PQ 25.7 — Who else is affected by my decision to be out or closeted? Do I understand the effect my decision will have on them?
Before I dive into today’s question, I just wanted to make a quick note that **drum roll** THIS IS THE FINAL ESSAY IN THIS SERIES!!!! WOO HOO!
For those of you who started reading this blog much later in the game, I began writing the PQ series for Poly Land a little over two years ago, in the last few days of August 2016. At the time, I’d been rereading More Than Two again, as I do from time to time (the book often reads very differently to me depending on what in particular is going on in my polyamorous life). And as I did, I paid more attention to the questions at the end of each chapter than I ever had before (normally I’d just breezed past them on the way to the next chapter).
First, I tried to answer them aloud, but I’d laugh and get frustrated since I was going on for a while about them, and I felt terribly goofy talking to myself so much. So I pulled out a pen and paper and tried answering the first one in my notebook… and it turned into an essay before I knew what had happened.
My original plan had been to answer all of the questions fromChapter 1 when I was sitting on a break from work, reading the book on my cellphone via the Kindle app.
At the time, I was stranded in my car, parked at a client site, waiting for organizers to get back to me (they’d messed up a communication with their janitorial staff, and I was unable to get into the building that they’d promised me access to so that I could set up to do a training for their employees).
So I thought, Okay, I’ll just answer all these questions while I wait, since it’ll be a while.
As it turned out, it took me so long to answer the first one (“Have I ever felt romantic love for more than one person at the same time?”) that by the time I did, staff had arrived to open the building. I put away my notebook, went in, set up, and conducted the training. It was a good session.
I didn’t think at all about the essay again, until the drive home. The book flashed across my screen as I picked up my cell phone to set my navigation software to drive home. I quickly switched over to the app that gave me directions, but seeing the chapter end questions briefly made my mind wander on the drive.
I began to wonder: What would happen if I tried to answer all of these questions with their own essay? What if I used them as writing prompts on my blog?
I’d been recently toying with the idea of converting Poly.Land over to a daily blog and actually publishing the book I had written so many years ago, a brutally honest post mortem about the lessons I learned from a time before there were many good polyamory resources at all… a time when I was newly polyamorous and had no clue what I was doing — and neither did anyone else around me.
Maybe I could do all of these things and start this series of essays answering someone else’s self-reflection questions, but in public. It seemed like a ridiculous task, taking on an entire book full of questions. All told, it would be about 200 essays, something that could take me two years to complete — or even longer, if I dragged my feet. But then again, it also seemed like kind of a fun challenge. And if nothing else, it would give me something to write about on the days when I didn’t have anything else to say.
That’s how it started at first. I wrote about them fairly ad lib, either writing a PQ essay eagerly when I found one that excited me — or writing them as a kind of filler for days when I felt uninspired and had no other ideas.
But over time, I found that they worked best on weekends. And they became a regular weekend feature on the blog.
Anyway, today’s essay is in response to the very last question in the book. Apologies if it’s anticlimactic or not a good summation of the series. This is understandable since Veaux and Rickert never intended that the chapter end questions in their book be tackled this way, with each one answered in public with a separate essay.
Whew, that was a lot of background/exposition! So, I’ll repeat today’s question again:
PQ 25.7 — Who else is affected by my decision to be out or closeted? Do I understand the effect my decision will have on them?
I wrote in yesterday’s post that it’s always important when you’re determining your preferred level of “outness” to consider what kind of impact that’ll have on your other partners. That there are risks that you can be 100% fully comfortable taking when you’re the one who primarily assumes them — but that others close to you can have major problems assuming those risks by proxy. So in this manner, you have to not only consider your primary level of risk but also any secondary risk you might subject others to.
And at the same time, there’s an additional risk to staying closeted: The possibility of making those you love feel like they’re a “dirty secret.”
Now, not everyone feels this way. Some people don’t really care one way or the other whether others know you’re dating — and some may have a strong preference to keep your relationship confidential (due to primary risks that they themselves might assume, to their job, family relationships, housing, child custody, etc.).
But I think it’s an important conversation to have.
At this Point in My Life, I Can’t Go Back to Being Closeted, But I Still Check In About Concerns
I’m at an odd point in my life on this one. I’m basically about as out as I can be. I write about polyamory and kink publicly. I’ve had my face in national media articles about polyamory. I’m known to dozens of polyamorous and kinky people socially — and known to just as many as a relationship coach.
A lot of people know that I’m polyamorous. Anyone new that I date is going to have to grapple with that. I can’t make any of that go away.
I can refrain from announcing our particular relationship status to the big wide world. I can keep online PDA to a minimum, especially with their established personas. What would this look like? Maybe we’re friends on Facebook or Twitter, but I’d never be schmoopy with them or tag them when we’re out on a date, unless I asked if it were okay and they said yes.
