Tag Archives: belonging

Deep Democracy: Coming to Understand My Polyamory

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

This is the first in a series of articles about the intersections of polyamorous identities and psychotherapy, adapted from my article in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, “Social and therapeutic challenges facing polyamorous clients” (Henrich & Trawinski 2016).  In this installment, I explore the ways in Process Work influenced my understanding of polyamory and drove my research into the topic.

What Is Process Work?
In the late 1970’s, Arnold Mindell founded Process Work (otherwise known as Process-Oriented Psychology), which has its roots in Jungian psychology, physics, and Taoism. In very general terms, the practice of Process Work is one of understanding people’s “processes,” or said another way, the flow of experience as it unfolds in oneself and in the environment. “The Taoist view of life assumes that the way things are unfolding contains the basic elements necessary for solving human problems.” 1 In order to stay close to this “unfolding,” Process Work is focused on expanding personal awareness and “paying attention both to events that support your identity and to the disavowed aspects of life—to which you do not usually pay attention—that disturb.”2

As an awareness paradigm, Process Work has a wide range of applications including individual work, relationship work, and group conflict facilitation work. In the sections that follow, I discuss some of the Process Work theories and methods that have been most helpful to me as a person involved in a polyamorous relationship, as a clinician and as a support group facilitator for people who identify as or are exploring polyamory and consensual non-monogamy (CNM).

Believing in My Path of Heart
One of the greatest gifts that Process Work has given me is the ability to accept my wild, adventurous, intense, and outrageous nature with greater ease. As much as I knew I could never really deviate from my deepest self and path of heart, I was nonetheless intermittently conflicted about my relationship scene and wondered if something might be wrong with me, wrong with us. I had a tendency to pathologize my curiosity, my intensity, my sexual explorations, my counter-culture relationship, and my general out-of- the-boxness, but Process Work helped me to see the value in my own inner diversity. It offered a perspective that emphasized “the belief that inherent within even the most difficult problem lays the seed of its solution.” 3 In other words, Process Work suggests that what you doubt about yourself or what you think is wrong with you may in fact be the seed of something beautiful and useful that wants to unfold and be lived more completely. For me, the idea that my family’s polyamorous relationship might somehow be perfect and hold exactly what is needed was a radical and deeply relieving perspective.

Process Work does not rely on preconceived notions of what is right or wrong, “it follows experiences rather than holding fast to any culturally determined standards.” 4 According to Julie Diamond and Lee Spark Jones, “following the flow of process involves caring for the absurd and impossible and going against conventional beliefs and ways of seeing things. … [it] also involves going with what is happening in a given moment, rather than resisting it.” 5 This lack of judgment, attention to personal experience, and respect for the unconventional was liberating. As I began to unfold and follow the flow of my individual and relationship experiences, my internalized judgments and resistance began to slowly dissolve. This cleared the way for me to embrace my path of heart more fully.

In the words of Arnold Mindell:

The path of heart makes you feel strong and happy about your life because it follows your dreams, your dreaming body, your mythical task. … If you view the world from the path of heart, you understand it to be the place … that you need in order to grow. The world is awful and awesome; from the viewpoint of the path of heart, what happens is meant to be used, completely and fully … to find our entire selves. 6

By bringing forth awareness of how polyamory is an aspect of my life myth (or the path of my life), Process Work has helped me to de-pathologize my view of myself and my relationships. It has kept me close to the dreaming and meaning that flows through this path, and it has paved the way for greater self-development and relationship growth.

