Alan over at the Polyamory in the News blog has put up a post that has attracted a lot of attention and comment about yesterday's piece on open marriage on the Dr. Phil Show.
Kenya and Carl are a couple who have been speaking out on their form of responsible nonmonogamy for some time now. They were courageous to agree to go up against Dr. Phil, just as was author Jenny Block when she went up against Bill O'Reilly and into a few other similarly hostile situations.
It's a very personal decision to accept such invitations, yet by accepting them we spokespeople also take on a significant amount of responsibility to others like ourselves. For several years Dr. Phil's producers repeatedly asked we poly community spokespeople to provide people to appear on the show, and we consistently declined. Especially since the Newt Gingrich supposed request for an open marriage story broke a few weeks ago, we spokespeople have been delighted at the fair treatment we've been given by members of the media, but we are under no illusions about the likelihood of being treated with respect by Dr. Phil. Evenso, it's the viewers in his audience who have open minds we would be trying to reach. Based on what we know about Dr. Phil's interview style, there was and still remains plenty of reason for concern that not enough of our message would make it into the final cut to outweigh all the ways in which we would be made to look bad.
Alan, usually the poster guy for the mild-mannered, had what is for him an uncharacteristically strong but evenso understandable reaction to Carl's statements that appeared to justify dispensing with practicing safer sex, and I share Alan's frustration. We spokespeople can't afford the luxury of making highly controversial statements on subjects such as STI prevention, especially on national television, and give the impression that we - and by implication, those like us - are being irresponsible. I've seen one or two other leaders do this sort of thing under the notion that they must speak their truth no matter what. In my personal opinion, such defiance ignores the potential for harm that comes along with it and pretty much disqualifies us as effective leaders and spokespeople. I'm not saying I think this is absolutely true in Carl's case, not if he learns from the experience.
As spokespeople, honesty is important to doing an effective job, but avoiding needlessly creating negative impressions is even more important considering the responsibility we take on when we speak to large audiences. Isn't the point that we want our words to clear up misunderstandings and have a positive impact? Why would we choose to make statements that would undermine that goal? It's terribly counterproductive to let this happen when in fact what we have to share is a message of just how ethical and healthy responsible nonmonogamy can actually be. We do neither ourselves nor our communities any service by playing into the hands of our critics. Our words can have far-reaching consequences and affect the lives of thousands of people we don't even know. This responsibility MUST be taken seriously if we are to make the world a better, safer place for healthy families that don't fit the traditional model.
I already know that I share many of Kenya and Carl's values, and I am grateful for their courage and especially for their lending a voice to this subject from the perspective of people of color. I applaud their commitment to self-determination and the example they set for others to create the family life and responsible relationships that best meet their needs.
Author Pamela Haag refers in her recent book "Marriage Confidential," to those of us living a consenting and openly nonmonogamous life as renegade couples blazing a trail for others to follow. This is no more true for anyone than it is for we spokespeople who stick out our necks into the line of fire to raise awareness and counter misconceptions. We are all learning as we go, and we are all in this together. I'm pretty sure many polyamory spokespeople, including myself, would be happy to collaborate with Carl and Kenya in this regard and learn from each others' experiences.