The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and Leather Archives & Museum proudly present: “BDSM? Erotic Play? What Are the Legal Risks?”
Where: Leather Archives & Museum 6418 N. Greenview Avenue Chicago, IL 60626
When: Saturday, October 19th from 2:30-5 p.m.
followed by a wine and cheese reception for the benefit of LA&M and NCSF from 5-7 p.m.
Presentation is free of charge. Wine and cheese reception has a suggested donation of $20 and is open to the public.
You and your BDSM partner may be having a great time, but you need to know about the legal risks. Join NCSF and legal experts for an overview of issues related to federal and state laws used to prosecute consensual BDSM criminally. This interactive discussion will review pertinent state and federal laws that are used against BDSM practitioners and the current state of the law. NCSF will discuss its Consent Counts program to decriminalize consensual BDSM and the group will discuss the issue of consent and give NCSF input.
Please RSVP to Judy Guerin at
Judge Rudolph A. Serra was appointed to the 36th District Court by Governor Jennifer Granholm on June 29, 2004. Judge Serra has a Bachelor's Degree with a double major in Psychology and Communication (with Honors) and a Master's Degree in Communication, as well as a Doctorate in Law. Judge Serra is a former school board member, a former County Commissioner and a former Human Rights Commissioner for the City of Detroit. He was selected as a Michigan "Lawyer of the Year" for 2000, and received the Rev. Martin L. King Jr. Freedom Award in 2001.
Judge Serra served as a Referee for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and was a member of the State Bar of Michigan Open Justice Commission. He wrote the Civil Rights survey for The Wayne State University Law Review (published in 2005) and co-authored Chapter 3 of the latest edition of Michigan Family Law. His writing had been published by The Journal of Psychology and Christianity and by The Journal of Intergroup Relations (National Association of Human Rights Workers). Judge Serra's book, "Bag A Fag" (published by the Triangle Foundation), is recognized as one of the most authoritative sources of information about anti-gay police misconduct.
Richard O. Cunningham, B.S., M.A., J.D., has advocated for over 30 years on issues of gender, race and sex. He has played a leading role in landmark legal cases, including being the supervising attorney on the U.S. Supreme Court case to allow women in military academies and the initiating attorney for the lawsuit during the Vietnam War that resulted in the “Fairness Doctrine” to require balanced media coverage of political issues. He is senior international trade partner at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP in Washington, D.C. He is the former Chair of the Boards of the NCSF Foundation and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. Dick is currently advising on legal and policy aspects of NCSF’s Consent Counts Project.
Judy Guerin is a well-known activist, writer, speaker and educator on issues of sexual freedom and gender expression. She is also a long-time practitioner of BDSM and sex educator on BDSM activities. She is a former board member of GenderPAC, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and Forum 21. She is a former steering committee member of the National Policy Roundtable of GLBTQ/HIV groups, former executive director of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and advisor to the European Union Human Rights Commission on issues of sexual freedom and GLBTQ issues. She currently directs NCSF’s Consent Counts Project to decriminalize consensual BDSM in the U.S.
NORRISTOWN – Having lost his appeal, an Upper Pottsgrove man is headed to jail next month for burglarizing the Pottstown home of a couple he met on a swingers website.
Wayne Matthew Rafferty, 30, of Mauger’s Mill Road, who was convicted of burglary-related charges after a nonjury trial in October 2010 and sentenced to jail, was back in Montgomery County Court on Wednesday where he learned he must begin serving his sentence after his appeal was denied by the Pennsylvania Superior Court last week.
“We took this case to trial because we had the evidence and I’m happy that the Superior Court affirmed the verdict,” said Assistant District Attorney Alec O’Neill. “Now, it’s only appropriate he serve the sentence for the crime he committed.”
Judge Thomas P. Rogers sentenced Rafferty to six-to-23-months in the county jail, to be followed by three years’ probation, in connection with the April 2009 break-in at the North Price Street home of his onetime swingers’ friends. Rafferty, who had been free on bail pending the appeal of his conviction, must report to jail on Sept. 3 to begin serving the sentence.
The judge said Rafferty must serve the first 30 days of the sentence behind bars, with the remainder of the sentence to be served under house arrest. That means Rafferty will be permitted to leave his home only for court-approved purposes.
