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.
Lazarus Letcher is a 24-year-old Black kid with a white mom, is non-binary trans/genderqueer, and is queerly flying solo through poly life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They are currently balancing dating, finishing up grad school with a focus on Black liberation movements and decolonial queer studies, playing viola and singing with cutie queer folk band Eileen & the In-Betweens, and working as a sex educator/dildo slinger at Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Carolyn: So when did you start to explore polyamory?
Lazarus: About three years ago. I was single for the first time in a long time, and was looking forward to making new types of relationships and connections. I had realized during my last monogamous relationship that when I was dating someone I felt this obligation to devote all of my love and emotional support to that one person. My friendships always suffered when I was in a relationship, even long distance ones. I realize now that the model of love and relationship I had absorbed was one rooted in capitalism. I thought that there was only so much love available to give, a scarcity of emotions, and that because of that they all had to be devoted to one special person in my life. Any love I spent outside of my homonormative couplet felt like cheating to me. It was also around this time that I just began to question the shit out of everything, and myself. I realized that I had not really allowed myself to imagine a future that wasn’t centered on having a career, a partner, and kids. I also realized I didn’t have to be a woman. For me, my polyamory journey is deeply connected with stepping into my gender and myself.
I started dating a true gem of a human after I’d decided I wanted my next relationship to be poly. They had been poly since they were 16, and it was really nice to have my first non-monogamous relationship be with someone who had experience and just some dope ass communication skills. I realized I had never explicitly asked for what I wanted in a relationship until I was poly. It was the first time I felt like I could be fully myself in a relationship. Expressing attraction or adoration for others wasn’t grounds for terminating our relationship. I could love and be loved in return with no shame or guilt.
“I had never explicitly asked for what I wanted in a relationship until I was poly. It was the first time I felt like I could be fully myself in a relationship … I could love and be loved in return with no shame or guilt.”
Carolyn: What is your relationship situation like now?
Lazarus: I just pretty recently started officially dating someone. The relationship is really my ideal poly situation. I’ve known them for awhile because the queer universe is a tiny fishpond no matter where you live. We struck up a really natural friendship that blossomed into play partners that turned into feelings which now leaves us as two giddy teens dating. We’re both in the kink community and play with others and have other relationships that beautifully blur the line of friend/lover. They live with an intentional community, and I’m really excited to explore the kinship potential that first attracted me to polyamory.
Carolyn: What kind of kink dynamics are at play? Do they influence your poly dynamics at all?
Lazarus: I’ve been pretty switchy my whole life, and my appetite in giving and receiving pleasure has really transformed since I started testosterone. This winter solstice will be my one year anniversary of second puberty, and over the course of this year I feel like I’ve suddenly been present for the first time in my body since I was a kid. I view kink as a way to explore and love this new body that’s entirely my creation. I tend to be on the submissive side of things more, which feels radical to me as a queer person of color. Being Black in the kink world is kind of like being Black everywhere else, I’m just waiting for someone to say something fucked up. I’ve heard stories from friends about being propositioned to be involved in “historically accurate” slave situations with white men, and that’s a really fucking hard limit for me.
I do identify as a submissive and my white partner is a service top. While it may not seem this way, I find that choosing to submit, choosing to let my body receive, being ultimately in control of my pleasure, is radical. I think our kink dynamic does impact our relationship in a really great way. The communication that’s necessary to play is a great model for everyday interactions. Consent, checking in, asking what someone’s desires are, these are all marvey things that can benefit any type of relationship.
“I find that choosing to submit, choosing to let my body receive, being ultimately in control of my pleasure, is radical.”
Carolyn: Have any specific communication strategies been particularly successful (or not) for you? Why/why not?
Lazarus: I’ve tried a few. I’m embarrassed to admit for how long I bought into so many romance myths (I’m gonna go ahead and blame young adult novels). I think the most dangerous myth I believed in was that if someone loved me they should be able to read my mind. That is just a fucking nutter butters presumption. It’s taken a lot of work to be able to articulate what my needs are, and that’s a really huge first step in communication. I’ve also learned that once I’ve processed something that’s bothering me, it’s better to share it than let it simmer for months and fester into something much worse. Fear of hurting someone is legitimate, but I’ve found that delaying the news helps no one.
Consistent check-ins have been the most helpful. In my first poly relationship we’d try to catch each other up on what our goals for the relationship were, what we appreciated about each other, and what we’d want to work on as a unit every few months. The goal was to preempt a backlog of resentment essentially, and just get everything out there. I’m a super anxious person, especially when it comes to communication, and going into a serious talk with an idea about the structure is extremely helpful for me.
