070. Consensual Non-Monogamy in Romance Novels - Shelf Love x Monogamish
Jhen, host of the Monogamish Podcast, drops in to discuss consensual non-monogamy aka polyamory in popular romance. We discuss Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon and Neighborly by Katrina Jackson.
queer romance, crossover podcast, contemporary romance, genre discussions
Jhen, host of the Monogamish Podcast, drops in to discuss consensual non-monogamy aka polyamory in popular romance. We discuss Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon and Neighborly by Katrina Jackson.
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Guest: Jhen from Monogamish
Jhen is a host of Monogamish, a podcast about consensual non-monogamy through the lens of a Black Carribbean lens.
Jhen on Twitter | Jhen on Instagram | Listen to Monogamish
- Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon
- Neighborly by Katrina Jackson
Support Romancing the Runoff:
Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to episode 70 of Shelf Love, a podcast where we have thought provoking, critical discussions about literature's most polarizing genre, romance novels. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And my guest today is Jhen host of the Monogamish podcast.
Today we are going to demystify consensual non-monogamy AKA polyamory. We're going to talk about two romance novels that explore different types of polyamorous relationships: Neighborly by Katrina Jackson and Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon.
And we are going to talk about bad polyamorous rep in romance and media. Jhen was also a guest in episode 59, where she interviewed me about my sordid journey into romance podcasting. And I am so thankful that she dropped in again. Thank you for being here again, Jhen.
Jhen: Thank you for having me, as it is my goal to take over Katrina Jackson's spot as your top podcast guest, it requires a lot of like consistency, planning, determination, and just being able to do neener neener, neener. I'm here again, to Katrina. Yeah. Just like how I'm also low-key, trying to steal her from you. I'm also trying to steal you from her. It's a circle. It's a circle.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So this is your second stop on Shelf Love. Katrina's at seven episodes on Shelf Love.
Jhen: Listen, I can make it happen. I can do this.
You just have to - put me in coach. I got this.
Andrea Martucci: And she's been on Monogamish, your podcast, twice is it now?
Jhen: Yeah, she's been on twice. The first time we talked to more about like her work specifically and what made her want to start writing polyamorous and non-monogamous romance, and then her most recent appearance was more about non-monogamous representation in Black romance novels.
Andrea Martucci: And just quick question, Jhen, do you want more of Katrina Jackson or do you want to be Katrina Jackson?
Jhen: See, that's a hard question. I don't think the listeners are ready for that answer and by the listeners, I mean, Katrina, cause it can sound creepy to say you want to be somebody, I just want to be in Katrina's work.
Andrea Martucci: Wait, so you want to influence Katrina so that she basically creates like self insert, Jhen?
Jhen: Self insert Jhen or just, I give her a great romance non-monogamous idea, and then she writes it with her Katrina-ness.
Andrea Martucci: Because I've heard romance writers lack for ideas and that they really love [00:02:30] it when people send them things that they would like them to write.
Jhen: Totally. That's exactly how it works. So Katrina, in case you're wondering, I have some ideas about Chante and Asif. So when you're ready for that, I got you,
Andrea Martucci: You know, where to find her. Jhen, let's start by talking definitions. So we're going to talk about a couple different things, you can tell me if they're similar, the same, whatever.
So let's start with consensual non-monogamy. What does it mean?
Jhen: Okay. So we're going to talk about this in a broader way than you expect, probably because consensual non-monogamy, ethical non-monogamy, it's pretty much the same thing, because any relationship you're a part in should be consensual and ethical, ideally.
So it's that large umbrella term, which describes any relationship where all the participants are agreeing to have multiple, concurrent sexual or romantic relationships. And the specifics of course vary from person to person or relationship to relationship. So like I said, that's the big umbrella term, but there are so many other little things that go underneath that, like swinging, which of course we all know from movies and TV, polygamy, which of course is, multiple wedded spouses, but usually like men having multiple wives and for women it's, what polyandry I think for women. So open relationships, which is pretty much, I think one of the more common ideas of how we understand consensual non-monogamy, where you're allowed to engage sexually with other people, cause usually when someone says open relationship it's very much sex-based.
And then, Monogamish, which is, the name of my podcast, even though my pod partner and I are not Monogamish at all. Dan Savage came up with that term. He's like monogamous with some squishing around the edges. So it is more sexually based as well where you're monogamous people, but occasionally, maybe a threesome, maybe like a one-off situation. And then polyamory, which is what I am specifically, which has to do with having multiple loving partners simultaneously, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
So it's different from swinging because swinging is also very much sex-based and polyamory is more about that intimate, romantic - we use romantic in a way, but, people can be polyamorous and aromantic, so there's multiple loving relationships, put it that way. There is a lot of love there. And when you think about it, we're all polyamorous, right? Because you love multiple family members, [00:05:00] you love multiple friends.
So this idea that you can't be polyamorous and be happy or any of those things, it's kind of like, well, you have more than one friend, even more than one family member you care about. So what's so different there? What's different?
Andrea Martucci: Right, yeah. So applying that idea that you can have multiple friends, one, you really love going to the movies with, one you talk about books with, another one you grew up with and you have all this history together , that idea that you can have different people in your life for different sort of friend emotional reasons, applying that then to what we would traditionally consider, something you'd only have with one person or one person at a time in a romantic sexual relationship, romantic and or sexual relationship.
Jhen: Yeah. Exactly. So like I said, I have been told I'm greedy because not only am I polyamorous, but I'm also pansexual. So really I'm just hitting all the things out of the ballpark -
Andrea Martucci: All the people, all the time.
Jhen: All the people all the time, all the love, give it to me. (laughs) But yeah, so that's how I'm looking at it and describing it these days, if you've listened to earlier episodes of the podcast, of course you'll know our definitions and thoughts and ideas change based on who we talk to, what we learn, et cetera. God, growth is so annoying.
Andrea Martucci: And so important. So important
Jhen: That too.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So what is toxic monogamy?
Jhen: Yeah, there is an idea of toxic monogamy. And so any relationship that is consensual and ethical is not necessarily toxic.
