A Conversation with Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

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Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a father figure to many: a Neopagan writer, speaker, and religious leader (co-founder of the Church of All Worlds) with a place in the United States public eye since the 1960s. He is considered by some to be “The Father of Polyamory” by virtue of his wife Morning Glory Ravenheart first coining and publicizing the term ‘polyamory’, and their public three-way triad with their partner Diane in the 1980s and 90s as the first record of any family describing themselves as being ‘polyamorous’. He visited New York City this week for the first time in years, and was gracious enough to sit down and answer some questions with Leon Feingold of POLYquality.com; their correspondence formed the basis for this article.   PQ: Oberon, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. What brings you from California to New York and what are your plans while here? OZ: I have a number of wonderful sweet lovers around the country, and I’m currently on Walkabout to visit and spend time with them all. While here I plan on attending the Poly Drinks and Thinks at Retro this upcoming Monday, and enjoying conversations and food with whomever shows up to join us, after which I admit I am quite curious about Poly Cocktails and would like to take a look. PQ: What’s a Walkabout? OZ: It’s an important ritual in the lives of some Pagans and Magick followers, although it is historically most identified with an Aborigine Australian rite of passage into adulthood. In all situations it is a physical journey with spiritual significance, and can take months or years to complete. PQ: I read Robert A Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” in middle school, and I identify it (along with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in college) as the most important book I’d ever read in my formative years, guiding me both with respect to ethical non-monogamy, and many more aspects of my personality. To what extent did the book shape your vision for polyamory and Church of All Worlds? OZ: SISL was a HUGE influence on all of us! I (and a number of reviewers of the time) considered it to be the most significant influence on the entire sexual revolution of the ‘60s, as well as the real-life CAW which gave rise to the entire modern Pagan movement. Heinlein’s definition of Love as “that condition in which another person’s happiness is essential to your own” became our fundamental concept, and a core of what today is called compersion. And the poly relationship dynamic described in the book became our model for our own relationships, which we eventually labeled “polyamory.” SISL was kinda our “Bible,” and everyone who came into our lives was expected to read it, if they hadn’t already (unsurprisingly, nearly all had). Regrettably, when Virginia Heinlein published her late husband’s early unedited manuscript in 1991 as the “uncensored version” (untrue; I had extensive personal correspondence with RAH about this; he did all the editing himself, and there was no censoring of any kind) this early draft did not yet include that definition of love, which was the whole point of the book. PQ: What do you feel were some of the limitations of polyamory the way your family first envisioned it? OZ: I can’t think of any. The actual experiences vastly exceeded all expectations and visualizations. We found we could do and be so much more as a group family than we ever could without each other. Even though we are now geographically dispersed since MG’s death, we’re still very close in our love; and our kids, now grown with kids of their own, still consider themselves dear brothers and sisters (they were all only children until we got together). PQ: I’ve always wanted to ask this question: why “polyamory” and not “polyphilia” (Greek) or “multiamory” (Roman)? OZ: That’s the exact conversation MG and I had that led to the term. Many people had been trying to come up with terms to describe such relationships that preferably didn’t have the root “gamy” (marriage) in them. Terms such as “polyfidelity,” “responsible non-monogamy,” “panfidelity,” “omnigamy,” etc., were being tossed around in the many articles of the time. “Polyphilia” sounds like a disease, or worse, an affliction, like pedophilia. “Multiamory” just sounded awkward. But “Polyamory” sounded perfect and self-explanatory, so that’s what she went with when she wrote her famous article, “Bouquet of Lovers,” for the Beltaine 1990 issue of Green Egg magazine. Clearly it was the perfect term, as there are now hundreds of thousands of people identifying with it! It’s quite possible that someone else somewhere else may have independently hit upon and tried out the Greek and Roman hybrid as MG did, but it wasn’t until MG published and we all started using it, that it really took off and became the go-to term for what is considered modern polyamory. PQ: So “Father of Polyamory” makes historical sense in the perspective of the term you and MG came up with, and