5 Reasons Cishet Polya Folks Probably Shouldn’t Claim to Be Queer, Even Though You May Really Want To

Apologies for the late post; it’s been an eventful day! Here is an updated article originally published on Postmodern Woman.

Yay polyamory! Non-Monogamy has been making the rounds lately as the “mainstream” (read straight, USian or British or Canadian, cis, and usually white) discover that love doesn’t have to be as limiting and lonely as we’ve been told. Hell, we’ve finally started discussing abuse culture, how to be more inclusive and less oppressive, and breaking down amatonormative assumptions (primarily around the idea that your partner belongs to you).

More and more people are learning about things like compersion, intimate friendships, and open and honest communication. And that’s an absolutely great thing! Many of the tools and skills that people learn to hone while engaging in polyamory carry over into other aspects of life not remotely related to romance and sex.

There’s a lot of great potential within non-monogamous communities to revolutionize the way people tend to approach intimacy in general. It opens up conversations about the ways in which people meet their needs and can encourage people of any relationship orientation towards healthier behaviors.

But a potentially troublesome trend has come along with all of the attention: many of you cishet people keep claiming a queer identity, rooted in the fact that you are polyamorous.

Here’s why that may not be cool, even if it might seem like you’re doing it out of solidarity.

First of All, It’s Inaccurate

Even though non-monogamy can be an inborn orientation, many of you choose to be non-monogamous. Much like the excitement over the wildly inaccurate 50 Shades of Grey, this discovery of a sexy, potentially exciting venture was likely presented to you through mainstream means. Perhaps you’ve read The Ethical Slut, More Than Two, or other fairly popular books on non-monogamy. Maybe you read about this new trend in a magazine or some HBO show.

While it’s great that there’s such an influx of representation of non-monogamous relationships, be wary that it’s still not fully, or even accurately, representative of the diverse populations within non-monogamy. There’s still a huge issue with retention of queer, Black, poor, and disabled polya folk. Even books, fiction, and movies that deal with polyamory present it as a choice that comes after the fact, after trying to be monogamous, or as some way of avoiding commitment.

Think about why that is.

Even if we get to see a sort of happy-ever-after ending, we don’t actually get to see any examples of fully healthy polya relationships, or stories of people who grew up healthily polya, or of those whose relationship orientation is inherent in the way that their sexuality and/or gender is.

More specifically, outside of the cuilverse, diverse, healthy, queer, and poly-as-orientation doesn’t seem to exist in entertainment.

Given that the main representation is already mostly cis and straight and white people who’ve made a clear decision to be non-monogamous, the P for polya doesn’t quite make sense in the queer movement.

Speaking of which,

It Erases Those of Us Who Actually Are Queer

Those of us who are both non-monogamous and queer find ourselves floating around in the background while you folks tend to get the attention. This is a serious problem. It’s not something intentional, we’re sure of it.

It’s just that, in efforts to make non-monogamy more palatable to the masses, it’s much easier to get the idea past filters if the participants are otherwise “normal”. Since media and entertainment work the way they do, it necessarily means that us queers end up with the short end of the stick. Even worse, when you are straight and cis, claiming that your polyamory is queer obfuscates the meaning. It makes people who are queer in every other way less visible. It centers, once again, heteropatriarchal values and experiences.

Being queer and polya is a vastly different experience than being straight and polya.

Did you not realize that our experiences even differ?

Well, keep this in mind…

Much of Cishet Non-Monogamy Has More in Common With Monogamy +

Most straight cis people lead fairly straightforward lives. Or at least, more recognizable lives. You don’t spend your lives fighting against the amatonormative current. Even if you do, there are still many things you’ll never experience as a cis straight person.

For this reason, many of you only have your normative history to draw on. Even if your polyamory is your orientation rather than your choice, your most likely approach often ends up like Frankin Veaux’s in The Game Changer. Years, or even decades of relationships built on the idea of monogamy plus one.

What do I mean by that exactly? Monogamy plus one is the reason the non-monogamous communities even have terms like hierarchy, secondary, tertiary, polyfidelity, etc and the reason particular non-monogamies like Relationship Anarchy, solo polyamory, relationship fluid, and others have appeared as a way to push back against it.

There even exists out there now a “Secondary’s Bill of Relationship Rights”!

I’m not saying that being a secondary or wanting a polyfidelitous relationship is wrong or worse, just that it took so much pain, anguish, jealousy, guilt, and mistakes to get to the point where the community is finally openly discussing how these attitudes can be abusive, divisive, and harmful.

Because much of straight, cis, well-off mono culture is built upon the amatonormative arm of abuse culture in general (more on that in a later post), straight cis people within polya communities tend to repeat the same mistakes, perpetuate the same imbalances, and tread the same ground as people who are monogamous.

But why would that bother queer polya people so much? It’s not like they invented the modern form of polyamory or anything.

It Is Appropriative for Cishets to Claim Polya as Queerness

Much as Dolezal is given the side-eye for claiming recent Black ancestry, many queer people are wary of cishet people saying they are queer. It’s rude especially when you keep in mind that way before Ethical Slut, there existed polyamory within the U.S.

A polyamory that was queer and Black and anarchic. Queer history is still not really taught widely, so you might not even realize that it was kinky queer weirdos like myself who initially rejected the trappings of the white picket fence, marriage, and kids that culture forces down everyone’s throat. It’s not that none of us want those things, we simply found them on our own terms.
The same went for our love lives. Why should we keep the same attitudes of the society that oppressed us? Before the missionaries arrived (and still do arrive), many other nations and tribes were non-monogamous. That much is known, because the history of Blacks in any country, in addition to isolated peoples, are often cited as examples of why non-monogamy is more “natural” or to justify why it’s okay to practice.

