Everyone wants to know how my polyamorous family works. You'd be surprised how normal we really are
My family is very ordinary to me. We eat dinner together. We gather in the living room and watch movies. Last weekend, we went on a camping trip and sat around the campfire making s’mores, the grown-ups enjoying a few beers while my 9-year-old daughter challenged us with endless rounds of “would you rather?” It all feels so wonderfully mundane that sometimes I have to remind myself that most people view us as strange at best, depraved at worst.
I’m polyamorous, which means I believe you can love multiple partners at the same time. I’m in a relationship with my husband of nearly 17 years, and my boyfriend, with whom I celebrated my second anniversary in May. (In polyamorous lingo, our relationship is known as a “V”; I’m the “hinge” of the V and my two partners are the vertices.) People often say our lives sound complicated, but the truth is, we’re quite harmonious. We often joke that we’d make incredibly boring subjects for reality TV.
That hasn’t kept the world at large from condemning us. The right has spent years warning that we are the travesty waiting down the slippery slope of same-sex marriage. With every stride forward for marriage equality, I can count on turning on the TV to find conservative talking heads lumping families like mine in with pedophilia and bestiality. But liberals, for the most part, don’t treat us much better. They’re quick to insist that same-sex marriage would never, ever lead to such awful things — failing to point out how multi-partner relationships between consenting adults do not exactly belong in the same category as “relationships” with children or goats.
Even people who don’t vilify us still have a great deal of misconception. Aren’t you just “having your cake and eating it too,” they ask me? Isn’t this unfair to the men? Doesn’t this hurt your daughter? The confusion is understandable. Many people have never seen a polyamorous family like ours before. So let me explain how it works — or, at least, how it works for us.
My path here was a long one. As far back as I can remember, I felt that loving one person romantically did not preclude the possibility of loving another at the same time. It seemed natural and intuitive to me. But I had no models for that way of living, so I assumed there was something wrong with me.
I married my husband and remained in a monogamous relationship with him for many years. I knew I wanted to be with him for the long haul. But I was never entirely fulfilled. I couldn’t shake the feeling that some part of me was repressed.
When I learned about polyamorous relationships, I knew that’s what I wanted. My husband wasn’t so sure, though. It sounded fine for other people, but just not him. And it still seemed unrealistic to me, so I never pressed the issue.
When I returned to school to finish my bachelor’s degree in my late 20s, I became friends with a man who changed my mind about all that. He believed in polyamory, too, and we had long conversations about it together: how it could work, how it was truly possible.
One night, I sat down with my husband and spilled everything. I told him that being polyamorous was a part of who I am, and I asked if he would at least do some research and give it serious consideration before dismissing the idea. He understood that I never would have asked this if it hadn’t been extremely important.
That conversation could have ended our marriage. But instead, our journey into non-monogamy began.
One of the biggest hurdles in non-monogamy — probably the hurdle — is jealousy. My husband was an incredibly jealous person back then, but he began to question its usefulness and purpose. Jealousy is born from a fear of losing a partner; if you believe that love and intimacy can be shared, and are not diminished by sharing, then that fear loses a lot of its power. It was liberating for my husband to step outside of the box that saw everyone else as some kind of threat. ...
You may have heard that with the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM-5), the American Psychological Association had “depathologized kink;” that the paraphilias (Fetishism, Sexual Masochism, Sadism… all of the ISM’s close to our hearts) are no longer necessarily diagnosable mental illnesses. This is tremendous news for kinky folks – especially those who have the misfortune to be involved in the legal system. Courts use the DSM to determine whether or not a party is mentally ill – which can have a huge impact on the outcome of cases, especially child custody cases. The removal of kink from the realm of mental illness has already had a tremendous impact on “real life” situations: according to Susan Wright of the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom (NCSF): “We’ve already seen the impact – NCSF immediately saw a sharp rise in the success rate of child custody cases for kinky parents after the proposed DSM-5 criteria was released three years ago.” To put it bluntly: the changes matter – they are important. But they’re not absolutely obvious to someone casually browsing through the DSM (as some of us are wont to do). Also, knowing the story of how the changes came about – and who the heroes of the story are – is inspiring by way of reminding us that dedicated, driven, kinky individuals can make a huge positive change. So this article is divided into two broad sections: first, I hope to explain in clear terms the what the changes look like and what they mean. Following that, I’ll tell you a bit about how these things came about.
