Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

December 25, 2018

Umm, that article: "Polyamorous sex is the most quietly revolutionary political weapon in the United States"

With a headline like that, this massive article in Quartz (4,400 words) had a lot to live up to. It has raised a stir in the poly world since it appeared last Thursday, and not in a good way, with some very sharp reactions.

The story is certainly sympathetic, and its thesis might seem bold and gratifying. But look again. The story is coming under fire for (1) being carelessly reported, with errors about people in it, (2) confusing the fact that some people are finding new freedoms with a revolutionary political movement, and especially (3) wearing narrow cultural blinders: only noticing that cis het white mainstreamers are discovering a thing that others have been living for a long time. Especially with that overreaching headline.

See what you think. The article is by a prolific writer; it's one of 12 she has cranked out for Quartz so far this month.

Pardon me for being several days late with this post. This is going to be long, so sit back and settle in.

First, some excerpts:

Polyamorous sex is the most quietly revolutionary political weapon in the United States

By Olivia Goldhill

To find polyamorists today, head to Brooklyn.

In areas of the borough dominated by corporate-sponsored graffiti and homogenous warehouses-turned-craft-cocktail-bars, the practice of dating multiple lovers has developed into a social scene. ...

...Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Americans who rejected monogamy typically did so in an effort to throw off mainstream, normative culture and politics. But the attendees of Tableaux fit in with the rest of privileged, gentrified Brooklyn: They match the dark, tattered-glamor aesthetic of the room; wear dark-grey clothes and plenty of eyeliner; and are overwhelmingly white. In a group of more than 50, fewer than five are people of color. And, though people at the party tell me the polyamory community is ahead of the curve on gender politics, most there present as cis; most queer women as femme. Sex is no more prominent here than at any other party in middle-class Brooklyn. We discuss vegan burgers and holiday destinations. ...

Yet many polyamorists consider the whole lifestyle to be radically transformative by virtue of its nature. ...

...The lack of overt political activism in today’s polyamorous communities is quite different from earlier generations of American polyamorists. The few who openly practiced polyamory in the 1960s and 1970s typically lived on communes, and outwardly rejected capitalist ideals of a nine-to-five, conventional lifestyle. Many practiced some form of communism, pooling all their resources and ensuring everything, from food to sleeping partners, was shared equally. In some cases, this commitment to “equality” went so far as to undermine free choice. One famous polyamorous commune, Kerista, based in San Francisco from the 1970s to 1990s, insisted that members live according to a strict sex schedule, rotating who they slept with each night within formally organized groups, or “best-friend identity clusters” of four to 15 people.

“What’s happening now is so much more healthy, because it’s deciding for yourself,” says Jessica*, a 34-year-old who asked to use a pseudonym as she’s not yet out as polyamorous to her parents. Jessica, who has a wide smile and the slightly scruffy look of a Brooklyn resident too distractedly happy to worry about preening, describes polyamorous politics as a mixture of socialism — a respect for a non-hierarchical society that values collective, community decision-making — and a libertarian belief that everyone should be free to make their own decisions without government interference. For example, Jessica and other polyamorists I speak with say there’s very little discussion about the right for polyamorous marriage, because few in today’s poly community believe government recognition of a union is a worthwhile goal.

However, while they may not be organizing as a collective around specific issues, many polyamorists today believe the act of dating multiple people is inherently political, since monogamy, they note, is inextricably linked with both economics and politics.

In the late 1960s, feminists made the groundbreaking argument that the personal is political: How we interact in private, and in our intimate relationships, has political implications, and therefore the tenor of those interactions should be examined in the public sphere. The way a husband treats his wife, for example, does not just characterize one individual relationship, but reflects widespread societal norms that determine both male and female career opportunities and expectations at home. ... The people we choose to have sex with, and how we treat our romantic partners, are not just personal choices, but political acts.

Polyamory is radical politics from that perspective. Today’s polyamorists may not be rejecting conventional jobs or bourgeois consumption, but they are shifting fundamental structures of society simply by relating to each other differently.

