Here's how libertarianism has led me and my partner into polyamory, and why America will have to grapple with this issue next.
By Sara Burrows
“You’re going to bed already?” I complained, as I prepared to read our three-year-old a bedtime story across the hall. It was my not-so-veiled solicitation for sex. I was nearing ovulation and in the mood. I knew Brad was rarely in the mood at night—unlike me, he’s a morning person—but I was hoping, by chance, he might be.
“Yeah, I’m tired,” he grumbled. “I have to work in the morning.” After I got my daughter to sleep in her own bed—a rare gem—I came back in to cuddle, to see if he was really asleep or just faking. ...
Fanning the Flame
I’m sure there are a thousand sexologists ready to give us all kinds of kinky tips on how to reignite the passion in our relationship, but I’m just not interested. It’s humiliating. I shouldn’t have to dress up in black leather like Cat Woman to trick my man into wanting me. And he shouldn’t feel pressured to pretend he has a “burning desire” for me when he doesn’t.
The problem is, fires don’t burn indefinitely unless you keep adding more wood. They start with a spark, work their way up to a roar, then calm back down to a crackle. When the crackling gets too quiet, someone throws another log on, and the flames flare back up. The cycle repeats over and over again, as long as there are more logs, more fuel.
Our fuel is running out. Brad and I have tried all the tricks. We’ve fanned the flames. We need more logs—new energy, a fresh perspective. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, or that we are done with each other. It just means we need something new.
Enter polyamory. Polyamory means “many loves.” It is the practice of engaging in several emotionally and possibly sexually intimate relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It differs from polygamy, which means “many marriages”—usually “many wives.”
Brad and I are not legally married, nor do we ever plan to be, but there aren’t a lot of practical differences between us and a married couple. We’ve owned a home together, have a child together, and have every intention—although no promises—of staying together ‘til death do us part. We are hoping polyamory can help make that happen.
Four years into our relationship, we found ourselves in the typical rut of co-dependence, resentment, boredom, and fighting over the grocery bill. We’d had an unplanned baby, I’d quit my job to do attachment parenting full-time, and Brad was working long hours in a dungeon of a warehouse. I was stuck at home washing dishes, folding laundry and talking to a two-year-old, bored out of my mind. If we didn’t have anything to fight about, we’d find something, just to make life a little more interesting. ...
My first assignment as a journalist — as an intern at a now-defunct Seattle daily — was a front-page story about the 2003 court ruling that legalized gay marriage in Canada. I was 19, and picked a fight with my editor after being asked to call a fundamentalist wackjob for “an anti-marriage quote” — you know, to show we were objective. (I lost.)
Later, as a cub reporter at the Boston Globe, I covered the first gay marriages out of Massachusetts, the first state to go legal, as well as attempts by local districts to block it.
I covered gay marriage in New York. I produced a video series about the battle over Proposition 8. I won a GLAAD award for my coverage of LGBT seniors, and the challenges faced by people aging without legal marriage rights. At Newsweek, where I was a staff writer, I picked another fight with an editor, when asked again to insert an anti-marriage quote — this time for an article I was writing about a new generation of gay activists. I argued again. This time I won.
My point is this: I have been touting equal rights in the best way I could as a journalist since the beginning of my career.
So it was almost comical to see my work used against that cause last week by the Supreme Court of the United States. In his dissent in the court’s gay marriage ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts cited my 2009 article for Newsweek: “Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution?”
This was not an article about the LGBT community at all. Rather, it was about a group, polyamorists, from whom gay rights activists have long attempted to distance themselves specifically to avoid the kind of association Roberts drew. (The poly community, longtime advocate Anita Wagner told me at the time, had become “the political football in the culture war [over] same-sex marriage.”)
I had spent time shadowing a polyamorous family in my hometown, Seattle. I’d learned that the Pacific Northwest had become home to a thriving poly community, many of whom had found each other on the Internet. They were hosting meetups. Potlucks. Trading recipes, along with partners. There was even an e-mail list for self-identified poly people who worked at Microsoft. Poly people seemed to be everywhere, and researchers were only just beginning to study the phenomenon.
