“It’s a wrap!” The first season of Showtime’s Polyamory: Married and Dating has aired and I’m reflecting on how the show impacted me personally, as well as society as a whole. I had fun creating a “top ten” list of how this series changed my life:
#10 I now own a TV, subscribe to premium cable, and actually know how to work the DVR.
Prior to doing this show I never actually watched television, much less reality TV and I’m afraid to admit, my mind might have been better off without mindless hours of Jersey Shores, Gigolos and The Kardashians, in this process, I did however, learn there is a big difference between “reality shows” and “docu-series.” Unlike in most reality TV, I was happy to learn that our docu-series was not set up, scripted, or edited radically out of context. Ultimately, however this half hour show can only capture a mere snapshot of the complexity of our love lives with 13 minutes per family, per week.
#9 I put more effort into how I dress when I leave the house.
I may not have paparazzi following me, but on more than one occasion when crossing the street to get to the grocery store, I’ve heard “I love your show!” by an anonymous head leaning out of a car window. We’ve been sighted at the gym, mall, comedy club and even the YMCA when picking my son up from summer camp. I don’t get recognized as often as my girlfriend Jen, but that’s because I don’t leave the house nearly as much, and I get out of my Pajammas even less. We live by the beach and I would not normally mind being sighted in my lingerie, but wouldn’t want to reinforce any stereotypes about the whole poly community. :)
#8 Average people are hearing about Polyamory, and getting a sense of what it means.
After 15 years of practicing poly, one gets a little annoyed with the two part question: Poly what? and Isn’t that cheating? I know, I know, there is no such thing as a stupid question, but there are only so many times you can maintain a sweet tone while saying “No, I’m not Mormon.” And no, it has nothing to do with Polyplastics, polytechnic or even polyester. So you can imagine my relief when the show finally hit the air and people started talking, blogging and tweeting about it. Even beyond Showtime, the series got notable reviews on Dr. Drew, Talk Soup, Time Magazine and Gawker. It’s fun to watch Polyamory go from only being conversed about at sci-fi conferences and renaissance fairs to becoming all the buzz during corporate coffee breaks.
Of course, when I put myself in the public eye, I expected a certain degree of controversy, but I didn’t expect Showtime could magically turned Polyamory into an armchair spectators sport. Admittedly, if I weren’t personally involved in this project, I probably would not reserve my humble opinion as a poly activist either, this is after all a the first groundbreaking mainstream show on the topic. It’s surprising how personally attached and deeply pained people are by what happens on the show.
I’m working hard to have compassion for those who seem to have no idea how the media works. They seem to take every word as gospel; as if whatever was captured on camera must be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” And that there is no space behind the scenes, or off camera, where we might self reflect, change our minds, or learn from what was just said. Further, I’m surprised by how many people think the events of the show are happening in real time. My favorite example is when I called my mother to catch up and she says: “Don’t tell me anything that’s happening with you…I can’t wait to watch it on Showtime!” And by the way, she is proud of being able to watch without covering their eyes during the sex scenes.
#6 I am forever bonded with my lovers (and have sex tapes to prove it.)
When my husband and I made the decision to shine a huge spotlight on our love life, we knew it was going to heat things up. Having cameras in our home, (and especially in our bedrooms) became a powerful spiritual practice that allowed us to better observe the ego. When a handful of lovers agree to join us in this conscious experiment, the result was alchemy that inextricably bonded everyone involved. Through the process we all learned to be better communicators, we broadened our perspectives and sometimes even saw our issues from outside ourselves. (I recommend everybody try this: the next time you get into an argument, (or have sex) set a camera up, press record, then post it on youtube to see what you learn about yourself ;)
Letting the camera crew witness our lovemaking added yet another level of vulnerability as well as personal growth. It was a truly powerful practice to help dissolve insecurity, body issues and sex shame. One of the most frequent critiques of the show is “you make polyamory seem as if it’s all about sex!” Admittedly, I value sex, a lot, and as a sex educator I likely have more of it than the average poly person. By design, this show is late-night, adult-programing, so it might focus on us making out for a disproportionate percentage of our 13 minutes, but where else does the American public get to watch real people who love each other make love without guilt, or shame?
#5 I now live in a home with my Poly family of choice.
I am not one to wear an apron, but before we started shooting the show, many neighbors have seen me playing with my husband and son in our suburban yard and probably assumed we were the perfect Beaver Cleaver family. The truth is, the nuclear household has never fit the shape of my heart. Mainstream American is built on a social construct which places straight married couples and their offspring at the center of the family unit. In my opinion this cookie-cutter conspiracy is crumbling because it clearly lacks creativity.
My heart is built more like a sprawling estate with many rooms for lots of lovers who come and go as they please. Living in apartments, condos, single family homes has always felt strange and proven terribly inefficient. My live-in-lovers and I like to share resources; four adults only need only one washer machine, toaster, blender and the afore mentioned cable TV. We also share domestic duties. Tahl likes to cook breakfast while Michael gets Devin ready for school, Jen enjoys shopping and I’ve always said, if your good in bed, you don’t need to do dishes. :) I’ll admit instead of couches, we do have an excess of beds, we put one in every room so that lovers like Roxanne can have spontaneous sleep-overs.
