PRIDE Panel Discussion Sponsored by MNPoly
Reporting by Paula Neeley
Topics: Dating, Discrimination, and Healthy Boundaries in the LGBTQIA+, Polyamorous, and Ethically Non-Monogamous (ENM) Communities
*Panelists and other references are listed anonymously due to the confidential nature of being “out.”
“What you see is not all that I am.” – Panelist #4
What is polyamory? Each person I spoke to defined it slightly differently:
“A lifestyle choice that allows us the freedom, with complete openness with the individuals we love, to explore all types of connections with others as they organically develop without the expected social limitations of emotional & sexual monogamy.”
“Polyamory is being able to love more than one person, primarily in a romantic sense, and each partner knows about the other partners. That’s very overarching, though, and doesn’t really explain all the details.”
“I consider it multiple, concurrent romantic/sexual relationships where each individual has knowledge of that dynamic.”
MNPOLY, an organization based in the Twin Cities for 30+ years, has an activity calendar that is equal parts education and social activities. “We want to create a space where people can ask questions and dip their toes into the Poly world,” said an anonymous MNPOLY member who volunteered at the group’s table during PRIDE 2021.
From gaming groups, to book groups, to camping groups and beer socials, from discussion groups, to foodie groups, rock wall climbing groups and movie groups, MNPOLY welcomes the poly-curious, the gender fluid, and those on the identity spectrum to organize activities and meet others with similar interests. MNPOLY is on Facebook, Discord, and Meet Up.
Regardless of the level of intimacy from platonic to sexual to kink, the group ethos is to make every connection consensual and respectful. “Each of us has to do the work on ourselves first so that we can show up in our relationships without causing harm and without fetishizing our BIPOC siblings,” said another MNPOLY member. As part of PRIDE activities, MNPOLY assembled a panel of members, who live at the intersection of polyamory, ethical non-monogamy, and LGBTQIA+ identities to dig into some of the issues that exist and persist when the group ethos falters.
Panelists and Their Self-Identification
Panelist #1 – she/her, identifies as cisgender bisexual female, solo poly, practices ethical non-monogamy and has three partners.
Panelist #2 – she/her and they/them, identifies as pansexual, practices hierarchical solo poly with a primary partner, but they don’t date together.
Panelist #3 – he/him, identifies as cisgender, ethically non-monogamous gay male with several polyamorous partners, lives with 2 primary partners and has a circle of playmates.
Panelist #4 – he/him, identifies as pansexual and polyamorous, and is solo poly with three partners.
Panel Facilitator: How have you experienced discrimination in the LGBTQIA+, ENM, and Polyamorous communities?
Panelist #4: I experienced discrimination the moment I began transitioning out of the monogamous community. A lot of micro-aggressions, racism, and being fetishized. It was a wake-up call: not much will change. I’m still a Black person in this space. Even though in some ways these communities are more inclusive, but just like in any space that is predominantly white, it’s still going to have a host of issues and will have people who don’t know, but want to know, or people who choose to remain woefully ignorant. Doesn’t make dating any more difficult, just the same BS.
Panel Facilitator: For you as a pansexual, Black male, how has that experience been a challenge in the community for you?
Panelist #4: It’s been hard to be seen as pansexual given that two of my partners identify as female and one identifies as non-binary. People say, “Seems like you’re just straight or maybe bi-curious.” I am attracted to all kinds of people and I [feel like] I have to keep justifying that. Then the homophobia within the Black community has really made me hesitant. On top of that, I’ve been to a few “play parties” and without fail it’s been cis-men who tend to push boundaries to go further than [I] would allow them to and that’s been … wanting to touch me … and are curious because I’m [considered] exotic.
