Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

April 9, 2023

"Seeking Brother Husband" on TLC. More from Somerville. "Is monogamy so out it's kinky?" New books. And more polyamory in the news.

●  TLC's long-brewing polyandry series Seeking Brother Husband is finally airing. It features four woman-centered polyamorous relationships, including longtime poly/ENM advocates Kenya and Carl Stevens and their partner Tiger, pictured above. The tag line: "Polyandrous families decide to bring new brother husbands into their lives."

Six weekly episodes are scheduled for Sunday nights at 10 Eastern, 9 Central, with many re-airings afterward and streaming available. Coming up tonight (Sunday April 9) is Episode 3, "Two Men and a Baby".  

The season trailer, with both laughter and tears:

Notice that the trailer crudely defines polyandry as what we would call a "one vagina policy" (two or more men but only one woman allowed) — the flip side of the infamous OPP. But in fact the people on the show contradict this definition.

TLC’s Seeking Brother Husband follows women looking for additional male partners. Its star, Kenya Stevens, and experts discuss the phenomenon

By Meagan Jordan

...“Women are not similar to men who set up poly lifestyles,” Kenya tells Rolling Stone. “We have our own way of doing it and it’s freedom-based and equitable.”

...While the network has offered a platform where polyamory can be seen... it’s hard not to notice the ways in which the show feels limiting. Granted, limiting things to only six 45-minute episodes that showcase four relationships makes showing the full scope of women-led polyamory hard, but with polyamory already being a misunderstood relationship practice at the national level, the first episode, whether intentional or not, makes it easy for American viewers to assume the stereotypical misconceptions. 

“The executives at TLC seemed to have a hard time understanding that women don’t set up our poly relationships like sister wives, where our partners cannot have other partners,” says Kenya. “They were constantly asking me to explain, ‘What is polyandry?’’ ‘What is polyamory?’”

When the pilot opens, Kenya’s voice welcomes the audience with a clear-cut description of  polyandry being “the practice of one woman having multiple husbands.” It then cuts to her and her husbands wearing all-white with her declaring, “I have two husbands who love me!” And while the latter is true, what isn’t mentioned is that Carl is also married to someone else, and her second husband Tiger has other partnerships outside of their union. 

“I thought it was misleading. None of the women on the show are polyandrous. All of us are polyamorous. We are open to our partners having other partners,” she explains. “Even to the end of the show, they didn’t allow us to have our husband’s other partners on the show. It was us with our husbands, the primary partners, and all of our male partners.” 

...“It’s hard to say whether the representation has gotten better because the concept of polyamory is very new to most people,” says Willie Burnley Jr., city councilor of Somerville, Massachusetts, and a polyamory advocate. “More people are familiar with swinging and polygamy, so the media portrayals often revert back to those understandings, and I think that is where [television] titles like Sister Wives and Brother Husband are rooted in ideas of the patriarchal portrayal of multiple relationships. In reality, most of the polyamorous community is focused on having egalitarian relationships.” 

Even the terminology of non-monogamy and polyamory can be specific and nuanced. ... “I think media portrayals are becoming more informed and we are seeing an increasing number of media outlets that are covering it in a neutral to positive way,” says Heath Schechinger,  co-founder of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. “This is part of a broader movement that is focusing on families and relationships that fall outside of the traditional nuclear norm. Our laws and cultural norms were established to support a nuclear family structure that does not reflect the needs of our families today.” 


...Truth be told, it is refreshing to see and learn of the Black people on the show, such as the Stevens’ and their partner(s) — who Kenya says have no current interest in legal marriage and are spiritually married — navigating polyamory, which has been wrongfully branded “white people shit” on social media due to a lack of representation in polyamorous spaces and media over the years. 

“As humans we are free, we should be free. I’m free to choose my life path, choose my own objectives,” says Kenya. “I can create my own life.”

