Letters for the Week of December 14, 2011 

Readers sound off on polyamory, Marcie Hodge, and the Salvation Army.

"Sex by Numbers," Feature, 11/30

Poly from a Queer Perspective

I agreed with the article on polyamory in that the mainstream culture shapes and limits the growth of this subculture. I do want to point out that in the gay male community, non-monogamy is more widely practiced and accepted. Most research has found that at least 50 percent of long-term gay male couples have some type of agreement that allows for "outside sex."

My partner, Blake Spears, and I interviewed 84 long-term (eight or more years) non-monogamous male couples. We wanted to understand and describe what non-monogamy looked like. Similar to the comments in your article, there weren't common models for practicing non-monogamy, but rather a great variety in approach and experience. Some couples were polyamorous, while others only sanctioned anonymous sex; some had rules, while others allowed the freedom to discover and evolve; some avoided sharing details and experiences, while others only played with outsiders together. The diversity in approach was striking.

While aimed at the gay male community, our study might be of interest to heterosexual readers. It explores key elements and typical issues involved in non-monogamy, providing many verbatim quotes from our interviews (all participants were interviewed separately). We recommend the study for couples who are considering opening their relationship or are struggling with issues that have come up as a result of opening their relationship. It's helpful to read what long-term couples have discovered works for them — e.g., when to open a relationship, whether to have agreements about emotional involvement, how to manage jealousy, the importance of establishing a foundation of honesty, etc.

The study, "Beyond Monogamy" can be found and downloaded at TheCouplesStudy.com.

Lanz Lowen, Oakland

The Marriage Myth

Monogamy is hardly "vital to the workings of a property-based society." In a society where many — if not most — marriages end in divorce, property law has become quite well-versed in dealing with issues of joint custody and joint property ownership.

Franklin Veaux, Portland, Oregon

Society Vs. Biology

I love the issue and have something to add, as I am a psychotherapist and this is my work field. First: Why bother with what others think about what they do in their private lives? We have to keep in mind that there's no choice between following the rules of society and abiding by our own consciousness. If we choose to follow society, we have to know that the values this society professes have been conditioned and keep us from our true nature.

Second: We, as human beings, are not commodities, and relationships are not transactions that require us to sign any contract to establish how the relationship should be. This, again, is just a product of conditioning. A human being can't own another human being, right? I think everybody would agree with this affirmation but the point is: Would they live it?

The only "thing" we truly "have" is ourselves, and the only way to be fulfilled, in peace, and sure that we're doing the right thing, is to be true to this nature. To do that, one has to be courageous enough to think for oneself and not give a shit as to what others will think about.How come we go on insisting that the attraction we feel for "a special someone" is biological? I think it's time to change the belief system that mistakes biological attraction with love. Real love is always unconditional; it doesn't belong to anyone as it's the very nature of life. Biological attraction is great, and it has to be lived freely without any concern to anyone other than the people involved. Period.

People go astray when they don't know how to accommodate both society and their own internal consciousness. It's just not possible to do both. We have to choose which side of the coin we want to face up.

Renato Cesar Carvalho, Sintra, Portugal

A Subcultural Sea Change?

I'm confused. A few years ago, I inadvertently stumbled across polyamory online, and the main point made by its advocates was that it represented almost an antithesis of open marriage. They defined it as having more than one serious, committed relationship at a time, in essence. Maybe one of them was more "primary" than the other(s), but it was far from resembling the free-love fuckfests depicted in your article.

I'm wondering how this virtual sea change has come about in just a few years, and why no mention of this substantive difference is in your piece.

Fred Walker, Oakland

Rachel Swan Responds

I haven't personally noticed a substantive change in the polyamory subculture over the past few years, and at this point, I think the term "polyamory" is a little too young to tell. In my observation, though, there wasn't any standard rulebook for conducting an open relationship. Some people had multiple committed partners at once, others were into the "free-love fuckfests" that you describe, and some would even characterize themselves as relatively vanilla. As is the case with any kind of relationship, you pick your poison.

Non-Monogamy as an Excuse for Exploitation

I would rather support gay marriage than this exploitation of other human bodies while one is consummated and joined to another in an exclusive relationship. I have been divorced for almost two decades, and it is hard enough to find one compatible partner. I have become prey to these loose couples looking for a thrill because it is much easier to fuck than to invest dedication to an act of devoted love. These couples latch on to someone vulnerable like me to use sex as an adventure and as an opportunity to alleviate the mundane — which is emotionally damaging, as a dater looking to be monogamous. It sickens me to be played second fiddle with no effort or emotional attachment, to satiate lustful appetites. I would have better luck then disguised as a psychology undergraduate, logged on to Ashley Madison, out having my fun every night with cheaters galore. I suffered such abandonment through pornography, sex abuse, and strip clubs in a very disturbed and destructive marriage.

