An art exhibit explores new ground in non traditional relationships, from sex to sandwiches
A New York City photographer is trying to change how we view non-monogamous people. With “The Open Photo Project,” Erika Kapin photographs poly couples, triads and solo poly people, in their everyday lives, to destigmatize ethical non-monogamy. In other words, she wants to show that non-monogamous people are normal humans who do and feel normal human things.
Kapin says that typical depictions of non-monogamy focus just on sex, “You see pictures of tons of people under a sheet with their feet sticking out,” says Kapin. Granted, Kapin took that very picture in the project. Still, her point is well taken. As with monogamous couples, she says, “with our partners, we play video games, we go on walks, we make breakfast. While sex is a part of it for many people, it’s definitely not the main thing”
With mainstream society’s suspicion of polyamory, Kapin says it was “tricky to gain access” to the inner lives of non-monogamous couples. “There’s so much media attention, people are cautious about who they share their personal lives with—rightfully so.” People risk losing their friends, even their jobs, by being open about their relationships.
But she did, and she gained enough trust to take photos like this:
“A happy shot,” says Kapin.
This is Brian and Anna. They don’t go by polyamorous per se, but “ethically non-monogamous.” They see other people—sometimes together and sometimes separately. In addition to this picture, taken shortly after sex, Kapin caught a sweet and thoroughly nonsexual moment.
“One of the cool things about non-monogamy is you can define the terms for yourself,” says Kapin. “It forces communication and fewer assumptions.”
Lola is a polyamorous sex educator who told Kapin she deals with a lot of rude people on dating sites like OkCupid, who see her “polyamorous” label and ask if they get to sleep with “all her people.” “Why is that even the question you’re asking?” she would tell them.
When you think about the mutable nature of non-monogamy, it becomes clear that the definition of monogamy is also not universal. Some might call their relationship monogamous but they can make-out with other people. Is it monogamous if you sometimes have threesomes? Or go to sex parties just to have sex with each other but you like the sexual energy around you?
“Say someone is your boyfriend,” says Kapin. “In monogamy, people would say that and not define what the term means to them. For some, that might mean he’ll be their fiancé in a year. For others, it might mean they have sex once a week.”
Megan and Rose live in different states with their husbands and kids. The two couples have known each other for ten years.
Perhaps not surprisingly, non-monogamous people are often (though certainly not always) sexually fluid. Reid and Allison have been together for eight years and live together. Reid calls himself poly and slutty, because he likes falling in love and also “never stopped sleeping with all my friends.”
Allison calls herself “open” because she doesn’t want numerous romantic partners. She has Reid and a girlfriend, Sandra, and a few “sexy friends.” Allison is also a gay woman, with Reid being “the only dick in [her] life.”
“I don’t date men,” she told Kapin. “I don’t have sex with other men other than Reid. I’m super gay except for this one guy. I’m straight for Reid. I’m gay for everyone else.”
Reid identifies as queer, which he defines as “an umbrella term that means ‘ask me more.’” Their sex is queer sex, he said, because “two queers having sex is queer sex regardless of genitalia.”
The loudest critics of gay marriage have long argued it’s bad for the children: a child needs a mother and a father, gay people are pedophiles, the kids will be mocked at school. Families with multiple parental figures alarm social conservatives in the same way. Some geniuses at The Federalist call polyamory “horse manure” and say poly families strip children of stability and the right to a mom and a dad.
Two of Kapin’s subjects, Kevin and Antoinette, engage in the “horse manure” and their children do just fine. In their poly marriage, Kevin has two girlfriends and Antoinette has numerous kink partners. Kevin’s girlfriends help raise their daughters.
“The idea that I have a wife that I love and two girlfriends that I love, it doesn’t phase her [his daughter] at all. All she knows is that there’s more responsible adults that care about her and will get her snacks upon request,” says Kevin.
Of course, jealousy is a real and valid feeling, whether you’re monogamous or not. Romantic partners are also not the only thing to inspire the green-eyed monster. Antoinette told Kapin her jealousy arose when her metamours (a partner’s partner) wanted to take an active role in her children’s lives. They’re in a good place now, she said, but “that was a lot of unpacking to be done there.” But that’s true with so-called normal couples and families as well.
“In her mind, these are all the people that love me and take care of me and give me reason to try to weasel out of going to bed at night,” says Antoinette.
Kapin also captured the lives of people whose non-monogamy brought them a chosen family more real than their biological family. Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti is solopoly, because she doesn’t live with her partners nor is she involved with their wives. But after her brother committed suicide, her “more-than-a-play-partner” was her first call. He was also the one who helped her through breast cancer. She even stayed at the house he shares with his wife, after her first surgery. She sang at their wedding.
Gloria told Kapin she wouldn’t have gotten that same emotional support if she were monogamous.
“Maybe I still could have stayed with them but it just would have been different. It would have been a different dynamic and I don’t imagine he could have gone with me to all of the doctor visits and everything. There just wouldn’t have been that same importance.”
Ultimately, Kapin is not trying to convert the world to non-monogamy. With the photo series, she hopes to show that non-monogamy and monogamy are both messy and sweet and entirely up to the individual.
“Monogamy and polyamory are both valid,” she says. “Choose your own adventure.”
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