See a good story I've missed? Email me at alan7388(at) gmail(dot)com.
October 28, 2019
Flamingly out and proud, Nico Tortorella and Bethany Meyers carry the flag on ABC's Nightline and Good Morning America
Yesterday (Sunday October 27), CBS News's 24/7 streaming channel CBSN aired a one-hour documentary on stigmas and problems that polyfolks, and other people doing consensual nonmonogamy, often face in confronting the wider world.
Meanwhile over at ABC News, "Nightline" aired an 8½-minute piece last Thursday about two people who are wildly out and on a mission to support those who can't be — whether about gender diversity, bisexuality, or polyamory. Actor Nico Tortorella and their partner Bethany Meyers are probably the world's most public exemplars right now for that constellation.
...Tortorella and Meyers are a uniquely modern couple. Both are gender fluid, using “they/them” pronouns and their marriage is polyamorous -- redefining what it means to be “husband and wife.”
Their story is laid out in Tortorella’s new book “Space Between.” It’s a place, Tortorella suggests, where people who don’t consider themselves “he” or “she” can call their own.
“When Bethany and I met in 2006, I was a boy and she was a girl, whatever that means,” Tortorella said, reading from “Space Between.” “Today Bethany and I both identify as non-binary and prefer ‘they/them’ pronouns.”
...The 31-year-old has found fame portraying the hyper-masculine tattoo artist Josh on TV Land’s hit show “Younger,” Lyle Menendez in Lifetime’s “Blood Brothers” and will portray a queer character battling the zombie apocalypse in the upcoming spinoff of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
...“Nightline” joined Tortorella and Meyers at their upstate New York home, where Meyers discussed why they made the traditional and somewhat unexpected choice to get married.
“I knew that when it came to having a foundation and a family foundation, that this was the person for me to do it with,” Meyers said.
...Tortorella explained that being polyamorous didn’t mean having group sex. “It’s the ability to create space for more than one person at any given point,” they said.
“It’s love,” Meyers added. “Sometimes I get a little bit jealous but jealousy is something that I often have to practice, it’s a very normal human emotion.” ...
Their untraditional love story began as teenagers in a Chicago art school when Tortorella developed a crush. ...
At New York Fashion Week, 2018.
In 2018, [Tortorella] walked the runway at New York Fashion Week in a sheer black gown accompanied by a full beard and chest hair.
“It’s political… It's not just throwing on a dress because I'm having fun. It's to prove a point,” Tortorella said. “And I look good in a dress, so what's the problem?”
...“I have a certain privilege that other people do not have and a responsibility [and a] right to raise awareness,” they said. “That's part of my activism. Wearing a dress is activism for me.”
...Tortorella is using their voice to advocate for young people who identify as gender-queer, creating a sense of belonging for others in the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom need a sanctuary to call their own.
“Share more. Share more than you thought was okay,” Tortorella said of advice they’d give their younger self. “Just talk about how you are feeling more than you are, because then you can begin to feel differently.”
CBS explores anti-poly stigma in one-hour documentary "Speaking Frankly: Non-monogamy"
[See post-show update at bottom (scroll down).]
This evening (Sunday October 27), a 1-hour doc about people practicing consensual non-monogamy will air on CBSN, the 24/7 digital streaming service of CBS News. Speaking Frankly: Non-monogamy will play at 8 pm, 11 pm, and 2 am ET. CBS chose this topic to lead off its new 6-part "Speaking Frankly" series.
It's interesting to see here that Helen Fisher, famous researcher and author on the nature of romantic love, has finally recognized that polyamory is a real thing. She used to dismiss it as impossible due to her theories about human exclusivity. It's nice to see a social scientist change their theories to fit reality rather than blow off a reality that doesn't fit their theories.
My overall impression? The show looks to be good for us. It explains the concept well to the many people who are still, even now, discovering us for the first time. But because it centers the stigma problem, many of the polyfolks spotlighted come off as kinda defensive or even scared.
Excerpts from the transcript:
By Jessica Kegu and Jason Sinverstein
"One big orgy." [Could a clickbait lead sentence be more obvious?] That's the stereotype about the lifestyle of consensual non-monogamy — an arrangement where committed partners openly agree to have sexual relationships with other people.
But people who have practiced non-monogamy for years say it's not all wild sex — or even all that wild. It takes a lot of work, and it carries a lot of stigma. There can be serious consequences for the family life and even careers of those involved.
"Many people are trying to create families in different kinds of ways. And a lot of people see that as dangerous," Diana Adams, a Brooklyn-based lawyer who represents polyamorous families, says in the CBSN Originals documentary, "Non-monogamy."
She advises clients in non-monogamous relationships to be careful about telling their employers. She's seen some lose their jobs over it.
...Mahdy, a man who lives in Brooklyn, New York, had to end his marriage to keep his relationship together. He is part of what's called a triad or thruple — a polyamorous relationship between three people who are all actively involved with each other. But because it's illegal to be married to more than one person, only two people in his triad can be married.
