Category Archives: Communication

Explaining Polyamory: The Wrap Up

Not much to fix here. Added a few links and fixed some typos/grammar. Updated 9/28/17

So far, we’ve covered an introduction to the Culture Gap, preparations, discussion, and possible reactions. Hopefully, hitting the high points of stuff you should know before explaining your relationship choose to friends or family.

The good news is, the more people you tell the easier it gets. But the first time can still be terrifying.

Whatever your approach, and whoever you open up to, make sure you take care of yourself. Whether it is your polyam partners, folks in the local polyam munch, a good friend or someone else, have support you can lean on when you start opening up to people. You’ll be putting yourself through an emotional roller coaster, and having a shoulder to cry on, friend to come over with chocolate ice cream, or folks to celebrate good news with, having other people you can trust can help a lot.

On that note, you will probably do best opening up to close friends before family. It is a sad truth that friends are often more accepting and supportive than family – possibly because family feel your choices reflect on them, while friends know that your choices are your choices, and aren’t about them.

Explaining Polyamory Blog Posts:

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Explaining Polyamory: Negative Reactions

Mostly grammar and typo fixes here, but I also updated info on how things turned out for me when I got some of these reactions and removed some of emphasis on being polite to people who are being assholes. While I still believe that being polite to people you love who are reacting badly can sometimes keep bad from from becoming “burnt to the ground and sown with salt,” it’s ultimately up to you and we certainly don’t owe politeness to people who are treating us badly. 8/23/17

It would be great if we could be sure of getting acceptance and support from friends and family. The reality is, pure ’nilla monogamous relationships often don’t get the support of family and friends, so it isn’t surprising that non-traditional relationship styles can cause less-than-stellar-reactions from the people we care about.

Thankfully, people who love us are more likely to go for a neutral reaction, and at least try and understand. But negative reactions are way more common than any of us likes. I hope you never need to deal with any of these, but here are a few of the bad reactions you might run into – and a few suggestions that may help you get through it.

I don’t know what to think about this, please don’t tell anyone else, I’m afraid of how X will react (runs and tells the whole family about your horrid choice and how awful it is)

Dishonest, manipulative, and mean, this is worse than someone who rejects. This is someone who rejects, lies to you about it, and then sabotages your chance to discuss your life with who you want, when you want, plus spreading gossip behind your back.

On the surface, this looks like one of the neutral reactions. They may really just need time to deal with their own reaction before dealing with other people’s reactions. You just can’t know if this is an honest, neutral reaction or a dishonest, bad reaction until the gossip gets back to you, possibly months later.

Ultimately, the people who care will ask you about it directly about gossip they hear or will listen to your side with an open mind when you approach them yourself. The people who believe the gossip without at least listening to your perspective are people who probably wouldn’t have accepted your lifestyle anyway. Which sucks beyond belief. IMO, the best you can do in this situation is treat it like an honest request for time, possibly make it clear that you want to be the one to tell others in your own time, but you will wait while this person has time to think for a few weeks (or however long).

I don’t want to hear this.

As negative reactions go, this one… isn’t the worst. This person is utterly refusing to listen and rejecting your relationships. But they aren’t being dishonest about it, aren’t rejecting you, aren’t going into a moral rant. They are basically saying ’I recognize this is your decision, but I don’t like it and I don’t want to know about it.’ It’s their right to feel this way. Let it go, and don’t bring it up again. Don’t try and introduce your OSOs, and just let it be. If you don’t want to go to family or holiday parties where all your partners aren’t welcome, decline any invitations, and explain why when you are asked. How much of a relationship you maintain with them is up to you. In the past, I’ve tried to include people like this in my life as much as possible. We usually end up drifting apart over time.

Long lecture about immorality/shameful behavior/sin/disappointed in you/etc etc

This person is either a parent or someone who thinks they have a right to act like your parent. You can listen to the end or cut them off, which ever suits you best, and tell them that you are sorry they feel this way, but you will live your life the way you choose. It is up to them if they wish to be a part of your life in spite of their beliefs, and you hope they will eventually understand and accept.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything else you can do in this circumstance unless you are ready to just cut them off and never talk with them again. These people aren’t going to listen to anything you have to say, feel they have some authority over you and are likely to continue to pull this crap. Personally, I’ll politely listen through the first lecture, explain that it is my life and they have no say in it, and that I want to continue our relationship but will not allow them to dictate my life. After that, if I see them at a family gathering or whatever and they start another lecture, I will walk away without saying anything.

Angry/yelling/denouncing/etc etc – Angry reactions can take a lot of forms, but all basically tell you the same thing. For whatever reason, this person is hurt by and rejecting your choice and is turning that hurt into anger. Their anger will usually be directed at you or possibly the person they believe ’lured you into it’. Get up and leave. As much as it may hurt, do not stay to be abused this way. Tell them you love them, you are sorry that your choice has hurt them, and when they calm down, you can try talking again. Then leave.

Once they calm down, they may take any other imaginable reaction, including coming to you and saying ’I’m sorry, I love you and support you, and I’m going to try and understand.’ A different one of the negative reactions is more likely than a positive reaction, but positive reactions after calming down and thinking can happen. You’ll just need to deal with whatever other reaction they have as it comes.

Shut down/ice

This person will not go into a rage, lecture, or really say anything at all. They just shut you or your choice out. In the ’better’ form of this, they will still welcome you in their life but will turn icy and shut out any attempt at discussing your lifestyle. They are, then, basically trying to pretend that you never told them anything. It is up to you whether you let them pretend, or choose not to be a part of your life.

The more extreme version of this is when they choose to shut you out. They may or may not say anything immediately, but after this conversation, they will not speak with you again, not return your phone calls, and ignore you at family gatherings where you bump into each other.

