anniebear: You’re an educator, specializing in teaching about polyamorous relationships, non monogamy, and managing multiple partners. And there are a lot of ways to describe poly such as non-monogamous and then there’s “monogamish” that’s been thrown around more lately. How would you describe yourself and your relationships?
Wry: I practice a form of descriptive hierarchy with egalitarian feminism with D/s BDSM elements. That’s a whole lot of key words and terms that people are going to be Googling, because none of that is particularly well known. Not nearly as popular as the words polyamory or non monogamy.
As it is, even non-monogamy needs to be defined, because people disagree on what that means. What does monogamy even mean? I’ve known swingers who identify as monogamists, because they are describing their heart: they only have one loving relationship and everything else is just casual fun for them.
Now I’m not saying that all swingers are that way. I’m just saying that all three words are so hard to define and they’re regional. Even within the region, people will disagree. Why is that? Well we’re coining these terms. A lot of words like love have been around for hundreds of years, but the word polyamorous was coined around 1991.
So it’s a really new word.
It’s extremely new. It was coined by Morning Glory and it wasn’t exactly spelled as “polyamorous”. You can Google this and find the exact story.
She wrote an article called “A Bouquet of Lovers” and that was the first time the word polyamorous was ever in print. About one year later, there was a message board called Polyamory. 1991-92 is how new this word is. It doesn’t mean the concept is that new, but the word itself is, so the definition can be difficult to pin down.
And I could see how it becomes really confusing for people just starting out and trying to explore it.
There are two huge schools of thought on this. One is we need as many words and labels as possible in order to clarify what we’re talking about and to be on the same page. The other camp is the idea that labels are inherently confusing, thus, the more we divide and label everything, the more we’ll be confused and be stuck in whatever self-identifications we have, instead of fluidity and freedom to move about.
Monogamy is inherently this very established, traditional, mainstream concept that many people are stuck in. We’re looking to break out of that and have more options. At least have the options. To be clear, I am very pro-monogamy. I think if you’re monogamous and you’re happy, then you’re happy. And if you’re whatever alternative style and you’re happy, then you’re happy. I consider myself Relationship Positive.
Right, whatever your relationship is to you and it works for you that’s you’re thing and go get em’!
Yes. I end up being the Contrarian Defender. When people are talking shit about a particular style, I end up defending monogamy against some of the more aggressive polyamory activists. I defend hierarchy against relationship anarchy people. I defend DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) against everyone, (laughs) because that one’s probably the most popular style, but also the most hated.
Sure, yea that one sounds really scary to me! (Laughs) but that’s me.
Well, it all sounds scary to somebody. Monogamy is scary as hell to me. I can’t do it. I’m incapable. In the past, I have had some very successful relationships that were monogamous. The last one that I had I ended, because she wanted my babies. I do not want to have children ever. And she wanted not just babies, but mine in particular, and that was the end. I’ve never been monogamous since. Not for more than, a group of months. The intention is always to be open and polyamorous in some way.
Got it, so you kind of answered this a little bit a second ago. Do you believe in the theory that some people are hardwired to be either monogamous or poly? Similar to people being either vanilla or kinky?
We’re getting into genetics here. DNA and Nature vs. Nurture and environment. We’re getting into free will and choice. I think there are imperfect parallels that you can draw when it comes to sexual identity. You’ve got basically heterosexual, homosexual, and pansexual and if you want to draw the direct parallel, you might have all these different spectrums and false dichotomies. It often seems like it’s an On-Off switch, but it’s not. One of the mix ups people make is thinking that polyamory and open relationships are on the same spectrum. They might say, “I’m more open than I am poly” or “I’m more poly then I am open”. But that’s really comparing apples and oranges. Really where you have it is open vs. closed OR polyamory vs monoamory. Those are direct opposites.
I think that we’re born as an amorphous mess of brain cells that have very little coherency. With our DNA plus influence from every little element of our environment, somehow we find an identity. And hen we end up changing identities over the course of a lifetime.
