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

July 17, 2020

Friday Polyamory News Roundup – The go-to for covid podding, no health insurance for multipartnerships, opening-up advice, and more

Hello again, and welcome to Friday Polynews Roundup! for July 17, 2020. 

The pandemic, of course, continues at the top of everyone's lives.  

●  UC Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine — "Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life," from Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center — offers a state-of-the-art guide to intelligent pod formation and maintenance during the pandemic.

It's by William Winters, a longtime polyamory-community organizer in California's hard-hit East Bay region, and Jeremy Adam Smith, the magazine's editor.

This is the best single article on quaranteaming I've seen for polyfolks, though it is not poly-specific. You want to share and discuss it with your pod mates or prospective pod mates. How to Form a Pandemic Pod (July 15).

It's a long read at 4,000 words. Excerpts:

What are our ethical obligations to other people? Whom do we trust? What are the limits of that trust? What are the precautions we must take to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and people we’ll never meet?

...The recently published COVID Response Tracking Study from the University of Chicago finds that just 14 percent of American adults say they’re very happy, down from 31 percent before the pandemic. Those who report being lonely have doubled. The number of Americans experiencing serious psychological distress has tripled. ...

That’s not sustainable. We don’t believe that it’s realistic or desirable for a majority of people to sit alone in their homes for the next two or more years until a vaccine is [available]. Humans need physical connection; everyone needs a hug sometimes, and for most adults, sexual desire is part of being alive and healthy. ...

...That’s why many public health experts have recommended “quarantine pods” as an effective way to get our social, emotional, familial, and sexual needs met without unnecessarily endangering ourselves or others. Pods are small, self-contained networks of people who limit their non-distanced social interaction to one another—in other words, they’re the small group of people with whom you share air without using breath-control precautions such as masks.

Pods (or “bubbles” or “containers” or “quaranteams”) aren’t just ways for people to have social connection within a pandemic. They also serve an important epidemiological purpose—they help limit the size and spread of outbreaks. That’s one reason why in the Bay Area, where the authors live, public health officials recommend that pods be no larger than 12 people who live across three households, and that pods limit their non-distanced social contact to one another for at least three weeks.

...But while pods seem like a simple concept, they can be complicated in real life. As they become more common, we’d like to suggest some questions to ask and address....

What are the needs of your pod? Why are you forming one?

...Our pods will work best when they have a sense of purpose that involves meeting the needs of all their members. The first step in finding a purpose is being honest with yourself—and being honest with prospective pod members. This means being vulnerable. If you don’t feel able to be vulnerable with another person, they might not be the best pod member.

...Despite the centrality of sex to our lives, many of us are ashamed of having sexual needs. This is tragic.... So, be honest with yourself and others: If you want to form a pod to meet sexual needs, say so, rather than concealing or minimizing that purpose.

You may have children whose developmental needs take precedence over adult ones....

“I live in a group house so our bubble is bigger than
most folks’. We include residents, lovers, lovers’
housemates, and lovers’ lovers. We don’t social
distance with those folks, and we do outside visits
with everyone else. Our total bubble is about 15
people, give or take, though it changes.”
— Jen Angel, Oakland, CA

Does everyone in the pod know the risks?

...It is essential for everyone in the pod to share and acknowledge up-to-date medical information. Incompatible beliefs or uneven knowledge—about, for example, the effectiveness of masks—will make sustaining the pod impossible. ...

What is the risk profile of each pod member?

...In a pandemic, we should be selflessly, shamelessly, honestly, and proactively considering and communicating about our risk profile with anyone who we may be putting at risk through prolonged close contact. We should be evaluating the risk profiles of anyone we’re considering introducing into our circles of contact and measuring that against our risk tolerance.

This requires orienting toward moving in the world with much more accountability for our behavior, for keeping our agreements, for telling the truth, and for considering others’ well-being than we may be used to. ... Here we can turn to lessons from the AIDS/HIV pandemic, as well as from consensually non-monogamous communities.

Those of us who move in such communities often have some experience managing risk, usually in the form of safer sex conversations.... We’ve adapted common STI questions for COVID-19 conditions:

    – When were you last tested for COVID-19? Has anyone close to you been tested?
    – What were the results?
    – What are your safety practices? For example, in what circumstances do you wear a mask? Do you enter places that don’t require masks? How often do you interact with unmasked people indoors, or at least six feet apart outdoors? What are your hand-washing habits? What do you do when possibly exposed to COVID-19?

...Another important benefit of these conversations is... you may also glean some information about their risk awareness as well as their risk tolerance. ...

What is everyone’s risk tolerance? ...