So a lot of people perceive it as, Oh, you non-monogamous people you're just trying to shit on monogamy, and make everyone just like you. Not even that. This glorification of intense possession and jealousy, that's a part of like toxic monogamous culture.
It's like how we talk about how toxic the patriarchy is. Like just, it's things like that, things that are harmful, like the idea that if you're committed to someone, it has to be exclusive, that marriage and children are the only valid justifications for being in a relationship. That every need that you have, your partner should be the one to meet that and vice versa. And like jealousy is an indicator of love. Not necessarily that we're glorifying, but it's also that it's the way to prove that you love someone, by being so insanely jealous that you end up doing some weird ass shit.
Andrea Martucci: So many romance novels, particularly of a certain era, used that trope of jealousy as a way to [00:07:30] reveal intense emotion or, yeah, like the depth of feeling is exclusively expressed. Like they can't say I love you, but they can smash a window because they're jealous.
Jhen: Yeah. Smashing a window or, also the idea that you being in love with someone or you having that intense love with someone means that you can't ever be attracted to anyone else.
Like we, about these things like, Oh, I have a hall pass for Halle Berry. She's the only person that we both agree is attractive enough that maybe one day, if I were to -obviously we're never going to meet Halle Barry, but you know, just those kinds of ideas that -
Andrea Martucci: Speak for yourself, Jhen.
Jhen: Okay, fine myself, if I ever met Halle Barry, listen: hall pass, hall book, hall year, she got the whole thing. Okay. That's a fine ass black woman. I'm gonna give her that. But I guess it's that idea that you get to control everything that your partner thinks and feels and that of course they in turn, get to control you in that way, which is not usually how it works, because it's usually the masc presenting partner that's doing all of that stuff, but I digress, that's a whole different conversation.
Andrea Martucci: So let's talk about now the other end of the spectrum. So we have defined what consensual non-monogamy is. It's this umbrella over a variety of other practices that come in all different shapes and flavors. And then we've pulled out some ideas about monogamy that are seen as particularly toxic for people who are practicing non-monogamy. What are the basic rules that are important for "good poly"? And, sorry, actually, hold on real quick. I just said good "poly," but my understanding is actually that poly frequently refers to people who are Polynesian.
Jhen: Huh, words are complicated.
Andrea Martucci: It's context, right?
Jhen: It's context. Yeah. So there are some Polynesian people that we are aware of who prefer the term poly be used in reference to them because they are Polynesian that's their thing. And so we try to use polyam out of respect for those people. So in a polyam, short for polyamory, as opposed to just shortening it as poly. But there are people who are like, I'm Polynesian, that doesn't bother me. Listen, it bothers some people, not everyone's going to feel the same way about the same thing.
So you will hear poly still being the word that a lot of people use. Some people will use polyam. I use polyam quite a bit, but then I was thinking like, does polyam also for like Polynesian American? See?!
Andrea Martucci: And unless you're seeing it in text where you can see the [00:10:00] capitalization and all it is very confusing. So let me just say the whole word, but anyways, FYI, poly polyamory. I'm just going to use the whole word. What are some important rules for "good polyamory" or like what defines consensual and ethical non-monogamy?
Jhen: Okay. Of course, we're all being on the same page as the most important thing, it's never the idea that anything can be happening nin the relationship that no one knows about because we're not keeping secrets about how we are operating.
We've had a discussion about what our boundaries are, what our expectations are and how we want to proceed in this relationship. So for example, when you are in a monogamous partnership, this is just an example, there tends to be a lot of implicit things. There are things that we just think we understand, right?
Once you start dating somebody, there's this assumption that you guys are exclusive, right? And then, so you proceed along the relationship escalator in that way, like, Oh, we're dating. Now we're in a relationship. Now we're engaged, and now we're married, and we're progressing up this relationship escalator sort of thing.
In poly and in non-monogamy communication is key. We take nothing for granted. There is no assumption there, you cannot assume that when you're engaging with someone that they mean the same thing that you do. So if, when I say I am solo poly, for example, and this is just a thing, I am, but also if I say I'm solo poly, and you say you're solo poly, we might have two completely different definitions of what that means and what that looks like.
So even though we're using similar terminology, it don't mean that we're practicing the same thing.
Andrea Martucci: So what you're saying is that words have no meaning?
Jhen: Words have no meaning that also have all the meaning.
Andrea Martucci: Okay.
Jhen: It can seem very complex. But yeah, good communication and all of us being on the same page about what we're doing and frequent check-ins are also necessary and people are thinking, we're supposed to be in monogamous relationships too.
It's like surprise. It might just be that, Oh my God. Love is love. Everything that we perceive to be this really great version of polyamory should be happening all of our relationships.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And as you just said, all of these things should be happening in all of our relationships, but what you alluded to was this idea that when you're in a relationship that's
and is considered "the norm" quote, unquote, there's all sorts of assumptions.
People make, and this often leads
people into trouble because different people have different sort of cultural understandings of what things mean, because words [00:12:30] mean things, but they also don't mean things. And if you're like, Oh, we're dating. What does that mean? Does that mean you're not able to see other people? Does that mean you are just casually seeing each other, but you can see other people? Unless you actually sit down and say, what does this mean, you can get into all sorts of trouble with people assuming they know.
Jhen: Yeah, exactly. Like I said, that's one of the big things that we can say about non-monogamy. Despite what TV tells you, it is way less sex than you think, because if you're doing it right, you're probably talking way more than you're fucking.
Sorry. Am I allowed to curse on here?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah!
Jhen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know why I asked that it's called podcasting.
Andrea Martucci: I'm not subject to the FTC.
Jhen: That's right. But yeah, so there's a lot more communication happening. So for example, let's use that you, me, and Katrina, right? Where we're in a thing, technically we're in a relationship. Katrina is, we'll call Katrina your primary partner.
And I'm just using the word primary in this instance, not to denote any kind of hierarchy.
Andrea Martucci: We've been together longer,
Jhen: You've been together longer. you're doing the thing, you and Katrina have a great relationship going. Katrina and I also have a little thing happening, we have a little relationship here.
It doesn't make your relationship any less important.
Andrea Martucci: Definitely doesn't.
