[Photo above is of Venetian masks — what sort of masks might we be wearing in relationship? Is it possible to safely unmask abusers in our communities?]
Sometimes in polyamory (and other forms of “ethical non-monogamy”), there are things we need to talk about that aren’t much fun. Over the past few months, there’s been a conversation going on about one such topic, that of abuse and predators within the poly community. It’s a challenging conversation in part because people have a desire to separate themselves from it (e.g., “oh that’s not [polyamory/ethical non-monogamy/whatever]; that’s just [cheating/abuse/creepy behavior]”.) All sorts of relationships can be done healthily, or unhealthily. There are abusive monogamous relationships, as well as healthy ones, and there are abusive polyamorous relationships, as well as healthy ones. No relationship style has a lock on either “healthy” or “unhealthy.”
However, in trying to distinguish that not all polyamorous relationships are abusive — which is a normal and natural desire! — we can sometimes, unwittingly, create a situation in which people who are doing these “bad behaviors” can hide out, flourish, and have a perfect place in which to prey on their victims. There are things about polyamory that make it sometimes more likely that abuse can happen, and there are other ways in which polyamory can complicate an already existing situation. So how do we talk about this sort of thing, and what sort of response should the community have, when such situations arise?
This is the topic of an upcoming discussion in our local East Bay Poly Potluck community, As background for this discussion, I’m providing some links to discussions that have been ongoing all around the US on this topic in the past few months. There’s a lot I could say about a lot of them, but I’m mostly just presenting them as a list of links. In a couple of cases there’s a tiny bit of commentary, drawn from the Poly Leadership Network list, where several lively discussions have been ongoing. Mostly, though, I’m just presenting the links for you to read, digest, and make up your own mind about.
Please be gentle with yourself as you read these. Some accounts can be triggery. Please be mindful of the trigger warnings on some pages, if that applies to you. Take time, take breaks, go for walks; whatever you need to do to keep yourself grounded and safe. It’s important reading, but equally important that you remain internally safe, as well as externally.
A month or two ago, I was contacted by some folks who are actually going through a common poly nightmare, at least for parents: A contentious custody battle in which one parent is accused of being a bad parent “because they are polyamorous.” It’s a nightmare in part because there have been some notoriouscases in which a family has lost custody of their kids due at least in part to their being polyamorous. This sort of thing varies a LOT by location, and at least as much by the particular judge/s hearing the case. Even when polyamory is brought up as an issue, it does not always (or even often) lead to a loss of custody. But when it’s you and your family undergoing the scrutiny, the situation can be frankly terrifying.
I know this from personal experience, because about a decade ago my own daughter was taken by Child Protective Services (aka CPS) — for a situation that was ultimately unrelated to polyamory, but we didn’t know that at the time. She was eventually returned to us after a harrowing week, once they’d determined that their abuse fears were groundless. It was, however, an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and it has had lasting impacts on our daughter and our family.
Thus, I was very motivated to provide as much help as possible. I started by sending a couple of links, and then went on to write a detailed letter of some possible issues that might come up, and some possible responses to each one. I asked for and received permission to post the letter (devoid of identifying information of course.)
It is with great sincerity that I hope that no one reading these words ever has need of the advice and links I’ve included below. And it is for those few of you who might ever need these links that I share this information now. If you are going through something like this, please remember:
My apologies, friends, for not getting back to this much sooner. “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” of course. (wry smile) But it has recently been impressed upon me again that I need to finish this discussion. Given that we just had our last Poly Pool Party of the season, this may feel a little like closing the barn door after the horse is out. Nevertheless, I’m going to proceed under the sincere intention that this just-past party was NOT the last such party ever, and to address these issues for any future events at my home – or any similar events elsewhere.
So… the last time I wrote about this topic, I talked about the aspects of physical safety, around pools in general, and at the San Leandro Poly Pool Party in particular. (It would be great if you could go read that.) This time, I’d like to talk about boundaries and consent.
The PPP FAQ Contains Important Party Rules
As you know if you’ve ever signed up to attend one of our Poly Pool Parties, we have a FAQ, and we ask you to read it before attending. Mostly, this has worked, and people who’ve attended our parties have felt welcome, comfortable, and have chosen to return. Occasionally, however, there have been issues. It appears to me that many of these issues stem from either not reading or not understanding the FAQ and the guidelines set out therein. I’d like to invite you to read the FAQ again, and I’ll explain a few things in greater detail, and then to cover some other information not directly covered in our FAQ.
Social Intent of the PPP
First, I’d like to clarify the intent of this particular party. The Poly Pool Party is a SOCIAL EVENT which happens to be clothing optional. It is NOT a “sexy party.” Sex doesn’t happen at this party. It is not the expectation that people will “hook up” at the party, or after it (though what you do on your own time is your own business.)
