Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

May 9, 2024

Berkeley poly-rights law nears passage. "Challengers" movie: poly or not, it's a thing. Book publishers hope polyamory is "the new bonkbuster." A ruling class fad? OPEN fires back. And more.

●  Poly news of the week: Berkeley, California, is now a short step away from enacting protections against anti-poly discrimination — bigotry due to family or relationship structure — in housing, employment, and other areas. The proposal adds "family and relationship structure" to the list of protected categories, alongside race, religion, national origin, and others. It covers not only polyfolks and other non-monogamists but also multi-generational, single-parent, and platonic co-op families. Berkeley would join neighboring Oakland, as well as Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in enacting similar measures. 

"John Owens speaks with his partners Emily Savage (left) and Alejandra Bravo Ducey at
a celebration party at the East Bay Community Space in Oakland on April 16, after a bill prohibiting discrimination of non-monogamous families passed." (KQED)

On Tuesday, May 7th, the measure passed the Berkeley City Council unanimously on "first reading." If it passes at "second reading" on May 14th 21st, it becomes law.

That's virtually certain. Berkeley's PolyActive group worked alongside the legal whizzes of the national Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC), activists in the Organization for Polyamory and Ethical Non-monogamy (OPEN), and in particular the Berkeley City Attorney's office to iron out any potential glitches and legal bugs in advance. The City Attorney scrutinizes proposed ordinances for potential conflicts with existing law. They agree that all's good. 

We're not shooting off the fireworks quite yet (watch us on Wednesday the 22nd). But KQED in the Bay Area treats the measure as a done deal: Berkeley Passes Legal Protections for Polyamory, Joining Oakland (May 8).


●  Did you have hopes for the hot, buzzy new "polyamory" movie Challengers? Now that it's out, poly opinions are mixed at best. I'll go with "Sigh, not there yet."

In the online New York Sun, ‘Challengers’ Is Almost the First Great Polyamory Movie (May 1, registration-walled)

The three "Challengers" co-stars. Nope, not a triad.
The famous opening scene that promises too much

By A. R. Hoffman

...A Gen-Z remix of sports film and romantic comedy, it is less a scandal than the suggestion of one. ...

“Challengers” centers on a tennis prodigy, Tashi Duncan (Zendaya).... During her time on the amateur tour, sparks flew with the doubles team of Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). They go by “Fire and Ice,” and bunked together at boarding school. At the beginning, they want her as well as each other.

The trio quickly becomes a duo and a remainder, as Duncan and Donaldson end up marrying. ... Titles follow, but the slog to the athletic apex is a joyless one, all twitchy anxiety and soulless hotel suites. ...They are a power couple, but their power appears to be in making each other miserable.

Zweig immediately jumps to the professional [tennis] ranks... at the fringes of the tour. He ranks 271st, sleeps in his car, mooches breakfast sandwiches, and arranges dates on Tinder with wealthy women so he has a place to lay his head. ... He lingers at the outskirts of Duncan’s marriage, a tempting troublemaker. 

...If “Battle of the Sexes” — its subject was the match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs — captures one sexual revolution, “Challengers” feints to another, defined by growing eclecticism of attraction (nearly 30 percent of Gen Z identifies as “queer”) and greater openness to non-monogamous romantic arrangements. ... “Challengers” volleys with these trends, but avoids the risk of hunting an ace. It relaxes into a conventional love triangle rather than exploring more exotic shapes of desire. ...

●  A wildly opposite opinion: "Challengers" is the best thing that could happen to polyamory (Vox, May 2). It's written (and photocaptioned) from a gay sensibility.

The relationship style has been the topic of talky articles and books. Finally, it’s the sexiest element of the year’s sexiest movie.

By Alex Abad-Santos

...Just when you thought that the entire idea of being communally entangled felt too examined, too picked over to ever be sexy again, Luca Guadagnino’s "Challengers" comes swooping in. Sun-drenched and sweat-soaked, the film demystifies polyamory into something blazingly simple: being in love — physically and emotionally — with two people and being loved back can make a person as happy as they’ve ever been or ever will be.

