Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

November 19, 2017

"How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream"

That's the title of a Guardian article appearing as Professor Marston and the Wonder Women plays in the UK and elsewhere overseas, after doing terribly at the box office in the US.

It's a catchy title, but the article doesn't live up to it. General-audience movies practically never portrayed modern polyamory pre-Marston; as genuine, serious romances and partnerships worthy of an audience's respect. Even those that come within striking distance (starting with Design for Living in 1933) have generally played multi-relationships for laughs — a novelty gimmick — usually with an unhappy ending, sometimes involving gunshots.

Instead, credit 30 years of word-spreading, seed-planting, and activism by countless inspired polyfolks going back at least to Ryam Nearing, Deborah Anapol, Morning Glory and Oberon Zell, Robert H. Rimmer and many others great and small, in growing numbers. I'm looking at you, dear readers. Thank You.


How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream

Non-monogamous relationships used to be portrayed as disastrous in film. But with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, is there a shift towards greater acceptance?

By Anna Smith

...[Marston] may be the most positive depiction of polyamory – the state of being in love with more than one person – in mainstream film to date. ... It is an accessible, occasionally moving film that treats the three-way relationship much like a typical movie coupling. This makes it decidedly atypical in the history of cinema.

Think of movie threesomes and you might picture Denise Richards, Matt Dillon and Neve Campbell writhing around in a swimming pool in Wild Things. ... In comedies, they are played for laughs: Russell Brand, Jonah Hill and Elisabeth Moss had a clumsy romp in Get Him to the Greek, which also served a common dramatic purpose: to reinforce the relationship between a heterosexual couple, rather than enhance it. As Meg-John Barker, author of Rewriting the Rules, a guide to the changing nature of modern relationships, puts it: “A person being in love with two people at once is a staple of much drama, from romcoms and soap operas to advice columns and tabloid news headlines. Almost always, they are forced to choose one person and to let go of the other.”

...There are, of course, other films that have taken a less judgmental approach to polyamory. The buoyant British comedy-drama Rita, Sue and Bob Too saw two teenaged girls on a council estate sharing the same man.... Henry & June documented Henry and June Miller’s relationship with Anaïs Nin. The Dreamers, starring Eva Green, Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel, was an arty erotic drama about a love triangle, but a troubled and incestuous one. The 1994 comedy-drama Threesome with Lara Flynn Boyle, Josh Charles and Stephen Baldwin was inspired by director Andrew Fleming’s own experiences. Oliver Stone’s Savages, which cast Blake Lively as the girlfriend of pot dealers Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, may have shown the three living together in bliss, but things ended badly — as they have done in everything from the 1962 film Jules et Jim to the recent erotic French film Love.

“Sometimes open relationships are represented but they end in tragedy or difficulty, like in The Ice Storm or Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” says Barker. “There are a few more positive depictions of open non-monogamy in films like Shortbus, Kinsey, Summer Lovers, or – kind of – Her.

The 2006 film Shortbus was certainly one of the more cheerfully liberal depictions of polyamory in film; colourfully detailing a group of New Yorkers exploring multiple partners through sex salons. But, just as many films aimed more specifically at the gay market have been, it was a niche arthouse movie, preaching to the converted. Professor Marston plays it straight enough to reach a more conservative crowd, indicating that polyamory might be going more mainstream. And the chances are the subject will crop up again in Chanya Button’s upcoming Vita & Virginia, the story of Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), and aristocrat Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton), who had an open relationship with her husband, Harold Nicolson.

Experts feel this may represent a real-life shift towards greater acceptance. “Things are changing slowly,” says Barker. “When I started studying this area 15 years ago, virtually all the reporting around polyamory was sensationalist and negative, saying it could never work, or it was ‘taking all the fun out of affairs’. Now we have a wealth of research on just how common polyamory is (about 5% of people in the US are openly non-monogamous), and about how positive polyamorous families can be for children.” ...

The whole article (November 16, 2017).

Barker has posted their whole email interview with the writer (Nov. 17). Barker is on the road this fall to promote their newest book, How to Understand your Gender (co-authored with Alex Iantaffi).



November 13, 2017

Marston movie makes waves abroad: "The case for polyamorous marriage"

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women has now opened in the UK, Australia, and Europe. Mainstream reviewers, like those in the US last month, are discussing the movie's triad household as if it's a fairly widely understood concept. Here are lots of reviews worldwide since November 5th. Peruse at your leisure.