This particular family was a triad: that is, a woman at the center, two men as her partners, living under one roof, with a married couple on the side, the wife of whom was dating one of the two men and the husband dating the woman at the center. They lived in a lakeside community full of good Seattle liberals and lots of money; they had three dogs and a vegetable garden and they often took walks along the water, hand in hand in hand.
It was a lot to keep track of (I drew diagrams), but to hear them describe the thinking behind it actually made a lot of sense: Polyamorous groups were trying new social bonds that put into practice the ideas of a more enlightened age (even if they did so imperfectly). They were reacting to a divorce-happy culture. They had forged their own kind of response to that age-old question: Can one person really satisfy every need? (The answer, if you believed the infidelity statistics, was “no.”)
What they weren’t looking to do at all, though, was to “redefine marriage” — as gay marriage critics have so often put it. They were looking to break the shackles of the institution altogether. “The people I feel sorry for are the ones who don’t ever realize they have any other choices beyond the traditional options society presents,” one poly man told me. ...
Why group marriage is the next horizon of social liberalism.
By FREDRIK DEBOER
Welcome to the exciting new world of the slippery slope. With the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling this Friday legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states, social liberalism has achieved one of its central goals. A right seemingly unthinkable two decades ago has now been broadly applied to a whole new class of citizens. Following on the rejection of interracial marriage bans in the 20th Century, the Supreme Court decision clearly shows that marriage should be a broadly applicable right—one that forces the government to recognize, as Friday’s decision said, a private couple’s “love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.”
The question presents itself: Where does the next advance come? The answer is going to make nearly everyone uncomfortable: Now that we’ve defined that love and devotion and family isn’t driven by gender alone, why should it be limited to just two individuals? The most natural advance next for marriage lies in legalized polygamy—yet many of the same people who pressed for marriage equality for gay couples oppose it.
This is not an abstract issue. In Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting opinion, he remarks, “It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.” As is often the case with critics of polygamy, he neglects to mention why this is a fate to be feared. Polygamy today stands as a taboo just as strong as same-sex marriage was several decades ago—it’s effectively only discussed as outdated jokes about Utah and Mormons, who banned the practice over 120 years ago.
Yet the moral reasoning behind society’s rejection of polygamy remains just as uncomfortable and legally weak as same-sex marriage opposition was until recently.
That’s one reason why progressives who reject the case for legal polygamy often don’t really appear to have their hearts in it. They seem uncomfortable voicing their objections, clearly unused to being in the position of rejecting the appeals of those who would codify non-traditional relationships in law. They are, without exception, accepting of the right of consenting adults to engage in whatever sexual and romantic relationships they choose, but oppose the formal, legal recognition of those relationships. They’re trapped, I suspect, in prior opposition that they voiced from a standpoint of political pragmatism in order to advance the cause of gay marriage.
In doing so, they do real harm to real people. Marriage is not just a formal codification of informal relationships. It’s also a defensive system designed to protect the interests of people whose material, economic and emotional security depends on the marriage in question. If my liberal friends recognize the legitimacy of free people who choose to form romantic partnerships with multiple partners, how can they deny them the right to the legal protections marriage affords?
Polyamory is a fact. People are living in group relationships today. The question is not whether they will continue on in those relationships. The question is whether we will grant to them the same basic recognition we grant to other adults: that love makes marriage, and that the right to marry is exactly that, a right.
Why the opposition, from those who have no interest in preserving “traditional marriage” or forbidding polyamorous relationships? I think the answer has to do with political momentum, with a kind of ad hoc-rejection of polygamy as necessary political concession. And in time, I think it will change....
When the Baltimore Eagle reopens in the heart of Station North, it won’t be your grandfather’s leather bar.
Charles and Greg King, along with John and Robert Gasser, are working to revitalize the storied gay bar at 2022 N. Charles St., a space they hope to reopen by the end of the year.
The project has been in the works since 2012. it has come with several hurdles, the biggest of which was losing its liquor license earlier this year. But as the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners prepares to turn over with three new members, the partners on the Baltimore Eagle are optimistic their license will be returned and the project will progress as planned.
