By Katie Diamond
Today, L and I taught a workshop entitled “Sexual Encounters of the Comic Kind.” It’s a story-telling/educational workshop on negotiating safer sex for female-bodied folks, with my comic art helping along the narration. We’ve been teaching this workshop for several years now, and we like to drop into our stories that we’re polyamorous, because–inevitably–during the question-and-answer session, audience members want to know more. I’ve been approached by many a college student about how to open their relationship.
Similarly, at the end of this session, the Q&A was filled with a variety of questions, and a relatively large segment of them pertained to polyamory. One particular questioner was curious about the respect our polyamory entails, whether it can exist at all, and how. Our usual answer was given: for us, respect is about being heard, being a good listener, and constantly being emotionally-ready for potentially hard discussions. I believed we handled this question thoroughly.
After we started closing up the workshop, however, the questioner approached me. She was not entirely convinced that my relationship was respectful. About two minutes into our one-on-one, I knew what I was dealing with. We’ve all had these conversations–you know, where it’s not a conversation at all, but someone exploiting your time for the sake of demeaning what you stand for. She didn’t come to talk WITH me. She came to talk AT me.
“I just don’t understand how polyamory can be respectful. I mean–how old are you? Oh, you’re still in your twenties–of course you want to date around! But in the end, it’s just much more respectful to really settle down and give yourself fully to your partner, you know? Building towards that commitment is just very meaningful.”
When I finally got a word in edgewise, I explained that my relationship with L IS committed, and meaningful. That we’ve been together for five years, and that we live together–if you need those modifiers. That we work together constantly to become better as individuals, and as a couple, and that our polyamory is a facet of our relationship–not some add-on because we’re young and bored. And that even though there are hard feelings sometimes, there are hard feelings in every relationship!
“Oh, but what about when you’re left home alone? What if he decides to not come home because he’s on a date?”
“Well, we negotiate that…,” I said. “We check in. If I was, you know, out with friends and wanted to stay out later than I intended, I can do that.”
“Oh. So you’d leave him home alone and lonely.”
I frowned. Oh, I thought, so this is more about leaving a partner alone while someone is off gallivanting around having fun. The typical hetero-sexist dichotomy that there’s always someone, most likely a wife, at home tearfully cleaning the kitchen floor while the husband is off drinking or screwing around.
“No… I mean.” I didn’t know how to say: Well, we’re not attached at the hip, so I can do whatever I want. And I didn’t want to say: What makes you think that one of us is always pining away at home for the other? And I definitely didn’t want to get into the intricacies of how being queer means I don’t have the dominant heterosexual, heteronormative paradigm that tells me that the only way to exist in this world is to build a life with only one person, with a house, and 2.5 kids, and a dog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that paradigm. Instead, I said:
“Well. I’d call to let him know I was staying out. You know. To check in. See how he’s doing.”
Brilliant, Diamond. Good job challenging her incredibly problematic views on polyamory. Taking this answer as some sort of ending to our conversation, my interrogator left.
Once she exited out the double doors, I let go of the increasing grumpy feelings I was having. There was no point. The one thing I’ve learned from teaching about taboo topics is that, in the end, the nature of how people respond is more about THEM than me. What this person thinks of me really doesn’t change how I’m going to exist and go about my life. She, obviously, feels lonely. Or has historically felt lonely in her relationships. Whatever the reality, it is HER reality, not mine.