I’m going to make an exception to my usual rules and talk politics for a bit.
Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent from the ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide, laid out why, in his opinion, once gay marriage is legal there is no reason not to make poly marriage legal. He even specifically mentioned polyamory several times in his dissent.
A lot of news outlets and poly folk have picked up on this and are asking the same question
Is It Time for Poly Marriage?
Several things have changed since the last time I attempted to answer this question, but overall my answer hasn’t changed.
Poly folk aren’t ready for a battle about marriage. The mainstream LGBT community has an internal structure, access to legal resources, coordination, and public support that the poly community can only dream of. So, this isn’t the right time to start this battle.
We would do far better to throw our resources and support behind the LGBT community’s push for non-discrimination, and in the process both strengthen our alliances and give us the time and opportunity to build the structure, coordination, and public support that will be needed when we are ready to start fighting for the rights we deserve.
Tactical and strategic thinking sucks sometimes. It’s easy to look at the sudden talk about poly marriage in the media and think about how much you want to marry your spice and say “LGBT got it, it’s our turn now!”
Real life doesn’t work that way. Real life means taking the time to have our shit in order before charging into the breach.
Real life also means realizing that “poly marriage” the way the talking heads are using the term isn’t what we need anyway. Group marriage will not be an answer for the poly community. Our relationship structures are too varied for that. What we need, and honestly what a shit-ton of folks outside the poly community need, is a path to have all families legally recognized, no matter what their structure.
Once you’ve made the decision to get help, the first step is usually setting up an appointment with a doctor or counselor. Some people will go to a family doctor or general practitioner first, others will go straight to a psychiatrist. Some set up counselling through their employer, school, or religious organization.
In the US, insurance will only pay for psychological treatment if you are diagnosed with a mental disorder listed in the latest edition of the DSM (currently the DSM-5). So for many people, getting a diagnosis becomes the crucial first step to getting the help they need.
There are several good references available for finding a mental health professional, so I’m not going to go into that here. I will say that if you have a bad feeling about a mental health professional, get the hell out immediately. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the US mental health care is a seriously mixed bag ranging literal life savers, to people I wouldn’t trust to take care of a plant. I’ve heard finding a mental health professional compared to finding a babysitter–it can take several tries to find one who is actually worth the time and expense. I don’t recommend looking for a poly-friendly mental health professional unless you are in a large urban area. People advertising as poly-friendly just aren’t that common. You can often (thought not always) find someone open minded on the LGBT-friendly lists, or you can educate your own poly-friendly professional (I’ve usually had good results with this, including in rural PA and smack in the middle of the Bible Belt in Tennessee).
Most of the time getting diagnosed with a mental illness is scary simple. You meet with a therapist, doctor, etc, you describe your symptoms, and they say, “well it sounds like you have X”. There usually isn’t any testing. The famous Rorschach and other less famous evaluation tools rarely come into play. No blood tests, certainly no actual testing your biochemistry before declaring that you have a “brain chemical imbalance.” Just a review of your life history, discussion of your symptoms, and a diagnosis code you may end up carrying around for the rest of your life.
What to Watch Out For
People unfamiliar with mental illness and mental health care often think that once you have a diagnosis the hard part is done. It’s understandable because this is actually the opposite of what you go through getting a medical diagnosis.
For five years my partner Michael suffered from pain, weakness, “false seizures” and a bunch of other stuff, to the point that twice he was told by doctors that if they couldn’t find out what was wrong and treat it, he’d be dead in a few years. Everything from rheumatoid arthritis to brain cancer to multiple sclerosis was tossed around. But no doctor would dream of diagnosing from reported symptoms alone. If they didn’t have a test to back it up, there would be no diagnosis and no treatment beyond basic painkillers. But as soon as he got a diagnosis, the doctors were able to pinpoint the most effective treatment, and he started improving. Because it took so long to figure out what was wrong, some of the damage is permanent, but once they found out what was wrong, the hard part was over.
This is what we expect from medicine. People who have actually dealt with long term chronic illnesses know it rarely works this way–getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is not the end of the struggle. But even with hard-to-diagnosis illness like multiple sclerosis, it’s understood that doctors ain’t doing shit until they have a verified diagnosis.
