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Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

Entries by tag: essays

[sticky post]Welcome to my world
I'm posting this entry for the edification of new readers, as a flag to my important posts (at least the ones important to me), and a map of my world.

My name's Maxine Green. I'm an artist and illustrator by trade, polyamorous (and many other things) by nature, a scientist at heart, and an activist by accident.

My introductory post is here: Butterfly

A continuing series of scribblings about the things that are important to me:
Defining My Terms: 1. Bisexuality
Defining my Terms 2: Polyamory
Defining my Terms 3: Kink
Defining My Terms 4: Radical Agnostic
(because not everything is about sex)
Some More Definitions
Recipe for the Good Life
Defining My Terms: On Gender.

Original Essays/Articles:

SAMOTURE - or This is What an Activist Looks Like (2009-10-01)
Bisexuality & Statistics: Twice as many dates? (2010-07-16)
Secret Loves (why they suck) (2010-06-10)
The Emanixine Creed (2010-10-03)
The big, beautiful shiny rainbow of kink (A.K.A. there's no One True Way) (2011-04-25)
On hierarchies, relationships and cat ownership. (March 9th, 2013)
On how touching someone without asking is assault. EVEN IF THEY LIKED IT. (October 17th, 2012)
I Am Not Here For Your Entertainment. (The Story) (October 25th, 2011)
Self-Evident Epiphanies - Human Beings. (January 30th, 2011)
Hi, I'm poly and I don't exist. (August 1st, 2010)
Polyamory and Statistics, or “Why haven't we found 'our third' yet?” (September 8th, 2014)
Polyamory: Not just many lovers, but many KINDS of love. (March 4th, 2015)
More on Poly and the Media: Diversity Vs. Representation (October 25th, 2015)
From the Archives --- Activism: The Incurable Bug (Originally published on Polytical.org) (December 29th, 2015)
. (.)


Bicon Follow-Up - Poly 201 responses. (2010-09-05)
Bicon Follow-Up 2 - Recipe for Aloe-based Lube (2010-09-05)
Bicon Follow-Up 3 - SM/Breathplay, with link to Jay Wiseman's Essays (2010-09-05)
How to Be Trans-friendly and Subvert Crummy Gender Roles at the Same Time, in Five Easy Steps! (2010-04-07)
Legal Prostitutes Have HALF the Infection Rate of 'Straight' Population (2010-07-12)
'The Bastards! - A sympathetic technique for relationship harmony.' (September 27th, 2013)
More Bad Science - Contraception and Statistics. (a.k.a. Implanon Implants: They're Fine.) (January 9th, 2011)
Pharmacologist cookery, or 'what I cook when I have a cold'. :) (July 12th, 2015)
So You Want To Interview Polyamorous People? (October 1st, 2015)
. (.)

Some more "Me Manual" stuff:

Let's Only Date Grown-ups. (June 8th, 2012)
Form Letter (Response to idiots sending me form letters on dating sites and social networks) (October 23rd, 2013)
On Pain, Punishment and Perverse Incentives (February 3rd, 2012)
One from the Archives: Why I Love Techies. (November 21st, 2014 (Original, 2007))
The Penis Size Rant (September 18th, 2014)
Why My House is a Christmas Free Zone. (December 15th, 2014)
Height is Power (November 3rd, 2015)
. (.)

No doubt I'll edit this further as new things occur to me, and as my essay series grows.

In the meantime, enjoy!



Schrodinger Sex, or Why Mainstream Dating is Way Too Kinky for Me.
Dear world, I am a hardcore kinkster and 'vanilla' dating is way too kinky for me.

Content note: Explicit discussion of sexual assault, 'vanilla' culture, and rape. Also some incredibly heteronormative pronoun use in some paragraphs (because cultural critique).

I'm bent over a table amidst a group of strangers, with my skirt somewhere up around my shoulders and no underwear on, being spanked by someone I just met about half an hour ago, surrounded by people of all sorts of genders, colours and inclinations, who are having various sorts of sex in all sorts of combinations and different ways, and I suddenly realise... I feel totally comfortable, sexy and safe.

Why do I feel so good there? Because I've just spent the afternoon talking with most of the people in this room about consent culture, and I feel comfortable in the knowledge that, in this room at least, only 'yes' means 'yes'... and there are a whole bunch of people there to make sure it stays that way. The super-hot person I'm playing with established a few relevant boundaries verbally with me before we started. We talked about what I liked and didn't like, and a little about what they were into as well, we talked about what we were going to do and what we definitely weren't going to, and that's freed me up to enjoy the sensations of what we're doing right now without feeling like I'm 'obliged' to do anything else... although before we're done I ask for a few other things too, because I'm having such a great time.

On a date with an established partner I can push things even further. When I later relate some of my experiences to a 'vanilla' (or non-kinky) friend, he is horrified. "How can anyone consent to that?" he asks, but the important thing to me is that I absolutely did, consciously, knowingly and up-front.

Later, over tea and crumpets, my vanilla friend relates a few stories about his own dating experiences that have me choking on my refreshments.

"She said WHAT?" I gasp, horrified by what I just heard. "Was there a safe-word?"

"She told me not to ask her what she wanted," he repeated, "she said it was 'more romantic' just to take whatever I wanted." and worse... she had told him that, secretly, this was what ALL women wanted... to be 'forced', 'taken' or 'ravished' without any regard for their consent or desires of their own. Worse still, this was not the first date to have told my friend that same thing.

People, this is not okay.

I'm sitting there literally open-mouthed in horror as my friend tells me this. I don't know much about Louis CK's other comedy, but he pretty much nails this one right here in this clip: "Are you out of your fucking MIND?! You think I'm just gonna RAPE you, on the off-chance that you're into that shit?"

Sing it, uh... brother!

Vanilla ladies, if you're reading this (and I hope at least some of you are), I want you to know that what you're asking for is known to the kinky community as 'consensual non-consent' or 'rape play' and it's considered to be 'extreme' even by people who literally put needles in each other for fun.

Rape play is something I might possibly, if I was feeling brave, consider doing with an established partner, someone I'd played with for months if not years, and whose references I'd checked out thoroughly, and if I was asking someone to ignore me saying 'no' or 'stop', either verbally or non-verbally, there is absolutely no way I am doing that without explicit boundaries and limits that we'd talked about in advance and an established 'safeword'. Why? Because there are just SO MANY ways that can go wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I have friends on the kink scene who do go and meet guys and do rape play scenes without safewords with folks they just met online. I don't judge them. They are totally entitled to choose their own safety boundaries. The difference between those friends and the average vanilla lady though, is that they know that without safewords the 'no' that they have already agreed doesn't mean 'no' won't stop things happening. They know they're doing something that's edgy, dangerous and which comes with the risk of them getting assaulted in ways they weren't looking for, raped for real or even killed.

