A compilation of research on children and polyamorous families. Continue reading “Polyamory and Children”
Last year’s surprise indie hit, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, tells the story of the polyamorous relationship between Elizabeth Marston, Olive Byrne, and Professor William Moulton Marston, creator of the iconic comic book superhero, Wonder Woman. Directed byAngela Robinson (Charlie’s Angels, The L Word), the film was released in October 2017 where it had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival and was well received by audiences and critics. It currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87% with the site’s critical consensus reading, “Professor Marston & The Wonder Women winds a lasso of cinematic truth around a
fascinating fact-based tale with strong performances from its three stars.”
I was asked to review the film last year and had every intention of doing so but after grabbing one of my homegirls and seeing it in the theater, I couldn’t. I knew little about the story other than its validity and little about Wonder Woman herself, not having read any of the comics or watched the show as a child. After seeing the film, I wanted to know more; I wanted to know just how much the film got right and wrong, what was real life and what was Hollywood.
I was already minimally acquainted with the tale of Wonder Woman’s origins. Before this movie, another woman shed light on this remarkable piece of history in “The Secret History of Wonder Woman”, written by Jill Lepore in 2014. I purchased it right away…and then it sat onmy shelf and collected dust. I came home from the theater, dusted it off, and set to reading it that evening. Now that I have read the book and seen the movie, I feel I can give a more accurate review.
“Professor Marston and The Wonder Woman” as a movie is beautiful, poignant, sexy, inspiring. The cinematography is dazzling and the actor performances are endearing. Rebecca Hall, who plays Marston’s ferocious, witty, and brilliant wife Elizabeth, I found completely arresting; I would have fallen in love with her, too. Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne was sweet and beguiling but not just an angelic pretty face; she had depth and complexity. Luke Evans’ Dr. Marston was sexy but in a way that we don’t see often reflected in male characters; he was pensive, compassionate, a man who felt deeply. The onscreen chemistry between the trio was believable, as was the various struggles they faced both personally and in their outward lives as they sought to be true to themselves and what they felt for one another but wrestled with conventionality.
Set in the late 1930’s, the rich costumes are evocative of the pin-up era yet the movie had a modern feel. And the sex scenes? Very sensual and frankly, arousing. What I enjoyed most about it is that it transported me. It reminded me of what it was like when I was in a triad and falling in love, coming together, working through our issues as a trio, raising our children together. It made me nostalgic. It made me cry. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie experience–however the movie as a historical retelling? Not so much.
One of the things that nagged me about the film is that there is no concrete evidence that Olive Byrne and Elizabeth Marsten EVER had a sexual/romantic relationship. After reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman and doing my own research, I have come to the conclusion that either Elizabeth and Olive had little to no romantic involvement with one another or that they went to great pains to conceal it. I think it is likely the former. While I believe the women shared a very close and intimate relationship (Elizabeth named her second child, a girl, after Olive) and even though they lived together for nearly forty years after the death of William Marston in 1947, I just can’t bring myself to declare definitively that the two women shared anything more than a sisterhood.
In a Forbes.com article, Rob Salkowitz interviews Christie Marston, daughter of William’s son Moulton, who claims that she can say with about 99.99% accuracy that there was no sexual relationship between her grandmother Elizabeth and Olive Byrne, lovingly referred to by her family as “Dots”. According to Christie, “The relationship between Gram [Elizabeth Marston] and Dots [Olive Byrne] is wrong; they were as sisters, not lovers.” In an interview of the film’s director Angela Robinson with Vulture’s Abraham Riesman, Robinson said “I wanted to kind of be able to explore my own interpretation of what the story was,” and admitted that while she read extensively on Marston and his work, she did not include reaching out to family members with actual knowledge of the situation in her research efforts. In statements made by Christie Marston about Robinson’s artistic decisions in creating the film, “If she wanted to ‘explore her own interpretation’ she should not have used real people’s lives to sell her story,” and, “There are many real people who deserve to have their story told who are better subjects. In fact, there was a lesbian who was part of the family and part of WW’s beginnings; had AR done any research, she could have used the Marston and Wonder Woman names honestly.”
I agree. Yes, it made for a great film watching experience but it wasn’t the truth. It opened up this whole conversation for me about respecting the rights and privacy of a person’s life story, even posthumously. I think the director told the story that she wanted to have happened, not the one that did. I also think that the decision to cast Olive and Elizabeth as lovers was about mass appeal. FMF triads, with their current trendiness, make for a more titillating story. Plus, if they had just centered Dr. Marston as the pivot point of the relationship between the two women, it would have been far too redolent of polygamy, which is frowned upon as archaic and misogynistic in modern American society. I also think that it’s interesting to note that the director is herself a lesbian.