A Facebook commenter confirms,

My aunt is on this show. I can definitely tell you the network creates the narrative and creates the stories they want to first hand, but I know these people in real life and these relationships have completely different Dynamics and so much more depth than what is displayed on the show.

Amazing people in real life. I'm just glad that the tribe mentality is becoming more mainstream and we're going back to the original way of our people.

● Somerville summaries look ahead. On March 23rd the Somerville, Mass., City Council voted unanimously to make Somerville the first city in the US to protect polyamorists and other non-standard family groupings from discrimination in employment and policing (a housing non-discrimination ordinance is coming soon). The heavy initial coverage of the vote has died down, but JDSupra Legal News offers this report on what actually happened and strategy for the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition moving ahead: A New Protected Category: Somerville, MA Passes Polyamory Antidiscrimination Ordinance (March 28)

...The Somerville legislation... is drafted quite simply.  First, the City Council added the following two definitions to its Code of Ordinances: 

Relationship status. The words “[family or] relationship status” mean the actual or perceived involvement or noninvolvement of an individual in an intimate personal relationship or relationships. It includes an individual’s actual or perceived affinity, or lack thereof, for any given type of intimate personal relationship, regardless of whether the individual is currently in any intimate personal relationship(s). 

Intimate personal relationship. The words “intimate personal relationship” shall include any interpersonal relationship between two or more adult individuals that involves romantic, physical, or emotional intimacy. This includes multi-partner/multi-parent families and relationships, step families, multi-generational households, and consensual sexual relationships, including relationships involving consensual non-monogamy. 

Once those definitions were in place, the Council simply added “[family or] relationship status” to the section of its Ordinance mandating non-discriminatory treatment for city employees and job applicants. ... 

The simplicity of the Somerville ordinance makes it ripe for imitation. ... 

And from PLAC and OPEN member Heath Schechinger, A Historic Step Forward for Polyamorous and Non-normative Families: The Impact of Somerville’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance (linked from OPEN's website, April 5).

●  Another Somerville coda. Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, legendary organized-crime reporter, pokes fun at Globe readers and commenters who were aghast at the Somerville vote. He calls us polyfolks all kinds of wonderful — particularly compared to certain other Somervillians in the neighborhood of City Hall who he's previously covered: Somerville’s current polyamorous people are much, much nicer than the Winter Hill Gang (March 28). It's thoroughly tongue in cheek.

After my colleague Meredith Goldstein wrote a story last week about the City Council in Somerville approving an ordinance to protect people in polyamorous relationships from discrimination, you could hear heads explode all over the place.

Some comments on the story are over the top, with many suggesting that Western civilization as we know it is about to collapse because this ordinance recognizes nontraditional relationships.

What’s with the prudish pearl clutching? Who is this hurting?

The people who pushed for this ordinance, and the people it protects, are decent, intelligent, tolerant, and engaged citizens, committed to equality, the sort of people who are a credit to their community; they are strong on committed relationships — plural — and the importance of consent.

In short, they are the opposite of the original boosters of nonmonogamy in Somerville, the Winter Hill Gang, a bunch of mobsters whose headquarters in the 1970s was a garage on Marshall Street [a short stroll from City Hall Ed.].

The Winter Hill guys had wives, girlfriends, common-law wives, teenage girlfriends, and more girlfriends. Those relationships were a one-way street. The men exploited the women in their lives. They were not relationships founded on equality or respect.

The problem wasn’t that Winter Hill guys were polyamorous. It’s that they were polymurderous. Not to mention misogynistic.

The garage was a social club. Gangsters’ wives and girlfriends regularly dropped by, bringing food for the boys. After one of them dropped off some spaghetti and meatballs, Whitey Bulger, a Winter Hill guy from South Boston, tied her to a chair and repeatedly threw a knife into the cheesy wood paneling behind her.

