should be compulsory. Dr. Murray also pointed out that polyamory gives people the opportunity to deal with their jealousy head-on, thereby accelerating personal growth. It is of course debatable (no pun intended) whether jealousy can ever really be conquered. And, as Dr. Gilbert rebutted, whether overcoming the very flaws that make us human is even a noble goal....

...Then came the final audience vote. Although the monogamy side did get more votes in the end, it seems that the polyamory side were able to double their supporters since the pre-debate vote. I personally found both sides so convincing that I abstained from voting in the end. All in all, it was a very thorough and successful debate, and one hopes we can forward to more in the future.

Read the whole article (Oct. 27, 2011). The debate is on YouTube in four parts; here's Part 1.


5. In a debate in "Britain's biggest student newspaper, serving Greater Manchester," a polyamory supporter steps up to correct someone unclear on the concept. The "Polyamory" float photo is from the 2009 San Francisco Pride Parade.


6. In The Daily Kansan: A self-proclaimed poly student who falls in love with people easily, yet has sex with none, writes that she still gets called a whore. Such is the rule in a culture where intimacy must be walled off from the rest of life.

In the summer of 2009, Amy Thompson, a sophomore from Shawnee, went on a study abroad trip to Besancon, France where she discovered she preferred polyamory to monogamy. Polyamory is the practice of having multiple committed relationships at a time with the knowledge and consent of all who are involved. She kept an open relationship with her boyfriend of two years while abroad.

I had a man for every day of the week when I was in France. While abroad, my only goal was to speak French. Dating someone turned out to be the best way to learn the language because I was always talking to that person. I had that dynamic multiplied by six, plus the long-distance boy back home.

...I’m in love with everyone I meet.... Polyamory forces me to communicate honestly with my partners. We talk about our limits.....

A lot of my friends told me what I was doing was immoral. The word “whore” was used to describe me. I didn’t have sex with any of those guys, not that it would matter. They [my friends] abandoned me for a lifestyle that made sense to me.

Read the whole article (Oct. 20, 2011).


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December 21, 2011

Poly and Jolly for the Holidays

Tonight is the longest night of the year. The solstice happens tonight (December 21-22) at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, when the sun reaches its southernmost point for the year and begins its seasonal return with the promise of new light and warmth to come. Such is the root and symbolism behind the season chosen for Christmas and many other festivals of light and hope in this darkest time of the year.

Last weekend Sparkle Moose and I again went to an overnight Longest Night party with about 50 Human Awareness Institute (HAI) and Network for New Culture type folks, way out in the icy New Hampshire dark. We poached ourselves in the crowded hot tub, belted out Christmas carols around the piano along with a Hanukkah classic rewritten to make latkes the Maccabees' secret weapon, and wrapped a Yule log with red and white ribbons. Into the ribbons we each tucked notes with wishes, then set the whole thing ablaze to send the smoke of the wishes into the world.

Back home, our Unitarian Universalist church had a full-bore religious-type carol sing Sunday morning, then in the afternoon a rollicking, kid-oriented "Occupy the Holidays" service with comedian Jimmy Tingle as twilight descended outside. We are blessed, and we say again: count your blessings while you have them.

To celebrate the season, here is a roundup of poly holiday jollity and other matters. Some is new, some is reprinted from last year or before.


● Here is Cunning Minx's recent Polyamory Weekly podcast #297, "Poly for the holidays":

Sometimes it’s tough to be poly over the holidays. Which relatives are you out to? Can you introduce your lover to your auntie May? How do you schedule family time? Listeners wrote in to ask the toughest holiday-related poly issues, and cohosts Joreth and Puck help Minx to sort them out:

— How to introduce non-spouses
— How to prevent your poly-aware daughter from letting closeted poly relationships slip in front of the “in-laws”
— Is being closeted OK to certain relatives?
— How do you handle feeling secondary and isolated?
— How do you manage economic disparities?
— How do you deal with missing some and disappointing others?

● On Planet Waves, Maria Padhila writes about traditional Christmas dreadfulness among normals (with a long shoutout to me and my last year's poly holiday roundup): ‘Tis the Season for Burl Ives’ Weapons-Grade Earworm.

● Terisa Greenan has produced a music video for the abundantly poly Bone Poets Orchestra's tune "Christmas Down South (of your Mason-Dixon Line)". It features rooftop singers Christopher Bingham and Sue Tinney with um-friends down below. Cute! There's a PG version and an R-rated version for your holiday viewing pleasure, depending on the sensibilities of visiting relatives.

● Last-minute gift hints? I list the 12 polyamory books that have come out in the last 3½ years, with brief descriptions of each, at the end of this post.

● If you're attending or hosting a family gathering for the holidays, chances are good these days that it's not quite traditional:

Four in 10 say marriage is becoming obsolete

Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2010

As families gather... more people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren't needed to have a family.

A study by the Pew Research Center, in association with Time magazine, highlights rapidly changing notions of the American family....

Indeed, about 39 percent of Americans said marriage was becoming obsolete....

When asked what constitutes a family, the vast majority of Americans agree that a married couple, with or without children, fits that description. But four of five surveyed pointed also to an unmarried, opposite-sex couple with children or a single parent. Three of 5 people said a same-sex couple with children was a family.

"Marriage is still very important in this country, but it doesn't dominate family life like it used to," said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. "Now there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them."

"More Americans are living in these new families, so it seems safe to assume that there will be more of them around the [holiday] dinner table"....

The changing views of family are being driven largely by young adults 18-29....

Read the Time article.

● For example, Joreth describes her multifarious Christmas plans as a radical atheist out poly:

...But with everyone reminding me that I'm "different", it got me to thinking ... how does a skeptical polyamorous atheist deal with a holiday that is more or less seen as a religious family holiday? Apparently, people want to know.

...First, I talk to all the partners and metamours who will actually be able to be present (i.e. the local ones and anyone who can travel). We discuss who has any pre-existing traditions, and how strongly everyone feels about those traditions....

