As I’ve written before, unlike a lot of other polyamorous educators, I wasn’t someone who always knew I was polyamorous. Indeed, I considered myself quite a monogamous person growing up. Even now, I think of myself as being more ambiamorous than anything else, able to happily practice either polyamory or monogamy, all depending on the situation and the individuals involved.
And truth be told, I didn’t have the easiest transition to polyamorous life when I first realized such a thing was possible a decade ago. I struggled with many things. I entered polyamory a highly jealous person and had to learn ways to productively face and work through jealousy and insecurity.
It wasn’t easy work. But I kept doing it. And it wasn’t out of sheer stubbornness. Nor was it because of sunk cost, a logical fallacy whereby people stick with an ill-fated course of action simply because they’ve lost too much already and can’t walk away, hoping if they ride it out they’ll recover those losses.
No, I stayed with it even though it was hard because I got a number of benefits. And some of them took me truly by surprise: I found the jealousy and insecurity work to translate well into other areas of my life. I was able to deal more confidently in professional situations and found it easier to set appropriate boundaries with family members.
And as the months went on, I found polyamory gave me one of the biggest gifts of my life: A sense of belonging and a community.
Expected to Live My Life on Rails
I grew up in the Maine woods in the 1980s, one of the younger children in a large French-Canadian Catholic family. It was a very conservative environment. Basically the mores of 1950s sit-coms. People didn’t talk about sex at all — let alone sexual activity considered to be alternative or a deviation from the norm.
It often felt like I was expected to live my life on tracks, like the ones that came with my brother’s toy trains. There was immense pressure to behave a specific way. It felt like I had been placed upon a predetermined course. That I was to travel from point A to point B and beyond without much input into the process. Something like this:
- Go to school. Do well enough that you don’t disappoint anyone but not well enough that you threaten anyone, especially not boys, who really don’t like smart girls because they make them feel small. Do a good job but don’t excel. People like you better if you’re good at something but don’t excel. Be middle of the pack, upper-middle of the pack at the absolute highest.
- Be likable. This seemed to involve being pleasant and kind to people but also making sure you didn’t say too much. “People like quiet girls,” my mother would advise me. “They want a mystery. You want to leave them wondering.”
- Eat just the right amount. You wanted to be thin. That was important. But you needed to eat enough in front of people that they wouldn’t worry about you. You could starve yourself — that was just fine, just don’t let anyone figure it out. Again, you wanted to fit in, not be excellent at anything. And other girls would hate you if they figured out you were good at starving yourself. It was best and most efficient to do all of your eating in front of an audience to dispel any rumors of an eating disorder.
- Meet a good Catholic boy and deny him sex. Teasing him was fine, expected. You didn’t want to lose his interest, after all. But don’t give it up before your wedding night.
- Get married. Big church wedding. Everything perfect. Following all the important wedding traditions. This is the one day where it’s okay to be a show-off apparently.
- Have a ton of kids. Manage their lives so perfectly that everyone can see what a big success you are. Don’t ever let them do anything that makes you look like a bad mother. Your kids’ lives are all about you.
I did none of these things right. The best I could achieve on any given point was partial credit. I was well liked but quite talkative. Very good at school. Ate whatever I wanted. When I flirted with disordered eating (as did nearly every other woman I knew, inside and outside of my family), I was terrible at it. I was bad at hiding it. And inconsistent in its application.
And I never did really get the hang of attracting good Catholic boys (or stringing them along). It certainly didn’t help that I was obsessed with women and kept falling in love with my female friends.
Growing Up Bisexual Without Knowing It Existed Was Confusing
Falling in love with women over and over again was deeply confusing. Growing up bisexual in a very conservative environment, I was inculcated to view my same sex attractions as something dysfunctional about me. It was something I never talked about — and certainly nothing I ever celebrated. Sometimes they were consummated physically, but those sexual encounters always happened in darkness, and lovers avoided me in public later and I, them (anything more could be life-threatening). My female lovers viewed themselves as straight and considered me a fluke, an exception to their normal patterns of attraction.
The fact that I was also attracted to men made it even more confusing for me. Because I did know a few gay individuals (including my eldest sister) but nobody who seemed to be like me, interested in and pursuing both men and women.
It wasn’t until I was in college that a friend from a large city out of state introduced me to the concept of bisexuality as I struggled to articulate my sexual orientation one late night in 1999 as we sat in my dorm room.