That said, when I get into new relationships with people, I usually do write about them on my blog. And as I mentioned in an earlier piece about how I manage to write about my personal life without making my life miserable, this tendency of mine is one of the very first conversations I have with a new partner:
I normally have the, “So as you know, I write about my love life for a living, do you have any concerns?” talk pretty early on in the relationship. I consider it as indispensable as the talk about sexual health and STI status. (Truth be told, at this point, I actually get more nervous about the writing talk.) The last few people I’ve dated actually read my blog for a while before we started dating, and two out of the three had known me for quite some time before we started dating.
Normally, people are amazingly cool about this. I’ve never had anyone say, “Oh my God, no, don’t write about me, what’s wrong with you?” when this issue came up. I’ve been prepared to hear it, but it’s yet to happen.
No one at all has said, “No, don’t write about me,” when I’ve asked them. And frankly no one has expressed worry about public exposure when I run how I tend to work by them. Typically, we talk about what alias I’ll give them (some people have chosen their own, others I’ve assigned), and if there’s anything that they’re concerned about being shared in the writing, just in a global sense.
Purging or Changing Identifying Info in Writing
When in doubt, I try to steer clear away from including any identifying info in my essays. What do I consider identifying info? Essentially, it’s anything that would have been a no-no to divulge while talking about medical or psychological cases — what HIPAA agreements call “protected health information.” This includes that which “identifies the individual or for which there is a reasonable basis to believe can be used to identify the individual. Protected health information includes many common identifiers (e.g., name, address, birth date, Social Security Number).”
It may seem like a weird standard for a memorist — but it’s actually a fairly natural guideline to me as I’ve worked under HIPAA guidelines for professional reasons for several years — both when I worked in medical documentation as well as when I worked at a psychological consulting firm. The training department that I managed was part of the non-clinical wing, so I worked primarily as a consultant, but I was routinely brought in on clinical cases as a second opinion. So I was regularly exposed to client info that I could only discuss in a certain way with others.
At this point in my life, I’ve received more training on HIPAA than nearly anything else in my professional life. And one of the big things that we had to learn was that “identifying info” isn’t just your address or your Social Security Number. For example, one major HIPAA breach occurred when EMTs took photos of an accident where they were working and shared them on social media, photos which included pictures of the victim’s license plate.
Another example involved a doctor talking about a case very publicly in which the patient had a very unique and very recognizable tattoo with an unusual phrase and image– and the doctor disclosed exactly what that tattoo said, its location, and many other details as part of the discussion with personnel who wasn’t involved with patient care.
HIPAA-wise, it’s also dangerous territory to reveal where a patient works — especially if it’s a job that very few people have, or there aren’t a lot of employees in that office.
So when I’m thinking about what could possibly identify or out someone, I do take those things into consideration and purge or change those sorts of details. If I discuss a tattoo, it’s in very general terms (or I describe one that they don’t actually have, or put it in another location).
People are given false names.
If a partner or metamour sends me a snapshot that I want to use for the blog, I ask them before I post it and also run it through an image compression program that purges location data.
Unlike medical professionals who keep patient info confidential, I don’t legally have to do this when publicly writing about my personal life (which inevitably intersects with other people’s). But I do a lot of the same things not because I legally have to but because it’s considerate.
Given My Semi-Public Profile, I Don’t Take it Personally If Someone Doesn’t Want to List a Relationship Status With Me
Typically I do raise the issue of public exposure a second time if they ask about listing our relationship status on social media like Facebook or FetLife. I make sure to never pressure them about it. Usually I let them bring the topic up first of becoming “social media official,” because as I often say, “I know it’s a big ask. I’m a semi-public figure in certain circles, and you might lose some privacy by being publicly linked to me for however long. And I completely understand if you don’t want to.”
It’s funny because in my experience people seem to worry about it less, but I actually view being linked to me on social media as arguably an even greater risk than being written about (since those social media linkages makes a person much easier to identify for a would-be sleuth than any details I provide in the writings themselves).
But seriously, no one has worried about the potential public exposure of being linked to me.
Perhaps it’s because everyone that I’ve dated since I started writing more publicly has already known that was in the picture when we started to date. If that had bothered them or they worried about that, they never would have started the relationship.
I will say that I’m really glad that a new partner hasn’t yet said, “No, don’t write about me on your blog at all!” when we have the big talk.
Because that would be a tough situation…especially as my partners occupy a large part of my emotional life. I’d be editing out large parts of my day, my thought process, etc., pretending they don’t exist while I’m writing.
I could probably do it. But I imagine it’d be really weird for me. And I would hope that I wouldn’t hold any frustration or weirdness I felt at having to do so against them — but as I’ve yet to be in that situation, how I’d emotionally respond to that in real time is something I can guess at, but I suppose I won’t really know until I get there.