Jhen: It just means that it's different. So she'll be seeing me sometimes, she's with you a lot of the time and we've worked out a schedule, right? We worked out that we're both seeing Katrina. We both have this thing. Let's talk about how this can present.
What, how, who gets holidays, who gets to share certain key events? Is it that you want us to all be together in the same room while loving each other and being happy or our relationships running independent of each other -
Andrea Martucci: Like we all have each other one-on-one - you and me, me and Katrina, you and Katrina.
Jhen: Are we allowed to see other people? Is this a closed situation where it's just us together all the time?
Or are we allowed to engage with other people? Are we allowed to engage only sexually, are allowed to engage in a romantic way? Or what does that look like? How are you going to be able to balance having multiple relationships with multiple people? Of a certain nature. Are they all gonna be romantic, intimate?
Are they all going to be like, just casual, whatever happens, we're a free for all? We'll figure it out when it comes. I don't know. But see, you Katrina and I should be all together having this conversation about how our relationship is going to move forward.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, okay. So we should have this conversation together, as opposed to me having this conversation with you and you having the conversation with her and me having the conversation with Katrina? Or, we could decide. I can say, [00:15:00] look. Look, Jhen, you and I were going to have this conversation, then, you go talk to Katrina, I'll go talk to Katrina too.
We could decide that, right?
Jhen: Yeah. We could decide that. Yeah. And again, that's the beauty of us designing our relationship, how we want it to work.
Do we want to make all decisions together? Do we want to make them individually? And the decision that works best for the each individual tier of the triangle, because of course now we're in triangle, three of us. So you know with the relationships that you and I have is definitely not what Katrina and I have. Definitely not what you and Katrina have.
So we got to build our own shit. We got to build our own connections and our own understanding. But it's that we get to decide how we want to engage with each other. When we want to engage with each other, the kinds of things we want to do together, how our relationship will grow or maybe change. And maybe we won't want to be together romantically anymore. What does that look like for all of us in this partnership together?
How do we uncouple?
Andrea Martucci: Will my relationship with Katrina change if you come on Shelf Love for seven times?
Jhen: Yeah. I don't know. Let's find out let's talk about it and find out how that goes.
Andrea Martucci: You have a podcast called Monogamish and you are a real life practitioner of consensual non-monogamy. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do on the podcast? What's the format? Who do you talk to? What's the community that you're really speaking to and creating content for?
Jhen: See, that's an interesting question. I say that our podcast is discussing non-monogamy and polyamory through a black Caribbean lens. As a Black Jamaican woman born and raised, Sham is a black Jamaican man born and raised. He's still there right now. I am living overseas. So we're approaching it from that whole, me being queer and a woman, him being straight and a man and both having different versions of polyamory as well. He is married to a lovely woman, they have done triads before they do individual relationships as well.
I am not married to nobody. I'm that Pringle in the bottom of the can that you've got to stick two fingers down there to grab, that's me, I'm down there, but -
Andrea Martucci: Was that supposed to be dirty because it was.
Jhen: It definitely was supposed to be dirty. I like to say that we're talking to brown and Black people, you know, people in color in general, but specifically to the brown and Black people who were told "that's some white people shit," and were made to believe this is some white people shit. And that no [00:17:30] self-respecting Black person would ever do something like this.
I've heard that before in my real life. So that's the audience we're speaking to. Um, people who are interested in learning about non-monogamy and polyamory with us, cause we definitely don't know everything. And, uh, we do interviews with a lot of people. Some might be influential in the black poly community like Ruby Bouie Johnson. She puts on Poly Dallas Millennium. We have Cheri Calico Roman and Chanee Jackson Kendall. They are the founders of the Poly Cultural Diversity Alliance, which. They have a very funny story. You guys have to listen to that on the podcast, just how that name came into being. But yeah, they're movers and shakers in the Black poly community. They put on Black Poly Pride.
We have Dr. Zelaika Hepworth Clarke. She is a Psychologist and a lot of her clients are also non-monogamous. We talk to her about stuff.
I could keep going on. We have some really great guests who've been on there. Kevin Patterson, who is probably one of the more famous polyamorous Black people you will ever know. He was on talk shows, he was on the Tamron Hall Show with his wife and some of their partners talking about non-monogamy and polyamory and he has a book and he's great.
So we try to bring on everyday people, of course, like me to talk about how they're living in loving and also trying to hit them with the one, two with the famous people, cause I can have famous people too. Not just you, Andrea. I too can have famous friends on the podcasts people too. Yes, that's what I do.
So that's what we do. We talk to people, we cover pop culture items. Oh yeah. I make Sham talk about romance novels pretty often. And reality dating TV shows. I think he like low key hates me for that, but he can't get rid of me cause we're together. We're stuck together in this podcasting time.
Andrea Martucci: But not just together, but also together.
Andrea Martucci: Jhen, you love romance novels.
Jhen: I do!
Andrea Martucci: You do. You sure do. Most romance novels are focused on monogamy.
This will not surprise anyone who reads romance novels, or who just has a vague perception of romance novels. What itch do romance novels scratch for you? Somebody who does not necessarily desire a monogamous relationship in your real life.
Jhen: I read romance novels as more of an escape, so it's like fantasy for me.
I don't generally see myself on the page at all, as a pansexual black woman, as a Jamaican woman, as an immigrant in this country. I don't see myself [00:20:00] very often if at all, in any sort of book you can come across, and then just tack on the fact that, Polyamorous is like, where the fuck are you? Where are you out there in the world?
So I am not one of the people who reads romance to find versions of myself, and representation. I read it for entertainment and also, thanks to the shows like your podcast, I sometimes think critically about romance novels, and about the media that I consume.
Andrea Martucci: I'm touched very touched.
Jhen: So there is that. But I have been reading romance for many years. My mom was a big romance reader. I grew up with the Mills and Boons and the Harlequins around the house. My first memories of reading a romance novel is me being a toddler, sitting in front of my mother on the toilet. Cause kids never leave their parents alone. You have a kid, you definitely know what I'm talking about.
She's reading her romance novel, having her special toilet time. And I am being obnoxious with my romance novel. One of the ones I've plucked from her shelf, upside down, like trying to read along with her and trying to explain the story to her because that's what I do.
