Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

March 30, 2012

"Love Without Boundaries: A Revolutionary Relationship"

The Indypendent (New York)

The Indypendent is an award-winning radical newspaper in New York "exploring how systems of power — economic, political and social — affect the lives of people locally and globally.... part of the global Indymedia movement." Its current issue has a long, happy article on the writer's amazing poly life, how she came to it, and what she thinks it means.

Love Without Boundaries: A Revolutionary Relationship

By Ichi Vasquez

...A dozen faces sped toward me screaming “SURPRISE!” I stood in disbelief, staring at my friends and loved ones, and I could feel a wide grin take over my face. I spotted my boyfriend coming toward me with open arms, sweeping me up into a fierce hug.

“You have no idea how long I’ve been planning this,” he said, laughing with relief and happiness. I pulled him into a deep, sweet kiss of gratitude. Through the frenzy of hugs and happy chatter, I saw my secondary partner, who had driven hours up to the city to stay the weekend and be a part of the surprise. Thrilled that he was there, I kissed him lovingly.

I turned my head and rested it on his chest as my eyes found my boyfriend’s gaze near the front of the room. He stared at me adoringly as I was being held by my other partner, and my eyes silently sent him waves of joy and love. I felt so immensely cared for — the combination of being held by one man I adored and receiving space to enjoy myself from the man I loved. This was pure happiness….

...I certainly didn’t know other choices existed until I came to New York City. It was here in this bubbling melting-pot city of various cultures, lifestyles and artistic innovations that I stumbled across the world of polyamory almost five years ago — and it has forever altered the way I see myself as well as my connection with others....

...I learned that certain freedoms my partner and I gave each other actually brought us closer. I learned of numerous ways to connect romantically with someone that don’t involve sex. I rediscovered the value and intimacy of a single kiss. I learned that my heart feels genuine love in numerous degrees and variations for all the special people who have been in my life.

I exposed myself to situations that provoked my deepest fears of abandonment, betrayal and jealousy. I lived through them, and came out the other side with a deeper understanding of my heart and myself....

...Discussing which rules I wanted to follow in my relationships gave me a greater sense of freedom, empathy and empowerment — not just in my connections with others, but also within myself. I was an equal on a team, a life adventurer — not a subordinate or a passive participant. For the first time, I truly felt like I was living out subconscious curiosities that were coming from the deepest recesses of my heart.

Exploring polyamory encouraged me to seek wholeness on my own, as opposed to feeling whole thanks to my relationships or other external factors. People screw up. They let you down, they change their minds and they break promises — so even if you are receiving genuine love from various relationships, your priority should always be to love yourself no matter what happens. It’s also okay that partners can’t meet every need you have — they aren’t supposed to. Taking responsibility for one’s own happiness is a lesson that spans a lifetime.

This responsibility actively forced me to pay closer attention to the choices I made on a daily basis. My emotions became deeper, more alive — I began to have a conscious awareness of myself that I never had before....

A Double-Edged Sword

...One of the biggest challenges I tackled within myself was learning to communicate with partners more than I ever had before, and standing my ground....

Polyamory isn’t for everyone, and this article certainly isn’t a call for everyone to embrace it as the main model for relationships.... The importance here lies not in having multiple partners, but in the freedom to mold and create how we connect to each other from the most platonic to the most intimate of ways.

...By taking control of our hearts and sexuality and seeking others who are like-minded, we can take control of the most precious gifts of self-expression and sharing we have. And perhaps this will lead to other personal revolutions that inspire rebuilding the kind of world where love truly has no boundaries, we no longer feel the pull of popular repressive ideals — and we answer to no one but our highest selves.

Read the whole article (March 21 – April 17, 2012).


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March 24, 2012

"Group Marriage and the Future of the Family"

Psychology Today Blogs

As the idea of responsible non-monogamy — meaning full communication, consent, goodwill, and care among all stakeholders — spreads, it's taking different forms among different people and subcultures.

