Through a very unique and unexpected set of circumstances, I was motivated to finally “come out” as both poly and queer to some key members of my family. (If you want to know more about those specific details, please email me; I’ll be glad to say more. For now I want to focus more on the act of coming out rather than the why of my particular situation.)
I came out to my brother, a conservative Christian/youth evangelist, in a phone conversation about a week ago. The results were totally awesome (and, to be honest, rather unexpected!)!!! He asked a lot of great questions, such as “How do you deal with jealousy?” “What about STD’s?” “How do you make time for other partners?” “Are you and your husband swingers, or is what you do different?” “How long has polyamory been around–is it a new thing?” I left the conversation smiling and nearly giddy, because at no point did he try to dissuade me from being who I am. He asked questions that seemed to be coming from a genuine place of curiosity, rather than thinly veiled questions meant to persuade me to become monogamous (that has happened to me, in conversations when I came out to friends). And he reassured me that he loved me no matter what. He said that if members of our family disowned me that he never would. He said, “You and I, we are friends for life. Nothing can change that.”
I came out to my mom, also a conservative Christian (to be frank, even more conservative than my brother. Her religious views can be sexist, racist, and contain fear of all sorts of “others” that she just doesn’t understand). To give you more context for why she is the way she is, this woman, my mother, was raised a pastor’s daughter and has led what I will simply call “a sheltered life.” She has been what you might call a good girl, all her life, and prided herself on this fact.
So, I told my mom, through a 9-page written letter, all the details about my life–finally holding nothing back, finally no longer biting my tongue–as both a queer person and as a poly person, engaging in multiple romantic relationships simultaneously. I also came out to her as a Buddhist, something I hadn’t yet done. Basically, I dropped all the walls that had been forming for years between us. Her reaction? I don’t know yet. Yesterday I received a letter back from her, and judging by the thickness of the envelope, she had a lot to say in response. I’m avoiding opening it. I don’t have much hope, to be honest. In a recent note to me (this was just a few days before I came out), she wrote something along the lines of: “Heather, I am not a P.C. person. And I’m proud of it! I believe that the government interferes too much into people’s lives. One day, I think I might go to jail for my beliefs–because I, and the church, refuse to hold gay wedding ceremonies. And the government will try to force us, but we will be defiant.” …She then went on to paint a portrait of her along with other “traditional Christians” as being victimized, as being what I would term (although she would never use this term) marginalized. For my mother, gays are very scary, because they threaten to disrupt the whole formation of her entire belief system.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. The letter is sitting there, on my desk, unopened. I’m stalling. I’m stalling by writing this blog post.
I’m sitting here thinking about all the poly and queer people that still have to come out. I’m thinking about how some people might also like to write a letter as their method of coming out. It’s a good method, I think, if one wants to get every logical point down, in a very organized way. Through the format of the letter, the respondent has ample time to think. There are no awkward silences, no shocking emotional outbursts. Letters are calm. Letters are measured. Letters provide a buffer; they provide space for a thoughtful reply. My boyfriend recently came out as poly to his parents in a letter, and he is happy with the choice.
So, if anyone out there is reading this post and thinking to themselves, “It’s time for me to come out” about some aspect(s) of their identity or sexuality, relating to being either LGBTQ or polyamorous, then I would like to offer bits of the letter that I wrote to my mother. Please feel free to adapt or outright copy these words into your own coming-out letters. (I don’t believe in plagiarism–my philosophy is all about communally sharing intellectual resources.) I think I did a pretty good job of explaining fairly complex practices and philosophies in plain language. …And if you need to talk more to me about your own personal journey of coming out or deciding not to come out (also a very valid choice, considering the high risks for some!), I am there for you, in total solidarity. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Facebook.
Okay, friends…Here’s bits of the letter:
On December 15, 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. I stand by their decision. In my extensive research on homophobia, which is a term to describe the virulent hatred and fear of gay/queer people in this country, it is interesting to note that an overwhelming percentage of people who are homophobic were raised in strict religious upbringings. It appears that this is the main variable in whether someone thinks gay/queer people are mentally ill, sinning, or doing wrong. If someone is not religious in a traditional sense, then, chances are, they have no problem with people expressing their sexuality in various ways that might be different from the norms. The issue is religion. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I’m just pointing out a fact. Most strictly religious people do not like or approve of gay people/acts. And it seems that people who aren’t religious are accepting, loving, and even welcoming of various types of sexualities.