...One of my metamours has a very strong attachment to decorating the tree, exchanging gifts, and spending the 2 days with her loved ones. On Christmas Eve, she likes to sleep out in the living room, under the lit tree. On Christmas morning, she likes to exchange gifts while sipping hot chocolate. Well, the rest of us think this is a fine and dandy way to spend a couple of days with loved ones, and since no one has any other traditions that they feel more strongly about than she does about her tradition, that's the one we all do....

Read more.

● "Around the holidays, you tend to get a spike of interest [from others] in your family," writes blogger sexpositiveactivism. "I find this frustrating because in choosing to only be selectively out about my polyamorous status, I necessarily get stuck telling some lies, and I’m a big truth-teller...." See Poly Holidays and the Difficulty of Telling Half-Truths.

● In Canada's gay-newspaper chain Xtra, "where queers conspire":

Multiple partners doesn't have to mean more stress

By Liz Stembridge | December 23, 2008

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY (AND POLY). Competing demands from multiple partners can certainly add to holiday stress, but there are plenty of ways to make it work.

..."I plan on spending equal time with both of them. I planned something special with A and planned something special with B. As far as actual Christmas Day, which I celebrate, I plan to be with my family.... It is just a way to make things fair and to avoid hurting feelings."

Maggie, who has been in polyamorous relationships in the past, says competing demands from multiple partners can certainly add to holiday stress.

"Oh, was I ever dreading the holidays," she says of her holiday experience while dating two women a few years back. "First off, my parents are not thrilled about my being gay... so one girlfriend is awkward, I couldn't imagine them knowing about two...."

See the full article. The illustration and ads may be NSFVG (Not Safe For Visiting Grandmas).

● If you live in a multipartner home, are you affected by people who don't know how to address their cards and letters to all of you? (Or who pointedly refuse to?) Some people are — as was discussed on LiveJournal. Posts tehuti:

I am one part of a quad. We're about as out as you can get without tattoos or neon signs. :-) Some cards have come addressed to all four of us, some only to the legally married couple, one even came specifically to only one of us. In at least one case, a card sent to just the married couple was from people who know better. These cards are actually quite useful. We're getting a really good idea of which of our family and friends "get it" and which ones don't. Mostly, it's family that's the problem.

● Here's Mistress Matisse — a high-end professional dominatrix, member of a longterm poly vee, and columnist for Dan Savage's alternative newspaper in Seattle — with a thoughtful piece on bringing her partners home to her relatives' traditional gatherings in Georgia: Bringing Poly Home:

...I suspect that having me show up with Monk instead of Max is going to be challenging to my kin.

...My biofamily is quite clear about the fact that they don't wish to know about the kinky side of my sexuality. But my observations of other people's coming-out experiences make me think that some families actually have an easier time accepting kink than they do polyamory.

...I suspect the difference is that kink doesn't seem to reliably make vanilla people question their own relationship choices. At least, not to a point of discomfort. But rare is the person in a long-term monogamous relationship who hasn't been attracted to another.... Too often what I've seen is someone more or less saying, "If I have to suffer, you should, too!"

● Don't miss this sweet classic video from 2007: a jingly-bell quad from Poly Victoria in Australia singing The 12 Poly Days of Christmas, as shown at the top of this page. The final verse (copyright Anne Hunter):

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true loves gave to me
Twelve minutes alone (sigh)--
Eleven Christmas dinners
Ten jealousy cures
Nine long discussions
Eight dozen condoms
Seven GoogleCalendars
Six-handed massage
Five Ethical Sluts!

Four sandwich hugs
Three-way snogs
Too much attention
And a quick course in polyamor-ee.

● Polyfulcrum offers some holiday thoughts and experiences:

...I am strongly in favor of not coming out at major family events!!! There is a certain sick draw toward dropping the poly nuclear bomb at such occasions. Resist the temptation! ...Tell people in smaller groups, answer the questions, deal with the shock and awe, and be prepared to have people tell you that they always knew there was something different about you/ going on. Then, by the time the next family gathering comes along, it's part of the family fabric; weird fabric, but hey, there's always got to be an eccentric, right?

...We finished [Thanksgiving] weekend by hosting a meal here that was open to our friends in the poly community, as they often stand in as our family of choice (particularly for me, as I don't have relations close by). It was much more satisfying than the mandatory family event, because it was a conscious choice.

● If and when you come out to your family of origin, you might ease the shock a bit with some nice, positive news articles showing that at least you're not a lone nut, but part of a (supposedly) hip social trend. Find a bunch at my category Show Your Parents!

● Citi Kittie, who's in an equilateral QQF triad, has tales to tell:

...The next people we told were Alexis's parents. They were both stunned. Her father said, "I'm going to need another glass of wine." This from a man who only drinks beer.

But they seemed to adjust quickly. Seeing how happy we are together made it easy for them to accept our triad. Then they proceeded to tell the rest of the family and suddenly I had a whole new set of people to buy birthday presents for.

When her grandma heard she giggled and said, "Oh, I didn't know you could do that." When she thought about it some more and said, "Well, I don't think it's for me." But she's been sending the three of us Christmas cards ever since.

Later, at a party for her parent's 30th wedding anniversary, we met Alexis's entire extended family, over ten aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens. Most made no mention of the fact that we have a different kind of relationship. Except Aunt Sadie. After talking with my wife and I for a while she said, "Well, I wanted to meet you and make sure you weren't creepy."

...My mom said it's not a good idea for my wife and I to have someone else living with us. She said, "What if you need to fight?"

Surely we can fight while living with someone. Growing up I had a brother and a sister and we fought all the time. So I think "fight" might have been code for "make a baby." And "why do you want Alexis to move in with you?" might have been code for "when are you going to give us some grandchildren?".

