By Peter Lawrence Kane

After the Supreme Court’s Prop. 8 ruling came down in June, LGBT people in San Francisco were able to get married – for the third time. Amid the celebration, there were some wistful sentiments that maybe queerness was waning and all the gays were – as my uber-queer thesis adviser once put it – “ready to go home and cook dinner, forever.”

Unambiguously joyful or painfully heteronormative, same-sex marriage is probably here to stay this time. But there are multiple other ways of fashioning a life with one’s chosen partner, or partners. I sat down with four families or member of polyamorous groups, two all-male and two male-and-female, to gain some better insight into just how happy (and gleefully sex-positive) these enduring arrangements can be.


Who are they?:

Richard, Steven, Rob, Eric, and Paul are all between 47 and 62 years old and live in San Francisco. Richard and Steven (the daddies) have been together for 23 years and legally married in 2008, while the three boys joined in the last five or six years. Rob and Paul are collared, wearing padlocked chains that indicate they’re boys in a daddy-boy dynamic. Additionally, Paul and his separate partner of 16 years wed in October.

Getting together:

Rob: If somebody has a thing going on, we all make a point to show up. We have scheduled dates because if we don’t, they won’t happen.

Eric: And we’re not [gestures to include the entire family] monogamous as well. We all have fuck buddies.

Paul: There’s a lot of focused one-on-one. Not necessarily having sex, but focusing on the relationship. Which usually involves sex.

Richard: We’re not “poly-monogamous.” We interbreed with regularity, though that certainly has diminished as the intensity of the relationship among the five of us has increased.


Richard: Getting the five of us together at one time is challenging. I invited everybody up to the hot springs last year, and that was the only time we’ve actually traveled. We’re fine with that. We have to be pragmatic. I’ve noticed there are friends I don’t see very much, because there’s just less time.

Are you out at work?

Paul: I’m a pornographer. Of course I’m out at work.

Eric: My relationships are of great interest and vast amusement to the people I work with.

Steven: I mostly say I’m married. When I worked for AT&T, they didn’t care.

Rob: I work at a large company downtown. I wear my collar under a shirt with a collar, so it’s not in everyone’s face but not that well hidden, either.

Does your family know?

Paul: When my mom was alive I didn’t really talk about it. It took her 20 years to get used to the whole I-have-a-husband thing. She was 85 and I didn’t feel the need to rock her world.

Eric: Lots of my cousins and my aunts and my stepmother and father are all on Facebook and they see all of this. A year or two ago, I started getting Christmas cards from various cousins labeled “To Eric and Family.”

Do you envision legalized polyamory?

Richard: Three years into our relationship, Steven and I had our own Jewish-pagan ceremony. Then we got domestic-partnered. Right now we’re trying to get the boys to find boys. They need support staff, so to speak. When I’m 90, Eric will be 77, and he’s going to need someone to push my wheelchair around.

Rob: I don’t think it’s something that’s likely to happen anytime soon. And it’s really hard to be someone’s top and daddy when you’re wearing a collar. Plus I fully intend to become a cyborg at some point.

Paul: The relationship’s so fluid, I don’t know that we’d need it to be recognized. The point of poly relationships is that you define it.

Who they are:

Together for three years, Liesl and Steve are a couple dating another couple, Megan and Nathan, along with several other lovers whom they see less often. All are in their late twenties and live in the East Bay.

Getting together:

Steve: If I’m dating a girl, usually Liesl ends up dating that girl, but most of the time, if she’s dating a guy, he and I don’t play too much. Except at either end of Liesl.

Liesl: Although I’ve had lots of guys say that if they were to experiment on a guy, it’d be Steve. I was the first woman Megan had ever been with. But that’s not surprising. All the straight girls, they’re like, “Well, I’ll try this.”


Steve: The reason we’re polyamorous isn’t philosophical, it’s that we’re terrible about monogamy. But in the Bay, people have a whole idea of what that means about our relationship.

Are you out at work?

Liesl: In Illinois, I was out to all my co-workers and was dating Steve and the guy I was living with. My co-worker asked me, “Do you love your boyfriend?” I asked which one, because I don’t think Steve and I had said that at that point. But I said, “Yes, the one I live with, I love him.” And she said, “No, you don’t. When you love someone, it drives you crazy if they even look at someone else.” And I thought, “I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with you.”

Steve: Most people at Google aren’t, you know, Haight-Ashbury natives. They’re more conservative than I anticipated. I’m out, but it doesn’t come up that much. It’s not information they need to interact with me. A couple of people have asked weird questions, but there’s no polyamorous slur that they could use to offend me. I do try to be out to as many people as possible because I do think there is an invisibility problem to open relationships, and people assume that everyone they know is monogamous. So they only hear about open relationships when they fail. It implodes, you hear that they were open, so that must be why.