Carolyn: How do you negotiate conflict? How do you negotiate change?
Lazarus: In most of my poly relationships thus far I’ve been a play partner or “special friend” to married folks. In these situations I’d say I have not handled conflict well, and I think it has to do with my resistance to hierarchal relationships that just seem inevitable if you’re dating someone married.
The conflicts I struggle with the most center around being Black in this polysphere. I was playing with/seeing a white person when Terence Crutcher got murdered and their inability to even grasp, or begin to grasp, the terror I felt completely shut me down. In that situation I just ghosted rather than deal with white tears. It feels strange talking about love and relationships in a time like this — with the powerful Indigenous-led resistance at Standing Rock, the deadliest year for trans folks on record, and the election of Trump, and I am honestly struggling to feel compassion for white folks right now, a conflict that I anticipate in a lot of my relationships.
About six months ago I ended my first long term poly relationship, and that change was hard. In addition to our relationship ending, the quad we were in changed drastically. It was a situation where I had realized my needs and not articulated them until I ended up hurting a lot of people, which I regret immensely. I’m still close with everyone in the quad, and some folks are still dating, but the reconfiguration of this web of relationships, with absolutely no fucking model for what that looks like, has been hard.
“I envision a future where I can reopen my heart, and fight for a world where I’m not scared to leave my apartment with all of my identities intact. My dream world and future is one with less fear and more vulnerability.”
Carolyn: With no models, where do you turn for advice or support?
Lazarus: I am extremely lucky to work at a business that is not only totally accepting of every facet of my identity including polyamory, but is also a hub for the local poly community. Albuquerque has a fairly sizeable poly and kink community. I have folks in my life who have been poly for decades and hearing how they’ve navigated life and the law has been fascinating. I still haven’t told my family, what better way than a very public article? Almost everyone in my friend circle practices some type of non-monogamy. Having no model can be scary, but also extraordinarily liberating. Making, creating, and nurturing relationships, in a way that aren’t just regurgitating the heteropatriarchal settler colonial white supremacist holy of holy couple, is amazing.
Carolyn: Where does poly intersect with other elements of your identity? How does it function within your understanding of yourself?
Lazarus: I think my poly identity fits in neatly with my identity as a radical anti-racist decolonial sex-positive Black trans queer. I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to undo a lot of damage. I’m trying to interrogate the aspects of my life and identity that are the results of oppression, or that perpetuate oppression. For me polyamory is an aspect of this. I view polyamory as a structure that’s helpful in me decolonizing my love life and the way I view relationships. Having complete ownership of everything within the borders of my skin, and doing what I desire with it and with whom, is an incredible “fuck you” to the systems of oppression I seek to dismantle (and a fun one!). Allowing myself to love fully and completely has helped me foster compassion and empathy in ways I never anticipated, and I think these are two key parts of being an effective organizer or activist. The ability to love openly and fiercely, especially in times like this.
It also has enabled to see myself as a part of a larger web of things, not just in transit from one family unit to another. An alternative kinship without discrimination.
Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working towards or hoping for?
Lazarus: Uff da, what do I want my future to look like? Open and loving. Growing up in the rural Midwest, Black, queer, trans and scared, I felt isolated. I’ve worked hard to open up my heart, but right now it seems really hard to articulate what my future might look like. I’m fighting for my life on stolen land. A banner reading “Whites Only” was hung on a business down the street from me. I envision a future where I can reopen my heart, and fight for a world where I’m not scared to leave my apartment with all of my identities intact. My dream world and future is one with less fear and more vulnerability. I think the support networks I’ve found during my time as a poly person exist in a lot of queer spaces, the notion of chosen family is new to no one on the margin. I don’t know if I want kids of my own, but I would love to take part in helping raise kids in a poly scenario. My vision is for all of us to find love, inside or outside of the models presented to us.
“I think the most dangerous myth I believed in was that if someone loved me they should be able to read my mind. That is just a fucking nutter butters presumption. It’s taken a lot of work to be able to articulate what my needs are, and that’s a really huge first step in communication.”
<3 <3 <3
(particularly "nutter butters presumption" but the other stuff is excellent too!)
Hah! I was going to say the same thing. So so true.
I’ve never tried poly and I don’t know if it’s right for me, and anyways that is a question for fortune-tellers because I am Perpetually Single, but I am totally enamored with this series. The self-awareness and self-confidence and brave uncertainty and the radical love oozes out of these interviews, and particularly this one. It has sort of the opposite effect on me-it makes me feel more uncertain and insecure, but I love reading it. These glimpses I get into people’s lives that are so unlike mine gives me so much space for thinking about how I want to live. Thanks.