● The number one musical hit during Christmas week 1945, writes Randy R. from Ireland, was "I'm in Love with Two Sweethearts, and They're Both in Love with Me" by the British crooner Issy Bonn. A heartstrings puller. Toward the end of the song it becomes clear that one of them is his aged mother, but still.

● And finally, here is Noel Figart with one of her Polyamorous Misanthrope columns, on the meaning of the holidays beyond any lovers-and-relations problems: The Holiday Spirit:

Mama Java, she loves Christmas. A lot. It’s her birthday, and she was named for it, after all....

I have always thought of Christmas as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol



UPDATE: Just after Christmas this showed up on reddit/r/polyamory. It begins:


Again: Poly Problems in this thread are like First World Problems: issues that only poly couples know.

My current poly problem: when my GF visits for the holidays, my wife sleeps in the other room with her BF. We have a nice house, but the walls are thin. One of us will wake up, hearing the other having sex with their SO, and listen. This leads to them having sexy times with their SO, which is heard by the original couple, who get turned on again. This leads to a dueling-banjos...scenario where both couples end up collapsing around 5 am, completely destroyed, and we're all haggard the next day.

Another Poly World Problem is that people, even those who know we're poly, get us things like a gift cert for a Massage For Two, a pair of Santa hats, or two bottles of wine to split between the three of us. Even though they KNOW we're in a committed triad.

What's your Xmas Poly World Problem?



December 20, 2011

Toronto poly personality profiled in the news

The Grid (Toronto Star)

An online city magazine run by the mainstream Toronto Star interviews members of a prominent local poly household. The wife runs the non-monogamy blog Not Your Mother's Playground; maybe you've seen it.

The swing of it

How do you open your marriage to multi-partner loving? Our Sex Detective investigates.

By David Paterson

Here’s a dilemma. Imagine you came home one day to find that your partner had gotten busy with someone else and left two used wine glasses on the kitchen table. Which would you feel is the greater marital crime: (a) the infidelity or (b) the dereliction of dishwasher duties?

I’d probably choose infidelity.... But for Samantha Fraser, an event planner and videogame development professor at George Brown, the answer is clear: Her husband’s extramarital activities aren’t a problem, but failing to clean up afterwards is a serious offence.

Fraser and her husband are non-monogamists, which means they each meet, date and have sex with a whole bunch of other people. Non-monogamists (a term that includes everyone from swingers to people in open relationships to polyamorists, who have multiple steady partners on the go) reject traditional notions of marriage and cheating, instead believing that, when it comes to sex and love, more is merrier.

Since nobody keeps count of these things, it’s almost impossible to say how many people are into non-monogamy, but the recently founded Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association estimates there could be “tens of thousands” across the country. In Toronto, Fraser says the scene is far more active now than it was when she and her husband first opened up their marriage five years ago. There’s even a Toronto polyamory Meetup group, which currently has 252 members.

In explaining their relationships, non-monogamous people often invoke the idea of friendship groups. They say that, just as you wouldn’t expect your hockey-loving drinking buddies to go watch The Nutcracker with you....

But before you run off to energize your marriage with a spot of group loving, be warned that this is a complicated business. So complicated, in fact, that Fraser — who writes about her experiences on her blog, Not Your Mother’s Playground — runs Non-Monogamy 101 workshops at several sex stores. In her sessions, she rolls out flip charts bearing headings like “Organization,” “Rules” and — my personal favourite — “Logistics.” It’s a far cry from the sexual free-for-all I’d been expecting.

Basic competencies for a fledgling non-monogamist include the diary-management skills of a secretary, an Oprah-like willingness to discuss emotions and a fanatical attention to practical details — like cleaning up afterwards. Citing her partner’s wine glass transgression, Fraser says, “This is the stuff that can really trip you up.... And, of course, it’s not just the glassware and bedsheets you have to keep clean: The one thing you have to be faithful to is safer sex.

... [J. P.] Robichaud stresses that the hard part isn’t the practicalities, it’s getting caught in the emotional crossfire of different partners’ needs. “You need to be a remarkable communicator,” he says. “You need to be very articulate about what you’re feeling, both in the moment and afterwards.” Talking to Robichaud is like being lectured in ethics, as he stresses that a good non-monogamist is one who is open and honest....

To be honest, this is such a complicated business that I think I need to go for a lie down now. If anyone wants to join me....

Read the whole article (Dec. 19, 2011).

The Grid must have a big readership, judging by the number of comments already. Go join in.

Samantha reacts to the article and its fallout (including the wine glass part) here. She says,

I would make a terrible happy poster child because I don’t just talk about the good on this site (and at my workshops), I also talk about the bad, and the ugly. Maybe I need to talk more about the good, which is a fair point. It’s always so much easier to talk about something challenging that we learned from instead of something easy that we just breezed right through. However in the interest of clarity, I will list a few points here that maybe I haven’t said in some time....

...and goes into a bunch of crucial items for new readers that didn't make it into the article.



December 19, 2011

National Geographic films a poly triad

National Geographic Channel: "Taboo"

Last April the Australian film company Beyond Productions went nosing around the poly internet world seeking a polyfamily to film for the National Geographic Channel's "Taboo" series.

Warnings about this offer spread faster than the offer itself. "Taboo" shows creepy and/or attention-getting anthropological practices, from live-octopus eating to Santeria animal sacrifices to bloody scarification rituals in Benin to a man who lives with life-sized dolls and considers himself married to them. The promo: "What is Taboo to you? Watch videos of seemingly shocking and bizarre practices from around the world."

No wonder the film crew had trouble finding anyone — despite their protestations that "we have no intention of fuelling [anti-poly] prejudice rather we want to investigate polyamory from a cultural perspective." Whatever that meant.

But a triad household volunteered, and it looks like the result turned out better than the rest of us might have hoped.

Meet a polyamorous triad — a family with two men and one woman sharing a loving relationship.

