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

May 10, 2023

Fighting the tide of crappy "poly": are we winning or losing? Polylegal news roundup, Dear Abby, and more.

●  Are those basic Poly 101s popping up all over the mainstream media these days still needed?

Damn right. More than ever.

Because, so many of the newbies excited by the idea and now venturing in are truly clueless, and so many predators and low-level jerks manipulate them by appropriating our language.

Here's a 1-minute Tok from Polyamfam guy, a much-watched educator we can be proud of, about his experiences:

@polyamfam I am floored at how much awful behavior newly poly people put up with. This is not just how polyamory works. That person sucks. 

●  USA Today is the latest big mainstream medium with a Poly 101 hitting some key points right: What is polyamory? What to know about poly relationships (April 11).

By David Oliver

...Polyamory "usually describes a particular approach to (consensual non-monogamy) that prioritizes ongoing emotional and sexual connections with multiple partners," Sheila Addison, a family and marriage therapist, previously told USA TODAY. ...

..."With polyamory, I think the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you," Willow Smith said. "I was like, how can I structure the way that I approach relationships with that in mind?" 

Note the "works for you" part. If someone is bullshitting/pressuring you into poly or lying or manipulating, call out their shit. You have the strength of the poly community behind you.

The USA Today piece was, however, short and superficial. You generally get more useful advice from voices in the community itself. Here's a selection of first-rate Poly 101s to pass on, as I've posted before:

● This series is from Scarleteen, a renowned site for "sex ed for the real world: inclusive, comprehensive, supportive sexuality and relationships info for teens and emerging adults". 

The series has three parts:
-- Relationship Structure and Troubleshooting: Navigating Poly Relationships. All are by Mo Ranyart and s. e. smith. Some content is repeated so that each article stands well alone. They are written for people the authors care about rather than for clicks. For instance,

     – The difference between the default state of a new relationship where no one's established the relationship structure, and an explicitly polyamorous one, is the thought and intention that's been put into it.

     – If you don't have a great track record of honesty with previous partners, or have found that communication is tough for you to initiate, now's the time to really dig into those skills and think about how to apply them in your relationships. It gets easier with practice, and when you're balancing multiple relationships there are usually plenty of opportunities to polish those skills. And communication within poly is sure excellent practice.

     – When you're opening up an established relationship, keeping that original relationship strong and intact can be a goal that winds up driving a lot of your decisions.... And while it's fine to prioritize one relationship over others in terms of time or emotional energy devoted to it, it's not okay to discount a new partner's feelings or treat them as disposable if problems arise with an established partner. 

     – Especially early on, it's helpful to have some periodic check-ins with your partners, to make sure things are moving smoothly and everyone's still happy with the relationship structure. There may be ongoing conversations, negotiations, or adjustments that need to happen to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable with their individual relationships, and with the larger poly structure as a whole. ... These don't always have to be big, scary conversations; sometimes just saying "I'm feeling pretty good about this, are you?" and hearing an affirmative in response can be a solid reassurance.

     – You might hear... “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t tell me" or "my partner doesn’t care what I do as long as they don't hear about it.” This is something we call “information sequestering,” where a partner is suggesting that open communication isn’t necessary.... At best, it suggests that someone involved in the situation may be uncomfortable with opening their relationship, and someone will get hurt. At worst, it could mean that someone is cheating, and keeping their partner out of the loop is a deliberate way to avoid the truth coming out.

There's also serious treatment of STIs, safer sex, and discussing your safe-sex boundaries early (well before the heat of the moment), with links to safer-sex information.

●  This one is on the widely used and respected UK medical site NetDoctor:  Polyamorous relationships explained. "41 ways to understand polyamorous relationships, dating and sex." It's long,  thorough, and gently factual the way real medical sites are. Amazingly, it hits more than 100 points correctly IMO with just one or two partial fumbles. That's an extraordinary score.

Just one sample, the summation at the end:

By Annie Hayes

...41. The bottom line.

No two poly relationships are the same. Polyamory is about opening up your ideas of love, sex, and intimacy – you're not looking for just one person to share a romantic or sexual connection with, but several. Above all, it's about respect, communication, and trust.

●  And third, another all-time favorite Poly 101 of mine is The Coffee Break Primer on Polyamory by Ada Powers. It's more broadly philosophical, and is especially clear-eyed about what you're getting into. It's the one with that haunting illo you remember of astronaut moves being demonstrated to a 1940s audience.

Getting back to new material just out:

● Here's a Poly 101 that starts with a premise I haven't seen before. Think A Polyamorous Relationship Might Be For You? Read This First (Yahoo Entertainment, April 26. Reprinted from Blavity's 21Ninety, "where women of color can come together to learn about new things in beauty, wellness and health.")