Finally, I had a word to explain the twists and turns of my life up until that point: Bisexual.
Trying to Find a Community
I poured myself into researching bisexuality. I read and read, each word bringing me to a deeper appreciation of the fact that I wasn’t alone. That there was an entire cultural history of individuals who had grown up as I had. It was exhilarating.
Armed with this new knowledge, I decided I would attend a meeting of my university’s group for alternative sexuality. I was so hopeful that I could find a community.
But it went terribly. Perhaps it would be a different story if it happened these days. But this was nearly 20 years ago. There were no LGBT or QUILTBAG acronyms. No Facebook, no pride reacts. Queer media was niche and difficult to obtain. Back then, public awareness of bisexuality was not where it is now. After all, I’d managed to reach adulthood without ever hearing the word. And while there were some students at my university from larger cities out of state (like the friend who taught me the word “bisexual”), most of my peers had grown up in towns as small as mine or smaller. Just as conservative — some even more so.
At that meeting, I was the only bisexual attendee. And as I talked about my experiences, another attendee interrupted to tell me in a long rant that bisexuality wasn’t real. That bis were just confused gays or straights. But they let me know that I was welcome to hang out with the group until I figured out which one I really was. And instead of being horrified by this suggestion, the other members nodded in silent agreement.
I was gutted. Rather than exploding, I muttered a polite thanks as my stomach sank. Someone else changed the subject to another topic that everyone discussed with great excitement. I pretended to be absorbed in note-taking and the moment that meeting was over, I fled to the nearest bathroom where I cried in the stall.
I never went back to the group.
An Isolated Bisexual, or Gay-ish, Curiosity
For years, I existed as a somewhat isolated curiosity in my small town, a person who would date a woman one week and a man the next. Mostly women though. I spent that first year of college being passed around the theater department. The resident “am I actually bi or just curious?” test for young actresses. Sometimes the answer was yes, but even then, they didn’t stay, making a beeline for another experience. A new girlfriend. I was like the Human Resources rep you spend your first week on the job with, doing paperwork, chatting about benefits. The one you never speak to again once you’ve settled into your actual job duties.
And yes, every now and then I’d see a man.
Interestingly, most people didn’t take this as evidence of bisexuality, and I instead became known as “gay-ish,” an identity I embraced because it was cheeky and made me laugh. I did continue to have occasional attractions to men, however, even having a series of threesomes with friends and their boyfriends (for example, this one). As I wrote in a previous piece:
Potential partners never had a neutral response to my being bisexual. Bicurious women viewed me as a prime opportunity to test their fantasies. Lesbians regarded me with suspicion, leery that I’d leave them for a man eventually (can’t say that I blame them, plenty of women left me for men).
And the men who dated me typically had one of two possible reactions:
- They were threatened by my sexuality and worried that I’d leave them for a woman. — OR —
- They thought it was hot that I was bisexual and aggressively campaigned for threesomes.
Occasionally I’d date a man who did both, and that was inevitably an interesting rollercoaster.
…the truth was that I’d had some threesomes and even group sex, and yes, I’d liked it. But being liked for just one thing didn’t feel great. Reduced to a superficial accessory ripped from porn. Powerless, exploited — and not in a fun way. The lazy kind of objectification that’s yawn inducing and boner wilting. And as time wore on, I began to feel less and less like any man I dated wanted me for me — and was more enchanted with my potential as a harem girl.
I began to feel like my bisexuality was the pretty girl everyone wanted, and I was her ugly friend. The come-with that you pawn off on your buddy so you can get it on with the babe.
My Bisexuality Resulted in Two Distinct Insecurities that I Hoped Monogamy Could Fix
I woke up one day realizing that instead of developing any inner peace in my romantic life, I’d developed two separate pervasive insecurities, one for men and one for women (in those days, I knew no one that identified their gender as nonbinary):
- I worried that any woman who dated me was going to eventually crave men again and I’d be upstaged by some dude, even a completely mediocre one, simply because I didn’t have a cock, couldn’t legally marry her (at that time, in our state), and couldn’t give her biological children. Because it kept happening.
- I felt like the only reason any given man dated me was because I was bisexual and nursed the hope of having hot threesomes. Because it kept happening.