...At Bulger’s federal racketeering trial in 2013, when he was convicted of 11 murders, including a woman sexually involved with one of the Winter Hill guys, Winter Hill-style nonmonogamy was revealed in great detail. ... [Read the original at your own risk.]

...For all those up in arms over Somerville’s new ordinance protecting polyamorous people from discrimination, rest assured that those who need that protection are good people who want to contribute to their community and treat their partners with respect. That’s more than the gangsters of Winter Hill ever did.    

●  In my last post I dissed Glam, a product-laden women's online magazine than claims a million monthly visitors, for the superficiality of its spate of Poly 101 articles. But they've been getting better as the magazine continues to crank them out (did someone there see my criticism?). The latest as of this writing is Vees, Triads, Quads: The Different Types Of Polyamorous Relationship Structures, Explained (April 7). It doesn't get everything just right, but for its newbie audience it's a useful taxonomy of the many species and subspecies of our relationships (and their terminology) that new folks are going to encounter. 

●  Elsewhere: Is "toxic positivity" hurting the poly movement? Shouldn't we have outgrown the need to overspin the happy-happy? This important article appeared in Vice's iD Magazine: Polyamory has a toxic positivity problem. (March 23)

Being poly is no more or less valid than any other relationship dynamic; why do people both on and offline see it as a 'more evolved' way of being?

By Abby Moss

Suddenly, everywhere you look, it’s polyamory. Or at least it’s abstract ideas of polyamory. Not quite mainstream yet, polyamory is certainly enjoying a broadening spotlight, whether that’s in the appearance of a throuple in Gucci’s recent campaign with Elliot Page or more nuanced explorations of poly dynamics in TV shows like Trigonometry. ... On TikTok, #polyamory has over three billion views.

The Dreamers
But not all representations of polyamory online are sitting well. And it’s not necessarily the negative representations, the unkind or ridiculous criticisms (such as the eye-roll-inducing claims that poly people are all ugly, or that polyamory harms women), that are rubbing poly folks up the wrong way. Counter-intuitively, it’s excessively positive representations of polyamory that are now being called out too.

Polyamorous throuples, polycules (a connected network of people in non-monogamous relationships) and families are taking to Instagram and TikTok to show the world how great their relationships are, in accounts that look queasily similar to the kind of toxically positive parenting accounts that have already been broadly challenged. ...

In one Instagram account with over 127k followers, long-term couple Dana and Daniel share reels and TikToks of their experiences dating polyamorously. They have been criticised, though, for showing an unrealistic representation that borders on sexist. “As the male of a poly relationship, I’d love to see some Daniel struggles. I find it’s often more difficult for a man to get dates,” said one comment, referencing the classic assumption that polyamory is more fun (and easier) for men.... On other accounts, polyamorous families showcase the sunny side of their relationship and rarely talk about struggles at all. It’s all smiley shots of date nights and family outings.

“I’m just gonna say it — the culture of toxic positivity within the polyamorous community isolates actual polyamorous people who are struggling and does more harm than good,” wrote Leanne Yau, founder of polyamory education platform Polyphilia Blog, in a series of Instagram posts that received hundreds of comments. “It sets unrealistic expectations of what polyamorous living is like, and leaves newbies woefully unprepared.” ...

...Educators like Leanne have started to challenge the idea that a person should do all their learning (and unlearning) about monogamy and polyamory in theory before diving into relationships. Although it’s important to educate yourself about polyamory to some degree, and to think carefully about your own desires and boundaries, expecting people to be perfect in polyamorous dynamics from day one just isn’t realistic. ...

...“I’ve started being more straight with my friends about what I’m going through,” says Georgia. “I think it’s important, for polyamory to be taken seriously, that we talk about it for all that it is -- the good stuff, but also the confusing and messy parts too.”