The judge further ordered Rafferty to have no contact with the victims and to complete any counseling that may be recommended by probation officials.
Rogers, who convicted Rafferty of the charges during the 2010 nonjury trial, ordered Rafferty to pay $2,791 in restitution to the victims.
At the time of the trial, O’Neill alleged Rafferty committed the crime because he wanted to hurt the victims, not in a financial sense, but in an emotional sense, claiming Rafferty’s crime wasn’t a typical burglary that targets expensive items but instead was one that targeted items that had sentimental value.
The victims reported that among the items taken during the burglary were two laptop computers, “which include nude pictures of all four adults,” bras and underwear belonging to the victims, and gifts that had been exchanged between the couples, including 15 to 20 bottles of wine, various sex toys, a crepe maker and photographs, court papers indicate.
An investigation of Rafferty began on April 25, 2009, when a tenant of the North Price Street home notified borough police that she returned home after work and found it had been ransacked. The owners of the home, a husband and wife, were on vacation at the time of the break-in, court papers indicate.
“The officers observed almost all the kitchen cabinets open, an empty wine rack, numerous empty jewelry boxes and pictures strewn on the floor, a door to the combination safe open, and various dresser drawers and nightstand drawers open in the master bedroom,” Pottstown Police Officer Frank Glaser wrote in the arrest affidavit.
When the husband and wife victims returned home they told police they suspected Rafferty had something to do with the burglary, court papers indicate.
The victims reported that in September 2006, “they began a consensual adult sexual relationship with Wayne Rafferty and his wife” and communicated via a swinger’s website, according to the criminal complaint.
“(The victims) reported as the relationship evolved, Wayne was provided with the combination to their safe,” Glaser alleged, adding the information was provided to Rafferty so that he could retrieve “important papers” in the event something happened to the victims.
However, by July 2008, the victims’ relationship with Rafferty “had become strained,” police said. The victims told police that Rafferty had become “possessive and jealous” and upset about the victims speaking with other couples.
On the morning of July 22, 2008, the victims found Rafferty standing in their kitchen, according to court papers. One of the victims sent an email to Rafferty and Rafferty’s wife the same day, “dissolving the relationship” and advising Rafferty and his wife to not contact the victims in the future, according to the arrest affidavit....
Bob Bashara’s mistress frequently tried to end their relationship because of his constant lying but time and time couldn’t resist his aggressive pursuits, she testified Thursday.
Rachel Gillett and other witnesses also testified on the fourth day of Bashara’s preliminary examination for his wife’s murder about the couple’s alternative lifestyle — BDSM, bondage, domination, sadomasochism. Bashara was “Master Bob” and she was his slave, sometimes referred to as “Bella” and Bashara’s “Little Princess.”
“In the BDSM community, one partner is normally dominant and one submissive,” she said. “I’m extremely passive, and Bob is extremely dominant.”
Bashara told a second woman, Janet Leehmann of Oregon, who Bashara was pursuing for a third member of their relationship, that he and Gillett engaged in “breath play,” nearly every day and Gillett “loves it.”
But during a weekend visit to Leehmann about 10 days before the murder, he choked Leehmann from behind, and she said she “passed out cold,” indicating she didn’t like it. She said she was no longer interested in a relationship.
The hearing in 36th District Court, held in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit, will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a murder trial in Wayne County Circuit Court in the same building.
The building was shut down early Wednesday afternoon due to a power outage and was operating on a generator, with some of the floors closed.
Bashara, 55, is accused of murdering and conspiring to murder his wife, Jane, 56, a Mount Clemens native, in the garage of their Grosse Pointe Park home Jan 24, 2012. Her body was found the next day in her SUV parked in an east-side Detroit alley.
Joe Gentz, 49, formerly of St. Clair Shores, has testified that he strangled Jane Bashara under the threat of and promise of payment from Bashara. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving 17 to 28 years in prison, agreeing to testify against Bashara.
After a break from Gillett’s testimony Thursday morning, Judge Kenneth King admonished Bashara and Gillett for signaling to each other, both on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I witnessed some non-verbal communication between the defendant and the witness, putting his hand over his heart” on Wednesday, King said. “There will be no such thing tolerated. If I find it necessary, I will have Mr. Bashara removed from the courtroom.”
