Coming Out Poly: stories and advice, Part 1
Out or closeted? How far out, and to whom? The consequences of living your life either openly or hidden can be high, or not at all, sometimes unpredictably.
● First, Bustle published quite a piece last month: I Came Out As Non-Monogamous On The Internet, And All I Got Was My Self-Respect Back (September 9, 2016):
By Rachel Krantz
The author and partner.
...In short, I was afraid of the judgment I might incur by publicly owning my choices.
I came out as ethically non-monogamous in bits and pieces, first to my friends, then in a vague allusion in a personal essay, then explicitly on my podcast Honestly Though, and then, finally, more explicitly in writing a few weeks ago.... I had been acting classically closeted, deliberately hiding aspects of my sexuality for fear of having my relationship delegitimized, of being viewed as less professional or a freak, of being trolled by readers and my parents alike.
...Literally less than five minutes after I published the piece, I received this text message from my mom, who knows I'm non-monogamous, but who I mostly don't talk with about it in detail.
You get the gist. Jewish mothers basically invented concern-trolling, but if her reaction was this immediate, I knew Facebook would be even worse.
...I've been working as an editor at Bustle for over three years now, and the pattern hasn't eluded me: the more vulnerable someone is in their writing, the more they are trolled. Rape and abortion narratives are usually the most-trolled topics. Though I write about rocking a full bush, being vegan, and have even posted pictures of myself for articles mostly-naked, I've somehow remained relatively unscathed.... Until now.
I had but one defender in the chain — a total stranger — and I was so grateful to her, not just for her support but for taking the words out of my mouth.
She said to the haters what I didn't yet feel the right to say myself: "If you hate it so deeply, perhaps confront that feeling in yourself."
Which is exactly why I will keep writing about it, even as I'm in the thick of figuring out just exactly how ethical non-monogamy works for me....
Which brings me to a few days after I'd let the comments sink in. I sent a message to my parents...
...And just like that, I created a boundary with the trolls I'd been most afraid of all along. I'd been terrified of asserting my need to stop being stalked by my parents online, and yet, once I asked, they immediately assented. My ability to finally ask them to respect my space is a direct result of some of the ways in which I've learned to communicate my needs more clearly as I negotiate the shifting boundaries of my non-monogamous relationship.
...So, no, my parents are not my intended audience, nor are people who choose fear over compassion. My intended audience are people who are also grappling with living honestly. People who don't see themselves represented enough. People who are simply curious about and respectful of other models for longterm, happy relationships. People who choose to live lives that don't necessarily conform to society's narrow prejudices. People who are sick of being told they're deviants just for being brave. People who choose love.
Carisa Hendrix, stage magician, fire-eater, circus performer and stunt girl, who has taken that leap with an indie movie about building her career with some of her partners. Promo:
Carisa Hendrix: Girl on Fire provides an intriguing look into the secret world of poly-sexual magician Carisa Hendrix, a woman who lives an alternative lifestyle and loves to eat fire.
Watch the trailer (2:41, MP4).
From the press release:
Calgary fire eater, magician and nonmonogamous relationship trailblazer Carisa Hendrix is the subject of a feature-length documentary airing this month (October 2016) on the Super Channel. Carisa Hendrix: Girl on Fire provides an intriguing look into the secret world of polyamorous entertainer Carisa Hendrix as she strives to launch her own theatrical magic show in the competitive city of Las Vegas....It also brought together the most important people in her life for the very first time, including multiple lovers from her unconventional polyamorous lifestyle....
Carisa Hendrix is a Guinness World Record holder and award-winning performer who has been featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not and a number of television shows.
Article in the Montreal Gazette and other Canadian newspapers: Documentary looks at the fiery life of Calgary magician Carisa Hendrix (Oct. 7, 2016).
...As for her polyamory, Hendrix says since the film debuted on Super Channel earlier this month she has already received unsolicited commentary from online trolls who disapprove. This wasn’t unexpected. But Hendrix said she hopes the film also broadens people’s understanding of the lifestyle.
“I think a lot of people are already practising a certain level of openness, but don’t have a vocabulary for it,” she says. “They don’t know the words for it, so they don’t look up the literature, so they don’t have the skills and toolbox to do it in a way that’s less harmful or with a little less drama.”
“Hopefully with this documentary, people will see people actually live this way. It’s not crazy, it’s not 24-hour orgies and it’s not ridiculous sex parties. It’s a bunch of people working together in the same way that a group of friends are a bunch of people working together or a one-on-one-relationship are two people working together.”
Story on CBC News (Oct. 12).
She tells us, "I had already come out to most of my family and friends, but this documentary meant coming out to the entire magic community, some of whom have known me for years. I've always just been vague about my relationships, and now here it is for everyone to see and scrutinize."
● The Guardian has a weekly feature called "A Letter To...", in which a person publishes an anonymous letter to someone they wish they could send it to. In this case, A letter to... My family: I wish I could tell you I'm in a ménage à trois (July 9, 2016)
I adore my husband of nearly two years. Despite facing the challenges of becoming new parents and a job loss, we have not lost our friendship and affection for each other. Either through brutal honesty or cynicism, however, we did quickly identify that we both feared that only sleeping with each other until “death do us part” would not be enough to sustain our sparkle.
So we set out on a “sparkle sustaining” exploration.
...The intention was never to find love or a long-term partnership. Yet after a few days of searching, there was Emma, a lovely, charming, self-deprecating, beautiful woman who made my heart flutter in the way that new love can. We hit it off immediately. But what of my husband? Did that mean I didn’t love him any more?
