Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

January 26, 2012

Confronting the slippery slope, and more Gingrich fallout

Piles of new stuff are arriving!

● This website will be mentioned all across Canada in tomorrow morning's Globe and Mail, Canada's leading national newspaper, in one of the post-Gingrich articles that are coming out all over about open marriages and people who make them work (or don't). But they got my URL wrong, wouldn't you know. (They eventually fixed the online version.)

Open marriage: Who does it, how it works and why it doesn’t

By Tralee Pearce

Forget about how much Newt Gingrich paid in taxes last year. The accusation that the Republican presidential hopeful asked one of his ex-wives for an open marriage is the character question that has captivated us.

Political implications aside, observers were left with a more pressing concern: Wait. Is open marriage really a thing? Isn’t it just cheating on your spouse? Do people really DO that?....

Yes, in fact, some do, though there’s little information or research available about how prevalent open marriages are – or how often they work. But when open arrangements do work, they make life “a little more interesting and better,” according to one Toronto man who had an open marriage for years. “Monogamy is so boring to me.”

As the revelations unfolded, those in the open-marriage community – some refer to their arrangements as “polyamorous” – found themselves defending the practice as something very different from “Gingrichy behaviour,” as the blog Polyinthemedia.com put it.

Blogger Sierra Black found herself explaining her open marriage in the wake of the Gingrich news. Both she and her husband have girlfriends....

...[Says the Toronto man,] “I still regard it as, for super-high-level, awesome marriages, why not? You’re so committed to each other, who cares whether you occasionally have an affair?”

Montreal marriage therapist Vikki Stark says it’s a particular kind of couple who can choose to have an open marriage and make it work. They have to share the same philosophy about non-monogamy and agree on the fine print.

“It requires a lot of maturity on the part of the individuals. It’s a very idealistic choice, thinking that ‘We can have a stronger relationship because we’re going to be honest about the fact that it’s very hard to be monogamous,’” she says.

Even then, she says, a truly open marriage “seems to me an unstable configuration.”...

...And the practice can be a precursor to a break-up of a marriage if one partner is coerced into it....

Read the whole article. (It's in the paper edition Jan. 27, 2012.)


● At Alternet, Theresa "Darklady" Reed declares:

Memo to the News Media: Newt Didn't Want an 'Open Relationship' -- He Just Wanted to Cheat

You don’t lie about an affair for six years and then ask permission.

...The mainstream media is repeating the term as though it were an accurate description of what the couple discussed, with some going so far as to unsuccessfully flash their hipster credentials by referring to it as “polyamory.”

Meanwhile, those who actually have open or polyamorous relationships are wondering what to make of the situation. On the one hand, it’s great to have the entire country talking about the way that some real people have real relationships... and how those real relationships often don’t match the cultural mythology. On the other hand, it’s being discussed largely by people who haven’t got a clue about real world relationship alternatives... or how those who crave an ethical non-monogamy are customizing them to satisfy the unique needs of their individual households.

...Books including The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, Love in Abundance, Redefining our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships, and Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality provide advice, insights and support for those who seriously want to nurture and maintain multiple simultaneous sexual and/or romantic connections....

Read her whole article (Jan. 26, 2012).


● Meanwhile, the lead article at Salon right now is by gay activist and prolific Jewish religion writer Jay Michaelson:

The polyamory trap

The right wants to use the "slippery slope" of polyamory to discredit gay marriage. Here's how to stop them.

Newt Gingrich may have scored political points by refusing to talk about an ex-wife’s assertion that he asked that their marriage be “open,” but he also thrust polyamory into the national conversation.

This was new territory for many people, but not for LGBT advocates, who hear about it all the time. Won’t legitimizing same-sex marriage lead to legitimizing polyamorous relationships too? If two men can marry one another, why not one man and two women? This argument is a favorite of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the so-called Christian right and the right-wing blogosphere.

Responding to these arguments is a challenge. On the one hand, I reject the tactic of distinguishing the good gays from the “bad” poly people. Further marginalizing the marginalized is just the wrong trajectory for any liberation movement to take. And it reminds me of the way that some mainstream gay activists have sold out transgender and gender-nonconforming groups....

