New era, new challenges

It’s been almost exactly a year since I’ve written.  Part of the reason for my silence is that my identity is known to many of my readers, including my family. This had not been a problem, since it meant I could present my family and close friends with the ideas I’d been working through. But in recent times, as I’ve retreated back into yet another closet, I’ve been afraid that by writing I will out myself to people I’m not ready to be “out” to. 

Recently, however, I’ve gained other outlets for my work. Publications and venues where my voice and name are valued. I’ve also had a couple minor negative experiences with my work, where subjects or readers didn’t like how I presented the issues. It is through the experiences of recognition and repudiation that I have come to remember why I started this blog in the first place: to speak.

I started this blog when I was a scared agnostic teenager unsure how to process all the changes in my worldview. I wrote because writing—specifically writing to someone, even if I didn’t know who—was healing. It helped me face my challenges and resolve my struggles. Now I have new things to process, and once again I need to write. 

Since moving away from my home town two years ago I have fully come to terms with my atheism. I embrace Secular Humanism, and have been looking into Eastern philosophies which may fill the void of spirituality I still feel on occasion (more on that later).

However there have been new challenges, new identities I have had to come to terms with over the past year. The biggest one was my sexuality. I wrote over a year ago that I am bisexual. I talked about how I learned this once and for all by falling in love. I also noted, as a result of that experience, that it is possible to love two people at once. My partner agrees. Since that time we’ve become polyamorous, and as a result we’ve discovered new things about ourselves and our marriage.

For the uninitiated, polyamory is maintaining multiple romantic or sexual relationships at a time with the informed consent of everyone involved. Franklin Veaux, poly educator and co-author of More than Two with Eve Rickert, has a great FAQ sheet about polyamory on his blog. Even if you’re familiar with the topic, I recommend taking a look at it. For David and me, polyamory means that both of us are free to pursue romantic relationships with other people, within a set of agreements we’ve negotiated together.

We didn’t make the decision all at once. Instead, it came after about a year of continual and at times taxing conversation. However, once we decided to take the “poly plunge” the experiences, and improved communication skills were well worth it. It’s been a harrowing ride, but a good one. Here are some things I learned:

Being poly forced me to communicate clearly or suffer the consequences. When you have multiple romantic partners every choice about how you will spend your time, how you will approach a disagreement, even what disagreements are important, becomes more weighted. More partners also means more feelings, more priorities to balance, more personal negotiations, more time time management necessary, and more processing.  I realized that while before I had the option to avoid conflict through silence or avoidance, the same behavior, while problematic in the long-term, became problematic in the short-term as well. All of a sudden I was tempted to use one partner as an escape from my conflict with another. That, of course, would’ve been patently unfair to the first partner—who now may feel they are being literally abandoned, and to the second partner—who is being reduced to an escapist prop. I also couldn’t rely on a lack of fighting to indicate a healthy relationship. Instead, it became important to actively check in with my partners, to make sure they felt their needs were being met.

It could downright exhausting, but the payoff was improved communication, improved honesty, and improved personal integrity, as rigorous introspection and emotional interrogation became necessary to constructive communication with others. Even if my partner and I don’t remain poly for the rest of our marriage, I think our marriage will have improved because we were poly.

Being poly has connected me more deeply with my bisexual identity.  It is only through my poly lifestyle that I am able to fully explore my bisexuality. I have always had the capacity to love and be attracted to women, but only now do I have the opportunity to act on that capacity. While many poly people—especially those who are heterosexual—don’t consider themselves queer, for me, my ability to explore bisexuality is linked to my poly lifestyle, and thus I regard my being poly as a part of my queer identity.

This is not to say that I’m poly so that I can always have “one of each,” any more than someone who enjoys spending time with men and women platonically must be around both a man and woman at all times. As a bisexual person, I am aware that being poly is likely to be seen as confirmation of the worst stereotypes about bi people: that we’re greedy, indecisive, or unable to commit.

In fact, one can’t be greedy with something that is not a commodity. People are neither things nor commodities. And just because someone is dating me doesn’t mean they would date you if I weren’t around. You might not be their type. On the other hand, just because someone is dating me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be open to dating you as well!

Finally, I consider myself very decisive. I decide who I want to be with at any given time, and when I am with someone I remain committed to promoting their happiness. I love big.

Being poly has made me more aware of queerphobia. Here’s the thing, if my sister got a new boyfriend my parents would want to know about it. If she chose to share that information it would be received as a gift—much the way news about a new baby, job, apartment, or house is gracious and happily received.

On the other hand if talk about a new boyfriend, I am met with “Why are you telling me this?” or “Shouldn’t those sorts of things be kept private?” My sister’s hypothetical boyfriend is seen as an “exciting new relationship.” My real boyfriend was received, by family, as “a sexual proclivity.”

Double standard?

Yes. And one that gays and lesbians have been dealing with for decades. I find it odd how the relationships of some people are celebrated publicly, while the relationships of others are reduced to their imagined sexual elements.

Always having my identity affirmed or accepted by my loved ones is a privilege. Ultimately, the hardest part about being poly hasn’t been jealousy, or the struggle to juggle multiple partners, or intra-dyad communication. It has been the inability to share my relationships with the most important people in my life: my family. When I met my last partner I told some family members, was received with varying degrees of disapproval, and ultimately felt it best to avoid telling the rest so that my joy would not be extinguished by a wet blanket. When my new partner and I started going through difficulties, I couldn’t turn to those whose opinions I value most for wisdom or comfort. And when that relationship ended and my heart was breaking, there was only David to hold me while I cried. He was fantastically supportive, and I’m more grateful for him than ever.

Many people aren’t so lucky. Gay and lesbian people commonly struggle to have their relationships accepted by their family. Until now, I enjoyed the privilege of both familial and social acceptance. For the most part I still enjoy it, as part of  a heterosexual dyad. However the experience of having my poly identity disapproved of by my family, even mildly, has brought me to a place of deeper empathy with my fellow queer folk who have had to face much, much worse.

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