The UK's Telegraph, normally a very conservative paper, used its own positive review of the movie (four stars out of five) as the jumping-off for a separate, meditative, 1,600-word article introducing polyamory and its attractive qualities to unaware readers:

Can threesomes work? Professor Marston, Wonder Woman, and the case for polyamorous marriage

Mary Shelley, Lord Bryon, and Claire Clairmont (Getty)

By Rebecca Hawkes

...Being a polyamorist means being in a committed, meaningful relationship with more than one person at a time, in which everyone involved is comfortable with the group relationship. In love with both your wife and your secret girlfriend? That’s not polyamory; just adultery. Living harmoniously with your wife and girlfriend in a loving, mutually satisfying threesome? That’s probably polyamory.

...The film, [Niko] Bell writes, is “emotional porn for poly people… It’s a big, wet, effusive kiss to the ideals of contemporary polyamory”.

...The word “polyamory” may be a relatively recent one, first coined in the 1990s, but polyamory itself has probably always been a part of human culture.... But part of the problem for those looking to retell these stories for a modern audience is that examples of historical polyamorous relationships which aren’t obviously exploitative, and which reflect at least some modern ideals surrounding love, are hard to find. ["Aren't obviously exploitative"? See Franklin Veaux's takedown of how William and Elizabeth Marston treated Olive Byrne, below.]

...Some historians ... believe that the poet [Percy Bysshe] Shelley, the author Mary Shelley, her step-sister Claire Clairmont and Lord Byron, radical freethinkers of their own age, may have indulged in some form of polyamory, although this interpretation of their relationship is disputed by others.

...Today, a surprising number of people see polyamorous relationships as "an ethical alternative to infidelity" and live very happily within them. According to a 2014 study, in the US alone there are 9.8 million in relationships involving "satellite lovers"; no wonder there are increasing calls for polyamorists to be allowed to marry each other legally.

Another study, by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli of Deakin University in Australia, has even found that children can thrive in such an environment: “Research shows that most children are really happy growing up with lots of adults, in fact most kids love it,” she said.

...Purists might insist it is wrong of us to impose our own values on the past, but box office returns say otherwise. Perhaps it’s high time that polyamory, niche as it may be, received its own quirky, almost-true Hollywood fairy tale.

The whole article (November 10, 2017. Registration wall).

We can quibble with the implication that polyfolks usually live in group households; most don't. The most common form today is a primary open marriage with everyone as friends – or, especially among the young, a larger intimate network that is less hierarchical, more changeable, and trails off into the meta-metamour distance.1

However, Loving More's big surveys in 2000 and 2012 found that within the self-identified poly community, a group-relationship household is the ideal for many more polyfolks than manage to put one together. It's a high hurdle for the just the right (unusual) people with the right skills and compatibility to find each other at the same time, and then for the practicalities of combining households to work for all of them at once.


1. What distinguishes polyamory from other forms of consensual non-monogamy ("CNM" in sociology-speak) is an ethic that at least to some degree, "We're all in this together."


● Poly writer Franklin Veaux, among others, points out the gross power and consent violations in how William and Elizabeth began their relationship with his student. Franklin goes into full snark mode in his review Professor Marston and the Great Unicorn Hunt (Nov. 13, 2017):

...PROFESSOR MARSTON: My new undergrad psychology student is hot.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is this is the [1920s], which means Harvard won’t give me a Ph.D. because I’m a woman. The good news is that this is the [1920s], which means there’s no such thing as an ethics review board, so if you want to sexually groom and then experiment on your undergrad student in really creepy ways that totally objectify her and violate her consent, that’s okay. Also, I have no concept of sexual jealousy.

The polyamorous people in the audience CHEER

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I also have no concept of consent.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Awesome! This will be fun. What is your name, hot undergrad student?

UNICORN: You may call me Unicorn. My mother and aunt are the best-known feminists of this decade. I was raised in a convent, so I am sexually naive and trusting. Plus, I just starred in Fifty Shades Darker, so I have a totally fucked perception of how consent is supposed to work. Also, it kinda makes me this film’s version of the Born Sexy Yesterday trope. ...


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November 11, 2017

Dan Savage on monogamy on PBS NewsHour

"Sometimes I 100% agree with Dan and sometimes I want to punch him in the face. This video is such an agree," writes OhMori on reddit/r/polyamory.

The 6-minute segment, aired on PBS NewsHour November 10th, doesn't mention the polyamory option. But it's serious mainstream exposure for perhaps the central idea of our movement (IMO), summed up in the segment's online blurb:

"Some people wind up making monogamous commitments because the culture says this is what 'good people' do," says Dan Savage. "But it should be a choice that each couple makes."

Which means discussing it, early — and understanding the many possible alternatives.