The full episode is scheduled for January 10th [not the 9th as originally posted here]. Apparently it will be the last of three topics on a 1-hour show. Today a three-minute preview, cut from the longer piece, went up on the National Geographic Channel's website. Although the narrator fakes being shocked at times, it comes off altogether positive and informative.

Thanks guys, you were brave (or foolhardy and lucky). If you read this, can you fill us in on how the filming went? Anyone else know the backstory?

UPDATE: Dany from the triad writes in; see comment #3 below. So does Dawn, a girlfriend from the scene around the table.

If the video link above doesn't work, here's the URL (Dec. 19, 2011.)



December 18, 2011

"Kiwi 'triples' say that monogamy is not for all"

New Zealand Herald

One of the many places reprinting the U.K.'s recent Independent article on open marriages (the one starring Jenny Block) is "New Zealand's leading metropolitan newspaper" — which, this Sunday morning, adds a side article about a local triad:

Kiwi 'triples' say that monogamy is not for all

Steve sleeps with his wife every second night. The other nights he is in the next room, sleeping with his other wife.

The 54-year-old from Christchurch says he has happy and loving relationships with both women, all living together.

Steve says he has always been interested in polyamory relationships and now he has found one that works for all three of them.

He calls both women his wives: "We're not a couple, we're a triple."

He and his legal wife had been together for 10 years and married for six years when they welcomed another woman into their marriage in a "commitment ceremony" surrounded by friends and family.

"We had always been exploring the poly thing. We had considered it with other people but it had never come off as a long-term thing. We have an understanding that the western ideal of monogamy is not for everyone. It is a societal construct."

...He and his wife had met the other woman at a club in Christchurch two years ago. He fell in love with her as their friendship developed. His wife was supportive and also loves her, but they are just friends.

...His "second wife" moved into their home in February.

"The green-eyed monster does occasionally rear its head, but if we talk about it, it's fine," he adds....

- Joanne Carroll

Read the whole article; scroll down (Dec. 18, 2011).



December 16, 2011

The Girl Who Normalized Non-Monogamy: Incidental polyamory in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy

Based on the fantastically popular book, the Hollywood version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" opens in movie theaters this Wednesday, December 21st.

"Around 27 million [other sources say more than 65 million] copies of the books comprising Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy have been sold worldwide to date," writes Ludi, an organizer of the U.K.'s OpenCon, in a timely essay at Polytical ("Ethical non-monogamy in the UK"). "People everywhere have been reading and absorbing [the books'] themes of systematic violence against women, financial corruption, social exclusion… and ethical non-monogamy."

Larsson, who died in 2004 at age 50, was a Swedish anti-fascist political activist and crime novelist whose three thrillers were published in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. He was reportedly the world's second-best-selling author in 2008. From Ludi's essay:

...A summary: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist works for Millennium magazine, edited by Erika Berger. [Although Berger is not the central character or plot element], they are lifelong friends and long-established lovers. Berger is also married, to Greger Beckman, who works elsewhere. Everyone is fully knowledgeable and consenting: we hear about their history, and we see them negotiate, divide up holidays and successfully use hierarchy....

A long-established triad

Non-monogamy is introduced in the first book (Dragon), but the history is not explained until the second book (Fire). Here, we discover that Berger and Blomkvist have been falling into bed with each other on a regular basis, regardless of their relationship status elsewhere, for around twenty years. When she marries, they hold back for several months, but eventually sleep together again. The next day, Beckman invites Blomkvist for a walk and a conversation: he is understanding, and they establish they can co-exist as metamours....

...We see Blomkvist explaining matters to new lovers, reassuring them where needed; generally, other people are presented as having not heard of the possibility of non-monogamy before...

...Berger, Blomkvist and Beckman embarked on non-monogamy as a practical solution to an immediate issue: namely, that Berger wanted to have both a husband and a lover. The books do not mention the word ‘polyamory’ or even ‘non-monogamy’, and the triad are presented as unusual in their social circles. It’s unknown whether any of them are aware of the existence of polyamory as a lifestyle, or of other poly people....

Regrettably, the polyamory was completely omitted from the Swedish films of the books.... The first Hollywood remake launches this month, and I’ll look forward to seeing whether they present it there....

Read Ludi's article (Dec. 12, 2011).


While we're at it, here's another Polytical review of a genre-fiction poly classic: the Honor Harrington series.

The Honor Harrington series is a space opera currently spanning over 10 books.... The series follows the title character, Honor Harrington, through her naval career, starting as a Commander on her first faster-then-light command, and most recently as an Admiral in two different navies....

[David] Weber has openly said that the story was inspired by the Napoleonic wars, with Harrington standing in for the Duke of Wellington. Throughout the story, Weber introduces multiple fully developed societies and worlds. In the tradition of Isaac Asimov, he uses these societies to explore questions of what makes a society work....

In his second book, he introduces the world of Grayson, a theocracy... where polygyny is the only expected form of relationship.... Weber shows intimate details of how even in a patriarchal society, polygyny can be a healthy and welcome family style, with sister wives who support and care for each other, and husbands who cherish all of their large families.

...And, slowly, over the course of several books, he brings it home. To the main society of his series, Honor Harrington’s home, the Star Kingdom of Manticore, loosely based on England of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here, there are several suggestions throughout the series that monogamy is not the only option... but this is behind the scenes, and only suggested.

Until, that is, Honor falls in love.... The two star-crossed lovers spend a few books fighting their attraction to each other, until the man’s wife invites Honor over, and tells both of them to stop being idiots. Ultimately this leads to a very satisfactory relationship, two children, and a (legal) marriage....

...I started reading [the series] before I knew what polyamory was, and this series has a lot to do with why I was able to accept the idea so easily! But expect great characters, fascinating worlds, epic space battles, duels, politics, culture clash and everything anyone could possibly want from a well done space opera....

Read the whole article (June 28, 2011), by the Jessica known for her Polyamory Practically blog.

