The PolyBureau
by Alan Wexelblat

Answering Readers' Questions, Part I

At the bottom of each column, I include a mailto: link so that people can ask questions. Although I write about what interests me and on areas where I think I have something worthwhile to say, I also want this column to reflect readers' interests. To that end I will dedicate much of my writing space to answering the questions I receive.

Most of the questions I get are quite good. There have been a few bozo questions along the lines of "how do I get two women in bed with me at once" but we won't even bother abusing those fools. Instead, I will try to extract out questions that arise directly in response to my writing or that seem to be common to many people.

I confess that when I started offering to answer questions I had not considered what format to use for answering questions. I don't plan to send personal responses, but at the same time I don't want to 'out' people who are just asking for information. So, unless someone has a better idea, I'm simply going to use the initials of the person asking the question.

Enough preliminaries, let's get on with the questions, starting with the most popular one, asked by many people:

Where do I go for more info?

There are a number of resources, both on the net and off it. Rather than try to produce a comprehensive guide here, I will simply refer people to the alt.polyamory Frequently Asked Questions List (FAQ) which can be found on the group homepage at
http://www.polyamory.org/.(note: link will open in a new window).

For those not up on the jargon, alt.polyamory is a Usenet newsgroup, a bit like a distributed non-real-time chat. Quite noisy but full of interesting people if you have the time to find them. A FAQ is a set of answers to common questions from that group. Usenet FAQs are some of the most useful documents on the net.

The FAQ is divided into four parts, the first of which is an enormous list of real-world resources: Non-fiction, Fiction, Movies, Songs, Other, and Organizations. Most of these are described or rated to at least some degree. The second part is the answers to the most frequently asked questions. Some of the answers are trite, others are specific to the newsgroup itself. None go into very much depth, unfortunately. Part of the overall philosophy of the group is that there are no pat answers, something I've said here myself.

The third part, the "Supplement" is an amusing guide to how not to have a poly relationship. A good list of things to avoid, I think. Finally, the fourth part is a collection of stories from people in the newsgroup about how they met some of their partners.

There are a number of other pages put up by some of the better-known people and groups involved in poly activities in areas such as Boston and San Francisco. A few minutes with your favorite web search engine should give you several starting points.

What can I give them to read?

Closely related to the poly person's search for information is the search for things to show non-poly people who are genuinely curious. This may be a parent, coworker or friend -- anyone with more misconceptions than one person can quickly correct.

Fortunately, a couple of good articles have appeared in mainstream publications. The Boston Phoenix published an article in 1998 called Free love grows up that included comments from myself and several other folk in the Poly-Boston community. And late last year, the Houston Press published an article about poly, centered around the life of a triad in their city titled Meet Mr. and Mrs. and Mrs. Jones.

Definitions, anyone?

"J G" from infoparadigm.com wrote:

Polyfidelity derives from the latin for "many trusts." Polyfidelity relations imply that the members trust each other, but not that they do not trust others. The faithfulness may relate to non-sexual matters such as finances or child-rearing. The trusts are defined by the group and may (or may not) result in a relationship consistent with your definition.

I think that's consistent with what I said. It is certainly possible for people to form poly relationships which are non-sexual; for example, for child-rearing purposes. The point of my definition of polyfidelity was that it generally describes the situation where the group is closed to outsiders.

Legalities

"M" from mbay.net asked:

Can women be poligamist? If so is it illegal in the USA?

By poligamist I assume you mean having multiple spouses at the same time. In that case, no, it's not legal for women in the United States, any more than it is for men. One of the issues I plan to address in the future is marriage and poly. Most of the poly groupings I know of that include marriage involve a legal marriage of one or more pairs of people and extra-legal bonds, such as handfastings, with the others.

"Natural" Advantages

"M B" of ro.com wrote:

Monogamy, serial monogamy and polygyny are naturally common among humans because those practices confer a selective advantage on human offspring. I realize the sort of polyamory you are discussing is a culture phenomenon, a pleasing, cultural memory (meme) rather than a genetic drive, but it does conflict with what seem very likely to be genetic drives.

I'm very uncomfortable with arguments from biology either for or against polyamory. It's true that monogamous pairings, both lifelong and for child-rearing times, exist in other species. But so do a lot of other family patterns, including lifelong group families and both male- and female-dominated social groupings. I don't think it's possible to argue the genetic superiority of any particular arrangement.

Additionally, I've seen my gay friends bashed with the genetic hammer. They have been told far too often that their choice of same-sex partners means they can't have children so therefore it's "against nature" or "against genetics" or somesuch nonsense. The fact is that homosexuality has been around at least as long as recorded history, so clearly they're not breeding themselves out. Similarly, polygamous marriage forms have a long history in many human societies; lifelong monogamy is pretty much a religious invention of the last couple thousand years and even within the modern western religions it's pretty clear they practiced forms of poly well into the first millenium after Jesus' birth.

Do What Thou Wilt

"R B W" from aol.com wrote:

What am I to do?

Well, generally, you do what you want. Of course, if you'd like to ask a more specific question I'll try to answer it.

On a more serious note, let me take this chance to remind my gentle readers that there are no bibles in this field. We have few models, few guidelines. Mostly we make it up as we go along. In many ways, there is no 'right' and no 'wrong' way to do poly, only things that are more or less likely to succeed.

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Copyright © 1996-2001 Alan Wexelblat
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

Last modified: Wed Jan 15 06:32:24 2003