Perhaps contemporary polyamorists’ embrace of and engagement with mainstream life allows them to surreptitiously change what it means to be “normal.” Progressive changes to gender roles, economic opportunities, and the definition of family, follow as consequences. ...

...Polyamory also shifts the sexist narrative around sex itself. ... The pervasive stereotype is that women are more eager for long-term monogamous relationships than men, and so, men pursue women for casual sex, while women seek a partner. In contrast, those I spoke to in the polyamory dating scene said both men and women are expected to enjoy sex for its own sake, without judgement, and that the “ghosting” and callous behavior so widespread in monogamous dating is practically unheard of in the polyamorous world.

Polyamory also has the power to transform traditional heterosexual family dynamics, and dismantle the gender norms demanded by that family structure. ...

Elise* is 14 years old and lives in Springfield, Virginia, not too far south of Washington, DC, with her mom, her mother’s boyfriend, and her mother’s boyfriend’s wife. There’s also her half-sister, two step-brothers, a roommate, and large dog in the house, as well as a “cave” room where the adults’ various partners occasionally stay the night. ... The family knows combining parenting with polyamory is controversial but laughs at the suggestion that there’s anything unhealthy about their arrangement. “Our joke is always ‘won’t somebody think about the children?’” says Elise’s mother, Jill. “People say that all the time to disparage non-traditional relationships. But our kids have this house full of folks who are interested and engaged with them.”

...“I don’t feel like our particular household is on some great political journey,” says Jill. If anything, “it’s a survival strategy.” Together, they can support each other and afford to live in a large, detached house with marble kitchen countertops and glossy wooden floors. “A lot of people are struggling financially,” she says. “A lot of people are lonely. This can really help people support each other.”


...Polyamory also struggles with racial diversity. There are a growing number of regional and national polyamory groups and events in the US, such as Poly Dallas and Black & Poly, with predominantly black attendees. And [Leon] Feingold, the Brooklyn landlord, presents polyamory as widely diverse both in terms of race and class. “You meet millionaires and people on food stamps,” he told me.

...But many polyamorists say the community is still predominantly middle-class and white, and there remains a distinct lack of events that are racially diverse. Kevin Patterson recently published a book, Love’s Not Color Blind, on how the polyamory community needs to address its white hegemony.

Chaele tells me the racial prejudice that exists in polyamorous communities reflects the wider world. “We don’t live in a vacuum utopia,” she says. “White people get centered in everything.” The major polyamory groups are predominantly white, she says, and there are smaller offshoots for those who feel uncomfortable identifying as a minority. Though Chaele is involved in majority-white polyamory groups, she says she occasionally wants to surround herself with other African American polyamorists. “It’s very hard to trust and want to be in predominantly white spaces sometimes,” she says.

...There are various theories about the cause of polyamory’s racial divide. Some of those I interviewed suggest it’s far easier to be polyamorous if you’re white and wealthy. Those already marginalized and persecuted due to their race or economic standing would understandably be less likely to take part in a relationship that’s viewed as transgressive. Others believe it’s because the polyamory community in the US was largely built by white founders, who reached out to others like them and didn’t try to be more inclusive.


[Michael] Rios, now 70, is one of those early founders. He helped run a polyamorous commune that moved throughout DC, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 1970s, and today leads a co-living space in Arlington, Virginia, predominantly filled with polyamorous people. ... When I visit at the end of March 2018, the house is warm and slightly messy, like the lovingly disheveled home of college students. In my afternoon there, I rarely see two people talking without also stroking each other, or kissing, or sharing a lingering hug.

"A few members of Chrysalis, a polyamorous community in Virginia." (It's actually an intentional-community house with some poly people. From left: Michael, Sarah, Indigo, Dawson.)

Rios says polyamorists today are far less politically zealous than in his younger years. “When I started off, anyone who was polyamorous was making a radical social statement,” he says. “These days, you get a lot of people who are in it because they want a more open sexuality. These people are not necessarily liberal, or feminist, or anything.” Many do, however, care about diversity.

