The Politics of Polyamory: Myths & Misunderstandings

Part 1: First Among Equals

 

By Daniel Metcalf

 

In writing about polyamorous relationships, I, like many, sometimes fall into the trap of defining it by what it “isn’t.” While both “poly” and swinging lifestyles are part of the larger pantheon of open relationships, each manifests a unique energy. In poly, this force resonates in the possibilities offered when three or more people make long-term commitments to each other; the knowledge and consent of everyone involved serves as the foundation.

 

From a sexual perspective, poly has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, at least in a pop cultural sense. Triads and group marriages were all the rage in the science fiction I grew up reading, playing important roles in everything from Samuel L. Delany’s “Dhalgren” to one of the genre’s most respected works, Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” (For more, see Serolynne’s excellent piece “Influence of the Science Fiction Writings of Robert A. Heinlein on Polyamory” at  http://www.serolynne.com/heinlein.htm.)

 

However well-researched, though, the myth-busting I’m going to do here may be taken with a grain of salt. You see, I’ve only recently entered into a poly relationship myself…

 

Recently single again for the first time in a decade, I have been devoting what free time I have to charity, service and renewal with a group of spiritual seekers, a sort of “karmic commando squad,” if you will. It has been during these months of “Peace Pilgrimages” that I found myself forging a strong emotional / romantic / spiritual connection with two people – and sex has been an intimate component of this relationship.

 

I’m risking TMI here only because the configuration – and success – of this relationship torpedoes the misguided notion I wish to address: that most polyamorous relationships hinge on a “foundational couple.” Not true, according to Stephanie Pappas of ScienceLive.Com, who quoted Champlain College psychologist Bjarne Holmes as observing that only about “30 percent or so of the polyamorous population would say they think of one partner as being primary. But a large part of the population would say, ‘No, I don’t buy into that idea of primary or secondary.’

 

Being a trio of naturally rebellious ex-punk rockers, resisting hierarchical relationships comes naturally to the three of us – as does the tendency to put the needs of the group over the needs of the Jungian “Self” or a more traditional couple. It’s our belief, and experience, that it’s healthy and beneficial to forge long-term commitments with multiple people, to open yourself up deeply to more than one lover. To take that risk. To manifest that degree of trust. We can transform standard notions of commitment and jealousy through radical honesty and spiritual growth.

 

Because when you think about it, life comes down to wanting to manifest beauty in everything you experience. In the ancient native language of my Estonian ancestors, the word for this transcendent beauty is “ilu.” Today, the Estonian “bubble-goth” singer Kerli uses this word as shorthand for “Integrity, Love, and Unity.”

 

And it just as easily suits the “First Among Equals” moral code of polyamorous relationships.

Sparking Conversations on Sexuality at CatalystCon East

This weekend I returned to CatalystCon for the second time – this one took place in Washington D.C./Arlington, VA. From the first evening reception to the closing keynote speech, delivered by Robert Lawrence and Carol Queen, everything was just as amazing as it was last year – maybe even more so now that I have come to know what to expect.

The conference began with a lively warm-up and social lubrication by Maria Falzone and shortly afterward, it was time for the opening keynote plenary, moderated by Tristan Taormino. I was one of the speakers, along with Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, Dr. Hernando Chaves, and Ducky Dolittle. Tristan came up with some interesting questions to get us started, and we spoke of what inspired us, the recent things we have done exemplifying our missions and commitment to change, and so much more. After we spoke, we took questions and comments from the audience, and we could tell everyone was motivated and ready for the next two days.

How can I possibly describe what came afterward? If I condensed my explanation, I’d say two days of brain-stimulating conversations, panels, introductions, and non-stop communication between sex-positive people from many walks of life. I attended panels on Sex Workers and Disability, Sex from the Trans Perspective, Polyamory, and Feminist Porn… and soaked it all in. I tried to go to completely different panels than I did at CatalystCon West, to get myself out of my familiar zone, and instead into realms where I don’t have much experience. Feminist Porn was the most crowded panel I attended, and I spent the entire time crouched down on the floor in the back of the room, shoulder to shoulder with everyone else. The aisles were full as we listened in awe to Constance Penley, Tristan Taormino, Dylan Ryan, and Sinnamon Love. Having just finished the Feminist Porn Book on the flight from LAX to DC, I was excited to hear more from these women. They did NOT disappoint. Each discussed their contributions to the book followed by an intense Q and A session lasting until the next panel came into the room.

I spoke on other panels as well – one on Measure B where I discussed the reality of the “condoms in porn” law with Tristan Taormino and Michael Fatterosi. Originally, when I was pitched the notion of this panel, I didn’t think that people would still be so concerned, or even consider it relevant. I was wrong. The audience intuitively understands it is much more than latex on film, it is a violation of our sexual rights as human beings and could echo repercussions far into the future, and far into our bedrooms.

The other panel I spoke on was Slut Shaming in a Sex Positive Community. Initially, we wondered about the interest in this topic, which isn’t frequently discussed, but it was nearly as packed as the Feminist Porn Panel.  In my background I have experienced Slut Shaming over the years in different degrees, but to hear it from everyone on the panel: Serpent, Femcar, Carol Queen, and Crysta Heart was comforting and reassuring. We opened up the discussion to audience questions and comments, and in that instant, started something that could have gone on for hours. We provoked thoughts; we started open dialogue; we may have even inadvertently started a disagreement/fight. I think it is a panel that must be repeated.

And the evening entertainment!
I went to Girl Gasms by Ducky Doolittle – Take it Like a Man with Charlie Glickman, and then surrendered my “Dirty Bingo” Virginity to Ducky loving every second up until the time I went to bed, knowing I had panels the next day.

I was also a guest on Tristan Taormino’s radio show, “Sex Out Loud,” and had an amazing conversation with one of my all-time inspirations. We also had a studio audience as we recorded, something I’m not used to with my show, but I actually really enjoyed. It was agreed we needed a part two to our discussion, and she may be on my show in the future.

One of the highlights of the weekend was getting #ccon trending on Twitter. Not only did CatalystCon have a hash tag, but each panel had an individual hash tag as well, so people who were unable to make the trip were still able to take part by following along as some of the panels were being live-tweeted by the audiences.

Again, I’m so honored to have been included in CatalystCon East, and even more honored to be included in such an amazing group of people onstage for the opening keynote speech. My sincere thanks goes out to the founder and organizer Dee Dennis, who took a risk having me appear last year, but did it anyway, and also to the notorious Girl Gang & The Evil Sluts who, along with Dee, are truly the glue collectively helping hold CatalystCon together. They also owe me some Nutella.

xo,
jd