Revelers in the rainbow-washed crowd smiled and cheered this month as the little blond girl in the parade float pageant-waved to the B-52's "Love Shack."
Next to the float, the girl's father, Billy Holder, handed out fliers to the Atlanta Pride Parade crowd. His wife, Melissa, carried a banner along with Jeremy Mullins, the couple's partner.
"Polyamory: Having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals," read their purple-lettered banner, embellished with an infinity heart.
The "awws" and waves from the crowd gave way to some puzzled looks and snickers.
"What's poly?" a woman asked, looking toward a handwritten sign on the float that read "Atlanta Poly Paradise."
"Multiple partners?" the man next to her guessed.
Sort of. As the concept of open relationships rises in pop culture and political debates, some polyamorous families like the Holders and Mullins see an opportunity to go public and fight stereotypes that polyamory is just swinging, cheating or kinky sex.
It's not just a fling or a phase for them. It's an identity. They want to show that polyamory can be a viable alternative to monogamy, even for middle-class, suburban families with children, jobs and house notes.
"We're not trying to say that monogamy is bad," said Billy Holder, a 36-year-old carpenter who works at a university in Atlanta. "We're trying to promote the fact that everyone has a right to develop a relationship structure that works for them."
For the Holder-Mullins triad, polyamory is three adults living in the same home about 20 miles south of Atlanta. They share bills, housework and childcare for their 9-year-old daughter. They work at the same place, sharing carpooling duties so someone can see their daughter off to school each day.
Surrounded at the parade by drag queens from El Gato Negro nightclub, singers from a gospel choir and supporters of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, Billy Holder didn't stand out in his jeans, T-shirt and wide-brimmed, sun-shielding hat. That's sort of the point, he said: to demonstrate that polyamorists, or polys, are just like anybody else.
But, he's quick to add, "It takes a lot of work and it's not for everybody."
It's a common refrain from long-practicing polys. Jealousy among partners is one thing, but they also face or fear disapproval from neighbors, relatives and coworkers. The Holders and Mullins dealt with rejection from parents and one of Melissa Holder's sons when they revealed their relationship. They've also been the subject of a child welfare probe that ended in no charges being laid.
"We've been through it all," said 35-year-old Jeremy Mullins, a computer programmer.
That's why they're coming out, he said -- to change the status quo. And yet, their willingness to speak with CNN over the past 18 months came with conditions, such as the request to not name their employers.
Marching in the parade for the fourth year is just one way they're trying to promote public acceptance of polyamory. Someday, they want to challenge laws that criminalize adultery and cohabitation, Mullins said.
"We want to promote the idea that any relationship is valid as long as it is a choice made by consenting adults," he said. "In this regard, and as in most things, promoting public acceptance is the first step."
It's an uphill battle. Many traditional marriage counselors and relationship therapists discourage non-monogamy, and in the absence of more research on the long-term effects of polyamory, modern science and academia hasn't reached a consensus on whether it's a healthy relationship structure.
Even among a crowd as colorful as the Pride Parade, the giggles and questions suggest polyamory is still a way of life that's on the fringes.
"Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously," it said.
"Polyamory is not a swing club or group."
"Polyamory is not about recreational or promiscuous sex."
Otherwise, there are no universal rules for "how it works," one of the most common question polys say they hear, Holder said. The most common dynamic tends to start with a couple, married or unmarried, who might identify as straight, gay or bisexual. Guidelines are set within each relationship -- ideally, a negotiated framework of communication based on trust and honesty, he said. ...
Just looking at it, you wouldn’t suspect the house to be anything but normal. It’s large and white, it’s a home dedicated to “clean and sober living” and is located in a rural area of Eugene. Yet there’s a room in the basement of the house where activities take place that many people probably don’t know about: blood is shed intentionally, whips are flicked on soft skin and ropes decorate women’s bodies, which are then suspended from the ceiling.
It’s called the “dungeon,” a place where pleasure is synonymous with pain.
The dungeon belongs to “Mech,” a self-proclaimed “fireplay instructor,” rope rigger and artist and an “old submissive with a sadist streak.” Like many in the BDSM community, pain is Mech’s aphrodisiac, and he enjoys giving it just as much as receiving it.
“To a true sadist, hurting someone is erotic,” Mech said. “I can very often bring girls to orgasm without even touching them.”
Wearing all black with pierced ears (two earrings in each) and a goatee, you’d never guess Mech has worked as a mechanic before, then a firefighter EMT, then a firefighter chief. All you see is his passion for pain and pleasure: In the dungeon, his eyes light up as he gives a tour. On one corner is the “St. Andrew’s Cross,” an x-shaped wooden piece onto which he ties women up. In another are the fire torches, colored ropes and a scrapbook of various tattoo patterns he uses to cut “tattoos” in to the skin of others using outlines in the shape of butterflies or Hello Kitty.
