Independent Seattle filmmaker Terisa Greenan's "Family" is a series of short, biweekly webisodes on YouTube that's drawn the Kinsey Institute's attention as a sort of landmark on the subject of polyamory, and shone a small light on this area as one of the nation's, uh, hotbeds of the lifestyle.
It’s not hard to picture this on prime-time TV: a sitcom called “Family” about a woman and two dudes shacking up in a polyamorous relationship.
In fact, independent Seattle filmmaker Terisa Greenan’s short, biweekly YouTube “Family” webisodes — seven and counting — have drawn the Kinsey Institute’s attention as a sort of landmark on the subject and put a spotlight on this area as one of the nation’s, uh, hotbeds of the lifestyle.
Don’t think key-swappin’ swinger parties or polygamy. Polyamorists say it’s about committed (though often open) relationships with multiple partners (of whichever sex) and less about hooking up.
“They always say use something that you know about, right?” said Greenan, an actress who has appeared in commercials for Value Village and Coldwell Banker, done voice work in the “Star Trek: First Contact” video game and appeared in independent flicks and local theater.
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While Greenan’s zero-budget depiction of poly Seattle lacks the polish of a studio production — she shoots an episode in a day, takes three or four days to edit, and the actors work pro bono — it’s ringing true with those who know the subject.
“These are funny as all hell to those of us who have lived poly for more than a week,” said “Minx,” whose Chicago-based “Polyamory Weekly” podcast (www.polyweekly.com) has run four years and gets about 2,000 downloads a month. “What Terisa Greenan has done is to take all the poly fears, pitfalls and misconceptions and gently poke fun at them in a searingly entertaining way.”
Now, Greenan hopes to spread the love further, despite the thousands of hits each webisode already gets. “It’s gotten so popular in poly and sex-positive communities, the point is to make it accessible and a crossover hit.”
Greenan lives with two men — one for nine years, the other for 11 — in Mount Baker. The salacious details: Greenan has sex with both men (individually, no group action) and the men don’t have sex with each other. They’re all free to pursue relationships with other people outside their triad or “V,” and she has a couple of “casual boyfriends” as well, who also have other partners. (Although polys live in every conceivable configuration.)
Apart from “Where do you find time for anything else?” the other most obvious question concerns safety. “We’re very, very strict about safe sex. That’s the one rule we do have,” Greenan said.
She bases “Family” on her own experiences in Seattle (with Amber Rack, Eric Smiley and Ernie Joseph as the leads), sometimes transcribing real conversations, other times spinning fiction from some nugget of truth.
“I just thought, what can I do that’s original?” Greenan said. “And polyamory still has an element of taboo about it.”
However, she said, “One thing I really wanted to do with this, because the subject matter is not widely known, is just show these people in this lifestyle as ordinary. Because when people find out about my lifestyle, they react with shock and horror sometimes.”
Like, for instance, her parents. If the appeal isn’t obvious to them, Greenan put it thusly: “One of my partners is a software developer and an accomplished world-class violinist. The other one’s a writer and a big curmudgeon. So they’re completely different people, and that’s so great. There’s different intellectual stimulation with each of them, different creative interests. If I could also have a painter in my harem, I would. A sculptor — I get completely different things from each of them on an emotional level, a sexual level, whatever.”
Not making it up
In one of the webisodes, the three partners attend a poly potluck — a typical event for meeting others in the lifestyle or curious about it, and holding group discussions — where it becomes clear that most of the attendees are Microsoft employees.
Greenan says she isn’t making any of it up and that some of her dialogue came from real conversations.
While there’s no way to quantify that, experts agree. “Seattle is a hotbed of polyamory,” said Dr. Kenneth Haslam, who added “Family” to the polyamory collection he curates at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University.
“It’s unique in the sense that it’s new,” he said of the series.
“It occurred to me that nobody was recording polyamory history, because it seems to be catching on, getting into the mainstream now,” said Haslam, 75, also a polyamorist, who goes by the online moniker of “polygeezer.”
(Maybe not quite catching on yet: Joseph said he was just fired from an acting job in olive-oil commercials when the company learned of his “Family” gig.)
Can get complicated
But what is it about Seattle and all the free love? Turns out it ain’t so free, according to Jodi O’Brien, chair of Seattle University’s sociology department and a specialist in gender and sexuality.
“My sociological take on it is that it’s challenging enough to handle one committed relationship with full honesty and openness, so when you bring more into it the complications are going to multiply exponentially.”
Yep: “It takes us, like, five times longer just to get out of the freakin’ house to go to dinner,” Greenan said. “The more people you involve the more time everything takes. The same thing’s true when there’s an argument — you have a whole other person whose argument you need to work through and hear, a whole other brain, a whole other set of opinions. Everything is a lot more complicated, but everything is a lot more interesting.”
As far as who does what with whom and when, Greenan said, “I’ve literally known some poly families who have a schedule taped on their refrigerator. We have never done that, we’re just like ‘Oh, what do you feel like doing tonight?’ ” (However, because one of the men snores more loudly, Greenan said she sleeps with the other more often.)
Polys tend to be white, well-educated, middle-class or higher, in the 30s-to-50s age range, and often in the information-technology industry, according to such experts as O’Brien and Elisabeth Sheff, of Georgia State University, who’s doing a longitudinal study of polyamorous families with children.
Sexual minorities tend to congregate in larger urban areas — “Boston, New York City and Atlanta have large polyamorous populations, but they’re barely organized. In Seattle there are multiple groups with multiple and consistent meetings. Seattle has one of the most active, well-developed, organized and thriving [poly] communities in the United States,” Sheff said.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org