But yeah, so romance has been a part of my life for yeah, ever in a sense. So it's comfort, it's entertainment and escape. It is, this is not going to happen in real life. Like real life is not like the romance novels of the nineties and two thousands. And I'll put it that way.
And if it is whoo chile, we got, some, we got some things to talk about.
Andrea Martucci: One thing that I feel like the romance novels I read from like the eighties and nineties that did not translate at all to my adult life was this concept of dating. Do you notice that - so we're both millennials, like people don't date anymore.
And I think this phenomenon has been actually studied, but one of my questions has always been, particularly when I'm reading these like teen romances from like the eighties. Did people actually date like that in the eighties or was that romance novel fantasy idea of dating? I desperately want to know.
So I'm talking about where, like people just casually ask each other out on dates all the time. It means very little. People are very much more, sure. I'll go out with you. Why not? You go out with one person one night, you go out with another person another night. It doesn't mean you're going steady.
It doesn't mean that by asking you are ready to declare yourself, do you know what I'm talking about?
Jhen: Yeah, I feel it's also like a chicken or the egg conversation too, right? What came first did that kind of dating happen and end up in books or did someone make that up and then made [00:22:30] people try to pretend to do that in real life?
Context-wise for me growing up in Jamaica, dating is not a thing, not the way that we've seen it in movies and TV shows, whatever. Growing up for me, dating was not like any of that. It was like you were in school with this person. You had a crush on them. You were really awkward. You told them you liked them. They told you they didn't like you. And then you just cried forever. (laughs) Or if it worked out, you guys would meet up at the movies or whatever, and yeah, there was a lot of monogamy tied to that. Because if you talked, especially coming from female perspective, a femme-presenting perspective, if you talked to multiple people at once, you're a ho.
Andrea Martucci: Right. Obviously.
Jhen: But if it guys date, multiple girls. Oh, gala. So that's like big boss you know, a big player. Like that's what we doing.
Andrea Martucci: Stud.
Jhen: And so there is still that whole toxic patriarchy shit behind it. And I think that is an important thing to consider when we're talking about dating as well. Cause it's definitely not for the benefit of the woman, how we've read it in books and TV shows and stuff.
It's all about the man feeling great. And being able to assert that he is amazing enough to have this person spend time with him. When you see women asking men out and again, this is very specifically straight as how we see it in romance novels and in the media, women asking men out was a subversive thing. Ooh, wow. She's really going. And she's putting it out there,
Which makes you think that -
Andrea Martucci: And maybe a little too aggressive. (Sarcastic)
Jhen: Right? So really, who is this for? Who is this idea of dating for? Is it for women to feel swept off their feet by men, but then why is it center men if it's about our pleasure?
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So you're, you're asking some tough questions here, but also if anybody was like a teenager or 20-something in the eighties, please update me and tell me if you, if you just non-monogamously dated.
Jhen: Yeah. Let us know. So my relationship with that is also very much not that. And I'm not sure if it's specifically for Caribbean context, as opposed to growing up in the US or in the UK and having different experiences in that way. But that dating in that way has never been something that's a part of my experience as a Jamaican woman.
Andrea Martucci: And mine, either as a millennial American woman growing up in the Northeast in the middle-class, I mean, like we could, we could go down into the [00:25:00] intersections of this a million ways, but, Hey, you want to talk about some romance, novels?
Jhen: Yass always.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. Okay. So we're gonna start by talking about Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon.
This is fairly new. Came out in 2020 sometime. And this is part of the Beards and Bondage series. Is it part of -
Jhen: correct? Yes, it is book three.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. After Sanctuary, which was book two, which was actually covered on the podcast with Norma Perez-Hernandez, a long time ago. So you can go look that up if you want to listen to an episode that talks about more Rebekah Weatherspoon books.
So Jhen, can you give an overview of what Harbor is about and could you mention what kind of polyamorous relationship is portrayed on page and then I'd like to talk about what aspects of "good polyamory" they're portraying.
Jhen: Oh, yes, of course. So Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon, um, you have our lovely heroes, cause it is a triad, let's start there.
So it's a triad, there are two men and a lady, like two men and a baby, but it's two men and a lady. You have Vaughn and you have Shaw. They were in a triad with another woman. What was her name again?
Andrea Martucci: Doesn't matter.
Jhen: Corrine . So they're with Corrine and Corrine is brutally murdered because it is
Andrea Martucci: womp womp.
Jhen: It is Rebekah Weatherspoon's Beards and Bondage series, it gets a little dark. Corrine is brutally murdered, in bed with another man. So she's definitely two timing on them. That other man is our heroine's fiance. So they're both dealing with the fact that their partners were cheating on them and have died tragically.
Oh yeah. The heroine is Brooklyn.
Andrea Martucci: The sister of the heroine from Sanctuary.
Jhen: So that's how this whole series is connected by the by. So Brooklyn is dealing with the fact that her fiance was murdered and cheating on her with this other woman, Vaughn and Shaw are dealing with the fact that they thought their triad was going great and she was murdered and cheating on them.
So we were both dealing with this whole thing. They come together to help each other through the grief. And that gets a little sexy. And then at the end, there's a wedding. That's the most important thing you need to know. All the messy stuff in the middle, who cares about that? The point is that at the end, there is a triad wedding.
There we go.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I don't even think this is a spoiler because I feel like some people [00:27:30] entering this book who are traditional romance readers might actually be really comforted by that idea.
Jhen: Yes. Yes, because it is as close to the binary of a monogamous romance you're going to get, that ties into the whole triad thing .
So it's a closed triad. So a closed triad means that they're only dating each other. They're only with each other. Vaughn and Shaw had that with Corrine. And obviously she fucked that up big time. And now, at the end of the book, they have that with Brooklyn and Brooklyn is coming from a very monogamous background.
So the idea of there being two men that she wants to be with, and that want to be with her is foreign and definitely something that would make her run for the hills. They're coming from a very intense situation where, you thought your life was going to go one way, you thought you were going to get married to this amazing person and live the suburban dream as we've been taught it. 2.5 kids, picket fence, you know, golden retriever or whatever it is. And having that destroyed due to infidelity and murder? Yikes,
Andrea Martucci: Not only are you dealing with the loss of your partner, but the loss of your partner who isn't as amazing as you thought they were.
