On Being Out

I’m out when it comes to poly. People who know me well know I am. I put my poly writing and stuff on my CV. Plenty of people who read this know my “real name”.

Given the US political climate these days, I’m occasionally concerned about it. But since one cannot stuff the genie back in the bottle, I’ve decided that since I’m out anyway, it’d be nearly impossible to change that.

Has it hurt me? I genuinely don’t know. I’ve never been confronted about it, but it’s possible a client has done a search on my name1, and decided not to hire me. If so, I never heard about it. I’m even teaching a class in social networking, and I can’t imagine that none of my students have done a search on me. Nope, no confrontations.

There was a time when my version of “out” involved explaining to all and sundry. It’s a not too unusual pattern when one has a Big Life Change and it’s something that one is personally obsessed about. These days, I’m more obsessed about other things in my life and my relationships are my relationships rather than a project – which suits my tastes better.

Thing is, right now, it’s pretty easy for me to “pass”. I’m married and have been for a couple of decades. Never mind that the closest the relationship ever was to closed was when we were part of a group marriage! The fact that we’re poly doesn’t show unless one looks pretty carefully. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m about as out as I could be without wearing a sign, but my household isn’t in a position where we’re being too closely examined by anyone. We live in a very mind-your-own-business type of area, and we don’t have relatives that are controlling enough to cause trouble, so we’re extraordinarily lucky.

Which brings me to the real point of this. How out are you? What drives that choice? What consequences have you faced? What consequences are you scared of? I think this is an important discussion. Most poly activists are out, out, out. I don’t hear them talking about being in any real trouble because of it. Is it because we who are a bit more public are lucky in our life situations? What do you think?


1 I have an unusual name. Though the very first results seem to be more about my various (rather conventional and homemakerish) hobbies than anything salacious.

27 thoughts on “On Being Out

  1. Kala Pierson

    I have the immense luxury of being as out as I want to be. Too often, those out-out-out poly activists seem to forget what a luxury — and what a rarity — that is. I have one long-distance partner who can’t be out, and it hurts to hear people in my very lucky circles implicitly or explicitly dismissing his experience.

    Certainly a majority of poly people (particularly poly parents) still can’t be out. I feel a lot of responsibility toward those people when I make decisions about outness and communication with non-poly people. The need to stay closeted will only decrease if the people who can be out are out and proud.

  2. XtinaS

    I’m not particularly out.  I just recently sort of came out to one or two of my coworkers as not-straight (or “gay”, as the binary currently requires — I’d have to give more background information, or just state it baldly, to come out as bisexual).  I don’t feel comfortable coming out.  I don’t think I’d be jettisoned from the window, or anything, I just worry.

    I’m more worried about how my various not-“normal” things will affect my wanting a child.  I’m not straight, I’m not cisgendered, I have no interest in having a child with a man at this point, and I’m polyamorous.  Thankfully, I’m dating a lawyer.  *fret*

    I think at least some of my decision is due to my anxiety.  The rest is due to not wanting to have to hear, yet again, all the ignorant comments and questions that invariably come with being out about much of anything.  (For example: “Oh, you’d love this drag king show up on [location]!”  I see.  Based on… yeah.)

  3. Vicki

    I’m pretty out, I think–and that’s partly deliberate and partly the happenstance of having had a newsreader set up to use my real name for other newsgroups when I started posting to alt.polyamory. (Ironically, at the time while my relationship was open by agreement, I had only one partner.) Deliberate because I wanted my mother to know, and because I’m not that good at keeping secrets either.

    Like Noel, it’s possible that someone has googled me, found that, and decided not to hire me as a result. If so, I don’t know that–I just didn’t get that job offer. (I suspect that one temp assignment wasn’t extended because I outed myself to my then-supervisor without really thinking about it, but so it goes. And that’s only a guess.) I do have an unusual name–there are two of us in the United States to my knowledge, three if you include a variant spelling of “Vicki”–such that I felt I should let the other know that googling might find this stuff about me. It’s one thing for her to be telling a friend that she’s not the one who went to Hong Kong, another to have questions about her husband and girlfriend sprung on her. This way, she can say “Right, there’s another Vicki Rosenzweig in New York. We aren’t even related.”