Trust me when I say that this is not because we are anti-sex in any way. We love sex. We even love sex at parties. We just don’t allow sex at THIS party. Continue reading →
Exploring the Myths of Monogamy & the Nuclear Family
(a Teleseminar 10/14/16)
Loving More Non-profit, the longest-running organization supporting polyamory and relationship choice, is running a series of teleseminars. Their next one is this Thursday 10/16/14, at 7pm Mountain time /6pm Pacific/ 9pm Eastern. Robyn Trask — host and head of Loving More — is thoughtful and experienced. I recommend her highly!
Are monogamy and the nuclear family really based on inherent human nature? Is the common narrative of male paternity certainty and female security real? This presentation draws strongly from the works of Merlin Stone (When God Was A Woman), Riane Eisler (Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body) and the NY Times Bestselling book by Ryan and Jethá, Sex at Dawn. We will look at the flaws inherent in the study of ancient cultures and sexuality, as well as the possibility of mistakes in the common narrative of sexuality derived from mid-nineteenth century scientists and anthropologists. Sex, power, culture; how are these things linked? Patriarchal culture, religion and morality have greatly influenced the common narrative of sexuality and human relations, but are these narratives accurate? We will explore how these narratives have contributed to a disconnect for many with human sexual nature and contributed to many of the challenges inherent in modern relationships and “battle of the sexes,” as well as ways to see our species in a different light.
Presented by: Robyn Trask
Cost: Live or recorded webinar is $5, Free for Loving More Donor/Members*
It is best to register ahead of time for the webinar. A recording will be available after the webinar (usually by the next day). We recommend people use the call-in by phone option, instead of using your computer, when joining the live meeting as you will get considerably better sound quality. Space is limited – Click here to register now.
* All webinars are free to Loving More Donor/Members, contact Loving More directly for access code for the webinar.
Email Robyn@LoveMore.com, please include type of membership, annual or monthly, and specific webinar you wish to participate in or view.
Webinars can be attended live and are also recorded to be viewed at your convenience. Live attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the webinar.
Check out past webinars available on the Loving More website!
Past Titles include:
Polyamorous Families and Children
Loving More Survey Highlights
Jealousy: A Journey of Personal Growth
Polyamory Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts of Polyamory Dating and Relating
Negotiating Boundaries and Polyamorous Relationship Agreements
Beyond Monogamy? Introduction to Polyamory and other Open Relationship Choices
8 Keys to Successful Polyamorous Relating
Loving More Members contact Robyn@lovemore.com for access codes to past webinars with a fee. Please include webinar title and type of membership (monthly or annual).
Hope you can listen in, because…
No matter who or how many you love, Love is ALWAYS ok!
PS: Like Teleseminars? Check out the Jealousy First Aid series that I did last fall with Kathy Labriola! TIP: Don’t forget to sign up to get the Free Handouts.
What’s relationship success? Is your relationship a success or not, and how do you tell? How can you use “creative relationship design” to create a successful relationship tailored to your needs, and those of your partner/s?
Dial in number: 415 376 1329 Your Conference Code: 1282710
While this is a call where people can ask questions about our upcoming in-person class (see below), it’s not just a sales call — we are committed to providing value to everyone who joins us on the call! We plan to discuss some issues important to relationship success… starting with the question of what IS relationship “success”, and how do YOU measure it?
One of the concepts that crossed my desk a while back was that of “Solo Polyamory.” As I sat unexpectedly alone on Christmas eve, and was reading some discussion on one of the polyamory lists I’m on, I realized that this is the style of polyamory that I’m apparently now practicing.
Many people feel that “solo poly” is an oxymoron. After all, how can you be single and “love more than one”? Seems incompatible, at least from the monogamous/couple paradigm. So what the heck IS it?
On one of the lists, one person had this to say about solo poly, in response to another writer in the forum:
First, solo poly is not about single people only. It is a way of approaching poly that claims to be valid for singles, as equally for each individual in a couple, triple, quadruple, or any tuple you care to think of.
Solo poly, which is not my own take on poly, and which I only know from a single presentation followed by a group discussion, shares with yourself a strong critique of couple privilege and of couple-oriented thinking.
Solo poly is saying remember you are at the centre of your life, not some other person who you label a primary partner.
It is reminding you that when partners ALL let you down, your truly primary resource is yourself (whether it is expenses, housework, or any of the other rhythms you list).
It is reminding you that all your relationships (no doubt to varying extents) only augment the care that ultimately is your care is your self.
For more information on solo poly, you might want to check out this article by researcher Elisabeth Sheff:
As my own relationship map changes and shifts in this new year (the only constant is change!), I find myself resonating even more with this concept of solo poly. Four years ago I wrote a list of Agreements/affirmations for myself. And I’ve been thinking it might be time to revisit them.
