Poly Pocket: Gray Ace, Bi & Poly

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.

Linh is a 22-year-old Vietnamese-American women who is bisexual, gray ace, and poly, and lives in the Bay Area. She is in one long-term committed relationship and is casually dating around with the hopes of finding other long-term partners, and works as a full-time content creator for a tech startup by day, writer of fiction and personal essays by night.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.


Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?

Linh: The first time I started exploring polyamory was when I was technically someone’s secondary partner. It was really strange because I went from being a serial monogamist to becoming someone’s secondary partner. It was such a drastic change and it really hurt my self-esteem I think. I don’t think I was emotionally ready to be in that position, and my partner lived really far away and didn’t deserve to deal with my jealousies and issues, so I decided to end that relationship.

It’s not all sad, though. That relationship sparked some discussion of polyamory in my current relationship. I realized that polyamory was perfect for me, but only when I felt ready for it (which I did and do with my current partner).

Carolyn: What was that initial discussion in your current relationship like? Was there a catalyst for it?

Linh: I had started hanging out with my current boyfriend near the end of that initial relationship so he knew that my ex-partner was polyamorous. That kicked off the conversation because he had never heard of polyamory before. We were also talking about our sexualities and he basically wondered if I felt stifled never having had long-term relationships with women (or much experience, really, outside of my first poly relationship). We loved each other, but he didn’t want me to feel like I couldn’t date and fall in love with women just because I was with him. It was a really open, honest, and vulnerable conversation and I was scared because I hear about how bisexual women are stigmatized and objectified, but my boyfriend never made me feel like that. I’m glad I’m exploring polyamory with him!

Carolyn: That’s such a great reaction! How long ago was that? How have things evolved since?

Linh: It’s been around a year now! We opened up our relationship summer of 2015 and it’s been great! Jealousy isn’t really an issue with the two of us so we’ll talk openly about dates and crushes and it’s totally fine. Once in a while I’ll go on a date that, after I tell him how it goes, he’ll tell me it made him uncomfortable and so we’ll talk about why and come up with rules from there. The way we go about evolving our poly relationship is really organic in that way.

As for how dating is going for me personally, it’s been tough to: (a) find queer women to date (though Tinder helps) and (b) find queer women who aren’t looking for a threesome buddy. I’ve met plenty of cool people, but haven’t really had a connection with most so I can’t say I’ve found another partner yet. Being gray ace and an introvert makes it tough for me to find people I click with romantically and sexually so it’s probably gonna take a while before I find another partner haha. It’s been fun, though!

Carolyn: What reasons might there be for developing a new rule? What sort of negotiations take place around them?

Linh: Well, mostly it’s from things that we can’t predict! For example, I went on a date with this woman once and it went pretty well. However, near the end I somehow suddenly ended up hanging out with both her boyfriend and her (I think I was walking her to her car, but then it turned out her boyfriend was there and was expecting to meet me). It made me feel weird because, to me, that’s like if you brought a close family member or your best friend on a first date — it’s just awkward. My boyfriend was uncomfortable because he felt like it wasn’t a date with me and one other person, but rather a date with a couple which is something we never thought to discuss before. From then on, we decided that going on dates with couples, intentionally or unintentionally, was a no-no.

Basically, if someone feels like something’s fishy or weird, then that person’s feelings have to be first priority and decisions are made accordingly. It’s been working out for us so far because we generally have the same vibes given the same situation.

“Basically, if someone feels like something’s fishy or weird, then that person’s feelings have to be first priority.”

Carolyn: How does your relationship shift in any other ways when you date or crush on someone new?

Linh: It involves a lot of playful teasing and advice-giving! We both get super flustered with new crushes (as most people do!) and I find it super cute to see him in that phase again, and I know he finds it charming when I’m all blushy and crushy too. It adds a new layer of excitement to our relationship. Similar to how your best friend would be super excited to hear you have a crush on the local Starbucks barista.

He has a lot more experience flirting with women than I do, so I always ask him for advice on, say, response texts or asking women out. He also comes to me when he wants a second pair of eyes at a flirty message, too.

Carolyn: I love that kind of compersion! What’s the best part? What sometimes feels like a struggle?