When I visited, the house was majority white (five Caucasian and three Jewish), though one resident is African American, one South Asian, and one Latinx. Several younger members told me they’d like their community to become more diverse, and Rios later mentions in an email he’s planning to host an event organized by people of color. ...

Rios and his partner Sarah Taub have been running the Center For a New Culture (CFNC), a non-profit focused on teaching people the skills to create more intimate, loving relationships, since 2004. Today, Indigo and others in Chrysalis develop polyamory-friendly “New Culture” events in Virginia that are open to the wider public, such as evening workshops on personal growth and how to have drama-free relationships, and several-day-long sessions called “New Culture Camps.” For example, one three-day event, Winter Poly Wonderland, is described as “not just a party, or a conference” and offers workshops on intimacy building and relationship skills, as well as “hugs and cuddle piles” and dance sessions.

“New Culture is our baby,” says Indigo, bringing their hands together to form a cup and gazing at the invisible “baby” resting there. ... Indigo says they are in a “deep, long-term, loving, sexual relationship” with another Chrysalis resident, Dawson. They add that their other relationships within the house are intimate, but not necessarily sexual. (Ahead of our talk, Indigo and another housemate were lying on a bed, cuddling and kissing.) Indigo believes the culture of acceptance within their polyamory community is innately transformative, and describes the community’s philosophy as one of “abundance and freedom.”

...Taub points out that polyamory within the broader US culture is going through a process similar to Chrysalis’s adjustments as it grew. “The people who were initially into polyamory were really amazing, interesting, weird, iconoclastic — willing to go against all cultural norms for reasons both healthy and unhealthy,” she says. There can be something of a “culture clash,” she says, between those who were polyamorous back when it was more transgressive, and the younger, more mainstream polyamorists who are making the movement their own, seeking to improve it where they see fit, and gradually embracing more and more people and perspectives. These dynamics and politics are typical of any large movement. “First there are the pioneers and then there are the settlers,” says Taub. “We’re in the settler phase now.”

...For the most part, polyamorists are more likely to group together based on demographics, finding compatriots in, for example, suburban Virginia, progressive Seattle neighborhoods, and trendy Brooklyn bars. They’ve gone from oddity to humdrum normality and, though the community has largely abandoned some of the overt political ideals of polyamorous pioneers, polyamory’s new settlers are still, subtly but perceptibly, creating change. Polyamory today is not an overtly political movement. But it is still radical — quietly, personally, and apolitically.

Read the whole article (December 20, 2018).

Some narrow criticisms are about factual errors in the article and off-base representations.

Michael Rios, for instance, tells us, "What I said and what the reporter claimed I said had very little in common. I was horrified to see what was printed in the article about racial diversity. I never said or implied that racial diversity wasn't a problem; it is an issue that I have offered financial and resource support for. I was making the point that diversity is not only about race, but that there are other diversity issues also that might not be visually apparent."

Also, "Even something as simple as calling Chrysalis, where I live, a 'polyamorous community'. Some of us are poly, some are not; the community as a whole is not polyamorous." And, "I don't think I have ever had an interview be this far off. Many others who were interviewed have expressed similar concerns."

Both he and Sarah say the writer got the story wrong of how and why they dialed back their relationship, and Michael has posted elsewhere to correct the record. Indigo and Dawson were also planning responses.

Also, says Sarah, "I have an intention to post something overall renouncing the thesis that polyamory per se is a potent revolutionary tool. Rather, the skills behind successful polyamory — transparency, curiosity, compassion, strong boundaries, commitment to one's truth rather than abiding with norms that have been imposed on us — are potent tools for building a new culture, along with many other tools."

At least two other people in the story have publicly complained about being misquoted or other mistakes. Leon Feingold has since gotten a correction about his views into the published article.

More consequential criticisms focus on the story's narrow presentation of poly as a new white thing, a new straight or straight-presenting thing, or a Brooklyn hipster thing.

● Crystal Farmer, editor of Black & Poly's website, posted this response:

Representation Matters

When you talk to white middle class polyamorists, you get the viewpoint of white middle class polyamorists.