The liquor license for the Baltimore Eagle was effectively killed April 9 when the Baltimore liquor board ruled it had expired under the controversial 180-day rule, part of state liquor law that says a license expires after it has been inactive for 180 days.
Under the current liquor board’s rule, liquor licensees have been subjected to strict — and sometimes unequal — interpretation of that policy. The Kings and Gassers say they were among the licensees treated unfairly when they had their license pulled, and they are appealing the decision.
Developer Ian Parrish, president of Investors United, bought the Baltimore Eagle building in 2012 and closed the club shortly after because of health and safety concerns. But the plan was never for the Eagle to remain closed permanently. Parrish brought on the Kings and Gassers as new operators to run the bar with plans to gut the building and start from scratch as part of a $1 million overhaul.
The Kings and the Gassers, collectively doing business as Four Crazy Guys LLC, all relocated to the Baltimore area to run the business.
“Well actually, I hope we’re not crazy for believing in this,” said John Gasser, who plans to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project.
Charles King was looking for a change after spending nearly 20 years in the casino industry, and he jokingly mentioned the idea of opening a bar to John Gasser, who recently retired from the medical field after 20 years. When King connected with Parrish and discovered Parrish was in need of an operator for the bar, the concept became a reality.
“All these gay bas are closing and we’re about to open one, so we must be out of our ever-loving minds, right?” Greg King said. “But there’s still a place for gay bars.”
For years, gay bars didn't have to stay up to date or rethink their business plans.
“They never got stale because they had a captive audience,” Greg King said. “If you were gay and you wanted to go out, you went to a gay bar, so they didn’t have to do anything to stay up to date and continue to attract your business. We know that that’s not the case anymore.”
The operators know they compete not only with other gay bars, but with every bar. But they also see it as especially important to restore the Eagle as other gay bars, including Mount Vernon’s iconic Club Hippo, close around them.
“There is a real opportunity there, not just to have a business that makes us all happy and successful, but also to reestablish a very important landmark LGBT bar that was beloved by its patrons in its heyday and actually have a positive effect on the LGBT community.” John Gasser said. “The loss of these venues is a problem for the LGBT community. What could be better than to bring something back like that?”
At its core, the Baltimore Eagle was for decades a gay leather bar. The partners in its revitalization want to retain that history, but they also want to create a place that’s more inclusive of the larger community. Plans for the Eagle’s second coming include a sports bar and restaurant in the main front area “for everybody — gay, straight, bisexual, everybody,” Charles King said. ...
If you’re anti-monogamy, a social movement awaits you. But are polyamory’s supporters too evangelical in their mission to convert the rest of us to their bed-hopping ways?
The Daily Beast
by Emily Shire
“I’m probably the only little girl who fantasized about meeting her handsome prince and having him sweep her off feet—and then falling in love with another guy,” Cunning Minx tells me with a laugh.
It’s a rosy, even wholesome way of framing her first childhood indications that she would ultimately identify with polyamory, a term Merriam-Webster defines as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”
People who identify as polyamorous, like Minx—a sex educator who uses the pseudonym professionally, including for Poly Weekly, a podcast “devoted to tales from the front of responsible non-monogamy”—would likely pick a bone with that rather sterile definition.
According to the website for Loving More, the leading national support and advocacy group for the polyamorous community, “Polyamory refers to emotionally connected relationships openly involving three or more people. It is about honesty, integrity and respect.”
I would venture that most Americans would not be familiar with either of those definitions of polyamory. Many may not have even heard of the term.
Despite a Showtime reality television show and Loving More’s 25,000-strong database of members, polyamory is still a relatively unheard of relationship construct.
To those who have heard of polyamory, the concept is surrounded in stigma, often conflated with “swingers.”
In fact, proponents of polyamory (or just “poly” as it is colloquially referred to) are quick to point out sex with multiple people is by no means a requisite.
The term “polyamory” is “intended to differentiate emotionally connected relationships from simple coupling, casual dating around, or recreational sex,” according to the Loving More website.
Not that most of America is aware of these nuances.