your public life as ‘polyamorists’, which draws a straight line to polyamory groups like Open Love and Loving More. But presumably you’re not contending you came up with the idea of consensual nonmonogamy. OZ: Of course not, and no intelligent, educated person would argue that. I’ve made no claims to have “invented” polyamory, merely that my beloved lifemate Morning Glory coined the terms “polyamory” and “polyamorist” in 1990, and our 10+year triad marriage with Diane from 1983-1994 was indisputably the first family on record to identify ourselves as “polyamorous,” thus providing useful terminology that has (obviously) been widely adopted in the poly movement. PQ: Albert Einstein has been called the Father of Physics, Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul, Michael Jackson the King of Pop. They weren’t the first or only people to have done each before, but each provided something groundbreaking which redefined the way their followers considered each genre, and how those who came afterwards evolved it. You have arguably earned that recognition, with half a century of your life shaping the way millions of people around the world consider themselves polyamorous. OZ: I appreciate the honor implicit in the offering of the title, although I don’t use it to refer to myself, and while I acknowledge my own role in the development and awareness of modern polyamory, if anyone should receive that degree of credit for the terms it should be she who created them and grew them into the terms we use today – my dearly beloved and recently departed MG. PQ: How has polyamory changed since you and your family first started practicing it? OZ: There are actually two main answers I have to this question, one positive and one negative. The first revolves around evolution of word usage as relates to identity, perspective, and definitions. Please keep in mind that MG wrote her 1990 “Bouquet of Lovers” article as a request from our 3rd partner, Diane, who was editing Green Egg at the time. They’d been discussing someone else who was claiming to be in an “open relationship” (the best term we had at that point), and being sneaky and dishonest about it. MG said, “Well, he’s just not following the rules!” And Diane said, “You’re always referring to these unwritten ‘rules.’ How about you write an article on them for GE?” So she did. And the rest is history. But at that time, MG was writing from the perspective of a couple looking to open their relationship (or marriage; the most common term was “open marriage”) to include other lovers. So those were the “rules” she wrote up, on how to do that successfully to the positive benefit of all. So a core element was that of commitment priority, so as not to jeopardize the relationship between the initial couple. Hence reference to “primary,” “secondary,” etc. relationships. Diane, MG and I (and later MG’s previous husband, Gary, who married Diane to join our new family) felt our Triad was entirely stable, and we all knew where we stood in it. But insofar as MG was advising other couples on how to open their relationships, the element of priorities was crucial for the security of all. After all, as we noted early on, jealousy (which was never an issue for any of us) was a huge concern for most people, and mostly, we discovered from talking to people, it was a product of insecurity. So making sure that everyone felt secure was foundational to opening a relationship beyond a couple. However, as time went on, we realized that often the secondary partners in such relationships were not happy about being relegated to 2nd place. They wanted to be primaries too. This became enough of an issue that we eventually came up with a different consideration—inspired by MG’s conversation at one of the Highlands of Tennessee Samhain Gatherings in the late ‘90s with an Ife Priestess from a refugee Yoruba community in Georgia who was in a polygamous marriage (one man and two women); she had been driven from Nigeria by the Christians and settled in Georgia, where polygamy (not polyamory) was a common practice. MG asked the Priestess how it worked with them, she responded that in Nigeria polygamy is a matter of seniority. There are separate words for the first and senior wife (iyale), vs. the most recent and thereby junior wife (iyawo). Any others fall in between, and everyone knows their place in the line of seniority. And interestingly, in some situations, the junior wife has priority – as with NRE. Whereas in other situations, it’s the senior wife who makes the decisions. We found that applying this principle to our group family dynamic worked perfectly, and this became the basis for our 2nd 10-year group marriage, the Ravenhearts. Along that same line is people continuing to coin new words to describe aspects that weren’t covered by the previous vocabulary. I haven’t kept track of all of these lately, but one that one of my lovers introduced to me is a really a good one: “metamours,” for lovers of your lovers. Another good one I learned at the same time is “polysaturated.” However, by the time I learned of these terms in 2014 they