Olivia Goldhill recently wrote about polyamory and whether it is a political movement. While she acknowledged the existence of Black & Poly's Facebook page, she concluded that the poly community was largely white and cisgendered. Unfortunately she did not reach out to Ron Young or any of the non-white leaders in the polyamory movement. As a result, her article demonstrates a narrow view of polyamory.

Missing from the article are people of color and queer people who struggle to live their lives in a culture that is not at all accepting. Despite the fact that black polyamorists face discrimination from family, potential partners, and work colleagues, non-monogamy has always been a part of black culture. The Black Panthers lived collectively and had multiple partners during the sixties, but the author is ignorant of this history. Black & Poly specifically takes a womanist view of the world that centers the experiences and desires of women in a distinctly non-patriarchal way.

The author also glosses over the LGBTQ community and their history of non-monogamy. Though she mentions some women and non-binary people who identify as queer, it's clear she has only talked to bisexual women who largely operate in the heterosexual poly community. ...

Middle-class whites did popularize swinging, where couples meet in homes or sex clubs for purely physical relationships. The author confuses these two flavors of ethical non-monogamy while trying to define polyamory. In doing so, she conflates sex and love in a way that many poly people dislike. The event she profiles in the article is not a poly meetup but a BDSM mixer. ...

...Poly family homes are another stereotype that is not part of most people's lived reality. For all her focus on marble countertops, she ignores the subset of black polyamorists that specifically seek to build black economic power outside of the mainstream economy. Once again, the black poly community is actually more political than the people she interviews. ...

The author went looking for radicalism in the poly community, and she found middle class people who are using their privilege to live comfortably despite having an alternative lifestyle. ...

If it feels like history is repeating itself, it is.

Read her whole article (Dec. 22).

● A queer response quickly appeared on The Daily Dot ("original reporting on Internet culture and life online"): Polyamory isn’t a ‘political weapon,’ it’s a way of life for queer folks (Dec. 21).

By Ana Valens

...It’s an, um, gripping headline, to say the least. But the article doesn’t tell the full story about polyamory, especially queer polyamory. ... We’re about to dive into a piece that’s so heteronormative, it might as well be called “Wife-sex world is the most quietly revolutionary political weapon in the United States.”

Goldhill’s piece opens with a line that’s sure to roll the eyes of every American sick of New York-centric culture takes: “To find polyamorists today, head to Brooklyn.” In peak gentrified Bushwick, Goldhill visits a casual, poly-friendly kinky mixer called “Tableaux.” The space is predominantly white, cis, and middle-class. To that end, polyamorists here “have no problem with consumerism,” and the political roots behind cisgender polyamory practices remain an ongoing undercurrent throughout the piece.

To a certain extent, polyamory is becoming more popular among cisgender heterosexual couples, and there’s a lengthy history to tackle there. But polyamory isn’t just a straight white person’s phenomenon. More than anything, I’m reminded of this line spoken by one source, a Black polyamorous Brooklyn resident named Chaele: “We don’t live in a vacuum utopia. White people get centered in everything.”

...Whiteness is seen as a default, and most interviews are with white people. Goldhill tackles racism to a certain extent, but it’s a passing thought....

Then, Goldhill writes as if polyamory is a niche that was largely relegated to fringe communes in the ’60s and ’70s, where “the few who openly practiced polyamory” gathered. In actuality, queer and trans spaces have practiced polyamory for a very long time. ...

One anonymous queer poly practitioner from Brooklyn reached out to me about the Quartz article, calling it “really weird and a bit disgusting” for largely focusing on “frivolous rich white straight people” over the queer and trans folks that spearhead modern polyamory practices.

I spoke to a trans woman named Jessie, who has practiced polyamory for around a decade. She believes the Quartz piece is hyperfixated on “assimilation” and not the social circumstances around polyamory. In other words, Goldhill ignores how polyamory gives queer people room to create their own family structures, as “being excluded from so-called ‘traditional’ family configurations leaves the door open to finding something else different that works.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s just the extent of [Goldhill’s] own bubble,” Jessie explained. ...