Folks like me - freaky-deaky folks who like to negotiate our scary sex up front look on at these people in awe and say 'Woah, that's hardcore'... and yet somehow this is a norm in vanilla dating? For people who date in the mainstream it is apparently relatively normal to go back to some guy's house after you've just met him or had maybe a couple of dates and say 'do whatever you want to me, just don't ask first.'*

Woah... Yeah... that's hardcore.

Even if you're expecting your 'no' to mean No. Even if you're expecting a guy to just 'read you' and 'do his own thing' right up to the point where you say 'no', we're already running into problems: if you've told someone not to ask for your consent, if you've told them not to communicate about what they want to do with you, then by the time they've done something you don't like THE BOUNDARY IS ALREADY CROSSED. The assault has already happened. Maybe what you secretly wanted was for this guy to ravish you ruthlessly but gently like a hero in some romantic novel and instead he's taken you literally about doing 'anything he wants' has thrown you over the edge of the kitchen sink and is roughly wedging his cock into your unconsenting little backside using dish soap as lube whilst throwing a bucket of beans over your head and planning which limb he's going to cut off next... but by the time you realise it's a no and tell him so, he's ALREADY HURTING YOU. If you've told him to ignore your 'no'... what then?

At best, what you're asking for is 'Schrodinger Sex'. Just like we don't know whether Schrodinger's hypothetical cat is alive or dead until we open the box and look, with Schrodinger Sex we don't know whether what we're getting is a nice time or a jail sentence until after the date is over. Consent is either applied retrospectively... or it isn't. The poor guy you're dating doesn't know if you're going to say 'thank you' after your date, or whether you're going to call the police on him because he unwittingly did something you didn't like. As someone who occasionally takes that 'guy' role in kinky dating I can tell you - that sucks.
...As a BDSM 'top' I can't even do it. I cannot even bring myself to touch someone who tells me to just 'do whatever I want' without establishing limits or a safeword because I am too concerned it is going to end with my accidentally hitting some button that it just hadn't occurred to them to mention that they couldn't stand, maybe because they hadn't even imagined it was a thing, and ending up with someone I liked enough to go to bed with having a terrible time. Right there, as a top, that's where I use my own safeword and get the hell out of that scene, conscious that the worst case scenario is not just an upset partner but an assault charge. After all, there really aren't that many folks who are into wasabi nasal fisting!

The other trouble with Schrodinger Sex is that, even if it goes well, it is almost without exception bad sex. Assuming that nobody's boundaries get crossed, the sex you'll be getting will be incredibly dull and unimaginative - because there really is no way to get off the beaten track and do anything more interesting than basic run of the mill rom-com sex without ever talking about what actually turns you on.
Sure, you might only be interested in relatively 'normal' sex. You might not ever want to have the sort of sex that horrifies my friends, but maybe you'd really enjoy playing with a vibrator or two, or having syrup drizzled on some random body part and licked off, or maybe there is some special trick that someone can do with your body that - you never figured out why - just really works for you and you alone. That's never going to happen if neither of you can talk to your partner about it. That sort of awesome, super-orgasmic sex doesn't happen in real life without two-way communication. It requires not just 'not saying no' but actively communicating and actively saying 'yes' and 'please' to things.

Worst of all, if you've ever made the claim that 'being forced is something ALL women secretly want': This is how you train guys to rape women like me. Women who have never played 'hard to get' in their lives, and for whom 'no' really does mean No. Please, for the love of whatever makes you happy, PLEASE stop telling people that. It might be true for you, but it is NOT true for every woman and it is not true for me.

In the mean time, I think I'm going to stick with my nice, safe orgies.

*NB. The bit I am questioning here is the 'don't ask'. I am absolutely not victim-blaming or judging any woman who ever visited a guy in his home because she felt safe and expected him to respect her boundaries, only questioning how it's possible to respect boundaries if you can't ask about them.

NB2. (For the kinksters) I'm not saying that abuse doesn't happen in kink or fetish communities either. It most definitely does, but the idea of dating folks who not only aren't practiced in active negotiation around sexual practices but who explicitly don't believe in it... that's a hard limit for me!

From the Archives --- Activism: The Incurable Bug

(Originally published on Polytical.org)

Survivor Story: One woman’s tale of her exposure to an incurable virus

You might not have heard of it, or be aware of the symptoms, but if you are a member of a group, you too could be exposed to this devastating disease. We spoke to one brave individual who took time out of her treatment regime, and despite the possible stigma of being labelled an ‘Activist’, to speak to us about the effect that her activism has had on her life.

Maxine Green has been a carrier of Activism since 2006.

“I remember the date. It was at the start of December 2006, in a small cafe in London. I’d met a couple of guys and we had hit it off instantly, we were talking and talking... After several hours of social intercourse I left the building with no idea I had been unknowingly infected with Activism. “

Like many sufferers of Activism, Maxine Green didn’t realise she was infected until long after the initial contact, and symptoms took several years to appear. She describes the slow onset of symptoms:

“It wasn’t until 2009 that I actually knew I’d been infected. I had gone along to a couple of social events over the previous couple of years, and met people who were already infected, but I had never really thought that it could hit me too. Then, towards the end of 2008 I started getting the urge to... to *volunteer*. I was a little worried, but I assumed it was just a passing thing, and not going to take over my life. But by the middle of 2009 there was no getting away from it. I was organising things right, left and centre, blogging, speaking out in public spaces, and even talking to national press. I really didn’t want the label, but I finally had to admit to myself that I was displaying all of the symptoms of Activism.”

There’s nothing new about Activism. It’s an STI (Socially Transmitted Inclination) that’s been around for centuries, and present in almost every society. This is an often debilitating condition which can take a great toll on the lives of sufferers and those around them. Activism can be contracted in a variety of ways, including aurally, verbally (by means of two-way social intercourse), textually, pictorially, or via sign-language, and may even sometimes occur spontaneously in populations where there are no carriers present. It’s only in recent years though, that the full reach of Activism has begun to be understood.

Symptoms include sleeplessness, agitation, inability to tolerate the status quo, an increased sensitivity to, and intolerance of bigotry and ignorance, and a tendency to take on responsibility, sometimes to personal detriment. Later stages of terminal Activism include exhaustion, cynicism, and ‘burnout’, as well as increasingly neurotic behaviour and a feeling that ‘everybody is expecting me to fix EVERYTHING!’. This feeling, sadly, is often true.

Despite the symptoms however, with proper treatment, sufferers of activism can and do live extremely productive lives. In fact, often more productive than others. Although there is no known cure, symptoms can be relieved by the application of rest, delegation of duties and recruitment of assistants. In a few cases, spontaneous remission can take place which may last for several years. Particularly aggressive strains may need to be treated with a harsh regimen of enforced removal from social settings, unplugging from social media, powering off mobile phones, and even prolonged vacations to remote locations with no internet or social gatherings. Many sufferers are also now trying a controversial new treatment: Enforced Administration (of) Tea and Biscuits In Comfy Chair, or EATaBICC. Little is currently known about the long term effects of this treatment, however it appears to provide great short term relief, and results to date look hopeful. Definitely to be avoided are conferences and workshops, which are known to inflame activist tendencies.