The video (6:15) is only on Facebook as best I can tell. Here's the link:



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November 4, 2017

A religious revelation about polyamory

The first glimmer of my poly beliefs came when I was a very little boy. My mom told me that a neighbor, whose wife had died and gone to Heaven, had remarried. I puzzled to myself over a serious question. When they all finally met up in Heaven, which one would be the real wife, and which would be left cruelly and tragically alone? The only logical answer, I concluded, was that they would all love each other together.

It was years before I realized that not just angels, but we imperfect humans, can sometimes make it work right here.

Poly relationship counselor Page Turner, who runs the Poly.Land website and wrote her fictionalized autobiography Poly Land, went with a partner to her grandfather's Catholic funeral. The priest who officiated was thinking just like little me, and Page wonders why the religious are scared to think the next logical thought. She's a very good writer.

A Polyamorous Heaven: Funerals Don’t Come With Trigger Warnings

By Page Turner

I’m sitting up as straight as I can on the pew while my mother sobs on my left. Skyspook is on my right, his hands folded in his lap.

We’re sitting in the front row. My grandmother sits on the other side of my mother. All 5′ 10″ of her in a gray pantsuit. My grandmother doesn’t cry. Not that I can see anyway. Skyspook later tells me that he can see it in smaller expressions on her face. ...

Clyde Robinson / CC BY
...The priest delivers a sermon about Christ and eternal life, inviting us to pray for my grandfather’s soul so that he may be reunited with all his loved ones in heaven and that we, too, may join him and all others we love in the afterlife.

All others? I wonder suddenly.

Because, you see, this is my grandmother’s second time being widowed. ... Any heaven that they’re part of will be filled with multiple loves.

The pastor knows all of this. ... In that moment, it occurs to me that the heaven the pastor describes is rather polyamorous.

And thinking back on conversations I’ve had with others — some of them very religious — few to none have had a problem with widowed folks remarrying (provided at least a short grieving period had passed). They don’t think of this eventual reunion in heaven as awkward for all involved.

Meanwhile, nonmonogamy on Earth — especially the consensual, honest kind — is regarded by those same folks as the work of Satan.

...As the pastor blesses the sacramental bread and wine, I wonder why we consider what is standard in heaven to be so far beneath us here on Earth.

Read her whole, longer post (October 23, 2017).


On a related subject, an article on Loving More's site: Grief and Loss Among the Polys, by John Ullman.

...Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well. ...


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November 1, 2017

Thanks, folks! Mayim Bialik admits her errors about poly and open relationships

Actress Mayim Bialik is best known as the nerdy Amy Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory," one of the most-watched shows on television. Bialik runs a site called GrokNation where she expounds on various, often geeky topics. Back on June 4th she posted this video about open relationships and why she thought they couldn't work:

Summary: They can't work because she can't imagine it, and because pop-anthropology theories. So real-world observations of, well, us, don't matter. This while Bialik claims to think like a scientist.

You gave her quite an earful! One example, from Matthew Facciani (who's not poly): Three Reasons Why Mayim Bialik’s Video About Open Relationships Is Terrible

The video is a bit hard to follow because her points are all over the place, but she first starts arguing that ... because men continuously produce sperm, they are wired to have sex continuously. Conversely, women have to be more selective with their partners because they have one egg. ... To make all this worse, she tries to justify her argument by stating she is a scientist, but cites exactly zero scientific studies.

...Polyamory isn’t just about sex anyway. Ask any polyamorous person and they’ll tell you. Also, open relationships do not always mean someone is polyamorous, but she conflates the two terms....

Cunning Minx of Polyamory Weekly took it apart in her Episode 521: Responding to Mayim Bialik (June 19). She lists six naive fallacies that Bialik blunders into, such as, "4. If a lifestyle wouldn’t work for me, it couldn’t possibly work for anyone else."

And Joreth Innkeeper:

Please sit down and shut up. You're making educated white women look bad. Your biology is outdated, your sex and gender essentialism is outdated, your anthropology is outdated, your psychology is outdated, and your sex education is way outdated.

AND you make the same mistake as so many others before you of believing that, assuming even all your so-called "facts" were completely true, that humans stopped evolving millions of years ago around the point at which we split from apes and that our brains aren't incredibly plastic and highly susceptible to non-genetic influences like culture and higher-order thinking.

You're just so wrong on so many points that it would take me forever to correct you on each one. You're not just wrong, you're fractally wrong. Every single thing you said was wrong. ...

Bialik heard from so many people that she did something remarkable these days: She admitted that she was wrong. Rather thoroughly, and she quoted some of you. This video (Sept. 14) has had 644,000 views, compared to 374,000 for the older original.