Mahdy, who did not want his last name to be used, met his first partner about 14 years ago and married her in 2011. One year later, the couple met another woman, and the three formed a triad. But it could have fallen apart after the second woman ran into problems with her immigration status, he says.
Mahdy had to divorce his wife to keep their triad together. CBS News
For her to remain in America, Mahdy and his wife divorced, and the wife married the second partner. It kept them all together — but he is still reeling from the ordeal.
"Dissolving the marriage … that was really, really difficult for me," he says. "I don't have the legal protections I had when me and my first partner were married. In fact, I don't think I've had health insurance since."
For many people in non-monogamous relationships, there's nothing strange about their arrangement. It's just romance — plus one or two other people, or more.
"People think that there's this magical thing happening all the time," says Brooke Houston of Kansas City, Kansas, who has been in a triad for more than a year. "And half the time we're just chilling. Whoever has the energy for a big orgy 24/7, let me know. Tell me your secret," she joked.
CJ George, Brooke Houston, and Brandi George. CBS News
In 2018, Houston formed a triad with CJ and Brandi George, a couple who have been in an open marriage for four years. She has a sexual relationship with both CJ and Brandi — sometimes individually, and sometimes all together.
...Brandi said that years ago, someone wrote an anonymous letter to the school district where she works as a teacher, outing her for being in an open relationship. ... "I was terrified that I would be let go from my job or that I would have people that wouldn't accept me," she said. "My students, like, they give me oxygen, they give me life. And so to have that taken from me would have just like devastated me. So I was just very aware that that could happen and that I would have nothing. And how could I provide for my kids if I don't have a job?"
Some non-monogamous people can't be open about their situation at all. ...
...Last year, the American Psychological Association created a task force on consensual non-monogamy to promote awareness and understanding of non-traditional relationship structures.
"Finding love and/or sexual intimacy is a central part of most people's life experience," the APA website says. "However, the ability to engage in desired intimacy without social and medical stigmatization is not a liberty for all."
People who engage in or support non-monogamous relationships argue that it's simply an option that should be available for those who choose — just as monogamy should be an option. And for now, they're just asking for acceptance.
"It's never gonna be equal for us," Mahdy said. "I only ask that people don't interfere with what we have."...
● Here's a 5-minute promo about the show with host Tanya Rivero, titled The challenges of polyamory and non-monogamous relationships. The blurb with it: "The new CBSN Originals documentary 'Speaking Frankly: Non-monogamy' explores a way of life that's more common than you might think. But maintaining a non-traditional relationship carries stigma and presents some special challenges. Executive producer Adam Yamaguchi joined CBSN with more on the story."
● Another video: Rivero interviews Diana Adams, founder of Diana Adams Law & Mediation and the Chosen Family Law Center. Adams gets a solid 10 minutes to stay her stuff, and damn, is she good at this! This is the best interview I've ever seen her do. (BTW, her haircut make it clear that these news videos were filmed at a different time than the main documentary.)
The video's webpage: Legal hurdles in non-monogamous relationships (online Oct 24). "Attorney Diana Adams discusses the legal hurdles that can sometimes impact those in consensually non-monogamous relationships, including issues related to child custody, immigration and health insurance." Unfortunately, I find no transcript of it.
● Rivero also sat down with Elisabeth Sheff for this segment, called "Children of Polyamorous Relationships."
"Dr. Eli Sheff, an expert on children in polyamorous families, discusses what these children report about growing up as part of a non-traditional family unit."
● Another news video by Rivero: "Dr. Amy C. Moors, the co-chair of the American Psychological Association's non-monogamy task force, discusses the state of research around non-traditional relationships and polyamorous families."
Watch for updates here after the show itself airs.
UPDATE AFTERWARD: Well, the full 1-hour version tonight consisted only of the videos above: The 23-minute in-the-field documentary I called the "preview," followed by the in-studio discussion videos, one after the other with ads between.
Impressions? I have to say I come away with a less-good, possibly even dark view of the show after watching the whole thing in one go.
I realized one difference: This time I was paying more attention to the background music. Much of it was chosen to be sad or ominous, to go with the problems people were saying they faced (fears of job discrimination, coming out to family, child custody, etc.) Was the background music supposed to evoke sympathy... or did it lend an air of problems and sadness about trouble to the whole subject of multi-relationships?
At least, I see that that's how skeptics may take it. I'll be interested in your reactions.
One thing, though: When I first posted about the show, I said it looks like a link you might send your parents. I've taken that out.
Congresswoman Katie Hill outed for her poly triad; also accused of affair with staffer
UPDATE DECEMBER 7: Katie Hill's op-ed in the New York Times today, on how her near-suicide after these events has changed to her resolve to fight on: Katie Hill: It’s Not Over After All.
UPDATE OCTOBER 27: Congresswomen Hill resigned today. CNN story. More.
