An open letter to media people who want to interview poly people. Including five reasons your approaches may be failing, six ways you can stand out over the norm, and a few suggestions on where to get in touch with polyamorous folks.
Dear Media Folks,
As a poly activist, I see a lot of media requests. It seems like every other week there is another email going around mailing lists and social media, often to little avail. I see that many of you are finding it difficult to engage with polyamorous people, and you're not really sure why. I'd like to help you identify some of the reasons your approaches may not be working, some of the experiences of poly people who have already spoken with the media, and how you might improve on both of these things. So let's sit down, have a nice cup of tea (or whatever you prefer) and talk about it.
Here are some of the reasons you may not be finding the poly folks you're looking for:
#1 - Polyamory doesn't look, or work, the way you're imagining.
An awful lot of media requests ask explicitly for 'polyamorous couples', 'trouples' or 'triads'. To many more experienced poly folks this is a glaring sign of cluelessness: To most of us, poly isn't something that couples do, or 'couples-plus-one'. It is something that people
Triad-structure relationships, and especially live-in ones are incredibly rare, even within the polyamorous community. Here is an essay
that explains why this is.
Most media requests also focus heavily on live-in families, whereas for many long-term polyamorous people long-distance relationships are the norm rather than the exception.
Requests for live-in poly families exclude large parts of our community who live in geographically distributed networks, as 'solopoly' people in long term relationships that are less obviously entwined, or who subscribe to relationship anarchy and live in even more different situations. I myself am a long-time poly activist, but have been turned down for several media engagements because (hilariously!) by their definition I 'wasn't poly enough' because I wasn't living with any of my long term partners. Hint: This is a great way to discourage poly activists from passing on your details!
We're sorry. We know it isn't quite so photogenic, but most poly relationship structures look more like this
It is also worth mentioning that the poly groups who DO look like this are often 'newbies' themselves: Folks who have started out in a monogamous relationship and decided to 'open up'. That's fine, if what you're wanting to document is exactly that process of transition, but please understand that the general rule of thumb is that the longer someone has been polyamorous, the more complex their relationship structures will be. By focusing on smaller poly households you will be cutting yourself off from a wealth of poly experience and information.
You can find some more information about the different ways people 'do' polyamory here.
#2 - Poly people are not (currently) protected by anti-discrimination laws.
Unlike sexuality, gender or religion, being polyamorous is not considered to be a 'protected' status under current UK anti-discrimination law (or in most of the rest of the world either). This means that a polyamorous person has no automatic recourse under law if sacked, verbally abused, or refused any sort of job or service for reasons of being polyamorous. It's not that we believe we are particularly under attack, but who wants to be a test case?
Until our legal status is clarified, for poly people who have financial commitments, dependents or careers that they are keen to keep, remaining closeted is often the preferred option. Being 'out' is the province of the young, carefree and entrepreneurial amongst us. Happily there are more of us bucking that trend every year, but the number of polyamorous people who can afford to be 'out' is still relatively small.
We are also aware of cases where families have been reported to child welfare authorities for having more than the 'usual' number of parents, or where polyamory has been brought up in custody cases. For many poly folks who have children there is no question: Being 'out', and especially in the media, is not an option.
With all of that, it isn't really surprising that the number of polyamorous people who are willing to talk publicly about being is pretty limited.
#3 - Many of us have already had poor experiences talking to the media.
Did you include words like 'sensitivity' and 'privacy' in your opening message? The trouble is, so did these people.
The pool of poly activists and media-capable polyamorous people is small, so chances are that most of us will already have given a media interview or two, and been badly misquoted, poorly edited and generally felt pretty cheesed off with the results. A good interview
where the participants feel they have been fairly accurately represented is pretty rare, and usually comes from someone who has had experiences outside of monogamy themselves.
We suspect it is usually not deliberate. Many folks come in carrying their own preconceptions about what polyamory is, how it works, what it looks like, and what the outcomes will be, and it is natural to seek out stories that fit into one's own preconceptions. Unfortunately, it is very hard for us poly people to separate out the objective, unbiased (but often still uninformed) reporters from the sensationalists just from a few brief emails, so many of us are understandably wary.
#4 - Frankly, we're embarrassed by some of the media that is already out there!
From poorly staged 'Cuddle Parties' through awkward reality TV style documentaries about hippy sex gurus giving us all way too much information straight into the camera, all the way out to Louis Theroux style exposés talking about orgies and who knows what else, much of the portrayal of polyamory in mainstream media is pretty cringeworthy stuff. It's hard to say if these interviews were fairly edited, or whether the folks involved really are the crackpots they're made out to be, but for some of our less ingenuous poly activists the idea of being tarred with the same brush is really not terribly attractive.
We're also tremendously bored of articles and shows that focus only on the 'sex' aspect of poly. Do monogamous people get asked about the sexual aspects of their marriages? No. It gets really old.
