To stay in the closet or to come out of the closet? That is the ultimate question. This month we discussed all the reasons to inform each decision in various contexts with our panelists. They have each identified as ethically non-monogamous for at least several years, with some pointing out that their non-monogamous history dates back to teenagehood. Our special guest Wry Mantione, who hosts PolyTalks in Southern California, proudly waves his poly flag for his job. The other panelists have one foot in and one foot out, picking and choosing which close friends and family members to know their situation and to which extent. The discussion’s main points, explained below, challenge us to consider the pros and cons of coming out and to find the appropriate balance according to your specific life circumstances. What will work best for you?
There are obvious barriers to being fully transparent about your alternative relationship style or exploration. These include one’s job, one’s family life, and other sources of resistance from your close support network. Will it put your career at risk? Unfortunately, some workplaces may have legal clauses that can condemn transgressions related to non-monogamy (e.g. pre-school teacher). It may also come up in conjunction with custody battles and it’s worth looking into your local laws. Although our choices are ethical, they are untraditional and not accepted universally. In the same way left handed people live in a right handed world, those practicing and exploring ethical non-monogamy live in a monogamous world.
The pros to coming out are promoting authenticity while avoiding secrecy surrounding you and your personal life. There are lots of ways to open up about your lifestyle – like sitting someone down and talking face to face, or writing a long letter with included learning resources – and the best answer will be different for each scenario. In addition to friends and family, the panelists agreed that when seeking out potential partners, they initiate a conversation about their relationship style anywhere from the first few dates to the first few minutes.
So, should you or shouldn’t you? Consider these questions: do you come from a conservative background? Is there acceptance about alternative relationships and sexualities? Do they need to know or do you want them to? Why? Will outing yourself also out your partner(s)? Do you want to share details or only the general picture?
Each panelist offered their own lessons learned after facing the challenges and rewards. One emphasized the idea of taking baby steps toward revealing their lifestyle, and not going too fast too soon with family members. One regrets sensationalizing the sexual aspect of ethical non-monogamy, since their friends were not as open to hearing about the romantic side later on. Another panelist said they hid under the label of “single” for too long while practicing polyamory. On the flip side, they now out themselves on every first date and have positive experiences with that. The last panelist admitted they regret coming out to a close family member since it transformed their relationship; in hindsight, they would have compartmentalized those parts of their life rather than try to reconcile them. All of the panelists agreed that they are grateful for the transparency about their life and the signs of support from people they love, from sources both expected and not.
A large part of our discussion related to how coming out might look different in the future. An increase in media representation; a consideration of alternative relationships as an orientation versus a lifestyle; the continuing redefinition of family and people challenging its classic nuclear structure – these are all things that might make coming out an easier decision. In the meantime, we can ask ourselves the questions posed above. What do you want out of being transparent? What do you want out of maintaining privacy? Examine your own motivations as well as others’. Whether or not you discuss your relationship style within the monogamous world, keep building friendships with like-minded people who can offer you support, solidarity, and understanding.
Until next time, stay curious.