“What book are you reading right now?” This was the icebreaker question at a networking and information-sharing event I attended earlier this year. One by one, attendees around the boardroom table introduced themselves and provided their responses, which mostly floated the theme of professional development. My turn came around and I said, “My name is Hayley and I’m reading More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory.” Okay. I understand some may view this as a questionable response in a business professional setting with more than a dozen strangers and peers. When the question was first posed I wondered, should I tell a white lie and say Strengths-Based Leadership, which I had just finished the month prior, instead? I care more about what I think of myself than what others think of me. I would’ve regretted cowering to a level of social normativity for the sake of - well, for the sake of what? Fitting in? Not ruffling any feathers? If anyone was judgmental or uncomfortable with my response, good! Discomfort equates to tension and you can’t create change without tension. And boy, do we need change. I mean, my cell phone case already cheekily states in black Impact lettering “NOBODY KNOWS I’M A LESBIAN.” I might as well throw all my chips in and own all aspects of my untraditional life. I also chose not to have children, to own an inner city condo instead of a house in the ‘burbs, to work in the Nonprofit sector instead of Oil and Gas (did I mention I live in Calgary, Alberta? The nerve!) and recently I chose to be in a polyamorous long distance relationship with a married woman and date another local woman who lives with her boyfriend.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, polyamory is the practice of engaging in more than one or multiple romantic relationships with the consent of all the people involved. You might be more familiar with the terms open relationships or consensual non-monogamy. Polyamory is different than swinging in that it’s not (entirely or necessarily) about sex. It’s definitely not about cheating or having an affair. It’s about connections.
The women I’m dating and I share the belief that we have more than one “soul mate” and it would be a shame to limit great connections to just one person. We don’t subscribe to relationship myths such as “You complete me” or “You’re my everything” or “I live for you” or “You’re mine.” We think it’s unrealistic to expect one person to meet all of our needs. We are all responsible for our own happiness and it is not up to anyone else to make us happy. Different people offer different things; we can have apples AND oranges!
Sounds great, yes? But there’s a problem. Not with polyamory. But with society. There is not a lot of awareness about the concept. What we know from living in our culture is that most people value tradition, which sometimes has merits but is also rooted in religions many of us don’t necessarily practice. Tradition is also rooted in the patriarchy (isn’t it funny how pretty much every problem on the planet is linked to the patriarchy?), which is another way to say tradition often results in oppression for those who are untraditional. We need look no further than people who identify as LGBTQ+ rather than heterosexual. This article is not about polyamory, per say. I practice public relations as part of my day job and whenever I write anything I first ask, “Am I the right person to speak on this subject?” When it comes to polyamory, the answer isn’t an enthusiastic yes. I’m newish to the concept. I’ve dated three different bi-sexual women who were all in relationships with men, including the two I mentioned, so I guess you could say I’ve dappled and am exploring the idea. I’ve read the 450-page book I referenced earlier to get the polyamory basics, but I’m certainly no expert! Here’s where I believe my perspective offers value: I identify as a lesbian, and with this world view, I see what the poly community needs to reach the level of societal acceptance that the LGBTQ+ community has reached to date. Not to say it’s achieved normativity, but pulling ballpark numbers from the air, I would say the LGBTQ+ movement is at least a decade or two ahead of the poly movement. What does the LGBTQ+ movement have that the poly movement lacks? Well, the answer in my view is pride.
The poly community needs more champions. People who are “out.” More Ellen DeGeneres-es and Elton Johns. More Brokeback Mountains and Orange is the New Blacks. Whatever the poly equivalent of rainbow flags and painted crosswalks and parades is, more of that! Representation in all of these forms will help the community blossom and create a critical mass level of acceptance. I understand it’s not easy to be “out” for majority of the poly community. Many are married or married with kids, and many believe it is no one else’s business. I have a few friends in the poly community, but no one outside of their closest friends and partners know about their lifestyle - not most of their friends and acquaintances, not their colleagues and certainly not their families. The community mostly lives underground, online or in isolation, much like their LGBTQ+ counterparts did years ago. I am in a unique position where I am not married, I don’t have kids and I live in a big city. Sorry, small towners, but it’s easier to be yourself in a larger, more anonymous population, away from all the hot gos’! I am in a position to be a champion; I can take one for the team without high risk.
I do talk about my dating life with friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family members. And once this article gets out, the general public. I do this because it is my goal to do my part to normalize it. I’m proud to be a part of this community, and I’m proud of everyone in it, for owning their truth and living a life that makes them happy even though others may not understand.
If I’m going to partake in polyamory, I don’t want my relationships to remain a secret forever. I deserve the status and freedom that should come with being in a committed relationship – to post couples photos on Instagram, to be her +1 at a wedding, to share some time at Christmas with our families. This can only happen with the permission of all people involved and there’s a lot of barriers to overcome to reach this level of comfort.
Speaking of barriers, let’s talk about parent-shaming. As I mentioned, people with kids can also be in polyamorous relationships and this is probably the single biggest barrier for them and their partners to be “out.” Mothers in particular receive the brunt of the parent-shaming; a bullshit double standard I’m sure many readers can relate to. LGBTQ+ parents have faced similar judgment for decades. But the concerns in these scenarios are unfounded, rooted again in traditional, religious, and patriarchal myths. If children are raised in a positive environment with love and they witness adults modelling healthy relationships, shouldn’t that be all that matters? I can attest from my experience with polyamory that aspects of healthy relationships like open and honest communication are practiced sevenfold compared to my previous monogamous relationships! Kids will pick up on that, and I believe it will only be a positive influence.
I want to be clear, I’m not knocking monogamy. If it works for you, great! I might even practice monogamy again one day. I’m sold on the concept of polyamory and happily exploring it. But just as I could choose to date a man if I felt like it, I could also choose monogamy at some point or move in and out of poly relationships in whatever way feels organic to me and my partner(s). What I’m advocating for is awareness of different forms of relationships and the freedom of choice without persecution or judgment.
In 2013, I wrote a travel essay for an e-book called “A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone” by Gemma Thompson. In my writing, I penned about a previous relationship with a woman. And I regret to say I changed the sex of my ex. I wrote about it instead as a hetero-normative relationship prior to submission, because, well I don’t know, I just wanted to sound normal. What I failed to see was I erased my truth and gave up the opportunity to showcase some badly needed representation. I demonstrated shame in who I was, and I’m ashamed of it now.
Circling back to that day in the boardroom, I recalled this mistake from my past, and vowed to never let it happen again. I’m proud to be gay and I’m proud of my poly relationships, and I welcome candid conversations and questions about these untraditional aspects of my life. As a lesbian, I’ve learned accepting and celebrating myself for who I am is the first step for others to accept and celebrate who I am. And maybe even help them explore, accept and celebrate themselves. Now, doesn’t that sound pretty great? *
“When you stand up in front of the whole world unafraid to express your truth, you clear an easier path for others to do the same.” -Stacie Martin, writer
About the Author .... Hayley Gislason: A proud ‘L’ of the LGBTQ+ community, Hayley is passionate about representation, social justice, progressive ideas, superheroes and surfing the Canadian Rockies. She is the creator and author of The Demons of Angels graphic fiction novel, a contributing author to A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone e-book by Gemma Thompson and a member of Panel One Comic Creators. She works as a marketing communications professional in the nonprofit sector in Calgary, Alberta.