Rachel Ruvinsky thought she was a lesbian. As a teenager, she’d fallen into a serious relationship with her best friend. She was one of the few students at her high school to be out; she joined the school’s gay-straight alliance but quit because the group was too cliquey. “I didn’t feel like I fit in,” she recalls.
When she gradually realized she was also attracted to men, she was surprised. “I remember being very much in denial,” the now-22-year-old says.
Then about a year after she and her girlfriend broke up, Ruvinsky felt ready to look for a new relationship, and to try dating men as well as women.
When she created her first OkCupid profile at age 19, she listed a few of her interests, such as art and video games, and included a poor-quality photo of herself. Back then, she says, she responded to every message in her inbox.
One of the first was from Bennett Marschner, a 23-year-old video-game technical artist who described himself as a “shameless vehicular vocalist.” He seemed funny, she thought.
Ruvinsky wrote back, saying she also enjoyed singing while driving. They met for dinner at an Indian restaurant in Germantown, Md.
“I was really nervous and trying not to fidget,” she recalls. But she quickly felt comfortable around Marschner. After dinner, they watched a few episodes of “Firefly,” a sci-fi television show they both like, until well after midnight in Ruvinsky’s parents’ basement. They kissed.
The next morning, Marschner texted, saying he wanted to be upfront: He wasn’t looking for anything serious.
Ruvinsky didn’t want anything super- casual, so she figured that would be it. But Marschner persuaded her to keep seeing him, reassuring her that it wouldn’t be a booty-call thing. They could both see other people. “I was like, ‘Okay, I like hanging out with you,’ ” she remembers saying.
The next time they discussed their relationship status was a few months later. Marschner told her his other relationships, with two other women, weren’t so casual; there was an emotional attachment. He’d been reading about polyamory, he said, and he thought it applied to their situation.
Ruvinsky did, too: “We knew it was more than casual, but we didn’t have a word for it.” Since then, the two go out with other people separately or hang in a group. “A lot of times,” Marschner says, “if you get more than one of us together, we’re going to sit on a couch and cuddle and make out.” ...
They were high school sweethearts, sort of: Britt and John met in middle school right outside of Houston, the kind of place where the person you end up marrying is someone you’ve known your whole life. They flirted later in the halls of one of those big Southern high schools that boasts pro-football players as alumni. When John moved to Mississippi for a while they stayed in touch, writing letters; Britt was bonkers for him the whole time. When he returned and they got together in earnest, she didn’t have eyes for anyone else. They got hitched at 18.
“I thought it was happily ever after,” she says. “I wanted to go with him anywhere he went.”
Fast-forward three years: their marriage is no longer and Britt’s OkCupid profile acts as a one-two punch of invitation and warning. If you’re into hiking, Little Miss Sunshine, or The Bible, message her. If you’re into one-night stands or want to be monogamous, please don’t. Britt, an aspiring comedian, doesn’t fit stereotypes of countercultural swingers, opting instead for a modern Texan bombshell look (high heels, sundresses, red lipstick). But she’s patently uninterested in spending her life dating a lone dude. Not that she doesn’t want a relationship; believe her, she’s trying. She’s just learned a couple of lessons in the last few years.
Non-monogamy—the consensual, upfront kind—is a dizzyingly diffuse practice. The terms of these relationships vary wildly in scope and level of detail. Its practitioners come in configurations of one or three or 16, living as families together or keeping separate houses even after going steady for years. There is, to date, no overarching survey of how many people practice consensual non-monogamy in the States; academics told me the number could range from one to nine million, depending on one’s definition of “polyamorous.” But nearly everyone for whom the arrangement works secretly believes their way of being non-monogamous is superior—much like two people in the early stages of romance might believe they have made fools out of the rest of the world.