“Polyamory” means a way of life that recognizes that rational, consenting (often spiritual) adults can actively engage in multiple loving relationships at the same time. Another term for polyamory is ethical non-monogamy. Polyamory is ethical because no one lies to each other, honesty and clear communication is vital, and all partners are aware of other partners. There is an emphasis on safe sex practices and regular checkups to doctors and medical personnel so that the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is kept to a minimum. Currently, my partners only sleep with a certain number of partners, and everyone in the group has a clean bill of health. If there is talk of anyone new entering our circle, then it is an issue of discussion for everyone who is connected. Thus, polyamory (for many people, including myself) is not about casual sex, but rather it’s about forming safe, consensual, loving relationships that last over time. In this way, it is not so different from monogamy—the only difference is that there is more than two people involved. The difference is the number.
There is a word in polyamory called “compersion.” It means “the opposite of jealousy.” Compersion happens when a partner gets joy when one of their partners is in love with someone else. So, for example, when A is having a fun date with his girlfriend C, I feel true joy for him. I feel happy for him, in that he is able to connect with another human being in such a great, intimate way. Yes, of course, sometimes jealousy happens. I am human. However, I do not think that jealousy is something I should run from or cater to. I think that jealousy is rooted in fear, and when I realize that jealousy is a pointer to something that I need to work on within myself. It is a sign that something within me can be strengthened, on a spiritual level. Compersion is truly being compassionate and realizing that life is a very complex thing, and that connections with different types of people is very fulfilling. In polyamorous communities, there is the idea that love is healing, abundant, transformative. In polyamory, resources are shared, and honesty and clear communication is mandatory. Because of this, polyamory is an ethical way to live and love in the world. Unfortunately, our culture’s sex-negativity (the idea that sex is always dangerous, sinful, shameful, etc.) interferes and causes many problems for poly people. Poly people believe in the power of sex to be a potentially healing and loving force. In our monogamous-centric culture, anything that goes against monogamy is ridiculed and condemned. Monogamy, jealousy, fear, and scarcity-thinking (the idea that there’s only so much love or attention to go around—which is totally false) dominate. Polyamory is a way to look at the world from a standpoint of ego-lessness, selflessness, generousity, compassion, and fearless love. Are those qualities qualities that you agree with, Mom? If so, you might be happy to know that polyamory helps me live by those principles and have those aspects in my life. The problem is, monogamous people often want to say that everyone should be monogamous. The same is often true for straight (heterosexual) people: they often want to say that because they are straight that everyone else should be straight, too. The interesting thing about queer people and poly people is this: Yes, they are definitely happy and excited about their way of life—but would they ever declare that EVEYONE should be queer or poly? No. Heavens, no! I find it strange and disturbing that religious, monogamous, nonqueer people say that being queer or being poly is unethical—when, in fact, taking on a queer or poly identity and lifestyle promotes dialogue, peace, tolerance, and a very careful attention to ethics. People who lived marginalized, nonstandard or non-typical lives always have to do more critical thinking when it comes to just simply living in the world (let alone succeeding). Queer people and poly people, from the sheer kinds of situations they encounter, have to think about their ethics on a daily basis. They have to negotiate whether or not to “come out of the closet,” weighing the negatives versus the positives.
Mom, what if you woke up one morning, and the world had suddenly transformed—and gay was the acceptable way to be, and straight people were thought of as evil, sinful, bad, diseased, wrong, or harmful for society? What would you do? Would you “come out” and tell people that you were straight, no matter the danger to your physical and emotional and social wellbeing? Would you feel pressured to be gay or to pretend to be gay? Or would you stay partially in the closet and tell only a few people that you trusted that you were straight? What would you do?
I just wanted to get you thinking about how culture affects the life experience of those who are gay or queer.
Polyamory, as it is practiced by those who maintain honesty at all times, is ethical. The people who engage in polyamory have often thought very long and hard about why they choose this way of life. They are often deeply spiritual loving people. They are often teachers, guides, healers, therapists, and other helpers in society.
With monogamy, people are forced to cheat on each other, “choose” one person over another (and then feel regret and resentment, later), or are trained to decide in advance that they cannot get emotionally or spirituality or sexually involved with other people, for their whole lives, beyond just that one spouse. I think, and other poly people think, that love is much bigger and much more awesome than that. Just as a parent loves multiple children, just as a friend has room enough in her heart for multiple friends, so can a partner love multiple partners. It is not crazy. It is a rational choice. We know many successful poly families. Loving is the way of the human heart. Without love, there is only fear and coldness.
Life is too short to be around people who do not love me and support me. For years, I have excused your closed-mindedness with the idea that “Well, mom and dad are simply from another generation; they can’t help their outdated ways.” But, the truth is, I have many friends, professors, and community mentors who are of your generation—and those, too, that are even older. Many have also been raised religiously. And, those people have (through reading widely and talking to others) expanded their scope of vision to realize that our human family on this planet is one that is best dealt with through love, freedom, dialogue, and compassion—NOT by fear and by attempting to silence other’s ideas.