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Valerie White on Love, Relationships, and Polyamory

Exploring the dynamics and complexities of multiple partners

Dear Listener,

I'm pleased to share my recent interview with Valerie White, an advocate for polyamory and executive director of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund.

In our conversation, Valerie shares her personal journey and experiences with polyamory, starting from her parents' open marriage to her own exploration of non-monogamy. She discusses the influence of Alfred Kinsey's work on her mother and the impact it had on her views on relationships. Valerie also touches on the challenges and joys of raising twins within a polyamorous triad.

We delve into Valerie's involvement in various polyamory organizations and her role in promoting awareness and acceptance of ethical non-monogamy. She highlights the growth of the polyamory movement and the increasing public interest in exploring alternative relationship styles.

Listen and subscribe for more thought-provoking conversations at the intersection of science, relationships, and social change.

Golden light,

Dr. Richard Louis Miller

Links and Resources

Lessons from Valerie White's Interview

  • How did Valerie's upbringing and exposure to open relationships shape her perspective on polyamory?

  • What were Valerie's personal experiences that led her to become interested in and advocate for polyamory?

  • How has the acceptance and awareness of polyamorous relationships grown over time?

  • What are some of the different ways people practice ethical non-monogamy?

  • How does open communication and enthusiastic consent play a crucial role in polyamorous relationships?

  • Why is it important to have inclusive and accurate terminology to describe various relationship dynamics?

  • How do polyamorous individuals navigate long-term relationships and develop social connections within their chosen communities?

  • Are there any connections between the acceptance of polyamory and broader societal shifts towards sexual liberation and relationship autonomy?

Seeking Psychedelic Testimonials: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

We are currently looking for first-hand accounts of adverse effects of psychedelics—from ‘bad trips,’ to unwanted physiological complications, to abusive practices by guides, therapists, and shamans.

The interviews from this series will go into a forthcoming book on the topic—perhaps the first book its kind.

Please contact me if you would like to be interviewed. You can also leave us a voice message to share your story. We will keep your information anonymous unless you tell us otherwise.

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NOTE: The podcast is always freely available thanks to our paid subscribers. Please share this post to show your support for transparency. The following transcript distills the key points from this show into a condensed form. It is meant as a reference - listen to the full episode for an accurate rendition of the conversation.


00:00 - Introduction

Richard: Welcome to MindBody Health & Politics. I'm your host, Dr. Richard Louis Miller. The mission of MindBody Health & Politics is to enhance your physical and emotional well-being and establish community. I say community because I believe that human beings are basically tribal animals, and we do best and are healthiest when we live in tribes, where we are collectively collaborative and cooperative. At the very same time, we must always be aware that there is a very small group of us, a tiny percentage but powerful, who are not friendly and cooperative but are predators, and who would have us be subjects rather than citizens. In the words of my hero, Thomas Jefferson, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

Richard: Today on MindBody Health & Politics, I welcome Valerie White, coming to us from Massachusetts. Welcome, Valerie. Good to see you.

Valerie: Thank you, Dr. Miller.

Richard: Please feel free to call me Richard, and I'll call you Valerie, if that's okay with you.

Valerie: That's a deal.

Richard: Right before the show, you asked me a question. You asked me something about the questions I'm going to ask. And I said, well, I'm going to ask you to talk about your favorite topic, thinking you were going to say polyamory. But instead, you said horses. So, you seem to be quite interested in horses. Do you live with horses?

Valerie: Not anymore, but I have had horses off and on for most of my life.

Richard: Ah, there is a field within my profession called equine-assisted psychotherapy, where people use...

Valerie: I have a very dear friend who is the director of a therapeutic riding academy in the greater Boston area.

Richard: Ah, so you're quite aware of that.

Valerie: Yes.

Richard: Well, is polyamory one of the top five of your favorite topics?

Valerie: Oh, it's probably number one, yes.

Richard: It's probably number one. And how long have you been interested in polyamory?

Valerie: Well, I think maybe the earliest hint of polyamory came when I was in high school, and that was a long time ago, 1961, say? I had a friendship with a nice young man who had a girlfriend, and she was a year older than he was, and she went off to college, and when she left for college, she basically bequeathed him to me. She made a point of telling both of us that we were free to explore a connection, that it was not going to upset her in the least. Now, that's not exactly polyamory, but it was a rational and loving way of dealing with relationships that appealed to me very much.

Richard: She was quite advanced for her time.

Valerie: She was indeed.

Richard: And so, tell us about your journey then. What happened next to get you interested in what at the time was a particularly unusual phenomenon, though it has grown since then, and we'll talk about the growth later on in the program.

Valerie: I'm going to back up a little bit more and just tell you that my great grandmother, my mother's mother, was famous in the family for being proud that her husband had never seen her knees. And my mother's mother, my grandmother, was basically an old maid. She didn't intend to marry. She was a schoolteacher, but a younger man decided she was going to marry him come hell or high water. Eventually, she gave in, and she was 40 at the time. She told my mother, now mind you, this would have been around 1928 or something like that, she told my mother, "We practically stood on our heads getting you conceived."

