Category Archives: Drama

Marginalized Polya People

Updated version of an article first published on Postmodern Woman.

What does polyamory look like when you’re poor or disabled? How do you maintain autonomy and independence when you require specific care or assistance? How do you have safe, kinky, enjoyable sex when you’re allergic to latex or have a condition that leaves your body racked in pain?

Other than being in the minority categories for my aromanticism, relationship anarchy, kinkiness, genderqueerness, pansexuality, noetisexuality, and being Black, there are other specific ways in which my polyamory does not fit into the norm. There are other considerations to make and reinterpretations of many actions and freedoms that many polya people take for granted.

The average polya person in the limelight (with the exception of Kevin Patterson’s Poly Role Models) is well-off, white or white-adjacent, and normally healthy. Solo polyamorists constantly talk about autonomy, lack of enmeshment, and independence and other polyamorists set up visits with ease. Yet there are huge and gaping holes in the polya and non-monogamous relationship conversation. Very few people know what life is like for those that fall through the cracks. There aren’t many stories of the poor, the marginalized, and the mentally or physically ill and how they navigate healthy, fulfilling multiple relationships. I’ve seen a lot of polya people say that they wouldn’t date someone with a mental disorder.

There are many people that I know who are polya and have less than perfect health. A friend of mine was recently diagnosed as autistic and has been experiencing close-mindedness and ignorance in the poly and kink communities. A blogger I follow has borderline personality disorder and writes deeply moving posts about his experiences in relationships from his unique perspective. I’ve been writing stories (and “living the life”) for nearly 20 years about the people you never hear about in the media, the situations that rarely get discussed elsewhere, and the ways that these unique people handle their circumstances.
Being poor or disabled can present their own obstacles for expressing one’s polyamorous leanings. There aren’t as many resources for people like me. But as the more visible polyamorous communities create new resources and expand the social narrative, so it is my hope that more people of color, people allergic to weird things, and those who aren’t the epitome of health can share and create resources to generate understanding, education, and community as well.
Nearly every relationship you have when you’re poor is like a long-distance relationship, or at least that’s been my experience. Unless you live in the same neighborhood regular travel and conferences and outings can become prohibitively expensive. Technology helps if you can afford it or have access to it.

You learn to treasure the moments you can be together all the more. You learn to be okay with being alone most of the time. You definitely learn to appreciate the little things. And you know with absolute certainty that you may not have all of your needs met. It takes a special kind of patience and maturity to deal with the cancelled dates, limits on time, and isolation that come so much more often when you’re poor and/or spoonie. I liken being poor to being in emergency mode more often than not.

Where the executive with a harried day has the opportunity and money to relax and unwind, the poor and disabled person has no access to the typical means with which to relieve their stress. When you don’t have the money or the means you have to get creative. When you’re not healthy you have to accept that there are times when you have to put down your superman cape and allow someone to help you and accept some entwinement, even if others label it enmeshment or dependency. Poor health and the higher possibility of an emergency can make the poor, Black, and unwell seem like high risk partners for other polya people.
Try to imagine the looks you’d get when you say you can’t use the condom your partner has brought because you’re allergic to latex. You either rush around in an effort to find the much less effective (and harder to find) non-latex condoms, call it off, or go through with it without a condom and hope that the STI test results are still accurate. I also have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which leave me subfertile — and less worried about accidental pregnancy — yet simultaneously leave me in pain more often than not.