The story of the creation of Wonder Woman and the relationship between William, Olive, and Elizabeth, without any artistic flourish, is an extraordinary one. Even in 2018, living in a set-up such as they did is seen as odd, taboo, amoral even. The fact that they were shirking the societal conventions of marriage and monogamy in the 1930’s and 40’s is revolutionary. There was no need to put any extra sauce on it. It was a savory tale on its own.
My conclusion: It’s a great film but it’s just that, a film. A stirring and beautifully told story but a story nonetheless. I encourage everyone to see it but to go into it with the knowledge that you will be watching one person’s interpretation of a true story, not a factual historical depiction. I will say, though, that I watched it three times while writing this and will probably watch it once more before the rental expires. It hits me in all the feels. As far as films are concerned, Angela Robinson did a stellar job in creating this one. I could easily find myself in each character. It’s a touching tale of polyamorous love, heartache, forgiveness, and wonder.
A Unicorn by Any Other Name……
“Unicorn.” One of the first terms of the polyamorous lexicon that I encountered upon entering the non-monogamous world. Generally it is used to describe a single bisexual female willing to become sexually and/or romantically involved with a couple that is usually comprised of a heterosexual man and a bisexual woman. You need not be in the polyamorous community long to become aware that it is a hotly contested term with negative connotations. Just try posting in a polyamory group asking who identifies as a unicorn and you’re in for a bumpy ride. You also need not be in the polyamorous community long to become aware that there are many unicorn horror stories, many women who complain of the predatory-like tactics of “unicorn-hunters” (heterosexual couples looking for a bisexual woman to “complete their union”), many who lament the evils of couple-privilege, closed triads, and being a “third”.
I was initially tasked to write some of those stories. Even had a clever little title for my article. “Tales from the Unicorn Stable”. I posted on my page and in several groups asking if anyone who identifies as a unicorn would be willing to share their experience being such with me. I received quite a few responses from those who wished to participate, all of them being women which didn’t surprise me, but I was struck by a thought. Bisexual women aren’t the only ones with “unicorn” stories to tell and the fact that we don’t hear the stories of the other persons in the polyamorous community having “unicorn” experiences is disappointing.
The reality is that lesbian couples seek single lesbian women to form a triad. Gay men seek other single gay men to form triads. Lesbian couples comprised of two bisexual women often seek a single heterosexual man to join their unit as gay couples comprised of two bisexual men seek single heterosexual women to join them. Couples with a heterosexual woman and a bisexual man also seek a single bisexual man to join them. Couples with gender queer/gender non-conforming/gender non-binary persons who seek other single persons who identify as such to form triads with. Basically, if you can think it, it exists. While these instances aren’t as frequent, bisexual women aren’t the only ones subject to the phenomenon of being sought after by eager couples looking to “add to their relationship”.
I mentioned in a comment on one of my posts that I wished I could find a male “unicorn” to interview and a friend of mine who would be categorized by the classic definition of the term expressed what I perceived as a sort of ownership over the word. She replied that interchanging the word to include other persons besides single bisexual women was confusing. I understand her point but how then are these other people who are having these “unicorn-esque” experiences supposed to share their stories when there is no language for them to do so because the definition of unicorn is so narrow? She also expressed not wishing to be objectified by the term while another woman that I spoke to said that she loved being called a unicorn. To her, it has a mythical, magical quality that she enjoys being associated with herself.
Since I don’t technically fall into the original definition of the term, I am a little hesitant to prescribe this but I think the definition of “unicorn” should be expanded to describe the phenomenon of the two seeking the magical one to form the fully connected three. Many women who are categorized as unicorns balk at the term and being objectified as such but if the term were broadened to define a concept and not a specific type of individual, that objectification would lessen because it would include a variety of examples. I also think that the narrowness of the term allows for other types of couples who don’t fall into the classic description of “unicorn-hunters” to believe that they aren’t carrying out problematic behaviors in their search for their “third” because how can they be “unicorn-hunters” if they aren’t looking for a “unicorn”? They may not be looking for a single bisexual woman but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t committing many of the same faux pas that most unicorn-hunting couples commit like treating the new person as an add-on to the existing relationship, making rules and agreements for the new person before they even enter into the relationship, not allowing for the new partner to develop individual relationships with each party in the couple, wielding couple-privilege all over the place, etc.