Despite decades of cyclical media attention, these so-called “poly” arrangements, open relationships, and monogamish marriages are conflated, side-eyed, and gawked at along predictable lines. In the early ‘70s swinging was decried in Time Magazine as a “troublesome addiction” among people who were “incapable of intimate relationships”; as recently as 2009, social scientists in the New York Times speculated that people in open relationships simply “haven’t found the right person yet.” Readers still ogle these easy objects of attention: the throuples, quads, group marriages that redefine the two-parent household. Either that or they feature breathless 30-something couples spilling about “our experiment,” as if non-monogamy were a weird appendage to tack onto a nice, normal relationship instead of a practical, individual choice.
In her wide-ranging Marriage, A History, Stephanie Coontz points out that it’s only through the 20th century that sexual satisfaction, the consolidation of resources, domestic bliss, and romantic love were rolled together into the imagined ideal of a Western partnership. In some tangible ways, that ideal has been slowly unraveling. Polyamory is making a cameo even in the conversations of otherwise straitlaced young people like Britt. We live in a world where platonic college students play at BDSM and “pretend to be a couple just to spice things up”; where OkCupid reported such an uptick in users interested in non-monogamy that they added features allowing partners to link their profiles together or set up a profile as a couple.
When I spoke to Elizabeth Sheff, who has been studying polyamory for more than a decade, she told me that older generations are learning to practice above-ground non-monogamy from the internet. People coming of age now, however, are hearing about it from friends. “Look,” she told me, “if monogamy were natural we probably wouldn’t need to have so many rules about it.” ...
National Consent Month is proudly brought to you by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and the Arizona Power Exchange. Please join us for Consent Month in September 2016 and we will list your event and help publicize it.
Attendees of The 2016 Alamo Leather Contest will certainly never forget!
Late Saturday evening, at approximately 1030, just a few minutes prior to the announcement of The Alamo Leather Contest’s Winners bar staff swept through the Mad Marlin’s basement and parking lot. They were instructing customers in the basement to finish their drinks and instructed to dump their drinks if they were in the parking lot. Soon thereafter contest producers abruptly announced Mr. Alamo Leather 2016 Shawn Fox and Alamo Bootblack 2016 Sugar Bear.
At this time the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and San Antonio Police Department proceeded to raid the north side establishment. It was announced at the beginning of the raid that persons with faces not matching their photo ID could be ticketed and or arrested. Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the event’s emcee bolted from the establishment. ...
British magazine FK recently surveyed 1,006 gay men about their opinions on open and polyamorous relationships — that is, relationships that aren’t exclusively monogamous. In short, gay and bi guys who’d never been in an open/poly relationship tended to regard them as negative, and guys who had been in one tended to view them more positively. These findings reflect similar ones from a September 2013 study in the journal Psychology & Sexuality.
Considering the negative outlook by monogamous people, it’s not surprising that 65 percent of those surveyed perceived societal stigma against poly/open relationships.
A polyamorous session at this year’s national conference on LGBTQ equality (Creating Change) said that anti-poly stigma includes the inability to bring more than one partner to company events, the awkwardness of mentioning multiple partners to other potentially judgmental people, the lack of healthy poly relationships on TV or film and the dangers of being labelled a pervert, getting rejected from jobs or having your children taken away in a custody battle just for being polyamorous.
Seriously. The struggle is real.
But there may be more poly/open people than most Americans realize. Australian academic Kelly Cookson said that anywhere from 1.2 to 9.8 million Americans are in some sort of non-monogamous arrangement (that’s up to to 3 percent of the U.S. population). And the numbers could actually be much higher as many people only call themselves monogamous to avoid social stigma.
Truth is, we’re taught to see non-monogamy as evil, slutty, immature and selfish rather than viable, healthy, mature and loving. Just think of “the other woman” or the “homewrecking playboy” tropes in movies in TV.
To change that, polyamorous attendees at Creating Change sought to lay out a social and political agenda for the modern polyamory movement. Here’s some of the goals they came up with:
Changing zoning laws so that multiple parent families aren’t kicked out of “single family homes”
Creating a comprehensive website with legal info about parenting/employment/tax/healthcare for quick, easy reference. This site should include information about legally and emotionally dissolving polyamrous relationships too.