(To me, the cover says kitchen table poly
the morning after.) 
●  New Book:  Why It's OK To Not Be Monogamous by Justin Clardy, a Black assistant professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University (Routledge and Taylor & Francis, 182 pages, March 2023). The press release from the publisher: Polyamorous relationships can have as many benefits as monogamous ones, shows research (April 3)

Polyamorists face stigma and discrimination in their day-to-day lives, yet research shows that having a romantic relationship with more than one person at a time may offer emotional and physical benefits to all parties.

Monogamy is frequently portrayed as the ideal form of romantic love in many modern societies. ... States and governments offer financial, legal, and social incentives to married couples. Meanwhile men and women who deviate from these monogamous norms are treated as pariahs and publicly shamed.

Despite this, polyamorous relationships are on the rise. It is estimated that between 4–5% of the U.S. population is currently involved in consensually non-monogamous relationships. ...

Increasing numbers of legal and political scholars are arguing for reforms to current family laws so that they recognise the wide variety of intimate personal relationships in which humans can thrive.

“Polyamorists face the risk of being fired, denied housing or citizenship, or having their children taken away from them because of their polyamorous identities and lifestyles,” says Justin Clardy, a professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University.

“However, in many cases poly relationships are more durable than monogamous ones, because their flexibility allows them to meet shifting needs over time in a way that monogamous relationships don’t.”

Justin Clardy
Justin Clardy

Professor Clardy has dedicated his academic career to studying the ethicality of non-monogamous relationship styles and the unjust political consequences faced by non-monogamists.

In Why It’s OK To Not Be Monogamous, Clardy summarises the main arguments that are commonly put forward to support monogamy. He then debunks each one with thorough research. ...

One of the most common arguments against polyamory is that it incites painful feelings of jealousy, however monogamous couples experience this emotion too. In fact, Clardy argues that in many cases vulnerability, possessiveness, and a sense of entitlement to another person’s love are more at the heart of jealousy then we care to admit.

Clardy argues that polyamory, on the other hand, can benefit relationships by refocusing our attention on how one’s partner fares in their other intimate relationships.

“When governed by mutual consent and understanding, polyamorous relationships can allow people to share more fully in the happiness of others,” says Clardy.

“This can be achieved by confronting and managing one’s vulnerability, by softening our propensity to be jealous, and by learning to pay attention to the flourishing of others.”


Some of the harshest critics of polyamorists argue that non-monogamy is harmful to the family unit, leading to divorce and the breakdown of families. However according to Clardy, polyamorous families both exist and thrive, and such an arrangement can actually benefit children.

“It may not take an entire village to raise a child, but it stands to reason that all things being equal, having more than one ‘father’ or ‘mother’ as a caregiver may be even more conducive to meeting children’s needs, as children may be loved and nurtured in unconventional families,” says Clardy.

“Indeed, it may turn out that on average, the existence of more than two caregivers is the superior parenting arrangement.” ...

The book is getting press attention, for example Polyamory Is On The Rise And Society Should Be More Accommodating, Research Argues (IFLScience, April 3).

●  Speaking of new books, I've started reading Fifty Years of Polyamory in America by Glen W. Olson and Terry Lee Brussel-Rogers (Rowman & Littlefield, Nov. 2022). The book is mostly about the first third of those fifty years, in which the authors were often enmeshed: from the seminal Family Synergy group in which they lived in southern California, to the neo-pagan Church of All Worlds; Deborah Anapol and Intinet (before the internet); San Francisco's widely influential Kerista commune (creators of our words compersion and polyfidelity); the Live The Dream group; the late Helen and Stan Dale and their Human Awareness Institute, seed bed for many of the attitudes and ideals of today's polyamory movement; and other early visionaries. The book continues through the early 1990s and the founding and growth of Loving More magazine and its conferences, and the relationship radicals (for those times) that Loving More helped collect into a movement.

I'll have more to say about the book when I finish it.