On the other hand, I don’t want to fail to draw any distinction, either. I don’t know what polyamory’s approval ratings are, but I bet they aren’t high — Newt Gingrich notwithstanding. At the very least, it would be bad politics to agree and argue that there really is no difference.

How about this response, instead: to question whether the “slippery slope” is the right way to argue at all....

[Later:] ...We should do the same when it comes to polyamory: just decline to answer. Really, there are a host of questions that arise in the case of polyamory to which we just don’t know the answer.... We as a society are in a position to make an informed decision about same-sex marriage, but not yet, it would appear, about polyamorous relationships.

...Now, it may alarm some people not to totally shut the door to legitimized polyamory. Maybe it’s not a strong enough rebuke to curry favor with some conservatives. But it is the only intellectually responsible position for LGBT activists (and allies) to take. Whether Newt is our ally or not.

Read the whole article (Jan. 26, 2012).

I think he's at sea. If you accept the framing of civil rights and social acceptance as a slippery slope down, you've lost the debate before you open your mouth. So it's no wonder that this guy can't make sense. Slipping on a slope is a painful accident that leads downward. Instead, reframe it as a stairway up. In fact, each step is a deliberate, effortful, carefully chosen advance toward a more humane, just, enlightened world.

With that framing, you can consider which steps are upward, and which steps to take.

Or as Tree of Polycamp Northwest fame once put it, awkwardly,

Giving blacks the vote, women the vote, contraception — it's all a slippery slope to a place of better social justice and acceptance.


● More post-Gingrich discussion of good open relationships, in USA Today:

'Open marriage' isn't a license to cheat, experts say

By Sharon Jayson

...as those words receive new attention amid the GOP presidential contest, the experts say it's important to note that among couples who practice open marriage, they don't consider it a license to cheat.

"The spouses do not consider themselves cheaters," says Pamela Haag, whose 2011 book Marriage Confidential included discussions with couples in open marriages.
"Spouses in open marriages agree to non-monogamy before-the-fact...."

Historian Stephanie Coontz, who has researched the history of marriage, says in certain cultures around the world, extramarital sex for one or both partners is accepted. "The problem in America is that the so-called 'open marriage' has usually been somewhat one-sided. To be a real 'open marriage,' it has to be a mutual decision," she says. "For most of history, men had open marriages and women didn't.

..."To the extent [Gingrich] was trying to impose that against her will it had nothing to do with openness. It has to be mutually desired — not mutually extorted."

...Dossie Easton, a marriage and family therapist in San Francisco... says open sexual relationships require the parties to be honest, have mutual consent and a willingness to negotiate how it's going to work and make sure that people's feelings are acknowledged....

Coontz says couples should discuss their feelings about monogamy.

"Do they want to make it a 'make or break it' thing or build in certain leeway so it does not seem like betrayal if it happens?" she says. "I'm not advocating one way or another, but it's a conversation couples should have about what their commitment to each other is."

Haag, of Baltimore, says estimates suggest about 5% of all marriages meet that definition of "open."

"We do know they exist," Coontz says. "But in the context of Americans in particular — with a very strong identification of sexual fidelity with love — it's the exceptional couple that works this out."

Read the whole article (Jan. 23, 2012).


● An online women's magazine in Australia asks, after the obligatory reference to American politics,

Is Polyamory the New Gay?

By Linda Kirkman

...Family consists of people who treat you like family, to paraphrase Joss Whedon, and can be so much more than [the] narrow definition.

...Is being a monogamous couple the only acceptable option for healthy relationships?
For some people that is just right, but it is not for everybody. There is a growing awareness of polyamory as a way to form relationships and families.

Polyamory isn’t easy to define, because there are many variations to the sort of relationships that can happen. US podcast Poly Weekly defines it as “respectful non monogamy”. Australian polyamory social networking site Polyoz defines it as “the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity”....

...I read The Ethical Slut (now that’s a book only a brave woman reads on the train) and thought it was the best book I had ever read on how to manage communication in relationships. One of its authors, Janet Hardy, spoke in Melbourne last year and was booked out, with the room overflowing.

Adaptability to social change makes us more resilient and healthy as a society.
Discrimination and stigma based on sexual orientation or family type diminishes us. The more aware and accepting of positive diversity in relationships the more healthy our society is.