Changes in the DSM through the years
The way the DSM works, each section begins with a definition of the ism, e.g. the paraphilia, followed by “diagnostic criteria,” that is to say the benchmark according to which the paraphilia is deemed a diagnosable disorder. So for example, sexual masochism was defined in the DSM-III (1987) (two editions ago) thus: “ Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.’’ A perfectly reasonable definition, right? But the benchmark for diagnosis was: “The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them.’’ Wait.. what? I understand “markedly distressed,” but… “has acted on these urges” ?! In other words, any kind of masochistic behavior in a consensual sexual relationship was necessarily pathologized. This had to change…
The next edition, the DSM-IV, left the many of the definitions the same, e.g. the definition of Sexual Masochism above. But it significantly changed the diagnostic criteria – the benchmark by which a doctor determined whether someone had a diagnosable mental illness. The new and improved criteria read: “The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically signi?cant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.’’ So to be a disorder, the sexual interest had to cause “clinically significant distress or impairment.” This was a vast improvement over the DSM-III, in fact, it sounds downright reasonable on paper. The problem is, if you dig a bit deeper – and sadly, it is often the job of doctors and lawyers to dig a bit deeper – the definition of “clinically significant distress or impairment” included “lead to legal complications, interfere with social relationships.” In other words, if someone with the power of diagnosis found your fondness for cuffs, whips, rope, or anything pervertable to be socially… problematic (to interfere with social relationships), you were in danger of diagnosis. And a diagnosis of mental illness in a courtroom, for example, could lead to all manner of discrimination – especially in the realm of, for example, child custody. This, too, had to change..
Enter the great people at NCSF, who through the hard work (described in part 2 below) managed to get the diagnostic criteria changed. On paper the diagnostic criteria read similarly – for example, the criteria for “sexual masochism” still has the “clinically significant distress” language, but gone is the over-broad list of what constitutes “clinically significant distress.” Furthermore, the DSM-V contains explicit exceptions for sexual interests as opposed to disorders, e.g. “if they declare no distress, exemplified by anxiety, obsessions, guilt, or shame about these paraphiliac impulses, and are not hampered by them in pursuing other personal goals, they could be ascertained as having masochistic sexual interest, but should not be diagnosed with sexual masochism disorder.” (emphasis in original. Now how cool is THAT!)
How the changes came about
It was not until 1973, with the publication of the DSM-III, that homosexuality was removed from the pantheon of “mental illness” (curing millions of gay men and lesbians overnight). In 1987, inspired by some of the folks who brought about the de-pathologizing of homosexuality, Guy Baldwin and Race Bannon started the first “DSM Project,” a grassroots coalition of therapeutic professionals aimed at removing alternative sexualities from the realm of mental illness. Through tireless advocacy they successfully inspired substantial changes to the classification of kink in the DSM-IV. The two also collaborated on formalizing “Kink Aware Professionals,” a listing of kink-friendly therapists, lawyers, and other professional service providers, now maintained by NCSF.
The more recent DSM Project was run by NCSF, and primarily by Susan Wright. The revision of the entire DSM was accomplished through the creation of subject area workgroups, and narrower subworkgroups. Susan heard that the DSM was going to be revised, and when the names of the Sexual and Gender Identities Workgroup and the Paraphilias Subworkgroup were released, she emailed many of the participants trying to get someone’s ear. At first she didn’t hear back, but then had the good fortune to see Dr. Richard Krueger, a member of the subworkgroup, at a panel. She says: “I went up to him afterwards and gave him the 2-minute capsule of… how the DSM perpetuates the stigma that [kinky people] are ‘sick.’ He pulled out his copy of the DSM-IV-TR (he actually carried it with him!) and I pointed to the areas that were problematic – including the list that described what constitutes ‘clinically significant distress or impairment’ (e.g. are obligatory, result in sexual dysfunction, require the participation of non-consenting individuals, lead to legal complications, interfere in social relationships)(emphasis added). In the few minutes we had, I pointed out that …’legal complications’ and ‘interference in social relationships’ regularly happen because [kinky people are] a persecuted minority – [but] that doesn’t mean we have a mental illness.”