There are times when, even if I want rougher sex, my partners have to be gentle. There’s nothing wrong with pain when you want it but the pain caused by those conditions is not the fun kind – and I’m not that kind of masochist. My PCOS and PMDD cause anxiety, which can lead to more stress, which can lead to a worsening of my conditions. These kinds of illnesses have no cure and anyone with a long-term illness knows that we have to find alternative and healthy ways to deal with them and lessen their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, the majority of people know nothing about it and when they can’t physically see what’s wrong with you it can breed resentment, disbelief, and dismissal.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. You find out fairly quickly who is dependable and who is not, who is simply there for fun and who’d like to be around for a while, who is actively dedicated to anti-racism, who can healthily deal with stress and who cracks under the slightest pressure. You find support you never expected from the strangest places, you learn not to take anything for given or granted, and it makes effective communication all the more important.
Some people will see these things as obstacles or reasons not to be polya. They don’t exactly fit the “perfect polya” narrative (unless you realize that aros tend to have jealousy and compersion down pat!). But no matter who you are, life is usually only as difficult as you make it.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: You Need Talk about Problems

Standard Poly Advice:
You need to talk about problems

I have no objection to this very important advice. The problem comes in when people hear this advice as meaning “You need to talk about problems RIGHT AWAY.” Someone in the middle of a mental health crisis is probably going to be behaving or speaking in ways that are upsetting, that cause problems, and that people are going to want to address. This is like having a discussion about the damage caused by a fire, while the fire is still burning.

Yes, you need to see what damage the fire does and figure out how to fix it. Or even if it can be fixed. But for god sakes let the firefighters put the fire out first. Let the fire marshall take a walk through and certify that it’s safe to enter the building. Then you can check the damage and worry about repairs.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill:
You need to talk about problems when everyone is ready.

This actually isn’t just a mental illness thing, but it is even more important when mental illness is involved. Sometimes we need to say “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m not thinking clearly, and any conversation we have now isn’t going to be productive.”

Of course, when mental illness or strong emotions are involved, that thought is more likely to be expressed as “I can’t deal with this right now!”

It’s okay to come back ad talk later. Really. It is. If you need to, pick a day each month to have your “later” discussions, make a note each time someone needs to say “Not now.” and when that day comes, sit down with the notes and discuss them.

Alternatively, if something has upset you and you need to say something now, but your partner can’t listen, try writing. Write an email and wait to send it. Or write a note, fold it in up and pin it to the refrigerator. “When you are ready, here’s what I need you to hear.”

But What if They are Never “Ready”

Sometimes you can wait weeks, or even months, for your partner to be ready to discuss something and they never are. Two things usually cause this. First, they may have so much other shit they are dealing with that they literally don’t have the spoons. Second, they might be playing you.

If your partner is constantly battling suicidal thoughts and you want to talk about how they never do their share of the dishes, stop. Is it fair that you are doing most of the dishes? No. But they are literally fighting for their life and asking them to take energy away from that battle to hash out a schedule for the dishes isn’t fair to them either.

Being in a relationship with someone who is severally mentally ill (or physically ill, or sometimes just dealing with life shitting on them) means prioritizing. Yes, it is annoying as fuck that you are doing all the dishes. But who does the dishes is not as important as keeping everyone alive and healthy. Before you can fix the dishes problem, your partner needs to heal. That, as I have said elsewhere, takes time.

You have three workable options.

1)Accept that your partner simply isn’t able to do as much as you are and deal with it as best you can.

2) Try to find another approach–“Hey, I know you can’t do the dishes. Can you put them away after I wash them?” “Okay, I don’t want to push you when you’re already struggling, but I can’t do all this on my own. How about you tell me what you can do, and I’ll do the stuff you can’t?”

3) Decide that being in a relationship with this person is more than you can deal with and leave.

The other reason someone may never be ready to discuss something is they are playing you. The shitty part about this is you can never know for sure are they just putting you on or are they really not able to deal with whatever it is.

Try looking at how they are handling whatever is keeping them from being able to discuss it. Are they trying to get help? Are they working on getting better? If you bring up dishes do they say “I can’t talk about this,” but a few days later try to do a few dishes to help out? Then they are trying, they are making the effort, go back up a few paragraphs and work from there.

If they keep saying that this needs to change or that needs to change but not making any effort to change it. If they don’t do anything towards getting help or healing. If they not only aren’t able to talk about it but don’t seem to care that something is upsetting you… they are probably playing you.