Mental health…doesn’t work like that.
So if you or your poly partners are just started to get treatment for mental health, you need to understand that getting diagnosed is at best a tiny step towards getting better. Sometimes, with an excellent shrink and a fair bit of luck, you can get the right diagnosis, find the right treatment, and start seeing real improvement in a few weeks.However, that is not the way to bet.
It is also important to be proactive in learning about and understanding the diagnosis. If what you learn about your diagnosis doesn’t fit your experience, talk to your mental health care provider. Yes, they are professionals who (should) know more about mental illness than you, but you are the expert on your experience. If they aren’t willing to listen to you, dismiss you out of hand, or in any way pull a “me expert-you stupid” schtick, get up and walk out. That is a huge red flag and sign of a horrible mental health care provider.
A good mental health care provider will either discuss changing the diagnosis, respectfully explain to you why they feel your experience fits the diagnosis or both.
1. This is one of the major reasons “gender dysphoria” continues to appear in the DSM. In spite of the stigmatizing effect of classifying the experience of trans folk as a mental disorder, it vastly increases the treatment accessibility. Insurance companies can still refuse to pay for hormone treatment or surgery, but they can’t deny counselling and assistance in social transitioning, as long as there is an official DSM diagnosis.
The video pretty much says it, transcript below. I don’t expect Polyamory on Purpose to become a full-time job or anything like that, but I’d really like to make it a frequently updated and well-developed resource for the poly community, both the website and the books. And right now I literally can’t afford the time I have been putting in. If I’m going to expand the site and keep the books coming I need your help.
Many, many thanks to Alan M. and PepperMint, my first Patrons. Thanks to their support PoP will be posting 5 times a month from now on, instead of every other week.
Hi, I’m Jessica, the creator of Polyamory on Purpose. I started this blog that became PolyonPurpose because I saw a need for information about polyamory that wasn’t focused on relationship advice. I’ve been writing the polyamory on Purpose blog for several years now, if somewhat inconsistently, and gotten a great deal of support from the community. I’ve covered everything from pregnancy to STIs to buying dishes, and the more I write the more I have to say.
Unfortunately, I have never been able to make Polyamory on Purpose a priority. I’m self-employed as a freelance writer and spoony. With a chronically ill long-term partner and a three year old, time and energy are at a premium. Right now, the time I spend on Polyamory on Purpose is time I am taking away from paying work. Which is (part of) why the blog has posted so inconsistently over the years.
There is a lot I would like to do with Polyamory on Purpose. I’d like to post two or three times a week, like I did when I started the blog. I’d like to gather a resource library for polyfolk covering everything from custody to calendars to relationship agreements. I’d like to add a forum to the site where people can discuss their strategies and choices for poly living. I want to finally start working my way through the dozen topics I have for future PolyonPurpose guides. And I can’t do any of this as long as Poly on Purpose is something I steal time for from my ‘real’ work.
I’m starting this Patreon campaign to change that. Every fifteen dollar’s pledged a month pays for the time it takes to write one blog post, and lets me put more time into growing this site. With enough pledges, instead of stealing an hour or two every other week to write a blog post, and scribbling additions to the next PolyonPurpose book whenever I can squeeze in a few sentences, I can dedicate several hours a week to writing blog posts, working on the next book, and adding new resources and capabilities to the site.
There is a lot more to polyamory than how we structure our relationships, communicate, and handle our jealousy, and I think it’s time we had a place to go to talk about and work on that more. With your help and support, Polyamory on Purpose can be that place.
I’m asking for your help and support. Even if you can only pledge one dollar a month it makes a difference for my family and brings me a little closer to growing Polyamory on Purpose.
All patrons will be included in a new Supporter’s page on Polyamory on Purpose, with a link back to the website of your choice.
Patron’s who pledge five dollars or more per month will get a thumbnail image and one sentence bio on their supporter listing, and a copy of the Poly and Pregnancy Guide.
Patrons who pledge ten dollars or more per month will get a half-banner image and a small paragraph description on the supporters page, free copies of polyamory and pregnancy, The poly home, and all future guides as I publish them.
As I start building the resource library, resources suggested by patrons with get priority for inclusion in the library, and new resources will be shared with patrons two weeks before they go up publicly on the site.
