late magazine deserves credit for publishing a series of articles about polyamory. The first, "Why I'm Still In The Polyamory Closet," by the pseudonymous "Michael Carey," elicited angry letters because Carey compared polyamorists with homosexuals. Polyamory (the desire — need? — for multiple sexual partners) is a choice, the letter writers protested, whereas homosexuality is innate, like skin color.
Carey has certainly hit a nerve. The idea that homosexuals are "born that way" is central to the drive for same-sex marriage. If homosexuality is no more a choice than skin color, it strengthens the case that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is a form of bigotry. (Though it isn't dispositive, since marriage is about more than adult fulfillment.)
In a second post, "Is Polyamory A Choice?" Carey responds to this argument.
"Sexual orientation ... 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."
Perhaps more now, as the stigma is vanishing, he speculates.
The "born this way" argument has been politically useful, Carey writes, but it isn't necessary. "Nobody ever claimed that Mildred and Richard Loving were born with some kind of overwhelming predisposition to prefer partners of another race ... Choosing an interracial partner was, and is, a choice. So what? ... What matters is that people love each other, treat each other with respect, and live happy, productive lives."
But is that all "that matters"?
Advocates of gay marriage tend to argue that those in opposition are no better than the drunken thugs who beat up homosexuals outside of bars.
Carey has done a service by reminding us that the slippery slope argument is not fallacious. If what "matters" is that adults treat one another with respect, etc., what is the principled case against polyamory once same-sex marriage has become legally enshrined? What is the principled basis for objection?
Carey writes: "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."
In other words, polyamorists cannot find true personal fulfillment unless they are free to indulge in many sexual relationships. He's not saying he was born that way, merely that justice demands that his wishes be given the same legal recognition as monogamous heterosexuals — and in many states, homosexuals.
"It is tragic, and morally offensive, that there are still places in the world, even in this country, where gay people face consequences like loss of custody of their children, loss of employment, rejection from family, or even violent attack, all simply for loving who they love. The same logic applies, with equal force, to polyamorists. In this sense, the slippery slope argument — that if we have to 'tolerate' gay relationships, soon we'll have to 'tolerate' poly relationships — is correct."
For the record, that will mean that those preferring polygamous marriages and open marriages will soon be demanding, and very likely getting, legal recognition.
As Ryan T. Anderson, Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George ask in their brilliantly argued polemic "What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense," "If marriage is primarily about emotional union, why privilege two-person unions, or permanently committed ones? What is it about emotional union that requires these limits?"
Personal happiness and fulfillment are frequent benefits of marriage, but they are not its purpose. Marriage is the institution that provides social stability because it attempts to ensure, insofar as possible, that the mother and father who create a new life commit to caring for that child until adulthood. No other adult arrangement has ever been shown to benefit children as much. To enshrine gay marriage is to say that two mothers, or two fathers are just as good for children as a mother and a father. And if sexual complementarity is dispensable, by what logic are the other aspects of traditional marriage — exclusivity and permanence — to be maintained?
It's indisputable that traditional marriage was in crisis before the gay marriage movement began. The behavior of heterosexuals accomplished that. But as the Carey essay demonstrates, the gay marriage movement had done a different kind of damage by undermining our understanding of what marriage is.
To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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. ...
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is proud to introduce a new range of educational materials and programs as part of its nationwide “Consent Counts Project.” This Consent Counts Library now includes:
·A comprehensive paper on Consent and BDSM: The State of the Law
·NCSF’s Statement on Power Exchange Relationships
·1-page summary of NCSF’s Consent Statement
·Criminal Prosecution of Consensual BDSM—a Continuing Legal Education program that will be presented around the country beginning in 2014, and
·A series of educational programs featuring well-known sexual freedom activists.
Go to: https://ncsfreedom.org/key-programs/consent-counts/consent-counts.html
Consent and BDSM:The State of the Law is a detailed examination of how BDSM activity, even where clearly consensual, is prosecuted under state criminal laws dealing with assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault or sexual abuse. According to the law, the nature of the criminal offense is that one person causes physical harm—injury and/or intense pain—to another person. It is important to understand that the law sees this as causing harm, not engaging in mutually beneficial conduct. This means that the law treats BDSM as violence, not as sex. Challenging this legal interpretation is the goal of the Consent Counts Project.
In the Statement on Power Exchange Relationships, NCSF supports the rights of adults to enter into the full range of consensual power exchange relationships including: Master/slave, Total Power Exchange (TPE), 24/7 and Owner/property. This NCSF statement discusses both the ethical and legal concepts that are critical to understanding the meaning and importance of consent in power exchange relationships. From Jack McGeorge, the first Chairman of NCSF, to Kevin Carlson, the current Chairman, NCSF has benefited from the involvement of many volunteers who are in power exchange relationships. NCSF has directly helped thousands of people—including those in power exchange relationships—with job discrimination, child custody battles, criminal courts, victim services, and media intervention.
The 1-page Summary of NCSF’s Policy Statement on Consent is condensed version of the community-wide statement developed over many years through a series of surveys and group discussions held throughout the United States.
NCSF’s new Continuing Legal Education program is entitled: Criminal Prosecution of BDSM:Civil Liberties Collide with Morality-Based Judicial Decisions. This CLE addresses the legal and policy—not moral or political—issues raised by the criminal prosecution of consensual BDSM, principally under assault statutes, but also under criminal laws concerning trafficking, battery and sexual/spousal relationship abuse. In such prosecutions, every appellate court that has addressed the issue has found that consent is not allowed as a defense.
A series of programs featuring well-known sexual freedom activists are being scheduled around the country. The first such program, BDSM?Erotic Play? What Are The Legal Risks?, was presented in Chicago on October 19th and will be available on the NCSF YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/ncsfreedom. 2014 dates are being scheduled for presentations in Boston, Nashville, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, South Florida, New York City and Washington, DC.
In addition to the Library, NCSF continues to pursue a range of activities in support of the Consent Counts Project, including:
·Supporting an ongoing Needs Assessment Survey: Intimate Partner Abuse Among Practitioners of BDSM/Leather/Kink Lifestyles, 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.
·NCSF is creating a survey on Consent Violations that will be released soon. Watch for it!
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. ...
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.