Are such works of fiction important? I'd say that depends way more on their inspiration power than on their sales figures. Still, if Steig Larsson has sold 65+ million copies in six years, that's maybe ten times what Stranger in a Strange Land has sold in fifty (though Stranger's sales numbers are hard to come by). That one was a crucial work of fiction, inspiring and motivating many of the people who went on to create the modern polyamory movement. I'm rather proud of my article about this, by the way: Polyamory, Robert Heinlein, and his new definitive biography.


AND, while we're at it, here are twelve books about polyamory itself that have come out since the flood began in 2008. It's not too late to order for Christmas! The titles below link to my own reviews of nine of them. I'll eventually get to the rest.

In reverse date order:

The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory: A Hands-on Guide to Open Sexual Relationships, by Françoise Simpère (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2011).

Simpère is a widely published and quoted open-relationship advocate in France. This is a translation of her Aimer Plusieurs Hommes.

Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships, by Kathy Labriola (Greenery Press, October 2010).

Labriola is a nurse and counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area who has professionally advised many hundreds of poly groups and observed the poly scene for more than 20 years. Here she offers distilled practical advice from this experience.

What Does Polyamory Look Like? Polydiverse Patterns of Loving and Living in Modern Polyamorous Relationships, by Mim Chapman (iUniverse, August 2010).

When someone says "I'm poly," it can mean very different things. A guide to navigating among five major styles of polyamory widely practiced in the community today.

Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships, by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik (Findhorn Press, August 2010).

A relationship coach in the Netherlands who specializes in multi-partner situations describes the commonest recurring patterns and problems among her clients, and means to their resolution.

Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners, by Deborah Anapol (Rowman & Littlefield, July 2010). Now also in paperback.

One of the founding mothers of the modern polyamory movement in the 1980s and 1990s takes a careful, sociologist's look at the current state of the movement she helped to create.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá (HarperCollins, June 2010). Now in paperback with the subtitle How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships.

This groundbreaking, mythbusting New York Times bestseller makes the case, from anthropology and physiology, that humans are evolved to be naturally, easily nonmonogamous, a fact that has been suppressed by civilization to our detriment. See also my post Sex at Dawn and the Future of the Polyamory Movement.

Swinging in America: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the 21st Century, by Curtis R. Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Sinski (Praeger, November 2009).

The first 40% of this book an a study of the swinger subculture and the people in it. The second 60% is a critique of monogamous ideology in Western society, and this Bergstrand considers to be the most important part of the book.

Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet, by Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio (North Atlantic Books, September 2009).

This ethereal, philosophical polemic for multiple love as an opening to saving the world spends much of its time floundering in embarrassing New Age HIV denialism.

The Ethical Slut, Second Edition; A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (Ten Speed Press, March 2009).

Expanded by 30% and now aiming for a wider audience, this new edition of the 1997 word-of-mouth cult classic is still the most popular guide to the networked or "free agent" model of poly — though it now includes an added chapter on opening an existing relationship.

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, May 2008).

If The Ethical Slut is the bible of free-agent "single" poly, Opening Up has become the top choice for couples looking to open an existing committed relationship — of whatever sort. Tristan Taormino, a brassy star among America's sexerati, did exhaustive work interviewing in depth more than 100 people and couples in a dizzying variety of open and poly arrangements successful and not. Learn from them.

Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, by Jenny Block (Seal Press, May 2008).

With a husband, daughter, and long-term girlfriend, Dallas writer Jenny Block has fearlessly put herself out as an exemplar of successful open marriage and bold Texas feminism.

The Polyamory Handbook: A User's Guide by Peter J. Benson (AuthorHouse, March 2008).

A longtime poly-community stalwart and activist compiles a big, workmanlike guide to every Poly 101 and 201 issue you can think of.

More books are in the pipeline. Franklin Veaux says he is working on his More Than Two. Jay Wiseman is said be to working on a book about poly and kink. And I bet there are more.


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December 15, 2011

"Muggers With Fake Gun Thwarted by Polyamorous Inwood Family"

You know there's getting to be a lot of us when we land in the news for random reasons. This from a news service covering neighborhoods in Manhattan, New York:

Muggers With a Fake Gun Thwarted by Polyamorous Inwood Family

INWOOD — Police are looking for three suspects who attempted to rob an Inwood family with an L-shaped piece of plastic they hoped would be mistaken for a gun.

The polyamorous family — which consists of a woman, her husband and her girlfriend — were walking at the northern end of Isham Park where it meets Park Terrace West Saturday night when they noticed a group of young men walking very closely behind....

One of the men then motioned to them, calling, “Come here, come here,” before brandishing what appeared to be a gun.

“I could blast you away right here,” the would-be triggerman told the group, according to Rose Fox, 33, who was with her 39-year-old husband and her 33-year-old girlfriend.

Fox, who is open about her polyamorous lifestyle, looked at the "weapon," and saw that it appeared to be an L-shaped piece of dark plastic.

“We were in front of a building and there were other people around, and the 'gun' really did look fake, so I shouted really loudly for them to get the hell away from us while my girlfriend took out her phone to call 911.”...

The whole story (Dec. 13, 2011).

Regular readers may remember Rose Fox from two earlier appearances on this blog as a poly activist.


December 14, 2011

"Open relationships: Love without strings"

The Independent (U.K.) and others

Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage (2008) gets star billing in a long, positive article in one of Great Britain's most respected papers. (This is the article that prompted the Irish Independent cluelessness described in my previous post.) She tells us, "It was reposted all over the place, including Forbes and the Canberra Times in Australia."

Open relationships: Love without strings

You're happily married, but both free to have sex with other people. Are open relationships the answer to modern matrimony — or just a recipe for divorce?