Richard: Ha ha ha.

Valerie: Now that's a pretty frank thing for a woman to tell her child in those days. Then, my mother was a student at Indiana University when Alfred Kinsey was there.

Richard: Huh. Okay.

Valerie: And she, and her sister, is actually acknowledged in one of the volumes of the Kinsey Report for her work on the data. So, Kinsey influenced my mother a great deal about sexual liberation. And there's already, as you could hear, been a substantial step up from my great grandmother. So anyway, my mother believed that young people, children, should know accurate facts about sexuality, age-appropriate, accurate facts about sexuality.

05:30 - Valerie's Background and Early Influences

Valerie: And she also experimented with open marriage, she and my father. So then the first thing that actually happened to me beyond what I mentioned earlier was my then-husband and I were sleeping in the backyard of a good friend of his in sleeping bags when we were visiting in Oregon one time, and much to my surprise, my husband invited his friend to have sex with me.

Valerie: Now, by all rights, I should have been outraged because he never asked me about it.

Richard: Exactly. Yes.

Valerie: On the other hand, I was so turned on that I didn't care.

Richard: How old were you?

Valerie: 18.

Richard: Okay. I want to back up one section, Valerie. You referenced that your parents were in an open marriage, which of course is a gigantic step from the fact that your great-grandmother made this famous quote that her husband never saw her knees.

Valerie: Great-grandmother.

Richard: Great-grandmother.

Richard: What an amazing... Now, when you were growing up, were you aware of the fact that your parents were in an open marriage?

Valerie: Yes, I was.

Richard: You were. So that had some effect on you right there.

Valerie: Yes. That's true.

Richard: And how was it presented to you, do you recall?

Valerie: Well, my mother told me that she had told her husband, my father, that if she had an offer from a presentable man that she liked, she wasn't going to turn it down because it might be her last chance, which was silly when you come to think of it because she was in her 40s at the time, but she didn't know anyway.

Richard: I see.

Valerie: She told me that.

Richard: Now, did your mother and father bring lovers into the house, or was it always away games?

Valerie: Not while I was still living at home, they didn't. I mean, my mother had an old boyfriend who came for a visit once, but I don't think they were sexually active during that visit.

Richard: I see. And did your parents have a long marriage?

Valerie: Hmm, let's see. They were divorced in 1975 and they were married in 1940. So...

Richard: Oh, well, that's a long marriage, 35 years. They got divorced later in life.

Valerie: Yes, they did.

Richard: They did. Okay, so we're back in the sleeping bag. You're 18 years old. You just had sexual relations with your husband's buddy. And now, let's move further into the future.

Valerie: Well, I was so amazed at the idea that a door that I had thought was slammed shut by marriage had actually reopened, and it seemed like there were such possibilities. The marriage didn't last, but it didn't founder on that issue. And both of us had outside partners during the four years that we were married.

Richard: And then you went on to college.

Valerie: Yes. Well, I was in college when I was married. So yeah.

Richard: You were in college. And what did you study in college?

Valerie: Zoology.

Richard: Uh huh. And then, when did you go on to become active politically or socioculturally in the polyamory movement?

Valerie: Well, um, let's see. My younger brother was also polyamorous, and he turned me on to Loving More, Robin Trask's Polyamory support organization. Because of that, I got a subscription to Loving More magazine, and then I learned, of course, the word polyamory, which we didn't have in the summer of love, so to speak.

Richard: Uh huh.

Valerie: And then I was one of the founders and the first president of Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. I answered a personal ad in Loving More from a young man in the greater Boston area. And we eventually connected, and that was in 1994, and we're still together. It's been 30 years in November, right?

10:45 - Valerie's Interest in Polyamory

  • Valerie's experience with multiple partners and discovering the term "polyamory."

  • Discussion on the growing acceptance and awareness of polyamorous relationships.

  • Valerie's involvement in various polyamory organizations and her role in promoting awareness.

Valerie: That's incredible.

Richard: By together, you mean living together or friends?

Valerie: Living together as a triad. And we have, the three of us, 21-year-old twins.

Richard: And the third person is a male or a female?

Valerie: Female. Judy and Ken have been together ever since they were freshmen in college. And they're, by the way, both much younger than me. They're 16 years younger than I am. But they've been together a long time. And then there came a time when they decided to open their relationship.

Valerie: And through them, I learned about Family Tree, which is a Boston area polyamory support and discussion group. And I've been on the coordinating council of Family Tree since the mid-nineties. I'm currently...

Richard: Ken, who is the male in your group, is the person that you reached, but you found him on the... right. And you've had, the three of you have had how many children together?

Valerie: Just the two, the twins.

Richard: Twins. And which one of you gave birth to the twins?

Valerie: Oh, Judy did, because I was too old.

Richard: I see.