Again you have some choices, but only two I think are workable.

1) Accept that whatever it is is something they are not willing/able to discuss or try to address, and deal with it as best you can.

2) Walk away.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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The Etiquette of Unexpected Encounters

There was a story shared…somewhere on the internet, I don’t remember where. Someone’s sister called them up freaking out. Insisting they had to cancel the wedding because the sister had seen the poster’s fiance kissing someone else.

This particular story had a happy ending–the poster laughed it off and told their sister “we’re poly.” But the story also illustrates the way unexpectedly running into members of our polycules (or members of our polycules families) in public can be a social minefield.

Types of Unexpected Encounters

There are three types of unexpected encounters:

  • Running into one of your poly partners unexpectedly (with or without other poly partners.)
  • Running into one of your poly partners when you or they are with someone who is not part of your polycule.
  • Running into a family member or friend of one of your poly partners while you are with a different member of your polycule.

We’ll be looking at each of these in turn. First, here are a few things that applies in all three situations.

Know if People are Out of Not

Whether or not a poly partner is out has a huge impact on the etiquette of unexpected encounters. B3eing in the closet makes unexpected encounters both a lot more complicated and potentially damaging. Being out means they may be awkward, but probably won’t be any worse than that.

Know How Members of your Polycule Feel about Public Displays of Affection (PDA)s

Whether or not your partner is out, giving them a big hug and kiss if you bump into them in the supermarket may not make their day. There are a lot of reasons folks may want to avoid PDAs, from general discomfort to fear of outing themselves. What their reason for liking or not liking PDAs is doesn’t matter–what matters is that you respect their preference.

Know Their “Public” Name and Gender

People can be in the closet about more than their relationships. You need to know how they present themselves in public and how they want to be addressed when away from safe spaces.

If You Need to Assume…

If you run into someone and don’t know any of these things, play it safe. Assume they aren’t out. Assume they don’t like PDAs. If possible, quietly check what name and gender they are using at the moment. If it isn’t possible, speak generically, “Hey it’s good to see you!” until they are able to clue you in.

Next week we’ll look at the etiquette for bumping into your poly partners (and other members of your polycule) when you least expect it.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Fluid Bonding and Safe Sex

Fluid bonding is a common term in polyamory safe sex discussions. Fluid bonding commonly means having sex without a condom or other barrier method. The idea being that your fluids are mingling and joining together.

In hierarchical poly relationships, fluid bonding it usually reserved for the primary couple or group. In egalitarian or solo poly fluid bonding is a sign of a highly entwined relationship and a great deal of trust. It is also a potential minefield.

Fluid Bonding and STIs

One of the more popular discussed reasons for fluid bonding is it reduces the risk of getting infected with an STI. By only having barrier-free sex with people you trust, you get some of the benefits of a closed relationship (barrier free sex, lack of worries about infection with the people you have sex with most often) while still being open. So far so good, right?

Here’s where the trouble comes in: barriers are not 100% effective in preventing STIs. For instance, the last time I checked the research, male condoms were believed to be 80% effective in reducing transmission of HIV. 80% risk reduction is damned good—but it is not risk-free. And barriers still only protect against some STIs. It is still possible for people in fluid bonded relationships to pick up an infection and spread it to their fluid bonded partners.

Whether or not you are fluid bonded, you still need to get tested, regularly.

Fluid Bonding and Pregnancy

Whether or not you prefer to practice fluid bonding, pregnancy throws a wrench in the works. Some people rely on fluid bonding to prevent pregnancy outside the “main” relationship. Some people prefer not to fluid bond, but want to have a baby. In both cases, it is vitally important to remember that there is no such thing as 100% effective birth control.

I’ve harped on this point until I’m blue in the face. The vast majority of people who think they are protected from unexpected pregnancy, aren’t.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use fluid bonding as part of your birth control plan. It does mean you need to be honest with yourself about the risks of whatever approach to birth control you choose.