I see this lifestyle as a liberal offshoot for upscale recreational fetishists — how terrible. I will love unconditionally but will not share other people's genitals. This is sacred property.

Lastly, I'll add: If I were at a Target, and saw a sexy, attractive, and hunky man shopping with his toddler, and told him I wanted to fuck him, I really wonder if I'd be called a psycho or get a black eye. What are my chances are of this really happening? This practice is so far from mainstream.

Catherine Shores, Los Angeles


"Marcie Hodge Loses, Again," 11/30

Dodging Hodge

I very much enjoyed your understated piece about Marcie Hodge. Reading between the lines, one wonders what exactly is going on with this "candidate," and I'm pleased that the Express was not unduly harmed by her frivolous suit.

Long live the free press.

Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley


Miscellaneous Letters

The Four-Sentence Paper

Ever since the Express became an Oaklandish hipster-immigrant rag, I've read it primarily for the food and entertainment reviews, and the various ads for local businesses. Larger issues are addressed better by other media. I could save you a lot of page space by writing pithy articles of only a few words. Here's a few I did from the November 30 issue: "Occupy: The Party's Over." "Cannabis: Big Profits from Pot Smokers." "Bankruptcy: Why the Hell Did You Borrow So Much?" "Polyamory: Fucking Around."

Now where are those movie reviews?

Brian O'Neil, El Cerrito

Not-so-Sweet Charity

I was very disappointed to see the Express email promoting the anti-gay Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you're helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, or shopping their stores, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical charity because they're "sexually impure."

The church claims it holds "a positive view of human sexuality" — but then clarifies that "sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage." The Salvation Army doesn't believe that gays and lesbians should know the intimacy of any loving relationship, instead teaching that "Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life."

On its website, the group claims that "the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation." While the words are nice, the charity's actions speak volumes. It blatantly ignores the position statement and denies LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services "open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army's doctrine and discipline."

As the holidays approach, the Salvation Army bell ringers are out in front of stores dunning shoppers for donations. If you care about gay rights, you'll skip their bucket in favor of a charity that doesn't actively discriminate against the LGBT community.

Rob Petitpas, Oakland

City Hall Plaza Flooding

I have sent copies of the following letter to the mayor and city council because I feel this is a critical issue demanding urgent attention: Flooding in Oscar Grant Plaza is killing our historic live oak tree. It is unconscionable that those involved in deciding to flood the plaza would sacrifice the health of this symbolic tree in order to limit public access to a public park and to suppress freedom of expression.

Saturated soil conditions are deadly to California Coast Live Oak trees (Quercus agrifolia). This is an evergreen species that requires good drainage. Unlike deciduous trees that can handle seasonal flooding by dropping leaves during the wet season, evergreen trees cannot. Flooding the surrounding soil eliminates oxygen, which leads to the inability of roots to uptake water and nutrients. Such soil conditions also provide a hospitable environment for pathogenic fungi, which can infest roots and bring about an earlier demise for the tree.

Though an exploratory investigation into the location of the oak roots has not been undertaken, anyone who believes that roots only exist within the circular planter is wrong. It should be noted, however, that the tree is planted at a lower elevation than the flooded area above, and therefore water is more likely to move inside of the cement wall and possibly inundate the roots within.

The value of the tree is likely more than $200,000 and possibly invaluable to the city, as it cannot be replaced.

The over-irrigation should cease immediately, and the soil profile should be examined for signs of anaerobic conditions. The tree deserves a full investigation to determine where the roots are, what the level of soil compaction is, as well as what nutritional supplementation is required so that health mitigation treatments can be appropriately prescribed to ensure the tree can remain for another 200 years or more.

This is the city's most valuable tree and we do hope it is provided more respect than what is currently being shown.

Molly Batchelder, Oakland

Not-so-Sweet Charity

I was very disappointed to see the Express email promoting the anti-gay Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you're helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, or shopping their stores, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they're "sexually impure."

The church claims it holds "a positive view of human sexuality" — but then clarifies that "sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage." The Salvation Army doesn't believe that gays and lesbians should ever know the intimacy of any loving relationship, instead teaching that "Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life."

On its website, the group claims that "the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation." While the words are nice, the charity's actions speak volumes. It blatantly ignores the position statement and denies LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services "open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army's doctrine and discipline." In other words, if you're gay or lesbian, you don't qualify.

The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies — including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal. (Yes, you're paying lobbyists with those purchases or donations.) As the holidays approach, the Salvation Army bell ringers are out in front of stores dunning shoppers for donations. If you care about gay rights, you'll skip their bucket in favor of a charity that doesn't actively discriminate against the LGBT community.

Rob Petitpas, Oakland

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