Becoming Aware of Marginalization and Internalized Oppression
Cindy, Tom, and I have always been aware that our non-monogamous relationship meant that we were outside the mainstream, but Process Work provided me with the additional framing of marginalization, which has helped tremendously. To realize that non-mainstream people are marginalized by the dominant culture in such a way that it leads to internalized oppression confirmed my experience and provided some relief. As Mindell points out, in addition to external forms of oppression, discrimination and bias, “many people from minority groups are plagued by self-doubt, self-hatred or hopelessness and think these feelings are only their own problems” 7, when in reality these people “suffer from different forms of internalized oppression picked up from the mainstream.” 8

It is often difficult to recognize internalized oppression because it can take on the form of an inner critic, a relationship argument, or some other personal manifestation, but Process Work helped me to de-personalize it and wake up to the ways in which our family’s difficulties and feelings of self-doubt were not entirely our own. Such pervasive forces can creep into a polyamorous relationship and have a huge impact on the interactions and atmosphere of the relationship. “You can exhaust yourself dealing with your personal pain and fighting, not only the mainstream, but members in your [relationship] who are unconscious of oppression’s effects.” 9 In addition, internalized oppression and inner criticism can enhance and reinforce marginalization that occurs within the relationship and between the members. Having some awareness of the internalized oppression goes a long way towards minimizing these effects, because “every time you free yourself from a sense of internal oppression, you begin to transform the cultures [and relationships] you live in.” 10

 

Read the remainder of this article and learn more about deep democracy and polyamory at the KPACT website.

More to Love: Polyamory in the Real World

On May 30, 2017, I was part of an interview for Chicago Tonight which aired on Chicago’s PBS station WTTW regarding polyamorous relationships.  In the on air interview, I share my experience of being in a polyamorous relationship for over 34 years.  I am joined in the interview by Caroline Kearns of Chicago Polyamory Connection who talks about her polycule and Jennifer Rafacz, PhD of the Family Institute at Northwestern University who brings her perspective to the conversation.  Below is a supplemental interview with me.  For the full post, please visit the Chicago Tonight website.

A 2016 study by the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy suggests that as many as one in five single Americans report having engaged in consensual non-monogamy, or the practice of having two or more romantic partners.

Indeed, non-monogamy is experiencing a cultural moment in media recently, showing up as the subject of New York Times think pieces and as a plot driver in television dramas. Proponents of polyamory say that it’s simply about bringing more love and honesty into their relationships.

But when those relationships bump up against everyday life, does more love mean more complications?

Below, Q&As with Rami Henrich of Lifeworks Psychotherapy.

How would you describe your family and how it came to be?

Rami Henrich: I have been in a poly relationship since 1983. I was married in 1976 to a man, and I met my partner, who is a woman, in 1983. My husband was okay about opening the relationship to include my partner. Over a period of some time, we decided to all live together. We have lived together for 26 years. I think in the community, we’re kind of seen as the elders because we’ve really made it work. And ours is a very specific constellation – we have a more or less monogamous poly relationship – none of us goes outside the three of us. None of us is interested in that – but if any of us wanted to do it, we’d talk about it. I have my primary relationship with each of them, and their primary relationship is me. So we three have raised children together. My husband and I birthed two children. My partner Cindy isn’t considered a parent, but a family member. We raised two kids together but I didn’t know anything about polyamory. We were slashing through the institutionalized bushes together, school issues, how do you tell the kids, family, friends. It was a big coming out process over the years.

Probably like the early ‘90s was the first time I heard the word “polyamory.” It was really interesting to me to find out there was a community doing something similar to what we were doing and we weren’t alone. We joined a Chicago poly meetup group, and after I had gone to a book club or two, I saw something on their site saying they were looking for a therapist to facilitate a support group. My partner and I started facilitating that group once a month now for eight years, and we had 1,000 to 2,000 people come through that group. I was shocked the first day that I said that I would do it, within 24 hours we had 20 people signed up with a wait list of 10. Over the years I would say somewhere between 25 and 45 people a month show up for those meetings. It’s created an extraordinary community – before Lifeworks became Lifeworks, some of those people started seeing me in my private practice, so it was a natural direction to go in because the poly community created a demand for support. I had always wanted to find a way to help marginalized communities. It found me.

How did you realize you wanted a poly relationship?