were already in common use, and no one seems to know who originated them. I also like “polycule,” another relatively new term which I notice you included in your 2015 TED Talk on Polyamory. As to the negative change I referenced, there seems to be less of the innocent Hippie/Pagan love and exuberant idealism that so characterized the early glory days of the ‘80s-‘90s. I haven’t been to (or even heard of) a polycon in many years. Legendary founding figures such as Morning Glory and Deborah Anapol have died. Some of our biggest challenges within the polyamory community have taken place quite recently; it’s been challenging maintaining clarity of the definition with people who keep wanting to change it to something else in order to fit their own reinterpretations of value, ethics, and history. The movement seems to have gotten more politicized, and downright meaner. We are now seeing poly people using their public platforms to be judgmental, disrespectful, and exclusive, ironically the opposite of what we always stood for as cultural groundbreakers in the United States. PQ: I understand you had a surprising experience along those lines recently on social media. OZ: This week, for the first time, I experienced what I can only describe as unmitigated hostility coming from certain vocal poly folks, who seemed to despise me for my role in launching the movement they apparently think of as theirs alone. It left me just stunned. I’d never encountered such a hostile reception in the communities I’ve founded and been involved in, all my life. I’ve attended countless Poly and Pagan gatherings around the country and in Australia, often as a guest of honor, and I’ve always received a warm welcome as a founding Elder. But in this scenario, I was rudely and ignorantly accused of being a colonizer, a racist, and worse, by people I’d never met, based exclusively on my being a white cisgender male who was credited alongside others in my peer group with the development and popularity of modern polyamory, and their assumptions about what that meant. Anyone who did any research – or engaged in civil conversation – would learn that MG (who was part Chocktaw for whatever that is worth) and I were avid students of cultural anthropology (I have a degree in it), and were always particularly interested in learning all we could about sex and marriage relationships in other cultures, as we ourselves had always been naturally poly long before we coined terms for it. The closest we came was “Free Love,” a popular term in the ‘60s. In fact, I wrote a widely-circulated article with that title, that had some influence. While we always eschewed racism, and never particularly cared what color people were, including our lovers (hey, we were Hippies, and involved in the Civil Rights Movement), we were fascinated to catch occasional documentaries about traditional polyandry (i.e. one women with several husbands) in obscure regions of India and China. As I recall, the people in India were indeed dark-skinned Dravidian. In China, the current Communist government is trying to eradicate these practices, but apparently in India they are being left alone. However, the documentaries didn’t give any indigenous terms for these practices; only the Latin “polyandry.” MG and I led a diving expedition to New Guinea in 1985, to investigate and confirm reports of “mermaids.” The women in our expedition discussed the relationship dynamics among the women of the several villages we visited. In that admittedly-limited sample, the official marriage pattern was monogamy, but the adult men and women lived separately in men’s houses and women’s houses, and sneaking around was common. And the courtship rituals were famously elaborate. However, MG learned no terms for what we would call polyamory. Wen we visited the Trobriand Islands during that expedition, things were considerably different, with a great deal of open and joyous free non-marital sexuality among the younger men and women, particularly around the Yam Harvest, where the men who grew the biggest yams were quite in demand among the young women—much like our King of the May! One of the girls kept flirting with my son, fascinated by his profuse body hair. She would certainly have dragged him off into the bushes if he’d been willing, but as we were on an expedition for the Cryptozoological Society, it seemed inappropriate to yield to such friendly invitations. But again, MG learned no native terms we would equate to polyamory. I’ve also already described the Ife Priestess from a Yoruba community we met; when she asked, MG learned no native African terms for what we would call polyamory. I therefore think it reasonable to say that as far as we knew, there simply hadn’t been any other name for exactly what we’d come up with, and certainly none we could find in English. Polyamory was just our term we came up with for precisely how MG and I and our community lived – without stealing it from others – which has since grown into a global phenomenon. But these angry people were not only insisting that MG didn’t even coin these terms, but that they were