For instance, although the swinging subculture goes back almost to World War II, it's changing. A lot of swingers are broadening away from the Lifestyle's traditional rules of no-strings-attached sex, emotional monogamy, and no falling in love. These days more swingers are specifying that they want a "friends first" relationship with another couple before getting into play. Falling in love is becoming more acceptable. This "progressive swinging" is polyamory in all but name, and it's becoming huge — because swinging is huge (maybe 20 to 50 times larger than the self-identified poly community; does somebody have real data?) More about this in a future post.

At the other end of the commitment spectrum are long-term poly households sharing a home, finances, and lifelong goals and plans. Often they're raising children together. These are true group marriages in everything but legal recognition.

Deborah Anapol sees a bright future for this model, writing on her Psychology Today blogsite:

Group Marriage and the Future of the Family

Group marriage offers children more role models and more attention.

By Deborah Anapol, Ph.D.

This post is a response to The Monogamish Marriage: What If It's Not Cheating to Cheat? by Pamela Madsen

With the traditional nuclear family well on its way to extinction, we are faced with a question of critical importance: who will mind the children? Neither two-career nor single-parent families offer children full-time, loving caretakers, and quality day care is both scarce and expensive.... Even at its best, full-time institutional care (including public schooling) cannot provide the individual attention, intimacy, flexibility, and opportunity for solitude that children need to realize their potential. Serial monogamy presents children as well as parents with a stressfully discontinuous family life. Meanwhile, an entire generation is at risk, as divorce is an increasingly common fact of life.

While we don't yet know how polyamory impacts the rate of divorce, the little data we have suggest that it doesn't....

...Group marriages can mean a higher standard of living while consuming fewer resources. Intimate partners are more likely than friends or neighbors to feel comfortable sharing housing, transportation, appliances, and other resources. Even if partners don't live communally, they frequently share meals, help each other with household repairs and projects, and vacation together. This kind of cooperation helps provide a higher quality of life while reducing individual consumption as well as keeping people too busy to over-consume. Multiple partners also help in the renewal of our devastated human ecology by creating a sense of bonded community....

...One of the most common concerns about polyamory is that it's harmful to children, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Multiple-adult families and committed intimate networks have the potential of providing dependent children with additional nurturing adults who can meet their material, intellectual, and emotional needs. While parents may end up focusing less attention on their children, children may gain new aunts, uncles, and adopted parents.

More adults sharing parenting can mean less stress and less burnout without losing any of the rewards. In a larger group of men and women, it's more likely that one or two adults will be willing and able to stay home and care for the family or that each could be available one or two days a week.... It's possible for children to have more role models, more playmates, and more love in a group environment. Of course, these advantages can be found in any community setting, but people sometimes avoid intimacy with other adults in a conscious or unconscious effort to safeguard a monogamous commitment....

Read the whole article (March 22, 2012). It's adapted from Anapol's book Polyamory in the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010, 2012).

Also: Here's a roundup of research that has been done on children of polyamorous families.


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March 21, 2012

"Bountiful Controversy May Affect Threesome"

Vancouver Courier

Following the Canadian court decision last November that upheld Canada's anti-polygamy law — but narrowed it to cover only formal marriages that are created by a sanctioning institution — a triad household in Vancouver that's prominent in the local poly community is not quite sure where it stands.

Today a Vancouver newspaper profiles the household at length. The writer, Peter Tupper, is friendly to poly and once worked for John Ince, the attorney who argued before the British Columbia Supreme Court that modern polyamory should be exempted from the polygamy law.

So it's surprising that Tupper doesn't mention Ince's take on the court's decision or seem to consider it. Ince says that polys are basically off scot-free — because the judge defined group "marriage" narrowly. It's not a marriage unless it's granted by some kind of sanctioning institution or authority (even if that's just a cult leader with power over his followers), regardless of any self-created ceremonies, rings, vows, wedding cake, or other trappings. A key point: If the people involved in it can make it cease to exist by simply walking away from it — i.e. without obtaining some kind of divorce or annulment from a sanctioning authority — then it's not a marriage, it's a friendship. And it's legal in Canada.

