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Three's Company

Three's Company

I may be a walking stereotype, but my being polyamorous doesn’t justify your biphobia.

I used to dread coming out bisexual, mainly because of the interrogation that immediately followed: “When’s the last time you had sex with a woman?” or “How do you know you’re not just gay?” or everyone’s favorite (not really): “I used to say I was bisexual, too. You’ll get to full-gay soon, honey.”

The double standard always bothered me. After all, gay men never need to justify or “prove” their sexuality, nor do straight men. But for whatever reason, bisexual men seem to have an obligation.

Then I became a bisexual writer and activist, and it became my job to dispel stereotypes about bisexuality. There was one negative trope in particular I worked hard to disprove: the idea that bisexuals cannot commit to being in a healthy, monogamous relationship. We supposedly need to be actively dating or sexually intimate with multiple genders at any one time in order to feel “complete.”

I actually stumbled into polyamory by accident. I had just broken up with my pansexual, gender-non-conforming partner of a year. She (her preferred pronoun) and I were monogamous. After we broke up, I found myself in the arms of many men, two of whom asked me to be exclusive. I told them the truth, which was that I couldn’t be. I was too exhausted from my last relationship to start a new one. The second man I told didn’t take it well. In fact, it brought him to tears.

I decided not to date seriously because I was in no place to give myself emotionally. That is, until I met Jason. When we met, he told me upfront he had a wife and girlfriend that he lived with; along with a boyfriend and multiple other partners. I figured nothing could get too serious with him because he simply didn’t have the time.

I could have my low-commitment boyfriend, which was all I thought I wanted. But, before I knew what was happening, things between me and Jason turned serious and eventually I moved in with him and his wife.

Jason and I are no longer boyfriends, but we remain close. I still identify as polyamorous, even when I’m single. Though I’m looking for love and commitment, I’m not looking for monogamy. I make that clear to everyone I go out with.

While commitment and sexual exclusivity are often conflated, I believe the two are distinct entities. Commitment extends far beyond sex. If you believe that commitment is simply being sexually monogamous, your relationship is probably doomed to fail. Commitment is about being there for your partner(s), emotionally and physically. It’s also about compromise. It’s about curbing your desire to say “I told you so” when your partner royally screws up. It’s not about who you do, or do not, have sex with.

After embracing the fact that I was polyamorous, I was left in a sticky situation. Not only did I become the stereotype I was trying to avoid, but the reactions I received for coming out polyamorous were even worse than the ones I’d gotten for coming out bisexual.

Rather than claiming polyamory isn’t real or attempting to somehow “prove” to me I’m not actually polyamorous, people would just judge me. They’d condescend. They’d think my love was less “pure,” and as a result would devalue my relationship with my partner(s). They’d also think I was being naive — that I was wasting my time because “there’s no possible way a polyamorous relationship could ever work out long term!” Or they’d think that polyamory is indicative of this greedy, immature, “having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too” personality that proved I wasn’t ready for a meaningful relationship.

Before I knew it, I was back in a place where I was anxious to come out to folks, not as bisexual, but as someone who is bisexual and polyamorous. I hated the fact I had become the stereotype I’d worked so hard to disprove.

Then I had the pleasure of interviewing a leading bisexual activist, Robyn Ochs. I told her some of my reservations about embodying this trope. That’s when she told me, “You are not responsible for upholding the bisexual brand. You need to live your truth. Besides,” she continued, “one person doesn’t mean all. There are plenty of bi folks who are in happy, monogamous relationships. I know I am.”

She also made it clear that what I’m doing isn’t hurting anyone else. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being ethically non-monogamous or being open about what you can offer someone and what you expect to get out of a relationship. In fact, that’s a very honest way to approach relationships. There’s something wrong, however, when we generalize about an entire group of people, or when we assume one person’s experience with their sexuality is representative of the entire group.

Today, I’ve embraced the fact that I’m a walking stereotype, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of an activist. It doesn’t mean that my voice no longer deserves to be heard. All it means is that I’m attracted to multiple genders and open to having loving and sexual relationships with more than one person at the same time. While that might not be your thing, it’s definitely mine.

Zachary_zane_2018_photo_courtesyZachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He’s currently a contributing editor at Plus, The Advocate, and PRIDE; and has a weekly column at @ZacharyZane

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