[Spoilers below]

The three are part of an intricate, ball-bashing love triangle, and it’s no accident that every corner is so acutely hot. Zendaya in particular knows how to wear an old-money sweater. Faist and O’Connor spend a lot of time arching their backs, whether they’re wearing tiny shorts or not.

Perhaps most important, this is a triangle where, as screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes told NBC, “all sides needed to touch” — and they do.

"Imagine if it was you that Josh O’Connor (right) was gesturing this to!"

That’s crystal clear when they first meet, as teens at the Junior US Open. Art and Patrick are attracted to Tashi for completely different, at times murky, reasons. ... The boys invite her to their room, and the great American tennis hope shows up. “I don’t want to be a homewrecker,” Tashi tells them. On the surface, it comes off as a joke. Their closeness and intimacy could be seen as something that’s a little funny for two men who aren’t explicitly gay. But the comment also functions as something truthful. Minutes later, during their three-way kiss, Tashi cocks her head back in a devious, ecstatic grin not because, as one might assume, Art and Patrick are paying her attention — but because Art and Patrick are kissing each other, lost in the moment.

...What she really wants is to see them up their [tennis] game. She tells the boys that whoever wins their face-off match the next day can have her number. ...

Somewhat later in their lives, 

Not unlike the way Tashi was miserable with Patrick when they weren’t talking about Art, Tashi is miserable being married to Art without Patrick. Though Guadagnino and Kuritzkes wrap the couple in plenty of material success — luxury endorsements, high-end clothes, lush hotels, and six grand slam wins — Art and Tashi are not happy as “the Donaldsons.” They have everything they ever wanted, winning tennis’s biggest tournaments and having the money to do anything, but it can’t spark excitement in their lives.

...In [the movie's] closing [tennis game], Patrick changes up his service routine and places the ball in the neck of his racket. This is his secret code to Art that he slept with Tashi, a gesture the two created together as teens without Tashi’s knowledge. Art snaps. He goes into a catatonic, post-marriage state. He lets a couple points pass, and by losing them, plunges Patrick and himself into a tiebreak — a race to seven points. ...

We don’t see who wins because all the camera’s focus is on Tashi, who growls — a carnal howl — in pleasure. The only other time we’ve seen her this happy was when all three of them were together, with all their desires for each other and with each other out in the open. And they’ve found that again, finally.

●  A more realistic take IMO: in the Washington Examiner, Challengers isn’t about polyamory — or anything else (May 7)

What follows throughout the rest of the film [after that three-on-a-bed opening] is not a story about polyamory. It’s a story about drive, perfectionism, and what happens when excellent cinematography is paired with a disharmonious soundtrack. But ultimately, it isn’t a story about much.

...Tashi finds herself picking and repicking the winner and the loser between her “little white boys.”... Challengers seems really to be about two men who are in love but can’t admit it to themselves and the beautiful but ruthless woman who controls them. ... The film’s unwavering focus on its protagonists makes it seem as if there’s more going on among the three of them than there actually is. For Tashi’s part, sex is leverage, a way to bargain with the men to get what she wants, which is “to watch some good f***ing tennis.”

Whether you want to say Challengers is about sex or power or something else, the unfortunate reality is that it isn’t about much. The New Yorker’s Tyler Foggatt rightly calls it “a shot of dopamine that doesn’t really argue anything.” Challengers leaves you with no one to root for and substitutes an incongruous EDM soundtrack for real emotional turbulence.

In the final scene, Art and Patrick are facing each other in a tennis match after years of fighting over the same woman. The last, dramatic moment ends with Art lurching to hit the ball and landing in Patrick’s arms. We’re not sure who won the match, but the good thing is we’ve been given no reason to care.

●  Nevertheless, the movie is having cultural fallout. From KQED in San Francisco, ‘Challengers’ Has Ignited ‘Throuple’ Discourse — One Polyamorous Couple Weighs In (May 2). The tl;dr: they say it's bad poly but makes a good movie. 