As a young man, I identified as traditionally monogamous, seeking one marriage partner for life, no other pre-marital sex. That was my goal for as far as I could remember up until my early twenties. Now I’m Mr. Polyamorous Guy. I wouldn’t change it for anyone, no matter what. It’s so much a part of my identity. It’s hard to even picture that old version of me that was monogamous. So on some level, there’s no agreed upon word for it, but it’s like we’re all poly-flexible on some level. Now, of course, there are extremists and now I have become one. We joke around about celebrity crushes and people ask me, “Would you go monogamous for your celebrity crush?” And the answer is absolutely not.
I wouldn’t, I can’t. It is emotionally painful for me to try to function in a non-polyamorous, closed relationship. I feel trapped. I get kind of crazy with jealousy. I’m always trying to enforce rules. I’m just a bad guy when I try to be monogamous.
That’s interesting that you go to the opposite extreme with monogamy. To be the enforcer with the jealousy and rules.
Rules and respect are incredibly important to me, no matter what style I’m practicing. A lot of people don’t agree with me. They hate the words rules. They want to use concepts like personal boundaries, agreements, negotiations; I don’t have an issue with the word rules, so I use it. You break a rule, then I’m pissed and I’m hurt, I’m insulted and offended. We agreed to this! This is not just me going top down, nor do I dictate what all the rules will be. It’s an agreement and negotiation.
I remember when I was monogamous when my long term girlfriend got drunk on her birthday and made out with her friend who was a girl, but not her girlfriend. I got very upset by this, because there was nobody on earth that I was allowed to make out with and it didn’t feel fair to me. I wanted the same freedom she had.
There is a bit of a double standard there.
There is. And I think that double standard is actually the key to the mainstream coming to understand polyamory. The typical fantasy, the mainstream Playboy-Hustler kind of mentality, is that you’ve got a monogamish situation. That’s also a new word, relatively. Dan Savage coined it around 2004; I believe he’s personally responsible for that word.
People talk about, “Hey, let’s have a relationship and get married and maybe someday we’ll play around with a threesome and bring in another girl”. Or, “it would be so great for me to watch my girlfriend make out with another woman”. Inherently, that is compersion. Erotic and kinky as well. Many are in denial that this is a polyamorous compersion moment where their partner is having great erotic and fun joy with someone else. The mainstream already relates and understands this scenario. They think it’s great! They masturbate to this concept and they talk about it, even when they’re just in bed with each other. It’s all over the news and movies. And yet, we don’t usually refer to that as compersion, for some reason, but it is.
People call it fantasies.
Yes! And what’s wrong with that, right? It’s CNM (Consensual Non-Monogamy). And fully ethical in my book. People are often in denial about how non-monogamous they really are, internally in thought and desire, if not externally in action as well.
So where would you like to see the future of poly and open relationships go in the mainstream? Do you want it to go so far as to be able to legally marry multiple people or just more of an acceptance?
It’s a big question. There are a lot of directions it needs to go. Number one, the most important thing on a legal basis is an anti-discrimination law regarding this lifestyle. Currently in America, you can’t be discriminated against for your religion, gender, or race, but you can be discriminated against for having two girlfriends or 2 husbands. If you have a morality clause that you’ve signed with a family-friendly corporation, you can get fired if you post the wrong picture on Facebook.
Similarly, the number one issue in my opinion, and in the opinion of John Pérez, the Speaker of the House of California who is openly gay: the number one issue in LGBTQ activism is not gay marriage, but gay firing. What’s happening is a gay marriage on Sunday, then on Monday you post about it on Facebook and update your status, and by Tuesday, you’re fired. That’s legal in 28 states right now.
Wow, I had no idea.
Most people don’t realize this, because we’re in the insulated Left Coast bubble of California where we think everything is so liberal, even though it’s not. This issue is not even being broached in the slightest when it comes to polyamory and non-monogamy. Not in the slightest. The fact is that you can get fired for being polyamorous. People are in utter denial and I have to tell them anecdote after anecdote about people who are scared. They’re at work scared to reveal themselves even online in conversation.
