Monday, March 23, 2015

Pronouncing Yourself Polyamorous

Elisabeth A. Sheff, Ph.D., has a couple of especially helpful editions of The Polymorists Next Door at about coming out as polyamorous.

From the first one
Is it relevant, necessary, and safe to come out to this person or in this situation? It is ok for relationships to remain private, and disclosed only on a need-to-know basis.  If your status as a polyamorous person/someone in a polyamorous relationship is both relevant and important to the relationship, then it makes sense to come out. If it is only slightly relevant or (especially) dangerous, then it is best to keep quiet about such a potentially risky topic.
When it comes to extended family, neighbors, etc, it can sometimes be best to let people figure it out for themselves. Coming out in those cases is more like simply not hiding. Sometimes, things are better left unsaid with some people. They're willing not to give you are hard time as long as you don't bring the subject up with them.
Co-Workers: Less is more. Be certain that it is both relevant and safe to disclose intimate details of your life to this person.
The last thing a polyamorous person needs at the office is to be accused of sexual harassment for simply describing their relationship, or to be accused of being someone who is undisciplined or unable to commit, which are false charges hurled at poly people all of the time.

Click through to read about how to handle friends, family of origin, in-laws, and children.

Institutional representatives (ie. teachers, health care providers, or Child Protective Service case-workers):  Answer all questions honestly, but do not provide additional information—at least until you are sure it is safe. If at all possible, get a sense of the teacher/nurse/case-worker and only disclose that the family is polyamorous if it is both 1) relevant and 2) safe, meaning that the person will possibly listen with an open mind to an explanation of the polyamorous family.

Working with Child Protective Services can be especially challenging, because they have such significant power to remove a child who is being abused or neglected, and often have broad discretion about how to interpret abuse and neglect. If the case-worker appears to be open minded or flexible, then it might be safe to talk about unconventional family characteristics before they become an issue. When case-workers appear to be extremely conservative it might be best to avoid disclosing the presence of a polyamorous relationship unless it is directly relevant to the situation with the child. When it is directly relevant and the case-worker will find out anyway, then it is best to bring it up yourself so you can control the timing and location of the disclosure, as well as indicating that you have nothing to hide.
Part II talks about strategies.
Ask a probing question to test the waters. Asking what people think of same-sex marriage or something else that spurs a similar social response can provide a peek at the personality type of the person to whom you are considering coming out. If the person responds negatively to something like same-sex marriage, then they might be inclined to view polyamory in a similarly negative light. Unless it is important for some other reason, consider avoiding coming out to people who respond negatively to probing questions.
It can help to have examples from news or entertainment media to which one can refer, as in "Did you see that episode?" It might even work to make something up, as in saying, “I was reading about this triad that who have been together for years. What do you think about that?”
Avoid making big announcements at holidays or events that are focused on someone else – other people’s weddings, funerals, and graduation days are poor choices for announcing to the assembled folks that you are polyamorous. Choose a less significant time that does not disrupt a day that already has a different focus.
Being the least bit insensitive or clumsy about timing will give anyone who disapproves an “excuse” to badmouth you. They’ll focus on the way you came out because it is easier than directly saying that they dislike that you are polyamorous. By the way, it might help to be prepared for their possible objections to polyamory.
Let your partner/their biological or legal family member take the lead with the in-laws.

This is good advice for monogamists, too, when there is something significant to tell or some sort of issue.

Click through to read it all because it really is very helpful.

Something I'll add about a coming out strategy... if there is someone else who knows both of you and you already know is an ally (think of your sibling or an aunt if you're coming out to your parents), it might help to have them present as reassurance and support.

If you have stories to tell about coming out, please share them in the comments below. You are always welcome to comment.
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