Certain categories of people seem to hold a natural immunity to Activism. The two main groups of these are known as ‘privileged’, and ‘lazy’. If you are not blessed with this natural immunity, it appears the only way to be absolutely certain of avoiding this distressing condition is to avoid being part of any social group at all.

If you think you, or someone you know might be suffering from Activism, ask yourself this question: What are you going to do about it? If the answer is ‘organise...’ it may already be too late.

If you are polyamorous and an activist, you may find support or sympathy here in the UK at the Poly Activists google group: http://groups.google.com/group/polyactivists

Maxine Green came out as suffering from Activism in 2009, and has since been involved in organising Polyday, OpenCon, and a couple of other sexuality related events. If you see her in person, please feel free to apply EATaBICC treatment.

Defining My Terms: On Gender.

This is an essay about gender. Mostly it's about mine, though due to the way that gender works it is incredibly difficult to self-define in any way that doesn't reference how everyone else 'does' gender. It has been a long time coming and has not been easy to write.

I have started and stopped writing this essay several times over the last few years, because I was never happy with it, much as I have never been happy with gender in and of itself. My original title was 'Gender-Fucked', referencing both the joyful playing with gender that tends to happen in the queer communities I'm a part of, but also the fact that it felt like there was no good way to turn. There were problems in every direction. There still are. It's still a messy and difficult subject, and yet it's so deeply rooted in our culture that it feels like an enormous omission not to talk about it, especially within the context of an essay series about my personal definitions. So here is the story about how I came to my current gender definition: 'Trickster'.

But first, a little bit about what 'gender' actually is.

Collage of images of myself with different gender presentations, overlaid with an image of a Rubin Vase.
Gender: Mostly an illusion.

What is gender?

The way our society is set up we just can't get away from it. Gender is built in to the way we interact with each other at an incredibly deep level. It's the first thing most of us ask about a baby. It influences the way we interact with each other on all sorts of conscious and unconscious levels. When we meet people on the street, or deal with them professionally, we are expected to reliably 'read' their gender and respond accordingly. To choose between the titles 'Sir' and 'Madam' with 100% accuracy, and then apply all of the assumptions and behaviours associated with those labels. Our language doesn't even *have* a non-gendered polite term that can be used on a first meeting, yet to ask, amongst the vast majority of our society, to imply that the person in front of you is somehow 'failing' at gender, that they are failing to be male enough or female enough for you to recognise without error is so taboo as to be almost unmentionable. It's seen as so rude we literally can't even talk about it. We whisper behind backs, not out of spite, but out of fear of offending, and yet... if it's so all-important, why on earth would we expect people to *guess*?

The biggest trouble with gender, though, is that, much like money, it's imaginary. It's a set of coded symbols through which we simplify our understanding of the world. A currency, if you will, only for the exchange of social pleasantries and expectations rather than goods. And also like money, we know that gender has value because other people tell us that it does. We know what men are supposed to be like, and what women are supposed to be like, because the rest of society tells us so, and we know that someone is a man or a woman because they look and act like we expect of their labels... and if they don't act like their labels, we tell them so, reinforcing those labels and stereotypes as negative space even when we happen to respect that particular person's right to be different.
"You're not like other girls" we might say to a woman, "you're a tom-boy, aren't you?", or "you embrace your feminine side" to a man. Reinforcing the stereotypes even as we accept difference. Because somehow the exceptions prove the rule instead of making it irrelevant. Little, if anything, about gender is actually written into our genetic code, but it's encoded into the society we live in so deeply that many of us forget that. It's self-fulfilling prophecy, a perpetual motion machine, a serpent devouring its own tail. And it's almost impossible to live outside of.

Gender Trouble

I have had trouble with gender all of my life.

I wish I could say that I would have had just as much trouble with gender if I had been born into a male body. Sadly I don't think that's true. A large part of my gender trouble has been to do with the fact that, born with 'innie' genitalia, I was told from birth that I was a girl, and that as a girl, I would grow up to be a woman. Two categories which I have been battling with all my life since, thanks to societal ideas of what being 'feminine' means. Either way, I spent a large chunk of my life desperately wanting to be male. Planning for it, wishing for it, determined that I would somehow magically at puberty become something other than my genes might have indicated, and then when it didn't happen, considering surgery, hormones, all that shebang.

Does that make me trans? It's hard to say. If you had asked me at any age between ten and twenty years old, I would have said yes. Earlier, or later, not so much. Given a childhood spent mostly with my nose mostly buried in text books and science fiction, I felt that there was a world of possibility out there, and it simply didn't occur to me that there was any difference between how girls and boys should behave. It was only later, as I was approaching puberty, that it started becoming clearer to me that there were expectations associated with being a girl. Being a girl meant wearing dresses, and being told off if I tore them climbing trees. It meant makeup and hair styles and babies, it meant lower pay and being unable to make the first move, and a whole lot of other things I had no interest in. And worst of all, it meant being passive. A prize, a damsel in distress, at best a companion, a wife, a mother, a helpmeet. I started to feel that I needed to be male simply in order to be a protagonist in my own life. From puberty through to my early twenties I became increasingly sure that what I wanted was a male body to match the man I felt like inside.

Those who have met me or who have seen a picture of me recently, will of course realise that I chose not to transition. For now. I am not now running around in the world wearing a male body, or even 'male' clothes. At least, not most of the time.

So what happened? Was there a sudden change of heart? Was there a realisation that I'm actually happy with my body and the gender that I was assigned because of it? Not really. Some of those feelings are still there. They didn't just melt away into nothing. Having breasts is inconvenient at best. As I have no intention of having babies they're just useless weight I carry around with me. Periods are pointless and miserable. There are one or two good bits, but on the whole I don't celebrate having a female body. I tolerate it. I keep tabs on medical technology that might some day be able to offer me the bit of 'masculinity' I'd like the most: yes, okay, it's a penis. (Even a freudian stopped clock is right twice a day, after all). I remain ambivalent about accepting the label of 'woman' and reserve my right to change later, but eventually I decided I was not going to try to transition. Or not any time soon, anyway.

One part of my decision not to transition was stupidly pragmatic: For several rather unpleasant medical reasons, my body simply hates wearing trousers. There was every chance that if I did transition I could well be doomed to kilt-wearing for the rest of my life, without the medical technology to give me the appropriate genitalia (and artificial cocks really are incredibly basic, even more than a decade later, and limited both in function and feeling). If I was going to be stuck with wearing skirts, I reasoned, I might as well leave open the choice to wear a full range of the damn things without getting beaten up.