RH: For me personally it was that I loved somebody other than my husband – I thought, why do I have to choose? I’m kind of a deconstructionist by nature – I would think to myself, why do I have to choose, who says I have to love my father more than my mother, my sister more than I love my brother? Some people come to that early in life – why do I need to say no to this one and yes to that? Who makes up this binary system around our loving? I found myself wanting to be with more than one person – I did early in my life come to a group in Boston where it was allowed and was accepted – I was a hippie, what can I tell you – it helped to shape the way I thought later.

What was the coming-out process like?

RH: In the beginning I was very cautious about who I told – I had a difficult time letting my parents know about it, because I thought they might try to take my children from me, which they didn’t. My mother at the time said “good for you that you have all this love in your life.” It was such a gift. My father didn’t understand what I was talking about. My siblings in particular, they were open but they still took a long time to wrap their heads around what was really going on here. If we didn’t tell people in our lives, our friends, our neighbors, they wouldn’t know – they saw the three of us coming and going but nobody ever really asked us what’s going on. I say that in our neighborhood we all have “white picket fences,” but ours is quite crooked. It wasn’t until I was interviewed for a north shore magazine where I spoke professionally about  what was going on, that our neighbors were like, oh, so that’s what’s going on. And I think we’d be surprised to find out how many crooked fences there are.

What are the relationship problems poly relationships face that monogamous relationships don’t?

RH: One of the biggest things is opening up, if one party is really open to it and another is being dragged into it, how to negotiate all the things like jealousy, time, the legitimization of certain relationships like those who are married vis a vis those who aren’t, the primacy of relationships, the marginalization within the relationships, who gets the most of a partner, who gets the least, opening up to their families, how to deal with being poly and having children.

This paper I wrote speaks specifically about the unique issues of poly clients. You have to deal with more than one relationship – some of the constellations are much bigger than us – having to manage their time, their energy, their money, their place in the world, all of those kinds of things get exponentially more difficult with more people in a relationship.

Some people that have come in for therapy try to get me to say they’re poly to legitimize screwing around. And I tell them, I just think you want to have a lot of affairs and you want your wife to say okay. I wouldn’t say it happens a lot but I have seen it. But I think that it is for most a serious endeavor.

Do you think this generation will embrace poly life?

RH: I think the young people are really latching on to it – but there’s something about the culture of being poly where everything is based on a principle of openness and honesty, so everyone knows about one another. I find the endeavor very truthful and sincere. Some people identify being poly as being hard-wired and others are endeavoring to live a poly lifestyle. There’s a wave of more acceptance around alternative lifestyle, so I think it gave more room to endeavor to be poly.

Do you think that poly life is accurately portrayed in the media?

RH: Mostly what I see on TV is they’re kinda oddballish – I think that there are many people on the fringes who are practicing poly but there are many mainstream – being poly is not exactly mainstream. I may not be paying attention to a lot of it but I think the things I have seen try to oversensationalize the sex part of it. When somebody called me to televise our poly relationship for a reality show, I said, you would be bored watching the three of us watch TV.

Your Best Friend Tells You They Are Kinky

leather pride flag
Credit: Leather Pride Flag image by Marcus Schmöger and António Martins, 31 March 2005

by Carrie Jameson, LCPC

So, your best friend tells you they are kinky and/or they practice BDSM (Bondage and Discipline [BD], Dominance and Submission [Ds], Sadism and Masochism [SM]). Whether it is your best friend, a sibling, parent, or child,  you may want to be an ally, but simply don’t know what to do or say.

Before you go further, it might be helpful for you to try the following thought exercise.

THOUGHT EXERCISE
Think back in your life to something that was special or precious. Remember how you felt. You may have wanted to tell someone close or trusted about this precious thing, experience or person, but maybe you were nervous too. Ask yourself the following questions and make a note of your answers:

  • What did you feel in anticipation of telling them?
  • What kinds of thoughts did you have before you told that person?
  • How did you prepare for the conversation?
  • What were your concerns? What was at risk for you?
  • How did you hope that person would react?
  • How did they react and respond?
  • What did you feel afterward? 

