5 People on Coming Out As Poly to Their Families

As told to
’Poly-what?’ Photo: Fancy/Veer/Corbis/Getty Images

If you’ve embraced polyamory, the time may come when you want or need to explain your lifestyle to your loved ones. But what is it really like to tell family members you have more than one romantic partner? We spoke to five women about coming out to their parents as polyamorous.

“My Mom said, ‘Do you know how many women can’t get a date on a Friday night? And look at you, you have three!’”
—Kamala, 31

“When I told my mom, she didn’t have that extreme a reaction. She just teased me and called me a ‘hog.’ She said, ‘Do you know how many women can’t get a date on a Friday night? And look at you, you have three!’ It was different with my dad and his wife. One holiday, I made the mistake of bringing my girlfriend with my husband to their retreat in Big Bear. My sister-in-law said that she and my niece would boycott any family gathering if I ever brought another lover. My father stopped speaking to us entirely. After many months, my husband and I had an emotional sit-down with my father and stepmom. He apologized and said: ‘My love for you is bigger than my prejudice of polyamory.’ My husband’s parents are much more accepting. In fact, his father has been living with us while his mother is in assisted living. Grandpa Frank respects our space, but he’s always happy to be included if our lovers are open to catching up with him.”

“I asked if she had any questions; she said, ‘No.’”
—Jessica, 40

I realized I was queer in my 20s, but I waited years to tell my mother. I came out as poly to everyone else before I had the courage to tell her. I did it over the phone. I explained that my wife and I have been polyamorous for a little over a year and that I was also seeing a wonderful boy … she went silent. Then I explained that the boy I was seeing really cared about me and treated me really well, which seemed to strike a chord. ‘Well, I don’t understand it and I don’t agree with it but if you are happy then I’m happy for you.’ I asked if she had any questions; she said, ‘No.’ I don’t quite know what I was hoping for, maybe more conversation?

Then I came out to my grandmother. I tried to make it more relatable. I said something like, ‘Honestly, Grandma, it’s kind of great because there are interests that my wife and I don’t share and we get to find people we love to do those things with!’ She was quiet for a minute and then said ‘Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, I wouldn’t mind your grandfather having someone else to drag up to the cabin on the weekend.’”

“My mom was crushed …”
—Phillia, 40

I kind of wish I never told my parents. They have very strong Christian beliefs, so it was really hard for them to understand. My mom was crushed — she really loves my husband, and she believes it’s morally wrong to have any ‘experiences’ outside of marriage. She developed health problems which I still blame on the stress of my news.

The rest of my family couldn’t understand it either. At Thanksgiving, after I told them, they all cried. I even I heard the phrase ‘devil witch sinning whore.’ What they don’t know is that I’m also bisexual, and my husband and I used to have threesomes and we currently have a ‘wifey’ and I also have female lovers who I share with my boyfriend … I think that information would send them all to an early grave.”

“She said that I always have to do whatever is most complicated.” —Tara, 31

I didn’t want to tell my mom in some kind of serious sit-down conversation because I didn’t want to make being poly a big deal. I figured I’d copy what my cousin did when she came out as gay: She just introduced her girlfriend to my mom and grandparents, and they never discussed it again.

So, I was casually texting my mom when I told her I’d been hanging out with an ex-boyfriend. She wanted to know how my current boyfriend felt about it and I said, ‘Well, my boyfriend has another girlfriend and they live together, and she has two more partners in addition to him … We all have multiple relationships so there really shouldn’t be much issue with me hanging out with other men …’ Maybe I was a little crude, but her response was ‘You go girl!’ I didn’t see her face so I don’t know if she was just rolling her eyes.

It was several months before we talked about it in any depth. She said that I always have to do whatever is most complicated and she compared it to hippies and ‘free love.’

I think she’s taken the same approach to my polyamory that she has to my gay cousins. She would say that she ‘leaves it alone,’ which sounds a little cold, but it’s acceptance without judgment. She’s more concerned about my career and whether I’m saving to buy a house.”

“Her first question was, ‘What the hell is that?’”
—Jimanekia, 31

I was coming out as queer and just threw in, ‘Oh yeah, I’m also polyamorous.’ My mom was shocked. She’s in her 70s, old school — from Texas and here is her 26-year-old daughter telling her not only is she attracted to women and men but she’s polyamorous. Her first question was, ‘What the hell is that?’ I explained to her that, for me, it means I want to find one person who I live with, go on adventures with, and grow old with, but I also want to have connections with other people. Then she said, ‘So does that mean you’re not a lesbian?’ I said ‘No, I like dick, too’ and then I explained what queer means. I said it used to be a negative term but it’s been somewhat reclaimed, and for me it means that I am open to dating everyone, all bodies.

I think hearing that I do want to find a primary partner put her at ease. She said her only concern was that people would not understand and that she wanted me to be safe. However, a year later, I had to come out to her again. I mentioned being queer and she was like, wait what? She said she did not remember the three-hour conversation we’d had. So I had to re-come out. When I was done explaining she said she needed to sit and process the news. But she’s been really great since, she even recognized Pride weekend. I’m very privileged that she accepts me for who I am.”

5 People on Coming Out As Poly to Their Families