Needless to say, the 70-year-old is no rookie to BDSM. He has been doing this for 12 years, first meeting his ex-mistress through a BDSM chat room after he ended his 30-year marriage. Today, he hosts weekly open houses and private sessions. Some of the lessons include teaching others the proper way to hit one another (“Just stay away from the kidneys”) and how to play with fire safely.
Mech also performs at Diablo’s Downtown Lounge, a nightclub in Eugene that hosts semiannual fetish balls and quarterly fetish nights. Though the club is soon closing down (its last fetish ball is Oct. 26), it has been a public space for much of the fetish community in Eugene for the last 14 years. On fetish nights, there’s everything from spanking and piercing to fire play and cutting.
“People often refer to us as ‘that’ fetish bar” said Diablo’s owner Troy Slavkovsky. “Diablo’s has introduced it more to the masses.”
Rob Reynolds, a performer at Diablo’s for the past four years, would agree. “Diablo’s has always given others the ability to check out the scene in a setting that isn’t intimidating,” he said.
When he performs, Reynolds uses “impact play,” a practice in which one person is struck repeatedly by another. Most of his subjects are naked and he hits them with instruments that are visually stunning and effective: like floggers, crops and paddles. He will use anything, he says, that can get them to “where they need to go.”
“I’m just the bus driver,” Reynolds said. “And they love it. Which means I do, too. Sometimes, I can’t even get them to get off the stage.” ...
The city Zoning Board Appeals has rejected a request from a group that caters to people with “alternative lifestyles” to operate a community center in Midtown.
The board voted unanimously on Tuesday against the change-of-use filed by the group Feel Me Breathe for the building at 1-11 Sterling St. Board members said they rejected the request because the building’s owner, Michael Piazza, did not show he would suffer “unnecessary hardship” if the change was turned down.
The change was needed because the building is located in an office zone. The community center operated at the site for 11 months until being shut down by the city earlier this month.
The city’s attorney, Andrew Zweben, said Feel Me Breathe did not obtain permission for the building’s use, did not undergo a required Planning Board review and did not get a parking variance.Supporters of Feel Me Breathe say it is a “discreet” group that provides a haven for people with alternative lifestyles. The group says its membership is more than 600, with many coming from different parts of the United States.People under age 18 are not allowed into the center, and non-members cannot enter unless invited.About 30 members of the group attended Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.
Board members asked whether Feel Me Breathe allowed sexual activity inside the Sterling Street building. Accord resident Tina Woodbury, who heads the group, said no.
Woodbury said the building simply was a gathering spot where people with “alternative lifestyles” — such as gays, lesbians, transsexuals and cross-dressers — could gather “without judgment.”
“We embrace everyone who considers themselves alternative lifestyle — whether they are into SM, or they are bi or poly or trans or furry, cross-gender or cross-dressers,” Woodbury said. “If you feel you are different from the norm and you need a place where you can be embraced and not be judged, Feel Me Breathe wants to welcome those types of people.”
Woodbury, who identified herself as is bisexual, said classes given at the center have dealt with such subjects as bondage, domination, sadism and masochism. She said the classes are given so that people can conduct themselves safely.Woodbury said she was disappointed by the board’s decision.“Now we have no place to call home,” she said.
Zoning Board of Appeals member Andi Turco-Levin, a former city alderwoman and one-time mayoral candidate, said the Sterling Street location is inappropriate for Feel Me Breathe’s center because it is near the Boys & Girls Club of Kingston and a youth baseball field.
Midtown resident James Ritcher echoed that sentiment.
“If this is what they want, fine. Let’s find an appropriate place that is correct for it,” he said.
S&M fetish club or adult lifestyle community center?
Either way, Kingston is shutting it down. The owner of the building says he will fight to get it open again.
The business, called Feel Me Breathe, is about a block from the Midtown Boys and Girls Club, a baseball field and in the same building as a cheese factory. Owners appeared in front of a Zoning Board of Appeals board to ask for a variance Tuesday night.
But, despite passionate support from about 30 members dressed in purple, the board voted unanimously Tuesday night to not grant the business a variance, essentially telling them to hit the road.
Andi Turco-Levin, a zoning board member, said not enough information was provided by the building owner, Michael Piazza, to prove there was a financial hardship to grant the variance. A variance is essentially a waiver from zoning rules.
