In the advent of Pride Month, the New York Times published a profile of Somerville, Massachusetts, a self-declared haven for polyamorous people. The writer, Valeriya Safronova, quotes some of its denizens (who favor genderless titles such as “Mx.”) and celebrates Somerville’s virtues: “half of the businesses on one commercial street have an inclusive symbol, like a pride flag or a Hate Has No Home Here sticker…there’s a density of inclusive spaces that makes people like them feel safe.”
Somerville is “a very queer city,” brags Willie Burnley Jr., the town’s city councilor-at-large. “We have a population that’s more open to these ideas, and many of these folks are either currently non-monogamous or have tried non-monogamy or at the very least know someone who’s polyamorous.” Naturally, Burnley Jr. practices what he preaches.
While Safronova paints Somerville as a utopian model to which other cities may aspire, her essay raises more than a few questions: (1) Are polyamorous people really so marginalized that they need a whole town catering to them? (2) Do the leaders of Somerville set any limits on what lifestyles are permitted? For example, are polygamy, pedophilia, or bestiality allowed? If not, why not? (3) Is a town of polyamorous households good for children? (4) Doesn’t Somerville’s inclusion of polyamorous people necessarily exclude most people who find it immoral?
Despite what progressives believe, polyamorous people, even those with fluid genders and sexualities, don’t face serious hostility in most American cities. Even in the urban centers of red states there are plenty of “gayborhoods” and “bohemian” enclaves where sexual promiscuity is welcome and Pride flags are ubiquitous. In light of this, it’s difficult to determine what a place like Somerville, a suburb outside of Boston, offers that the actual city of Boston doesn’t.
It’s also unclear who’s allowed to live in Somerville. Sure, people like Mx. Hall, “a software engineer…who is currently dating two people, each of whom is dating another person,” might fit with the culture, but what about a man with a harem of women? Or what about a “minor-attracted person”? Is Willie Burnley Jr. comfortable with confronting such a person? And what exactly happens at “events like Indecent, a fetish- and kink-positive party, and Boudoir, a queer underground dance party” that Safronova mentions in her essay?
A whole town that encourages relational instability and elevates sexual liberation above personal responsibility seems outright antithetical to the well-being of children. Mothers and fathers who cycle through various partners and sexual fetishes impair their children’s development, as Mark Regnerus’s New Family Structures Study found over a decade ago. Moreover, with so many lovers coming and going, young people are at tremendous risk of sexual assault. As Katy Faust and Stacy Manning argue in their book Them Before Us, the problem with alternative romantic lifestyles is that they inevitably place the desires of adults over the needs of children, who do best in a stable, monogamous household with their biological mother and father.
Finally, what becomes of Somerville residents who disapprove of polyamory and its disfiguring effect on society? Presumably, they can either comply or leave, first amendment rights be damned. Whereas the polyamorous people can happily situate themselves anywhere, fly their pride flags with abandon, and enjoy puff pieces in prominent newspapers and magazines, serious Christians will need to practice their faith in private or risk being persecuted for their supposed bigotry.
At its heart, Somerville is a community for people who reject community. In place of shared purpose, responsibility, morality, history, or kinship, it endorses complete atomization. The people of Somerville define themselves by their sexuality and the fluidity of commitment over against the kinds of bonds that keep people rooted and give their lives meaning. The practical result of a city based on the principles of polyamory is an unsustainable and unhealthy collection of selfish, immature adults united in the vain pursuit of personal fulfillment through hedonism. Contrary to the narratives pumped out by Hollywood and corporate America, there is nothing glamorous or wholesome about any of it. Rather, it’s the logical conclusion of a nihilistic culture of death predicated on materialism and valuing only utility.
It also happens to be the logical consequence of lionizing the LGBT movement, and thereby encouraging straight couples to live according to a queer relationship model. Polyamory is the arrangement most natural to the “throwaway culture” condemned by Pope Francis, which reduces everything—including people—to interchangeable, and thus disposable, consumer products. A queer populace is great for business and provides endless opportunities for government expansion. But such “freedom” can only be secured, and its fallout managed, by a pink police state.
Ironically, by trying to sell the fantasy that Somerville is sexy and cool, Safronova reveals just how abject the reality is. The logic of Somerville leads directly to the neoliberal totalitarianism of Brave New World: the erasure of motherhood and fatherhood, the replacement of happiness by drug-induced euphoria, the dignity of work surrendered to the ravages of ultra-consumerism, the dissolution of love in an endless pool of partners, the permanent weakening of being.
Next month, as the country is bedecked in rainbow flags and every major city hosts lavish Pride parades, we should remember that a darker reality lurks beneath the colorful illusion. There is a reason power loves the month of June.
Auguste Meyrat is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in North Texas.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.
Image by Robert Ashworth via Creative Commons. Image cropped.