...Mary: It’s not a rule book for how to date, but it’s a very good fantasy. I love that it was a movie that purported to be about a relationship, but really was about winning.

Izzy: ...Patrick doesn’t demonize Art for being jealous, even when he’s low-key sabotaging Patrick’s relationship. He’s turned on by it. He’s like, ‘You little snake, I see what you’re doing.’ They both fulfill each character’s competitive spirit and drive.

Mary: That’s what makes the movie hot. It’s kinky. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity around consent because, of course, cheating and infidelity is bad. But then there’s this question: Is anything fair game if it’s in the service of tennis?

Mary: It sells itself as being a film about a throuple. But this is not how throuples work in ethical ways. ... I mean, there’s no communication. So from that perspective, I would want to draw that line. But I think it’s a fantasy, and it’s a really effective fantasy.

...Mary: When I’ve experienced a situation with more than one person, there are all of these side conversations to check around consent, and what is and isn’t okay. I think that kind of awkward conversation, and allowing for the stumbling and the awkwardness, and not being sure what is going to happen or if everyone is attracted to everyone else, [is] really sweet. 

...Izzy: This movie just reminds me of also being young and inexperienced. ...

●  Deadline, an entertainment-business site, says (May 2)

Challengers is establishing itself as a Gen Z "date movie," with a 75% female audience, mostly under the age of 24. Its high-powered social media campaign triggered a $25 million opening weekend globally, defying the pre-summer box office torpor.

Some fans have expressed their desire for their own “Challengers summer”. Forget hot girl summer, it’s time to explore being in a throuple.

“Two guys walking past me just said I look good. Challengers summer starts now,” wrote one viewer on X....


●  From films to books:  The Sunday Times of the UK asks Is polyamory the new bonkbuster? Publishers certainly hope so"There’s a growing pile of books about open marriages and relationships involving multiple partners." (April 28, paywalled.)

By Phoebe Luckhurst

From Jilly Cooper to Danielle Steel, bonkbusters have always been big business for publishers, but these bestsellers increasingly feel rather dated.

While strapping polo players and heteronormative dynamics used to sell vast numbers of books, the only number that matters now is three. Partners, that is. Sometimes more.

Publishing is experimenting with polyamory, with a stack of new books about non-monogamous relationships raising pulses and questions at book clubs, in libraries and on the 8.03am from Guildford to London Waterloo. ...


(Getty stock photo)

By Eric W. Dolan

A recent study provides insight into the predictors of compersion, revealing that
–  emotional closeness with a partner’s other intimate connections,
–  clear communication about these relationships, and
–  reduced feelings of jealousy
are key facilitators. The findings have been published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

...The researchers collected data through comprehensive surveys filled out by 255 participants, who were recruited from online communities that focus on polyamory and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. The survey included the COMPERSe questionnaire, which assesses three subtypes of compersion: positive feelings toward a partner’s metamour, excitement about a partner forming new intimate connections, and sexual arousal related to thinking about one’s partner and metamour together.

“The factors most predictive of compersion differ depending on the subtype of compersion we look at,” Flicker told PsyPost. “Far and away, the strongest predictors of compersion towards one’s partner’s relationship with an established metamour (an intimate partner of one’s intimate partner) was how one feels about their metamour.

“In contrast, the strongest predictors of an individual’s response to a partner’s new flirtation or budding intimate connection were jealousy and attachment anxiety; in other words, feeling less secure about their relationship with their partner meant lower levels of compersion.”

“Interestingly... intrapersonal factors, such as self-esteem and personality traits, were not strongly related to the experience of compersion,” Flicker noted. ...


●  Remember that hostile Atlantic piece, Polyamory, the Ruling Class’s Latest Fad, reacting to last winter's poly-in-the-media wave? Tyler Austin Harper argued that polyamory is a narcissistic fad of the power elite, and they're foisting it on the unwashed masses who can't handle it. I couldn't tell if Harper was coming from the far left or right or both. It was full of sweeping philosophy based on factual ignorance.