Bashara started to explain to the judge, “I have a skin rash on my chest,” when his attorney, Mark Procida, nodded and tapped Bashara’s arm.
While cross-examining Gillett, defense attorney Nancy Shell derided Gillett for her inability to end the relationship despite his many lies, such as saying his wife was dead and then they were separated, and claiming their divorce was final, as well as trying to pursue other women.
She complained that while she exposed him to her friends and family, he kept he shielded away from his family and friends.
“I’m too soft, too loving to be the other woman,” she told him.
But after each episode, he wooed her hard, sending her flowers, buying her lunch and promising he had a “plan” to spend the rest of his life with her.
Shell said, “You didn’t realize you were being strung along by Mr. Bashara?”
“Yes, I did,” Gillett answered.
Gillett read many emails, mostly filled with his promises and love declarations....
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A southwest Missouri man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison Wednesday for holding a young woman captive as a sex slave for six years.
Edward Bagley initially faced 11 federal charges accusing him of enticing an underage girl to be his sex slave, torturing and mutilating her, and allowing others to watch and participate in the torture sessions. In January, he pleaded guilty to one count of using an interstate facility to entice a minor into illegal sexual conduct.
Bagley agreed to the 20-year prison sentence as part of his plea arrangement — a deal his victim says will spare her from having to relive her ordeal in public.
"Even though Ed pleaded guilty, he still hasn't told the truth," the woman said in court, reading from a statement.
Prosecutors said Bagley, 46, and his wife, Marilyn, recruited the woman to live with them in their rural Lebanon, Mo., trailer in late 2002 and groomed her to become Bagley's sex slave. The Bagleys have insisted he didn't have sex with her until she turned 18 and that the often-extreme sex acts were consensual, but prosecutors believe it started years before that and was forced on the woman.
"I had no idea he was going to make it an every-single-night thing," the victim said in court as she gave her statement. "It started bad and got worse and worse."
She described how the Bagleys initially showed her images and videos of people practicing bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism — or BDSM — and told her it was fun. She signed a contract on her 18th birthday that Bagley said made her his sex slave for life.
As part of his sentence, Bagley also agreed to pay about $123,000 toward future counseling and medical care for the woman, who's now 27. Attorneys for Bagley declined to comment after his sentencing Wednesday.
The case came to light in early 2009 when the woman, then 23, was hospitalized after what prosecutors said was a torture session. Then-U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips called the case one of "the most horrific ever prosecuted in this district."
Cook, 34, of the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood received a 20-year sentence and must pay $123,000 in restitution. He pleaded guilty in December 2011 to one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion.
Henry, 53, former postmaster in Nevada, Mo., pleaded guilty in March 2011 to participating in a sex-trafficking conspiracy and transporting the victim across state lines for sexual activity. Of the six defendants, he is the only one whose plea deal didn't specify a prison sentence. He was sentenced to 10 years, $123,000 in restitution and lifetime supervision after he's released.
Marilyn Bagley along with Stokes, 65, of Lebanon and Noel, 47, of Springfield each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion. Marilyn Bagley, 48, is to receive probation and Stokes and Noel five years each.
The victim called Cook the most deviant of all the men who came to Bagley's trailer for torture sessions. Prosecutors say Cook watched her being whipped, locked in a dog cage, tied up and shocked with multiple electrical devices.
The woman said in court that she will never forget "how he laughed while I suffered. Laughed while I cried and begged. Brad Cook is evil. I can still hear his laughter."
As part of Cook's plea deal, charges accusing him of trying to hire someone to kill the woman while he was in federal custody in Leavenworth, Kan., in the case were dropped.
Prosecutors also alleged in court documents that Cook tried to hire a hit man to kill Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Cordes, but no charges were filed. As part of his sentence, Cook is not to have contact — or encourage others to have contact — with the victim or anyone involved with investigating and prosecuting his case.
He didn’t tell the truth about having a gun. He lied about a golf outing to Florida. And he never confessed about an affair when asked by his family.