You might not actually know that this is a bit of an insult. Non-Monogamy, like much of culture in general, has now circled so far around that it has to be reintroduced to the types of people who had been doing it all along. I raise my eyebrows at all of it because that’s some next-level Columbusing right there!
But all that aside, if you are cishet and you do understand the history of non-monogamy and are sensitive to your queer friends, can’t you still claim queerness in the name of solidarity? It’s not like with Dolezal, right?
Unlike acting or pretending to be Black, you can absolutely participate in queer acts. And that’s ok. But, there’s still a problem because…

Queer Acts Does Not an Identity Make

While people of any orientation whatsoever can certainly behave queerly, there’s still a distinction. Queer acts aren’t the same as queer identities.

Even if I were to behave as if I’m cis and straight, my identity would always be queer. Just as being with one gender or another doesn’t erase queerness, it also doesn’t validate queerness. It doesn’t even matter if you are non-mono by predilection and not simply by choice.

While my polyamory is my orientation, too, it is based on my queer identity — meaning that by definition and existence, I am not, never will be, and do not seek to be normal! My identities create a unique shape upon which my interactions rest. That’s something that cannot and will never change. My polyamorous nature grows out of my autism, my genderqueerness, my pansexuality, my noetisexuality, my other forms of queerness, and most notably my aromanticism. It is inextricably tied to my many queer identities and experiences.

I don’t know if it’s like that for other queer, disabled, POC polya people. But that’s for them to decide. Not even everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is queer, and there’s even less of an overlap between queer and cis populations.

While you may participate in queer events and acts like kink, non-monogamy, and other things, I guarantee you’ve never (and will never) be oppressed because of it if you otherwise fit into the dominant culture. We queers are still considered dangerous and deviant, and many of us exist at the center of intersecting oppressions based on disability, race, poverty, gender, and neurodivergence.

That’s important to keep in mind. Queer has a very specific definition, it is a very specific perspective, and it has a distinct history. Despite the inclusive ground it covers, it most likely will not ever cover an cishet person, not even a polya one.

Most of you will never be oppressed for being non-monogamous like we are and have been. There’s a reason it’s more acceptable to be non-monogamous now, and that’s mostly because the main stories are those of cishets like you. The queer stories have been washed away, considered too much to take in, and too transgressive.

You’re not doing us any favors by saying you’re one of us, especially if the politics and privilege of your desires have never been fully examined, altered, or decolonized.

But don’t fret. You can certainly still support your queer poly family and friends. Be inclusive of us, acknowledge our history, and don’t participate in Columbusing; we get a lot of that in other areas of our lives already.

You can take your proper place as an ally, or better yet as an accomplice, learning from us instead of leaving us behind. You can appreciate us without obscuring our identity by claiming it. And when you’re ready to extricate yourself fully from the norm, then maybe we’ll reconsider.

What About That Lovely Compersion? It’s Not Just for Polya People

Note: This is an updated version of the article first appearing on Postmodern Woman.

Whenever we hear about compersion it’s in a romantic polya context. It’s a feeling of joy that one partner gets when one of their partners is happy, usually because they’ve met someone new. To romantic polya folks compersion is held up as the opposite of jealousy. It’s something to strive for. It’s proof that you’ve beaten the green-eyed monster (even if you still feel it from time to time).

But what about those of us who have no jealousy with which to compare the feeling? Or, hell, what about instances where we feel joy over someone else’s success, even in nonromantic contexts? What about when we cheer for our favorite sports teams and celebrate them winning?

I think we naturally feel compersion in a variety of situations. But people are only applauded for it and only notice it when they feel it in a romantic or polyamorous context.

But what if American Ninja Warrior was the standard for how we treated one another?

If you’re not familiar with American Ninja Warrior, it’s the only competition I’ve seen where literally everyone-competitors, announces, and audience-support every single person going out there and doing their best. That is true competition right there. It’s never about the other players; it’s all about you doing your ultimate.

We naturally want our children, our teams, our companies, and our friends to do well. We’re supportive of them, we cheer them on, and we celebrate with them when they get what they want, when they meet their goals, or when they win. We even do this with fictional characters.

Yet when it comes to romantic relationships and transitional polyamory from the dominant culture, for some reason all of that goes flying out the window. Romantic people are even encouraged to be jealous of one another. It becomes a competition in the destructive sense of the word and everyone is set apart from day one.

People view their partners with suspicion and newcomers with envy. They’ve learned in many ways to view their partners (or their time or love) as their property to some extent. And naturally when that’s taken away they despise it. They want to do all they can to prevent it. Jealousy tells them they’re losing something that’s rightfully theirs.

So polya people work at it. Over and over. Some people give up and return to a monogamous life. Some polya people learn to work around it. Jealousy becomes this ugly never-healing sore that just kind of weeps in the background sometimes. Polya people work on stripping it of its power. When they think they’ve succeeded, when they can feel somewhat joyful about a new love or something, they get excited about feeling compersion.

But it seems like it’s mostly a case of them unlearning the typical cultural messages surrounding how our relationships should look. Why is it easier for friends and parents to feel compersion rather than romantic lovers?

A huge part of it is simply amatonormativity – the pressure and belief that long-term romantic pair-bonding with accompanying trips up that relationship escalator are the norm and are appropriate and desirable for everyone. Not even non-monogamy gets much of a pass from the effects of amatonormativity; often ideas from the underlying culture spill over.

