Representation Matters

When you talk to white middle class polyamorists, you get the viewpoint of white middle class polyamorists.

Olivia Goldhill recently wrote about polyamory and whether it is a political movement. While she acknowledged the existence of Black & Poly's Facebook page, she concluded that the poly community was largely white and cisgendered. Unfortunately she did not reach out to Ron Young or any of the non-white leaders in the polyamory movement. As a result, her article demonstrates a narrow view of polyamory.

Missing from the article are people of color and queer people who struggle to live their lives in a culture that is not at all accepting. Despite the fact that black polyamorists face discrimination from family, potential partners, and work colleagues, non-monogamy has always been a part of black culture. The Black Panthers lived collectively and had multiple partners during the sixties, but the author is ignorant of this history. Black & Poly specifically takes a womanist view of the world that centers the experiences and desires of women in a distinctly non-patriarchal way.

The author also glosses over the LGBTQ community and their history of non-monogamy. Though she mentions some women and non-binary people who identify as queer, it's clear she has only talked to bisexual women who largely operate in the heterosexual poly community. Ana Valens, responding to the article, writes: “Instead of suggesting polyamory began with hetero communes and ended up in Brooklyn bars, it’s much more accurate to suggest that queer poly people see their sexual and romantic interactions as part of a larger queer experience of challenging the norms that permeate in cis, straight relationships. In other words, poly queers are not looking for belonging. They’re looking to exist independently from straight people.”

Middle class whites did popularize swinging, where couples meet in homes or sex clubs for purely physical relationships. The author confuses these two flavors of ethical non-monogamy while trying to define polyamory. In doing so, she conflates sex and love in a way that many poly people dislike. The event she profiles in the article is not a poly meetup but a BDSM mixer. While the kink and poly communities overlap, they have many differences. The only black voice in the article talks about a common problem in the BDSM community, but it is not necessarily representative of black women's experiences in the poly community.

Her description of polyamory also ignores the asexual community and those who include non-sexual relationships in their polycules. It was inaccurate and harmful for her to say that both men and women are “expected” to enjoy sex because consent is the absolute bedrock of polyamorous relationships. The couples new to non-monogamy that look forward to threesomes with single women quickly realize the reality of polyamorous dating: you can't force sexual attraction.

Her article has an uncomfortable focus on the economic benefits of polyamory. Poly family homes are another stereotype that is not part of most people's lived reality. For all her focus on marble countertops, she ignores the subset of black polyamorists that specifically seek to build black economic power outside of the mainstream economy. Once again, the black poly community is actually more political than the people she interviews.

While I know and respect the people at Chrysalis, none of them can be considered typical polyamorists. New Culture is a radical movement focusing on relationships and vulnerability, but it faces its own issues with race and LGBTQ representation. I was disappointed that Michael Rios, a respected leader, downplayed the effort required to maintain interracial relationships. Kevin Patterson's book Love's Not Colorblind deserves more than a casual reference as a guide to how people can deconstruct race and privilege in the poly community.

The benefits of polyamory, such as autonomy and self knowledge, are not limited to those who live together and have group sex. Polyamory requires not only openness but a desire to build interpersonal skills and work through tough problems. The author's drawing of poly as a cozy, multi-family network doesn't show the real work that people do to maintain their relationships. This is the reason polyamorists do not disparage those who chose monogamy. It's not for everyone, and we certainly don't expect everyone to move into family-friendly communes.

The author went looking for radicalism in the poly community, and she found middle class people who are using their privilege to live comfortably despite having an alternative lifestyle. She missed the people who are actively challenging white privilege and patriarchy through their relationships, and in doing so she did a disservice to the entire poly community.

If it feels like history is repeating itself, it is.

Black Love: A Family Affair

My grandfather died when I was in middle school. As with all funerals, there are a multitude of family members I’d never met or barely talked to. But hearing about one woman caught me completely by surprise: my mother’s half-sister.

My grandparents on my mother’s side had six children, and I knew them all well (they lived in Gastonia and surrounding towns). I had met their spouses, played with their children, and attended weddings and funerals with them. They’d never mentioned a seventh child, the daughter of my grandfather. My grandmother was reluctant to talk about her. My grandfather was dead. My mother doesn’t want me to talk about it online. But she exists, and the fact that she exists highlights an important part of black culture.

