Responding to Polyphobia and Rude Comments

On November 7, 2014, John D. posted a comment in response to one of my Psychology Today blogs, “Does Polyamory Work?.”

In his comment, John D. assumes that polyamory is obviously pathological and an excuse for inhumane and slavish behavior. This response, just one of the many, many like it that I have received over the years, has at its core the certainty that polyamory (or kink, or feminism, or ______(fill in the blank) is debased beyond redemption. Thus far I have taken these folks seriously and provided the evidence they demanded, attempting to engage them in reasoned dialogue. While occasionally this works, far more often they either disappear or snark. My patience with their foolishness is wearing thin, and I am beginning to question my accommodating strategy.

How do you all respond to people who make comments? How seriously do you take them? What do you think of my response to John D?

John D. writes:
” for some people it is critical to their emotional wellbeing and mental health.”
With all due respect…
Show me one, single, solitary piece of documented, researched, peer-reviewed scientific literature to back this statement up and you might have an argument to make.
Otherwise, you’re scraping mightily in the dirt for some reason – ANY reason – to want to copulate with anyone and anything you feel like, without having to consider what it might actually say about you as a human being. Assuming of course that you do, in fact, like to consider yourself a human being and not simply a biological machine that is a slave (a brainwashed slave, no less) to hormones and physiological responses.

I responded:

Hello John,

I see your call of “Bullshit” and raise you 18 peer-reviewed book chapters and journal articles ranging from the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography in 2005 to the most-viewed article of 2013 at the Journal of Law and Social Deviance (with Mark Goldfeder). My new book, The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple Partner Relationships and Families (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) reports on the findings from my longitudinal (15 years) ethnographic study of polyamorous families with children. Google me, or check out my publications on this site.

If you are truly interested in the evidence, you can read not only my publications, but those of Meg Barker, Curtis Bergstrand, Elaine Cook, Kathy Labriola, Robert Goss, Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, Robert Francouer, Christian Klesse, Kirsten McLean, Marcia Munsun, Nathan Rambukkama, Melita Noel, Natalie Perry, Roger Rubin, Paula Rust, Anita Wagner, and Katherine Frank — to name a few. Alternately, if you are primarily interested in “scraping mightily in the dirt for some reason – ANY reason – to want to” make unfounded and biased assumptions “without having to consider what it might actually say about you as a human being” then by all means continue to think as you do and ignore the research evidence.

With all due respect,

Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, CSE, CASA

Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, CASA, CSE

One of a handful of global experts on polyamory and the foremost international expert on children in polyamorous families, Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has studied gender and
families of sexual minorities for the last 16 years. Sheff’s television appearances include CNN, and the National Geographic, and she has given more than 20 radio, podcast, print, and television interviews with sources from Radio Slovenia to National Public Radio, the Sunday London Times to the Boston Globe and Newsweek. By emphasizing research methodology and findings in her discussions, Dr. Sheff presents the kind of public intellectualism that encourages audience members to think critically regarding gender, sexualities, and families.

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  1. Reblogged this on Poly In The Cities and commented:
    Love this!!

  2. trolls and people who leave rude comments do so because they are looking for some sort of validation. Often they don’t really even have an interest in the subject, or they feel very strongly about their stance on the subject. Either way there is nothing you could ever say, no amount of evidence you could give them that would change their opinion. My policy is just to let them go. Most times if there’s no activity on a trolls post people will skip them over, its only when there is a lot of activity that people will take a closer look.

    IF a person has come for information, if that is truly their goal they will look at both sides and take the information for what it is

    1. Good point, thanks John!


  3. Reblogged this on Billy Holder- Jackelxing and commented:
    An interesting thought, to what extent do we engage, and should we engage at all? I like what Dr. Sheff did here. Gave this guy exactly what he asked for. What are your thoughts?

  4. I like what you did here. You gave this person EXACTLY what they asked for. With a side of snark. To some extent we do need to stand up to some of these folks. But at what point do we need to disengage? Thats the hardest thing for me to o. I find the time to disengage for me comes when I have nothing new or nothing nice to say. If the conversation becomes too emotional or circular, I try to bow out.
    If you ever need back up dont hesitate to give me a shout.
    Good luck Eli. you are great at what you do. Thanks for all the support over the years. Hope we see you again in June at Atlanta Poly Weekend 2015.

    1. Thanks Billy, I appreciate the support and will definitely see you at APW 2015. That is one of my favorite cons, so sweet and mellow, with a ton of fun people to hang out with and a very relaxed vibe. I feel very lucky that APW happens so close to where I live!

      Hope to see you before then 🙂

      Cheers, Eli

  5. Hello Eli,

    Thank you for doing the work that you do and for responding as calmly and effectively.