Jhen: Yeah. So I think that I really enjoy the journey that you get with Vaughn and Shaw and Brooklyn, because it's them helping each other out to grief and also doing that individual work for themselves. And you see that on the page, which doesn't usually happen in a lot of more mainstream romance novels, let's put it that way. You're not usually seeing this individual work that the person is doing on page to get out of grief or to figure out how am I going to do this?
And because she has never been in a non-monogamous situation before or been in any kind of unconventional partnership, she has a lot of work to do in figuring out how to deal with that. The guys have their betrayal work to do and the grief and all that stuff and how to ultimately love and respect her as an individual and an equal partner in the relationship.
And the wedding at the end is pretty much the icing on top of the cake for me, because you don't get to see non-monogamous weddings in books. It's not a thing that happens. It's usually, there is a duo who in the triad, is like okay, we get married for this thing, or they're already married and they're bringing in this third.
And so the fact that they chose to make that commitment together was very sweet to me.
Andrea Martucci: And also that they [00:30:00] risked sharing that with people they were close to in their life. Like they could have gotten away - and I say, gotten away, like the way they live their lives, like they probably could have done whatever they wanted and kept it a secret from most people in their life.
But to make that public commitment about that relationship that goes against a lot of society's norms. Not just society's norms at large, but if I remember correctly, Shaw's family had some very particular issues around him not being heterosexual.
Jhen: I think so.
Andrea Martucci: Like the fact that he was in a relationship with a man was particularly troubling to them. I believe And so this marriage was not legally binding because I'm not going to look up laws and stuff, but -
Jhen: It's not legally binding. It's fine.
There's no,it's not allowed.
Andrea Martucci: It's not allowed legally. So the fact that they-
Jhen: made this commitment to each other,
Andrea Martucci: made the commitment to each other in front of all their friends and family and cemented it is a big deal.
Jhen: Yeah, it is. And there's also another element to this book, which is the BDSM element to it.
Andrea Martucci: Right, that, yeah.
Jhen: Cause the bondage part of the Beards and Bondage series, there is a strong BDSM.
Andrea Martucci: Who has a beard? Did they both have beards?
Jhen: In this book, I don't -Shaw must have a beard. He's a woodworker. Like he seems like a beard guy, but yes, we're just totally off track-
Andrea Martucci: Rebekah, who has a beard?
Jhen: Yes. I don't remember. Okay. But Rebekah you'll tell us, but yeah, there's that whole BDSM dynamic to it, to where it's not just that she's trying to figure out how to love someone else again, then to love two people again, but she was also not thrust into, but also thrust into this kink lifestyle as well and how she might want to be with them in that way.
Andrea Martucci: And the communication around that is really great because she's very open-minded, but she's also very in touch with her own feelings about it, which I really appreciated seeing. She was very communicative with herself and with her partners about "I'm not sure how I feel about that" and I'm going to be assertive and tell you that. And I'm, open-minded, maybe we can try it or here are some things I'm definitely not into. I thought it was really nice to see that communication where everybody was, let me just be very vulnerable and put out on the table. Things I'm interested in. I'm offering it. I'm not going to shove this down your throat, like it's on offer and it's up to you if you want to take part.
Jhen: Yeah. Like I said, it's one of the things I love [00:32:30] about Rebekah's writing in this book, that everything happens on page. There is no awkward moment where you're wondering, wait, how did we get here? Which I have found in some romance novels where, just the conflict happens, and all of a sudden there's a wedding at the end.
And you're like, wait, how did we get past this point? What kind of work -
Andrea Martucci: You almost died and I suddenly realized I loved you and I, we're not going to talk at all about all that other stuff.
Jhen: Yeah. It just, and so I loved that every single bit of negotiation was on page. I have written down, "Brooklyn is a bad-ass scared ass bitch." (laughs)
And that's pretty much exactly what she was. She scared to make these sorts of things, but still assertive enough to have that conversation and that communication with the guys, which I really liked. And, Shaw, our furniture maker is, like our gruff, mean, but secretly a softy man while Vaughn is like the openly softy man, which is funny. Cause Vaughn's the attorney. So you would think, Oh yeah, that's the bad-ass right there.
Andrea Martucci: Wasn't he like a family attorney or something. I can't remember. He has so much love to give.
Jhen: I loved that. I loved how they loved her and how she learned to love more about herself through that kind of relationship and understanding even when they weren't together. Because of course, there's always a part in the book where there's like the conflict, even through the conflict where they weren't together, you could still see the process of her still keeping in mind the positive things they've taught her about communication and loving herself and being open to love other people, and therapy and all the-
Andrea Martucci: Therapy is key, always therapy.
Jhen: Always - listen, especially if you're trying to get into some non-monogamous shit y'all need to go to therapy.
Andrea Martucci: Especially if your fiance, who was cheating on you was found dead in bed murdered with your new lovers' ex lover.
Jhen: Yeah. See, it gets a little messy when you say it out loud like that. But yes, therapy was very important there. So I also appreciate that. like I say, it's like a guilt and grief and tragedy, but there's also like that instant chemistry when they first meet, which they have to fight because it's like -
Andrea Martucci: at a funeral (both laugh)
Jhen: it's like, I have to fight how I feel about this instant attraction to someone, because we're all grieving and this is fucked up. And I love that they're also aware of that. This is, this doesn't make any sense.
Andrea Martucci: A lot of Rebekah Weatherspoon romance novels have people like meeting at funerals. I'm noticing this pattern now.
[00:35:00] Jhen: Rebekah, maybe we should talk about that a little bit.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So let's talk about Neighborly because, just to be fair, I don't know if Katrina would even call this a romance novel?
Jhen: No, I think that she considers it more of an erotic sort of thing. So I guess we'll just call it erotic romance.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. There's plenty of love on page. I don't want to, naysay the love on page, but the new relationship that is explored in Neighborly is
Jhen: - it's intimate, but it's not romantic at that particular point that we are exposed to it. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: So what is Neighborly about and what kind of relationship is explored on page?