That’s why those who seem to overcome this programming get so excited about compersion.

Even still, the feeling isn’t exclusive to polyamory and for aromantic people or long-term multilinkers it’s not some elusive goal. It comes more easily or organically in nonfamilial intimate linkings because it’s an extension of what we already feel in our other relationships. For some multilinkers or people who value friendships over romance it might be easier for us to tap into our sense of compersion and extend it to all areas 0f our lives.

Compersion isn’t something exceptional. It’s not the sole invention or experience of polyamorous people. Instead I think it’s that those romantic polya people from the dominant culture might find it more difficult to express it in polyamorous relationships. All of us have certain contexts we develop for our relationships. Built into that context are a host of expectations and norms.

It’s considered normal to feel great when your husband gets a raise but not when he gets a new girlfriend.

Maybe the key to compersion isn’t so much defeating or conquering jealousy. I don’t even believe it is the opposite of jealousy. Maybe it’s simply a matter of learning to be more friendly. Of looking at your partner with those lenses you’re able to extend to everyone else. Maybe it’s simply a matter of unlearning those divisive competitive lessons. Why is it easier for you to be happy for your friend or your child but not your lover? Is the root something you simply acquired from culture that triggers your jealousy instead of your compersion?

Either way, however you arrive at it just remember: you’ve felt compersion before!

It’s more familiar than you think it is. It simply hasn’t gone by that name outside of a romantic polya context because people tend to take it for granted.

I recommend you take it from American Ninja Warrior. It is possible and it’s not as hard as people might make it seem. They’re definitely on to something.

Remember, I’m cheering you on!

From Now On, I’m Saying “Polyam”

Several people from Polynesian backgrounds have said that “Poly” has been a way Polynesians id themselves and our use of it has been problematic and erasing. For those unfamiliar, Lily Stone gives a powerful explanation of ,a href=”http://www.guerrillafeminism.org/poly-means-polynesian-not-polyamorous-lily-stone/”>why the use of “poly” for polyamory has been actively harmful to Polynesians. In response, the polyam community has had recurring discussions about whether we should keep using “poly.”

My initial response focused on the specific harms Lily Stone writes about. My blog post titles, tagging, and etc, used the full word “polyamory” or “polyamorous” to avoid causing problems for Polynesians searching online for other Poly people. But it occurred to me that using “poly” as a shorthand within blog posts and books normalizes the use of “poly” for polyamory.

It does me no harm to type a few extra letters. The lack of those letters is doing harm to others. Put that way, it’s an easy decision to make. So from now on, I’ll be using “polyam.” I invite you to do the same.

(P.S. Do not comment to debate whether it is ‘right’ or ‘okay’ for Polynesians to be upset or ask this of us. Do not start the shtick about how Polynesian was originally a word used by colonizers. I’ve seen it all. All your well-thought, logical arguments why using “poly” for polyamory should be okay don’t mean shit to me when beside the fact that this practice is hurting people. So don’t waste my time or spoons.)

This post is part of the Etiquette in Polyamory series.

Audio Post: What Does Respect Mean in Polyamory?

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Transcript (subheadings added to make reading at least a little easier)


Hey folks, this is Jessica and we’re trying something new this week.

I’ve been thinking for a while about adding a podcast or vlog as a community goal on the PolyonPurpose Patreon campaign. And since this week I’m having a bit of trouble putting my words on paper, I thought I’d give a try doing an audio blog and seeing what people think and how well it works.

Please bear with me on the sound quality. If I do add a vlog or podcast to the Patreon campaign as a community goal, I’m obviously going to need to invest in some new sound equipment.

So, this week we’re going to be talking about respect and specifically how we define respect. I’d been planning on going into kitchen table polyamory this week and how the etiquette around that can work. But I realized there is something I’ve been putting off. When I started this series on polyamory and etiquette, I said that as two of the core values of polyamory.

Defining Respect

Now, something I didn’t think about at the time is the many different ways respect can be defined. And that came up a couple weeks ago in my post on “disrespecting the primary.” Which is an idea that floats around the poly community, that for a metamour were to do something– or a secondary partner were to do something with their part– with the mutual partner it’d be disrespecting the primary partner. And what I mentioned in that post is the saying—and I really need to track down who said it first—is the saying that respect can mean “respect me as a person” or respect can mean “respect my authority.” And so when people say “I will respect you if you will respect me,” what they often are meaning is “I will respect you as a person if you will respect me as an authority”. And it seems to me that 9 times out of 10, if not more often, when poly folks talk about “disrespecting the primary” this is the kind of thing they are talking about, that the primary is being disrespected as an authority.

So this got me thinking about there’s, you know, obviously different ways of looking at respect, different ways of defining it. So when we are talking about respect as one of the bases of etiquette in poly relationships, what are we talking about? What does respect me to us in polyamory, when we are talking about respect not just our partners, but our partner’s partners, and our partner’s and all the other people in our lives because of our connection with our poly partners.

Now if you practice parallel polyamory you only really need to worry about respect in terms of you and your poly partners*. And that in and of itself is a big thing. If you have a communal approach, if you practice kitchen table poly or group poly or a bunch of other possible setups, respect also comes into not just you with your partners but you with a bunch of other people who you interact with because of your partners.

So that’s kind of where we are starting from today.