Case in point: when I told a colleague, a thirty-something New Yorker, about polyamory, he said he had never encountered the term and assumed it was a form of polygamy, like the kind practiced by fundamentalist Mormons.
If anything, members of the poly community sound less like Joseph Smith and more like John Humphrey Noyes, who founded the free love Oneida community in upstate New York in 1848.
Noyes declared monogamy was “a tyrannical institution that did not exist in Heaven and eventually would be abolished on earth.”
Not only do poly people soundly reject monogamy as the only acceptable form of romantic relationship in much the way Noyes did, but many also have that same, shall we say, fervor. ...
One of my favorite things about the field of social work has been its strong interconnections with other fields of study, including a full range of social and behavioral sciences. Social work formally utilizes a generalist approach, thus workers are trained to be able to respond effectively to a variety of client needs and potential problems. In doing so, ethical practice is emphasized, and social workers are admonished to challenge injustice, promote client self-determination, embrace human diversity, and practice with cultural competence (National Association of Social Workers, 2008).
Since 2008, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits all social work education programs in the United States, has required that social work students demonstrate mastery of specific competencies, referred to as Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). These competencies include a focus on ethical behavior (competency 1), embracing diversity and difference (competency 2), social injustice and human rights (competency 3), and the interconnectedness of research and practice (competency 4) (CSWE, 2015). EPAS competencies are designed to apply across social work education and practice.
In this paper, I will summarize scholarship on consensual bondage and discipline – dominance and submission – sadomasochism (BDSM) and briefly explain why this topic is relevant to social work practice. I will then discuss my frustrations in attempting to publish work on this topic within the field of social work. Apart from a notable exception in the journal Canadian Social Work (Williams, 2013), the topic of BDSM is absent from the social work literature. However, what is particularly surprising and disturbing to me, based on personal experience, has been the refusal of journal editors and reviewers to accept an accumulating empirical research literature on BDSM, which then results in manuscript rejection. I will discuss my experiences of manuscript rejection and editor/reviewer biases concerning BDSM shortly. Contemporary social work, after all, is predicated on EPAS core competencies, including those mentioned above, and also emphasizes evidence-based practice (CSWE, 2008, 2015; Rubin & Babbie, 2014). While I have occasionally encountered difficulty in getting specific manuscripts published, including on the topic of BDSM, it is only in the field of social work that I have faced consistent rejection.
Despite considerable research over the past two decades showing that BDSM participation is not associated with psychopathology, many helping professionals continue to marginalize and discriminate against clients who practice BDSM (Hoff & Sprott, 2009; Kolmes, Stock, & Moser, 2006; Wright, 2009). In the Survey of Violence and Discrimination of Sexual Minorities sponsored by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Wright (2009) found that in a large sample of participants (N = 3,058) with alternative sexual identities (including BDSM and fetish enthusiasts), about 40% reported facing discrimination from a mental health professional and 50% experienced discrimination from a medical doctor. These findings illustrate the glaring need for sexual diversity training among helping professionals.
Clearly, there is much current interest in BDSM, thus social workers and helping professionals need to be informed. Nearly a decade ago, Kleinplatz and Moser (2006) estimated that up to 10 percent of the general population participate in some form of BDSM. Social workers, whether they recognize it or not, are highly likely to encounter numerous clients who participate in BDSM but who may seek professional help to address any of a range of diverse personal issues. People who enjoy BDSM, like anyone else, sometimes face typical issues, such as relationship difficulties, job / career decisions, loss and grief, and significant life transitions. However, such clients also could potentially seek help for BDSM-specific issues, including how to navigate alternative relationships or how to deal with stigma that many BDSM participants face. Informed social work professionals could be extremely valuable in helping these clients, including empowering, supporting and advocating for this population as needed.
Social Work Gatekeeping and Dismissal of BDSM Research
Considering where I am in my career (assistant professor currently applying for promotion and tenure), I have a fairly strong publication record with over 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, including numerous papers on sexual diversity. Although the topic of BDSM is relevant to the field of social work, my experience has been that several editors and reviewers for social work academic journals are not open to this topic. One editor responded to a recent manuscript submission on the importance of social workers becoming informed about BDSM by simply writing, “This manuscript is not of interest to us at this time.” Similarly, another journal editor also rejected the manuscript “for lack of interest.” ...