As this community expands and evolves, so will its language and words. One of the things I love and loathe about language is its ability to adapt and to change. I think it’s time that we examine some of those terms and ask do they fit us anymore. Triads are not all heterosexual male/bisexual female/bisexual female. They come in many varieties and are made up of a multitude of genders and sexualities. And just like there are many different kinds of horses, I think there are many different kinds of “unicorns”. While the experience of a bisexual male in a couple would I’m sure be different from a bisexual woman’s, I’m also confident that they’d find a lot of commonalities in being the person entering into an already established relationship of two.
To quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and I believe a “unicorn” by any other definition, would still be as magical.
Although the title is meant to be witty and slightly humorous in the name of starting a conversation, the people I’m describing can be quite the opposite. You know them. Or maybe you ARE them. The forced OPP couple who have deemed it “Unicorn season”. The Hoteps who insist their “secondary” single girlfriends date only them while they themselves are married. The wife who only wants to play pillow princess to, but could never marry or take a relationship serious. Even the LGBTQ couple who fall into heteronormative gender identifications in which the feminine party is viewed as less than, or subservient to the masculine or otherwise dominant one.
For some reason or another polyamorous people are sometimes looked upon as more enlightened and or evolved than the general monogamous population.
Some of us will argue that monogamy is actually the devolution of the natural order of things, but I can agree that the ability to connect to and love more than one person in these times is hella progressive.
But to think that these poly-oriented people don’t each come with a customized set of very human and sometimes downright oppressive belief systems is not a stretch, it’s just incorrect.
I can only speak for my experiences , and those that have been shared with me from other non mono people. I listen to the stories of women and men who try to love these people, only to be treated as less than, or even as some kind of disposable object, here for the entertainment of those who subscribe to these ideals. The worst of these stories end in abuse, self esteem issues and other emotional and psychological damage.
I myself have my own tales to tell, as a masculine leaning androgynous queer person in a largely hetero community, (many woman I date are married to men) I have been made to feel as though my relationships are invalid. As if my presence in a married woman’s life was temporary, a phase she was going through, and not to be taken seriously. And not just by the men in these scenarios.
I’ve seen men and women alike flip out over wives for even wanting sexual encounters with men, but won’t push to meet or otherwise interact with me in the same situation because “men are different”. As if somehow my vagina makes me safe. Or not as bad. Or anything less than capable of doing just as much damage as my male counterparts. How cute, my girl has a girlfriend!
How do we move past misogyny in a society in which rape, domestic abuse and other atrocities are often blamed on the victims? How do you convince a woman her internalized misogyny is toxic to free thinking, womanist or feminist types, and this may be why nobody wants to “inbox her man if they aren’t eating her p*ssy” as one meme I saw suggests?
Here’s an idea; by not entertaining that mess. Say no to the date with the dude that insists you wear heels and know how to cook. Don’t hook up the woman who lets you know she could never go beyond sex with a woman. Let the woman who expects you to pay for the date know, men can be treated too. Call out the LGBT folks who belittle those who don’t fall into their already marginalized hypocrisy. Y’all need to check yourselves. This ain’t the 50’s!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for living your truth unapologetically. We are in a free thinking society in which one can do what they please, and some folks are OK with varying schools of radical thought. This is all good! But instead of forcing these hyper masculinity based belief systems on the rest of us, find each other and be happy. Let Mr. and Misogyny take their forced OPP elsewhere. Let the rest of us poly in peace and equal love.
What’s your take? Share it with us!
Maya is an Arab-American polyamorist. Here she shares her story of sexuality, mental illness, and the power of family.
I’m a 26 year old woman, and I was born and raised in southern California to first generation Arab-American immigrants. My parents were very religious when I was young, and my siblings and I were taught to pray and fast. We all attended a religious private school at our local mosque for quite some time. At six years old, I asked my mother why I should believe in god if I couldn’t see him. She replied with the standard, “well, that’s what faith is.” I was completely dissatisfied with that. I wanted more, and I realized then and there that religion would never give me more.
Things shifted dramatically for my family following the September 11 attacks. It was a jolt that we needed, something that underscored a very distinct problem within our religion. My parents did a ton of research, which led to my mother deciding to remove the headscarf. Within our community this was such a dramatic and daring move, I can’t even explain it. With my family shaken but thrust into a period of real digging and exploration, life went on. In middle school, I began having little crushes on other girls in my class. I remember watching a certain Beyonce music video over and over, not really knowing why I liked it so much. I never acted on my feelings and didn’t bother telling anyone, mostly because I knew I was attracted to boys too. So my homosexual tendencies weren’t really at the forefront of my mind.
Once I had finished up high school and began to attend college, I began to struggle. Having been labeled as this bright and happy girl for so long, I crashed when I was left to my own devices because I realized that that wasn’t really me. I had so many unanswered questions, and I was very confused about who I was or where I fit in. I’d always been an emotional eater, so I gained a lot of weight during my first year of college. I also began noticing other women more often, possibly because my self-confidence was near-zero around men. I still wasn’t ready to address my bisexuality.