This kerfuffle was recently overshadowed by a bigger one, when Bialik wrote an op-ed for the New York Times remarking that she escaped harassment in Hollywood because she looks plain by Hollywood standards and dresses and acts modestly. She took shit for inadvertent victim blaming, apologized poorly, then apologized a second time better.

She also seems to have come around, I think, regarding her embarrassing past as an anti-vaxxer.

So, here's some respect for a rare public figure who's willing to correct high-profile errors made in public. (But it might be better to get stuff right the first time.)



October 29, 2017

Spike Lee's new "polyamorous, pansexual" Netflix series, "She's Gotta Have It"

Remember Spike Lee's movie She's Gotta Have It from 1986? Nola Darling, free and independent, juggled three male lovers; each was jealous of the others and wanted her all for himself. She finally gave up her lifestyle, chose one like she was supposed to, then announced she'd be celibate, and that didn't work either. Not exactly a poly-themed flick.

Now Lee is bringing Nola back in a Netflix series with the same name. It releases on Thanksgiving Day (November 23). Nola, played this time by DeWanda Wise, has the same three guys. The movie launched Lee's career; will his approach to multi-relationshipping have evolved in the last 31 years?

This series is going to affect us, because its publicity uses our identity and language front and center. “As a sex-positive, polyamorous pansexual,” Nola declares in the short promo below, “monogamy never even seemed like a remote possibility.”

Here's the full trailer they took that from:

She's certainly self-assured. “I’m not a freak, I’m not a sex addict, and I’m damn sure nobody’s property.”

We're also introduced to the three very different men:

This will be interesting — maybe a great solopoly representation, maybe a problem where we'll have to correct a public misuse of our defining term, maybe something else. More to come.


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October 23, 2017

Marston movie wins more poly plaudits, sinks at box office; director and angry granddaughter face off in print

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women continues to get good notices, especially from the polyamory world, even as attendance sinks after a poor opening week. Perhaps one problem was that four other biopics opened the same week, based on characters from Thurgood Marshall to Winnie the Pooh. This week Marston is showing in 959 theaters compared to 1,229 when it opened. Go see it while you can. You really don't want to miss this.

Vice discusses how thoughtfully and respectfully the movie treats a poly relationship compared to every other cinema treatment before now:

'Professor Marston' Is a Trailblazer for Polyamory in Film (Oct. 19):

By Jill Gutowitz

...It's not often the poly community sees themselves represented fairly on screen, but Professor Marston's message is clear: Polyamory is both sustainable and respectable.

..."I didn't necessarily come at it as, 'I want to tell a poly story,'" [director Angela] Robinson told me. "I wanted to tell a very organic love story between three people." Robinson said she's been surprised and warmed by the film's warm reception from polyamorous and queer critics, and agrees that she hasn't seen any other films that portray polyamory quite like Professor Marston does.

"I have never seen polyamory centered or treated with respect in a movie before ever in my life," Gaby Dunn told me. Dunn, a bisexual YouTuber and author (I Hate Everyone But You), has advocated for polyamory much of her adult life. "It was beautiful to see that yes, you can love more than one person, and have a family, and be happy."

It's more often that characters will use polyamory as a cheap plot device or for comic relief, with filmmakers asking the audience to laugh at a polyamorous character's misgivings rather than connect with them emotionally. Take the idea of a "hall pass," like in the 2011 film Hall Pass, or the 2017 film Permission, in which an open marriage is used as a device for the primary partners to come back to each other. Or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) or Swinging With the Finkels (2011) which explore swinging. Films like these treat polyamory with the gravitas that television's Arrested Development gives to Lindsay and Tobias Fünke, who open their marriage and constantly sabotage each other (or themselves) in their search for casual sex....

Non-committal sex with multiple partners pops up throughout film history, especially in comedies, like Friends With Benefits (2011) and No Strings Attached (2011). The 2015 dramedy Sleeping With Other People follows a womanizer who meets his match in a serial cheater, but they ultimately find monogamy in each other. Communal living situations have been touched on, like in David Wain's Wanderlust (2012). However, the people of the commune are seen as freakish by the conventional protagonists, and the male character is shamed for his wandering mind and libido. And unlike A Home at the End of the World (2004), Professor Marston's poly relationship doesn't break due to jealousy.

...The few times when polyamory has been portrayed positively in film, it hasn't been placed front-and-center in quite the way it is in Professor Marston. Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) features a polyamorous triad that's balanced, respectful, and doesn't crumble due to monogamous covetousness — but it's not a driving plot. Conversely, Oliver Stone's Savages (2012) positions a polyamorous triad as the central focus, but the film was criticized by bloggers in the community for its nebulous, thoughtless view of multiple partner-relationships.