Hill’s farewell speech to the House is worth reading. She mentions that she resigned not because of what has already come out but because of “hundreds more photos and text messages that they would release bit by bit until they broke me down to nothing.”
The forces of revenge by a bitter jealous man, cyber exploitation and sexual shaming that target our gender and a large segment of society that fears and hates powerful women have combined to push a young woman out of power and say that she doesn’t belong here. Yet a man who brags about his sexual predation, who has had dozens of women come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, who pushes policies that are uniquely harmful to women and who has filled the courts with judges who proudly rule to deprive women of the most fundamental right to control their own bodies, sits in the highest office of the land.
So today, as my last vote, I voted on impeachment proceedings. Not just because of corruption, obstruction of justice or gross misconduct, but because of the deepest abuse of power, including the abuse of power over women.
Katie Hill (D-CA 25)
[This story has been updated.] Freshman congresswoman Katie Hill, Democrat of California, has been outed as having been in a poly triad relationship with her husband and another woman, and she is also accused of more recently having an affair with a male subordinate in her congressional office. She acknowledges the three-way relationship and denies having an affair with the congressional staffer, which would be a violation of a House rule adopted last February in the wake of #MeToo.
Hill is currently in a divorce case with her husband, Kenneth Heslep. The story broke when Heslop apparently gave a nude photo of her (standing and apparently brushing the other woman's hair), along with private correspondence, to RedState, a militant conservative site.
From the nonpartisan CQ Roll Call, which covers news of Congress:
Democratic Rep. Katie Hill denies relationship with congressional staffer
By Bridget Bowman
Rep. Katie Hill on Tuesday denied allegations she had an improper relationship with the man who is her legislative director. The California Democrat said in a statement that her estranged husband is attempting to humiliate her and suggested there is a “coordinated effort” to destroy her.
On Friday, conservative blog RedState published a story detailing Hill’s alleged relationships with 2018 campaign staffers. The first allegation involved a female campaign staffer who entered into a relationship with Hill and Hill’s husband. The second allegation is that Hill also had an extramarital affair with Graham Kelly, who worked for her campaign and is now her legislative director. A relationship with a current congressional staffer would be a violation of House rules.
“Allegations that I have been involved in a relationship with Mr. Kelly are absolutely false,” Hill said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view and the vindictive claims of my ex have now involved the lives and reputations of unrelated parties.”
...Members of Congress are barred from having a sexual relationship with their own staffers. ... A potential violation of the code of conduct could trigger an Ethics Committee investigation and a recommendation for punishment. Past violations of House rules have involved different punishments, ranging from expulsion and censure to a less severe reprimand.
Hill’s statement did not address the allegation that she and her husband were in a relationship with a female campaign staffer. Hill, who is bisexual, did reference explicit photos that RedState published in its story, saying she has notified Capitol Police.
“Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent,” Hill said. “I have notified Capitol Hill police who are investigating the situation and potential legal violations of those who posted and distributed the photos, and therefore will have no further comment on the digital materials. ...
“This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.”
Hill, who has been open about being bisexual since she ran for Congress last year, is a top target for the GOP in 2020. She won her longtime Republican seat, which is located north of Los Angeles and includes most of Simi Valley, by unseating GOP Rep. Steve Knight by 9 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates her reelection Likely Democratic.
Since coming to Congress, Hill has emerged as one of the leaders of her freshman class. ... The late House Oversight Chairman Elijah E. Cummings tapped her to serve as the panel’s vice chairwoman, a position for more junior members.
...In a letter to constituents released Wednesday night, Hill writes, "During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her.
...Hill goes on to say, "I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me. I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain."
In a follow-up story, RedState published texts purportedly between the staffer and Hill’s husband, Heslep, alluding to abusive behavior in the relationship.
“It was a dark time and you treated me really poorly but I also stayed which I have to own,” one of the texts, purportedly from the staffer to Heslep, reads.
According to RedState, Heslep replied, “Don’t take full responsibility for staying with people that are abusing you. That is basically victim blaming, and none of it was your fault.”
In one text to the staffer, Heslep referred to “katies abuse,” according to RedState. And in another, the staffer referred to a hobby she enjoyed, according to the website: “She can ruin politics, take all my friends, and isolate me, but she can’t have [this].”
So we've gone from being the swamp monsters waiting at the bottom of the gay-marriage Slippery Slope to being decent people to be heard, understood, and treated well, even if we're not properly "biblical"? That was quick.
Of course the article stood out because it was unusual. But Christianity is a vast and varied thing, even within evangelicalism. (And no, I'm not a Christian myself. )
Here's my promised data dump of about 20 more items that I've been saving up for a "Poly and Christian" post. That's so many that I'll be brief about most of them.
● This was prompted by the person who posted on reddit/r/polyamory last month, "Recently came out to some fellow Christian friends and had an interaction that was fine, but a little discouraging. ... Are there any other Christian Poly people out there? What helps you? What encourages you? What is your perspective? I’m dying to know." Several folks chimed in.
