Two queer singles and one couple share their experience with polyamorous love in a post-pandemic landscape.
Words by E.R. Pulgar. Photography by Stephanie Mendez.
Some people would argue the heart is too big to contain love for just one person. In fact, humans have been practicing polyamory since we began coupling up. It’s a practice that was fairly commonplace cross-culturally before the implementation of cis, heteronormative ideals became the norm.
We live in a world where a sanitized, often heterosexual, narrative of an “ideal white nuclear family” dominates the imagery of what love looks like. This murks our search–heterosexual lens. That being said, that narrative is shifting with the current generation of young queer adults: Millennials and Gen-Z are re-discovering a brave new romantic world as they come into their queerness. As of 2020, 9.1% of millennials identify as LGBTQ+, with that number increasing to 15% among Gen Z.
With a collapsing global economy, an impending climate apocalypse, and billionaires who want to colonize the moon rather than use their money to help the Earth they’ve razed to the ground, there’s really no time to waste. As the world crumbles around us, we yearn for love, and to stretch that feeling by any means necessary. To be abundantly clear, in a cishet monogamous world, polyamory is queer love, and there will always be a queer element to loving and partnering this way.
“My polyamory was born out of my queerness,” says Bri Joy, a Brooklyn-based tarot reader and organizer hailing from Atlanta. “I feel like when you love in a queer way—I’m a lesbian—so much of what you’re already doing is outside of society’s preferred scope. Even just having the openness to try new structures for relationships feels like it’s queer within itself. Obviously, straight people can be polyamorous, but it’s a quote-unquote strange experience to love outside of [monogamous] confines.”
To live and love outside of society’s definition of what love should be is a radical act in and of itself. Liberation, sexual and otherwise, is inexorably tied to a conversation around polyamory that is consensual, healthy, and ethical. When we’ve been conditioned to love one person and accept that as the norm, something shuts inside of us. We close ourselves to the endless forms romantic love can take.
The possibility of loving more than one person at once, and the possibility of loving differently in general, must be stared at directly in the face. In that regard, queer folks who are coming of age in a largely straight society have little choice but to break free of those norms. Even within queer relationships, the imposition of monogamy and the subconscious need to imitate a “normal relationship”—the white picket fence fantasy with a same-gender couple mowing the lawn—is another hurdle to overcome for those among us with more love to give.
“When I first came to New York City and came out and started exploring the queer scenes here, I thought that it was fucked up that people said you can you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” says queer artist Jake Frisbie, who is based in NYC and reveling in singledom. “All of my life until that point, I was denying myself desire as a closeted person and feeling ashamed. A dam broke; I realized I had so much love and I just wanted to share it. [My polyamory] was pretty immediate and integral in my coming out, but being proud of my polyamory and being able to communicate about that came much later, especially after disappointing a bunch of partners who were expecting me to be monogamous. I thought ‘I’m here, I’m out, I’m living puberty two, and nobody’s going to tell me no.’”
The freedom to live a polyamorous life starts internally. It’s a freedom one must allow themself and make clear with lovers—and, when it comes to polyamorous couples, with primary partners. A poly couple situation can come about for a myriad of reasons. In the case of Noah Jackson and Minu Han, who’ve been together for four years and live together in Brooklyn, the need for polyamory arose out of necessity.
“We decided to open our relationship up about a year into it—when two bottoms date, you have to outsource some part of it,” says Han jokingly. “More seriously, I was looking to satisfy kinks that weren’t being satisfied by my primary relationship. I brought it up in conversation with Noah, who was very receptive and understanding.”
“My biggest piece of advice from my own experience is vocalizing discomfort when it happens, but also vocalizing joy,” adds Jackson. “Recognizing and appreciating the things that are working is as important as identifying and working through the things that aren’t. It should ultimately be fun to be sluts together.”
Philosophically understanding, and deciding to live, a polyamorous lifestyle is one thing. Doing so in the unavoidable context of our pandemic is another altogether. In this year where the meaning of intimacy has shifted, where we’ve been forced indoors and away (or too close) to our lovers, what does this mean for a polyamorous individual?
“Lockdown transitioned our interactions with other people almost exclusively into the digital sphere,” says Jackson. “This meant that we had to navigate a different set of expectations—what kind of conversations we should be disclosing, what has “meaning” when we’re not actually meeting up with people. Being together practically 24/7 reinforced the importance of constant communication, and keeping as much in the open as possible.”
“During lockdown, we were monogamous, funnily enough,” Han chimes in. “It allowed us to get comfortable talking about our crushes to one another and scroll apps in front of each other without feeling weird. Noah is my best friend, and being quarantined together only confirmed how important he is to my life. Overall, I feel more secure in our relationship.”
“Because of being polyamorous and the pandemic, my standards are higher…I will end a relationship if it doesn’t feel good for me. No longer am I holding on to the structure of someone being the end all, be all.”
For the singles seeking love, the “official” return of parties this summer marked a return to past indulgences, cruising, and connecting with our bodies. “I had been with somebody seriously for two years and broke it off,” says Frisbie. “Last summer sucked not having an outlet for self-expression and connection, so I decided to indulge. I was honestly maybe a little reckless, but practicing sex is such a part of who I am.”
Others, like Joy, went deeper into themselves, shifting what they would want from a relationship, casual or otherwise. “I was in a long term primary relationship right before [the pandemic], then we broke up and three weeks later we were on lockdown,” they say. “Because of being polyamorous and the pandemic, my standards are higher. It’s no longer, ‘you’re ‘the One’ and I have to make sure that you become ‘the One in my head.’ I will end a relationship if it doesn’t feel good for me. No longer am I holding on to the structure of someone being the end all, be all.”
Ultimately, if you really push the concept, we are all polyamorous. Before we are ready to let one (or more) people into the esoteric chambers of our heart, it’s essential to nurture a relationship with ourselves. To quote the legendary Eartha Kitt, who famously spoke on self-respect and finding healthy love in 1982 biopic “All By Myself”: “I’m looking for someone to share me with me.”
“I feel very much like I’m in a solo poly vibe where I’m taking care of myself as much as I can, and if someone wants to also come take care of me—and want care from me in a mutual way—then that’s something that I’m interested in,” says Joy. “That could be multiple someones, that could be one person for a while with the freedom to explore outside. I’m not attached to a structure and I’m very single, so I don’t know what my dynamic with a partner looks like right now.”