Jhen: Oh, Neighborly. One of my favorites actually, Harbor and Neighborly are two of my favorites.
So Calvin and Heaven are engaged and they're renting like half of a duplex. Their landlords are Steven and Tasha. And Steven and Tasha are married and Heaven is getting the hots for Tasha. There's like a thing, Heaven's also not really openly bisexual or anything. This is one of the first times that she's really interrogating her feelings about women.
She's having her feelings about that because, I think it's also that she's never had those feelings while she's with Calvin, with Calvin,
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, she thought, she's she's like, I'm monogamous.
I love this man. We have an awesome sexual connection. What more could I want?
Jhen: Yeah. And then she meets Tasha and all of the feelings are there in her lady parts. And so there's an instant connection between the two of them. And they're trying to figure out how to best give each other what they really want. And they do, multiple times. You're welcome. Thank you, Katrina for that.
Andrea Martucci: Okay, so we're talking about two relationships that are open relationships.
Jhen: Yes, they are.
Andrea Martucci: Or become - One of them at the beginning of the story is open and the second one becomes an open relationship through the power of communication.
Jhen: Through the power of communication.
Y'all, y'all are sleeping on communication. Trust me, this is the most important part of any relationship you'll ever have, but yeah calvin and haven / Heaven or like, you know, we're monogamous, we're engaged. We're just together. There was no one else. And then she's Oh, but Tasha though, I'm very conflicted.
And he's like, girl, just go get Tasha. Damn. Why you being weird?
Andrea Martucci: There's no reason for a conflict here.
[00:37:30] Jhen: Yeah. He's like, why are you being weird? Just go get Tasha. And she was like, what about you? He's like, I can play my PlayStation or something, I guess like, you just do whatever you gotta do
Andrea Martucci: the gym all the time anyways.
Jhen: Yeah. Like he's working out, he's doing his thing and, Steven has always been supportive of Tasha, getting whatever she needs. And so when he realizes that Tasha's super into Haven Heaven, yeah. I'm just calling her the two names now.
Andrea Martucci: Haven, Heaven.
Jhen: He's like, girl, whatchu waiting for?
I don't know she's into me. And he's like, Tasha. you fine as hell. Why, why you playing? Go get yours.
Andrea Martucci: Part of the communication in this novel is really aided by the fact that the walls are extremely thin. So when -
Jhen: definitely a theme,
Andrea Martucci: when one woman is moaning the other's name, as she masturbates, it's incredibly clear that the other person is into them.
So that helps.
Jhen: Definitely helps.
Andrea Martucci: So this is a Z relationship?
Jhen: I call it a Z. Some people call it an N I just prefer Z because it has the thing with people on equal footing. And parallel this way. I'm doing things with my hands. One on top of each other as opposed to side-by-side. Do you all know what I mean? Because there's not necessarily like a wife swap in any way, it's not like Calvin's also trying to sleep with Tasha. He's very much only into Haven / Heaven only wants to be with Haven /Heaven (laughs) and is very content with that. And Stephen is not trying to be with Haven Heaven either. He's just trying to let Tasha do her thing. So Calvin and Steven, there's no wives swapping. There is no swords crossing, there is no other sort of intimate connection that exists outside of the two women having their encounter.
Yeah, that's why it's a Z. Calvin and Heaven are connected. Heaven / Haven is connected to Tasha. Tasha's connected to Steven.
Andrea Martucci: yeah, very sexy. Katrina Jackson writes some novels that are romance novels with a traditional HEA and, or at least HFN, happily for now.
And then, yeah, she writes some romance novels that are like explicitly erotic. And then some that are somewhere in between where, I think that the big thing is even her books that are explicitly erotic and not quote unquote "romantic," there is a lot of respect that all of the people feel for each other. Like
Andrea Martucci: none of these relationships are treated as disposable. Like everybody respects everybody else sees them as a person, as an individual. And even if they are only seeking a sexual relationship, it's a very loving sexual relationship.
[00:40:00] Jhen: Yeah. There is an intimacy there between them. But the basis of their attraction that we see is very sexual and it is very rooted in sex and fulfilling that sort of erotic physical connection to each other. But this formation, you don't really see it happening a lot in any kind of non-monogamous romance that exists.
Because like I said, usually you'll see stuff like triads. If you're seeing non monogamous polyamorous stuff popping up in romance, it's very much triads or like the defacto, because it is the closest thing, like I said, you're going to get to a monogamous pairing. You can just pretend it is, and just maybe take out that extra person in your mind, especially with how they're usually written.
So this kind of pairing was very interesting to see because we don't really talk about most other polyamorous pairings outside of triads. So I really liked seeing this in this way and that the communication that they had couples had with, within themselves, within their own personal units.
And also like with each other where, Calvin and Steven were just kind of like, so we helping them do this, or what? And they were like, yeah, great. I, you want to watch the game or something? And let's just, get them started, get them all riled up and then they'll be off doing their thing. We can watch the game or something, bro. Have some beers. It's fine.
Andrea Martucci: And so I think that this kind of relationship is actually the kind that some romance readers might have the most trouble with in terms of, that lack of finality.
Andrea Martucci: Like when we talked about the closed triad in Harbor, there is this expectation of going on forever or whatever that means. There is this like finality to it.
It's these three people, they are committed to each other. Nobody else is coming in. Nobody's getting out. Whereas in Neighborly, I think that the way it is left. It's this is great for now. Is this going to go on forever? They're not going to have any long-term commitment, maybe at some point in the future, Heaven and Calvin move out and buy their own house or move somewhere else, like for his career or her career or whatever.
There's no sense that this goes on forever. And, and also it's open. Maybe Tasha wants a relationship with somebody else in addition to her marriage, like there's just so much up in the air. And so I'm curious what you think, specific to this idea that romance readers are primarily craving this emotional resolution.
In episode 68, Dr. Danielle Knafo said, "we do [00:42:30] not know, we do not want to know what really happens ever after. We want the happily ever after, which is the fantasy ever after."