Soul Searching is our series about how the most secular generation in history is changing the face of religion.
By Jennifer C. Martin
I sat quietly in the wooden pew, discreetly toward the back. I try to attend church every week: It’s important to me to support small, progressive churches near my home in Virginia and to feed my spirituality. To my right sat my husband of nine years and our two children. To my left sat my atheist boyfriend, looking deeply uncomfortable. I looked around and thought: Even at my liberal, female-pastored parish, a part of the United Church of Christ, the first denomination to openly welcome LGBTQ members and clergy, am I the only polyamorous person here?
A few weeks prior, I had been sitting on the grass in a park with people in their twenties and early thirties at a polyamorous support group. One by one they told their stories. ... They seemed so much more worldly than me, with their fetish clubs, their devotion to the classic polyamory guidebook The Ethical Slut, their accepting families, and their open lifestyles. I looked around and wondered, Am I the only Christian here?
...But I’ve learned that I’m far from the only one. We tend to have gotten married young, felt trapped by the conservative bounds of purity culture, and wanted to explore the sexuality we never really got a chance to have. But it can be daunting to leap from the repressed Christianity we were raised with to the sexually open world of non-monogamy. ...
I found one of my first polyamorous Christian friends almost by accident. ... I’ll call her Sabrina, and she is 29 years old, like me. I’ve known her for about a decade. We grew up right outside of Chattanooga, with conservative, white, Southern values. We are both Christians raised in a Christian home. And, also like me, she married someone she’d been with from a young age.
About a year ago, I saw her secondary Facebook profile pop up in my “suggested friends” list, and out of curiosity, I clicked on the profile. It was full of photos of her and some guy in Europe. It wasn’t her husband. Desperate to connect with someone who might be like me, I messaged her and asked, “Are you polyamorous? Because I am, too.” It turns out she was, and had been for awhile....
● An important stop for anyone involved in such questions is the Incarnation Institute for Sex and Faith, founded and run by Rev. Beverly Dale, the crackerjack "Rev. Bev" — for 21 years campus minister and de facto sex educator for tens of thousands of students at the University of Pennsylvania. From the Incarnation Institute's front page:
VISION: People will love their sexual bodies and those of others as God does. MISSION: To teach an inclusive, science-friendly, sex-positive Christianity. BELIEFS: Sexual Diversity is a natural trait to be celebrated. Sexual Pleasure is a sacred gift to be treasured. Sexual Freedom is a human right to be personally discerned & morally exercised.
I am not polyamorous ... the thought makes me feel exhausted. So when Brian proposed creating some resources for polyamorous Christians my first thought was “Sure. Won’t be much help to me, but go for it.” But as I’ve been privy to the resources he’s been creating and watched the conversation happen I realized something....
We’re developing resources, courses, coaching, and community to support Christians who are in open or polyamorous relationships — or who are interested in exploring them.
● The up-and-coming young evangelical minister Brandan Robertson, speaker and author on the religious left who identifies as bi and queer, kicked up a huge stir in 2018 when he declared to his congregation,
"For those who are in an open or polyamorous relationship here this morning who might be squirming, because this is an uncomfortable question to hear in church sometimes — I want you to hear me loud and clear as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your relationships are holy. They are beautiful and they are welcomed and celebrated in this space."
● In their excellent, long-running Multiamory podcast, Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack devoted their Episode 176 to Christianity and Polyamory (June 19, 2018). They interviewed Rev. Austin Adkinson and theologian J.D. Mechelke for an hour-and-nine-minutes show. You can watch or listen here:
Just yesterday (Oct. 15, 2019) the Multiamory crew put up Episode 242, Queer Theology with Brian G. Murphy of QueerTheology.com. "Brian G. Murphy is an activist, educator, certified relationship coach, and was raised as an evangelical Christian. Now he practices faith-based activism and social justice work, co-founding Legalize Trans, creating QueerTheology.com in partnership with Father Shannon Kearns, and speaking at countless colleges and conferences, and even [— insert blare of trumpets here —]teaching a course on the intersection of polyamory and Christianity."
The Multiamory podcasters themselves say they are "a recovering evangelical, a former seminarian, and a born-and-raised atheist." Less known is their rambling, alcoholic podcast Drunk Bible Study. They're working through every word of the Bible from the beginning, line by line, doing a lubricated and irreverent exigesis. As of Episode 72 they're only up to Deuteronomy 8-10. At this rate they have another 350 episodes to go. Their poor livers.
● Back to Brian Murphy. Here's his famous YouTube video Jesus Is Polyamorous, New Testament based, which raised a huge uproar in evangelical Christianity in November 2018 (three minutes):
...When [Rev. Elder Rachelle] Brown met married lesbian couple Michelle Jestes and Dama Elkins-Jestes about seven years ago, she found her soulmates in the two women. They embarked on a relationship together (which includes raising their child, Ayden) that they call "a couple of three," and currently reside in a Chicago suburb.