Now, you look at traditional definitions of respect, they are all talking about giving deference to someone, or esteeming someone, basically tying in with idea that respect is about respecting someone’s authority, respecting someone’s knowledge, respecting someone as a person to be looked up to in some manner or form.

But words evolve, and ideas evolve. And at least within Western culture, especially American culture, respect became something that you were expected to give to people as a default. And when that happened it kind of lost its meaning of deference. Because you aren’t expected to give someone deference as a default. What you are expected to do as a default is treat people with common decency and acknowledgment of their rights and existence. And that’s where “respect me as a person” comes in. Respect my humanity, respect that, you know I am a person. And being a person means there are certain things I get automatically.

Respect My Humanity

What do I get automatically as a person? I get the right to self-determination. I get the right to decide what I will do with my life, what-what actions I will take and what choices I make. I can give this right up. People can take this right away from me, as happens in dictatorships, in abusive relationships, in all kinds of situations. But at base, this is my right as a person.

Along with self-determination comes the right to set boundaries and the right to agency, to act within my environment. There’s other rights that come with being a person, the human rights people talk about. Now, there’s an argument that humans have a right to clean water. That really doesn’t come into play in interpersonal relationships, that’s a geopolitical issue. [Realizing as I transcribe—this CAN be an interpersonal issue is a specific individual is deliberately taking or fouling your water.] In interpersonal relationships, you know I have the right not to be harmed. I have the right to defend myself again harm. I have the right to interact with you or not interact with you as I choose, you do not have the right to force yourself on me. That would be a violation of my self-determination.

And this is what we are talking about when we talk about respect and polyamory. We are talking about all of us, in our relationships, in our lives, have these rights to self-determination, to set boundaries, to excerpt agency, to decide what we will and won’t do and who we will and won’t do it with.

As pat of my self-determination, I can determine I want to be in the closet about polyamory. I don’t want people to know I’m practicing this love style. If I make that decision, and you out me, you are disrespecting my right to self-determination, you are disrespecting me as a person who gets to decide who I will live my life.

And this applies in a lot of other ways. But—I think it’s an important distinction to make, that it’s really not—respect has so many definitions, and this is the one we are talking about in polyamory. We are not talking about respecting your boss, respecting your teaching, respecting authority. We are not talking about respecting in any way of being looking up to someone. We are talking about what has come, in American society at least, to be the bare default of “you are another person, and as another person I respect you and I respect your right to live your life as you choose.”

Respect and Common Decency

Now another thing that can go into this, and it’s debatable but my personal opinion, I believe respecting a person also comes with treating them with common decency. Y’know if I’m gonna cut you off in line at the supermarket, I’m disrespecting you, in my opinion. This is debatable. It doesn’t fall within self-determination, it doesn’t fall within boundaries and agency so much. But it is breaking the social contract. And if I break the social contract to your detriment, that to me is disrespect because I am denying you something that society agrees is your right. Even if it’s just the right to be ahead of me in line at the local Kroger.

If I’m calling you names, if I’m insulting you, if I’m in any way treating you in ways that don’t line up with our social contract of “this is the way people treat each other in society” that’s disrespect. Now of course society various. How people treat each other as schoolmates in a classroom is different from how people treat each other as fans at a football field, is different from how people treat each other bumping into each other at the store, is different from how people treat each other online. And that isn’t even getting into issues of culture and subcultures and what is part of the social contract of the way we interact for Jews at a synagogue is different from mainstream white people in Time Square is different from African American’s down south, is—it all interacts in different ways.

Accidental Disrespect

So accidental disrespect can happen. If…ya know, I’m pretty open about being Jewish and keeping kosher. It’s, to me, disrespectful to me to show up at my house, knowing hat I’m Jewish and keeping kosher, with pork that you’re planning on cooking for dinner. But there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what keeping kosher is. If you don’t realize that I keep a kosher home, that if you bring pork into my home I’m gonna spend an hour scrubbing my kitchen down because that’s what my religion asks of me, if you don’t know this and you bring pork over, that’s arguably disrespectful to me but you didn’t know it. It’s an accidental disrespect. it’s violating my rights in several ways because you are violating my right to set boundaries on my home and decide how I will live in my home. But you don’t know this. It’s an accident, accidents happen.

So respect isn’t something that can be carved in stone “THIS is being respectful, THIS isn’t.” Respect is an individual thing and it changes with everyone. What is respectful to me will be disrespectful to my partner will be disrespectful to the person down the street, might be respectful to you. Might be something that you’re “Eh, that’s not about respect of disrespect, that’s just, you know, a quirk.”

Where Does That Leave Us?

And that’s all something that goes into how we handle etiquette within the poly community and within poly relationships. Taking the time to learn about what is respectful and disrespectful to other people. In order to be respectful, in order to give people respect as the basis for our approach to etiquette, we need to know what they view as respectful and disrespectful. That goes back to honesty, goes back to community, goes back to just knowing each other as the basis for a relationship.

So that’s where I’m coming from when I say that respect is one of the foundations of etiquette in polyamory.

Um, ya know, comments are open below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you see as being the foundations of etiquette in polyamory? What do you think respect means? How does respect for your in your relationships? I’d love to hear from you and if you’re interested in getting more audio posts like this, in my getting a vlog or podcast going, please check out the patreon page, link is down below.

Take care all.

*This was a silly thing for me to say. It is totally possible to be disrespectful to people you never meet or interact directly with.

Managing Parallel Polyamory

Let’s talk parallel polyamory.

Parallel polyamory refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

In theory, the etiquette of parallel polyamory is straight forward. If you don’t interact, you don’t need to worry about etiquette, right?

