Monthly Archives: December 2012

Gay Conversion Therapy Provider Sued

Participants in a gay conversion therapy program are suing:

Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) fraudulently claimed to provide services that “convert” people from gay to straight. These services, known as conversion therapy, have been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the New Jersey conversion therapy organization for fraudulent practices. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, charged that JONAH, its founder Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by claiming that their counseling services could cure clients of being gay.

The lawsuit describes how the plaintiffs – four young men and two of their parents – were lured into JONAH’s services through deceptive practices.

Hallelujah. Here’s hoping that this is the first of many.

Why Helping Someone Cheat is OK, or Dan Savage Disagrees With Me!

This week on The Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage got a call from a man who hooked up with another man who had a(n allegedly) monogamous boyfriend. He wanted to know if he had done anything wrong, and if he should feel guilty. This question strikes me as particularly important to the polyamorous community, as we’re often faced with this sort of opportunity. Most advice I’ve heard from the community stresses that poly is only poly if it’s with the knowledge and consent of all involved, which includes partners of partners.

Dan (disappointingly, to me) gave a pretty standard response. He made a lot of room for degrees of offense committed, but ultimately concluded that the only morally upstanding thing to do would be to turn down a proposition from someone in a monogamous relationship. I was disappointed because, to my mind, that would be the worst choice of the ones available.

The Problem With the Standard Advice

Dan Savage feels that sleeping with someone in a monogamous relationship is wrong because, even if you don’t know the other person in the relationship and thus “don’t have a moral obligation” to that person, it makes you “an accomplice to cheating.” In Dan’s mind, cheating is wrong, and therefore helping someone cheat is wrong.

The poly community has, shall we say, an unconventional view of cheating. We tend to say that the problem with cheating isn’t the sex, it’s the lying. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having sex with a person in a relationship. The problem is that when a monogamous person cheats, they are being dishonest with their partner. The harm is caused by the betrayal, not by the sex.

The problem with the standard advice is that, once the proposition has been made, the harm has already been done. By turning down the proposition, you’re turning a cheater into merely an attempted cheater. Is that really any better? To my mind, it is not. When someone attempts to cheat, the betrayal has already occurred. By preventing the “actual” cheating, all you’re doing is perpetuating the fraud that they are in a monogamous relationship. You’re actually doing more harm to the relationship by turning down the cheater, because you’re making it easier for both of them to pretend no betrayal actually happened. Chances are, unless you tell (more on that later), the other partner will never know about it, so most of the effect will be on the cheater. You’re just making the cheater feel less guilty and less likely to come clean.

So What Should You Do?

When you’re propositioned by a person in a monogamous relationship, from a moral perspective, there are three possible effects that your choice can have: do good, do harm, or do neither harm nor good. If you have sex with the cheater, you’re doing neither harm nor good. As explained above, the harm occurs when the proposition happens. The betrayal has already occurred. Whether the sex actually happens or not, the harm has already been done.

That being said, there are plenty of good reasons not to have sex with a cheater. First off, there’s a perfectly acceptable reason not to have sex with anyone – you don’t feel like it. There is no moral concern that I can think of which would obligate you to have sex with someone you don’t want to have sex with. In addition, the fact that someone is a cheater raises all kinds of concerns about that person’s trustworthiness, character, compassion, and decency. I have absolutely no problem with categorically turning down cheaters for those reasons. All I’m dealing with is the proposition that there is something morally wrong with being an accomplice to cheating.

Dan Savage’s preferred option – rejecting the cheater – is premised on the idea that you have a responsibility for the health and quality of that relationship . As I’ve explained above, rejecting the cheater is, at best, not helping the relationship, and at worst harming the relationship. If you accept that you have a responsibility for that relationship (what I call the “be a hero” option), the only moral choice is to inform the cheater’s partner (or at least make reasonable efforts to do so). Any other choice makes you an accomplice to fraud. If you truly think you have an obligation to that relationship (which I don’t think that you do), your obligation must be to ensure that it isn’t being conducted under false pretenses.  Otherwise, you’re helping the cheater to hide their cheating.

If you’re going to be a hero and take responsibility for the other person’s relationship, a simple rejection isn’t going to do any good. To be a hero, you actually need to take some steps to right the situation. However, there’s no moral requirement to do so. Not everyone needs to be a hero. There is nothing morally wrong with accepting such an invitation if that’s what you want to do.

Poly Do’s and Don’t’s

Solopoly has a list up of do’s and don’t’s when it comes to treatment of a non-primary partner. The list:

Do:

Honor time commitments and dates.
Listen to and honor your non-primary partner’s concerns, needs, and feelings.
Make your non-primary relationship a priority.
Offer reassurance and understanding.
Embrace your non-primary partner’s world.
Keep your promises.
Support good metamour relations.
Invite non-primary partners into negotiations and decisions that affect them.
Clarify your boundaries and commitments BEFORE you begin a new relationship.
Fully disclose your constraints, agreements and boundaries.
Speak up about fairness toward non-primary partners.
Assume good intentions.

Don’t:

Don’t violate agreements.
Don’t conflate “fairness” with “equality.”
Don’t bail at the first bump.
Don’t default to playing the go-between.
Don’t foster competition or conflict among your partners.
Don’t pretend the dynamic of your existing relationship(s) will not change.
Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.

These are mostly good suggestions. Most of them apply to any relationship, not just a non-primary relationship, and they are generally rather intuitive. However, I’d like to add something to the list that’s somewhat counterintuitive:

Do Take Sides

This does not necessarily apply to only non-primary relationships, but it applies to any situation in which you are dating multiple people who have exposure to one another. In such a situation, conflict is inevitable. If you date for long enough, your partners are going to have a conflict with each other. In such a situation, your instinct is going to be to remain neutral , to facilitate discussion, but not to exercise judgment. In my experience, this is a mistake.

When your partners have a conflict, you’re going to have an opinion. I’d be willing to bet you’re going to have a pretty clear opinion about who did what wrong, who should apologize, and what they should apologize for. Hiding that opinion doesn’t help anyone. Firstly, it harms the trust you’ve built with both partners. Hiding things always does, and hiding something so relevant and important harms the trust to a greater degree.

Secondly, when you’re in a relationship with two people having a conflict, you have a lot of power to influence how the conflict goes. And as Spider-Man has taught us, that comes with a corresponding responsibility. By being in a position of trust with both people, you are possibly the only person who can talk straight to both parties and have them actually listen. When one of your partners is behaving unreasonably, you are one of the only people who has the ability to talk them down. If you abdicate that responsibility, your partners have to solve the issue themselves. Maybe they will, but they’d stand a much better chance with an effective mediator.

The much better alternative is to pick a side in the dispute. If you think one party is right and the other wrong, say so. If you think both are wrong, say that. If you think one is very wrong and the other is only a little bit wrong, say that too. In almost any dispute, both sides have made errors. Point them out,. But do not try to remain neutral. It’s easy to fall into the “both sides are wrong” trap. It’s easy to point out minor infractions on both sides are pretend they are equivalent. Don’t do it. One side is almost always more wrong than the other. Say which one.

The other thing to remember, and I can’t stress this enough, is do not always choose your primary partner’s side. The whole thing only works if you give your honest opinion and overcome your biases. Your primary being your “top priority” does not mean that you always take your primary’s side in a dispute. Sometimes, your primary is going to be in the wrong. It happens. It’s up to you to say so.