See Ince's letter to the community about this. However, the judge was less than clear about a number of things in his 357-page ruling (at one point he says "I am not definitively defining “marriage”; it is not my task [in this case] to do so"), so Ince's analysis of the ruling awaits a test in court. But I doubt that such a test is ever going to happen, unless some nutty Canadian prosecutor goes off the deep end.

Bountiful controversy may affect threesome

Swinging experiment evolved into 'emotional attachment'

[This subtitle was later changed to "Despite legal barriers, a Vancouver polyamorist 'triad' quietly continues their unusual union"]

By Peter Tupper

John, Louise and Eric have a family that is a little complicated.

John and Louise are legally married but have each other's permission to date other people, and John currently has a girlfriend. They also have one six-year-old son, and another 10-year-old son from John's previous marriage.

Louise is also in a relationship with Eric, and the three of them formalized their triad in a commitment ceremony in 2010. Eric, in turn, has a 13-year-old daughter from his previous marriage.

The three of them live in an East Side house with the six-year-old son and frequent visits from their other two children. [The hands in the picture here, which the newspaper used, are not theirs.]

John, Louise and Eric practise polyamory, a form of ethical non-monogamy. However, the controversy over the fundamentalist Mormon polygamists in Bountiful, B.C. may put their family under legal scrutiny, because of an old, rarely used law forbidding non-monogamous relationships....

Vancouver supports an active polyamory subculture, with social gatherings and online discussion groups. John, Louise and Eric often host potlucks in their house for other people interested in polyamory, mostly white people in couples but also singles, from a wide variety of backgrounds. About 40 people attend each month. "We're actually looked at as a model," says John.

On the back porch of their house, John, Louise and Eric (not their real names, for the sake of privacy) talk about their nontraditional family over beers and cigarettes while their youngest son sleeps inside....

...The triad says it's important to view their relationship as an ongoing improvisation, not a fixed blueprint. "When we come up on things that we're not sure about, we sit down and talk about it," Louise says. Issues such as jealousy are resolved through negotiation and mutual trust....

John, Louise and Eric formalized their relationship with a commitment ceremony in August 2010. "We exchanged rings, we had vows, we had a marriage in all the traditional senses, apart from a justice of the peace and apart from a priest. We had a moderator," says John. They plan on drawing up documents regarding custody of children and division of assets.

John, Louise and Eric's commitment ceremony could put them, and everybody who attended, in trouble because of a 120-year-old law and a small community of fundamentalist Mormons. "Based on the legal interpretation, everybody at the ceremony is liable for legal action," says John.

The small town of Bountiful is a community of fundamentalist Mormons who practise another form of non-monogamy, "spiritual" or "plural" marriage of one man with multiple wives (technically known as polygyny). Unlike polyamorists, who advocate consent, conflict resolution through negotiation and egalitarian values, Bountiful is strongly patriarchal with power concentrated in the male head of the household....

...On Nov. 23, 2011, Chief Justice Bauman released his 357-page decision on Section 293. Instead of striking it down as the polyamorists and their allies hoped, Bauman upheld the law, though he said it should not be applied to minors, which is what the attorney general wanted. He also said that the law does not cover the various forms of consensual, non-monogamous relationships known as polyamory, which is a partial victory for polyamorists.

However, Bauman's decision also says formal marriages, legally recognized or not, with more than two people are against the law. This includes both the Mormon fundamentalists with multiple wives of Bountiful, B.C., and polyamorists who have formalized their relationships with ceremonies.

That means that John, Louise and Eric could still be charged with polygamy, as could anyone who had attended their commitment ceremony. While the triad doesn't believe its family is in immediate danger, it is upset about the decision.

John says, "In our situation, we are one of those groups of polyamorists that [the decision] is not a victory for. We did participate in a ceremony. While it wasn't legal or religious, we had a full ceremony, we had rings, we had cake, we had guests, we had a ceremony."...

Read the whole article (March 16, 2012). Tupper also wrote about the household more briefly last November.