Linh: The best part isn’t even the dating, tbh. The best part is feeling open and honest with my best friend/lover! In a different relationship, I can imagine feeling this inner turmoil of never getting to explore my queer identity and further digging myself into this hole of feeling “not queer enough,” all because I’d primarily been in heteronormative relationships and am generally femme-presenting. Being poly with my boyfriend makes me feel like myself in a truly indescribable way.

The struggle is the dating lol.

Like I mentioned before, I’m gray ace and introverted so it takes a while for me to open up to people and it’s hard to even be attracted to people. I think I was a serial monogamist before because once I fall for someone, I fall hard — there’s really no in-between for me. It’s super rare, that’s all. Tinder’s great for helping me find queer girls to date, but it’s a terrible way for me to find someone I could be attracted to so it’s all been a real hit-or-miss for me.

And this is a cliche poly answer for a reason, but the other trouble is time. On top of spending time with my boyfriend, I have lots of side hobbies and family and friends I’d like to spend time with so spreading time between it all is already hard as it is. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to meet up with a stranger who I may or may not hit it off with.

Carolyn: Time management is such a real problem though! When I was first learning about poly I read a lot of things that distill to “infinite love, finite time,” and nothing about that has changed over the years. Do you have any boundaries with how you spend your time, or any ways of managing it across all types of relationships?

Linh: “Infinite love, finite time” describes it perfectly!

I wish I had a more concrete answer to your question, but I don’t think I’ve progressed far enough in my other poly relationships to know the boundaries that will have to be set. So far, all of our rules have been pretty organic so I imagine when the time comes, the boundaries set will come about organically as well.

Carolyn: Above you alluded to something you’ve spoken about a lot on Twitter: the intersection of your queer, Asian-American, femme and gray-ace identities. Where does poly intersect with these?

Linh: I think the idea that all of these identities exist in a single person is all at once radical and stereotypical. For a long time, I was afraid I was living out a stereotype. I was afraid I was a “greedy” bisexual, greedy in the sense that I’m poly. Asian/Asian-American women are sexualized and fetishized as is, so my “greedy bisexual” identity made me feel like I was a “bad queer,” someone who took away from the community more than I could ever possibly give to it. I felt like my identity was false, even though I knew it was my truth.

It took me a while to see my identity as not a stereotypical one, but a radical one. It’s one thing to think bisexuals are “greedy” and that Asian-American women are sex objects. But it’s another to accept that a bisexual, poly, Asian-American woman exists and is in full control of her own sexual and ethnic identity. Being queer, Asian-American, femme, and gray ace — this is my identity and I get to choose that that means to me. Not anybody else. My identity isn’t any less of a queer identity because somebody out there decided to take it and twist it into something else. My identity, and all of its intersections, is just one of the many beautiful identities that exists. And they are all just as valid as any other.

“I felt like my identity was false, even though I knew it was my truth. It took me a while to see my identity as not a stereotypical one, but a radical one.”

I’d like to touch on being gray ace and poly for a second. When people think of polyamory, they usually imagine a huge orgy or someone who’s having sex with a lot of people. In my case, that’s not what’s happening at all (power to the people living their lives like this, though! It’s just not for me). I just know in my heart that I am capable and willing to love more than one person — sex or no sex. I’ve already felt this love for some of my friends while I was in perfectly happy relationships before. I thought it was platonic love before, but looking back now, I’m confident that it was romantic love. None of it escalated to sex, but I was happy regardless with our relationship. Not all poly people are in it for the sex. When I say I am capable of loving more than one person, I really do mean it. Just love would be enough for me.

Carolyn: That is really beautiful! …That is geeky but it’s also true. What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working toward or hoping for?

Linh: Ideally I’d be in a triad with my boyfriend and another woman and we’d be a happy little family! It’d be cool if we were all in love with each other, but if my boyfriend and partner were just good friends I’d be perfectly happy with that too ☺️

Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Consultant, and was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor, for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 941 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. This is interesting! The Poly relationship setup doesn’t appeal to me at all, but I still like knowing about people’s experiences of it, be it a past one or very much present and constant one. If it works for people, then great! While there seems to be elements wrapped up in stereotypes that Linh experiences being all these identities, she seems overall quite comfortable in herself despite this (hope I’m not misreading/projecting that). Despite some cons, I read this interview as rather positive re: the whole subject matter. The ethnicity part combined was quite interesting too, as I don’t think I’ve read too many personal stories like this. I read plenty of poly stories of course, but not many with Asian women specifically.