To combat this, many of us prefer to create our own media that we have full control over. To record our own podcasts
and YouTube videos
, create our own online magazines
and write our own blogs (Hi!).
#5 - Most of us just want to get on with our lives.
The vast majority of poly people, activists included, are really not all that thrilled by the media 'buzz'. Unlike many folks who might be interviewed in the papers or for documentaries, we don't have a product we're selling or a cause we're championing, other than the ability to get on and live our own lives in peace. Every moment we're talking to you takes away from the time we would otherwise be spending working in our day jobs, and our night jobs, and our weekend jobs (many polyamorous people are self-employed), scheduling time with our partners, travelling between houses, doing emotional processing (endless emotional processing!). Oh, and just occasionally actually going on dates. Those of us who are activists or even just open to occasional media contact may well be feeling pretty burned out. I know I am!
We are a growing but still fairly small percentage of the population, but we receive a disproportionate amount of media attention. Apparently challenging the dominant ideal of monogamy is 'edgy' and 'fashionable' or something these days. Except most of us aren't doing it to be edgy. We're doing it because we just happen to believe that it is okay to love more than one person at a time, and we're a bit busy actually doing that!
So what should you do if you want to connect with poly people?
1. Drop the word 'couple'.
In the world of experienced polyamorous folk, polyamory is not 'couple-centric' and you will be alienating a great many long-term polys by using language that very obviously comes from a monogamous mindset. For extra bonus points, sticking with using 'family' instead of words like 'triad' or 'trouple' can really get across the fact that you understand poly families come in lots of different shapes, sizes and living configurations.
2. Demonstrate an awareness of our position.
Do your research. Instead of just promising sensitivity, try showing it up front. Think it's unfair that poly isn't a protected status? Say so! Read a few blogs from poly people about our media experiences
and get an understanding of the sorts of mistakes and fallacies media folks usually bring into interviews. If you can't quite get your head around all of it, that's fine, but demonstrating that you have tried will mark you out as someone who has actually done some proper background research and put you on a better footing for starting the interview.
3. Build a portfolio of work
that demonstrates your knowledge of the topic and how you intend to handle it.
Sure, everyone has to start from somewhere, and perhaps as a journalist or a documentarian you have never covered this topic before. Why not then browse through existing works by poly people and see if you can find something that speaks to you. Quoting our own words back at us – in context – is a great way of demonstrating understanding. Or put together a brief sample article or video that shows roughly the sort of story you expect to be telling. Try to sum up what you know of poly so far, what your gaps in knowledge are, and what it is that you want to learn. Then we will know whether we fit your paradigm or not.
4. Offer editorial input and opportunities for feedback.
We know you have deadlines, but many of the worst media experiences we have had have involved being terribly paraphrased or misquoted, and this gives us the opportunity to correct errors before they can embarrass us – or you! - in print. This is also a great way to build trust with folks, which may mean leaving the door open for more interviews in future.
5. Be flexible!
Poly people tend to have busy lives. Being flexible about meeting times and places could mean the difference between being able to meet and chat or not at all. We know you have lives too, so we don't expect you to be on call 24 hours a day, but being able to think outside the box could come in pretty handy. Don't worry, we're good at scheduling. We get a lot of practice!
If poly people talk to you about concerns with your approach or your plans for your work, pay attention. We don't mind educating people. After all, that's what we activist types are here for, but we can and will withdraw if we feel our concerns are not being taken seriously.
What NOT to do:
Whatever you do, if you want to maintain any goodwill within the polyamorous community at all, DON'T lie, cheat or 'infiltrate' groups of polyamorous people in the hope of getting a juicier story. Firstly it won't work (Seriously, poly really isn't all that exciting. It's just like regular dating, only with more people), and secondly, poly people talk to each other! Since so many of us are in long-distance relationships, our romantic and familial networks often extend across countries, sometimes even internationally, and our grapevine works fast. If you upset one group of poly people, chances are the rest of us will know about it within a day or two. On the flip side, if you deal fairly and equitably with us, and make the experience a positive one, we might well be able to put you in touch with poly folks all over the country, perhaps even the world!
Where to find Poly People?
So now you've done a bit of background research about what polyamory really looks like, how it works and what poly people want to say to the world. How do you get your message to the people you want to talk to? 1. -
If you're in the UK, try sending a message to the admin of the UK Poly Mailing list
who will be able to pass it on to a nation-wide group of polyamorous and poly-friendly people.2. -
Facebook and Twitter are great places to connect with polyamorous people. Check out the #poly and #polyamory hashtags. 3. -
Check out existing poly media. Many poly people have blogs, just like mine. Getting in touch with people who are already engaging in activism and talking about their relationship structures in the public eye tends to be far more effective than showering general poly groups with media requests. 4. -
Leave a comment here! I don't mind forwarding the odd message to my poly networks. All the better if you've followed the advice above. :) Looking forward to new and better media interactions,