Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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This is a little out of the blue, as it started as a forum post up until I realised I was proselytizing. Then I decided to put it here instead, since what else is a blog for?

Now I've mentioned this topic before, and referenced this relevant post by tacit, but having bumped into the forum thread about whether or not to be open about poly relationships on Modern Poly, I wanted to go into more detail about my views on this, as it is something I've experienced both sides of, and I have pretty strong views on this topic.

An academic article I came across recently had this to say about secrecy in relationships:

“greater secrecy was associated with reduced commitment to one’s relationship, lower self-esteem, and more reported health symptoms ...poses a threat to partners’ personal health as a result of generating negative affect (e.g., nervousness and fear)“

(from http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/35/11/1452 )

In other words, being secretive about your relationships not only sucks as an experience, but it can also make you ill.

And now I'll tell you a story:

My own experience stems from when I was still quite new to poly (or at least to the idea that it was actually okay to be the way I had always been anyway) and still hadn't found a support network, online or in person.

I moved to a small and isolated community with a partner, let's call him P. It wasn't a highly religious place, but it was VERY old-fashioned in attitude. From having been very open about everything with our UK community, suddenly P was terrified we were going to be shunned by our new social group if either of us put a foot wrong, and he felt his job was at risk if this happened, so he demanded that I conduct my other relationships with the utmost secrecy.

I was not happy about this, but I put up with it because I loved him, we lived really well together, and thought we were in for the long haul. I went back into the closet both about being poly, and about my bisexuality as well, after one incident of platonic late night film-watching at a male friends house sparked a nasty whispering campaign that got back to P's ears and he felt very uncomfortable about it. If I couldn't be 'safe' around the men of the neighbourhood, I sure as hell wasn't going to give them more rumour fodder by coming out as bi. This was the sort of place where upright chaps stood around and talked about 'the gays' as though they were from a different (and highly contagious) planet. Being different was WRONG. It was like having walked onto the set of the Stepford Wives.

So I snuck around for several months, loathing the place more by the day, loathing myself also, and feeling like I was being watched, and whispered about everywhere I went. I know this wasn't entirely paranoia either, because certain rumours came back to my (and P's) ears from trusted sources. It was not a comfortable place to be. Being secretive about a relationship in such a tiny community is frankly, near impossible, and I literally worried myself sick at times.

As luck had it, shortly after I started seeing A (and for unrelated reasons), P and I hit a dealbreaker, and decided to call it a day. A had a somewhat different view about how to act in public – in short, if you act as though you are doing nothing wrong, people will respond accordingly. So we did. And it worked. We acted as though we were doing nothing wrong, and sure we raised a few eyebrows – I was still living pretty happily with P, and we were winding our relationship up slowly and amicably, but at the same time I was openly dating A, and the three of us were spending time together as friends. - but we were accepted at face value. Suddenly the goldfish bowl community seemed a much friendlier place, and I was genuinely sad when I left to move back to the UK (and y'know what, I managed to challenge some of the homophobic attitudes while I was there, too).

The curious thing here is that A and P were in exactly the same line of work – in fact, they were colleagues, yet P fretted about losing his job by being 'outed' (even about his partner's behaviour), whereas A felt the best way to safeguard his job was in fact to be open about things from the start.

In a way, they were both right. Essentially, P created the danger - and it was a real danger - of being blackmailed and exposed, entirely out of his own fears and discomforts. A, by being open and up-front, blew any possibility of blackmail or rumour out of the water, and created a safe space for us to exist right there in the public eye.

From my own experience, and judging by the careers of plenty of notable politicians (pick some examples local to you!), I'm tempted to say that the latter 'open' policy being better in the long run is obvious.

(A little note here: being 'open' does not have to mean yelling loudly to everyone in town 'I am dating X, Y and Z!' - it can just mean not lying or changing the subject it if someone asks you 'are you dating y?'. It doesn't need to mean snogging in public, but it does mean smiling and nodding when people see you together in town, rather than ducking your head down and hiding. It means walking with pride, as long as you're doing something that *you* feel is right.)

How the story 'ends' – I'm still in contact with P, but only occasionally. He went back to monogamy, and doesn't appear to have looked back. On the other hand, several years on, A is still very much a partner of mine, as well as seeing several other women, and he's still working for the same employer, who is well aware of our situation, and fine with it. So far, it's happily ever after.

Now everyone who finds themselves in a situation where they feel a need to be secretive has their reasons, and some of them are perfectly valid – there is no legal protection (yet) against discrimination towards poly people, and it takes a lot of balls to stand up and say 'this is who I am and I am proud of it'. Like joreth, I have chosen a line of work (as an artist) that means I am free to be just as open as I please knowing that it might lose me a client or two, but it will never lose me my job. - but what I keep on seeing time and again, in my own life and those of other people, is that it is quite astounding what even closed-minded folk will accept if you present it to them with pride and pleasure, rather than fear. Even more astounding is the difference it will make to your life, just knowing that you can stop looking over your shoulder to see who's watching.

Honestly, I think secrecy should be a last resort for people who are absolutely certain that their lives and/or families are directly at risk if they open up, and even then it makes me want to put my pointy breastplate on to charge down and rescue whoever is stuck in that situation*.

If it's only fear of public opinion stopping you, I would recommend every time, go open, march out with your head held high and smile. It's a leap of faith, but it's well worth taking.

*Sadly I don't actually have a pointy breastplate, or a charger, but I totally would if I did!

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If I could agree more with what you've said here, we would be the same person. LOL!

Yeah, I might be more circumspect if I had children to worry about. On the other hand, I now consider that projection of pride in who I am and what I do to be a part of that self-protection too. I still see that it was P's unwillingness to continue doing that (he had done it perfectly well where we lived before) was the thing that made our relationship risky, not anything innate to the relationship itself.

