Recently, the Toronto District School Board came under fire for posters in their schools intended to promote “Safe and Positive Spaces”. The posters, among other combinations, include a heart that contains three stick figures–one male and two females. The board says this was to indicate that one person may be attracted to others of more than one gender, which makes sense. What got them into trouble is that the happy threesome was interpreted as being an endorsement of polygamy.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that the image of three stick figures within a heart leads directly to the concept of polygamy, rather than polyamory, or even someone casually dating males and females. It is certainly a reflection of the way mainstream society thinks about those who engage in relationships with more than one person at a time. The recent mainstream media attention paid to polyamory should help to slowly shift this view, but it will be a slow process, and a significant amount of time until polygamy isn’t the only alternative lifestyle mentioned in this kind of controversy.
The most fascinating part of this story is that in general, people understand and accept that an individual may be bisexual, and yet their default assumption is that a bisexual person will repress their attraction to all but one gender. That assumption is so strong that the only possibility people can imagine beyond such repression is polygamy. The press coverage, and people’s thought processes, don’t even explore the absurdity of someone having to live in such a repressed state, and what alternatives, beyond polygamy, might be possible.
It’s a shame that the school board chose to simply say they were not endorsing polygamy, rather than using this as an opportunity to raise awareness of other alternatives, such as polyamory.
The Globe & Mail published a major piece on Polyamory last week, entitled Polyamory: Exploring the In and Outs of Multiple Partners. It is amazing to see the mainstream media reporting on polyamory more frequently, and this article is great example of factual, positive reporting on this topic. The Globe’s circulation is more than one million; that’s a lot of people who have now been exposed to the concepts of polyamory, from a source they presumably see as trustworthy.
The recently wrapped-up first season of Polyamory: Married and Dating on Showtime takes much of the credit for the recent coverage of polyamory in the mainstream media. While the show is not a perfectly accurate portrayal of polyamory, it has been generally well received within the polyamorous community, and has done wonders for the general public’s awareness of what polyamory is. This Globe article is another example of how the Showtime series has cleared the way for long-deserved coverage of this alternative lifestyle.
For those of us who are polyamorous and Canadian, this article provides a convenient avenue for discussion of our lifestyle with friends and family who have been kept in the dark about our non-monogamous nature to date. “Hey, did you see that article in the Globe last week about polyamory” is a nice sounding, relatively safe test of what your loved one’s reaction might be, should you decide you come out to them.
It has been reported that an even longer, more in-depth piece on polyamory will appear in the Globe in the coming months.
Samantha Fraser, who runs the excellent website Not Your Mother’s Playground, as well as the Playground conference, is running a fundraising campaign to get her book printed. The book, also titled Not Your Mother’s Playground, is described as a realistic guide to honest, happy and healthy open relationships. As someone who has been in an open relationship for a while, I think this will be an excellent resource for everyone who is already in, or who is considering being open. While there are many great books out there already, many of them are not written from a practical perspective.
Go contribute to the campaign, and help support a local, open author!
On Valentine’s day, the CBC radio program Q, with Jian Ghomeshi, hosted a debate on the future of monogamy, as part of their Modern Love series. The debate featured New York University professor Judith Stacey, and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. This segment continues the recent trend of increasing media coverage of non-monogamy, and at the end of the segment, Ghomeshi implied that this would not be the last coverage of this topic on Q.
The majority of the debate focused on Wilcox’s belief that an increasing number of North American’s believe in the benefits of fidelity in their relationships, and that non-monogamy is really a marginal, fringe issue that does not even deserve a discussion. On the flip side, Stacey conveyed a level-headed, logical argument that it should be up to each and every individual to negotiate the terms of their relationship, and that while there is nothing inherently wrong with monogamy, that an open relationship is also a valid choice.
Stacey also took issue with Wilcox’s definition of fidelity, stressing that honesty in a relationship is key, not sexual exclusivity. Wilcox, unfortunately, was not willing to directly address almost any of the points that Stacey or Ghomeshi raised, but instead continuously repeated talking points that included lumping in polygamy with polyamory, and asserting that children are inherently more vulnerable to abuse if their parents are in open relationships.