There’s a local researcher and PHD student named Ryan Witherspoon, good friend of mine ,he’s joined me on stage. He’s done a lot of research about the stress and stigma of identifying as polyamorous. There are situations that make us run away into the closet. We usually use the term “closet” to talk about homosexuality, but polyamory absolutely has a closet, BDSM has a closet, etc.
When you show up to the Christmas party with three dates you, better believe there’s going to be rumors and gossiping and issues with that. And if I show up with a rotation of partners- one girlfriend for this business dinner- then I show up with a different partner and them another a few months later with the other partner. Well, then the hushed voices start and they say, “Are you still with her? I liked the first one. What happened?!”
I’m dating all of them!
Right, I’m dating all of them. Settled down; we’re still together! It’s been four years, two years, and one year. That’s the actual numbers for my three girlfriends who have other partners as well, some of which are into the one year anniversary territory. They’re steady and stable too. Until they are not. No matter. Monogamous couples breakup and get back together too. We’re not all that different.
And we all have casual partners too. We’re a little wild. We’re not mimicking hetero-normativity, mono-normativity. That’s not our lives. We’re also selective. We’re not having sex with everybody. I literally turn down attractive, willing women who approach me for sex quite often. I’m not bragging, I’m demonstrating a point. There are tons of memes about this, such as: “Yes, I’m open and poly, but NO, I won’t have sex with you.”
Right because it’s not necessarily what it’s about. It’s not a numbers game
Even if you’re monogamous and single, a lot of monogamous-identified single people are having multiple sex partners in a given week or month. They are completely free to do as they wish. And they certainly do. Nobody just assumes that if you’re single, you’ll sleep with me. It’s not that simple of a situation. It’s a person to person consent issue, not just an assumption of sex. At least, it should be person to person.
Have you ever received direct negative backlash from family or friends because of your lifestyle?
Yes. Very much so. There are portions of my family that think I’m ruining society.
How dare you.
There are family members who just don’t want to talk about it. They have their issue with what I’m doing. Code of silence. When I talk about my successes or if I say, “Check out the interview I did yesterday on KinkyWeekly”, they refuse. They won’t look. They’ll just say, “That’s not my thing, but congrats. I don’t agree with your lifestyle.”
And then there are other family members that just laugh and think I’m funny. They see me as some kind of single bachelor that’s living a wild life and that there’s no seriousness or commitment to my relationships.
Right, which is annoying as well.
There are the ones that just get it and they’re really into what I’m doing as an activist and educator, even though they have their happy marriage of a decade+. They’re just so happy for me and they have friends who are like me. Of course, that tends to be the younger generations. But don’t get me wrong, it is not easy to be out about poly to everyone on earth. That is not an easy thing and I don’t recommend it for everyone. I don’t think that everyone has the mental and emotional and financial freedom and privilege to be as out as I am. That’s a huge reason why I’m doing it, because I can. I can handle it in all those ways. Plus, intersectionality is important. If you’re already dealing with other discrimination in your life, then it’s harder to add an additional difficulty to it, especially when it’s so optional. We’re an invisible sexual minority group. You can’t walk down the street and just pick out who the polyamorous people are. It’s like skin color or even a gay pride flag. Most people have no idea there is a poly flag and wouldn’t notice it on the street.
Switching gears a bit, you’re classes have been doing really well. Wry Talks and Poly Relationships; I know you’ve been teaching at Stockroom and some universities and now you’ve teamed up with Janet Hardy, the author of The Ethical Slut. Do you want to talk a bit about what’s coming up next for you guys?
Yes! We’re working on some dates outside of California. It’s too soon to announce all dates, but I am working on a nation wide tour over the next 18 months. Some of those dates have been set and there will be other special guests like Tristan Taormino (author of Opening Up and a dozen other books). And Janet Hardy will join me again onstage. Plus many more special guests. Remember, Janet co-authored not only The Ethical Slut, but also a dozen other books. They are both legends in this field. The Ethical Slut was published in 1997. I honestly think she changed America, along with her co-author Dossie Easton. At the time, Janet using a pen name in 97’ and couldn’t use her real name for various reasons. So a lot of people didn’t even realize it was her until later when they put out the second edition in 2009. We have a real mutual respect for each other. We don’t agree on every little issue, but nobody does.
