Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

April 21, 2012

On ABC's 20/20, a network of polyfamilies shows how it's done.


They pulled it off. On ABC's "20/20" last night, a group of eight adults and three kids faced down an incredulous anchor and, for 7½ minutes, displayed to perhaps 5–7 million viewers what a happy poly network of families can look like. Watch it here:

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Here's ABC's lovely text article paralleling the segment. It follows the video fairly closely.

I wonder, however, why the word "polyamory" never once appeared in the article or on air. It's not like ABC has been afraid of the word in the past.

The segment was part of a one-hour show titled “The New Sex: Strange Arrangements.” The other parts were an interview with 50 Shades of Grey author E. L. James, stuff about celebrity sex, and gigolos. (You can watch the whole thing.)

A leading spokesperson for the poly group was Sierra Black, who has recently written about her open marriage and raising her children in it for Salon and the parenting sites Strollerderby and Babble.com. Here's her blog Childwild, in which she's been talking about the 20/20 experience. Excerpt:

I did this because I wanted to give mainstream America a peek at a healthy, happy, thriving circle of poly families. It’s my hope that we’ve done just that, and that this is a step toward a future where news shows won’t want to do segments on how “kooky” polyamory is, because it’s just a thing some people do. I am fairly confident positive portrayals on TV can make a difference, and I’m grateful to ABC for their approach in this one.

My great thanks go out to ABC, 20/20 and in particular anchor Elizabeth Vargas and our producers Marc and Michael. I felt they gave a respectful, balanced portrayal of our family life and relationships.

I’m also grateful beyond words to the family, friends and loved ones who appeared in the segment: thank you for your courage and wisdom. To those who counseled me off-screen, practiced interviews, loaned me pretty things to wear (thanks mom!), hosted the viewing party, recorded the show and were there when I needed a hand to hold or a kind word: thank you from the bottom and the top and every in between part of my heart. This couldn’t have happened without each of you.

Another Strollerderby regular posts,

...Watching Sierra’s relationship profile on TV just now, I realized how incredibly stable her unusual family is.

The best part, I thought, was listening to Sierra’s elder daughter Rio describe her parents’ open marriage. From ABC News:

You might think Sierra and Martin’s daughters think their parents’ arrangement is unusual, but when “20/20″ anchor Elizabeth Vargas asked their daughter, Rio, if she thought her family was different from other families, she replied, “Not really.”

Rio’s definition of an open marriage was fairly precise, for a 7-year-old: “Your parent or one of your parents is dating a different person that’s not part of your family,” she said.

Vargas proved herself a bit conventional during the interview process, asking questions like, “Aren’t you just committing adultery?” The obvious answer is, of course not, though Sierra and her husband Martin gave an even better retort. “As Martin put it, ‘There’s no cheating.’ Sierra added, ‘We are committed to being an open book with each other, and it’s all based on a really high degree of love and trust.’”

Precisely.... There’s communication, dialogue, even bargaining amongst those involved about the types of behaviors that are acceptable to all parties and those that are off limits. I don’t doubt that more marriages could benefit from that kind of honesty.

In a tweet, anchor Elizabeth Vargas commented to a viewer right afterward, "i will admit, i really dont get it. But they all seem to really care about each other. Just cant imagine it myself..."

Update: Sierra writes us, "I'm trying to encourage positive feedback about the 20/20 piece to ABC. If you liked ABC's take on #polyamory, let them know @ABC2020 [twitter] or leave a supportive comment on this article: http://abcn.ws/IvnyTS .

"PS -- I saw you mentioned that the word polyamory wasn't used in the piece. The producers were confused about what polyamory means. They thought it was always and only households with three or more adults living together as equal partners; what you probably think of as polyfidelity or plural marriage. We tried to set them right about it and I think mostly succeeded, but they seem to have wound up thinking any term of art was confusing and just going with 'open marriage.' Meh."


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Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

I've only seen the poly segment and not the entire show, but I have to say that my concerns raised by the "Strange Sex" title of the show are greatly relieved. What an awesome portrayal of polyamory like it is intended to be and that works.

I'm not so worried about Vargas' challenge questions "isn't this just cheating" because the producers clearly did their research and know these are the questions we are often asked by skeptics. And the poly folks responses as good as any of we advocates could reasonably hope for. KUDOS to all who appeared and spoke, and to ABC for not making us look like nothing but a bunch of freaks.