What do you think about this concept? Does “solo poly” make sense to you? Resonate? Seem ok, but only for someone else? Seem like a contradiction, or nonsensical?
The poly mantra, as they say, is “Communicate, communicate, communicate,” hereinafter represented as “C^3” for brevity in this article. We all know (or we learn quickly), that polymory and open relationships take a LOT of communicating. In fact, a therapist friend of mine, Cat Maness, said yesterday, that her top 5 skills for poly/open relationships are:
And I’ll add that the most common thing to communicate about is… scheduling! We do a lot of talking and writing around here. It’s just part of the process.
That said, there comes a time when some folks feel that C^3 is OVER-communicating. Recently, for instance, in publicizing the second workshop I’m doing with Kathy Labriola, MORE Jealousy First Aid, I sent out a couple of invites, and Kathy send out an invite, and at least some people on both lists have started to feel like it’s OVER-communicating. (Theoretically, having Infusionsoft is supposed to help with this, but I’m such relative n00b at it that I’m still figuring out how to use all the fancy bells and whistles.) The fact, is though, that one person’s “communicating” is another person’s “OVER-communicating.” People have different preferences, and different levels of comfort with communication. And that’s natural, too.
What’s your comfort level with communication? Do you believe in C^3? Or do you have other ideas about communication? No matter what, I hope your communications are helpful in whatever sort of relationship/s you have. Because no matter who or how many you love…
Those of you with cable will probably know that Showtime’s second season of Polyamory: Married and Dating started in August. Based on early reports of “more diversity,” and the producer talking to “families from the heartland,” I had had higher hopes for this season than last. I haven’t seen the show myself yet (viewing parties are being scheduled!), but I have heard from some of my friends, and frankly, they weren’t impressed. “You’d think all we poly folk ever do is have sex, or talk about having sex,” was more or less the comment from one of my friends who’s actually seen all of this season’s shows so far. Since that was pretty much my complaint last year, I have to say I’m not shocked by my friend’s assessment. The show isn’t a particularly representative sample of differing poly relationship styles, unfortunately. Of course, this is a “reality” TV show, not a documentary, so we do have to take that into account. Sex sells, and sales drive ratings, after all.
As usual, Alan M. of Poly In The News is covering the show in detail, including some clips and a lot of analysis. Alan’s opinion seems fairly favorable (again), though that’s not without reason. The San Diego group, and Kamala in particular (in my opinion), have pretty good communication skills, and really are interested in showing the world that polyamory can work — and how their version of it works, in particular. Kamala often says things that I agree with wholeheartedly, such as this quote that Alan M. reports:
“You need a tribe. You need a community. It’s so much better than trying to do this alone.”
— Kamala Devi, as quoted in Poly in the News
It’s not that polyamory is never about sex of course — I myself have said that polyamory is just as much about sex (or not) as any monogamous relationship. Sex is part of the vast majority of adult human romantic relationships. It just so happens that their version of polyamory involves a lot more sex than the versions of most of the people *I* know! This clip from episode 3 encapsulates some of my sense of Michael’s heavy focus on sex:
He seems to have a hard time separating sex and closeness. His new partner Rachel seems to have a hard time understanding his difficulty:
Rachel, bemused: “I’m trying to understand the way this conversation is going.” Getting into bed with her lover’s wife is not how she usually thinks of “going deeper” with a lover, she explains.
— as quoted by Alan M. in Poly in the News
So what’s the harm in portraying polyamory as primarily about the sex? Hard to say. After all, it’s actually true for some percentage of poly people. On the other hand, as my friend expressed to me, if this were your only exposure to polyamory, you might get the wrong idea, or at least a very skewed one, and think that polyamory is always primarily about sex. [Hint: It’s not.] I myself have a suspicion that my having suggested that an old friend watch the show (before I saw it, last year) might indeed have contributed to said friend’s sudden cessation of contact shortly thereafter. Certainly he seemed to think I wanted something much different than I actually did.
In my opinion, the real concern, though, is that all this focus on sex contributes to the cultural ideas that lead to “Michael Carey” on Slate writing this excellent article “Why I’m Still in the Polyamory Closet.” As “Michael” writes:
I have never, ever been out as poly in a workplace. Start trying to explain consensual non-monogamy, and some people—a lot of people—are going to think you’re obsessed with sex. (Never mind that I’ve been with my wife, Rose, for 10 years, have been married for three, and in all that time the two of us have dated fewer people than plenty of serially monogamous singles I know.) Some co-workers may avoid polyamorous colleagues because they’re paranoid that they may be on the prowl. Others will become distrustful because they think that poly is an attempt to re-label behavior that they consider cheating, and cheaters aren’t trustworthy.