...I discovered that I could and did love them both. Equally, I discovered that love was infinite and boundless. My heart had room for Emma and placed her there alongside my husband and son with no competition.
Emma and I spend time together as a couple; Emma and my husband spend time together as friends; and we all hang out as a family with our son and dogs. And yes, Emma and I have sex. My husband often joins us. My husband and I have the best sex we’ve ever had. The sparkle has turned into a raging fire.
I feel surrounded and blessed by love – not only do I bask in my husband’s but in Emma’s too. Our baby son and dog also adore her.
The sad fact is, however, that I feel I can never tell you – my family and friends – about her. About how happy she makes me and the rest of my family, how she’s strengthened the bond between my husband and me and given me a new zest for life and love.
...The concept of “ethical non-monogamy” is so alien, so hidden. It’s as though we have been conditioned to value monogamy over happiness.
Would there be fewer affairs, divorce and broken families if it were deemed acceptable to live in happy tribes of multiple partners?...
● Sociologist and counselor Elisabeth Sheff has written or edited three poly books, most recently the little When Someone You Love is Polyamorous: Understanding Poly People and Relationships (2016). It's a 40-page orientation for parents and family of polyfolks, filling our long-discussed need for PFLAG-like materials. Blogging for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Sheff offered a succinct list of coming-out issues to mull over: Top Three Considerations when Coming Out as Polyamorous (July 11, 2016). Excerpts:
· Increased intimacy – Hiding important relationships means closing off parts of your life; being honest about significant things allows greater authenticity and emotional connection....
· Explanation – ...both to explain the presence of [an unexpected person or people] and to acknowledge the importance of the relationship(s).
· Response to a threat of being outed – ...sometimes [the answer is] taking control of the situation and outing [your]selves.
· Political belief – As amply demonstrated by LGBT activists, it is difficult to take political space and organize for rights without a visible and recognizable presence in society....
· Not – If there is no real reason to come out, reconsider doing so if you are vulnerable. That vulnerability might be to losing custody of your children, losing your job, losing connections with your family and friends, or losing your housing. These things can happen when people come out as poly, so think carefully before deciding if the risks of coming out are worth the benefits.
...Most people should use caution when coming out because be identified as a sex or gender minority can be dangerous. A few of the ways to do so cautiously include:
· Selective disclosure – Tell the people who are important and need to know that you have a poly relationship, but let them know this is sensitive information that they should not share with others until you are ready. If you are not sure if someone is safe to tell, then consider using a “litmus” question such as how that person feels about same-sex marriage or something like that....
· Matter of fact, not dramatic – If you present the information as a matter of daily life and not a cataclysmic announcement, others will be more likely to take it as a regular piece of news. Presenting it as normal part of your life can help others accept it as normal for you as well.
· Private setting – In case you or the person you tell has a strong reaction to your coming out news, consider a setting that allows some conversational privacy.
Think about what you are going to say, and plan ahead with your partners....
● A pair of more specific advice pieces, at Everyday Feminism:
Want to Come Out As Polyamorous to Your Parents, But Not Sure Where to Start? Try These 5 Tips — a long and detailed piece by Miri Mogilevsky (Jan. 30, 2016). Bits:
1. Show Them Some 101 Resources
You don’t have to do all the work of explaining polyamory to your parents yourself. Luckily, many have already invented that particular wheel.
2. Know That There Is No Right or Wrong Way to Come Out
Some people sit their parents down for a talk. Others prefer telling them over the phone or sending an e-mail. Some specifically state, “I’m polyamorous.” Others would rather simply say “So, I have two boyfriends” and leave it at that.
If you know your parents tend to misinterpret or overreact during in-person conversations, e-mail might be best....
3. Ask Your Parents What Worries or Concerns Them About Polyamory
If your parents aren’t exactly enthusiastic in response to your coming out, asking them what bothers them about polyamory can be an effective way to get to the heart of the issue (and possibly reassure them)....
4. Set Boundaries Around Conversation Topics That Feel Uncomfortable or Unsafe
...It’s okay to let them know that you’re not comfortable discussing certain topics or that you’ve already answered that question and aren’t going to argue about it again.
Here are some scripts that may help....
5. Challenge the Idea of ‘Coming Out’ If It Doesn’t Feel Right to You
Coming out – as queer, trans, polyamorous, or any other invisible identity – can be very empowering. It can feel necessarily in order to live an authentic life. It can connect you to people and resources that affirm you.
But coming out is not a necessary step in the process of discovering yourself and living the life you want to live....
Furthermore, coming out is not a singular, one-step event. You might be out to your friends, your partners’ families, and even your boss, but not to your parents. That doesn’t mean you’re “not out.” It just means you’ve chosen a way of coming out that works for you....
And the second, which I think is particularly useful: 7 Questions to Brace Yourself For When You Explain Polyamory to Your Family, by Ginny Brown (Nov. 10, 2015):
...Thinking through how you’d respond to each of these may help you prepare for the conversation.
1. ‘Aren’t You Being Exploited? / Aren’t You Exploiting Your Partner?’
2. ‘Isn’t This Immoral and Wrong?’
3. ‘But What About Our Grandchildren?’
4. ‘Do We Have to Meet Your Other Partners?’
5. ‘Is This Just About Sex and Perversion?’
6. ‘When Will You Grow Out of It?’
7. ‘How Will I Explain This to [Extended Family, Co-Workers, Whoever Else]?’
That's enough for now. More to come.
Labels: coming out