Monday, February 6, 2012

Being Open about Being Open

Being Open about Being Open

Since Marc and I started this blog, we’ve gotten a surprising amount of support and interest.   The only halfway “negative” response--if you can call it that--was, apparently, a group of “acquaintances” exchanged a series of group FB messages about how “shocking” it was that Marc and I are in an open relationship, have had (GASP!) threesomes and (VAPORS!) group gropes, and that we’re currently negotiating polyamory for the first time with each other.  We chalked it up to a toxic brew of homophobia, mono-normativity, and envy, and had a chuckle together about it.  Hey, if whispering about our sex lives like insecure kids in high school pointing to the geeks frosts your cake, we’re glad to provide the sugar. 

But other than that, neither one of us has gotten an overtly negative reaction from anyone.  That is not to say that some people aren’t shocked and appalled.  As of now, however, none of them have expressed those feelings to Marc or to me. 

One of the things that has struck both of us is how people are kind of “coming out” to tell us about the various ways they’ve opened their relationships.  To be honest, this is kind of a pleasant surprise. When we decided to do this, and especially when we post links to the blog on our Facebook walls, the blog was definitely a sort of “coming out” especially for Marc.  Neither one of us filter our “friends”, so we’re pretty much letting most of our friends and family who care to pay attention the nature of our “open relationship” status.

Because each of us is uniquely situated in this process, we thought we might talk about what it’s been like for each us to go “public” through the blog.

What’s been your experience of going “public” through the blog?

Unlike Mimi, I don’t talk about sex and sexuality for a living.  I’m generally “shy” about this stuff, except with my closest of friends, so publically discussing our open relationship is very new for me.  It took me a couple of months to even set my Facebook status as “in an open relationship”.  So far, the response has been interesting,  albeit slightly intimidating. 

I have indeed gotten the “hey…I read your blog…you know, I, too, had an experience like that…”  It’s nice that the blog opens up space for a dialogue about things that people might not have otherwise brought up – things that might have been taboo in the past.  It’s a convenient icebreaker for that kind of dialogue, and I like to hear about others’ experiences as well.

I’ve never talked in depth about this stuff to my family, save one sister, so if you’re reading this...HI!  Most of my friends know that Mimi and I are not “exclusive”, but since I’m generally not as forward as Mimi when it comes to desire, many probably do not know what being “open” means to me, so this blog is a nice way for me to explain all of that.

There is indeed the assumption that “open relationship” means promiscuous and also means anyone is fair game for a sexual romp.  Not so.  Simply knowing that I can ask a woman out on a date doesn’t equal doing it often, with anyone who smiles at me.  Since I am partnered with someone and in a committed relationship, much negotiation occurs between Mimi and I before and after I go on a date with someone else, so, if anything, I’m even more picky than if I were single.  Someone needs to be compelling enough to make it worth doing the work. 

There is also the possibility that whomever I’m interested in may be initially interested as well, but may change her mind once she understands our situation.  Being open about being open starts on the first date (if the woman is not already a friend who knows about Mimi and I), and some women find that to be either too messy to deal with, or just plain old weird.

Being open about being open also brings out the “dude…you get to f@&k two women at the same time!!!” guys who idealize any multiple partner combos in sex.  It’s always interesting to explain the reality of threesomes and foursomes on a human level – yes it can be a lot of fun, but it’s not as easily negotiated as it is on the porn you just watched on your computer.  Sometimes their response is, “yeah, but you get to f*&k two women at the same time”, not really processing the complexities of it, and others “get it”.

Overall, being open about being open has thus far been a positive experience and I’m glad we took the plunge.

Right after Hurricane Katrina, I was visiting Chicago and hanging out with my four sisters.  We were doing what we usually do when we get together--drinking copious amounts of wine, chain smoking cigarettes, and shootin’ the shit—when I made some reference to one of my “hurricane lovers”.  This is a term that some New Orleanians use to refer to the temporary lover(s) we jumped into bed with and f@$ked like mad to deal with the destruction and trauma in the wake of the flood. 

So I mentioned my hurricane lover and the conversation came to a screeching halt.  “Your what?” My sisters said almost in unison. 

One of them asked, “Are you and Marc still together?”

At the time, I was post-Katrina Mimi--shell-shocked, homeless, and throwing caution to the wind.  I really didn’t care about what anybody thought of me, and I was taking all sorts of crazy risks at the time.  Hey, what do you have to lose when you feel like you’ve lost everything?  “What the f@#k,” I thought, “I’m not hiding this stuff any more.”

I told them that I was still together with Marc (though we were separated at the time), and that I was also seeing another man on a regular basis—in fact, I had evacuated with him—and a woman less frequently but pretty regularly.

I have no idea what they were thinking when I told them this, but the way they responded to me couldn’t have been better.

One of my sisters exclaimed, “I knew you were bisexual!”

I said, “I’m not bisexual.”  This required a bit of explanation, but they listened with interest and acceptance.  In fact, they conveyed to me that they thought it was down right fascinating.  One sister (not mentioning any names) was particularly interested in the idea of a threesome with two men.

There’s six years between my next older sister and me, so I was always too young to participate in the sort of girl talk that only sisters can have with one another.  I now had the opportunity, and it was fun--a perfect sort of test run on the decision to stop concealing or changing information to maintain the fiction that Marc and I are monogamous. 

