Saturday, April 08, 2017

Coming Out, Part II: To Others

This is a follow-up to my entry from February 18 about coming out to yourself.

I'll start with something I neglected to mention there, and should have. Coming out to yourself is a slow process for most people.

Not all. Some of us know we're poly from an early age. I did. I've often repeated the story of how I shared Laura, Catherine, Sonia, and Anna with my best friend Gordon in thrice-daily bouts of kissing tag. There was no jealousy, probably because both Gordon and I knew that if we weren't kissing someone, we would be, soon.

Kissing tag is puppy love, of course--but I bought Laura a button that said "Let It Be" on it (my first love-gift, at all of eight years old), and I meant it.  I'd have bought Sonia, Anna and Catherine gifts as well, but I ran hard against a poly truth: love may be infinite, but time (and more pertinently, money) isn't.

Anyway...some of us know from an early age, and some of us run across polyamory and immediately know that this is us. Others grow into it, first by recognizing the potential in themselves and then through a lot of observation, reading, and questions.

And that's important, because the key to polyamory is freedom.

There is no one structure you can point to and say "this is poly; all others are not". Actually, it's closer to the truth to point to monogamy and say "this is monogamy; all other relationship structures, so long as they are ethical, are polyamory."

Gay closed triad? Poly. Married couple with additional partners they either share or don't? Poly. Woman who lives alone, and has several committed partners who know about and accept each other? Poly. Add in all the possible permutations of romanticism and sexuality (there are many polyamorous asexual people!), living arrangements, sleeping arrangements, and so on and you end up with a dizzying array of things that are all polyamory. The nice thing is that you get to decide what works for you and your partners and (if applicable) their partner(s) (your metamour(s)).

The downside to this is that coming out as poly isn't quite as self-explanatory as, for example, telling the world you are gay is.

People know what gay is. People, still, have no idea what poly is...and even other poly people might make the mistake (unlikely, but possible) of assuming their brand of poly and yours are identical.  So explanation will be necessary.

And then people will ask questions. Some of those questions you may feel are inappropriate.


I got outed at work not that long ago. Now, contrary to what some of you may think, I don't flaunt my poly any more than any of you flaunt your monogamy. My close friends know, of course, and in quite a lot of (vetted) detail. People further from the center of my life know a lot less, but the ones I'm on decent terms with (and whom I feel I can trust) at least know the bare bones. The overwhelming majority of my colleagues at work had no idea until one of them blurted it out into a packed lunchroom.

Inwardly, I was furious with her, while cursing myself for a fool; I could see how she may have felt she had free rein to talk about it, because of the easy, breezy way I had discussed it with her. Outwardly, I smiled: it was vital I not look discomfited in any way, since this is, as far as I'm concerned, perfectly normal. I engaged with the storm of questions it raised. Yes, I live with my wife and her other partner. No, I don't feel any jealousy over them. Yes, I've been this way as long as I can remember, and I'm committed to both my partners. Yes, I actually DO live with my wife and her boyfriend. (That really proved hard for people to grasp.) And --

--now, really. Would you ask that question of anyone else?

No, you wouldn't. Because you know who sleeps where is none of your business. I will say this, though. Who sleeps where, and more pertinently, who does what with whom before sleeping with them, is none of my business, either.

Other poly people feel differently about this, of course. Some people love to share the intimate details, and some love to have them shared. Some people all share each other, for that matter. For me, it's simply a recognition that each relationship deserves its own space.

I sat back to watch the aftermath. The woman who outed me redeemed herself a little by correcting someone -- before I could! -- who used the word "cheating". "It's not cheating if he knows and accepts," she said. Exactly.

Afterward, several people came to me and disclosed: either they were poly themselves, they had tried (in one case for fifteen years!) a poly relationship in the past, they knew people who were poly, or they were just curious about it.  Others still said the tried and true "I could never do that!"...but there were no hostile reactions.

That's not always the case, of course. For every positive reaction I have heard several negative ones, and some of them are outright vicious. It truly is amazing how much energy some people will put into discrediting something that (a) makes you deliriously happy and (b) doesn't affect them at all.

You'll have misconceptions to address. Some will think you're a swinger (and you might even be one; polyamory and swinging coexist happily for many). To those people you can remind them your partners are not playthings, but people you love and care for, and who love and care for you in return. Some will call you selfish, and you can calmly tell them your partners are free to see other partners, so how is that selfish?