In the exercise above, you might have felt concerned, anxious, afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed about what you had to say. In the same way, it is often difficult for people to disclose their interest in kink or BDSM to friends, family, and loved ones. They may have many concerns and fears about how you will react and worries about how this new information will impact your relationship. In your role as a confidant, your response to your friend or loved one may add to feelings of fear and shame or may help to alleviate them. In part, it’s up to you.

Remember, it very likely took a lot of thought and courage for your friend or loved one to come out to you. It is still uncommon for our society to talk about sexual topics openly. BDSM is often judged and labeled as “not normal” or “wrong” by mainstream culture. Your friend or loved one is sharing a part of their life that is likely very important to them—how will you respond?

ABOUT BDSM
For some people, BDSM or being “kinky” is an identity. For some, it is an orientation. And, for others, it is both orientation and identity. Still others may consider it more of a leisure activity or serious interest (in academic research, also referred to as serious leisure) but not necessarily an orientation.  People may practice BDSM for fun, as a spiritual practice, to explore relationship dynamics, as an aspect of their sexuality, and for many other reasons. For many, it is a deep and profound experience. The person disclosing to you likely has their own way of thinking about kink or BDSM and how it fits for them, their interests, lifestyle, and identity.

HOW TO BE AN ALLY
Here are some suggestions for providing support and responding to a loved one, if they share their kink or BDSM interests with you:

  • Be curious. Ask questions if you want to understand something. You may even want to ask your friend or family member what it was like to disclose this information to you and how you can support them.
  • Trust that your friend or family member knows what they are doing, from a psychological and physical safety perspective. If you have concerns about their safety or well-being, you can share your concerns—but ask first to determine whether they are open to discussing them with you.
  • Don’t assume you know what BDSM or kink is for your friend or loved one. BDSM and kink are broad umbrellas terms that encompass many different practices and activities.  Many people have interests in some but not all of these.  It is especially risky to base your opinions, reactions, or impressions on popular media or pornography (books or movies like 50 Shades of Grey or Secretary, for example).  Instead, ask your friend or loved one how you can learn more.
  • It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Honor your feelings (and recognize that your friend or loved one may have different feelings). Go slowly in conversation if that helps; or talk a bit and then agree to return to the conversation at a later date, if that feels right. Set limits on the type or extent of detail you want to hear about someone’s kink or BDSM activities. Be direct and state your preferences—for example: “I would like to know about the club you attend but please don’t share graphic details of scenes with me just yet.”
  • Don’t assume an interest in BDSM or kink is related to past trauma or any psychological dysfunction. In fact, studies have shown that people who participate in BDSM show lower levels of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other psychological concerns.
  • Resist blaming kink or BDSM for other issues. Don’t assume your friend’s relationship challenges or psychological difficulties are automatically related to their kink practices.
  • Honor the trust shown to you. Remember this person trusted you with a confidence. Don’t out them (i.e., disclose this information) to others without their consent. They may have told you, but may not want their participation in BDSM more broadly known.
  • If you want more information, you can also do some research on kink and BDSM. Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s When Someone you Love is Kinky may be a good place to start. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) website also provides a variety of articles and resources. You may want to ask your friend or loved one about other resources they would recommend.

Read more of Carrie’s posts here.

The Pain is Our Pain

IMG_2904By Brandon Haydon

The pain is our pain.
It is the wound in the world and
we are of the world.
I know that all moments,
across the whole of humanity,
are occasions of suffering and joy,
beyond my scope.

I suppose that when a blow lands
so close to heart and home,
the perimeter I hold against the tides of sorrow
breaks like a levee, and I risk such deluge.
The dark roil of Her great injury takes my breath.
Like black waves made of such gravity
that my light cannot escape.
For a moment longer than time,
in that numb, drowned dungeon, in a hole in the world,
I forget that it is not the whole of the world.

Camus inquires, “what else is there to do but live?”

And living is the celebration of the love
from which we emerge, deeper than our knowing
or our feeling because it is the love from the Source
where they are still the same.
I choose it.
My sight is bleary and my heart is pierced
and chained but I see you all stir and rise beside me.
I rise.
I remember.
I hail you, the other ships upon the roil.
Like lanterns that shatter the illusion of starless night.
Breaking the dark horizon with hope of a thousand
soul-sized suns in the fire-bled sky.