  4. RachelT

    I’m out to my friends, but not to my coworkers or family. Anyone who knows me well (excluding my conservative family members) knows that I’m polyamorous – I don’t hide it, but I also don’t make it a *thing,* and my company is very inclusive, so I never get rude questions or anything like that.

    I pass very well, too. I am married (to a man), I am cisgendered, and I perform woman pretty well. In public, I rarely show attention to men, which is usually interpreted as respect for my husband. I find that I am rarely believed when I express bisexual interests – people nod at my words, but since I’m married to a man, I see them silently dismissing me. I’m not sure they would believe I find women sexually attractive unless they saw me actively having sex in front of them – and then they would probably assume I am doing it for male attention. Bah. Male privilege.

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      Bah, male privilege indeed!

      I share your issues about bisexuality and hating the idea that if you are, then it must be in the context of a man. It’s often a problem in terms of my romantic life in that direction, too.

      1. RachelT

        Hey, Goddess of Java! My biggest issue with pursuing potential romantic partners is communicating about my bisexual desires, and being taken seriously by other women. Many women, even dear bisexual friends, assume that I must be completely satisfied by my heterosexual relationship and that other relationships are somehow less or less serious. For me, there’s a difference between desire and relationships – desire is about attraction, physical and otherwise, and a relationship is with a person. As a bisexual woman, I find myself attracted primarily to people, and see gender as an attribute of an attractive person. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to ogle hot babes, and I also don’t see that it necessarily has anything to do with my husband – he likes to ogle hot babes, too! I may experience desire without taking action, and I may pursue a relationship in which I prefer to take sexual desire off the table. For me it’s part of a whole spectrum of experiences with other people, and there’s no black and white line – or at least I don’t seem to see the same line other people see.

        My relationships with other people are always *serious* in the sense that I treat everyone with respect and affection. My sexual desire for women is mine – it doesn’t have anything to do with my husband, and doesn’t detract from my satisfaction with our sex life or our relationship. I don’t have to be interested in women as partners in a long-term duality in order to want to have women as serious partners in the adventure of life, sex or no sex. And I think that’s what’s confusing. People think – she’s married and she’s not a lesbian, so her interest in other women can’t be *serious.* People think – she’s found what everyone wants, a long-term heterosexual relationship with a committed partner – why would she want someone else?

        How do you handle it?

        1. Goddess of Java Post author

          Mostly by finding that any relationship I have with a woman, especially when I’m also seeing a male partner of hers, winds up being a bit awkward, as I’m never entirely sure if I’m being seen in context of the male on HER end.

          I guess what I am saying is that I don’t wind up handling it worth a damn and I could do with some advice myself on that score! (Yes, being more open is DEFINITELY the first thing any sane person would say to do and they’d be right).

  5. Rachel S.

    I’m fairly out. Most of my family who deserve to know, do, and most of my friends know too. I don’t go out of my way to hide it, but I don’t go out of my way to talk about it either unless I’m really excited about something (which occasionally happens). Luckily, I’m self-employed, and I mostly only work with people who aren’t squicked by liberals (especially Jewish liberals), so if all of my business contacts knew, I don’t think any of them would care. As for my “primary” partner, I think the only people he’s out to are those who know both of us, he’s a little more closeted because his family is less open-minded and he actually works for someone else. However, we’re also able to pass for mono pretty easily, since neither of us is really actively pursuing other partners.

  6. MegC

    I’m starting to lose track of how out I am/we are. We pass without trying (married with kids). Anyone who knows us knows we are quirky about lots of things, and would probably not be fazed that our relationship and orientations would follow that pattern. I don’t expect to be disowned by anyone I care about over being poly. There might be a moment of surprise, and a need for reassurance that all partners are okay with it, but then they would see that it fits who we are. Some of our friends and my closest siblings know, and the rest haven’t asked. I suspect that my entire half of the family knows but doesn’t want to talk to me about it. And that’s okay with me. I can be a silent defender of my lifestyle as long as no one challenges it. The best advocacy is living well and happily.

    My long-distance partner isn’t open about having a relationship with a “married woman,” but since I’m always visiting alone and we keep to ourselves, there’s no need for explicit cover.

