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. Or be one.
Cecelia is a 23-year-old mixed race Asian genderqueer polyamorous bisexual femme living in Brooklyn. They are single, and work as a freelance writer and professional astrologer.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Carolyn: When did you start to explore polyamory?
Cecelia: I got really lucky that basically when I decided to explore polyamory, I ended up dating someone who had been polyamorous for a while. This was in 2015 when I was studying abroad in London, which was great, because I had never been in a situation before where I looked at everyone around me like, “Woah, I’m into what so many of you are doing, wow, you’re all so date-able.” So it was a combination of sort of falling in love with everyone I met and actually having someone to guide me through polyamory from their own experience working through it.
Carolyn: What does polyamory look like in your life right now?
Cecelia: I just moved to Brooklyn like a week ago, so I’m very very single at the moment. I’m in a place again where I see myself wanting to form relationships with the people around me based on like-mindedness. But I’m the kind of poly team player who prefers to be the side chick of many, and the main chick of none. I don’t really want the pressure of being a primary partner of someone right now, but I love being a long-term non-primary partner of someone who has a primary relationship.
Carolyn: Is there a story to how you figured that out?
Cecelia: Yeah, for sure. It happened during that first experience I had with polyamory in London. On the third date, the guy I was seeing sat me down and was like, “Hey, just so you know, I’m poly and I have a long-term primary partner, and you can ask whatever you want or take however long you need to decide if this is something you want to continue, knowing that I have a primary relationship.” And surprisingly, I was super excited when he told me that. Because if I’m being totally honest, my bisexuality is such that I’m really choosy when I date hetero men, and when I do date them, I prefer for it to be fairly fun and casual for a while. Not to say that being a secondary partner implies a “casual” relationship in any way. But in this specific situation it was at the point when guys are usually like, “I’ve never met anyone like you please marry me,” and I have to sadly and gently let them go to free myself as someone that they consider a possession. So when this guy sat me down and was like, “Hey, so our situation will basically be one date a week, and maybe getting coffee or lunch here and there throughout the week, but my primary focus is on the person I actually live with,” I was so excited. I was like, “A regularly scheduled fun and chill relationship? hell yeah, sign me up.”
“I try my best not to be preachy about polyamory or make anyone feel like they’re ‘less queer’ or ‘less radical’ or less anything if they choose monogamy. But for me personally, polyamory is the only style of dating I could ever participate in.”
Carolyn: When you meet people, how do you position conversations about poly or what kind of relationships you’re interested in?
Cecelia: I always try to sneak into the first date that I’m poly. I know some people switch from being poly to being monogamous depending on the preference of the person they’re dating, but I’m not like that. For example, the guy I dated in London is going to visit New York soon but his primary partner is someone new now, so I had to re-establish what his relationship to polyamory is now. Basically I asked if we could have sex when he visits, and he said no, because that’s the agreement he’s made in the relationship with his current partner. And I have to respect that.
I really do respect monogamy when other people choose it for themselves. I try my best not to be preachy about polyamory or make anyone feel like they’re “less queer” or “less radical” or less anything if they choose monogamy. But for me personally, polyamory is the only style of dating I could ever participate in, so I bring it up as early as possible. I want to be really transparent that I’m not willing to change my decision to be polyamorous for anyone, because I know I would be fundamentally unhappy and unfulfilled in a monogamous relationship.
Carolyn: How would you characterize your attitude toward relationships generally?
Cecelia: It’s taken so much introspection and self-awareness to figure this out, and I’m really excited to live in a time where we can really ask this question and invent whatever brave new rules for being in relationships that make us feel whole and valuable.
First of all, the main reason why I can never be monogamous is because I don’t feel good in any situation where I’m considered someone’s possession. I’m really private and independent and need to have freedom first and foremost. Often in monogamous relationships I end up feeling like someone’s “thing,” even if that’s not what they intend. And that feeling makes my skin crawl so much that I’ll go into human disaster mode and end the relationship in a really messy way that wrecks everyone. So that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself.