8 Ways to Take Action Against Islamophobia

image

by Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D.

Prejudice, stereotyping, bias—however we understand these tendencies and attitudes, we can learn to identify, confront, wrestle with, accept, and change them within ourselves. Sometimes, however, doing so is possible only with great difficulty.

Discrimination takes many forms, including harassment, bullying, hate speech, and scapegoating. Such behaviors put others at risk, cause harm and—at times—may even threaten lives. Given our current national and global tensions, what can an ordinary person do to reduce Islamophobia and the threat it poses to us all?

Shortly before the holidays, Gary Reiss, Ph.D., a process worker and LifeWorks colleague in Portland, OR, sent an email to our community about curbing Islamophobia wherever we encounter it. Gary’s email referenced Huffington Post article written by Manal Omar, Associate Vice-President of Middle East and Africa Center at the United States Institute of Peace. In that article, Omar shares eight actions anyone can take to help concretely reduce the threat Islamic Americans may feel in the our nation’s current political climate.

I am reposting the actions that Omar enumerated.  You may want to think about and consider using some or all of these in your daily life.

Tangible actions anyone can take to reduce Islamophobia in their community:

  • If you see a Muslim or someone who might be identified as Muslim being harassed, stop, say something, intervene, and call for help. If you see people abusing authority, stand firm against profiling.
  • If you ride public transportation, sit next to the hijabi (head scarf) woman and greet her. The fear of being in public for women in particular is increasing every day. A small act of kindness can have a transformative impact.
  • Engage the Muslims in your life. Make sure you really feel comfortable standing for and with your Muslim friends, neighbors, coworkers. If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in. Tell them that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you’re there for them. The concern and support I have received my colleagues is heartwarming and reminds me of my place here in the US.
  • If you have neighbors who are Muslim, keep an eye out for them. If you’re walking your kids home from the bus stop, invite their kids to walk with you.
  • Talk to your kids. They’re picking up on the anti-Muslim message. Make sure they know how you feel and talk to them about what they can do when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school.
  • Help fill the public space with positive messaging over the hate. Write letters to the editors and be aware of your social media posts.
  • Call your state and local representatives, let them know that you are concerned about hate speech against your Muslim friends and neighbors in politics and the media. Ask your representatives to be aware of new laws on visas and other issues that would create second class citizens.
  • Out yourself as someone who rejects Islamophobia and discrimination of any kind.

Click here to read Manal Omar’s article, “As a Muslim, My Heart Freezes with Fear,” in its entirety.

Omar ends his article with the following words (emphasis mine):

“Terror is fear-inspiring. Fear is paralyzing. Let’s stand up, stand tall, stand strong.”

If you or someone you care about has experienced Islamophobia or any kind of bias based on a negative attitude toward a certain religious, cultural, or spiritual belief or expression of identity, know that you are not alone. Religious and spiritual minorities often face harassment, prejudice, and stereotyping, sometimes on a daily basis. Whether this treatment arises from ignorance or malicious intent, it frequently leads to feelings of frustration, isolation, depression, ostracism, anger, self-hatred, and hopelessness—feelings your aggressor may, in fact, be tangling with themselves.

As each of us travels on our own journey of self exploration, only you can determine which spiritual path you choose to follow or disregard. However, as Manal Omar makes clear, there are some simple steps all of us can take to challenge discrimination, comfort those who are hurt, and seek help when we need it. Making the corner of the world where we live a safer place is something each of us can do.

Becoming a Poly Ally: How to Start

poly ally
Photo: Alex Cook, via Google Creative Commons

by Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D.

