Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What We Do or Who We Are? Round 2 with Dan Savage

Dan Savage has included more thoughts in today's Slog Blog about the controversy he started last week in advising someone seeking his advice that polyamory is something people do and is not who they are as an identity.  He is still having a hard time grasping what many are saying.  I have written an in-depth response because the questions he asks, which seem simple to him, are anything but simple.  In comments I wrote the following.

.... Dan, I think a key component of understanding this question is the context in which died-in-the-wool (if you will) polyamorists live out their poly lives while to at least some degree swimming against the larger mainstream cultural tide.  You know, of course, what that's like.  Trusting in ourselves and our own sense of who we are and what is right for us, without shame or apology, becomes an essential component in withstanding the blow-back we get from people whose esteem we care about and whose tolerance, if not acceptance, we value.  That sense of identity becomes the bedrock upon which we can build a life that will withstand the external cultural challenges we sometimes encounter.  As I am fond of saying, polyamory ain't for sissies.  These challenges take the form of drama and rejection by one's family of origin, the loss of friends who don't approve, loss of a job because the boss starts to question our judgment, or loss of child custody due to false assumptions by family court judges. 

As you point out and as Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha well demonstrate in Sex at Dawn, humans are naturally non-monogamous - of course!  But over the centuries religious authorities' literal crusade to force people to conform to monogamy became a very effective barrier to patterns of relationship openness and non-monogamies of all kinds.  Still today, living a life of integrity as a polyamorist requires a significant amount of swimming against the tide, and that's putting it mildly.  

So with that perspective in mind, you asked:

" poly something anyone can do ...?"

Yes.  Or at least, the majority can if they want it, but not quite everyone.  In my experience, those who want it enough and who are committed to doing the work necessary to live comfortably outside the societal relationship box and make the transition from monogamy to polyamory absolutely can do it.  The exceptions are those who have significant self-esteem and/or abandonment issues.  Likewise as to those who lack self-awareness, live in denial, and don't own their own feelings.  It's also essential that we learn good communication skills.  Mental illnesses, anxiety disorders, depression, malignant narcissism, and oppositional personality disorders are generally prohibitive.  Otherwise, anyone who is reasonably well adjusted, open to new experiences and personal growth, and those who are committed to the process can do it, whether by simple choice or as an aspect of identity. 

Monogamy creates for many a desired sense of security.  Becoming good at polyamory almost always requires giving that up in order to stretch, grow and challenge internalized cultural messaging.  Failing to do this as to what is and is not ethically and morally acceptable is not an option if we are to reach a safe and secure comfort level with sharing with others our loved one's heart, time and attention.  A fair number of people find that the transition is more difficult than they imagined and tend to be those for whom a poly life is a choice.  They don't have that sense of identity that others find the need to fulfill.  No problem!  

"... or is it something some people are." 

Yes.  Or at least it is for many of us.  You've heard from quite a few people who feel a strong sense that this is exactly who they are.  It seems that like so many debates about complicated, emotionally charged subjects, the answers are not found in the black or the white but are instead found in the gray area.  Some of us are doing it because we like it but could live without it in order to gain something else of value.  Others can't imagine being any other way and make sure to choose partners who share their perspective. 

Thanks for discussing this and for considering all the feedback.   

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dan Savage Responds to the Poly-As-Identity/Orientation Controversy

With regard to last week's post about Dan Savage's advice to a polyamorous person trying to cope with a monogamous partner's pressure to be monogamous, it seems that he's been hearing quite a lot from people with all sorts of perspectives.  He references this today in a blog post:
"I said 'no' in last week's Savage Love, kicking off a shitstorm in the comments thread, in my e-mail inbox, and here and there on the interwebs. (Even the right-wing nutjobs have taken notice.) At least one poly person agrees with me:
There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.
Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.
A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.
I'm hearing from lots of poly folks who disagree. I'm going to let them have their say in next week's Savage Love."
Dan provides a link to my and another post on this issue.  I left a comment that I hope comes across as both thoughtful and respectful.   And it's very col that he's going to let people have their say in next week's Savage Love.  Stay tuned for Round 2. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sierra Black on HuffPo With Advice on Taking More Than One Honey Home for a Visit

An excellent blog post has just been written by Sierra Black, a polyamory writer and activist in the midwest, with great advice on how to handle taking more than one partner home for a holiday celebration. 

Sierra has landed herself a blog on Huffington Post's Women's pages, and this subject is not being shyed away from.  .

So have a look, you never know when these skills will be required by your own poly life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

This Week on Savage Love: Dan Rejects Polyamorous as Identity

I have to admit I'm disappointed in Dan Savage today after reading his response to Polyamorous Polymath ("PP") in his latest column.  

