Feature photo of Tyler by Morgan Phillips.
When there aren’t any models for how you want to move through the world, it’s harder to move through the world. There’s no one right way to do ethical non-monogamy, just as there’s no one right way to do ethical monogamy, and no way is better or worse than any other, just better or worse for those involved. Poly Pocket looks at all the ways queer people do polyamory: what it looks like, how we think about it, how it functions (or doesn’t), how it feels, because when you don’t have models you have to create your own.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?
Tyler: Well, I don’t think I’ve ever really been monogamous. I had a very queer adolescence. I went to an art high school and hung out primarily with other queer kids and punks, I had a handful of friends I used to mess around with, but never dated anyone seriously until I got out of my abusive parents’ house.
I guess I was introduced to the term when I was like 18 and my sister, who’s nine years older than I am, was exploring it. I read The Ethical Slut, which was problematic as fuck, but still insightful for me then. I thought, yeah, that fits and that’s just been my life ever since.
Carolyn: When you started to date people seriously, what did that look like?
Tyler: I was single for a good long while, like, just me and the occasional hookup for a couple years. I fell in love with a few people I’d been close to, but things didn’t work out for a lot of different reasons. I’m actually in my longest-term relationship right now. My partner Abby and I have been together for just over a year.
Carolyn: Aw rad! How did that relationship start?
Tyler: Oh, I love this story! We met when my sister, Jamie, was visiting Baltimore last May and we were walking to one of my favorite bookstores in town, Atomic Books, which has a bar in the back. We saw this gaggle of queers coming from the other direction and Abby recognized Jamie. We all headed to the bar and started hanging out. Abby told me later that she only stuck around because she thought Jamie’s sister was cute! We hung out as friends that summer a little bit, but we started working on a two-night queer variety show together called the Charm City Kitty Club. Our theme for our sketches that season was parodying all the Shondaland shows, but mostly Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. I played this Sarah Palin-esque character called Senator Vile whose husband was just murdered and Abby played my secret girlfriend, Katherine Knipp. So, at the end of the show, my character confesses that she’s gay and loves her girlfriend. We kissed for the first time onstage and on the second night, I improvised and asked her to gay marry me in character.
Carolyn: You’re dating multiple people: How did those relationships come about? How does everything fit together?
Tyler: Right now, I’m dating two people, Abby, who lives in Baltimore, and Magpie, who lives in Seattle. I have a few make out buddies and friends with benefits, too. I tour a fair bit as a writer and performer, so I meet some awesome people on the road and sometimes I sleep with them.
Magpie and I started dating when we were in New York City for a week long all trans women summer fiction writing workshop put on by my publisher, Topside Press in August. We were making eyes at each other for the first couple days and then everybody came over to my publisher Tom’s apartment in Flatbush where I was staying for a meeting to figure out the future of the workshop. We were all partying before it and Magpie and I started getting cozy. They were so shy that they, like, started to ask me for a kiss and then stopped mid-sentence, so I was like, “is it a kiss you want?” and she nodded her head. Then we took a walk down to this little Caribbean spot on the corner and got some plantains and made out instead of eating them. We went back for the meeting, and after the meeting, Tom moved the party into his room so Magpie and I could have sex on an air mattress in the living room.
It was intense, I thought it was just going to be a hookup, but we talked and said we really liked each other and we wanted to keep this going, so we video chat every now and then.
“‘Hey, can we check in about something?’ is one of my favorite questions. It’s open-ended and gentle, but firm. It gets to the point without hitting anyone over the head.”
Carolyn: Do you find that a long-distance poly relationship poly has any stand-out perks or drawbacks?
Tyler: It’s low-maintence, for sure. Of course, I wish I could see them more often, but I mean, we’re poor and live on opposite coasts, so this is how it works and it’s been good so far.
Carolyn: What’s your relationship with your metamours like?
Tyler: In general, I like to know my metamours. I don’t have to love them or have sex with them, but at the very least, I want to know that we’re all treating the same person with the love and respect they deserve. I watch Abby’s other girlfriend Erin’s five-year-old son sometimes, Abby’s boyfriend Brad drove me to the vet and held me the day my cat died.
Carolyn: How much do you share between partners?
Tyler: A fair bit. I mean, I let partners know who I’ve had sex with recently or who I’m going to have sex with just as a safety thing. A lot of the time it’s just, hey, I had a really good time with this person and here’s what we did, how’s your other person? If there’s an issue with another partner, I’ll vent to the person I’m with if I need to and the person I’m with can always talk to me about their stuff.
Carolyn: Within your relationships, how do you negotiate conflict? How do you negotiate change?
Tyler: I try to be as direct as possible and tell people exactly how I’m feeling and check in to see what they need. I really don’t have time or energy to mince words or let things go unsaid.
“Hey, can we check in about something?” is one of my favorite questions. It’s open-ended and gentle, but firm. It gets to the point without hitting anyone over the head. I prefer to have those conversations in person or at least on video chat so I can see and hear where the other person is coming from. If it’s a longer conversation, we make time to hang out and just talk about that thing for however long we need. I want all of my lovers and friends to feel comfortable bringing up issues and I do my best to make sure that they feel heard and not attacked when I bring up an issue.
Carolyn: I love that approach! What about poly is a struggle for you? What about it is most exciting?
Tyler: Poly comes naturally to me in a lot of ways, so I don’t really think of it as struggle. Every once in a while, I get a crush on a monogamous person and that can kind of be a bummer for a minute. But again, I check in with them and make sure that we’re on the same page. I’ve talked to friends where we’re both attracted to each other, but they’re in or want a monogamous relationship. There’s no use convincing anyone to be poly. I can say, “Hey, you might want to talk to your partner about that,” or, “Would you be cool trying it out for a bit?” but I would never say that poly is right and good and monogamy is bad and wrong, because that’s not true. The problem isn’t monogamy itself, it’s compulsory monogamy, the culturally enforced system that says “one man, one woman.” If monogamy works for you, that’s so awesome and I’m really happy for you. If it doesn’t, renegotiate it.
“I find a lot of joy in acknowledging all the ways I’m attracted to my friends and lovers and all the ways they’re attracted to me.”
Carolyn: Where does poly intersect with other elements of your identity? How does it function within your understanding of yourself?
Tyler: A lot, maybe even most of my queer, trans and two-spirit friends are poly, so polyamory and queerness are pretty much inseparable for me in practice. I realize it might not be that way for everyone, but I find a lot of joy in acknowledging all the ways I’m attracted to my friends and lovers and all the ways they’re attracted to me. Not all of them are sexual, in fact, I think it’s part of why I celebrate non-sexual attraction as much as sexual attraction. It’s not all roses, though, I was sexually assaulted back in May by someone who I considered a friend. So, as a survivor, it’s taken time and effort to get back to a place where I can hookup with friends again. I’m most people’s introduction to loving someone with a visible physical disability. There’s a cultural expectation that if you’re dating a disabled person, you’re their sole caretaker. I’m bucking that by having lots of friends and lovers and making sure none of them fall into a caretaker role.
Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working towards or hoping for?
Tyler: I mean, with Trump getting elected, I’m hoping I survive the Mad Max thunder dome by this time next year. In all seriousness, the future I want isn’t some queer utopia where everybody’s poly, there are orgies every weekend, and everybody loves each other. That’d be cool, but realistically, I just want to keep dating people as long as it’s healthy for me, I want to grow old, maybe care for kids, and keep publishing books, making music and performing. I’d also like to live in an anarcho-communist future, but a girl can dream.