By Gillian Orr

"Open marriage destroyed Ashton and Demi's relationship!" cried one tabloid. "Did Ashton and Demi have an OPEN MARRIAGE?" spat another. When Hollywood couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore [shown here] split last month amid rumours of having an alternative union, the press had a field day. The astonishment and bewilderment over a couple engaging in such a lifestyle was screamed from the front pages.

We live in a society that is more sexually liberated than ever before, yet open relationships – a relationship in which both partners are allowed to have sex with other people – still have the propensity to shock. It is one of the last remaining taboos.

...So can open relationships work? Jenny Block, the writer and author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage certainly thinks so. The 41-year-old mother of one is currently the poster girl for open marriage in the US, describing herself as "the most average-looking, regular soccer-mom type". Having married her husband, Christopher, in 1997, Block embarked on an affair with another woman three years later. When she finally came clean to her husband, she found his response fascinating. "What was so interesting to me was that he said, 'I can't believe you lied to me', rather than, 'I can't believe you had sex with someone else'," she says.

"It was the trust thing rather than the sex thing that had hurt him and so I began to ask myself which was more important and what was marriage really based on?"

They decided to embark on an open marriage, albeit with certain ground rules: complete honesty and strictly no carrying on with someone else from their neighbourhood. Currently Block has a girlfriend, Jemma, who has her own apartment but is also considered part of the family. While Jemma and Christopher don't have a sexual relationship, he is free to date other women. Keeping up?

...What irks Block is that we live in a society where cheating is acceptable (if not exactly welcomed), whereas open relationships are scrutinised. "Isn't it better to be honest about your desires?" she asks. "I'm not claiming that this is possible across the board or that we're all ready for this yet, but I'm suggesting that this is something that works for us and other people."

Her 13-year-old daughter is aware of the situation and the couple have elected to answer any questions as they come....

...Despite Block extolling all that open marriage has to offer, it shouldn't come without certain warnings; jealousy being the most obvious catalyst for causing cracks. "It really depends on the couple and what their values are but generally it doesn't work because eventually somebody will form an outside attachment and that will cause problems with the primary relationship," Mandy Kloppers, a relationship psychologist and counsellor, says.

On her decades-long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "We were two of a kind and our relationship would endure as long as we did: but it could not make up entirely for the fleeting riches to be had from encounters with different people." It was Sartre who proposed the open relationship and he was the one who engaged in numerous affairs, while de Beauvoir rarely did. Critics have observed that her fiction, so autobiographical in nature, suggests she suffered deeply from jealousy, going along with Sartre's plan merely to please him.

This, Kloppers points out, is often the outcome of such arrangements. "It's common to see one person coerced into it because they want to keep their partner happy and want to keep an eye on them," she says. "If you have an unstable relationship to begin with then you're asking for trouble by doing this type of thing."...

...It might not be for everyone, but maybe we have to accept that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to love and commitment. And for those who find the arrangement emotionally fulfilling and feel it breathes life into long-term relationships, perhaps it's not such a shocking set-up after all.

Read the whole article (Dec. 6, 2011).


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Polyignorance in Ireland

The Irish Independent

In Ireland the poly movement is in its infancy but definitely alive (thank you Randy!). A clueless therapy columnist at the leading daily newspaper The Irish Independent seems to get this, but is otherwise mostly at sea. The article begs for your informed comments. Go for it, and please represent us well.

Open marriages are on the rise here too

So, less than 15 years after divorce was legalised here, are the Irish open-minded enough for open marriage?

More married couples here are saying 'I Do' to polyamory, according to one relationship expert -- but are only likely to end up alone.

"It's definitely happening here on a small scale," says marriage therapist Owen Connolly, who runs a private practice in Stillorgan, Co Dublin. "But it's not something people are willing to boast about. Open marriage is really no different to swinging or wife-swapping -- and rarely lasts. I've never found two people who were completely committed to the idea.

"In my experience, there's always one party who would prefer to remain monogamous -- usually the woman. However, some of these women may agree to an open marriage because they think their happiness depends on their relationship."

(Unfortunately, that part is too often true.)

"Over the years, I've worked with a lot of couples to try and repair the damage done by an affair," the consultant psychologist adds.

"An open marriage shouldn't even be treated as a marriage. People think that they can divorce the physical from the emotional, but it doesn't work.

"There's no such thing as an 'open marriage' -- just a consensual affair."

See www.counsellor.ie DEIRDRE REYNOLDS

Here's the original (Dec. 13, 2011). Commenting is easy and requires no registration.

Update, 4 p.m. EST: My, you guys are doing a good job with the comments there.

P.S.: Here's my earlier article on the emergence of a polyamory movement in Ireland.



December 13, 2011

From cheating to poly?


Conventional wisdom in the poly world is that a couple who try to transition from cheating and betrayal to honest polyamory usually fail... at least with each other. Poly depends crucially on communication, respect, and trust. After cheating, trust is majorly broken.

At Salon, advice columnist Cary Tennis (sketch at right) has snarked at the idea of poly in past years but in response to a new letter now expresses honest amazement that some people apparently make it work — though not necessarily the troubled letter writer. He ends with a plea for members of the poly community to weigh in here. To comment you have to register with Salon (I had trouble with it), but I urge you to go have your say, and represent us well. The comments so far are poorly informed.

My lover’s husband shares his wife with me

I'm even living in their house now, with their two kids. But lately her passion has cooled toward me.

By Cary Tennis

Dear Cary,

I made a choice that I thought would make me deliriously, irrevocably happy, and it hasn’t. I fell in love with my colleague, J. We began working together two Augusts ago, then became closer last January; by February I was writing to myself warning about falling in love with this married and unavailable friend of mine. I did fall in love with her, deeply. We spent most of our waking hours this summer together, and with her young sons, going to the beach, dog sitting, swimming and watching movies....