That’s what witnesses, who testified Monday during the first day of Bashara’s preliminary examination at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, said about the man accused of arranging his wife’s killing.
His cousin, Stephanie Samuel, testified she asked Bashara about a mistress after reports surfaced in the news media.
“Are you having an affair?” she said. “He said, ‘No.’ ”
She asked who the person was, and Bashara replied: “She’s a friend,” Samuel said.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey said Bashara’s former mistress, as well as his lifestyle in the BDSM lifestyle — bondage, discipline, sadomasochism — were motives for the killing of Jane Bashara of Grosse Pointe Park, who was found strangled in her SUV in January 2012.
Bashara, who wore green jail garb to court, sat mostly expressionless at the defense table. He was charged earlier this year with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation to commit murder, suborning of perjury during a capital trial, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.
His attorneys, Mark Procida and René Cooper, chose not to cross-examine any of the witnesses who took the stand Monday, including Bashara’s mother, Nancy Bashara, and his wife’s best friend. The defense team did object to the relevance of questions regarding his involvement in the BDSM lifestyle.
Robert Godard Jr. testified that Bashara had been with women other than his wife, but that one woman — Rachel Gillett — won his heart, and the pair planned to move in together.
“They were going to buy a home together and make a life together,” Godard said Bashara told him.
Bob and Jane Bashara’s marriage was rocky and ending it had been brought up once their children were out of school, according to Monday’s testimony.
Godard testified that the couple’s relationship was strained because she would not participate in the BDSM lifestyle. ...
It's a neo-conservative nightmare: In Iran and China, Western sexual values are bringing about real change
When Iranian American anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi first visited Tehran in the summer of 2000, she expected to encounter the Iran she grew up imagining. Her family remembered violence and extremism, and these were the images that stuck: “women clad in black chadors, wailing and whipping themselves,” “black bearded men with heavy hearts and souls,” arranged marriages, and the fierceness of the “morality police.” But while she encountered this repressed side of Iran, she also heard stories of and witnessed signs of what some friends and informants called enghelab-e-jensi or enghelab-e-farangi, a sexual or sociocultural revolution. Her interest in how an “insatiable hunger for change, progress, cosmopolitanism, and modernity” was being linked to sex by young Tehranians sparked the beginning of seven years of anthropological study.
During repeated visits, Mahdavi found that despite the strict moral policies of the Islamic Republic, young Iranians were listening to music, dancing, drinking alcohol, and socializing in new ways. Western dress and makeup were ubiquitous. She attended parties where famous DJs played techno music, Absolut vodka and Tanqueray gin were served, and female guests mingled with “western guys.” Although house parties were common among the middle and upper-middle classes, lower-class youth threw parties in abandoned warehouses or at secluded outdoor locations, serving homemade liquor and playing music on “boom boxes” or car stereos. Young Iranians also indulged in premarital and extramarital sexual escapades. As a twenty-three-year-old man explained: “In Iran, all things related to sex had a door, a closed one. Now we, this generation, are opening them one by one. Masturbation? Open it. Teenage sexual feelings? Open that door. Pregnancy outside of marriage? Open it. Now the youth are trying to figure out what to do with all these opening doors.” Understandably, young people experience confusion in the face of competing ideals and desires—traditional expectations versus contemporary temptations—and the stakes of personal decisions remain high. In 2004, despite nationwide attention to the public execution of a seventeen-year-old girl suspected of having premarital sex, Mahdavi nonetheless found many young women willing to lose their virginity in order to participate in the changing sexual culture.
Like youth in other countries who lack private spaces to retreat to, some Iranian youth reported having sex at parties and in cars (which sometimes allowed them to escape the morality police) out of necessity. But some also purposely sought group sex. Shomal, in northern Iran, had a reputation as a popular destination for these sexual explorations. One informant told Mahdavi that young men and women “go there, deep in the jungle, and have lots of sex, with lots of people; it’s really something to see. I love it.” Another young man said: “Have I ever had group sex? Well, yes, with a few women at a time, but who hasn’t done that? But I’ve watched really elaborate orgies too.” He had observed “a big group orgy in Shomal,” after being convinced to attend by a girl he knew.