That one contact made all the difference – it gave her an in with the workgroup. She continues: “I emailed Dr. Krueger a number of documents that he forwarded on to the rest of his workgroup, including our arguments for differentiating consensual adult sexuality from the paraphilia’s, removal of the non-scientific text, and changing the criteria for determining mental illness. I also sent all of the evidence of discrimination we had gathered with my two Violence & Discrimination surveys, and through NCSF’s Incident Reporting & Response program, as well as the testimony of people who had been discriminated in legal proceedings and by health care professionals.” Throughout the process she continued clarify the difference between a paraphilia and a ‘paraphilic disorder’ for the members of the group – see, e.g., her letter to the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior – and push for the changes that were eventually adopted. ...
While the Supreme Court's decision in the DOMA case made it possible for ACLU attorneys to question the legality of anti-gay laws, there are still some within the gay community who wonder if their kind of love will ever be sanctioned.
What do a German man and two country boys have in common? The short answer: a polygamous marriage of sorts -- and more interestingly yet, they do not approve of gay marriage.
While some think of the idea of being in a relationship with more than one person as foreign, the self-proclaimed "threeo" are fine with their situation. In fact, they hope that one day America will be open enough not only to accept gay marriage but to accept folks who live and love the way that they do.
Kevin Coins, a slender, 22-year-old man with an animated face and semi-dark features, met Christopher Williams, 43, a shaved, blue-eyed, toned man who exudes confidence, and Jacob Bowers, 27, of Lexington N.C., a man with beautifully toned skin and a mysterious air about him. Williams and Bowers had already been together about seven years by the time Coins came jingling into their life.
Nestled with a gaggle of animals in a modest country house on several acres of land on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, N.C., an area most would consider rural, are three men who love and care for one another.
"We had been talking about it some and decided that having a third would complete our relationship," said Williams. Most people are lucky to make a relationship work with two partners. One can only imagine what it takes to make it work with three.
The term "polygamy" derives from the Greek "polugamos," for "often marrying." In layman's terms it usually means having more than one wife, but in the case of gay men, it means having more than one partner. Polygamy is a social practice that is not well tolerated in most countries and is usually against the law. These three men do their best to make the relationship work. ...
1. How many people do BDSM? There’s only one good random-sample survey on this question. It was taken in Australia a decade ago. Nearly 20,000 people between the ages of 16 and 59 were interviewed by phone. In the whole sample, 1.8 percent of men and 1.2 percent of women answered yes to the question, “In the last 12 months, have you been involved in B&D or S&M?” (The question went on to explain, “That’s bondage and discipline, sadomasochism, or dominance and submission.”) Among respondents who were sexually active, the BDSM minority barely increased, to 2 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women. Among those who had a sexual partner in the previous year, the figure was 2.2 percent of men and 1.3 percent of women.
That’s roughly equivalent to the sexually active gay population, as measured by similar self-reporting. In the Australian survey, the authors reported “less than 2 per cent of men and women” said they’d “had sex with a same-sex partner in the past year.” The percentage of respondents who said they’d ever had a gay sexual experience (not just in the last year) was higher—6 percent of men, 9 percent of women—and presumably the same is true of BDSM. In the Dutch study, for instance, 448 respondents accessed and completed a BDSM survey through a website devoted to personal secrets. Of these, 3 percent “indicated having had previous BDSM experience.”
