More Than Two: A Book Review

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory
Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

This book has changed the entire way that I look at and talk about relationships, and I honestly believe that the philosophy behind it has the power to radically transform societal relationship narratives.  It is a long, thorough, and complex book to be considered carefully, while simultaneously being engaging and fun to read — quite an amazing feat!

Although ostensibly about polyamory, the ideas and lived experiences that went into this book are applicable to anyone who’s in a relationship.  Any kind of relationship.  In fact, it applies to everyone who cares about another human being.  The focus of the second section of More Than Two is self-care, nurturing relationships, communication strategies and pitfalls, and jealousy.  Chapter nine, regarding boundaries, is also beneficial for anyone in a relationship.  Even though the rest of the book focuses on polyamorous frameworks, structures, transitions, and community, the threads of section two are woven throughout the book, and the authors continuously come back to them, which makes the entire book a beneficial read for all people, regardless of their chosen relationship model.

As this book is largely about building and maintaining ethical relationships within a polyamorous framework, Veaux and Rickert present two axiomatic ethical principles that underlie the content of More Than Two:  First, don’t treat people as things.  Second, the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship.  Within these axioms are the ideas that all relationships should be consensual (which requires a lot of honesty; you can’t give consent without being informed), that we shouldn’t sacrifice the self for the relationship or expect others to do so, that seeing partners as need-meeting machines dehumanizes them, that one partner’s needs are not more important than the other’s (the needs and desires of everyone involved should be recognized), and that we are not entitled to anyone’s time or love — that being in a relationship and giving our love and time is a choice.  The Relationship Bill of Rights included in chapter three is invaluable as a conversational springboard. 

Some things that I absolutely love about this book:

  • It doesn’t present polyamory in a Utopian or ideal way; in fact, the introduction lays out that polyamory is hard fucking work, that it’s not inherently safe, that growth often includes pain, that it means being vulnerable and giving things up, and that we can’t control and shouldn’t try to prescribe how relationships will grow and change.
  • It presents monogamy as a legitimate relationship model and specifically claims that polyamory is not more advanced, enlightened, or progressive than monogamy.  There are people on polyamory discussion boards who disagree with this interpretation because Veaux and Rickert criticize the relationship escalator and the socialization of Oneitis that stems from fairy tales and romantic comedies; however, I don’t see a critique of the way we’re socialized to believe that we have one true soul mate and that if we don’t find that person we’ve failed as synonymous with a critique of choosing to be in a mindful and ethical monogamous relationship. 
  • At the end of each chapter are self-reflection questions to guide the reader through applications of the theories and themes of that chapter to his or her (or hir) life.  I’m bringing a bunch of these questions with me on vacation and am planning to actually write out answers.  It’s like therapy, but for the cost of a book.
  • More Than Two espouses compassion and non-judgment in all of our interactions with people we care about; it advocates the use of active listening; and it encourages readers to own their choices (and feelings) and acknowledge that our choices have real-life consequences.  It tells us to assume good intention on the part of our partners, which is an incredibly valuable relationship skill.   
  • It presents the idea that self-worth cannot come from another person; it has to be built from within.  That it’s very difficult to have agency within a relationship unless you feel secure, and security is something that has to be practiced.  That you must have compassion for yourself in addition to being aware of your needs, value, limitations, and boundaries.
  • The authors write about their own experiences and how they’ve learned from them.  They don’t present themselves as perfect experts; they present themselves as people who have fucked up, have learned from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and are in the process of continuing to learn from their relationships and the relationships of others in their communities and networks. 
After finishing More Than Two yesterday, I skimmed through The Ethical Slut again; there are many differences between the two (you can read all about them on poly forums).  One important idea that is agreed upon by both, however, is that our capacity to love is limitless and that love is abundant.  There are many kinds of love in the world – platonic, romantic, erotic, and all the shades between and combining those types – and choosing to give your love to someone in any capacity is a gift. 

I consider myself ethically non-monogamous; before reading More Than Two, I never would have considered myself a polyamorous person, even though I’ve had the experience of being in love with more than one person at the same time.  In fact, I often joke that I’m barely amorous, so how can I be polyamorous?  As an intensely introverted person, the idea of committing the kind of time it takes to make a romantic relationship work with more than one person while still maintaining close ties with friends and family and working and having hobbies scares me a bit.  Or at least it did.  I didn’t realize until reading More Than Two that a lot of poly people have long-distance relationships in which they only see their LDR partner(s) once or twice a year.  Or that relationships can be what you choose to make them, which although it seems fairly obvious, is kind of a radical idea.  So maybe I am poly.  Still figuring that out… and very glad to have Franklin and Eve supporting me along the way.       

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#FuckYes

Someone sent me an article a month ago that focuses on doing things in your life that you are enthusiastic about (take five minutes to read it); the thesis of the text is that if you’re not saying “Fuck, yes!” to something, then you should just say no — especially in relationships (sexual relationships, romantic relationships, friendships; all the ships).  The piece begins with the question: Why would you ever choose to be with someone who is not excited to be with you? 