There is a third form this can take, which is also very hurtful and can be confusing until you figure out what is going on. The person is friendly and polite, gives a neutral reaction to your explanation, and you part on good terms. They will invite you to holiday and other events the rest of the family is invited to because it is expected. They will be socially polite and say how much they’ve missed you since they last saw you. But if you try to call them, they will not answer, if you invite them somewhere, they will decline, basically they will put on a mask of good feeling at any event they feel they must, for politeness sake, include you in, but otherwise shut you out. If this is someone you were never very close to, this probably won’t make any difference in your interactions – if you only saw them on holidays and weddings and funerals, you may not even notice any difference. If you were very close to them, getting together regularly, talking on the phone, whatever, this can be extremely hurtful.

Unfortunately, I have not found any productive or useful responses to these reactions. The best you can do is cut them out of their life if it gets too hurtful to deal with.

Disown you

This is the reaction many polyam folk and people in other alternative lifestyles live in terror of. Thankfully, it actually is fairly rare. Most people who love us will at least try to either bring us to our senses or understand why we have made the choice to be polyamorous. This person tries to do neither. They will simply tell you that you are no longer their relative/friend, and they never want to see you again.

All you can do is walk away and grieve. In time, they may change their mind, especially if other family members still welcome you in their lives. But right now, that is little comfort.

“Beat the devil out of ’im”/Abusive ’intervention’

Okay, I had a serious debate with myself about including this one, but it IS a possible reaction to someone learning about polyamory, and unlike the other possible reactions, it is DANGEROUS. Reality is that it is (thank god) rare. But it does happen. And even something that only happens one time in a million is one time too many if you are that one. If you think anyone you know could react like this, make sure they have no power or authority over you. Get out of their house if you live with them, get a job or other income if you depend on them financially, get help from friends or other family, get the hell out. Do NOT talk with these people about polyamory. If you absolutely must tell them for some reason, send a letter when you are someplace where they cannot influence you. If you cannot get out and away from these people, make sure that some one you trusts knows about your fears and will be prepared to help if things go wrong and they find out about your lifestyle from another source. Thankfully, most of us will never need to deal with this kind of horror, but if you know someone who is like this, protect yourself.

Wrapping Up

I wish none of you would ever need to deal with any negative reactions. Unfortunately, chances are that if you choose to live openly as a polyamorous person, you will run into at least one, and likely several negative reactions from people you care about. I wish there was more advice or help that I could offer. Keep your head up, and hold onto the positive reactions you get. Good luck.

This post is part of the

Explaining Polyamory Blog Series.

 

(Originally posted June 2012)

Explaining Polyamory: Positive Reactions

I updated the suggested resources here. And let me say it’s amazing and wonderful how many more resources for explaining and exploring polyamory there are in the just the five years since I wrote this post. Not much edits otherwise. Neither human nature nor culture have changed enough in the past five years to make much difference here. Updated Aug 2, 2017.

This is the fourth post in the Explaining Polyamory blog series. If you missed the earlier posts, start here.

However you handle the conversation, you will get one of the same basic set of reactions from loved ones you open up to about your lifestyle. They range from amazingly supportive to complete rejection. Most of the time, you’ll get something in the middle. Here a few of the positive (or at least neutral) reactions you might run into. Next week I’ll tackle the negative reactions you hopefully won’t need to deal with.

I need time to think about this: this is a relatively common reaction from parents and other close family members who feel (rightly or wrongly) that your life and theirs will have a major impact on each other. This reaction generally means that they can’t accept your relationship choices right away – maybe they have religious or moral reservations, maybe they’re on the other side of the culture gap and are trying to understand, maybe they just don’t know enough about polyamory to know how to react. Give them their time to think and ask if it might be okay to talk some more in a week or two.

You may also get this reaction from people who want to ignore the whole thing. If they can pretend to themselves that you aren’t polyam, then they can act as if nothing has changed, they don’t need to have a difficult and possibly painful conversation, don’t need to face the reaction of the rest of the family, etc. If someone who has asked for time to think just shuts down and refuses to talk further about it, even months later, then this is what they are doing.

Unfortunately I’ve never found a good way to deal with this approach. One option is to let them ignore it and just keep them out of the parts of your life that involve polyam. This may mean that they become a much smaller part of your life, which can hurt, but it is often better than losing them from your life entirely.

I don’t know what to think, I need more information: not a bad response overall, though unfortunately one of the less common ones. Humans do tend to rush to snap judgments. Get them a copy of When Someone You Love is Polyamorous. Direct them to a good intro-to-polyam blog, invite them to join a (not secret!) polyam forum or FB group. And of course, answer their questions as best you can.

Are you sure you want to do this? Your father and I tried and it really didn’t work, it nearly ruined our marriage/I used to do that/Really? me to!: Yes, non-monogamy has existed prior to this generation. In fact, chances are that if you tell all your friends and family about your relationship choices you will find at least one person who has ‘been there, done that’. Maybe it worked for them, maybe it didn’t. But you can be reasonably sure that they aren’t going to denounce your choice out of moral indignation. In fact, you can probably learn a lot from their experience if they are willing to talk about it.

Okay, it’s your life after all: acceptance without support. Best you can do here is thank them for recognizing that it is your choice and ask if they would like to meet any of your SOs. This person is not going to be wildly enthusiastic and might not think polyamory can work in the long run. But they aren’t going to try and tell you how to live your life. There is a strong chance that if they see you are happy they will become supportive in time.

OMG! Like that show/book/movie/thing I saw the other day! That’s so neat! This reaction is a lot more common than it was when I first wrote this post, thanks to the increase in polyam relationships in the media. In my experience you mostly get this reaction from friends or acquaintances. Family tends to take our life choices seriously. Relax, have a laugh, share some good stories and find out what media thing they are talking about – it might be worth watching yourself!

This post is part of the Explaining Polyamory blog series

(originally published May 2012)

Explaining Polyamory: the Conversation

Mostly grammar and typo corrections here, but I also needed to clean up some ableist language. Some of the example discussions were tweaked so there is less focus on triads. The reference to Sister Wives really dates this post, but I decided against changing it. If you are having this conversation today there are many better examples you can go with. Updated July 16, 2017.

