“What’s a unicorn?” someone new to polyamory and its lexicon will invariably ask.
As folks pop up to answer the question, a few definitions will emerge. The most basic one is that the term “unicorn” is one that is primarily used in polyamorous circles to denote a bisexual woman who will date couples (most commonly heterosexual ones). The unicorn was often known in earlier polyamorous internet forums as the HBB or “hot bi babe,” but as the years went on, “unicorn” became used more and more. The thought behind the label is that just like unicorns, these women are considered magical, and while many may hunt for them, they don’t actually exist. Not in any great number anyway.
And couples looking to date these unicorns were dubbed “unicorn hunters.” The label of unicorn hunter was a profoundly unfavorable one. This is because many couples new to polyamory looking for a woman to date together have wildly unreasonable expectations of this new partner. As they set out to find someone, many place onerous restrictions on this unicorn that would be challenging for even the most couple-hungry person:
- You shall love us both equally. Arguably not even a thing that’s possible to accomplish.
- You shall be hidden from all of our friends and family. Even at the holidays and at times that are soul-crushingly lonely.
- You shall never do anything that will make either half of the couple jealous. Considering the fact that insecurities are often invisible to the person having them before they’re set off, this is a bit like asking the unicorn to dance through an invisible laser grid.
- You shall never have partners outside of the MFF triad. This can be fine if it’s a choice consented to by all parties. But it can cause problems if the couple are hiding the triad relationship and often go off on their own on “family business,” leaving the unicorn alone on her own. Not so much fun.
Wanting a MFF triad is fine. There are plenty of polyamorous women who are open to the idea of a triad (especially one that’s open to partners outside of it). It’s the restrictions and unreasonable expectations that make it a tough ask.
Self-Identifying as a Unicorn
So you would think that bisexual women as a group would shy away from using the label “unicorn” to self-describe. After all, the idea of a unicorn is that it’s such a rare beast that it may as well not exist.
Except… many bisexual women have effectively taken the label back. It’s how they identify. They are proud unicorns.
And I’ve found in my travels that while it’s an insult to call couples “unicorn hunters,” it’s not necessarily an insult to call a bisexual woman who will date couples a “unicorn.” Provided you’re not trying to pick her up while you’re doing it or disparaging her.
This is because unicorns rock. Did you know that they were thought to have magical truth-finding powers? Seriously, the mythology goes that their horns were attracted to lies and would gore you for it. Hardcore.
According to other legends, unicorns were rumored to be so strong that they could kill elephants.
And perhaps most relevantly to polyamory, it’s been said that you can capture a unicorn but you can never, ever tame one.
Wild and strong and with an onboard lie detection system. Badass.
However, some argue that the term “unicorn” has an inherently predatory connotation in its origin. And some chafe at “taking back” pejorative terms in general, stating that even a unicorn self-identity is inadvisable.
Identifying as a Unicorn Allowed Me to Feel Proud of Something I Grew Up Feeling Ashamed About
But at times when I’ve been a unicorn, I’ve enjoyed using the label. Growing up bisexual in a very conservative environment, I looked at my same sex attractions as something dysfunctional about me. It was something I never talked about — and certainly nothing I ever celebrated. It happened in darkness, and lovers avoided me in public later and I, them (anything more could be life-threatening). The fact that I was also attracted to men made it even more confusing.
Finding polyamory many years later switched on a light. Being able to acknowledge and see my sexuality as something desirable? Well, it was quite a change. Even if I had to deal with the stray irritating couple. Or seven.
Just like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when unicorning is good, it’s very, very good. And when it’s bad? It’s horrid.
But I’ve definitely had positive MFF triad experiences. Here are just a few pieces where I talk about that:
- Visible Polyamory: A Public Display of Triad Affection
- Showered with Love and ORE: I’ve Enjoyed Dating Couples as a Unicorn
- Bisexuality, Islands of Desire, and Invisible Polyamory
- Love Threesomes, Hate the Patriarchy
Don’t Hunt for Unicorns, Create a Sanctuary
True, it’s not all sunshine and rainbow hoof prints. Being a unicorn can be a mixed bag. Like I wrote in that fourth piece above:
Being a unicorn is fantastic, yet terrifying. You’re universally pursued, but you never know whether it’s because someone wants to cut off your horn, kill you and mount your head on the wall, or keep you at their ranch and spoil you.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’m digging it here.
That’s why my advice to folks looking for a unicorn is always the same: Don’t hunt, create a sanctuary. Be a Unicorn Rancher.
Create a place where it’s safe for someone to be a unicorn.
My new book is out!