Images were illustrated by Leo Mateus.
Queer, transgender, and nonbinary relationships naturally fall out of many constructs of the cisheternormative relationship structure. Though multiple partner relationships have existed throughout history, modern forms of polyamory challenge the idea that cis-patriarchal monogamous relationship structures should be the norm.
While polyamory doesn’t have to do with sexual orientation or gender identity inherently, it’s worth mentioning that many in the LGBTQ community (including asexual people) are adopting polyamorous or otherwise non-monogamous relationships as an alternative to traditional monogamy.
What’s there to know about polyamory and non-monogamous relationships overall? Learn more below from FOLX Health.
What is polyamory and what makes it different from monogamy?
Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy—also referred to as consensual non-monogamy—involving some kind of committed sexual and/or romantic relationships beyond the traditional binary romantic couple. Unlike monogamous narratives around cheating, people in polyamorous relationships consent to their partner seeing other people and vice versa. Also unlike polygamy, the definition polyamory stems from multiple romances (or physical, sexual, and/or emotional attachments) rather than marriages.
“In a romantic sense, polyamory offers a lot of different ways to toy with [relationship] structure depending on what your needs are [and] what your partner's needs are,” explains Avery, Senior Front End Developer at FOLX. “It is a different system entirely for thinking about how your relationships situate themselves within your life.”
Polyamory might look like a couple having an open primary relationship that consensually allows for friends with benefits that don’t become long-term partners (see: hierarchical polyamory). For others, it might look like having several committed partners who are also partners with each other (see: polycule). The beauty of polyamory is that it’s inclusive of all different kinds of opportunities for connection. Polyamorous people also can be in steady, coupled open relationships with a single, domestic, nesting partner while simultaneously having other romantic partners. For instance, many polyamorous couples can live together—many even get married—while both pursuing separate relationships outside of their domestic relationship.
“I don't want to own or have exclusive control over someone else and I don't want someone else to have exclusive control over me,” adds Ada, Full Stack Engineer at FOLX. “People can have all sorts of different interpersonal relationships of varying degrees [with each other and others]. Love/romance is just one of those kinds of relationships. Why would I want to restrict someone else in what relationships they can form or why would I want to have someone restrict my own?”
Outside of the named examples, solo polyamory (or solo polyam) is a type of polyamory rising in popularity. Solo polyam looks like prioritizing an independent or “single” lifestyle while pursuing different partnerships at a time. Meanwhile, other polyamorous people might identify with relationship anarchy as a blueprint for their approach to relationships.
“To me, what [relationship anarchy] means is that I come into every potential relationship with as few expectations as I can possibly manage, and to try to be as aware I can of my unconscious expectations, and that I build my relationships with other people based on a shared negotiation of what expectations we want to have with each other,” explains Seamus, Engineering Manager at FOLX.
Another polyamorous relationship style is kitchen table polyamory, which is a relationship where a group of three or more partners have close relationships with each other. According to Feeld, KTP-style polyamorous relationships allow for everyone in the group—partners, metamours, etc,—to share a meal together at a kitchen table. To learn about more types of polyamorous relationships, check out LGBTQ Nation.
How does polyamory intersect with your queer and trans identity?
Many polyamorous people also identify as queer and/or trans. While LGBTQ+ dating can challenge patriarchal gender norms on its own, polyamory and non-monogamy can often take this to another level. For Worcester, she started exploring polyamory while also navigating her queer identity a decade ago. She elaborates:
“I started having polyamorous relationships about 10 years ago when I started really exploring being queer, long before I came out as trans. The main thing is I found myself a lot more comfortable expressing it after I came out as trans. When you really think about it, polyamory expresses of some of the same things that being queer and trans expresses. Monogamy is very much a part of cisheteronormativity, it's an entire specific structure of how a relationship should be, how sexuality should be, how gender roles should be. Being polyamorous is rejecting one aspect of that being queer and being trans, or just rejecting different aspects of the very same system.”
While in college, Erica, Senior Front End Developer at FOLX Health, was introduced to polyamory through her friends, a bisexual couple. Around this time, they began interrogating how they navigate love around them and polyamory felt like a natural choice.
“When I started overcoming my own dissatisfaction with myself and practicing more self-love, I started embracing queerness and who I was,” they say. “[Polyamory] just made more sense because it's like I've already changed all these other norms and l understood who I am in this structure.”
What are some common misconceptions about polyamory?
Since jealousy often comes up in conversations among the polyamorous curious, this sounds like a genuine concern. There is often a common misconception that polyamorous people don’t feel jealousy.
“Jealousy is very much a secondary emotion,” elaborates Ava. “Polyamorous people [and] non–monogamous people experience jealousy all the time. I am guilty as hell of this. The thing that changes is now I have a toolkit for understanding where it's coming from and what to do about that.”
Unlike traditional forms of monogamy, polyamory encourages people to take responsibility for and ownership of their own jealous feelings, rather than expecting their partner to manage those feelings for them. Without the traditional expectations of monogamy, there are no inherent limits to our partners’ relationships with other people. The only limits are those that we and our partners negotiate and agree to with one another—a process that prompts us to explore and navigate our own emotional worlds.
“I think the difference is that non-monogamy can invite you to explore more of why you are jealous,” adds Seamus. “‘Why are you feeling insecure in the relationship?’”
Taking responsibility for managing our own feelings can look like learning about attachment theory through books like The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy, Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller, Polysecure by Jessica Fern. The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola is another excellent resource on the topic. Lastly, Love's Not Color Blind by Kevin A. Patterson addresses the intersection of race and polyamory. While many of these mentioned books don’t have an LGBT focus, they can still be beneficial for queer and trans people.
Another misconception, Seamus mentions, is that once you “come out” as polyamorous, you have to stay polyamorous in the sense you no longer consider or pursue monogamous relationships. “People do go back and forth [between polyamory and monogamy],” they elaborate. “I think that, ultimately, the lessons that you can learn through being non-monogamous apply fundamentally to monogamous relationships as well.” This is similar to how we know that sexuality is fluid and coming out as one sexual identity doesn’t negate that a person’s sexuality can change over time.
Unlike monogamous relationships, there can be fewer rules and different expectations in polyamorous relationships. While polyamory definitely incorporates its own ethics, there is generally less of an established structure, making people more free to customize their relationships consensually to each other’s needs and desires. Likewise, individual needs and desires are subject to change over time.
Multi-parent queer family building
Polyamorous relationships built outside of the monogamous nuclear family model open the door for new kinds of queer families. While partners don’t have to take on a caregiving role by any means, partners can be co-parents (like in multi-parent households) or even aunts, uncles, or other family members depending on what type of relationship two people agree to. This all falls under the umbrella of the chosen family and the possibilities are endless.
“Like everything else in polyamory, it all comes down to defining what that relationship looks like,” adds Worcester, who is a chosen aunt to one of her partner’s children. “Polyamory isn’t one relationship model, it’s an entire category of relationship structures, y'know?”
To learn more about queer and trans fertility, read more in this Library article. If you’re interested in learning more about love, relationships, and family building, sign up for FOLX COMMUNITY PLATFORM, our community platform exclusively for FOLX members only.