Valerie: But let me tell you about this. When I first got together with Ken, I thought it was kind of a shame that he wasn't going to be a father because I thought he'd be a good father. I had two kids from my previous marriage already, and I was menopausal. But about that time, there was a big news report about a woman in her 60s who had served as a surrogate mother for her daughter because her daughter couldn't have kids. So when I learned about that, I said to Ken, would you be interested in having a baby with me that way? And I asked my oldest daughter whether she would be willing to donate eggs for this process. But Ken said no, he didn't think he wanted to have kids badly enough to go to those lengths. So I dropped it. But then after Judy, Ken, and I had been together for about three years, Judy started to wonder if maybe she wanted to change her mind about having kids because now there were three of us. It seemed like it was working. One of us was an experienced parent. So we all agreed that Judy would try to get pregnant by Ken, and it was agreed to begin with that this was going to be three co-parents, not like their kid and me on the sidelines. Unfortunately, Judy never managed to conceive in the old-fashioned way. They tried in vitro fertilization using her eggs, and it didn't work. Ken's semen was fine. So, then I asked my oldest daughter if she would be willing to donate an egg for Judy, and she said yes. She donated eggs, they were fertilized with Ken's semen, two of them were transferred into Judy, both of them took. We hit the jackpot, and the twins were born in 2002. So they are genetically, I'm their grandmother, functionally.

Richard: Functionally, you're one of the mothers, genetically, you're the grandmother. This is a wonderful story.

Valerie: I thought you'd like it. So, when Perry, one of the twins, was in kindergarten, I was asked to come and play the keyboard with songs about rivers because they were having a unit on rivers. After I was done, one of the kids in the class was puzzled about what appeared to be my relationship with Perry, because it didn't fit with that kid's perception of what I ought to look like as his mother. So the kid says to me, "What are you to Perry?" And I said, "Perry is a very lucky little boy. He has two moms and a dad, and I'm one of Perry's two moms." At which point another kid in the class, who happened to be a member of my church, pipes up and says, "I have three mommies," because she was the child of a lesbian couple, which had broken up and one of the women had taken up with another woman, so now she had three mommies. And I told the third mommy about this the next Sunday in church, and she said, "That's a riot," because what I get at home is, "You can't tell me what to do, you're not my mommy."

Valerie: Yeah, but anyway, the kids are 21. They're thriving, and we've had a wonderful time as three parents raising them.

Richard: What are they doing?

Valerie: Perry's in college, studying computer science at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Jocelyn was at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, studying psychology, but she fulfilled her lifelong dream of running away to join the circus and has been performing with the Flynn Creek Circus in California.

Richard: I happen to know the Flynn Creek Circus very well because they perform right here in the little town that I live in on the coast called Fort Bragg, California.

Valerie: Well, Jocelyn was there.

Richard: What's her name? Jocelyn, what's her last name?

Valerie: Olum, O-L-U-M.

Richard: Okay, I may look for her next time they're in town. I'll say hello.

Valerie: I don't know if she'll be with them again. Right now, she's dealing with a torn ACL, but that's why she's home.

18:20 - Valerie's Personal Journey in Polyamory

  • Valerie's relationship with her current partners, Ken and Judy.

  • Valerie's involvement in the parenting of twins conceived through assisted reproductive methods.

  • Mention of Judy's involvement in therapeutic writing and equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Valerie: Yeah, me too. And so did her mom, her egg mother, as we call it. So she's a third-generation ACL.

Richard: And she must have a very interesting relationship with your daughter because your daughter is her sister.

Valerie: And her mother,

Richard: And her

Valerie: Biological mother,

Richard: Biological mother, that's correct, yeah.

Valerie: Well, my daughter, my oldest daughter, now has two children of her own. And Perry and Jocelyn and my daughter's children have a kind of cousinly relationship. You know, they see one another a couple of times a year, and they're familiar and very much like cousins.

Richard: Of a small book in and of itself, isn't it?

Valerie: Yes, it is.

Richard: Okay, now let's talk about your work in the political arena regarding polyamory.

Valerie: Well, I'm on the... What do you call it? One of the councils that the Woodhull Freedom Foundation maintains for support and suggestions. Ambassador. I'm a Woodhull ambassador. I'm also on the board of the Alan McRoberts Polyamory Foundation, which is a funding source for polyamory things. And as I said, I'm on the Family Tree Coordinating Council, and I'm the president currently of what is now the Unitarian Universalist Polyamory Alliance.

Richard: And tell me more about how the movement, the motion of the polyamory movement, because I know statistically that approximately 5 percent of the United States are presently in polyamorous relationships. Although I don't know how accurate these numbers are, perhaps you know much more than I.

Valerie: I don't, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was greater because some people are a little cagey about it.

Richard: Yes. And then I also hear from research that about 30 percent of the public are interested or open to the possibility of polyamory.

