The Drop is an ongoing series where Dani Janae and Shelli Nicole chat about Queer Black Pop Culture. Today they chat about Red Table Talk and the episode’s generational chat on marriage and monogamy. Willow Smith opens up about practicing polyamory while Gammy tries to understand. The table is joined by a few other guests — the poly solo & educator Gabrielle Smith and her partner, writer Gabrielle Alexa, and others — who reveal how their multiple-partner approach to relationships works.
Dani Janae: So, I guess a good place to start would be asking what’s your personal relationship to polyamory?
Shelli Nicole: I get asked this question a lot, and usually, I don’t want to talk about it because of the setting I am in or the person who is asking it. I always feel like I am going to be attacked or have to teach — so it feels nice to not feel that right now. I am familiar with polyamory and there are a few homies I know who practice it successfully and I love that! I, however, am not cut out for it and it’s not for lack of trying. When I am dating, I am ethically non-monogamous and when I am in a relationship/partnered I am monogamous.
Dani Janae: Oooo that’s interesting. People are usually very one or the other but I rarely see a blend.
I identify as a hoe, so for years, I was just fucking without any thought as to what I agreed with as far as dating styles. In my first serious relationship we “practiced” polyamory, meaning she was allowed to talk about all the people she wanted to sleep with but when I did it she freaked out. So since I’ve been out of that relationship I’ve been solo poly but single for all of that time.
Shelli Nicole: I love that you are solo poly because it’s honestly a term I first heard while we watched this episode. I think it’s something I’ve already seen in practice with homies but never knew there was a name for it. It might be something worth exploring for me.
I also wanna get your take on something before we get further into chatting about the show. Do you see Dating & Relationships as separate entities? I do, I think they are uniquely different but have often gotten so much pushback on that stance, especially in the queer community.
Dani Janae: Oh yes totally. I see dating as a fun way to get to know people and maybe have sex and just be generally flirty. I’ve dated a ton, but I’ve only been in a relationship with two different people years apart. Relationships for me are what come when we decide dating is no longer the level of intimacy we see each other at. Like, I dated someone for a couple of years on and off but we were never “in a relationship” because we never reached that level.
Shelli Nicole: Dani, I know I say it all the time but I adore you so much. Because wow what a beautiful and relatable ass answer because a bitch feels seen and heard lol. Okay, now let’s take a momentary break in my adoration for you and chat about this episode of Red Table Talk.
Dani Janae: Lol yes, yes let’s get into it.
Shelli Nicole: So, it feels like RTT is on this wave of queerness. They recently had Niecy Nash and Jessica Betts on to chat about their relationship, queer identities, and even queerness in relation to the Black church. Now in this episode, we have Willow (who is queer) chatting about her decision to be polyamorous, with her mum and Gammy.
The first thing I thought when I saw this episode was coming out was “Damn, Willow is about to put herself through some emotional labor and my goodness do I hope it’s worth it.”
Dani Janae: Yeah, I can totally see that, it makes me wonder what the trajectory is. And yes I totally agree with that. I also thought Jada would have more to say especially with the way people have talked about her and Will’s relationship for years. It seemed like she and Willow were kinda vibing on most points though.
Shelli Nicole: Yeah, her and her mum were good. She seems like she’s accepted so much of Willow and has gotten over that thing of trying to understand each and every part of who she is. Now Gammy, she still may need a bit of time. At the start, she was so defensive about everything that came up!
Dani Janae: Yesss her “I’m just confused!” bit was a lot. Like I can get not understanding a lifestyle that is new to you, but she just seemed so closed off for the first half.
Shelli Nicole: It seemed was that she thought everyone was trying to say that monogamy is trash and that everyone should practice polyamory, instead of listening that it should simply be able to be an option. I think a lot of Black folks from that generation are under the impression that we want to get rid of what they know.
I felt Willow so much when she put her hands on her head and smiled and Gammy said “Don’t get frustrated” because I was in KNOTS you hear me!
Dani Janae: Lmao yes! Like I think the guests were making it clear that polyamory isn’t for everyone and it’s a lot of work that is more than just “I sleep with whoever I want.”
I agree with you though, especially older black folks who fought so hard for their sense of normal, that anything outside of it feels like an attack. I think of the history of black people’s marriages not being recognized as real and having to fight to be seen as humans capable of love and not just stereotypes and tropes of aggressiveness. Not saying Gammy is that old, but I think the history carries when people had to really fight for our rights back then.
Shelli Nicole: It just kept upsetting me that she couldn’t get past the sexual aspect of polyamory. It’s unfair and the guests did a great job at breaking it down as much as they could. They are better than me because the way I hate teaching things to my family sometimes, baby…
I loved the multitude of Black and POC folks they bought on to discuss it too. So many of the faces of polyamory are white, so it’s beautiful to show that it’s very much a thing in the Black and other POC communities.
Dani Janae: Also, so much of polyamory representation is straight so it was nice to see queer representation as well. And also people at different stages in their process!
Shelli Nicole: Did you think they were gonna talk so much about religion being a big part of marriage?
Dani Janae: Not at all, I mean religion is a part of marriage history but it came up a lot.
Shelli Nicole: The whole going to counseling with my pastor and making sure God is at the core was something I was shocked to see Willow agree with — not that religious folks can’t be poly or queer but it was just surprising how quickly they all agreed on that.
Dani Janae: Yeah totally I think I assume all queer people have a complex relationship with God but that’s not the case.
Shelli Nicole: What’s your take on the other polyamorous folks not really revealing their choice to be so with their families? Do you think we, as the children (despite age), owe it to tell our parents everything about our romantic lives? Partners, dating & relationship choices, everything?
To some extent, Willow does, because that’s what bought us to this episode. I’m not sure she was doing it to grow her relationship with her mum and Gammy through showing more of who she is and therefore foraging a deeper connection — or as a means to help them grow as people by revealing (and subsequently teaching them) about her decision to be poly, which feels like a burden.
Dani Janae: In truth for me I think coming out is an exhausting process, and having to “come out” as both a lesbian and polyamorous seems like a lot. Like I get some people just have that relationship with their family but certainly no one owes their fam that information. Unless you like plan to bring multiple partners to Thanksgiving dinner.
Shelli Nicole: I agree, telling them all about my relationships, partners and more low-key feels like it’s getting into friendship territory and I am not interested in being friends with my parents.
Lastly, I’m glad they talked a lot about communication in relationships — because there is way more communication in polyamorous dating/relationships than there is in monogamous ones.
Dani Janae: YES absolutely. It’s constant processing.
I feel like SOME straight monogamous relationships are built on so much silence and denial that leads to shit like cheating and divorce and unhappiness all around. Not saying everyone would be happier as polyamorous but I think there are some polyamorous folks in monogamous marriages suppressing their needs.
Shelli Nicole: Gammy came around at the end and pretty much understood that it’s a “mind your business and I’ll mind mine” kinda vibe.
Dani Janae: For sure.
Shelli Nicole: And I’m glad she did because for a minute I was ready to flip over the red table.
Dani Janae: LMAO
Shelli Nicole: As always my dear I love chatting with you and I am also wishing you the perfect Taurus season. Maybe your wives will finally make an appearance and win you over under the Pink super moon.
Dani Janae: Same to you!! And yes I certainly hope so 😈