People sometimes stay with partners they’re not that into for reasons of financial or emotional security, sex, a boost in self-esteem, or out of habit.  Or because they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings.  Most people have experienced power imbalances in their relationships, and many of us have been hurt by people who have held onto us while only having lukewarm or ambivalent feelings toward us.  

Someone recently said to me that this is a bullshit binary (not in those exact words), which is a fair point.  There is a lot of grey area between being stoked to be with someone and feeling “meh” about a partner, and it’s hard to be in a state of excitement all the time because, realistically, we have lives outside of our relationships that need tending to.  The ways we feel about people can’t be shoved into a binary, and peoples’ feelings and relationships change and grow over time. That being said, as Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert say in More Than Two, “ambivalence has little place in romance” — it can be and often is incredibly painful.  Which is exactly why “Fuck yes or no” IS a binary (hence the or); emotional purgatory is the worst place to be.

A few important things I took away from this article:
1) Know thyself.  Know what you want in a partnership.
2) If you’re not sure how someone feels about you, ask, and really be ready to hear their answer.  If you’re not sure how you feel about someone else, then tell them so they can make informed choices. If your feelings shift while dating someone or fucking someone or mid-relationship, say something. 
3) When you really feel excited to be with someone, tell them you are, because maybe they don’t know it!  Conversely, if you know someone is really into you and you’re not feeling it, even if you think it will hurt their feelings, be honest about it. 

Basically, just communicate more often, more honestly, and more compassionately.

**A note about the “Fuck, Yes or No” article: I like the premise, but it’s problematic.  It’s heteronormative and it uses war imagery to describe relationships, sex, and love (happiness is not a war).  The author claims that the law of fuck yes or no “instantly resolve[s]” consent issues.  What the what?  Consent is an ongoing conversation that can’t be “solved.”  He says if someone is “pressuring you into doing something you’re unsure about, your answer is now easy.”  No, it’s not.  It’s never easy to say no, especially while being pressured.  Finally, this article (this blog as well) is situated in a framework of privilege.  I have the privilege of entering into and exiting from relationships freely without the threat of violence or coercion, in a community and culture where sexual activity and relationships are choices.  I don’t have financial obligations that require me to stay with someone I don’t want to be with, or children to take into consideration.  This is certainly not representative of everyone, and it’s important to acknowledge that there are people who don’t have the choice to say, “Fuck, yes or no.”       

Why I’m Glad the Protest Came to Pride

I just got home from Seoul Pride, and it was… memorable.  This was my sixteenth or seventeenth (?) pride; about thirty minutes in, I realized I’d forgotten my camera back at the hostel.  Oh well, I thought – I’d just take the same photos I always take.  Someone waving a rainbow flag; people selling buttons at booths; drag queens being their most fabulous drag queen selves.

It started out as a pretty normal pride; a few church folks with crosses and signs out front, people drinking, dancing, buying memorabilia, playing trivia games, singing Disney ballads on stage.  People holding hands out in the daylight, proud to be with the ones they love.  The number of people there was impressive, but other than that, it seemed like a standard day all around.

And then shit got real, y’all.

The parade was supposed to begin at 4:00pm; 4:15 came and went.  4:30.  The floats finally started moving, and then immediately stopped.  4:45.  We started getting restless, so some of my crew ran up front to see what was happening; apparently, a small group of Christian protesters had lain down in the street in front of and underneath the floats.  From what I’ve heard, at the beginning of this protest, there were only fifteen to twenty protesters; instead of moving them out of the way and allowing them to continue protesting from the sidelines (as they should be allowed to do; free speech is important), the police allowed them to sit in the street, giving them time to call more people from the church to come sit with them.  By the time my friends and I went up to look so we could report back to others, there were at least a hundred of them sitting in the street, arms locked, protected on all sides by a rectangle of police officers (all men, by the way… there were female police officers standing off to the side, presumably ready to act, but kept out of the action).  People were yelling at them to go home, but the shouts were random and unorganized.  We asked one of the event organizers why we couldn’t just go around them and leave the floats behind; he informed us that it was because the city of Seoul had recently rescinded their marching permit, and without the floats, it would be considered an illegal demonstration instead of a parade.  He also said that because public sentiment in Korea is generally intolerant of queeritude and things were juuuust beginning to change, they didn’t want to harm the progress of the movement by creating a bad public image.

Yet as two girls stood in the middle of the protesters before the police could surround them, kissing each other, the protesters hit them with sticks, poured water on them, and yelled that they were going to hell.  Oh, and told them to get the fuck out of Korea and go home because foreigners are bringing the gay to Korea.  Talk about a bad image.