This blog was inspired by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) blog How to Be a LGBTQ Ally.  I am grateful to HRC for their groundbreaking leadership in the fight for the rights of LGBT people in US and around the world.  To read the original HRC blog, click http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/how-to-be-an-lgbt-ally

For a lot of people, learning that someone you know and care about is non-monogamous, polyamorous, opening up their marriage or charting their own course in the relationship world can be frightening, confusing and challenging.  If you are a parents, sibling, friend, co-worker who cares and means well, you may find you have unexpectedly strong emotional reactions to hearing the news.  You may feel confused, stunned, perplexed, worried, shy, excited, jealous, annoyed, curious, awkward or embarrassed.  This news may bring up old relationship wounds or conflicts.  And, at times, it may be hard to know how to interact with your friend or loved one. What to say? What not to say? How to talk about being polyamorous or non-monogamous?  How to be supportive? How to get comfortable with something that you may have never thought about before? — How to become a poly ally?

An “ally” is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of a marginalized person or group.  Allies are found inside and outside of the poly community. Allies can be heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer.  Allies can be monogamous, divorced, separated, partnered, married, non-monogamous, open, poly or swingers.   Allies don’t have to give up their identities to support others in finding and living a poly or non-monogamous relationship.

The Human Rights Campaign identified 5 ways to be an LGBT ally and I would like to expand their suggestions to readers who are developing an alliance with non-monogamous or poly individuals.

  1. Be honest:  It’s important to be honest with yourself — acknowledging your feelings, your judgements and maybe even your biases towards relationships. Coming to terms with your feelings and reactions may take time. Sometimes seeking out a poly-friendly therapist or counselor helps. And being honest means being honest with the person who came out in your life — acknowledging you aren’t an expert, asking them what’s important to them, seeking resources to better understand the realities of being a non-monogamous individual so that you can be truly informed and supportive.
  2. Send gentle signals:Showing and sharing your acceptance and support can be very easy. Many people often don’t realize that non-monogamous people keep watch for signs from their friends, family and acquaintances about whether it is safe to be open with them.
  3. Have courage:Just as it takes courage for people exploring non-monogamy to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support them. We live in a society where prejudice still exists and where discrimination is still far too common. The strong bias towards monogamous heterosexual coupling leading to marriage is very much alive and often unrecognized. Even imagining for a moment what your friend or love one is facing is coming out to you and giving your support to them will take your relationship to a higher level and is a small, but important step toward a better and more accepting world.
  4. Be reassuring:If it is true for you, let your friend or loved one know that the relationship constellation they are in or exploring does not change how you feel about them, but it might take a little while for you to digest what they have told you. Let them know you still care for and respect them as much as you ever have or more. And if it is right for you tell them that you want to do right by them and that you welcome them telling you if anything you say or do is upsetting.
  5. Let your support inform your decisions:Being an ally is about developing and deepening understanding of what it means to be open, poly or non-monogamous.  Developing an authentically supportive stance is a journey and a process in yourself and in your relationship with your friend or loved one as well as in your relationship with the world — which often is not so welcoming of diversity in relationship constellations.

How To Be a LGBT Ally

images

by Hayley Miller

This post originally appeared on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) blog on October 5, 2015,  in advance of National Coming Out Day.  It was written by Hayley Miller, Senior Digital Media Associate.  We think it contains valuable information for anyone wanting to become more affirming and supportive to LGBT friends and family members.

For a lot of people, learning that someone they know and care about is LGBT can open a range of emotions, from confused to concerned, awkward to honored. It may be hard to know how to react, leaving you with questions about what to say, how to talk about being LGBT and wanting to know what you can do to be supportive.

An “ally” is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of LGBT people. It encompasses non-LGBT allies as well as those within the LGBT community who support each other, e.g. a lesbian who is an ally to the bisexual community.