"As our family considered how to refer to each other, the language of polyamory is always forming, so we decided a 'couple of three' best described the closed nature of our covenant and commitments. We have all learned so much each year together. It is not simple to be out, or even engage in conversations with traditional couples. I learned recently that when I say 'family,' some assume we are blood relatives.
"Back in the early 2000s when I was coming out as a lesbian, I did not know anyone that would be considered polyamorous. It has been a journey—one that MCC allowed space for me to discover and live in. ..."
Brown was the interim moderator of the whole MCC denomination from 2016 to July 2019. Accordingly, The Advocate published a much longer, deeper profile of her and her situation: What Happens When a Pastor Goes Poly? (July 13, 2017)
MCC Elder Rachelle Brown and family
The church leadership hasn’t wavered in supporting Brown. “I’ve found incredible support in the MCC leadership,” she says. “All of the elders, everyone that I went to. ...”
But not all of her parishioners are happy to learn she’s involved in a throuple. “We lost a lot of friends,” Brown muses. “A lot of friends. The most pushback I get are from lesbians who are in a coupled or a married situation. In a couple instances, it’s either jealousy or fear. They’re either jealous because they want that for their relationship or they’re afraid that their spouse or partner will want that for their relationship.”
● Newly begun, a podcast by The Polyamorous Priest. He is quite anonymous. Says Ken Haslam, who has listened to him, "I have to say that his message supporting polyamory and spirituality is right on target. His message is a good one."
● Of course there are Christian & Poly T-shirts. This one's from Teespring. I dunno, I think it would strike most people as a plain Christian thing (the Catholic sacred heart?) even if they knew the infinity heart in a poly context. Ditto the more subdued one at the top of this page.
● There's the Bible-Believing Polyamory Facebook group, "for all Bible believing Jewish and Christian people who also believe in Polyamory as a viable moral and even biblical way of life." It currently has 275 members.
● Article by a self-identified Christian on the (big, friendly, useful) Polyamory.com forum: Poly-friendly Churches (Sept. 25, 2017). He describes several denominations to check out.
● And finally — the first glimmer of my own poly beliefs came when I was a little boy. I had a blessedly kind, loving mom who held general Christian beliefs of a non-dogmatic sort. I must have been about 5 or 6 when a neighbor, whose wife had died and gone to Heaven, remarried. My mom told me how happy she was for him. But I wondered: When they all finally meet up in Heaven, which one will be the wife and which will be left cruelly, tragically abandoned? The only answer, little me concluded, was that they would all love each other together, because this was in Heaven.
It was some years before I discovered that not just angels, but we poor humans, can sometimes do so right here.
Blogger and author Page Turner tells how she traveled with a partner to her grandfather's Catholic funeral. The priest who officiated seemed to be thinking like little me, and Page wonders why the religious are scared to think the next logical thought.
A Polyamorous Heaven: Funerals Don’t Come With Trigger Warnings
By Page Turner
I’m sitting up as straight as I can on the pew while my mother sobs on my left. Skyspook is on my right, his hands folded in his lap.
We’re sitting in the front row. My grandmother sits on the other side of my mother. All 5′ 10″ of her in a gray pantsuit. My grandmother doesn’t cry. Not that I can see anyway. Skyspook later tells me that he can see it in smaller expressions on her face. ...
Clyde Robinson / CC BY
...The priest delivers a sermon about Christ and eternal life, inviting us to pray for my grandfather’s soul so that he may be reunited with all his loved ones in heaven and that we, too, may join him and all others we love in the afterlife.
All others? I wonder suddenly.
Because, you see, this is my grandmother’s second time being widowed. ... Any heaven that they’re part of will be filled with multiple loves.
The pastor knows all of this. ... In that moment, it occurs to me that the heaven the pastor describes is rather polyamorous.
And thinking back on conversations I’ve had with others — some of them very religious — few to none have had a problem with widowed folks remarrying (provided at least a short grieving period had passed). They don’t think of this eventual reunion in heaven as awkward for all involved.
Meanwhile, nonmonogamy on Earth — especially the consensual, honest kind — is regarded by those same folks as the work of Satan.
...As the pastor blesses the sacramental bread and wine, I wonder why we consider what is standard in heaven to be so far beneath us here on Earth.
P.S.: If I ever go to a big football game that'll be on TV, I'm going to write on my forehead
to troll the biblical fundies. And what's that? God's instructions for multi-marriages:
"If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights." "Marital" here explicitly means sex; In the original Hebrew it's וְעֹנָתָ֖הּ(wə·‘ō·nā·ṯāh), "sexual".
If any fundie there gives me grief, I'll try to keep a straight face as I tell them "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it."
1.Nope. I'm an atheist, materialist Unitarian Universalist humanist, although with, thanks to psychedelics, a lifelong soft spot for emergent panpsychism. Sparkle Moose and I are pillars of our local UU church, literally — our names are on one of the lally columns in the basement that were installed to shore up the building. I'm on the church's governing board, and Moose is its past president.