Now comes a point-by-point rebuttal. It's from the director of our most able and productive activist group, the Organization for Polyamory and Ethical Non-Monogamy (OPEN), the same folks who helped craft the Berkeley and Oakland legislation. It's on their website for your perusal after the Atlantic wouldn't put it on theirs. Excerpts:

By Brett Chamberlin
Executive Director, OPEN

A recent article in The Atlantic titled “Polyamory, the Ruling Class’s Latest Fad” ...ultimately delivers a deeply incurious, consistently sour, and occasionally downright contemptuous critique which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of contemporary American polyamory. 

...Is polyamory indeed a fad of the ruling class? The question has been asked and answered: more than one in five American adults have practiced some form of consensual non-monogamy throughout their life, and this proportion remained constant across age, education level, income, religion, region, political affiliation, and race. If only participation in the ruling class were as evenly distributed as polyamory is!

...Polyamory is certainly having its moment in the media spotlight.... Yet stepping back, we find more evidence of a rising tide than of a passing wave. 

A recent article in TIME magazine noted that American “polyamory’s roots reach back at least a century to the Progressive Era, if not further,” while the term “polyamory” itself was coined in the early 1990’s. Two new books, American Poly: A History and Fifty Years of Polyamory in America each offer glimpses into the rich history of the movement. ... 

...It is true that much of the recent coverage of polyamory has centered individuals with privileged identities and class position. In large part, this is more a reflection of access to media representation than of the underlying demographics of polyamory.

...Polyamory––and non-monogamy overall––is a marginalized practice.... Various studies and surveys have found that about half of non-monogamous individuals reported experiencing prejudice or discrimination on the basis of their non-monogamous identity across a range of areas including employment, housing, healthcare, mental healthcare, immigration proceedings, and custody disputes, not to mention family and community acceptance. ... This lack of protection and its resultant risks are perhaps why public visibility is largely reserved for those who have achieved a degree of economic security and do not hold intersecting marginalized identities.

On another theme of the Atlantic article, that polyamory is based on capitalistic, self-centered individualism,

Polyamory is an expression of political values which place cooperation over competition, connection over consumption, egalitarianism over individualism, and which elevate compassion, communication, and consent. ... Networks of polyamorous relationships––and the broader communities that surround them––are fertile ground for the establishment of the social connections [being lost in American life].
In this way, non-monogamy represents a return to humanity’s true “oldest institution,” which the article’s author misidentifies as being the “monogamous marriage.” No, our oldest social institution is the community, the tribe, the village, the family defined not by blood but by limitless love. Polyamory is a turn away from our atomized and commodified paradigm and a return to an indigenous understanding that everything is in constant relationship with everything else.

So no, polyamory is not an expression of the ruling class’s desire to “have their cake and eat it too.” It is far better understood as an emergent response to the austerity politics of the ruling class which for decades has little more to offer us than “let them eat cake.” 

●  We now have a thorough, well-researched article that examines all that survey data you have seen about us: Nonmonogamy by the Numbers. One clear conclusion: "Polyamory isn't just for wealthy people." It's in Slate (May 5), by science journalist Tim Requarth. 

Bookmark it for where to find the most scientifically trustworthy numbers when you're asked for them.

●  Speaking of OPEN — which we can't help but do these days because it has so many irons in the fire — go take its third annual Non-monogamy Community Survey to help set its next directions:

This survey is an important way to gather information about the identities, experiences, and needs of the global non-monogamous population. Those data help to steer and support OPEN's work in important ways. Your feedback about our programs and priorities helps us measure our impact and focus our work. Your stories, particularly around experiences of stigma and discrimination, provide important evidentiary support for our advocacy work. Finally, this snapshot of a vibrant global community helps to shape a more authentic and inclusive understanding of non-monogamy in the mainstream cultural conversation. Add your voice!

Last year, we collected around 2,500 responses from 48 countries and 51 US states and territories. This year, we're aiming for 4,000 total responses. ...

Here's OPEN on Instagram, where they do much of their posting.


Meanwhile, looking wider...