Valerie: Well, both the Unitarian Universalist Association for Polyamory Awareness and Loving More had as part of their intention to make polyamory more mainstream, to raise public awareness of the fact that ethical non-monogamy was a perfectly legitimate relationship style and one that was not uncommon. And it turns out both of those organizations are currently struggling because, to a large extent, we've succeeded. New York Magazine, The New York Times, Time Magazine, a lot of publications have recently had articles or book reviews about polyamorous relationships. More and more influencers, stars, icons of various kinds in sports, and movies have announced that they're in open relationships. So, I think, and oh, this is curious, I have recently found in two different crossword puzzles polyamory-related clues. One of them was one of the little bitty ones where it said, uh, what comes after or becomes before Esther and amorous so that the answer was poly. And another one had polyamory,

Richard: And to be able

Valerie: Word that's made out of two words put together?

Richard: Words together

Valerie: Out of my head for the moment, but the clue was that and the answer was throuple.

Richard: Get specific. I mean, it's, it's

Valerie: I don't really think there are about as many ways to do ethical non-monogamy as there are people doing it. Maybe more. There are people who have closed polycules where only the people within the group have sex with one another or romantic relationships with one another. There are people who have a monogamish relationships, to quote Dan Savage. There are people who have hierarchical polyamory relationships where their primary partner gets all the veto power and all the privileges to decide things like when and how and how much, and others that insist on a more anarchical situation. So there are lots and lots of different ways to do it. And the only thing is that it's got to be open and honest and consented to enthusiastically by all the parties.

Richard: Based on what it's not like defining things based on what they are. And so I have a difficult time with non-monogamy, just like I have a difficult time philosophically when people talk about non-dualism because you know, you can tell me thirty different places where not to cross the street. But until you tell me where to cross the street, I don't know really where to cross the street. I only know where not to cross the street. And so I'm searching, and I hope you will search, and you'll spread the word, that we need other nomenclature better than non-monogamy to define this group of people. I'd like to know what the people are rather than what they're not. And poly, and the problem I guess we have with polyamory is it doesn't take in it's not all-inclusive, is it?

Richard: Is that the issue?

Valerie: Well, that's part of it, I think, yes, because some people don't use the word if what they're really doing is swinging, for example.

Richard: That's the example that's always used. Swingers are not polyamorous.

Valerie: Well, you know, to the extent that swingers develop long-term relationships with the couples they swing with and have social as well as sexual relationships with them. There's a lot of ways in which that's indistinguishable from what you and I would call polyamory. I mean, Robert Heinlein said love doesn't divide, it multiplies.

Richard: Yes. I grok that.

Valerie: I'm glad of that. And my idea is that the defining quality of polyamory is the understanding that it is possible to love more than one person at a time. That you don't have to stop loving one person when you start loving another one any more than you stop loving your firstborn when your second child is born.


27:10 - Polyamory in Society

  • Discussion on the increasing visibility of polyamory in media and popular culture.

  • Valerie's involvement in organizations like Woodhull Freedom Foundation and Alan McRoberts Polyamory Foundation.

  • Mention of the struggle faced by organizations like Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness.

Richard: So, it isn't necessary to live together to be polyamorous, is that correct?

Valerie: That's absolutely true. My polycule is open. Judy has had an outside partner, although he sadly died of leukemia. Ken has a partner, an outside partner, who actually spends almost half her time here. And I have an outside partner who lives in the nearby town of Arlington, which is one of those towns in Massachusetts that made history by establishing rules and regulations protecting poly relationships. And I have other relationships with people farther away.

Richard: Let's take a sidebar now and talk about how these two cities have created new legislation, Arlington and Somerville, I believe.

Valerie: Well, I'm not an expert about this, but I know that what they have done is passed ordinances which recognize relationships as equivalent to marriages in terms of what the town or the city recognizes as a unit. So, I'm not really an expert on this area, but I have heard a lot about this. And so we were all very gratified when it happened. Another change that you might be interested in is back in 2014, the Unitarian Universalist Association revised some language in its bylaws to add to its list of nondiscrimination criteria, including age, race, previous condition of servitude, among other things, and they added family and relationship structure. This was specifically intended to include polyamorous families and people practicing BDSM power exchange relationships.

Richard: Recognition by the laws of the Universalist Association.

Valerie: Yes, which is a major step forward for it being a significant religion. Getting back to your personal situation, when the kids were in school, were you accepted by the school? How were you treated when you went to the school as the mother of the twins?

Valerie: We did not have any difficulty at all with the schools. They seemed to be perfectly happy to add another phone number to the list of people they would call if there was an issue. There are so many different ways that kids are getting raised nowadays: by their grandparents, by a divorced couple each of whom has new spouses, lesbian couples, single parents. The schools are used to an enormous number of different parenting practices and didn't turn a hair about the fact that there were three of us. I want to tell you another story about Jocelyn when she was in high school. She developed an eating disorder, which fortunately, she has managed to get past with no further difficulties. At the time, we had taken her to her pediatrician because she had lost so much weight, and the pediatrician initially recommended a residential program for eating disorders. We decided to cope in a different way and found her a nutritionist and got her a therapist. The residential program reported us to Child Protective Services for neglect, for failure to register Jocelyn with their program. We were investigated by a social worker from Child Protective Services, and we were frankly terrified that they were going to find our unusual living situation unacceptable. I got a letter from the pediatrician saying she was horrified by the way this had played out. She wrote a wonderful letter saying we were doing everything necessary and there was no neglect involved. The caseworker interviewed all of us and made the determination that the accusation was unfounded and never turned a hair about the fact that there were three parents in the household.