The most notable difference between Professor Marston & The Wonder Women and its predecessors is the role of the female gaze. While films like Savages and Vicky Cristina Barcelona feel voyeuristic and at times lewd, sex scenes in Professor Marston overflow with intimacy, sensuality and respect. This was intentional; Robinson told VICE that she focused on shooting the characters' faces and desires, rather than their body parts....

● Leigh Monson at BirthMoviesDeath.com adds Design for Living and 5 to 7 to the list of movie comparisons: Professor Marston And The Polyamorous Perspective (Oct. 12).

The Wonder Woman creator's biopic is an enormous milestone in representation. ... Non-monogamous relationships [have been] almost exclusively the purview of lying cheaters — which is not polyamory, that's just cheating — and bizarre weirdos meant to be an object of derision or comic relief. (The sexually aggressive swingers from Rough Night come to mind.)

● Sophie Cundall makes similar movie comparisons, adding to the list À Trois on y Va (released in English as All About Them): The Power of Three (Oct. 21).

● Joreth Innkeeper, in her series of Poly-ish Movie Reviews, sees a particular reflection in the movie of real poly life: Episode 29 – Professor Marston & The Wonder Women (Oct. 17):

The modern poly movement is largely considered to be a feminist movement. Most of its more vocal "leaders" are women and nonbinary people, with only a handful of cismale names attached to the shaping of our communities and our philosophies. ... When women find a community that embraces our sexuality and our relationship freedom, we choose multiple partnerships of our own. ... [When men] attempt to form harems through the poly community, they often find it backfiring on them, as the women discover themselves and their power through the love of other people and the supportive network that polyamory provides....

I felt this fact of the polyamory experience was paralleled in the movie itself. The movie title only names the man and implies the women, but throughout the movie, it is the women who drive the relationship. I feel that this is the experience of many women in the poly community — overlooked and dismissed by society as being accessories to the men's fantasy, but in reality being the driving force in their own relationships. Bill Marston, as the person with the most social power, gives the women the space to decide their fate, and make decisions they do. ...

● Here's an unusual negative review of the movie, in the Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times: 'Victoria & Abdul' beats the heck out of 'Prof. Marston' (Oct. 18):

By Bruce C. Steele

...While "Victoria" combines nuggets of amazing historical truth and filmmaker creativity to create touching, funny encounters between people whom moviegoers quickly care about, "Marston" seems unable to figure out even what factoids might intrigue viewers.

It's even less able to give its fine cast any consistent, evolving people to play. The central threesome talk in cliches and make repeated snap decisions that seem to come from nowhere, only to contradict themselves minutes later.

"Marston" is structured according to the professor's DISC theory, dividing human behavior into Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. But Marston is chiefly reminiscent of Greg Kinnear's crackpot motivational speaker from "Little Miss Sunshine" — all gimmick and no substance — so using his half-baked theory to guide the screenplay is forced and foolish. ...


Meanwhile, William and Elizabeth Marston's granddaughter Christie Marston continues to object to the movie portraying Elizabeth and Olive as a romantic couple, rather that just sisterly housemates sharing a husband. I've pointed out some of the reasons to think that this blander version is a real stretch; so has Wonder Women book author Noah Berlatsky.

Least convincing is Christie's memory that in their elderly years, Elizabeth and Olive didn't present as anything more than sisterly best friends living together. By then they would have spent decades acting that role, which would have been necessary in an era when homosexual relations were not only scandalous but a crime punishable by years in prison.

In fact, Elizabeth and Olive were extremely private about the nature of the household; they even kept the parentage of Olive's children secret from all the children long after they were grown. Biographer Jill Lepore reports that "[Olive] Byrne’s sons didn’t find out that Marston was their father until 1963 — when Holloway finally admitted it — and only after she extracted a promise that no one would raise the subject ever again." Elizabeth was 60 by that time.1

Elizabeth's son Pete (Christie Marston's father) told Lepore in 2014, "The whys and wherefores of the family arrangements were never discussed with the kids — ever."2

A few days ago the Hollywood Reporter gave Christie Marston and director Angela Robinson guest columns to state their viewpoints, published at the same time. This is Christie's most coherent presentation I've seen. The women's relationship aside, she clearly has the facts with her when she disputes the liberties Robinson took with details of how the Wonder Woman character was created. She also says that she's involved with another proposed treatment of the story that's currently being shopped around by a woman unnamed.