Over and over again, the people I’d date would aggressively suggest non-monogamy — women I loved would insist on keeping me hidden, basically “on the side,” while they loved their boyfriend in public. Men I loved would repeatedly suggest threesomes.
And in the face of all of this pressure to be non-monogamous, I threw up my hands and screamed “no.” I wanted to be in a relationship where I felt like I was enough for one person. For once. I rebelled and became hyper-monogamous. It became a condition of any relationship for me.
I’d Been in Love with Two People at the Same Time, But I’d Never Seen People Practice Loving, Respectful Non-Monogamy
The next person I dated seemed very confused by this. He’d heard all about my reputation (as such news spreads fast in small towns) and watched with amazement as I stuck to my resolve (even as a potential opportunity to have a threesome arose involving a woman I was quite attracted to, early on in our relationship, a prior friend with benefits).
He wasn’t exactly happy about it. But I needed it. I was tired of feeling disposable. Like a curiosity or a toy. Like an outsider to everything. Too gay to be straight. Too straight to be gay.
In truth, I absolutely had the capability to have more than one loving connection at a time. I could look back and identify times when I was in love with two people at once (for example, in high school, with Noelle and Greg).
But I’d never seen non-monogamy in action where people had multiple simultaneous deep loves. The non-monogamy that I’d seen was limited mostly to casual sex partnerships, in which people didn’t seem to respect their partners — and sometimes would even show their casual sex partners active disrespect. Having been a target of that countless times, I was eager to “settle down” and have a constant companion and the ability to have a lot of sex without being openly disrespected for it.
Polyamory Defied My Expectations by Demonstrating Loving, Honest, Respectful Non-Monogamy Was Possible
We were monogamous for 8 years, all told, before a close friend came out to me as polyamorous. After a period of skepticism and observation (in which I realized it really did seem to work for her), I became excited by the premise and the idea that a person could have multiple loving connections at once. Maybe they didn’t all turn into serious capital R relationships. But everyone involved would be honest — and respectful to one another.
Maybe I was a little naive going into polyamory. Did it always pan out that way? No, there were some janky-mankeys wrapped up in the mantle of polyamory, for sure.
But overall, it was a hell of a lot better than what I experienced prior to discovering polyamory.
When I Was Newly Polyamorous, I Didn’t Know Any Bisexual People Whose Life Experiences Resonated With Mine
When I first set out in polyamory, I knew mostly straight vanilla people. There were a few women in my life (including the friend who introduced me to polyamory) who were bisexual in theory but very new to dating other women. There was no one around me at all who had the kind of long-standing conflicted grapple with their identity. Who’d had their heart broken by both men and women. Who knew all too well the sting of having the full scope of their identity and emotional life erased by practically everyone they met, who would only engage with small fragments of who they were as a sociosexual being.
The polyamorous bisexuals I knew in those first days were lighthearted and optimistic. They were curious and excited to be going on adventures. I found it endearing — and honestly, I went on a few adventures with them. Everyone has to start out somewhere, right?
But I did yearn in those early days to meet someone who had a history more like mine. Who could understand those particular experiences I had in a way that’s very difficult to explain, even if you try your hardest as a writer, the words never quite approaching what you imagined in your mind. Let alone what you lived.
For many years, the bisexual people I encountered were mostly people who assumed they were straight until they watched a lot of pornography and became aroused by the images. Folks who were eager to experiment.
Now, all bisexuality is valid. But our lives frankly didn’t resonate with one another in a way that made me feel like we were really part of the same community.
But That Changed. I Found an Incredible Community that Includes Many Other Bisexual People With Experiences Like My Own
However, as I continued to establish connections as a polyamorous person, and I went on to find the kink community and develop and extensive network of polyamorous friends, lovers, and acquaintances, that began to change.
And as I write this, a decade from when I first started out on this particular journey into polyamory, I’m part of the most remarkable community of people. Sex-positive, geeky, brilliant, kind-hearted. Something like 90% of the people I know are kinksters, three-quarters of them are polyamorous, and two-thirds of them are bisexual. And no, not just women. Many, many men. Non-binary folks, too.
And when it comes to sexual orientation, many of them had very similar coming of age stories to my own.
Yes, I know that there are polyamorous people who are straight and ones who are gay. I know because they’re my friends and metamours. I’ve even dated some of them.
But for me, polyamory and my bisexuality will always be linked. Because polyamory was what brought me to other bisexual people. And gave me a community I never had.