People Being So Supportive of My Writing About Them Has Made Me Feel Really Loved
I have a few people in my life who have been wonderfully gracious about my writing about them — even if those portraits weren’t always flattering. The MVPs are a curious list.
It predictably includes my two partners, Justin and Ro. Justin has actually come out and said to me, “You can write anything you want about me. I’ve seen how you write about people. I know you won’t say anything that isn’t true, and I’m not ashamed of how I live my life.”
And Justin’s held to that, even at times when I wrote about things that he felt bad about. When I’ve chronicled times that challenged us. Times where we both maybe didn’t act as our favorite version of ourselves. “I”ll admit,” he says. “When I see one of those, I just kind of skim over it. But not because I’m mad at you for writing it, but because I hate how I acted. And my stress response is avoidance.”
But he’s always supportive. Never resentful.
Ro, too, has been amazing. When I had the “I Write About My Love Life For a Living” talk with her, her response was to tell me that she trusted my instincts as a writer completely. That she’d read enough of my writing to understand how I operate.
Yes, I wrote negatively about people sometimes, she said… but it wasn’t petty. It wasn’t about waging a reputation war against someone, or ranting for the sake of ranting. It was always about the lesson.
And having known the people that I wrote negatively about, and having seen a great deal of what had happened in real life from a third party perspective (Ro and I were friends for several years before we dated), Ro had noted that I was consistently charitable in my negative treatments of people. They skewed positive when compared to the unfiltered truth. I could have easily written much more harsh pieces without bending the truth. That told her a lot, she said, and made her trust my instincts and intentions.
Ro doesn’t read my blog every day (she’s super busy), just pops in every once in a while and reads something random. Sometimes she’ll bring up that she read something I wrote and will start chatting with me about it. But I mostly just assume she doesn’t read anything in particular.
Ro’s been invariably cool with my writing about her, either by name or namelessly (I’ve done both).
And most importantly, neither Justin nor Ro read into pieces that aren’t about them.
(I had an ex who did that, made everything I ever wrote on the blog about them, acted as though I was trying to indirectly communicate with them in particular, when a lot of times I was spurred on by something a podcast host asked me or an article by someone else I read, etc. Even after assurances that they’d know when I was writing about them, and I wouldn’t use my blog to send them indirect messages, they kept defaulting to that assumption. It was exhausting, caused so many problems.)
Frankly, a Couple of My Exes Have Blown My Mind
But this list of MVP writing subjects doesn’t just include my partners. It also includes two of my exes. One is my ex-husband Seth. Of all the people I’ve written about, he arguably has the most to complain about. We had a marriage that was really bad for both of us (I know my half, and I assume I can’t have been easy to be married to). But when I told him I had written a book about my experiences, he was incredibly supportive.
I know people like to hate on Seth as a character (by the way, you don’t need to do that, I don’t hate Seth). But Seth the person has shown a grace about being written about, including the negative times, that’s really impressive. I will always love and appreciate that about Seth — that takes a special kind of courage and understanding.
And further, there was another ex-lover I’ve written some pretty scathing portraits of, who has been equally as gracious. I wrote about it in a piece I wrote for 2018 Pride:
It never worked out for us long term as lovers, but she became a friend. One of the best friends I’ve ever had.
She still is. She’s been so supportive of my writing, even the times I’ve written about her. She’s told me that she’s happy that I can finally say what I need to say. That she knows how hard it was for me to say anything unpleasant in the house I grew up in, that I didn’t have any privacy. That every word I wrote was scrutinized, censored, and occasionally burned.
Okay, we fucked each other up for a bit. But she’s an amazing person who’s gone on to live an amazing life. And I’ll always love her. There are times when loving someone really does mean that their fears take precedence over your own. But not always. I learned from her that it’s not so simple.
I learned from her that there are other times that loving someone means challenging their fears — and your own.
After that essay came out, even though it was a pretty intense portrait of the scars we traded, she messaged me thanking me for writing it, telling me that she was crying so hard after reading the piece that she had to find a way to explain it to her young daughter.
It’s probably a weird thing to admit, but the way that all of these people have been so gracious in supporting my ability to express myself, to tell the stories I need to tell (regardless of how they look in any given story), especially in light of the house I grew up in, where I was never allowed to speak my truth… well, it makes me feel really fucking loved.
The End… What Next?
Anyway, so ends the last post in this series. I’m weighing my options right now, deciding what I want to do on Poly Land on the weekends from here on out.
It feels good to finish the PQ series though. Thank you to everyone who came along on this ambitious journey with me. I hope if you didn’t find the answers you were looking for that you at least asked yourself some interesting questions.
I once had a teacher who said that’s all that education was… that education wasn’t about knowing the answers at all, but about learning to ask better questions.