How "out" are you as poly, really? And why?
Yesterday was National Coming Out Day -- which isn't just an LGBTQ thing. It's for us poly folk too. So I did a post on SoloPoly.net (a blog for, by, and about poly/open people who don't have and maybe don't want a primary-style partner) about "outness" issues. Especially how being out as poly/open might affect solo people -- both their own outness, and the outness of their partners.
I go into considerable depth the problematic interaction between "couple privilege" and outness.
I've noticed that many poly/open primary couples often maintain the public face of having only one conventional, ostensibly closed relationship, --while keeping their additional relationships (regardless of depth or duration) more or less a secret outside the poly community. Also, these primary couples often are not fully honest with their additional partners (or perhaps even with themselves) that the price of entry to a relationship with them means stepping into the poly closet.
This dynamic can have profound negative affects on any nonprimary partner, but it can be especially hurtful to solo poly folk. I wish more primary couples -- and the poly community in general -- would recognize and discuss this dynamic more. Because this is a big factor in making polyamory far more challenging and emotionally risky for nonprimary partners and solo people.
Anyway, this post is written from my own experience and perspective, informed by input from many poly/open people I've discussed it with. I'd appreciate more input. Please feel free to comment here or on the blog.
Also: Anyone got any good poly coming out stories? Do tell!
Very interesting and well-written article! I did catch one typo that you may want to correct. In the section "It's not always obvious how out poly/open someone is" in the fourth paragraph, I think you mean to say, "so no one should be forced to be out" but it reads, "so one should be forced to be out."
As for my own level of outness, there is a pretty complicated mess when it comes to me and my partners.
I am out to my immediate family (mom, dad, and brother) and to all of my friends. I am out to many people where I work, but not to everyone yet. I live and work in a very conservative town, so I have been coming out slowly at work to make sure I will not be endangering my livelihood by doing so. As of right now, I don't think there is a high risk of me being fired for it, so I think I may start to be more open over the next few months. I am not out to my extended family or out on social networks, and both of these are because of my fiance's immediate family.
My fiance is out to a few people where he works and most of his friends (the ones who aren't family friends with his parents and sisters). He is not out at work because he is not sure how the company would handle it, and my boyfriend and he work for the same company, so if trouble happened, they would both likely lose their jobs at once. Until they work at separate companies, they are not comfortable being fully out at work. My fiance is not comfortable with telling his immediate family because they are extremely conservative. I have been present for quite a few family hullabaloos and they aren't pretty or fun. They are very quick to outgroup me in particular and as my fiance does not have another girlfriend at the moment, they would likely treat it as if I were taking advantage of him or that it was my fault that he got into it. They would likely refuse to believe it is something he really wants. He wants to have a good relationship with them because they are important to him, and none of us are sure that would be possible if he were out. On my end, if we were to have future children, I am not confident they would not try to declare us unfit parents based on this and there isn't a whole lot of legal precedent or protection. Until after our wedding, I will not be outing myself to my extended family for this reason. I want to make sure there are no chances for slip-ups or accidents and I don't want to have to explain to every single one of them that they can't talk to my fiance's family about it.
My boyfriend is out to many of his friends, and to some of the same people at work my fiance is out to. He has come out to his mother, who has said that she wants to be the one to explain it to his little sister. He has come out to his brother. He has not yet come out to his father, as he is not sure how his father would take it (his father is the more religious member of the family).
I think that both of my partners will eventually come out at work to the people they need to come out to. It isn't as difficult for them because each only has one partner to refer to at the moment. My boyfriend refers to me by my middle name when he talks about his girlfriend. The only problem is that she can never come to office parties with him. I think they just want to move slowly to avoid potentially ruining both of their careers at the same time.
I will eventually be out at my workspace as I am feeling more secure in my employment and I do not think I am at risk.
Bah, long and complicated like I promised. I really like the concepts you explore in your articles, and at least among our social circles I have tried to be as fair to him as possible and have asked many times along the way to make sure he is comfortable with our level of outness.
I understand the predicament of legally married couples, esp. those with kids. If they have been honest about their situation from the very start, non-primary poly partners should not feel bad 'closeted'. Being indiscreet will bring them a lot of legal/financial troubles.
In my own experience when I used to have a bf (which may be considered as non-primary), we came up with a work-around solution ("selected outing"), wherein the bf introduced me to his own circle of friends and family as his gf/partner so long as his circle was away from and there was no possiblity of interacting with my own circle of friends and family I share with my ltr primary partner (it can be considered primary because Im living with him). We used to live in a big city during that time, but honestly, i don't know how it will work out if we were in a smaller town.
