Out, and about

In case you’re wondering, this is how poly people come out.  

So, this is a post that understandably requires some context, lest it feel like an unsolicited info-dump, so here it is: there is an element of my life that I have not discussed publicly.  That is because it is outside the mainstream, and runs counter to many people’s preconceptions about how relationships work, how love works, and how people, at their core, work.  There have been numerous posts I have considered writing, but stopped myself, because talking about my dating life would necessarily touch on this topic, and doing so without a “coming out” post would invite confusion, questions, and uncertainty.

Recently, having watched some of my friends (Mike, I’m staring in your general direction) come out about parts of themselves that are tough to talk about but important to understanding them as individuals, I have been motivated to write this.  I will endeavor to intersperse information with FAQs, because I know there will be questions; I had plenty when I first joined this community!  I don’t want to hide who I am, what I do, or my thoughts and feelings about relationships.  So, without further ado, here it goes:

For the past three years, I have been in a happy, fulfilling, healthy, and rewarding non-monogamous relationship.  After too much anxiety and fear of social judgment, I have decided to write about it.

My partner and I live together.  From most third-party perspectives, we are no different than any other couple you might encounter: we do most things together, you can invite us to things as a couple (frankly it’s rather odd if you invite one without the other). She’s my plus-one, and I’m hers.  In the greater realm of our friends and acquaintances, that is probably all 80% of you need to know.

But our relationship has another element that is less-discussed, and less mainstream.  We are non-monogamous.  That means that both of us occasionally pursue relationships with other people, both emotional and sexual, and that either include us both, or don’t.  For those in the poly or non-monogamy community, that’s pretty straightforward, but I’m going to assume that a good portion of my readers don’t fall into those categories, so I’ll try to provide some clarification.

We go on dates with other people.  We form bonds outside our primary partnership.  Some of those are shared, some are not.  When we first got together, my partner had two other relationships (I demote them to one-and-a-half based on information not apparent at the time), and I had none.  Today, I have two independent relationships, and she has one, which is shared.  It ebbs and flows.  This doesn’t lessen our commitment to each other; it enhances the quality of both our lives.

So, how does it work?  My partner and I are pretty active in the poly community, and here’s what I can tell you: it’s different for everyone.  All I can speak to is my own experience.  We have basically two rules about it: nothing threatens our primary relationship, and all communication is good communication.  That means we talk about everything, even if it’s awkward or might lead to uncomfortable feels.  We support each other, wing-man each other, and at the end of the day, we come home to each other, our extra-curriculars notwithstanding.

But don’t you feel jealous?  Fair question.  Yeah, we do.  Both of us, in varying degrees.  Jealousy doesn’t disappear in open relationships, it just gets counterbalanced by the freedom it also offers, and it gets muted by our strong communication with each other.  My partner- a cis-female- tends to be attracted to other women for her secondary and tertiary relationships, which I admit lessens my jealousy, even if that admission itself is a mark of the patriarchy.   When I’m out with a date, my partner may feel crunchy, especially if she doesn’t have any plans.  When she’s out on a date, I feel the same way.  We talk through it, help each other be secure and reassured.  We are stronger for it.

Over the past few years, I have had about a half-dozen non-primary relationships.  Most were with people who are already in primary partnerships; about half of my partners have been married or in their own equivalent-primary partnerships.  Some have been single.  My experience has been that the relationships are much stronger and more likely to succeed if the other person is also in a stable, supportive primary partnership.  When that isn’t the case, problems tend to arise, but not always.  Every situation is unique, every person, every relationship, different, and generalizations are really bad at predicting how any two people may interact at any given time.

Perhaps because my partner is bisexual, we vastly prefer shared partners.  In the parlance, these are called “unicorns,” because it’s relatively rare to find a female partner who is interested in both the male and female halves of a primary, heterosexual relationship.  We have been lucky to have a few, and those have been great experiences.

We go to parties that cater to the non-monogamous.  This includes a monthly cocktail party, and some parties that encourage us to explore extra-primary relationships, using such ingenious devices as spin-the-bottle (no, really, that happens).  We attend these regularly, and have built a group of friends within the community that is more supportive and satisfying than any community I have had in my life.

It it better than monogamy?  I don’t think it’s better, just different.  Keep in mind, most “monogamous” relationship aren’t actually monogamous: the tremendous instances of infidelity amongst so-called traditional couples attest to the fact that monogamy is a choice, but not a necessarily natural default.  Consensual, ethical non-monogamy has definite pluses and minuses, and certainly isn’t right for everybody.  It is right for us.

What is it like going on dates with non-primary partners?  It’s a mixed bag.  I have had some really great dates, and some that left me calling my partner to commiserate before I even got back on the subway home.  Most people going on dates with me know full well the limitations and possibilities entailed in a relationship with me, though for some it’s harder to reconcile.  While, as I alluded to above, I seem to have more success with people in stable relationships, I have had really great dates with single people, too.  Over time, I have built a strong support network, and always have a shoulder to cry on when things don’t work out as I planned.

I think I’ve hit the FAQs, but will reply to any additional questions to the best of my ability, just send me a direct message.  I am not an expert on the subject; contact Dan Savage for that.  I am just a writer who wants to share this aspect of his life, with its pros, cons, and limitations, and finally sufficiently confident to post about it in a public forum.  I’ve been in the closet about it for a few years now, and realize it is important to speak out, to increase visibility of my community, and to be true to myself.