After finishing up college and successfully coming out to my parents and family with an overwhelmingly positive reaction, I moved away from California for graduate school. This was my first time ever living completely alone. Up until that point, I’d always lived with my siblings or immediate family. I gained a lot of weight once again (60 pounds in one year!) and drank a lot. I did well in school, but that was the only thing in life I was keeping somewhat organized. I was struggling in a very real way. Toward the end of my first year of grad school, I met a woman in my program whom I liked, and I finally had my first kiss at 24 years old. It was sensual, soft, and fulfilling.
That summer, I left to travel overseas and have weight loss surgery. I’m 5’6″ and my highest weight was 236. Since then, I’ve lost over 80 pounds. I returned to complete my second year of graduate school and this is when my period of “heavy dating” began. I went on four or five dates per week. I drank a lot during my dates, even though I wasn’t supposed to be drinking at all right after having surgery. It was reckless and unhealthy. I would fade after seeing someone a few times, because I was afraid of having sex for the first time. I’d never been confident about my naked body. Mental images of perfect, cellulite-free models haunted me and made me feel like shit about myself.
I graduated from my Master’s program and got a job in academia. I began drinking even more. I was seeing someone who I didn’t really care for, and after a long day of drinking and smoking weed, I decided, fuck it! We had sex on July 4th, 2016. My body was on fire; it hurt so much. I was bleeding profusely. We got out of bed afterward and sat outside to watch the fireworks. He began discussing the war in Iraq and made some comments regarding the murder of civilians that still make me shudder. He topped it all off with some xenophobic and racist comments about Arabs and Muslims, knowing full well what my religious background and ethnicity were. I left his house like I was dreaming, in so much physical and emotional pain that I didn’t know what to do. I went to work the next morning and texted him that I didn’t want to see him anymore. I don’t think about him at all.
That same week, I met someone at a bar and had a one night stand. From there, I had roughly fifteen casual sex encounters (thankfully I always used protection) over the next two months. I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted in bed because I didn’t know what I wanted, so I often ended up being used by people just to get off. I was very aware of that.
I began to feel distinctly bored, empty, and unhappy. I’d been going to therapy and taking antidepressants for years because I’d always been anxious and sort of depressed, but combining the alcohol with prescription drugs was not working well for me. I fell into a pit of depression, HARD. I couldn’t focus on work, so I was falling behind. I was calling my parents long distance every day at lunch to cry over the phone. They didn’t know what was going on and I wouldn’t tell them because I was so ashamed that I was drinking and having sex. I switched medications, and that’s when the shit hit the fan. Suicidal thoughts overwhelmed me. What pushed me over the edge was receiving a formal warning at work. I planned to kill myself that afternoon. I picked up a bottle of liquor from the store on my way home and had a Xanax prescription waiting for me at the pharmacy. I was driving to the pharmacy when I unconsciously reached for my phone. Seriously, I don’t even know how or why I did it. I don’t remember.
I called my mom, who lives in a timezone twelve hours ahead and was asleep. She woke up and picked up the phone. I was sobbing so hard I thought I would never stop. My heart was broken and I had to finally ask for help. I did. My mom, a very mild-mannered and soft-spoken woman, is the strongest person I know. She asked me to promise her that I wouldn’t hurt myself. She asked if I would throw out the bottle of liquor and just go home and rest for the day. She told me that she was going to support me no matter what. That my whole family was standing behind me if I would let them. We agreed that it would be best for me to quit my job and move back to California to figure things out. I hung up the phone, and the time was 5:02pm. The pharmacy had closed at 5.
At 6am the next morning, I received a phone call. It was my brother, and he was in front of my apartment building. He had taken a flight across the country with two layovers so that he could get to me as soon as possible. Still dazed and feeling worn out from the day before, I fell apart when I saw him. We were headed back to California within a week.
I was not myself for a while after that. My parents came to visit me a couple of weeks later, and I could tell they were shocked when they saw me. I was on a heavy dose of benzodiazepines; I wasn’t eating at all; I was smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee around the clock. I’m sure I must have looked dead behind the eyes. I was having lots of sex, still sort of meaningless and unsatisfying, but I had a lot of time on my hands and I was restless. I jumped into bed on the first date pretty consistently, and I could never really figure out why I still had so much energy when I was being so active with so many partners. Now I know that it’s because the sex didn’t hit me on any emotional level, so while it was physically draining, it didn’t affect me mentally. I was always overthinking, not at peace, and generally unhappy.
