Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

May 20, 2023

The right has lost their war against polyamory being normalized

The New York Times ran another big feature article last Tuesday in its Style section: Interested in Polyamory? Check Out These Places (online May 16). It made waves on the internet and is getting reprinted elsewhere.

Its focus is Somerville, Mass., which adjoins Cambridge as part of the Boston sprawl (we locals are known to call them Camberville). The Somerville City Council's actions since 2020 to protect the rights of poly people have gained the city new notice as an alternative-life-friendly place. As a result, according to the Times, at least a few people are moving there from far away. (Good luck with the housing prices, but sharing can make the impossible possible.)

From the article:

Laws granting rights to people in polyamorous relationships are being recognized in more cities. 

"The city’s attitude toward nonmonogamy was a big factor in the group’s decision to move to Somerville, said Jace Knight (seated at left), seen here with Kirstin DeRosa (far left), Dee Knight (right) and Tyler Crumpton (seated at right)."
Photos: Matthew Monteith for The New York Times.

By Valeriya Safronova

Jace Knight had heard about Somerville, Mass., while working on a Ph.D. at the University of Alabama in 2020.

The small city had recently passed a law granting domestic partnership rights, like the ability to receive employment benefits or make hospital visits, to people in polyamorous relationships. Mx. Knight, who is nonbinary and has been nonmonogamous since 2014, was impressed.

In late March, Somerville passed two more laws extending the rights of nonmonogamous residents, this time banning discrimination on the basis of “family or relationship structure” in city employment and policing. (A similar ordinance, focused on housing, is currently being discussed by the Somerville City Council.)

Around the same time these new laws passed, Mx. Knight, 38, now with a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, moved from Alabama to a house in Somerville with their two partners and a partner of one of those partners. The city’s attitude toward nonmonogamy was a big factor in the group’s decision to move there, Mx. Knight said.

In recent years, Somerville, a four-square-mile city with 80,000 residents just outside Boston, has quietly turned into something of a haven for those who practice consensual nonmonogamy, an umbrella term for relationship styles that involve more than two people. One of these is polyamory, which involves intimate or romantic connections with multiple people and the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. ...

Somerville is close to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and claims to have more artists per capita than any city besides New York. Often described as “hippie” or “bohemian,” the city is staunchly L.G.B.T.Q-friendly. There is a significant crossover between those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and pansexual and those who practice nonmonogamy, according to multiple studies.

Willie Burnley

“We’re a very queer city,” said Willie Burnley Jr., 29, a city councilor at-large who introduced the new ordinances and who is polyamorous. “We have a population that’s more open to these ideas, and many of these folks are either currently nonmonogamous or have tried nonmonogamy or at the very least know someone who’s polyamorous.”

...Interest in nonmonogamy seems to be on the rise across the country,

“In my dream world, Somerville can be a safe haven for all walks of life, including if you’re a normie who’s very vanilla and just want to settle down, and someone who wants to have off-the wall parties on the weekends,” Mr. Burnley said.

...Gabrielle Smith, 27, a writer and digital content creator in Brooklyn who focuses on nonmonogamy and relationships, said that more people trying nonmonogamy has led to more conversations about it, which has led to more people trying it — or at least thinking about it. 

    A poly flag flies from a
    Somerville balcony, and
    people know what it means.

“It’s definitely becoming more of a movement,” Ms. Smith said. In recent years organizations focused on nonmonogamy have initiated political and legal action, aggregated resources and developed scientific research.

After Somerville passed its domestic partnership law, Arlington and Cambridge, two other cities in Massachusetts, added polyamorous units to their existing domestic partnership ordinances. But once people register as domestic partners there, benefits may extend beyond Massachusetts as well: “So people around the country are able to come get registered and go home to generally use it as they would any other domestic partnership they registered for in their home city or anywhere,” Diana Adams, executive director of Chosen Family Law Center and one of the people who helped write the anti-discrimination ordinances for Somerville, wrote in an email.