Interestingly, there were far fewer rumours once we cut out the sneaking around and got more open about things - it was clear that however hard I worked at it, we had been managing to project an air of 'there's something weird going on here', which no doubt caused the speculation. Once we started being more 'yeah, so what?', that mostly disappeared.

Blackmail can only be used against you if you want to keep the secret.

I don't have the reference right now, but there's actually a politician who is in an open relationship. We never hear about him because there's no scandal. His wife knows, his relationships are stable. Period.

Now, he will probably not rise above local politics in this climate in the US, but he hasn't been blacklisted or thrown out of office, unlike the politicians who were forced to resign after being caught with their pants down, literally.

tacit's Self-Imposed Exile post is a great one to reference and illustrates exactly the problem.

As you said, there are honestly some jobs that are in danger from off-the-clock behaviour, mostly high-profile careers. But, for the most part, even if people think you're "weird", what gives them the power to harm you is you and your secrets.

I got into a rather catty argument at work once, where someone tried to besmirch my name to another coworker by gossiping about, what she felt were, the more unsavory details of my life. Apparently, she acted as if she was doing the other person a favor by revealing these details that would save the co-worker's mortal soul by preventing future contact with me.

The mutual co-worker said "yeah, I know, and I saw the pictures. So, now, about more relevant issues, what about this cable that isn't working?"

People are often more accepting of differences than some of us might think. And those who aren't, well, it is rare that people are willing to get in the face of someone who is clearly unapologetic and happy with their choices. People often avoid direct conflict - that's why the internet is so popular for flame wars, because we never have to actually face the person we're being rude to.

At worst, they'll talk about you behind your back. But chances are, they're doing that anyway. At best, you'll find some tolerant and accepting people who are happy to agree to disagree, possibly educate someone and clear up misconceptions, and maybe even find other like-minded individuals who were also too busy hiding in the closet to notice how crowded it was getting.

"what gives them the power to harm you is you and your secrets."

Dead on. It's not what the secrets *are* that makes them harmful, but the fact that they're secrets, as opposed to things that just happen to exist.

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Aw, I send you extra snuggles for being cute, and using such a cute icon today :) *snuggles*

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Joy! At the House of Joy! That's so cool! :D

I find that another interesting point to make that's been true for me at least is that if you carry yourself confidently and proudly and act as if it's all obvious you don't find yourself having those big stressful "coming out" conversations with many people. If something's relevant, it'll come up naturally in conversation, and mostly people shrug and the conversation moves on, perhaps with a couple of questions if the concept is completely foreign to them, but with none of those huge confrontations that so terrified me when I was younger and in the closet about so many different things. If you act like it's no big deal, other people will accept it as a matter of course.

*not completely sure that this is as coherent as she'd like it to be since she's a tad out of it but posting it anyhow and hoping she'll remember to come back and clarify later if necessary*

I think this post is excellent, and I now have the image of you charging in a ridiculously pointy breastplate.

Heh, if I come across one I can afford I will totally buy it. :)

If LJ had a like button, I'd be clicking it now.

You are made of solid Awesomeness! :-)
I love this post, it's really helping me to galvanise myself for my much anticipated move Up Norf, where I intend to start presenting myself as female 24/7.

I've spent too much of my life trying to be inconspicuous, which ironically seems to draw more attention. Trying to not be noticed when I can stand as tall as 6 foot 6 in heels simply wont work and will likely create the impression that I am trying to hide something. No, the way to go is just as you suggest, head up shoulders back, proud and sexy.

Edited at 2010-06-10 12:18 pm (UTC)

w00t! You're gorgeous already, confidence will just be the icing on the cake! :D

I am lucky to have the bestest of friends to inspire me :-)

It's interesting. Having only met you online and in "Chaos Bunny Mode" at Frolicon, I have great difficulty picturing you trying to be secretive about any aspect of your life. At least in a `con environment, you radiate confidence almost as much as you radiate charm.

On a related note, I think it worth noting that every time I look down and don't see an iPad in my arms I think of you, and the terrible sacrifice I made to preserve your freedom. ;-)

Well hello, and LOL! Such a terrible sacrifice, not enslaving me to someone I've never met in exchange for an evil apple device! I shall forever bear an appropriate amount of gratitude! (One wonders if there's an S.I. unit for gratitude... nanograts, perhaps?) ;-)

I don't think confidence and secrecy are mutually exclusive at all (surely James Bond would be out of a job otherwise!). I have plenty of things that I would consider to be secret because they are not my information to share, and I'm sure you do too. Everyone holds some level of information that they consider to be 'classified' or privileged. The issue was more one of being asked to treat information as classified which I would have been more comfortable revealing, since the fact that I was hiding it made me appear to be doing something much less ethical than I actually was. Blah. Long time gone now, and I don't plan on being in that position again.

On a completely unrelated note, I just read your comment on this vid and said to myself 'my gosh, that's hot'. Just thought I'd share that with you!

I finally got around to reading this (linked from ModernPoly.com). I totally can see your point. I've made different choices though. I live in a small town, where I am deeply rooted and here to stay. I have two young kids. Everyone knows everyone and some people have nothing better to do than gossip, or they think that a hot bi poly babe of course would want *them*. And there are no legal protections for being poly, or queer for that matter in my state. So I share the information that I'm bi and poly with certain people, but not with most. It's not hard to figure out if they do a little homework. I'm also a very private person and I don't feel like sharing my personal life with people who aren't my friends. Those I have shared with are cool about it, and the rest, I feel it's none of their business.

I have no shame about being bi or poly, which I have been for 22 years or so. I have no shame about my relationships. I think they are wonderful, and I wish more people I knew were capable of handling the information. I see that as their loss, not mine.

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