Finally, I will be posting the draft version of The Poly Home on Patreon for Patrons to read, critique and comment on as I write it.
For community goals, I am currently posting once every two weeks. When your patronage reaches twenty dollars per month, I will post weekly, and for every additional fifteen dollars pledged, I will write one additional post per month, up to three posts weekly.
When we reach one hundred dollars per month I’ll start building the resource library.
If we can reach two hundred fifty dollars per month, I’ll get a forum up and running.
Thank you for taking the time to listen, thank you for the support I have received from so many of you over the past few years. If you have found Polyamory on Purpose to be a valuable resource please support if you can. And whether or not you can support, please share this Patreon campaign on social media.
Hey folks, life got crazy so no new post this week. I’ll be back next week with your regularly scheduled blathering.
In the mean time, I’m throwing out an invitation for guest posts. If you have something you would like to share about your experiences in poly relationship, advice on managing the daily-life stuff, or basically anything that would fit this blogs usual topics, I’d love to hear from you.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, author of The Polyamorists Next Door, is working on a book called “Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families.” This book will be an anthology of stories from and about poly-folk. She is seeking submissions for stories, pictures, poems and essays. Submissions deadline is October 15th. Submissions (and any questions) can be mailed to email@example.com (Yes, submissions can be anonymous)
Here are the details:
Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families
Edited by Elisabeth Sheff
Are you a member of a poly family and willing to share your story (anonymously) with the world? Consider writing a brief entry for the upcoming book Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families. Submissions can:
Range in length from a few sentences to 10 pages long, depending on the age of the submitters, the format they select, and how much they have to say.
Take the form of essays, short stories, poetry, drawings, and photographs, or whatever else you create that can be depicted in a two dimensional format.
Use pseudonyms or real names, be as anonymous or out as you wish.
Come from anyone who identifies as a member of a polyamorous family composed of all adults, adults and kids, or some other mix of folks who identify as family.
To submit a contribution to Stories from the Polycule, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 15, 2014.
Topics you might consider include (but are not limited to):
Draw a picture of your family
What is the best thing about being in your family?
What is the worst thing about being in your family?
What do you think about your family? The adults in your life/your parents’ partners?
Any cute stories or quotes the adults in your life remember you saying about your family?
OLDER KIDS AND TEENAGERS (ALL OF THE ABOVE, PLUS:)
Do you tell your friends, kids at school, teachers, or other adults about being in a poly family? Why or why not?
What do you think about your parents’ partners?
Can you talk to your extended family members (like grandparents and aunts or uncles) about being in a poly family? If yes, how does it go? If no, why not?
Do you think you will have polyamorous relationships when you grow up? Why or why not?
If you have tried dating at this point, how did it go? Was it monogamous, poly, or something else?
Are you happy your family is poly, or do you wish they were monogamous (or something else)?
Some people think polyamory is bad for kids. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
How did you find out that you lived in a poly family, and how did you feel when you first found out? How do you feel now? Why?
What relationship do you have with the children in your life?
How do you think polyamory has affected your family?
How did your family get together (ie. How did you get started in polyamory, what is your family like now, and how did it get that way)?
What are the best things about your poly family? The worst?
What is one of the best things that have happened to your family? The worst?
Some people think polyamory is bad for kids. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
Have you experienced any discrimination because of your status as a member of a polyamorous family? What happened, and how did you deal with it?
Why have you split up with partners in the past, and how did it go? Why do you have the partners you do now?
Do you have any advice on how to do polyamory “right” or pitfalls to avoid? Ways to do poly “wrong?”
Did you come out as poly to your kids? Family of origin? Friends? At work? Why or why not?
If you are not the biological parent of a child (something Sociologists call a social parent) in a poly family, but have a close relationship with that child – how does it go? What does the child call you? What do you do together? How are you treated in public? By other family members?
ELDERS (ALL OF THE QUESTIONS ABOVE PLUS:)
Do your adult children know you are poly? If yes, how do they react? If no, why not? How do you keep it hidden?
Please describe your poly family and how it came to be.
What are the benefits of being poly now? When you were younger?
What are the disadvantages of being poly now? When you were younger?
Looking back, what do know now about polyamorous family life that you wish you had known when you were younger?