A few years back, my partner Eve Rickert and I wrote a book. You may, if you’re reading this blog, have heard of it. It’s about polyamory, and it’s called More Than Two.
In the book, we said, “We’re not experts on polyamory. We believe there are no experts. Polyamory is still too new for that.” The book did rather well, and as a result, a lot of people turn to us as those poly experts of expert polydom who can tell you how it’s done.1
Pigeon, meet hole.
We’re not poly experts because, err, there are no poly experts. As Eve likes to say, we’re artists: More Than Two resonates with people not because we’re the gurus on the mountaintop handing down the poly wisdom, but because we’re writers who can talk about our own experiences in ways that some folks connect with.
Did you know that we write about more than just polyamory? It’s true!
The book Più di due. Guida pratica al poliamore etico (ISBN 978-8-8628835-4-2) is an unauthorized, pirated edition of More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory and violates the authors’ copyrights and Thorntree Press’s distribution rights.
Last year, Eve and I started working on a new book, Love More, Be Awesome. It’s a followup to More Than Two, intended for a wider audience than just poly folks. This afternoon, we torched everything. All our notes, our diagrams, everything about the book, all went into the fire. (Well, except for the bits that exist as bits; those bits just got deleted.)
Primum non nocere. It’s a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.” It’s not part of the Hippocratic Oath, but it is a central tenet of bioethics in most of the world.
It also, I think, makes a pretty good tenet for relationship ethics as well.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Dan Savage’s personal assistant, asking if I was interested in helping craft a response to a person who’d written in to Mr. Savage with a poly problem.
Nearly all relationship advice of any sort, for any kind of relationship, can be dismissed with just one sentence: “But that would be awkward!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those words. Suffice it to say that if I had a dime for every time, I’d be quite a lot wealthier than I am right now.
“Talk about STI testing before we have sex? But that would be awkward!” “Meet my partner’s other partner? But that would be awkward!” “Talk to my partner about how I’m feeling? But that would be awkward!” “Experiment and try new things in bed? But that would be awkward!” “Talk openly about sexual boundaries? But that would be awkward!” “Talk about my sexual fantasies? But that would be awkward!” “Ask before kissing someone? But that would be awkward!” (That last one, in fact, deserves a blog post of its own.)
The polyamorous emotional labour daisy chain occurs any time there’s a problem in one relationship that spills over into the other relationships in a network. The emotional labour pours inward, from person to person, toward the source of the problem—as each person in turn leans outward, toward a partner who has emotional labour to give.
This is part two of a three-part series inspired by the question Can a hierarchy ever be ethical in polyamory? As I said in part 1, I have come to the conclusion that this is the wrong question to ask. To get to the right questions, we need to drill down deeper. Part 1 talked about how we define hierarchy, and how hierarchies reflect power dynamics within relationships. In this instalment, we’re going to look closer at some of those power dynamics.
Awhile back, Tikva Wolf, creator of the excellent webcomic Kimchi Cuddles, posted a query on her Facebook page: Can hierarchical relationships ever be ethical? I’ve been chewing on a response to that question for some time, because the answer is not simple. I mean, we spend probably a solid 50 pages in More Than Two trying to tease apart how to make relationship agreements ethical—and we still don’t really answer that question. I finally realized, that’s because it’s the wrong question. If we’re concerned about treating our partners ethically, then the right questions are not Can a hierarchy be ethical? or Is this a hierarchy?
Eve and I are back in the woods again, in the same cabin where we wrote More Than Two, working on a new book.
The new book is not about polyamory. It’s called Love More, Be Awesome, and it’s our take on a kind of user’s guide for being a human being: tips and ideas for being awesome and living a life of compassion and kindness.
Part of the reason More Than Two turned out like it did is this place. It’s incredibly remote; we’re miles from the nearest convenience store and a half-hour drive to the closest town. All around us, as far as the eye can see, is temperate rainforest.
Here are some things not to say to a poly lesbian. Most of them should seem obvious, but all of them are real examples. Many of them also apply to other types of queer women as well.