Does your family know?:

Liesl: When I was going to come home for Easter, my mom said on the phone, “Oh, I’ll put the air mattress out for you and R.” I said, “Well, R. can’t make it…I am bringing someone though. I thought I should tell you: Steve is my other boyfriend. I’m in an open relationship with R.” And my mom said, “Oh, I’ll put the air mattress out for you and Steve.”

Steve: I said, “Hey mom, can I to talk to you for a minute? I’m bisexual and polyamorous.” She didn’t know what polyamorous was. I said it basically means I don’t do monogamous relationships, that I have multiple partners. Her first response was, “That sounds like something a man invented.”

Do you envision legalized polyamory?

Liesl: I think it would be so difficult to start. We’re both dating Megan, but Nathan’s pretty straight, so I wouldn’t say that Steve and Nathan are dating. And if we got married, would Steve and Nathan be married? What does that mean for them to be married when they’re not sexually together? And although it doesn’t really apply to poly people, I’m super-excited that in California, you can have three parents.

Who are they?:

Mick is a master in San Francisco, with four boys of varying levels of formality (bz, bj, bc, and bf) plus a slave named link, all of whom are between 48 and 66 years of age. (The names, which combine the word boy with the first initial of each, are Mick’s own and reflect status rather than any need for privacy on the boys’ part). Most have separate partners and none cohabitates with Mick. link and bz live outside the Bay Area. (bj, Mick, and bc are pictured in the photo above)

Getting together:

Mick: I wasn’t looking to build a family. I’d been non-monogamous forever, but not poly until I embarked on structured relationships. I arrived in San Francisco in ’76 and my partner died in 2001. Other boys have come and gone, and I’m still in touch with most. We do birthdays, Christmas – it may not be Christmas Day necessarily, but dinner will happen. We’re all together two or three times a year, usually at major leather events.


Mick: Time management is the key to making it work. I do tend to collar men in long-term primary relationships, because they have the skill set necessary to maintain one and the boundaries are clear. My boys’ husbands are accepting, but one is more cordial than actually friendly. The dynamics have become more interesting to manage -- there’s a ripple effect as each new member is added.

Are you out at work?:

Mick: I’m out to people I like. But I did get a boss to hire my slave as a project manager.

Does your family know?

Mick: bz, bj, and I went on a cruise with bz’s husband, and his mother picked us up from the airport. Another time, when bc’s mother asked about the collars, I told her they were a “token of affection.”

Do you envision legalized polyamory?

Mick: Since the mid-‘80s, I think the pendulum is swinging back to playfulness. My advice? Define your own path.

Who are they?

S and C are a partnered male-genderqueer couple who date J and JO, an unmarried male-female couple along with P, another woman. All are between 27 and 33, and live, separately, in Oakland. In their current incarnation, they’ve been together five years. Because of privacy concerns related to work, two required first initials only (and a neck-down pic); the others went along in solidarity. They refer to themselves jokingly as Sexcult, which originated as “the name of the circle on Google+.”

Getting together:

C: I like to play the game, when we’re at social events, where I count who has fucked the most people there.

J: She always wins.

P: That’s not true. She tied me last time.

JO: I won one time! It’s really nice to see people you’ve been sexually engaged with, or romantically engaged with, still around in your life.

P: Yeah, and we all live biking-distance apart.

Are you out at work?

C: I waited until someone asked if I had a partner, and I said, “I have two.”

J: I say, “I have a partner and I have people I’m fucking,” But it’s frustrating that it’s not just a normal thing. This is our relationship structure.

Does your family know?

P: I came out to my parents about being queer the same time I brought JO home – I was dating C at the time – and they were more concerned that it was an open relationship. The “me-being-queer” thing? Not a word. But they treat the poly thing like it’s a phase.

C: My dad’s been making a specific effort on the phone. He’ll say, “Give S my love, and…I don’t know what to say to JO, but tell him I’m thinking about him.” And his wife was like, “If I were 30 years younger, this would probably make sense.”

Do you envision legalized polyamory?

JO: I want to know when it’s going to be as acceptable to be in an open relationship as a closed relationship. My firm belief is that 10% of people are monogamous, and everybody else is not.

J: I just don’t think there should be such a binary. There’s a whole spectrum of relationship styles, and people can do whatever they want at different points in their lives.

C: And sometimes you just want to make out with your friends.

Photo of Richard, Steven, Rob, Eric, and Paul by Rich Stadtmiller