Hi Ms. Java,
A friend of mine is having difficulty with his ex wife. He’s in an open relationship with a married woman (who’s husband knows), and he is concerned that his ex’s new love may be hurting her and maybe even his kids. He wants to ask the courts for more, or even full custody, but is worried that old traditions might make him look bad. Specifically, there are old biases against men, and against atypical relationships.
Do you or any of your readers have experience with a tricky legal situation and their polyamory? Do you have any tips on making an open, polyamorous relationship, appear more vanilla to the mainstream?
For the tricky legal situation part?
Your friend needs to have a good lawyer and follow that lawyer’s advice. I am not a lawyer. Even my readers who are lawyers (yes there are some) will be quite careful to point out that if they say something online, it is not meant to be interpreted as specific legal advice in a specific case.
If he does not have a poly-friendly lawyer, he might want to check with the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. They have a Kink Aware Professionals directory that would be a good jumping-off place for finding a professional. You might also want to forward your friend the Guideline for Custody Disputes from the same site.
Since I have not dealt with custody issues much, but I know a lot of my readers have, I do invite my readers to share their experiences. You guys will give much better advice and relate your experiences better than I can.
If you really want to look for advice on how to look vanilla, I’m definitely your gal! Now I don’t do it as an act, mind. I am, for realsies, pretty vanilla, boring and normal except that I’m poly. That doesn’t show unless someone is paying close attention. Few do! For the record, I do not not not think appearing “normal” is in any way a moral imperative or necessarily the world’s most desirable thing to do. I am answering a direct question, that’s all!
Tips for appearing vanilla
Your appearance is your first step. What you’re shooting for is to appear according to a TV version of respectable middle class. Like I said, I don’t think this is necessarily a moral imperative, or even “good” particularly, but this is how to do it.
Dress well—This does not mean to dress up all the time unless that’s to one’s personal taste. Overdressing can be almost as bad as underdressing if you’re going for that vanilla look. It does mean making a series of choices that do tend towards the generic. Choose a plain t-shirt over one that has a slogan. Clothes should always be clean, well-mended, well-fitting, and unwrinkled.
Be well-groomed—Beards neat and trimmed, fingernails clean and short or neatly manicured if you desire. Hair neatly trimmed with no color that’s blatantly artificial. Subdued makeup if you wear it.
Do not leave overtly sexual materials around in public areas of the house – Porn should be locked in the toy box along with the toys. It should be inaccessible except to the consenting adults that will be using it. Since I’m mostly vanilla but make no special effort to appear so, my household violates this a bit. The Prince is a fantasy artist and we have a nude he’s done hanging in the dining room. If there were custody questions or we were concerned about CPS, mild and non-sexual as the picture is, the fairy isn’t wearing anything, so it would come down.
Keep the house and yard tidy – Hey, I know. Tedious. But you’re going for a certain respectable look, and tidy=respectable in most people’s eyes. Sorry about that. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart. Just throw the trash away, don’t let tools pile up, and mow your lawn regularly.
The second step is behavioral. Once you’ve made a certain impression, behavior will follow up on that and reinforce it. Then “weird” grace notes that indicate you’re polyamorous are minimized a bit.
Moderate speech—Calm tones, no swearing. Speak with the best diction and grammar you can manage. Minimize strong regional accents when out of region1 if you’re a good enough actor to pull it off. If you don’t believe this can affect how you’re perceived, all I can do is refer you to My Fair Lady and move on.
Moderate relationship interaction—This one is tricky because some people would say that you need to pretend not to be involved at all. If you’re doing the other stuff, believe you me, this will slip under the radar. You know at least one affectionate old married couple, I’m sure. You’ll see them holding hands or giving the occasional kiss on the cheek in public. Keep your public affection to that level.
Refrain from discussing personal matters – I suppose it should go without saying that one should not wave the poly flag. But the minute one supposes that, it becomes clear that it doesn’t go without saying at all. I love Miss Manners’ approach to polyamory and how to handle it. Be yourself, be polite, be kind and act with puzzled surprise to personal questions. Friends, this works wonders on so many levels.
Be respectful– Since your friend is a man and you were concerned about how he is perceived (being poly and all), he could do well not to look like a playa. This one is going to be hard to counteract if he has already developed a bad reputation, and I’m sorry about that. But the courtesy route is never a bad choice in behavior (male or female), and in the long run may help a lot. If he follows some other advice about community involvement, it’s going to become patently obvious that he’s not spending all his time chasing tail and that he’s really just a regular guy.
Be a community member!!!! Okay, here we get to something I advise no matter whether you’re trying to appear vanilla or not. You can do this with piercings and a green Mohawk just as easily as in a plain t-shirt, French manicure and capris. In my own studies of alternative groups, it seems to me that the worst witch hunts tend to be against groups of people that hold themselves very separate from their local communities. I know poly people are short on time, but this is really important. Be part of your local community, especially at the service level. Show up to town meetings. Volunteer to coach your kid’s soccer team. Organize a food drive. Participate in the PTA. If your tastes run that way (mine don’t) join a church. Unitarian is often fairly poly-friendly and not too doctrinaire. Polyamory’s best chance at acceptance on all levels is going to be when people see the polyamorous as vital members of society doing good stuff. Be the guy in the neighborhood that shovels an elderly person’s walk, or is quick to bandage a kid’s skinned knee. Be a credit to your kink.
I admit that I am slightly uncomfortable with “seeming” rather than “being”. I look vanilla because I am pretty vanilla. I just happen to be lucky enough that many of my rather pedestrian, middle-class tastes don’t have me standing out unless I make a specific choice to do so. I don’t like it that if you’re somehow different, the crab bucket is going to try to drag you back down, but I’m at something of a loss at how to change that other than being a visibly good person no matter “weird” you are.
1 I actually do this for real and on purpose for professional purposes. Yankees can’t seem to hear the difference between an uneducated twang and my refined Tidewater accent, so in an effort not to sound like Daisy Duke in front of a classroom, I speak accent-neutral professionally.