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March 20, 2012

"Poly-Baiting: Why We Need a More Inclusive LGBT Movement"

Equal Writes (Princeton U.)
Huffington Post Gay Voices

The gay world is gradually coming to terms with the fact that yes, gays are more non-monogamous than straights, and yes, it's okay to talk about it, and no, gay-rights campaigners should not be spooked into denying it, throwing allies under the bus, and carrying water for the right wing.

From a student publication at Princeton, picked up by Huffington Post Gay Voices:

Poly-Baiting: Why We Need a More Inclusive LGBT Movement

By Vivienne Chen

Anti-LGBTQ campaigners have often used the issue of polyamory — or rather, a twisted media presentation of "polygamy," which is distinct from ethical nonmonogamy and polyamory — as a slippery-slope argument against LGBTQ equality, particularly when it comes to marriage.

The worse thing about this? LGBTQ activists left and right take the bait.

Just take a minute and watch this short video (TRIGGER WARNING: Rick Santorum):

Notice the crowd's reaction to his statements:

Santorum: Are we saying that everyone has the right to marry?
Crowd: Yes!
Santorum: So anyone can marry anybody else?
Crowd: Yes!
Santorum: So anybody can marry several people?
Crowd: [Mutterings and incoherent babbles of "No!"]

Cut to Santorum getting booed off the stage.

The problem is Santorum is right....

He's right in the sense that once we realize it's stupid to keep any two loving, consenting adults apart, we may start wondering whether it's equally stupid to keep three or more loving, consenting adults apart....

...If LGBTQ activists continue to say that relationships are really about committing to the people we love regardless of gender, race, creed, etc., then maybe society should allow us to commit to the people (plural) we love....

The fact is that the struggles of the poly/NM [nonmonogamy] community are not unfamiliar to the LGBTQ world. Couples in open relationships have lost their jobs and even custody of their children after people around them outed them as polyamorous. Sound familiar?

By distancing themselves and trying to divorce their struggle from the struggle of the poly/NM community, LGBTQ progressives end up throwing another sexual minority — indeed, a minority within their own minority — under the bus (a significant contingent of the poly/NM community is queer/bi and vice versa)....

Read the whole article (Mar. 20, 2012). It originally appeared on Equal Writes, "Feminism and Gender Issues at Princeton University" (Feb. 25, 2012).

As I've said before: 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. Slipping on a slope is a painful accident that leads downward. Instead, reframe it as a stairway up. 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.

Whether legal recognition of complex marriages would make sense is a different, knottier problem from a purely practical standpoint, as I've described here.


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March 12, 2012

"The surprisingly woman-friendly roots of modern polyamory"


You remember the Slate article a few weeks ago about why male-dominated polygamy is bad for the societies that host it? Now the same writer is back with the flip side.

Her article gets it right but seems a little breathless, as if she's discovered something new. It may be new to many Slate readers, but the fact that women have supplied most of the modern polyamory movement's leaders, writers, organizers, public spokespeople, and movers-and-shakers since the late 1980s is well known and widely remarked.

I'm struck by how this continues to be true year after year as new leaders, spokespeople, and organizers emerge. I'd say the female-to-male ratio in the movement's key roles may be as high as 3 to 1. (Somebody ought to do a proper study.) And, the men are feminist or feminist-friendly.

This is the biggest difference between polyamory's current "third wave," as sociologist Elisabeth Sheff calls it, and the more male-dominated second wave of the 1960s and 70s, when quite a few women came to feel they were getting the short end of the free-love stick. The women's rebellion against this inside the counterculture came on suddenly around 1969. That in turn had a lot to do with starting the explosive spread of feminism into mainstream society in the early 1970s. But that's another story....

Making Love and Trouble: The surprisingly woman-friendly roots of modern polyamory.

By Libby Copeland

Polyamory does not have the same male-centric history as polygamy.

Recently I wrote about the many problems polygamy tends to cause across the world, including high crime rates resulting from young men confined to singledom because older men are hoarding wives, and the subjugation of teenage girls forced to marry because there simply aren’t enough women to go around....