But parallel poly covers a lot of ground. Not wanting your relationships to impact each other doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them far apart.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Parallel poly is the default way poly relationships work. Yeah, yeah, there’s no one way to do poly, every poly relationship is different, yadda yadda. Hear me out.

No one has the right to require you to be in a relationship. You do not have the right to require anyone else to be in a relationship. This should be a no-brainer. But apply that idea to polyamory. We’ll look at three people, for simplicity. The same idea applies no matter how many people are in your network.

Angela is dating Raoul and Janna. By default, Raoul and Janna do not have a relationship. By default, Angela’s relationship with Raoul does not give him the right to invite himself over to her home for coffee. By default the two relationships and three lives run in parallel. It is up to them to make the decision to change this. Angela can say “Hey Raoul, you’re welcome anytime. You don’t need to call or schedule, just drop by and hang out.” Janna can say “Hey, Angela, I’d like to get to know Raoul, he’s a bit part of your life and that makes him important to me. Do you think the three of us could hang out sometime?” But if nothing is said, if they don’t invite each other into their lives, the relationships continue to run in parallel.

This is also true with highly entwined relationships. Let’s say Angela and Raoul live together, and Angela is dating Janna. Angel and Raoul’s lives are intertwined and run together. Janna’s life runs separately and in parallel unless she and Angela choose to entwine their lives. And the relationships also run parallel unless Raoul and Janna choose to interact with each other.

parallel polyamory
All of these lines are parallel, but some are closer together than others.

Now, entwinement can make it harder for relationships to run in parallel. The more entwined Angela and Janna’s lives get, the closer Janna and Raoul’s lives move together because they are both entwined with Angela. If they are entwined enough, Angela might want to spend holidays with both of them. Now they will need to decide: do they stop practicing parallel poly, take turns spending holidays with Angela, or otherwise come to an arrangement that works for everyone. If Angela throws big holiday parties every year, Raoul and Janna can both come to the party and keep their distance from each other. Parallel courses maintained. If Angela has intimate holiday get-togethers with a few select friends, some choices need to be made.

Discussing Your Preferences

Don’t assume parallel polyamory. Yes, it’s the default. That doesn’t mean it’s what everyone wants. You and your poly partner(s) need to talk about what you want and how you want your relationships to work.

Angela and Raoul talk. Raoul feels weird about getting to know other people Angela is dating. Angela agrees that it is up to Raoul if he wants to get to know Janna or not. When Angela and Janna talk, Janna says she’s curious about Angela’s other partners, but if Raoul doesn’t want to spend time together, that’s up to him.

How Will Your Parallel Work?

The discussion needs a bit more detail than this because there are lots of ways relationships can be parallel.

So Angela says, “I love having our time together, but I really need to keep our relationship separate from my family and work life. So I’d prefer to stick to just stick to our date nights.”

Janna’s cool with that. When Angela talks with Raoul, he says that he’s not going to push in on her life, but he’d love for Angela to meet his family. How would she feel about being invited to a summer barbeque or holiday dinner?

When Parallel’s Meet

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to keep it parallel, shit happens.

Maybe Angela and Raoul drive their own cars to meet at the restaurant because Angela isn’t comfortable with her poly partners coming to her home. What if one night her car breaks down? Raoul can drive her home, but that’s a space Angela had previously set aside as off-limits.

If Angela asks Raoul to drive her home, the best thing he can do is not push past her boundaries any more than necessary. Stop the car, let Angela get out, say good night. Don’t get out of the car unless she invites him to, don’t ask if he can come in.

What if Raoul pulls up to drop Angela off and Janna comes rushing out of the house to meet her, worried that something is wrong?

Well, Raoul wanted to be more a part of Angela’s life. He might be hurt or upset. Angela let Janna stay at her house when Angela isn’t even there but isn’t comfortable with Raoul coming by to pick her up. Raoul’s feelings are understandable and he and Angela can talk about it. Later.

For now, he waves politely to Janna. Janna doesn’t focus on Raoul or take the chance to try to get to know him. If she comes out to the car to meet Angela, she says hello to Raoul. That’s it. She certainly doesn’t invite him in without Angela’s say-so. Raoul greets her politely. He and Angela say goodbye, and he drives away.

Just two people who happened to bump into each other. Yes, it might be awkward. But you respect the boundaries everyone has laid out. Raoul respects Angela’s not being comfortable with him at her home. Janna respects that Raoul isn’t comfortable getting to know her. Angela doesn’t change the way she treats them because no one has any boundaries about PDAs. They say goodbye, and continue moving in parallel.

Etiquette for parallel polyamory is crazy simple. Respect boundaries, don’t assume you know what your partner(s) want, and if the parallel breaks down briefly, don’t make a big deal of it. Use stated boundaries as guidelines for how to handle the situation and move on.

Discuss problems or discomforts with the specific person or people you are in a relationship with at a later time.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Kitchen Table Polyamory, Parallel Polyamory, and Etiquette

Kitchen Table Polyamory is a new term even in poly circles. It refers to poly relationships where everyone in the polycule is comfortable sitting together at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Folks who prefer kitchen table polyamory want to know their metamours and be friends with them. They may want their kids and their metamours kids to spend time together, or their metamour’s other partners to be comfortable calling them up to plan a surprise party together.

Parallel Polyamory is a companion term to kitchen table polyamory. It refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

Of course, there’s an undefined middle. You know a bit about your metamours (and maybe their other partners), might friend them on social media, send them a card on their birthday. But you and they wouldn’t be comfortable hanging out in each other’s kitchens.