Does everyone have the information they need for informed consent? ...
...Consent must be:

    – Affirmative: ... We’re looking for the presence of a “yes,” not just the absence of a “no.”
    – Competent: All parties have the unimpaired ability, knowledge, judgment, and skill ....
    – Informed.... 
    – Unpressured: A “no” should be immediately accepted without undue persuasion, influence, or intimidation to encourage someone to do something they’ve expressed hesitation about doing. ...
    – Specific....
    – Ongoing....

All of these principles apply to managing risks in the pandemic. This framework, borrowed from San Francisco Sex Information, takes consent out of a simple binary framework. In allowing us to judge the consensuality of any interaction on a spectrum, we are thus invited to constantly strive for higher-quality consent. ...

What are your pod agreements?
So, how do you build a pod with all of the preceding information and concerns built into its bones? ...

Who is being left out? How can you soften the blow?...

...Remember: The point of a pod is to manage and mitigate, not eliminate, risk, while making a sustainable life in the years of pandemic that we are facing. ...


● Meanwhile, National Public Radio stations aired a story saying we polyfolks are among those leading the way for how to have the "awkward" Covid safer-contact discussions: Starting A COVID-19 'Social Bubble'? How Safe Sex Communication Skills Can Help (online July 8):

As a public service, bubble zones are conveniently marked in San Francisco's Dolores Park.

By April Dembosky

...Pulling it all off successfully requires some nuanced communication skills. Doctors and sex education teachers have advice — as do experts in polyamory and sexual practices such as BDSM (consensual role-play involving bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism). Many of these experts have years of experience honing best practices and guidance for discussing — and engaging in — new sensitive experiences. When the pandemic emerged, they quickly noticed the parallels between negotiating safe sex and negotiating "safe socializing."

"If you really want to make sure your partner uses a condom, you have to express why it's important to you and why it's aligned with your values and why that's something that you need from them," says Julia Feldman, who runs the sex education consultancy Giving the Talk.

Similarly, she says, "If you want your mom to wear a mask when you see her, you need to explain why it's important to you and why it's aligned with your values." ...

Next, we have more followup to the city of Somerville, Massachusetts, recently enacting domestic partnerships for three or more people.

●  None of 10 top private health insurance companies doing business in Massachusetts have rules that would allow more than one domestic partner to be covered, found a reporter for the conservative outlet New Boston Post, and the Somerville ordinance won't change that: Will Health Insurance Companies Play Ball With Recognizing Multi-Partner Domestic Relationships? (July 13).

Similarly, various lawyers who have weighed in on the Somerville ordinance say that aside from city employees, it changes essentially nothing legally and is basically symbolic.

However, sometimes symbolism matters. For instance,

● In Forbes, family-law expert Patricia Fersch notes that Somerville is a sign that group-family law is gaining significance and has a real future: Two Dads, One Mom. What could possibly go wrong? (July 13). She starts by detailing cases in which courts have granted three adults parental rights and responsibilities for a child. Then, 

Patricia Fersch

...As described by one resident, Anne-Marie Taylor, “Somerville is coming out and saying, ‘Hey, family can be a lot of other things, other than just two people.’ ”

It Takes A Village…

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African proverb that means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. The villagers look out for the children. By this logic, the more people raising and “looking out” for the child the better... from grandparents to aunts and uncles to schoolteachers.

The courts’ analysis regarding who gets the child for what duration of time and who makes decisions for the child are the same no matter the number of parents in any custody dispute. The court considers the same sets of factors to make its determination. The child has and loves three parents so from the child’s perspective the child has “more” love with three parents than if (s)he had two parents.

As the child of Dawn M and Michael M and Audra G described his two mothers, “mommy with the grey pickup truck and mommy with the orange pickup truck,” to him they were both his mothers and he loved them equally. He loved his dad too.

Extending the love outwards beyond the nuclear family to extended family, the child gains as well with six grandparents and perhaps more aunts, uncles, and cousins as well. ...

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Samantha G, David S and Raymond T met together at a brunch after a yoga class that Samantha taught and David and Raymond (married to each other) attended. They spoke amongst at an alcohol infused brunch on a beautiful sunny Sunday in summer 2016 about wanting children. Why don’t we have a child together? And so, they set their conception plan in place. Problems began almost immediately after the birth. Samantha’s idea of shared parenting was that the fathers would visit the child at her house, and they would all share him there in true “village” style. The father’s idea was that they would each have equal parenting time with the child, the child staying with each of them in their own homes. Beliefs re vaccinating children, schooling, hair length all became issues over which the three parents disagree. Litigation ensued and continues on today....

What Other States Allow Tri-Parenting?