●  Signs of the times now: Is Monogamy So Out It's Kinky? (Coveture, a women's fashion/ beauty/ shopping magazine, March 27)

While traditional monogamy may seem like a vestige of a bygone era, its place in the dating landscape has a unique flavor alongside the à la carte options of alternative relationship styles. ...

●  And from Vice, thoughtful advice of a sort that didn't used to be offered: How to Close Your Open Relationship (April 6)

Sometimes people change their minds about what they want from non-monogamy – and that's perfectly OK.

..."It's completely reasonable to decide that it's not the right path for you. Situations change, our needs shift, and we never know exactly how we'll feel about something new until we try it – so it's important not to feel guilty about changing your mind.”

..."Approach this conversation with a sense of partnership and a sense that you're in this to solve issues together.”

[Callisto] Adams suggests using a variation on this phrasing: "I'm sensing that you're enjoying the openness a lot more than I am, and I understand – enjoying the openness is one of the most obvious points to an open relationship. However, I value you and your presence in my life, and I felt like sharing this concern with you, as this is something that's making me uncomfortable."

...Don’t chicken out of saying what you really want. “State clearly that you want to go back to a monogamous relationship, so there is no confusion.”...

...Your next step is to actively listen to your partner’s response and any questions they might have. ...

If being monogamous doesn’t have to last forever, then neither does being non-monogamous, but the transition between the two has to come with the age-old staple of a healthy relationship: honest communication.

●  A crossword clue in The New Yorker puzzle for March 27, difficult level: "Some polyamorous relationships".

The answer: "throuples".

In a year or two that'll be easy level.

–  Southwest Love Fest, April 14–16, Tucson, AZ
–  The ever poly-friendly New Culture Spring Camp, May 5–10, Abrams Creek Retreat Center, Mt. Storm, WV.

Summer brings more. See Alan's List of Polyamory Events for all such gatherings for the next 12 months. All that I know about, anyway! Tell me about any I'm missing: alan7388 (at) gmail.com .



Why have I been ending posts to this polyamory news site with Ukraine?

Because I've seen many progressive movements die out because they failed to scan the wider world correctly and understand their position in it strategically.

We polyamorous people are a small, weird minority of social-rule breakers. Increasingly powerful people call us a threat to society — because by living successfully outside of their worldview, we expose its incompleteness.

Our freedom to choose our relationship structures, and to speak up for ourselves about the truth of ourselves, is just one way we depend on a free and pluralistic society that respects people's dignity to create their own lives, to access facts, and to speak of what they know.

Russian cartoon character Masyanya proudly holding a Ukraine flag
When the war started the Russian family-cartoon series
Masyanya turned dissident. Watch. The cartoonist got
 out. Update: a sequel of turnabout, with a coda
of empathy in wartime. 
Such a society is possible only where people have power to govern themselves, combined with legal structures that are at least supposed to guarantee the rights of all.

Innovative people, communities, and societies who create their own lives, and who insist on the democratic structures and legal rights that enable them to do so safely, infuriate and terrify the authoritarians who are growing in power around the world and in our own United States — now with direct mutual support.

Such rulers and would-be rulers seek to stamp out other people's freedom to choose their lives — by intimidation, repressive laws, inflammatory disinformation and public incitement, abuse of police powers, or eventually, artillery.

For what it's worth, this site received more pagereads from pre-war Ukraine over the years (56,400) than from any other country in eastern Europe.

For now, you can donate to Ukraine relief through this list of vetted organizations or many others. We're giving to a big one, Razom, and to a little one, Pizza for Ukraine in Kharkiv, a project of an old friend of my wife (story).

But that is only the start. For those of us born since World War II, we are witnessing the most consequential war of our lifetimes. Because we have entered another time when calculating fascism, at home and abroad, is rising and sees freedom and liberalism and social tolerance as weak, degenerate, delusional  inviting easy pushovers. As Russia thought it saw in Ukraine.

The coming times are going to require hard things of us. We don't get to choose the time and place in history we are born into; we do get to choose how we respond to it. Buck up and be ready.

