"There's a Big Problem With Polyamory That Nobody's Talking About," and much else about poly and race
|International Black Polyamory flag.|
Source and hi-res version.
My own impression, at least from who shows up at poly conferences, is that our community is definitely becoming more diverse as the years go by, but gradually.
Speaking of poly cons: Loving More's Poly Living in Philadelphia is coming up in just two weeks. The keynote speaker is Franklin Veaux. Go sign up if you can. Limited scholarships are still available.
There's a Big Problem With Polyamory That Nobody's Talking About
By Kaitlyn Mitchell
When it comes to love and sex, "polyamory" is today's "it" word.
Poly relationships, meaning romantic connections involving more than one person at a time, seem to making more headlines each day.... But there's a prevailing problem that cannot be ignored: their whiteness. And that standard of whiteness not only erases the experience of people of color; it reflects the actual exclusion of these people in poly life and communities.
...Purposefully or not, when media and pop culture portray polyamory as something practiced mainly by affluent white people, it makes the image of the movement more accessible and acceptable to the mainstream.
Just take Rolling Stone, which made a point of noting of its subjects: "They're ... both young professional types. She wears pretty skirts; he wears jeans and trendy glasses. They have a large, downtown apartment with a sweeping view." The same archetypes are prominent in pop culture portrayals, like in Showtime's Polyamory: Married & Dating.
...A 2011 study by professors Elisabeth Sheff and Corie Hammers found that in 36 studies of polyamorists/kinksters that noted participants' race and class, only an average of 10.8% of respondents were people of color, while 76.8% were of middle-class status or higher and 78% had at least some college education.
But not only is polyamory neither a new development nor a hot "trend," it's been on the spectrum of human relationships since the beginning of civilization. Andy Izenson, an associate attorney at a firm specializing in nontraditional families, told Mic, "Living in chosen families, living in collectives, living in multiple-parent parenting situations ... calling those things poly is what's new, not doing those things." And poly lifestyles have also long included people of color, something the media dialogue seems to be missing.
One explanation is that white researchers may have difficulty convincing people of color that they have good intentions in studying their sexual habits. If so, the sentiment shouldn't be too surprising given the current state of poly communities.
A white, affluent image that reflects a troubling reality: A 2013 survey of polyamorous people from online groups, mailing lists and forums found that almost 90% of the participants identified as Caucasian. People of color report feeling "othered" and excluded in poly environments, like meet-ups, with women feeling especially at risk of being objectified and fetishized as an exotic sexual plaything.
"I interviewed a black couple who went to a poly group, and they were definitely preyed upon, in a sense," said Marla Renee Stewart, Atlanta-based founder of Velvet Lips, a sex education venue. Atlanta is currently the most diverse polyamorous community in the U.S. due to its significantly large black middle class, Sheff told Mic.
There is a socioeconomic element at play when it comes to exclusion. Those people of color with lower income can feel marginalized by poly community culture's financial demands, which can include dishing out cash for a fancy play party or a plane ticket to Burning Man. The Behind Closed Doors party this Valentine's Day in Manhattan, for example, is charging single ladies $95 for tickets, while couples' tickets begin at $275. The cost of actively participating in the community can be an intimidating barrier.
Sheff and Hammers found evidence of such exclusion in their 2011 study. "Scarce funds can deter people with low incomes from participating in kink and poly community events," they wrote, acknowledging the difficulty of potentially being "one of the very few people of color or with low socioeconomic status in a group composed primarily of educated white people with professional jobs dressed in expensive fetish wear."
"That's a kind of actual exclusionary policy that I think I was largely criticizing," said Princeton student Vivienne Chen, who published an essay titled Polyamory Is for Rich, Pretty People" and is a moderator of a private Facebook discussion group for alternative lifestyle choices which includes members from locations including New York, California, and London.
A vicious cycle of exclusion: These factors contribute to people of color's marginalization from poly life, thus creating an unfortunate feedback cycle: When people don't see the communities as diverse or accepting, they will be reluctant to join in.
"A lot of blacks, in certain environments, want to know that there's other blacks that are going to be there," said Ron Young, co-founder of the California-based Black & Poly organization, a family-centered poly group whose monthly kid-friendly meetings take place at a Unitarian Universalist church. "If you weren't raised in an integrated environment, that is definitely going to be a concern."
..."We've had a really tough time traversing that hurdle," said Young. "The struggle for us, it's real. It's racked with many miles and generations of societally constructed guilt and shame."
Progress on the horizon? Even if some white polyamorists are aware of the issue of exclusion, there isn't a clearly defined solution to reducing barriers to entry and creating a more accepting community. "I am afraid of any sort of outreach effort that looks like we're trying to tell them how to live their lives," Eve Rickert, co-author of More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory, told Mic. "How many times have middle-class white people done that?"
