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

September 2, 2013

When an undercover reporter joins your local poly group

Soot (Australia)

How do you handle journalists? As a former alternative-newspaper reporter and editor, I've worked both sides of the relationship between reporters and their subjects. An article just out today in Australia points up the tension.

Veronica Fil
Soot is an edgy online magazine covering Australia's "music, pop culture, fashion, tech, art, literature, love and life." It takes its mission seriously: "We wanted to make sure quality and substance had a place online, just as it has been in print media for many years. [Internet] readers have been experiencing fatigue from too many sub-standard articles online. Soot’s aim is to change this."

Its occasional writer Veronica Fil became intrigued with the Melbourne poly community and wanted to see what it was really like. So, "to obtain a more thorough perspective, I went incognito"; she befriended a couple and went to a PolyVic meeting undercover. Then she wrote about what she heard and saw.

If you run a poly group, this could happen to you. Here is how to think about it, and how to defend against it should you feel the need.

First off, here's some of the article itself. It's not unflattering overall, just invasive.

Play nice and share: An introduction to polyamory

Veronica Fil explores the ins and outs of keeping multiple lovers and track[s] one couple’s journey as they experiment with poly life.

It was our second date, and as Tom knelt in close and told me he had something important to say, I thought we were about to kiss. Instead, he whispered, “Please don’t be angry, but I have a wife…and a baby. It’s OK though…We’re poly.”

Perhaps I should’ve walked away right then, but I didn’t. The idea was too intriguing, and I was desperate to know what this curious culture of “poly” (polyamory) entailed. So for the next few months, I followed Tom and his wife, Claire, as they began their life together as a non-monogamous couple — all from the safety of my computer screen.

...It’s hard to measure the number of individuals involved in polyamorous relationships in Australia and worldwide.... But judging by the poly community’s global reach (a quick Google search will put you in touch with your local enthusiast group almost anywhere in the world), it’s probably more common than you think.

Critics of poly argue that it’s unnatural, immoral, or just weird. Some believe that it’s an unstable environment to raise kids in, despite the fact that poly supporters take pride in being a “family-friendly” community. So to obtain a more thorough perspective, I went incognito and attended a local poly meet-up group I’d discovered online. It was here that I met Sacha — a petite, fiery-haired lesbian who, despite the extreme discomfort I expressed as she caressed my leg, was most obliging to answer my questions.

Sacha had been enjoying a polyamorous relationship for the past five years. “You know, it’s no more difficult than having a gay parent, a single parent. Poly’s not this sleazy, cult-like thing. It’s about forming caring relationships. If your kid grows up in that kind of household, how can it be a bad thing?”

It’s this kind of rationalisation that piqued my curiosity about relationship longevity within the poly community....

Meanwhile, I was still receiving emails from Tom and his wife Claire, reporting on their poly progress and encouraging me to stop by for dinner and “some fun”.

“My wife’s still taking a while to be convinced…but she knows it’s better than me cheating,” Tom wrote during week one, referring to his reluctant but supportive spouse. He went on to describe their first, awkward threesome – clumsy, fumbling hands; confusion as to stick what in where, narrowly avoiding injury.

By week four, the recounts had become breathtakingly graphic....

...My online interactions with Tom and Claire showed me that personally, poly is not for me — I’m far too jealous and hesitate at the thought of sharing a meal, let alone a partner.... Rather than a relationship, it felt like a religious conversion. This is only one example of poly life, and certainly not indicative of the experiences of the broader poly community — but for me, the whole situation felt unsexy.

...I would have been entirely happy to have an affair with Tom. I just didn’t want to share.

Read the whole article (September 2, 2013).

Are you outraged? I suggest you calm down.

As long as the writer didn't reveal the identities of private figures and/or cause them damage, reporting undercover is legitimate and essential to a free society, and the right to do it is crucial. Even if it upsets people. Freedom to investigate and report on what's really happening, rather than only what spokespeople choose to tell the media, is essential to civil society. Here in the US, state legislatures that are controlled by the meat industry are passing laws making it a felony punishable by years in prison to photograph conditions on a farm or feedlot (see "ag gag"). If you object to these laws, you have to accept that it's legitimate to go undercover to report on other topics too.