Aid for Ukraine made it through Congress  hopefully not too late to save a free and promising society from genocidal extinction, but too late for thousands of pro-democracy defenders and civilians   after six months of blockage in Washington by the pro-Putin half of the Republican Party. The list of shame.

Here is why I've been ending posts to this polyamory news site with the Ukraine situation: I've seen too many progressive movements die out, or get wiped out, because they failed to scan the wider world accurately 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.

Such a society is possible only where people have reasonably good power to govern themselves, combined with legal structures that are at least supposed to guarantee the rights of all.

Vote for Ukraine Aid protest signs outside the US Capitol
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, which is increasingly unhidden.

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, weaponizing police abuse and stacking the courts, or eventually, artillery.

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

You can donate to Ukraine relief through this list of vetted organizations (last updated Oct. 2023). We're giving to a big one, Razom, and to a little informal one, Pizza for Ukraine in Kharkiv, the project of an old friend of my wife.

But that is only the start. For those of us born since World War II, this is the most consequential war of our lifetime. 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 whole world is watching what we will do about it.

The coming times may require hard things of us. We don't get to choose the time and place in history we find ourselves born into. We do get to choose how we respond to it. 

Need a little help bucking up? Play thisAnother version. More? Some people on the eastern front trying to hold onto an open society. (TW: war is awful.) Maybe your granddad did this from a trench against Hitler's tanks— for you, and us, because a world fascist movement was successfully defeated that time, opening the way for the rest of the 20th century.

But the outcome didn't look good for a couple of years then, either. Popular history remembers the 1945 victory over the Nazis and the joyous homecoming. Less remembered are the defeats and grim prospects from 1941 through early 1943.

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. And they're also stamping hard on the old culture of everyday, petty corruption.  More on that.  More; "Ukraine shows that real development happens when people believe they have an ownership stake in their own societies."

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 been keeping them going  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 are mostly traditional, rooted in a thousand years of the Orthodox Church. But not bitterly so like often in the US; in the last generation the ideal of modern European civil society has become widely treasured, and social progressivism has room to thrive. The status of women has fast advanced, especially post-invasion. More than 43,000 women volunteer in the armed forces, flooding traditionally male bastions — including as combat officers, artillery gunners, tankers, battlefield medics, snipers, and infantry. (Intimidating video: "Thus the Witch has Said".) Ukraine has more women volunteering in combat positions than any other armed force in the world.
Some LGBT folx in the armed forces display symbols of LGBT pride on their uniforms, with official approval, 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 LGBT+ and feminist acceptance revolutionsAnotherAnotherAnother. War changes things.

And in December 2022, Russia made it a crime not just to speak for LGBT recognition in Russia or occupied Ukraine, but to speak for "non-traditional sexual relations." Belarus, a Russia subject state, has followed suit. Pre-invasion, Russia had a visible polyamory education and awareness movement.

Polyfolks are like one ten-thousandth of what's at stake globally. Ukraine must have our full material backing for as long as it takes them to win their security, freedom, and future. Continue to speak up for it.
A Russian writer grieves: "My country has fallen out of time."

Ukrainian women soldiers in dense undergrowth
Women defenders near the eastern front

PPS:  U.S. authori-tarians, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, are saying that allowing women in front-line roles is a woke plot to weaken America's armed forces. Ukraine puts that shit to bed. Do you have a relative who talks like that? Send them this video link to Vidma, who commands a mortar platoon, recounting the story of one of their battles near Bakhmut.

Update April 22, 2024: A year and a half later Vidma is still alive, still with her mortar unit, and posting TikToks. They are now at the front in, it looks like, the battle for Chasiv Yar, a strategic hilltop town west of Bakhmut that will soon, unfortunately, be in world news. A young girl who looks high-school age showed up to join themAnother. Their lives, and their promising society, depend on us. 

And maybe our own? Says Maine's independent Senator Angus King (Jan. 31, 2024),

Whenever people write to my office [asking why we are supporting Ukraine,] I answer, 'Google Sudetenland, 1938.' We could have stopped a murderous dictator who was bent on geographic expansion…at a relatively low cost. The result of not doing so was 55 million deaths.


Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home