My latest book, Marked by Scorn: An Anthology Featuring Non-Traditional Relationships is officially released this Sunday on July 31st. The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon. I had a conversation with my husband last month about how people are probably assuming that as the editor of a collection like this, I must be polyamorous1. This, and a number of other factors outlined below, led to our realisation that it was time for me to publicly talk about the impact of this relationship stuff on our lives. Yes, we are polyamorous.
I’ve been writing about polyamorous relationships for years, though I usually depict them as loving triad relationships (as in my story “When the Rice was Gone” in Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction, free to download from Amazon this weekend), which differs somewhat from my personal experiences, where we have rarely had a threesome component in our marriage. My bisexual poly story published in Queermance II is closer to the reality of my life, though I have typically been involved with men more frequently than women. I tend to assume seeking out relationships with other women is harder because of the stigma associated with bisexual women2, so I don’t even try. The story that most accurately depicts my personal experience is the memoir I wrote that was published in Stories from the Polycule, but word count limits prevented me from really sharing the struggles associated with having to keep the relationship secret.
My relationship with my husband is strong. We celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary in April. Though there have been challenges, it’s through the challenges that you learn just how strong your relationship is. We continue to choose to be together rather than allow those challenges to tear us apart. We’ve both got a keen understanding that our love for each other is not diminished just because someone else enters our lives that we care for as well. We’re realists. We know that choosing to commit to someone doesn’t automatically lead to never being attracted to anyone else ever again. Sure, some people are like that. Monogamy works for them. But that’s not us. We’ve got a long list of cherished memories together… especially with all our travel. But we also have interests that we don’t share with each other, so it’s nice to be able to share them with others (for example, I’m a movie person, he’s a music person). Also, being polyamorous means I don’t have to worry about my husband getting jealous if I get intimate or romantic in scenes when I act or improvise. I don’t have to hold back out of fear of repercussions from him.
About two months ago, we came out as polyamorous to our children. Or rather, my husband did, because his girlfriend was moving in with us, and we decided it was probably better to treat this as normal than a secret we have to hide from them. In my mind, hiding equates to shame or feelings that what you’re hiding is somehow wrong and shouldn’t be done. It was important for them to know that I was perfectly okay with their daddy having intimate relationships with other women (and also that I could have other partners, too, even though I wasn’t dating anyone at the time). The text my husband sent me paraphrasing the conversation was hilarious. Particularly this:
Daddy: Some families think that if you have a wife then you can’t have a girlfriend, but our family doesn’t think that.
9yo son: Our family thinks normal things.
Apparently the 9yo had already figured things out, even though people had still been referred to as “friends.” Last month, the 5yo told someone we see regularly, but who didn’t know about our relationship structure, that “Daddy’s girlfriend’s name is ____” and when you have kids going around saying things like that when you’re not openly polyamorous with certain family members, you realise you run the risk of the kids saying something to them before you have the chance to. I ended up having a conversation with my dad on Facebook a few weeks ago as a result, figuring it was better for him to find out that way than by reading this blog entry (unlike when I came out as bisexual a few years ago).
How does this all relate to Marked by Scorn? The truth is, when I first wrote the introduction, I’d intended to publicly out myself as polyamorous. I’d rephrased it because my husband wasn’t ready for us to be so public about our relationship structure. So when I wrote in the introduction of the book, “Additional inspiration for this anthology came from someone I was very close to; a man who became involved with a polyamorous woman of another race,” I was talking about myself. That woman was me, and the struggle I wrote about briefly was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life. The fallout, afterwards, more so than his paranoia about how people might be judging us if they saw us as an interracial couple holding hands together. Because when we were together, I could see it lasting. Despite the secrecy, I could see him coming around. I met his mother, for goodness sake, and though she didn’t know who I was to him, he still talked me up in front of her, and that was something that meant so much to me. He showed signs that he was getting to a point of being okay with people knowing about us. The fact I haven’t talked about him so publicly all this time had mostly been out of respect for what I assumed were still his wishes.
I had to make such assumptions because it was around this time two years ago that he stopped talking to me. The brief reason he gave me was that he didn’t trust me any more after he learned I’d told a sympathetic mutual friend about my relationship with him. How public we could be about our relationship was the only issue we fought about; otherwise we worked really well together. He had a lot of respect for my marriage, and didn’t want to break it up. But remember how I said above that hiding equates to shame for me? Well, whilst I understood his reasons for wanting to keep our relationship a secret, I still felt like he was ashamed of admitting that we were involved, because I was married to someone else. I don’t think it would have been an issue if I had been single. I strive to be an honest person, and being honest about my life experiences has helped so many people, including myself. It’s helped others feel less alone. It’s helped me feel accepted for being myself. So, with us having no connection for two years, I have to place my needs above what I think his might be. I don’t owe him the loyalty I’ve given him during this time, though I still won’t publicly name him (I referred to him as Lee in that Stories from the Polycule story, though, so I’ll use that name for him here) or share photos of us together. I’ve tried to make things right, including writing to him after more than 17 months to inform him I was going to post this blog entry, but he’s chosen to ignore me.