But others are more optimistic. The existence of groups like Black and Poly at least confront the matter of exclusion head-on. And Izenson, who co-hosts a monthly "Poly Cocktails" meet-up on New York City's Lower East Side, says the event has gotten significantly more diverse in the past six years.
...Chen told Mic, "The reason I put pressure on the poly community is because of its general mentality and philosophy of radical inclusion." If any group can do it, it might as well be one predicated on acceptance.
Read the whole article (Feb. 4, 2015).
Here are a bunch of related items since my last roundup:
● Black & Poly also has a Facebook group (3,000 members).
● Here's that study by Elizabeth Sheff and Corie Hammers: The Privilege of Perversities. And a summary from Sheff: Diversity in Polyamory.
● Our Own True Colors: A Symbol for Black Polyamory. The story behind the new International Black Polyamory Flag shown above; Robin Renée interviews artist David McLeod (Jan. 16, 2015).
● Tracy Renee Jones writes Polyamory: The Word That Finally Defined My Personal Life (March 8, 2013).
● Black Girl Dangerous published the much-quoted essay 9 Strategies for Non-Oppressive Polyamory, by Janani Balasubramanian (Oct. 24, 2013). On the same site, polyamory was the "Say That!" topic for the month that month. Observed Kate Donovan at FreethoughtBlogs, "Polyamory doesn’t get a free pass at being radical without an analysis of power in our interactions."
● In Hue magazine, "an online health publication for women of color," describes poly and other forms of non-monogamy (in a mainsteam context): Cheating, open relationships and polyamory: what’s the difference? (Jan. 28, 2013).
● African American Women | Freedom-Based Relationships. Relationship educator Kenya Stevens talks about "what it means to be an African American woman practicing polyamory" (April 19, 2013).
● Partnered Polyamory: One Woman’s Journey To Defining Self & Love On Her Own Terms by Ashley Young, "a black feminist queer dyke; poet, non-fiction writer and teaching artist.... A non-fiction 2011 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2010 poetry participant of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Retreat for Writers of Color."
● A review of the novel Broken In Soft Places (author Fiona Zedde), at Sistahs on the Shelf ("The Home for Readers of Black Lesbian Fiction"), with an author interview:
Q: Polyamory is such a taboo subject in the black community. And you’ve written Broken In Soft Places, such an invasive book about it. What was your motivation? Is it a taboo subject?
A: I didn’t realize that. I know it’s not overtly accepted in most mainstream spaces but I think many people live it. There are women who know about and accept their wife or husband’s other lover. Couples that regularly have threesomes or identify as swingers. Groups of friends with benefits. My motivation for writing Broken In Soft Places as I did came from needing to talk about one of the elephants in the room; something we all know about but seldom explore in fiction. These polyamorous relationships exist but discussing the truth around what happens with the people involved is what can be considered taboo.
● From Ebony writer Josie Pickens, Main Chicks, Side Chicks and Mansharing (Sept. 6, 2012).
● A standout exception to poly conferences being very white was OpenSF in San Francisco in June 2012, which spanned other forms of non-monogamy as well. It drew 500 people, the record for any poly conference, including a large turnout from Oakland and other minority areas due in part to efforts by Poly/POC Oakland and by OpenSF's co-organizer Pepper Mint.
Pepper wrote earlier, "Last Saturday [Feb. 19, 2012] there was an excellent poly people of color panel in Oakland: Lovin' Outside The Box: POCs Redefine Relationships. Over 100 people in attendance, and the panelists were superb. This was groundbreaking for my region because it was the first such event (public, large) to happen. Here's a description from one of the organizers. There are links at the bottom to listen to the panel discussion in its entirety." Questions discussed were,
–How do you define polyamory and/or open relationships?
–What are the common misconceptions about open relationships, and how do you debunk them?
–How does polyamory challenge us to confront jealousy in ways that monogamy does not?
–In what ways has being in open relationships helped you to heal?
–What about children?
–Are humans naturally monogamous?
–What is the balance between not pampering your partners insecurities and being compassionate?
–How do economics factor in?
–How do you negotiate disclosing polyamorousness / coming out as open?
–Do you know of any examples of polyamorous folks who have been together into old age?
● At The Grio: Will open relationships cure the 'great black love scare'? (Dec. 19, 2011).
● Blog by a radical Native American academic: The Critical Polyamorist: Polyamory, Race and Cultural Politics in the U.S.
● Toronto rapper Addi Stewart (Adhimu Shabazz Lateef Stewart) often writes about relationships for PolyamorySex.com, an offshoot of PolyamoryDate.com. All his articles there.
● The sprawling Modern Poly site (yes it's back up again, some of the time) has a section of personal essays titled "Poly and Race." Here are Poly and Black by B. L. Bunche, Poly and Asian by Brian D., Poly and Boricua by Elizabeth, and Poly and Chicana by Avie Saenz.
Labels: polys of color