What 'Professor Marston' Misses About Wonder Woman's Origins (Guest Column)

...It was a rude surprise to see the film promoted as "the true story." The filmmakers had no contact with the family or people who knew them. When questioned about that, writer/director Angela Robinson said in an interview with Vulture, “It was a conscious choice because I really just wanted to have my own interpretation of the story.”

...The film depicts Elizabeth and Dots [Olive] as lovers, with William as a third party in their beds. It loosely, with no attention to fact, shows the Wonder Woman comic book being created based upon the threesome’s relationship.

There are two major areas which are wrongly presented; the relationship and Wonder Woman’s origin. While the imaginary of sexual relationships can be overlooked, the "alternative facts" presented about Wonder Woman’s origin are simply unacceptable. ...

...The relationship

Robinson's basis for turning my grandmother and Dots into lovers may be that they continued to live together after William's death. The reality of the matter was that there really were not a lot of options at that immediate point in time. There were kids to feed and bills to pay. Gram worked while Dots directed the four kids. After the kids were out of the house, the two women chose to share a household. They were best friends, so close as to be sisters.

For those assuming that a grandchild could or would not know anything about their grandmother’s sex life, I should explain that my knowledge of my grandmother is not as a child, but as an adult. Mine is not the viewpoint of a small child with a sweet old lady grandmother. We had a very close relationship. Gram’s three or four week visits several times a year gave us plenty of time to discuss all the woes of mankind. Silly societal taboos on sex and sexual preferences was a topic we covered thoroughly. Gram was very open minded, and conversed clearly and freely. Gram was a firm believer that people should do whatever they damned well pleased; the only stipulation being maturity and consent. Gram and Dots not only lacked that connectivity which couples have, but would have had no reason to hide.

As to arguments that the relationship as imagined by Robinson's film could possibly be true: I do agree that nobody can ever say what somebody else lived. I can never swear that she and Olive never connected sexually, but I can say with 99.99 percent certainty that they did not. It’s sad, really; it would have been a nice boon for them if they could have been lovers as well.

Something that I came to realize over the past few days in the wake of the new film is just how much interest people have in the Marston family. People have been asking me about the family for years, but it had never really hit me until now. There were so many fans disappointed to learn that the film was not true; they had planned on seeing it to find out more about the family and how Wonder Woman came to exist.

To all of the many who told me that I needed to get the true story out, I will say this: There is a project being pitched which I will endorse if it comes to fruition. It comes from many, many years of very extensive research by a woman of integrity. ...

Read the whole column (Oct. 20).

Robinson's statement:

'Professor Marston' Director on Finding the True Story of Wonder Woman's Creator (Guest Column)

I spent eight years bringing Professor Marston and the Wonder Women to the screen. The film is about the man who created Wonder Woman and the two women in his life that inspired one of the most iconic, incredible superheroes of our time. When I first learned of the story, it looked like it was a story of a man who had a wife and a mistress. Then I came across this one core sentence… Olive and Elizabeth lived together for 38 years after Marston died. That was the moment I realized I was writing a love story. Three people came together and formed a family. Marston drew inspiration out of his beautiful, complicated life.

My film is based on a true story. I conducted firsthand research for the film. I’ve read everything there is to read on the subject including all of William Moulton Marston’s writings. There are some known facts about Marston and his family. But like any work based on history, I took creative license to best tell the story from my own personal understanding and point of view.

I very much understand if the Marston family, friends or fans have issues with the liberties I took to craft this film. That is fair game. But I am alarmed that some of the intense focus of criticism is around my portrayal of Olive and Elizabeth as bisexual and their relationship with William Moulton Marston as polyamorous. I did not arrive at that conclusion in a vacuum. It is not “wishful thinking.” There is ample evidence to support this interpretation and many Wonder Woman scholars agree with me. As Noah Bertlatsky, writes in his article on my film: “Why have people been so reticent about acknowledging that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers, when Elizabeth and Olive were obviously lovers? In her 1990’s The Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Sedgwick argues that the refusal to admit that figures in the past were gay is part of the way the dominant culture represses and denies homosexuality.” At this very moment, issues of silence and shame are at the forefront of our cultural discussion, and it’s important to look at how silencing happens despite how good-intentioned the motives are behind the silencing. The character of Wonder Woman has been whitewashed at many points throughout her history, and from my vantage, there has been a systematic “whitewashing” of the Marstons’ queerness.

I made several attempts to contact Marston’s granddaughter, Christie Marston, both directly and through intermediaries, to screen the film and discuss it before it was released in theaters. She did not respond to my efforts to connect and to my knowledge has not seen the film. I have a lot of compassion for the family because it must be alienating to see people you love depicted on screen, but I proudly stand by my interpretation. ...

Read the whole column (Oct. 20).

