Written by Simon Copland
This is my coming out story. My second one. When I was 16 years old, I first came out as gay.
Coming out then was hard but this time is much harder. This revelation is something I am more fearful about, but I have to come out.
I am polyamorous.
I am dating two people at the same time – James and Martyn. They are both fully aware of and happy with the arrangement and are able to follow suit by dating or having sex with other people if they wish (as am I).
My partner James and I have been together for nine years. We met on a drunken night during my first week at university. James was in his third year and I had turned 18 the week before.
Straight off the bat James suggested we should be in an open relationship, meaning we’d be allowed to have sex with other people if we wanted. At first I didn’t like it but I agreed. At the time I felt I had little to lose.
James and I moved in together a year later and for many years we rarely acted on our agreement – there was only the occasional hookup. But the arrangement was always there. It was an acknowledgement that we could be sexually attracted to other people and act on that, yet still love and be in a relationship with one another.
Over time I grew more comfortable about it and slowly we developed our understanding of these ideas. When we moved to Brisbane a few years ago we became friends with others in polyamorous relationships. We each developed crushes and realised, in practice, that we could have feelings for other people yet still love each other.
Then came Martyn. James’s friend first, Martyn lives in Edinburgh – they met through roller derby circles and connected on Tumblr.
When visiting Edinburgh last year James, Martyn and I caught up for a drink. By the time James and I got home to Brisbane, Martyn and I were chatting on Facebook and Skype on a regular basis.
Soon James was calling him my “Scottish boyfriend” and not long later Martyn and I made that official. Martyn visited us in Australia and now I am spending the year in Edinburgh living with him.
Over the past year I have faced the same anxiety and fears as I did as a nervous gay teen. But coming out as poly has required vastly more explanation – not only have I faced the fear of people reacting badly, I have faced a barrage of questions about “how it works”. So here is the simple explanation:
My relationships are based on a simple philosophy – there is no limit to the amount of love we can feel for other people. Loving someone does not diminish the love we have for others. Just because I love vanilla ice cream doesn’t mean I can’t love chocolate ice cream as well.
I love Martyn and I love him deeply. So while I’ve obviously been with James a lot longer, my relationship with Martyn is not some fling or a phase. It is a serious relationship and one I see lasting a long time.
Of course, just like any other relationship, this brings challenges. Our relationships require work to ensure we are all feeling happy and secure. It is here that communication is essential. Most people in polyamorous relationships develop “relationship agreements” outlining the emotional and logistical work we do to keep them strong.
Ours cover a number of topics. First and foremost they deal with sex and other relationships. I have agreed with both James and Martyn, for example, that I will tell them if I have a sex or develop an emotional connection with someone else and they are required to do the same.
Our agreements cover when we are required to tell each other and the level of detail we give. In doing so “cheating” is no longer about breaching fidelity but rather about breaking these agreements. Interactions outside our relationships are acceptable as long as we are open and honest about them.
Our agreements also cover who we have sex with and how we have sex. Firstly, no, we don’t have lots of threesomes. While there are many people who are engaged in triad relationships (in which three people are all dating/having sex with each other) James and Martyn do not see each other in that way. They are friends. We have also agreed there are people we aren’t allowed to have sex with (for example ex-partners and good friends). On top of this, we make sure to practise safer sex. We consider this essential to ensuring the three of us are healthy and secure.
But our agreements aren’t just about sex. Poly relationships also bring a range of logistical issues. The three of us have only spent a month in the same city to date but we learned a lot in that time. We had to discuss sleeping arrangements, questions of sex within the house and what activities we’d do all together or as couples. All polyamorous people arrange this differently. Some set up rosters for sleeping and social engagements, others use Google Calendar, and others organise regular date nights to ensure everyone is included. It is a process of constant communication, with everybody figuring out what works best for them.
That communication is important between James and Martyn as well. As I said earlier, they were friends before I met Martyn and that continues. The two often chat on Skype and Facebook and, when in the same city, they train and play roller derby together.
Of course this has been an emotional rollercoaster at times. The most common question I face is “how do you deal with jealousy?”. We all deal with it differently.
I’ve definitely had times where I’ve wanted to crawl into bed to hide from the anxiety while my partner is with someone else. At the same time, jealousy is just one emotion and it is one that does not dominate my life. In fact, if my partner being with someone else makes him happy then that makes me happy too. We in the poly community call this compersion.
The biggest emotional challenge, however, has been the social barriers we’ve encountered. Along with the questions we’ve faced, James, Martyn and I have all faced a range of prejudice – even from those I consider to have progressive social and political values.
Unlike many others I have been very lucky. I have not lost my children, nor lost any friends or family, owing to my relationship status. But our collective coming out has been met with differing levels of hostility, derision and bewilderment.
Martyn, for example, has been told by friends that he should “be careful” that I’m not “using him”. I have had many insinuate – openly or otherwise – that I am being selfish, judging me for the way I am “treating James”. More commonly though, I have often been told how “weird” my relationships are; a subtle form of judging that follows me wherever I go.
I am not surprised by this but it hurts. And it definitely confuses. Polyamory is based on the simple principle that love is limitless. To me there is little more beautiful than that. Yet even from those who consider themselves to be “lovers, not haters” we have often faced derision and discrimination.
That is why, despite my reservations, I – like many in my community – feel an ever-greater need to be out. I write this explanation as a call to embrace poly people and our relationships. That doesn’t mean I think everyone should become polyamorous, although I believe everyone should think about whether it would work for them.
Even if you decide against it, it’s time to embrace those who are. That should mean fighting for more legal rights for those of us who choose to live this way. It is much more difficult for heterosexual people in polyamorous relationships to gain legal rights than it is for a gay monogamous couple.
Acceptance for me would mean making sure Martyn is treated as a full member of my family and friendship group (just as James has been), talking to me about him as one would about James, and not overwhelming me with questions about “how it works” (I don’t mind the odd question but it does get tiring). Many have already done this, but it is not something I should have to ask for. We’re not any stranger than anybody in a monogamous relationship and it would be nice to be treated like that. Relationships are infinitely diverse.
I am polyamorous and I am proud.