Richard: That's really wonderful.

Valerie: Yeah, we thought so. Now, I don't know whether that would have happened in Arkansas, or Alabama, or Oklahoma.

Richard: What country are those places you're referencing? Ha ha.

Valerie: But Massachusetts is pretty sophisticated, like California, probably.

Richard: Tell us about the chores of living in a polycule. For example, how do you handle finances?

Valerie: It's interesting you should ask that because I was just interviewed by a reporter from the Boston Globe for the business section about the same point. There are about as many different ways to do this as there are people doing it. Just last weekend, I was on a panel at a science fiction convention called Arisia on advanced topics in polyamory. We talked about how to handle finances, and at least one of the other families represented on that panel had an arrangement where they figured out how much income each of the parties had, established a joint bank account, and made payments to the account proportional to their income level.

Richard: Very rational.

Valerie: In our case, we don't have a joint account.

35:50 - Valerie's Personal Story Continues

  • Valerie talks about her daughter's experience with polyamory and having multiple mothers.

  • Valerie shares anecdotes about interactions with children regarding non-traditional family structures.

Valerie: We have a sheet, a paper sheet. You would think with the tech-savvy people in the house it would be online, but it's not. It has a column for each of us, and whenever any of us spends money on household expenses like food, gas—natural gas, electricity, insurance, car insurance, or anything related to the household—we write down what we spent in our column on that sheet. When we get to the bottom, we add them all up and average them out.

Valerie: And if somebody's significantly behind, then that person either pays the next big bill, like the homeowner's insurance or the property taxes, or someone might write a check to the person who is way ahead to balance things out. The only exception was that when we decided to have the kids, we agreed that Ken would pay all of the expenses related to the kids—separate expenses, not just food and housing and such. Those costs were still divided among the three of us. But anything that specifically pertained to the kids, he would pay.

Richard: Like what? What do you mean by separate?

Valerie: Anything like that.

Richard: Is Ken the highest earner of the three?

Valerie: No, but he's independently wealthy.

Richard: Oh, well then he is the highest earner in a different way.

Valerie: In a different way. So, because Judy was going to have the kids and I was going to be the stay-at-home mom since Judy makes good money as a computer programmer. So, Ken paid the bills for the kids, Judy had them, and I took care of them. And that's how we worked it out.

Richard: So as a stay-at-home mom, how did you earn money to make a contribution on that paper list?

Valerie: Well, I had some part-time work and I had some money, and it worked out.

Richard: The reason I ask is because we had guests over the weekend, and one of the guests pointed out to me, which I thought was particularly astute, that men have so demeaned housework and the care of the house that when people started to get hired for household work such as laundry, cleaning, shopping, etc., they made the least of just about anybody in the country.

Richard: And the reason for it was because household work had been so demeaned.

Valerie: Yes, it's true.

Richard: And that's why I asked the question in terms of your contribution. Because you, being the one who was at home, were actually making a significant contribution, though it wasn't bringing in outside funds.

Valerie: It is true that Ken did agree to pay any medical costs that I had.

Richard: Yes.

Valerie: So, that was part of the deal. Of course, it's not so important now, partly because the kids aren't here anymore—they're adults now—and also because I'm now on Medicare. But that was the arrangement.

Valerie: Yeah, I would stay home, take care of the kids, and he would cover my medical expenses and the kids' expenses. That was the deal. Everything else we'd split.

Richard: It worked out rather comfortably for everybody.

Valerie: I think so.

Richard: And at dinner tonight, is it typically the three of you having dinner together, or how does that work?

Valerie: Yes, usually we have dinner together at 6. Judy works from home, Ken goes into Tufts where he's a research professor, and when he gets home on the train, we have dinner at 6. Judy cooks on weekends mostly, when she isn't working, and I cook most weeknights, and Ken cooks sometimes. It's not his favorite thing, but sometimes he makes a big batch of split pea soup or risotto or something.

Richard: What is Ken a research professor of?

Valerie: Cosmology. Black holes, cosmic strings, gravitational waves.

Richard: He's a physicist by training?

Valerie: Yes, he is.

Richard: Oh, that's really interesting. So you have interesting people around the house.

Valerie: And my primary career before I moved to Massachusetts to join Ken and Judy was having a law practice in Vermont.

Richard: Ah, and what area of the law did you specialize in?

Valerie: Well, in this little town in Northern Vermont, you practice the kind of law that walks over the threshold of your office door, which is called threshold law. I had a contract to do juvenile law and public defense, conflict cases where the public defender couldn't represent someone because of a conflict of interest. And I also did real estate, a lot of domestic relations, a lot of divorces, a few bankruptcies. I did not do much personal injury law because as a solo practitioner, you come up against firms hired by the insurance company of the other side, and they can overwhelm you with legal processes, making it impractical unless you get a recovery.