But another thing entirely that matters to me is that I resist the idea that “wholeness” means “one thing.” I think we’re taught that being whole means being one easily recognizable thing, and that’s a notion I resist in both my work with astrology and in my relationships. I believe that each person contains a bunch of conflicting, intersecting parts, and that different people can make someone feel really vibrant in many beautiful different ways. So if I really like someone, it makes me excited when they have multiple partners who can light up different parts of their mind/body/soul etc. I actually don’t really get jealous, so that helps. I feel confident that I can bring a really specific and positive energy to a relationship, but I also know that I can never provide one person with everything that they need in a relationship. For example, I’m insecure about how funny I am sometimes. So it makes me happy if my partner has someone who makes them laugh for days, because they deserve to have that energy too. And it relieves the pressure on me to be super funny or whatever. Because I know that if they need a good deep and healing convo, they’ll come to me.
“I believe that each person contains a bunch of conflicting, intersecting parts, and that different people can make someone feel really vibrant in many beautiful different ways.”
Carolyn: Where does poly intersect with other elements of your identity? How does it function within your understanding of yourself?
Cecelia: I like polyamory because it really fulfills all of the conflicting, at-odds parts of myself that I’ve always been told that I had to somehow reconcile. I’m mixed-race so I’ve always felt like “not quite this thing, but not quite this other thing.” And then being bisexual is like “you don’t belong here, but also not really here.” So polyamory is a way I can say Fuck You to all of that.
I’m actively not ashamed of how different relationships allow me to perform gender differently, or give me a way to build love and acceptance with someone based on our similar life experience with race or any other mutual point of interest, really. When I realized that other people had always partially defined what categories I did or didn’t have access to, I decided to actively resist that. So yeah, I’ll go on a date with a hetero guy and dress up to look cis-passing because it’s fun and simple and easy, and then I’ll go on a date with a radical queer person and dress in a way that feels more authentic to me, and take the relationship more seriously. And that’s just how my bisexuality personally works. I know a lot of bisexual people whose primary partners are men in a very serious way. And that’s great! But I know myself, and what I want, and I don’t hide what I need from anyone I have a relationship with. Once I had a queer femme partner of color and I went on a date with a hetero guy (who didn’t have atrocious politics, I won’t date anyone whose politics suck). My femme partner was like: “Why? Don’t you know that he fundamentally sucks?” And I was like, “Listen, some people watch television for easy entertainment. I go on dates with hetero guys.” But even with those guys, I’m really clear. I’ll say something like, “This has to be fun and simple or I’m out.” And other people think it makes me fake as hell, but I’m always really clear about what part of myself I hope to bring to a relationship. I’m very clear early on that the other person knows what they’re signing up for, and that they feel like we can build something that’s mutually beneficial based on what we both value in a relationship. And I wholeheartedly say Fuck You to other people who want to define for me what kind of relationships I’m allowed to feel good in. And to other people who want to dismiss me for being “greedy.”
Carolyn: Tell me more about that!
Cecelia: A common accusation put on bisexual folks (that makes me yawn) is that we’re “greedy.” There’s an obviously negative moral connotation to that word, so bisexual people are taught to feel bad for experiencing attraction to cis folks and trans folks and genderqueer folks and everyone in between. And if you see me living as a vibrantly bisexual, polyamorous person and you want to call me greedy, I can’t let it affect me. Because in a way, we actually totally agree on the definition of the thing that I’m doing, which is dating different people. Because yes, I do enjoy feeling differently in relationships with different people. But what we disagree on, and what I actively reject, is the idea that what I’m doing is somehow inherently unethical or bad. Which is why I’m clear, transparent, and communicative from the very beginning with people I want to build a relationship with.
“Instead of arguing over what’s wrong or right or morally sound or factual, it’s far more interesting and urgent to me right now to ask: How are we doing everything that we possibly can to find a sense of wholeness in this world? And how can we help each other find that through relationships?”
