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Peeling Back the Label: 5 Bisexuals Open Up About Polyamory

"Poly has made me grow as a person. It's expanded my boundaries and possibilities of love, relationships and family. I'm more aware of my own emotions and more in tune with others."
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Note: This article only represents the views of those interviewed and should not be misconstrued as representative of all bisexual and/or polyamorous people.

You're poly? So...

- You're into group sex.

- You're a sex addict.

- You can't sustain an enduring, loving relationship.

These are just some of the assumptions and misconceptions that exist surrounding polyamory -- one of the most misunderstood relationship forms in our society. But is polyamory purely about sex? And if it isn't, then what else is it about? I spoke to five bisexual, polyamorous people about what being poly means to them. Their heartfelt answers might surprise you.

Is it just about sex? If not, then what is it about?

That is, of course, the question on everybody's mind. Each one of the people I spoke with was very clear that for them, poly was, or had the potential to be, about more than just sex.

For Kate, an English professor in her early thirties, polyamory means the ability to be in a serious, loving relationship with more than one person at the same time -- regardless of whether there's a hierarchical structure in place in terms of primary, secondary, tertiary and further relationships.

Anne (not her real name), also in her early thirties and from Somerville, MA, believes that what's so wonderful about poly is that it can be whatever the partners involved want it to be. "Your poly can mean that you and your primary are open to secondary relationships, or that you have an understanding that when you go out, you can engage with other people in emotional and/or physical ways." She goes on to say that for her, poly means love, connection, communication, creativity, intimacy, freedom and fluidity. "It's not black and white; it's multiple shades of gray with some rainbows mixed in and it's beautiful."

Is polyamory an orientation, a lifestyle choice or something else?

All five interviewees felt that polyamory came naturally to them when they were ready and the time was right. JC, a consultant from the East Coast who's been in a different-gender relationship for 30 years, tells me he simply isn't wired for monogamy. He and his partner decided long ago to open up their relationship, mainly to allow him the freedom to meet men. Over time, their relationship morphed and evolved according to their needs and external pressures. Now, it's mostly about being open to each other when it comes to potential secondary relationships.

Colleen, a computer app developer from Ontario, chose polyamory when her monogamous 32-year marriage ended and left her deeply hurt. She was afraid of repeating the experience and felt that she couldn't commit to one person. Interestingly, polyamory seemed to fit her right away. It quickly brought two steady partners into her life; a man she's been living with for three and a half years, and a bisexual woman who's also in another relationship.

Authentic Paint, a nanny in California, shares her insights on why polyamory comes so naturally to some. "Think about how much you love your parents, siblings or children. Would you be able to choose only one of them? If we're capable of feeling equal love in those relationships, then why not when it comes to romantic love for more than one partner?"

Do you think there's a stigma attached to polyamory?

Sadly, all five confirm they feel a strong stigma surrounding being poly -- in addition to being bisexual. JC points out that in general in our country, any form of relationship except lifelong monogamy is stigmatized. More than one interviewee shared that a lot of people mistakenly equate polyamory with polygamy. They added that some people refuse to view it as anything but cheating, while still others assume it's an unhealthy obsession with sex or a rebellion against "settling down."

Anticipated stigmatization is the reason most of the interviewees are only out to a limited group of people, primarily in their closest circles and in most cases, not in their professional environment. Kate is out in her community, where most of her friends are poly and queer. Authentic Paint is out as queer and has a strongly pro-active stance to challenging the stigmas surrounding both polyamory and bisexuality. She's an active voice on Twitter, where she says 90 percent of her interactions are geared towards promoting bi-inclusivity and understanding of queer culture.

What do you find the most beautiful thing about being poly?

Each of the interviewees had their own answer to this question. Colleen revels in the amount of love she's able to give and receive. JC enjoys the ability to be completely open to people outside of his primary relationship. Kate loves the fact that the circle of people she's close with extends to her partners' partners and beyond. That means she cares for and supports more people, and is cared for and supported by more people in return. Authentic Paint believes being poly is the only way for her to express true, unconditional love -- in contrast to monogamous relationships, which by their strict one-to-one nature can become a form of default love.

Anne's answer is perhaps the most moving and eloquent. "Polyamory can be very fluid," she says. "It can be so liberating and raw, so beautiful and sad all at the same time. It's a very authentic form of love, true and natural. It's more realistic and honest. Poly has made me grow as a person. It's expanded my boundaries and possibilities of love, relationships and family. I'm more aware of my own emotions and more in tune with others."

In conclusion, what I'll take away from these five viewpoints is this: When poly comes naturally and is the shared choice of all partners involved in a relationship, it can be loving, liberating and ultimately fulfilling.

I'd like to express my sincere thanks to those interviewed for their deeply personal insights. I hope others find them as illuminating and thought provoking as I have.