Providing information about non-monogamous relationship styles in sex education classes.
Training workers in the childcare, family services and domestic violence fields about the existence of poly families so that they’re not viewed as a threat to child safety.
A push for governments to recognize polyamorous marriage and to ensure non-discrimination protections for polyamorous people.
A push for employers to start providing multiple-spousal benefits.
A push for polyamory workshops during local Pride events that teach (among other things) that polyamory is not cheating but that cheating can occur within polyamorous relationships.
Educating counselors and therapists about polyamorous relationships so they can effectively counsel them .
Pushing for positive representations of polyamorous relationships in the media.
Protests and awareness campaigns to teach people about anti-poly stigma and polyamorous political aims. ...
I meet Blythe and Tom in a bar in Clapham. Blythe's pastel-pink hair is easy to spot from a distance. Slim, sandy-haired Tom sits beside her. As I approach, their heads are together and they're giggling softly. They look every inch the loved-up couple. I introduce myself and slide on to the sofa next to them, hoping three won't be a crowd. I needn't have worried.
The pair have been polyamorous from the beginning of their relationship after both realising, separately, that monogamy wasn't doing it for them. Polyamory is an umbrella term for intimate relationships that involve more than two people. The expression covers everything from swinging to triad relationships. Typically, these encounters involve sex, although it's not a prerequisite.
The dating website OkCupid recently became the first dating site to add a "polyamory" function for its users, allowing already established couples to search the site for people to join their relationships. The feature will also be available to singletons looking for open relationships to join.
The lead singer of the British band Vaults, Blythe Pepino, 29, and her partner, Tom Jacob, 27, agree to meet me to shed some light on what it's like to be non-monogamous. The couple dissolves into giggles when I ask if they've had time to prepare for our interview. Exchanging knowing looks, they tell me they tried to do some planning that afternoon but got "distracted". Cue more titters.
They have been an item for two years and live together in south London. Blythe also has a girlfriend, Alice, whom she's been with for over a year. Alice – an artist – lives in Bristol, so they don't get to see each other that often. Tom is seeing another girl, Sian, whom he met on Tinder. In addition to this, Tom and Blythe recently started dating a couple, Nich and Sonya, whom they met at a specialist club night in London. Blythe tells me they "fell in love with them as a couple" and now hang out regularly. Sometimes they go to the movies, sometimes they have group sex. Blythe and Tom also have one-night stands with people, although these happen less frequently. "I'm just not that good at them," Tom says.
A common misconception, they tell me right off the bat, is that people in polyamorous relationships don't get jealous. That, apparently, is not the case at all. In fact, both Tom and Blythe readily admit to having experienced feelings of jealousy at some stage in their relationship. The trick, they say, lies is how they deal with that emotion. Namely, through talking. Open and honest communication is essential to polyamory. Blythe and Tom tell me that whenever one of them sleeps with someone new, they schedule a meeting the following day to discuss what the latest tryst means for their relationship.
"When we started, we had one rule, which was that we'd always talk about it," Tom says. "If one of us had been with someone else, we'd put a bit of time aside the next day." ...
I studied composition with Georg Friedrich Haas in Basel from 2011-2013, his last years there before his move to New York City, where he teaches at Columbia University. In my Master’s recital, a musician showed late and an instrument I built broke, and I had trouble facing the—very supportive—audience. He managed to make me. Our last lesson, afterwards, was dedicated to subject of personal confidence.
Maybe this talk reflected a change in Haas at the time, too. As his new wife and partner, Mollena Lee Williams-Haas put it in a speech to Playground Sexuality Events, “he is freshly out as a kinky person.” We spoke by phone and email about this change and its effect on his life and music.
VAN: WHEN I EMAILED YOU ABOUT DOING THIS INTERVIEW, YOU RESPONDED THAT YOU WERE A DIFFERENT PERSON FROM THE TEACHER I KNEW IN BASEL. WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?
