Where are all the Poly writers?
Last week I attended a polyamory book club meeting to discuss interviewed the playwright and actor Tony Fiorentino, and published it on her podcast, Polyamory Weekly. (Which podcast I highly recommend in general, and thank you Minx.)
But early in the meeting, we determined something funny about the poly book club discussing this play: The play showed a deeply cynical view of polyamory. And yet there we were, about a dozen active polyamorists, discussing it for three hours.
Now that the play has closed, this review will contain spoilers. Yes, the central character is a woman who claims polyamory as an integral facet of her identity, and she has two boyfriends, and she is a sympathetic character. But one of her boyfriends makes it very clear that he hates polyamory and is barely, painfully sucking it up to avoid losing the girl - and the other boyfriend turns out to be lying to his wife about very important things. Throw in our "heroine's" deeply disturbed teenage daughters and her metamour's infertility, and these characters spend most of their lives screaming and/or crying. New layers of dishonesty and heartbreak are revealed in every scene.
And as a polyamorist, that frustrated me to no end. ...Until someone else at the book club pointed out from Minx's interview with Tony Fiorentino that Mr. Fiorentino is not himself polyamorous, and he never intended to create converts. To quote him from Minx's podcast: "I was actually researching stuff for my previous play... and just came across the word 'polyamory' and started reading a little bit about it, and I thought... It would also make a great play, because... when you put a couple of people together who do not share the same ideologies but they happen to be in love, you have the seed of what could be a play with a lot of conflict." And there is nothing in that with which I can argue. Mr. Fiorentino is not obligated as a playwright to be our spokesman. And there's nothing untruthful about the implication that some individuals practice polyamory badly. Some individuals in his play also practice monogamy badly. We are all flawed, and melodrama ensues. Then a statutorily-raped teenager attempts suicide on prom night, and far worse melodrama ensues. That much is realistic enough.
No artist should be expected to speak for an entire community, especially if the artist's familiarity with the community is only from books. The unfortunate part is that plays like this do end up speaking for the entire community, because there are so very few artists saying the word "polyamory" at all - and none with any more fame or attention. Reviewer Alan Breslof called the play "educational". The depressed teenagers get at least as much dramatic stage-time as their polyamorous mother, but all the reviews focus on the novelty of polyamory. Fiorentino himself apparently had never heard of the concept until shortly before he decided to write the play. Whether anyone likes it or not, the play did create first impressions for a lot of its audience.
So why isn't anyone else producing poly fiction that's less cynical or tragic? I've heard the argument that good stories require a conflict, but Western writers seem to have an easy enough time writing romantically for monogamy. Hollywood and Broadway and bestseller book-lists have fed us plenty of emotionally engaging stories about couples in love. Where are our poly romantic comedies? Where are our stories about people in functional poly relationships battling external conflicts? Twenty years after the publication of Heather Has Two Mommies, where's the book for Heather's classmate with three?