The parade participants were confused and hurt; as time passed and we realized the police weren’t going to do a damn thing about all the people blocking the parade (except separate them from us), we did what any good queers would do; we pumped up the volume, danced in the streets, cheered as loudly as we could, and kept our spirits up to show the protesters that we weren’t going anywhere, either.  I was blown away by the boundless energy of the people on the floats, dressed in leopard print and glitter, who really kept the crowd on their feet

It’s hard to dance forever, though.  As more and more time went by — it was 6:00pm now, the time the parade was supposed to end — my small group went up front to see what the deal was.  We were standing away from the crowd, looking at the now at least two hundred protesters sitting together, listening to a man on a megaphone (who I heard was later arrested, though I doubt any charges were brought against him) yell about how we were all a bunch of no-goodniks, I thought, “This is bullshit.”  I went up to the police to ask them why they weren’t arresting the protesters (who didn’t have a permit and were therefore there illegally).  The police wouldn’t answer me, but a few young people in the crowd told me it was because they were following orders.  One girl suggested that it was because the political party currently in power (Saenuri-dang) is conservative.  We went through series of chants: “Arrest them!  Go home!”  But nothing was organized.  They had a megaphone and a leader; we didn’t.  We had microphones, but no one would use them to interact with (or against) the protesters.

A few minutes in to standing next to the police and in the midst of the anti-protest protest, I realized what the Christian protesters were saying: “Daehanminguk!” which is the name of South Korea in Korean.  They followed that by singing the Korean national anthem, Aegukga.  And this got me super pissed.  How dare they, I thought.  How dare they use the country’s name and anthem as a platform for hate.  What they’re saying by doing this is that homophobia is a matter of national pride for them.  I yelled to the people around me: “How can they claim Korea in the name of hate?  It’s our [sic] country, too!”  I got people on our side to cheer “Daehanminguk!” as well, but it was short-lived.

The young girls around me started saying, “I’m so sorry – we’re really embarrassed about this.  We are ashamed that foreigners have to see this.”  And that got me more upset.  I love this country.  It’s home to me now, and I have come to feel like part of the big Korean family, even if I’m not accepted as such because I’ll always be a foreigner.  I started crying as I told them this.  We stood there shoulder to shoulder for hours, Koreans and foreigners together, chanting and talking in disbelief.  A couple of times the police went into the group of protesters with full riot gear on to try to break them up, but the protesters just pushed the police back, and the police moved back.  I was incredulous that they didn’t use the force they had; had this happened in the States, I definitely imagine tear gas canisters and clubs coming out.

I felt pretty bad for the police officers there, actually; most of them were in their early-mid twenties.  They seemed inexperienced kids who probably just wanted to go home but instead were stuck in between two very loud groups.  At one point, I saw a young man wad up pieces of tissue and hand them to an officer to stuff in his ears

At around 9:30, my friend and I who had been standing there for hours decided we had to get something to eat.  We walked down the street, and my mind was blown again.  I had assumed while standing up by the protesters that everyone else had gone home; to the contrary.  No one had.  The crowd was blocks and blocks long, everyone sitting down in the street, drinking, eating, and chatting, all of us awaiting the eventual resolution of this standoff.  While my friend and I were waiting for our food, a strange and wonderful thing happened; they started turning the floats around.  After the floats were turned, we saw hundreds of police officers jogging down the street, away from the protest and back toward the street where the festival had been held.  All of a sudden, people were getting up on the floats and the music started blaring.  They had turned the parade around.  All at once, everyone in the streets jumped to their feet and took off down the street, led by police escort and leaving the protesters behind.

What followed was literally awesome.  Thousands of us marched in the streets, backward along the original parade route, at 10:00pm following a six-hour delay.  The float in front of my friends and I blared “Born This Way,” and several men covered in black spandex and glitter danced their asses off as the float moved through the streets of Sinchon.  We all sang along as loud as we could after having yelled for hours.  We cheered and cheered and cheered, rejoicing in the validity of our love and our voices.

So here’s where I come back around to the title of this post.  My first Korean Queer Pride Festival was in 2010, and the parade was tiny – maybe only six blocks.  There were only two floats, and everyone was wearing masks and special stickers so that no one would take their photo.  There weren’t really protesters because it wasn’t even on the radar.   This year, there were no stickers and I only saw a few people in masks.  Attendance was estimated at 20,000.  Google had a booth.  The US embassy had a booth (which was giving away George Takei T-shirts!  Oh, my!).

I feel good that there was a protest because it is a sign of fear.  It’s a sign that political and religious conservatives see that society is changing whether they want it or not, and they’re taking action because they are afraid of those changes.  They’re afraid of our voices and our power.  And that’s amazing.  It’s a true sign of progress.

The slogan of this year’s festival was “Love Conquers Hate”; last night, it did.

 

 

[As an aside, I’d like to mention that among alllllll the groups participating in the parade (which included a church, by the way!), there was a sex workers’ rights group, which I was pleased as punch to see.  If you happen to read Korean, their website is here.]