In 2017, courts in at least twelve states had said that children can have more than two parents. A few examples are: Alaska approved a tri-parent adoption. California law said that courts could declare three parents for custody and child support. In Delaware, the court ruled that a child conceived by another man in marriage could have two dads. Florida allowed a child to have two moms and one dad on her birth certificate. Maine overhauled its parentage laws to empower courts to find that a child could have more than two parents. In New Jersey, a tri-parenting agreement including a woman and her male college best friend and his husband all decided to have a child together. They did media interviews touting their tri-parenting arrangement until the woman decided to move to California. Her move was blocked by the court and all there were awarded joint custody. 

The Trend is Towards Acceptance for Tri-Parenting

The trend is towards broadening the definition of family nationally to include more than two parents. How it all works out for the children and the parents is yet to be determined.

● Meanwhile, a pair of anti-poly academics at BYU, whom we've heard from before, use the Somerville news to launch a warning in Newsweek: The March Toward a 'New' Monogamy Should End in Somerville (July 10)

By Alan J. Hawking and Hal Boyd
Professors of Family Life, Brigham Young University

...For starters, although advocates of modern American polyamory often call it "consensual," studies suggest that, in reality, asymmetries often exist in these relationships. How consensual is it, for example, when a primary-breadwinner spouse presents his/her partner with the option of consensual non-monogamy or divorce? One survey conducted by our colleagues at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life indicates that less than a majority of the women surveyed who had participated in a consensual non-monogamous relationship reported that the arrangement was desired equally among partners. ...

...And then there are the potential negative outcomes associated with non-monogamy for adults and children. Expanded couplings can be associated with the kind of instability and family churning that negatively impacts children. ... Although some have suggested that many loving hands around the house make easier work of childrearing, there may also be potential risks associated with adding non-biological parental arrangements. To be clear, we have limited data on the effects of consensual non-monogamous homes on children (in fact, the literature gives little attention at all to children). We assume that many, if not most, participants make for loving and caring parents, but given the consistent research that children living under the roof of a non-biologically intact parent are at a higher risk for experiencing various forms of abuse or neglect, there are reasons for researchers and policymakers to study these emerging familial forms before hastily advancing new laws.

●  In Huffington Post UK comes a how-to aimed at older readers: 'Happy, Loved, Free': How We Make Our Open Relationships Work (July 12):

With marriage declining and divorce rates for older couples increasing, there’s a non-traditional option on the rise: an open relationship.

By Adam Bloodworth

...Not to be confused with polyamory – the art of juggling emotional relationships with more than one person – open relationships are defined by one couple being sexually open to experiences with other people.

...So how do they make their relationships work?

Saul, 29, a communications coordinator, is in two long-term polyamorous open relationships. “For me, realising that I could agree my own rules for a relationship was a revelation,” he says. ... [The] period of building trust and establishing the different needs of both people in his relationship led to a bond that, he says, “blew my mind”.

While Saul is an advocate for open relationships, he says they require a lot of work. Being open to having more than one intimate partner requires strong communication and a deep understanding of desire: bound by your requirements, but also by a partner’s individual sexual requirements, too. ...

● The Michigan Chronicle serves the Black community in the Detroit area. Today it ran Rules Of Entanglement: Understanding Polyamory and Open Relationships (July 17), picking up on the long-running open-marriage drama of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. The celebrity press has been pumping that saga for many years, and it recently had an uptick. They're a long-term couple who've been doing the highly popular Facebook Live show Red Table Talk since 2018; the press had a field day last year when their daughter Willow Smith came out on the show as oriented bi and poly.

The Michigan Chronicle talked to several Detroit couples about what makes an open relationship work. Garnered from these interviews:

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on Red Table Talk

By Ashley Stevenson

...First, let’s define Polyamory vs. an open relationship.

Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved. In contrast, although similar, is an “open relationship,” a marriage or relationship in which both partners agree that each may have sexual relations with others...

D.O. decide for yourself if it’s something you want to explore. ...

DO NOT shame your partner if they bring it to your Red Table and you are not interested. ...

D.O. asks as many questions as you need. ...

DO NOT get jealous [or rather, don't let jealousy get top of you]....

D.O. set boundaries. Communication is KEY. Every couple agreed that transitioning into Polyamory or being open required a lot of conversations. ...

Do NOT let anyone define your relationship but the parties involved. ...

Finally, the most important rule of any entanglement is maintaining safety and ensuring it is consensual. While some couples advised that it helped their relationship by increasing honesty and raw communication, the other couples did not say it helped nor hurt their relationship, rather just something they both enjoy.

That's it for now. Stay safe, don't be a knucklehead, and don't let knuckleheads get within breathing distance of you. 

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