Need a little help bucking up? Play thisAnother version, on the streets of Kherson the night after its liberation. More? Just some guys in Kharkiv (our Pizza for Ukraine town) helping to hold onto a free and open society, a shrinking thing in the world. The tossed grenade seems to have saved them. Maybe your granddad did this across a trench from Hitler's troops — for you, and us, because a world fascist movement was successfully defeated that time, opening the way for the rest of the 2oth century. Although the outcome didn't look good for a couple of years there.

Remember, these people say they are doing it for us too. They are correct.  The global struggle between a free, open future and a fearful revival of the dark past that's shaping up, including in our own country, is still in its early stages. It's likely to get worse before it gets better. The outcome is again uncertain, and it will determine the 21st century and the handling of all its other problems.


PS: Ukraine should not be idealized as the paragon of an open democratic society. For instance, see If Ukraine Wants To Stand for Liberty and Democracy, It Should Rethink Some of Its Wartime Policies. And it has quite the history of being run by corrupt oligarchs — leading to the Maidan Uprising of 2013, the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, and Zelensky's overwhelming election in 2019 as the anti-corruption candidate. So they're working on that. (More.)

Now, writes US war correspondent George Packer in The Atlantic, 

Here was a country with a tragic history that had at last begun to build, with great effort, a better society. What made Ukraine different from any other country I had ever seen—certainly from my own—was its spirit of constant self-improvement, which included frank self-criticism. For example, there’s no cult of Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine—a number of Ukrainians told me that he had made mistakes, that they’d vote against him after the war was won. Maxim Prykupenko, a hospital director in Lviv, called Ukraine “a free country aspiring to be better all the time.” The Russians, he added, “are destroying a beautiful country for no logical reason to do it. Maybe they are destroying us just because we have a better life.”

They have a word there, with a deep history, for the horizontal, self-organized, mutual get-it-done that grows from community social trusthromada. Learn that word. It's getting them through as well as they've been able. We polyfolks often dream of creating something like that  community spirit in miniature, in our polycules and networks. Occasionally we succeed.

Social attitudes in Ukraine tend traditional, rooted in a thousand years of the Orthodox Church, but not bitterly so like often in the US; the ideal of modern European civil society is widely treasured, and social progressivism has room to thrive. The status of women is fast advancing, especially since the start of the war (pre-war article). A reported 57,000 women volunteer in the armed forces, flooding traditionally male bastions, including as combat officers, platoon leadersartillery gunners, tankers, and snipers. (Intimidating video: "So The Witch Has Said".) Some LGBT folx in the armed forces display symbols of LGBT pride on their uniforms, whereas in Russia it's a prison-worthy crime for even a civilian to show a rainbow pin or "say gay."  Article on Ukraine's current LGBT+ and feminist acceptance revolutions. Another. Another. War changes things.

And in November 2022, Russia made it a crime not just to speak for LGBT recognition, but to speak for "non-traditional sexual relations." Until last year Russia had a polyamory education and awareness movement.

Polyfolks are like one ten-thousandth of what's at stake globally. Ukraine must have our continued material support for as long as it takes to win. Speak up for it.

A Russian writer grieves: "My country has fallen out of time."

"Defenders of Bakhmut": painting of a woman soldier under fire in a trench holding up a Ukraine flag
"Defenders of Bakhmut," by Natasha Le from Mikolaiv. She reinterprets traditional guardian angels as riot grrls for an upcoming generation.

PS: A real-life version of that icon in Bakhmut; the artwork is not fantasy. "Vidma" commands a mortar platoon there. After she and her unit were rotated out she posted this (Feb. 26): 

She, and thousands like her, put to bed the lie spread by US authoritarians (such as Sen. Ted Cruz) that allowing women in combat roles is a woke plot to weaken America's armed forces. Do you have a relative who says that kind of shit? Send them the video link.
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