Creating a Line Family: Love, Abundance, and Belonging in the New Millennium
By Richard Gilmore and Elon de Arcana
REVIEW by Kathy Labriola
This book’s first edition was self-published by the authors in 2015 as a “real” paper book. They are currently writing a second edition, which they plan to publish as an e-book in the near future.
Richard Gilmore and Elon de Arcana are part of what most poly folk would probably call a four-person polyamorous family or a poly quad. They are advocates for a type of poly family they describe as a line family, a term they developed as an outgrowth of the concept of “line marriage” popularized in Robert Heinlein’s science fiction book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” Written in 1966, Heinlein’s book casts the moon as a penal colony with an extreme shortage of women, which resulted in each woman having several husbands, which he calls a “line marriage.”
Gilmore and de Arcana have dispensed with the term “marriage” and describe their model of polyamory as a “line family,” for two reasons. First, the term “marriage” has legal, religious, sexual, and romantic connotations that are confusing, as marriage means so many different things to different people. Secondly, the term “marriage” is not accurate because their vision of a line family is both inter-generational and multi-generational. Their intention is to have two or three or more generations of people living together either full-time or part-time, including some people who are related by blood or marriage, and others who have become family by choice. “Marriage” implies a sexual relationship, and in most poly families, each person is not a sexual partner to everyone else in the group, so “line family” seems to more accurately reflect that reality.
And, Gilmore and de Arcana have organized their family with the goal of it lasting for generations into the future, with new people joining over time as other people leave or pass away. They describe their model as being similar to political families that continue to be involved in government and public life for several generations, such as fathers who have been President and then their sons and grandsons have become Senators or even Presidents. (Hopefully, daughters will soon become part of this type of political dynasty, but so far the only examples we can point to involve males.) Their model is also similar to the way that affluent families have built and kept their wealth over several generations, such as the Kennedy family, becoming richer over generations by expanding their business empires and planning far into the future to consolidate their assets. Monks and nuns are also similar to a line family, as several generations live together and they continuously add new members, sometimes over several centuries, working towards spiritual enlightenment and serving their respective deities.
The authors’ goals are not to get rich, to dominate the political landscape, or to achieve spiritual nirvana (although these may be side effects of the practices they suggest). Rather, they have brilliantly adopted some of the successful strategies of the rich and powerful in order to create some degree of longevity, stability, and long-term financial security for their line family. Their hope is that this will enable them to pass down their entire organization, as well as their skills, knowledge, family businesses, homes, and financial assets to future generations. Their book shares the tools they believe can help others develop line families and achieve these same goals.
One of the most interesting and thought-provoking sections of the book talks about different types of intimacy, explaining that each member of a line family may have different types of intimacy with each of the other family members. I found this refreshing because the poly community often emphasizes sexual and romantic intimacy to the exclusion of many other experiences of intimacy, and tends to privilege sexual and romantic relationships over other types of intimate relationships. The authors describe sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, financial intimacy, creative intimacy, and recreational intimacy.
This framework is extremely useful in understanding and honoring the important connections between poly family members, especially between individuals who do not have a sexual relationship, or for whom other types of intimacy have become more important than romance and/or sex. For instance, in many poly triads, quads, and other configurations, some people are heterosexual and do not have romantic relationships with the other “same-sex” members of the family. In other poly configurations, one person is mono-sexually gay or lesbian, so they are not sexually or romantically involved with any “other-sex” family members. However, these family members may share bank accounts, live together and/or own property together, be involved in a business together, be part of a coven or other spiritual group, play in the same band or be part of some artistic project, take care of each other’s children or aging parents, and/or take care of each other during illness and aging. These bonds of intimacy are often treated as less important between people who are not involved in a sexual relationship. This book recognizes these forms of intimacy as strong threads that strengthen and hold poly families together over time, even over generations. In addition, these forms of intimacy are not as subject to the uncertain future of sexual desire and romantic love, and can be more stable, steady, and lasting than something as fickle as lust, limerence, and romance.