Each of these approaches to polyamory raises some interesting etiquette questions. So for the next few weeks we’ll be looking at:

Polyamory Etiquette at the Kitchen Table
The Etiquette of Running in Parallel
When One Person Wants Parallel and One Person Wants Kitchen Table
Establishing a Middle Ground

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

I wasn’t able to finish the Etiquette blog series, but you can learn more about managing kitchen table and parallel polyam in The Polyamorous Home.

Metamours and “Disrespecting the Primary”

We’re taking a tangent away from etiquette this week. I got a response to last week’s post that deserves some attention.

A person on Twitter asked me if they were wrong to not want to meet their metamour. I told them they need to do what is right for them, but I think meeting their metamour is a good idea—if only because meeting them standing over their spouse’s hospital bed would be worse. This person replied their metamour would never show up at the hospital if their partner was hurt. That would be disrespectful to the primary. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said that we have very different definitions of “respect.” But again, they need to do what is right for them.

Why did I need to pick my jaw up off the floor? Because the idea that your metamour showing up at the hospital bedside is disrespectful to you is actually you being crazy disrespectful to both your metamour and your partner. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

Someone, and for the life of me I can’t remember who, said that there are two kinds of respect.
“You will respect me” can mean “You will treat me as an authority/superior/having power over you.”
“You will respect me” can mean “You will treat me like a human being (with rights, agency, and a reasonable expectation of common decency).”

Which is why “I will respect you if you respect me” can be so fucked up. For many people, it means “I will treat you like a human being if you treat me like an authority.”

If I need to explain why this a problem in relationships, you are reading the wrong blog.

So, let’s break down how showing up at a loved one’s hospital bed can be “disrespecting the primary.”

If your husband (my lover) is in the hospital and I visit them, am I denying you the common courtesy and decency I offer all human beings? No.
Am I infringing on your rights as a human being? No.
Am I taking away your agency and right to make decisions regarding you life and your body? No.
Am I denying your feelings, attacking you for reasons other than self-defense, or doing anything that will harm you? No.

So that definition of respect doesn’t apply. A metamour visiting their partner in the hospital bed is NOT disrespectful to the primary in terms of treating the primary like a fellow human being with rights, agency, and a reasonable expectation of common decency.

If I show up at your husband’s (my lover’s) bedside, am I somehow undermining your authority in some way? If you think you are the only one with a right to a “real” relationship with your husband and everyone else gets the scraps you allow them, then yes I am undermining your authority. I am flouting your “right” as his spouse to be the only one offering him solace, support, and help in his recovery.
Remember that last sentence, we will come back to it.

I think we’ve established that “disrespecting the primary” isn’t about harming the primary or treating them badly, and is about the primary enforcing their authority. Personally, if my partner ends up in the hospital (again) I’m gonna have better things to do than defend my relationship with him. Like, I don’t know, making sure he survives so we can still have a relationship? Making sure the kids are cared for and the rent is paid so he has a home and family to come back to? Oh, I know, dealing with the hospital bureaucracy and medical bullshit so he can focus on recovering and not stress about how we’re going to pay a 5 figure hospital bill? Yeah, I think those will require a bit more of my attention than defending my status as his one and only primary partner.

Now, let’s look at how barring your metamour from you partner’s hospital bed might be disrespectful to your metamour and your partner.
Your spouse (my lover) ends up in the hospital. It is understood that I am not supposed to show up because it would be disrespectful to you.
Are you denying me common courtesy and decency? Yes, you are denying me the chance to be with someone I care about when I am worried about their well being.
Are you infringing on my rights as a human being? Yes, you are restricting my freedom of movement in a public place.
Are you taking away my agency and right to make decisions regarding my life and my body? Um, yeah. Yeah, you really are. Taking away my agency is the whole point of this little “understanding.”
Are you denying my feelings, attacking me for reasons other than self-defense, or doing anything that will harm me? Yes, you are denying my grief and fear and/or demanding I suppress them in your favor. You are potentially causing me mental and emotional harm. (Speaking from experience here. I was not allowed to see my grandfather before he died because it would be “too traumatic.” Yeah, um. Not being able to see him to say goodbye was a fuck ton worse.)
So yes, saying that your metamour would be “disrespecting the primary” by visiting your mutual partner in the hospital is disrespectful to your metamour. You are not treating them like a fellow human being with rights, agency, and the reasonable expectation of common courtesy and decency.

Now let’s look at your partner. Cause this is where it really gets fucked up.
Are you denying your spouse common courtesy and decency? Yes, you are denying them access to people they care about and dictating who they can and can’t turn to for support.
Are you infringing on your spouse’s rights as a human being? Debatable—you aren’t dictating to your spouse or denying them anything directly. But you are infringing on their right to socialize with, spend time with, and ask for help from whoever they wish.
Are you taking away your spouse’s agency and right to make decisions regarding their life and their body? Um, yeah. Yeah, you really are. You are not allowing them to make decisions about their recovery and how they will manage the emotional and mental stress of their injury/illness.
Are you denying your spouse’s feelings, attacking them for reasons other than self-defense, or doing anything that will harm them? Yes. You are denying them access to resources (your metamour’s time, energy and attention) that can aid in their recovery. You are insisting that during one of the most stressful and difficult times of their life they not get help from someone they love.