invented long ago by some unidentified non-white people! (As if all white people were always monogamous – they’d presumably never heard of the ancient Greeks, Sumerians, Celts, Vikings, etc.) Nonmonogamous relationships have existed in every human culture, regardless of whiteness (see above how we personally experienced indigenous versions of polyamory in Nigeria and the Trobriand Islands), since the dawn of time. All this is a very long way to say that if there were racist overtones, they came from the hostile people who projected their issues on me. A major point of both Paganism and Polyamory is that they are INclusive of all people who wish to identify with them, regardless of any other attributes, such as skin color, etc. Ancient Pagan peoples were of all places and colors: black, brown, red, yellow… and white. We all lived in tribal villages and communities, and shared far more in common than our differences. Same thing for poly people (generally referred to as “polygamous” rather than “polyamorous,” as nearly all cultures seem to have required marriage to legitimize sexual relationships, no matter how many). These terms are not racial designations; they are community values, irrespective of race. In most of my life experiences, at least, the Pagan and poly communities are racially diverse, and no one thinks anything of it. PQ: Sounds like you walked into a firestorm you weren’t expecting. Welcome to New York? OZ: Certainly I had no idea what I was stepping into when I just blithely and innocently accepted an offer to attend a poly party, exactly the sort of thing I’ve been doing all across the country (and in Guatemala) for the past 4 months of my Walkabout. Up ‘til now, I’ve received nothing but gracious welcome and generous hospitality everywhere I’ve been. I’ve been very proud of the Pagan community I essentially founded and fostered over the past 50 years. They know how to treat their Elders, and each other. And while I haven’t been as much involved in the wider poly community since MG died and our Families dispersed geographically (though we’re still all very close in love and support), I have attended (and hosted) a number of poly potlucks and discussion groups in Santa Cruz over the past few years. Again, I have received nothing but welcome and affection, as a beloved grandfather at Thanksgiving dinner. So all this anger and hatred has been a severe shock to me; the saddest thing to me is that a movement that started out being all about love – expansive love, “Loving More” – has now degenerated into a campaign of hate, directed particularly towards its very founders. And rather than act as a community to balance out one-sided or vitriolic campaigns, people here seem more interested in virtue signaling and staying out of the way of the vocal minority, than standing up for those who have any conflicting opinions. PQ: So where do you think this anger and hostility is coming from? OZ: In conversations with some of the other New York poly leaders, I have come to understand that the hate and anger these others are expressing isn’t really about me so much as it is about their personal life experiences as disenfranchised and marginalized people. And they’re taking it out on me because they identify me with their oppression, however misdirected. I’ve spent my whole life working against racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and any other exclusive ideology. Clear back in the 1960s, I was deeply involved in the social justice and civil rights movements—as well as sexual freedom, feminism, Naturism, and the newly-emerging Paganism. I founded the Church of ALL Worlds—the first church in modern history to legally ordain women as Priestesses! We had gay clergy and were performing gay and poly marriages long before these things became issues of public debate. In the pages of Green Egg I campaigned against racial supremacists who were trying to infiltrate the Pagan community. CAW and my Grey School of Wizardry have the most comprehensive non-discrimination clauses we could come up with. We are a haven for many people who have been unwelcome and even persecuted elsewhere: Witches, Pagans, Gypsies (we prefer the term Romany, actually…), gays, polys, and more recently, transsexuals. What color people are is equally irrelevant to us; all are welcome who want to be here. We see ourselves like The Island of Misfit Toys: people are judged on what they bring to the table, not what they bring to the mirror. Since I hadn’t encountered this sort of negative response before, I was totally taken aback, and thought if I could just address their accusations with corrections and explanations, all would be well. I guess I just sorta took it for granted that I would be appreciated for my part in helping to create the subculture in which they’ve found refuge and haven. Clearly, I was mistaken! I acknowledge that because of my status as a white, cis, male Elder, there very well may have been situations in my orbits where racism existed and I was unaware, or a power dynamic was in place that I didn’t see. I by no means am trying to take away or denigrate