"Polyamory, The Next Sexual Frontier" -- in Christianity Today?!
Barcroft Media / Getty
Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham in 1956, has been called "evangelicalism's flagship magazine" (Washington Post). Its website now features a surprisingly kind and understanding article with the title and lead photo above.
My thanks to another Alan, the author of the long-running The Ordinary Extraordinary poly blog with his partner Anna, for bringing this to my attention. As he notes,
“Polyamory: The Next Sexual Frontier” is by Preston Sprinkle (biblical scholar and president of The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender) and Branson Parler (professor of theological studies at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and director of faith formation at Fourth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids) — though the article appears to be entirely from Mr. Sprinkle’s perspective. The article is somewhat amazing.
It's paywalled, but here are excerpts:
Polyamory: The Next Sexual Frontier
These once-taboo relationships are showing up in churches across the US.
By Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler
A pastor recently told me (Preston) about Tyler and Amanda (names changed), high-school sweethearts raised in Christian homes, living in the Bible belt. After getting married, they seemed to be living the American dream with a house, good jobs, and two kids. Then Jon, a friend of Tyler’s, began living with their family. Amanda developed a close relationship with him, but their flirtation soon developed into something more, and Jon and Amanda proposed to Tyler that they begin exploring polyamory, with Amanda adding Jon as a significant other. They also encouraged Tyler to develop a relationship with another woman he’d met at the gym. He agreed.
When Tyler and Amanda came out as polyamorous, their parents were shocked. What seemed like a fringe practice of the sexual revolution had settled into the heartland of Middle America.
Making the situation even more complex, Tyler and Amanda sought counseling from a Christian counselor who advocated polyamory. Tyler’s parents were disturbed by what their son and daughter-in-law heard there: “It’s only adultery or cheating if someone is kept in the dark. If you are open and honest, this is a God-honoring relationship. And this is good for the kids! It takes a village to raise a child, so a polyamorous relationship actually brings more support and ‘family’ into your kids’ lives, much like the extended families in the past.”
Tyler’s parents wanted to know how to respond to their children but also wanted to know how the church should respond. Should Jon be welcomed into the church as an addition to Tyler and Amanda’s family? In a world where many sexual choices and identities are accepted, polyamory is often still stigmatized, so Tyler’s parents didn’t know who to talk to or where to turn.
For many Christians, polyamory seems so extreme and rare that there’s no need to talk about it. But it is much more common than some people think, and it’s growing in popularity. ... [A survey] showed that nearly 70 percent of non-religious Americans between the ages of 24 and 35 believe that polyamory is okay, even if it’s not their cup of tea. And perhaps most shocking of all, according to sociologist Mark Regnerus in Cheap Sex, roughly 24 percent of church-going people believe that consensual polyamorous relationships are morally permissible.
Over the last several years, my (Preston’s) full-time job at The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender has been helping leaders and pastors engage questions about sexuality and gender with theological faithfulness and courageous love. Naturally, I often get asked, “What’s the next discussion Christians need to have about these issues?” My answer is always the same: “Polyamory.”
...Unlike polygamy, polyamory does not always involve a marriage commitment, and it is much more egalitarian. Polyamory is also different from swinging or open relationships, though they do overlap. ... Sex and relationship therapist Renee Divine says, “An open relationship is one where one or both partners have a desire for sexual relationships outside of each other, and polyamory is about having intimate, loving relationships with multiple people.” Notice again that polyamory is not just about sex. It includes love, romance, and emotional commitment among three or more people.
Preparing a Pastoral Response:
How can pastors and leaders prepare to address questions related to polyamory? Several pastors tell us it’s becoming more common for people who identify as poly to ask about their church’s view on the matter. Will they be accepted and affirmed? The discussion is still young enough that most pastors have some time to construct a robust, compassionate, thoughtful response to the question, “Is your church inclusive of people who are poly?”
How would you respond to Tyler, Amanda, and Jon? How would you counsel Tyler’s parents to respond? Tyler’s parents’ pastor advised them to first listen to their son rather than trying to preach at him, so after Tyler came out to them, they set up a time to simply connect and listen. ... When children choose less than God’s best for their relationships, affirming both grace and truth is a difficult but necessary balance for parents to maintain.
Another important pastoral step is to distinguish elements of polyamory that are in violation of God’s will from elements that are simply culturally unfamiliar to us. ... For example, the notion of kinship in polyamory is a secular echo of the way Scripture calls the church to function as a new family. In cultures that idolize individualism (but actually isolate individuals), polyamory’s focus on relationship, care, and affection can have a powerful pull. And in churches that idolize marriage and the nuclear family, polyamory’s focus on hospitality and community can be an attractive alternative. We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory — deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community — are good things.
