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February 28, 2024

Repeating my high school identity struggle: embracing polyamory

By JACOB TOOK | February 15, 2018

For me, the process of coming to terms with my sexuality was long and unpleasant. I was isolated during eighth and ninth grade, so when I finally came out as a high school sophomore it felt like I had figured it all out. That was it. No more identity struggle.

And for years I stuck with the label ‘gay.’

Recently, though, I’ve started to notice an incongruity between my sexual attraction and my romantic feelings.

This incongruity doesn’t make me question whether I’m gay. Boys are a lot of things. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes not so much. For better or worse, I’m mostly attracted to boys. But in the last few months I’ve started to think about other labels. And that terrifies me.

You may know that a whole string of letters follows LGBTQ, each standing for a different identity that makes up part of the community.

These identities are often marginalized, which can make it hard to find education about the labels or even find people who use them. Bisexuals have to deal with enough stigma, and they’re two letters away from the front of the acronym. Imagine what it’s like for someone who’s questioning polyamory.

That was a really sneaky, backhanded way for me to introduce polyamory, and I’m sorry. But it really does terrify me. Questioning my identity like this takes me back to eighth grade. I was so scared of being gay that I made a deal with myself to only be attracted to boys at night, like some kind of rainbow batman.

But I have other reasons to be scared. Even in the LGBTQ community, polyamory is often highly stigmatized. As far as I’m aware, I don’t have any polyamorous friends or mentors to whom I can turn to to ask questions or for reassurance.

I’ve also gotten mixed reactions from the people I have talked to about it. For the most part, my friends are supportive and encourage me to be myself.

But some have told me that polyamory is just being slutty. Others have said that I’ll realize that I’m not actually polyamorous when I fall in love because I’ll only think about one person.

The thing about monogamy, though, is that it doesn’t make much sense to me. A friendship can be as deep and as emotional as a romantic relationship, and you can certainly have more than one friend.

What makes a romantic relationship different? Sex? Almost all of the sex that I’ve had in my life has been completely devoid of any romance. Am I proud of that? No, but it shows me that sex, at least for me, doesn’t make a romantic relationship.

On the flip side, I’m very used to having intense romantic feelings for boys who I can’t have sex with. That’s a product of being gay around straight men (a very few straight men — please don’t think that I’m pining after every straight guy I know). But once again, that shows me that sex is not a requirement for romantic feelings.

So if it’s not sex, then what distinguishes a friendship and a romantic relationship?

Let’s think about monogamy a bit more. I’ve been told that when I fall in love I’ll always want to be with that person, I’ll always be thinking about that person, they’ll always be my priority. Sounds healthy, right?

It’s common for people in healthy relationships to say that their partner is their best friend. That’s a healthy relationship. Not the kind of all-consuming obsession that would prevent me from thinking about anyone else or wanting to be with anyone else.

Now if you’re in a monogamous relationship and you find it fulfilling and empowering, that’s great, and I truly support you.

But what if monogamy came from the idea that women are property? What if it came from the idea that a woman could only belong to one man (her father and then her husband)? And what if the ‘obsession’ narrative was created by those men who were jealous of the woman’s attention?

Why is it that a man sleeping with many women is cool, while a woman who sleeps with many men is a slut?

If I take that as the foundation of monogamy, it starts to seem like an even less attractive concept. Maybe there are other explanations of monogamy that I’m missing? But it doesn’t seem like a natural phenomenon, because there aren’t many animal species that take part in monogamy.

With all of that considered, the most important thing for anyone questioning their identity is that they feel comfortable with themselves and can shine like the stars they are. That might sound cheesy, but we use a special word to describe polyamorous relationships: constellations.

Polyamory doesn’t make me a slut. It doesn’t mean I can never be in a monogamous relationship, or that I’m going to cheat on my partner. It doesn’t mean that I’m greedy, or that I’m afraid of commitment, or that I want to have sex with everyone.

But polyamory has put some strain on my relationships with some people. It has put me through a few months of stress, fear and uncertainty. When I came out as gay back in high school, I never wanted to go through it again.

Something I learned during that experience, though, is that life is much easier if you live it honestly. I want to live empowered and live fulfilled, and staying true to myself is the most important part of that. I’m proud to be who I am.

I am gay. I am a student, a writer, an aspiring journalist, a cat-person, a Hufflepuff. And I am polyamorous.

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