So, you are as prepared as you can be to have a conversation with someone you love and tell them that you are polyamorous/are in a polyamorous relationship/whatever your preferred identification. How do you handle the actual conversation?

You’ll want to try and have this chat in a place where both you and the person you are talking with are comfortable. Maybe this means a favorite restaurant, maybe their home, maybe just take a walk around the neighborhood. For what it is worth, I have found walking and talking defuses many (though definitely not ALL) potentially confrontational discussions – hard to get confrontational when you aren’t looking at each other and less feeling of being ’on the spot’ for all parties. Meh. Go with what you think will work best for you and your loved one.

Go ahead and tell them that you have something important that you want to talk about with them. Then you have three choices: lead in, oblique approach and straightforward bluntness.

Lead in

Leading in works by preparing the person you’re talking with a shock. It involves saying things like ’I know this may upset you, and I don’t want to hurt you. I want to tell you about something that is happening in my life, and I really need you to listen and try and understand.’ The person you are talking with will definitely tense up, they will be expecting you to tell them something horrible. And maybe for them, polyamory is something horrible. You want to walk a fine line between preparing them for a shock and not scaring them into shutting down and shutting you out.

At this point in the discussion, keep it personal. Don’t use the word ’polyamory’ don’t talk about alternative relationships, keep it relevant to you and your life.

  • “I’ve realized I’m not going to be happy spending my life with just one person.”
  • “Gary and I have decided that we want to be in relationships with other people. We’re not breaking up but we’ll both be in multiple relationships.”
  • “Alice and I have been dating other people for the past few years. We’ve fallen in love with Jill and she is going to be moving in with us.”

Just one or two sentences that explain your personal decision or situation.

Give your loved one time to absorb what you said and respond. If you needed to use a lead in approach, then you need to give them space to try to understand.

Use the lead in approach with people who tend to have over-the-top emotional reactions, are reactionary against alternative lifestyles, extremely religious people, and anyone else who can do better with a gradual approach.

Oblique approach

When you don’t want to barrel right in, but don’t need the kind of gradual ground laying of a lead in, you can come at the conversation sideways. This is a pretty simple approach but may fall flat if the person you are talking with is not culturally aware.

  • “Have you heard of polyamory?”
  • “Remember that show Sister Wives?”
  • “What did you think of the alternative lifestyles article in X magazine last week?”

Most people will know where you are going with the conversation, but this approach lets them a change respond to a general idea and you can both ease into the personal.

If the person you are talking with doesn’t know what you are talking about, you will need to give an explanation:

  • “It’s a type of non-monogamous relationship.”
  • “It’s a reality show about four women who are married to the same man, and they are all happy together.”
  • etc

Use an oblique approach when you don’t think the conversation will be a huge emotional shock for the person you are telling, but you or they wouldn’t be comfortable with straightforward bluntness.

Straightforward bluntness

Just what it sounds like. You don’t worry about preparing the ground or ’tip toeing around the issue’. You just say “I am polyamorous.” and explain what that means to you.

 

Explaining Polyamory: Preparation

Minor edits for grammar and readability. Not much has changed here. 7/13/2017

Sorry for the late update. Last week I introduced the Culture Gap, which has a huge influence on how people react to polyamory. This week I’m going to get into some of the how-tos for explaining polyamory. And if anyone has any suggestions or thoughts that I miss, please leave them in the comments.

How to Explain Polyamory

Almost every person in an alternative relationship faces the question eventually – do I tell X about my lifestyle, and if I do, how? Telling someone you love about a non-mainstream lifestyle is scary, because like it or not, people are judgemental, and telling the truth doesn’t always bring acceptance – sometimes it destroys a relationship.

But polyamory is built on openness and honesty, and damn it how can we say we are living openly and honestly when we are hiding from the people who are most important to us? So we bite the bullet, sit down . . . and have really awkward conversations.

There is no way to make these conversations easy, but there are ways to make them a little less awkward and maybe a little less scary.

The first ’rule’ of explaining polyamory is one of the hardest: don’t have expectations. It’s as predictable as Murphy’s law – every time I or someone I know has gone into a discussion explaining polyamory expecting it to go well, it’s been difficult and painful and horrendous. Everytime I or someone I know has expected a difficult or painful discussion, it went well. Our expectation may have influenced the outcome – that by going in overconfident for an easy discussion we created problems or going in prepared for a difficult discussion we made it easier that it would otherwise have been.

Regardless, expectations make the whole thing harder on you. Expectations reinforce and strengthen the rollercoaster of emotions – hope and fear and love and need and anger and . . . yeah. Just don’t go there. Try and keep an open mind and not expect any specific outcome or reaction.

Next, go in prepared. Is there information do you want your loved one to have? What questions can you answer? Overall, what you need to tell your loved one is that ’This lifestyle makes me happy. I am aware of potential problems and am prepared to deal with them.’ Which means before you have this discussion, you’d better make sure you have thought through the problems.

Obviously, if you’ve been in polyamorous relationships for ten years, you’ve probably already dealt with all the problems, but remember your loved one is coming in flat footed. Stuff that is old hat to you will be a big deal to them. So maybe take some time to think about how you can address the common problems and concerns—even if you know they aren’t real problems.

Don’t be afraid to back yourself up with some research. If you know your loved one listens to facts, dig up some of the studies done on polyamory. Psychologists have been investigating non-monogamy for long enough to say that it is indeed a healthy and viable lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the hardest problems to prepare for are religious and moral objections. Beliefs just don’t respond to facts. Hell even when a person’s moral objections contradict the teachings of their own religion they aren’t likely to listen. All you can do is be prepared to emphasize that your beliefs are not those of the person you are talking to and you have a right to your own faith and morality.

(Originally posted May 2012)

This post is part of the Explaining Polyamory blog series

Explaining Polyamory: The Culture Gap

Mostly some typo and grammar fixes here, but I also clarified the importance and right to self care when dealing with people who don’t believe that polyamory can be a viable relationship. June 29, 2017
Had some kind of tech glitch that kept this from posting last Thursday, so It’s going live today instead. Sorry folks!

A while back, a question came up in the Yahoo! PolyResearch group about explaining polyamory to a loved one. It’s not the first time I’ve seen the question come up, and it stuck in the back of my mind as an idea worth exploring. (And these days, an idea that manages to stick in my mind has to be pretty impressive given everything competing with it for attention). I don’t expect this to become a huge series, but to keep it from being a wall o’ text, I’m gonna break it into two or three parts.
Before we talk about explaining polyamory, I want to discuss something that is critical to the way people react to polyam — the Culture Gap.

The Gap is a major issue when explaining the idea of polyamory to many people, but it’s biggest danger is that it is often invisible. We, the folks who believe or know that polyamory can be a functional relationship style (gonna emphasize this — we aren’t talking religious issues, ethics, morality or anything like that, just whether or not polyam can work) are on one side of the Gap. On our side of the Gap are many people who do not like or approve of polyamory, but accept that it can work. The people believe that polyam is flat out impossible are on the other side of the Gap.

Alright, my run-ins with the Gap have been with Baby Boomers, but I’ve met some monogamous people from the Baby Boomer generation who were very easy to talk polyam with. Conversely, I know people who have run into the Gap with people close to my age. 20 and 30 somethings who were old enough and culturally aware enough to be horrified when Ellen Degeneres went public on an airport PA system.

 

There is no easy way to reach across the Polyam Culture Cap.

The Gap, plain and simple, is the division between folks who grew up in a world of relationships where there was one (and only one) True Way. Not in the sense that heterosexual monogamy was necessarily morally right, but in a much more fundamental way. For people on the other side of the Gap, heterosexual monogamy (or in some cases just monogamy or just heterosexual) is a Law of Nature. Anything else is simply impossible to make work because it violates the fundamental nature of relationships. Non-monogamy is as doomed to failure as attempting to make mothers stop loving their children and gravity turn off. When you tell these people you are polyamorous (or any other variety of non-monogamy) they hear the equivalent of “Guess what? Gravity got turned off, and I’m gonna jump off this cliff.” They KNOW, flat out KNOW, fact of life, law of reality, that when you jump off that cliff you are going to fall far and land hard (after all, their feet are still stuck to the ground, ergo gravity still works). Your relationship is doomed to failure because it is IMPOSSIBLE, and you are going to end up heartbroken.In my experience, most younger people in the US are on our side of the Gap — folks under [35], hell most anyone who came of age during or after the Summer of Love. Alternative relationships and alternative lifestyles may not have been approved of. They may have been considered sinful and immoral and wrong. But they clearly happened and were possible. This is also why the Gap isn’t purely a generation gap. There are folks who fought in World War II who were exposed to alternative relationships and know it is possible to have a healthy and happy life while not being heterosexually monogamous. It’s not a blanket thing. But with people who grew up in a culture where they were not exposed to alternative relationships, and know, Law of Nature, that monogamy is the only thing which can possibly work, the Gap is very real and very dangerous.

Explaining polyamory to on this side of the Gap is easier. Many people on this side of the Gap still won’t approve. Whether they have too many ideas based on religious polygamy, moral objections or anything else that makes polyam stick in their craw sideways; there are a number of people who won’t like you being polyam on both sides of the Gap. But people on this side of the Gap are easier to discuss and explain polyam to because you aren’t turning their worldview upside down. Stretching the limits of people’s tolerance isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than convincing them you are suddenly immune to gravity.

So to be clear: no matter how well you explain polyam to folks on the other side of the Gap, no matter how many studies you offer or how persuasive your logic is, the only thing that will convince them that polyamory is safe and won’t lead to inevitable harm and hardship is for them to see you jump off that cliff, and not get hurt. Only experience can change this kind of instinctive knowledge of the way the world is.

Dealing with loved ones who are on the other side of Gap can be very difficult. They will not accept your choice, and they will probably try, repeatedly, to convince you that you are making a mistake. Some may get angry with you, lash out, refuse to speak with you until you come to your senses. Some will assure you, with love and sympathy, that when it all falls apart they will always be there for you to help pick up the pieces of your life. Sometimes the sympathetic ones are the most frustrating.

It can help to keep this in mind: as difficult as dealing with folks on the other side of the Gap can be, they are acting the way they are because they care for you and are afraid for you. They don’t want to see you hurt, so they will do everything they can to pull you away from that cliff. They are, in a really frustrating way, desperately trying to protect you.

That said, also remember that you don’t owe them a place in your life and if you need to step away to take care of yourself, that’s okay.

Image Copyright 1994 João Paulo Lucena used under GNU 1.2 and CC 3.0

(Originally posted April 2012)

Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?

Changed to be inclusive of a wider variety of relationship styles and less heteronormative. Also fixed some typos. Updated June 7, 2017.

Step-parent, aunt, Jennie, Pop, Ma’am, Mr. Smith . . .

Basic rule of thumb: kids need a label for the adults in their lives. A box to put the adult in so they can know what their relationship with the adult is. Any time your kids ask what to call your SO, what they usually mean is, ‘What is this person to me?’

So before worrying about what your kids should call your SOs, take a minute to think about this: Just what is the relationship between your SOs and your kids? Are you raising you children from birth in a group marriage and all the spice are parents? Are you going to be introducing your teenage son to your girlfriend for the first time?

Group marriages who are raising children together tend to take one of two approaches to what I call ‘parent names’. Sometimes the non-biological parents choose terms that mean “Mother,” “Father” or “Parent” (Mama, Papa, Mad for English variants or use other languages—Ima is Hebrew for mom, Padre or Papa from Spanish, etc). Other times the non-biological parents are Aunt or Uncle or just their names. In these polycules, only the bio parents are called anything related to ‘mother’ or ‘father’.

You don’t need to discuss parent names with kids when you are raising them in a polyam relationship from a young age. The same as you never sit down with your toddler and say “I am your mother and you can call me ‘mom’.” You just walk into the room saying “Hi baby, mommy’s here!” and eventually baby learns that ‘mommy’ means you.

If you are introducing an older child to an SO for the first time, you probably want your kid and your SO to get along, but unless the SO is moving in with you or something, they don’t need to interact. So don’t make it complicated. As long as your SO agrees, you child(ren) can call them by their first name. No reason to make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes a previously unentwined or lightly entwined link becomes highly entwined, such as when moving in together. In these cases, advice given for helping kids adjust to having a new step-parent may be helpful. The short version is: let you kids know you want them and your SO to have a good relationship, but that relationship is up to them. They can start out calling your SO by their first name, and if later they decide they would like to call your SO aunt, uncle, Pop or something else, that is up to them. The message you want to give your child here is that they get to choose the label. The relationship they’ll have with your SO is up to them, and they won’t be forced into a relationship they aren’t comfortable with.

This blog post is past of the Raising Children in a Polyamorous Family blog series.

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5 Reasons Cishet Polya Folks Probably Shouldn’t Claim to Be Queer, Even Though You May Really Want To

Apologies for the late post; it’s been an eventful day! Here is an updated article originally published on Postmodern Woman.

Yay polyamory! Non-Monogamy has been making the rounds lately as the “mainstream” (read straight, USian or British or Canadian, cis, and usually white) discover that love doesn’t have to be as limiting and lonely as we’ve been told. Hell, we’ve finally started discussing abuse culture, how to be more inclusive and less oppressive, and breaking down amatonormative assumptions (primarily around the idea that your partner belongs to you).

More and more people are learning about things like compersion, intimate friendships, and open and honest communication. And that’s an absolutely great thing! Many of the tools and skills that people learn to hone while engaging in polyamory carry over into other aspects of life not remotely related to romance and sex.

There’s a lot of great potential within non-monogamous communities to revolutionize the way people tend to approach intimacy in general. It opens up conversations about the ways in which people meet their needs and can encourage people of any relationship orientation towards healthier behaviors.

But a potentially troublesome trend has come along with all of the attention: many of you cishet people keep claiming a queer identity, rooted in the fact that you are polyamorous.

Here’s why that may not be cool, even if it might seem like you’re doing it out of solidarity.


First of All, It’s Inaccurate

Even though non-monogamy can be an inborn orientation, many of you choose to be non-monogamous. Much like the excitement over the wildly inaccurate 50 Shades of Grey, this discovery of a sexy, potentially exciting venture was likely presented to you through mainstream means. Perhaps you’ve read The Ethical Slut, More Than Two, or other fairly popular books on non-monogamy. Maybe you read about this new trend in a magazine or some HBO show.

While it’s great that there’s such an influx of representation of non-monogamous relationships, be wary that it’s still not fully, or even accurately, representative of the diverse populations within non-monogamy. There’s still a huge issue with retention of queer, Black, poor, and disabled polya folk. Even books, fiction, and movies that deal with polyamory present it as a choice that comes after the fact, after trying to be monogamous, or as some way of avoiding commitment.

Think about why that is.

Even if we get to see a sort of happy-ever-after ending, we don’t actually get to see any examples of fully healthy polya relationships, or stories of people who grew up healthily polya, or of those whose relationship orientation is inherent in the way that their sexuality and/or gender is.

More specifically, outside of the cuilverse, diverse, healthy, queer, and poly-as-orientation doesn’t seem to exist in entertainment.

Given that the main representation is already mostly cis and straight and white people who’ve made a clear decision to be non-monogamous, the P for polya doesn’t quite make sense in the queer movement.

Speaking of which,


It Erases Those of Us Who Actually Are Queer

Those of us who are both non-monogamous and queer find ourselves floating around in the background while you folks tend to get the attention. This is a serious problem. It’s not something intentional, we’re sure of it.

It’s just that, in efforts to make non-monogamy more palatable to the masses, it’s much easier to get the idea past filters if the participants are otherwise “normal”. Since media and entertainment work the way they do, it necessarily means that us queers end up with the short end of the stick. Even worse, when you are straight and cis, claiming that your polyamory is queer obfuscates the meaning. It makes people who are queer in every other way less visible. It centers, once again, heteropatriarchal values and experiences.

Being queer and polya is a vastly different experience than being straight and polya.

Did you not realize that our experiences even differ?

Well, keep this in mind…

Much of Cishet Non-Monogamy Has More in Common With Monogamy +

Most straight cis people lead fairly straightforward lives. Or at least, more recognizable lives. You don’t spend your lives fighting against the amatonormative current. Even if you do, there are still many things you’ll never experience as a cis straight person.

For this reason, many of you only have your normative history to draw on. Even if your polyamory is your orientation rather than your choice, your most likely approach often ends up like Frankin Veaux’s in The Game Changer. Years, or even decades of relationships built on the idea of monogamy plus one.

What do I mean by that exactly? Monogamy plus one is the reason the non-monogamous communities even have terms like hierarchy, secondary, tertiary, polyfidelity, etc and the reason particular non-monogamies like Relationship Anarchy, solo polyamory, relationship fluid, and others have appeared as a way to push back against it.

There even exists out there now a “Secondary’s Bill of Relationship Rights”!

I’m not saying that being a secondary or wanting a polyfidelitous relationship is wrong or worse, just that it took so much pain, anguish, jealousy, guilt, and mistakes to get to the point where the community is finally openly discussing how these attitudes can be abusive, divisive, and harmful.

Because much of straight, cis, well-off mono culture is built upon the amatonormative arm of abuse culture in general (more on that in a later post), straight cis people within polya communities tend to repeat the same mistakes, perpetuate the same imbalances, and tread the same ground as people who are monogamous.