anyone else’s experiences or emotions. But I have no desire to inflict myself into a gathering of angry people who are so hostile to me – especially when they are hostile to me for the very thing that brings us together! PQ: So let’s focus instead on the positives. What have been your best memories since you first identified as polyamorous? OZ: Group sex would have to be high on that list for me! Many sweet and delightful threesomes, and a few wondrous orgies. I always say the biggest problem with monogamy is that nobody gets to sleep in the middle. Our wonderful group marriage families, and all living together, working on family projects, raising our kids together, presenting at festivals and polycons, going on camping trips and other adventures, such as the International New Age Trade Show in Denver every Summer Solstice, etc. Especially when the whole Ravenheart clan all lived together in a beautiful and spacious eco-house on 94 acres near to Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm in Laytonville, CA. Publishing Green Egg magazine; traveling around the world with various lovers; living in a 6,000-acre Hippie homesteading community and raising Unicorns; having a house full of animals when we were working with Wildlife Rescue; revivifying the Church of All Worlds and creating amazing rituals for our community, including reviving the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries; developing Mythic Images as a family business, and sculpting statues to produce and market. Our group handfastings (marriages). 20 years of this! Enough beautiful memories for several lifetimes! PQ: How have YOU changed – other than years going by – since you first identified as polyamorous? OZ: At 75, not a lot, other than growing older (which is far better than the alternative!). But I haven’t really slowed down much. I’m still quite sexually active, with a number of enthusiastic sweet lovers around the country, ranging in age from 38 to 77, who all know of each other, though not all have met in person. Polyamory has been one of the best things in my life, running neck-and-neck with Paganism and Magick. I cannot imagine how I could have gotten through the death of my beloved lifemate, Morning Glory, without my other lovers giving me a reason to go on. PQ: Is there any regret you have regarding your role in the development of modern polyamory? OZ: There is one that stands out, actually. It was our intention to write more articles on polyamory from the point of the subsequent partners (“paramours”) other than the original founding couple. In fact, MG, Diane, and I all wrote a book together, on the subject, titled “The New Polygamy” (yes, I know; it should have been “Polyamory,” but that’s what the publisher thought would sell) with a lot of potentially informative and interesting material. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business before publication, and the manuscript was lost (sadly, we didn’t have a printed copy; it was all on floppy disks). Then Deborah Anapol and others started putting out books on polyamory, and we lost that momentum. PQ: What is the most important message you have to share, whether people are new to poly or consider themselves veteran poly people? OZ: Remember, it’s all about the Love. Be impeccable in your open honesty with each other, and with yourselves. Not everyone is cut out for polyamory, and that’s OK. I think the most common default relationship dynamic for most people is probably serial monamory, not polyamory. Be honest with yourself: is this really who you are? Can you handle your lovers having other lovers? Being poly means no cheating, no deception. And no jealousy. If you can’t handle that, don’t claim to be poly! But if you truly are polyamorous at heart and by nature, don’t try to mate with someone who isn’t. that will just result in everyone getting hurt. It’s like being gay; if you’re truly gay at heart, don’t try to get into a romantic relationship with or (Goddess forbid) marry a partner of the opposite sex! Also, never make unenforceable rules, such as “It’s OK to have sex with other people, but you’re not allowed to fall in love with them.” This is the major reason many poly agreements fail. PQ: What is next for you? OZ: I identify with no home; everything I own is in storage in Santa Rosa, except what I brought with me in my car for my Walkabout. Ultimately, I’m searching for a new (and hopefully final) home, and someone to share it with. Where that search will take me, and with whom, is still open. This could be a long journey, and since my lovers are so widely scattered, I will want to keep visiting with them from time to time, which will mean many trips away from whatever home base I may eventually settle into. I have cast my life (and my fate) upon the winds. In closing, a favorite poem of mine: Now every Wizard knows, That the hard part of the Old Ways, Is knowin’ when to keep your peace, And when to pick a fight! And the Gods gave you your magicks, Well knowin’ you was mortal; Expectin’ little save that you Would try to use ‘em right! –“The Wizard” by Isaac Bonewits