The second part of my decision not to assume a male identity was a growing sense that setting myself outside of the category of 'woman' because I hated the expectations that were associated with having a particular sort of body, was only to add weight to the heap of those expectations. If I was to define myself as 'not a woman' because 'woman' meant being x, y and z, then wasn't I reinforcing that category, narrowing it still further for those still stuck inside it? Did I have to define myself only in terms of what I was not, instead of what I was? I began to feel that transitioning would be, for me, a way of climbing the mountain of privilege by standing on other women's faces. Should I get outside of the box and stand on top, or should I kick it open from the inside?

So does that make me, instead, genderqueer? I find that a hard question as well. Some days it seems to me that yes, the idea of a middle ground between genders is a perfectly fine place to be, that genderqueer's habit of picking and choosing aspects of whatever gender suits at any one time amounts to exactly the sort of questioning that I would like to do, and that building gender-neutral options into our culture is terribly important. I'll support anyone's choice to define themselves as 'other' any day. But at other times I can't help wondering if the middle ground is just more weight piled up on top of the lids of the boxes of both male and female. If genderqueer is the vase between two faces, does it mean that both categories of 'man' and 'woman' are defined and reinforced by negative space without actually questioning the definitions of either of those categories? Can genderqueerness even exist without the binary categories it pushes off from? Does it make gender less relevant, or does the very act of 'queering' it bring gender stereotypes to the fore? I still don't have answers to those questions.

So what am I?

I'm female-bodied, yes. [That is, I have a body shape that people tend to register as 'female' when out in public.] And mostly I dress in a way that makes a pantomime out of that. I have often referred to this manner of dressing as 'fuck-you femme'. To dress in such a manner that makes it abundantly clear that yes, I'm a 'girl', and I am also competent, articulate, powerful and not to be messed with. I choose to over-do femininity in ways that make people uncomfortably aware that it is a form of drag. I 'perform' femininity in a way that challenges notions of what that means, and makes it clear that it *is* a performance (and while gender isn't only about style of dress, an awful lot of it is).

Except sometimes I won't. Sometimes I do other things. Maybe I'll go out in male drag, or packing a strap-on under a pretty dress, or add a false mustache to set off the lipstick I'm wearing that day. Because the idea that these things don't go together needs challenging. Maybe I'll encourage my partners and friends to question their own gender, or express it differently just to see what happens, and especially what happens when we challenge the status quo together. Because society really needs people asking the questions 'why shouldn't I?', 'why not?', and as an artist I have the privilege of being able to say that challenging these assumptions is literally my job (not that it isn't everybody's job to question their own assumptions, but sometimes folks need a little help).

Trans doesn't fit. Genderqueer doesn't quite fit. So many things didn't seem to quite fit. 'Woman', though I choose to use it now as my primary identity for the purposes of challenging assumptions, still doesn't quite fit.

It literally took me years to come up with a word that really resonated with me, and eventually I reached into mythological archetypes to come up with a quick way to sum up how I feel about my own gender identity. The word that finally clicked for me, out of the blue in the early hours of one sleepless morning, is 'Trickster'.

Image of Loki, a well known example of a Trickster character from mythology.
Loki is one example of a mythological character known for playing with gender.

A New (Old) Archetype

In mythology, tricksters "...violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis"(Source). A quote which I think rather elegantly describes the way in which I play with gender in a way that aims to challenge and re-establish new norms. Seen as a crucial part of the stability of their society, many tricksters also literally play tricks with gender in their stories in ways that encourage the observer to question how fixed their definitions really are.

As a Trickster, I choose to be unashamedly who I am, in all the ways that match and mismatch with the categories that people put me into, and those I put myself into, and in all the ways I shift and change from day to day and with the passing seasons. I try to live my life as though gender was irrelevant, because quite often the way to effect change is to act as though the world is already how you would like it to be. Most of all, though, I choose to challenge, to question, and to cause and support other people to do the same.

So for now, I'm sticking with the female body and feminine presentation, although I have absolutely no intention of fitting in with social ideas about what that means. I'm sticking with being called, for the purposes of most of society, a 'woman', because I think the way we treat women, and the assumptions that even women make about what it means to be a woman is an area where our society really needs challenging. For now I choose to be inside that box kicking outwards and breaking down the barriers from the inside, but that identity feels, and probably always will feel relatively superficial to me. Whereas in the archetype of the Trickster I finally feel like I have found a label that sums up my identity much deeper down, and underlying everything that I have ever been is that need to explore, to examine, and to question.

That's who I am. Deep down, my identity is 'someone who questions'.

Ultimately, I'm perfectly happy for folks to call me 'she', 'he', 'they' or 'cheeseburger' as a pronoun, or whatever else they fancy. I really don't mind, as long as they also question the underlying assumptions that go along with those labels. If they don't, they might be in for a surprise.

More on Poly and the Media: Diversity Vs. Representation
A couple of days ago, this article was posted in one of the Polyamory discussion groups on Facebook.

While it's a few months old now, it is a worrying article, and I haven't seen many taking a different perspective. Now, I'm certainly not going to claim that our entire worldwide polyamorous community is perfect in how we handle these things (I won't claim that I am, either), but as a long time poly person, and as someone who first took on poly activism while living below the UK's poverty line, this article also erases ME, or at least me of a few years ago, and as a result I can't help feeling that at least a portion of polyamory's diversity problem is less one of community membership than of representation.
(I note that the article also falls foul of the traditional conflation between polyamory and swinging... since when did questioning the monogamous norms of our society, or building an intentional family require attending sex parties?!)

Cartoon illustration of Jim the Homeless Bunny

According to articles like the one above, a few years ago I couldn't possibly have been poly. (Which is strange, because I'm pretty sure I was)

How can we challenge these articles telling us that we don't exist?

This is a topic that came up at Polyday last week, in London, and especially in our 'poly and the media' workshop: How to get a more representative sample of our community actually out there and visible to the world?

I don't know about the poly community in the US, but the poly community in the UK has a HUGE problem with representation in the media, which doesn't cover anything like the diversity we actually have in the community. The people who get all the media coverage tend to be white, middle class, straight cis men and white, middle class, straight or bisexual cis women (or people who can be sufficiently whitewashed or 'straight-washed' or otherwise made to appear that way). This despite the fact that, as a community, we have folks from all sorts of racial and cultural backgrounds, from all classes, folks with various disabilities and mental illness diagnoses, folks who are rich and poor, employed and not, folks of all sexualities and genders, the full LGBTQIA* rainbow (I have heard folks in the US complain that the poly community is 'too straight'. Over here we have had complaints that heterosexual couples have felt intimidated because the UK poly community seems so overwhelmingly queer)... but the mainstream media is written mostly by white, well-off, middle class straight cis people, and they tend to write articles only about people who are like themselves and who are most like their perceived audiences, which misses out the vast majority of our community.