April 21, 2012 3:54 PM  
Blogger Strange Beacons said...

Absolutely awesome story and one that makes me proud to be poly! Bravo to you and your extended family for having the courage to speak out for the rest of us.

Curt in Seattle

April 22, 2012 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesomely shown and put. I love that they at least didn't sensationalize any of the piece and that they showed it clearly and fairly.

April 25, 2012 10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was bothered in the very beginning by the implication that the only reason these people are in a poly relationship is to "spice things up".But overall, it was well done .

April 29, 2012 4:04 PM  
Blogger crystaldragonwoman said...

I thought the piece was beautifully done, interestingly, the only thing I found puzzling or note worthy, as strange, was the extended time the two main women where holding hands during the interview, this caught my attention - and I found the piece very well done - respectful, courageous and interesting -

April 30, 2012 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Filmmakers from NorthOne we were working with tonight (re polyamory) for UK's C4 mentioned this show so I just found your post.

Thanks so much for sharing the news about this and the film clip, as we cannot access ABC's full piece due to being in the UK.

Thanks to everyone involved for awareness raising, still so much prejudice out there and most people like us still can;t speak out. Especially those of us with children.

Reportage is gradually improving - we'll get there between us in the end if we keep raising awareness!

Dennis Queen

May 10, 2012 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Bobin said...

I love this concept as it helps one to express one's inner feelings without harming the commitment and responsibilty of the family. Acceptance is better than ignorance or suppression. Because our society bounds us to suppress our feelings, emotions and desire and make us act the way the society wants us to, it leads to lots of crimes at times. Also, this polyamory lifestyle helps keeping the family bondage together and is way better than divorce and remarriage when the kids are either deprived of complete parental love or are victims of step parents.

May 16, 2012 9:31 PM  
Blogger Skeeter Sanders said...

I can understand why ABC was reluctant to use the word "polyamory" in their excellent piece. After all, it sounds too similar to "polygamy." Most people -- certainly poly folk -- know that polygamy isn't what is being practised here.

And since polygamy -- like it or not -- has been so identified in the public mind with Mormon fundamentalists (Think Warren Jeffs and the Brown family of "Sister Wives" fame), ABC obviously did not want to leave viewers with the mistaken impression that this was a religious sect.

June 17, 2012 8:48 PM  
Blogger Skeeter Sanders said...

I can understand why ABC was reluctant to use the word "polyamory" in their excellent piece. After all, it sounds too similar to "polygamy." Most people -- certainly poly folk -- know that polygamy isn't what is being practiced here.

And since polygamy -- like it or not -- has been so identified in the public mind with Mormon fundamentalists (Think Warren Jeffs and the Brown family of "Sister Wives" fame), ABC obviously did not want to leave viewers with the mistaken impression that this was a religious sect.

June 17, 2012 8:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just saw the documentary and I don't agree with most people here. It isn't a good documentary at all.. it is entertainment.
The tone of the woman reporter is just annoying.. she seems to be constant on the verge of laughing. The tone being: guys this is so silly, I have a hard time keeping a strait face.
There is hardly any critical analysis: at the end a few critical points are named, but they are waved away as those of close minded people or cranks. You hear nor see any opponent nor anyone with a different opinion. The biggest part of the program is so over the top, it convinces me that they are probably pretending:have to pretend we are one big happy family... now we have found happiness in polyarmory.
As such it is unconvincing. I think polyamory needs a much better program than this one that discusses the pro's and con's and gives a balanced view.

July 02, 2012 7:07 PM  
Blogger Gomugirl said...

Polyamory has become a blanket term for any kind of relational or sexual behavior that isn't monogamous. Good to steer clear of it here. I would also like to point out that not everyone chooses polyamory as a cure for what ails a flagging relationship. My partner and I knew going into marriage that we were non monogamist and that intimate emotional bonds were essential to our individual sense of self. We loved each other then and love each other more now. We feel that we practice responsible nonmonogamy and that our behavior and communication is done with personal responsibility for our own feelings, and with respect for the other people in our lives. I long for the day when such bedroom/lifestyle stories are no longer used for novelty ratings but they did handle the poly part pretty well.

September 26, 2012 2:35 PM  

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