This Is Us

The Joys of Queering Your Relationships

How I learned to prioritize connections that speak to my authentic self

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The last time I intentionally met a man was three years ago.

When you’re a bisexual, femme, cisgender woman, the default for dating can easily become straight, cis men. They’re plentiful. They express attraction clearly and readily. They assume, based on your gender presentation, that you’re attracted to them. And despite their proclivity toward both fetishizing and minimizing, if their politics are good, they’re generally unconcerned with your bisexuality — unlike much of the so-called “woman loving woman” community, wherein “No bisexuals!” shows up frequently in dating profiles.

The behavioral scripts are more than carved — they’re ingrained. You can generally map out how the courtship, the first date, and the sex will go, with little variation. From the part where they open with “Hey beautiful” on Tinder, to the part where you fake-grab your wallet and suggest splitting the bill, to the part where penetration is the guaranteed aim of sex, you move up and up the relationship escalator. Surely, “not all men.” But most men. And our brains love patterns.

And so straight, cis men become the path of least resistance, even when they’re also the path of least fulfillment.

In my own life, I have dated mostly straight, cis men, despite my ever-present (romantic, sexual, political) desire to be in queer relationships exclusively. While most (God, not all) of these men, individually, have been wonderful, the truth is that I never entered relationships with them with intention. Swept uncontrollably upstream the River of Cisheternormativity, I would just kind of land in these commitments. Being bisexual — which I define, for myself, as being attracted to people regardless of gender — I’m not not attracted to straight, cis men, and so it wasn’t clear to me that I could actively challenge the space they took up in my life instead of going with the proverbial flow.

It wasn’t until I was forced to explore the level of choice I have in how I exist in relation to others that I realized I could actively prioritize connections that speak to my authentic self — and in that process, decenter and devalue the cisheteronormative patriarchy that had rooted itself in how I formed relationships.

Three years ago, I made the choice to pursue polyamory, a relationship style that values our ability to form deep, committed relationships with more than one person at a time.

My partner, with whom I had previously been monogamous, and I spoke at length for the better part of a year about why polyamory felt like a political fit for us: We agreed that the possessive nature of monogamy, wherein we’re socialized to view partners as uniquely positioned as “ours” in some arbitrary way, went against our values. And we agreed that having the romantic and sexual freedom to explore the depth of human connection could only strengthen our relationship, as we watched each other thrive.

Polyamory, we felt, was a way to experience the love around us from a bountiful, rather than scarcity, perspective.

Let me be clear: These conclusions didn’t come easy. The conversations were hard, and we were scared, and we got hurt, and we cried. But ultimately, we knew that those were symptoms of love itself — and that monogamy couldn’t protect us from growing pains.

As we ventured into this new world together — of course, making mistakes along the way — we learned about a form of polyamory known as “nonhierarchical,” and it was a huge ah-ha moment.

Many folks’ vision of nonmonogamy centers on the idea of a primary relationship that other, outside relationships orbit around, wherein the primary relationship holds the most value and is the most well-protected. This can be seen clearly in the idea that if a secondary relationship threatens the stability of the core foundation of the primary relationship, then it’s automatically ruled that the secondary partner must go. Another common rule in hierarchical polyamory is that only certain kinds of relationships are allowed outside of the primary relationship (no love, no domesticity, no marriage, no children) and that the development of an off-limits connection is betrayal.

Nonhierarchical polyamory, instead, says that while all relationships differ in their structures and their needs, the people involved all hold equal value, and no relationship is inherently more important (or more worthy of protection) than another. Therefore, connections have space to develop without restrictions.

This, we realized, was The Thing. If our politics don’t value hierarchy, why should our relationships?

And so we moved forward, questioning everything we thought we knew about how relationships could work. A magical thing happened for me when I removed some restrictions from my relationships: I realized that I could remove all restrictions.

No, I didn’t have to practice monogamy. No, I didn’t have to value marriage. No, I didn’t have to adhere to a nuclear family system. But I also didn’t have to uphold romantic relationships as priorities. And I also didn’t have to expend energy on connections that didn’t feel meaningful or soul-stirring. Instead, I could intentionally build, brick by brick, a support system that centered what mattered to me in the depth of my heart.

There were no rules. There never had to be.

Unbeknownst to us consciously, we’re taught to form relationships in a particular way. All of the systems that impact us on a broader scale — like white supremacy, colonization, capitalism, patriarchy, and more — also impact us interpersonally. The values that we learn from these systems show up in our relationships. And so the choices that we think we’re making — about who we’re attracted to, about which relationships deserve priority — are skewed.

If we’re not working intentionally to root out those systems from our lives, we’re playing into them — and upholding those power structures — by following the rules.

Polyamory isn’t for everyone (although I recommend not writing it off). But there is an undeniable impact of intentionally moving into nonmonogamy, especially from a nonhierarchical perspective: It pushes us to question the rules, to reestablish the limits of our connections, to take a hard look at how we form relationships and why — and to envision what it would look like to live unrestricted.

What is the community that we imagine? If our relationships with others didn’t have to follow culturally mandated rules, what more could be possible?

As I sat with the understanding that my relationships could be intentional, I had two major revelations: My connections — romantic, sexual, and platonic — with straight, cis men had always been largely unfulfilling. And deep, intimate friendships — particularly with other queer, femme women — have always been the most powerful loves in my life.

When I imagined the relationships in which I’d felt the most authentic, the most myself, they never revolved around cisheteronormative patriarchy. I thought about my middle school best friend, Rachael, who taught me what it meant to be brazen, during some of my most formative years. I thought about my high school girlfriend, Jessie, and how we braved the coming-out process — and the doubly confusing teenage first-time without the aid of relevant sex-ed — side by side. I thought about my college roommate, Alex, with whom I’d joke about living with (or, at the very least, next-door to) forever.

And I decided that, with what little time I have on Earth, I wanted to center that kind of love. I wanted to surround myself with people who were soulmates, who felt like sunshine, who nourished my spirit. And I realized that I could doubly eschew cisheteronormativity: Not only did I not have to prioritize forming relationships with straight, cis men; I also didn’t have to prioritize romantic or sexual relationships at all. My relationships could look however I wanted them to look, rules be damned.

Today, I’m living a life that’s much truer to myself. I have two partners, one who is nonbinary and one who is a trans man, between whom I split two households and three cats. Both of those partners are romantic; only one is also sexual. I have a rich, inner circle of friends; they are almost entirely queer, all women and nonbinary folks, mostly femme. We love on each other hard — with good-morning texts and flowers left on doorsteps and fire emoji responses to selfies — because friendships can be romantic, too. And, outside of my family, the number of straight, cis men I interact with is almost zero.

Queering my relationships has had a profound impact on my sense of community; more than that, it’s helped to solidify my sense of self. Choosing to challenge my relationship structures, especially insofar as reevaluating to whom my precious energy goes, through a political lens has offered me the opportunity to listen deeply to my inner wisdom and to create a life with purpose and intention. And it was the healthiest choice I could have made for my own happiness.

The politics of relationships, bodies, and wellness. PhD in Human Sexuality Studies. Taylor Swift is my problematic fave.

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