Richard: Do you, when you came to Massachusetts to join them, was it that you couldn't practice law because you needed a license in Massachusetts, or did you just decide not to?

Valerie: Partly. In Vermont, it's still possible to study law the old-fashioned way, like Abraham Lincoln, by studying in the office of a judge or attorney. In Vermont, you had to spend 25 hours a week in a law office or judge's chambers for 4 years, and every 6 months, you and your supervising attorney had to file an affidavit confirming your hours and studies. At the end of four years, they let you take the bar exam. If you pass, you're admitted. Massachusetts does not allow that route to the bar. So, when I moved here, I got a job as a deputy director of a battered women's shelter, another job for a substance abuse agency, and then we had the kids.

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43:30 - Polyamory and Public Perception

  • Discussion on the public perception and acceptance of polyamory.

  • Mention of polyamory-related clues in crossword puzzles as a sign of increased recognition.

  • Valerie's observations on the mainstream coverage of polyamorous relationships.

Richard: Sure, I'm not sure. It used to be in California that if you took the bar and passed it, you could become a lawyer, but I don't know if that's true anymore. That was true about 40 years ago.

Valerie: I think there is some wiggle room in California. I'm not really familiar with it, but it's not quite the same as Vermont. And it's not quite as easy as you described, but there are alternatives in California, I believe.

Richard: You mentioned that some of these polyamory associations are struggling. Does that mean that they're having trouble with finances?

Valerie: Yes, and also with people. I mean, like the board of the UU Polyamory Alliance, as we've now named it, consists of me and I'm 78. David Hall, who is 85, I think, and Alan McRobert, who is five years younger than me, so we're kind of aging out. And there's the young people that we'd like to recruit to take up positions to do some of this work. They're not interested because they think the battle is won.

Richard: And tell us about the Polyamory Foundation.

Valerie: The Polyamory Foundation is a grant-making organization that helps people. If they've been invited to do a presentation at a polyamory conference but can't afford the housing or the travel, we will help them with that kind of expense. We helped Open Love to campaign for the Somerville and Arlington ordinances, we've helped Loving More provide scholarships for some of their conferences so that people who otherwise wouldn't be able to go can afford to go. We had a major donor who sadly recently died and we gave out $25,000 last year.

Richard: But the Polyamory Foundation, therefore, is getting money in order to be able to give money away.

Valerie: Yes, it is.

Richard: In fact, I think the organization that I'm connected to, the Modern Family Institute, has received a grant from the Polyamory Foundation.

Valerie: I believe that's true. Yes.

Richard: You know about that.

Valerie: Which is how we got connected in the first place.

Richard: Oh, through Lily Lamboy or Heath Sessinger?

Valerie: Yeah.

Richard: Who was it?

Valerie: I don't remember anymore, but I remember that Alan said to me that one of them knew somebody who wanted somebody on a podcast. And so here I am.

Richard: So here you are. Are there books on polyamory that are your favorites? That you want to mention on the program?

Valerie: Well, there are so many nowadays that it's hard to pick one out. I've been quoted in some of them. There's a workbook on jealousy, which I'm quoted in. And of course, there are the early ones. If I wasn't using my computer to talk to you, I'd look them up. But I can't really rattle off any names. Oh, then there was "More Than Two." And there was a movie, "When Two Won't Do," which my family is in.

Richard: When two won't do.

Valerie: Yes.

Richard: Might that be available on the internet?

Valerie: I would imagine it's probably 10, 15 years old now.

Richard: Okay, I'm going to look that up. So, now I want to get down to some very personal questions.

Valerie: Okay.

Richard: What are the difficulties that you've run into living in a polyamorous polycule and how have you dealt with them?

Richard: What are the major challenges? What have caused the most stress? The most difficulties?

Valerie: Well, I guess the biggest problem that I can remember had to do with Ken's new partner, Peg. Now it's not new anymore. She's been here for golly since the kids were like four. So a long time.

Richard: Eighteen years, yeah.

Valerie: But when Ken and Peg started investigating whether they wanted to pursue a relationship, which was going to be a polyamorous one with me and Judy still in the picture, it was initially said that she was going to be a secondary and that I had first dibs on scheduling, amount of time, frequency of sexual contact, that sort of thing.

Richard: And was she going to move in or was she going to live

Valerie: No, she lives in Waltham, she lives not very far away from here.

Richard: And does she live with somebody?

Valerie: No, she lives alone.

Richard: Okay.

Valerie: But they fell head over heels in love and that was not acceptable anymore, and neither Ken nor Peg wanted her to be in a secondary position, and frankly, I had a hard time with that, but we got through it.

Richard: How?

Valerie: We had a therapist, we had a lot of conversations.

Richard: Who went to the therapy sessions?

Valerie: All of us, all four of us.

Richard: Okay.