Panelist #1: When you talk about having to justify [my identity], I’ve experienced as well from the opposite side, currently I have three male partners, and because I don’t have any female partners people comment that I must be “straight” now. And it just makes me laugh because that’s not how my bisexuality works. And on the subject of fetishes … when you started sharing, it reminded that I have also experienced that also but locked those memories away, they are stored in my body … I try to forget because they are painful, but when someone mentions it, that creates space for me [to process some of that] stored pain as well. A former partner said some derogatory things during sex, that I think he thought were sexy, but to me [his comments] felt dangerous. Like somehow he tapped into something he had never expressed outside the bed.
Panelist #4: I think that’s how it happens. It’s visceral and flips so many switches. It completely upends the connection because it’s like, “Who is this person?” and “Am I in danger?”
Question from the Chat: How do you combat Bi-erasure?
Panelist #2: I have only had male primary partners and until two years ago, I was only “out” as pansexual in the community. I have definitely dealt with people saying, “You’re only with men so you’re not Bi anymore.” Or my aunt said, “I went through that phase, too.” It’s not a phase! I still like girls and non-binary people, I’m just not dating any right now. She didn’t stop being straight just because she’s not dating a man. Within the ENM community, I haven’t seen as much Bi-erasure for women, but I did notice in the Swinger community the bisexual men that I knew faced a lot of stigma and shame and they didn’t want people to know that they had same gender play partners. I haven’t experienced that as much in the Poly community, but it’s two sides of the ENM spectrum that we deal with.
Question from Panelist #1 to Panelist #3: Do you think homophobia is an extension of misogyny?
Panelist #3: I whole-heartedly agree. I read an article back in the 80’s by Gore Vidal that misogyny and homophobia go hand-in-hand. That repression of women being able to have say/control over their bodies because of patriarchy, the male has to be dominant. If a male chooses to be sexual with another male, [it is believed that] they are making themselves female because some people view homosexuality more in terms of “sex acts” as opposed to an emotional and romantic connection. When I first started coming out, I would get questions from well-meaning friends, “Are you the man or the woman in the relationship?” Those people are viewing it from the perspective of very rigid gender role expectations.
I made my foray into ENM through MNPOLY and also attending play parties that were pansexual in the Kink community. And something I noticed right off was this weirdness regarding male-on-male sexuality. It was okay for women to be sexual with each other, but not two men. To be sexual in the same area was a “no-no” in the Kink environment, which claims to be inclusive.
Panel Facilitator: Before we transition to discuss healthy relationship boundaries, do any of the panelists have any comments about identity on the gender spectrum?
Panelist #2: I usually tell people that I identify as cisgender because trying to explain it gets so convoluted. There are definitely days, weeks where I’m feeling “less woman” and I express my masculine side and I don’t mind being referred to as “she” as long as it’s not in a derogatory or antagonistic way. My experience of gender is very fluid. I recognize that I come from a place of privilege and I can express myself as a cis-white hetero woman and most people don’t question and I don’t have to face a lot of hate if I don’t choose to put that out there.
Question from the Chat: Would love to hear [panelists’ experiences] with discrimination against Trans people.
Panelist #3: I identify as cis-male, but even though I may not understand a Transperson’s gender identity, it doesn’t give me a right to treat them like crap. They’re going through their journey just like I had to as a Gay man. It becomes an issue of developing empathy for others.
Panelist #1: Oppression in any form hurts us all. My ideas about transgender people were shaped by purity culture which has very rigid gender roles. Kids in my church youth group would say, “Girls aren’t supposed to …” fill-in-the blank with whatever I was doing at the time. Or “Why are you acting like a boy?” And even as a pre-teen, I was thinking ‘they know I’m a girl and just because I want to wear pants or climb trees, why does that make me a boy and why is that how we define masculinity?’ Similarly, I’ve had people say to me, “Why do you talk white?” or “Black people don’t ride horses.” But I’m Black, no confusion or camouflage, and I ride horses … so what’s the real issue behind that question?
