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.
Zevran is a 23-year-old non-binary queer black African polyamorous human living in Poland. “Zevran” is a pseudonym.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?
Zevran: My journey began when I was 19. I started with ethical non-monogamy, where I had a partner but was casually dating other people, and then a year ago I began to identify as polyamorous where no relationship hierarchy exists.
Right now, I have a girlfriend who I love deeply. She lives with her boyfriend. We’ve been together for a few months now. We all identify as poly and kinky and the V has no hierarchy and third-party veto (that’s what we are striving for for whatever constellation may arise). I can date or hook up with other people but after I inform my partner, not for permission but for a head’s up. I’ve met my metamour, we are on friendly terms, and since we are interested in similar things we often end up going to events as a trio.
Carolyn: What about non-heirarchial poly feels right to you?
Zevran: That was part of our negotiations before the relationship started. We all felt that since there are already so many layers and dynamics in our relationships, adding even more layers would complicate things. Personally I decided to choose such a relationship because I like to let my emotions and relationships develop organically.
In terms of those layers, my girlfriend and her boyfriend are also in a Daddy Dom/little girl relationship and they live together. My girlfriend and I also have a Dominant/submissive dynamic where we are both switches with each other.
“It’s important to ensure that no partner is treated unfairly and also to not be a complete asshole.”
Carolyn: What impact do your kink dynamics have on your poly dynamics?
Zevran: I like to joke that they make for very unusual conversations between the three of us. But generally it means that we have to be more conscious and aware of boundaries and work extra hard to find a balance.
I’ll give an example. They have a dynamic where she must ask for permission before doing something or face enforcement of a curfew and orgasm denial as punishment. That obviously posed a big problem in my relationship with her. So we have to work around that and make sure the kink stuff from one relationship doesn’t limit the other relationships.
Carolyn: How did you negotiate that? What did you decide on together?
Zevran: The basic thing we agreed on was that no relationship or partner is more important, no matter how many people each of us is with. We all make our comfort levels and boundaries clear and try to be considerate. I talked to them about the things I wasn’t happy with and we made a plan. Namely: no giving tasks that eat into another partner’s time. When she’s with me their dynamics and rules don’t apply. Basically I’m with her, not daddy’s little girl. The same will apply to all other partners.
Carolyn: How do you negotiate conflict?
Zevran: We respectfully voice our complaints then talk about it and find a way forward. Luckily we have a local poly support group, too. Sometimes they end in tears or total disagreement but so far we haven’t gotten something we haven’t been able to work through or around.
Carolyn: Earlier, you wrote, “I believe that honesty and clear communication is key. Compromise, being considerate and willingness to renegotiate can be helpful, especially when conflicts arise. It’s important to ensure that no partner is treated unfairly and also to not be a complete asshole, as applies to everything in general.” Was there a time when someone was treated unfairly? How was that resolved?
Zevran: That happened plenty of times during the beginning of our relationship when we were still trying to adjust ourselves to the situation. Boundaries were crossed, there was a time when it got so bad we were considering ending things or at the very least taking a break. I don’t want to get into specifics but it was tough on all of us.
What I did was talk to a lot of people more experienced than me — on fetlife or from the support group and my therapist is also very poly and kink friendly. Then we sat down and discussed the issues that were troubling us, and then negotiated.
I learned that there is no ideal way or correct way of doing poly. Sometimes what works perfectly in theory might fail miserably in practice. It’s important to know exactly what you want and accept that mistakes will be made, so how you resolve them is important.
Carolyn: How out are you about being poly?
Zevran: My friends and siblings know that I’m poly. Anyone who pays close attention on Facebook knows I’m non-monogamous, so I guess my mum knows, too, it’s just never come up in conversation. I’ve never announced it but it’s no secret, either. What I wish is that it wasn’t such a big deal. It gets exhausting.
In terms of queerness, my family and friends try to adjust themselves to the situation. My queerness is something they have accepted. But my family is mostly in Kenya and maybe that works in my favour; my close family has only met my partners through the years via Skype. So being from a society where “What would people say?” holds a lot of water, my not being there for societal comment makes it easier for my close family to accept and support me. And I’m far enough away from those who would give me shit about it.
“There is no ideal way or correct way of doing poly. Sometimes what works perfectly in theory might fail miserably in practice. It’s important to know exactly what you want and accept that mistakes will be made, so how you resolve them is important.”
Carolyn: How do your family and friends see your relationships?
Zevran: I’ve noticed the intersection of queer and not queer and poly relationships, especially when not all partners or people in the constellation are queer, leads to a lot of societal invalidation of the queer relationships. In my experience with my current partner that has been a real problem. Family and friends tend to recognize her and her boyfriend and pretend that I don’t exist, mostly because they have been together longer and queer relationships are not respected or recognized.
She tends to get invitations to events like weddings which explicitly state only one partner is invited, preferably the male one as people will be uncomfortable with my presence. That’s something we haven’t yet been able to work around. I would like to know how other people navigate such situations, because in as much as we see each other as equals, society doesn’t and I would be lying if I said that doesn’t pain me.
Carolyn: How does polyamory function within your understanding of yourself?
Zevran: Being poly allows me the freedom to be myself. I don’t believe that one person can realistically fulfill all my needs and I have the capacity to be with several people at once.
I’m already pretty untraditional and unconventional and being poly sometimes complicates things a bit more. I have friends and family who still haven’t wrapped their heads around my queerness and gender identity and they simply just don’t understand poly.
Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like?
Zevran: I want to be with two or maximum three serious relationships. I also want to involve kink in the relationships. Hopefully by then being poly won’t be so radical.