Hopefully, with all the new interest in Wonder Woman and the remarkable family who birthed her, more materials may emerge that will settle the question of the women's actual relationship once and for all.

Update Nov. 1: More of William Marston's personal papers are becoming available. Harvard's Schlesinger Library has announced that it is sorting and preparing two collection of his papers recently donated by Olive's two sons. The library says it will make them available within the next few months. The library also says that additional papers are being donated by other members of his family (Harvard Gazette, Sept. 7, 2017).


1. Lepore gives another example of Elizabeth's compulsive closeting, even decades later, in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air" (Oct. 27, 2014). The subject here is Olive's signature wide bracelets, which became Wonder Woman's bullet deflectors. Says Lepore,

[William Marston] gave them to Olive Byrne in 1928.... And in the Family Circle magazine story from the 1940s, he says [to Olive], "You know, Wonder Woman's bracelets are based on yours." And so it's not like a disputed thing. But the funny thing is, even that, the family kind of erases — or Elizabeth Holloway erases, because decades later when she's asked about Wonder Woman's bracelets — this woman from Berkeley who's writing a PhD dissertation in the 1970s about Wonder Woman writes to Marston-Holloway and says, "Where did Wonder Woman get her bracelets?" — Holloway says "Oh, a student of Dr. Marston's used to wear them." Like, she's been living with Olive Byrne for decades at that point! They're really committed to keeping the family story a secret.

2. Lepore also notes,

In 1926, Olive Byrne, then twenty-two, moved in with Marston and Holloway; they lived as a threesome, “with love making for all,” as Holloway later said. Olive Byrne is the mother of two of Marston’s four children; the children had three parents. “Both Mommies and poor old Dad” is how Marston put it.

Incidentally, Lepore ends an article in The Smithsonian (October 2014) with this:

“Anniversary, which we forgot entirely,” Olive Byrne wrote in her secret diary in 1936. (The diary remains in family hands.) ... Byrne died in 1990, at the age of 86. She and Holloway had been living together in an apartment in Tampa. While Byrne was in the hospital, dying, Holloway fell and broke her hip; she was admitted to the same hospital. They were in separate rooms. They’d lived together for 64 years. When Holloway, in her hospital bed, was told that Byrne had died, she sang a poem by Tennyson: “Sunset and the evening star, / And one clear call for me! / And may there be no moaning of the bar, / When I put out to sea.”


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October 17, 2017

Professor Marston's opening weekend, and facts it gets wrong and right

Moose and I saw Professor Marston and the Wonder Women — and yes by damn, it's the loveliest, most down to earth, most kind and moving representation of a polyfamily ever to appear on screen as far as I know. All those mainstream reviews I've been posting here? It's at least as good as they led us to expect.

Polyfolks are telling of literally crying at finally seeing such a straightforward representation of what they're about. (For instance, a thread on reddit/r/polyamory.)

But when we saw the movie late Thursday night at a suburban multiplex, we and a group of three were the only people in the seats. Other folks tell of poor attendance where they saw it. The box office from opening weekend was disappointing, even for an arty indie biopic, at $736,883. Further proof that good reviews (which were predicted to result in a $2-$3 million opening weekend) don't mean good attendance.

Folks, word of mouth is king. Get the word out — to your friends, Facebook and Twitter networks, on your blogs and podcasts. And if you haven't seen it yourself, do so ASAP both to support it and to catch it on the big screen in case it closes early. Facebook page. Theaters, times, tickets.


Another thing that's come up is that the granddaughter of William and Elizabeth, Christie Marston, is on a campaign against the movie and its director for jiggering details of history for the sake of story. Which like all biopics, it does. Though I don't think a movie "based on the true story of," such as this, should ever be billed as "the true story of," which in a number of particulars it's not. Some of its marketing said it is.

But Christie seems most upset that the movie portrays Elizabeth and Olive as being in a bisexual relationship — which they apparently were, as Noah Berlatsky makes clear again in an article yesterday in The Verge (see below.) Christie Marston, now elderly, was not yet born at the time of the events. She was close to her grandmother in adulthood (Elizabeth lived to 100), but her grandmother did not talk to her about her sex life. Though she did say elsewhere, of those early days in the household, that there was "lovemaking for all." Christie seems to say that descendants have a right to prevent upsetting portrayals of their forebears, even when there's persuasive evidence.

Berlatsky, who has researched and written about Wonder Women's origins for years, cuts to the chase (spoilers ahead):

The crucial thing the new Wonder Woman movie gets right about the character’s history

Historians are reluctant to admit how a long-term polygamous relationship formed Wonder Woman, but Professor Marston and the Wonder Women dives in without shame.