...Ryan Malone, 37, a chemist who has lived on and off in Somerville for six years, said that he knows hundreds of people who identify as polyamorous, through his extended social circles. Mr. Malone, who has been nonmonogamous since he was in college, currently has a nesting partner, a long-term partner, two long-distance partners and a kink-based relationship with another person.

Mr. Malone said he has never felt weird about going on dates with two or more people at the same time in Somerville. “No one seems to bat an eye,” he said....

●  On the same day, the Times' Modern Love column featured this in its Tiny Love Stories ("reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words"):

"My partner Jessica took
 this happy picture of me."

I’m deeply in love with a polyamorous woman. My journey from monogamy to ethical non-monogamy is destabilizing, lonesome — like a mirror reflecting everything I don’t want to see: my incessant insecurities, unhealthy attachment patterns, the various ways I rely on others for validation. Through our relationship, I’ve learned that love is not a scarce resource. Rather, love is limitless, multiplying most when it no longer seeks to control. I’ve learned that I am the only person who can heal my feelings of inadequacy — the only person who can make me feel complete. Healthy relationships don’t compensate; they augment.
— Sarah Cassman

●  And a month ago the New York Times Magazine ran this item by its advice columnist The Ethicist (Kwame Anthony Appiah): Our Throuple Fell Apart. What Are the Rules of the Breakup? (April 21)

Tomi Um

Nearly a year ago, I began dating two friends — I’ll call them Rachel and Dave — who were already themselves in a relationship. We all had no experience with polyamory. The throuple ended fairly quickly, with no one being at fault; the other two continued to date but broke up not too long afterward. Since then, Rachel and Dave have dated on and off, Rachel and I were casually together and Dave and I have been close friends who sleep together occasionally. ... At times, we have all behaved badly, sleeping together behind the other’s back knowing the knowledge would hurt the other. ...

Throughout the past year, as multiple complex situations arose, we have all wished for a model of behavior. Monogamy-centered media suggests that one should avoid dating a friend’s ex-partner. Is this correct? And if so, can this concept be universalized? ...

From the Ethicist:

In love and sex, as in other matters, the patterns that work for the many may not work for the few. ... I doubt “bro code” logic will help you sort out these arrangements.

Instead of universalizing norms like these, try to understand their rationale. When it comes to dating someone your friend has recently broken up with, the norm was always a yellow light, not a red light. And there are plausible rationales for exercising caution. ...

The New York Times takes itself seriously as a Serious Newspaper, even America's newspaper of record. All over the place, mainstream observers increasingly understand that polyamory is for real, that it works well for some people and is fairly widespread, and that the poly possibility will be a known part of life going forward.

I think it's too late for this not to be permanent. We may yet face cooked-up moral panics and bursts of discrimination. But the polyamorous option, once it's known, cannot be un-known.

●  And that really upsets some people. The National Review is America's paleo-conservative magazine of record. One of its writers got snippy about the latest Times piece: polyamory isn't about love, it's just a new way for queers to try to squick people like her. Normalizing Polyamory (May 17):

By Madeline Kearns

...The Times reports that “there is significant crossover between those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and pansexual and those who practice nonmonogamy, according to multiple studies.”

That is unsurprising. Gay culture has long been invested in ideas of subversiveness. Indeed, there were gay-rights activists who rejected the idea of gay marriage on the grounds that it was too conservative and boring.

The social acceptance of gay relationships may have ruined the subversive street cred of being LGBT. For now, polyamory survives as one of its edgier expressions. Perhaps those seeking legal recognition of polyamorous relationships should be careful about what they wish for.

●  Meanwhile, in a social era of increasing loneliness, isolation, and rising rents, a chosen family of several adults can look awfully attractive. For instance, I'm A Polyamorous Mom & Finally Have The Village I Need (Scary Mommy, May 19)

By Echo Mayernik

"It takes a village to raise a child" is one of the biggest clichés of motherhood. ... And it seems like since we first found out I was expecting a child, every older family member and friend told me some variation of that line. ...

