Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is one of a handful of global academic experts on polyamory, and the foremost academic expert on children in polyamorous families. Specializing in diversity and underserved populations, Sheff is an expert witness, relationship consultant, public speaker, and author. Her first book, The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families (2014 hardback and ebook, 2015 paperback and audiobook), details Sheff’s findings from the first 15 years of the Polyamorous Families Study. Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families (2015), Sheff’s second book, is an edited collection of stories from people in polyamorous families. Sheff’s third book, When Someone you Love is Polyamorous: Understanding Poly People and Relationships, is a brief introduction to polyamory using empirical evidence to start a conversation.
What do I do best?
Help people to understand sex and gender minorities. I am quite knowledgeable, non-judgmental, easy to ask questions, and able to summarize information and deliver it with humor.
What makes me the best version of myself?)
I am a master collaborator. If I were a superhero I would be a sidekick, because I really enjoy helping other people bring their visions to life. For me this primarily means doing volunteer work for organizations that capture my heart (most notably the Court Appointed Special Advocates and Change to Humanity) and helping other people write their books or design their research. I get really excited about others’ projects and can use my enthusiasm to help buoy them through the (many) difficult parts of completing a dissertation or publishing a book.
What are my aspirations?
Professionally, I would love to conduct a fifth, sixth, seventh, or more wave of data collection with the polyamorous families I have been follow for the past 20 years. Currently I am on my fourth wave of data collection, talking to kids I met years ago as preschoolers who are now graduating from college about how they think growing up in a polyamorous family has influenced them. Ideally, I would like to follow them through their adulthood and see what happens with them and their children, as well as what happens with my original adult respondents as they age in long-term polyamorous relationships. The beginning of the aging and the launching of the kids into adulthood has been fascinating so far in this wave, and the books I will write about those results are so clear in my mind right now, I can’t wait to finish collecting data so I can see what happens with the analysis.
Personally, I would like to build a tiny-house hostel with small school-buses that I gut, put on foundations, build beds in, and use as small guest houses. Ideally, I would have a bath-house for the guests and a yurt or something that serves as a central kitchen, living room, and library.
My Biggest Success?
My two biggest successes have been, first, becoming the worldwide expert on polyamorous families with children through my research and publishing. Second, raising children who are fantastic people and still want to hang out with me even though they are almost completely grown now.
My Most Challenging Moment?
When I did not get tenure in my academic position, I felt so awful that I thought it might destroy me. Of course I lived through it, but spending so many years working so hard to publish and then being denied tenure because I could not get a grant was just excruciating. Since then I have re-invented myself as a consultant and been happier doing this work, but at the time it seemed absolutely catastrophic.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
Strong women who explore, innovate, and create things – Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart, Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, and Joycelyn Elders among others.
My Favorite Places/Destinations
British Columbia Canada, the mountains of Colorado USA, Barcelona Spain, Oaxaca Mexico, and London England.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
My clunky old Toyota Matrix named Sweet Melissa (or The Hooptie, depending on how many parts are held on by tape at a given time), my hiking boots, and the coffee table my daughter turned into a family photo display by gluing our photos onto the surface.
My Current Passions?
Exploring the new place where I just moved, hiking, planning my summer 2018 tour, reading science fiction, and traveling with my lovely wife.