As I mentioned in my post, anyone (including primary couples, even legally married ones) are certainly free to determine how "out" they want to be.
That said, nonprimary partners should be similarly free to decide how out, or how closeted, we're willing to be about our own relationships.
The trouble is, often people in poly primary couples don't disclose clearly to their additional partners the kind of closeting the expect their partners to go along with. Too often its something that only becomes evident well after a nonprimary relationship has been established. Frankly, that's really unfair to, and inconsiderate of, nonprimary partners. We deserve enough clear information, early enough in a relationship, to be able to make informed choices about how involved we want to get -- if at all.
Yes, considerations of jobs, housing, extended family, custody, etc. can certainly complicate decisions about poly outness. I certainly don't begrudge anyone their choice, as long as they're clear and up front with their partners about it.
That said, as I mentioned in my post, often despite our best efforts to control access to our own personal info, often people do get outed by others against their wishes or before they're ready.
I'm curious: given how much you & your partners seem to have at stake, do you have a contingency plan to handle unintended or premature outing?
Thanks for the proofreading. Will fix that typo when I'm back on my computer.
We are out as much as others care to acknowledge. I make no effort to hide my relationship with either partner. Some people may not know the terms we use-but they definitely know we are a we.
We started out not out much at all, but the more involved we got with the poly community here, the more were were out everywhere. Not to everyone, of course. But if you didn't know me well enough to know my wife's name or that I even had a wife, then you weren't likely to know about other partners. But in general, if you knew us, you knew we were poly.
When I was living with both my wife and boyfriend, we didn't usually go to any trouble to out ourselves. We just were. We showed up as a unit, and if you had questions, you could ask. Most people just accepted it.
This was also back when we were raising a child and had corporate jobs. I don't think we ever felt like we were risking that much. Mostly people were curious or envious, not scandalized.
Family was another issue. They all seemed to be fine with our coming out, but later didn't act very accepting at all. My sister threw a hissy fit about only inviting only one of my partners to her wedding. Neither were likely to come in any case, but it still irked me, especially as she has had her fair share of non-traditional relationships. My wife's aunt spitefully outed us to another family member, when we all bumped into each other in a public place where we were attending a poly meet-up. My in-laws made a big deal before our wedding that basically amounted to, "now that you're getting married, you'll stop all that silly poly nonsense."
That said, now that we haven't been actively poly in a few years, we're not out to many people at all. We have loads of new friends, and the topic never comes up. I don't think most of them would mind or judge us if it did. And sometimes I don't even think to out ourselves, even when there is an opening. For example, we were invited to a friend's house for dinner with another couple, and when I asked the wife how she met our mutual friend, the answer was "Oh, I'm dating his brother." I said cool and we chatted about it, but it never seemed like a good time to slip in, "oh hey, we used to do that sort of thing, too."
Sometimes it feels very strange to reflect that so many people in our lives now don't know what seems like a very basic fact about us. Most of them also assume I am a lesbian, because the topic of my exes (all men) has never come up. As we move back into being actively poly, it's obviously something we'll have to figure out all over again.
As a secondary, if you were hiding me all of the time to everyone, that would be too much for me to deal with. I won't out you, but I probably wouldn't stick around long. If it's just specific people or situations, however, I don't mind being respectful of that and letting you do what you feel you need to do. But yes, please let me know where those lines are early on.
I'm amused by the word "really" in the title of this thread. What is that supposed to mean? the opposite of "not really"?
I am "really" "out" if the topic ever comes up. If anyone i know is unaware of that, it's just because they haven't found out YET. I don't give a shit what people think. Most people don't give a shit about it either, unless it's because they are fascinated and curious and have questions they would like me to answer.
My domestic partner is involved with someone who is not "out" to anyone (except their closest friends and daughter) because they live in a small conservative hick town and run a business there that depends on public patronage and perception. It could hurt their livelihood and income if the customer-base became aware that they're in a relationship with a married person.
My other partner is pretty weird too, and is very "anti-monogamous". However, we don't share a common group of friends at this time, so nobody "really" knows about our relationship except perhaps our other SO's.
Hi @boring guy
To clarify, I borrowed "really" from the title of my blog post. In that post, one of the first points I make is that sometimes it can be really confusing to figure out how out someone is -- especially if they aren't thinking or communicating about outness very clearly or honestly.
Ok, lol; I hadn't seen that.
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