Polyamorous Visibility in the Social Sphere


Most of my more-than-bullet-point posts seem to spontaneously generate in the shower, and today that led me to some wet-haired poly ponderings about presentation and the social sphere.

Namely, that I don’t consent to being presented as monogamous.

Hypothetical Example: A friend introduces me to her parents, and during the getting-to-know-you conversation, said friend introduces me as married, and leaves it at that. In this conversation, I’m specifically partnered to my live-in partner, the one the state legally recognizes, and there is no mention of my other two relationships. The conversation about my relationship status begins and ends with my socially-sanctioned relationship.

I’m not at all okay with this. I anticipate it and even understand it, but I am not okay with it. 

“But that puts your friend in such an awkward position!”

Yes, it does. Much like me being queer would have put said hypothetical friend in an awkward position ten, fifteen years ago. (Granted, there are circles where this would be the case even today, but those scenarios are rare in my social circle. Most of us are really fucking queer, and it’s obvious.) Discomfort doesn’t mean it’s okay to present a queer person as heterosexual when they don’t consent to it, even by implication. 

I rail against heterosexism, and I rail against the erasure of my partners.

This is one reason why, for me, polyamory has at once significantly expanded my intimate connections, and contracted them down to a tiny handful of folks who are comfortable with being “seen” with me, so to speak. People who are comfortable with actually being friends with me—all of me, and not just the palatable, socially-acceptable, easy-to-understand me.

I am not just the me who is married to my legal spouse. I’m also the me who’s in love with two my girlfriends. I’m not okay with those versions of me being socially partitioned, compartmentalized.

I find it cruel to erase my partners as a means of social lubricant. They’re not erasable, to me. I don’t want to be erasable either; I’d be hurt to find out I’d been erased by my partners, or their friends, or anyone else. My partners are human beings, not dirty secrets, and while I have nothing but understanding for anyone else who might choose to be closeted—and even understanding for people who have the impulse to erase me or my partners—I’m not okay with it happening to me or to my partners, unless we consent to it.

And speaking for myself? I don’t. I don’t consent to being erased, and I don’t consent to participating in the erasure of my partners. 

When a friend asks about my live-in partner but not my other two partners, it hurts me. (This is rare, these days. Fortunately.) When I’m spending time with a friend’s friends and my friend mentions my live-in partner but not my other two partners, this hurts me. When a friend’s family erases my two other partners by referring only to my socially-accepted live-in partner, this hurts me.

Again, it’s not as if I don’t understand the mechanisms at work here. 

But, like stepping on someone’s foot, understanding that it’s accidental or incidental or the result of confused flailing doesn’t make it any less painful to experience.

These are human beings we’re erasing. Not ideas, not political statements. People whom I love, who love me. So no, I am not okay with it, even if I understand why it happens. I am not and never will be. To accept me is to accept my partners—all of them. I would not feel good about someone erasing my career, which is such an integral part of who I am. Similarly, to reject and erase any of my partners is to reject and erase me, full stop.

Replace “polyamorous” with “queer,” and few people bristle at the idea of accepting some level of social responsibility for a friend’s visibility. It’s a matter of loving the friend for who they are, yes? I can’t think of a single friend of mine who would deliberately lead their family members, coworkers, other friends, or acquaintances, to believe I’m heterosexual because the alternative is too difficult.

If it’s going to be too difficult, too uncomfortable, then I just shouldn’t be invited along. I’d much rather not be there than be erased, or prescriptively endure the erasure of my partners.

Generally, I’m not visible to make a political statement, though the overlap is inevitable. My visibility is about love. About appreciating my partners for who they are. About insisting that anyone who wants to be part of my life in any meaningful way is going to have to accept my partners as equally real and valid—all of them.

If that means alienating people who are otherwise attempting to conceal their discomfort with who I am, that’s okay with me.  If being part of a social event means I’m going to have to play monogamous for the evening, I’m not interested. My partners mean more than that to me. My live-in partner is not the only partner who matters, and to suggest otherwise feels hurtful and cruel. They all matter. They are all real, integral parts of my life who deserve just as much social recognition as my easily-socially-recognized partner. They’re not friends with benefits; they’re partners. People I love and could conceivably grow old with, even if not in the way most people conceptualize it.

Insisting that folks acknowledge my partners as human beings who deserve to be visible (if these folks want me around)? Worth it. Completely. 

See also: “I don’t need to talk about what I do in the bedroom…”

(Standard disclaimer applies: While this is how I practice, conceptualize, and live polyamory, that doesn’t mean any of what I’ve said applies to any other person who practices polyamory. What’s right for me may be a nightmare for someone else. These are simply my feelings as applied to my own social sphere. Given my strong feelings about visibility, I generally do not date folks who choose—for themselves—to remain entirely in the closet, as a matter of compatibility. That would significantly change the dynamic of how I relate to my partners in the social realm.)