“It's never easy having to separate your heart from a decision to be made when serving on a public board,” Turco-Levin said.
Feel Me Breathe has operated out of 1-11 Sterling St. for about 11 months, a building that also houses a karate club and residential apartments. At question Tuesday was if Feel Me Breathe is adult use and, if so, can it operate inside that zoning area.
Tina Woodbury, one of the owners of Feel Me Breathe, said to Zoning Board members that the business works on donations, isn't open to the general public and supports alternative lifestyle activities.
But when Zoning Board members quizzed Woodbury further about specific activities, she told them members engage in activities from playing board games and going on vegetable picking trips to giving educational tutorials on sadomasochism and dominance. But ...
“Feel Me Breathe is not a sex club,” Woodbury said. “We don't have sex.”
Woodbury says the place is an adult lifestyle community center. Andrew Zweben, Kingston's city attorney, says the business falls into a zone that's limited for office space and 1-3 family homes. If you're not one of those you would need a variance, Zweben said.
“Whatever it is, it's not one of those,” Zweben said in previous interview. “But if that's what's going on, it has to stop.”
About 30 core members of Feel Me Breathe wearing purple T-shirts came out to support the club, calling it a place of openness and trust where people can feel comfortable to talk about their lives and relationships.
Members cited the popularity of such books as “Fifty Shades of Grey” and a six month investigation on "Oprah" as the practices jumping into the mainstream. Turco-Levin said she was concerned that the club was close to kids facilities on Greenkill Avenue.
“Our major concern is the proximity to the Boys and Girls Club,” Levin said.
Woodbury defended her club, saying that most members were responsible parents, members of the community or those traveling from as far as Canada to spend money in Kingston. Several members said they moved to Kingston to be closer to the club. ...
When my last essay appeared in Slate, a number of people were offended that I compared polyamory and homosexuality. The commenters’ chief objection seemed to be that homosexuality is innate, like race, and therefore “more worthy” of civil rights, while polyamory is a choice.
Even a cursory examination of the facts will blur any claim of a black-and-white, binary distinction. Sexual orientation—how sexual desire and emotional connection are informed by the physical sex and gender performance of a potential partner—is informed by both nurture and nature. Otherwise you couldn’t possibly get the vast differences that are observed across cultures and eras. There’s good reason to believe that it’s partly genetic and perhaps partly developmental as well, but at the margin, there are surely some people for whom same-sex intimacy is a choice.
Meanwhile, there are some people whose innate personality traits make it very difficult to live happily in a monogamous relationship but relatively easy to be happy in an open one. Given the persecution heaped on gays in most of the world in recent generations, and the relative difficulty of “passing,” there are probably few people who would choose that identity unless they could not find happiness in straight life. So, sure, there may be a larger fraction of non-monogamists for whom their unconventional relationship is “optional” or “a choice.” But there are almost certainly also some “obligate” non-monogamists who would never feel emotionally satisfied and healthy in a monogamous relationship, any more than a gay man would be satisfied and healthy in a straight marriage.
For many polyamorists, the idea of a partner telling them that they can never, under any circumstance, embrace their feelings for a new partner feels terrifying and stifling. If you’re a monogamist, the idea of your partner wanting somebody else may make you ask, “Why am I not enough for you?” But if you are innately poly, the idea of a primary partner trying to cut you off from even the possibility of new love fills you with a parallel anguish: “I promise I’ll never spend so much time and energy elsewhere that it takes away anything I promised to you, any more than I’d let work or hobbies take me away from you. You’ll get everything from me that you always have. Why isn’t my adoration and devotion enough for you?”
I have little experience with non-monogamists who are purely interested in outside sex without wanting emotional involvement. I would guess that among swingers, there’s a larger fraction for whom it’s “optional”—essentially a hobby. However, I also expect that if you asked enough of them, you’d find some who would tell you that they can’t imagine feeling fulfilled any other way; thatin order to be satisfiedwith their primary relationship, they need to experience others’ desire for their partner. Is that unusual, or even rare? Sure. But as long as everyone’s having fun and nobody’s getting hurt, why should that matter? The left-handed are also a small minority. That doesn’t mean we need to tag them as abnormal or aberrant. (Or sinister.)