We are not monogamous.

If you’ve read Sex at Dawn, you’re aware of the historical underpinnings of marriage and how it is tied to property and birthright. It’s part of the reason polygyny (a man married to multiple women) is still acceptable across the world. As a black American, I don’t feel much connection with the African women in polygamous marriages. I do feel a connection with my great grandmother, who decided, after having five children, that she would have the next two with a different man. Was she a cheater? Most definitely. Did she have any other models of love and relationship other than monogamy and polygamy? Probably not.

During the slave trade, economic interest was stronger than marital bonds. Black families were routinely separated and sold to different owners whether they were married or single. A woman could not expect to stay on the same plantation with her father or her husband. She often could not decide who would be the father of her own children. Naturally, when freedom came, black families tried to create homes and communities that looked like white families’. They joined a culture that had decided monogamy was best, no matter how often the model citizens failed at it. But consistently up until the modern era, black families have looked more like single parent families, extended support systems, and skipped generation rearing.

Modern critics call it “the breakdown of family structures.” I call it the irreparable damage of white supremacy.

Research shows that, despite the fact that black Americans are less likely to be married than white Americans, black Americans still want and have romantic relationships. They just don’t always end with marriage. The stereotypical lower-income black mother with multiple “baby daddies” has a kernel of truth–black culture, in general, is accepting of serial monogamy and blended families. It’s acceptable to end a relationship when it no longer meets our needs, and it’s just as acceptable to ask that the ex participate in co-parenting along with or instead of a new partner.

Compared to the cultural standard, our way of doing relationships looks dysfunctional and unhealthy. Often times it is dysfunctional and unhealthy, but sometimes it works. Polyamory, a word invented in 1991, is about openness and honesty around our wants and needs. In polyamory, it’s normal to decide whether to live together or not, who participates in co-parenting, and who contributes financially. Black culture does not have to make a giant leap into polyamory–it just has to bring our current practices to the light. Not everyone is built for non-monogamy, and there is still work to be done around removing religion-based shame. At the end of the day, people will be healthier by having more options with which to live authentic lives.

The AntiCheat Lie

URL

Email

Can we stop?

Seriously, if I hear one more person say the reason they became polyamorous is because they “no longer wanted to be a cheater,” I’m going to scream. And yeah, OK, no one really cares about me screaming, but come on.

I’ll be transparent and say that early on I was that guy.

More than a hundred times I’m sure I’ve introduced myself or, worse, the idea of polyamory, under the notion that I was once a cheater, and, to cure myself, I began practicing this lovestyle. In retrospective let me definitively say, Nah Son.

The error in this line of thinking is threefold.

  1. On a personal level, while polyamory did allow me to develop myself as a husband, father, and man, changing my lovestyle did nothing to correct the flawed thinking that allowed me to lie, cheat, and not honor my relationships.

That was work I had to do on myself. Period. At best, I can say that these holes in my own character were exposed by the increased emphasis poly brings to personal accountability/responsibility. If I wasn’t brave enough to be honest with one person about my actions, thoughts, or wants, then there was no way I was going to be honest with two or more just because I have the poly flag tatted on my arm.

This leads us to the second problem with this line of thinking.

2) I was setting others up for failure. Directly or indirectly, I was suggesting to a person that, instead of working on themselves or their relationship, they could escape to the comfort of Polyville, where infidelity was a thing of past, and everyone got along holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Again let me say, Nah Son.

This is something to be studied. This is something to prepare for. This is something to be intentional about. This is NOT a reaction to one’s own shortcomings or growing you have to do in your current relationship. To make it plain: get your house in order before you cross this threshold, because these Black & Poly folks WILL CALL YOU OUT!

Which brings to my final point.

3) Spreading such a sentiment only serves to damage the image and culture of the Black & Poly community.  As polyamory creeps from the shadows, it is vital that we control the narrative about our own community. This has been a life giving, family oriented, freeing process for many of us, and to conflate polyamory with cheating is irresponsible and discouraging for those seeking the same freedom and peace we have been granted. Dishonesty, lying, and cheating have no home here.

We are a community that holds ourselves and each other accountable. We are a community rooted in standing against every kind of abuse. We are a community that is about far more than sex or even romantic relationships. We ARE about freedom. Freedom is something you can’t cheat your way to.