Although Mahdavi did not visit Shomal, she attended other sex parties in Iran. One evening, she accompanied her friend Babak to a party held in a huge garden with beautiful hanging trees. “Welcome to the jungle,” a young man said as he greeted her. After stripping off her Islamic dress, including her head scarf and manto, she followed the men further into what felt like “the hanging gardens of Babylon.” Babak squeezed her arm and whispered into her ear, “Take a deep breath, Pardis.” As they walked closer to the swimming pool, she noticed it had been drained of water. Voices drifted up from the bottom of the pool. With surprise, she realized that “a full-blown orgy was taking place.” As Babak took off his shirt and “started to wade into the group of young people,” Mahdavi perched herself on the diving board, which seemed like a safe place to observe: “I continued to watch as bodies moved from one trio to another. A group of five men and women huddled together below me. I couldn’t tell who was kissing whom, and I couldn’t see how much oral or penetrative sex was taking place, but it seemed that most of the people were completely naked, and from the movements I could see, it looked as though half were having some kind of sex.”
Another sex party Mahdavi attended was held at a garden estate outside of Tehran, hosted by a young woman whose parents had gone on religious pilgrimage to Mecca. Upon arrival at the property, she heard techno music coming from a bathhouse. She followed her friends inside. When her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she saw “forty or so young people present, all naked or in undergarments, kissing, touching, dancing, and some having oral, anal, and vaginal sex.” She watched groups of men and women “engaging in sexual acts with both genders,” until she felt faint from the heat. She began searching for the friends she had arrived with, who had disappeared into the steam. The young woman was “kissing and being kissed by three men.” Mahdavi was unable to find the man who’d driven them; later, she learned that he had been in a back room procuring Ecstasy.
When talking about their weekend adventures, some of Mahdavi’s informants focused on the recreational aspect of the parties: “[There is] alcohol, there is sex, there is dancing, there is—it’s just fun! It’s what we do for fun!” Others viewed the parties as a representation of “all things Western,” a way of gaining status and claiming a cosmopolitan identity; some also expressed ideas about sex as freedom that harked back to ideas underlying the sexual revolution in the United States. Still others claimed parties offered escape and “eased the pain” of living in Iran. As one man said, “Sex is the main thing here; it’s our drug, it’s what makes our lives bearable, that’s what makes parties so necessary.” “If we don’t live like this, we cannot exist in the Islamic Republic,” a woman declared. “We hate our government, despise our families, and our husbands make us sick. If we don’t look fabulous, smile, laugh, and dance, well then we might as well just go and die.”
But the new sexual culture in Iran, Mahdavi believes, is not simply an embrace of Western consumerism and morality nor merely an escapist hedonism, a “last resort.” Urban young adults, the focus of Mahdavi’s inquiry, made up about two-thirds of Iran’s population; they were mobile, highly educated, underemployed, and dissatisfied with the political regime at the time. Some were directly involved in politics. Many used the Internet to make connections, blog about their frustrations, and peer into youth cultures elsewhere around the world. Willingly taking risks with their social and sexual behavior, as these Iranian young people were doing, was viewed as a step toward social and political reform—not just a means of escape and excitement. After all, the consequences of partying in Tehran were different from in Los Angeles, despite similarities in flashy dress, electronic music, and group sex. Iranian youth had “restricted access to social freedoms, education, and resources (such as contraceptives or other harm-reduction materials)” that might minimize the risk of some of their behaviors. If caught, the punishments many young people would receive from their parents would likely be harsh. The punishments meted out by the morality police could be harsher. If caught drinking, for example, youth could be detained and sentenced to up to seventy lashes. Premarital sex could be punished by imprisonment and lashings; unmarried men and women caught in a car together could receive up to eighty-four lashings each. Although physical punishment has decreased in recent years, Mahdavi notes, young people are still detained and harassed by the morality police.
Yet stories of being apprehended and arrested by the morality police were sometimes told with pride; occasionally, even parents were pleased that their children stood up for their beliefs. Some young adults courted run-ins with the morality police in the name of activism, boredom, or both. One couple caught having sex at a party were arrested and forced to marry. When Mahdavi talked with the twenty-two-year old woman involved, the woman explained that she and her new husband were trying to annul the marriage. Despite her ruined reputation, however, the young woman mused that her experience was “almost worth it”: “The sex was great, and the excitement and adventure of doing what we know we aren’t supposed to be doing, then being caught! Well, and it makes a great story.”
