So..you like sharing dick? – Navigating Conversations about Polyamory with Monogamous People.
Photos by Noah Bility (@sirnoahbility)
I know a lot of white people, some of whom are incredibly important to me and some who have shaped my lens in a very specific way, but in terms of an active role in my personal life, I can comfortably say white people aren’t really involved. And I say that not to make this entry about white people but to make it explicitly clear that whenever I use the word friends or people in this entry, I am talking directly to and about black people.
If you read my first entry “Diary Of A Polyamorous Black Girl” you know that I talked about how polyamory is a privilege, a privilege that a good amount of black people don’t have access to. So that reality tends to make conversations about relationships, love and sex really difficult between myself and my friends and family.
I’ve spent a large portion of my fake adult life pretending I was monogamous. I learned quickly that the vast majority of my friends and family had a very particular outlook on what relationships should be like and polyamory was definitely not one of the options. I would occasionally hint at being “open” (which is a term i hate with a passion now) to gauge how people would respond, and I would always be met with a swift side eye from women and a curious eyebrow raise from men. Early on before I learned how to keep myself safe, I had quite a few memorable interactions with friends.
A perfect example of how unfortunate talking about being “open” with friends and family is, was at my friend’s christmas party a couple of years ago. A few women and myself got into a conversation about cheating in relationships. The core of the conversation focused on whether or not it’s fair to be angry at the woman with whom your partner cheats. The group consensus was that it is fair to be angry at the woman, particularly if the woman was aware of you and your relationship. Her being aware meant that she was apparently the mastermind of the entire situation , and just wanted to break up your relationship and take your man. I obviously was incredibly uncomfortable, but rather than pick up my beverage and quietly slip out to avoid the shit storm that I knew would ensue, I decided to add my seven cents, which was really just a series of questions. Even though I was uncomfortable, I was fascinated by the conversation.
I asked the group why a woman’s awareness of a man’s relationship would be an indication of something malicious. I wondered why the woman was being discussed. Cheating occurs when someone violates terms created by partners. If a man sleeps with a woman other than his girlfriend, and he and his girlfriend agree that behaviour is not allowed, he has broken the terms he and his partner have created – It should be about him, not “the other woman”. I then went on to tell them I had a complicated situation with a married man that came to mind when they were all discussing the intentions of the “other woman”. They all immediately got silent and stared at me obviously waiting for more information. I got sweaty because I knew I messed up by even mentioning it, but I wanted to really have an honest conversation, so why not share something about myself that relates..right? So like the genius I am, I told them my married man story. Basically, married guy led me to believe he was in a polyamorous marriage, when in fact he just wanted to cheat on his wife. I unknowingly, and unintentionally participated in an affair – I will always feel awful about that. I did not get to know him with the intent of hurting someone else, I got to know him because I wanted to get to know him and I was under the impression that the space existed for me to do so. I thought he was like me – big mistake. Anyway, I shared all of that with them just to show another perspective on relationships and maybe shift their minds a bit to what the actual issue was, which was just about people not communicating their wants and being dishonest about their actions.
Everyone was silent for a while. I got the “homewrecker” stare from a longtime friend of mine (who no longer speaks to me). One girl said she was going to keep her boyfriend away from me, and she walked away. Then after a moment, I heard it.
“So, you like sharing dick?”
The woman who had been most vocal during the conversation asked the question while the remaining women were nodded waiting for me to respond to this ridiculous question. And there I sat, half angry and half embarrassed. This was probably the first time I heard this question/statement, but it was certainly not the last time. But in that moment, I really didn’t know how to handle it because there was so much going on. I started to stumble through my response, while I experienced a full blown anxiety attack quietly in my own head, and got the dick sharing homewrecker stare from what felt like every single woman at the party.
Do I like sharing dick? What kind of question is that? Who shares dick? Isn’t a dick attached to a person? And how did we go from polyamory to dick? Do they think polyamory is just about sex? How should I handle this exactly? Do they think I aspire to end people’s relationships? But, what if I am a homewrecker? What is a homewrecker? Why do I care so much?
Those thoughts went on and on and got more self shaming as I continued through my awkward and very weak response. I told them that I think people can have multiple relationships, which can include sex. I told them I didn’t think of it as sharing because I view relationships as non-possessive, and human beings as beings, not as things. They all paused, looked at each other and then burst into laughter. The most vocal woman caught herself and leaned into me and said : “So, you do like sharing dick”. And then she leaned back and started laughing again.
I chuckled it off because I was feeling really insecure and just wanted to pretend like the conversation didn’t happen. I was in a room with women who look just like me, who experience racism and sexism in the same way that I do, who have to navigate through a world that tries to destroy them and they all looked at me the same – with disgust. How come I saw relationships so different then them? I love being polyamorous but in that moment I wished I wasn’t so different. Anyway, after a few minutes of people tossing around jokes about my passion for dick sharing, they moved on to other things, and the party got back to not being focused on me at all, so I safely got irresponsibly drunk and wallowed in my own shame.