Ultimately, Ghomeshi did his best to get to the heart of the matter, and Stacey did an admirable job defending her position.
Given the lack of understanding of polyamory in the mainstream public and media, as demonstrated recently by the Newt Gingrich incident, there is clearly a great need for more activism around open relationships. Groups like the Polyamory Leadership Network, which will be much better known now thanks to upcoming coverage in the New York Times, are at the forefront of efforts to increase awareness of ethical non-monogamy.
Being an activist for polyamory is not quite like being a political or human rights activist. The difference is that to be a public advocate for open relationships, you yourself must first be “out” about your non-monogamous status, and be comfortable with drawing attention to that aspect of your life. Many people are not at all ready for that, especially because such a decision impacts the partners and families of anyone who steps into the spotlight.
That is, of course, unless you happen to be a monogamous person who believes so strongly that others should be able to choose to be ethically non-monogamous without discrimination, that you take up the cause. I have yet to come across such a person, although perhaps, like gay-straight alliances, the non-monogamous community should be trying to work more close with open-minded monogamous groups. Just as very conservative parents dealing with a gay child are more likely to listen to a fellow conservative than to another gay person, the mainstream public may overcome their typical skepticism about non-monogamy if the message came from a more traditional source.
There has been a great deal of polyamory and open relationship related coverage in the media recently, much of it thanks to Newt Gingrich. Clearly, to anyone who knows even the basics of what an open relationship entails, Gingrich’s past in no way resembles any sort of ethical non-monogamous situation. As Dan Savage put it on a recent Love Cast, after cheating on his wife for many years, Gingrich was not asking her if she wanted to be in an open marriage, but rather was informing her that she had, in fact, been in an open marriage for years, and just didn’t know it.
That said, because of the general level of ignorance within mainstream society about non-monogamy, the whole Gingrich affair has turned out to be a handy opportunity to contrast his situation with actual ethical non-monogamy, thereby educating the general public about all things open.
Of course, it would be nice if polyamory was already understood well enough that ridiculous associations such as the one with Newt Gingrich weren’t required. But alas, it isn’t yet. And so, we should say thank you to Newt, for providing platform, however ill-conceived, for the good word to be spread.
As was widely reported today, a ruling by the Supreme Court of BC’s chief judge upheld the anti-polygamy law today, while also narrowing its scope to apply only to cases where formal marriage has taken place. This ruling was characterized as a huge relief by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, given that the new scope does not apply to the majority of those in polyamorous relationships–those who have not formalized them. This characterization seems overly positive, but
In my experience, most people who come to the realization that they are polyamorous do not consider the legal implications of their new lifestyle. Rightly so, they focus on their feelings, the feelings of their existing partner, and the potential new connections they may form. In fact, it may come as quite a shock to some polyamorous people that they may actually be breaking the law. Thankfully, even if that is the case, very few are ever impacted by the legal implications; those going through custody battles are an unfortunate exception.
Ultimately, the benefit of this decision to the polyamorous community is not the scope of the ruling itself, but the exposure to the general public of the concept of polyamory. While many will not take the time or attention to actually grasp what polyamory is, it will at least plant the seed of understanding.
After being featured in an article in Details Magazine, a polyamorous family consisting of one woman (Jaiya) and two men (Jon and Ian), who are also raising a son together, appeared on Anderson Cooper today. If you didn’t catch it on TV, you can see some of the clips on the show’s website, which also has a long string of comments. As you might expect, the comments range from supportive to bewildered to intolerant.
It is rare to see polyamory featured on a big-time TV show; another sign that polyamory, and open relationships in general, are creeping further into the mainstream spotlight.
Cooper’s reactions as Jaiya, Jon and Ian reveal details of how their life works involve a lot of smirks and uncomfortable smiles, and there are frequent cuts to members of the audience nervously laughing. This may seem unfortunate to those who are already comfortable or living this sort of lifestyle, but it is really a typical way of people dealing with a situation that is sensitive and foreign to them, especially when on live TV. Overall, it is positive to have this sort of coverage–it would be unrealistic to expect the general public to be instantly at home with polyamory.
Bravo to Jaiya, Jon and Ian for having the courage to tell their story on such a big stage.