But Scripture does clearly connect sex, marriage, and monogamy in ways that are violated in polyamorous relationships. ...
Finally, a healthy pastoral response will involve clear, proactive teaching. ... It’s not uncommon for leaders to frantically scramble around scanning resources and shipping in speakers to address a raw situation that just flared up at their church. But instead of educating in “reaction mode,” we can construct a positive vision for what God intends. ... People are much more eager to follow a positive vision for marriage and sex than to adhere to a list of “don’ts.” ...
The whole article (online Sept. 25, 2019. It's in the print magazine's twice-a-year "Pastors" section, Fall 2019 edition.) Here's a link preserving the article's full text for research and historical purposes.
Other Alan remarks about it,
Of course there are problems, especially near the end: “When children choose less than God’s best for their relationships...” and “...need to be called to repentance for the way they have committed adultery,” etc. But... he’s telling those he counsels to not overreact, to see how the wider world views these issues, and to maintain an open avenue of communication with the individuals within those lifestyles. ...
In the article, the authors provide solid facts concerning what polyamory is and what it isn’t, quote reputable polls (even though the results presumably don’t make the authors glad), and even get the terminology correct. They’re fully informed to the facts of what exists, maintain the humanity of the polyamorous, and counsel the faithful to keep their hearts open to the polyamorous. This is a phenomenal step toward further understanding and acceptance in the wider world. Thirty or forty years ago, when Mom and Dad actually starting listening to their homosexual son or daughter — that’s when gay rights was fully on its way, and wider acceptance was just around the corner.
As the pastor wrote, “I often get asked: what’s the next discussion Christians need to have about these issues?” My answer is always the same: ‘Polyamory.’ ” Here we go.
...Several of my pastor friends tell me that it’s becoming more common to have people who identify as poly asking about the church’s view on the matter and if they will be accepted and affirmed. These are not abstract questions.... Put more positively, we have time to construct a truly Christian vision for monogamy, if indeed that is the only truly Christian vision.
My purpose of this blog is to put this topic on your radar, not to answer all the questions that you might have. With that in view, here are a few more questions that Christian leaders should wrestle with....
Among the nine of these he offers are:
– If God’s love for us is plural, and our love for (a Triune) God is plural, then why can’t human love for each other be plural?
– Since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn plural marriages that are polygamous... could we say that monogamy is the ideal while still allowing for polyamorous relationships as less than ideal but still accepted in the church? Why, or why not?
– If sexual expression is only permitted if it is faithful, consensual, and marital (which is what most Christians would say), then why can’t it be plural? That is, what is the moral logic that drives your view that monogamy is the only way? Is it just “God says so"? Or is there some rationale why plural love is immoral?
(RNS) — Those who consider themselves on a spiritual path can all get on board when Tristan Taormino invites us to enter “a sacred space where we feel safe enough to try new things, push our boundaries, flirt with edges and conquer fears …”
Even the most traditional of us might follow the popular speaker, columnist and author when she says she’s seeking a place that “has the potential to heal old wounds and generate spiritual renewal … a crucible for creativity, vulnerability, perseverance, control, catharsis and connection.”
Taormino could be discussing meditation, or prayer, chanting, even therapy. Instead, Taormino is writing about kink.
...While kink and poly are far from synonymous — there are “vanilla” triads and monogamous kinky couples — central to practitioners of both is the idea of “rewriting the script.” Heterosexual, patriarchal, monogamous culture — the narrative goes — has forced too many people into relationship styles that don’t reflect their authentic selves. Authors Dossie Eaton and Janet Hardy put it best in their 1998 handbook “The Ethical Slut,” the Ur-text of polyamory: “We are paving new roads across new territory. We have no culturally approved scripts for open sexual lifestyles; we need to write our own.”
● And this just popped up from the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ — a breakaway Mormon sect (it claims 23,000 members) with relatively liberal social beliefs, based in Pennsylvania: Poly Problems (July 2, 2019). This piece defines polyamory as existing under a broad tent of "polygamy" that is not restricted by gender or roles.
By Kristine, Elect Lady
...[Poly-g and poly-am] aren’t for everyone and not every person that identifies as “poly” is in a polygamous or polyamorous relationship. And that’s okay. There is a misguided idea floating around that choosing to make another person’s feelings and desires a priority in any way somehow makes that other person selfish. This is an extremely pessimistic and self-serving point of view.
One example is a couple, we’ll call Ken and Barbara. Ken and Barbara started off monogamous, and Barbara is still monogamous. Ken has discovered he is polyamorous. ... Let’s say this example couple brings this to the Lord and Ken feels the Lord saying “yes,” while Barbara is hearing “no.” What does this tell us? That God isn’t going to ask us to do anything that we’re not comfortable with. And now, together, Ken and Barbara must make a decision. ...
...The point is that self and selflessness are not exclusively dichotomous. Both can, do, and must coexist for any relationship to work. ...
