by Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, CASA, CSE
CEO, Sheff Consulting
A few reasons people choose to come out are:
· Increased intimacy – Hiding important relationships means closing off parts of your life, and being honest about significant things allows greater authenticity and emotional connection.
· Explanation for person in social environment – Sometimes people in poly relationships that have become serious and entail more involvement in their lives decide to come out to both explain the presence of the person/people and acknowledge the importance of the relationship(s).
· Being outed by an event or person – When someone else threatens to out a poly person, sometimes taking control of the situation and outing themselves
· Political belief – As amply demonstrated by LGBT activists, it is difficult to take political space and organize for rights without a visible and recognizable presence in society. The more poly people who come out, the more visible polyamory is, and the more likely it is that poly communities will be able to gain rights for their constituents.
· Not – If there is no real reason to come out, reconsider doing so if you are vulnerable. That vulnerability might be to losing custody of your children, losing your job, losing connections with your family and friends, or losing your housing. These things can happen when people come out as poly, so think carefully before deciding if the risks of coming out are worth the benefits.
Although the idea of coming out is politically important and some people feel compelled to be scrupulously honest with the others in their lives, most people should use caution when coming out because be identified as a sex or gender minority can be dangerous and should be done cautiously. A few of the ways to do so cautiously include:
· Selective disclosure – Tell the people who are important and need to know that you have a poly relationship, but let them know this is sensitive information that they should not share with others until you are ready. If you are not sure if someone is safe to tell, then consider using a “litmus” question such as how that person feels about same-sex marriage or something like that. Their reaction could give you information about how they might react to the news of polyamory.
· Matter of fact, not dramatic – If you present the information as a matter of daily life and not a cataclysmic announcement, others will be more likely to take it as a regular piece of news. Presenting it as normal part of your life can help others accept it as normal for you as well.
· Private setting – In case you or the person you tell has a strong reaction to your coming out news, consider a setting that allows some conversational privacy.
Once you have decided to come out, prepare yourself. Think about what you are going to say, and plan ahead with your partners. Use the resources below to educate yourself and those to whom you are coming out.
· NCSF has a resource library filled with information for activists, lawyers, people concerned with consent, mental health, and professionals knowledgeable about polyamory and BDSM.
· Other websites such as Loving More, Opening Up, and More Than Two
· I have written three books that would be very helpful to people coming out as polyamorous. The first one, The Polyamorists Next Door (2014), reports on my 15 year study of poly families with children and is best suited for using when coming out to social workers, lawyers, school counselors, doctors, and other professionals. Stories from the Polycule (2015), my second book, is an edited volume of stories written by poly people themselves and is best suited for coming out to younger family members, friends, and open minded people or people with shorter spans of attention. My most recent book, When Someone You Love is Polyamorous (2016), is a short introduction to polyamory and best suited for dear friends and family members who are older, more conservative, or might be afraid that polyamory might be a bad thing for their loved ones.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is an expert witness, relationship coach, writer, and academic consultant. She is touring the East and West coasts for the release of her third book this fall, you can find her schedule here. There is still some room in the tour for more engagements, so if you want to book Dr. Sheff to speak to your group, contact her directly at DrEliSheff@gmail.com