I know, I know. You probably think i’m being dramatic but this is all quite serious, and sad for me actually. That incident and incidents that would follow, make me feel like I’m doing something wrong. Like I am the something wrong. Like me seeing relationships as non-possessive and not being bothered by my partner having sex with someone other than me, or loving someone other than me, means something revolting about me. It’s not a good feeling, especially coming from people that I care about and whom I’ve never judged for any of their relationship choices.
Whenever someone in my life makes a comment about polyamory where they are expressing their revolt and disgust for me, I find myself questioning my own beliefs. Asking myself if I am a good person or not. Perhaps I am disgusting? Maybe I am perverse? Do I feel this way because I am sex obsessed? I mean I know I am not (probably) but when people you love express such vehement disdain for the way you choose to love and experience people and the world – It can really screw with your head.
And it did screw with my head, so much so that the exhaustion that I got from those kinds of experiences stopped me from talking about polyamory for a good while. Until I met someone who I will refer to as The Moon. At the time I met The Moon, I had not spoken about being polyamorous in over a year. I had been celibate, completely unhappy and quite closed off to people because of all the shame I had from sharing how I choose to love. The Moon and I got into conversations about their problems in relationships and I realized, The Moon was polyamorous like me but didn’t know they were allowed to be, they didn’t know a space existed for them to love as many people as they wanted to. It was in that moment that I realized keeping who I am a secret was not only doing me a disservice but people around me who may be feeling the same way.
But was I ready? Was I ready to accept having to navigate through more shaming conversations that start with “So, you like sharing dick?” – I wasn’t sure to be honest. So I decided to experiment a bit. Why not start a diary with the digital world on what it looks like to be polyamorous, a woman and black. I wanted to see what would happen. Would people respond? Would my mother be embarrassed? Would I be outcasted from the black community? Would I get a date from a handsome poly guy in Toronto? I figured if I could survive whatever the internet gave me, then navigating through the dick sharing conversation that would undoubtedly happen forever would be a breeze.
What I found after my first entry was published was not what I was expecting at all. I received a barrage of messages from people from all over the world congratulating me on sharing, who let me know that they were polyamorous and dealt with very similar racial experiences. The most interesting bit about all of the messages that I received is how everyone expressed that they have had to be secretive within their own community about their wants and needs in relationships. And it made me think, how can there be no space for polyamory in the black community, when so many black people worldwide are polyamorous? It makes me think that the community doesn’t really have a problem with it, and aren’t as unaware about how polyamory works than I had previously assumed, but maybe we are just afraid to talk to one another? I mean, I wrote in my last entry that polyamory is a privilege and that most black people can’t see it as a viable relationship option because of the lack of access and knowledge of it. But, the messages I received told a different story. Even people who have said disparaging things to me, like the sharing dick thing, have quietly expressed their desire for polyamory or at least a portion of it, since my entry. There is this widespread yearning for more, but it seems nobody knows where to start. I’m realizing that’s actually what the issue is.
But polyamory isn’t new for black people., In a book I find myself reading over and over called “The Great Cosmic Mother : Rediscovering The Religions Of The World”, Monica Sjöö talks about early African societies being matriarchal and practicing group marriage. Unfortunately due to the ways in which the black family has been formed and unformed, our lens on intimacy; sex and relationships has all been framed underneath the tall pillars of white supremacy. Through that fragmentation, we have been rendered incapable of talking to one another about something as universal, as honest , as real, and as raw as love. Black people are standing next to each other not knowing who to talk to about something that white people are so free and unapologetic about.
Perhaps some of those women at that party agreed with how I felt, and saw relationships just like me, but didn’t feel safe saying so. Perhaps every person who has ever judged me, or shamed me for being polyamorous had questions, or felt similar but just didn’t know how to come out and say it because they’ve been taught “that’s white people shit”. Perhaps they could feel my occasional insecurities, and decided it wasn’t safe. Because if I was unsure, then that meant that there was something shameful about how they were feeling.
Like I said in my previous entry, when a black person goes into a room they immediately look for another black person. We crave one another. We need understanding from each other. So maybe that’s the problem? Because black people don’t see black people being polyamorous or talking about being polyamorous, they don’t think it’s for us? I don’t know. Maybe i’m just reaching because I feel isolated. It may be exactly what it seems like – my friends, family, and community feel I’m disgusting, and enjoy “sharing dick” – how can I tell the difference between how my friends really feel about things, and what they’ve been told black people are supposed to feel about things?
I don’t know. I’ll probably figure it out eventually.
This experiment is turning into something I never expected. One thing I know for sure, is that the poly community is not as white as I thought and am most certainly not at all alone.
I wonder what I’ll discover next.
Photos by Noah Bility (@sirnoahbility)
Alicia Bunyan – Sampson is a writer, director, editor, and a self-proclaimed angry black woman based out of the GTA. Her work primarily focuses on her identity as a black woman living in the Americas and an exploration of trauma and love. You can connect with her via Twitter here and get to know her more via her website here.
Read the last Diary of Polyamorous Black Girl entry here.
All images courtesy of Noah Bility.