Full disclosure: I'm polyamorous. After being in a year-long, tumultuous monogamous relationship, I fell into polyamory by accident. After giving it a shot, I realized that I am better equipped to handle the struggles that come from polyamory than monogamy. Clearly, both setups come with a myriad of issues, but what makes me happiest, most comfortable, and most satisfied, is polyamory. Polyamory, ironically, also alleviated my jealousy issues and relationship-induced anxiety, simply because I trust my current partner unconditionally.
Like most people, I knew nothing about polyamory when I stumbled into it. I believed the false misconceptions that surround poly life. I thought people use polyamory as an excuse to screw around. I thought all polyamorous relationships are doomed to fail, with one person being left out. I also thought that poly people are insecure, given that they need validation and support from various partners. While I have encountered all of these things and people in the poly community, I can safely say, these hurtful stereotypes are false and don't accurately capture the true spirit of polyamory.
I write about consensual non-monogamous relationships often. Without pushing any agenda, I try to help others by offering another option to monogamy. It's worked for me, and I wish I had known poly was a viable option sooner.
But I also know I'm not special. I'm like many other queer men out there. My experience, struggle, and identity are undeniably mine, but once I stopped believing I was the center of the universe, I was able to realize that my journey mirrored many queer men before and after me, and I now think that other people could benefit from being in a monogam-ish, open, or polyamorous relationship.
Still, when I even hint at the idea of not being 100 percent monogamous, guys throw more than hissy fits; they have full temper tantrums. I'm not even saying go out and date a million people; I'm saying that if both you and he are exclusive bottoms, maybe it's worth it to consider bringing in a third. “Consider”—that's the world I'll use. But that's enough for guys to become furious, taking their comments to every social media platform. In these comments, I’m ruthlessly attacked, accused of knowing nothing about relationships, giving up on men too early, being sleazy, horny, and incapable of love, amid a bunch of other totally outlandish claims.
These comments never bother me because I know they're wrong. They have, however, led me to repeatedly ask the same questions: Why does the mere mention of a non-monogamous relationship make these guys' blood boil? I understand it's not for them, but why do they get so angry that open relationships work for other men? Why do they feel that it's important that everyone be like them, in a monogamous relationship, when it doesn't affect them? Is it a matter of arrogance? Do they assume everyone is like them? Have these men been cheated on? Have these men been taken advantage of by men who use the “open” label, and instead of realizing that that guy was just an unethical person, they think that all guys in open relationships are unethical people? This shouldn't be such a sore subject and source of unrelenting rage.
I've tried engaging with the monogamy-or-bust folks, going straight to the source, but I've never learned anything useful. They are so consumed by anger, that they can't speak logically about why something that has nothing to do with them provokes such outrage. Honestly, they sound like the anti-marriage equality crowd. They say the same things repeatedly about how it ruins the sanctity of marriage (or in this case, relationships), but when you ask how it affects them personally, they don't have an answer. But for whatever reason, this remains a source of animosity.
That said, here's what I have noticed.
1. People in satisfying monogamous relationships don’t have reason to be angry.
When I speak to gay men who are in satisfying monogamous relationships, they're never angered. Confused? Absolutely. Do they know that an open relationship would never work for them? Yes, very aware. Are they skeptical that it will work out? Sure. But angry? Never. The only people who are actively angered are men who are single or unhappily committed in a monogamous relationship. This had led me to believe a main reason for their anger is displacement. They're unhappy with their relationship (or lack thereof) and are taking it out on men in happy, open relationships.
2. The angry folks have reason to be insecure and jealous.
These are people for whom a polyamorous relationship would never work, because they struggle to believe in their own self-worth. They fear they aren't worthy of love. Because of this, these insecure men think that their partner will leave them in the dust if someone comes along who seems “better,” instead of acknowledging that a person can love two individuals. These guys are usually single.
Simon*, a gay man I interviewed, supports this notion; he thinks open-relationship shaming is a matter of projection. “...I find that there has been an increase in hypocritical slut-shaming that comes from the queer community. [We’re] always eager to feel morally superior. I think this happens because it's easier for [some queer men] to project insecurities and/or personal issues onto someone who doesn't seem to feel guilt or remorse for exploring their sexuality with other partners, than to be honest with themselves about their own desires and ‘deviant’ curiosities, polyamory among them.”
3. The angry gay men are homonormative AF.
In my experience, the gay men vehemently opposed to open/poly life tend to be the same men who think bisexuality is a stepping stone to gay and that being transgender is a mental illness; men who don't see the value in the word "queer" and don't believe gays should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Their perception of open/poly life isn't an isolated issue. It's rooted in a larger ideology that's riddled with entitlement and privilege.
However, as one gay man I interviewed, Noah, said, “I also think that (white) gay men's attitudes on polyamory are shaped very heavily by our successful assimilation into mainstream culture. Remember, one of the most widespread arguments against gay marriage was that it would lead us down a slippery slope towards legalization of polygamy and other 'deviant' (read: alternative) relationship structures. Accepting polyamory as a positive force in the gay community means pushing back against the core world views of those naysayers. But the gay community has mostly opted for assimilation, so it's not surprising that as a poly person I'm frequently viewed with suspicion."
Though Noah said he hasn’t faced direct discrimination, he mentioned that a growing number of gay men refuse to date him because they think, “I am inherently unable to give them the level of intimacy that they crave or the level of commitment that they desire.” When he says he’s polyamorous, “...I lose value in their eyes since there is no chance for me to be their One True Love.” He understands the need for boundaries and respects people for realizing polyamory or open relationships aren’t for them, but at the same time, this puts him in a very precarious position when it comes to dating.
Another man I interviewed, Rob, said he has hasn’t received much discrimination aside from a snarky comment here and there. “Let's face it,” he said, “open relationships are as common among gay guys as bread and butter!”
While I think that is true, and open relationships are quite common in the queer male community, this relates back to what Noah was discussing. With assimilation into more mainstream culture and the acquirement of rights, including that to marry, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.
With all of that said, I still can't help but see the irony in a gay man critiquing how someone else loves. Love is love—isn't that what we’ve been preaching this whole time? And if love does conquer all, which I believe all gay and queer men believe, then we, as a community, need to be supportive of other queer men. Instead of buying into this boring, oppressive, homonormative gay culture, or losing our sense of openness as we continue to assimilate into the heteronormative mainstream, I’d like to see gay men expand their notion of what gay is, what love is, and what a relationship is.
I'm also hoping that we can think outside ourselves. Just because a certain non-traditional relationship style wouldn’t be our first choice, doesn't mean it can't be the ideal relationship style for our gay brothers. We’re not only being arrogant and close-minded; we’re beginning to sound a lot like the Republicans who work so hard to take away our rights.
So if you're one of those gay men who are vehemently opposed to every type of relationship but monogamy, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why?”
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity