I've come out many times in my life. I still find it hard to come out as polyamorous.
- I came out as a lesbian in my 20s, then as a survivor of domestic abuse in my 40s.
- I've found that coming out as poly is harder than coming out in all the other ways I have before.
Coming out is something I've done numerous times.
I came out with joy as a lesbian in my 20s, then with a little confusion as not-a-lesbian when I began partnering with trans men nearly two decades later. I came out at 40 — painfully, but determined to cast light on an important topic — as a survivor of domestic abuse perpetrated by a woman. And I came out with the hope of helping normalize neurodiversity this past year as a highly sensitive and dyslexic person.
But it's been harder to tell the world that my partner and I are poly.
My closest friends know, but my family, outer circle, and social-media followers do not.
I'm very proud, and I believe strongly in my relationship model, but it remains a challenge to divulge this info to the world. For someone who finds it so easy to be out in a wide assortment of ways, what makes the poly identity the one that does me in when it comes to sharing about it? I've told myself it's because I haven't had a secondary partner of importance yet and my partner prefers privacy — but while both of those things are true, that's not the full story.
There are a few bigger reasons.
Poly relationship models aren't well understood
The notion of ethically nonmonogamous, or ENM, relationships hit popularity mostly in the context of cisgender heterosexual couples looking to bring an additional woman, also known as a "unicorn," into their bedrooms.
That's the last thing I want to be associated with — from the problematic and colonialist label of ENM to the association with straight couples — but it's the umbrella term for my relationship style.
Poly can be done in so many ways. To me it means meaningful emotional and physical engagement with others, and to my partner it means something a little different. Some people are part of a polycule, or a group connected by relationships, whereas others, such as myself, operate as solopoly, where each relationship I'm in exists just with that person.
Coming out equals emotional labor
As the primary partner of a trans person, I've been shocked countless times by the audacity of strangers. I've been asked about my partner's body parts, surgeries, and more.
The idea of adding my relationship model into that mix is an exhausting one. While I enjoy being in the public eye for my work as a writer and chef, I don't want to take on explaining everything Google-able about how my love life operates to anyone who asks, and that's what coming out as poly feels like it would require.
From quarantine to the horrific political occurrences of the past two years, these days my emotional energy for strangers and internet acquaintances is limited.
I fear judgment
Polyamory to me is about having an abundance of love in my heart. I adore attention, and I require a copious amount of it.
Having more than one person to get it from enables me to not lean too heavily on my primary partner and to not worry about overtaxing that relationship. I believe that attraction to others is normal and natural and that acting on it with one person doesn't detract from connection with another, provided all parties are aware and consenting.
Yet the judgments I hear from the world aren't aligned with that thinking, and I fear I'll be seen as someone who isn't satisfied in her relationship, has bad boundaries, or has needs that are "too much."
None of those things is true, but I still fear the judgment of others. And while I've learned how to let go of what strangers think about me, I remain daunted by the idea of my parents disapproving.
A dear friend of mine is out and proud about her poly life and relationships, posting regularly on social media about them. I've watched her face disgust and outrage from her family, who've urged her to keep this information behind closed doors, and I admire her more with every defying post.
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