Amazing Social Cliché Analysis: Why Our Country Is So Screwed Up With Consent, Agency, Communication and Sex

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Daily Kos, a left-leaning political website, isn’t the first place you’d expect to find an in-depth and devastating analysis of American culture. But thanks to the Kavenaugh hearing and the issues it has raised, that’s exactly where this article goes. It’s long, but it’s long-overdue as far as educating the Muggle public about the lessons we “learn” from our society regarding our relationships, boundaries, communication skills, and sexual hangups.  It’s worth the read. https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2018/9/28/1797204/-The-problems-this-country-has-with-depicting-talking-about-and-being-honest-about-sex-and-consent?detail=emaildkre

Poly Smarts for Amorous Hearts!

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Not only is that the title of our upcoming book, it’s also the realization that people who have become experts at polyamory, have lots of wisdom – or at least perspective – to share with people in “regular” relationships. An article published this week (actually an excerpt from the book Untrue by Wednesday Martin) talks about a practice where polyamorous scenarios were talked out in a therapeutic setting, and several people came away with a little more awareness than they’d anticipated. http://time.com/5398205/polyamory-monogamy-infidelity/

Mostly Straight Men: Vastly Underreported?

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A great article by a sex researcher on that underrated-but-obvious-when-you-think-about-it cohort of men who identify as “mostly straight” rather than straight, gay, or bi. I have personally identified as mostly-straight for years, despite the entire extent of my guy-on-guy action being a friendly but tingly mouth kiss from a bisexual friend (felt nice but the stubble threw me off a bit). The more experience you get, the more you realize gendered attraction is a spectrum, and there’s no such thing as an on/off switch for desire. In other words: just because I haven’t gotten down with guys yet doesn’t mean I won’t ever want to. https://www.thecut.com/2017/11/a-sex-researcher-explains-mostly-straight-men.html

Poly Wanna Answer: Aversion to Compersion?

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Dear PWA: My boyfriend has told me he is deeply in love with me and wants to be with me, but he has been dating this other woman as well and wants to keep seeing both of us. He tells me this other woman is in a long-term committed relationship with a guy who treats her horribly, and that he wants to care for her and show her what a positive relationship should look like. I feel uncomfortable from an ethical standpoint since she’s supposedly monogamously committed, and my boyfriend hasn’t told her about me and doesn’t plan to. He stresses to me that he doesn’t love her, and would choose me 100 times over her, but I can’t help but feel sad and jealous, even though I am such a big ally for polyamory and many of my friends and past partners have been poly. I believe in compersion and want to support him but I can’t make myself fake the emotions.  I want to support, not limit, but my values and desires don’t align. Do you have a trick to practice compersion or train my compersion muscle? How can I quickly bounce back and stop this heartache? Please advise. Signed, Aversion to Compersion  Dear Aversion, It’s sweet that you are willing to believe that your lack of compersion is the main problem, but I would like to help you drop this self-judgmental belief.  This situation doesn’t call for compersion – it calls for discernment.   I see plenty of red flags here.  First of all, your boyfriend tells you that he loves you.  But he also says he wants to care for the other woman and “show her what a positive relationship should look like,” without telling her about you AND without telling her he doesn’t love her.  If he’s not willing to be honest with her (by his own admission), how do you know he is being honest with you when he says he loves you?  Second, what kind of positive model is he giving her by pretending to love her and be monogamous with her?  Certainly not a model of authentic relationship and trust.   Third, your boyfriend tells you that she has a long-time monogamous commitment and her partner is abusive.  Can you even know if this is true?  If it is true, she is struggling herself and needs real support, not an illusion of support. From my perspective, this situation is a pit of dysfunction.  With so much dishonesty, how can you know whether he is telling the truth about crucial issues (for example, sexually transmitted infections)?  Your path of growth here is not to force yourself to feel compersion, but to ask yourself why you are wanting attention from a person who is not honest and authentic with his partners.  Are you, like the other woman, settling for an illusion of love and care?  And if so, what might serve you better?   Once you’ve done some self-inquiry, you will see many possibilities – for example, 1) stay in the relationship on his terms because dysfunction can be interesting, 2) break up with him and find love and care elsewhere, or 3) set personal limits to keep yourself safe (for example, regular STI tests for him if he wants to be sexual with you). You don’t have to drop your discernment in order to be a loving and supportive person. Now over to Leon for his take.  I think Sarah nailed this on the head: the problem lies with him and not with you. There *are* potential healthy ways forward here; in the light most favorable to your boyfriend perhaps he is trying to be a role model to her, but he’s a pretty awful role model if he can’t even tell his other partner about you or his true (?) feelings while claiming to be showing her how a positive relationship works. It sounds like he’s telling everyone what he thinks they want to hear, rather than practicing open honesty. I can understand the psychological pressure to hide information that might be a dealbreaker for anyone: why rock the boat by being open and honest while he’s getting what he wants from each of you? But that is NOT how polyamory works. That’s how cheating works. It’s up to you if you want to enable a cheater, or insist he come clean. If he does, all three of you might wind up getting everything you want and feeling good about it – at least, until she comes clean with her mono partner. And now that you know he’s capable of it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder, wondering if he’s lying to you about something important. But that’s the price you pay for starting off dishonestly.

