Coming Out as Polyamorous, Part II
The second part of this series explains strategies for coming out as poly.
Posted Mar 21, 2015
The first part in this two part series on coming out focused on considerations of who to come out to and why. This second part of the series looks at how and when to come out.
Deciding when, how, and to whom to come out as polyamorous can be a daunting challenge. This second part of a series on coming out explores strategies for coming out.
How you come out depends on the person you are coming out to, and your reasons for coming out.
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.
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.
Let your partner/their biological or legal family member take the lead with the in-laws. Only come to the fore in that discussion if you have already discussed it with your partner(s) and decided that you will address the questions/conversation. When coming out as poly to in-laws, stress the consensual, negotiated, and gender-neutral nature of your poly arrangement. There is no need for intensive description, simply acknowledge the loving and consensual nature of the relationship and honestly answer any questions that arise. If they ask something very personal, you can ask if they would be comfortable answering the same question themselves. If so, then the shared personal disclosure can help families feel closer to each other. Or it can be weird and uncomfortable, so avoid the overshare.
Be honest and thoughtful when you answer questions. Give enough information as the person needs, without a lot of detail about things that are not relevant to that person.
Tips for Coming Out to Kids
Wait for the kid to ask about the relationship. Young children do not understand complex adult relationships that happen mostly long after the children’s bedtime. Little kids tend to take adults in their environment for granted, accepting them without explanation. They don't need to know a lot about adult relationships, especially at such a young age. If they are not asking questions, then just let it pass until they do.
Be askable by being open to discussing things and allowing kids and others to ask you questions about yourself. That means not only welcoming questions, but responding in a friendly, honest, and appropriate way. That can mean anything from making things simple to admitting to being uncertain or saying that you don’t want to talk about that specific thing right now, though at some other point it might be OK to bring up that topic again (or maybe not, depending on the topic).
Provide age- and person-appropriate information. Small children may be fine hearing that mom has lots of different kinds of friends, and some are kissing friends, and some are not. Older kids will need more detailed answers that are pertinent to what they need to know. “I am hanging out with Sasha and your mom knows about it, she agreed to it -- everything is ok and out in the open” is better than “Sasha and I are lovers.”
Ask if kids have questions. Depending on what kids see in family life or a kid’s specific personality, you may not have the luxury to wait for them to ask you about your relationships. , you can either bring it up with "Have you noticed that mom has some new friends? Do you have any questions about them?" or just wait until Ali asks and then be honest.
Be relaxed and straightforward. There is no need to be ashamed or apologetic, and the news does not have to be presented as if it is a big deal. Simply present the information in a matter of fact way that gives the kids the information they need in a calm,
If you are afraid that kids will say something to someone else – an ex-spouse, mother-in-law, grandfather, or someone like that – then it is worth giving it some serious thought before coming out to children. Helping adults to keep secrets can be a heavy burden on kids, and if at all possible avoid putting children in a position where they know something about one parent/family member that they have to hide from the other parent/family member. If it is a risk that the kids will "out" you as poly to someone who will try to take them away because of it, then you definitely need to talk to the kids about it before that happens.
When explaining it to kids, you can tell them that some things are "just at home" things -- like being naked or talking about private things -- and mom and dad's special friends are part of the realm that you only talk about at home. The trick there is to present it as neutral as possible, without shame. There is nothing to apologize for and no reason to feel bad about it, so don't present it as if it is something to be ashamed of. It is just a private thing, something only to talk about at home. Stress that they are free to ask you questions, and answer them honestly when they do. It is not that they can’t talk about it at all, they just need to remember to talk about it only to private people, and then clearly identify who those private people are.