But why would that bother queer polya people so much? It’s not like they invented the modern form of polyamory or anything.


It Is Appropriative for Cishets to Claim Polya as Queerness

Much as Dolezal is given the side-eye for claiming recent Black ancestry, many queer people are wary of cishet people saying they are queer. It’s rude especially when you keep in mind that way before Ethical Slut, there existed polyamory within the U.S.

A polyamory that was queer and Black and anarchic. Queer history is still not really taught widely, so you might not even realize that it was kinky queer weirdos like myself who initially rejected the trappings of the white picket fence, marriage, and kids that culture forces down everyone’s throat. It’s not that none of us want those things, we simply found them on our own terms.
The same went for our love lives. Why should we keep the same attitudes of the society that oppressed us? Before the missionaries arrived (and still do arrive), many other nations and tribes were non-monogamous. That much is known, because the history of Blacks in any country, in addition to isolated peoples, are often cited as examples of why non-monogamy is more “natural” or to justify why it’s okay to practice.

You might not actually know that this is a bit of an insult. Non-Monogamy, like much of culture in general, has now circled so far around that it has to be reintroduced to the types of people who had been doing it all along. I raise my eyebrows at all of it because that’s some next-level Columbusing right there!
But all that aside, if you are cishet and you do understand the history of non-monogamy and are sensitive to your queer friends, can’t you still claim queerness in the name of solidarity? It’s not like with Dolezal, right?
Unlike acting or pretending to be Black, you can absolutely participate in queer acts. And that’s ok. But, there’s still a problem because…


Queer Acts Does Not an Identity Make

While people of any orientation whatsoever can certainly behave queerly, there’s still a distinction. Queer acts aren’t the same as queer identities.

Even if I were to behave as if I’m cis and straight, my identity would always be queer. Just as being with one gender or another doesn’t erase queerness, it also doesn’t validate queerness. It doesn’t even matter if you are non-mono by predilection and not simply by choice.

While my polyamory is my orientation, too, it is based on my queer identity — meaning that by definition and existence, I am not, never will be, and do not seek to be normal! My identities create a unique shape upon which my interactions rest. That’s something that cannot and will never change. My polyamorous nature grows out of my autism, my genderqueerness, my pansexuality, my noetisexuality, my other forms of queerness, and most notably my aromanticism. It is inextricably tied to my many queer identities and experiences.

I don’t know if it’s like that for other queer, disabled, POC polya people. But that’s for them to decide. Not even everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is queer, and there’s even less of an overlap between queer and cis populations.

While you may participate in queer events and acts like kink, non-monogamy, and other things, I guarantee you’ve never (and will never) be oppressed because of it if you otherwise fit into the dominant culture. We queers are still considered dangerous and deviant, and many of us exist at the center of intersecting oppressions based on disability, race, poverty, gender, and neurodivergence.

That’s important to keep in mind. Queer has a very specific definition, it is a very specific perspective, and it has a distinct history. Despite the inclusive ground it covers, it most likely will not ever cover an cishet person, not even a polya one.

Most of you will never be oppressed for being non-monogamous like we are and have been. There’s a reason it’s more acceptable to be non-monogamous now, and that’s mostly because the main stories are those of cishets like you. The queer stories have been washed away, considered too much to take in, and too transgressive.

You’re not doing us any favors by saying you’re one of us, especially if the politics and privilege of your desires have never been fully examined, altered, or decolonized.


But don’t fret. You can certainly still support your queer poly family and friends. Be inclusive of us, acknowledge our history, and don’t participate in Columbusing; we get a lot of that in other areas of our lives already.

You can take your proper place as an ally, or better yet as an accomplice, learning from us instead of leaving us behind. You can appreciate us without obscuring our identity by claiming it. And when you’re ready to extricate yourself fully from the norm, then maybe we’ll reconsider.

Abuse Culture Tips: Questions and Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Updated version of an article originally published on Medium.

When it comes to abuse, there’s much confusion surrounding what to do, who to blame, etc. In polyamory, this can be further complicated by the amount of people involved and how they are involved. But never fear; there are some things to keep in mind no matter what. While they may not prevent abuse, these tips can go a long way to ensuring the victim’s ongoing safety.

  • On abusers and repentance: If you want to “help” someone who’s transgressed, you only need to offer it once. Then move on. They know where to find you if they need to. Like, the problem is their overabundance of options, not lack thereof. Where’s the support and restoration for the people who actually need it? That’s what matters. Be wary of a continued focus on the perpetrator to the victim’s detriment.
  • And we do need to consider context for who to trust and inform and maintain ties with: those who don’t know what was done, those keeping an eye on perpetrators to actively keep them from doing harm, and those who just dgaf.
  • Speaking of harm: I’m thinking of that scene from The Craft: I bind you. I bind you from doing harm against yourself and others. That is basically the goal and requirement for bystanders who need to become anti-abuse agents. The point is massive harm reduction, barring healing (which takes forever, and often never)

Ask Some Questions of Yourself and Others:

1. Is there a power imbalance?

The difference between hurting and abusing is always power (as opposed to responsibility and accountability).

That’s why it occurs nearly everywhere, even within “social justice” and “feminist” spaces. Colonization and evo psych have distorted our thinking to the point where people assume hierarchies, competition, and barbarism are natural, normal, and the default for humanity.

It is absolutely not! But that’s an exploration for another time.

The point is that concentrated power inevitably will draw abusers and will lead to abusive dynamics and systems. It doesn’t matter if you call it democracy or utiliatrianism or communism or socialism; if you are concentrating power, you are building a foundation for an abuse culture to arise.

I’ll discuss ways to avoid that elsewhere.


Abuse is power gained — nonconsensually — at the expense of another. It is not hurting someone’s feelings. It is not merely rudeness; some of the worst abuse is perpetrated via niceness. Abuse is inertia. A limit. A purposeful distortion and delusion imposed upon reality.