    I’m bisexual, but not out, because being an Asian female feels tireing enough for me to deal with as a label (for all the reasons Linh mentioned: Asian being a fetish, and either seen as a dirty sexual object to males, or in odd contrast, a precious and utterly non sexual object to males) with then having to contend with the super duper bisexual cons/stereotpyes in addition as well. It’s just an exhausiting number of misunderstandings/prejudices to argue all the time, so I’ve just tried to reduce the annoyance by just contending with the ignorance about my ethnicity (as that is as obvious as day to all people I come across, whereas my sexuality is more like pitch black night).

    Being Asian in a Western world (as I live in Europe) is annoying enough to navigate with males, so I don’t add to it with women (esp as I know what some straight women think of Asian men as relationship prospects, so just equiv the thought process of what bi/lesbian women may think of to Asian women. While plenty of Western males have relationships (or just sex) with Asian females, I hardly ever see/know of it IRL in reverse, so the bi/lesbian female pool (if I were to come out) seems an even smaller group of people when I factor in my ethnicity as an non-starter. I know far more mixed raced couples with this W:M & A:F ratio, and while it’s prob just a coincidence, it’s a rather regular one that has lasted my entire life. In the US/Canada its perhaps different, as you’re so populated with different nationalities that maybe there isn’t as much outnumbereing with XvsX or cultural skews. The prospect of coming out as bi seems an additionally invisible one as being Asian. Of course my own experience doesn’t point to real world figures, but of course you live by how you walk through the world, and this is my experience so far. Therefore it’s really good and interesting to read things like this where examples are real, out there and seemingly happy.

  2. this is a great interview! i really like what linh adds about romantic vs platonic relationships, and how sex is not necessarily a factor in that distinction. i also love how she & her partner give each other flirting tips — so great!

    i will admit that i feel some discomfort around poly women who have a boyf and explicitly indicate they are looking to date a woman. i totally recognize that it sounds like for linh, it’s an organic exploration of her sexuality, and that sounds valid. but when i’ve been approached by poly women who tell me they have a boyf and want to start dating a woman, it makes me (a queer poly lady who dates around) feel like i need to perform a version of my gender, stick to a specific relationship style, and generally feel used.

    • ugh, i’m so sorry to hear that you’ve felt used in the past. that suuucks. i honestly fall squarely into the category you’ve described, and sincerely hope i’ve never left anyone feeling that way… if you’re interested in sharing, i’d love to hear more about your experiences and how people like me can help keep it from happening!

    • I feel that way sometimes too. I don’t date women who have a “one penis policy” with their existing male partner (that is, the agreement is that she only dates women, not men, while the straight guy also dates women). It feels like an invalidation of the potential of our relationship if it’s somehow unthreatening when a m/f relationship would be threatening. I’ve heard probably every justification there is for gender-based rules but I still don’t want to participate when they’re in play.

      • When I was in a relationship with a man, I very much wanted to avoid the stereotypes about non-monogamous bi women with boyfriends. Although I did date other guys some, I didn’t pursue relationships with women in part because of those stereotypes and feeling like queer women would inevitably be hurt by my having a boyfriend.

        I very much agree with the above comments about being uncomfortable with one-penis-policies, and I think some of my desire to aggressively avoid stereotypes about poly bi women comes from that.

        I’m so glad we have a space to have this conversation!!

      • I’m curious about this, since it’s something I’m exploring with my male partner at the moment. I see and agree with the discomfort around “one-penis policies,” but I’m also in a place where I’m not particularly interested in more cis-male partners, though if I developed an interest that could be fine. I’m curious how that comes across….

