Out and proud, or TMI?
Dan Savage, relationship columnist, is widely syndicated in the alternative press. He's caring, disgusting, ass-a-holic, sincere, wise, and sometimes off-base, but always interesting. In a Savage Love Letter of the Day, he responds to a query from a poly couple facing a common etiquette problem.
Q: National Coming Out Day [October 11] got me thinking: My husband and I have been poly for 11 years now. We are a straight couple who wants to be together hopefully for the rest of our lives, and neither of us believe that a lifetime of monogamy will help us achieve that....
Though we are quite happy with our arrangement, we struggle with knowing how "out" to be about it with family and friends. How much to tell them? We don't want to keep secrets, but we also don't want to over-share....
When it comes up in conversation, we are honest, which often makes people uncomfortable. My guess is that people either project how they would feel if their S.O. were to propose opening their relationship, or they think we are looking for other partners because our relationship is on the rocks.
As a matter of fact, this is often how the subject comes up. Someone will talk about a couple they know who has tried opening their relationship and is now no longer a couple.... These comments are inevitably followed by the pronouncement that "open relationships never work." When I say, "Really? But we've been together for 11 years," mouths drop. It's like they're looking at a Sasquatch or something.... Then the questions start and though I'm happy to answer them, my answers tend to leave at least one person in the group uncomfortable and sometimes angry....
In your opinion, how "out" should us poly people be?
Poly Works For Us
A: A straight couple is presumed to be monogamous until they state otherwise. Even so, PWFU, I don't think you're under any obligation to run around in "NOT MONOGAMOUS" t-shirts, or open every conversation with, "Hello, we sometimes fuck other people." Coming out about your poly relationship when poly/non-monogamous people are being maligned in your presence sounds about right. At that moment you need to speak up — to speak up for yourselves and others in non-monogamous relationships.
Too many folks in committed, loving, long-term, and successful and successfully non-monogamous relationships are reluctant to identify themselves as non-monogamous. It's just easier for a couple to allow themselves to be perceived as monogamous; it's tempting to avoid the judgments and defensiveness of the insecure and monogamous. (I'm not saying that all monogamous people are insecure — far from it.) This leads to a distorted picture of non-monogamy. We hear about the failure of relationships that were non-monogamous but we rarely hear about the successes....
And if there's still one angry and uncomfortable person in the room after you've patiently answered every question, well, fuck 'em. And remember: for the non-monogamous best revenge is staying together.
Read the whole column (Oct. 13, 2009).
Remember, not long ago it was considered obnoxious TMI to let people know you were gay. ("Eeew, he does things with other guys, gross.")
A couple days ago, Frangipani discussed the subject on her blog:
How much do you tell people? When do you tell them? How? Should you tell them anything in the first place? Why?
I’ve been poly for over a year now and haven’t run into any major issues with my relationships. I’m happy with my partners, they like each other, I like their partners, it’s all good.
But when I talk to my colleagues or to an acquaintance, how do I work in the partners?... In some instances I’ve mentioned both my husband and my partner/boyfriend, but generally the persons I’ve been speaking with have assumed I was talking about the same person. Given that these are throwaway conversations with people I don’t have any deep-and-meaningfuls with, that’s not so bad....
But what about contacts that are a bit more than that? What about people who, because we see each other more often, eventually mention their kids and what they did that weekend, or the funny thing that happened with their in-laws, etc.? At some level, you’re expected to reciprocate with stories of your own lest you seem uninterested in theirs.... I don’t want them to think I’m being standoffish or that they’re boring me, because neither is true....
Also: Do you have a poly coming-out story to share? Anita Wagner and Bitsy are collecting them for the Polyamory Leadership Network's Coming Out Project. Anita explains that the project is
intended as an effort to make the larger polyamory community aware of the risks and responsibilities related to being out as polyamorous, and to encourage and assist people with coming out when they can do so reasonably safely. I envision our providing support to those who are experiencing challenges around this issue. The ultimate goal would be to demonstrate to the mainstream that poly individuals and families are no cause for concern.
For this purpose, Bitsy is setting up a website, OpenlyPoly.net:
In a world that strongly privileges monogamy, choosing to live as openly polyamorous requires the courage to face constant curiosity and criticism from friends, family, and strangers alike. As we conduct our lives, we know we are not living openly unless we have taken harrowing step of coming out. This site collects stories of people who have taken that step....
If you have a story you'd like to submit, you can email it to her at this address: stories (AT) openlypoly (DOT) net.