...To Goldhill’s credit, she doesn’t outright ignore queerness, racism, and discrimination in poly circles. She interviews a queer non-binary demigirl, notes that most poly women she spoke to identify as queer, tackles misogyny and homophobia among poly men, explores ableism against those who are neurodivergent, and touches on segregation in poly spaces.

But Quartz’s piece on polyamory is half-baked. It’s missing key sources and perspectives, ones that make room for American polyamory beyond a cis, white, middle-class lens. ... Where are the queer and trans stories? Where are the poly folks of color? Marginalized Americans were doing poly relationships long before it became cool, and they’ll be doing it long after Brooklyn hipsters start to leave polyamory behind. ...

● Snarking from Out.com: You Have to Try This New Thing Straight People Discovered (Dec. 21)

The straights are leading the sexual revolution, and the gays could really learn a thing or two.

...If the fundamental structures of society — that is, the nuclear, patriarchal, heterosexual family — are what have harmed us, why do we continue to slouch towards it? Perhaps, we should take a page out of the heterosexuals’ book and give this whole “polyamory” thing a try. Two partners! Can you imagine? Wish I’d thought of that.

● On a Twitter thread: "Sex [used in the article's title] is seriously the least radical part of polyamory. More worth talking about are how polyamory emphasizes the importance of communication, normalizes feelings like jealousy, and prioritizes community over the “just the two of us” mentality encouraged by monogamy."

And: "Poly love is revolutionary, poly sex is not."

● A more positive thread on Polyamory.com.


My takes?

Misreporting of facts is always inexcusable. So are misquotes of people. Misjudging the nuances of a situation is an error of judgment; these come in degrees. As for the writer describing the impressions people made on her? Fair game; that's the writer's job, and other people always see you differently than you see yourself. If you put yourself out there, get used to seeing yourself described the way someone else sees you.

As for the article's big thesis? The headline overstates it at least two ways: Poly is not politically revolutionary, even if you grant that the personal is political. Political revolution is about overthrowing ruling powers by mass action.

Poly is socially revolutionary, and importantly so; it violates and subverts some accepted (conservatives say fundamental) social norms, and it frees an important part of some people's lives. But the idea of well-functioning multi-relationships is not new, just new to today's Western white overculture — something the writer never saw, or worse, didn't think worth mentioning. I see this as a "Yes, and" problem with the story, which was interesting and thoughtful within its own narrow confines.

As for the "Polyamorous Sex" in the headline? Inflammatory clickbait by a headline writer. The article barely mentions anyone's sex life and says nothing at all about the intricacies of polyamorous sex. The false clickbait headline reflects badly on Quartz, which touts itself as a high-quality site (it's owned by The Atlantic's parent company), and the headline's wild overclaim about revolutionary political force sets the article up for failure.



December 17, 2018

Getting your poly group in local media

Two nice articles showed up in alternative city weeklies this week.

Yes, these matter. A surprising number of people still have never heard of the poly concept — especially accurately! — even among well-read folks I meet.

It can be easy to get your city newsweekly to run an article about your group. The trick? Just call and ask! This first story appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper. It was written by one of their regular columnists who also podcasts:

Learning to negotiate consent and communicate well is central to poly relationships

By Jessie Sage

Jessie Sage
If thousands of hours of conversations as a phone sex operator have taught me one thing, it’s that for many folks, strict monogamy is tremendously stressful.

...A local group, Poly in Pittsburgh, is working to create a community that supports poly folks and to normalize polyamory as a practice. Morgan Hawkins, founder of Poly in Pittsburgh, described polyamory as simply “opening yourself up to the possibility of more than one loving relationship.” She tells me that not everyone practices polyamory the same way, adding, “the beauty of polyamory is the freedom you have to form relationships in a configuration that works for you and your partner(s).” ...

...When Poly in Pittsburgh started in August 2016, it was just a Facebook group with a dozen of her friends and former partners.... But soon those folks started adding their friends and partners, and now the Facebook group has 900 members. Active members not only participate in online discussions, but also meet for monthly socials and attend other events together. Hawkins describes the community as serving a really important function for poly folks.