        • @loufish Just happened to see your comment now when looking back at my recent-ish comments. I can’t tell from your comment whether your partner wants a “one-penis policy” or if you are just more interested in additional partners who are not cis-males. If it’s all a matter of who you are interested in, then having a strict “one-penis policy” might not make a lot of sense, and you can choose not to date any cis-males unless another one comes along who you develop an interested in. Not sure if this is still relevant…

  3. Another great article! Thank you for sharing a little part of your life, Linh!

    I especially appreciated this part:
    “Being queer, Asian-American, femme, and gray ace — this is my identity and I get to choose that that means to me. Not anybody else. My identity isn’t any less of a queer identity because somebody out there decided to take it and twist it into something else. My identity, and all of its intersections, is just one of the many beautiful identities that exists. And they are all just as valid as any other.”

    I’m still coming to terms with various parts of my identity and how they all intersect, but this statement felt like a big OOO-RAH to my sense of self, so thanks for that. <3

  4. Awesome interview! I especially liked the thoughts on identity.

    “But it’s another to accept that a bisexual, poly, Asian-American woman exists and is in full control of her own sexual and ethnic identity.” Rock on!

  5. I just know in my heart that I am capable and willing to love more than one person — sex or no sex. I’ve already felt this love for some of my friends while I was in perfectly happy relationships before. I thought it was platonic love before, but looking back now, I’m confident that it was romantic love. None of it escalated to sex, but I was happy regardless with our relationship. Not all poly people are in it for the sex. When I say I am capable of loving more than one person, I really do mean it. Just love would be enough for me.

    ♥♥!! This was my EXACT thought process when I started questioning about polyamory a while back. I’ve never actually explored it for various reasons and don’t know if I ever will, but all of this… just makes so much sense to me. We can love multiple friends or children etc. without feeling that it takes something away from any one of them, so why is the prevailing idea around romantic love any different?

  6. Ohh wow . . . I’m going to have to think through this and return to this interview and Linh’s writing, but it is hugely affirming to see someone who identifies as Grace Ace and Bi describing their experiences. I totally identify with experiencing romantic attraction to friends with or without a desire for sex. I guess my mind is caught in the combination of being romantically attracted to a variety of people but sexually attracted to a very select few. That’s what I’ve experienced, and it can be tough to put into words. So, thanks!

  7. Carolyn and Linh, thank you! This interview and this whole series are amazing.

    It’s so great reading about other folks who are grey-ace and poly. When I was introduced to poly, grey-ace was the stumbling block I tripped over repeatedly (and sometimes still do). For me, experiencing attraction so rarely made it even more difficult to drop the scarcity model of love. But recognizing that I’ve always considered my “platonic” friendships as deeper and more significant love relationships than my romantic ones was what opened the door.

    It’s so nice to read about someone else standing at my identity intersection!

  8. So I’ve been reading this series because I wanted to read more about poly relationships from the perspectives of people in them. I didn’t expect this series to make me feel more safe and secure in my monogamy (cuz, you know, that’s not the point of this series at all). Like, I feel pressure sometimes, feeling like monogamy is less “enlightened”, less “true to human nature”, more mired in patriarchy, too “codependent”, and so on. But the way you all talk about your poly relationships-the love and the communication and the working together-that’s what my monogamous relationship is like too. And it’s so validating hearing those things spoken of as the important things in this way, with the focus being on what works for you and your partners. So thank you? Thank you for helping me feel free of society’s expectations in this way? For reminding me of the common core of any relationship structure?

  9. I love love love this interview!
    Hearing the perspective of another grey-ace bisexual is really really amazing? lovely? I can’t even think of the right adjective, but it means so much to me. Thank you so much, Carolyn and Linh!!!

  10. This overlaps a lot with my experience, too! (poly, bi, in a longterm relationship, dating women to find more love in whatever form)

    Thanks for sharing. You have such an eloquent explanation of how your identities intersect and how society interprets those identities. <3

    Love this column. LOVE IT.

  11. “I think I was a serial monogamist before because once I fall for someone, I fall hard — there’s really no in-between for me.” This definitely resonated with me, because I work sorta similarly in an emotional sense, though for me it hasn’t resulted in serial monogamy but rather very little dating at all!

    I’ve just started college (also in the Bay Area, high five!) and I’m still trying to figure out how dating works for me, and sometimes it seems impossible to even start.

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