Here are five ways you can be an LGBT ally:

  1. Be honest:  It’s important to be honest with yourself — acknowledging your feelings and coming to terms with them. And it means being honest with the person who came out in your life — acknowledging you aren’t an expert, asking them what’s important to them, seeking resources to better understand the realities of being an LGBT individual so that you can be truly informed and supportive.
  2. Send gentle signals: Showing and sharing your acceptance and support can be very easy. Many people often don’t realize that LGBT people keep watch for signs from their friends, family and acquaintances about whether it is safe to be open with them. It can be as subtle as having an LGBT-themed book on your coffee table.
  3. Have courage: Just as it takes courage for LGBT people to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support your LGBT friends or loved ones. We live in a society where prejudice still exists and where discrimination is still far too common. Recognizing these facts and giving your support to that person will take your relationship to a higher level and is a small step toward a better and more accepting world.
  4. Be reassuring: Explain to a someone who came out to you that their sexual orientation or gender identity has not changed how you feel about them, but it might take a little while for you to digest what they have told you. You still care for and respect them as much as you ever have or more. And that you want to do right by them and that you welcome them telling you if anything you say or do is upsetting.
  5. Let your support inform your decisions: It’s about working to develop a true understanding of what it means to be LGBT in America and trying to do your part to help break down the walls of prejudice and discrimination that still exist — for example, by supporting businesses with appropriate anti-discrimination policies, saying you don’t appreciate “humor” that demeans LGBT people when it happens or learning about where political candidates stand on issues that have an impact on the LGBT community.

HRC’s Coming Out as a Supporter resource, made in partnership with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National, is intended to be a welcoming guide for supporters to build bridges of understanding when someone they know comes out to them as LGBT. The guide answers initial questions and shares facts, strategies, and ways to show your support as an ally in the fight for LGBT equality.

Read the guide in full here.

Real Life in a Polyamorous Family — The Long Haul

polyamorous family
Photo: Robert Ashworth, Flickr Creative Commons

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

The following is an excerpt from an article that I wrote for Elizabeth Sheff’s book, Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families. The first of its kind, this anthology collects stories and essays written by and about real people living in “polycules”: the networks between people in polyamorous relationships.

One afternoon when my son was six, he was playing with a friend in the front yard. It was a beautiful fall day and the boys were doing what many boys do on a beautiful fall day: collecting leaves into huge piles and jumping headlong into them. It’s amazing how many piles kids can make and how many hours they can entertain themselves doing that!

Who’s the Mama?
My partner, Cindy, and I were a few feet away cleaning out the garage, when my son  and his friend, Matt, sauntered into the garage covered with leaves from head to toe. My son said, “Matt wants to know who is the mama? Who is she?” he said pointing at Cindy. I replied, “Well, just tell him that I’m your mom.” My son  turned to Matt, “That’s my mom”, he said, pointing to me. A moment later he returned, “Mom, Matt wants to know who Cindy is.” “Just tell her she is part of our family,” I said. “She’s part of our family,” he said to Matt as they ran into another crackling pile of leaves.

At age six, that answer sufficed, but as my son  got older it became more and more difficult for him to come up with an answer that would not only satisfy others but also himself. At the time, there were no easy answers to these seemingly easy questions, no role models or words to describe Cindy’s role in our family configuration.

Me in Common
Before going any further, perhaps it would be useful to explain our family’s relationship dynamic. Tom and I are  legally married. In fact, we were married twice: once in Bombay, India in 1976 while living in an ashram, and a second time in a Jewish ceremony in my parents’ apartment with a handful of family members in attendance. We have two biological children (a daughter born in 1978 and a son born in 1990). Cindy and I have been partners in a relationship since 1983, and we have lived together  since 1992.

Cindy and Tom have a close, supportive relationship that involves more than friendship, in part, because they have me in common. They have travelled together, and supported one another when either one of them was in relationship turmoil with me. As a result, there is a closeness between them that differs from other friendships.  They do not have an intimate sexual relationship, yet they are closely related. If asked if they are polyamorous, both Tom and Cindy would say that they are in a polyamorous relationship but that they do not identify as polyamorous. This is because they are not in love with two people; each of them loves me, and I am the one who has multiple loves. I deeply love both Tom and Cindy, and feel fortunate to have had so much love in my life.