“Like many other countercultures, it's comforting and validating to have a community where you don't feel like you have to defend yourself and your way of living and relating,” she says. ...

Read on (December 12, 2018).

● In the Sacramento News & Review, this one's about a local podcast by four polyfolks, again by one of the paper's regular writers:

Rolling in the hay together

The rising podcasters in Brown Chicken Brown Cow mix humor and body positivity when talking about sex

By Aaron Carnes

In a rhythm like ’70s porn music, Monkey and Miss Laura sing the words “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” when they get on-air. Childish jokes follow, and Laura announces to the internet that her colleague is blushing.

“Let’s bump up the blush meter to 2,” she says. Monkey (real name Sean Makiney) reddens easily. The highest he hit on the fictional meter was 32. ...

Today’s guests are Robert and Samantha, a polyamorous couple with two daughters, 8 and 10 years old. Laura asks: How did you tell your kids about having multiple romantic partners?

“It was more us explaining that we have a very open family, and we want to be open to anybody that we feel is important to us,” Samantha says. “It was fun to see how open and excited they were to have the conversation with us.”

The interview stays serious until Laura (who asked not to be named) poses a final question, as she does with every guest: What barnyard animal are you?

(Sean Makiney illustrations) 
“We are an inclusive show, and we believe in all types of barnyard animals, not just traditional, hetero-normative barnyard animals,” Laura prefaces. Robert says he’s a dolphin, and Samantha’s a kangaroo.

“You have a pouch and you can carry your two kids in there,” Laura says. “That is a great animal to be.” This cracks everyone up, including Robert and Samantha, who had just cautiously revealed their alternative lifestyle to the web.

In a year and a half, Brown Chicken Brown Cow has become one of Sacramento’s most popular podcasts. ... The podcast now regularly lands in the Top 100 of all podcasts on iTunes. That’s impressive considering that, according to an early 2018 Nielson report, there are more than 550,000 podcasts worldwide.

...The polyamory episodes were one of the podcasts’ monthly themes. With some topics, the hosts bring their own experience (they’re all polyamorous). Others they approach with naiveté. ...

The whole article (Dec. 13).

● And while we're at it, a good Open Relationships 101 just appeared in Prevention, an old-line commercial woo-woo promotion rag magazine heavy on health supplements. Eli Sheff got quoted a lot and, as always, she does us proud.

What to Know About Open Relationships Before You Even Think About Trying One

Psychologists explain how open relationships work, whether they’re healthy, and how to start the conversation.

By Cassie Shortsleeve

...“I generally let people tell me what they mean by ‘open relationship,’” says Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, one of a handful of global academic experts on polyamory, recognizing that the broader category of an "open relationship" is a consensually non-monogamous union.

How do open relationships work? Are there rules?
People usually enter open relationships to get more of their needs met — a relationship might have a sexual desire mismatch, for example — but every pair is different. ...

People in polyamorous relationships, for example, seek the emotional element. “They’re looking for love and a deeper ongoing relationship,” says Sheff, adding that polyamorous couples tend to emphasize communication and honesty. ...

Are open relationships healthy?
“Open relationship are as healthy as the people in them,” says Sheff. “Just like monogamous relationships, some of them are amazing, fantastic, life-affirming, and really wonderful. Others are abusive, horrible, and the worst thing that ever happened to someone.” ... How healthy a relationship is usually boils down to how it is handled — hopefully with love, integrity, and kindness to one another, Sheff says.

What to consider before entering an open relationship
First and foremost, think about how things might play out in the long run. “Don’t assume just because you want more sex that polyamory or an open relationship is for you,” says Sheff. “A lot of people get excited about the prospect of having multiple partners but then get upset when the tables are turned and their partners have other partners.”

...Also, your initial relationship must be healthy to begin with, says Sheff. “Consensual non-monogamy is kind of like a stress test or a jetpack — whichever way the relationship is headed, it just really zooms it in that direction.”

How to ask for an open relationship
...Sheff often tells people to use something in the media — an article you read or a show you saw — as a jumping off point. Ask your partner what they think about the topic or if they’ve ever heard of it to test the waters, she says.