So it is tremendously frustrating to see the same sorts of articles over and over again, about the same sorts of people, in media written by white, well-off, middle class, straight cis people and aimed at an audience of other white, well-off, middle class, straight cis people, and then to see further articles analysing those other articles and believing that this is somehow representative of our actual community, whilst so many folks are being ignored, whitewashed or 'glossed over' by mainstream media.

Cartoon illustration, with quote Dont hate the media. Become the media. - Jello Biafra

My own suggestion, to challenge the dominant narrative out there, is that we need to start making our own media. Anyone who is here in this group clearly already has access to the internet, and a keyboard of some sort. That's all you need to write a blog. That and a microphone is all you need to start a podcast. Most smartphones these days are good enough to record YouTube videos. Why leave it to mainstream media to represent us, when we can represent ourselves?

Lets *write* the articles about the intersections between race and poly, between class and poly, between poverty and poly. Lets talk about how these things play out in our lives, about who we are and what we do. Let's talk about the ways poly can help us to support each other in hardship, but also the difficulties of being poly in combination with different cultural expectations. Lets get our voices out there and challenge the idea that these privileged folks so beloved of the mainstream media are the only people who are allowed to be poly.

Happily, there are people already starting to challenge these stories, and I think this is awesome. I absolutely love this cartoon which went out on Everyday Feminism last month, by Joamette Gil, a queer Afrocuban illustrator, cartoonist and writer, based in the US. I'd love to see more stuff like this!

Also, in response to my post on Facebook I was introduced to the Poly Role Models page on Tumblr, which I absolutely adore. More please!

If you have more links related to poly and diversity, and especially ones written by poly people for other poly people, I'd love to see them in the comments.

So You Want To Interview Polyamorous People?
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 do.

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
than 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,



On 'Needs' vs. 'Wants'
pink hair
"Having needs doesn't make you needy. It makes you human. Just thought you should know."

A friend posted the above comment on Facebook today, and while I think I am fundamentally in agreement with the spirit of the statement, I am twitchy about the use of that particular word, 'needs', and have been for a long time. I do want to say that *wanting things* does not inherently make anyone a bad person, or needy, or whatever. To want is very definitely human. On the other hand, the word 'needs' as used to describe relationship requirements or even very important and urgent wants always gives me a little shudder because it is such a fuzzily defined term the way most people use it, and I have seen it very badly misused in the past.

Sure, everybody has needs. Food, water, shelter, basic medical care, y'know... the sorts of things that make us Not Die. But using the word 'needs' to mean 'minimum things I want in a relationship' or simply 'things I really really want right now' has always struck me as somewhat blackmailish, because it raises requirements within one particular relationship to the level of things that are non-negotiable for survival, which - and folks may certainly disagree with me here - in my opinion, they aren't. However much I might value my chosen family and the relationships I have built in and around that, the basic unit for survival is the individual, not the family, and definitely not the relationship.

Using the word 'needs' to describe any expectation or desire within a relationship seems to me to demand that a specific person (or sometimes in poly a small group of people) should meet those 'needs' whether they want to or not.

I strongly feel that romantic relationships are voluntary and therefore all aspects within those relationships should be voluntary as well (beyond the basic minimum level of respect that we should all have for our fellow human beings, of course). Not everybody has them, not everybody *should* have them. Ultimately where we are talking about the emotional aspect of a relationship, everyone is responsible for meeting their own needs or that aspect of the relationship is no longer voluntary and therefore, I would argue, neither is the relationship itself.

If I'm not able to satisfy what all of my partners *want* right now this minute, or vice versa... well, sometimes them's the breaks. We can't always expect our partners to 'perform' for us on every level. On the other hand, if I am not able to satisfy my partners minimum relationship requirements, or if they're not able to satisfy mine, logic says that we should dissolve the relationship. Whereas if the word 'needs' is used, the implication seems to be that if I am not able to satisfy my partners 'needs', I am a Bad Partner(TM) and should step up to the plate, whether doing so works for me or not.

I am probably extra sensitive to this because I had an abusive relationship in the past where my partners 'needs' were used as levers to demand more and more from me that I wasn't actually prepared to give, on the basis that *I* was a Bad and Abusive Partner(TM) if I didn't provide for them. How awful a person was I, to ignore things that were stated as NEEDS? Even if those needs effectively negated anything I might ever want out of that relationship myself, and even if those needs were things I would have stated as outside the remit of that relationship had the request been made in any other way. I was *needed*. To say no would have put me in the wrong, no matter what was being asked.

Everyone deserves to be able to ask for what they want in relationships, but every single person also deserves to set the terms of their own relationships, and not be hung out to dry if what they are able to provide is not the same as what the other person in that relationship wants, however those wants are stated.

I mean, how unreasonable would I be if I was to say "I need you not to use the word 'needs' ever again"...?

How do you folks feel about this question? Do you have different ways of defining the word 'need'? Do you love it, hate it, feel neutral about it? If you use it, what do you mean by it?

Think of the children?
I have seen a couple of articles recently with a very similar theme: Porn is bad because well... it's bad, mm'kay. And also kids might see it.

I'm not going to address the question of whether porn is 'good' or 'bad' for adults (I think the answer, as with so many things, is somewhere in the region of 'it depends'), but I made a couple of comments on facebook in discussion about these articles specifically regarding children's access to pornography that I wanted to retain for later use, so I'm going to publish them here to refer back to.

[Comment one]
Critiquing the existence of porn by objecting that children might see it is like criticising the existence of cutlery because toddlers might hurt themselves on it*, or of horror films because underage children might see those too. Yes, it happens, and sensible folks should take precautions against it happening, but kids are not the target market for porn in the same way that toddlers are not the intended market for knives, or for horror movies.

On the whole the folks who make porn are also in agreement that it's not intended for children, and take steps to avoid it. The people who make porn easily accessible for children are the people who steal it/share it/pirate it, and not the people who make it. Nobody is making porn with the *intention* of kids seeing it, so I think that 'what about the kids who see this?' is not a terribly useful criticism of its content, or of the industry itself, only how it's distributed - and again, that's usually more down to folks other than the makers and publishers of said porn. I think most folks would quite rightly be annoyed at someone leaving knives around where kids can get at them, without blaming the person who made the knife, or trying to ban the manufacture of knives outright. We can accept that there is an appropriate place for knives, and for horror films. Why is the same standard not applied to porn?

On the other hand, I'd far rather kids were watching people having a nice time with each other than, for example, people being beheaded - which is apparently perfectly acceptable in mainstream TV, even before the watershed, while images of naked people enjoying themselves are not."

*By comparing porn with knives, I am not saying that I think porn is 'dangerous', just that neither is a tool intended for children (and it was the first analogy that sprang to mind)

[Comment two]
Coming back to this after pondering for a few more hours, it follows that tightening up on copyright infringement would probably have a far more pronounced effect on reducing children's access to pornography than any newly created obscenity laws, but to do so in a way overtly linked to porn would probably be political suicide as the government would be accused of protecting the pornographers' interests. Bah. Politics is rubbish.