To finish reading, go to the Journal of Positive Sexuality where this article appears in the current issue: http://journalofpositivesexuality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Does-Social-Work-Need-a-Good-Spanking-Williams.pdf
When exes and relatives call social workers on BDSM-loving moms and dads, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is there to help.
The Daily Beast
by Katie Zavadski
Like many women, Samantha likes kink. Unlike many women, she lost custody of her children over it.
In July 2013, Samantha’s ex-boyfriend told social services that her dominant-submissive relationship with her new boyfriend was harmful to the children.
A social worker backed up the ex-husband’s proofless allegations, even outlandish ones where he claimed their eldest son had been hung from the ceiling by his wrist, and removed the children.
Samantha asked a court to order a second evaluation and waited for months. In the meantime, she contacted the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom for help. NCSF is a volunteer-run nonprofit that strives to connect kinky, poly, and “other” parents with the legal resources they need to fight custody battles and the like.
In that case, NCSF spokesperson Susan Wright said she called a local LGBT and got references for queer-friendly lawyers for Samantha. She vetted them before passing them along. Wright even called case workers in Samantha’s county and urged a second evaluation.
Within weeks, social services took back their evaluation of abuse: the kids, they said, should be reunited with their mother.
Often, parents like Samantha are pursued by an ex-partner or another relative who claims the parents’ their sexual proclivities are harmful to children. Judges decide what is in “the best interests of the child,” and parents who are sexual sadists, masochists, or who have multiple romantic partners can easily arouse suspicion.
“We’re leaving this really vague standard of ‘the best interests of the child’ up to subjective interpretation,” said Brooklyn-based lawyer Diana Adams, one of the kink-aware professionals who works with NCSF.
But Adams said individual trial judge decisions can be very difficult to appeal. Saying that a judge was biased or used poor judgment is not enough—in many areas, the standard for appeal is error. ...
Mary, a petite woman in a black dress, rolls back the sleeve of Ryan's T-shirt to reveal his newly-scarred flesh.
"Wow, so cool!" she says, examining the still-fresh cuts he's made that form a lattice on his bicep. Then, without a word, she starts slapping him. She's gentle at first, just quiet little flirty ones to the cheek, but they get louder and sharper as she screws up her face and starts properly laying into him, genuinely trying to inflict as much pain as possible. Soon, couples from the surrounding tables stop talking to clap and cheer her on.
Given that we're in a north London gastropub with wrought-iron staircases and ceiling beams—the kind of place where adult men who try to one-up each other with microbrewery trivia might meet up to be awful—this behavior seems particularly odd. But tonight is the venue's monthly fetish speed-dating event. Having a girlfriend already, I'm not here to get slapped repeatedly by a stranger in front of an enthusiastic crowd. But I figured it could be a good place to get a succinct overview of London's fetish scene—a series of four-minute encounters with as many subs, doms, pay pigs, sneaker destroyers and scally gear fetishists as possible, all in a venue without loud music or an aroused naked man locked in a cage distracting everyone there.
I've never been to a fetish speed-dating night before, so I was initially unsure of the dress code—whether I'd look like a nark in a sea of latex and cock cages—but the event's website informed me that smart-casual was fine and that above all I should "be myself." When I arrive I'm greeted by Miss Jo, the organizer, who has run kink clubs in London for the last 20 years. Eating olives out of a ramekin with a cocktail stick, she is jolly and welcoming, putting everyone at ease. She gives me a white sticker to write my name on and tells me to have a good time.
What I've always disliked about the idea of speed-dating is its rote, inauthentic, ruthless nature. Like it or not, you'll be judged heavily on your fitness as a potential sexual partner. If no one enjoys the mental image of you naked, you mope off with no phone numbers, left to get really insecure about your weird neck on the night bus home. But with fetish speed dating there's another layer—after all, your kinks have to match those of the person you're attracted to. And what if the kink you're into is simply too niche for the vanilla nerds who've turned up on the night? ...