It can be challenging to be authentic, especially when your own way of thinking goes against the grain of societal norms. Restricting a person, their choices, and their lifestyle through shame is one way people seek control and safety in relationships. In honor of Pride week, and all of the progress our LGBTQ* cousins have made in proclaiming their authentic identities, here is a past article [originally posted in August of 2012.] I wrote about claiming my own authenticity as a bisexual, polyamorous person. Enjoy!
[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.
Recently we who observe the Gregorian calendar celebrated the turning of the calendar year, that artificial time when we divide one block of time from another, to enable our finite human brains to cope with being part of a slice of the infinite. In other words, Happy New Year!
Today I’m sharing an excellent essay below, by my dear friend Francesca Gentille, on keeping things in perspective, and learning to choose interpretations around certain events. I can sure relate to her plight, having been through something similar just a couple months ago, with drains blocked and hot water shut down so we’d at least have toilets during a private event. (And as one of the priestesses for her ceremony on New Year’s Eve, I was also glad of the heads-up, so I could make sure to pee in advance! LOL)
I also share her perspective in that essay, that life can be made a bit easier by actively choosing interpretations that lead toward happiness. Believing that the world isn’t “out to get me” is generally a stronger, more empowered position to take, in many cases leading to my being able to see more options and possibilities than I could from the “poor me” position.
I also feel it’s important, though, to honor that for some folks — e.g., clinically depressed, or recently bereaved — the ability to make the most empowered interpretation just isn’t there. Continue reading
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 notorious cases 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:
PS: Would you like to talk to me privately about issues around polyamory and/or child custody? I’m happy to schedule a time to talk to you. I do 30 minutes for free, or 60 minutes for 1/2 price. Contact me, and we’ll find a good time to chat by phone or Skype!
Letter to Polyamorous Parents Facing a Child Custody Battle
Dear [poly parents]:
Let me start by saying that I am so sorry that you all are facing this sort of prejudice. It’s terrible, and I know how very challenging it can be. (((hugs)))
Boundaries and Consent
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.
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.
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
This is part 1 of an open letter to folks who attend my Poly Pool Parties. With all the different places I announce the events these days, it’s hard to make sure that folks actually see something like this. So I figured I’d park it here on my blog for easy access. Enjoy!
PS: Happy Bisexual Awareness Week! Are you doing anything fun to celebrate?
Dear Weirdness/poly/open/non-mono friends:
As you may have noticed, I’ve been having more than our usual number of Poly Pool Parties this season (due in part to there being some question as to whether I’ll still OWN the house next summer…; the next one is THIS SATURDAY 9/27; RSVP here!). So maybe the extra parties are why I’m having extra “issues.” Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that a) the parties have been opened to a wider audience in recent years, and b) it’s been a while since I’ve really discussed both safety and consent, and how they apply to this event.
First and foremost, I’d like to encourage everyone to read — or re-read — the PPP Frequently Asked Questions (http://bit.ly/oVjQra). There’s a lot of important information in there that we’ve codified in the 17 years (!) that we’ve been running this event. It would really help me if you’d all actually… you know… READ it. 🙂
Over the next couple of days, I’d like to address three related issues: I) Physical Safety, II) Consent, and III) Emotional Safety/comfort. Today I’m covering Physical Safety (at the PPPs in particular.)
5 Ways to Meet Open-Hearted People — Part 2: Local Groups
This is part 2 of the series “5 Ways to Meet Poly/Open People.” In this series, I’m going to discuss 5 different ways you can learn more about “outside the box” relationships (e.g., polyamory, open-relationships, or other forms of ethical non-monogamy), and/or meet other people who are interested in the same things. With some luck, you might even meet someone/s who want to date you! To recap, the 5 ways I’ll discuss are:
1) Conferences — one-time, occasional, or periodic gatherings
2) Ongoing Local Meetings — discussion groups, potlucks, dinners, game nights and more
3) Primarily on-line discussion groups — e.g., Facebook groups, Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups, Meetup, e-mail lists
4) Dating and Social Sites — e.g., Polymatchmaker, OK Cupid, Ko-Tango
5) Crossover Interests — e.g., tantra, swinging, naturists, kink/BDSM
Meeting Open-Hearted People at Ongoing Local Groups
Since the invention of the Internet and before, ongoing local meetings have been a staple way to meet polyamorous, open, or otherwise open-hearted people. Whether it’s a potluck dinner, a discussion group, a hike, a board-game night, or a gathering at a local watering hole, these ongoing meetings provide a variety of locations, price-points, shared interests, and emotional support levels. These days, there’s something for everyone!
Local Meetings offer a number of positive benefits for meeting others, including:
I’d intended to continue my series of 5 Ways to Meet Poly/Open People today. But life, as they say, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Instead, today I’m taking the time to commemorate Tuesday’s passing of Morning Glory Zell, Pagan Priestess, author, and (co-)originator of the word “polyamorous.” Many others will tell her story more fully, and with more historical references. I’ll be telling the ways in which she affected me personally, and how she intersected with my experiences of both Paganism and Polyamory.
Meeting Morning Glory
Morning Glory had an impact on my life long before I knew it. I first met her in the late 80’s or early 90’s, up at Annwfn, the Church of All Worlds retreat center outside of Ukiah, CA. Continue reading
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you US folks (or anyone else) who celebrate it today! Today I am grateful for the skills that I’ve learned through polyamory, which have helped to bring our tribe(s) into relative harmony and alignment that couldn’t have been imagined only two years ago. I created my “usual” — fresh cranberry-orange sauce, an apple pie, and a pumpkin pie — while my daughter made fresh bread with our breadmaker. My partner took the potatoes, the stuffing, and the turkey over to his ex’s house, and cooked them there. I helped my daughter’s boyfriend’s family get costumed for the Dickens Fair this weekend, and then we headed over to my partner’s ex’s house, and consumed a marvelous feast and chatted while watching Rob Roy on DVD and enjoyed the attentions of a variety of domestic critters. All in all, a good day.
I hope your day was as good, and I wish you a wonderful Holiday season. I am thankful for you. 🙂
PS: Have you checked out the “beta” version of my KISSable Agreements Workbook yet? Only $10 via PayPal! 🙂
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[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]
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!
Did you miss the first one, or do you want to listen again? Fill out this form! You’ll be able to listen to the recording for FREE, and you’ll get notified of the second teleseminar, as soon as we have details available. We’d love to have you join us!
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[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]