So is that the answer to kids accessing material not intended for them? Tightening up on copyright infringement? It's already 'wrong', but currently it's a civil lawsuit and not a criminal one. What would be the impact of making copyright infringement a criminal offence, and would it be effective without international cooperation? Would a public organisation chasing down incidents of copyright infringement help or hinder artists? Would it cost more or less than hunting down 'obscene' materials? Who would get caught up in the collateral damage?

What other ways exist or could exist that might be more effective in preventing children from accessing material not intended for them?

I don't have the answers, only lots more questions, but I think these are more important and relevant questions to be asking than simply 'Why don't we ban EVERYONE from watching porn in case children also see it'. Or you know... while we're at it, we could ban kitchen knives, alcohol, all prescription drugs ever, heavy metal music, horror films and the manufacture of cars, too. After all, everyone knows that children shouldn't have access to those...

Polyamory: Not just many lovers, but many KINDS of love.

Polyamory is often defined as the practice of engaging in multiple romantic or sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved.

I think that while that definition is a reasonable one, it doesn't convey the way that polyamory has, for me, opened up an entire new spectrum of potential relationships, of new ways to relate to other people.

Our 'monocentric' or monogamously oriented culture offers a fairly simple view of relationships. The path is laid out for us clearly by our friends, families and the media. We are expected to meet someone, fall in love, go on a few dates, move in together, settle down, get engaged, get married and live happily ever after. Some poly folks refer to this as the 'Relationship Escalator'. Once you are on the Relationship Escalator, a 'successful' relationship is defined as one that ends in marriage, and ideally children. According to this mythos, any relationship that falls outside this track is deemed a failure. For many polyamorous people, however, this is not the case. 'Success' in poly relationships is defined by the people in that relationship, and not necessarily by outside culture.

Just as the greeks had several different words for love, polyamorous people may find that they experience different kinds of relationship with different people. Certainly for some people, poly can offer opportunities for sexual exploration, but for others it can allow the building of close familial bonds, simply with more people. For yet others it can mean creating dispersed networks of long distance loves, and for some of us it means there is space for all of the above: Everything from occasional encounters and romantic but non-sexual friendships, all the way through to deeply committed live-in partnerships. The difference, for poly people, is that our relationship model doesn't tell us how to structure those relationships.

Some Different Styles of Polyamory

Some poly folks prefer to structure their relationships so that they still look very much like the Relationship Escalator model, only with more people in it. These people will still expect to meet someone new, fall in love, date for a period, and then consider adding that new partner to their existing household, before possibly making some sort of long term commitment or raising children together. In other words, it looks a lot like monogamy, only with more people. This is the version of polyamory most often seen in the media, since it is easier for those outside the community to understand and relate to, but it is far from the most common poly relationship structure.

More common in the polyamorous communities that I know is for poly people to form dynamic 'clusters', 'pods', 'polycules' or 'tribes' of interconnected singles, couples and smaller groups. Each relationship within that cluster may have different expectations. Some may be 'primary' style relationships with expectations about cohabiting, shared finances and child rearing (or as I sometimes call them 'Indoor Cat' relationships), some may be 'secondary' or 'satellite' relationships, or ('Outdoor Cats'), with romantic or sexual attachments but fewer shared commitments. Others may sit outside of those expectations entirely. Some poly people may share their living space with people who are not sexual partners, but who are still committed parts of their lives. Some folks may also choose to co-parent with people they are not romantically attached to, or with partners they are not cohabiting with, or pick and choose what aspects of a 'conventional' relationship structure they do and do not apply to each relationship.
Many polyamorous families with children are indistinguishable from the 'blended families' we are seeing more of in our society as a result of divorce (except usually less acrimonious!). Conversely, some monogamous divorced couples are nowadays choosing to build lifestyles that look remarkably similar to poly households, with ex spouses choosing to carry on house-sharing and co-parenting whilst dating other people. Labels, shmabels, eh!

Another, newer, phenomenon in the world of polyamory is the Solo Poly movement. Solo Poly people tend to live alone or cohabit with friends or roommates rather than with partners, and do so intentionally. Their relationships may be committed or not, sexual or not, romantic or not, independently of whether they are cohabiting with their partners. There is an excellent and more informative post about what Solo Poly is and is not here at http://solopoly.net/2014/12/05/what-is-solo-polyamory-my-take/

Where I personally stand is somewhere between those latter two styles of polyamory. Preferring something more akin to relationship anarchy to hierarchies, I like to let each of my relationships find its own level – looking for spaces to fit the people in my life rather than people to fill the preordained spaces. I tend towards the solo poly end of things philosophically. I prefer to keep my finances separate to those of my partners, to always have my own room and my own space. My relationships do not generally follow the Escalator model (several of the most important people in my life live in entirely different cities!). However I am not opposed to sharing living space with one or more partners, assuming we're compatible in that way, and I love the idea of one day building my own poly 'village' which I could share with lots of my partners and metamours. Experience has taught me that life rather often takes me in directions unexpected, however, so there is little I rule out, these days!

How Poly Can Make Different Kinds of Relationship Possible

For me personally, polyamory has made possible a number of relationships that simply could not have worked out in the world of monogamy, or at least with 'standard' relationship expectations.

Take my longest standing partner, for example: We're chalk and cheese in many ways. He is obsessively neat and ordered whereas I love my creative chaos, he loves to have the TV on all of the time whereas I find that it drives me nutty after only a short while, he wants to be interacting all of the time we're in the same building whereas I am more introverted and need to be left alone sometimes to work, or to think. He loves living in the city, whereas I'd rather be outside it these days. There are many ways, big and small, that we are not well suited to share space with each other, yet we have shared a deep, abiding and supportive love for the best part of a decade, have looked after each other financially, physically and most importantly emotionally. We have met each others' parents and colleagues and are firmly established as fixtures in each others' lives, but living together? The way I like to see it is that we love each other enough not to try to squeeze ourselves into that ill-fitting box.

Poly can also allow child-free people to maintain loving and supportive relationships with partners who want children, people with mismatched sex drives to stay in happy and fulfilling romantic relationships with partners they are otherwise perfectly suited with, and people in long distance relationships to find local companionship without harming their existing relationship. It certainly isn't a fix for every kind of relationship problem – far from it, but stepping outside the expectations of monogamy can make some things that would be 'deal-breakers' in a monogamous relationship much less of an issue.

I want to make it clear here that polyamory is NOT just about dating 'enough' people to make sure that all of your 'needs' are met. Known to some as 'Frankenpoly', the idea of adding all of one's partners together to create some sort of gestalt 'perfect poly partner' is flawed and somewhat objectifying. There are some important characteristics every relationship needs to have in order to be a functional and healthy relationship in itself, and the most important of these are compassion and a healthy respect for each other as human beings – not as 'needs fulfilment machines' as Tacit has often put it.