In short, if you are more worried about “disrespect to the primary” then in doing everything and anything to help your spouse recover, which may mean including your metamour in their recovery, you are saying that protecting your place in their life is more important than their health and well-being. Remember that sentence we said we’d come back to? By insisting that you are the only one who can offer your spouse support in their recovery, you are denying your spouse support that will make their recovery easier. Think about that, a lot.

Now, that may be the kind of relationship that everyone in your polycule wants. In which case, do what makes you happy.

But be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. It’s not about “disrespect”. It’s about defending your primacy, no matter what the cost.

P.S. The hospital bed is an extreme example, but the same logic applies every time someone says a metamour or their partner shouldn’t do something because it would be “disrespecting the primary.”

*If you are in the hospital and do not want one of your partners to visit you, for any reason, that is your right. You saying “I don’t want you to see me in the hospital” is completely different from saying about your partner, “You can’t come see them in the hospital because it would be disrespectful to me.”

Meeting Your Metamour

I touched on this last week, but it deserves its own post.

METAMOUR: (Literally, meta with; about + amor love): The partner of one’s partner, with whom one does not share a direct sexual or loving relationship. See related vee.
-from More Than Two Glossary of Polyamory Terms

Some poly folk object to the term metamour. They feel like it forces them into a relationship with their partner’s other partner. To which I say, get over it. Metamour is no different than “in-law” or “co-worker” or “classmate”. You share a connection with this other person through a common point of interest. My graduating high school class had 22 people in, and the day I graduated I still didn’t know all their names. We were still classmates. Your metamour is connected to you through your mutual partner. Just like my classmates and I were connected through our school and classes and teachers. Doesn’t mean you need to like them, care about them, talk with them or even know their names. the connection exists.

As I outlined last week, there are good practical reasons for meeting your metamour. Not having a relationship with them. Not becoming friends. Just… meeting them. Knowing them enough that if you get stuck in an elevator together, you’ll recognize the person on the other side of the damn box. Maybe know a couple things you can talk about to pass the time.

So, your partner is going to introduce you to their other partner. If you’re new to polyamory, and sometimes even if you aren’t, meeting your metamour can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most cultures say you and this other person should hate each other for daring to love the same person. Instead, you are going to sit down and have a polite conversation, without the hidden war of words drama shows love.

Respect and honesty are the basis of polyamory etiquette. Keep that in mind as we go forward.

On being introduced:

Treat the introduction like any other introduction. “Please to meet you.” “Hey, how you doing?” “Thank’s for coming/Thanks for having me over.” Or, if you are the low humor type that some of my partners have been, “Hi. I’ve been dreading this, how about you?”

Humor can be a good way to break the ice, or it can fall flat and be a dead fish stinking up the room. Use your best judgment and don’t force it if it doesn’t come naturally.

After introductions, you have a choice.

You can treat it like nay meeting with a new person. Spend some time getting to know them, what their interests are, make some small talk. This can help lay the groundwork for further conversation.

You can clear the air. Given the way many cultures view non-monogamy, there is likely to be tension. You can start by stating your feelings/concerns/discomfort areas and giving your metamour a chance to do the same. Then talk it out.

Making conversation:

Making conversation can be a good way to ease into things. It’s often useful if you are used to polyamory and your metamour isn’t. Making conversation gives them a chance to relax and realize that you really don’t see them as an enemy. This is part of respect—respecting your metamour’s uncertainty and concerns. Making conversation also gives them a chance to get their feet under them.

If you are both new to poly and/or both uncomfortable, making conversation can help you both ease into things or just increase the awkward. If neither of you is able to start a conversation, go straight to clearing the air. If one of you is able to start a conversation, try to go with it for a bit. See what happens. If it’s more awkward than relaxing, you can shift to clearing the air.

Starting with casual conversation can be a good icebreaker. But once you’re all a bit more comfortable, you still need to clear the air.

Clearing the air:

If you are both experienced poly folk, or if you see your metamour as an enemy or potential enemy, go straight to clearing the air. Making small talk with someone you are afraid of or don’t like is dishonest. Do yourself and them the favor of laying out the problems right away rather than acting like everything is fine.

IMPORTANT: even if you see your metamour as an enemy, do not treat them like one. Fighting with them over you mutual partner will only make all of you miserable. If your metamour is an enemy, you want to convert them into an ally. Working together to make your mutual partner happy is the best way to protect the health of your relationship with your partner.

Compersion’s episode 5 is a good example of how to (and how not to) clear the air. Spoilers below, so you might want to watch the show first 😉

Josh and Keena are married. Keena is about to go on her first date with Colt. Josh asks to meet Keena’s Colt. They are all new to polyamory.

Josh is hostile. He addresses his fears and concerns honestly, but he starts from the assumption that Colt is an enemy. And instead of just saying “I’m afraid,” he attacks Colt. He needs to claim possession of Keena, demanding Colt acknowledge that Keena is his wife and that she will not be leaving her family. He wants Colt to answer to him, to give a reason Colt wants to date a married woman. This is not at all respectful.

Josh isn’t just disrespectful to Colt. He is disrespectful to Keena. He doesn’t trust her to establish her own boundaries and instead is possessive and aggressive in defense of his right to her. Josh also doesn’t trust Keena to have told Colt that she is married and committed to her marriage.

A better approach for Josh is to state his fears clearly. This would have made him vulnerable, which is scary, but it would have been more honest and more respectful. And it would have a lot less potential to create a disaster. “Hi, Colt. Look. I’m real uncomfortable with this. Keena has never gone on a date before and this whole polyamory is scaring me. I want Keena to be happy, but I’m afraid of losing her, so you going on this date tonight is freaking me out.”