I’m hopeful that the psychological and sociological studies of non-monogamists that are beginning to emerge will eventually address these issues clearly. My experience suggests that perhaps half to two-thirds of polyamorists—those who want to be able to fully embrace multiple loving relationships, with sex as merely part of that (albeit an important part, just as it is in monogamous relationships)—are “obligate poly.” I’ve heard a lot of stories from people about having a few miserable monogamous relationships before they were introduced to the concept of honest, consensual non-monogamy. I doubt there are many gay folks, anymore, who get to age 20 or 25 without learning that the kind of relationship they yearn for is actually possible. That kind of experience was common when I first joined the poly community in the ’90s. Media exposure is gradually ending that problem, just as it did for gays. I suppose it may also lead to an increase in the number of “optional poly” folks joining the community, just as increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships has probably encouraged more bi people to try a same-sex relationship.
Still, as much as I enjoy omphaloskeptical explorations of the origins of my tribe, when it comes to the more important question of social acceptance, this entire conversation is a red herring. The “born this way” argument has been politically useful, but the moral argument for acceptance of gay relationships doesn’t require it. Nobody ever claimed that Mildred and Richard Loving were born with some kind of overwhelming predisposition to prefer partners of another race and that they thus couldn’t marry somebody of their own race. Choosing an interracial partner was, and is, a choice. So what? The correct response to the nature vs. nurture question is: There’s no way to know for sure, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people love each other, treat each other with respect, and live happy, productive lives.
A monogamous bisexual has the “choice” to simply settle down with an opposite-sex partner, without ever trying intimacy with a same-sex partner. You could even argue that a “truly” monogamous straight person would “choose” to settle down with their very first partner. But very few of us would seriously recommend that. The statistics say that those who marry young divorce far more frequently. Those who take the time to experiment and figure out what they really want from a relationship when they finally do marry, stay married and are better able to invest in their children. ...
Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others -- when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.Two studies led by psychological scientist Erin Buckels of the University of British Columbia revealed that people who score high on a measure of sadism seem to derive pleasure from behaviors that hurt others, and are even willing to expend extra effort to make someone else suffer.
The new findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
"Some find it hard to reconcile sadism with the concept of 'normal' psychological functioning, but our findings show that sadistic tendencies among otherwise well-adjusted people must be acknowledged," says Buckels. "These people aren't necessarily serial killers or sexual deviants but they gain some emotional benefit in causing or simply observing others' suffering."
Based on their previous work on the "Dark Triad" of personality, Buckels and colleagues Delroy Paulhus of the University of British Columbia and Daniel Jones of the University of Texas El Paso surmised that sadism is a distinct aspect of personality that joins with three others -- psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism -- to form a "Dark Tetrad" of personality traits.
To test their hypothesis, they decided to examine everyday sadism under controlled laboratory conditions. They recruited 71 participants to take part in a study on "personality and tolerance for challenging jobs." Participants were asked to choose among several unpleasant tasks: killing bugs, helping the experimenter kill bugs, cleaning dirty toilets, or enduring pain from ice water.
Participants who chose bug killing were shown the bug-crunching machine: a modified coffee grinder that produced a distinct crunching sound so as to maximize the gruesomeness of the task. Nearby were cups containing live pill bugs, each cup labeled with the bug's name: Muffin, Ike, and Tootsie.
The participant's job was to drop the bugs into the machine, force down the cover, and "grind them up." The participants didn't know that a barrier actually prevented the bugs from being ground up and that no bugs were harmed in the experiment.
Of the 71 participants, 12.7% chose the pain-tolerance task, 33.8% chose the toilet-cleaning task, 26.8% chose to help kill bugs, and 26.8% chose to kill bugs.
Participants who chose bug killing had the highest scores on a scale measuring sadistic impulses, just as the researchers predicted. The more sadistic the participant was, the more likely he or she was to choose bug killing over the other options, even when their scores on Dark Triad measures, fear of bugs, and sensitivity to disgust were taken into account.
Participants with high levels of sadism who chose to kill bugs reported taking significantly greater pleasure in the task than those who chose another task, and their pleasure seemed to correlate with the number of bugs they killed, suggesting that sadistic behavior may hold some sort of reward value for those participants.
And a second study revealed that, of the participants who rated high on one of the "dark" personality traits, only sadists chose to intensify blasts of white noise directed at an innocent opponent when they realized the opponent wouldn't fight back. They were also the only ones willing to expend additional time and energy to be able to blast the innocent opponent with the noise.
Together, these results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost -- a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.
The researchers hope that these new findings will help to broaden people's view of sadism as an aspect of personality that manifests in everyday life, helping to dispel the notion that sadism is limited to sexual deviants and criminals.
Buckels and colleagues are continuing to investigate everyday sadism, including its role in online trolling behavior.
"Trolling culture is unique in that it explicitly celebrates sadistic pleasure, or 'lulz,'" says Buckels. "It is, perhaps, not surprising then that sadists gravitate toward those activities."