2. Is it an orientation? Previously, I argued that homosexuality is fixed (an orientation) but that BDSM is flexible (a lifestyle). Kinksters replied that BDSM, too, is an orientation. What do the data show? Mostly flexibility. In a study of Finnish BDSM enthusiasts, 27 percent “endorsed a statement suggesting that only sadomasochistic sex could satisfy them,” but only 5 percent “no longer practiced ordinary sex.” Furthermore, 40 percent had changed their “preference” or “behavior” (in the authors’ words) from sadism to masochism or vice versa. In another study, conducted in southern California, “32% of the sample indicated that BDSM play occurred less than half the time they spent in sexual activity with partners, and just 11.2% indicated that BDSM play was their only form of sexual activity.” The core group, dedicated to BDSM, seems vastly outnumbered by dabblers.
3. Is it physically dangerous? That depends on what you’re doing. In the Finnish study, bondage and flagellation were standard: More than 80 percent of the sample had done them in the preceding 12 months. The riskier stuff was far less common: piercing (done by 21 percent of the sample), skin branding (17 percent), hypoxyphilia (suffocation games, also known as breath play—17 percent), electric shocks (15 percent), and knives or razor blades (13 percent). The California study found a similar pattern: Bondage, flogging, and spanking were standard (more than 80 percent had done them), but other practices—“fire play” (20 percent), “piercing play” (20), cutting (14), branding (9), and scarification (5)—were rarer. Some potentially dangerous activities were surprisingly common—“electric play” (42 percent), “knife scenes” (40), and “breath play” (27)—though in many cases, the implements were probably just props. It looks as though about 20 percent of these folks are actually cutting, burning, zapping, or partially suffocating each other.
That’s a minority, but it’s still worrisome. In the Finnish sample, those who said they’d previously suffered sexual abuse—23 percent of the women, and 8 percent of the men—were particularly problematic. According to the authors, “Visits to a physician because of injuries obtained during sm-sex were significantly more common among the abused respondents (11.1%) than among the non-abused respondents (1.8%).”
BDSM community leaders preach the importance of “safe words”—prearranged signals that the restrained, flogged, or dominated participant can use to withdraw consent and stop the action. In the Finnish study, 90 percent of the sample said they “sometimes” incorporated such words in their encounters. But less than half did so “without exception.” That, too, is a problem. ...
SAGINAW — The family of Alanna Gallagher, who was found murdered and wrapped in a tarp last week, addressed for the first time speculation swirling about their home life.
Miles McDaniel, listed on the six-year-old's obituary as one of Alanna's two fathers, explained that he, Karl Gallagher and Laura Gallagher are in a "polyamorous" relationship and co-parent the family's children.
"Anybody who knows the family knows there are three parents in the family," McDaniel said. "Talk to school; talk to the church."
McDaniel made the statement following a marathon question-and-answer session with investigators at the Saginaw Police Department.
He said he was requested to come down, and spent the afternoon and early evening hours on Tuesday talking about Alanna.
"There were a lot of questions," McDaniel said. "I think they might be cross-checking answers given by Laura and Karl when they did interviews."
Police have said since last week that no one in the family is a suspect in the murder case, but details in a search warrant first obtained by News 8 on Monday showcased a long list of items — more than 100 — that FBI and other investigators removed from the family home. ...
Last weekend Facebook removed dozens of BDSM-related pages from the site. The group BDSM Against Censorship lists nearly 100 groups affected by the ban, but there are unquestionably more groups and pages that have not made the list. Since last weekend a few of the groups have successfully gone through the process of petitioning for reinstatement, but the vast majority have not.
Fegatofi describes how she learned about the fate of her group. “The only notice I received was a little bubble notice saying it was unpublished and could be appealed, which I have done. The reason was a vague reason saying I violated Facebook regs by having nude, lewd or violent sexual pics posts. Which I did not!”
In a post on their Facebook page, Woman, Action & the Media explains they were not responsible for the Facebook crackdown, “We’ll say this again clearly: WAM! is fully in support of consensual BDSM pages, and have told Facebook explicitly that we oppose their crackdown on these pages. Please ask anyone claiming to attribute a quote to the contrary to us to provide a source for those quotes. They are false, plain and simple.”
Whether the BDSM groups and pages on Facebook were collateral damage from a campaign about violence against women or a decision by Facebook corporate to cut down on adult content, the results are the same; many groups will never return and all BDSM groups on Facebook are at risk from this point forward. If owners of BDSM pages and groups decide to stay on Facebook then they must assume that their groups can be shuttered at any time. ...