  7. Beth

    I’m in a slightly awkward situation which I know is not sustainable long-term and am actively working on changing. I’m a bi and partnered to a man, who is also my immediate supervisor at work. At work (and in the community – we have very public government jobs), our relationship is secret but I’m out as queer-identified and we both code “available”, which leads to a lot of people parsing that as “his lesbian best friend” and effectively invisibles our polyness.

    We’re out to family and all of our non-local friends and selectively out to local friends.

    He’s looking to retire in the next couple of years, right about the same time that I finish some professional development education that will let me jump forward in my career, and we’re looking to move cross-country and start fresh

  8. Beth

    And I will learn to proofread comments one of these days… *sigh* I’m spoiled by Livejournal edit-after-posting.

  9. Leah

    I’m out everywhere except at work. I don’t fear reprisal, but I don’t particularly want to discuss my sex life with them, so I don’t bring it up. My friends all know, and I don’t mind being out in casual social situations, though I often don’t bother bringing it up anymore unless it’s pertinent. My immediate family knows and my mother has leaked the information to all of the extended family, who mostly don’t talk about it. I don’t wish to argue with them about it, so I just leave it there.

    At Thanksgiving a couple of years ago my mother told one of my cousins that I was “dating around”. I put on my comically affronted voice and said, “I am not dating around. I’m very attached to both of them!” and let everyone have a nice laugh. It’s not worth the stress of trying to push it into their noses, but I’m not hiding it either.

  10. Kit

    I’m out, as out as can be ,lol.
    I don’t shut up well, and I don’t play nice and I am not terribly good at lying, hiding my emotions , nor at remaining silent when offended.
    It has not cost me a job, although it did come close. The presence of a terrific grandboss and the subtle reminder of company policy covered that.
    And *in* the context of various aspects of my job I can remain as quiet as need be – there is no good reason to discuss my personal life in one of the jobs with this org.
    In the other contexts I have the support of the parents – discussing my own beliefs does at time make sense and is actually called for as a part of a round table format.
    My family is diversely happy, unhappy, tolerant, and ‘whatever’ but all are as loving as they’ve ever been, so I can live with it.
    In most of my varying friendship circles I am not the only poly person folks know although I have at times been called the most sensible/ethical. etc… I dunno .
    I think I’m just the one who dates the least.
    I do have kids – three kids, three relationships.
    I’m still friends with my first Ex with whom I share a child and a now defunct triad.
    My middle child’s dad & I don’t get along, but I did tell him the truth and despite other horrid issues we have had – he has not ever tried to use that information against me.
    I’m married to the dad of my youngest son and have been for 15 years this April and while poly has easily been the biggest conflict our marriage has faced, we’re doing well now and continuing our poly journey, although – much as GoddessofJava points out – it’s really just living my life and way less screaming from the rooftops these days.

  11. Deborah

    I’m reasonably out, in that I don’t blurt inappropriate information to new acquaintances and I answer all questions truthfully. The people who matter to me know about all my “six sigma” quirks. Most of those people have no problem with it, because my friends and family-of-choice are chosen, in part, because they are the kind of people who won’t have problems with it. I don’t play well with bigots. :-)

    I’m not particularly afraid of consequences and in part that is driven by the fact that I am on disability, and therefore not at the whim of an employer. I may have lost the last job I worked at, not just because of my disability and the perceptions around it (regardless of my productivity), but because of my relationship status; the VP I worked for was Very Very Mormon.

    I *have* been written out of my parents’ will, specifically because I ended up coming out unexpectedly and rather badly to them and my two brothers a number of years ago. Thankfully, the brother-who-doesn’t-care-about-my-relationship-configuration is the executor of their will and he assures me that he won’t let the injustice stand. Especially since I flew out in December, at a rather large financial and energy cost, to care for mom for the month before she was placed in care for dementia; neither of my brothers was able or willing to do what I was doing with and for her. (Don’t misunderstand; I would have gone anyway, even if I’d known ahead of time about the will. But still.)

    I am in the unenviable position of having a girlfriend who is mostly not out to her family and friends. But I don’t blame her; I am her first relationship with a woman, her first poly experience, and she comes from a family of Seventh Day Adventists, so she’s pretty sure of the kind of reception she’d get. I still don’t like the “hiding me” aspect, but I respect her right to set those boundaries.