Be vulnerable, clear, and tenacious—and be able to regulate your feelings, too, if you don’t get the response you expect or want. ...

The whole article (Dec. 12)



December 2, 2018

" ‘Boring and normal’: The new frontier of polyamorous parenting"

Toronto news reporter Jenny Yuen, poly herself, just ended a cross-Canada book tour for her new Polyamorous: Living and Loving More. More about the book soon.

Meanwhile, it seems to have prompted this very matter-of-fact article in today's Globe and Mail, Canada's largest-circulation weekday paper, about polyfamilies raising children. The Globe and Mail is often considered Canada's newspaper of record. Excerpts:

‘Boring and normal’: The new frontier of polyamorous parenting

Stephanie Weisner, left, and her husband Ian Hubbard, right, and Weisner's boyfriend Mike Wissink, second left, spend time with Weisner's and Hubbard's children Issac, 7, and Alice, 9, in their home in Moncton, N.B. (Darren Calabrese/Globe and Mail)

By Zosia Bielski

Sometimes Stephanie Weisner doesn’t know how two-parent families do it all, without a Mike in tow.

Weisner, 38, has been in a polyamorous relationship with her husband, Ian Hubbard, and her work colleague, Mike Wissink, for eight years. The three adults all live together in one home in Moncton, alongside Weisner and Hubbard’s two children, who are seven and nine years old.

The family keeps a joint e-mail account to sort out their household logistics. While Weisner and Wissink, 49, work shifts at their airline industry jobs, Hubbard, 47, home-schools the children. Wissink often cooks and cleans while Weisner does the groceries. All three pitch in with bedtimes and shuttling the kids to their various activities. This winter, the whole family’s going to Disney World.

“We’re very boring and normal,” said Weisner. “We’re not swinging from chandeliers.”

More Canadians than ever before are pursuing non-monogamy, according to a new book, Polyamorous: Living and Loving More, by Toronto journalist Jenny Yuen. Interviewing scores of poly Canadians, including more than a dozen parents, Yuen examines how those stepping away from the monogamous nuclear family hope to dispel misconceptions and be normalized in their communities. As more polyamorous parents come out, they are challenging society to redefine what makes a family – just as LGBTQ parents did before them, and divorced and single parents did years earlier. Many are calling for stronger legal rights, from guardianship to child support to family health insurance.

“Polyamory is still an unknown – it’s still misunderstood," Yuen said. “We have a long way to go.” ...

...In health care, some are also acknowledging polyamorous families. POLYBABES is a new, groundbreaking study from the McMaster Midwifery Research Centre that tracked poly Canadians’ experiences throughout pregnancy and childbirth. Co-investigators Erika Arseneau, Samantha Landry and Liz Darling are working to educate health-care providers about better helping poly families – from allowing more than one partner into the birthing room, to avoiding invasive, judgmental questions.

...A 2017 Canadian study asked 480 respondents who had been in polyamorous unions – a third living full- or part-time in homes with kids – how they think the rest of the country sees them. Most felt that Canadians do not view their relationships as a legitimate form of family, according to study author John-Paul Boyd, former executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family. More than half said outsiders still mistakenly treat polyamory as a sexual fetish or kink.

...Researchers have found that children of poly parents fare no worse than the children of monogamous parents, and in fact enjoy some unique benefits in their enlarged households, according to a 2015 analysis of previous studies compiled by Waterloo, Ont., sexuality educator Jacki Yovanoff, titled What About the Children?! Children in Polyamorous Families: Stigma, Myths, and Realities. (However, Yovanoff notes that some poly parents feel pressure to portray their families and children as “perfect,” anticipating that their detractors would be quick to blame any flaws, however minor, on their unorthodox lifestyle.)

In Weisner’s Moncton home, more hands on deck means the children get more attention. “There are more people to get you juice and more people to chat with,” Weisner said. “If you’re angry at Dad, you can go and find Mom or you can go and find Mike. There’s always someone who’s available.”

