At the BlogHer conference this past weekend, I spoke up in the popular “How to Be Naked” session on personal disclosure in weblogs to announce that I am polyamorous and I intend to disclose that personal fact on the site where I advertise my consulting and speaking services. (I’m currently overhauling that site and will announce here when it’s ready.)
I outed myself in that forum in order to make the larger point that humanity is not one-size-fits-all that many people who are out of the mainstream in one way or another, or who or endure difficult circumstances in silence, often feel alone and vulnerable. That not only hurts them worse it hurts society by allowing us to remain less aware and compassionate.
It was definitely a bonus that my announcement was greeted with applause. (I wasn’t expecting that.) However, I’m not surprised that some people disagree with my decision to publicly disclose this aspect of my life.
Here’s an online exchange I just had with one person who disagreed with my choice and who doesn’t seem to quite grasp what being poly means and why I made my announcement…
Yesterday in Playing School, Irreverently, a blogger who goes by the handle “Profgrrrrl” wrote:
“”The ‘moment’ (yes, gratuitous quotes, but you’ll see why) for me was at the end when one woman said that she has a web site for her consulting business and she’s polyamorous and she’s going to put a link on her business site to her polyamory information. Wow. I mean, I have no problem with what she’s doing with her personal life, but do prospective business clients really want to know about your sex life whatever it may be? I mean, should I put on my professional web site “if you lick my toes, I’m yours forever!” (OK, that was a joke. I don’t like having my toes licked. Well, I guess I don’t know if I do or not. It’s never come up. But you get the point, right?)”
To which I responded:
I’m the polyamorous woman who spoke up in the session you mentioned above.
That kind of ill-informed reaction is EXACTLY WHY I’ve decided to come out about being poly. There is an incredible amount of ignorance and prejudice about polyamory, and that will only start to change once people get to know who poly people are. We’re not 3-headed monsters and we’re not irresponsible nymphomanics. I’m choosing to come out publicly so people know that we exist. It’s a small step, but a first step.
The wording of your comment implied that being poly is somehow salacious or shameful. It’s not. Ignorance is what’s shameful.
Since you don’t appear to be aware of this, polyamory is about relationships, rather than sex. Sex usually is part of poly relationships, but that’s also the true with most (but surprisingly not all) monogamous relationships. So try to get your brain past the sex fixation and you’ll see what I mean, and why I’ve felt so marginalized in society.
Poly people choose to be open to having more than one intimate relationship at a time. These relationships involve direct, open, honest communication and negotiation between everyone involved. Polyamory is not about cheating, and it’s not focused on recreational sex. (Some poly people are also swingers. Personally, I’m not.)
I choose to be out about being poly in order to limit misunderstandings. I don’t want anyone to think, for instance, that I’m “cheating” on my husband if they happen to see me with another partner. That could launch nasty rumors which could undermine my strong personal reputation for integrity and become a greater stain on my entire life, including my professional life.
I also don’t want anyone else to be able to threaten me with “outing.” I don’t believe in giving anyone that kind of power over my life and decisions, both personal and professional.
Frankly, if a potential client learns I’m poly and doesn’t want to work with me because of that fact alone, I don’t want to work with them. Really. Being poly, I’m keenly aware of the importance of honesty and quality in relationships, and I would not work with someone who finds a significant aspect of who I am threatening, shameful, distasteful, or evil. That is not the basis of a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.
…And if Focus on the Family doesn’t want to work with me because of that, well, I’m just heartbroken 🙂 Ditto for close-minded people who can’t accept that people (and relationships) are not one-size-fits-all.
In fact, I think it’s likely that by having the courage and foresight to out myself, even more smart organizations may realize that I know what I’m talking about regarding communication, and I’m not afraid to “walk the talk.” Also, you’d be surprised how many poly (or poly-friendly) people are in positions of power in all sorts of organizations. (For all I know, it might work to my professional advantage. I’m not angling to “play the poly card,” but I just realize that reactions can be surprising.)
My announcement in the BlogHer session did not represent an on-the-spot decision to out myself. I’ve thought very carefully about this issue for years, and in recent months I came to the conclusion that the benefits to myself and others far outweighed the costs and risks. Coming out publicly is still a gamble, yes — but I think it’s a wise one. If you disagree, that’s fine. I’m accustomed to disagreement, and tend not to be cowed by it.
I don’t hold it against you that you disagree with my decision. I simply am not going to tacitly deny an important part of who I am and therefore imply that an entire community of caring, intellligent people whom I treasure are somehow shameful simply because some people aren’t comfortable with polyamory, or with truly personal disclosure.
Which is, of course, my choice. Feel free to disagree.
– Amy Gahran
Postscript: I’m sorry that the blogger who feels I should stay in the closet didn’t raise this directly with me at BlogHer. I would have loved to have discussed this face-to-face. I also want to be clear that I am not calling her stupid or dissing her in any way. That said, I do think her remark indicated ignorance in this one area. We all have our blind spots, that’s fine.
I respect her wish to blog under a pseudonym, and I have not read her blog before, so I’m not familiar with the overall quality of her contributions to the public conversation. My comments here relate to this exchange only, and should not be construed as a broader indictment or attack. It’s just a civil disagreement.