  12. Stormy

    We’re considering adoption, so we’re out to friends, but not under our real names online and not to family. Some coworkers know, but it’s nothing we ever really talk about. I fear that being non-religious will already work against us enough…being out about being poly would just be the kiss of death.

  13. Lily

    Well, I had an interesting experience last week. I run a small startup that has office space in a large coworking facility.

    So? Someone at the office saw me on OKCupid.

    It was actually kinda nice to be out at work. We are buddies now.

    I’m not out to my mother, but I’m not particularly close to her. If my father were alive I would be out to him, and I think he would have a) loved my girlfriend and b) have to be chided about flirting with her.

    You asked what influences a decision to be “out” or not. Well, in the “out column” I have the fact that I work for myself, and I’m not going to fire myself, nor would my business be likely to be affected by my being kinky and poly becoming (more) common knowledge than it is.

    In the “not out” column, I have two young children, and I would be heartbroken if they came home crying one day because a friend’s parent wouldn’t allow them to play with them anymore. Another mark in the “not out” column was the fact that my girlfriend once worked in a very conservative environment, and needed to keep her job, so some degree of discretion was required. She doesn’t work there anymore, so we’re much more relaxed about things like PDA in her town.

  14. Becca

    I am out, out, out as a lesbian. Most of the poly people I know are not out, but that might be because of what their other activities are.

    I don’t know if it’s hard to be poly in an open matter, but I wish everyone the best.

  15. Kamiria

    We are out only to a select few people that are trustworthy. It’s about need to know for us. We are far from wealthy, and could not withstand the fallout of losing a job. It’s not worth the risk. We are not activists, nor are we cowards. We choose to have quiet lives.

    I’ve mostly dropped the “poly” label from my vocabulary and describe my relationships as my family and that I have two male partners. We live together and share all the things cohabitating partners might share including finances. We’ve settled into a life that suits us and we’re fiercely protective of our privacy. Neither do we hide.

    I’m in treatment for breast cancer and my surgeon, my oncologist, and my nurse navigator, and other members of my team know about our family because I won’t hide these two men who are walking with me on this journey. These are the men who hold my hand during chemo, cook for me, and sit with me when the drugs keep me up all night.

    We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been supported by my healthcare team. It doesn’t matter to me what they think, it’s how they act that counts.

    I do think about the whole Gringrich madness and how that might affect us, but not enough for it be in the front of my mind. We’ve been a family for more than three years, and my husband and I have been together 13 years so I think we can weather whatever happens.

    1. Goddess of Java Post author

      Oh man… My heart is with you on the cancer thing. It’s wonderful that you have supportive loves and all, but here’s hoping for remission so that you can enjoy that a long, LOOONNNNGG time.

      1. Kamiria

        Thank you for the good words. I’m going to get well :) I was lucky; they caught it in time. The treatment is one of the toughest regmens, but I’m doing it.

        Thank you to for this blog. I’ve enjoyed your posts for a long time.

        Back to the original post, being out is not as important to me as how I manage my relationships and my life. I figure that the people who need to know will present themselves and we tell them what they ask as long as they don’t cross the line into prurience.

  16. Shaz

    We are out with our friends where we live. It’s impossible to hide because I live with my partner (soon to be husband), my other partner, his wife, and their baby in a house that has a bedroom for each couple. His wife’s boyfriend visits regularly, and my fiance goes on occasional dates with women from OKCupid. We used to be self-conscious about it or tell people without prompting, but now it doesn’t matter. People sort of figure it out and rarely say anything, but (happily) they’ve stayed our friends, which has been a relief since we lost a few friends in the beginning when I started dating my other partner. If they do query, we’re happy to talk with them. I’m deliriously happy they accept us, on various levels as a family/couples/individuals.

    In general, our co-workers, extended family, immediate family, and parents do not “officially” know. They may suspect. They wonder why my “friend” is such an integral part of my life, which can be sad for me when I don’t feel like I can explain because 1) it might risk my relationship with someone; 2) it might turn into a fight with a freaking-out family member, which I don’t want to have since we’ve been in poly relationships for 4+ years; or 3) make work life uncomfortable. I definitely ditto the comment above about not wanting to talk about my “sex life” at work — so I barely say anything about any of my relationships in professional settings. I do want to tell my dad as he likes both of my partners a lot and wants my partner’s daughter to consider him her grandfather, which we all support.