Jhen: Hard agree, hard agree. As someone who reads romance for that, I don't want to be thinking about, in a historical about the syphilis and the pox or any of that, I don't want to be thinking about that.
All the things that are at play there in Victorian or whatever,
Andrea Martucci: Or the war that's coming eight years later.
Jhen: Yeah, exactly. I'm not, I don't want to be thinking about that. That's the sort of escape that I look for in my romance novels. And I think that especially for Neighborly. I think it's a bit to realistic in the sense where we are allowed to figure out a bit more and have more context and understanding of all the ways in which this could or could not work.
Andrea Martucci: Or how it will end. There's a pretty good understanding of what's going to happen eventually.
Jhen: Yeah, either they're going to keep doing this or they're not. And if they're not, it's is it going to be weird? Is there, we get to see too many of the, I don't know, maybe that's fatalist, fatalistic, ideas of how it could go wrong in a situation like this.
And so I think it removes some people from the romance of it. Also, some people just find it disgusting. So there is that. Yeah...
Andrea Martucci: Fuck them!
Jhen: Fuck those people, Right. So I feel as if, and this is a feeling, not rooted in any sort of like real thought or conversation or whatever, I feel as if a lot of people who enjoy mainstream romance novels that don't really stray too far outside of what they read when they were younger or what they were comfortable with then, don't understand how relationships and romance and these sorts of interactions are occurring in modern times and how we can put them in, you know, more contemporary, erotic romance-ish novels, right?
Because at the end of the day, there's still this idea that exists, thanks to big media and whatever, about a very, Sister Wife, Big Love sorta thing where non-monogamy is the dude who is a Mormon with a bunch of wives and a crapton of kids and doing that sort of male centered the relationship is centered for the male gaze exclusively.
And polyamory is centered on a man's perspective and connection to his many bisexual or heterosexual [00:45:00] partners. And when you look at situation like in Neighborly, where it really has nothing to do with the guys, like absolutely nothing to do with them. It's definitely centered on the women and their pleasure and their understanding of each other and how they want their relationship to go.
It's still a thing that, people don't want to see that on page. They want to see our heroines in respect to who their monogamous partners are supposed to be. They don't want to have them explore anything outside of the binary that we're comfortable with. If that makes sense to you.
Andrea Martucci: It does. And I, I think this is where I think that as much as, many people who read romance novels are like, yes, I can separate fantasy from reality. I think that there are a lot of things we can separate, but I think that this is where we have to acknowledge the insidious nature of the narratives that we consume, like not just in romance novels, starting in fairytales, that you might read as a child and then Disney movie versions of those fairytales and, all aspects of the media that surround us, that send us these messages of monogamy, basically and like what we should want and what we should desire.
I think that just to talk about how this pervades our thinking and then changes how we feel about people who don't want to be in a monogamous relationship. You know what I mean?
Jhen: Yeah. That idea that non-monogamous relationships are less than, or not as important because you're not traveling on the relationship escalator.
You're not hitting the points you're supposed to hit. Or that it's a phase. It must be a phase because you could never really want to live your life like this. There's a lot of those thoughts that come into it. And so I find that when you put non-monogamy in a romance novel, the expectation is that it's going to end monogamously no matter what.
So I was suggested a romance novel the other day. Cause I posted on Twitter, asking for a Black -
Andrea Martucci: Mistake.
Jhen: Non-monogamous romance novels. Of course I said, Black non-monogamous romance, that's not Katrina Jackson. It was a very specific statement. And so I, of course I got the Harbor recommendation.
I got a couple other recs, which are not Black. It was definitely interracial. So people are forgetting what Black romance is. Obviously
Andrea Martucci: Black is - only Black people,
Jhen: Black, only black people in the romance. Y'all only Black people. That's what I wanted.
Andrea Martucci: And if it's polyamorous, that's [00:47:30] more than two.
Jhen: More than two. One of the books that was recommended to me, in private in like a DM. Yeah, there was a non-monogamous storyline where they made the other partner the villain and had her leave him and end up with the person she was meant to end up with all along. So you're like, Oh, this is a non-monogamous story. It's eeee, I guess there was something in it?
Andrea Martucci: If the message of the happily ever after is like, And then they lost that other person, which they didn't need anyways.
Andrea Martucci: And lived happily ever after in a monogamous twosome.
Jhen: Yeah. So I was just kind of like, do you guys know what I'm asking for? I don't think you know what I'm asking for it, but yes, we never ask these questions on Twitter. Cause the answers are always disappointing except for, from certain people.
But yeah, these are the things that we have to think about, this idea that if it doesn't fit the idea that's been thrust into our brains since - especially for millennials - babyhood that, those partnerships don't matter. They're not relevant. It's the same thing that we see with the people who believe that queer people shouldn't have rights and feelings and stuff.
You're like, Whoa, that's not normal. That's not normal. Like you have to make that choice to be that way. Do you genuinely think that I would have chosen to make my life harder? Like on purpose? I like to hurt my own feelings, but not about like my whole identity.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jhen: Yeah, no.
Andrea Martucci: But can I just say,
Andrea Martucci: even if it is a choice, who the fuck cares, why does it bother you?
Jhen: Why is it your business what I do? But yeah, there's these ideas that come from that where people don't believe that any relationship that does not fit that monogamous binary is valid. And, especially if it's heterosexual, it's shoot. Like I think some people are now okay, I guess I can have like gay romance novels, or like lesbian romance novels. I guess that can be a thing now, but you're still missing out on representation for the non-monogamous people.
What about us?
Andrea Martucci: What about you?
Jhen: What about us? And especially in Black non-monogamous romance, that those numbers are few and far between, and I do want more Black non-monogamous romance. I do. I'm tired of reading about white people do non-monogamy and it just reinforces a narrative that it's white people shit, I'm tired of it.
I'm tired. Why can't I get, beautiful Black people doing things or like beautiful Latinx people doing things you know?
Andrea Martucci: Or ugly people?!
Jhen: I mean,
Andrea Martucci: No, that's too far.
Jhen: No, one's ugly. [00:50:00] It's a romance novel. No one is ugly. We're in a fantasy, so everyone is gorgeous and accomplished and wealthy.