This would have been both respectful and honest with Colt. Josh would be treating him as an individual rather than an instant enemy. It would also have been respectful to Keena, acknowledging that she is in charge of her actions and trusting her to tell Colt how her relationships work.

Keena is uncomfortable. She tries to cut the whole thing short and drag Colt out of the apartment and on their date. “Yes, he knows we’re married. I told him.” Josh’s disrespect upsets her, but she is also being dishonest. She wants to avoid and deny Josh’s fears rather than address them. Trying to shut Josh down may avoid the discomfort now, but it would create more problems later.

Colt, in contrast, is both respectful and honest. He listens to Josh without interrupting. He answers Josh’s questions. He also answers Josh’s fears, by saying that he’s okay with his relationship with Keena being a short one. She is worth knowing for however much time he can enjoy with her. Colt’s honesty touches Keena and at least for a short time causes Josh to see him as another person who cares for Keena, and not a threat. Colt’s respectful treatment of Josh and Josh’s fears allow a stand down. Instead of getting defensive or aggressive in turn, Colt acknowledges Josh’s fears. He doesn’t denigrate Josh for fearing them. And he does this without giving up his right to have whatever relationship he and Keena make for themselves.

When you meet your metamour and clear the air, try to be Colt. No matter what your relationships with your mutual partner, whether you are spouse, boyfriend, fuckbuddy, or anything else, listen to your metamour’s concerns and answer them honestly. And if you have concerns, don’t be Josh. State your concerns honestly, yes, but also respectfully and without disrespect to your metamour OR your partner.

If you don’t have concerns, if you’ve been around the poly block (or even if you haven’t but are already comfortable) saying, “Hey, I know this can be awkward, but I really am okay with this and I hope you two have a good relationship.” can help a metamour who isn’t as confident or experienced be comfortable and not see YOU as an enemy.

(Being fair to Josh–he got tossed into this whole thing with not one clue what polyamory is or how it can work and he’s doing his best to deal with it. You, on the other hand, are reading this blog. So you know what polyamory is and are learning about how it works. You can do better.)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Introducing Your Polyamorous Partners to Each Other

I’ve talked elsewhere about why I think it is important for metamours to meet at least once. The short version:
1) It helps with general comfort levels in the relationship and allows everyone to know everyone else as a person, and not an imaginary caricature.
2) Because you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Nothing is more awkward or uncomfortable than meeting your partner’s other significant other across their unconscious body lying on a hospital bed.

Still, even meeting in a cozy diner or at the local coffee shop can be damned awkward for folks who are new to poly. And questions about meeting metamours are staples of polyamory forums. To reduce that awkwardness, we’re going to look at what you can expect and ways to make everyone comfortable.

Where to Meet

Where ever you meet, you want your partners to be comfortable. Or as comfortable as possible. For some people, this will mean meeting in “neutral territory.” A coffee shop, a local park, or even the next town over can all be good options. If you don’t want to be outted, a mall or other busy area makes a surprisingly good place to talk. While you are surrounded by people, none of them will hear more than a few words of your conversation as they hurry on their way.

Alternatively, one or more of your partners may prefer to meet on “their” ground. In which case, they may invite your other partner to their home (your home if you live together). If a partner wants to meet on their ground because they will be more comfortable, go for it! If this might be the start of a power play between your partners, be wary.

While you can not control your partners’ behavior, you can set boundaries about what you will put up with. Personally, any partner of mine (and I mean any) who starts playing social power games with another partner will get one warning. If they don’t heed that warning, I will no longer be a part of their life. I’ve been on the wrong end of that shit and have no patience for it.

Ideally, you want to find a place to meet where your partners are comfortable. Sometimes, what makes one partner comfortable will make the other uncomfortable. All you can do is your best.

After the Introductions

The basic introductions are straight forward. “Michael I’d like you to meet Chris. Chris, this is Michael.” It’s after the introductions that things can get awkward. You know your partners, they don’t know each other. It can help to introduce a topic they are both familiar with. With most of my partners, geeky stuff is a safe bet. The latest Avenger’s movie, a hot new video game. At the moment, I’d start with PokemonGO, because what geek wouldn’t 😉

If you don’t know any topics they both enjoy or are familiar with, you can fall back on the usual getting-to-know someone topics. Where they work, what their hobbies are, etc. If that doesn’t work, pull on something interesting that happened in your life recently. “I told you both about the publisher that was interested in my book? They’re doing some kind of major restructuring and I’m still waiting for the contract…” The one thing you can be certain they share an interest in is—you!

Idle Hands Are a Pain

Awkward stuff is more awkward when you don’t know what to do with your hands. I don’t know why this is. But if possible, try to have something for you and your partners to do while you talk. Get everyone drinks they can fiddle with, meet over dinner, play a multi-player game together (depending on personalities a non-competitive game might be best). Dinner and games have the advantage of having built-in conversation. “Have you tried to chili here?” “No, but the fish is always fresh. I’ve never gotten a taste for spicy foods.” etc etc

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.

Introductions in Polyamorous Relationships

July will be Introductions month in our etiquette series.

I touched on introductions and specifically introducing poly partners and metamours to friends and family, in June. But I’d like to go in-depth on introductions. July topics will include introducing poly partners to each other, etiquette for when you are introduced to your partner’s other partner (aka your metamour), and introducing a polycule.

If you have any questions about handling introductions in polyamorous relationships, leave a comment and I’ll try to cover it!

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patreon.