Three polyamorous brothers-in-law

A short excerpt from Judith Stacey’s Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China, detailing one of the dozens of committed relationships she found outside the bonds of marriage.

Matt and Robert enjoyed close relationships with most of their siblings, nieces and nephews, and extended kin. Particularly titillating to Matt, Robert, and to most of their relatives was the household in which Matt’s gay brother-in-law Kevin Engelhard lived. In 1997 Matt’s younger sister Sophia had married Kevin’s older brother. When I interviewed Sophia in 2001, she reported that their three-year-old daughter was basking in the adoration of five gay uncles. Sophia chortled, “I get a giggle out of it.” Evincing admiration and perhaps a bit of envy, Matt described a successful, if improbable, domestic-sexual trio that Kevin and his committed life companion Tom Leske had formed. The thirty-something couple had invited Scott Jones, a “gorgeous boy toy” twelve years younger than they, to join their bed, household, and marriage.

Kevin and Tom had exchanged rings, fused their finances, and lived together in wedded harmony for eight years before they added Scott to their family. Their sexual relationship, like Matt and Robert’s, had evolved from early years of tacit monogamy into a negotiated form of open relationship. In this case, Kevin and Tom had agreed to permit each other “occasional serendipitous” recreational sexual encounters and also to occasionally go cruising jointly for a sexual threesome. They were not seeking a permanent threesome, however, the first night they invited Scott to share their bed with them, nor even when they offered him temporary lodging after Scott’s landlord had suddenly sold the apartment building where he had been living. However, all three men soon fell in love with one another, and Scott never moved out of their bed or lives. Instead, one year later, Kevin and Tom placed a ring on Scott’s finger as well.

Over the first five years of this three-way marriage, the men had negotiated a creative set of principles and practices to sustain what they described as a genuinely harmonious ménage à trois. Kevin and Tom jointly owned their small home in the city and a rustic mountain cabin retreat. On each anniversary of Scott’s incorporation into their marriage, they transferred five percent ownership of their shared real estate to him, gradually vesting him as an equal partner. What’s more, although Kevin and Tom had an open relationship when they met and jointly courted Scott, the trio decided to be sexually exclusive amongst themselves, “duogamous,” one might say. Each claimed to feel secure in his love and place in the family, accepting the ebbs and flows of their affinities, libidos, and attractions. “We’re all very versatile sexually,” Scott explained, “and none of the three of us have any jealousy issues.”

In fact, the trio had devised careful house rules to keep the green demon under control. No two were allowed to exclude the third from any activity, occasion, space, or interaction—sexual or otherwise. On the other hand, no one was obliged to join the other two in anything that did not appeal to him. This allowed everyone far greater flexibility than couples possess to enjoy as much time alone or together as he preferred. No one ever needed to be alone unless he wished, and yet togetherness was never imposed on anyone who was feeling an urge for separate time or space. The trio’s sexual opportunities expanded as well. “If straight men knew how much more sex gay men have,” Scott observed mischievously, “more of them would be gay.” If two of the men engaged in sex before the third arrived home, their rules prevented them from refusing his sexual overtures “just because they got off without him.” Nor could two who were sexually aroused eject the third from the bed, if he was already there, but not in the mood.

Working all of this out required trust and “a lot of communication,” they agreed, and so they scheduled periodic “family chats” to discuss issues and conflicts that emerged. “We say,” Kevin summed up, “that being a trio is twice as much fun, but twice as much work.” Defying all odds, the happy trio, still seemed to be having double the work and fun when I contacted them again in October, 2008. They had moved to another state where they were about to celebrate their tenth triadic anniversary.

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