But Isn’t Polyamory Bad for Children?

a cosplayer dressed as Xena Warrior Princess
Image by Docking Bay 93 / CC BY

Every morning I said hello to my third roommate: Xena Warrior Princess.

She was cardboard, all 6 feet of her, and well dressed for any occasion in her armored dress, her chakra at the ready, her smoky bedroom eyes daring me to just go ahead — get too perky before a reasonable hour. See what would happen to me.

But I’d stumble to the kitchen and make coffee instead of risking a beheading.

I shared the apartment with my older sister May and her girlfriend. They’d picked up Xena from a friend who worked in a video store.

The coffee we drank in those days wasn’t very good, mind you. Cheap and tinny. My sister was only 19, working at Dunkin Donuts. And suddenly saddled with her kid sister, who at 12 years old was too young to have a job.

But we had a good time. After her shift, she’d bring home leftover donuts for me. I slept on the couch. Played Dragon Warrior 4 on NES on an extra TV someone had given her. Each night I’d sleep buried under a large blanket our great grandmother had crocheted before her mind went. An afghan with one of those hideous color schemes that seem to have been outlawed in recent decades.

My sister May was a strikingly beautiful 90’s butch lesbian. A dead ringer for John Cusack. She didn’t have much, but what she did have, she shared with me. I’d been ousted from home by circumstances that May and I didn’t talk about, since we were just as allergic to emotional processing as most Mainers. Instead, she let me crash at her place and hang out with her girlfriend during the day. And on certain evenings, we were accompanied by a handful of her many friends, which at times seemed like they made up quite a large portion of Bangor’s lesbian population.

They were just as butch as my sister, most even butcher. And lord were they funny. Some of my best memories from that time are drinking coffee with them as they made jokes about things that I didn’t even begin to understand.

I told them about my experiences with girls my own age. I’d been making out with them a while, something I hadn’t yet done with a boy. “I’m just practicing with girls though. You know. For boys. The real thing,” I added. Which resulted in a lot of laughter that went over my head.

I asked uninformed clunky questions that make me shudder now: “So how do you decide which of you is going to be the girl and which is going to be the boy?”

My sister just laughed and said that straight relationships were like eating with a knife and a fork and that being a lesbian was more like eating with chopsticks.

“Oh, that explains it,” I said. “I can’t eat with chopsticks worth a damn.”

Again the butches all laughed, but I never felt picked on.

I’m sure I must have been awfully amusing. A tiny little lipstick femme who was so set in my ways about what relationships could be. Oblivious to my own burgeoning queerness.

I’m sure they saw it. From a mile away. But they never said a thing. Never pushed me towards the knowledge that I was anything other than straight.

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I’d first heard the term “gay” on the school bus in elementary school.

When I’d asked a fellow rider what “gay” meant, they told me it was a word for grown men who liked to molest little boys.

A bit later, someone else told me that the term didn’t just describe men but people in general who lacked attraction to the opposite sex, and so for companionship these asexual people turned to one another.

Then my sister came out when I was 11, and it all became even more confusing, what this whole “gay” thing meant. I wasn’t surprised that she wasn’t straight; she seemed different than my friends’ older sisters. She hadn’t had boyfriends. Dressed like a boy. Was a force on the softball field and basketball courts. Five foot eleven. Taller and stronger than my own father.

But clearly people had been misleading me about what “gay” meant. My sister clearly wasn’t asexual. She really did like women. And she didn’t seem particularly attracted to children at all. Indeed, the idea of being with someone underage horrified her.

So as I listened to people ranting out there in the big wide world about the dangers of catching “the gay,” I learned to roll my eyes.

“Isn’t homosexuality bad for children?” they’d ask.

Yeah, whatever, I’d think, surrounded by a dozen adopted 90’s lesbian mommies. Each more kind and understanding than my mercurial bible-thumping biological mother. And none of whom ever laid a hand on me.

Even today, now that I’ve grown into a bisexual woman who has a strong preference for women (Kinsey 5), I prefer femmes and tend to date women who identify as straight until they date me. I’m not sure exactly why, but I do know that I never viewed those stone butches, my sister’s friends, as potential lovers.

They were my guardian angels. No sexual tension whatsoever.

Yes, I would go on to be victimized later in life… but by straight people.

But Isn’t Polyamory Bad for Children?

I tend to do a similar eye-rolling routine these days when I hear someone say “But isn’t polyamory bad for children?”

TL;DR: No.

For people who want more meat, here’s a 4-part series on Dr. Sheff’s study of children in polyamorous families: Part 1 – Age Dependent Experiences, Part 2 – Advantages & Disadvantages, Part 3 – Strategies for Dealing with Challenges, Part 4 – Impacts on Young Adults.

I would also direct you to the post Poly Parenting 101, in which The Polyamorous Misanthrope has some good questions to ask to evaluate whether sucktastic parenting is happening or not:

The Basics

  • Are the children fed properly?
  • Do they have clothing appropriate to the weather?
  • Are they being educated appropriately? (sent to school regularly/homeschooled so that they keep up with grade level)
  • Are they getting medical attention as necessary?

Not Basic, But Important

  • Do they get appropriate attention?  This is a biggie.  When there is adult processing, sometimes kids’ needs can fall through the cracks.  Be very careful and wary of this one.  I wish I could sugar-coat it, but I can’t.
  • Are they getting personal growth opportunities?  Are they learning an instrument, learning fun skills, learning Life 101 skills?
  • Are they getting an opportunity to be involved in the community they live in?  Don’t isolate your kids because their household might be different.  They live in the real world and need to learn to relate to it.

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Additional Suggested Reading:

Margaret Jacobsen, Romper – My Kids Make Me Feel Proud to Be Polyamorous

Page Turner, Poly Land – Anchor Parenting and the Committed Poly Family

Robyn Trask, Loving More – Poly Parents and Poly Kids

Benedict Smith, Vice – I Grew Up in a Polyamorous Household

Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund – Do’s and Don’ts to Avoid Custody Challenges

Elisabeth Sheff – The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families

Rebecca Walker – One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love

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