    My quandary is my upcoming marriage. I want to respect my other relationship but am struggling to figure out how to honor that and have him help me through the day as my man of honor, in front of parents and siblings who ostensibly know nothing. Do we tell the family or try to be subtle? I just don’t know.

  17. SkeeterVT

    I’ve been out of multiple closets for nearly 34 years — which, I supsect, makes me a rarity (especially for an African-American male). I first came out as a gay man in 1978 (when it was still risky to do so).

    My second coming-out happened on my 40th birthday in 1993, when I publicly acknowledged my bisexuality after falling in love with a female housemate (The first woman I ever had strong emotional or erotic feelings for in my adult life).

    My third coming-out — as poly in 2000 — was pretty nonchalant, as I had never really hid the fact that I was non-monogamous in the first place.

    And yes, I’m married. Not only am I out to my wife, but we have an open marriage (She’s straight, but also poly). Ironically, now that I’m a late fiftysomething, I’m as slow as a crock pot when it comes to forming new relationships, mainly because I no longer have the libido of a twentysomething. And at my age, there’s much, more to a loving relationship than sex.

  18. Bianca Palmisano

    I’m in the curious situation of being out-out at work, and semi-out everywhere else. I have another poly coworker, and the rest of my team is very open and accepting, so I never really worry about it there.

    However, I’m hesitant to talk about my poly-ness with people in person because I’m really a poly person in an open relationship with restrictions, rather than in a full-out poly partnership. It’s a very delicate balancing act, where my partner wishes to maintain privacy as much as possible. So my close friends know what we are open, and some acquaintances have inklings about the matter, but I don’t offer definitions unless I’m asked.

    My mom and sister also know, which is lovely, and anyone with the ability to track my blog commenting would be able to find out. I don’t know where that leaves me- probably not as out as I’d like to be, but comfortably so.

  19. Jericka

    Some people know that I am poly, and others don’t. Since I am a widowed female, my seeing more than one guy is mostly considered “not settling down” rather than actually noticed as being poly, unless I actually use the word. It helps that I am in a fairly diverse and populous area, rather than in a small town.

    I do keep it more quiet than I might be inclined to, but, that is because one guy that I am seeing is married and not all the way out. He and his wife are long time poly folk, but, even most of their close friends didn’t know. He decided that he wanted to be able to include me in more activities and therefore they started coming out to more of their close friends. It was going ok, until the last couple they informed….the one they were stressing about telling. Apparently they got a response along the lines of, “we will continue to see you, but, we don’t want to support your lifestyle in even an indirect fashion”.


    This is stressful for them, but, there isn’t anything I can do except support. What I *want* to do is smack those supposed “friends” of theirs and tell them that that is not how you support your good friends, but, I suppose that would be counterproductive. Hopefully they will come around.

  20. Ellessy

    I am so grateful to have found this resource. Transitioning from identifying as both mono and hetero in two long-term relationships into an expansive view of how I can be in relationship with myself and others has been both wonderful and challenging. In looking around for resources to prepare for possibilities and address difficulties, I have yet to find a significant number of perspectives I connect with. This thread is a lovely exception.

    With regards to being out as being poly, there is a big difference between my comfort level with friends and with the general public. As a teacher, I have ongoing concerns about public opinion. It’s not that I feel the need for everyone to know, but rather want to interact with my girlfriend in a loving manner, as I do my husband, but don’t want jeopardize my professional situation. Although she knew of my concerns from the beginning, it has started to feel like I can’t give her something she deserves. It may be just how it is, but I do certainly wish I didn’t feel the need to worry about the opinion of others!

    If anyone has thoughts from the perspective of a third joining a couple (She is not in an intimate relationship with my husband, but they are friendly.), I would love to hear. Even though my girlfriend isn’t asking for things to change, I want to do what I can to create as much satisfaction with our relationship as I can. We’re learning as we go!

  21. Taha

    Whatever the reason for doing it, most of us will surley benefit from working with Brian Frederick’s principles (or similar). If poly makes us more inclined to take on emotional challenges, (including telling others what we need) that will be a nice side-effect. Which I suspect occurs rather frequently:-)


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