    I’m going to presume on our previous conversations to step out of a purely professional response to say:

    Damn it, woman, you do great work. You do good science, you write well, and you respond to criticisms effectively. I’m glad to have made your acquaintance and appreciate you.

    Don’t let the bastards get you down.

    Take care 🙂


    1. Thanks David!!!!! I appreciate the kudos.

      Nice to hear from you.

      Cheers, Eli

      1. Tara Carstensen says:

        Just be careful he doesn’t drug you and rape you.

  6. Aren’t all of the authors/researchers you cited polyamorists/non-monogamists? How do they protect their findings from being colored by their personal philosophies? Biased research findings aren’t actual proof, especially in a discipline that is highly subjective to begin with. As someone who is a diehard monogamist, I can follow thousands of happy, successful monogamous marriages for years and conclude that monogamy works. Well yeah, it works for those people. I see all of this as very sparse anecdotal evidence. No polyamorous/non-monogamous relationship disasters are ever discussed. Like you all want to sweep them under the rug.

    1. Hi Leslie,

      Your message seems to imply that if someone is polyamorous then they can not be objective about polyamory. Is that the case? Do you think that if someone participates in something then they are not able to see it clearly, and that only people from the outside can see clearly what is going on? Please correct me if I am misunderstanding you.

      If you follow that logic, then you, as a “diehard monogamist,” are not able to be objective about monogamy yourself, and indeed no monogamists would be qualified to speak about monogamy. In that case, monogamy should submit to a swinger/never married person/polygamist/relationship anarchist to assess the utility of that paradigm. The 50% divorce rate alone should indicate to you that monogamy does not work for everyone. Not that polyamory works for everyone either — the days of the illusionary one-size-fits-all relationship are past. My point is that no one is objective, and what has passed as objectivity in the past is actually the subjectivity of white, middle class men.

      For instance, let’s look at gender. Women were (and in some fields continue to be) routinely dismissed as not able to be objective because of their gender, which implies that men are objective about gender. But men grow up in a gendered society as well, so they are no more objective about gender than are women. Perhaps even less so, because men do not have to deal with the same disadvantages of the gender system because they are on top, and thus prone to getting the advantages. In that case, women might be more objective about gender because they have to think about it, deal with it, and navigate it in a way that men do not. Men benefit from the contemporary gender system so they are likely to think that it is a good thing, that there is no need to change it in a way that might make it less comfortable for them. Saying that the way women see things is not objective is another way to keep things from changing.

      Everyone — regardless of relationship or sexual orientation, race, class, or gender — grows up in society and is thus marinated in social messages. No one can be objective about monogamy, gender, sexuality, or much else besides gravity, math, and the atomic weight of a nucleus. The best people can do is put their own backgrounds and world-views in perspective. It is when they pretend to be objective but are actually acting on social bias that people start to make trouble. Much better to identify yourself, as you do, as a diehard monogamist so that everyone knows your biases from the top and can hear what you say in that context. That is the primary reason that I discussed my own relationship in my first book — to give readers the full story behind my journey through polyamory to becoming a researcher because it matters to how they will hear the rest of what I say.

      Regarding the lack of negative messages in writing about polyamory, I disagree. Clearly you have not read much of my work, otherwise you would know that I have explored the disadvantages of polyamory in virtually everything I have written. They even get their own chapter in my first book The Polyamorists Next Door, as well as their own chapter in Stories from the Polycule, my second book coming out this fall. Or, read some of my journal articles that are available for free on this site — Polyamorous Women has a section on women being sexually objectified, PolyHegemonic Masculinity also has a gender critique of polyamory. If you start with those and want more, please let me know and I can point out other places to look for a critique of polyamory.

      Finally, I have been very open that my own polyamorous relationship was a disaster, caused my divorce, wrecked havoc on my life, and I do not identify as poly myself. I tried it and it did not work for me, and have on many occasions detailed the full disaster of it all. The briefest, most accessible version of that is the 3 part series on Psychology Today that begins here There is a more detailed explanation that ties in to others’ relationships in The Polyamorists Next Door, I am thinking chapter 4 but would need to go look at it and don’t have a copy handy.

      Please let me know what you think after you have done some of that reading, I am interested in your continued thoughts.

      Cheers, Elisabeth

  7. I see you have given a fair number of names and a book you are selling. Would you mind adding some paper titles to make my journal search a bit less than in the hundreds.

    Thanks. ^^

    1. Hi Mr. Green,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. If you are searching for my peer reviewed journal articles on polyamory, look in the publications tab of this website where I have pdf files of most of my articles. You can also look at my CV which is also listed in a tab on this website, though now that I think of it I need to update my CV with new publications and interviews and post the updated version.

      What are you looking for, specifically? I could also direct you to some other researchers’ work on polyamory.

      Cheers, Eli

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