...There seems to be a dangerous idea out there that one has to be fulfilled by partners, whether by one or ten or more. A relationship is created and exists by people RELATING, not filling some hole or need the other person has. If someone is not whole, they shouldn’t expect anyone or any number of “someones” to fulfill them.
It may be that this is why some in polygamous or polyamorous relationships can’t seem to understand why monogamous folk desire to be in a mutually exclusive relationship. Maybe they don’t grasp that the mono person isn’t at all on any level expecting their partner to fulfill all their needs (or any for that matter) and isn’t trying to fulfill their partner’s needs. I believe that no one should ever be expected to meet any needs of anyone. That’s not a relationship. It’s codependence and it’s toxic. ...
I've been saving up a boatload of surprisingly nuanced Christian-and-poly articles, and the pile is now so big that the boat is about to roll over. Expect a data dump soon.
1.Well, no. The origin texts of the modern polyamory movement would be Ryam Nearing's The Polyfidelity Primer (first edition 1984) and Deborah Anapol's Love Without Limits (first edition 1992). The Ethical Slut was, however, widely recommended as the go-to book for a number of years after its first edition appeared in 1997.
2.To hopefully de-confuse: The mainsteam Mormon church officially renounced its doctrine of polygamy — at least here on Earth — more than a century ago so that Utah could enter the Union. It is officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), but last year it announced that it's encouraging "Church of Jesus Christ" and "Restored Church of Jesus Christ" as alternative names (especially to "Mormon"), though these clearly infringe on the Church of Jesus Christ quoted here. ("Mormon" is usually assumed to mean the LDS Church, but it properly refers to all sects that take the Book of Mormon as gospel.)
New York Times wedding story: "Happily, Ever Open"
Oh my. You know it's Properly Accepted if it's featured in the high-society Weddings section of the Sunday New York Times. This lavish, 1,700-word article went online yesterday in advance, starting with the grand lead photo below:
"Daley South and Logan South, who have been in an open and polyamorous relationship since they met seven years ago, were married in 2016 in Austin, Tex. Mr. South’s girlfriend, Ilona Westenra (third from bride), served as one of Ms. South’s six bridesmaids. (Creatrix Photography)"
Happily, Ever Open
What’s the wedding like when the couple is in an open or polyamorous relationship?
By Maggie Parker
Daley South had six bridesmaids in her 2016 wedding to Logan South; one of them was her husband’s girlfriend.
The Souths are in an open and polyamorous relationship and have been since they started dating seven years ago. “We were actually all dating at first,” Ms. South said of her bridesmaid, Ilona Westenra. “I really enjoyed having her be a part of our big day.”
...All of their guests knew about their relationship status (although their parents weren’t completely on board) and Ms. South was perfectly fine with them spending time together during the event, which was at the TFWC Mansion in Austin, Tex.
...Within their circle, everyone was extremely excited about the Souths’ union.
The groom’s girlfriend, Ms. Westenra, said through an email: “Being in a relationship with the groom obviously offered some awkwardness but the love far outweighed any uncomfortability. Seeing my boyfriend marry the love of his life was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever felt. The love in that room was so overwhelming I couldn’t feel anything but pure love and happiness for the two of them and in extension, myself, because I get to be a part of this wonderful family.”
People who choose to be in non-monogamous relationships are often perceived as anti-commitment, said Cathy Keen, 39, the community manager of alternative dating app Feeld and who is one-third of her relationship. [Remember them?]
But that’s just wrong, said Ms. Keen, who was also asked “what the point was” when she married her non-monogamous partner. “The thing I think a lot of people presume about a relationship that’s not traditional, monogamous or heteronormative is that commitment is not valued. It’s based upon sex and being able to move quickly, and that’s just wrong,” she said.
...On the big day, it seems common for open couples to invite or include their other partners. Anastasia Stevenson, a wedding planner in Los Angeles and Boothbay Harbor, Me., has planned hundreds of events, including two polyamorous ceremonies. One took place at a spa in Malibu, Calif., where a heterosexual couple was having a legal ceremony, with their additional partners incorporated into various parts of the event. ...
...Ms. Keen believes it takes a certain person to make an open relationship work, and “not a neurotic person or a paranoid person.”
“All three of us are very, very comfortable in our own skin,” [Keen] said of herself, her husband and their girlfriend. “That makes you a much better participant in this kind of relationship. Because you’re not relying on anyone else to give you stability. You’re relying on yourself, you’re making your own rules and you have your own boundaries.” ...
“Don’t bring it up during an argument,” says Terri D. Conley, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who studies sexuality. If you’re in a monogamous relationship and want to explore making it nonmonogamous, raise the topic gradually. ...
[And yet,] To make what sex researchers call consensual “extradyadic involvement” work, you need to be willing to communicate often and with empathy. Monogamous couples move into nonmonogamy for all kinds of reasons — unmet sexual desire, boredom, illness, curiosity. ...
[And, as an actual poly person might add, falling in love! –Ed.]