P

Poly is What You Make It

You think being a polyamorous person will erase all of your relationship woes? Guess again. If anything, being poly puts everything under a lens that allows everything to be discussed. Many will believe that they are not meant for poly because the same tragedies that plagued their monogamous relationship has in turn plagued their poly relationship. This doesn’t have to be true for you and the relationships that you form.

What’s great about being in an open relationship is that you have more control of your life. You’re not stuck in a situation where your options are limited. The concept of family and love is taking on a new identity, and I believe that it’s heading in a direction that will allow people of color more flexibility in the design of their families.

Poly encourages healthy dynamics in relationships. It’s a mirror reflection of what you put out in the world. You’re unable to hide in other partners because your issues will simply rise to the top. The connections you’ve formed will be strained if you don’t first take care of the relationship you have with yourself.

I’m a counselor by trade, so I highly advocate for people to practice some form of self care as they navigate life. Knowing yourself goes a long ways in figuring out what kind of poly relationships you desire. So I encourage everyone to look into taking the Myers Briggs personality tests and other scientific instruments that can give you insight into who you are.

Ask your partners, friends, and family about quirks of yours that stick out. It’s better to know your strengths and weakness so that you can educate your partners about the best way to communicate with you. Do some journaling about your past relationships and look at them without the concept of you being involved. Some exploration about who you are in relationships will give you better insight into what style of relationship will work best for you.

You’ll encounter heartbreak, passion, tears, joy, all of the emotions that are essential to the human experience. If you’re running away from those things, then you need to take a reality check. Poly is hard. Mono is hard. Life is hard. But learning to dance in the rain is what makes life worth living. Those moments when we are able to see the sun through the fog and realize that it’s all about our perspective.

Developing healthy relationships is my passion these days. And I want to help others have those healthy relationships with their partners, family members, and friends. The poly community is growing. I would love to see it become more popular in the black community. The economic hardships that face minority populations and low income folks would benefit from a more communal style of family and relationships. It could make a world of difference in the development of young lives. Think about the emotional intelligence of these children compared to what we currently see.

Just like we go through stages of our black identity, so does our identity as a poly person. Allow yourself the space and grace to make mistakes. Move at your own pace and educate yourself by reading posts, joining Facebook groups, etc. The only way to start finding out what you want from poly is to explore. Look at certain relationships and say, I can see myself in a relationship like that. Or vice versa. Personally, I could never see myself in a closed triad, but at some point in my life that may be a great option. It’s all about the now and what it’s doing for you.

Last but not least I want to reiterate the importance of self care. Schedule time to yourself as if it was a date. Just you and the universe. Interact with the world in a different way and bring the information you’ve learned back to your partners. It’ll make for a wonderful experience and promote growth amongst your polycule. Take care of yourself and others. Metta.

Check out more of Brian’s writings at www.cultivatingdopeness.com.

Race Matters

I like white women. Yeah I said it. Not only that, but I love women of all races that inhabit this earth. That’s why, as an heterosexual cis-gendered male, I do not have a preference when it comes to race. In my book, race shouldn’t matter. But I’m far too wise to understand that this hasn’t been the case. I understand that some brothers feel the need to only marry and populate this earth with melanted sistas. To a degree, I completely understand where this ideology comes from.

My personal marriage story ended pretty tragically, because I was trying to uphold an ideal of what black love is supposed to look like. Called myself trying to create an Obama family of excellence. Since that fall from grace, I took race and religion out of my love book. It’s not so much that I don’t value race and religion, but because of my own personal experience, I can’t fathom trying to design a relationship based on race alone. Now! With that being said, I do have a bar for my partners to leap over. I need to know their wokeness. How authentic is this person? Are they generally eager to understand the oppression that is faced by African-Americans in this country? Or do they use my friendship as a prop to show that they have that one black guy that they are cool with? These are the things that matter most to me personally. My future children will grow up with a black father and have black culture ingrained into their upbringing. That’s a priority that I’m not willing to budge on.

I wanted to write about this because in our Black & Poly discussion board, a member asked the question about if he was wrong for requesting that his wife only have relationships with black men. You are never wrong for voicing your opinion on something that speaks to your heart and core values. I would caution that you should give your wife the opportunity to explain if this doesn’t fit well with her core values. If you’re married, then I would assume that you share core values, but you must remember that she is an individual just like yourself. She has autonomy over her personal dominion, and there is nothing more beautiful than a black man who completely trusts his black wife to make decisions in regards to how they shape their polycule. Remember, she loves you, and she already wants to make sure she doesn’t rock the boat with the relationship.