Cottonbro Studio

By Amara Amaryah

...It seems that the ‘wellness generation’ (a wellness-oriented faction within the Millennial and Gen Z generations), is reclaiming healthier dialogues around this alternative relationship structure. Whether you’re curious or ready to love within a polyamorous bond, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

...Polyamorous individuals believe that it is possible to have intimate, romantic desires and love for more than one person at the same time. In a polyamorous relationship, respect and transparency for all involved is key... arguably more than in a traditional monogamous relationship.

Polyamorous relationship rules

Some people won’t get into polyamorous relationships without establishing some ground rules. Useful rules to consider include: sexual relationships outside of the relationship, sleeping arrangements (do you all sleep together or do you rotate to give equal quality time?), and regular emotional check-ins for everyone in the relationship.

Other ideas include being clear on motivations for the budding relationship with multiple people. Do you feel limited by monogamy? Are you open to giving and receiving more love from more than one person? Do you feel that you and your partner’s love languages could be better honored in polyamory? Understanding this motivation will help make the transition healthier. ...

When considering non-monogamous relationships, accept the current reality that society is still designed for couples. There will be hurdles....

‘Coming out’ in a polyamorous relationship also shows its challenges and in a society still unprepared for more than couples, it will take effort and lots of expectation management. This non-traditional relationship style isn’t for everyone, but if it aligns with your beliefs and desires, it can be worth it.

And she gives a glossary of a dozen polyworld terms that's more accurate than these lists sometimes are.

●  Another, from Women.com ("brings radical honesty to the lifestyle space"): So, You Want To Try Ethical Non-Monogamy. Let's Talk About It. (April 28)

By Frances Dean

"I think of it almost like a ... relationship menu," Dr. Elisabeth Sheff explained to CBS. "Serial monogamy is at the top of the menu, and probably the most popular dish that people order. But there's all these other things that people can order now."...

It's easy to get lost in the sauce when trying to understand the complex world of ENM. Below, we break it all down from what exactly to expect in a non-monogamous relationship to whether or not it's the right choice for you. ...

Most importantly, ethical non-monogamy is about trust.  [Which, of course, means finding people who are trust-worthy Ed.]

Experts agree it's not one size fits all. ... "Polyamory very much focuses on emotional and romantic connection, whereas other types of non-monogamy are more like casual and sexual endeavors," [says] Leanne Yau, a polyamory expert. ...

You'll need to have some serious conversations about how you see [it] playing out and what boundaries you each need to be comfortable. It's of paramount importance to keep your primary partners' (or any of your partners) feelings in mind when making decisions. ...

...[But] there is a big transition process into the mindset of ENM."...


On to other topics:

●  Overview of polyamory's recent legal advances. The American Bar Association's ABA Journal has published a summary of recent poly and ENM legal developments in the US, especially city and town multi-domestic-partner and nondiscrimination ordinances. Protecting Polyamory: Municipalities expand rights, domestic partnerships to include nontraditional relationships (April 27).

Save this one, especially as background if you'll post about the further news that may be coming soon.

The story starts with Somerville, MA, city councilor Willie Burnley Jr., a sparkplug of a community activist who is broadening his work beyond Somerville. (Photo added by me.)

By Andrew Engleson

Willie Burnley Jr. sits on the city council in Somerville, Massachusetts. What he calls “doing well by his community” looks different from the average municipal legislator voting to expand park space or increase recycling.

Burnley, who is openly polyamorous, seeks to reduce discrimination for those who practice polyamory or consensual nonmonogamy. In March, he introduced and passed through the city council three anti-discrimination bills, and expects to pass a fourth in April, focused on protecting housing and employment rights for polyamorous people. They are the first such bills ever passed in the United States.

Burnley was in a multipartner relationship when the city council passed a first-in-the-nation ordinance in 2020 expanding domestic partnerships to include relationships with more than two people. After Somerville, two other Boston suburbs, Cambridge and Arlington, also expanded domestic partnerships to polyamorous people in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

“I was amazed and a little shocked,” Burnley says of the milestone, which in part inspired him to run for office. “It was one of the proudest moments I’ve had about our government.”

Burnley hopes his bills encourage people in nontraditional relationships to register for domestic partnerships and to be more open about their status without fear of retaliation. The expanded domestic partnerships don’t feature all the legal benefits of marriage but do include hospital visitation rights and shared employment benefits.

Polyamory is a slightly narrower form of consensual nonmonogamy in which people agree to have multiple, loving relationships openly and with full consent. Structure and agreements vary widely.

A 2014 Chapman University study found that between 4% and 5% of people in the U.S. are involved in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship, and a 2021 Frontiers in Psychology study estimated that that one in nine Americans have practiced it at some point in their lives.