It's not a "bad" journalist who does this, it's a good one. Lazy journalists just repeat official flack.

That said, you too have legitimate interests — in seeking to put your best foot forward and in maintaining your group's privacy and safety.

There are several things you can do:

● At the start of discussion groups, ask everyone to agree not to share personal information from the discussion outside the discussion. Ask for everyone to affirm that they agree to this, such as by a unanimous show of hands. We do this at the monthly discussions of Family Tree, my local poly group in the Boston suburbs. If anyone in your group will not affirm by voice or hand that they agree, discuss their reasons, and if there is no group consensus, ask them to leave. If you take notes, note that everyone agreed to maintain privacy.

● You can also say, "If any journalists or writers are present, we require you to introduce yourself now as a condition of staying." If there are any, the group can consider their agenda, who they are working for (ask), and whether to let them remain. In practice, experience shows that you have much to gain by accommodating reasonable journalists and in any case, by always treating them politely — on your terms.

● If you're concerned about correspondence getting into the media, at the bottom of emails you can assert in small print that all content is your personal property meant only for the intended recipient, and any further distribution or use in whole or in part without your permission is expressly prohibited.

None of these things fully protect you, and the law varies from place to place. But they warn intruders that you're ready to bring an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, and if there's one thing journalists and their employers are scared of, it's getting sued.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, "Tom" (the guy who started dating the reporter without revealing that he was trying to get into poly) sounds like an inexperienced creep.

September 03, 2013 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm more upset about the quote POLY unquote people that were interviewed.

Tom waited until the second date, right as things are getting intimate in the reporters eyes to say, "Oh by the way..." as if it meant nothing. And later he is said to convince his wife by saying, "It's better than cheating. So would you rather know about it, or I fuck behind your back?"

Then Sacha who wouldn't take the reporters "No, don't rub my leg" for an answer. This isn't poly; it's people rationalizing screwing around.

September 03, 2013 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Taub said...

As of Sept. 9, sootmagazine.com appears to be down.

Thanks for this extremely helpful post, Alan!

September 09, 2013 4:24 PM  
Blogger Maria Padhila said...

This is fantastic, and I'm really heartened by the way you stick up for a free press and undercover work and explain the importance of this to others.
I'm not even a "real" reporter on polyamory (tho I was a real journalist for about 25 years in real life), just a blogger. But I always let it be known that I blog for a website and while I won't be using any information shared at an event, I may ask you later if I can talk more. When I email people, I stress that I'll get full permission and even offer to send quotes to confirm for accuracy.
What I often get in return:
People edging away from me (which is yucky, but comes with the territory; and maybe it's my hair they don't like or something)
People trying to exercise inordinate, unwarranted control over what I write and the process. Such drama you've never seen, except maybe on that Showtime show. All sorts of laying down the law, sending pages of material with orders to run it verbatim, commands to meet in person rather than over the phone or email (I have lots of family obligations--come on, I'm poly--and a job, and no expense account to jet off to Omaha or wherever), attempts to change a quote two or three times or more. This isn't the kind of "message control" you get from PR, which is another kind of bleh, but a flailing attempt at boundary setting and power that doesn't work for anyone involved.
Sorry about the bitchiness, and I'm the first one to understand that people must protect themselves and their families before going public even in the smallest ways--but it works both ways. I try to work with generosity and compassion--and being in the netherlands between journalism and opinion plus blog-no-one-reads-them-anyway gives me a blessed freedom to do so. It's nice not to have to nail anyone to the wall, but just to open up to understanding them.
I'd just like people in the community to open up too--not everyone who writes or produces media for publication, in whatever small or large way, is there either to nail you or for you to use. And if you're a spokesperson, author, educator, or crafting such a role for yourself, please, please learn how to deal with publicity and media before you get out there--you have really smart, experienced people right on this here blog who can help you.

September 13, 2013 1:50 AM  

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