Mahdavi’s informants claimed that they were living the social and sexual changes they desired, reminding her that their “revolution was not about momentary acts” but was “a way of life.” This way of life included social gatherings and behavior that “could be viewed as hedonistic” but were also “a necessary part of constructing a world over which they had control, a world they could live in rather than in the world of the Islamists, who would have them stay home and obey.” As another young woman said before attending a sex party:
It’s all about laj bazi (playful rebellion). Here, when we go to parties, of course our bones are shaking, but we go with shaking bones. And I’m telling you, we are scared. Everyone is. No matter what they tell you, they are scared, from the moment they leave their homes; and every time the doorbell rings, delet mirize (your heart sinks). Could it be? You ask yourself. Could it be them? It’s scary. But you know, we have to do something. Something to get back at them, something to remind ourselves, Hey, we are alive! Hey, we have a say in our lives! ...
A police officer who was a bit skeptical of the idea of consent to participate in BDSM activities told me, “I don’t understand how one day it is okay, and the next day it is not; I mean, when collecting evidence from a person who has made the accusation of domestic violence, pictures are often taken of the physical evidence: bruises, cuts and other injuries. What makes this bruise—the one that is said to be evidence of assault—different from that bruise—the one that is said to have been the result of consensual activities?”
I asked him to imagine this:
A person with a mask on is plunging a sharp blade into your chest. What is happening to you?
A criminal is assaulting you with a deadly weapon—It’s an attempt to end your life!
A physician is making their first incision to perform open heart surgery—It’s an attempt to save your life!
Now, how do you differentiate between the scars?
How do practitioners of BDSM/Leather/Kink lifestyles differentiate between engaging in consensual power/control dynamics in their relationships and abuse? And when it is abuse, do they feel their complaints are understood and taken seriously by service providers? These are two questions I will address in a ground breaking research project on “Intimate Partner Abuse Among Practitioners of BDSM/Leather/Kink Lifestyles.”By placing a spotlight on the experiences and perceptions of individuals who have ever sought help in dealing with an abusive power exchange relationship, or who wanted to seek help, but didn’t, it may be possible to determine if kinky people comprise an underserved population. This research aims to promote greater understanding of BDSM/Leather/Kink lifestyles in order to improve of the quality of information, responses and interventions provided by outreach educators and service providers to this population.
I am grateful to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom for their support.
Invitation to Participate in a Needs Assessment Survey on Intimate Partner Abuse Among Practitioners of BDSM/Leather/Kink Lifestyle
All interested individuals who are involved in BDSM/Leather/Kink lifestyles are invited to participate in a survey about intimate partner abuse.The purpose of this survey is to gather information regarding the quality of experiences had by those who sought help from domestic violence service providers, or those who wanted to seek help, but did not do so. The overall goal is to help service providers and outreach educators improve the quality of information, responses and interventions regarding the unique needs and experiences of individuals who live a BDSM, Leather or kinky lifestyle.
You are invited to take the survey whether or not you have been involved in an abusive relationship because the survey will collect basic demographic information about those who engage in BDSM, Leather and/or kink, as well.
The survey link is available here: https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=155554
The survey will take approximately 25-35 minutes to complete.
Please respond no later than January 31, 2014.
Your participation is voluntary.All responses are anonymous.However, there is potential risk of loss of confidentiality in all email, downloading and internet transactions.The final results of this study will be used for research and may also be published in a summary format in a peer-reviewed journal.
If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Elizabeth Fawcett, Ph.D., M.P.H., at
.This study has been reviewed according to accepted Institutional Review Board (IRB) procedures for research involving human subjects, and approved.If you have questions about the rights of research participants or the way this study is being conducted, you may contact Texas Woman’s University Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at 940-898-3378 or via email at
In the course of defending their right to treat gay people as second-class citizens, conservatives have frequently deployed slippery-slope arguments: “If we accept same-sex relationships, what will we have to tolerate next? Bestiality? Pederasty? Polygamy?” While these arguments are stupid, the people making them are not, or at least not always. They’re doing their best to trot out a parade of horribles that will shock the sensibilities of most Americans.