Supreme Court decisions on marriage unlikely to directly impact status of polygamy, other multiperson relationships
The U.S. Supreme Court could rule any day on challenges to two laws blocking legal recognition for same-sex marriages – the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's voter-approved Proposition 8 – but advocates for polyamorous couples say "marriage equality" for that minority group is unlikely in the immediate future.
Anita Wagner Illig, a longtime polyamory community spokesperson who operates the group Practical Polyamory, is unsure of the direct impact of a ruling that would legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide.
Until recently, she noted, "the polyamory community has expressed little desire for legal marriage," but now more options seem possible in the future. "We polyamorists are grateful to our [LGBT] brothers and sisters for blazing the marriage equality trail," Illig said.
Illig believes there is indeed a "slippery slope" toward legal recognition for polygamy if the court rules in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage, an argument typically invoked by anti-gay marriage advocates. "A favorable outcome for marriage equality is a favorable outcome for multi-partner marriage, because the opposition cannot argue lack of precedent for legalizing marriage for other forms of non-traditional relationships," she said.
But Illig concedes, "there will be quite a lot of retooling of the legal system necessary to establish marriage equality for marriages of more than two people. A marriage of two people of the same sex requires a lot less in terms of adapting today's systems, such as Social Security, for example, to accommodate it."
"It is hard to predict" the possible legal side-effects of the Supreme Court rulings "since [the cases are] about official recognition rather than criminalization," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told U.S. News.
Turley is representing the polygamist Brown family, which has four wives and one husband, in their challenge to Utah's cohabitation law. The Brown family stars in TLC's "Sister Wives," which records the family's day-to-day life, as well as their flight from Utah to Nevada after local authorities began to surveil them and openly mull felony charges. ...
But it generated a seven-year legal battle so bitter it ended up in federal court.
And when it was finally done Thursday evening, Gold Coast resident Kim O’Brien didn’t get a single cent out of the multi-millionaire ex-husband she’d sued for allegedly holding her against her will as a “sex slave.”
A jury took just four hours to reject the 52-year-old’s claims that wealthy Wisconsin businessman Kevin Anderson, 57, intentionally emotionally abused her and tied her up, gagged, beat and raped her during an unwanted introduction to the world of bondage, submission and sadomasochism on their California honeymoon in 2005.
The four men and four women jurors instead found it more likely that O’Brien was a “gold digger... motivated by greed” who’d enjoyed kinky sex and had lied about the abuse, as Anderson’s lawyer argued.
O’Brien — who endured repeated innuendos during the two-week trial suggesting she was a prostitute, and was shown naked, bound, blindfolded and spanked in humiliating photos displayed for jurors — pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows as the verdict was announced.
Wearing dark sunglasses, she quickly left the courthouse without comment. Her ex-husband had already returned to Wisconsin and was not in court to hear the verdict.
Earlier Thursday, lawyers for both sides told competing accounts of the couple’s deeply dysfunctional romance, which began when they met in Aspen, Colo., in 2000, saw Anderson shower O’Brien with luxury gifts and expensive trips before he proposed in a Michigan Avenue church in 2005, and ended in divorce soon after.
Representing O’Brien, Dean Dickie said during his closing argument that “whenever there is an allegation or an accusation between a man and a woman about what happened in the privacy of their bedroom ... inevitably it turns into ‘it was all the woman’s fault, and the man was the victim of something that was made up.’”
He said O’Brien had been “psychologically scarred” by being violently held to the terms of a “slave contract” that required her to address her husband as “master” and parade around the house naked, adding that other women would be at risk if Anderson was not held liable.
But representing Anderson, Charles Cole said O’Brien’s account was “a fantasy — it’s a movie script.”
Arguing that O’Brien had lured Anderson into sadomasochism as part of a pre-planned “setup” to later sue him, Cole showed a large naked photo of an apparently unhurt and smiling O’Brien taken hours after the alleged honeymoon assault. ...