As for myself, I am not entirely sure of how I identify. It is still an unfolding question and answer for me, but for the purposes of this inquiry, I will refer to myself as polyamorous. Hearing  the word for the first time in the mid 90s and calling myself a polyamorist felt like a bit of a retro-fit; giving myself an established name and identity where once there was none. I didn’t have a problem with the word, but it felt a bit like a suit of clothing that didn’t quite yet fit or like a wool sweater that caused my skin to itch. Regardless of whether it fit perfectly or not, polyamory does describe a life relationship pattern that is meaningful to me and, I have found, to others.

Loving more than one person is not always a walk in the park. Much of my work, as a psychotherapist, focuses on the challenges facing people in polyamorous relationships. It has been a difficult undertaking for my family to carve its own path in the world, and by bringing forth parts of our story here, I hope to articulate some of the difficulties and joys of living an unconventional lifestyle that is still in the margins of today’s mainstream culture. When Cindy, Tom and I decided to live together as a family, we hadn’t thought it out, we didn’t have a plan or a map, and we didn’t know anyone else living like this. We just thought we’d give it a go and try it out, telling ourselves, “How difficult could it be?” Not only were there no role models or advisers, but we hardly had the courage to speak with anyone in our community for fear of how they might react to our lifestyle.

To read more of Rami’s chapter, please check out a copy of Elizabeth Sheff’s Stories from the Polycule, available on Amazon.

I Smile

rami-retouched-no-glare

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

I’ve been thinking lately about how much we all experience pain and suffering. Not exactly an uplifting thought, I admit. Yet, when I think about being human, I think that throughout all time, every one of us endures suffering, some more, some less. What a condition, this human one is!

A moment ago, a new client phoned me. As we spoke, I asked how he found me. He mentioned that he’d looked at dozens of therapy websites and what attracted him to me was my smile — not what I said about therapy, not all my education or experience. It was my smile.

“Wow!” I thought. In the midst of his suffering what touched him was my smile.

Of course, a smile evokes diverse thoughts, feelings, reactions. He said when he saw my smile, he thought, “Someone is happy out there.” Another client who had also responded to my smile said, “I imagined sitting across from a smiling face and thought that happiness, or at least a degree of contentment, was possible for me, too.”

As the holidays are upon us, I am aware of those who have much, those who have enough, and those who have little. Perhaps, in the midst of the holiday shopping craze (not that I don’t like a gift here and there), what we can give one another is a smile. I’m talking about an authentic smile, one that comes in a moment when we see another and recognize something human and shared. I believe we are hungry for warmth and acceptance and perhaps a smile conveys, at least for a moment, that the person you are smiling at matters. And that, I believe, is a wonderful and meaningful gift.

Happy holidays to all.

Longing for Belonging

img005

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

The Chicago Polyamory Support Group is now into its 6th year. The group has welcomed hundreds of people through its doors. Being an open support group, anyone can come at any time. Each month a topic is selected and each time the discussion flows — both on and off topic as the group process unfolds.

A recent topic was “Telling Our Stories,” — sharing ourselves and listening with hearts open and attentive minds. Thirty people gathered and each person had the opportunity (if they so chose) to tell their story — embracing an in-the-moment, impromptu telling. Nothing prepackaged or prepared ahead of time. What happened was moving, touching, inspiring, brought tears to my eyes and smiles to my lips for 2 hours.

Whether 30 seconds or 3 minutes in duration, each story spoke to the depths of each person who shared…stories of sadness, endurance, strength, tenderness, upbringings filled with love and caring, pain and sorrow. One theme that echoed throughout the room was that of feeling “weird, an outsider, of not belonging” both in families of origin and over the course of time in the world. The feeling of not belonging mirrored the experiences I have written about in a paper on the concerns and issues unique to polyamorous clients who seek psychotherapy. Interesting!

The Chicago Poly Support Group has grown into a community of people who provide a home where those of us who feel on the fringes of mainstream society can bring our “outsiderness” in and feel inside, where we, who feel weird, can feel normal in our weirdness, where those of us who feel like we don’t belong, do belong.

Longing for belonging, so personal, and so universal — especially for those of us who may feel that we don’t.