And they're also exploring vicarious forms of sadism, such as enjoying cruelty in movies, video games, and sports.
The researchers believe their findings have the potential to inform research and policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse, and cases of military and police brutality.
"It is such situations that sadistic individuals may exploit for personal pleasure," says Buckels. "Denying the dark side of personality will not help when managing people in these contexts."
For more than two decades, New York photographer Barbara Nitke has cultivated an artistic viewpoint on the porn industry and BDSM communities.
Nitke visited IU Thursday to talk about her photographic work in the porn industry.
Her talk, “American Ecstasy: A Photographic Look Behind the Scenes of the Golden Age of Porn,” provided a behind-the-scenes look into certain sexual communities, particularly BDSM practices and adult film actors on set.
“Interviewing and photographing these people opened my mind to the fact that we’re all just built differently,” Nitke said. “And I found moments that I really considered to be worthy of art within the porn realm.”
Catherine Johnson-Roehr of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction organized the event highlighting Nitke’s work.
She said the Kinsey Institute received a money gift to fund the lecture from California photographer Michael Rosen, who also photographs in areas that are sex-positive.
“He asked us to use the funds to bring fine art photographers to campus to speak about their work,” Johnson-Roehr said....
Bud Izen wasn’t prepared for the reaction he received the first time he brought his two girlfriends with him to synagogue in Eugene, Ore.
The rabbi stopped the trio in the parking lot outside the synagogue and grilled Izen’s partners about whether or not they were really Jewish. Izen hasn’t been back since, but he and his girlfriend — now his wife — still engage in polyamory, the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time.
A number of partners have been part of the couple’s relationship since Izen, 64, and Diane Foushee, 56, first got together 3 1/2 years ago. Now they are seeking a third partner in the hopes of forming a stable three-way relationship, or triad.
“We want to use the relationship that we have to bridge our way to the next relationship,” said Foushee, “so that each of us in turn is given strength.”
Polyamory, often shortened to poly, is a term that first came into circulation in the 1990s. It is distinct from swinging in that it typically entails more than just sex, and from polygamy, where the partners are not necessarily married. Polyamorous relationships often are hierarchical, including a “primary” relationship between a couple that can be supplemented by a “secondary” relationship with a girlfriend, boyfriend or both.
Such arrangements remain far from mainstream acceptance. But in the wake of the progress made by gay and lesbian Jews in winning communal recognition for non-traditional partnerships, some polyamorous Jews are pushing to have their romantic arrangements similarly accepted.
“The only kind of queers who are generally accepted in some sects are monogamous married queers, upstanding queers,” said Mai Li Pittard, 31, a Jewish poly activist from Seattle. “Judaism right now is very oriented towards having 2.5 kids, a picket fence and a respectable job. There’s not a lot of respect for people on the fringe.”
A former editor of ModernPoly.com, a nationwide polyamory website, Pittard has been polyamorous for 10 years and is currently involved with three partners — two men and one woman. She is a violinist and vocalist in a fusion hip-hop klezmer band, the Debaucherantes, and likes to engage in culture jamming, the mixing of seemingly disparate cultural elements. Combining polyamory and Judaism is one example of that.
“For me, polyamory and Judaism make a lot of sense together,” Pittard said. “When I’m singing niggunim or hosting people at my Shabbat table, it’s just another way of experiencing a connection with a group of people.”
Pittard is frustrated by what she describes as a “white-bread,” conformist Jewish culture that refuses to accept polyamorous relationships. But some Jewish communities have been more accepting than others.
“It’s easier to be open about polyamory at temple than it is with my professional colleagues,” said Rachel, a 28-year-old San Francisco business owner who asked that her last name be withheld. “My particular segment of the Jewish community likes me because I’m different and they accept that being poly is part of that.”
Others are more conflicted about their polyamorous and Jewish identities.
Ian Osmond, 39, a Boston-area bartender and former Hebrew school teacher who has been in a polyamorous marriage for 10 years, says he believes the rabbinic ruling that prohibited polygamy nearly a millennium ago has expired. Still, Osmond worries that his behavior is inconsistent with Jewish law.
“I do feel there’s a conflict between polyamory and Judaism,” said Osmond, who is dating several women. “I feel that what we are doing is not supported by halachah.”
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a longtime champion of gay inclusion in the Jewish community, draws the line when it comes to polyamory.
“First of all, the depth of the relationship is much greater if it’s monogamous,” Dorff said. “The chances that both partners are going to be able to fulfill all the obligations of a serious intimate relationship are much greater in a monogamous relationship. I would say the same to gay or straight couples: There should be one person you live your life with.” ...