Georg Friedrich Haas: For decades, I tried to suppress and reject my sexual orientation. I thought of it as immoral. Then I decided to embrace it. I was incredibly lucky to find a partner who is willing to embrace it with me. This weight—I’ve carried it for decades, now suddenly it’s gone. That has caused a very fundamental change in me.
HOW DID YOU MEET MOLLENA?
The way things started wasn’t especially romantic. We met online, on OK Cupid—it wasn’t even a special website.
YOU BOTH HAVE DECIDED TO BE VERY PUBLIC ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY.
Yes, she is very open about it, and since I’m her partner, I’m automatically present in public too. This is very much a part of the change in me. I don’t need to be ashamed of my orientation; I don’t mind if it’s discussed in public. But I’d like to go one step further. For four decades, I suppressed something. I had three marriages, all of which were doomed to fail, even though at least some of my ex-wives were fantastic people. My three children have a father whose interests are irreconcilable with normal family life. My life, and the lives of the people close to me, would have been better if I hadn’t suppressed my orientation. Now I’m living my sexuality openly—and an important part of that is, I want to encourage people a few decades younger than me to embrace and accept the way they feel. I don’t want them to try and suppress their feelings for decades like I did.
HOW HAS THIS CHANGE AFFECTED YOUR WORK?
I’m able to write more than I ever could before. And when I’m writing, I feel more concentrated, at ease, lighter than I used to. I no longer need composition as a form of psychotherapy. Instead it’s become a spiritual act; in exploring the world of sound, I venture into places...other people look for that feeling in religion. I can focus my entire life on music. My partner is submissive, which means that she makes her own wishes subordinate to mine. And a side effect of this is that I have someone by my side who takes care of all the problems of daily life for me. I’m able to dedicate 100 percent of my time—well, maybe 80 percent—to composing. I spend the the rest of my time on my personal life and on teaching. ...
When I started sleeping with Dylan, a gorgeous 24-year-old artist who worked at the local café, I thought it would be a fun, casual rebound fling. I’d just gotten out of a tumultuous, jealousy-ridden relationship with a guy who believed monogamy meant never speaking to anyone I had ever kissed. I was pretty down on the whole idea of monogamy, and being the fiery risk-taker that I am, my reaction was to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. I told Dylan I wanted to continue dating other people, and he was welcome to do the same. Even though he was hesitant, we gave it a try.
Six months into our hot fling, he experienced a typical twentysomething in NYC financial catastrophe, and moved in with me. Things were getting serious, in spite of all my best efforts. And I was falling in love.
I fall in love all the time, though. I identify as polyamorous, which means I can (and do) find myself in love with more than one person at a time. Some people argue that being polyamorous is an orientation, like being queer. My experience supports that idea. I have a guy back home who I’ve been madly in love with for years, thanks to the intoxicating combination of intensely hot sex, and the space and time we have between visits. No matter how deep I go with a new partner, no one has ever wiped him from my heart.
And I have the best crushes. I'm absolutely obsessed with several charismatic artist types who I can’t look at without actually quivering. Some of these affairs turn into love and stick around for years; some are really intense and last only last a few weeks. But all of them are important to me. I enjoy these connections immensely; they make me feel sexy, vibrant, and excited to be alive. After spending a year-and-a-half with the cut-off-all-your-exes type, I never wanted to give up that part of myself again.
I wanted to try out a polyamorous lifestyle with Dylan to see if it worked for me. It was a way to avoid losing myself in this relationship, like I had in all my other ones. For most of my life, I believed everything our culture teaches us about romantic love: that we are looking for our other half or someone to complete us, and that this was the key to happiness. Whenever I would find someone who wanted to be with me, I’d devote all my energy to him. I would subvert my own interests in favor of his. I’ve changed my hair and wardrobe, stopped talking to ex-lovers, switched my career focus — hell, I used to customize my lady bits to suit my partner’s preferences. You name it, I did it — all in the name of love. ...