After the first time we were intimate, she was remorseful; by the next day, we were nuts about when we’d be able to do it again. We were on-and-off with the intimacy all summer: She did want to stop because of her marriage and because she felt our friendship wasn’t in its best state with her worries about infidelity. The intimacy was and is wonderful, by the way. “It’s the closest you can get to someone, isn’t it?” she said, as I was about to joke, “Can I just crawl inside your skin?”

...In the end, J’s husband found an instant messaging chat between J and me in which we were discussing our deep love for each other and our affair. Miraculously, it seemed to us, he agreed to an open marriage in which J and I could be intimate. Miraculously again, he agreed that I should move in. I finally have the time I crave with the woman I love and the two little boys who have become so precious to me.

We have avoided many things people might predict will happen in such a situation, though I will speak only for myself. I do not feel jealous of J’s husband; I do not feel like an outsider in her family. What I have not been able to master, though, is a feeling of disappointment that her passion for me has seemed to fade so quickly. I know that her love is deep and abiding. All of her actions are caring and thoughtful. But we never seem to have sex and her proclamations of love have already become run-of-the-mill “love you’s.” She even texted her husband and me the same [rather bland] message yesterday.

...My internal debate the past week has been whether I love being a part of a deeply caring relationship and wonderful family enough to deal with a lack of passion. Am I going to end up effectually as a live-in best friend who snuggles well? Am I looking at it all wrong? How do I ask my beloved for more passion?



Dear A,

I want to make clear, for readers, that from your email name I am assuming you are a woman.

...You seem to be in an extraordinary situation. It would be extraordinary for a woman or a man. It is a consensual triangle that involves aspects of nuclear-family child-rearing and erotic sharing. My main reaction is that it has gone remarkably well. To ask for it to go much better may be tempting fate. If you want great passion in addition to the settled domestic sphere you may have to look elsewhere.

Why has the passion cooled? Your lover’s domestic roles as a mom and wife may put some damper on her ability to feel erotic in the house. When she was seeing you secretly (if indeed it was ever secret), she may have found the escape from her other role thrilling. Now that the three of you have settled in to a cozy domestic routine, being with you does not represent the exciting departure that it did. There may have been an element of transgression in her arousal.

But so many things remain unanswered! You do not seem to recognize how unusual this sounds. Perhaps for people in the polyamory community it is not so usual at all. Perhaps we will hear from some. Perhaps this is more common than I am aware.

One thing I find missing is the husband. He seems a distant, spectral figure. Who is he? Who is this amazing man who has invited his wife’s lover into the house?...

...Your letter contains few details about the decision-making process that led to this arrangement. It would be nice to know on what terms you are living there. Are you paying rent? Are you a guest? Is this considered permanent, or an experiment? Have you moved your furniture into the house? Do you maintain another residence, somewhere to repair to if this should fall apart or explode? And how old are the children, and how do they regard you?

It’s all quite intriguing. As I say, I rarely write back to letter writers asking for clarification or amplification.

...So, it’s all just fascinating. As I have often done lately, I make a special appeal to readers who may have had similar arrangements to offer their experience and possible suggestions about the emotional dynamics of such a situation.

I commend you for venturing forth in this unusual way, and that I hope this arrangement can bring happiness to all concerned.

Read the whole article (Dec. 12, 2011).



December 12, 2011

CPAA Lawyer: Canada Decision a Clear Win

After two weeks of analyzing the British Columbia Supreme Court's ruling to support Canada's anti-polygamy law, attorney John Ince — who represented the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association in the case (and is poly himself) — has issued an open letter calling the ruling a nearly total, flat-out win for polyamorists. Although the ruling was hard on polygamists, Ince says it probably lifts the threat of criminality even from most wedding-like ceremonies, vows, and rituals that polyamorists would care to perform.

The crucial point: it's not a group "marriage" under the polygamy law unless it is binding and enforced by some sanctioning authority. It's not a marriage under the law if the parties can undo it just by walking away — i.e. without some authority granting them a divorce.

The "authority" here might be nothing more than a cult leader with acknowledged enforcement power over a small community, such as among fundamentalist Mormons. But without it, an intimate, life-pledged, ring-exchanging group relationship is not a marriage, it's a friendship. And now, after 121 years, it's legal in Canada.

Ince begins by warning that he's not giving legal advice and you should consult a lawyer for your circumstances. Nor is he speaking for the CPAA. He then continues:

In general terms, I think that the decision allows us to do virtually anything the vast majority of polyamorists would want to do.

That is not to say that I agree with all of the court’s conclusions. I think he made errors in his Charter analysis and I think the scope of the prohibition he ultimately defined is still overbroad and unconstitutional. I think this judgment could be overturned on appeal.

But while I may disagree with many of the judge’s points, his conclusion is very positive for our community. His decision makes it clear that polyamorists are not criminals, and this is a major step forward for our community to gain social acceptance and become more integrated into mainstream Canadian culture.

The Decision

The judge interpreted Canada’s criminal law against polygamy narrowly so that it only criminalizes non-monogamous relationships that are a) institutionalized b) marriages. The law, he said, protects the “institution of monogamous marriage”. He concluded that the law does not apply to non-monogamous relationships in general.

Of the two terms “institutionalized” and “marriage” the former is the most important, not only because it narrows the second term, but also because the concept of “institutionalized” is clearer than the concept of “marriage”.

The judge discussed three types of institutionalized marriage, and they give a guide to what he means by “institutionalized”.

The first type is the institution of two-person heterosexual marriage. As the judge discussed, that institution has thousands of years of cultural practice behind it and in Canada 150 years of formal legal definition and sanction. It is clearly an institution.

As to the key elements of that institution the evidence suggests these things:

1) marriage has a community dimension because the marriage affects the wider community and not just the parties to the marriage;

2) the community must in some way formally sanction the marriage through an authority structure;

3) some form of marriage registration must occur so the community can determine a marriage has taken place;

4) the public nature of the ceremony is in part designed to tell others that the parties to the marriage are off-limits for sexual purposes;

5) because the marriage affects the wider community the terms of the marriage cannot be renegotiated by the parties themselves;

6) the parties to a marriage cannot dissolve it themselves; dissolution requires another public ceremony or involvement of third parties (from paragraphs 227, 1020, 1037-1042 of the court’s decision).