It is the opposite of emotional intelligence; it is making other people responsible for your feelings instead of dealing with your own shit. It is projecting your expectations onto human beings and demanding they comply. It is a harmful erasure of reality.

2. Has someone been hurt? If so, is that hurt harmful? Is it ongoing?

Tend to the hurt appropriately. Some hurt is inescapable, some is to be dealt with by the individual (ie, yte guilt, rejection, etc are personal issues and are not matters of abuse).

Harm, on the other hand, is where abuse begins. Harm is senseless, meaningless, petty, unnecessary, and the only goal is to gain the upper hand. That is the bedrock of abuse culture.

3. Can you tell the difference between a trauma response, mental illness (usually a trauma response of a specific kind), neurodivergence, assholery, and abuse?

4. Concentrate on the victim(s). What do they need to feel safe? What do they need to BE safe? (By safe I simply mean having the space to heal and/or recover organically)

If you’re not constantly and consistently keeping the most vulnerable safe (giving them room to exist), then there is no ethical or moral fiber to whatever it is you think you’re doing, whether you call it restorative justice or not.

5. Is the person, idea, or system more based on appearances (reputation or other surface concerns) rather than actual efficiency or effect?

Abusive dynamics are all about control: controlling the narrative, controlling reputations, controlling choices.

Control is not discipline. It is not responsibility. It is not accountability. Control is about power.

A loss of control experienced by someone with mental illness or disability is best dealt with by grounding that person or having them ground themselves. Illness is not abuse; abuse is a choice to take unearned and unagreed upon power by any means necessary (by force). Abuse is not self-defense or maintaining or reclaiming boundaries.

6. Is the focus on soothing hurt feelings or on solving the actual problem?

7. What are the actual consequences for being abusive? What is the ongoing cost to the victim(s)?

8. When considering letting people or systems who’ve been abusive remain or “come back” or whatever: does the power imbalance still exist? Have they been held accountable? Has the victim been compensated and/or restored (which may never happen fully, but should still be aimed for)?

9. Consider the wider context: Are you considering intersectionality and an integrated view of the situation?

Yes, the marginalized and oppressed and disabled, etc, can abuse. Some do. That doesn’t change the overall overarching systemic abuse in the form of oppression that happens. In general, and overall, it is far more likely that someone benefiting from the oppression (macro-level abuse) is abusive.

Yeah, that means cishet yte abled dudes are the most likely to be abusers. That information gained from the sources in power is not reliable. It is what it is.

Hurt people don’t hurt people. That is emotionally unintelligent bullshit. Taking power is always a choice. Feelings are not actions, nor are they reasons to make certain decisions. To be abusive is to decide your comfort/desire/delusion is more important than the other party’s right to informed choice.

Such myths leave the most vulnerable fending for themselves. And what the fuck is the point of talking about justice or human rights or a better world if you blame the victim or kill the messenger?

10. Are you conflating ability to abuse with personality?

It’s not about likeability. It’s not about who the people involved are on an individual level. It is about the tether between them, and whether it lends itself to unfairness, inequality, and harm. The only way to end it is to place and enforce rational boundaries — even up to the point of banishment in egregious circumstances — until the abuse stops!

That means the abuser has to actually stop abusing, folks, before they can be considered nonabusive. Ignoring it just ensures it will continue.

Possible Things To Do:

  1. Speak up. You don’t have to be a jerk but niceness is not required. Don’t accuse; just state what is.
  2. Remember that abuse doesn’t go away on its own. Something has to change; usually this means giving the victim space to recover. Yeah, that means the abuser may have to go away for a bit, or a while, or forever. So what?
  3. The victim owes nothing. They determine the terms because they know what they need. Give space for their agency in the matter because your opinion is not relevant, especially if you haven’t actually survived shit.
  4. The survivor is the expert so defer to their judgment. They were actually on the front lines.
  5. Be vigilant. Work on your own emotional intelligence. Dismantling and stopping abuse is a never-ending active process, not just something that’s done once.
  6. Provide space — if necessary and feasible — for the abuser to reflect and be accountable, but fucking do it AWAY from the victim(s)! Don’t fucking put them in therapy or some other shit together if it’s serial abuse!
  7. If the abuse is just one singular instance, that’s a sign that the person in general is not an abuser but was just abusive. That means they’re more likely to be successfully rehabilitated.
  8. For serial abuse, that person tends to be an actual abuser, and rehabilitation is counterindicated. Rather, harm reduction measures are required. That simply, practically, means limiting their access to those they tend to victimize. Like, don’t fucking put them in charge of the vulnerable populations they abused. Don’t put them in positions of power period.
    Abusers (as opposed to people who’ve been abusive) are opportunists. Recall the above: it’s about power. They will absolutely exploit it.
  9. If you haven’t experienced it, it doesn’t matter how much you study; you don’t know shit. As a bystander, you are a support and your job is to help create, place, and maintain boundaries between the victim and the abuser. Not protecting, but taking direction from.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mean or nice person.

It doesn’t matter if you’re oppressed.

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your intention.

It doesn’t matter what they did to you.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t realize it was abuse until it was too late.

It doesn’t matter if you dress it up as romance or social justice or parenting.

You cannot force anyone to do anything!

No one is entitled to anything. No one is owed anything. No one “deserves” anything.


