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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

All In the Family

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I'm sitting in the Alterra on Prospect Avenue with Ashe, Boone and Lyndzi, three members of a four-person polyamorous relationship. They define their group as a "polyfidelitous N," which is a succinct way of saying that the four of them are in an exclusive non-monogamous relationship where not all members have romantic relationships with each other. Ashe is a 22-year-old techie who's married to Boone, a 28-year-old writer and editor. Boone is dating Lyndzi, a 21-year-old student at UW-Milwaukee, and Lyndzi is dating John, a 23-year-old salesperson (see the "N" shape that links some, but not all, of the people in the group?). Although each person in the group is not romantically involved with all three of the others, they are all friends and consider themselves a family.

Does this description make your head spin, or does it intrigue you? If the latter, Ashe, Boone and Lyndzi invite you to join the new discussion group they're starting at the Tool Shed for people in their 20s and 30s who are in, or interested in, polyamorous relationships. The first meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. Over coffee and knitting (Ashe and Lyndzi are each working on a pair of gloves), we talked about their plans for the group.

Laura: So, why did you want to start the Young Milwaukee Poly Group?

Ashe: It's extremely important to have community. The LGBT community is excellent in Milwaukee; there are so many different places to get support and related to people. There really isn't anything like that for poly people.

Boone: When you're part of a community, you can share knowledge and experiences and help someone else out. While we have different experiences in our poly relationships, we all [have] similar emotions and setbacks. Having a community can provide people to listen.

Lyndzi: For people that are new to the poly community, we've been through a lot of the ups and downs of being poly. One of the things new couples ask is, "Is this normal for this type of relationship?"

Laura: What is it like being poly in Milwaukee?

Ashe: I have not had any negative feedback. I'm out to all my friends. Most people are like, "What does that mean? How does that work?" Talking to other people in the same situation who are afraid to come out-there's a lot of fear there for no reason. Milwaukee has a large, diverse population, and people are a lot more accepting of alternative lifestyles.

Boone: I agree and disagree. I disagree because even within the LGBT community, monogamy is still preferred, and most people think of relationships as one person with one person. Poly seems so foreign and beyond the norm. I've had adverse reactions, but only from a couple of people-older, more conservative. The automatic assumption was that I was having an affair and lying about the fact that my wife knew.

Ashe: Education changes everything, once people realize that it's a responsible, ethical choice and not cheating and being dishonest and hiding feelings. There's a logical reason that people choose this lifestyle-people have the capacity to love more than one person. Cheating seems more acceptable because it's been going on forever and polyamory is foreign. This is illogical!

Laura: Why did you want the group to focus on people in their 20s & 30s?

Boone: There are a lot of younger individuals who are interested [in polyamory] and probably practicing to a certain extent and don't even know it. We're trying to tell them that it's OK and pull them out of the closet. Older couples have been doing it a while and are past the point of caring what other people think. Younger people have probably only had a couple of relationships, have more questions, and want to know if things are normal. Community is the key to this. We want people to know that it's OK, they're not strange, and to let people know that there are other people like them.

Lyndzi: As much as we want to get in contact with other poly people, poly allies and those who are curious are just as important. Maybe [polyamory] has crossed a couple's mind, but they don't know how to express it. It's hard for one person to fulfill every single thing that the other person wants.

Ashe, Boone and Lyndzi think that some of the topics that will come up in the group are jealousy, negotiating relationship terms, honesty, time schedules, how to handle breakups and how to tell parents and others about your relationships, as well as anything else that group members come up with. If you can't make the first meeting, keep up with them at www.comingoutpoly.com or follow them on Twitter: comingoutpoly.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.