It’s not healthy for a relationship to form a person’s whole identity. But a relationship orientation can be a fundamental part of it. Here are six queers from Autostraddle’s Poly Pocket series on how their approach to consensual non-monogamy intersects with their identity.
Lazarus, 24, Albuquerque New Mexico
Lazarus, a queer solo poly non-binary trans/genderqueer Black kid with a white mom, stepping into polyamory was part of stepping into their gender and fuller sense of self:
“[M]y 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.”
Tyler, 23, Baltimore
For Tyler, a native and Jewish queer trans woman with Cerebral Palsy, poly and queerness are closely linked:
“[P]olyamory 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.”
Ginger, 40, Oakland
Ginger, a white femme cis woman queer polyamorous woman, says that for her seeing poly as a place of openness and choice lets her explore different parts of herself with lots of different people:
“Poly can feel like the most deviant of all the parts of my identities. Mono culture is deep in ways that I don’t think we often fully understand. I think being queer is more understood but that being poly makes a lot of people uncomfortable. There’s a lot of negative assumptions. and our culture is structured to be so mono partnered. Even the race towards gay marriage affirms that norm. There’s a scarcity element, in the sense of that the dominant narrative and I’d argue how our society and culture is structured is that you are seeking a soul mate, one person can fulfill all your needs. That’s super limiting and, I’d argue, boring. And it means you are in a one-to-one relationship with someone without realizing how you’re in multiple relationships to others all the time, at work, with friends, family, etc. For me, standing in my poly identity allows me to see all my relationships as valuable.”
Cecelia, 23, Brooklyn
Cecelia, a mixed-race Asian genderqueer polyamorous bisexual femme, says that polyamory is the only style of dating they could ever participate in, and that it’s a way to reconcile different and seemingly contradictory elements of their identity:
“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.”
Mona, 28, Urban Midwest
How poly relates to someone’s sense of self can also change over time. Though she once did, Mona, an Arab-American queer demisexual ethically non-monogamous cis woman, no longer sees polyamory as particularly central to her identity. She’s found that stepping back from a local poly scene and not having the time to date means that other elements of her identity are now more important than her relationship orientation:
“I think if you asked me that a year ago or two years ago, I would have said it’s central to my understanding of myself in the same ways that my class background, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are. But now I’m not so sure. Those other elements of my identity and social position have a much greater bearing on my everyday life. That’s in part the product of my disengagement with a predominately white, wealthy, hetero poly scene. It’s also because I haven’t had the time or desire to date; I just want to spend my time with people I already know and love.”
Traci, 32, Southern California
Poly can also be central even when it’s not currently in practice. “Out of all the pieces of identity I’ve had to come out about over the years (and there have been a few!) I have to say that ‘being poly’ in the way that I see the world has been one that I’ve experienced at the deepest and most consistent core levels,” says Traci, a Japanese American polyamorous queer. Traci is now in a functionally monogamous relationship and redirecting her energy towards their partner and growing family instead of towards navigating different relationships, but polyamory still very much informs the way she moves through the world:
“[S]eeing the world from a place of potential connection and collaboration rather than competition (which are pieces that are core tenets of my poly philosophy) interact with all other elements of my identity. […] [C]onnection, collaboration, honoring other beings in our life for more than function, and having openness to folks creating lives that feel like a uniquely good fit for them, are really significant parts of how I understand myself.”
Lesbian Sex 101 is Autostraddle’s series on how to have lesbian sex for queer women and anyone who finds this information applicable to their bodies or sexual activities.
Sex ed almost never includes queer women or our experiences, so we’re exploring pleasure, safety, relationships and more to make that information more accessible. A lot of the language in these posts is intended to make them easy to find on search engines.
Some of the body parts we talk about will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the pronouns will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the sexualities will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Some of the language will be yours or your partners’ and some won’t. Take what you want and what applies to you or what you can make apply to you and your partners and your experiences, and leave the rest!
Thank you all for sharing! I always enjoy reading about other people’s experiences with polyamory.
Could we use the abbreviation ‘polyam’ instead of ‘poly’ please? Polynesian people keep saying that is a word they were using and using it on the internet meaning polyamory really messes with their ability to search for communities of polynesians
Using different language is something I’ve been struggling with and working on myself. I think seeing Autostraddle change could be really helpful.
As someone who is currently in a polyamous relationship, I appreciate seeing the different viewpoints.