Fluid Bonding and Assumptions

Fluid bonding requires using barrier methods with everyone other than your fluid bonded partners. Simple, right?

Well, if your partner agreed to fluid bonding because they were worried about pregnancy, they may not see a need to use dental dams. You, in the meantime, are trying to reduce your STI exposure and assume barrier methods are being used with all genital contact. Can you say “Recipe for drama?”

Whatever your reason for fluid bonding, check your assumptions at the door. Make sure you and your partner(s) are on the same page about what you expect. Whether your relationship is built on agreements or boundaries, don’t let assumptions bite you on the ass.

Face It: We’ve All Got Baggage

I’m delving a bit more into dating advice than I’m really comfortable with today, but there’s an issue I’ve skirted around in a few places that recently smacked me between the eyes. And I’m calling bullshit.

A common trope of polyamory is the desire for “drama-free” relationships. The desire to avoid partners with lots of baggage. The idea that there are some people who dating is more trouble than it is worth.

After five+ years of being told that I should leave my disabled partner because he wasn’t contributing anything to the relationship (in other people’s eyes), I have no fucking patience for the idea that some people aren’t worth being in a relationship with. And I am sick to death of the idea that some people got baggage and other people don’t.

Everybody got baggage. It’s just some people have baggage that society considers “acceptable” and some people have baggage that society disapproves of.

Do you know what is major baggage for me? A poly partner with a 9-5 job. That’s right, a poly partner with a regular, salaried job is, in my eyes, carrying baggage. As someone who sets their own work hours, and has people to take care of, dating around a 9-5 is a pain in the ass. A night job? Great! On your days off we can go out late at night after the kids are asleep? A weekend job? I don’t go out on Saturdays (Shabbat) anyway, how does Wednesday morning sound?

See, there is this mythical idea that some people are drama- and baggage- free. These would be people with good jobs, no medical problems, no legal problems, no mental or emotional problems, who bring rainbows and flowers to all their relationships with no problems or hassles or challenges.

It doesn’t work that way.

I got a shit ton of baggage, and so do you, and so does everyone. What matters is how our baggage fits together. Or as the musical Rent puts it:

You got baggage? I got baggage too… I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.

polyamory drama

This bag might fit in my closet–but it would completely clash with my drapes. 😉 [Image by Lynn Kelley]

For some people, my depression and anxiety are clashing baggage they don’t want to deal with. For me, someone who doesn’t understand mental illness and thinks I can “get over” being depressed has baggage that will never fit in a closet with mine.

You know what is baggage? Being openly poly. You know what else is baggage? Being in the closet.

If I date someone who is openly poly, we don’t even notice the baggage because we are both open. If I date someone who is in the closet, then the conflict between our baggage will constantly be straining our relationship.

Drama is what happens when baggage doesn’t fit.

For Michael and I, Michael’s disability isn’t drama, it’s just part of life. It’s a shitty part of life, but then life is sometimes a shitty thing. That’s why we call it ‘life’ and not ‘heaven.’

For someone else—someone with a 9-5 job who would need to take a day off of work every time Michal had another test scheduled—being in a highly entwined relationship with Michael would be major drama because their baggage wouldn’t fit together.

Interestingly enough, if Michael was in a highly entwined relationship with both of us, the baggage might fit because I could handle all the driving to doctors offices. Lots of things can change the way baggage fits together.

Some baggage is very hard to find a match for. Michael and I both come with some very unusually-shaped baggage. Enough so that I often fear my dream of finding other people we fit with well enough to live together in multiple highly entwined relationships is flat out impossible. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the less entwined relationships that have come both our ways. Because baggage also fits differently depending on the style of relationship.

So lets chill with the search for drama-free partners without baggage. People aren’t drama filled or drama free, relationships are. And everyone in the whole world has baggage. Own yours, don’t shame people for theirs. Be open about what baggage will just never work with yours, but don’t be afraid to try something that looks like it might not fit—sometimes baggage can surprise you.