The formal sanctioning by the Canadian legal system in the last twenty years of a new form of monogamous marriage – homosexual – which the judge also recognized, shows that marriage can be institutionalized by new practices.

...The third type of institutionalized marriage discussed by the court was that of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the “FLDS”), a patriarchal, polygynous and fundamentalist sect which broke off from the Mormon church many years ago. That community, although a virtual legal outcast from mainstream culture, has a roughly 150 year marriage tradition and it clearly meets the above criteria of institutionalization.

...Muslim multi-party marriage traditions are similarly rich in institutional detail and long practice.

According to the judge’s decision, the FLDS and Muslim multi-party marriages are institutionalized and hence prohibited by the Criminal Code....

Application of the decision to polyamorists

Now I apply these points with the facts that I believe pertain to the polyamorous community in Canada.

I see no form of polyamorous marriage in Canada that could be called “institutionalized” within the meaning of the decision. Nowhere in the literature about polyamory filed in the court is there any discussion of such an institution in Canada or the U.S.

There are some polyamorous community values regarding relationship: such as that it is consensual, honest, and gender- and sex-orientation equal, but this applies to all relationships, not “marriage”.

There are also community values about personal autonomy and the overriding right of the individual to follow their own path in getting in and out of relationship, while respecting the interests and feelings of others, and those values are incompatible with the institutionalization of marriage as discussed above.

I conclude that given the lack of polyamorous history, sanction or support for “polyamorous marriage” that polyamorous people cannot form the type of marriages that the judge found are prohibited.

I go so far as to say that even if polyamorous people wanted to form such relationships, they cannot. The whole structure of institutionalization that the judge emphasized over and over again as key to his decision is simply lacking in our community.

Could this structure be created by a sect of polyamorists who want to create a specific form of polyamory for their members? Yes, but they would have to create rules of membership in the community, an ideology of marriage or rules of marriage, a process of formalizing marriage, punishments for breaking marriage vows, and ways to dissolve the marriage.

...Given the current Canadian polyamorous community, I believe such a sect would have very few members. But if there are people who really want marriage then they can form that sect and take their chances with the law.

How far can we legally go?

Because there is no polyamorous institution of marriage, how far can polyamorous people go in celebrating and formalizing their relationships? In my view: probably as far as they want.

The furthest would be to have a formal celebration, with vows, and rings, and even to expressly call it a marriage. This is probably not a prohibited form of “marriage” because it lacks the institutionalization discussed above. Specifically, it is entirely ad hoc and personal to the parties. There is no community structure defining any aspect of the marriage, no third party dissolving the marriage, no punishment for leaving the marriage.

...Avoiding use of the word “marriage” or even formally disavowing that the celebration is a form of marriage would remove any legal risk that I can see. These steps may not be necessary; however I would include them if I was involved in such a ceremony.

So I think we can have ceremonies where we celebrate our relationships. We can take vows of love and commitment. We can share rings. We can have contracts about finances, and child rearing, and health care. All of those things occur regularly in common law monogamous relationships.

Borrowing institutionalized structure

An interesting issue would arise should a polyamorous couple want to borrow the institutionalized structure of a group that is not formally polyamorous. For example, say there is a ceremony that is overtly defined as a “marriage”, that also follows Wiccan traditions and which is presided over by an accredited Wiccan official. Or say there was a break-away sect of the Catholic Church led by a former priest who has a congregation and who will “marry” anyone or any number of people, using all the trappings of the Catholic Church.

I think the prosecution could make a strong argument that there was sufficient “borrowed institutionalization” applying to these official purported “marriages” to make them offend the law. Hence any explicitly purported “marriage” conducted by any official from a real community would not be advisable in my opinion.... but if you are determined to do that, your legal situation will be better but not absolutely secure if you do not call the ceremony a “marriage” and even better, formally disavow that the process is a “marriage”.

Pensions, immigration, community property, child custody issues

...Because the court found that polyamorous relationships that are not institutionalized into a form of marriage are lawful, people in such relationships no longer have to face the chilling argument in child custody, immigration or other matters that they are criminals. That is obviously a very positive outcome of this case.

Further, nothing in this case prevents people in cohabiting polyamorous relationships from entering contracts with respect to most key family issues, such as community property and the care of children, and hospital privileges.

However many issues cannot be resolved by agreement of the parties but must be specifically authorized by legislation, such as immigration privileges or automatic community property or pensions. Laws do grant privileges to people who are legally married, and also many common law monogamous marriages.

Many polyamorous people want those same rights.

The problem is that polyamorous cohabitation is so new that society has not yet worked out how to apply the rights that monogamous couples enjoy to a multi-party cohabitation.

These rights are going to have to be worked out on a case by case basis over time. Gay couples won their battles that way. Over a period of a couple of decades they litigated many cases dealing with child custody, pensions, tax issues, etc. It was only after those other rights and obligations were established — allowing gay relationships to become mainstream — did gay couples ultimately gain the privilege to participate in institutionalized monogamous marriage.

We need to remember that the gay marriage issue was the last major legal issue to be resolved about gay equality, not the first. If there are polyamorous people who want exactly what homosexuals got, who want the right to traditional institutionalized poly marriage, then the first step toward that goal is resolving all issues pertaining to pensions, and immigration in a purely co-habitational context and then some time in the future seek the final step of the legal recognition of polyamorous marriages.

John Ince

The complete open letter is on the CPAA site (Dec. 11, 2011).

Update, Dec. 21: In a surprising development, George Macintosh, the court-appointed lawyer who argued to overturn Canada’s anti-polygamy law and lost, says he will not appeal Chief Justice Bauman’s finding.


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