Imposing unnecessary restrictions on people is a sure fire way to create an environment for deception and cheating. Try boundary language where you get to the root of your feelings. Rules can come off as feeling entitled and controlling. Rules enforce restrictions and make people feel stuck. Value her views as you would want your views to be valued also. May nothing but peace and happiness bless your relationships from this point on and forward. Metta.

Check out more of Brian’s writings at www.cultivatingdopeness.com.

On the Phone with Ruby Bouie Johnson

Evita Sawyers interviewed Ruby Bouie Johnson, therapist and organizer of Poly Dallas Millennium. Learn more about her private practice here.

You ever talk to a person and just instantly feel a kinship and ease with them? A comfort and familiarity. Warmth. That was exactly what my conversation with Ruby Bouie Johnson felt like. I had never met Ruby in person or online, and I was asked to get the word out about this dynamic polyamorous woman of color and to plug her upcoming event in July. Poly Dallas Millennium is her annual symposium about ethical and consensual non-monogamy with a special emphasis on the experiences of persons of color. I called Ruby on an early Saturday afternoon, and, in no time, we were chatting like old friends.

ES: “Hello! Such a pleasure to be speaking with you. Let’s dive in! How long have you been polyamorous?”

RBJ: “I discovered polyamory in 2010.”

ES: “Nice! And how many current partners do you have?”

RBJ: *Laughs* “Partner is such a loaded word! Let’s just say that I have many people that I love a lot that have love for me, but I am currently in one romantic relationship.”

ES: *Laughs* “I feel that! Makes sense. Tell me how you discovered polyamory.”

RBJ: “I met a gentleman while in recovery. He was recently divorced and didn’t want to be monogamous anymore; he was over it. He introduced the concept to me. I didn’t understand it. I had a territorial and possessive idea about love, that there wasn’t enough, that love was scarce. I struggled. We broke up but I fell in love with the community. Like minded people together, learning from one another and supporting each other. My first love was the community.”

ES: “Man, do I understand that. Discovering the swinger community had that same affect for me. I felt like I was finally around people who ‘get’ me. People I could really be myself with.”

RBJ: “And through polyamory, I discovered the kink community. Kink was always something that I held but hadn’t fully explored. There’s a large intersection of the polyamorous and kink communities. I burst open. I was like a kid in a candy store and no one judged me! I felt freedom from the abuse I had experienced in my life; I learned about consent. Polyamory was the catalyst for a life altering change for me. It aided in my recovery and in the evolution of myself. It was the liberation and the breaking of life long chains. I never thought I’d get remarried, and now I’ve been with my current spouse for five years.”

ES: “I felt the Spirit move on that one! What is polyamory about to you?”

RBJ: “Honestly, polyamory is as much about loving myself as it is about loving others. It’s about not judging ourselves for our wants and desires and not judging others for theirs. It’s a revolutionary act of love for me.”

ES: “That resonated with me. The biggest benefit of polyamory for me is the self-discovery. I have learned so much about myself and how to appreciate and accept and love ME. I feel like once I began to learn how to do that, it made it easier for me to do that for others.”

RBJ: “Exactly. You can’t do something for someone else that you can’t do for yourself.”

ES: “What would you consider is YOUR polyamorous practice?”

RBJ: “My approach to polyamory is an egalitarian approach. In my experience, hierarchy in my relationships doesn’t work, it doesn’t feel good. I don’t have a “primary” and “secondary” outlook for my relationships. There’s no up or down. I feel like an egalitarian approach is kinder. No one is made to feel like a second class citizen or disposable. I had to learn how jealousy works in order to learn how to be accepting and inviting of the people I am in relationship with.”

ES: “To me, egalitarian relationships are empowered relationships. People do better when they feel they have power and agency in their relationships. Tell me about your event in the summer! What is the Poly Dallas Millennium Symposium?”

RBJ: “The Poly Dallas Millennium Symposium started in 2015 as a workshop to educate clinicians about polyamory, kink, and BDSM. By 2016 it was over two days long. 2017, three days. Poly Dallas first provided a platform for a lot of folks of color to have their voices be heard. That wasn’t commonly heard of at poly conferences before: a large number of speakers of color.”