Andrea Martucci: Ahhhh. (Jhen laughs) I have thoughts about that, but anyways, Dang. I think to be fair, when you ask for recommendations, there is not a lot out there.
Like it's not just that people aren't reading the wealth of things that exist. It's there are not many.
Jhen: That is the problem. Like I said, I know that people like Sierra Simone have written non-monogamous romance novels, Meghan Mulry, and Robin Lovett did have a non-monogamous-ish storyline in her planet thing, Desire Planet thing. The planet desire where the atmosphere makes them all horny and wanna fuck.
Andrea Martucci: Oh yeah.
Jhen: Yeah. So there is a kind of like a non-monogamous thing there because the aliens are non-monogamous, they don't believe in monogamy, the idea of monogamy to them. It's like, why would you want to do that? Which I thought was really funny. But, yeah, there are people who are putting non-monogamy in books or having non-monogamy show up in their work. But again, what about the Black pansexual Jamaican polyamorous woman? Why am I not in the book?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And Jhen is obviously available to consult, be a sensitivity reader.
Andrea Martucci: Pay her but.
Jhen: I'm down for that. Yeah, pay me, but also like I'm down to talk about stuff like this and the kind of representation that I would like to see and connect you with other people who are non-monogomous space.
If I don't know something, don't worry. I can get you the person that does. That is my thing. I think of myself as more of a connector, a hooker upper.
Andrea Martucci: Jhen. Sweet Jhen. Thank you so much for being here with me today. Where can people find you online talking about romance? And how can they check out Monogamish?
Jhen: You can find me on the tweet, on that Twitter. I have two accounts. So there's the @Monogamishpod account, which, we post stuff there about the podcast.
And then there's @haveyoumetJhen, which, is like a play on How I Met Your Mother with, Barney's "have you met Ted?" Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And let's be clear that Jhen is spelled with an H - J H E N.
Jhen: Yes, that's it. I'm also on Instagram @HaveYouMetJhen, same thing for @Monogamishpod. You can definitely listen to our podcast, wherever you get your podcasts, or you can just go to the monogamouspod.com website and you can find all the links to our show notes, episodes. I have some podcasting resources. I have a list of [00:52:30] appearances that we've been on. I have a little merch shop. You guys should definitely check that out. Get merch and monogamous shirt.
Andrea Martucci: People should definitely check out - if you're a romance fan, you should definitely check out, maybe start with Katrina's episodes.
Jhen: Yes. Yes. Katrina's episodes. I think it's episode nine of season one and then it was episode, I think 14. Of season two, like she's there on both of those.
If you really just want to hear me talk about romance novels a lot. If you just listen through all the Monogamish Pod episodes, it'll come up.
It'll come up. It's definitely it'll show up. It'll be there.
Andrea Martucci: Jhen. If you could tell the world just one thing, what would it be?
Jhen: Believe, support, and pay Black women. Thank you.
If you wanted like a polyamorous, like non-monogamous thing, it's be ethical and intentional about how you engage with people because if you don't show up as your real self, in a way that's supportive of your true intentions and your partner, then why are you there?
Andrea Martucci: And communicate.
Thanks for listening to episode 70 of Shelf Love and thanks to Jhen for joining me. That's hJen with a J H E N. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com and definitely take a listen to Monogamish Pod, especially if you're a writer who is interested in accurately conveying polyamorous relationships in your fiction.
Nothing but good times ahead, friends. I have three amazing episodes lined up for December, but I'm on the fence about what order I will release them in. Should I start with an academic deep dive into The Secular Scripture by Northrop Frye with Dr. Angela Toscano?
Or perhaps the favorite romances of the year episode with the organizers of The Swoon Awards. Or should I release my conversation with Jennifer Crusie, idol of my youth? Feel free to try to influence me.
Thanks for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. And thank you as always to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L Harrison. That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay [00:55:00] safe, stay mad, and keep reading romance.
I'd like to see perhaps an emissary of people from a sex toy manufacturer land on the planet to gather inspiration.
Jhen: Oh, that would be amazing. Oh my God. Sex toys.
Andrea Martucci: Or! What if the Ice Planet is a test lab for a sex toy manufacturer and they kidnapped the women to bring them here, to test out their newest sex, lifelike sex toy aliens.
Jhen: Okay. (Jhen is laughing at me. With me?) My question is, how cheap are these? How much are these things going to cost?
Andrea Martucci: They're very well-funded okay.
They're venture capitalist backed.
Jhen: They're venture capitalist backed. Of course they are. Of course. That's how it works. Okay. Another thing that really irritates me though, like if aliens are so far removed from our society, why are most of them monogamous? Just saying. Just saying they should also be happily non-monogamous and not have the same hangups about monogamy that humans do.
Alyssa Cole, Amanda Diehl, Andrea Martucci, Angela Toscano, Arielle Zibrak, Ash Dylan, Becky, Bree Hill, Carter Sherman, Charish Reid, Christina Fattore, Copper Dog Books, Dani Lacey, Danielle Knafo, Denise Williams, Diana Filar, EE Ottoman, Emma Barry, Eric Selinger, Erin Leafe, Esme Brett, Felicia Grossman, Funmi B., Hannah Hearts Romance, Hsu Ming Teo, Huike Wen, Jack Harbon, Jayashree Kamble, Jennifer Crusie, Jess, Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Jhen, Jodi McAlister, Jodie Slaughter, Joe Martucci, John Jacobson, Julie Moody-Freeman, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Kate Clayborn, Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, Kelly Reynolds, Kennedy Ryan, Kianna Alexander, Kini Allen, Kit Rocha, Lucy Score, Lynell, Margarita Guillory, Margo Hendricks, Maria DeBlassie, Megan Erickson, Mia Sosa, Nicole Falls, Norma Perez-Hernandez, Penny Reid, Rebecca Romney, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Rosie Danan, Ruby Lang, Sandra Kitt, Scarlett Peckham, Sionna Fox, Sri Savita, Steve Ammidown, Suzanne Jefferies, Talia Hibbert, Tamara Lush, Tasha L. Harrison, The Swoonies, Tif Marcelo, Tina Benigno, Whoamance, fangirl jeanne