Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

Who needs to know, redux April 10, 2008

I’ve found myself in a few situations lately where I’ve wondered whether I should bring up my bisexuality or polyamory. All of these situations were safe and most were just random discussions that wandered into the area of sexuality for a time. But how safe is any situation? (And by ‘safe’ I mean socially and emotionally – physical safety is assumed or I wouldn’t be there).

When a gay girl says something disparaging about bisexuality, is it really worth the effort to jump in? What if the comment isn’t simply ignorant but malicious? Am I, by staying silent, helping to perpetuate whatever negative stereotype is being paraded? And by jumping in, am I necessarily ‘owning up’ to being bisexual? Do I need to do so in order to make my point more effectively or can I simply defend the idea of bisexuality, let everyone else come to their own conclusions, and only identify myself as bi when or if someone asks directly?

What about polyamory? Bisexuality – even though it is unique in the LGBTIQ lineup in that it keeps the sex-meaning-fucking part front and centre, thereby making people more uncomfortable than less obviously sexual words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ or sex-meaning-plumbing words like ‘transsexual’ and ‘intersex’ – refers to orientation whereas polyamory refers more directly to mostly sexual/amorous practice (or potential practice). Bisexuality also has a higher profile than polyamory and therefore, even though the assumptions made may not be to one’s liking, saying that one is bisexual doesn’t really require very many explanations. Whatever they think of it, people pretty much have an idea of what it is. Polyamory, on the other hand, is relatively less known and therefore can require more explanation. Plus people have far more ‘morality’ issues with it than with bisexuality because while bisexuality may challenge the binary paradigm to some extent, people can digest it as being a kind of alternating serial monogamy. Polyamory is a far more direct challenge and can therefore – running with the alimentary imagery for a second – tend stick in their craw.

I have, on occasion, spoken up and, each time, have received that side-on, questioning-assessing look from both straight and gay people. Nobody said anything and, to be fair, some people didn’t really seem to care either way, or were generally accepting of what I had to say, so it’s not all bad, but I wonder still about the further-reaching effects of the assumptions made by those who did take note. My work involves interaction with people at what can be a fairly personal level, and I don’t want those assumptions about sexuality and promiscuity to affect it. The only way to address that is to address it directly, but that isn’t guaranteed to work because people generally don’t want to talk about other people’s sexual practice unless they’re directly involved or want to be (and sometimes not even then), and such discussions can end up leading to even more erroneous assumptions because your listeners are filtering what you’re saying through their own understanding of what you’re talking about.

The other thing is that I like hearing people’s perspectives on sex, sexual politics, sexuality, queer theory, and so on, so I end up in these discussions relatively often and I don’t particularly want to stop. But then they go all wobbly and weird and I don’t know whether I should step in and right them – or attempt to – and in the process set myself up for more scrutiny than I’d necessarily like or just let them run out of steam.So, I thought I’d ask the lovely people who stop by here.

In such situations, what would or do you do and what kind of effect, if any, would or does that have on your life?


One Response to “Who needs to know, redux”

  1. Jenny Block Says:

    First of all, this is such a wonderful post. So well written and thought out. You have really tapped into something that I think plagues most of us in the polyamory community and many in other less understood communities as well. The thing is, there is no one answer to your query. I know. It’s the worst kind of non-answer you can get. But it’s true. Each situation is different. Who are you talking to? How confident are you feeling in the situation? Will more bad than good come from “coming out”? I would never let a racist or sexist or other derogatory joke lie and yet sometimes I do choose to share my opinion without sharing my practices. Is this “right”? I don’t know. But we can only do what works for us and we can’t always save the world as much as we would like to. So, does remaining silent have a negative effect? Not necessarily. But what it definitely does not have is a positive one. I hope that before too long more people will know more about polyamory and thus will feel less threatened by it. It is feeling threatened, I believe, that causes the undesirable reactions. All we can do is share our thoughts and ideas. But we only have to do it when it feels right. Once again, I think it’s a matter of intuition. How does the situation feel? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any easier guide. But, in all things, I don’t think there’s a better one either.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Jenny Block
    Author of “Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage”

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