ES: “Even now, we are just starting to really make our voices heard as polyamorous people of color.”

RBJ: “This is the only event of this kind that caters specifically to persons of color and their experiences. It’s a labor of love for me; I pour my own personal resources into it because I believe in what we’re doing.”

ES: “I have heard some incredible things about the event.”

RBJ: “We have to be intentional about creating our own spaces. We need our black communities to come out and support. This may be the last year I am able to coordinate this if we don’t get the word out and get people coming.”

ES: “That is a major struggle. I live in San Diego where large communities of black polyamorous persons are scarce. It’s hard trying to get people to come together. We complain about not having our own spaces and representation but when we do, we need to do the work to keep them going.”

RBJ: “This year we have an incredible line up of speakers, including Kevin Patterson, author of ‘Love Is Not Colorblind’ and creator of the Poly Role Models blog, and Femnista Jones, blogger, activist, and author of ‘The Secret of Sugar Water’.”

ES: “I saw that you wrote the foreword for Kevin’s book! I totally fan girled out for you when I read it! It was really good!”

RBJ: “Thank you! Most people don’t even notice that that was me!”

ES: “What are some of the topics that will be discussed?”

RBJ: “The tagline for Poly Dallas Millennium is Developing Critical Consciousness, and this year’s theme is Rewriting the Rules. We’ll be talking about a wide range of topics from raising children in polyamorous families, dealing with grief and loss in polyamorous relationship, how to set proper boundaries for yourself, the intersection of race in polyamory, rewiring your personal triggers, and a variety of relevant discussions will be taking place.”

ES: “It sounds amazing; I can’t wait to go. It’ll be my first time attending anything like this! I’m excited. Before we close this out, any last words? A parting message?”

RBJ: “Yes. Come and support our event. Lend your presence and voice and experience. Come and learn and find community amongst other polyamorous people of color just like you. Black people are the game changers. We are an essential group, and we don’t realize our power, and once we realize our power, we’ll be unstoppable.”

The 4th annual 2018 Poly Dallas Millennium Symposium will be taking place July 13-15. For more information and to register, visit their website at www.polydallasmillennium.com.

Black and White

I’m a white man and I want to date black women exclusively...is that so bad?

 

I have no problem with a specific man wanting to date a specific woman. In my personal polycule, many of my male-identified partners are white. I do have a problem when white men say they want to date black women. (Insert other races and it’s the same problem, but that’s for a different post.) My blackness is integral to my identity, and when I meet a white man, I know he is primarily seeing my blackness first. He doesn’t know that I’m intelligent, disabled, liberal, or kinky. He may assume a lot of things about my behavior in the bedroom. He may be well-meaning or he may be straight up racist. I’ve met enough white men to know that many of them are simply ignorant.

White men have been objectifying black bodies since before slavery. Imagine National Geographic covers of women with bare breasts in “uncivilized” parts of Africa. Now remember that hundreds of thousands of black women were brought over to the US and ranked based on their ability to bear workers, nurse white children, or do manual labor. Remember that even after 1863, black women did not have choice over how their bodies were treated for disease. Now in 2017 a woman who has a lot of sex is still derided as a slut. Now imagine a white man who says he wants to date black women. He is bringing with him all the privilege of his culture to the trauma of my culture. It’s a wonder we don’t run away screaming. (We don’t, because after hundreds of years of subjugation we know how to “make nice.”)

So no, it’s not bad that a white man is interested in a black woman. The problem is when that white man has not examined the reasons behind his interest, and when he hasn’t dismantled the entitlement he feels about why black women should be interested in him. (I went on a date with a white man who told me he was really interested in talking about race. I told him that after hundreds of the same conversations, I no longer talked to white people about race. He said, “But we have a lot to learn from each other.”

I have spent 32 years learning about the white race. If anyone wants to talk about race with me, I expect them to shut up and listen.) At the end of the day, every black woman chooses whether she will date a particular white man or not, and it’s on the individual to understand what worked or didn’t work behind their interactions. But, speaking broadly, it’s not OK for a white man to announce that he wants to date a black woman and expect to hear applause or a stampede of high heels. Treat people as individuals and take their culture into mind.

Do you have questions about starting a polyamorous relationship? Ask us!