I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Krantz about her new reported memoir Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. Read my book review of Open to learn more!
What makes Open a feminist read?
Ooh, lots of things. First, it’s about me interrogating traditional patriarchal structures in terms of what relationships should look like. Monogamy and marriage mostly emerged because of the idea that women’s bodies were property, and Open questions that construct. I tell the story as a fable in certain ways, where Adam represents patriarchy as well as white supremacy culture (rationalism, the idea that progress equals bigger/more, paternalism, domination) and I represent the more feminine energies (the emotional, the “irrational,” the intuitive). You see in the story how seductive the patriarchy (or Adam) is to me, because it’s adhering to what I’ve been socialized to believe is correct. He’s this “real man” and it’s my first Dom/sub dynamic. As time goes on, you see how there are cracks, not just for me in terms of the weight of that domination getting more extreme and harmful over time, but also for Adam—the suffering that is occurring for him, even if unconsciously, in upholding this system, this idea of a man who’s in total control of his emotions and can’t be vulnerable. I view it as a fable exploring the complexities of the ways in which, yeah, patriarchy can be seductive—and then the bill comes to you.
How did growing up with 90s Disney princesses shape your understanding of yourself as a woman?
It’s an important era and art form to interrogate and I was surprised that I didn’t find more books about it, which shows how we don’t take it very seriously. I think at the time, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast—they were seen as more feminist than before because at least the heroines were conscious, right? Like with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White—it’s a very low bar, they’re unconscious for a bunch of the movie. In these new ones the women were slightly more independent, saying they want adventure. Ariel wants to be part of a new world, Belle’s searching for something. That romanticism and desire appealed to me as a romantic and adventurer already as a child, but what does the adventure end up being? It’s a man. And often there’s a literal transformation of species that happens with this idea that true love requires transformation. So, when I met Adam and he was saying he wanted to be non-monogamous, I was like, “Okay, this is my journey, this is my adventure.” And I did want to explore these things, but the idea was very much that I would be the one who needed to change. The adventure—while it was about discovering my own queerness, discovering my own kinks and redefining what it was I wanted my life to look like—at the same time it was within the framework of pushing myself to explore all these things so that I could be with him, so that he could be my happily ever after, or the conclusion to the adventure.
When did you decide you were going to literally record conversations and therapy sessions for the book and what was that experience like?
I was already working as a journalist used to recording a lot of things. It was also very much a coping mechanism. As there was more gaslighting and Adam was saying, “You’re remembering things wrong” or deeming my feelings not true, it was a very reporterly impulse for me to be like, “Okay, then I need some clear record because I can’t trust my own mind anymore and he says I keep remembering things wrong.” As the ways I was being talked to were increasingly hurtful and problematic, recording was a way of having a witness who was impartial but also somehow protecting me. It was a way to feel less powerless as I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed and powerless. I also think the journalist in me knew this was interesting on multiple levels—all the worlds I was discovering, the different people I was meeting and the different ways they were practicing non-monogamy or kink, and also just the slow progression of how emotional abuse happens and how someone can, over the course of years, subconsciously take control of your mind.
What was your intention in writing the book?
I’m of the belief that whatever helps me the most is going to help other people the most, so keeping that target reader in mind was very motivating. I wanted to continue the conversation that #MeToo started, and—through working with counselors, talking with friends and especially the influence of certain Buddhist teachers—for me it feels better if I approach Adam or other people who harm with compassion and curiosity. That doesn’t mean there’s not boundaries or that they’re not held accountable, because obviously he is being held accountable, but rather that I can be curious and empathize—like, “What’s going on with him?” It was also an effort to model what that kind of interrogation might look like—what it might look like to hold someone accountable without considering them evil or irredeemable, but rather to look at the behaviors themselves. Books helped me come back to myself so much and I wanted to pay that forward by helping someone else curled up in that same ball.
What advice do you have for readers who are interested in exploring polyamory or non-monogamy but might be new to it?
Read books about it. Mine is a good jumping off point with a lot of things maybe not to do—learn from my mistakes!—but also because I bring in so many other books in the non-monogamy canon, so you might get an idea of what you might like to read. I like the book Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy about attachment theory as it relates to non-monogamy. Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities looks at how privilege and racism play out in non-monogamy, which is really important. Multiamory is a great podcast. Then I’d suggest getting a counselor who can help guide you through this, who’s going to be friendly to the lifestyle (try Googling “kink-friendly professionals”). And lastly, find a community. That could be through podcasts, Facebook groups, meet-ups—friends or strangers you trust who are living the lifestyle or are more experienced. With them, you can ask questions that you might be afraid to ask other people or that you might feel judged asking other people.
What advice do you have for readers who are not interested in exploring polyamory or non-monogamy for themselves, but who want to support those who are and help break the stigma?
Monogamous people can help destigmatize by accepting and loving and being open-minded when their friends are non-monogamous. If the friend is in a non-monogamous relationship and they’re having trouble, don’t immediately blame the non-monogamy or make assumptions that because they’re non-monogamous their partner must be manipulating them, but rather really look at the behaviors. And ask about what their comfortable boundaries are. Many non-monogamous people have to be in the closet or some degree in the closet, so if they’re telling you, you’re likely trusted, but ask them if they don’t want something on social media, or don’t want people at work to know. Know what their boundaries are because there are so few civil protections. I would also read books and listen to podcasts to educate yourself so that you can be a more informed friend—the same way that, if you’re straight or cis and you have friends who are queer or trans, you would hopefully learn more about that and try to be a good ally.