Like most based-on-a-true-story biographical films, Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is only loosely connected to actual events. Psychology professor William Moulton Marston (played by Luke Evans in the film) did create the comic book character Wonder Woman, and he did live in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall) and their grad student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). Everything else in the movie, though, is up for grabs.

Robinson frames her film around the explicit war against Marston’s life and work. But in spite of complaints about the bondage in the Wonder Woman comics, Marston was never seriously threatened with being fired from the title he created. The comics sold too well, and he was too skilled at defending his work. In spite of the sultry lie detector scenes in the film, the lie detector Marston created never worked [well, only a bit --Ed.] and certainly wasn’t instrumental in getting William, Elizabeth, and Olive to declare their feelings for each other. So far as anyone knows, no neighbor ever wandered into the Marston household and found Marston, Elizabeth, and Olive having kinky costumed sex. William and Elizabeth didn’t subsequently split up with Olive, even temporarily. And as the photos over the closing credits prove, Elizabeth, Olive, and William did not look anything like glamorous movie stars.

But the movie depicts one important thing accurately: Elizabeth and Olive were bisexual. They didn’t just have separate sexual relationships with William. They had a sexual relationship with each other.

This doesn’t seem like it should be a controversial point. As the film notes, Elizabeth and Olive named their children after each other. After William died in 1947, the two women lived together for almost 40 years.

And there’s substantial evidence that the Marstons were aware of lesbian relationships and approved of them. Marston wrote extensively about female-on-female attraction in his scholarly work, going so far as to discuss the mechanics of tribadism and female oral sex. He presented lesbian sex as normal and healthy, and even suggested that half of all women were lesbians. Olive helped him research sorority initiation rituals; they concluded that the rituals were sites of intense same-sex eroticism. In one passage in his academic work, Marston describes two women making love in front of him. It isn’t difficult to figure out who those women were.

DC Comics
And this isn’t even getting into Marston’s erotic novel about Julius Caesar in which he describes lesbianism as “perfect,” nor the Wonder Woman comics, in which women tie each other up, spank each other, and dress up as deer in order to mime eating one another. Marston was an enthusiastic lesbophiliac who lived with two women in a polyamorous relationship. People have to be really committed to not seeing the obvious to not see the obvious. Yet, despite all of this, scholars and fans have still been remarkably reluctant to acknowledge that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers.

The Marston family’s polyamory was probably first discussed publicly by Les Daniels in his Complete History of Wonder Woman in 2004. ... Jill Lepore’s recent wildly popular Marston biography, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, includes accounts of naked feminist New Age sex parties.

...Why have people been so reticent about acknowledging that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers, when Elizabeth and Olive were obviously lovers? In 1990’s The Epistemology of the Close, Eve Sedgwick argues that the refusal to admit that figures in the past were gay is part of the way the dominant culture represses and denies homosexuality. Sedgwick says scholarship and history respond to gay people in the past by commanding, “Don’t ask. Or, less laconically: You shouldn’t know.” Because of stigma, queer people had to hide — and then historians use their lack of clear visibility as false proof that they didn’t exist. ...

The assumption behind this sort of high barrier to belief is that there’s something shameful about same-sex attraction. In the case of the Marstons, bisexuality is somehow even more verboten than polyamory. That attitude isn’t just homophobic, it’s also a betrayal of Marston’s entire life’s work. In his scholarly writing and his comics, Marston insistently, deliberately portrayed lesbianism as normal and good. He encouraged children to see diverse erotic possibilities as fun, enjoyable, and exciting, not shameful or dangerous. And he insisted that women were powerful, loving, and in control of their own desires.

...Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is really more about Elizabeth and Olive’s love than it is about Marston, and that’s a choice Marston himself would have strongly approved of. We don’t know that Marston lost his job because of his polyamory, as the movie claims, nor is there evidence that the family’s neighbors shunned them. But the fact that Elizabeth and Olive’s relationship has been denied for so long suggests the effect homophobia and the need for secrecy had on their lives. Director Angela Robinson, a lesbian herself, opens the closet door, and presents the love of William, Olive, and Elizabeth, not as shameful, but as courageous and beautiful. Inevitably, the film gets a lot wrong, but it does get that much right.

Noah Berlatsky is the author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics [2014].

Read the whole article (October 16, 2017).

She started out not just heroic but whimsical, playful, and weird.

P.S.: As if to make Berlatsky's point, The Catholic News Service instructs Catholics to avert their eyes from the movie (Oct. 13).

Lots more news and reviews since my last Google News link. (This link is for October 15th onward).


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