Let me tell you a story. It starts innocently enough, and the details don’t really matter, but the punchline is, “Would you believe it, they were swingers?”
I’ve lost count of the number of friends, acquaintances, and coworkers who’ve told me a story like this over the 10+ years that we’ve been in the lifestyle. And, inevitably, I respond with a half-laugh and what I hope is perceived as a genuine, “Oh? Well isn’t that bizarre.”
As much as always wish I could reply with a slightly indignant, “So?”, the better part of me knows that there’s really no great way to be open about our lifestyle in a public context.
It feels unsafe to be “out” at a time where the American Right — and, frankly, a disappointing number of people on the Left — are clutching their pearls and passing sex and sex work negative laws like SESTA/FOSTA, eroding sex worker safety and free speech laws under the guise of protecting the most vulnerable members of society.
Mike and I both work at the sort of Good Southern Companies™ where disclosure really would be problematic. And we’ve certainly heard stories of people who have experienced real consequences for being outed against their will. Stories like these reinforce the fear that most non-monogamous, queer, and kinky people have of being discovered, and are likely the driving force behind the most common question we hear from newly open couples, “What if we run into someone we know?”
It’s a bit of an aside, but I will say that in over a decade of non-monogamy we’ve only ever run into one person that we knew outside of the lifestyle. There was a brief moment of awkwardness until we acknowledged each other and then quickly decided to move on with our evenings. Separately. We still run into each other frequently and, I’m happy to say, we’ve never had a moment where one or the other of us has decided to loudly announce, “Do you remember that time we ran into you at that swing party?”
But I digress.
Especially in an age of sex negativity, I find myself struggling with an increasing desire to use my privilege as cisgendered, white, and hetero-presenting to stand up against bi-erasure by being unapologetically my whole, authentic self. It’s been a complicated dance of identity and judicious disclosure.
What’s in a
In spite of having begun to acknowledge my burgeoning bisexuality in 2005, and starting to explore that in practice in 2007 when Mike and I opened up, 2018 has been the first year that I’ve truly felt like I own the label bisexual.
I can remember a conversation Mike and I had wandering around the streets of Seattle, all the way back when we first started playing with other people. We were talking about how we wanted to present in our online dating site profile. The sticking point was sexual orientation.
“I mean, I don’t know, do I really count as bisexual?”
“Well,” Mike said, “you like having sex?”
“You’re attracted to men? Well… At least you’re attracted to me. And you’re attracted to women?”
“Sounds like textbook bisexuality to me.”
“Yeah. I dunno. I mean, I wouldn’t date a woman. At least, I don’t think I would. So can I still use that label?”
I felt that way, that I hadn’t earned the right to use that label, for years. I would have conversations with my capital-Q queer friends, to whom I was not out, where they would make withering remarks about bisexual women. Newly bisexual women, I would learn, were especially unwelcome in the queer community, and to be avoided when possible.
And the more often those comments came, the more invisibly queer I felt.
We already weren’t talking to our friends about our non-monogamy so it wasn’t much of a stretch to not disclose my bisexuality either. But, as time went on, I had a growing sense of inauthenticity around the people who matter most to me. So when we decided to move south, I made the decision to be as open and honest as possible with the people we would meet in our new home.
When to disclose. When not to.
Of course, just because I made the decision to be more open with people here doesn’t mean that I run up and greet everyone with, “Hi! I’m Kira. I’m bisexual and non-monogamous. What’s your story?”
Ignoring the fact that there are plenty of contexts in which that information is simply not relevant, there are also still plenty of contexts where it’s just not safe. And, frankly, judicious disclosure helps me feel like I have a modicum of control over my own identity. Nobody is entitled to know my full, authentic self. I get to choose when to open up to people when they’ve shown that they’re worthy of that trust.
I recognize the heterosexual privilege that comes with that statement. I’m in a heterosexual marriage, which affords me the luxury of being able to disclose on my own terms. A luxury I know not everyone enjoys.
I also recognize the uncertainty that comes along with any decision to disclose — the fear that I may lose the affection of people I love and trust by making the assumption that they’re open to information that they may not be ready for.
Plus, I’m finding that any decision to disclose my bisexuality necessitates the disclosure of my non-monogamy. Inevitably, the first question is, “Wait… How does that work?” So I have to be sure that whoever I’m disclosing to will be open to both our non-monogamy and my bisexuality before I’m comfortable saying anything.
The only rule I’ve set for myself — after a long discussion with Mike since outing myself as non-monogamous outs him, too — is that I won’t lie to anyone I love if asked directly. I may deflect if the context is inappropriate or potentially damaging, such as at work, but with friends and family have chosen to be open and honest.
The more than I come out to the people who matter to me, the more that I finally feel like the proud, kinky, bisexual person I am.
I hope that someday we can all live openly and honestly with each other regardless of our sexual orientation, our kinks, or the status of our relationships. Until then I’ll just be over here, open on the internet and opening more and more in real life.
One last thing before you go
This blog post was written as part of the 2018 Summer 100 challenge. If you enjoyed this post and want more like it, first leave me a comment then click on the Summer 100 logo to check out all the other amazing, sex positive bloggers who are participating. Thanks!