Their setup also gives the adults more free time. On Saturday mornings, Wissink, 49, takes one child to drama class while Hubbard, 47, attends a running clinic. When Weisner has a date night with one of the men, the other takes care of the kids. And when the two men, who are best friends, took a guys’ trip to Vegas, Weisner babysat.

Then there is the economic boon: “You can have two incomes and a stay-at-home parent, which is pretty sweet,” Weisner said.

Many poly parents believe that having more adults around helps socialize and build emotional maturity in their kids. Toronto pastry chef Emily Materick, 40, has three-year-old twins and maintains multiple romantic relationships. The children’s stepfather, Adam Riggio, sleeps over four or five days a week; another partner stays over once a week and Materick is also starting up a couple of new relationships. The mother believes that dating different people will yield more diverse perspectives for her kids, down the line.

Initially, Materick’s toddlers were possessive around dates who would come over. “If one of my partners had their arm around me, they’d try and take their arm off from around me,” she said. Eventually, the twins got more comfortable. “For a three year old, it’s not about, ‘Who’s having a relationship here?’ It’s basically, ‘Are you here and are you fun?’” Materick said.

...Kitchener, Ont., consultant Michelle DesRosiers is currently in three relationships. DesRosiers, 40, has chosen not to live with her partners; she shares her home with two sons, 8 and 10, from a previous marriage. “I watch and hear them,” said DesRosiers, who runs a poly parenting network on Facebook. “I go with their pace if they have questions.”

DesRosiers argues that her kids get to see what healthy, amicable breakups look like, versus combative divorces driven by infidelity.

...Polyamorists challenge another relationship myth – the one that tells us one spouse has to do it all: be our lover, best friend, co-parent, emotional confidant and work coach. Whichever way DesRosiers’ kids decide to live their lives, she hopes they’ll learn not to place too heavy a burden on their partners. “Go out and have some solid friendships and be sociable with other people,” she said. “Don’t make one person your everything.”

In Moncton, Weisner and Hubbard had many serious conversations before they opened up their monogamous marriage to Wissink in 2010. Not only was their relationship now shared with a third person, so was their parenting. While the married couple leans toward a child-led philosophy, Wissink comes from a stricter background. All three have adjusted their parenting styles: Wissink has gotten more relaxed around certain rules and expectations while the married couple will sometimes turn to Wissink when “gentle tactics” aren’t working. “We all have pretty equal say,” Weisner said, noting that family votes are easier with a third person serving as tie-breaker.

While Wissink serves as a father figure to the children, the family prefers to use his first name as his title: “The kids introduce us as their mom, their dad and their Mike," Weisner said. The parents have talked to their kids about their open family, sharing their philosophy that love is not a finite resource.

So far, no one has openly ostracized the atypical clan. “We haven’t had anybody be hostile,” Weisner said. “I think we’re very fortunate.”

...Elisabeth Sheff, an educational consultant and author of the 2013 book The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multi-Partner Relationships and Families, paints a vivid picture of how the kids of non-monogamous parents feel about their uncustomary households.

In a 2013 report co-authored by Mark Goldfeder, Sheff conducted in-depth interviews with 22 American children ages 5 to 17, who candidly divulged the perks and the pitfalls.

On the plus side, children said that more adults in the house meant more “ride availability” anytime to anywhere, more Christmas and birthday presents, more homework help and more attention. Some said they felt more connected to their parents than other kids did to their moms and dads, thanks to the openness and honesty in their homes. The children reported minimal social stigma, partly because their poly families could easily pass for blended families with step-parents.

At the same time, teens complained about crowded houses: too many people, too few bathrooms, too little privacy. They spoke of rivalries with their parents’ partners’ kids. Extra adults in the house also meant extra parental supervision: Lies were harder to maintain with so many adults watching. Some teens felt loss when their poly parents split with a partner they’d liked.

Sheff argued that many of these challenges weren’t unique to poly kids: children of divorced parents dating new people or building blended families face similar realities.

“Over all, the children seemed remarkably well adjusted, articulate, intelligent and self-confident,” the authors wrote. “These respondents appeared to be thriving with the abundant resources and adult attention their families provided.”

Read the whole article (December 2, 2018).


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