I’ve been completely open about being open ever since.

One of the greatest benefits of being “out” is that it opens space for others to be curious and express interest in us.

One of the biggest drawbacks about being “out” is that it opens space for others to be curious and express interest in us.

No, that’s not a typo.  It’s the flip side of the same coin. 

You know that new fad on You Tube, “Shit ________ say to _____________?”  Marc and I joke about creating “Shit monogs say to poly’s” 

“Why won’t you f@^k me?  Don’t you want to f@&k everyone?”  Followed by  “You’re not gonna want to f#&k me, are you?”

Most people assume that 1) We’re perverts…which we are, and 2) That we’re indiscriminately promiscuous…which we’re not.  So, while it opens the possibility for people to express an interest--and that’s a wonderful benefit to being “out”--it also scares some people because they assume we’re going to hit on them.  It’s the old, “You’re gay?  You’re not going to hit on me, are you?”  To which the appropriate response is, “Don’t flatter yourself.”  We’re finding ourselves thinking or saying, “Don’t flatter yourself,” a bit more frequently.

For others, it is interpreted as an open invitation, and it can get uncomfortable when someone assumes we’ll be down with a romp and we have to gently convey to them, “Thanks, but no thanks.” 

Creating the 2plus website is a whole different sort of being “open”, however.  I did have a little pang of concern when I thought about my employer and colleagues reading about my and Marc’s sex life. 

When I really considered this possibility, however, I realized that I’ve always been about taking sex out of the closet and making it a normal part of life rather than something shameful and a topic you don’t discuss in polite company.  The erotic is one of the most beautiful parts of being human. Why pretend like we don’t have desire and don’t have sex? 

It doesn’t hurt that I have an occupation that is more open to difference and non-conformity, I teach about sexuality and the politics of sex, and I have tenure.  I see this blog as part of my work as a professor of gender and sexuality studies and as an activist challenging mono-normativity.  I’m fortunate to have the sort of economic and job security that allows me to be open about being open, and I realize not everybody has that privilege.

Finally, I have really enjoyed seeing the other open and open-curious people “come out” to me and/or to Marc.  That’s probably the best part about being open about being open--seeing that we’re not alone.

Come out come out, wherever you are!


  1. Mimi and Marc:

    Thanks for that wonderful discussion. I have not read your posts about this, but will now go back and read those. I had, ironically, thought of asking you about this over the past four months while I have been "dating" a woman who only wanted sex and "no expectations." For all intents and purposes, we were in a relationship. She's had some past trauma with men, but that's another fascinating story for another time.

    I had no clue what "no expectations" meant. I thought it meant "I will sleep with anyone I want -- so don't think I am your girlfriend." She told me she didn't think people were naturally monogamous (and I told her the same). I was making things up in my head about what she REALLY wanted. I was too scared to ask. She'd said, sex only, after all.

    In the end I had to reconcile how I would feel if she told me she was going to sleep with someone else (if we were in a committed relationship like you and Marc. We were not there yet). I tried to look at life and her pleasure from her perspective, from her body, from her desires and not my own.

    That helped. I then ran into the classic male dilemma, where I found it to be OK for her to sleep with another woman but was having difficulty visualizing her sleeping with another man -- or two men, for that matter, at the same time. Obviously a prehistoric "caveman dick in vagina" think was fucking with me.

    I have had a few three-way sex escapades over the years, and they were all fun. As Marc notes, they are not as easy to negotiate as in porn! Somebody has to be willing to put their ass on the line and suggest it, so to speak.

    Anyway, my question is this: how do you manage to disentangle the emotion from the "other" sex you are having. Or do you let the emotion flow?

    Marc, when you think about Mimi with another man, are you simply happy for her pleasure? Do you visualize her and the other man, and if so, what the hell do you do with that? I ask, because I have always said I wanted such a relationship, but while I find my dick has its foot on the gas pedal, my heart is slamming on the brakes.

    And Mimi, how do you picture Marc having sex when he is not with you -- or do you not think of him when he is with someone else? If you know he is having sex and you are, say, watching a movie on the sofa (if not being hot and heavy yourself), do you just shut him out for awhile? Do you say, "I hope my honey is tapping that ass good," or simply, "I'll be glad when he's home?"

    I do apologize if these questions are too personal -- they are very personal and I might have crossed the line from raw sex into the psyche -- but isn't that where most of our drama about this resides? (OK. Feel free to speak in general terms. Maybe I am asking too much and it strikes me that I stepped over the line).

    Or you've answered these questions a dozen times before(please refer me to the discussion strand or a previous article). And I apologize in advance if anything I said is sexist, presumptuous, juvenile (maybe the "tapping that ass" remark) or something you think not worthy of discussion. This is all new to me.

    I just want to know how to negotiate getting from A (mono) to B (poly) when the great opportunity does arise (so to speak).

    You two are the Princess Lea (Lay-ah?) and Luke Skywalker of the Poly world, so help a brotha out.

    Vern in Cali (Peaking "out" from behind the curtain)

  2. (this is from Mimi): Thanks, Vern, for your comment. If we're Princess Lay-ah (thanks for the Mardi Gras costume idea!) and Luke Skywalker of the Poly World, then perhaps we'll stop by Uranus. Ha ha! In all seriousness, your post gives the grist for the mill of our next post. How do you deal with your partner being on a date when you're home alone? Thanks!