Dan does not identify as polyamorous (he and hubby being "monogamish").  Instead of addressing PP's concerns, Dan quickly steps all over PP's idea that polyamory is his identity and not just a lifestyle.  Dan tells PP that polyamory is about what people do and not who they are.  In fact, he's vehement about that, and about polyamory not being a sexual orientation, which seems to be his supporting argument against polyamory as sexual identity.  (Protect your turf much, Dan?)

PP is a man who finds himself in a difficult poly/mono relationship trying to figure out how to give up polyamory in order to meet the ultimatum of his monogamous girlfriend.  PP loves her and doesn't want to have to give her up.  PP's dilemma is that he clearly believes that polyamory is a big piece of his identity, and agreeing to foresake all others feels like giving up who he is. 

PP has a tough choice to make.  Dan tries to make it sound like it's an easy one, a lifestyle choice, but he's wrong.  Many therapists would agree that giving up who we are to make someone happy is not a very healthy relationship strategy.  At some point it sounds a lot like codependence

Over the last 15 years I've met many, many polyamorous people for whom being polyamorous is to them about a lot more than what (or whom!) they do. They say emphatically that it's about who they are.  Many tried to live by mainstream society's monogamy rules because they thought they had to, but it chafed - a lot.  Many always felt like they were different and like they were the only ones who saw relationships differently.  We still have people come into our community who are delighted and relieved to have discovered they weren't alone after all. 

Is polyamory a sexual orientation?  Some will insist that it is not as to the traditional meaning of it.  Yet many polyamorists express themselves differently sexually, i.e. with more than one person at a time.  If not sexual orientation, then sexual relationship orientation or sexual relationship identity - that's how I refer to it, and I've done so for some years now. 

I expect that this point will be made much more frequently in the future as research under way now gives us more scientific insight into such questions. In the meantime, I hope Dan catches up soon because his advice basically says to PP that his identity isn't valid.  I have to wonder how Dan would feel if someone told him his identity isn't valid. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ABA Journal: Are Laws Barring Polygamy Destined to Fall? Law Prof Defends Marriage of Two

And so it begins.  Legal same sex marriage is at its tipping point, and that means it won't be long before multi-partner marriage will be debated more seriously in the US than ever before.  Heres the link to an American Bar Association Journal article pointed out to me by Matthew C. Berntsen, Esq.

Are Laws Barring Polygamy Destined to Fall? Law Prof Defends Marriage of Two

John Witte Jr., is director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, and author of a forthcoming title, “Why Two in One Flesh: The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy.”   The ABA Journal article discusses a piece Mr. Witte authored entitled "Why Monogamy is Natural"  (how many times have we heard that one???) and published by the Washington Post last month in it's Guest Voices blog for "Other Views on Faith and Its Impact on the News."  It seems to me to demonstrate Witte to be a fundamentalist Christian first and a law professor second.  He relies only on information that is the standard party line according to the likes of the The Institute for American Values, the primary home of leaders of the (traditional) marriage movement.  Perhaps we should ship him a copy of Sex at Dawn.  And a couple dozen for him to share. 

My comment on the ABA article is WAY down the list at #126, in which I say:
Mr. Witte needs to do his homework. There are significant numbers of people today who practice egalitarian polyamory. They are not fundamentalist Mormons, and their relationships have nothing to do with religion. Community standards are very much based on equality for all those involved. Many polyamorists have long-term love relationships that last decades. Those whose families live in households of more than two adults find that there is more abundance of everything - more income, more love and support, more hands to care for sick partners and children.
So when the time comes and the question of multi-partner marriage is addressed by the law in the U.S., there will be a great many people standing up and pointing out that if it is decided purely on the question of issues that are irrelevant to the non-religious, egalitarian polyamorous population, a great injustice will be done by denying the fundamental human right of family to those who love and commit to more than one adult, and in so doing, harm no one.
For the record, the Canadian case referenced in another comment included an intervenor non-profit group given status by the Court, the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association.

Man Man Beaver (No, not THAT kind of beaver!)

Man Man Beaver is a new web-based animated series described as follows: 
"Following California's legalization of gay marriage and, logically then [because the slippery slope argument really is logical as to rights of consenting adult human beings, and we poly people are fine with that], every conceivable sexual pairing and so called perversion, a 'couple' comprised of two gay men and man-sized, talking beaver relocate into the state to finally live openly and take on idiocy and narrow-minded buffoonery each week...all while surviving the unique challenges of their married life. An animated satire series."
Check it out and let me know what you think in comments below - enjoy! 

Episode 1: "I'm With The Black Guy" from Man Man Beaver on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 18, 2012 has shared: The #1 Reason Why Men and Women Over 50 Cheat (It’s Not What You Think!)

Whew! The over 50 crowd's comments are brutal. It is very apparent from the comments that the idea that monogamy isn't natural scares people very badly indeed. It's a good article, though, and features a 28 minutes TED talk about why we cheat by ahropologist Helen Fisher Ph.D.- she's worth it.