Valerie: Not all at the same time, necessarily. It depended on what was being discussed. But we got through it.

Richard: And then Peg is her name.

Valerie: Yes, that's

Richard: How did Peg fit in? Chronologically, her age, related to the three of you.

Valerie: She's older than Ken and Judy, but younger than me.

Richard: Okay, thank you. So

Valerie: Most people are younger than me.

Richard: Most, yes, you're a lot, you're so much younger than me that I can't remember when I was your age. When you were talking about this one organization where everybody was getting so old. I thought, well, maybe they'd like an 85-year-old psychologist. I fit right in chronologically.

Valerie: You certainly do.

Richard: So, therapy is one of the things that you did.

Valerie: Yes.

Richard: And, what about meetings together? Did you, were you processing? Did you spend a lot of time, the four of you, processing? And, how about Ken's wife? How did she feel about all this? You told us about how you felt about it.

Valerie: You mean how did Judy feel about it?

Richard: How did Judy fit in?

Valerie: Well, first of all, she's not his wife. None of us are married to each other.

Richard: Thank you, I didn't know that.

Valerie: That's all right. Judy, she wouldn't mind if I said this. Some people are polyamorous because they want to have more or different sex. And some people are polyamorous because they want to have less. And Judy is in the latter category.

52:00 - Closing Thoughts

  • Recap of Valerie's journey and her contributions to the polyamory movement.

  • Dr. Richard Lewis Miller expresses his admiration for Valerie's story.

  • Conclusion and thanks to the guest and audience

Valerie: When Judy was younger, before she and Ken developed the idea of opening the relationship and before they were even necessarily a couple, Judy always had the problem that she felt like she was either having more sex than she wanted to satisfy her partner or was feeling guilty because she wasn't satisfying her partner.

Richard: Yes.

Valerie: And so one of the reasons, well, Ken and Judy had an off-again, on-again relationship for a while, and they finally decided that they were just a team and they would have to cope. And one of the ways in which they decided to cope was to open the relationship.

Richard: Mm-hmm.

Valerie: So it wasn't an issue for Judy that Ken was going to have another sex partner.

Richard: Huh, I get it.

Valerie: So, but you know, it's been going on so long now, it just seems like normal for me.

Richard: Peg, does Peg come and stay with you all, or does Ken typically go to her place?

Valerie: Mostly she comes here. That's been the case because we had kids and Ken wanted to be where the children were. Now he does occasionally spend a night at Peg's, especially if there's some reason why he needs to be in that area the next day. But primarily, she has come here.

Richard: It seems to me that if, correct me if I'm mistaken, but if she's been coming over since the kids were four, and that's 18 years, in a way, she's almost like an additional mother.

Valerie: Yes, and she does have a connection with the kids, but she said to begin with that she did not want to be a mother to the kids. She has an affectionate adult friend relationship with the kids, but she's not involved in decision-making or financially contributing to the household expenses, and she pays us some rent for the room that's reserved for her.

Richard: Right, but I'm...

Valerie: To the household expenses, and she pays us some rent for the room that's reserved for her.

Richard: Uh-huh, that's interesting, but also I'm thinking de facto that when the kids were four or five and she's in the house, they had to relate to her. It's not like they, right, they ignored each other. So they had this additional adult figure in the house who was a female and she was around on a very regular basis. She wasn't just a little visitor.

Valerie: That's right. But, you know, they were used to there being three parents from the start, right? They were born into it. And, you know, it's kind of funny. We wanted the kids to be free-range kids, right? And so we weren't helicopters by any means. And if Jocelyn's friends at school, like in middle school, were always a little surprised at how much freedom she had, right? And they also knew that she had two moms and a dad and so forth.

Valerie: And so there was a time when they watched a movie that might've been Les Misérables, I'm not sure what the movie was, but somehow there was something about rats in the sewers of Paris biting people, right? And one of the kids in Jocelyn's class turned to her and said, "Jocelyn, your parents would let you get bitten by rats, right?"

Richard: That permissive.

Valerie: Yeah.

Richard: Now, as life is going on with the three of you, how did it work out with regard to social events and vacations? For example, when Ken was invited to some event at the university, you said he taught or teaches at Tufts,

Valerie: He's a research...

Richard: Research professor, but he probably got invited places, or you went socially.

Richard: Did you always go as a trio, or did sometimes, how did that work out with three people? And on vacations, tell us about that.

Valerie: Well, we all have different interests and focuses, right? So just this last summer, Ken went to a conference in Germany, and I went with him for a couple of days before the conference, and he and I played tourist in that part of Germany, and then I went home and he went to the conference. At the end of the conference, Judy went out, and she and he did things in Germany. Then they both came home. Peg had said she didn't particularly want to go. She and Ken do backpacking. This summer, they climbed Mount Katahdin, and I'm not interested in climbing Mount Katahdin. In April, Ken, Judy, and I are all three going to go to Texas to see the total eclipse.

Richard: You better be careful; they may not let you out of Texas.

