Relationships off the map

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , , | Posted on 3:59 PM


Every time I find people willing to engage in multiple relationships with me, since I started dating married couples at 16, I have the same set of emotions. Like the period where I exclusively dated women, I have the odd sensation of wandering off the map. Being publicly poly has been less dangerous than being publicly gay, at least in terms of people behaving aggressively: being out as a set of three or four has caused considerably less aggro behavior than my going out in a suit, with my breasts bound and/or with false facial hair.

Yo, straight couples, feel free to stop aggressively making out while staring at me, or cracking jokes about my needing a good cock in my life: you can't rape me straight. The religious comments make you a special kind of asshole. Also, dear waitstaff, stop policing my gender and orientation by refusing service, thank you very much. That's happened a few times, now, both when I've butched it up and when I've been on a date with someone non-white.

The feeling of being off the edge of the world persists. Over the last 34 years, I've been in five poly relationships, with two-three other people: mostly nerds, SCA folks, a dominatrix and punks (go team weirdos.) We've gone to restaurants together, or stayed in and hung out, gone to concerts and done essentially what dating people do, with the exception that the seating order gets complicated, and one has to confirm that touching this person is okay. Typically, we just look at each other, less body English required as the relationships go on. You have to keep checking, a feature of all of my 'alternative' relationships: constant consent checks.

The way the larger culture treats consent and anything but one man, one woman, make babby, makes this much harder. In a very real way, we are presented with relationship presets which we are expected to replicate. The consequences of not following the pattern can range for depressing to dire, to which persons who are gay-bashed can attest. Even as an adult who is modestly able to defend herself, even as someone with an advanced education and a male partner, the watchfulness and anxiety persist. I have lists of friends I cannot tell about my relationships, the people in my department can't and won't know, people at my workplace know little about my relationships and I am circumspect about appearing in public.

It's not because I'm overwhelmingly ashamed (there is some small, lingering religious guilt, thanks to my upbringing.) I love my relationships. I passionately advocate, if I can, for the acceptance of alternative arrangements and talk about the way society governs the expression of gender and sexuality. It's because I'm afraid of the consequences of going off the map, of which I am very aware.

I never officially chose to be poly (or bisexual). The tendency was there, nagging at me, something which I did not, for a long time, have the words to express. Noticing women and girls, at first a vigilance which expressed itself in words and gestures: borrowing coats and combs, petting and hugging the girls around me, protecting them from boys. Later, it became a little obsessive: noticing their smell and what they liked and disliked, falling in love with the way they looked and talked, so like and unlike my own behavior. All but panting with desire when they combed my hair, hating their boyfriends. Laying, rigid with desire, during sleepovers; wanting to cuddle them, kiss them, touch them. Falling in love with female friends, with their athleticism or their sense of humor or their intelligence.

It was much the same way with poly. I always was oddly resistant to being in a relationship with one person, something that, despite my having dated married couples, over which I flogged myself with guilt. My first marriage was spent hating myself for being unable to be happy in a relationship with just one person. Even now, sometimes I get frustrated with myself for being so completely unable to do as we're 'supposed' to do, because it is demanding of my partners. It appears to be more natural, guilt notwithstanding,  to me than it appears to be to many of my partners, and I resent myself for the demands this makes on them.

The watchfulness persists, despite being comforted by age and a more accepting community of friends (I can talk about it without being labelled a slut with most of my friends, though they, too, misunderstand me.) I am never unaware that I am off the edge of the map given me, and that here might be dragons.

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