Historically, though, there’s been an exception to the rule about plural marriage being bad for women. Polyamory, in which people openly take on multiple relationships, sometimes in the context of group marriage, has a radically different history. Nearly as marginal on the left wing of our culture as polygamy is on the right, modern-day polyamory is intertwined with the rise of feminism, and its roots go back to the ’40s — the 1840s....

In the 1970s, during what sociologist Elisabeth Sheff calls the second wave of polyamory, fringe groups around the country experimented with non-monogamy. A San Francisco-based commune called Kerista, founded by a man who called himself Jud the Prophet, consisted of three large group marriages, in which sleeping schedules were rotated regularly to keep intimacy evenly distributed.... Its 1979 handbook mandated egalitarianism and required that members care for the commune’s children in “non-sexist parental roles.”

During the ’90s, the Internet sparked a third wave of polyamory, after AIDS had driven it underground during the ’80s. A Usenet newsgroup called alt.polyamory helped build a community, and a woman calling herself Morning Glory Zell, member of a “neo-Pagan” organization called the Church of All Worlds, helped popularize the term in an article called “A Bouquet of Lovers.” In more recent years, polyamory has mainstreamed somewhat, becoming fodder for features in Newsweek and on ABC’s Nightline. MTV did a True Life documentary on polyamorous young people, books like The Ethical Slut explored the topic, and Dan Savage continues to champion non-monogamy. Polyamory is no longer primarily identified with pagans and prophets.

In the most crunchy, West Coast communities, group marriages and open marriages are common enough that people can talk about being “poly” without having to explain what that is, says Sheff, a Georgia State University professor who is working on a book about polyamory. In her research, Sheff has even come across an area in Seattle populated by large polyamorous families: “You’ve heard of gayborhoods? This is the first poly-neighborhood I’ve heard of.”

Women are in many ways the driving force behind polyamory as a movement these days...

Read on (March 12, 2012).

P.S.: I'm glad to hear that Elisabeth Sheff is writing a book. Though not poly herself, she has been one of the prime academics studying the movement's sociology.

P.P.S.: Here's a history resource from the time between what Sheff calls polyamory's first and second wave: Yonina writes, "I just did a project on polyamorous / non-monogamous discourse and practice in the literary modern period (~1900s to 1930s)." Here's her annotated bibliography with much useful detail.

Update, March 20: An audio interview with the Slate author just went up on New Hampshire's Public Radio's "Word of Mouth" program. Listen here (8:40).


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March 5, 2012

Trailblazing in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Standard

"We trail the rest of the world when it comes to tolerating alternative views of sex and marriage," writes Kenneth Foo in the Hong Kong Standard. "That's the opinion of those behind the Fifth Hong Kong Sex Cultural Festival."

Sex festival sees more as best for happy marriages

...They say the [HK] territory needs to be more open-minded and are advocating group marriages as a solution to the high divorce rates in modern society.

"We hope the festival can open up the public's views towards alternative systems of marriage because the traditional relationship between one man and woman is getting outdated," founder Emil Ng Man-lun said.

With the theme "Sexuality Untied: Spatial, Social and Relational," this year's festival seeks to further society's understanding of the multiple views of sexuality in order to promote tolerance and harmony in the community.

With almost one in every two couples getting divorced these days, group marriages may be a viable option, Ng said....

Hong Kong Sex Association president and festival organizer Stanislaus Lai Ding-kee knows such liberal views are bound to draw flak from conservatives and religious groups, but stresses they are not demanding people ditch monogamy right away.

"Rather, we want them to be aware that there are alternative systems for relationships out there like polyamory that may be possibly better than the traditional monogamous relationship," Lai said.

Polyamory is a practice where individuals are consensually open to loving more than one person at a time.

Lai said Hong Kong is sexually conservative due to the heavy influence of conservative Christian and romantic values on sex that recognize monogamy as the only way to love.

He added that Western countries, and even [mainland] China, are far more accepting of unconventional approaches to sex and marriage....

The whole article (Mar. 6, 2012).