Valerie: Yeah, well, we're Judy. Judy's making donations to organizations that pay expenses for people who have to leave for abortions and stuff like that, sort of like carbon recapture, because we're spending money in Texas, and we don't... Well, anyway, sometimes we go, usually not Peg, but sometimes the three of us go places together, and sometimes we go individually with Ken, and sometimes Peg and Judy do things together, and sometimes Judy and I do things together, and sometimes we go by ourselves. It just varies.

Richard: And does sometimes you and Judy go places or vacations or dates together if something...

Valerie: We...

Richard: Is it always the male with one of the females, or doesn't it?

Valerie: No, not always. Like, for example, we live on a lake, okay? And Judy...

Richard: Of the lake...

Valerie: Lake Massapug.

Richard: Thank you.

Valerie: You're welcome. And Judy and I, we go canoeing together. We canoe across the lake and look at the turtles and the great blue herons and stuff, and Ken never goes canoeing. Peg sometimes goes kayaking, but not usually canoeing.

Valerie: Ken has a sailboat on the lake, and he takes us all sailing on the lake. Then Judy is an avid water-skier, and we have a ski boat. We basically live at summer camp, you know? We have windsurfers...

Richard: Are you right on the lake?

Valerie: We're right on the lake. Yeah, we have a dock.

Richard: What, can you swim in the water?

Valerie: Absolutely.

Richard: Oh, you lucky ducks. Oh, how wonderful. I live right on the water also, but I can't swim in it because it's too cold.

Valerie: Oh dear, well, Judy and Ken are avid square dancers at a very high level, and they do that together. It just varies.

Richard: It does vary. Well, we're about running out of time. You've been interviewed many times. You're an expert at this. Let's take a pause for a second and think about what else might you want to share about polyamory that we might have missed today? I want to use this time to make sure we didn't miss anything that you think is


Valerie: Okay, two things. First of all, one of my dear friends who's been active in the polyamory movement for a very long time is a man named Ken Haslam, who is also on the board of the Polyamory Foundation and founded the polyamory collection at the Kinsey Library at Indiana University. Ken Haslam once gave me a very good piece of advice, which I will pass on. He said, "There is absolutely no point in your being jealous of Susie. Susie is very good at being Susie, but she is no good at all at being Valerie." So that's one. And the other thing is, and I heard this at a polyamory panel at Arisia a while back, "Don't sweat the small stuff. And it's all small stuff." What I mean by that is, if somebody says, "I know I'm supposed to have a date with Ken on Wednesday, but I have the opportunity to go do X. Is it okay if I swap Wednesday for Friday with you this week?" And the answer to that question has almost always got to be, "Of course."

Richard: Yes.

Valerie: Because it just doesn't matter. I mean, yeah, you try to have your birthday or, um, some holiday that you celebrate or whatever. You might want to spend it with your partner, but you know, it really doesn't matter. You can do it on a different night. It's not a big deal. Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff.

Richard: I totally agree. Sometimes the way I state it is, "We're not really invading Iraq." It's basically a way of saying the same thing.

Valerie: Yes.

Richard: Two very good things to end the program with. I want to come back to the first one. It's not Susie. Susie can never be Valerie. So if you remember who you are yourself, then you recognize that the other person can only get Valerie from being with Valerie and cannot get Valerie from being with Susie, Hazel, or anybody else in the world.

Valerie: Right. Or John.

Richard: Or John, exactly. Valerie, thank you so much for being with us today on Mind, Body, Health, and Politics.

Valerie: It was a pleasure. Goodbye.

Richard: My pleasure. Indeed. And thank you, general listeners, for being with us on today's broadcast of Mind, Body, Health, and Politics. I remind you that all of our programs are archived at, and they're open source, which means free, no charge. We want this information available to the public.

Richard: Until next time, this is Dr. Richard Lewis Miller reminding you that good health is worth fighting for, and it's essential for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Valerie: Amen.

Richard: That's a wrap. We did it, Valerie.

Valerie: We did. Alright. Well, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

Richard: We'll be in touch. I feel like I have a new friend.

Valerie: Indeed. Goodbye.

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Mind Body Health & Politics
Mind Body Health & Politics
Dr. Richard Louis Miller is an American Clinical Psychologist, Founder of Wilbur Hot Springs Health Sanctuary, and broadcaster who hosts the Mind Body Health & Politics talk radio program from Mendocino County, California. Dr. Miller was also Founder and chief clinician of the nationally acclaimed, pioneering, Cokenders Alcohol and Drug Program. Dr. Miller’s new book, Psychedelic Medicine, is based on his interviews with the most acclaimed experts on the topic. Mind Body Health & Politics radio broadcast is known for its wide ranging discussions on political issues and health. The program’s format includes guest interviews with prominent national authorities, scientists, best-selling authors, and listener call-ins. The programs offer a forum and soundboard for listeners to interact with the show and its guests. We invite you to listen to the latest broadcasts below or visit our many archived programs. We’d love to hear from you on political and health issues!