This book seems to assume that you have already assembled at least some of the people in your line family. It does not say very much about how to meet family members and create those relationships. Since other books have already covered that ground, it is great that this book tackles other challenging topics that have not been adequately addressed in the existing poly literature. Its strength is in providing practical information about the nuts and bolts of succeeding as a line family. Topics include buying property together, managing and resolving conflict, establishing family businesses, making decisions collectively, adding new members, and allowing people to gracefully distance and leave the family, as does happen.
Ironically, my only criticism of the book is that it is a cavalcade of great information, which is somewhat overwhelming and sometimes difficult to utilize in a comprehensive way. This is especially true in the sections on how to buy and own property as a group; there is a lot of information that is well-researched, but there may be a better way to organize it to make it more clear and accessible to the average person. I believe these sections may benefit from the skills of an outside editor, since a lot of people may not have the basic knowledge to make sense of the information. There are also many places where the authors may have given just enough information for people to get themselves in trouble, as with the old adage, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” The authors sometimes cite information from various websites, regarding topics about which they do not claim to have extensive expertise. I found this confusing and disconcerting, as I did not know how to ascertain the accuracy of some pieces of information.
The authors wisely stress that they are not attorneys and that laws and regulations differ from state to state and even from city to city (and of course change from year to year). So they repeatedly remind any line family to consult a good attorney with expertise in several arenas: real estate law, housing and construction-related regulations, family and divorce law, and who is familiar with alternative types of families and intentional communities. My own experience is that this mythical lawyer does not exist, and that most poly families find they must consult more than one lawyer, usually one with expertise in real estate, building codes, and construction, and another with experience with poly families, family law, and child protection. This is especially important because some cities and states have very restrictive laws about unrelated adults living together or owning property together. And some states recognize alternative types of families and intentional communities, and other states are more likely to make it very difficult for poly families to live together, and may try to take away their children, restrict how many people can occupy a home or building, etc.
I especially concur with the excellent sections of the book that describe ways of protecting children in the event of divorce, the death of a parent, or other family crises. As a counselor, I have seen many poly families torn apart emotionally, and literally ruined financially, due to parents divorcing or the death or disability of a parent, or grandparents or vindictive former spouses attempting to gain custody. This usually involves bitter and costly custody battles and sometimes leads to children being placed in foster care or with distant relatives against their will. So I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have written and legally sound agreements on parental rights and responsibilities, with the help of a highly-qualified and poly-friendly attorney.
The sections on how to buy property, build homes, and legal mechanisms for owning property together as a line family are an important contribution which has been woefully absent in writings and discussions of polyamory. They discuss the pros and cons of ownership structures such as Limited Liability Corporations (LLC’s), condominiums, Tenants in Common, Joint Tenancy, Land Trusts, and Co-ops. These sections are necessarily cursory as a complete discussion would require am entire book in itself (which, by the way, I would encourage these authors to consider writing). However, they do succeed in providing enough food for thought for poly families to identify which models of ownership may be appropriate for them, given their specific circumstances. Over the years, I have been shocked at the complete lack of understanding and knowledge that many very highly educated poly people have about property and property ownership. As a result, this book will be extremely helpful and should be required reading for any poly family or group that intends to live together.
However, there is an important addition that I would love to see the authors address in the next edition of this book, and this is how to keep the housing permanently affordable for future members of the line family. I am particularly focused on this due to my own personal history. I have lived in a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative for nearly 30 years, and been very involved in a Community Land Trust for many years, and a primary goal of both organizations has been to provide housing to lower-income and moderate- income people and to keep that housing affordable for future generations. In many geographical areas, and especially in the over-priced San Francisco Bay Area where I live, home ownership has become completely out of reach for anyone except the rich. For line families and any other kind of poly families, owning their own homes is much more stable and sustainable than renting, and owning gives a family much more control over their property and their lives. However, if only affluent people can afford to buy property, our community will be extremely limited.
And even for those who can afford to buy property at today’s prices, how can we make this housing affordable to the future members of our poly families? Many intentional communities, including cohousing communities and many poly families, are owned as condominiums, with each family buying an individual house or apartment unit in the development. Each time someone decides to leave the family and sell their unit, they sell at whatever the market will bear, which is likely to be much more than current family members have paid for their units. Over time, the only people who can afford to buy in are from a much more affluent economic bracket than existing family members, and this can have many unanticipated consequences.