Another Poly First: Three Parents on a Birth Certificate

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This month in Canada, our neighbors to the North (after the last election cycle, the suddenly super-appealing side of the tracks): a Newfoundland judge has officially recognized all three adults as legal parents of a child born to a polyamorous triad, overturning a lower court ruling stating no more than two parents could be listed on a birth certificate. Despite none of the triad being married, the judge wrote the child “has been born into what is believed to be a stable and loving family relationship which, although outside the traditional family model, provides a safe and nurturing environment…. I can find nothing to disparage that relationship from the best interests of the child’s point of view…. To deny this child the [multiple] paternal parentage would not be in his best interests. It must be remembered that this is about the best interests of the child and not the best interest of the parents.” https://world.wng.org/content/the_rise_of_polyamorous_parenting

Sex positivity and sex education: Netherlands vs US

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In the Netherlands, children as young as four are taught to normalize their bodies and curiosities, having questions answered and being educated about anatomy and adult interactions. In America, sex ed is rarely mandatory, schools teach abstinence-only programs, and provide almost no training on proper condom usage. The result? America has four times as many teen pregnancies, drastically higher STI rates, and way too many adults who are clueless about even basic sexual understandings. There are better ways to address America’s sexual health – we should start by acknowledging sex education is healthy. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cxb3v_tT00

Amazing TED Talk on gender identity by a trans speaker

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Paula Stone Williams’ TED Talk, more effectively than any I have ever seen, relates in a meaningful way why men don’t recognize their privilege, how women have to work twice as hard for half the respect, the importance of living authentically, and how drastically and surprisingly social capital changes when a man becomes a woman. So many wonderful lessons to be learned here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrYx7HaUlMY

Polyamory in the news – including a cameo from the late Yuanyuan Wang

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https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/556988/open-relationship-nonmonogamy/ Polyamory has been in the news lately, but here’s something you don’t see every day: a brand new video out today on the Atlantic featuring people discussing their poly relationships – but one of them passed away a year ago.   Leon Feingold and Yuanyuan Wang were interviewed by Maria Rosa Badia in 2016 about their relationship, and clips were used in today’s article. That wouldn’t be particularly unusual, save for the fact that since that interview took place, Leon and Yuan got engaged, found out she had terminal cancer, got married, and Yuan passed away exactly a year ago this month. Not every day you open a brand new article and see a video of your late wife.

Won’t You Think About the Children?