...Diana Adams, a New York family law attorney and one of the founders of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, believes hospital visitation rights and health insurance benefits should extend to nontraditional relationships, whether it’s a romantic triad or a multigenerational household raising a child.

“In 2023, when the majority of American children and adults don’t live in a heterosexual nuclear family,” Adams says, we need laws “to protect and value families as they exist.”

...Of the Somerville bills passed, one expands the definition of protected class to include people in relationship structures involving multiple partners; the second and third bills amend existing anti-discrimination ordinances regarding city employment and policing to include this new protected class. A fourth bill [still in the works] would prohibit housing discrimination based on that same protected class.

The rights of people in nontraditional relationships also got a boost in September when Judge Karen May Bacdayan of the Civil Court of the City of New York, New York County, ruled in favor of petitioner Markyus O’Neill—a third partner to married couple Scott Anderson and Robert Romano—who sought to renew a rent-controlled apartment lease after the tenant of record, Scott Anderson, died. The wording of Bacdayan’s ruling in West 49th St. v. O’Neill—which allows the case simply to proceed—might offer precedent in other higher court cases, according to legal scholars. ...

Polyamory in practice

Burnley drew inspiration from the ABA’s October 2022 webinar “Emerging Legal Recognition for Multi-Partner Relationships and Families, which featured attorneys discussing issues facing their polyamorous clients.

Adams, who spoke on the ABA panel and testified at Somerville’s council meeting, has heard countless stories of discrimination. People in the polyamorous community come to her upset about employment discrimination, for example, “and don’t realize that polyamory is not protected,” Adams says.

...The most influential cases establishing the rights of people who practice polyamory or consensual nonmonogamy, according to Boston-area attorney Kimberly Rhoten, are generally appeals court rulings overturning parental custody rulings.

paper co-authored by Rhoten in the winter 2021 issue of Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy counters the notion that polyamorous people are unable to meet best-interests-of-the-child standards.

It references a number of lower court cases against polyamorous parents that were reversed on appeal, including a 2015 case in which the Court of Appeals of Georgia (In the Interest of R. E., 333 Ga. App. 53, 775 S.E.2d 542) overturned a lower court ruling that withheld a mother’s custody because she was polyamorous. The appeals court found no evidence that the children were harmed by their mother’s polyamory.

Rhoten notes that polyamorous families are just one type of legally marginalized nontraditional structure. “This includes single-parented families, multigenerational households and stepfamilies that struggle to be treated equally by the law as their married dyadic-couple counterparts.”

The Uniform Law Commission—a nonprofit advocacy group—urges passage of the 2017 Uniform Parentage Act in all 50 states, which provides an opening to redefine parent-child relationships. Changes center around the definition of “de facto” parents as contributors to the best interest of a child, opening the door for additional nonbiological or nonlegal parents, so long as they reside with the child, serve as a caretaker and have “established a bonded and dependent parent-child relationship, with at least one legal parent’s approval.”

Six states—including California, Maine, Connecticut and Washington—have passed versions of the act, which includes children of same-sex couples in its definitions. ...

●  A gay counselor, skeptical about poly, raises important considerations before you decide to dive in: 6 (+1) Things to Consider When It Comes to Ethical Non-Monogamy (The Good Men Project, April 16)

By Dr. Kurt Smith

...Because there are multiple people, there will be multiple viewpoints and expectations. Without clearly defined rules of engagement, the possibility of misunderstandings and problems is exponential. ... 

–  More partners can lead to more pain. ... Consider this: Sam, Sally, and Syed are in a relationship (throuple). Sam wants to break up with Sally, but Syed doesn’t want to. How does this work?

–  ...Most ENM relationships begin with a couple who wants to explore new options. This means there’s most often a primary partner that needs or expects to be prioritized, and there’s a commitment to do so. This can become complicated. ...

–  Managing conflict in a traditional relationship can be tough. But this conflict can become brutal and highly complicated when you add other people, personalities, emotions, and intimate situations. ...

–  What about family? [of origin]. It’s easy to claim that your life is your own and your family needs to accept your choices. While that’s not untrue, it’s also typically not that simple. ...

The Biggest Consideration In An Ethical Non-Monogamous Relationship:

There’s one additional consideration that’s a non-negotiable in an ENM – honesty. Not mostly honest or honesty that overlooks small details, but complete and total honesty between all parties. ...What happens if your feelings of love shift from one person to another? Or if one person is becoming emotionally needy or demanding more? What about when someone in [a] throuple wants to introduce a fourth? There’s no way to navigate those waters if there’s any level of dishonesty or emotional withholding.

●  Speaking of family of origin troubles: In hundreds of newspapers everywhere Dear Abby, bless her, sided with love and respect in a bitter family mess: Dad cuts off family contact due to son’s polyamorous marriage (April 19)

Dear Abby: Our son “Victor” and his wife have informed us that they are “polyamorous.” They have been married for nine years, and were together for five years before they married. They have agreed to this arrangement, and their partners know they are married. They love each other, own a home together and plan to be together forever.

