I’ve been navigating coming out as poly to my nuclear family and to my workplace for the past few years. I think we’re in a moment similar to the LGBT coming out, and I wanted a snapshot of how people are experiencing coming out as poly to different people in their lives. I think this is important to build solidarity and visibility. It’s not to tell anyone how to do anything, but I hope you find it useful in your journeys.
This is an interview with Rowan, roughly transcribed and then lightly edited (so maintains the first person voice). It is posted here with their permission.
Tell me a little about yourself
I’m 31, and have been poly since I was 15. Moved to the Bay Area from Philadelphia 6 years ago. I’m a therapist and have been for 4ish years, but working in mental health before then, as well. I like cats. I think that attachment work around poly is really interesting, how different styles show up with different partners. Being transmasc is a thing I like people to know about me.
What drives you?
First thing that comes up for me is a memory of when I was 18 and had been hospitalized for a couple weeks for being suicidal. I remember looking out the window of the inpatient facility. It was fall, end of November, leaves changing, and I remember apologizing to the trees for not realizing how beautiful life was.
Finding beauty in things that are dying drives me. Impermanence. Recognizing that things are not just what people say they are. I find hope in looking at things in a new way. Things aren’t just how they look to be. Finding things outside of what I’m being told.
What is your relationship style?
No idea currently. I’m some version of single for first time since I was 14. No touch at all right now (COVID). Nonhierarchical poly / kitchen table poly. I like it when my partners and partners’ partners and I can hang out.
Who did you come out to?
Variety of spaces, all been surprisingly welcoming for the most part (at least initially). Favorite place was when I was interviewed for an administrative role conducting intakes at a marriage and couples counseling center. They wanted to be working with nontraditional relationships more. I mentioned I’m poly so I can talk about it with people, and I’m good at Google Calendar. Got the job.
With my sister, she was confused by it but then advocated to my parents about it. They see it as a way I relate and it’s fine.
My dad was real weird about it. He’s come around a bit after my sister advocated, but a few years ago I had told him I was seeing someone besides the partner I moved across the country. He said it sounds like a good friend you kiss sometimes. I expressed that yeah, but it’s not just that — if you were to come visit, I would want you to meet him. “If I meet him, I’m not going to sleep with him.” Which was weird. Dad was not good about it, when I was dating [one partner] and we visited NY. My dad made weird comments about not wanting him in the house because I had a primary partner who was not him. Made a comment about how you can do whatever elsewhere. Like if we were a Kosher house and didn’t want ham in the house. Later, something my sister said helped them come around. Kind of jarring because of how enthusiastic they were suddenly.
Mom into astrology in a way I don’t understand. Somewhere in my chart it said something about two partners, which I guess was her way of supporting it.
Cousins have been welcoming of my seeing multiple people. One cousin was the first person I told about dating a second partner when I was 17.
That cousin’s sister, when I told her about having multiple partners said some of their friends in Georgia did that.
Started telling people around 15 was “[Boyfriend] and I are both attracted to other girls so we work on that in our relationship.”
The more people you know, the more people you come out to.
Anyone you want to come out to but haven’t yet?
No. A few clients I’m out to because they’re also non-monogomous, and it can get incestful so we need to avoid that. Heard stories of people needing to navigate being at a play party in close proximity to a client’s partner or close friend or something. I only look at parties that have a guest list. Some play parties ask who your therapist is on the registration (I can’t list my clients but they can list me because confidentiality).
Anything from this relationship style that applies to the rest of life?
Promotes open communication in a way that seems unusual for people who have ideas of not even recognizing they’re taking parts of relationships for granted. Don’t know if it’s queer or poly or both to not know if you’re dating someone or not. On the East Coast it shows up differently. West Coast people assume they’re dates more often.
Letting people know how you feel. Interesting that some people use “commitment” and “monogamous” as synonyms. I have been very strongly committed to multiple people. Feels sad to equate those two. Focusing so much of your attention and time on one person who is not your self, extending yourself to just one person sounds really sad in the way I hear about it. Can’t imagine being monogamous and therapist, the amount of care and attention I have for my clients. They don’t know much about me, but I care about them, can’t imagine how to do that from a monogamous framework.
I connect more with “nonmonogomous” than with “polyamorous” because of some of the connotations of “poly.”
But I’ve been this way for so long I can’t understand the impact on other aspects of life? The only monogamous relationship I’ve been in was also the only abusive relationship I’ve been in.
Anything else you want to talk about?
One monogamous relationship that feels relevant. I remember telling him I prefer seeing multiple people, how I understood relationships. When we started seeing each other, I was also seeing someone in prison, but had to break up with him. When I said I’d like to see other people besides you, this feels limiting. I’m also someone who is often assumed to be flirting so ended up not saying a lot while we were dating so it wouldn’t seem like I was flirting with people. He said poly relationships don’t work out, but none of his mono relationships had worked out before. He even said to me, “I don’t know why you’re so proud of having been a slut.” I’m comfortable with it, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to be proud of it. People are fun, sex is fun. Nonomonogy seen as being about sex, but it’s not for me at all. About relating with people in a way that allows for it to be a possibility. Differing emotional depths allowed in relationships. Lot of assumptions made that I can date multiple people at once, what does that say about your relationships and how to attach to people?
There’s often a focus on people not being jealous. Jealousy is a real feeling. Have it, look at it. I sound like a California therapist. What are you feeling jealous of, what is lacking? It’s ok to have jealousy and to explore it. Ok to not have jealousy. Trying to turn all jealousy into compersion is dumb.