A World Beyond Monogamy

I’ve written a book. It’s been something of a labour of love but also a lot of fun. It’s out in early 2022 (there’s a crowdfunder September 2021) and if I may I’d like to tell you a bit about it.

I’d had it in mind to write something about consensual non-monogamy for a while. A lot of what I read was very much the product of a time and a place. That place was almost exclusively North America and very white and not always alert to the fact that there’s a whole wide world of experience out there. The catalyst that really got me off my arse to research and write the thing was a talk I went to at the Chaos Computer Congress, a fantastic annual get together for the hacking community held in Germany. I was there reporting for a BBC technology programme.

Amidst the many talks on exploits, vulnerabilities and our digital future, the side bars on robotic cocktail makers and fermented food and much more, was a talk on polyamory. I walked out I thought it was so bad. Some of it was plain irresponsible (for instance the speaker lazily claimed ‘no one can make you feel anything’ which will come as something of a surprise to anyone who has been emotionally and psychologically abused) and much of the rest came across as ‘this is how I do it so that’s how you should do it’ and I came out wanting to write something so that people would have better resources.

But that begs the perfectly reasonable question, ‘why me?’

I’ve been a journalist for over thirty years. And the joy of being a journalist is that while you may only know so much you can, with a little effort, track down people who know a lot more. I’ve interviewed all sorts of people from the very powerful; presidents, prime ministers, movies stars, one of the guys who invented the internet, to the utterly powerless; refugees, rubber tappers and people who’ve been trafficked and enslaved for sex among many, many others. Everyone I’ve interviewed over the last thirty years has taught me something and some of them (rarely the best known of them) have made a lasting impressin and changed the way I think.

Which leads me to another reason for writing this; most of the books out there about consensual non-monogamy are written from a very personal point of view. I, perhaps unkindly, think of it as the “Me and my fifty sweeties in a flower-strewn valley in Sweden” school of writing about polyamory. A World Beyond Monogamy is not that.

Finally the most life changing experience I’ve had is without a doubt the five or so years I spent reporting from South East Asia for the BBC, KQED, Newsweek and others. Half my life remains in the region, in the care, in my absence, of my many friends out there. They collectively schooled me on how much of the cultural assumptions we grow up with we take for granted. There are many different ways of thinking. An approach to polyamory or swinging that works in San Francisco may not work in India or Indonesia. 

So, I wanted to write a book that would bring together a really diverse collection of voices and to that end I interviewed people practicing CNM from Australia to China to Europe, to Latin America, to the States and Canada. Of the fifty or so interviewees in that group around half are people of colour, lots are queer, a few are trans and pretty much every single one is thoughtful and generous in sharing their perspectives. I also interviewed quite a number of academics and therapists, some of whom are consensually non-monogamous and some are not. 

I don’t claim to be without shortcomings as a journalist, but one thing I do think I generally get right is letting the story change as the facts demand. If I start with a hypothesis but it’s demolished by my research then I change my hypothesis. You’d be amazed how many people don’t.

What that means, I trust, is that what I wrote is based on those sixty or so interviews I did and threads what they told me into a coherent and hopefully engaging narrative. I’m tempted to single particular interviewees out but that would be really invidious. Let me just say it was a real privilege to be able to gather the thoughts of so many brilliant people and weave them together into what is intended as a pretty comprehensive guide to forms of CNM from monogamish to open relationships, swinging to polyamory in its various forms and to the many Heffalump traps that people choosing to love, or perhaps simply fuck, more than one person, consensually of course, sometimes fall into.  

I’ll write more about it over the coming weeks and I hope to do a few live events to answer questions.

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