"Why polyamorous people fear ‘coming out’ "
Why polyamorous people fear ‘coming out’
Another hackneyed polygamy wedding cake for an illustration. Stock photographers, you can do better!
By Lux Alptraum
Not long ago, I found myself chatting with a friend about the logistics of coming out to one’s coworkers. ... The coming out in question involved my friend opening up to coworkers about being one-third of a polyamorous triad.
Though my friend had long been quiet about his relationship status, a recent decision to share an apartment with the rest of the triad had put things in a new light. Was it possible to have people over without that awkward conversation — or was coming out going to be necessary if he wanted to include coworkers in his life outside the office?
...While some non-monogamous people do fall into the “what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom” camp, others see being public about their relationship status as a personal, and potentially political, imperative.
But first, it’s important to recognize that “non-monogamy” isn’t one specific, discrete thing. In the same way that “non-Christians” practice a wide and varied array of religions, people who eschew monogamy do so in a number of different ways. Some people opt for “swinger” style setups, where they emotionally and socially commit to just one person, but engage in no strings attached sexual relationships with others (sometimes, but not always, in the context of structured sex parties). For other people — in particular, those who identify as polyamorous — sex with strangers takes a back seat to forming committed, loving relationships with many people, a relationship style which itself can take many, many forms. Some poly people find two people who they commit to exclusively, forming a sort of “monogamy + 1” arrangement known as a closed triad. Others form loose networks of casual to semi-serious partners, who may or may not know one another. ...
Yet even though non-monogamous people are a complex and diverse group, the public perception of what non-monogamy means is comprised of a few limited notions. Non-monogamy is assumed to be primarily about sex — in particular, the wild, crazy, kinky, group variety. Non-monogamous women are too often assumed to be sluts who’ll give it up to any man who asks; non-monogamous men, Lotharios itching to bed every woman who crosses their path....
It’s these very stereotypes that make it difficult for non-monogamous people —particularly ones whose extracurricular relationships rarely make it past the casual stage — to fathom being public about their relationship status. Yet it’s also these stereotypes that makes coming out as non-monogamous — and, in the process, normalizing the idea of relationship structures other than two people exclusively bonded for life — feel so important to many who’ve chosen to reject monogamy.
When Eve Rickert, co-author of More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory, first dipped her toes into the waters of non-monogamy, she had no intention of being public about it. ...
...Over the course of writing this article, I was contacted by dozens of non-monogamous people in various relationship configurations and various stages of being out. ... Those on the closeted end of the spectrum offered a number of reasons for keeping quiet. For some, reticence about being openly non-monogamous was tied to a general desire for privacy, period. ... For others, the decision to remain in the closet came out of an urge for self-protection, or a desire to protect one’s partners. Being openly non-monogamous can mean damaging friendships, relationships with family, one’s professional reputation, and just generally running the risk of being perceived as a perpetually horny pervert incapable of respecting boundaries.
Women in particular were anxious about personal and professional fall-out from being viewed as “slutty,” or having their sexual availability automatically assumed. Lean Out editor Elissa Shevinsky, who is openly queer but quietly poly, notes that “You can be gay and still basically be seen as living a stereotypically vanilla, normative American lifestyle. Poly brings with it connotations of promiscuity and kinky sex.” Shevinsky’s thoughts were echoed by a woman in tech who noted that — even without being openly non-monogamous — she’s already dogged by rumors that her success is the result of sleeping around. Being visibly non-monogamous, she fears, would just add fuel to the fire.
But for the openly non-monogamous, all those headaches are worth it. ...
Which isn’t to say that coming out is easy: Even for people in a relative place of privilege, with supportive families, friend groups, and employers, being openly non-monogamous can create social difficulties. Tikva Wolf, author of Ask Me About Polyamory!, has long been open about her relationships (so open, in fact, she pens a comic loosely based on her life); three years ago, she got a taste of what anti-poly discrimination felt like when a neighbor reported her family to social services. “[A social services investigator] showed up at our house unannounced,” she told me. “She was really nice, but it was still a stressful situation just because of the knowledge that somebody had been concerned and reported us.”
Things worked out okay for Wolf, but if she’d been visited by a less understanding investigator or been caught on a bad day, things could easily have ended differently. ...
And that, for many non-monogamy advocates, is the most important reason of all to come out. ... Even if a swell of openly non-monogamous people doesn’t lead to a new round of anti-discrimination acts, or legalized group marriage (which, it should be noted, is not a universal poly goal), greater awareness of what non-monogamy is, and isn’t, would make a world of difference to many people who just want to be able to talk about how they went on a camping trip with their boyfriend and their boyfriend’s other girlfriend. ...
Read the whole article (September 13, 2016).
I plan to post a boatload of coming-out articles soon.
Labels: coming out