Ask Polly: Disclosure
Welcome to Ask Polly, the UK’s first poly advice column! We invite readers to send poly-related questions to our resident columnist, Polly, and she’ll do her very best to offer advice. You’re also very much encouraged to join the conversation in the comments. Polly can be contacted by email, on polly at polytical dot org, or via Polytical’s Facebook or twitter. Ask Polly is published twice a month, and you can read more here.
I’m a bi woman, and I’m going to a residential queer event soon. There’ll probably be lots of cute girls there, and I might fancy them. Obviously that’s fine with my boyfriend, but, do I tell people I get off with that I’m in a long term relationship?
What a great question! I think it depends on what you’re doing with them: people can mean different things by ‘getting off.’
This can be a pretty tricky thing to navigate. You want to make yourself available to be hit on by cute girls, and you also don’t want to hide anything, or lead anyone on. Short of wearing a badge that says, ‘I’m non-monogamous, bi and available, I have a boyfriend and he is fine with this, I’d love to be hit on by cute girls’ (and actually, many events, like BiCon, run a sticker-code system to do exactly this) – what’s a girl to do?
Well, usefully, you’re at a queer event: I recommend talking loudly, at every opportunity, about being bi and poly. You could throw in a few more things about your in-bed preferences where relevant too: sex chat makes fun conversation and you could scope out the other hot switches/femmes/furries (whoever you happen to be interested in) while you do so. Hopefully, that’ll mean that not only will cute girls know you’re poly by the time you get to playing, they’ll also know exactly what to do to get you off.
Being open like this? It can be scary. You’re a bi woman, with a boyfriend, looking to play with cute girls, at a queer event – biphobia can rear its head and make your life suck. It might be tempting to play all this down a bit in the hope of upping your queer credentials, and certainly you might increase your chances of play if you do; but, y’know, this whole ethical non-monogamy thing? It means you have to be the grown-up and be as open and honest as you can be, even when that means you don’t get to play, or that cute girl storms off in a huff. Being the grown-up can really suck, but I’m afraid there isn’t really another option.
Let’s talk specifics! There are lots of things one can do with cute girls – here’s a selection:
Casual kisses – at parties, while dancing
You’re dancing, you dance with someone, you kiss, you move on and dance elsewhere – that’s a fabulous way to spend an evening, and I’d say anything goes here. A dance floor kiss isn’t a promise of sex that night, or commitment later – enjoy it for what it is, and don’t feel you need to have a shouted, awkward chat beforehand. If things get heavier – kissing every night, kissing no-one else, long nuzzling, extra-long hugs goodbye – then it’s probably time to talk.
A casual shag or one-night-stand
Now, sexual consent is a bunny you’ve got to be really careful with. You can’t just roll with this as you might a kiss and expect that the other person will also see it as casual without negotiating things. One rule I use is, if you’re withholding a piece of information that, if the person knew that thing, they may withdraw their consent to sex, then there’s a violation going on right there. Obviously, you can’t be expected to know they might have a hard limit over your love of antique teacups or karaoke; I’m not asking you to be psychic here, just careful. If you feel like you should mention something, you probably should – and you should definitely mention other relationships. The one exception to this rule is trans status.
The idea of violating someone’s consent is big scary stuff. Luckily, some simple, careful negotiation on both your parts can help a lot. Chances are you’ll be having a conversation before you shag anyway: about safer sex, what you both like and any limits or triggers. If she doesn’t know, that’s a good time to mention your partner – it being a queer event, chances are that she will already be familiar with the concept of poly. Make some space to chat about it – she may well want some reassurance that he’s also aware and consenting.
This bit really doesn’t need to be complicated – don’t feel the need to rattle off all your relationship rules or your poly history. You could simply say, “so you know, I’m non-monogamous and there are other people in my life right now.” She might well shrug and answer, “Cool. Is this lube vegan?” And then you can both have a fabulous, consensual, fully-informed time.
Starting something bigger
If you’re staying up all night talking – if that includes snuggling or kisses or sex as well, generally the implication there is that it could be the precursor of A Big Thing, or at least that it is its own event-contained Big Thing. If you’re not mentioning your boyfriend or your non-monogamous philosophy here (and, er, what else would you be talking about all night?), there’s something wrong there.
Try your best not to cause people to feel as though they’re being led on – this is even a thing that’s separate to your other partner, as it’s more a case of what you’d like in your life. Emotional energy levels are related to more than just other partners; you might not be looking to date right now because of career commitments, or focusing on yourself. Now, if you’re happy snuggling lots at this event but not looking for bigger stuff in the rest of your life, say so. If she seems to think that your casual one-night-stand is the consummation of a big and beautiful relationship, you’ve got to talk about it. Even if you’re not getting those vibes, probably best to talk about it anyway.
Imbalances in what people want spring up all the time, and often they’re painful to deal with. If one person has another partner, and also wants less involvement than the other person, it’s often somehow more painful for the person who wants more than if the object of their affection were simply busy with school. This isn’t fair, it’s kind of mono-centric, and it sucks too. But again, doing non-monogamy ethically can be really hard. With a bit of disclosure and conversation, things can be loads easier.
Good luck, and I hope the event is wonderful for you!
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