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Dear PWA experts: I’ve only recently learned about polyamory, and while it feels like it could be right for me and my wife, I’m wondering how in the world this can work for couples with children.  I can’t imagine how to even start bringing this up to our two pre-teen daughters (10 and 12). How can we hide our dating lives from them, and until when should we? -Married With Children Dear Al Bundy: It is up to each family to decide when and how much to educate their children about “adult” topics, like sex, reproduction, and relationship structures, but erring on the side of more objective information is rarely inappropriate. I don’t have kids of my own, but I know many poly families with kids around that age, and to be honest, most of those kids are more mature and capable than most of our elected officials right now. I know ethical nonmonogamy is a new concept for you, but it’s not clear from your question whether you’re primarily interested in polyamory (multiple ongoing relationships regardless of sex) or swinging (multiple sexual partners regardless of relationship status), as those are two very different (albeit often overlapping) workable relationship structures. I’d first suggest spending time with your wife figuring out what each of YOU want out of your relationship going forward, before involving the kids. The biggest problem with families opening themselves up to polyamory is almost never from the children. It’s from adults acting like children: burdening themselves (often with help from outsiders) with shame and worry over the symbolic implications of nontraditional relationships, when the kids really just want to feel like they know what’s going on and that they can continue to love and trust their parents. I recommend you and your spouse agree on the best way to share with your kids that you’re each going to be spending more time with other friends from time to time, that Mommy and Daddy’s relationship is just fine, and that they can ask questions if they want to. It can be a simple chats done one-on-one rather than through a ‘family meeting’ – if you don’t make a big deal out of it, they won’t either.  I’d suggest simplifying the conversation to whatever level seems age-appropriate, but definitely don’t avoid topics or issues because you think YOU can’t handle talking about them.   “Hiding things” from children never goes well, especially about subjects which don’t deserve to be hidden, like love and affection. Your kids are around the right age to be having these conversations with you and your wife, whether you or they bring it  up. They’re not newborns anymore, and if they don’t find out directly from you they’ll find out another way (this applies equally to the Birds and the Bees talk and your opening up your relationship to new friends), and they will rightfully feel betrayed and hurt that you didn’t tell them yourselves. Atrina, what’s your take?   Hi Married, I noticed that your specific question was about how to “hide” your dating life from your children. My immediate response was: “Why?” What are your motivations for being intentionally deceitful to your children? If it’s because you don’t know how to talk to them about what it is that you’re doing with your free time, that’s totally understandable. But consider this: they might not care. Sure, they will care if you are around or not. But what is the real difference between you going out to dinner with a friend and going out to dinner with a love interest? Not much, from a child’s perspective. Children care most about having stability in their lives and if they don’t have reason to worry about that stability, then they generally don’t care much about what it is you do with the people that you spend time with. Sociologist Dr. Elisabeth Sheff studied children from polyamorous families over a 20-year span and found that most children simply did not want to hear about their parents’ sex lives. Shocking, right? So ideologically, if you’re not telling them that you’re having sex with the people you are spending time with, then what does it really matter what kind of relationships you are having? Dr. Sheff did find some troubles that were common among children in polyamorous families, the worst of which was stigma.  Around ages 9-12, kids start becoming more aware of the social environments that they’re apart of and notice the differences between their families and the families of other people. This feeling of being “different” from other families is at the crux of the issue here, not the polyamory itself. Similar to the kids of same-sex parents, some children with polyamorous families have to deal with how other people react to their family structure. One study of same-sex parents found that Proactive Parenting around these issues included preparing their children for bias, understanding and celebrating diversity in families. When it’s time, you might consider learning more about how to talk to your kids about how to deal with this stigma, and perhaps discuss possible ways to disclose your family’s differences to others. In terms of how to disclose, imagine if you were single: How would you disclose to them that you were dating someone? At what point in that relationship would you introduce them to your kids? How would you do so? Keep in mind that the way you bring things up will shape how they react to the information that they are being given. If you tell them about your new lifestyle/identity like you are ashamed of it, or like there is something wrong with it, that’s how they will perceive it. If you casually introduce them to your new “friends” and express how much you care about them and how much they mean to you, they will likely accept that and move on. If they ask questions, answer truthfully in an age-appropriate way. Reassure them about the stability of your relationship with their other parent and remind them that there a lot of different family structures that work. There is no one right way to make a family. And heck, there are actually quite a few advantages to polyamorous families! Imagine all the extra presents and people to play with!

Hello world!

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Welcome to POLYquality, a community-based website dedicated to exploration, support, education, and publicity of polyamory and other forms of Consensual NonMonogamy (CNM).  Over the coming weeks we’ll be building out our blog, advice column, YouTube channel, and additional content for the public to enjoy and interact with.  Please be a part of the action!  Submit a question for Poly Wanna Answer, comment on our blog posts, and check back often.