March 3, 2012

Poly for young South African women

Cosmopolitan (South Africa edition)

Last November Zama Nkosi, a female writer for South Africa's edition of Cosmopolitan (the country's "number one young women's magazine"), approached South Africa's small but vigorous poly community seeking folks to interview. She promised people that they could check their quotes before the article was printed. On that basis several talked to her. They found her nice and professional. They never heard back. The March issue just appeared on newsstands with the poly article flagged on the cover ("POLYAMORY EXPOSED"). Inside, the subjects were surprised to find the article appearing under a different byline: Dr. J. Eugene Botha, a TV and film documentarian.

Despite this inauspicious start, they're pretty happy with how the article came out.

Polyamory: Would You?

Being in more than one openly declared loving, committed relationship is a growing trend around the world and in South Africa. But could it work for you? By Eugene Botha

...Christel Breedt, 28, a restaurant manager in Cape Town, and her 31-year-old husband Arno, are two of a growing number of local polyamorists. She says fear of rejection by friends, family, and society are what stops the polyamorous community from coming out. Still, she and Arno say they can count five poly couples among their personal friends.

In a country where polygamy — which involves multiple marriages — is legal under African traditional law, multiple relationships are appealing to people of all races. 'People who are open to poly are generally open-minded. It's not race specific,' [therapist Suzanne] Patterson says. 'I've met polys of all races and the common thread is that they are all open to alternative lifestyles.'

The Poly Payoff

'Various aspects of our personalities are shared with different partners,' says Christel. "It's very fulfilling to be able to have different romantic experiences without having to 'break up' with a person you already care for.'

...The freedom that polyamory allows both sexes makes it very attractive to women in particular, says Christel. 'In the past a man with many partners was "experienced" and a multi-partnered women was a "slut." Polyamory allows women freedom of sexual expression that previously only men had,' she says....

In a country where the adult HIV infection rate is 30 times that in the U.S., safer sex is an especially pressing issue:

'I ask my partners to have blood tests for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia," says Melanie. 'I also insist on condoms, femidoms and gloves (should someone have a cut on a hand), and dental dams for oral sex with a woman. I can't police my partners but I can choose to trust them and make sure I stick to my guns as far as physical protection goes.'

The story closes on a high note:

'A person who is serious about poly understands that managing two or more loving relationships has to have a higher level of commitment, not lower,' says Patterson. Christel agrees. 'Polyamory is hard work. Having more than one girlfriend means having to remember two birthdays rather than one, having to comfort twice as many people when they cry, having to answer twice as many e-mails and arrange twice as many dinner dates and special outings.' But this also means 'twice as many people to let you cry on their shoulder, twice as many chances to have sex, twice as many arms to fall asleep in and twice as many deep conversations in the moonlight.'

The article includes a polyspeak vocabulary and weblinks. It's not online, but here are scanned pages: page 1, page 2.

Comments one of the people in the story, "Great article — mostly painting poly in a positive light, except for one small part which questions the possibility of loving more than one person equally at the same time. As far as I'm aware, poly never advocated that!... We are all individual and different, hence it's impossible to love two people in exactly the same way."

Another: "They quoted me quite extensively, but I was frustrated that some of the points I had put more emphasis on were overlooked.... Not a bad result in the end though, given that they could only fit so much into a two-pager."

Any lessons here? Maybe (1) don't assume that something like Cosmo will treat you with professional journalism standards, (2) get promises in writing, (3) the result may come out fine anyway.


Incidentally, on the magazine's website is a previous article (undated) with a new word for "monogamish": "Dare You Flirt with Flexogamy?" Including this bit:

Don't get them wrong: they're not free-love freaks without boundaries. 'We're not polyamorists,' insists Simon — in fact, every couple in a similar arrangement we spoke to insisted the same. 'Polyamory means you want to be in love with lots of people, but we're monogamous in love,' he continues. They have a very long and specific list of guidelines they abide by....

Googling suggests that "flexogamy" was introduced by Cosmo in 2006 and has failed to take hold anywhere else.