Not everyone who does poly is married, and far fewer ever live with multiple lovers. My husband and I were very fulfilled for many years living alone. The show gave us the opportunity to share our transition into a life long dream of living in more sustainable community. And what mother wouldn’t wants a village to help her raise her child?
#4 I am open about my non-conventional parenting choices.
Even though my son Devin only appeared in two episodes, motherhood is a huge part of my life. During pre-production, my director gave me the option of whether or not I wanted to expose my five year old to the potentially unwanted attention that would be brought on by being in an sexually explicit adult content show. We knew Showtime was a progressive and sex-positive network, but there’s no telling what other news and entertainment channels would say about this series. My producers were sensitive to a historic case where a poly mother lost custody of her child after appearing on MTV. I personally had a painful experience several years ago where Inside Edition interviewed my family and aired it along side a counter-point who warned the viewers that our lifestyle could be causing psychological damage to our son. (Clearly, this so-called “expert” never met my family, because this is the last thing they would say if they had.)
The more I considered it, the clearer I got that showing our family would prove a more powerful narrative for social change. Polyamory is not just a phase people go through before they have kids, but it is a sustainable alternative to the nuclear unit. Granted, our series is not developmentally appropriate for kids, but I hope it opens the door for other families to tell their stories, so I hope one day my son will point to a show on prime time TV and say, “look mom, that family is poly, like ours.”
I was fully prepared to handle any negative consequences that came from airing the show. Fortunately the overwhelming response has been an outpouring of supportive letters about our parenting choices, including thank you letters from people who were raised in poly families. In general society is starting to see that the healthiest environment to raise children are ones in which the parents are happy and the children get plenty of adult attention, regardless of who they love.
#3 We are swamped by calls, tweets, email, fan-mail, hate-mail and even love letters!
… Alright, I’ll admit I am basking in all the attention. It is deeply gratifying to know how many people were touched (or triggered) enough to seek our contact info. to express themselves (for better or worse.) And the ripples of the show are still reaching international shores. (Through partnership with The Movie Channel, Showtime aired Polyamory in Australia, Arabia, Canada, Jamaica, Holland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and more!)
In order to survive the tsunami of feedback, I had to remind myself that what people write and think says more about THEM than about me or my family. (Unless, it’s good, and then of course it’s true.) Seriously, the trick has been not to take any of it too seriously. And yet, all feedback is valuable and potentially transformative because one of my greatest goals in doing the show has always been to further the conversation. Polyamory has been a silent minority for too long, and I’m thrilled to see the taboo has been broken.
In an ideal world I’d respond personally to each heart-felt letter, but I have ten lovers and I only so much precious time to spend with my son, coaching or making love. So after reading everything that comes in, I’m working on a system of how to reply. There are many sincere inquiries for romantic advice which I try to address on my personal blog. As for the hate mail, I never thought it would come to this, but I actually have a form letter. And finally, there are the love letters. I know this sounds human, but my response depends largely on whether or not the author sends a picture ;)
It still seems surreal that my family and I managed to end up on this show. When I’m done pinching myself, (or my lovers,) I remember that several years ago, I made a pact with the universe: I promised to tell the truth, not just to the IRS or my lovers, but to anybody who was seeking it. I have since been practicing total transparency. I believe it was because of this commitment not to lie, withhold, or deceive anyone, that my director Natalia Garcia, found us consequently sold the project to Berman and Braun and Showtime.
I was skeptical of Hollywood at first, but I now see reality TV as the epitome of vulnerability and have come to understand why anthropologist Margaret Mead reviewed the first documentary style TV show “as new and as significant as the invention of the drama or the novel — a new way in which people can learn to look at life.”
The hardest part of the project was playing myself. My director’s constant guidance was for me to be more real, she encouraged me to stop preaching about authenticity, emotional sensitivity, and honesty and actually start showing it. After being a leader in the polyamory community for so many years, it was hard to step off my soap box and work through my own jealousy, judgements and possessiveness on camera. This work has evolved me from a teacher– to a role model who has to walk her talk. Now I have taken it upon myself to let the community see me fuck up so that they can learn from my mistakes. ;)
#1 I am eager to share new insights, tools, and secrets with anyone who yearns for more love.
Beware. Polyamory is contagious. The more I experience unlimited love, the more I want to share it. Besides sex, one of my favorite ways to transmit love is by teaching. The process of living on camera has been the deepest personal growth course, like grad school for me and my lovers. The show helped me aquire countless hours of coaching, processing, group therapy, and even group sex. And I’ve taken copious notes! I have a 20+ page document of all of the new tricks, best practices, and power tools necessary to succeed in opening up to polyamory. Most of which I learned the hard way.
To help other lovers not have to repeat our mistakes, my pod and I are creating a community manifesto. And since we now how an international audience, I am offering tele-courses with fun, powerful and easy lessons for all types of open relationships. In about a month, I’ll be offering a free Introductory tele-conference: Beyond Monogamy. Save the date: 12pm, Oct. 10th 2012. To reserve your space please go to: http://beyondmonogamy.eventbrite.com/ I can’t wait to share more with you there. And I hope you’ll stay in touch by signing up for my video newsletter at Kamaladevi.com