For one thing, it severely limits the available pool of candidates, and the poly community is a small pool to start with. In addition, those new people moving in will be from a very different social and economic class than the existing members of the family, and may have very different values and interests. Last but definitely not least, the new members are likely to feel angry and resentful that they are paying two or three times as much in monthly costs for exactly the same housing that the other family members enjoy at a much lower price. I have seen these issues create conflict and crises in numerous cohousing and poly living groups, undermining the unity and cohesion of the group.
I have also seen houses and intentional communities owned by a poly group as LLC’s, General Partnerships, or Tenants in Common facing a different problem. If anyone leaves the family and moves out, as of course happens, the property must be refinanced in order to buy them out and allow someone new to buy in. This causes the property to be re-assessed at current market value, which with real estate values escalating over the years, this means suddenly paying twice or even three times as much annually in property taxes.
Sadly, I have also seen numerous situations where a member of a poly family died, and their heirs (usually their siblings, aging parents, or grown children) sued the family for “their share” of the current market value of the entire property, forcing the group to refinance to pay the heirs some outrageous amount of money, and suddenly paying a much higher mortgage as well as much higher property taxes. Some of these cases also involved an expensive and very stressful court battle with said heirs, which took years for the poly family to pay for and to recover from emotionally. In some cases, I have seen this scenario destroy a poly family.
The risk of these outcomes can be significantly reduced by seeking excellent legal help to write appropriate documents, including wills, trusts, By-Laws, and other clear legal agreements between poly/line family members. When people buy property, they are usually not thinking about the future and what will happen twenty, forty, or even fifty years down the line, and they often seem to believe no one will ever divorce, break up, become ill or disabled, or die. But for any line family to be sustainable over time, it is imperative to think through each of these terrible future possibilities and make agreements about how to deal with them, and have your legal paperwork in order to reflect these agreements.
Another mechanism for keeping your property affordable for future line family members is to consider limiting the equity of any individual by owning your property as a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative (LEHC). In this model, each individual owns a share of the entire property (rather than each owning their own individual unit), and each agrees to limit their future equity to a small percentage per year. In California, where I live, owners in an LEHC can earn anywhere from 1% to 10% interest per year (10% per year is the legal maximum, but most LEHC’s decide on a much lower amount such as 2% or 4% per year to keep the housing even more affordable). So, their equity will increase a small amount each year, rather than the equity being based on the market value of their unit. If they move out, they sell their share back to the whole group, receiving the amount they originally paid, along with the 1% to 10% per year for each year they owned the share. This way, the next person is able to buy in for a price that is much more affordable because it is well below the market value. This model requires everyone to agree to forfeit part of the increased equity that they would receive if they sold their share for whatever the market would bear, and it means being more committed to the good of the family and to keeping the housing affordable for future generations, than to personal financial gain. As a result, people buying in must understand the consequences and make an informed choice about whether this model of ownership is right for them.
Another way to ensure permanent affordability is through a Community Land Trust (CLT). This is very different than the type of Land Trust discussed by Gilmore and de Arcana. A CLT is a non-profit that holds title to the land, while the family or intentional community owns the buildings and grounds. They may own the buildings as condos, as an LEHC, as an LLC, a TIC, or as a collective, but they donate or sell the land underneath the buildings to the Land Trust. The CLT holds the land in trust, to make sure the housing remains affordable to residents who join in the future. If someone moves out, the amount of equity that any individual resident is allowed to receive is limited by mutual agreement of the living group and the Land Trust.
These are just a few mechanisms that are available to guarantee permanent affordability for future generations as well as some oversight to protect the property for future residents in case the members ever become too greedy or go off the rails. They are not appropriate for all poly or line families, but some of this information might be a useful addition to the book.
Overall, “Creating a Line Family” is a much-needed and useful addition to the poly literature, and I would encourage poly people to order it by going to their website:
www.line-family.info or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.