Polyfidelity Pioneers

Popular culture has long grasped the concept of polygamy, but
polyfidelity — multiple partners forming committed relationships
with each other in a sort of group-based monogamy — has been much
less understood, if at all. Twenty-five years after audience
members marveled at three members of the polyfidelity-based
family who appeared on ‘The Phil Donahue Show,’
the practice
can still evoke wonder and condemnation.

The Kerista family, based in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury
district, came to consist of subgroups with anywhere from four to
14 committed and faithful members. These subgroups closely
resembled traditional monogamous relationships, with the exception
of one major twist: there weren’t just two people in the
relationship. Food, clothing, childrearing, apartments, and sex
were just a few aspects of members’ lives that were thrown into the
communal pot. There were also, of course, the drugs.

As Annalee
Newitz reports in Other Magazine
, the Kerista model
began before the San Francisco incarnation. The idea came to
founder and prophet — at least, that’s how members described him
— Jud ‘[w]hile reading the Koran and smoking pot.’ He began a
small sect in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and as
Robert Anton
Wilson reported in the July/August 1965 issue of Fact
the New York Kerista sect gave birth to and was guided by the
principle of ‘Buddho, the art of no-defense: there are no
regulations or stipulations.’ And also, there were the drugs.

Jud’s tight ship, however, began to show cracks in the hull when
he established a family in San Francisco. Burdened by the
administrative task of keeping track of who was going to sleep with
whom on a given night, they turned to Apple spreadsheets. Soon the
Kerista family was running one of the largest Apple computer stores
in the state of California, and the strict business regimen began
to tear at the family’s free-flowing fabric. Most of all, though,
the Buddho ideal seems to have been left behind as Jud began to
favor elaborate lists of rules that governed family life. He also
led, according to Newitz, what he called ‘gestalt-o-rama’ sessions.
Intended to be cathartic and healing after a family member had
transgressed, the sessions essentially consisted of Jud berating a
cowed member. Finally frustrated with the inability to speak their
minds, during a ‘gestalt-o-rama’ the family began to, as Newitz
puts it, ‘gestalt the gestalter.’ This turned out to be the
death-knell of an otherwise wildly successful stab at polyfidelity
in America. For a time, the success must have felt good, must have
felt powerful. It must have felt, for a time, like a drug.

Go there >>
Test Tube

Go there too >>
The Religion of
Kerista and its 69 Positions

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