Well if its two people with the exact same ideas going across the country teaching things then you don’t get the whole perspective.
It’s true and there’s a generational issue too. I’m 32 and she’s 61. It’s literally a generation gap of difference. I can’t imagine what it was like to try to be polyamorous in the 90’s when she was forging the path. I have no concept of that and of actually the lived experience of that.
It makes for very lively debates on each other’s Facebook wall. I love that. Conversing deeply, onstage and off, with my idols and literature mentors is just incredible. They inspire me constantly. I really value the words and insight of queer women.
That’s incredible, I’m personally a huge fan of The Ethical Slut. It was one of the first books I read when I got into the BDSM lifestyle and I think its really incredible that you’ve managed to make all of this come together, its really great for everyone to benefit from it. Are the people coming to your classes is it primarily lifestlyers or people fro the general public or curious?
That question is similar to who goes to a sex toy shop.
There are percentages that lean toward the lifestyle and others lean toward the more open minded, but there are curious people who just go in and look around. There are monogamous people who will never experiment with this lifestyle that will come to my events in order to be exposed to it and to learn about it and to have their curiosity sated. That can feel a bit like a circus sideshow, but I’m quite the entertainer, so I love it. There are a lot of couples who are actively in the process of opening up which I always recommend to them to buy the book Opening Up by Tristan Taomino. Because I have little experience in opening up. I’ve done it maybe once or twice. The rest of the time, I’ve tried to start open and poly from day one and stay that way. I greatly dislike the idea of forming an established, monogamous relationship for months or years, and then trying to open that up. So there’s only so much I know about that process and no one is better at teaching it than Tristan. I can’t wait to join her on stage in San Diego around June 23rd. We’re still solidifying some details. It will be sometime that weekend.
Got it. For someone maybe looking for a relationship or has discovered that they are more interested in a non monogamous or potential poly situation, what advice would you offer them?
Number one goal: Seek community. Whether it’s online or locally, you need actual friends living this life as role models, because there are none. If you look to mainstream theatre and film, the last mainstream film that I’m aware of that had any kind of consensual non-monogamy was “Savages” in 2012. That was four years ago! How many films have featured monogamy in them since then? All of them? (Laughs)
In recent times Netflix and other networks like it are catering to the niches and specifically feature a lot more diversity in that are. “House of Cards” is a hot topic right now, featuring an open and consensual polyamorous marriage. Of course there are all kinds of other flaws in those lead characters, which is a problem. We’re seeing limited exposure of our lifestyle being presented by ethically flawed characters. But there will be more representation as time goes on. Since we don’t have much presence in the media, we need to seek our own representation and role models in the community. They’re our best source for advice and examples of what went right and how to avoid what might go wrong. Even the books that you might buy, which the three tops books are The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and More Than Two, those are the three most important. If you’re doing this lifestyle and you haven’t read those books you’re being negligent. You’ve got to read those three books. Take the time and do it!
Even those books tend to lean toward what works. Sometimes you learn the most from what really crashed and burned. You’re going to get both from your community: the horror stories and the process of growth, since we all go through this. I’m constantly reminding people that I used to be a virgin! It’s true. Really.
Also, I used to be monogamous. I was not always this conversant on the topic. So don’t expect yourself to be from day one saying, “Oh I just declared yesterday that I’m polyamorous and now I know everything and I know how to do this.” The reality is that this is a second adolescence. I have co-opted and pulled that term from gay and trans culture when you suddenly declare yourself as a new sexual identity. There is a learning process that takes 4 or 5 years, not 4 or 5 months.
It’s almost like you’re 14 again. You don’t know how to talk to your crush and then you muster the courage and do it, finally. You get up the nerve or they hit on you and get over your bashfulness. Your first handful of relationships are super rocky and bizarre. You don’t know what you’re doing, but you think you do. You picture someone as a lifelong partner. You start fantasizing about exchanging last names and then you grow up. You’re an adult and you go, “Wow, I didn’t know nothin back then.”