Agency is what we have to nurture and focus on within any context. Situations and practices that remove or inhibit agency (ie, these are all examples of abuse). This list is nonexhaustive:

  • rape by deception (like that recent shit about amabs pretending to wear condoms)
  • gaslighting (more likely within polyamory due to societal factors, though not inherent to it)
  • bullying
  • hazing
  • assault
  • control of finances/resources
  • delays and interference not contingent upon survival (ie. consistently making someone late for work, blocking access to family, friends, or other support sources, etc)
  • denial
  • lying
  • stalking
  • spying and other invasions of privacy
  • racism (any ism, really, but the current incarnation of abuse culture houses everythin under racism, anyway)
  • belittling
  • nonconsensual spanking (or hitting, biting, etc)
  • manipulation
  • yelling
  • pressuring
  • ongoing negligence
  • artificial selection (not just genetically — yes, I mean the holocausts, eugenics, and breeding — but also actively seeking to limit someone’s choices to things that impact their ability to care for themselves and live)
  • fetishizing
  • dehumanizing
  • rape
  • molestation
  • theft
  • policing
  • brainwashing
  • imposing religious or personal ideas
  • constantly interrupting or speaking over
  • facilitating abuse or abuse by proxy (ie. selling your kid to an abuser)
  • avoiding informed consent
  • unjust and/or discriminatory laws/policies
  • redlining
  • medical abuse/experimentation
  • victim-blaming
  • surveillance
  • negging
  • ‘splaining
  • cruel and unusual punishments
  • declaring anyone “illegal” or treating them as such
  • false reporting
  • harassment
  • tone policing
  • evasive projecting
  • extortion
  • silencing a victim or marginalized perspective
  • demanding unpaid emotional/intellectual labor
  • anything else that interferes with agency and power in a nonrational, unnecessary, controlling manner

Note that self-defense, mental illness, neurodivergence, and/or ongoing stress is often mistaken for abuse. I can’t get into it in more detail here, but there are ways to tell and different processes for dealing with it. Nevertheless, having a disability or mental illness is NEVER sufficient to excuse abuse. Disabled or neurodivergent people can and do abuse, as stated above, but the issue is still the abuse itself and not their disability or neurodivergence.

Telling Your Children about Polyamory

Not much changed here on the main topic, but original version was pretty heterocentric. I’ve tried to correct that and be more inclusive of single-parent families. Revised 3/26/17

Children who are born into a polyamorous relationship do not need anyone to explain their parents’ relationships, any more than children born into a monogamous relationship. Because they grow up with it, they understand it. It’s normal to them.

Children whose parent(s) become polyamorous after the children are born may have difficulty understanding change in their parents’ relationships. If you choose to be open about your lifestyle choices, it’s important to present them in a way that leaves your children secure in knowing that their family will not be hurt by the changes you are making.

Discussing Polyamory with Young Children

Young children are still learning the societal norms. They need things simple, and in terms they can understand, with a focus on how it affects them. They certainly don’t need a long explanation of what polyamory is, why it is ethically ok, etc.

For some children, and some relationships, you won’t need to discuss anything. Just say at dinner ‘Mommy’s going out on a date, so I’m putting you to bed tonight.’ If you’d like, make it something of a treat for them ‘Mommy’s going out on a date, so you kids and I will be having a special movie night.’ Handling it this way tells them 1) that their Mom is dating someone, 2) that their other parent is cool with this, and 3) that this is something that is normal and they don’t need to worry about it. This goes equally for single parents with several polyam relationships and families with a parent and step parent. ‘Boyfriend will be baby-sitting while Mommy goes on a date with Girlfriend’ works just as well as ‘Daddy/Mommy/Step-Parent is putting you kids to bed tonight’.

If the kids ask questions, answer them without long explanations. Best advice I ever got about explaining things to little kids – answer the exact question they ask in the simplest terms possible, and then shut up. If they want more information, they’ll keep asking.

Some children will need more explanation, or reassurance, than others. If their friend’s parents just divorced because ‘Linda’s mommy was going on dates with another man, and her daddy left them,’ you will definitely need to do some reassuring. In general, treat your relationships as normal, answer questions, and make it clear with how you behave and act that there is nothing for the children to worry about, their world won’t be changing because their parents are in several relationships.

Discussing Polyamory with Older Children/Teenagers

Older children and teenagers will definitely be fully aware of the social norms against polyamory. They may or may not have heard of open relationships and polyam from their friends and acquaintances (if they haven’t yet, they will eventually). They are also probably old enough and enough on their dignity to need and deserve a more formal approach to your decision to enter into polyamory.

I would suggest sitting down with your child or teenager (together!) and explain that you have decided you are going to start dating again, that you still love each other and have no intention of splitting up, and that you are telling them this so that they know what is going on, and don’t get surprised later.

Depending on the child the reaction can range from ‘You’re talking about polyamory? That’s cool,’ to ‘ok, whatever,’ to ‘OMG HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME!!!!’ (Yes, at this age it is all about them. Expect it and accept it. I honestly don’t see much difference between this and the way many adults act, but people seem to think it’s a big deal that teenagers do this. Meh.)

Listen to them (communication is just as important with children as it is with adult relationships). Give them a chance to flip out, ask questions, shrug it off or whatever their deal is. Answer any questions, be clear that it is your lives and your choice, but that you respect them enough to tell them yourselves about this decision. If they don’t see anything to talk about, let it be.

The most important thing about discussing it this way is it lets them know the floor is open. Whatever their reaction, they know that you are okay with them knowing about your relationships, and are willing to discuss it with them. Near equal in importance if you are married is they know that you are both in agreement on this, and no one is sneaking around or cheating.

In general, as long as they see that their lives and their relationships with you aren’t changing in a massive way, older children and teenagers will move on to something else to be worked up and angry about eventually, no matter how badly they react.

Not Discussing Polyamory with your Children

There is, always, the option to keep your lifestyle hidden from your children. Pros and cons of this one can be argued all over the map. I’m not going to get into it here. If you choose not to discuss and inform your children of your lifestyle, be prepared for them to know about it eventually. As self-centered as they are, kids are very attuned to anything that threatens their lives and families. You having other relationships will be seen as a threat, simply because they have been taught that this is a betrayal of their other parent, and may lead to divorce.

Hopefully if they become aware of your relationships without you saying anything, they will come to you to ask about it. In that case it is simple enough to say ‘yes, your other parent knows and approves, beyond that it is private.’ I suggest getting the other parent in the room so they know you are telling the truth.

This post is part of the Raising Children in a Polyamorous Family blog series.

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