Yesterday, I had the…

Yesterday, I had the SAJA panel, followed by reception, followed by dinner with some folks from the event. Overall, a good event, and everyone who came to dinner was really smart and interesting and nice. But somehow over the evening dinner conversation (I think we were talking about living with vegetarians), Karina came up, and our threesome of those many years ago. And when my dinner companions got over being suitably surprised by that, at some point later, I mentioned Jed, and they were, I think, fairly shocked to learn that I, a respectable-looking mother of two, had an ongoing relationship with someone who wasn't my husband. Sigh.

The conversation was then dominated by my love life and 'are you sure Kevin isn't jealous?' and 'what about the children???' for a fair bit of the remaining meal. And I can't blame them, I suppose -- as they said, they hadn't met anyone before who was in an open relationship. And perhaps because it was a group of journalists, it's not surprising that they didn't hesitate with the probing questions. But I do hate feeling like I have to explain / defend my love life.

I just get tired, sometimes, you know? Coming out and coming out and coming out, and it's just endless, in part because these days, my family looks fairly traditional on the surface. It would be easier in a lot of ways if I were just gay, and in a nice lesbian partnership. It would be obvious. Most folks are familiar with that concept, and might not even blink at it, even within the S. Asian community. And at least in academia, there are lots of unmarried partnerships, so Kev and I not being married isn't a big deal. But poly is still almost unheard-of, outside SF/F circles, it seems.

And it's tempting to try to pass as monogamous and married, sometimes, just so I don't have to have the same conversation over and over and over again. It's especially hard having these conversations in a larger social setting, because it gets fragmented and hard to explain well -- I'd much rather talk about poly stuff one on one. I kind of enjoy that, as long as the person I'm talking to isn't hostile. (Sometimes they are. Sometimes people take my being poly as some kind of personal threat, to themselves or their relationships. Sigh.)

Kevin hardly ever has these conversations, but that's because he mostly doesn't talk to strangers about his personal life. At all. And I can do that, but it feels like a lie. An erasure, of Jed, of my history, our present and future. It's not in my nature to hide anything. But I wish I could find a better way of handling this -- somehow acknowledging the reality of my love life, not apologizing for it, but also deflecting the conversation away to a more interesting topic.

More interesting to me, anyway.

Maybe it's a futile hope.

6 thoughts on “Yesterday, I had the…”

  1. Looking outwardly normal and still having this conversations with strangers is fighting the good fight, Mary Anne. I’m not saying these people will run out and be poly, but the next time someone comes out to them, or they run across a similar situation, think about how much different that reaction will be. And maybe those next poly people aren’t as secure/ used to it as you are, so when, instead of journalistic rapid-fire questions, the response they get is “oh, hey, yeah, I knew someone who did that, too” it’s going to be a *huge* relief to them. Baby steps.

  2. Ha, so you discovered the essential conservative mainstreamness of the SAJA crowd. 🙂
    Education is laudable, but — in case this isn’t obvious — let me just say that you’re not obliged to give every person an individual personalized lesson that turns into counseling them about their own deepest relationship fears.
    What to do — well, it’s not quite the same thing, but when I get bored with the ‘where are you from’ conversation, I usually say, I wrote a 400-page book about it! That shuts em up, or at least diverts the conversation into a potentially book-selling one. 🙂
    You could say, I’ve been blogging about it since before the word blog existed, and I’ve addressed all of these issues so many times — here’s the URL if you want to check it out.
    xox

  3. Sympathies on this.

    I admire your bravery in being willing to have such conversations, and I deeply appreciate your being willing to tell people about me.

    But at the same time, I also think it’s okay to gloss over some of this stuff when you want or need to. If you’re coming out because you feel you have to do so to be true to yourself, then by all means continue; but if, in a given conversation, you don’t feel up to coping with having to give a long explanation about all this, from my point of view (fwiw) it’s okay to conserve spoons. You don’t owe them an explanation if you’re not up for giving one.

    And I agree with Minal that it’s also okay to just point people to resources. For example, the FAQ on polyamory.org, though it hasn’t been updated in over a dozen years, can still be a useful resource for newcomers to the idea; so I think it’s entirely reasonable to say “I’m not really up to giving the whole spiel right now, but if you go to polyamory.org, there’s a page of answers to frequently asked questions.”

    …On a side note, I would say that there are more groups than just sf people who are familiar with the idea. For example, there’ve been articles about poly stuff in major publications lately, such as a 2009 Newsweek article. I suspect it’s a concept that’s more familiar, in general, to younger and more liberal and more urban people than to older and more conservative and more suburban ones; still, I think it’s an idea that’s becoming fairly widely known in the US.

    I’ve been meaning for ages to post about my (relatively recent) experience coming out as poly to a bunch of people in the generation that came of age in the ’60s; they were suspicious of it not because they hadn’t heard of it, but because in the early ’70s they’d been exposed to the book Open Marriage, which apparently gave some stupendously bad advice about how to do this sort of thing, so they had very negative associations with the idea. It was a fascinating but exhausting discussion.

  4. A further thought—just sleepily musing about the topic of coming-out conversations:

    One thing that I find interesting about this coming-out experience of yours is that back when we first met, when I was pretty trepidatious about being out as poly, you told me (iIrc) that you just casually mentioned multiple partners in passing all the time. And I said something like “What do you say if they ask you followup questions?” And you said “They never ask questions.”

    So now I’m curious about why you and I are more likely to get questions about it these days. Maybe hanging out in different crowds; maybe people are more willing to ask the questions they’ve got; maybe because (as you noted) your circumstances look more conventional on the surface than they used to; maybe various other reasons. This isn’t so much me asking you to explain it; more just thinking out loud.

  5. You also have to remember that most people’s exposure to poly is from those awful polygamous marriages in Utah.

    What I’ve noticed is that (in my limited experience..hung out with a poly crowd for about 8 years or so) the triads that are actually more stable are the ones like yours. Two men and one woman. The others all seemed to crash and burn after a while…

    I think also, because people are more used to gay couples, there is a little more freedom to ask… its not such a strange thing to be a little different.

  6. What an eloquent description of the exhaustion that can come from being A Representative. I appreciate this eloquence and also the genorosity and desire for truth in human interaction that inspired this reflection.

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