Some will say you can't commit. Don't take that one personally. By "commit" they mean "commit to one person and one person only, you know, like normal people do." Normal people, you see, only love one person at a time. Hint: nobody only loves one person at a time. Guess what, folks? You're all polyamorous, every last one of you reading this post. You all have multiple simultaneous committed loving relationships, and the people in those relationships know and accept it. Your best friend is also close to your brother. Your mom and your husband get along great. (Hey, it does happen.)  The only difference between you and people who actually identify as poly is that we take it one step further into our romantic (and, yes, often sexual) relationships.


Good question, for which you get to supply your own answer. I have several that work for me. A very important one has to do with the nature of poly itself. Poly, as the woman who outed me helpfully explained, is not cheating. Since cheating means secrecy. poly in turn should (I feel) mean transparency. Not full transparency, of course--there really is such a thing as TMI, even for me--but transparency nonetheless.
The other reason, just as important, is that in poly, your partners are family. These are people you are committed to, people who ideally ought to be accepted as such.

I get that this is uncomfortable for some. What I'd like those some to understand is how uncomfortable it is for me, not to mention a partner of mine, when that partner is denied.  A reminder: any love of mine is known, fully accepted, and probably liked a great deal by my wife. This is not me fucking around behind her back.

Another reason, less true for me but still true, is that coming out is a political statement. What that statement says is: I am free to conduct my life and love in a way that benefits 'more than two', and I grant that freedom to my partners. 

Still another reason to come out is that being in a closet is tiring...and stifling. Keeping an entire slice of your life -- and by definition, an important one -- from the other slices of your life is difficult and ultimately self-deceptive.


(a) to a partner

This is by far the most difficult part of the process, because your partner is almost guaranteed to feel supremely threatened by your disclosure, as if she is not good enough. And no matter how gently you couch the revelation, it's entirely possible, even likely, your partner will run away screaming. And so: test the waters first. Ask her if she feels it's possible to love two people at once. Get an idea of what,  exactly, scares your partner (remember: a large component of jealousy is fear). Move slowly. And for God's sake, DON'T have another partner in mind right off the hop. If you say "I love Billy-Bob, but I also love you", it's no different to most people than saying "I'm about to leave you for Billy-Bob".

As to "I'm not good enough"--this is a hard, hard thing for many people to get past. Why do you need someone else, if you've got me?

I have found at this point it's germane to bring up friends. Your partner, hopefully, has more than one friend. Why? Why does he spend time and emotional energy on other friends when he already has one?  Isn't that one friend... good enough?

But I don't have sex with my friends. 

And that's the crux of it, for many, the point she'll either get past, or he won't. You'll have to convince her that your love for others, even if it's physical, will not detract from your love for her. That is, in fact, a hard sell for most; we're all conditioned otherwise. Heavily. But it's important to at least plant the seed that comparison need NOT involve judgement: that "different" is not "better" or "worse". Use any analogy you want. Food works: pick two foods she adores and ask her which food is BETTER.

You're going to be talking a lot before you get going. If communication is not something you do well, I'm sorry to say you're going to have a right bitch of a time with polyamory. Make sure that's tip-top, first.

(b) to your family

Probably NOT a good idea to spring it on the entire family at once, particularly at some holiday gathering or other. Do you have a trusted, reasonably open family member? Particularly one who is at ease with things like LGBTQ rights? That's not a guarantee he'll be equally accepting of poly, but it's a damn good sign.

Here's where you can keep the details down to a dull roar. I mean, even if you're monogamous, how much does your family know, or need to, about your love life? What ought to be important to your family is your happiness.
If possible, it's a good idea to have at least one partner present when you come out. Two (or more) may be a bridge too far. But one partner can deflect some of the heat off you.

And there will almost certainly be heat. You have to remember: this is cheating to many folks; the distinction must be made clear, and driven home, more than once. Give them a chance to research polyamory for themselves, and see what it is and isn't.

After that...time. Time and normalcy. Be open, but not too open, to the questions you'll get. If it all goes pear-shaped--always a possibility--remember the abundant love you can, or do, have, and remember above all just whose life you're living.

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