More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
EDIT 2019/09/07: Per the request articulated in this post by the survivor support pod, I’m now prefacing this review with a link to the stories of the women who have spoken out about their experiences being mistreated by Franklin Veaux. I’ll also recommend reading the thoughts of Eve Rickert, the book’s co-author and publisher, on the occasion of the book’s fifth anniversary of publication; she is herself a survivor and has some really useful commentary on what this book means for her in that context. The remainder of this post is unchanged.
Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton did some of this work in The Ethical Slut, but the focus there was more sexual. Wendy-O-Matik did it in polemic form, beautifully if poorly edited, in her little self-published gem Redefining Our Relationships. But finally, finally, someone’s written a hefty, full-sized, guide-style book specifically on the concept of ethical polyamory. More Than Two may well be the best book on polyamory I’ve ever read. No joke, it’s really that fantastic.
(Full disclosure: Veaux and Rickert mention my writing in the book a couple of times, which was kinda sweet to see, but I promise I don’t give good reviews based on that sort of thing.)
You’d think, with all the hype about communication and ethical non-monogamy and all the rest, that poly folks would be the most ethical and considerate bunch on the planet. But so many of the concepts, habits and terminology quirks that have evolved over the admittedly short few decades that polyamory has existed as a more-than-just-fringe practice are in fact pretty toxic. In some ways this is all the more the case because these toxic ideas and practices are championed under the guise of open, honest and ethical relationships. At over 450 pages, Veaux and Rickert’s book is huge, yes, but I think that’s in part because they took the time to tease out all the little places where the “ethical” part of ethical polyamory gets lost or eclipsed, to really dig them up and drag them into the light, and then to discuss them gently and kindly. That shit takes time, or in this case, word count. It’s well worth reading the whole thing. Twice.
More Than Two isn’t perfect. The book’s discussion of solo poly, for instance, is overly brief and kinda makes it sounds like solo poly people are standoffish commitment-phobes, which doesn’t really do justice to the idea. I’d have liked to hear more explicit discussion of relationship anarchy as a philosophy or movement. I’m surprised that there’s so little discussion of the BDSM world and its gigantic overlap with the poly one, and why that might be the case, and the specific challenges that come up in that little section of the Venn diagram.
As well, their approach often fails to make a clear distinction between the practice of polyamory and “the poly community,” which is problematic for a couple of reasons. Poly communities (plural, because they exist in most major cities as well as online, and in many forms of overlap) are often made up predominantly of straight men and bisexual women, mostly cis with a sprinkling of trans folks, mostly white, etc etc. Poly people do not necessarily fit this description at all, but those who don’t may not circulate primarily in poly communities because it’s not where they best fit. Conflating the two makes for some odd logical burps, which become evident for someone like me who really doesn’t hang in “the poly community” at all, nice though those folks may be, except that 90% of the people in my rather vast social network are nevertheless poly because we’re primarily queer-identified leatherdyke types.
This leads me to a further criticism: More Than Two’s section on LGBTQ communities leaves much to be desired. While I appreciate their attempt, and I will give that it hits most of the basic notes, I would have appreciated a more nuanced dissection of the spectrum of LGBTQ opinions on polyamory. In reality it ranges from the arch-conservative “it’ll make us look bad to the mainstream” marriage-equality people to the “monogamy is oppressive” radical queers and everything in between, including radical poly queers who get married (!). In a good percentage of queer and LGBTQ communities, non-monogamy of some sort is so normalized that it doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but reading this section left me feeling like they think it’s a lot more widely frowned upon than I’ve ever observed. Their conclusion is sort of “YMMV,” but I think there’s a lot more to say than that. Maybe this points to the need for a different book? I’d love to read an analysis of ethical non-monogamy from a queer perspective, with a good-sized history section that takes into account everything from gay and lesbian communes in the 60s and 70s to feminism to sex work politics to leather communities to radical young queer movements today. (Hmm… I wonder who might write such a book… hmmm…)
Anyway. Those are my criticisms. They are real, but honestly, they pale in comparison to the overall high quality of this book. It’s thorough, it covers ethical situations from the most basic to the trickiest, and it articulates two very down-to-earth principles and then sticks to them throughout. In some ways it’s a crash course in how to do decent human relationships, period, but that’s not a bad thing. If anything it points up pretty starkly how a person-centred, kindness-focused, rigorously ethical framework is missing from a lot of what gets said about poly out there in the world. More Than Two is a welcome antidote to a lot of the glib advice that’s proliferated in the last five or ten years. I hope it gets as widely read as it deserves to be.