Polyamory has made it possible, too, for me and many other people to experience different sorts of relationships with people one might not normally be compatible with. Including, for me, an incredibly sweet ongoing connection with a young man who is otherwise only into men, and a cheerfully intimate friendship with a cheeky chap who tells me he is 'awful at relationships' mostly because of the nomadic nature of his work, but has been consistently lovely over 15 years of extremely intermittent occasional dates (I suppose I could call this man my longest standing partner but we have probably only spent a week together over that entire time, pleasant as it was).
Poly makes it possible to be a small-but-good thing in someone's life, and vice versa, without having to put any more expectations on that particular relationship. It has enabled me to play more relationships by ear, to 'see where things go', without feeling under pressure to find the one 'perfect' mate. With a rather beautiful irony, that has also allowed me to meet and develop strong relationships with people who turned out to be much larger features in my life than I expected them to be, whom I would have automatically discounted if I had been looking for a monogamous partnership, simply because I didn't believe we would turn out to be as compatible as we actually are.

Non-sexual Relationships and Poly

I want to add in a note here about asexuality and poly. It is an assumption often made by people outside of the polyamorous community – and even some people within our community - that poly is 'all about the sex'. The first page I came to when looking for a good definition of the word described polyamory as 'the practice of having multiple sexual relationships'. I personally would argue that the focus of polyamory, for myself and most of the folks that I know, is much more about the loving than about the sexual aspect of the relationship. Also while I do not in any way define myself as asexual, I have had (and still have) some incredibly satisfying romantic relationships that did not involve sex.
So I want to make it clear that yes, asexual people CAN have romantic relationships, which can also be poly relationships (although they don't have to be) – there is a lovely long 'manifesto' about asexuality and poly here by a blogger I just found when I was looking for references for this essay: https://transpolyasexual.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/my-ace-poly-manifesto/ - and polyamorous people can have romantic relationships that do not include sex. That too is another type of relationship that I firmly believe would not have been available to me if I had been monogamous, thanks to ideas about 'emotional infidelity'. As a sexual person, I could well have have had to choose between the deeper emotional connection on the one hand and a partner I could sleep with on the other. I am incredibly grateful that, thanks to poly, I do not have to make that choice.

I am clearly not the only poly person with a sexual orientation to appreciate the non-sexual opportunities my nonmonogamous relationship model allows me, as this post by The Ferrett shows too. http://www.theferrett.com/ferrettworks/2015/01/a-nice-thing-about-polyamory/

And last but most assuredly not least, there is another, more familial form of love I have found through poly: the love that I feel for my metamours, or my partners' partners. We may not have sexual chemistry (although the complexity of my network within the UK has before now resulted in the invention of the term 'lolomylo' or 'lover's lover who is also my lover'), but we invariably have more in common than just our mutual partner. We may not always agree on everything, but at the end of the day we are connected, by the community we are a part of, by ideology and by our love for our partners. Some of my metamours are also close friends, many of them are activists and, for me at least, being a part of my relationship network very often feels like being a member of a league of superheroes.

Much like this, in fact:

What About You?

In conclusion, being ethically non-monogamous has offered me and those close to me opportunities to build many different kinds of relationships and to tailor those relationships to suit our lives, our needs and our selves. Has poly opened up new kinds of love to you? If so, in what ways? Are there any kinds of love that I missed?

With love (of various sorts!),


[Edit 2015/03/06: Minor changes. Fixed a couple of typos and added in a couple of extra hyperlinks. Made headings more obvious.]

Polyamory and Statistics, or “Why haven't we found our third yet?”
Find out why we call them 'unicorns'.

Edit, 1st October 2014 (Because I realised I hadn't properly defined my terms!):

In the poly community, a 'unicorn' is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek term for a single, bisexual poly woman (or man) willing to date both members of a couple, usually in an exclusive triad.

If that's what you're looking for, you may have already heard people tell you that what you're looking for is incredibly rare, and that it's going to be a long hard journey. Most folks just shrug their shoulders at this and say 'that's okay, I'll just keep on looking til I find it.'

So I took a look at just *how* rare finding a unicorn actually is, how many you're likely to find in your own social circle, and how long it might realistically take to find someone, as a couple, to fit you both.

Full disclosure: I am technically a 'unicorn' myself. As a poly bi woman with no formal primary partnership, I am hypothetically open to dating a couple (though the 'exclusive' part isn't for me). But how many times in my 20 years of dating have I actually met and fallen for two people who were also into each other at exactly the same time? Well, I'll let you know at the end of the essay!

As many folks who read my blog know, it is mostly used as a repository for essays on topics that I encounter repeatedly. I've been writing this essay over about three years, adding a tiny little bit every time I see some new person ask the same question, and if you scroll down you'll see it's a pretty long essay. Stick with me. It's worth it.

Everywhere poly and interested folk gather, I hear the refrain “Why is it so hard for us to find the perfect woman to date us both?” often followed up with some sort of comment to the effect of “There's two of us, so that should make it easier, right?”

Sorry, folks! The computer says no!

Finding one single woman (or man*) to date as a couple is many many many times harder than finding a different partner for each of you. And if we look at the finding-a-date process step by step, the numbers will tell you why.

Let's begin our step by step starting with the straight male member of a male/female couple (just for example), and throw some numbers in for illustrative purposes.

So, wannabe poly triad-building guy, let's say that most of your dating experience has been as a single person. That's great! You know how that works. You go out, go online, mingle with folks, you check women out and you see who you find attractive. Let's assume that's about one in ten, or ten percent of the women out there. Hey, you've got some taste, right? But you've already knocked out 90% of the dating population as possibilities. But let's carry on. Ten percent of the available dating population just happens to be your personal version of 'hot'.

Now, you already know how if you are single only a certain percent of the hot women in your dating pool are going to be interested in you. So let's say that maybe ten percent of those women that you find attractive are willing to consider dating you (obviously your mileage may vary, but 10% is a nice easy number to use to demonstrate). Seems like you're off to a great start, right? Right. One in 100 isn't bad odds. You've still got a pretty good chance of finding a date for yourself here. But you're already down to 1% of the total dating pool (that's ten percent of ten percent), and you haven't asked any of the difficult questions yet.

Chance of finding a partner if you're single: 10% of 10% = 1% or 1 in 100

Now, if you are *not* single, you are limiting yourself to only the people within your dating pool who are open to nonmonogamy. Since the vast majority of the population are still not open to poly, we'll take a guess at that again being about ten percent, so now you're looking at ten percent of ten percent of ten percent, that's only 0.1% of everyone who's available for dating. You have already cut your chances of finding compatible people down to one in 1000, simply by being poly. So if you're dating as an individual, your chances of finding someone who's interested in just you are roughly one in every thousand women you check out. If you're surfing dating sites as an individual, or going out and meeting people in public, that's not too bad. Your female partner will probably have about the same odds if she wants to date other guys.