...Because of their lifestyle, my husband, “Del,” has not communicated with them for more than 16 months. He says if I die first, he’ll make sure they get nothing in his will. I have visited them alone (we live over 800 miles away) and plan to do so in the future. Our other married son, “Mike,” tried to talk to his father about this, but Del still refuses to budge. ...

Dear Heartbroken: What you do is continue living your life as you always have, and see your children and other relatives as often as you wish. ... If Del becomes vindictive or punitive to you, consult a legal adviser about whether you want to stay in a marriage like this. If you choose to leave, you will be able to decide independently how your assets should be distributed in the event of your death.

In 2013 Dear Abby was reported to have a circulation of 110 million.

●  That same week, Slate's "Care and Feeding" column advised about the opposite generational conflict: My Parents Keep Demanding I Meet Their Newest Lover"Is it fair to want to establish a boundary here?" (April 18)

My parents “opened their relationship for the good of their marriage” a few years ago. (They are 60, I’m 40.) I suppose it’s not really any of my business what they want to do in their bedroom, but I have to admit I was happier not knowing about their sexual antics. Mostly, it’s irritating to be introduced to their latest lover du jour, who will inevitably disappear into the ether in a few months and be shortly replaced by another new person or two.

I’d like to put some boundaries in place, at the very least tell my parents that I simply don’t want to meet their new lovers. But whenever I object, they either say that this time is different or they just bulldoze past my objections, and I wind up being cringingly introduced to some new partner of theirs. ...

— This Is Ridiculous

Dear Ridiculous,

You have every right not to meet your parents’ casual lovers if you don’t want to, and you don’t even owe them an explanation. After all, most children are understandably not interested in their parents’ sex lives (at any age), and adding polyamory to the mix doesn’t change that. One of the most empowering things I’ve learned as an adult is that “no” is a complete sentence.

...To set the boundary, you can say something along the lines of, “What you choose to do in personal life is up to you, but going forward, I have no interest in meeting your romantic partners in the early stages of your relationships. I hope you’ll take this seriously, because if you choose to ignore my request, I’ll have no choice but to distance myself from you. However, if you find yourself in a serious relationship after six months [or whatever amount of time is acceptable to you], I may reconsider.” ...

● Two polls reported overseas:

–  Has The Idea Of Monogamy Changed In India? What Is It All About? (Times of India, April 10, reporting on a professional IPSOS survey). "76% of Indian women and 61% of Indian men believe that monogamy is not a natural state for them. It has also emerged how a quarter of Indians already have embraced non-monogamous relationship lifestyles, such as open couple (23%) and swinging (14%).""

–  Survey shows nearly half of Spaniards approve of polyamory  (in the UK's Times, April 13, paywalled). "In a poll, 47 per cent agreed a person ‘can have two or more affective sexual relationships at the same time’.  In the previous survey, carried out in October 2021, this figure was less than 40 per cent." See the full survey report. But the defining polyamory criterion "with the full knowledge and consent" seems to be missing. The article goes on to say, "4.8 per cent [said] that they were in an open relationship with occasional sexual contacts, and only 0.5 per cent said they are in a polyamorous relationship."

●  Pushing TV boundaries in the UK: Remember the fuss last year about that opening-your-relationship reality show on the UK's racy Channel 4? It musta been successful, because it's back for another season. The producers are trying gin up even more fuss than the first time by "teasing an 18-people-strong orgy" in the show's publicity. 'Open House: The Great Sex Experiment' returning for 'bolder' second season (Bang Showbiz via Yahoo News, May 3). 

●  In Canada, Expert panel: What does Canadian pension legislation say about polyamory? (BenefitsCanada, May 10). Bottom line: You have beneficiary options.

●  Lastly, sometimes the internet does surprise you with something better than you expect. Such as this new WikiHow for the newcomers pouring into the scene: What is Kitchen Table Polyamory? (April 10). 


Meanwhile, as a counter-offensive approaches...

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. And his 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, the 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. And the whole world is watching what we will do about it. 

The coming times are likely 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 this. Another version. More? Some people on the eastern front April 9th helping to hold onto an open society, a shrinking thing in the world. 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  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). And 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".)
Ukraine's LGBT-military unicorn.
The thorns and barbed wire
represent old restrictions
now being cut away. 
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." A report on Ukraine's current LGBT+ and feminist acceptance revolutionsAnotherAnother. Another. War changes things.

And in December 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 aid for however 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 paints traditional guardian angels as riot grrls for an upcoming generation.

PPS: In Bakhmut, a real-life version of that icon; 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 into military 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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