~Andrew

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Rejecting Enchroma

Wherein I refuse to accept that my vision is deficient. 

When I was in sixth grade, I got a C in art class.  I was a good student in general, but that class utterly defeated me.  The teacher, may her name be blotted from my personal history, refused to accept my excuse for constantly missing questions about the color wheel and color combinations.

I am colorblind.

For those unfamiliar, colorblindness is an inability to discern certain colors.  It comes in many varieties, and I have several.  It is also genetic.  Most of my uncles, along with my brother, are also colorblind to varying degrees.

My form of colorblindness manifests in the ability to see only five colors: black, white, green, blue, and yellow.  If it’s not on the list, find the closest color, and that’s what I see.  Brown, orange, and red, for instance, all look green.  Purple and pink are blue, except when pink is dark enough to read green.  It’s a complicated system to explain, and I can’t always predict what I’ll see if you show me (insert color word here).

Because, and this is what I think people don’t really get about colorblindness, those colors are just words: they don’t really exist, at least, not to me.  When somebody tells me that something is “periwinkle,” I usually respond that periwinkle is a flower, not a color.  “No,” they tell me, indulgently, “it’s like a dark blue.”  Then call it dark blue, and stop making things up, I (mostly) don’t retort.

For many years of my childhood, I thought colors were a prank that everyone was in on, so they could laugh at me about it.  I thought they were making it up. Without dwelling too long or hard on how much it sucked to be bullied as a kid in general, suffice it to say that my recognition that colors beyond my five were a real concept and not just an inside joke came gradually.

Imagine, if you will, looking at a single-colored object.  Let’s use a yellow post-it note, because that’s what’s in front of me and you probably can visualize one easily.  Someone asks you what color it is, and you say yellow. They then get a look that could be amazement, or ridicule, and it’s impossible to tell which, and say “Really?  That whole thing looks yellow to you?  You mean this” here they point to the left side of the note, “and this” here they point to the right “are the same?  Wow!  That must suck!  You can’t see bumblebee yellow?”  And it’s confusing!  Because of COURSE they’re the same color.  These other people must be nuts!

This bit of personal history, and the frustration and resentment that come with it, informs my reaction to the semi-recent proliferation of colorblind-fixing eye wear.  These products, made by a company called Enchroma, purport to “fix” colorblindness in its most common form, red/green, by filtering certain wavelengths of light.  They only work about fifty percent of the time, but for those that do, they can actually “fix” the brain, so that after some time, the wearer can discern colors without wearing the glasses.

The internet is rife with videos of people seeing colors for the first time using these glasses, and many of my friends have sent me links.  I even had a dream a week or so ago, that some friends of mine threw me a surprise birthday party at MOMA and gave me a pair of the glasses, so I could see my favorite works of art in color.

My feelings on the Enchroma glasses are pretty complicated, and are informed by my history of people’s reactions to my colorblindness.  I do not feel that I am being somehow cheated, or that my experience is somehow lessened, because I don’t perceive the full spectrum of colors.  I acknowledge that it can be occasionally inconvenient, since society often uses color-coding for information and fashion, but it doesn’t “suck” for me.  I’m an optimist, and I like the world I see, as I see it.  I am not broken, defective, or missing anything.  Colorblindness is not a disease or a disability to me.  I see and navigate the world just fine, and I have never known it to look any different.  My favorite works of art are fantastic, just as they are, without anything missing from them.

Moreover, Enchroma glasses will not “fix” my colorblindness.  I have too many types, and it is aimed at precisely one of them.  At best, it could permit me to be marginally less colorblind.  My five colors could become six or seven.  That is not worth the investment of time, money, and energy.  The hardest part of colorblindness, for me, has been learning how to explain it to other people.  I know how to do that now; I’ve had nearly 35 years of practice.  If my vision changes, I will need to re-learn how to explain the limits of my color perception to people.  It’s not worth it, just to see red.

When I was in college and reading pretentious philosophy, I remember forming the belief- one I still hold today- that if we could experience the world through somebody else’s eyes, it would look completely different.  Sounds, colors, tastes, touch, everything.  Our experiences, I believe, are entirely subjective, and we agree on language to create the illusion of commonality.  That’s heavy for a post about colorblindness, but it is relevant inasmuch as those realities, and those subjective experiences, are all valid.  Just because somebody experiences the world differently, doesn’t mean they experience it less.

Colorblindness is not a disability, it is an inconvenience, not so different from being short of stature.  There are certain things that are more challenging, and there are occasions when platform shoes might be convenient, but leg extension surgery seems like a bit much, particularly if it were only on one leg.  That’s how I feel about Enchroma glasses: they’re an asymmetrical leg-extension for a short person, useful in concept, but rather silly in application.

So that dream, the one about a birthday surprise at MOMA with the glasses, was actually a nightmare.  The first thing I did when I woke up was tell my partner to NOT ever do something like that.  Pathologizing my limited color vision, and using these “miracle” glasses as a way to generate “awwww” moments for Youtube, does not sound like fun, or even particularly useful.  Perhaps some day, when the technology improves, the cost comes down, and the zeitgeist has moved on to fixing other non-problems, I will try them out, but more out of curiosity than perceived necessity, or even utility.

In the meantime, if I had the time and money to spend on technological solutions to personal challenges, I’d get laser eye surgery.  Being nearsighted is a real, measurable hindrance.

Being colorblind is not.

~AG

Published in: on March 7, 2017 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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