Many Loves

Heart and Infinity Symbol Image I've been philosophically poly since I first read about the possibility, when I was ten or so, and practicing poly for six years, but it's only now, at age 26, that I'm finally coming out in these pages as definitively poly. Well, pretty definitively, anyway -- as definitively as I'm bi, at any rate. Labels are troublesome, and feelings and attitudes can certainly change over time, and it's possible that in ten years I'll be in a long-term monogamous lesbian relationship, or celibate (ah, I can hear my friends saying "not bloody likely"), or even married to a man. I doubt it, but it's possible. So why even try to come out as polyamorous (or bi) now?

Well, I think it's politically important to do so. For exactly the same reasons that gays and lesbians felt the need to start coming out some decades ago: to speak their truths, to let others know they weren't alone, to find and form community, to provide the outside world with visible and unashamed examples, spokespeople, representatives. Because it is terribly dangerous to be silent on these issues, because people will sometimes hurt or kill what they don't understand or what threatens them, because silence does equal death. And if you're wondering if perhaps I'm exaggerating the danger, consider how violently a large number of conservatives in this country have reacted to gays and lesbians asking for the right to marry, how threatened they've seemed -- and then think about how much more fundamentally poly challenges societal institutions such as marriage...

Okay, so some of you haven't even heard the term 'polyamory' before and are wondering what the heck I'm talking about here. Sorry -- cart before horse, I know. Well, I'll try to give a brief intro, but first let me point you to some resources that will probably do a much better job of it:

Alt.polyamory -- this is the home page for the newsgroup, alt.polyamory. Alt.poly is a wonderful group, and I strongly recommend that anyone interested in learning more about poly stop by there; great people, great discussion, and a whole lot of experience there. The web page lists tons of resources, including local organizations, poly home pages, a FAQ (frequently asked questions), etc. and so on. Wonderful stuff.

And if you prefer books to the web, the best poly book I've run into is _The Ethical Slut_, from Greenery Press. Not only is it a good introduction to poly, but the authors have drawn from their own and their friends' experiences to give you some of the best jealousy-coping mechanisms that I've ever heard of -- techniques that could easily be as useful in monogamy as in poly. Highly, highly recommended.

So what is poly? Well, you'll get different definitions depending on who you ask, so I'll just give you my current quick definition -- polyamory is the idea of multiple loves, specifically, multiple romantic loves. If you're poly, you believe that it is possible to love more than one person at a time, with complete and utter honesty and openness. You may or may not choose to then be sexual with multiple partners. Degrees of commitment/involvment with multiple partners may vary quite a bit, and there are many different models that people try to work within. But the essential heart of polyamory is honestly loving more than one person at a time. That's the ideal -- the practice is quite a bit more complicated (and often more difficult).

So no, I'm not going to spill all the details of my love life -- this isn't a gossip column, after all. :-) But I am involved with multiple people, and I have been for many years now, and I don't expect that to change anytime soon.

What's wrong with monogamy? Well, it doesn't work for me. Please note the 'for me' in the previous sentence -- I know many people who are perfectly happy being monogamous, and I think that's wonderful. Just as one can be bisexual and believe that some people are completely gay or completely straight, one can be poly and know that some people are really happiest in monogamous relationships. I'm not out to convert anyone -- monogamy just isn't my thing.

Isn't poly just another word for cheating? No. Absolutely not. In a poly situation, everyone is completely aware of everything that's going on (or at the very least, as aware as they say they want to be. I'm not very comfortable with less than full disclosure, but some people say they don't really want to hear the details, and that's up to them to decide.)

Is poly the same as swinging? Well, that's closer. People argue a lot about that one, but the difference I see is that in swinging, the sex is essential and love outside the primary partnership is generally not acceptable (though friendship sometimes is, and I imagine swinging could be a very comfortable place for people who want to open their relationship to a certain level and no further). In poly, sex is optional and love is (at least theoretically) always welcome. There are a lot of grey areas, of course, and many differences in definition, but I certainly wouldn't call myself a swinger -- the ethos is different.

Why be poly? There are probably as many reasons for that as there are people practicing it. I'm poly because I find the lines that society draws between friendship and romantic relationships to be largely arbitrary and strange ('okay, I can hug this person, but not kiss them? oh, I can kiss them on the cheek, but not the lips? well, a dry peck on the lips is okay, but nothing else...' or even 'well, it's okay if you fall in love with them, but don't touch them!' or 'I don't care if you sleep with her as long as you only love me...'), and because I keep falling in love with people.

When I love someone, I want to express that love, in whatever way feels appropriate. And I want the people I love to be able to do the same. It feels natural to me -- it feels right. And sure, sometimes it's difficult -- I'm not immune to insecurity or jealousy...but for me, it's been worth it.

That's probably enough for now. I hate having to say this, but experience has made it clear I must -- please don't assume that just because I'm poly (and bi), that I am undiscriminating in my affections, or available to anyone who asks. I'm not.

I used to host the Bay Area poly support group, but I travel so much these days that that became unfeasible. I don't know if there's currently a support group in the area.

I'm sorry if this all seems a bit dry and removed. To be honest, it's rather frightening coming out like this on the web, where friends and strangers and family and family friends can see. But if I want to help make the world a safer place for polyamorous people and their families, I think coming out is necessary and tremendously important.

- Mary Anne

Here's a somewhat more light-hearted take on poly (you might consider it a reward for having read through all of the above. :-)