Upon actually [having kids], though, I lost friendships — with young kids I couldn't always commit to plans and didn't prioritize partying — and the message from family made it clear I should suck it up, that’s motherhood. In other words, my village disappeared.

After a move to a big city,

...One of the friends we met was in a polyamorous relationship with a partner and a metamour, or partner of a partner. Their dynamic allowed for more flexibility and freedom in their schedule; they could share their financial and emotional burdens and didn't rely on one person to be their everything.

...Our new friend, her partner, and her meta shared housing and household responsibilities. It was the perfect blend between living with your spouse and living with your best friend. Hubby and I started exploring this possibility.

We soon found out that with the right group of people, you really can build excellent support systems through polyamory. It allows you to have multiple people around who have a wide variety of skill sets; it allows you to fill in your weaknesses with your partners’ strengths, and offer strength where they lack.

...A mutual friend connected with my husband and we were soon together in what we call a “polycule.” ... Ours consists of our household as well as partners who live in other homes. But we've also worked to ensure that we continue to be supportive co-parents to those with whom we are no longer romantically involved, so we can provide the best for all four of the children who live with us, as well as the children who live in our partners’ homes.

...We choose what’s commonly called Kitchen Table Poly. ... Imagine a family meeting, but the family is much larger, and spans multiple houses. We discuss family topics with everyone involved — as if we were sitting at the kitchen table. This works for us because we’ve found it has the most open and transparent communication style and minimizes the odds of jealousy and emotional turmoil. Plus, because everyone knows about everyone else, we can better maintain our schedules and coordinate events and activities between the adults and the children.

The key to polyamory, in many ways, is that while we may not be romantically or sexually involved with every member of the polycule, it’s critically important to maintain friendships to raise our children together. Communication is the backbone to our successful teamwork in raising our kids. Our village means that we help others raise their children with the same core values.

In our village, we have (at the time of writing) 14 adults involved with each other in one way or another. Among those adults, we have 10 kids between 1 year and 21 years old. This is a lot like having close cousins with the polycule branches that aren't in our immediate household, and step-siblings with the branches we collaborate with.

We work together to raise even those children who are not biologically ours (individually) but live in the same home or visit your home. Everyone is coordinated and working toward the same goal of helping our kids thrive. ...   I have created my village of support, a closer and more robust network than before in parenthood.

Of course you don't need sex or romance at the heart of a good intentional family. Apart from polyamory, we now read of the rise of the mommune — committed, economically efficient households of two, three, or more single mothers raising their kids together. Just one example: Single Mom Reveals the Perks of Living in a 'Mommune': ‘I Was Taken in by Family Friends Who I Like To Call My Angels' (Parade magazine, March 8).

●  Meanwhile on the opposite side of the globe, Australia's own newspaper of record, the Sydney Morning Herald, ran this about the normalization of poly: Easy as one, two, three: Are throuples becoming more mainstream? (Feb. 3)

Are the polyamorous finally gaining respect?

Once subjected to side-eyes and the assumption that they must be promiscuous or destined for pillow-throwing break-ups, people who have multiple romantic partners have lately been thrust into the spotlight. ...

... And a few days ago Australia's national ABC network followed with, on its Schmeitgeist podcast, The Ethical Non-Monogamy Boom (May 16)

Polyamory used to be reserved for the kinky, the queer, and the communist witches of this world. (Go with us, we have proof).

But in the last few years, the map has been radically redrawn.

Ethical non-monogamy in all its forms, including polyamory, is now more visible and widely practiced in the mainstream than ever before. So how did it graduate from the fringes? ...

How? Through years of effort and representation by many of you dear, brave readers. You know who you are.  :)


Meanwhile, as a counter-offensive gathers...

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 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 thisAnother 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 to the extent 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). 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 revolutions. AnotherAnotherAnother. 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" commanded 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 stuff? Send them the video link.

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