Strangely, and I think this is important to mention because of this post’s topic, I have never felt guilty about having pre-marital sex. On the contrary, I’ve always been pretty opposed to the idea of getting married and settling down, so this just seems to be the only viable way to live my life.
I had my first meaningful sexual relationship around October of last year. I was still fragile and recovering. I hadn’t had a drink since mid-August, before my breakdown. I was being weaned off my medications and doing okay. That’s when my partner brought up the question of exclusivity: did I want it? My knee-jerk reaction, much to my surprise, was no. I enjoyed our relationship but I saw no need to restrict myself from seeing other people. He was definitely monogamous, and the breakup was drawn-out and unhappy.
Since then, I’ve learned to be selective about taking on partners. I’ve learned to ask for what I want in bed. I’ve learned to be a good lover and a mature partner. I identify as solopoly because I need a lot of time to myself, and the pressure of a primary relationship feels like too much at this point in my life. That being said, my experiences have been fantastic. I’m assertive, mostly dominant, and I have found some remarkable people who like to play with boundaries and explore some crazy fun things with me. It feels insanely good to be giving in bed, to be kind to someone in some small way, like gently stroking their neck or giving them a kiss when they least expect it. The intimacy that comes along with sexual contact is something I struggle with, because I went without it for so long. I am learning to open up and let my guard down with partners.
It mostly happened during the unhappiest time of my life, but there you go. My story. And maybe my point in spilling all this is to say that we can all rise up and that each one of us can break free and find a place of comfort, of satisfaction. I found mine in polyamory. I can never completely reconcile my cultural identity with my sexual identity, but I can definitely find some peace in specific places that I’ve created for myself.
Have you struggled with faith, mental illness, and sexuality? Share your story!
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I’m preoccupied today. I have a ton of shit to do but the only thing that I can think about is my Sir. The TV is off and the portable heater is making a whirring noise in the living room. The two smoke detectors beep back and forth off and on every few minutes like they are sending imaginary signals to each other. I turn the pages of the magazine that I’m reading out of boredom, anxious to receive a text from him. I’m waiting for a reply back that he acknowledges what I’ve said. Why is this man such a mystery? I wonder. I pick up my cell phone from off of its charger to see if he’s even sent me a message back. I do this several times over a few minutes. I throw down the cell phone, feeling frustrated.
Stupid phone, I want to say out loud, but it’s not the phone that I’m mad at I guess, it’s him. I wonder to myself should I call or just wait for him to text me back. I stare at the phone again. The light is flashing green and that could mean a Facebook message or a text. I pick up the phone and realize it’s not a text, just a status update on Facebook. “Ugh,” I say and throw the cell phone back on the couch. I’m annoyed that he hasn’t texted me back. I know that he’s out and most likely hasn’t even seen the message or is too busy to reply back.
Then my thoughts turn to “maybe he’s busy with her. The “her” that I’m referring to is my new sub sister or his new “slave bitch” as he jokingly refers to her. I feel no jealousy because I know I’m an alpha sub and his bottom bitch. I was there from the beginning and I will remain there. Like he tells me all the time, this is bigger than marriage and we’re in this shit for the long haul. I also promised him that I would never leave him ever again. I’ve left him and our relationship before in its beginning stages. More often than not, I felt unfulfilled in our dynamic because I was so new to the BDSM lifestyle itself. I also wanted and needed more attention than he was giving me at the time.
Am I an attention seeking little brat? I would ask myself. Yes, I am, I finally admitted. My cell is set on vibrate, so once I feel it vibrate and the message light is on, I’m all smiles. “Finally,” I say out loud to myself. The house is empty except for my sleeping teenage son in his bedroom. The message button lights up. There are three letters that I’ve used to refer to him from the beginning and they are SIR. Anytime a text comes through or I get a phone call from him, my heart starts to pound and I get excited. I’m excited because I’m in his thoughts enough to know that he has reached out to me. During the day he’s busy hustling, as he calls it, so he’s away from the house for up to ten hours at a time.
The message is clear and to the point. It says, Are you ready to meet my other sub? I responded back to the text defiantly, Is she ready to meet me, that’s the question. Yes it was a smartass remark, and he would probably smack me later for it, but I didn’t care. Previously he told me that I needed to get my jealousy together before I met his other sub. He uses the term sub and slave interchangeably at times, but it doesn’t confuse me because I know most of the terminology even though I’ve been in the lifestyle just a little while. I’m slowly turning from being a submissive to being his slave. These are two totally different things and I want to maintain some control over myself and my life, and by being his slave I can’t do that. It’s called a total power exchange, and basically it means giving up total control to your dominant.
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