Thursday, October 2, 2008

Open Marriage on Tyra Banks

Today Tyra Banks dedicated her show on the Fox network to open marriage. She first featured Kamala and Michael, a polyamorous married couple. Tyra asked Kamala and Michael about their rules for conducting other relationships. Kamala said they have four rules, but Tyra let the discussion move on before Kamala got to finish the questions. However, the two that were included were important, i.e. open, honest communication as #1, and safer sex practices as #2.

It was very beneficial that Kamala’s girlfriend of 12 years, Sarah, was also a guest. A fair amount of time was spent establishing the chronology of Kamala and Sarah and Michael’s relationships with each other, and a lovely example resulted of how open relationships can work and work well over the long term, even as new partners come into the picture. As other members of what I’ll call their intimate network were introduce and referred to, it was interesting to see the shocked looks on some of the audience members’ faces. I realize this kind of family structure is unthinkable to some people, and I don’t mean to belittle their naiveté, but I did find it rather exciting to see an intimate network of people demonstrate how it is done and done successfully.

A couple of standard questions were asked and answered well by Kamala - she's a great spokesperson, by the way. Tyra remarked that Kamala, Michael and family all had long hair and asked whether there was a way poly people recognize each other. Kamala used that as a segue to debunk the stereotyping of poly people as eccentric hippie sorts of people. I'm very tired of that old assumption. Even if it's historically correct, it's no longer the case. Kamala stepped up and adeptly fielded that question. Happily, all of the people in open marriages who appeared on this program looked very good and were people mainstreamers can relate to, which is extremely important in presenting polyamory in a way that people can understand.

Happily, the expert on today's program was Jenny Block, author of Open: Life, Sex and Love in an Open Marriage. In only a couple of minutes Jenny very effectively backed up what Kamala and Michael and company made clear, that these relationships are about much more than sex and that they are deeply loving and familial. As experts go, Jenny was a huge improvement over these shows looking to so-called experts like Diana Kirschner.

Also in the audience was Polyamorous-NYC's president Birgitte Philippides. Birgitte spoke compellingly about the importance of not worrying about what others think and instead living a life authentic to who we are - I think that will resonate with a lot of viewers.

But, Tyra and producers clearly elected to focus on the guests on the couch whose relationships were the focus of the show, which was OK, because none of them were disastrous, and they mostly spoke to their individual situations very well.

An audience member asked in a very hostile tone where Kamala and Michael's 18 month old baby is during all their “carrying on” or some such reference. Kamala explained that her and Michael’s partners have "aunty and uncle" relationships with their baby. Framing the answer this way effectively neutralized the implied accusation that children are exposed to inappropriate activities when their parents have an open marriage.

Another audience member said she found the whole idea of open marriage disgusting due to risk of STIs - these are usually people who have zero tolerance for these risks and likely come from a very sex-negative, sex-is-dirty, perspective.

I didn’t like the way they blindsided Melissa, the best friend of Monique who was present with her husband, Keith, by bring Melissa out and asking her on camera with no advance warning whether she'd be interested in being intimate with Monique and Keith. Before bringing Melissa out, Monique and Keith both spoke very well about Monique's desire to have some of the same kinds of sexual experiences as Keith has had before they got together. Melissa's reaction was total shock. When Tyra pushed her for an answer, to her credit she said she wanted to think about it and wasn't ruling it out but that the three of them needed to talk together later before she would give them an answer. That was exactly the right decision on her part, and the fact that she didn't go all Jerry Springer on them and say "hell no" lent even more credibility to the whole open marriage concept. It also demonstrated the strength of her friendship with Melissa and Keith.

One audience member was very critical of Monique and asked her how she could jeopardize her long-time friendship with Melissa this way. Melissa’s response was to re-emphasize that they are already very close and love each other as dear friends and that she was only asking the question, not trying to coerce Melissa into saying yes. Her response sounded entirely sensible and is another example of how reason was able to debunk misconception.

Even Kelly, a guest with her husband (whose name I didn't get) who was the example of someone who had but no longer wants an open relationship was fair-minded and said when asked what she saw when she looked at Kamala and Michael and their other three partners that she saw a complicated situation that nevertheless seemed to be a happy one for those involved.

Near the end of the program Tara took off in a rather weird direction, i.e. trying to link the guests' parents' divorces to their choosing to be non-monogamous. I don't think I've ever heard anyone try to draw that parallel before. Only one of the guests on the couch said his parents are still married. The rest denied that there is any connection, and they had Katie-Couric-interviewing-Sarah-Palin looks on their faces, i.e. "what the heck is she talking about?"

The bottom line here is that there were no train wrecks here and I don't think we could have asked for this one to have turned out any better.

Since the program aired there have been quite a few very negative comments posted by viewers on the show's website, many posted even before they actually saw the show (if they actually ever did.) It's pretty clear that such comments are going to be routine when TV focuses on polyamory. Our goal should be to look forward to the day when that doesn't happen, because it will prove that we'll have been so successful at raising consciousness that no one thinks twice about it. That's a pretty tall order, though, considering the culture war over marriage, specifically same-sex marriage, but progress is being made there, and our time will come as well.


Merle Rutledge Jr said...

My book is dedicated to open marriages and relationships. It is also dedicated to those stuck in a relationship where they cant live out their desire with their partner but definitely would like to.
Mack's The Chessmaster

Girly-chic said...

I just saw the episode for the first time. It was fascinating to watch the amount of judgement, confusion and fear that was abound within the studio during that taping. The most important things to our happiness in dealing with one another are love, honesty, and freedom, and it's amazing to see what a stronghold norms have over us that they can override our higher thinking. I am actually open to the idea of an open relationship. I'm incredibly pleased that this group of people are who the Tyra team got on the show to discuss it. What a group of intelligent, beautiful, open, loving people! I've considered the possibility for myself, and have always shied away from it because of society's norms, as well as my lack of desire to label myself with any particular group. Seeing these very intelligent people with the same sensibilities regarding human relations as I have was an affirming revelation. I feel more confident in my desires and instincts regarding people that I have and will encounter. I feel supported in the fact that the love I have felt for the people in my life does not need to be limited in any capacity, contrary to what society's norms and conditioning have continuously tried to impose on our relationships. I can only hope that in my life and future relationships, I will meet people who are as smart, honest, and loving (not to mention, gorgeous), as this group of people who have found this in one another.

Anita Wagner said...

Girly-chic, I couldn't agree more, and pardon my saying so, but you sound like a poly person to me. (Smile) I can't count how many times I've heard self-aware people in the poly community make the same sorts of statements. Thanks for sharing yours.