For example, when I meet a queer femme, sometimes my heart gets stolen pretty quick. So early on I’ll say, “I want to do a metric fuck-ton of emotional labor with you and commit to both of us healing and feeling witnessed and growing in this relationship. And I want you to know that the intensity I feel with you is one of my favorite things about being alive on this earth, but also sometimes I need to feel the absolute opposite of that intensity by going on a tinder date with a random hetero guy. And I promise that those dates will make me come back to our relationship feeling grateful and refreshed.” And if the queer femmes who steal my heart aren’t into that or don’t get it, which happens sometimes, that’s okay. Because if you don’t agree with what I can offer you in a relationship or you need more than I can offer you (or if you straight up think that what I’m doing is immoral), then that’s fine and you’re not wrong and I’m not wrong, we just have different needs and opinions. And it’s very simple really because if we have different needs, then we don’t have to date. That sucks, but it’s easier to know that earlier rather than later. But actually I’ve found that a lot of bisexual queer femmes secretly feel similarly to me when I bring it up, so we’ll plan hetero tinder dates for the same night and then compare notes afterwards to see if we’ll go on a second date with that person or whatever. That’s always really fun in a sort of secret way. You could look at us and call us evil for ghosting dudes or whatever. But in the grand ethical scale, that’s a small moral debt that hetero cis dudes have to pay for benefiting from the patriarchy.
So yeah, from any angle, it’s really easy to look at bisexuality or polyamory in its various forms and call it greedy or unethical. But the only form of validation that matters to me is the one that comes from the person (or people) I’m in a relationship with. And if I’ve done something wrong or bad I’ll know because they’ll tell me, or I’ll sense that I’ve hurt them and ask them about their feelings. Then I’ll listen and try to understand how my intentions didn’t align with what they experienced as my actions. And I’ll try to be better. So if you want to say that what I’m doing is wrong or bad, that’s cool, because you don’t have to date me. You can date someone else who agrees that what I’m doing is wrong or bad. And that’s the whole point of re-defining relationship structures!
I think so many of us are deciding to stop caring about “morality” as we’ve been told that we either fit into it or deviate from it. Because you know what morality as it’s been historically defined for centuries got us? This shitshow of a world that we live in, with this bozo nightmare of a president. And so instead of arguing over what’s wrong or right or morally sound or factual, it’s far more interesting and urgent to me right now to ask: How are we doing everything that we possibly can to find a sense of wholeness in this world? And how can we help each other find that through relationships?
Carolyn: How do you seek or build poly community?
Cecelia: I definitely try and have conversations with my friends who are poly about what exactly they’re doing so we can compare notes. Because I don’t think anyone is 100% sure that they’re “doing poly right,” and if they are, they’re lying. So talking to friends and non-partners about what polyamory looks like is just as important as defining what polyamory looks like with your partners. We have to build a collective language around this stuff! And I’m really excited to meet more people who are poly in New York, because it’s nice when you already have a working understanding with someone of how you both relate to romance or sex or long-term relationships generally.
“I want everyone to be able to take on their own definition of what it means to be in a relationship, without feeling the guilt that comes from articulating needs that are often inaccurately labeled as selfish or inauthentic.”
Carolyn: What do you want your future to look like? What vision are you working towards or hoping for?
Cecelia: I want a future where, regardless of if people are poly or not, everyone is really seriously taking on the project of figuring out how to get what they need in relationships while also genuinely being present for the needs of others. I want to live in a world where everyone comes to the realization that we can just put everything we’ve learned about relationships on the table and edit that notion or create our own definitions until we arrive at something that makes us feel truly valuable. I want everyone to be able to take on their own definition of what it means to be in a relationship, without feeling the guilt that comes from articulating needs that are often inaccurately labeled as selfish or inauthentic. If I don’t want to be someone’s possession, that can make me independent, not selfish. If I recognize that different parts of my identity need different kinds of people to feel seen, that can make me responsible for my own definition of wholeness, not inauthentic. I want to live in a world where I can explain this concept and people can understand it. And I think arriving at these different definitions will make everyone more introspective and self-aware and ultimately, more invested in the project of taking care of ourselves and each other better.