Chance of finding a poly-friendly partner for just one of you: 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.1% or 1 in 1000

But then you want a partner who will also date your female partner. So it gets more complicated.

Assuming you are an m/f couple both looking for a partner in common, you are also looking for a woman who is bisexual. But don't forget, you're still limiting yourself to being inside that group of 'people who are open to nonmonogamy AND attracted to you'.
Across the board of sexuality studies, the highest estimated percentage of the population who are interested in same sex relationships is approximately ten percent (usually it's less, but we're rounding it up to make things look more hopeful here!). If your female partner is looking independently for another female partner who doesn't need to be attracted to you, her odds will be about here: ten percent of ten percent of ten percent of ten percent, or in other words, about one in 10,000. Out of the general population, only one woman in 10,000 is likely to be hot, poly and as attracted to your female parter as she is to them.

Chance of finding a poly-friendly same sex partner for just one of you: 10% of 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.01% or 1 in 10,000

BUT you're still looking for a partner who will date BOTH of you, not just one of you, so it gets more complicated again.

Specifically bisexual people account for probably about half of that 'interested in same sex relationships' population (maybe a bit less). So again, you're cutting your odds down, this time to about 5% of your already limited group of 'hot women who are open to nonmonogamy AND already attracted to you'.
So that's five percent of ten percent of ten percent of ten percent. You're down to 0.005% of the dating population... That's one in 20,000, and we haven't even accounted for whether or not those women are attracted to your female partner yet – after all, we were so far just looking at women who were attracted to *you*.
So assuming your female partner is about as attractive as you are, and sexily compatible with about ten percent of the people she meets, that adds another zero in front of your chances.

(I'm also assuming here that you and your partner have *exactly* the same tastes, and exactly the same definition of what is 'hot' in a potential partner. If your tastes differ, that's going to reduce your options still further, but lets not, because that's just going to get depressing!).

Still following the maths? Right now, the percentage of hot bisexual women in the dating pool who are open to nonmonogamy AND likely to be interested in dating you AND interested in dating your partner as well is ten percent of five percent of ten percent of ten percent of ten percent. Out of all the potential women in the dating pool, you're now down to 0.0005%, or roughly one in 200,000 women. At this point you have probably run out of women in your dating pool. Hell, you've probably run out of women in your entire state, but hey, if you cast your net wide enough...

Chance of finding a poly-friendly partner interested in both of you: 10% of 5% of 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.005% or 1 in 200,000

And that isn't even taking into account whether or not those women are open to being in a *closed* triad with you, just whether they might be interested in dating you in the first place. The number of poly women who will be open to creating a closed triad with you will be even smaller. Oh what? About ten percent, we figure? That's one in two million women, folks.

Chance of finding a poly-friendly partner interested in both of you AND in exclusivity: 10% of 10% of 5% of 10% of 10% of 10% = 0.0005% or 1 in 2,000,000

You probably call your existing partner 'one in a million', but to actually find ONE woman interested in setting up a FIRST date with both of you, are you really prepared to make contact with two million women?

And folks wonder why they're still looking years later...

*These numbers work equally well if you're an m/f couple looking for a male 'unicorn', just flip the gender of the 'partner' bits of the workings out, I just went with the most common scenario I see for illustration purposes. It's a little different, numerically speaking, if you're already a same sex couple, but not very.

So how long would it take you to sift through two million women, anyway?

How about I throw in some more numbers in for you?

Let's say you're trying to do most of your dating organically, in person or through forums, poly groups and other social mingling. Let's also wildly exaggerate and say that you can meet one woman every minute of your day. If you could do that non-stop without eating, sleeping, going to work or anything else, that alone adds up to nearly four years.

More realistically, you'll probably only be able to devote an hour a day to meeting brand new people. After all, you have lives to lead. At one hour a day, that initial sift alone will take you something like ninety years (actually, I make it 91.32 years ).

Now let's say you spend ten minutes chatting to all the women you find attractive (another 91.32 years), and another ten minutes chatting with the women who seem to be attracted to you. That's only an extra nine years at this point.

Oh hey, you've found out some these women are poly! And bi! You've got to chat with them a little longer, maybe research their background a bit. You're going to have to introduce them to your female partner, see if they get on. You've made great progress though! That's such a short list of women it's not even going to take you a month to sift through and figure out who's into who. You're so nearly there, after a mere 192.74 years of searching, why it's enough to make you drop your walking stick and click your heels together. It's time to actually go on some dates!

So let's say you and your partner finally have a shortlist of women who are hot, bisexual, poly, and even better, attracted to the both of you. Let's say out of your initial two million women, you've managed to narrow it down to ten. You take each one of those women out on a couple of dates to see how you get along, and then you pop the question: “Would you like to be in a closed triad with the two of us?” It's only going to take you twenty days or so. Barely even three weeks worth of dating. Of course, most of the hot bi babes say no. Perhaps they can't see themselves cutting off their options that way. Perhaps they already have existing partners they don't want to dump just for the privilege of being with you. Perhaps it's just not their style (It's not you, it's them). It doesn't matter though. Out of those ten women you spent nearly three weeks dating, miracle of miracles, one of them has said YES!

And it only took you 192.79 years to find someone who wants to start to date both of you. Assuming you're still alive, you'll all be over two hundred years old by now, so I figure you'll all have the maturity to build a successful relationship from this point, plus be too tired to look for anyone else if it doesn't work out. Congratulations! You've found your unicorn! Well done!

...in other words, unicorn hunting is the relationship equivalent of spending every day sitting at home imagining what you will do 'when you win the lottery', rather than going out to work and building yourself a viable business.

That doesn't mean you need to stop buying lottery tickets, but in the meantime why not go out, build solid relationships, build friendships, build family even, with people who fit *you*, and maybe in doing so you'll happen across people who also fit your other partner or partners.

Yes, it sounds like more work and less 'romantic', but on the other hand it's a whole lot more reliable.

Check my maths!

You can see my workings as a spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1sm5YD8WASdDDs3RcIKUzaLaqF2yMuJe9TBE8tW8tl9U/edit?usp=sharing

Some further reading for couples who are seeking to date a 'unicorn', or for bisexual folks considering dating both or part of a couple:

About bisexuality:
Bisexuality & Statistics: Twice as many dates? (2010-07-16)


More about unicorn hunting, and some advice from experienced poly folk:




About dating a couple:

So, as a 'unicorn', how many times have I actually met and fallen for two people who were also into each other at exactly the same time? --- 0.

That would be big fat zero. I have, however, been dating a wonderful couple for the last several years.
Because they were confident and independent enough to date separately, I was dating him for at least a year when a surprise 'spark' developed with her too. If I'd had to choose between both or neither right at the start though? I'd have had to choose neither, and that would have been a sad loss for all of us.