Clearly we should be shocked by violations of consent. (Reminder: Children and animals can’t consent!) But the inclusion of polygamy on this list is a symptom of prejudice, and not one that’s held only by conservative troglodytes.* Advocates for gay marriage, in the course of pursuing a laudable goal, sometimes made public statements disparaging non-monogamy, suggesting that state sanction of marriage would help reduce gay “promiscuity.” Slate’s own Hanna Rosin described the (relative) acceptance of non-monogamy among gay male couples as “[t]he dirty little secret about gay marriage.”
Although reliable figures are hard to come by, it’s likely that the majority of consensually non-monogamous couples in the United States are heterosexual.** These days, you know who your gay neighbors are—gay people no longer have to seek out loveless heterosexual relationships to hide behind, or move in together but pretend to be roommates. Meanwhile, you don’t know if your neighbors are poly (or whatever other term they may use), because they’re still afraid that if they don’t hide that aspect of their lives from you, something bad might happen. Those potential consequences range from having all future interactions feel awkward to having authorities take away their children.
I have identified as bisexual since my first year of college in the mid-’90s and as polyamorous since a few years after that. Over the last two decades, I have always been out as bi. I’m also lucky enough to have a supportive family, who have been accepting of my partners. If I love them, and they love me, that’s good enough for Mom and Dad. On the other hand, I have never, ever been out as poly in a workplace. Start trying to explain consensual non-monogamy, and some people—a lot of people—are going to think you’re obsessed with sex. (Never mind that I’ve been with my wife, Rose, for 10 years, have been married for three, and in all that time the two of us have dated fewer people than plenty of serially monogamous singles I know.) Some co-workers may avoid polyamorous colleagues because they’re paranoid that they may be on the prowl. Others will become distrustful because they think that poly is an attempt to re-label behavior that they consider cheating, and cheaters aren’t trustworthy.
If you’re in a vanilla relationship, you probably take it for granted that when you’re talking with a co-worker, and they say, “Hey, you’re looking sharp, are you going someplace special tonight?” you can just talk. I was asked this question recently on an afternoon when I was planning to head straight from work to a date with Dana, my partner of two and a half years, during a week when Rose was out of town. Of course, just saying where I was going isn’t enough—that just leads to, “Who with?” So I respond with something extremely vague—“Oh, a friend,”—but my mind is racing, trying to remember if I’ve mentioned that Rose is out of town, wondering if my co-worker is reading something sordid into the conversation. This sounds relatively low-stakes, but over time, the weight of many such small nuisances adds up. At first you don’t know how people might react, so you conceal things, or tell a few little white lies. Before you know it, it’s been months, or years, and maybe you might like to come out, but that would force you to admit past deceptions. So you go on, wasting energy on these internal conversations about things you don’t think you ought to be ashamed of, trying to evade questions without raising suspicion.
A few months ago, I had dinner with Dana; her husband, Aaron; and her mother. I was introduced as a friend. Beforehand, I thought this would be fine, and it mostly was. Certainly, I enjoyed meeting her mom—I care about Dana, and I want to be involved in and understand her life, including her family. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when I had the opportunity to introduce Dana and Aaron to my mother, that I recognized how strained that first interaction had been. As I said, I’m out to my family as poly. When I call my folks every couple of weeks to tell them what I’ve been up to, and to hear their stories about my brother and his kids, Dana’s name almost always gets mentioned, discussing something we did recently, or something we’re planning.
On the surface, the situations were nearly identical. We had a nice dinner and talked about life, work, places we’ve lived or visited, art and music. Nothing explicit about our relationship was even mentioned. But think about it: When you introduce a (monogamous) partner to your family, you don’t say, “Hi, Mom and Dad, this is Pat, who I like to have sex with sometimes!” I don’t engage in a lot of PDAs with Rose in front of our parents, either. But it was nice to sit around a table with my family, of birth and of choice, and just behave naturally. I didn’t have to worry, if I casually stroked Dana’s shoulder or used some term of endearment like sweetheart, that someone might freak out. I didn’t have to continuously monitor my behavior and words. I didn’t need to dissemble. ...