Coming Out Poly: Tips & Advice

Coming out as polyamorous can be messy and awkward and frustrating, just as coming out as anything can be. One disadvantage to being poly is that most people don’t have a real concept of what polyamory is at all. While there are lots of misconceptions about people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans*, most people have something of a working vocabulary when it comes to those terms. But coming out poly often grinds the conversation to a screeching halt while I stop and explain what, exactly, it means. 

When I say “coming out poly,” I don’t just mean that moment when you take a deep breath and say “Mom, Dad…” It’s also that moment when you offhandedly mention your girlfriend to an acquaintance and they say “wait - I thought you said earlier that you had a boyfriend?” Staying closeted as a poly person requires a lot of linguistic gymnastics and half-truths, but coming out requires just as much energy. No matter what else we’re doing or talking about, as soon as the poly thing comes out, it’s like a spotlight turns on me and I have to clear up everybody’s questions before we can return to whatever topic elicited that information from me in the first place. Sometimes that’s fun, other times it’s really uncomfortable.

Coming out formally, with the attention on you and the expectation that you’ll hold the floor to answer questions, is a lot easier to structure and anticipate. And coming out to potential partners is a completely different ball game (I’ll talk more about that later.) But coming out in general social situations can get hairy too. Here are some of my tips about coming out poly in conversation:

Weigh the Cost-Benefit

Sometimes it’s just not worth it to come out. I try to err on the side of honesty in everything I do, but there are some moments when it’s a better idea to just say “my boyfriend” instead of “one of my boyfriends,” or “my friend” instead of “my boyfriend.” These situations are for you yourself to gauge, but I tend to avoid mentioning my polyamory when I’m in a professional setting, when I’m with people I might never see again, when mentioning it would hijack attention away from someone else, when I’m someone’s guest, or when I just really don’t feel up to it. If it would seem improper or impolite, or just not worth the energy, I’m happy to pass as mono for a few minutes.

Be Smooth, Be Cool

Sometimes you’ll accidentally out yourself. When that happens, just say “oh, yeah, I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They know about each other and it’s all great. It’s called polyamory,” and then return to what you were saying. Leave it up to the other people in the conversation to invite a long discussion on polyamory. Other times you’ll want to out yourself in a conversational setting for whatever reason. In that case, it works pretty well to say “one of my boyfriends” or something like that, and let people ask questions if they need to. People will follow your lead. If you act like it’s some horrible secret, or if you seem like you’re using it as a play for attention, people won’t react as well as if you treat it like just another detail about your life.

Have Answers Prepared

I hear the same things every time I do come out as poly. They are, generally: Do you have threesomes? Don’t you get jealous? What do your parents think? What if you want to get married? Is that like an open relationship? and Oh, I could never do that. I have quick answers for all of these, so the conversation goes smoothly and quickly and I feel like I’ve educated someone without rambling or getting tripped up by a rude question. You will get lots of rude and stupid questions. Know how to answer them with grace and gentleness so everyone can move on. Your prepared answers can be a simple “that’s a personal question I’d prefer not to answer,” too - but that comes off as a lot more confident when you know in advance what sort of question you’ll be deploying it for.

Ignore the Haters

Haters gonna hate. My brother makes sure to remind me often that he thinks I am a slut and that what I do is sick and wrong. I caught him soliciting nude pictures from girls on Myspace when he was fourteen, so I don’t put much stock in his opinion. I had a friend who thought my polyamory was cool and not his business, but when he told his girlfriend (who has never met me), they had a big fight because she was so angry with him for not being angry with me. She is a judgmental weirdo. I’m also a Christian, and a number of people in my faith community are not fans of my relationships. But at the end of the day I have a community of friends and lovers to return to, who have far more to offer me. I always do my best to quell misinformation, to calmly and firmly explain that I am deeply in love with all my partners and that I’m happy and fulfilled, and answer everybody’s questions, even the rude ones. But I don’t let their problems with polyamory become my problems.

Questions about coming out as poly? Other tips for my readers? Get in touch with me here.