...I hope it won’t be long before people in poly relationships don’t feel the need to protect themselves with pseudonyms. A same-sex couple having a baby would no longer feel the need to hide their identity in this way.

I look forward to a society where any loving family, irrespective of how many people it includes or what sex they are, feels safe to be open about who they are.

In that respect, poly is the new gay.

Read the whole article, in The Hoopla (Jan. 24, 2012).


● Salon, cited above, recently ran a sex-and-drugs awfulness tale that the author (or maybe Salon) titled "Our Polyamory Disaster." Partying on Fire Island 24/7 in the 1990s: coke, meth, jealous hot-tub humping, trampled boundaries, nasty sniping, orgies not as puppy piles but jackal piles:

What followed next was a naked version of a comedy of manners — minus the comedy and the manners. Rachael confronted Mandy in the kitchen. Mandy burst into tears. Jason confronted Rachael in the bedroom about confronting Mandy. Rachael burst into tears. I confronted Jason in the living room about confronting Rachael. Rachael and Mandy burst into tears. When I confronted Rachael about cavorting with Jason, things got personal.

“You’ve got nerve,” she said. “After that late-night stargazing session in the pool?”

“Why don’t you go and snort up a few more lines,” I said. “It brings out such a lovely side of you.”

...Rachael and I returned home, where our sleep-and-food-deprived bodies finally teamed up with our ravaged nervous systems and our bruised egos to let us have it, right in the old cerebellum....

Update to "Our Polyamory Disaster," March 17, 2013: The writer, Nicholas Garnett, posts a new article on some of the article's fallout for him and a warning about daytime talk TV: I sold my soul to Ricki Lake: A provocative Salon essay landed me a spotlight on daytime TV. Then, I had to suffer in it.




Blogger Full Marriage Equality said...

Thanks for the continuing great coverage. There should be solidarity for relationship rights, not disowning of each other. Let's not forget that some poly people ARE LGBT people, and for some of them, the freedom to marry just one partner of the same gender is not enough. "Monogamish" and monogamous LGBT people disavowing poly people will NOT satisfy the bigoted relationships-and-gender-role police. THERE is a slippery slope. Because if poly people are kept down, then the bigots will tell the LGBT rights groups "just drop the Ts, and then we can talk," and some the LGB people will. And then it will be "just drop the Bs, and then we can talk." And some of the LG people will, saying "Pick a team! Bisexuality doesn't really exist." And so on...

Rather than be divided, we should stay united in saying that all adults should be free to have the relationships in which they function best... the relationships of their own choosing.

January 26, 2012 10:54 PM  
Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

Alan, about Michaelson's piece, there is a simple way to rebut the slippery slope argument, which doesn't stop at hand wringing about multi-partner marriage but pretty much always also includes marrying children and animals. My standard response, which has proved effective many times, is that there is an obvious difference between polyamorous relationships and marrying children and animals, which is that children and animals cannot *by law* give consent. We polyamorists want nothing to do with coercing anyone or anything and hold firm to our values of egalitarianism and personal automomy.

January 27, 2012 2:30 AM  
Blogger Desmond Ravenstone said...

So now we're debating whether polyamory ought to be debated alongside GLBT rights, or whether it's "a different subject"?

Reminds me of this bit of dialogue from M*A*S*H ...
Hawkeye: So, have you ever strayed [from your marriage vows]?
BJ: Never.
Hawkeye: Not even tempted?
BJ: Tempted is a different subject.
Hawkeye: Ah, so you have been tempted.
BJ: Never. But it's still a different subject!

There's the kind of discourse we want to have, and the kind that typical debate formats will allow. Poly folks would love to have the "stairway up" discussion. Winning people over to marriage equality in less than an hour requires another tack.

Whenever a right-winger brings up a "slippery slope" argument, call it out for what it is -- an appeal to fear used to distract people from the real issue. Say: "You want to debate polyamory? Let's schedule a time to do that. But right now, we're debating whether loving, committed same-gender couples should be given the same recognition as their hetero counterparts. So I'm not going off on that tangent."

January 27, 2012 7:22 AM  

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