Struggling for my own sense of validation about being bisexual, I’m trying to make space in the Queer world to identify as I want to and no one else gets to do that for me. So the [Trans] fight is my fight, because as I make space for myself, I’m making space for Trans people to do the same. As they fight for the right to identify as they choose, they make space for me. I want the freedom to identify as I choose, so in order for me to have that freedom, I’ve got to fight for that freedom for others.
Panelist #4: We have the right to decide how we want to be perceived. What you see is not [all] that I am and there are so many layers to that rooted in patriarchy, misogyny, racism … we are pushing back against decades of societal programming.
Panelist #2: I’ve dated transwomen and while they have experienced the “big” violences of physical threats and verbal abuse, they’ve experienced more micro-aggressions … like, someone purposely using the wrong pronouns, intentionally using their dead names, especially from people who claim to “love” them. They say that all of that eats away at their spirit.
Panelist #4: Life becomes a battle to demand respect and validation that you deserve … as a person.
Panelist #3: Especially when those of the majority have not had to struggle for the same respect and validation.
Developing Healthy Relationship Boundaries
The panelists shifted to speak about how important it is to embrace who they are for themselves first because only then can they show up in relationships as their best self.
Self-Care – I’ve been working on myself by developing practices that ground me, so that regardless of the micro-aggressions that come at me, I know who I am. I have developed spiritual practices that leave space for reflection, silence, letting the mind wander, getting out in the fresh air. Drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating on a regular schedule, all things that may seem basic, but can definitely affect how we show up.
‘Show up in every situation as if you were meant to be there’ by The Mankind Project. And pay attention to how we cast our shadow. All of us have certain kinds of privilege and we must pay attention to how we use it. The problem is not that we have privilege, but it is when we try to squash others because of our privilege.
Broaden the Circle – Check our implicit bias. We live in a country that forces us to breathe the air of systemic inequities. We didn’t create it, but we certainly don’t have to contribute to it. Intentionally reach out to people who look different, speak a different language, or who are older … not to have sex with them, but to create opportunities to view the world through their eyes. And be willing to be uncomfortable as your awareness opens.
Time for Fun – Make time to engage in things that bring you joy. We can play games and participate in peaceful protests; we don’t have to choose one over the other. It truly helps with mental health and emotional well-being to laugh and have fun.
Aligning our decisions with our values – The value of a life is not in what we accumulate, but in who we helped, who we encouraged, who we listened to, and what we did with the time that was allotted us.
Panelist #4: We’ve got to do the work of self-reflection. At times, it’s hard work. Decide what kind of person you want to be and then do the work to unlearn harmful behaviors, implicit biases, internalized white supremacy, internalized misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. It’s heavy work, but necessary. Establish healthy boundaries for yourself and others. Set them and communicate them. That’s an example of growth.
Panelist #2: That applies to ENM situations too, whether it’s coming out to family and establishing boundaries and same thing with partners. Creating healthy boundaries is self-care.
The panelists administered two polls to gauge where the participants were in terms of self-care and how to be an ally, discussed the results of the poll, then recommended resources for more information. Where to start? Educate yourself. There is a body of work: movies, books, dance, academic papers, and essays that help us understand other cultures. Check our implicit bias. Vote for policies that uplift and include those who have been historically excluded and vote against policies that are based on exploitation and extraction.
“What is unique about the Poly community is that we are on the cutting edge when it comes to relationship dynamics, and this is not an area that marriage and relationship counselors are trained in. We aren’t represented in their models of how to navigate relationships, so we have had to create our own support structures and develop our own guidance because therapists don’t know how to counsel us,” said a long-time MNPOLY member.
People in the LGBTQIA+, Ethically Non-Monogamous, and Polyamorous communities struggle against learned behaviors that are repressive, suppressive, and oppressive. How can they not? They are a microcosm of a larger society. They actively encourage each other, sometimes imperfectly, to dig below “normative behaviors” to understand themselves and to shed harmful, toxic, and dysfunctional attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors that do not uplift or respect the rights of others.