Lee’s “ghosting” sent me into a deep depression that threatened the very foundations of my marriage, but my husband courageously stood by me despite how badly I treated him during that time. I dug myself out of the depression hole, but Lee’s impact on my life remains to this day. I’ve used so much of the pain and devastation from the loss in my improv and acting. It’s influenced my writing. Whilst he isn’t the reason I care about diversity in the media — I cared about that well before he and I got together — getting to know him as well as I did likely impacted why I care so much about how Asian men are depicted in media as non-sexual beings. My experience has been quite different. He’s not the only Asian man who has been sexually interested in me, but he was the most significant one.
Having to hide this side of myself, and the structure of my relationship with my husband, from the public for so long had taken a toll on me. I’ve been very open about being polyamorous in San Francisco, because the way my relationship with Lee ended had me saying, “No more.” No more secrets. I can’t do them any more. He was the third man I’d fallen for since I got married, and my husband and I had chosen polyamory, and they’d all been secret relationships to some degree. Two of them (including with Lee) didn’t even have labels beyond “friend.” And I wanted to be able to tell people if someone meant more to me than “just a friend.” Thankfully, talking about this need for public openness recently allowed me to find a couple of understanding guys who are okay with me talking about them. Though it’s still early stages with both of them, it’s nice to not have to worry about having to hide the details when I’m ready to disclose them.
With respect to the anthology, one of the major reasons I selected the Filipino story “Partners” by Jude Ortega is because it depicted so well the struggle of a relationship where one partner is “out” and the other one doesn’t want to be. It may have been a story about two gay men, rather than an openly married polyamorous woman and a single guy, but I felt the exact same struggle in my life. Yes, I have been some degree of openly polyamorous for a long time, even when Lee and I were together. I had a lot of in-person and online friends who knew that about me. My sister has known since she saw me giddy over my second relationship, and my brother has also known for years. But finding acceptance from people when I’ve talked about it has been difficult at times. Some of the attitudes I received in Malaysia encouraged me to hold back, and it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that I realised how much of that side of myself I had repressed, and carried with me to San Francisco. I’d learned years ago that there were people who gossiped about me behind my back and suggested that I was sleeping with or at least wanted to sleep with certain people, when the reality at the time was, if I was involved with anyone else, it was long distance with someone not living in Malaysia. I felt like it would’ve been more acceptable for me to be cheating on my husband than for him to be aware of my activities. I was most certainly looked upon with scorn by some (though thankfully not all). It’s a lot easier to feel accepted for this side of myself in San Francisco because there are so many more openly polyamorous people here. Even people who are monogamous are more understanding and accepting.
So as you can see, polyamory is not some new thing for my husband and me. We’ve been polyamorous for well over half of our ten year marriage. Roughly seven years, in fact. It hasn’t destroyed us. If anything, our openness and honesty about our feelings when it comes to this stuff has brought us closer together. Though we do acknowledge that not every relationship can survive those kinds of conversations, and monogamy does suit some couples better. We certainly don’t try to persuade people that polyamory is somehow a more evolved relationship type. Besides, there are so many ways to do polyamory, and if you’re interested in learning more about that, then I highly recommend More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.
There’s one last note I’d like to make. I’m not a promiscuous woman, though I don’t have a problem with women who are. What I have a problem with is the unfair assessment that I must be based on the bisexual and polyamorous labels I carry. The reality is, I’m quite selective about who I choose to have in my life romantically and sexually. Those relationships have tended not to happen before I’ve developed a solid friendship with the person first. Emotions are far more important to me than sex. This may or may not be because of the traumatic feelings I experienced when my grandmother thought I was a slut because I had a lot of male friends, assuming I slept with them all (I hadn’t; I’d barely even lost my virginity at the time). In the two years that followed my break up with Lee, the only person I was intimately involved with was my husband. I feel very fortunate now that I recently met a couple of new guys around the same time who actually fit what I knew I would want in an additional relationship. I think it was the knowledge that I was going to be able to publicly come out in this blog post that allowed me to be open to finding just the kind of person I was open to being involved with. If you’re Facebook friends with me, you may find that I start posting about dating said men, if I feel like I have something I want to say about it. Or not. It’s hard to say, since we’re still more in the “dating” stage rather than “committed relationship.” But some of my friends in San Francisco have met them, or at least know who they are, which makes for a very nice change from my relationship with Lee.
Don’t forget to check out how my polyamorous interracial relationship inspired the theme for my latest book, a collection of stories and poetry by 32 different writers, Marked by Scorn: An Anthology Featuring Non-Traditional Relationships. It features a variety of non-traditional relationships, such as polyamory and non-monogamy, interracial, LGBT+, and more! Download it from July 31.
1 For those who aren’t familiar with this word, polyamorous means you are open to having multiple romantic/sexual (with emotional connection, usually) partners, rather than the standard one like monogamous relationships. It differs from swinging and some other types of open relationships because there is usually a focus on developing the emotional/romantic connection with someone, typically long-term if possible. It is a type of ethical non-monogamy, because the implication is that all partners are aware that there are other partners, or that other partners are considered okay (if there is not more than one relationship at the time). Open communication and trust are key.
2 Bisexual women are too often perceived as sexually carefree, willing to sleep with anyone, or not able to make a commitment. I’ve also read that lesbians tend to discriminate against dating bisexual women, for various reasons, and I feel like it’s not worth the hassle of trying to break through that stigma.