Most importantly, we have to forgive ourselves. I’m not saying this to denounce anyone. I’m saying we all need to have forgiveness of ourselves and to be understanding of each other. We’re all learning and growing. It never ends. Even at this point in my experience, I’m still learning all the time. I make mistakes often. People ask me, “How did you get here as an alt relationship educator?” and I tell them, “I fucked up a lot and then I figured out how I fucked up and how to fuck up less. “
I was actually going to ask if you’re willing to talk about any of your personal mistakes you might have made along the way.
Sure! That’s a big reason why I’m in these shoes today. I have no shame or qualms about admitting my failures and people appreciate that. It puts them at ease that they’re not some pathetic freak and that I’m some god of this stuff, because I’m not. I’m in a position of undeserved authority.
Ok here’s one: I was about two years into my relationship with Wicked. We’re going to have our four year anniversary next week.
Thank you! Some people struggle to remember one anniversary. I’ve got three to remember. So I had a crush on this other girl for years, many years. And we had started dating each other. We had been dating about two months and I was overly excited. This was a big crush come true for me. She was excited and so was I and I got caught up in what’s called New Relationship Energy. NRE is a pretty common term in this community. In a nut shell, it’s an overwhelming amount of excitement and bonding with a new partner, also known as the Honeymoon Period.
It usually lasts three to six months, but you get caught up. And that’s not a problem when you’re only seeing one person, but when you already have established partners that can be very unnerving for them. It can feel like they’re not good enough or they’re being replaced. Abandonment issues can crop up. Or just the envy of, “Wow, you’re so excited for her. Why aren’t you that excited for me still? You used to be excited for me. I don’t mind that you’re excited for her. I just want you to be equally excited for me too.”
I’ve experience a lot of “me too.” That envy versus jealousy is an important distinction. Thinking I want to take it from you is jealousy vs. just me too. And now to circle around back to me point, here’s the mistake I made: I’m laying in bed next to Wicked texting this other girl and me and Wicked had just had sex and we’d just finished cuddling and were just chilling. But now I’m literally just laying there for ten minutes texting this other girl right next to Wicked. At some point, Wicked had enough of that and spoke up and said, “Do you have to do that right now?” And this wasn’t the first time that I’d been caught up in texting this new girl while with Wicked. I just had to admit it. Whoa. I really fucked up. I have to stop doing this. That’s it. And then we had to negotiate what was reasonable. I like to be responsive so if anyone texts me, I’ll send 1 or 2 texts back, but that’s it. You gotta cut it off at a respectful point.
That’s a really good example.
It’s important to remember that I’m in an undeserved position of authority. I have no license, no urge to get a license, no degree in this field, because there really isn’t one besides being a therapist. And I’m never going to seek that license, because I don’t want to be held back by anything. Licensing boards can be very discriminatory regarding what you say to the public and whether you can keep your license or not.
I want to be an open book. I want to tell the world about my mistakes and successes and all the naughty stuff that I do. This is my life. With that in mind, no one is the ultimate authority in these fields, even someone as legendary as Janet or Tristan or any of the other people that will be on stage with me across the nation. I purposely make a panel on that stage, not a singular voice. I’m not making a lecture. I don’t have a lesson plan. And we disagree on that stage by design.
It’s important to remember that once you break outside of hundreds of years of hetero-normativity, now you’re rewriting all of the rules and redefining everything. You’re coining new words. In the end, each person is their own personal authority and then later, you can learn from your mistakes and change your mind.
Having gained experience in multiple forms of non-monogamous relationship since 2002, Ryan “Wry” Mantione advocates being well-informed regarding options and alternatives to a hetero-normative, traditional love life, as well as maintaining dialogue with partners. Wry has featured as a speaker or panelist at the following: International Polyamory Conference 2015 at Berkeley,SPLA’s Redefining Sex in the 21st Century held at UCLA, Psychology of Close Relationships course at Harvey Mudd College, Infinite Love Community, and DomCon LA. you can contact Wry via his website or Fetlife.