Exactly. The assumption is that polyamory is all about sex, whether or not that’s actually the case. It’s stereotyping. So again, what’s problematic with portraying polyamory as being “about sex”? Here’s what:
“…you don’t know if your neighbors are poly (or whatever other term they may use), because they’re still afraid that if they don’t hide that aspect of their lives from you, something bad might happen. Those potential consequences range from having all future interactions feel awkward to having authorities take away their children.” — Michael Carey, in Slate
(Note that that link he gives above is to the relatively old April Divilbiss case, but many more recent instances of polyamorous people losing their children in custody battles have occurred, enough to cause there to be several polyamory legal defense funds and organizations created. It is definitely still an active concern for many polyamorous families.)
So this, then, is why I remain somewhat skeptical of the show and its impact on real polyamorous people. Polyamory is big enough to command a TV show all of its own now, and that’s definitely progress. But the heavy sex emphasis contributes to some negative stereotypes with some very serious potential consequences indeed. It’s progress with a price, at the very least.
I’ll watch the show, and I won’t tell others not to watch it… but I WILL recommend that you keep firmly in mind the fact that “reality TV” is a whole lot more about “TV,” than about “reality.”
PS: The teleseminar I did with Kathy Labriola on Wednesday was a rousing success! So much so that we’ve scheduled a second one for Thursday afternoon September 19th at 2:15pm Pacific time. We’ll cover several more tools for dealing with jealousy in yourself, and in your partner/s!
Those of us who are polyamorous are quite aware that we’ve long been painted as “the bottom of the slippery slope,” so it comes as no surprise to us that fundamentalists, especially Christians (e.g., the Christian Broadcasting Network), are looking to interview poly people on the topic. But while we polyfolk aren’t finding the conservatives particularly surprising, apparently WE are surprising THEM.
In particular, in his recent (and not yet released) interview, Dave Doleshal (founder of the Academic Polyamory Conference) reported that the interviewer for CBN was extremely surprised that there are many Christians who are also polyamorous. According to Dave, this
“…seemed to make his eyes bug out. It seemed like this was a possibility he had never considered.”
Note that we are not talking here about the Unitarians, who have a strong polyamory contingent. Nor are we limiting the discussion to Mormon splinter sects. Many Christians do not consider either of those groups to be Christians, strictly speaking. We’re talking about Catholics, Episcopals, Lutherans, and many, many more from the mainstream Christian denominations. Some are closeted, and some are open with their Christian communities. All are Christian AND poly*.
For those of you who might be Christian, but feel the call to being poly* as well, here are a few resources on the topic. [Note: I have not explored all of these deeply, so this does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement of any particular beliefs, practices or politics; just a link to a few places to look to convince yourself that you are not alone!]
For those who may not know, I myself come out of a conservative Christian background. My ultimate choice was not to stay within the Christian Church, but to pursue Love as a spiritual path. However, I do understand the mindset and the choices that those who are called to both might face. If you’re ever interested in discussing your own situation with me, feel free to book a free or half price session. I’m happy to listen, and to share any wisdom I can offer, because, as many of you already know, I truly believe that
“No matter who and how many you love, no matter their gender, their body shape or size, their race or the color of their skin, their political affiliation, their talents and abilities, their spiritual or religious leanings, their education…
A recent post in Facebook by Veronica Monet spurred me to post this poem I wrote a few years ago, about boundaries, in particular that “liminal space” where things are changing from one thing to the next. Veronica referenced the article “Monogamous, Except Online” and asked the question “What about you? Do you consider online sex to be “cheating” or is it harmless fun?” My answer there:
“Cheating” is breaking one’s agreements, whatever those are. So if you and your partner/s have an agreement not to have sex of any kind, even virtually, with someone else, then yes, it would be cheating. For me personally, I don’t have that sort of agreement, and it’s more about whether I feel like I’m hiding something from my partner, or vice versa. If I am able to be open with my partner, and not feel that “oh, I’m doing something wrong” feeling, and if they are able to hear about what I’m doing (online or elsewhere), and be ok with it (possibly even enthusiastic!), then it’s not “cheating,” and I know everything is ok. If they have a negative reaction, or if I feel “weird” or “furtive” about what I’m doing, then it’s a call to be in better communication with my partner.
So what about you? How do you know that you’ve come to “the edge of the world”? What kinds of Agreements do you have … or not? Do you prefer fences? a sign? guards? a guided tour? or complete freedom? As always, I’d love to hear your experiences, either here, in Facebook, or in email (LoveOTB@gmail.com). And if you’d like to talk about Agreements as a path to safety, or any other topic related to polyamory, love, and relationships, feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to share my experiences and tools with you.
May you always love boldly, safely, and well!
PS: I’m running a summer coaching special, so now’s a great time to contact me by email, or call me (510-686-3386), and save 30% on a package. Find out how to make your relationships happier, safer, and more fulfilling!