So what do you think of this article?  It also references Esther Perel's work - Matingin Captivity - in which she is quoted as saying that people in a long term relationship should deal with the urge to cheat by being creative in the bedroom, in essence making your long-time lover your "new" lover. 

What do you think about this idea? 
The #1 Reason Why Men and Women Over 50 Cheat (It's Not What You Think!)
Your LifeAccording to Dr. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, there is an ancient human tendency to partner and re-partner, which she calls the "four year itch."  A long time ago, it was ... sent this using ShareThis. Please note that ShareThis does not verify the ownership of this email address.

Did Human Evolution Favor Monogamy or Polygamy?

This content was sent by Anita Wagner Illig using Format Dynamics' eco-friendly CleanPrint/Save. Enjoy!
Message: A very good article that pretty well declares that we humans are monogmmish, a term sex columnist Dan Savage coined to describe his relationship with his husband. This writer acknowledges the research and informed opinions of Christopher Ryan Ph.D. and Cacilda Jetha, Ph.D. in their book, Sex at Dawn, which he acknowledges have certainly received more than their share of controversy. People really do get upset when we talk honestly on this subject. Which is why I love seeing this kind of article because they help establish legitimacy for the polyamory world in other people's minds. Hey, a girl can dream, right?
Did Human Evolution Favor Monogamy or Polygamy?
Did Human Evolution Favor Monogamy or Polygamy?

Are Humans Monogamous or Polygamous?

Friday, November 2, 2012

See Me Bare It All Next Wednesday at Bare! in DC

If you like a good bawdy story or six, are in the metro DC area and feel like coming out and cheering me on, I'll be getting my naughty story cherry popped at "Bare! true stories of sex, desire, and romance," next Wednesday, November 7 at: 
Black Fox Lounge, 1723 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20009  202/483-1723
$8 door. ASL Interpretation available on request.

This month Jefferson and his cohort have chosen storytellers who will reveal the choices that have left us with terms of elation, regret or resignation:  Vijai Nathan, Kevin T Phillips, Anita Wagner Illig and two New Yorkers, Kambri Crews and Lisa Kirchner.  

Each month, Bare! brings together storytellers, comedians, sex educators and others to share true tales from their own experiences of sex, desire and romance. With stories as diverse as the people telling them, Bare! opens doors to bedrooms, back seats and dungeons to tell what your mama left out about the birds, bees and in-betweens.

Hosted by Jefferson (One Life Take Two, Spill!)

. . . and more! You’ve made choices, good or bad, or had them made for you. Put your name in the hat for a chance to bare all on the Bare! stage.

. . . and still more! Everyone is eligible to win a sex-toy raffle courtesy of The Garden.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Amy Shiner on Huffington Post: A "Deli" Approach to Polyamory

Huffington Post Gay Voices Blogger Amy Shiner tells a story there about being kinky and poly that I think will resonate for many living their lives similarly.  As I offered in comments, I've been working with kinky poly people as an educator for a while now, and I've observed what she describes fairly often. Today the practice of polyamory in kink circles seems to be all over the place, some of which does not much resemble polyamory to me, but far be it from me to tell anyone how they ought to identify.   
 What I do know is that humans are genetically programmed to pair bond - just not exclusively.  I am very much one who wants and needs such a relationship foundation in my life. This innate desire transcends polyamory and monogamy and speaks to the roots of who we are as human beings.  It's an evolutionary strategy so as to produce offspring and better guarantee the survival of humankind.  This doesn't take into account whether we are fertile, whether we want to have children, or even over-population.  It just is.  It seems clear to me that Amy is perhaps no different from many other people. 
Certainly not everyone wants this, but many do, if not most.  In order to find such a relationship partner, I recommend focusing on those who are emotionally available for engaging in deeply pair bonded, committed long-term love relationships.  Those already committed to someone may not be able to offer enough of the time and attention needed by many, so those who are also single-ish like Amy is right now may be a better choice. 
Those who are interested in finding out more about creating a kinky poly life may wish to check out my workshop handout entitled "Emotional Edge Play: Polyamory for BDSM/Leather/Fetish Folk" for more on this.

Polyamory Weekly Podcast and The Kinsey Institute

We polyamorists owe a big thank-you to Cunning Minx, who has produced hundreds of podcasts on the subject of polyamory.  Today we learn that these podcasts, which document an unprecedented breadth of subject matter related to polyamory, have been added to the Kenneth R. Haslam Collection on Polyamory at The Kinsey Institute.

Congratulations to Cunning Minx for her tireless work, and for making polyamory education and Polyamory Weekly podcasts fun! (This week's podcast, #340, is on the subject of how to fight fair.)